“Here I am, Lord! I come to do your will. You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings, but an open ear. You do not ask for holocaust and victim. Instead, here am I. In the scroll of the book it stands written that I should do your will. My God, I delight in your law in the depth of my heart.” The invitation to align ourselves with the will of God is greater than any sacrifices we can give to God. What pleases God most is when we cooperate with His plan for our own salvation and the salvation of the world!
Doing the will of God means more than offering something extraneous but our very self, our entire being, mind, soul and body. This was the way of our Lord. He did not simply come to heal us of our illnesses or deliver us from the possession of the Evil One or even to enlighten us in the truth and love. He gave His entire being, body and soul to us when He gave up His life for us on the cross. The body that He assumed at the incarnation was the same body that He gave up on the cross. Hence, the letter to the Hebrews says, “Bulls’ blood and goats’ blood are useless for taking away sins, and that is what Christ said, on coming into the world: You wanted no sacrifice or obligation, prepared a body for me. You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin; then you said, just as I was commanded in the scroll of the book, “God here I am! I am coming to obey your will.”
Indeed, doing the will of God is never easy because God’s plan is often incomprehensible to man. His will is not always logical and so our finite mind, imbued with reason, wants to understand everything before we are willing to submit, if at all. We can certainly identify with King Ahaz in today’s first reading. His state was threatened by a conspiracy between the Kingdom of Israel and the King of Aram. They were intending to join forces to subdue the Kingdom of Judah. King Ahaz was of course extremely nervous and anxious. Based on his military calculation, the best way to withstand Israel and Aram was to solicit the support of Assyria, a much stronger nation than Israel and Aram. But Isaiah warned Ahaz that this would have disastrous consequences for Judah because they would become a vassal state of Assyria, and they will introduce foreign and pagan customs and religions into the country.
So, too, Mary was confused when the angel appeared to her and said, “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?” She too needed assurance because humanly speaking, she could not conceive a child since she was a virgin. Would she need to get married to Joseph first? If not, how could she explain to her loved ones how the baby came to be conceived? So she too needed to find clarity and understanding of how God’s will could be realized.
This is true of us as well. Although we might desire to do the will of God, we are not too sure exactly what His will is for us. We too need clarification and understanding of His will for us at every stage in our life. What is mystifying is that often we do not have clear answers in our discernment. We have no angel to tell us explicitly that this is the will of God. Most likely, even if an angel were to appear, we would doubt the angel’s appearance even before we could hear what he has to say. We will find all sorts of excuses to deny that such is the will of God, especially when it goes against our logical reasoning. We prefer to rely on our intelligence, ingenuity and the advice of the world. Many of us would act as King Ahaz did, using human calculation to decide what would be the right thing to do.
Asking for clarification as part of the discernment of God’s will is not only permissible but also necessary because God gives us an intellect to discern. What the Lord forbids is when we are stubborn and obstinate in having things our way when we know what His will is for us. This is particularly so when the signs are given by the Lord. This was the attitude of King Ahaz. He had already made up his mind to form an alliance with Assyria and had no intention of changing it even after listening to the prophet Isaiah’s advice.
God even offered him a sign to confirm the prophecy of Isaiah. Instead of accepting the sign, he pretended that he did not want to test the Lord. However, the Lord saw his heart through and through. He said, “Listen now, House of David: are you not satisfied with trying the patience with men without trying the patience of my God, too? The Lord himself, therefore, will give you a sign. It is this: the maiden is with child and will soon give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’.” Ahaz knew the will of God, but was simply bent on doing his own will and not what God willed for Israel.
Mary responded differently. She too sought clarification from the Lord. She was docile and receptive to God’s will. Her disposition was sincere and correct. She accepted the angel’s explanation of how her conception could be possible. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God.” Furthermore, to underscore the impossibility, the angel revealed to her the miraculous intervention of her cousin, Elizabeth. She “has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people call barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.” With that, Mary asked no more questions. She said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me.”
What does it take to respond to God’s will? Firstly, we need the humility of Mary. We must realize that we are mere mortal beings, not God! We are finite in our understanding and in what we can do as human beings. But with God, “nothing is impossible.” Moreover, as the prophet Isaiah says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isa 55:8f) So long as we remain in our pride and think that God must fit our minds, we are wrong. There are many things beyond the understanding of man. “For what person knows a man’s thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Cor 2:11)
Secondly, it requires faith in God. Mary could not understand how it would be possible. We can be sure that she also thought of the consequences in allowing the Holy Spirit to conceive in her the Son of God. She would be misunderstood, ridiculed, slandered, rejected and even stoned to death by her loved ones, especially Joseph. It was certainly a courageous decision for her to say “yes” to the angel, knowing the possible outcomes of her decision, and not knowing the greater trials ahead of her. But she entrusted her entire life to the Lord. She believed that somehow God would see her through. Mary united her will with the will of God.
Faith requires that we not only surrender our future to God but to put into action what the Lord wills of us. Mary carried out what the Lord asked of her, not just bearing the Son of God in her womb, but for the rest of her life, she carried the pain and suffering with her Son when He set out for His ministry, was rejected and then crucified. Her “yes” to God was not just a temporary or one time “yes” to being the mother of Jesus. Her “yes” was seen in every moment of her life after that fundamental decision of accepting to be Jesus’ mother. She united her will to the will of her Son as well.
Hence, today when we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord, we rejoice not only in that Mary did the will of God in offering her entire self for the salvation of humanity by giving birth to our Lord, we also rejoice in Christ who made it possible for Mary to share in His desire to save humanity. Like Mary, Christ too, in union with the Father’s will, offered Himself entirely for the redemption of humanity. Two hearts joined in one. This is the union of Jesus and Mary in the work of redemption. This is why today’s feast is celebrated not just in honour of Mary, the mother of God, but also in honour of Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. One feast cannot be celebrated without the other. That is why the Church calls Mary, the co-redemptrix. Of course, this is not to be understood on the same level as Christ, but to underscore Mary’s necessary role in our redemption. She gave us the body of Jesus who gave up His body to save us.
With Mary and Jesus, let us offer our “yes” to God as we cooperate with God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Like the “yes” of Mary that we take in matrimony or in our priestly promises and religious vows, the first “yes” requires us to make good all the other “yes-es” that are to follow. With Jesus and Mary, we too would have to go through crisis after crisis, trial after trial, sometimes undergoing the dark nights of our vocation. But let us never forget that God will give us the grace as He gave Jesus and Mary, so long as we are docile to His will and humble to receive His grace and depend on Him alone to do all things. We must therefore hear the Lord daily by praying the Word of God and receiving Him in the Eucharist so that we have the strength to offer our entire life to Him in doing His holy will on earth as in heaven.