Irrevocably united

Fourth Sunday of Advent.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

The Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary has provided inspiration for many artists. There are numberless paintings depicting this momentous event in the history of salvation, marking the beginning in time of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

There is one painting in particular by Henry Ossawa Tanner that I particularly like because it seems to me that it captures the scene with great beauty and realism. It is part of the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

What I like about Tanner’s Annunciation is the fact that the Blessed Mother is not depicted as an Italian princess from the Renaissance in a palace or the angel as a young man with wings and the action of the Holy Spirit as a dotted line from a dove to Mary. The face of Mary in the picture is that of a young Jewish maiden who seems surprised and overwhelmed yet radiates serenity and joy. I also like the colors and light of the painting. There is an explosion of light that seems to capture the mystery and convey it with great force. After all, the event itself is one of cosmic proportions. The One whom the universe cannot contain, because He is the creator of everything that exists, the One through whom, in whom and for whom all things exist is about to irrevocably embrace human nature so as to bring creation to its fulfillment in Him.

The Gospel passage in its simple beauty also radiates mystery and joy. It presents the Blessed Mother as a creature filled with awe and wonder, yet at peace. She does not question God’s loving plan and her role that are being revealed to her by the messenger but seeks to understand how this will come to be and immediately joins in proclaiming herself the “handmaid of the Lord.” Her will, her intellect and her emotions are in perfect harmony with the will of God, whose mother she will become. Indeed, she is at the same time a daughter of God, the Father and the mother of the Only Begotten Son of God and, thus, properly called Mother of God. Jesus is son of David and David’s Lord.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux has a beautiful homily in praise of the Virgin Mother, which appears in the Liturgy of the hours during these days of immediate preparation for Christmas, where he places himself in that instant in time when the Annunciation is taking place and Mary is about to utter her response. In it, the abbot begs the Virgin to haste in her response because “Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you… Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.”

All of creation is redeemed by the Incarnation of the Eternal Word of God. The Incarnation is not God’s plan B in the face of sin, but the consummation of his creative work. It makes manifest the fact that everything was created for communion with Him, a communion that He desires so fervently with those created in His image and likeness that He goes to the extreme of becoming what He is not so as to irrevocably unite His nature to ours. The young maiden of Nazareth, by her Divine Motherhood, becomes the new Eve, the mother of all the living. At the supreme moment in human history, when the purpose of the Incarnation is fully revealed and accomplished, the Paschal mystery, the Death and Resurrection of Christ she will be explicitly given to us as Jesus’ parting gift.

Every time we pray the Hail Mary we also place ourselves in the midst of that momentous event presented for our contemplation on this Fourth Sunday of Advent which this year coincides with Christmas Eve, December 24. We pronounce the same words that the Archangel uttered in his greeting of the Blessed Mother. We then, of course, make our own the words of St. Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, at the Visitation and conclude with a request that Mary may pray for us, but we begin at the Annunciation, for it is then and there that Mary becomes the model for everything the Church collectively and every Christian individually aspire to be. It is there that the we realize that Creation and Redemption go hand in hand, that the natural order and the supernatural are intertwined and held together by a bond of love.

There is another traditional prayer that captures with even greater detail and intensity these momentous events and brings us deeper into the mystery of the Incarnation. It is the Angelus, which is usually prayed three times a day, in the morning, at noon and in the evening. The students of St. Patrick School stop whatever they are doing when the bells in the tower ring at noon to pray the Angelus and lift up their minds to the contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnation which brings meaning to everything human and every human activity and project, including intellectual work, because by it everything that is truly human becomes a vehicle for communion with God who “became flesh and dwelt among us.” Sin, of course, being inhuman, contrary to human nature, not only separates us from the love of God but defaces the humanity we share with the Eternal Word of God.

These days we celebrate with special intensity the fact that God has irrevocably embraced human nature with the cooperation of a creature purely and simply because He loves us! Let us rejoice and be glad! Merry Christmas!

Fr. Roberto M. Cid