The Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary has been one of the most famous images of Christian iconography. Many painters, artists, musicians, theologians have reflected on this simple but vital moment in the history of salvation. Just to give an example, Luther, in his commentary on the Magnificat, spoke about the strong feeling we experience when we contemplate the Fiat of that teenager, that answer on which the whole of salvation depended.
Today, 2000 years later, we can learn some attitudes for our own reflection as Carmelites in a very different time and context. Mary is still the model of the disciple, the model for every Christian who tries to live his faith seriously, and especially for us Carmelites, friars, nuns, sisters, lay people that see ourselves as “brothers and sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel”. We look at Mary to learn from her some attitudes that should be basic in our own way of following Christ. And we find in her the freshness of a person that opens her heart to God’s will and tries to live honestly her fundamental vocation. Let us reflect very briefly on some of these attitudes that we find in this story from the Gospel (Lk. 1).
The first attitude we find in Mary is openness. Mary appears in the scene as someone who is open to others, to the future, to life, to God. Mary is regarded very often by modern theologians as the model of the “listener”. “Listening” is not just “hearing”. “Hear” is a physiological sense; “listen” is a personal attitude. The one who listens is open and waits, hopes, believes. The one who listens, thinks that life, future, God have always something new to offer. There is still a future. God – as in the title of a famous book published some years ago – is a God of surprises.
Sometimes, even in our spiritual life, we have the feeling that we are “old” that we have done everything we had to do. This is a great temptation in the spiritual life; it is a sign that we may indeed be old. The ancient Greeks used to say that the beginning of philosophy is the zaumadsein, that is, the ability or the capacity to be “surprised”. Probably you have found in your own experience persons that never get surprised. You go to them and tell them your plans, an idea, a project for the future, or something that has happened and this person seems to know everything already. Nothing is surprising, nothing is worthy of note, nothing is new. There is no novelty. When a person behaves in that way, it probably means that he or she thinks that the other person has nothing really of worth, nothing new or interesting, nothing to offer.
In this biblical passage Mary shows us another attitude, another way. We have to be open to new possibilities. It doesn’t depend on our age, or on our situation in life, or on our formation. There is always something new waiting for us. We can (and we must) find something new in God’s designs for us.
This is not only a psychological attitude or characteristic, it is something spiritual: it is a spiritual attitude. Let us look at an example. In the reformed or protestant tradition there has been a certain reaction against Catholic devotion to the Virgin Mary. But, nevertheless, Protestant theologians in the 20th Century have found in Mary the perfect model of a very fundamental attitude in Protestant theology and piety: her obedient listening to God’s word.
To be open to the other in a listening attitude also means to rely on someone else besides myself, to trust in others, to put the centre of my life outside of myself. That’s why Mary becomes a great example for a Christian and especially for a Carmelite of our time, in which, often we put the centre of everything in ourselves. Everything becomes nowadays “self” (self-control, self-developing, self-realisation). Many times in religious life we find people mentally and spiritually aged, people that think that they have done many things in the past – and that’s probably the truth – but they never speak about the future. On the other hand we find people that, no matter what age they are, look at the future, and have a future. They know they have something to do and that life has something both to offer and to ask from them. When, either in religious life or in family life, we find this sort of person, we feel we are in the presence of a blessing from God.
The story of the Annunciation will show us how to imitate the openness of Mary in our own spiritual life. We will become sensitive and open to the little signs of God’s presence in our lives. We will listen to the voices that in our everyday life (in spite of the problems we have, the limits we find in ourselves, whatever we lack, the negative points) help us to know what is the will of God.
Fernando Millán Romeral, O Carm, Spanish Province of Baetica