The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary.
When I began my ministry as a transitional deacon in Carey, Ohio, after thirteen years in the seminary, I was astonished to learn that March 25 is not a holy day of obligation. We celebrated Mass every day in the seminary and the Annunciation was always marked with special prayers and songs. How could this moment when God physically entered human history not be a day of obligatory prayer for Catholics? I got over the shock but I still think with wonder of that day when the Angel Gabriel made the announcement to Mary.
This year, of course, March 25 fell on Palm Sunday and the Solemnity was bumped to this first opportunity after Easter Week. Despite the long delay we could not overlook this celebration. when, as John Donne wrote:
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
It is well to contemplate that mystery again as we settle into the Easter Season. We have completed our eight-day "Week of Sundays" when we sang or recited the Gloria daily. On this Monday, once again we rise up to give Glory to God for the conception, birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Once again we wonder, "What is it all about?" and "How should I respond?"
There are so many facets to this diamond; we can begin anywhere. I think of the silent darkness in which Jesus lay those many months in Mary's womb. God is fully and entirely present in her, and she alone knows it. What exactly she knows or thinks is less important than that she knows God is alive in her body. If she ever supposed the Angelic Vision was perhaps only a dream, the changes in her body testify to a miracle.
We should never try to imagine God's activity apart from the complicated, unpredictable, troubled world in which we live. Mary lived in Nazareth of Galilee, not in Fantasyland or Middle-earth. Nazareth is still a living city in Israel with a long history of disruptions, invasions, plagues and problems. Although Saint Luke tells us nothing about Mary's family, friends or neighbors he was well aware of the challenges she faced, especially as she delivered her first-born son in a manger. We can only wonder at the callousness of people who would not surrender a rented room to a woman in labor. But we're pretty familiar with callousness as we see and hear of it daily.
The Solemnity of the Annunciation reminds us that God's design cannot be frustrated. Like flood water, it goes where it will; like gravity, it might be resisted but never overcome.
On this feast we celebrate God's blessing of Mary which is superabundant and overflowing. By God's very deliberate, very intentional plan, she is worthy to be the Mother of God; by her presence in Galilee she makes the entire universe worthy to receive the Messiah-Savior-Son of God.
There are philosophical astronomers who think there must be "intelligent life" somewhere "out there." Perhaps there is, but no other world has been found worthy to give birth to the Son of God. That is Mary's gift to us.