Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(Isaiah 7:10-14; Luke 1:26-38)

Natural law forbids a military commander to send troops on a suicide mission without their consent. The reasoning for this counterintuitive principle is that soldiers agree to lend their service to a military cause, not their lives. If there is overwhelming probability of death, a commander should obtain the soldiers’ permission before directing them into action.

In the gospel of Mary’s annunciation, God offers the young maiden a similar prerogative to withdraw from His plan of salvation. Although the passage uses the declarative mode “you will...,” the angel waits for Mary’s consent. She is free to refuse to cooperate with the heretofore unheard of plan of conceiving by the Holy Spirit in order that Israel may receive its long-awaited Messiah. In a famous homily, St. Bernard of Clairveaux pictures the world hanging on Mary’s word. “Look how the desired one of all the nations is at your door and calls,” the great medieval preacher pleads to the Virgin in the gospel scene. Of course, Mary does not disappoint but pronounces her “yes.”

As God does not force Mary to participate in His plan, He does not force salvation upon us. We are free to accept or reject it. Although salvation is an entirely gratuitous gift, it can be refused. We have to follow the adult Jesus who will demand of us actions that may not seem easy or pleasant in advance. But once we walk with him, we will experience his commands as not so much burdensome as they are liberating. We may think of them now as directions from a GPS -- the surest way of getting us to where we want to go.