Monday, March 25, 2019

Pope Benedict on the Annunciation

Annunciation - Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)

In his Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict gives us this reflection on the Annunciation. Particularly moving is the fourth paragraph in which he speaks of Mary's journey through the "dark moments" ahead, "returning inwardly to the hour when God's angel had spoken to her."

 . . . in reaction to the angel’s greeting Mary is troubled and pensive . . . but what follows is not fear but an interior reflection on the angel’s greeting. She ponders (dialogues within herself) over what the greeting of God’s messenger could mean. So one salient feature of the image of the mother of Jesus is already present here, and we will encounter it again in two similar situations in the Gospel: her inner engagement with the word (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). She does not remain locked in her initial troubled state at the proximity of God in his angel, but she seeks to understand. So Mary appears as a fearless woman, one who remains composed even in the presence of something utterly unprecedented. At the same time she stands before us as a woman of great interiority, who holds heart and mind in harmony and seeks to understand the context, the overall significance of God’s message. In this way, she becomes an image of the Church as she considers the word of God, tries to understand it in its entirety and guards in her memory the things that have been given to her. 

Mary’s second reaction . . . After the thoughtful reflection with which she had received his initial greeting, the angel informs her that she has been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. Mary replies with a short, incisive question: “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” . . . The angel confirms that her motherhood will not come about in the normal way after she has been taken home by Joseph, but through “overshadowing, by the power of the Most High,” by the coming of the Holy Spirit, and he notes emphatically: “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Lk 1:37).

Next comes the third reaction, Mary’s actual answer: her straightforward yes. She declares herself to be the handmaid of the Lord. “Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). 

. . . I consider it important to focus also on the final sentence of Luke’s annunciation narrative: “And the angel departed from her” (Lk 1:38). The great hour of Mary’s encounter with God’s messenger—in which her whole life is changed—comes to an end, and she remains there alone, with the task that truly surpasses all human capacity. There are no angels standing round her. She must continue along the path that leads through many dark moments—from Joseph’s dismay at her pregnancy to the moment when Jesus is said to be out of his mind (cf. Mk 3:21; Jn 10:20), right up to the night of the Cross. How often in these situations must Mary have returned inwardly to the hour when God’s angel had spoken to her, pondering afresh the greeting: “Rejoice, full of grace!” and the consoling words: “Do not be afraid!” The angel departs; her mission remains, and with it matures her inner closeness to God, a closeness that in her heart she is able to see and touch.

Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (pp. 37-38). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition, pp 33-38.


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