by Janine Schenone
This coming Sunday of the Annunciation celebrates the moment when the angel Gabriel brings the young girl Mary the good news that she will be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and will bear a son. “How can this be?” she asks.
Indeed. Naturally my mind turns to angels, virgin births, and miracles. When I first started at All Saints, I inherited the large Virgen de Guadalupe picture that was in Abel Lopez’s office—the picture we use in many of our Spanish feast day services. La Virgen de Guadalupe stares at me from across my desk every day, and a smaller, European icon of Mary and Jesus gazes at me from my nightstand at home every night.
The Virgin Mary figures prominently in the spiritual lives of many Christians—including people who pray the Catholic rosary, which features 50 “Hail Mary” prayers. That’s a lot of Hail Mary’s. I know, because I often have used the rosary as a tool for mental focus and prayer during long training runs and marathons. It takes one’s mind off the fact that one is at mile 18 when one had hoped to be at mile 26. Imagine how many times one has to say the “Hail Mary” over a four-hour race. I’ve also prayed rosaries during extremely trying times to deal with the crisis. This means I’ve been talking to Mary for a long time. And so has much of Christendom.
Mary has been talking to us, too. Sightings and aural experiences of Mary have occurred around the world, and while these experiences are often doubted and the ones who report them dismissed as delusional or attention-seeking, some of the sightings cannot be explained by worldly phenomena despite lengthy investigations by learned religious officials and scientists. The sighting of Our Lady of Zeitoun in Egypt, first seen by a Muslim bus mechanic in 1968 and reported to the police, is one such example.
When Mary does speak, it often is to children who live in a society on the brink of war or genocide. As the Beatles say, she comes in times of trouble, speaking words of wisdom. She begs them to pray for peace, and to tell others to pray for peace.
The appropriately named author Gabriel García Márquez satirized our world’s attempts to find scientific explanations for the supernatural in his famous short story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” Suffice it to say that the people who see the man with wings/angel do not understand this being who suddenly descends upon their village, and they treat him harshly. The church investigates and says he’s no angel because he can’t speak Latin, the crowd throws things at him, and the couple that houses him charges admission to see him. In the end, he flies off.
Our world is quick to dismiss annunciations from angels and miraculous births. Like Mary, we ask, “How can this be?” But Mary’s conversation with the angel Gabriel continues. When Gabriel confirms the impossible, she simply responds, “Let it be…”
Let it be.