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As I reflect on the Gospel for this Sunday (Luke 1: 26-38), I am impressed, challenged and inspired by Mary’s loving encounter with the angel Gabriel. Gabriel tells Mary she is to be the mother of Jesus:
“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.”
Mary responds with, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” Her question to the angel is a way of discerning God’s will, and it also reminds us that asking God questions does not mean we lack faith. Many times, as a Christian and as a priest, I have wondered about events in my life and the world and asked, “How can this be?”
Sometimes we can be bashful in prayer, thinking our struggles are not important enough for God’s attention, or equating questioning with doubt. But prayer is meant to be a deeply personal encounter with God. We should not hold back. When we ask God the tough questions about our lives and our world, we show an openness to his answer, and we are formed by his response, as Mary was when the angel said:
“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 holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary, having asked the tough question, having discerned God’s will for her, now embraces God’s will:
“Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.’”
St. Augustine said that Mary was even more blessed in being Christ’s disciple than she was in being his mother. To be the mother of our Lord is a privilege that is hers alone, but discipleship belongs to all of us. Mary is a model of prayer, a model of discipleship and a model of discerning God’s will.
This Christmas, I encourage you to follow Mary’s example of discipleship and discernment. Do not be bashful in your praying. Have a deeply personal encounter with the Lord. Ask God those tough questions. In doing so you will be opening yourself to God’s perspective.
May the fruit of your prayer be the same as Mary’s: a joyous, blessed Christmas.
Father Richard M. Erikson is Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.