Posted March 09, 2012 in New Millennium:
The Pause That Refreshes

by Fr. David May.

This month we celebrate the tiniest of new beginnings: the conception of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This event was not simply a new beginning, but the New Beginning of the human race, and of the cosmos itself.

Now that the divine seed has been planted in this world, nothing can prevent God’s magnificent plan from reaching its fulfillment. This New Beginning is the one sure foundation for every other new beginning that we can ever attempt: the Annunciation of the Lord!

Here is how the newly translated preface for the feast describes the mystery:

"For the Virgin Mary heard with faith that the Christ was to be born among men and for men’s sake by the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit. Lovingly she bore him in her immaculate womb, that the promises to the children of Israel might come about and the hope of nations be accomplished beyond all telling."

We see in this excerpt the various elements of the New Beginning of our salvation: the faith of the Virgin Mary in the angel’s message, Christ’s conception by the Holy Spirit, the mother’s love for the child she bore, the fulfillment in this Child of the promises to Israel, and finally the hope of all nations accomplished beyond all telling in and through him.

We, too, are drawn in by this feast into this mystery of faith in God’s great deed on our behalf, confident that the Holy Spirit will bring about his wonders in us as he did in Mary, so that hope might be fulfilled "beyond all telling" as we, too, cherish Christ who lives in us.

At this point in my life’s journey, I have a spontaneous joy in this feast, and I find it deeply consoling to remember, through its celebration, the eternal presence of Christ in our world, in my heart, ever making possible a new moment, a new start, a truly new creation, and beginning afresh.

Not because of any goodness in us, but solely from his merciful condescension.

How desperately a world seared with false hopes and multiple disappointments needs this assurance today, needs this feast! How important it is for the Church herself to celebrate this day with great love and solemnity!

We, too, today must learn anew the secret of beginning again, how God’s ways are not our ways. How small it is, yet how deeply does God’s mystery penetrate this earth through the Incarnation!

From this we see that even the simplest, most hidden gesture of faith or love, moved by his Spirit, has a capacity to communicate God’s life and power way beyond what our eyes can see or what our senses can measure.

The key is communion with Jesus Christ in fulfilling the Father’s will, within the loving tenderness and intercession of Our Lady.

What a banquet of rich meditative food is thus found here for those who must content themselves with a humble, hidden destiny in life. Or for those who from the ashes of their own mistakes or the destructive work of others must try to start yet again.

As Christ is "conceived" anew in us by the Holy Spirit, we learn over and over again that "nothing is impossible with God."

All that is well and good, but I am also thinking today of the context of this Solemnity, namely, Lent. Because of that sobering context, there is little run-up to the great feast of the Incarnation, and no follow-up, as in an Octave, or at least a day or two extra to drink it in.

This year, for example, the day itself gets bumped to Monday, March 26, because the 5th Sunday of Lent takes precedence over it. First vespers of the feast gets nixed due to that same overriding Lenten sabbath.

Then we have Monday for the feast, which, of course, many will hardly notice in any event, it being a working day and rarely a holiday.

Then comes Tuesday, March 27, and the 5th week of Lent returns in all its subdued glory, the Annunciation having been duly and quickly disposed of!

That being said, I decided to look at the Gospels for the day before and the day after.

From Sunday (John 12: 20-33): Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

From Tuesday (John 8: 21-30): So Jesus said, "When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me."

It seems to me that one can only conclude from this that the Church is in something of a determined frame of mind about Lent and wants to maintain that season’s momentum.

While it may be well and good to ponder for a time the reality and implications of the Incarnation (which many might contend is the purpose of the Christmas season), we are apparently not meant to pause there overlong.

There are urgent matters that need attending to: the mystery of the grain of wheat—Christ, the disciple—who must die in order to live and to give life; the reality of Christ’s being lifted up on the Cross and ultimately back to the Father, so that his full identity and destiny be made manifest and that grace, too, be given to us.

Our liturgical journey this time of year thus has a double edge: the radiant presence of Christ in the flesh shining forth the glory of God, and the dynamic offering that same One made for us in his passion, death, and resurrection. The first has in its very essence a hidden dynamism towards the second.

The second carries in all its anguish and self-sacrifice a peace-filled assurance of ultimate victory and the divinization of the cosmos upon which the Resurrection and Pentecost put their seal.

A new beginning is like a breath of Spring on weary skin worn down by winter’s trials. A child conceived, despite the fragility, is a promise of the victory of life over death itself.

The Annunciation communicates this breath of Spring, this promise of the newly conceived Child, year by year, century by century, to a weary world.

And Lent lends the realism of Christ to each new venture of faith: Yes, there will be suffering (with Christ). Yes, there will be a dying with him and the anguish of dying. Yes, such a death to self will likewise receive with Christ, the gift of the Resurrection.

In short, let us pause, let us contemplate and drink of Mary’s "yes" to the angel Gabriel, and thus encouraged, let us continue with persevering hope the Lenten journey.


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