When God Calls
WE’VE ALL heard annunciations. “I’m pregnant!” “I got a job!” “We bought a house!” Some annunciations are tragic: “You have six months to live.” “There’s been an accident.” “We found the body.”
On March 25, the Church commemorates the Annunciation of Christ’s conception to the Blessed Virgin. However, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would be the Mother of God, it was not a done deal. The angel waited for Mary’s consent. She could have refused the role as the Mother of the Messiah.
In many annunciations, it may seem that we do not have a choice. However, we do. We can choose how to respond: Will we be joyful or upset over the pregnancy? Will we focus on the new job’s benefits or deficiencies? Will we anticipate moving with eagerness or bitterness? If we have only six months to live, will we enjoy the time and repair relationships or will we wallow in self-pity? In an accident, will we accept God’s will or will we dwell on ‘what ifs’? If a body is found, will we surrender the soul to God’s mercy or will we allow grief to paralyze us?
God is my comfort
Saint Anthony tells us that God sent the angel Gabriel to the Virgin because Gabriel means “God is my comfort… We usually comfort three kinds of people, especially the sick, the bereaved and the fearful” (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals IV p. 159; Messaggero di Sant’Antonio Editrice).
Mary was fearful when she heard the angel Gabriel’s announcement. “Who, having heard, was troubled [Lk 1.29]… And thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. She was troubled because of her modesty, and from prudence she wondered at the new form of blessing” (Sermons IV, p. 162).
The angel went on to say, “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son [Lk 1.31]… And thou shalt call his name Jesus. Note that we read of five persons who are called by God before they were conceived in the womb.
The first was Isaac, of whom Genesis 17 says: Sara thy wife shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name Isaac [Gen 17.19].”
“The second was Samson, of whom Judges 13 says: The angel said to the wife of Manue: Thou shalt conceive and bear a son [Jg 13.3].
The third was Josias, of whom III Kings 13 says: Behold, a child shall be born to the house of David, Josias by name [3 (1) Kg 13.2].
The fourth and fifth were John the Baptist and Jesus Christ” (Sermons IV, pp. 163-64).”
Anthony overlooks Ishmael, son of Abraham by his slave girl Hagar, whom Abraham’s wife Sarai (Sarah) had given to Abraham to beget children. “And the angel of the Lord said to her [Hagar], ‘Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction” [Gen. 16.11]. Ishmael means “God hears.” God hears our cries of glee or grief when annunciations come.
Annunciations have far reaching, unforeseen and even unthinkable consequences. Biblical annunciations reveal that the children had roles in God’s plan, but their parents could never have imagined how their children would fulfill their roles.
God told Abraham, “I will bless her (Abraham’s wife Sarah), and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” [Gen 17:16]. God then revealed Isaac as the son’s name. Trusting in God, neither Abraham nor Sarah could possibly imagine that God would ask them to sacrifice this promised son, although God deemed sufficient the willingness to do so. Isaac grew up to become the father of Jacob, who became father of the Israelites, and Esau, who became father of the Edomites.
Would Samson’s parents have hoped that their son would someday love a conniving woman who would betray him to his enemies? Through this betrayal began the deliverance from the Philistines, thus fulfilling the angel’s prophecy.
Josias’ father Amon was an evil king, just as his father Manasseh had been. Both cared about power, not God’s laws. Could either of them have imagined that Josias would rediscover the Jewish law and have the people live it?
How could Zachary and Elizabeth have projected that their son John would have a penchant for the desert, which caused him to live an ascetic life while calling others to repentance?
Could the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph possibly foresee that the innocent Jesus would “save his people from their sins” [Mat 1.21] by offering Himself as a sacrifice to be tortured and murdered as if He, instead of us, had sinned?
Annunciations frequently change the course of our lives and the lives of others. Therefore, it’s helpful to seek counsel. Anthony implies this as he discusses the children who were announced by name.
“In Isaac (meaning ‘laughter’) we see charitable people who are always laughing in mind… he should always work in the light of reason, in joy of mind” (Sermons IV, p. 164). Annunciations are part of God’s plan. That is sufficient reason to find joy in the annunciation through which God is thrusting us into sanctity.
“In Samson (meaning ‘their sun’) we see those who preach the word of God, who in word and example should be the ‘sun’ of those to whom they preach…” (Sermons IV, p. 164). When tragedy arises, we should turn to the word of God, to Scripture, and to counselors who can enlighten and support us.
“In Josias (meaning ‘place of incense, or of sacrifice’) we see true religious, in whom is the incense of devout prayer and the sacrifice of mortified flesh” (Sermons IV, p. 164). Prayer and penance, whether in gratitude or in reparation or supplication, should follow every annunciation. Prayer helps us deal with the news. Those with religious vocations recognize the need for prayer and are conscientious about praying. It’s prudent to ask religious to pray for and with us.
“In the Baptist we see all penitents and good secular folk who baptize and sanctify themselves in the Jordan River (the ‘river of judgement’), that is, in tears and confession, in bestowal of alms and in other works of mercy” (Sermons IV, p. 165). Anthony suggests that we repent, confess, give alms, and perform works of charity, no matter if the news be good or bad. These actions thank God for good news and bolster our strength if the news is bad.
“In Jesus the Saviour we see all good prelates of the Church” (Sermons IV, p 65). This reminds us to turn to a good priest for prayer, insight, and guidance, particularly if the annunciation brings overpowering and confusing emotions.
The annunciation to Mary should inspire us to seek support, as Mary did by confiding in Joseph and visiting her cousin Elizabeth, whose husband Zachary had received the annunciation of John the Baptist. No matter whether the announcement is delightful or tragic, we should look inward to see how we should change to deal best with the news. We can consult holy, spiritual people, including priests and religious, for insight. Most importantly, we should pray because prayer opens us to God’s grace and guidance.