Friday of the Third Week of Advent
(Isaiah 7:10-14; Luke 1:26-38)
It is said that a military commander may not send troops on a “suicide mission” without their consent. A society can conscript a person into the army as a matter of the common good. The common good may further dictate that the conscripted soldier enter combat with the possibility, but not the surety, that he or -- we may add -- she may die in action. If, however, there is near certainty that the soldier will be killed, the military should obtain his/her permission since soldiers are enlisted to give their service, not their lives.
In this gospel of the Annunciation, God gives to the Virgin Mary a similar prerogative to withdraw from his plan of salvation. Although the passage uses the declarative mode “you will...,” the angel waits for her consent. She is free to refuse to cooperate with the heretofore unheard of plan of conceiving a child by the Holy Spirit to give Israel its long-awaited Messiah. In a famous homily, St. Bernard of Clairveaux pictures the world hanging on Mary’s word. Of course, she expresses willingness and thus advances the process of the Incarnation.
As God does not force Mary to participate in His plan of salvation, He does not force us to accept it. We are free to say “no.” For sure, it is a conscious choice since salvation requires self-denial. In one way or another we have to follow Jesus to the cross. But the way is not so onerous as it is liberating. We may think of it as a mountain hike. The more we climb, the freer we feel until we reach the exhilaration of having reached our goal.