25 March 2010

Loved beyond death (2007)

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Isa 7.10-14, 8-10; Heb 10.4-10; Luke 1.26-38
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

A sign for us as deep as the nether world and as high as the sky! A sign as bright as the collective angelic glory and as generous as the bounds of the cosmos! Isaiah tells King Ahaz that the Lord’s sign of His favor, the seal of His loving covenant is this: He will come to us with meat and skin and bones by the womb of a virgin and she and her husband will name him Emmanuel, “God With Us!” And why do we need this sign? Isaiah reports that “[King Ahaz’s heart] and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” when they heard that their powerful neighbors were coming to wage war against them. Our God, wearied by their anxiety, showed Isaiah this sign of His enduring presence. Our God is always with us! And so we celebrate today the angelic announcement to Mary the Virgin that our Lord has fulfilled His promise and is here with us now. Christ has come into the world, and he has come to do the Father’s will.

John Paul II wrote in his letter to women, Mulieris dignitatem (1988), “Do we not find in the Annunciation at Nazareth the beginning of that definitive answer by which God himself ‘attempts to calm people's hearts’?” No one here will be surprised when I say that ours is an age of anxiety, an era of raw psychic upheaval and potentially deadly spiritual negligence. The truths of the faith that set us firmly on the Way often find us disbelieving, mistrusting, uncaring, and wearied by constant assault. The news that our neighbors might be arrayed against us, ready for ideological warfare, seems almost predictable and expected. Isn’t the culture circling us, moving in, coming closer and closer, strangling us, pushing us to the edge of irrelevance? Aren’t we seeing the end of the Christian West, the coming reign of Baal in America? And Mohamed in Europe? Surely, if we are not winning, we must be losing!

Truly, our hearts are anxious and wearied. But what we are anxious about? What wearies us? Maybe you are worried about the decline of the Christian West. This is U.D. after all! But if I had to bet my stipend I would say that most of us are wearied by trails slightly less dramatic than the collapse of the Enlightenment Project into postmodernity. Say, small things like money, relationships, children, family, work, health, spiritual well-being, academic success. These things will gnaw at our trust, nibble ever so gently at our peace, until we are weary and it looks as though our enemies are arrayed against us and God Himself is paying no attention.

The Annunciation of our Lord’s conception to Mary at Nazareth is God’s announcement to us that He is with us. Always with us. Always has been. Always will be. Our Lord did not write new laws for us to assure us of His presence. He did not send yet another prophet to preach His love, to proclaim His fidelity to His covenant. He came Himself. He came Himself to tell us that He loves us and to seal the deal of our salvation with His own body and blood. His wrecked body on the cross is our one sacrifice for all of us, for all of our sins. And his resurrection from the dead is our assurance that we will never be alone. He was born of a virgin and named Emmanuel, “God With Us.”

We can hear in the angelic annunciation to Mary the beginning of God’s definitive answer to our unsettled hearts. Where’s the rest of His answer? The Paschal Mystery! The rest of Emmanuel’s life as a preacher and healer; his teaching the truth of the Father’s mercy; his life with his mother and father and friends; his betrayal by those same friends; his trial before the priests and Pilate; the beatings, the ridicule, the pain and blood. Of course, the Cross. And the Empty Tomb. Here’s our answer: we are loved beyond joy, beyond truth, beyond family and friends; we are loved beyond Law, beyond pain and death; we are loved by Love Himself.

Gabriel said to Mary, “The Lord is with you!...Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God.”

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