by Sr. Emily Beata, FSP
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).
During this time of year near the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we as Church are invited to reflect more deeply and celebrate more fully the gift of consecrated life. One way to do this is through a Scriptural reflection.
The Gospels are full of the joy of consecrated life. This is no surprise—consecrated life is all about belonging totally to God and spreading the Gospel! We can see this when we look at Luke’s account of the Annunciation. I would like to reflect on three main points in this account: God’s timing, Mary’s receptivity, and the joy of surrender.
This passage begins, “In the sixth month.” This refers to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy (the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Zechariah immediately precedes this passage). But it also tips us off that this momentous event—the annunciation of the coming of the Savior—is about to happen in God’s time.
For hundreds and hundreds of years, the Chosen People have been waiting for the Messiah. Why now? Why Nazareth? Why Mary? What was so special about this time, this place, this young Jewish girl? It is the mystery of God’s timing. We might not know why he chooses the times, places, and people that he does. But each event of our lives, its timing, and its circumstances reveal, little by little, God’s love for us and his plan for us. This is key: his plan for us is revealed in the context of us; his love for us, and his love for us is revealed in each moment of our lives—joyful, challenging, and everything in between. Our job is to grow in trust of God’s timing.
Mary’s receptivity is intimately connected with God’s timing. Mary is at first “greatly troubled” at the angel’s greeting, and asks, “How can this be?” But her being troubled and pondering is her path to ultimately responding with deep receptivity and openness: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."
What does this illustrate for us? Not many people receive visits from angels, and are offered the opportunity to verbalize their “yes” to God in this way! Yet we are all offered daily opportunities to actualize our “yes” to God. Think about a moment in your day that went really well. Maybe you finished a big project, or enjoyed some time with your family or friends. Now ask yourself two questions:
1) Where was God in that moment?
2) What did my “yes” to him look like in that moment?
If you were spending time with your family, perhaps your “yes” was simply your full enjoyment of that precious time. If you were finishing a project, maybe your “yes” was your full involvement in the project, or the way you worked with others, or the way you expressed your gratitude to others and to God.
Now think of a moment today that was more stressful. Perhaps you weren’t able to accomplish everything you wanted to, or maybe you had an argument with someone. Ask yourself the same two questions:
1) Where was God?
2) What did my “yes” look like?
In challenging or difficult moments, our “yes” can be a simple surrender, giving God control of the situation. Or our “yes” might come after the fact, in forgiving someone or in asking to be forgiven.
I remember how one Sister used to answer her phone when she was stressed: her phone would ring, she would close her eyes and whisper under her breath, “Yes, Jesus,” and then answer her phone. It was a simple action, but one that reminded her of the reason for everything in her day: Jesus. We can all use these simple, everyday actions to remind ourselves of the “yes” that we want to offer to God.
Finally, Luke’s account of the Annunciation demonstrates the joy that comes from surrendering ourselves to God. When Mary pronounced her “yes,” she had no idea where that would take her. She probably guessed that it wouldn’t be easy. Unknown challenges are not the first thing we think of when we hear the word “joy.” But her joy came from deep trust in God who was asking this of her. This deep trust in its turn came from her profound conviction of the Father’s love for her.
We, too, never know what our “yes” to God will mean or where it will take us. But we do know that the Father loves us and that his love is trustworthy. This can bring us joy. It can make us open and receptive. It can help us to recognize God’s timing. May our joy overflow as we seek to follow Jesus a little more each day.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to your word. Amen.
Sr. Emily Beata Marsh, FSP, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She professed her vows in January 2012. Sister is currently studying in Rome in preparation for her final vows.