Mary’s “yes” to the Angel proposes to each of us a new way to live — a way of surrender to the Word made Flesh who dwells among us here and now.
Who is Mary?
In the Catholic tradition, Mary is considered a model for Christian life, beginning with her acceptance of the invitation from the angel Gabriel to become the Mother of God. One might fully acknowledge that Mary’s actions are exemplary and that she now rightfully enjoys a privileged place in heaven, and as a result, develop a fervent devotion to her. Nevertheless, Mary can seem removed from the particulars of our own lives. It can be difficult for us to see her as a human person of flesh and blood with the whole range of human emotions, and this in turn can make it difficult to desire to imitate her.
English mystic Caryll Houselander grasped with striking clarity the common obstacles to identifying with Mary. Though active in the early twentieth century, her words remain relevant even today:
"The wrong conception of Our Lady that I had is one that a great many other people have, too; a very great many people still think of Our Lady as someone who would never do anything that we would do. To many she is the Madonna of the Christmas card, immobile, seated forever in the immaculately clean stable of golden straw and shining snow. She is not real; nothing about her is real, not even the stable in which Love was born (The Reed of God, Ave Maria Press, 2006)."
It might be hard to imagine a life farther removed from modern times and questions than the life of Mary. She was young – a child, in fact – simple and hidden. And she was a virgin. Here is a stumbling block for many; here the applicability of her life to the typical modern-day experience seems to reach a limit.
It is because of Mary’s virginal emptiness that we now have the possibility of fulfillment.
It is this truth, Houselander says, which "refutes the other mistaken idea we have about Mary, that she is not human."
We complain that there is so little recorded of her personality, so few of her words, so few deeds, that we can form no picture of her, and there is nothing we can lay hold of to imitate. But it is Our Lady – and no other saint – whom we can really imitate. Each saint has his own special work – one person’s work. But Our Lady had to include in her vocation, in her life’s work, the essential thing that was to be hidden in every other vocation, every other life. She is not only human; she is humanity. (Ibid)
Here is the meat of Mary’s importance for every Christian and the key to understanding why she is the “exemplary realization of the Church” (CCC 967). Here we encounter the reason for which she is the model whose vocation can be totally espoused by every Christian, for in her “yes” to the angel was summed up Mary’s entire raison d’être: “The one thing that she did and does we all have to do, namely, bear Christ into the world” (Ibid).
Mary was called to bring forth and nurture the Savior of the world in hiddenness and simplicity. This is the essence of the Christian vocation: to bear God into the world through the particular circumstances of our life. “In Mary, the Church can already contemplate what she is called to become. Every believer can contemplate, here and now, the perfect fulfillment of his or her own vocation” (Benedict XVI, Apostolic Journey to France on the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes, September 12-15, 2008).
Echoing Mary's Yes
The only appropriate response to the call of God is this active receptivity of Mary, this “yes” to the circumstances that he places before her and within her.
Mary said yes for humanity, and each of us must echo that yes in our own lives. We are asked if we will surrender what we are, our humanity, our flesh and blood, to the Holy Spirit and allow Christ to fill the emptiness formed by the particular shape of our life. The surrender that is asked of us includes complete and absolute trust; it must be like Mary’s surrender, without condition and without reservation (Ibid).
Mary was afraid when the angel first posed the invitation to her freedom. As an adolescent girl, she did not know what to expect, and her imagination may have suggested many terrifying things to her. She did not know that she would bury the son she agreed to bear. But she knew that the only antidote to fear in life was to place her total trust in God, knowing that he would not ask of her something she was not capable of giving. This is true for each of us, and because of this we can find in Mary a model worthy of emulation. Like Mary, none of us knows what lies ahead on the road of life, and because of this we are tempted to run from the voice of God. But if we continue with Mary and walk where she walked, we will attain the same gift: we will become true friends of Jesus, who reveals to man his own heart with all its fears and pains, but also its supreme call to the fullness of eternal life.