A Woman Wrapped in Silence – A Meditation for the Feast of the Annunciation

032415In preparation for today’s Feast of the Annunciation I picked up Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 3 (The Infancy Narratives)  by Pope Emeritus Benedict. I was very moved by a very brief reflection that he made on Mary as the Angel Gabriel left her. His remarks consider her faith in a very touching manner. I must say that I have always been moved, and intrigued, by the faith of the Blessed Mother, for she is “a woman wrapped in silence,” a phrase that forms the title of an excellent book by Fr.  John Lynch. The Pope’s words capture both her faith and her mystery.

Here is what the Pope says:

I consider it important to focus also on the final sentence of Luke’s Annunciation narrative: “And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38). The great hour of Mary’s encounter with God’s messenger–in which her whole life is changed–comes to an end, and she remains there alone, with a task that truly surpasses all human capacity. There are no angels standing around her. She must continue along the path that leads to many dark moments–from Joseph’s dismay at her pregnancy, to the moment when Jesus is said to be out of his mind (cf. Mark 3:21; John 10:20) right up to the night of the cross.

How often in these situations must Mary have returned inwardly to the hour when God’s angel had spoken to her, pondering afresh the greeting: “Rejoice, full of grace!” And the consoling words: “Do not be afraid!” The angel departs; her mission remains, and with it matures her inner closeness to God,  a closeness that in her heart she is able to see and touch (Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives, Kindle edition (loc 488-501)).

I am moved by this picture of Mary there all alone, perhaps wondering how it would all unfold and whether what she just heard had really happened. The angel departs and there she is, all alone (and yet never alone).

As background, I would like to say that I have read some accounts of Mary’s life that placed her in such rarefied air that I could no longer relate to her. I vaguely remember reading some accounts of visionaries saying that Mary did not even have to do housework because the angels swept the house, did the dishes, and so forth. Some other accounts spoke of how she had detailed foreknowledge of everything that would take place in her life and in that of Jesus. I even recall one purported visionary writing that Mary had extensive theological discussions with Jesus even while He was still an infant.

I do not remember who these alleged visionaries were or if any of them were even approved visionaries. Yet in the early 1980s a large number of books were published containing the observations of various visionaries.

Such utterances often left me cold and made me feel distant from our Blessed Mother. They also did not seem to comport with the Scriptures, which present mother Mary as a woman of great faith but a woman who, like all of us, has to walk by faith and not by perfect sight. She wonders at Gabriel’s greeting, is troubled, and does not understand how it will all work out (cf Luke 1:29).

Yet she presses on and we next see her having made haste to the hill country, rejoicing in ecstatic praise with her cousin: My spirit rejoices in God my savior! She still does not know how it will all work out, but in spite of that she is content to know the One who holds the future; it is enough for now.

Years later, when she finds Jesus teaching in the Temple after days of agonized searching for the “missing” boy, she does not fully understand His explanation (Luke 2:48-50), but must, and does, ponder these things within her heart (Luke 2:51).

At the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus seems almost to rebuke His mother. And though the text leaves many of the details out, there must have been something of the look that only a mother can give her son. By now, her understanding of her son had surely deepened; she had known Him and pondered and reflected in her heart over Him for more than 30 years. She simply looks at Him and He looks at her, a look that only the two would have known. But something passed between them, a look of understanding. Whatever it was remains wrapped in silence, none of our business, something that only she and her Son could know. But whatever it was,  she turns and with confidence, knowing it will be well-handled, simply says to the stewards, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).

Of the three years to follow we know very little. We know that she is not far off. We see her in Mark 3:31 as she asks after Jesus, seemingly concerned that others are saying “He is beside himself!”

And now we find her gently and supportively present at the foot of the Cross. The sword that Simeon had prophesied (Lk 2:35) is thrust through her heart. More than thirty years earlier she could only marvel and wonder what Simeon’s words meant when he said that her child was destined for the fall and the rise of many in Israel and that a sword would pierce her heart (Luke 2:33). But in the intervening years her faith had surely deepened, and now, here she is at the foot of the Cross. It is her darkest hour, but surely all those years of pondering and reflecting on these things in her heart helps to sustain her.

Yes, Mother Mary is a woman wrapped in silence. We know so little, for she is reflective, quiet, saying little, silently standing by, silently supportive in Jesus’ publicly ministry. And now, again silently, she is at the foot of the Cross.

Yes this is the Mary, this is the mother that I know. A woman of faith but also a human being like you and me. And, as the Pope Benedict suggested, she is a woman who had to make a journey of faith without knowing how everything would work out, not with the omniscience that some visionaries ascribe to her. She knew what the angel had said, but it seems clear that she did not know how it would all come to pass. She, like us, walked with faith and not with earthly sight.

Mary is the perfect disciple, the woman of faith, the one who presses on, not knowing all, but pondering and reflecting everything in her heart.

15 Replies to “A Woman Wrapped in Silence – A Meditation for the Feast of the Annunciation”

  1. I totally recognize that beautiful stained glass window as a student of the Mount ! We are indeed blessed to have such a chapel.

  2. In my own reflections I have too thought of Mary, not as you mention some visionaries describe her, but as a regular woman like me, one who really didn’t know in advance the Will of God, but just desired to do His Will. In my mind I have thought the one great attribute she had was to be able to embrace, not just accept, the Will of God as it became evident in her life.
    In my reflections I have thought of the circumstances of her life. I have reflected upon the last days of her pregnancy. She is about to give birth in a week or so, and is finishing up her preparations for the coming of a new baby, maybe preparing and storing up extra food so Joseph will be able to eat while she is resting after the birth, and Joseph comes to tell her there has been a decree for a census, and they are required to travel to Bethlehem. When? Now. What does she do? She embraces it as if this is right and good. What would I, a modern day woman, maybe any other woman, normally do? I can imagine myself; the grumbling, the complaining, how can I go, I’m 9 months pregnant! What could God possibly want this for? And praying, God, change this, get me out of it. And when finally facing I must do it, while packing, the murmuring and angry attitude in me. I sure am far from how I imagine Mary reacted.
    They arrive in Bethlehem after a tiring journey. She waits with their belongings in an alley, perhaps, a small street, while Joseph searches for lodging. She feels the pangs of birth beginning. She knows it will be soon. She prays to God Joseph finds a comfortable room soon, so she can rest, and birth the child she knows is coming. Somewhere warm, and safe. She’s confident God hears her prayers. She prays God will help her give birth easily, and the child and she will be okay, since there is no midwife to help. She feels peaceful. All will be well. Joseph returns, and breaks the bad news: no rooms. Only the stable. What does she do? Didn’t God hear her prayer?
    In my imaginings, Mary, Our Beautiful Mother, nods and EMBRACES the outcome as God’s Holy Will. She goes to the stable. She doesn’t rail against what has happened. She doesn’t complain, even in her heart. She has reached a point where God’s Will, even when she doesn’t understand it, even when she doesn’t know why, even when she prayed for something else, she has reached a point where she embraces whatever actually happens as God’s Will, and embraces it as the most right thing that could happen. Because she understands God has a plan bigger than her own immediate needs, and if she embraces His Will at every moment, even when she doesn’t understand, she doing her part to accomplish His great plan for mankind’s salvation. And that is what she wants in her heart of hearts, above all things.
    That is Faith. That is the beauty of Our Lady. That is what I salute from afar. That is what makes her great. That is what I wish to emulate in her. That is what I pray she will teach me: that after I have prayed, to embrace whatever happens as His Perfect Will. To embrace it as good.
    My soul magnifies the Lord
    And my spirit rejoices in God my savior
    Because He who is mighty has done great things for me
    and Holy is His Name.

  3. Thank you for the thoughts about the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the mystery of the annunciation. Faith and trust in God does not remove worries, concerns, or the challenges of daily living of any human being. Peace and thankfulness for God’s blessings and gifts does not remove feelings, thinking, reasoning or pondering and the options or choices brought about by the freedom we have to choose. The mystery and intimacy of each person in our relationship with God continues every moment we live. Thankfulness to God, knowledge, dedication, confidence in His goodness do not remove the need to understand how great God’s majesty and power is and how very little we are and how we must acknowledge our nothingness compared to God’s might. Mary’s humility, obedience, and commitment to fulfilling God’s plans and purposes are her great examples for all of us to imitate. She served obediently, humbly and fully committed to God’s plan of salvation despite all the pondering she had about the challenges posed to her personally. She must have been constantly aware of her blessings and yet, likely, knew the challenge she was living. Humility and trust in Jesus we all must have for without Him we are nothing.

  4. This is beautiful.
    Our parish study group has been doing the “Mary” study from Ascension Press, and our homeschool co-op has been working through “33 Days to Morning Glory” by Fr Michael Gaitley.
    In these two studies I have really “found” Mary in a way that I had never before.
    I felt, like you, that in her perfection and mystery I couldn’t relate to her as a person.
    I now understand so much more about her love and care for her children, and I feel her so close, almost in a physical way.
    I love this scene from “The Passion…” because it expresses so well the human relationship between a mother and her son. She is just taking such pleasure in this small moment. I love to think of Jesus teasing and having a sense of humor. So often we only see the solemn side. I even think of this sometimes when I meditate on the wedding at Cana. Might there not have been a little humor in that scene? Mary was a Jewish mother, after all.
    We are so blest to have the Church and our Mother, Mary!
    Happy Feast of the Annunciation!

  5. I would also recommend “The Life of The Virgin” by Maximus the Confessor. This was written inthe 600’s and was recently translated into English. Some of the later parts of her life get a little dramatic but the passion and love in the writing is breath taking. I keep “The Annunciatio” by John William Waterhouse as my wallpaper on the computer and iPad. a daily reminder of her faith. Very humbling to think of a 15 or so year old girl saying Yes so perfectly.

  6. I remember reading that book and also being moved by Father Benedict’s commentary on that passage, “And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38). I also recall that when I read his commentary I had to realize how many, many times I had read that same passage in the past without any sense of the poignancy of those words.

  7. I agree with you that some of the accounts of the visionaries make her harder to relate to. But then again she wasn’t just like me, because she had the fullness of God’s Grace. So she was somewhere in between? Much to meditate upon. Mary received this news and then went “in haste” a journey of 100 miles or so! She was in haste for salvation to be received by all her children, that they receive what she had already received.

  8. I heard a while back someone describe Mary as a woman of grit. After all, this 13 year old girl meets an angel, agrees to carry and raise the Son of God, even though it would surely mean scorn or worse, then follows it up by taking a long long walk over difficult terrain to her cousin’s house to help her through her impossible pregnancy.

    If she were being “ministered to” by angels for all her needs, why would she go to Elizabeth? I agree with you, Msgr, it doesn’t really pass the smell test. Also, if these visionaries were true, you would likely know their names as they would still be in use.

    Finally, would such attendance to her really be the best way to raise Jesus? No, He was born to be fully human, so logically he would have to have fully human parents providing him fully human education, discipline, and examples. Having the Angels do the dirty work would remove that very human aspect of Jesus’ upbringing.

    I’m not saying they were not there, just that I doubt they were there in such a context.

    1. You know, one more thing bothers me about those visionaries… Ok two.

      1). Babies do not talk. He was a HUMAN BABY. I had 3 of them and there were no discussions about anything while they were infants. Because infants cannot speak.

      2). If Mary had all this foreknowledge, what need had she of Faith? If she had no need of it how could her human son learn of that aspect of humanity? Yes it is a gift from God, and yes He is God, but our humanity is part of the equation, too, right?

  9. Beautiful reflection! I imagine our Blessed Mother’s life was very challenging, especially when she, Joseph and the baby had to flee to Egypt and live there for years, for the baby’s safety. Cannot even imagine!

    I love the Christmas song by Amy Grant – Breath of Heaven. I think this song captures Mary’s “aloneness” well.

  10. With economy of words Pope Emeritus Benedict can paint a masterpiece leaving his readers in contemplative awe and wonderment. We are blessed to have him with us.

  11. Thank you, Msgr. Pope. As a child I was jealous of Mary. It took me a long time to fall in love with her, but I did. A wonderful priest and my Mom guided me to her.
    Mary is God’s gift to all of us. She is what He asks all of us to be; a loving child that looks with complete trust, faith and love at a father who is asking a difficult task be performed. Abraham sacrificing Isaac, Joseph sold into slavery, Moses called back to Egypt, Israel in the desert etc, God wants us to simply answer, “Yes I will do your will because I have no doubt that you love me.” In whatever befalls us in our life it is God helping us home. That we must believe.
    Men can learn much from Mary, but women especially must turn to her for guidance in this world that has a false idea of equality, humility, love, service etc. Women have not been marginalized by Christ Church. We, women, have marginalized the creation of “woman” and the life of grace.

  12. Trying to figure out what Jesus knew and when he knew it is an exercise in futility. Many theologians make the mistake of speculating about these things and say, “he couldn’t have known this or that as a child, a teen or simply as a human being…” We know that Jesus was a Divine person with 2 natures, but the mental or cognitive development he experienced as a human is unknown. The Hypostatic union is a mystery. We can’t reconcile or figure out how a fully omniscient God can become fully human with our mental and physical limitations. So trying to speculate on those things is a little like St. Augustine walking on the beach and thinking he has figured out the Trinity. Remember what the (angel) child told him.

    As far as Mary goes, I think the mystical writings by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and Venerable Mary of Agreda (The Mystical City of God) are worthwhile reads. They’ve been embraced and accepted by numerous Popes over the years, but they are all private revelation and we can treat them like all private revelation. Having said that, I also agree with Msgr. Pope that at times they present Mary as being so clairvoyant that she loses some of her humanity and becomes hard to relate to. I think she wept on Good Friday, but I also think she was not among the group that went to the tomb on Easter morning because she knew He would not be there. Either that or she was the very first person He came to see following the Resurrection.

    Lastly, the Wedding at Cana. Jesus made it clear to her that He had not planned to do his first public miracle on that day, but I agree with Msgr. Pope. She must have spoken with him privately or given him a look that said, “do your mother this favor…” She did not want the bride and groom to be embarrassed about running out of wine and she knew that Jesus was capable of performing such a miracle to solve the problem. In some way or another, she twisted Jesus’ arm and whether it was a “look” or a private conversation between them (not recorded by St. John) isn’t important. He granted His mother the favor and we use that story as another reason to pray to Mary for assistance with a problem. If Our Lord had a hard time saying “no” to her at Cana, surely He continues to have a hard time saying no to her now.

    1. A priest had a humorous explanation for the miracle at Cana. He said that Jesus brought home these 12 men that joined in on the celebration. Twelve men can drink a lot of wine and Mary reminded Jesus that the lack of wine was on his shoulders. The story made me smile, like Jesus splashing Mother Mary with water. They must have had a wonderful family life.

  13. I felt my soul glow while reading these letters. Holy Mary, Pray for Me

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