Young Mary is flummoxed by Gabriel’s announcement that she will have a son without human agency. She wonders aloud how it could happen, this unheard-of virginal conception.
It’s an obvious and simple question, and it gets a simple answer; but for centuries after this story saw the light of day, theologians have been falling all over themselves in prurient speculation about Mary’s physical virginity, not content to leave the simple answer alone.
But Mary was content with it. Somehow, Gabriel assures her, the Holy Spirit will fix it all up and it will happen. For with God everything is possible.
And we know it’s true.
We know if we have ever been or are right now in the process of being liberated from some captivity, great or small.
If we have ever been or are right now being born into something we have longed for and needed all our lives.
If we have ever felt or find ourselves right now feeling Jesus’ freshness in our weariness, his encouragement in our sorrow, his challenge in our self-involved boredom, his gentleness in our hard reality, his care in our confusion.
If we are looking today at another human being with even a smidgeon more openness and love than ever before, and are able to call them “kin.” If we are looking today at another human being and are able to say to them with even a smidgeon more compassion and solidarity than ever before, “You are my own.”
If one of these things, or any other newfound freedom of mind, soul or body has ever been our deep experience, then we know that what the gospel says about the virgin and the fruit of her womb is true.
For such freedom, such progress, such love, such originality and freshness, such an unheard-of thing did not come from us. We are not the agents of our own new births. Such salvation has only God as its progenitor.
We are all virginally conceived of the Holy Spirit and born into true human life. Our role in the mystery of life is not to make ourselves, but to become God’s Marys, to be welcoming of grace like she was, to say yes to our calling as she did, to become servants of the Most High and disciples of her Son as she became, and respond to the message of angels that visit us night and day.
Image: Joyful Mystery #1, Annunciation, by Jim Janknegt