Sunday, September 9, 2012

When life takes that "wrong" turn ...

Every person reading this, at one time or another, has had some very specific way he or she believed they were meant to serve God ... only to find out that they were mistaken.  It may have been a career you felt sure you were called to, or some great ministry idea that never took off.  Life went on and perhaps you later found yourself carrying out the work you felt called to in a different setting or as part of some other role you took on.  Whatever it was, that experience of discovering you were mistaken on the specifics  is disappointing as well as bewildering.  I've sure been there and, so too I believe, has our Blessed Mother.  

Ivanov Alexander Andreevich's The Annunciation (1850)
If we read Luke's account of the Annunciation carefully, Mary asks what should strike us as a strange question.  A little background first:  Jewish marriage was a two-step process - 1) the legal-binding of the couple, and then after about a year; 2) the wife left her family and settled into married life in the home of her husband.  Mary and Joseph had already passed through step one when Gabriel appeared to her (Lk.1:27) with the announcement "you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus" (1:31).  At that point, Mary, an already legally married woman, asks a strange question?  "How will this be, since I do not know man?" (1:34)

Huh?  A married woman still in the dark about the "birds and the bees"?  The Bible has other accounts of angels announcing the birth of children, but none of them record the mother needing a lesson in the facts of life.  I don't think Mary did either, and I'm not alone.  A long line of biblical interpreters have understood Mary's question as revealing a decision on her part - a vow to God - to remain a virgin, even after she went to live with Joseph.  If that was the case then her question to the angel makes sense.  "I have consecrated my virginity to the Lord, I have made my life a virginal offering to him.  How can I conceive a child?"

Gabriel's response is one of my favorite verses in the whole of Scripture, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called the Son of God" (Lk.1:35).  Only God could conceive of a way of serving Him in which physical virginity and physical motherhood can exist side-by-side.  It wasn't the way Mary had conceived of in serving Him.  She had heard the call to consecrated virginity, never imagining that there could be a subsequent call to Motherhood!  How could she imagine something like that?  Naturally speaking it makes no sense!  But God is above nature.

He is above nature, and He is above you and me.  When life takes a "wrong" turn and our plans to serve God seem in shambles, take a step back.  It's possible that you heard incorrectly, but it's also quite possible that the Lord has only revealed a small portion of the larger work He intends for you.  Rest assured, nothing is wasted.  Even the sins committed against us have been woven into God's plan (Gen.5:20; Rom.8:28).  Take your Mother's hand, throw yourself into your Father's arms, and be at peace.  ("Hail Mary ..., Our Father ...)

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