The solemnity of Annunciation–the great mystery of Gabriel announcing to Mary that she would be the Mother of “the Son of God”–opens a new pathway for our anxious world today.
To embark on this journey, the Church invites us to consecrate ourselves to Jesus through her — and so we place ourselves as well as our communities and even our nations in her heart. It is within the act of faith that she made that we too will receive Jesus until His reign extends through us as well.
In the angelic greeting, a new sovereignty is revealed, an authority to govern. The legitimacy of this authority is not rooted in earthly powers but instead in the fulfillment of a divine promise that does not pass away. Unlike any kingdom of this world, this kingdom rests not on the temporary peace that comes through conquest of an enemy. Instead, the “yes” of a woman to God’s promise has brought a new kind of peace. The conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary introduces into this passing world a new order and legitimacy in human affairs that will never pass:
Then the angel said to her: Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:30-33)
Mary’s openness to the blessings of God chart a way forward for humanity toward an eternal sacred order before which the exigencies of each historical moment must yield. Not by forced subjection or brutality, but by love, this is a trail of humility and fearlessness on which the Son of the Most High leads us. Consecrating ourselves to Jesus through Mary expresses the commitment to follow this pathway. To set one’s existence under a power and authority not of this world is to open oneself to what is primordial, an order of things more powerful than the disorder of the present moment. This new kingdom is not in competition with what passes away but rescues everything that is noble and true about our lives from every threatening evil. Rooted in a mystery that transcends time, all earthly kingdoms fall and rise before this throne, and Mary who is the first to receive this into her heart is also the one who helps us sing with her, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.”
Unlike the kingdom announced by Gabriel, the kingdoms of this passing world come to an end. This is because we tend, as individuals and communities, away from humility before the truth of our situation. Yet great humility is called for since the common good often eludes our grasp. We do not understand what really binds us together and we are weak in the face of our own avarice. Without humility before a reference point that transcends our own desires, the foundation on which we build our communities lacks the solidity of truth and, over time, fails to bear the weight of human existence.
At the brink of a world war, today’s earthly kingdoms seek salvation by technological force. It is presumed that developments in economic and military capabilities through advances in technology can build and protect a better humanity. Indeed, tremendous wealth, honor, and control have been realized through technological advancement.
Yet there is a caveat. When nations or businesses rely on the power of technology to coerce or manipulate, it is at the expense of their own legitimacy and so they fall. The legitimacy of any institution rests on the degree to which it protects human dignity and freedom. Such things that flow from our divine image and likeness do not pass even when we act against them. When we betray them, they testify against us because we betray ourselves. This is true of our own acts of freedom …. it is also true of our institutions and businesses. Whether our own tent cities or new refugee camps, we have lived to see that new ways to nudge, shame, and coerce into compliance do not yield a cohesive society or world peace. The opposite is true. The more limits imposed on human dignity, the more out of control the discord becomes. This is as true for nations as it is for neighborhoods, dinner tables, and hearts.
The Annunciation opens humanity to the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom all about saving human dignity from dehumanizing powers. Only under the rule of Christ can human freedom finally find room to unfold and disclose its full potential – not just for individuals but also in the societies we form together. This is because the throne of this kingdom does not rest on coercion or manipulation but on love and love alone. Yet this love is hidden, disguised in poverty, rejection, and humility.
To consecrate ourselves to Jesus through Mary is to choose this pathway even when it may seem that the powerful and mighty of this world are in control. It is to live by faith that the reality of the God who saves us is ever greater and more present – more real to the human reality than what seems conventional, comfortable, and convenient. Mary opened the heart of humanity to this truth. Thus, we entrust worldly powers to the Lord through her until our own hearts sing, “He who is mighty has done great things.”
Image: Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci, Wikimedia Commons