By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator
(First of a series) 

 Imagine: You stop to pray in the middle of your day. There’s a stirring in the air … a glow … a powerful presence. What’s happening? Who is this?! Your heart pounds, you tremble as an angel stands before you.  

“Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God,” the angel tells you.  

As we venture through Advent and anticipate God’s salvation gift by coming to earth as a babe, many Catholics would love to ask Mary, “Tell us what it was like” to encounter the Angel Gabriel and play the most unique role in history of preparing the way of the Lord.  

Scriptures say Mary was “troubled” at the angel’s appearance and when told she would bear the “son of God” she asked, “How can this be?”

“I’m sure she was taken aback because she knew she would be pregnant and Joseph would not be the father,” said Judy Zelden, an original member of the central service team of Magnificat women’s ministry in Baton Rouge. “I’m sure she was completely overwhelmed and thinking, ‘Oh my goodness. Why me? Who am I?’ ” 

Gabriel reassures Mary her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant, “and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” 

“She knows her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant and would understand these things,” said Zelden. 

She believes it was a “special scene” as Mary walked through the door and Elizabeth says, “And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” as John the Baptist leaps in her womb. Mary responds with her Magnificat and how the Lord lifts up the lowly and future generations will call her “blessed.” 

Then came the awe-inspiring moment when Mary looks into the face of the son of God after she gives birth to him. 

“It must have been a time of losing herself in the love of God. She knew it was his (God’s) doing and not hers,” said Zelden. 

She said for Mary and Joseph, “It must have been a time of wonder and looking into each others eyes and pondering, ‘How can this be?’ ” 

Father Paul Yi, pastor of Ascension Catholic Church in Donaldsonville who has a devotion to Mary, said the Blessed Mother must have met this “heaven meets earth” by conforming her own wishes for God’s desires for the Messiah’s earthly journey.

“In the first moments of holding her newborn, Blessed Mother must have been filled with the greatest joy, a joy that only a mother can experience,” said Father Yi. “After she touched and kissed the face of God, she must have pondered: ‘What child is this who is on my lap sleeping, for whom angels sing and shepherds gaze? This is the Messiah, Christ the King foretold by the ancient prophecies of Scriptures. What will he be? What change will he bring? Will Joseph and I be good teachers? Where will this child lead Joseph and me? Wherever we are called and sent, we will trust and follow.’ ” 

Zelden said though Mary was free of original sin because of her role in salvation history, she allowed Joseph to lead the household.

She said Mary also didn’t seek to glorify herself.

“When things happened, she kept them close to her heart, thought about them and treasured them until the proper time, which is after Jesus’ death and resurrection,” said Zelden. 

Father Yi said Catholics can more deeply enter into the miraculous surroundings of Christ’s birth through Mary’s eyes by striving to give an unconditional “Yes” when called upon by God to fulfill his plan, even through sacrifice when things are beyond their control, and pondering on their God’s goodness through it all. 

“At some point in our lives, most of us have been asked to make a move or a change without any time for preparation, without room for negotiation, or without a chance to leave our options open. If we resign to accepting the situation or commit to a situation, would we ever feel joy?” asked Father Yi. 

“Often when we make a decision or commitment, we would like to have all the facts on hand, all the permutations of scenarios mapped out, and an exit strategy planned. Her miraculous pregnancy is beyond comprehension for all of us. Her response to the angel shows us that for some events in our lives, we can only understand them through faith and hopeful trust. The ‘yes’ that Blessed Mother said to God invites us to respond with our own fiat. Perhaps our response would be … ‘Lord, I trust you completely, and I trust that what you ask of me is for my good because you love me. For that reason, I will follow you. In the end, my heart will be conformed to yours, my wants and my desires will be conformed to yours,’ ” he said. 

Reading Scriptures helps people yield their desires to God and ponder upon “the mystery of it all,” said Father Yi. 

“Reading Scripture to recall his promises to us, thinking about him often throughout the day – these are all ways to magnify the Lord, ways to make him bigger and bigger in our hearts and minds, just as Blessed Mother did,” said Father Yi. “We glorify him when we praise him, recount his blessings to us, and thank him for them. We glorify him when we testify to the work he has done in us and share about him with those around us. Just as the incarnation of Christ in her womb led Mary to magnify the Lord and rejoice, so God’s great works in our lives lead us to praise God and to delight in his goodness and mercy toward us. 

“Pope Francis beautifully said, ‘We would do well to ask ourselves: With the things that happen in life, I ask myself the question: what is the Lord saying to me with his word, right now?’ 

“This is called keeping the word of God, because the word of God is precisely the message that the Lord gives us in every moment. Let us safeguard it with this, safeguard it with our memory, and safeguard it with our hope. We ask the Lord for the grace to receive the word of God and keep it, and also the grace to have a heart that is fatigued in this effort. So be it.”