The Annunciation, Renewal at the School of Mary Retreat Part II, November 7-9, 2003

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Retreat given at Sacred Heart Retreat House
Alhambra, California
“Renewal at the School of Mary”
November 7-9, 2003

Luke 1:26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

I. Introduction

•We continue our retreat at the school of Mary, whom Christ reveals to us and who helps us in turn to contemplate the face of her Son.

•We continue to try to live her mystery in Christ.

•Last night we talked about Mary’s Immaculate Conception, in which she was filled with God’s grace from the first moment of her existence so that she would say a full yes to God and be an immaculate tabernacle in which God’s only begotten son could abide. This morning we see the fulfillment, about 14 years later, as the apocryphal Gospels attest.

•In the Incarnation that flows from the Annunciation, Mary and Christ are indissolubly joined. With Mary’s response, the “word is truly made flesh”. Mary attains a union with God that exceeds all the expectations of the human spirit, of Israel.

•God’s salvific giving of himself and his life to man reaches one of its high points in this mystery. (RM 9)

•In this mystery we’re called to contemplate Mary, Christ and, insofar as Christ fully reveals us to ourselves and makes our supreme vocation clear, what it reveals about our own discipleship.

•I’m going to break down our meditation into six points (so that you know where we’re going):

◦The specificity of God’s plans

◦Mary’s causes for joy

◦What it means for Mary to be “full of grace.”

◦Mary’s question

◦Her virginity

◦The cooperation and response of the Blessed Mother

II. The specificity of God’s plan

•Look at the incredible particularity St. Luke uses in his account: The Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of the house of David. The Virgin’s name was Mary.

•God didn’t say, “Go, find me any virgin!” Anyone will do. He had someone handpicked. He had her selected from all eternity. He had preserved her free from all stain of original sin. She was betrothed as a virgin to a descendent of King David, to whom God had promised a descendent who would build a temple who would reign forever.

•God’s plans are always this specific.

•In my own case, God didn’t just say, “Find me any warm blooded Catholic boy.” But he sent his graces and messages to a city in Massachusetts called Lowell, to a son of Roger and Mary Landry, and that boy’s name was Roger.

•In any of our lives, God acts with great specificity. For those who are married in God, it was no coincidence that you found your spouse. You met by divine plan. And you said yes. For the sisters here, they were all given their vocation particularly by God and they said yes.

•God came to where we lived, whether that be on the West Coast, on the East Coast, on the shores of Lake Michigan.

•He hunted us down because we, although our vocations are less momentous than Mary’s, have a unique role in God’s church and plans.

•Some of us have already realized this. Some of us haven’t quite figured it all out yet. Maybe God will give us clarity during these days. But like with the life of Jeremiah, God says, Jer. 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

•God knows us all and has plans for us, plans to receive Christ within, bring him to others, live, die and be risen with him, and spend eternity with him forever. And there is a mission that only we can fulfill.

III. Mary’s cause for joy

•God had given Gabriel specific words to bring down to Mary, words that heaven had been waiting from all eternity to say, so that the drama of salvation could take off with full force.

•Rejoice, you who have been filled with grace, the Lord is with you.

•This brief greeting from God’s angelic messenger at the fullness of time speaks volumes.

•The first word from God through Gabriel was much more than “Hail” or a hearty “hello.” It was “rejoice!”

•Then Gabriel indicated the reasons why she should erupt with joy:

◦because she was full of grace

◦and the Lord was with her.

◦These are two fundamental fonts for joy. God’s grace and presence.

◦Let’s start with the second. Leon Bloy said, very insightfully, “joy is the most infallible sign of God’s presence.” If the Lord is present, if we recognize his presence and trust in him, there’s no alternative but to rejoice. Dominus tecum. The Lord is with you and therefore how could Mary not rejoice?!

◦The Lord was present already in her life in a singular way, because he had filled her with grace from the first moment of her existence.

•Our joy comes from God and this grace, God’s own life within, is the source of joy.

•To get to this joy, we need a clearer idea of what it means to be full of grace, which is our next point.

IV. Full of Grace

•This expression means “full of God.” Grace is our participation in God’s own life.

•Gabriel uses “full of grace” as if it were her real name. He does not call her by her proper earthly name: “Miryam” (= Mary), but by this new name: “full of grace.” (RM 8 )

•Grace is an “eternal gift,” which is “like a seed of holiness, or a spring which rises in the soul as a gift from God himself, who through grace gives life and holiness to those who are chosen.” (RM 8 ). This is why Elizabeth later could call her “blessed” among all women, because grace is the supreme blessing.

•Grace is always an “election” and points to her eternal election in Christ to be the Mother of God’s Son.

•“The fullness of grace” is achieved in Jesus’ hypostatic union within Mary, when the Lord became “with her” in a way far exceeding all imagining, with her, within her, growing fully dependent upon her.

•Pope John Paul II says that the fullness of grace that was granted to the Virgin of Nazareth was in view of the fact that she would become the “theotokos,”or Mother of God (MD 4). This grace built on her nature as a woman, on her femininity. God’s grace builds on our nature. And God’s grace will build on your femininity just like it built on Mary’s.

•The dignity of every human being and the vocation corresponding to that dignity find their definitive measure in union with God. Mary is the most complete expression of this dignity and vocation (MD 5).

•JME: “A great sign appeared in Heaven: a woman adorned with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars about her head.” From this, you and I and everyone may be sure that nothing perfects our personality so much as correspondence with grace. Try to imitate the Virgin Mary and you will be a complete man or woman.

•This is why Jesus says that Mary is the archetype of woman’s dignity (MD 5). She manifested it in putting herself as a “handmaid” at the service of God her son, who came not to be served but to serve.

V. Mary’s Question

•St. Luke’s text tells us that Mary was afraid.

•The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Now he tells her God’s special plans for her: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

•The angel is saying she will be the Mother of the Messiah-king, which was the dream of Jewish girls.

•But Mary, according to the language of the text and the constant tradition of the Church from the earliest days, knew there was an obstacle. She had consecrated herself to God as a virgin. Her phrase, “How can this be, for I know not man,” involves a Hebrew tense that basically means, “for I will not know man,” or as another translation says it “I am a virgin.” If she were not consecrated to God, and were married to Joseph expecting to have a family, it wouldn’t have precipitated such a question at all, because Mary would have been familiar otherwise with how children are normally conceived.

•She was asking how she could remain faithful to her consecrated virginity while at the same time becoming a mother. It was a question not a doubt.

•Cardinal Newman once said, “One thousand questions do not constitute a single doubt.”

•In our own life, it’s fine, at times to ask God questions about the means, without doubting his power. “With God all things are possible.” Sometimes he will tell us the means. Sometimes not.

•Mary’s question led to the revelation of God’s plan and gave her an even greater reason to praise God.

◦It was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and you shall call him Emmanuel”.

◦It was also a clear articulation of the special relationship Mary would have from that moment forward with the Holy Spirit.

VI. Mary’s Virginity and Virginity in general

•This is a good time to talk about Mary’s virginity and what it means.

•It was accomplished in God’s silence, like the birth of Jesus and Christ’s death, under the radar of the prince of this world (498 ).

•Mary’s virginity manifests God’s absolute initiative in the Incarnation (503). Christ has only God as Father.

•The Church teaches that Mary is perpetually virgin, that she was a virgin before birth, during birth and after Christ’s birth. Christ’s birth sanctified, and did not diminish, her virginity.

•As St. Augustine said, Mary “remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin” (St. Augustine, Serm. 186, 1: PL 38, 999): with her whole being she is “the handmaid of the Lord” (Lk 1:38 ). (510)

•The Holy Father comments, “Mary’s consent to motherhood in the Annunciation is above all a result of her total self-giving to God in virginity (RM 39). Her spousal love totally consecrated her to God. Mary wishes to be always and in all things “given to God,” living in virginity. Her words, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” express that from the outset she saw her motherhood as a total gift of self, a gift of her person to the service of the saving plans of God. She lived this self-giving maternity together with her vocation to virginity all the way to the end of her life. (RM 39).

•The basic fact of being the Mother of the Son of God shows her complete openness to the person of Christ, to his whole work, to his whole mission. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” testify to her openness of spirit, uniting virginal and spousal love. (RM 39).

•The teaching of Mary’s perpetual virginity met with lively opposition, mockery and incomprehension from non-believers, Jews and pagans alike. It would hardly have been motivated by pagan mythology, as some have charged.

•Some Protestants will attack Mary’s virginity after birth, saying that the Bible says that Jesus had “brothers.” But the word “brothers” in Hebrew and Aramaic simply means “close relatives.” The Catechism states it very clearly: “Brothers and sisters” are close relations, not siblings. “In fact, James and Joseph, ‘the brothers of Jesus’ are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls ‘the other Mary’. (500)

•Mary’s virginity is a model for the whole Church (and therefore for us in the Church)

•The Church herself is a virginal spouse to Christ, as Mary was to Joseph. We are ushered, through baptism in the womb of the Church (baptismal font), into the world of grace virginally, not “of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” It’s virginal, because it’s entirely the Spirit’s gift to man. (505)

•The Catechism says, As Virgin and Mother, Mary is symbol and most perfect realization of the Church. “She herself is a virgin, who keeps in its entirety and purity the faith she pledged to her spouse.” (507)

•Church remains faithful virgin to her spouse, “keeping whole and pure the fidelity she has pledged to her Spouse.” This spousal virginity has value as a model of total self-giving to God in celibacy “for the kingdom of heaven,” in virginity consecrated to God.. Precisely such virginity, after the example of the Virgin of Nazareth, is the source of a special spiritual fruitfulness: it is the source of motherhood in the Holy Spirit. (RM 43). Mary is both virgin, spouse and mother. The Church follows her as exemplar.

•The Pope goes even further “Mary is more than model and figure, but cooperator (mediator) in birth and development of sons and daughters of Mother Church. (RM 44).”

VII. The cooperation and response of the Blessed Mother

•After the Archangel Gabriel’s response, Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”

•God wanted the “free cooperation of a creature” for redemption. (488 ) “Just as a woman had a share in the coming of death, so also should a woman contribute to the coming of life.” (488 ). She gave herself entirely to the person and work of her son, unrestrained by sin (494).

•The Father willed that the consent of Mary should precede the Incarnation (RM 13). God could have just made her pregnant, but he didn’t. He wanted her cooperation.

•Mary actively and freely cooperated in the work of man’s salvation through faith and obedience. She wasn’t passive. She had a chance to say yes and no. Like the recent country music song goes, “She said yes!”

•Pope John Paul says, a little bit more profoundly, “Through her response of faith Mary exercises her free will and thus fully shares with her personal and feminine “I” in the event of the Incarnation. With her “fiat,” Mary becomes the authentic subject of that union with God which was realized in the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, who is of one substance with the Father. All of God’s action in human history at all times respects the free will of the human “I.” And such was the case with the Annunciation at Nazareth. (MD 4).

•What allowed her to say this yes, fully. Yes, she was full of grace, but that was not enough. It is Mary’s faith that enables her to become the mother of the Saviour: “Mary is more blessed because she embraces faith in Christ than because she conceives the flesh of Christ.” (506)

•Not knowing the future, even though she was the Mother of the “Messiah-King” she replied with the obedience of faith, abandoning herself to the meaning of the Angel’s words on behalf of God (RM 15).

•Mary responds with the “obedience of faith”, certain that “with God nothing will be impossible.” (494).

•By being obedient, she became the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race. (494). Her obedience untied the knot of Eve’s disobedience.

•Mary’s faith can be compared to Abraham’s, our faith in faith. Just as Abraham’s inaugurated the Old Covenant, Mary’s inaugurated the New. He “hoped against hope” and became the father of “many nations.” She became the mother of God’s son and through him of a whole family.

•Her whole life was a fiat. As the Cure D’Ars said, “The only person who kept the first commandment perfectly was the Holy Virgin.”

•And her action had tremendous consequences for us. As St. Josemaria Escriva said, : Mother, Oh Mother! With that word of yours — fiat,’ be it done’ — you have made us brothers of God and heirs to his Glory. Blessed art thou!

VIII. Conclusions

•God is specifically calling each one of us to participate in his plan of redemption. He wants us to share in his taks of the salvation of the world.

•If we’re full of God’s grace and with the Lord, we will find this the greatest news we’ve ever heard. The Lord wants to fill us with his grace and be with us. This grace is the fulfillment of our nature and the way for us to become truly who God created us to be.

•Just like all of heaven awaited Mary’s yes, so they now await ours, to a much greater participation in God’s plan. We may have questions about how God will pull this off, but let’s leave those for now. Like Mary, with obedient faith, let us entrust ourselves to God, saying “let it be done to me according to your word.”

IX. Prayer

•We finish by praying together the exalted prayer of the Angelus, which the Church asks us to pray each day to remember this world-changing moment of the Annunciation.

•Each time we pray it, we’re called to recognize our own annunciation and ask the Lord for the courage to respond well, each day, “fiat”, so be it, to all he wishes to do through us.

•The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.

•And She conceived by the Holy Spirit.

•Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus!

•Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

•Behold the handmaid of the Lord:

•Be it done unto me according to your word.

•Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus!

•Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

•And the Word was made flesh:

•And dwelled among us.

•Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus!

•Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

•Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.

•That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

•Let us pray:

•Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, your Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His passion and cross, be brought to the glory of His resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.