The Annunciation of the Lord - March 25

When a virgin protests to God's messenger that virgins can't bear children, there is only one way for the angel to reply: "Nothing is impossible to God" (Lk 1:37). There are no convincing arguments to use in answering such a sensible protest. You can only state the fact, God's ways are not our ways, and challenge someone to believe.

It is enlightening to watch Mary's progress in faith in this brief communication. She heard God propose the impossible. She was deeply disturbed, and asked herself what could it mean. Perhaps, this is as far as we get when something difficult is asked of us. We ask ourselves, we don't let God in on the conversation, and we come up with the answer: "It's impossible for me to be any different to what I am, or any better, or more actively involved than I am, so please forget about it, I decline." How often we get this response in chapters of elections!

Mary went a step further. She asked the angel: "How can this come about since I am a virgin?" The angel represents the presence of God, who is closer to us than our own breathing.

Mary stopped to pray. She asked God an obvious question, and she listened while God spoke to her. The answer was still the same: "It's impossible for you. But nothing is impossible to God."

God invited Mary: "Trust me, commit yourself to me, allow me to take over your life, and lead you wherever I would like you to go. The whole of your life from this moment will be impossible to you, but nothing is impossible to me."

Mary responded in full faith: "Let what you have said be done to me." We notice that she had to grow into her commitment. It didn't happen automatically, without an effort on her part.

The Annunciation highlights God's free activity among us, for his own purposes. He is creative and unpredictable. All merely human possibilities are ruled out: the woman is a virgin; no man is involved. Conception is impossible from the human point of view. But the virgin conceived, and the child was born. So God has special plans for this child. He can claim a virgin as his mother and only God as his Father.

There is a practical lesson in it for each of us. We place a high value on efficiency, sound planning, foresight, prudent safety measures, insurance, no-nonsense arrangements. All this is good, provided we leave room for God and his plans that often don't make sense to us. We can easily get so involved in our own plans, that we squeeze God out of our activity.

We can be so convinced that our way of doing things is the best that any variation from it is most annoying, frustrating, even infuriating. At this rate, God himself becomes our chief annoyance. He cannot be limited by our best. He will break out and do the unexpected.

Unless God builds the house, in vain do we labour at building. "The house" may well be our SFO National Fraternity, or the Regional Fraternity, or the local Fraternity. In fact, the local Fraternity, "the primary cell of the one Secular Franciscan Order" (Gen.Const. 47), is the one that needs to be built up. Members are inclined to say, "We're too few and too old. What can you expect of us?" They remind us of Sarah who laughed at an impossible prospect of child-bearing, but the angel replied, "Is anything too wonderful for God?" (Gen 18:14). We need more Abrahams, "who drew strength from faith and gave glory to God, convinced that God had power to do what he had promised" (Rom 4:21).

Soon, we will be expected to do something practical about promoting the SFO. It will be pointed out that many simple things can be done, regardless of how few or how old we are. But we are not going to undertake promotion of vocations relying only on our personal efforts. The Lord may well remind us, "For men this is impossible; for God everything is possible" (Mt 19:26).

God's ways are different from ours. Mary, of all people, understood this with her heart, and she agreed to live with the consequences: "Let what you have said be done to me" (Lk 1:38).

St Francis refers to the Annunciation in his second version of the Letter to the Faithful. He writes: "The most high Father made known from heaven through His holy angel Gabriel this Word of the Father - so worthy, so holy and glorious - in the womb of the holy and glorious Virgin Mary, from whose womb He received the flesh of our humanity and frailty. Though he was rich, He wished, together with the most Blessed Virgin, His mother, to choose poverty in the world beyond all else" (FA:ED I, 4, p.46).

Francis's Salutation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (FA:ED I, p.163) echos the angel Gabriel's salutation of Mary at the Annunciation (Lk 1:29).

Hail, Mary,
full of grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Hail, O Lady, Holy Queen, Mary, holy Mother of God ...
in whom there was and is all fullness of grace and every good.
Hail His Palace, His Tabernacle, His Dwelling.