In our two previous reflections we contemplated the Annunciation to Mary from a two-fold perspective. First we saw her as a model both for openness and the capacity to listen, and the last time we took her as an example of genuine healthy piety, or, in other words, as a person “tuned into” God’s language and knowledgeable about the grammar of Faith. In this third reflection we shall centre in on another basic attitude found in the Annunciation: the freedom, or liberty, with which Mary gave her answer to the project God had in store for her.
Up to a certain point, every call and mission vocation supposes the leaving of ourselves behind and setting out on the road. The grand Old Testament figures, like Abraham and Moses, felt this call of God and threw themselves into the adventure He proposed to them, thus positioning them before a rather uncertain future. But starting on a trip demands “going out”, leaving behind certain security, and breaking ties. Except for a few instances of very special vocations, this does not imply giving up our job, city or family. Rather it is more the question of an interior attitude that is not less deep or demanding: giving up our security blankets, our little or great forms of egoism, our dogmatic utterances, our prejudices.
To get started on our journey we must first have the freedom to answer “yes” to God’s call. We tend to take this for granted in our democratic societies. We think, and to a certain extent we are right, that we live in a free world. We have gained much in liberty, spontaneity, and in the natural way we do things. People are now free to believe that liberty constitutes an inalienable human right, almost a sacred one, as the Church has pointed out on many an occasion. This has been a great step forward for the human race and we must work hard in order not to go backwards. On the other hand, in our spiritual life, in the most intimate point of our being, we have to admit that there abound conditioning factors, those little things that tie us down, make slaves of us and keep us from living God’s project in our lives. They are the small impediments that keep us from being free. In his The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Saint John of the Cross recalls that a baby bird can be hindered from taking flight tied to a thread of many strands, or only one.
In this vein, what stands out in the story of the Annunciation is how God scrupulously respects Mary’s liberty. With delicacy, without impositions, without violence, God makes Salvation History hang on the “yes” of that young girl. When we meditate on this passage, or give it a thoughtful reading, we almost are inclined to underscore the silences, those moments when the angel is waiting for Mary’s free answer. Some theologians have insisted on this freedom of Mary. Through the angel’s mediation God was not looking on Mary in terms of Old Testament titles and images such as “fertile earth”, or “ark”, or “tabernacle” or “remnant of Israel”. Rather the Lord, these theologians say, saw Mary as a person, that is, with her own liberty and free will. God runs the risk of leaving Salvation History in the hands of a creature. And, with surprising personal liberty Mary gives her answer to this risk taken by the Lord. Instead of worrying about the looming problems of what the local gossip might be, she shows her free will to be at God’s service, and does so with a courageous, genuine and generous liberty.
The famous Austrian psychologist, Victor Frankl, who had been interned in concentration camps, criticised a certain narrow and egoistic idea of liberty. He said that, in order to have a complete picture of freedom, just as there is a Statue of Liberty on the East Coast of the United States, on the West Coast there ought to be a Statue of Responsibility. Mary is seen in the Annunciation as not only being “free from”, but also as “free to”. Mary’s liberty is responsible liberty.
But even more so, in this way Mary appears a model or metaphor of what Salvation is. The Lord gives us his grace. His is the initiative and all proceeds from Him. But human beings, in the ultimate analysis, have the possibility of opening or closing themselves to the grace offered. This is the dynamics of salvation. Saint Augustine said, “He who created you without your intervention, will not save you without it.” God is not going to impose salvation on us, even though He gives us all the means we need for salvation, and everything comes from Him.
Let us take another look at Mary. In our newly inaugurated twenty-first century we also need testimonies of a generous and courageous liberty. At times we are the slaves of comfort, of routine, of prejudices, of what is “politically correct”, of our public image, of our personal projects and criteria. And this keeps us from opening up to God’s plans for us and His way of doing things.
May Mary, a free woman, help us to be free. May Mary, Mother of Carmel, help us to free the men and women of our times from so many forms of slavery.
Fernando Millán Romeral, O Carm, Spanish Province of Baetica