Celebrating the Annunciation and Incarnation
Celebrating a Better Lent
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
“The desire to embrace his Father’s plan of redeeming love inspired Jesus’ whole life, for his redemptive passion was the very reason for his Incarnation.” CCC 607
The early church believed that celebrating the Annunciation/Incarnation fit perfectly within the Lenten celebration of sacrifice and mortification. 1 Today however, the Annunciation is sometimes mistakenly thought of as being exclusively a joyful event because of its association with the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary. However, God’s mysteries are as broad as they are deep.
In the history of mankind there has not been a greater example of self sacrifice than what happened at the Incarnation and the Annunciation. The Second Person of the Trinity knew full well that accepting His mission from the Father would lead to suffering and a horrible death. And when Mary gave her yes to the Annunciation she was in effect giving her okay to her own death warrant. Since she had no relations with Saint Joseph if he had decided to publicly divorce her, the Law would have required her to be stoned to death, a most unpleasant way to go. And yet, she still said yes.
Our Sorrowful Mother Mary
Mary’s yes to God was not limited, as many Protestants would like to contend, to just being a vessel for God’s Son. Her yes was a complete yes of her whole being to the complete plan of God. 2 John 2:4-5. Her yes was to be fulfilled throughout her life.
Pope Benedict XVI Speaking about the Annunciation
“In this Lenten Season we
often contemplate Our Lady, who on Calvary sealed the "yes" she
pronounced at Nazareth. United to Christ, Witness of the Father's love,
Mary lived martyrdom of the soul.”
The suffering of one’s own mother can cut through many obstacles to move one’s heart. Unfortunately, our present liturgical calendar offers little or no opportunity to give a Sunday reflection on our Sorrowful Mother. The proposal of this web page, if accepted, would do so because Mary's yes was a complete acceptance of God's plan regardless of the personal cost to herself - even if it meant being stoned to death for her "unexplainable" pregnancy.
Therefore, one very good reason for moving this Solemnity to a Sunday prior to Passion (Palm) Sunday is that it fits perfectly into the Season of Lent. This would enhance our Lenten celebration by providing us with two prefect examples, Jesus and Mary, who gave up worldly pleasures to give themselves entirely to God the Father and His plan even when much suffering ensued. And by reflecting on their choices which were motivated by the purest of reasons, a total love for the Father, we can enable a more fruitful celebration of Lent and Easter.
There’s a danger that Christianity can be misperceived as a set of laws, and arbitrary ones at that, and that God is just a Master Law giver who seeks to control us. This perception gives way to the idea that we just have to give some external things to God or that attending ritual ceremonies are solely meant to be perfunctory obligations rather than occasions of faith-filled encounters with the Person of Jesus Christ. And God is misperceived as a Master who has the need to require that we do such things to make Him happy, or at least that we should fulfill most of His arbitrary requirements lest we upset Him so much and get condemned to Hell.
To their credit Muslims are good at expressing how God is our Master and that we need to submit to Him. Islam means submission. However, their view of their relationship to God is limited to this Master/Slave relationship.
Besides Jesus’ and Mary’s example the Annunciation and Incarnation offers us a third example of total self giving.
Jesus Christ came to earth and revealed God to be a Father. And so, the Annunciation is a perfect opportunity to explain the Fatherhood of God. He is a Father from before the world was created, because He is a Father to the Son – who is also God. His Fatherhood is independent of creation because it existed before the world was created. God is perfectly and infinitely happy in Himself. He came to earth and made known His revelation not for His benefit, but for ours.
In the Father/Son relationship we are called not to just give external things to God, but to give our heart and our very selves to God. We find true happiness not in worldly things while trying to appease some Master who makes arbitrary demands on us. Rather, by putting God first in our lives we find happiness in God Himself as we, His adopted children, accept and live in a Father/son relationship.
God’s laws are not to be seen as some arbitrary rules to control us, but rather as our Heavenly Father’s guides to us to save us and to help us so that we might freely choose to live in communion with Him, the Source of all that is good, and to find true freedom and true happiness. The emptiness of our hearts can only be filled by living in a loving relationship with Him and by loving others. The teachings and requirements of the Church are not to be seen as something burdensome, but rather as something life giving.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the
truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.’ ”
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Pope Benedict XVI explains how the Annunciation gives us the perfect example of the act of giving of ourselves to God. Read more on vocations.
The world tends to reduce the meaning of love to unbridled selfish passion. Happiness is reduced to the temporary satisfaction of worldly pleasures. The Annunciation/Incarnation is the perfect opportunity to explain our human nature and how it is meant to be in relation to others. We are made to be united to others in relationships. The empty place in our hearts cannot be satisfied with lonely isolated pleasures or ego trips, but rather it can only be healed and satisfied by truly loving relationships. And our relationships will be truly loving when, and only if, they are based on a loving relationship with God where we worship Him and Him alone.
And Jesus gives us the perfect example by accepting His mission from the Father and by living in union with Him.
Annunciation - Incarnation,
And Its Psychological Advantages
Just as in Advent we have Gaudete Sunday, a moment of tempered joy, our Lenten Season has Laetare Sunday two weeks before Passion (Palm) Sunday. It is celebrated by a certain amount of restrained rejoicing mingled with some sadness.
The Second Person of the Trinity accepted the Father’s plan of the Incarnation knowing full well that it would lead to His suffering and death. See quote from CCC 607 above. And so, the Annunciation and Incarnation dovetails beautifully into this Season of Lent.
Shifting our focus to a tempered moment of joy that Laetare Sunday calls us to helps us to better celebrate the Season of Lent. The immensity of the Victory of Easter cannot be understood without experiencing the true sorrow of the Passion.
While many things can be sad, sorrow is more profoundly experienced when it is in the midst of what should be joyful. For example, the death of an old man or woman is sad, however the death of a young bride, when we are emotionally focused on what we expect are the joys of youthful and newly married love, makes the young bride’s death all the more sorrowful. Or if we hear of the death of a young child the occasion takes on an especially sorrowful tone.
Suffering in the midst of an expectant joy makes the suffering all the more painful. Contemplating the reality of death is by nature sad. However, when the experience of the Passion is associated with another occasion, the Annunciation/Incarnation, which we would normally and rightfully associate with profound joy the sorrow becomes more profound and penetrating (and vice-versa.)
As we contemplate the coming of Christ in the Annunciation/Incarnation and what should have been – if there had been no sin – it brings out the true sorrow of His passion. This in turn makes the joy and victory of Easter all the more exuberant.
Only by examining the reality of what death entails will enable us to appreciate and experience the fullness of joy that the resurrection offers us.
Dealing with Death
When a young child or newly wed spouse dies the survivors will often ask, why did God take him or her away from me? The Annunciation points to the fact that human life begins at conception and this can lead to recovery for those that mourn. God, who is the Author of life, creates each human person at the moment of their conception. (Jesus is One Person, a Divine Person, who is co-eternal with the Father.)
Since God is the creator of time and space He knows our future and how many days each of us will live. (This is not a denial of free-will, but a recognition that God is outside of time.)
God should be seen as the One who gives not as one who takes away. Whether by God’s divine providence we are destined to live 2 years, 20 years or 80 years or whatever time span we are blessed to have should be seen as a gift. No one deserves or earns the gift of another person.
The gift of personhood and life that begins at conception is a miraculous and tremendously great gift. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves about what we do not have we should be grateful for the underserved gift that we were given. So, whatever friends or relatives that we are blessed to have and whatever time period we are blessed to have them should be seen as on occasion of joy and thanksgiving.
Understanding True Penance
The mystery of the Annunciation/Incarnation provides the perfect opportunity to explain in a positive way what God, man, human nature, true love, and penance really mean. Jesus gave his very self to the Father, following the Father’s example. Jesus embraced His Divine will out of love for Him, not out of fear of being punished by some Master. Mary, the model Christian, also gave her complete and unreserved yes to God, accepting in faith that His will was best for her.
Understanding this mystery lays the foundation for understanding what penance is truly meant to be and what it is meant to lead us to.
For some Catholics their participation in penance has been reduced to a time for starting a new diet and their understanding of sacrificing is limited to just the external things that are offered up. For others a lifestyle that is seriously and inherently sinful is mistaken as being totally distinct from their penitential practice.
However, emphasizing the Solemnity of the Annunciation/Incarnation will enhance the Church’s ability get to the real meaning of penance. One of the primary goals of penance is to inspire people to the foundation of what penance is meant to signify and lead those people into the giving of their heart, and of their very selves to God. Fortunately, this Solemnity and the readings for that celebration are especially conducive for achieving that goal and it approaches that purpose with a unique message.
The full meaning and implication of the Incarnation for Jesus can not help but be obvious to the faithful being celebrated shortly before the Passion of our Lord.
Spring, and the Incarnation.