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Welcoming the Word: Second Meditation
Three Keys for Opening the Door of Our Hearts to Christ
- Am I Letting Him In?
- Humility and Donatello
- Wonder and Tanner
- Gratitude and Blessed Fra Angelico
- Conclusion & Further Reflection
Am I Letting Him In?
In our better moments, we are glad to know that God is always knocking at our door and wanting to sweep us up into the great adventure of his friendship and his work of redemption.
But not all our moments are better moments.
We are not always glad about God’s interest in us. In fact, because of our fallen nature, we often resist God’s action in our lives, and are oblivious to his knocks. Since God is too respectful to force his way into the inner chamber of our souls, our resistance to his action can impede our spiritual growth.
In the Annunciation, Mary shows us at least three attitudes or interior dispositions that we need to cultivate in order to overcome that resistance and welcome God’s Word as fruitfully as possible, just as she did.
Humility and Donatello
The first attitude that opens our hearts to God is humility. Mary shows her humility in her initial reaction to the angel’s greeting.
St. Luke tells us that Mary “was greatly troubled at what was said” (Luke 1:29). It wasn’t the appearance
of the angel that troubled Mary, as is so often the case when angels appear to people in the Bible. Rather, it was “what was said,” that troubled her, the message itself. She was troubled because she didn’t think herself worthy of such a great mission, such a singular calling. She was humble: she knew her littleness.
A proud person might have reacted to the angel by saying something like: “Oh, of course; I’ve been waiting for God to figure out that he needs me to help him save the world.” But Mary didn’t react like that.
She was, in a sense, surprised at God’s abundant generosity towards her; she did not have an entitlement mentality. We also see her humility later on. When she gives her yes to God, Mary says, “may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
She didn’t insist on doing things her own way, or on getting a fuller answer to her questions — no, she humbly accepted God’s ways, and obeyed.
This humility comes across beautifully in a relief sculpture by the great Italian Renaissance artist, Donatello.
In this depiction of the Annunciation, notice how Mary is on the one hand leaning towards the angel, as she turns her head to listen to what he has to say. In this gesture, we see a preview of her consent, of her humble obedience.
But on the other hand, she is also pulling away from the angel, conceding the space to him, so to speak. She
is troubled by what she hears; she feels sincerely un- deserving of such an abundance of divine goodness.
This attitude of humility, of understanding how dependent we are upon God for everything, helps us open the door of our hearts to God, because it keeps us from falling into self-sufficiency, thinking that we can do everything on our own.
The humble person remembers that everything, from existence to salvation, is a gift from God, and that on our own, we are nothing.
When we keep fresh this awareness that we stand in constant need of God and his grace, we will be much more attentive to hearing and welcoming his Word.
Wonder and Tanner
The second attitude that opens our hearts to God is wonder. Wonder keeps our souls young and sensitive to God’s wonder-full activity. We see Mary model this wonder during the Annunciation in at least two moments.
First, when Mary “pondered what sort of greeting this might be,” and second, when she asked the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” (Luke 1:29, 1:34).
In those phrases, we detect someone who isn’t superficial or cynical or self-absorbed, who isn’t deaf to God’s wondrous actions, who hasn’t lost the capacity to marvel at amazing things. And since God’s works are all amazing, that capacity enables a soul to welcome God’s Word all the time.
This spirit of wonder is captured subtly in a nineteenth century painting of the Annunciation by the American artist Henry Tanner.
He depicts the angel resplendent in other-worldly light, an intense, burning light. And Mary is seated on her bed gazing up at the supernatural apparition, mesmerized, quietly contemplating it, transfixed, maybe even a bit fearful. She is simply beholding the bright beauty of the angel, letting it flow over her, letting it suffuse her.
We are surrounded by God’s marvels every day, from flowers to stars, from sacraments to saints, they shine all around us, if only we have the eyes to see.
If we cultivate this capacity to gaze wonder-fully at these marvels, surely we will become better welcomers of the Word.
Gratitude and Blessed Fra Angelico
Finally, the third attitude that opens our hearts to God is gratitude. Gratitude is linked closely to humility and wonder.
It is linked to humility because we are only truly thankful when we realize that God’s gifts are freely given — we can’t really say that we deserve them.
It is linked to wonder because we only respond with gratitude when we recognize and allow ourselves to be impacted by the beauty — the wonder-fullness — of God’s gifts.
Mary shows a deep disposition of gratitude when she describes herself to the angel, saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). The Greek word for “handmaid” is “doulos,” which literally translated means “slave.”
Mary gratefully recognized that everything she was and everything she had were gifts that she had received from God; she accepted her dependence on God spontaneously, warmly, generously, thankfully. She saw herself as God’s handmaid; glad to serve someone who had been so giving to her.
The Dominican Friar who was also an Italian, mid- Renaissance painter, Blessed Fra Angelico, captured this spirit of gratitude in one of his depictions of the Annunciation. Here we see the angel addressing Mary with a bow, a gesture of respect and honor.
And Mary, as she receives the Word, is almost bowing in response — bowing graciously, gracefully: the Greek word for “thanks” has the same root as the word for “grace.”
She shows a spirit of deference in her posture, and
an eager gladness in her face — as if she were saying to the angel, “Of course I will say yes to God! How could I ever turn away from someone who has been so marvelously good to me!”
Gratitude opens our hearts to receive God’s grace because it keeps us in touch with his goodness — and we will only resist God’s action in our lives if we forget just how infinitely good he truly is.
Conclusion & Further Reflection
All are the fruit of grace: Humility, wonder, and gratitude.
These three interior dispositions characterized the heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary and enabled her to welcome the Word generously, fruitfully, joyfully. If we cultivate them in our own hearts, and with the help of God’s grace we can cultivate them, the same thing will happen to us.
Take some time now to read over the passage of the Annunciation again, or take another look at the works of art we reflected on in this meditation, and admire these characteristics of Our Lady.
Ask her to intercede on our behalf, so that we too can humbly, wonder-fully, and thankfully welcome the Word.
The following questions and scriptural quotations may help your meditation.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
– Matthew 5:3, NABR
You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.
– Micah 6:8, NABR
What gives true strength to a man’s heart is gratitude.
– Hebrews 13:9, Knox translation
Jesus said in reply, ‘Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?’
– Luke 17:17-18, NABR
1. How aware am I of my utter need for God, of my complete dependence on him? When I read this saying of Jesus, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), how does it make me feel?
2. When was the last time I experienced the sentiment of wonder? Why do you think children tend to delight in the wonders they find all around them, but adults tend not to?
3. How many times do I give thanks to God eachday? How many gifts does God give me each day? Remember the most notable blessings that you have received from God throughout your life, and give thanks to him for them right now.