Homily for the Solemnity of the Annunciation
Nine months from this day, March 25, we will be celebrating Christmas. Thus, today we celebrate that world-changing event in the life of Mary and all Christians: the conception of Jesus. Nine months might feel like nine years the way time is challenging us all as we deal with this coronavirus pandemic.
Our attention today easily goes to Mary, mother of Jesus, for her role in both today’s Gospel and salvation history is central for all Christians. Today is a celebration of Christian unity, and unity is something we need tremendously, especially as the human community struggles with this present moment of unprecedented challenge.
I am wondering if today Mary and our human family have a lot in common. We are both “greatly troubled.” We both need to hear the words: “Do not be afraid.” And, the only way forward—for Mary as a young mother, and for us in this crisis—is through the power of the Holy Spirit: We need the power of the Most High to overshadow us.
With so much in common with Mary, mother of Jesus, I think we could do well to look to her to see how she responded to her moment of crisis, as an unmarried woman now pregnant with a child she neither asked for nor chose to conceive by loving a man. In our crisis of social distance, isolation, anxiety, fear, sadness, and possible depression, illness, or anger, what can Mary teach us?
During this weekday Mass, I offer three lessons from Mary. First, great things can happen with social distancing. Mary’s son was conceived without any human touch. That is how powerful the Holy Spirit is when we open ourselves to the power of the Spirit. To choose a challenging virtue over a familiar, enjoyable, and pleasurable vice. To be more gentle than harsh or sarcastic, whether driving, texting, emailing, or responding in a conflict.
Second, when faced with a crisis we frequently to go the why question. Why is this happening to me? Why is my life so hard because of this? Why am I in such pain? No doubt, Mary could have asked the angel Gabriel, why is this happening to me? Or, why did I get picked for this huge task to be the mother of the savior of the world? Instead of asking the why question in her crisis, Mary asked a how question: How can this be since I have no relations with a man? Perhaps in this crisis there are how questions to be asked: How can I be strong during this time of social distancing? How can I enter into deeper solidarity with those who are struggling right now? How can I stand with others who are feeling lonely or afraid?
Finally, Mary teaches us how powerful the powerless can be. In her patriarchal society, Mary’s poverty and undereducation were magnified. To quote one scholar: “She is among the most powerless people in her society: she is young in a world that values age; female in a world ruled by men; poor in a stratified economy. Furthermore, she has neither husband nor child to validate her existence” (L.T. Johnson, Sacra Pagina, Luke, 1991, p. 39). In Mary, God reverses human expectations and evacuates the logic of strategic planning and success. Friends, we may feel powerless against this pandemic, but if we, like Mary, are faithful to the Spirit and interdependent, dive into solidarity, ask the how questions, and believe that our powerlessness can become powerful, perhaps we can see Jesus in nine months—or sooner.