As I said in a previous post on Ash Wednesday, the lives of both my wife and myself were, from the beginning of this Lent and before, destined for change and radical reform because our new daughter would be coming into the world before the end of Lent. Riley Amelia has arrived, and even now, it is clear that our lives are changed forever in so many ways (Riley will also spoil us, because for the most part, she just isn’t a fussy baby!). Several of my friends and confreres reminded me of how Nicole’s life and mine will change forever once Riley is born and comes home, and it has. The scale of the change is great, even though we both know that the scope of that change will make itself evident over a period of weeks, months, and years. We are thrilled and blessed to welcome our new daughter, and we were excited to meet her. She is a gem of a child.
In the midst of Lent, a time of penance, usually comes a feast (I say usually because Holy Week would delay its celebration if it fell during that time) of great rejoicing, the Feast of the Annunciation-which is today, March 25th. Nine months before Christmas, the Church commemorates the day when the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary and announced to her that she would be the Mother of the Messiah. Tradition holds that Our Lord was conceived on the day that this happened, or at least the Church treats it that way, and it was at conception that Jesus’ life began in the flesh, and it was at conception that he was Incarnate and became Man. We can only imagine what Mary must have been thinking on hearing this news. We don’t know everything that she thought, we only know that she said “yes,” that she said (cf. Luke 1:38) “be it done unto me according to your word.”
Almost certainly, Our Lady was a frightened, overwhelmed young Galilean Jewish girl who had just been told that she was going to be the mother of the Savior of the world. Many ancient (as well as more historically recent) sources about Mary are filled with the idea that her whole life up to that point was a preparation for that moment. As Catholics, we believe that because Mary is the “Ark of the New Covenant” who literally carried God in her womb that she was conceived without the stain of original sin because of her special role in the plan of salvation. That truth doesn’t mean that Mary didn’t have a very human reaction. Scripture would seem to indicate that she certainly did (cf. Luke 1:34).
Having just recently experienced the birth of my own daughter, I remember the complex web of emotions that I felt in the days leading up to her birth, and how I felt when she was finally born. I was excited, anxious, nervous, overwhelmed, happy, proud, and at some point there came a time when, knowing that the “big day” was certainly coming, both Nicole and I were eager that it should finally arrive…there was a sense of “well…hurry up, already!” I have always wondered: Did Mary (and Joseph) also experience those kinds of feelings? How might Our Lady have expressed her feelings? We get some sense of her joy in the Magnificat (cf. Luke 1:46-55), but at more than one point in her pregnancy, I personally don’t think it to be a stretch that Our Lady must have paused to reflect…”I am going to give birth to the Son of the Living God…” That had to be a thought in Our Lady’s mind that was likely awesome beyond our comprehension.
Because today is not a Holy Day of Obligation, it is not commonly realized by many just how important that it is in the Church’s calendar. In fact, today marks only one of two days on the liturgical calendar when the Nicene Creed is said and the congregation is supposed to genuflect at the words “he came down from Heaven and by the the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.” The other such day is the Nativity of the Lord-Christmas. Today is a day to reflect on that awesome truth that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became one of us, was conceived and grew in the womb of a woman and was born of a woman as we are, and it was for our sake that this was done…”for us men and for our salvation…”