The Greatest Act of Human Freedom in History
(Solemnity of the Annunciation)
My favorite solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Annunciation. I have to admit, Fulton Sheen is the one who opened my eyes to this great mystery like no other. When one looks at the mystery of Mary from the perspective of any of her great dogmas – the Immaculate Conception, her Perpetual Virginity, her predestined privilege to be the Mother of God and even her Assumption into Heaven – they all revolve around the mystery of the Annunciation. She is the central protagonist at the central act of all history as everything hinged upon her response to the angel. And thank God she said, “Yes!”
But did Mary really understand what she was getting herself into? Too often Our Blessed Mother suffers the insult of being painted as this naïve little girl whose innocence and simple love for God disposed her to say yes to whatever God desired of her. The truth is far from this mediocre portrait. For Mary’s fiat to have any significance to her (and for the Church which would be conceived by it) it had to be completely free and freedom is based upon knowledge. Mary would have needed to possess a profound understanding of Divine Revelation through the Hebrew Scriptures. The theological tradition of the Church has firmly held that Mary indeed possessed unparalleled insight into the mysteries of salvation as a consequence of her fullness of grace and Immaculate Conception and the knowledge and wisdom which flowed from Mary’s consecrated life of virginity at the Temple from an early age.
Mary, therefore, not only would have known the prophecy of Isaiah of the Virgin birth of the Messiah, but also Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53) and the popular story of the bronze serpent (Numbers 21:9). Mary’s loving fiat to God, therefore, would be one that would begin with immense joy, but soon after turn into sorrow. She knew the prophecy of Genesis that spoke of a New Eve who would be inseparable in her association to the New Adam, thereby meaning that she was destined for intense suffering. The shadow of the Cross would accompany her from Nazareth to Calvary, as God would ask her to sustain her fiat until she had “untied the knot of disobedience” and perfect atonement was made by her Divine Son.
Mary’s 33 year-long fiat was one characterized by divine, self-sacrificing love in imitation of that of her Son. It was a love that involved the complete emptying of self in order that her fullness of grace could grow according to her expansion of heart. And when they together arrived at Calvary, when everything was mutually poured out, even then she stood and was found worthy of her second annunciation: “Woman, behold your Son!” Mary was now announced and installed as Mother of the Mystical Christ, the Church, represented by St. John. But that is not all . . . Jesus turns to the “beloved disciple” and heralds “the annunciation” of every Christian, “Behold, your mother!”
In other words, it is at Calvary where the “annunciation” of every Christian takes place, where Jesus reveals what it means to be a “beloved disciple,” a spiritual life that begins by welcoming Mary into every aspect of His being as the Trinity did at Nazareth thirty-three years prior. In that beautiful exchange between Jesus, Mary and the “beloved disciple” is the question we as “Christians” must answer every day of our lives, as Mary did: “Will you give me your human nature through which I will re-live my mystery of Redemption, so that you may receive the glory reserved for those perfectly conformed to me?” Translated into our modern language Jesus is saying, “If you say yes to me, you are saying yes to everything I revealed to you as the Way, the Truth and the Life – a self-sacrificing way that began with, in and through Mary, who I now announce to you as your Mother. Behold her!” What is our answer?
To discover more about Venerable Sheen’s profound and inspiring insights into the mystery of Mary check out Dr. Howard’s new book “The Woman: The Mystery of Mary as Mediatrix in the Teaching of Fulton J. Sheen” by visiting TheWomanBook.us
To invite Dr. Howard to speak at your parish or event, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Art for this post on the greatest act of human freedom in history: The Annunciation (Altar of Three Magi, Cologne Cathedral), Stefan Lochner, circa 1440, PD-US published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923, author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. The Annunciation, Alessandro Allori, 1579, Restored Traditions, used with permission. L’Annonciation [The Annunciation], Nicolas Poussin, ca 1653, Restored Traditions, used with permission. Detail from Crucifixion, Evgraf Semenovich Sorokin, 1873, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Feature Image Art: The Annunciation, Auguste Pichon, 1859, Restored Traditions, used with permission.