In the small rectangular plot of soil behind our Manhattan convent traces of spring have crept over the buildings thawing our little garden. We are again startled with small green shoots ofHyacinth and Snow Drops dotting the earth under the statue of Our Lady. Just when hunching our shoulders against the gray dreariness of winter starts to feel habitual, like a grouchy habit, March surprises us with the promise of new Life. It also seems fitting then, for the Church to celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation when the Promise of new lifedefinitively entered our human history. It is of special importance to the Sisters of Life as our Patronal Feast, renewing the Mystery of our Call to ponder anew the words of the angel to Mary and her response when the eternal Word began to exist as a human being in time. In all we might ponder in the Announcement of the Mystery of the Incarnation.
“I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to Your word.”-Lk 2:38
Three times a day we recite in the Angelus the commemoration of the saving event of God’s entrance into history, through the response of Mary’s freedom. Our founder John Cardinal O’Connor would say, “Mary would never see the world in the same way again because she had conceived beneath her heart, the Word, the Son of God made flesh within her.” William Butler Yeats in his poem on Mary wrote of her: “This one work has to do— Let all God’s glory through”
In Mary we see the capacity we were meant to live. We see the trust that with every invitation to receive life also brings new life. Unlike us wounded in original sin, in her there is no resistance. She has not been wounded by anything selfish. And yet she invites us to discover for ourselves that Christ gives us eyes to see His coming again and again.
One day at our convent, a young and pregnant mother, Sharon, came to the door with little Miguel, a wide-eyed boy of five, clutching her hand in terror. Miguel, Sharon explained was a child with Autism. Gradually, between furtive glances between his mom and the sisters, Miguel seemed to find a sense of comfort and eventually became confident enough to explore. Winking at Sharon, one sister slipped out to accompany Miguel as he passed down the back stairs and up the front stairs peeking in our doorway before making another pass. He was very content to keep this up as the mother and I caught up and chuckled over their adventure on the subway.
Near the end of our time, I came out to check on Miguel and discovered another meeting underway. One of our volunteers, John, a tall and lanky guy, with a shock of silver hair, had emerged from sweeping the stairs and stood at the landing over Miguel who was diligently focused on a project on the floor. John, seeing me, grinned and shrugged his long shoulders. I laughed out loud at what I saw.
There, swirling around John’s feet, were hundreds of images in hues of soft red, deep blue and flecks of gold, in perfect cadence, each tilted carefully to reveal the gentle face of a beautiful Lady. This year, our Retreat house printed their schedule of retreats in color postcards featuring the face of Our Lady of Guadalupe. These post cards bearing the face of a Mother had been sprinkled about – and each one seemed to smile up at us. Sharon emerged and peering down anxiously at the scene, was about to apologize, when she laughed startled to find us all gazing down over his small shoulders, enraptured by his feat.
Msgr. Luigi Guissani once wrote, “Mary is the door through which to go to Jesus, she is the one who teaches us how to look at the Mystery made flesh, who invites us to welcome him among uswith the same simplicity with which a child is welcomed into the home.” How familiar is the welcome of a mother, her greeting, her simple openness, her embrace, her attention, her presence.
Standing at the top of the stairs watching a little boy whose small fingers touched the loving face of a mother I experienced a moment of this kind of awareness- of His coming, of His presence. In our embrace of the love Sharon had for her son, her love that was her son, she visibly changed. Her face, concerned about a “mess,” relaxed into the warmth of recognition. She saw that we beheld and appreciated her son- the one who brought her out of herself, the one whose own unique way of being invited her to love, to know love. And in that rest, even if at first unknowingly, she acknowledged the presence of Another. Later she actually said it was that moment where she felt the peace that things would be all right, where God seemed real, real enough to be present to her need.
In instances like these it becomes evident: when we receive life, His coming to us, we participate in His giving life to the world. When we welcome Him coming, as Mary, in our ordinary concrete circumstances. When we welcome Him in a state of awareness, a readiness to respond- we experience life as abundant. When we welcome Him we experience ourselves as alive and the truth that Christ is present even when life is confusing or difficult.
Yet how often we become used to our patterns and ideas, even distractions of the day. We resist or fear interruption; time can weigh upon us and it can become habitual to hunch our shoulders against the demands of the day. We feel our limits; we feel our weakness to do more. It is here the Cross confronts us. So we turn to Mary, and with Her we acknowledge that God is the Father of everything, that He has given us everything in His Son. The openness of Her embrace, her Yes, shines as a reminder to us. In Her, we can believe that everything comes to us as the design of Another and it spills out of His Hands like a seed or a promise- Life! Mindful of our need, we beg the grace to know in our day that nothing comes to us outside the radius of God’s tenderness for us. He is here. He is speaking to us. He is revealing something of Himself to us.
John Cardinal O’Connor imparted the legacy of this vision to us quoting a poem of the Annunciation, by a Redemptorist father, Msgr. Duffy,
“And nothing would again be casual or small, but everything with Light invested.”
In our convent we seek to welcome the Light of Christ’s coming every day. But these encounters are not just for sisters, but for every Christian. Just as the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary’s “Yes” enfleshed Christ in the great Event, 2000 years ago, the Holy Spirit comes to bring Christ, again and again. The Holy Spirit comes and Christ is among us in the flesh again. May this Lent be a time where the meaning of sacrifice gives us a deeper awareness of His coming right before us in each person in the ordinary circumstances of our lives. And may Our Lady accompany us on our journey to the Joy of Easter with her embrace and the encouragement of her prayers.