The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which we celebrate tomorrow, is one of my favorite feast days in the Church. Over the years, it has become my favorite solemnity because of two short lines from the Gospel,
Fear not, for nothing will be impossible with God.
And then the next line,
Behold: I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to Thy Word.
(Luke 1: 37-38).
These two lines have helped me through the hardest years of my life. In high school, throughout college, and as I am beginning my career, I use these two verses to guide each tough decision I make. To me, the first line is about faith in God no matter what, and the second is about saying “Yes!” and trusting that God’s plan will guide me.
Fear not, for nothing will be impossible with God. When we are afraid, our whole presence is affected. We worry about things like the future, bills, jobs, and focus less on the beauty of what is right in front of us. Our minds become full of details that we often have no control over, and our lives can lose sight of our purpose in it all. When we allow Jesus to “take the wheel,” our paths are clearer and calmer, and we can return to living in the present. If something is meant to be, God will see it through for us, no matter what. If something is not meant to be, we have to trust that God has already figured out a better option. With God, we know that anything is possible.
Behold: I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to Thy Word. Mary responded to the angel Gabriel with “fiat” or “let it be done,” not knowing what was going to happen, yet saying yes anyway. As a role model for all women and a perfect example of holiness, Mary trusted in God’s Word and showed the world that faith can change the course of history. If we say our “Yes!” to God, whether for a big life change, in a short prayer for a faithful day, or to devote our time to actively serving others, He will provide for us. When we become a willing instrument of His Grace, we die to our selfishness and worry, to become a better apostle of Christ in our communities.
We are chosen by God, like Mary was, to live lives in faith. It is a difficult request, to remain unwaveringly trusting for a plan to which we do not see or know. This poem, popularized by Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian writer who helped Jews during the Holocaust, perfectly sums up my message:
My Life is but a weaving
between my Lord and me;
I cannot choose the colors
He worketh steadily.
Oft times He weaveth sorrow
And I, in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper,
And I the under side.
Not til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the Weaver’s skillful hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.
He knows, He loves, He cares,
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives His very best to those
Who leave the choice with Him.
Krissy Kirby is a teacher in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
“There is nothing more holy, more eminently perfect, than resignation to the will of God.” ~ St. Vincent de Paul
When we hear these words we often think of Mary declaring herself the handmaid of the Lord or Jesus crying out on the cross, “Into your hands Lord, I commend my spirit.” And yet, there is another example of complete sacrifice to God that often slips by us, that of Joseph, the silent and steadfast husband and father, who cared for Mary as the Lord commanded and raised Jesus as his own flesh and blood.
“There is nothing more holy, more eminently perfect, than resignation to the will of God.” These are truly words to live by, but not easy words to live by. And yet they give us a powerful image of Joseph, a simple man, a carpenter, a husband, a father, giving himself completely to the Lord. He is a perfect example of someone who wanted to live a simple life, but found more than he could ever imagine when he placed his life in the hands of God. If I had been in Joseph's shoes I would have been afraid, and I am sure that Joseph was afraid, but we know that fear did not guide him. No, “he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Mt 1:24). This image of Joseph is a powerful image. As Saint Pope John Paul II tells us in Redemptoris Custos, Joseph was called by God to be the protector of Mary and the foster-father of Jesus. In some ways we can think of him as the ultimate human protector. He gave up his life and dedicated it to his family, to protect Mary and Jesus so that one day his own son might die a criminal’s death on the cross and save the world. He is a beautiful example of what it means to be a father and a husband, giving all of himself so that his family could live out their own call to serve the Lord.
St. Joseph, though often portrayed as a silent figure in the Gospels, remains a beautiful example of fatherhood. Fathers serve in one of the most important and formative roles a child can have. They help us to grow in faith and in love, they teach us the things their fathers taught them, and we look to them for support and guidance, for strength and surety. My own father is one of the greatest men I know. During the last 33 years of marriage he has been a devoted husband and father striving to uphold our faith and me and my three brothers as Catholic gentlemen. He has given his life for his family and God, and I couldn't ask for more. On this feast of St. Joseph the Husband of Mary, it is important for us to remember our own fathers and what they have done for us. It is important to see the sacrifices they have made and how they have guided us to place complete trust in the Lord.
As I continue to prepare for marriage this summer I pray and hope that I can live up to the example of St. Joseph and my father, that I can be the husband and father that God is calling me to be. This path is not easy, but I know that if all of us pursuing marriage and those who are already there give ourselves to Christ through the example of St. Joseph that we will live as God has called us to live, in the example of St. Joseph and the Holy Family.
This Lenten season I invite you to pursue St. Joseph because in his silence, in his steadfast faith and loyalty to God, and in his devotion and love of his family, he calls us even closer to Christ. Sometimes we need Mary our Mother whose embrace is always loving and warm, like a Mother holding her child. But other times we need the strength of Joseph, a father’s steadfast hand guiding us on the path to Christ, a silent witness to those who have given themselves completely to serving the Lord.
Nicholas Shields is a young professional in Washington, D.C.
“Do we love the Church as our Mother, who helps us to grow as Christians?
And how do we go beyond ourselves in order to bring Christ to others?”
-Pope Francis, General Audience, September 11, 2013
Stop for a moment and re-read again the two questions above. Reflect on how you would answer them. Pope Francis reminds us in his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, that our growth as a Christian is not an individual act.
“It is impossible to believe on our own. Faith is not simply an individual decision which takes place in the depths of the believer’s heart, nor a completely private relationship between the "I" of the believer and the divine "Thou", between an autonomous subject and God. By its very nature, faith is open to the "We" of the Church; it always takes place within her communion” (Lumen Fidei, 39).
The Church is the place where we are nurtured by Christ through the community of faith, where we grow in Christ through the sacraments, and where we encounter Christ in those around us, especially in the poor and the suffering. We cannot remain in our comfort within the Church, though. We need to move outward to others and assist them in encountering Christ.
Our growth as Christians is a life-long process. There is always more that we can learn, understand, and experience in faith, especially the teachings of our Church. Bringing Christ to others as an apostle or, as Pope Francis emphasizes, a missionary or missionary disciple*, makes a demand on us to know and live the faith. Being catechized does not simply mean knowing the faith, it means witnessing to it in our lives. On-going formation in the faith,being catechized, is a dynamic process that is for life! Our growth in faith is not simply our action alone, however, it is the work of Christ within us and the relationship that we have with him nurtured through prayer.
Click here for our resources on catechesis and on prayer
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center.
*The term “missionary disciple” is used throughout the “Concluding Document” of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops’ Conferences held at the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) personally guided the development of the document. Click here to read it.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published on September 24, 2013