Successive Annunciations – Fr. Tom McKenna reflects on the many annunciations in our lives and the invitations to say “Yes”. (A homily preached on the occasion of renewal of vows)
The Successive Annunciations
I was speaking to someone recently about her experience of re-reading a book, a classic book, at different times during her life – and how in many ways it was a different book each reading.
It got her to asking “how did that author sneak in all that new stuff since the last time?
But it got me to thinking about how this same phenomenon shows up in lots of other ways – but in particular, how it happens with classic bible stories that get run past us time and again. And so for instance, the Annunciation.
How might you have heard it as a young adult, (even a late teen)? I suspect there would have been a certain dose of romanticism mixed in, not so much as with a couple in romance novel, but rather as with the raw and shining beauty that the sacrifices of youth can have about them.
As in, not knowing where it will lead you, but plunging in anyhow; as in that “handing-it-all-over-once-and-for-all” that takes your heart away.
And so, the young knight forsaking all and heading out into the wilderness to seek the holy grail.
Or the teenaged Mary saying “I don’t really understand it all, — but I hand myself over to You, Lord — anyhow.”
Or the 20 something year old, in the silence of her heart, saying “I really don’t know what’s ahead in my life ahead, Lord — but I’ll go for it anyhow.”
Pt. That “whole burnt offering” on the part of a young person has a purity and innocence about it that’s nothing short of beautiful. It’s a total giving-of-self-over to an ideal, a surrender that can draw tears when you see it happen.
Fast forward 25 or so years. It’s not the fuzzy cheeked knight on his frisky stallion, but the slightly paunchy middle level manager now, trying to maintain things/hold the operation together.
It’s the mostly invisible person, unsung, doing the grunt work that asks a lot more for long haul hanging-in than for a dramatic one-time offering. The scene doesn’t have the splendor of the go-for-broke surrender of youth, but is marked rather with the taken-for-granted “just do it” of the middle years.
It’s Mary with her Son coming into his adulthood, wondering how “Thy Will be Done” got – and gets – translated, in the course of these “ordinary” years. She might well be thinking that it’s been more the case of “Thy Will be searched out!” That is to say, where is that Will as that Will has been kneaded into the stuff of everyday life, or where it can be discerned in the hum drum and the taken-for-granted?
And so, you, in your “middle years,” where you’ve been teaching somewhere for 30 straight semesters, been nursing for 15 years and in the process got transferred between 3 hospitals, been holding together a social service agency through its ups and downs.
Where some days you wondered if anybody was noticing any more, or if what you were doing was really making that much difference. Where the “will of God” had gotten a lot murkier, and discernment walked more in shadows than it did in the morning light of those first vows.
And you looked upon the picture of Mary with the angel, and you tuned in more to her uncertainly and hesitancy, than you did to the firmness of her response. And in that frame of mind you renewed your vows, this time from that space of the “noon day sun,” from out of that “on-the-road” feeling, from that “put one foot in front of the other and keep on going” kind of commitment
Or perhaps, you’re hearing the Annunciation story from still a later stage. When the knight’s armor is rusted over some and he’s pretty much left the road. He’s looking back at what happened, and looking ahead to the different kinds of contributions he can still make in the present.
He’s even starting to wonder a bit about how he can leave it all in the right way; that is, the way of still being a gift to those people he leaves behind.
And there’s Mary, coming to the end of her time, still not fully able to piece things together, but a lot more practiced in letting her will be submerged into the Will of her God.
Still not understanding 100%, but somehow having become more trusting; still feeling her sorrows, but having come to act more out of value than out of her emotions.
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” now sung more in the darker key of “into Your Hands I commend my spirit,” than in the more innocent one of “Lead me Lord into your bright morning.”
And so, you, in your senior years, heavy ministry behind you, still making that contribution but increasingly doing it more by presence than by activity. Coming to grips with what that “May it be done unto me according to Your Word” might mean at this stage of the game.
You’re now looking at that scene of Mary with the Angel from the point of view of how the angel has been with you all these years and what messages from God are being given to you in this time of life.
It’s “Thy will be done” from still another angle. It’s the moment of promises/vows, now experienced against a still another backdrop, one that would pull out of us different and still richer meanings.
And so back to that book, that classic that keeps on giving.
Over the years, we re-read this book from different ledges, so to speak. And different riches come to us at each level.
Over and over, we revisit that room “in a town of Galilee called Nazareth” and hear different nuances and depths to those same words: “The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid. The power of the Most High will overshadow you. Nothing will be impossible for God.”
But especially do we hear the different dimensions and densities in those hallowed words of our own response, “May it be done unto me according to Your Word.”
May each successive re-play of this classic scene, each new version of this Annunciation story, open us more up to the depths and heights, the wideness and the reach of God’s will — as it’s being done in us, and all around us.
Let us say Jesus’ classic words with ever new depth each year: “Thy will be done.”