The annunciation made to Mary by the angel Gabriel was an event of the greatest consequence.
“Never in human history did so much depend, as it did then, upon the consent of one human creature,” writes Pope John Paul II in Tertio Millennio Adveniente (Advent of the Third Millennium, No. 2).
He continues, “The fact that in the fullness of time the eternal Word took on the condition of a creature gives a unique, cosmic value to the event which took place in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago” (No. 3).
When on March 25 we commemorate the anniversary of the annunciation, of the great “yes” that Mary gave to God's salvific plan, we can remember that it also has a deep significance for our time. For the world has, in a number of ways, given a great “no” to God's plan for us: a “no” that is summed up in what the Pope calls a “culture of death” that rejects God's invitation to us to share in his life-creating mission.
There is a movement for more places to call March 25 the “Day of the Unborn Child,” as Argentina's president, Carlos Menem, has done. This is appropriate, for there is a pro-life message hidden in the gospel narrative of the annunciation and visitation.
Imagine the moment when Mary was invited to be the mother of the messiah, and consented. The Gospel tells us that she immediately she set out to a town in the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Researchers identify the place as a little village called Ain Karim, about five miles west of Jerusalem. Mary, we are told, went “in haste” and so probably would have gone by mule or donkey. Even is she went on foot, it would not have taken no more than a week.
The young woman had only just become pregnant, with a tiny life inside her that was just beginning to grow. So tiny that she couldn't even feel it.
We can picture her communing with, talking to, and maybe even singing for that little life within her womb on the way to meet her cousin Elizabeth who was way beyond the childbearing age, and yet was carrying a child.
Upon seeing Mary, her cousin blessed her and added, “How does it happen that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
The pro-life implications of this greeting are tremendous. First, Mary is addressed as “mother” — not somebody who might become a mother later on, if she gives birth to the child, as is the way of speaking in our day. Newly pregnant, she was already a mother. And, what's more, Elizabeth refers to the tiny fetus as “my Lord” — a title never given to a thing, only to a person. Elizabeth's addressing Mary as the Mother of her Lord is a biblical confirmation of the personhood of the fetus, from the first days of conception.
In our day, it is crucial that we imitate Mary and her cousin Elizabeth when we welcome life into the world — but also, in this year of preparation for the Jubilee of the birth of Christ, when we welcome Christ into our lives, and through us, into the world also.
There is a beautiful custom that many contemplative nuns observe, when they enter an entirely unlit chapel in the dark winter evenings of Advent. A sister lights the Advent candle and then kneels down before it and prays: “Adore, oh my soul, in the womb of Mary, the Son of God who for love of you became the Son of Mary.”
As we near the Jubilee year, Americans in particular can make this prayer our own. In February remarks upon returning from his visit to the United States and Mexico, John Paul recommended once again the program of the new evangelization he had laid out in his postsynodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America.
He added that it would be made possible because of “the motherly assistance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who has indelibly marked America's history.”
Of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose image bears the symbolism of her pregnancy, he said, “I entrust to the intercession of the patroness of that beloved continent the hope that the encounter with Christ will continue to bring light to the peoples of the New World in the millennium which is about to begin.”
It is hard to overstate the great expectation the Church has for our Jubilee recommitment to Christ, or the trust the Pope places in the inter-cession of his heavenly mother. He expects it to bring about something even greater than the fall of communism and the destruction of the Berlin Wall.
As he wrote in Advent of the Third Millennium, “It would be difficult not to recall that the Marian Year took place only shortly before the events of 1989. Those events remain surprising for their vastness and especially for the speed with which they occurred” (No. 27).
If we truly join Mary in her “yes,” what vast changes will the years ahead bring?