The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner, American (active France), 1859–1937.
Philadelphia Museum of Art (purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund, 1899). In the public domain.

This beautiful painting of the Annunciation of Our Lord is provocative. It presents a very real depiction of Mary, the mother of God. A young girl wakes and thinks about the day ahead of her: chores, family activities and the weather. And then she has a vision that is beyond her experience. This is the day when all of history will change. This is the moment of incarnation, when God comes into our world in a most intimate and physical way. A young peasant girl filled with fear and disbelief stands on faith and becomes the Mother of humanity.

Imagine as she goes to her own mother to relay what has just happened. I wish that scripture gave us more detail about Mary’s home life and culture. We look to archeology for this. However, we know that this was a family home and this was a young girl already betrothed to a young man for marriage. Why would God choose this moment? Why could this miracle not have taken place after Mary and Joseph are married? I think it is because God knows our human condition, our struggles and stumblings. Mary models a faith that is trusting and strong. She is a resilient and discerning woman.

As with much of our faith, we create images and scenarios that fit our conceptions of religion and scripture. As a child, I loved my poster of a blonde Mary surrounded in blue hues. A deeper reflection brings us to see that there are some lived experiences here that should give us pause. Mary was an expectant mother before marriage. Mary and Joseph were refugees fleeing danger. Mary grieved for her son. She gave birth in less than sterile conditions. And Mary wondered and pondered things in her heart. She is a model of faithfulness, discernment, strength, humility, grace and love. And Mary is in solidarity with us as she was with her Son at his death on the cross.

Paul McCartney’s song “Let it Be” is about his own mother, whom he lost when he was young. Still, this song has touched people as it speaks of a Mother Mary who comes in times of trouble. Scripture scholars write about Mary’s fiat, Latin for “let it be done.” This was her response to the Angel Gabriel. Let it be, let it happen, so be it. What a wonderful model of faith and love of God. May we all embrace this feast as a  template for our own trust in the providence and care of our loving God. Perhaps Sir Paul was being very deliberate with the title of his song.

Jan Bentham is a retired Religion Coordinator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is a musician, serving in music ministry at St. Ignatius Parish in Ottawa. She currently works at St. Paul’s University with the Catholic Women’s Leadership Program. 

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