When I decided to turn this into an Online Retreat Day, I confess I had not thought much about it ending on the vigil of the Feast of the Annunciation, one of the most important feast days of the church. But it always good to complete a day of prayer with meditation on this particular moment. Without Mary’s fiat to set the whole mysterious pageant of salvation into its culminating track, where would we be?
Our good friends, the Dominican Nuns of Summit, NJ celebrate this vigil with a special tradition. After a chantress sings the beginning of the Gospel of John, one of the nuns of this Order of Preachers (usually the newest novice) delivers a homily to the community.
I remember liking last year’s thoughts by Sr. Maria Teresa very much. This year, the monastery’s newest novice, Sr. Mary Magdalene, has impressed as well, and given how this past week has felt, for many, a little like the up-ending of the whole world -with an accompanying wonder: “how can this be?”- I want to close this retreat with an excerpt from her talk.
St. Luke tells us the first words spoken by Mary were “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34) Mary did not doubt that it would it happen, but questions the way this outcome will be brought about. “How can this be?” she asks, yet a more descriptive version of this question could be, “How could ANY two humans ever come together to conceive God?” And the angel’s ending response, “Nothing is impossible for God.” (Lk 1:37) What we perceive as a normal reality is at the complete service of the Lord, just like Mary. Through her faith and humility, Mary’s heart receives the words of the angel without any doubt.…The Blessed Virgin’s parting words to the angel: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) The beauty of the Annunciation echoes in each of our souls as we reiterate those words spoken by Mary. Three times a day we pray this, calling to mind what a bold example Our Lady left us. By placing herself at the complete disposition of God, Mary wills only what He wills.
God’s will is so difficult to know. Surprising people are used in surprising ways to achieve his ends. Let us try, through difficult times -the illnesses of our children, the hardships of our budgets, the rapid and ruthless decline of our nation- to remain open to God’s will, and to emulate Mary’s “yes,” despite the whole world of unknowing that a “yes” can lead us into.