March 25th marks the date of the Annunciation. It is the day that Gabriel proclaimed the good news to Mary that Christ would be born within her. This year – because the date lands on a Sunday – we are celebrating that feast on March 26th.
I don’t normally see this blog as a place for my personal stories but this day is special – so bare with me.
It was on March 25th some nine years ago Christ was born within me too.
In 2003 my children were attending a Catholic school. As part of the Lenten practice, they were offered the sacrament of reconciliation as part of their school day. Though I was a cradle Catholic and my children attended Catholic School, I had not visited that sacrament since my Confirmation. For me that was when I was in 4th grade! Prompted by what I now understand as the Holy Spirit, but at the time felt like the guilt of expecting my children to go to confession when I didn’t go myself – I made an appointment to visit the new priest at our church. The objective of my appointment was to argue with him the teachings of the faith. Filled with misconceptions and pride, I descended on this poor priest as if I would be able to convince him to “set the church right.” At that time I rarely went to Mass, never prayed and and I certainly didn’t know that the date of my appointment fell on the feast day of the Annunciation. I didn’t know what a feast day was and I would have had to look up the word “Annunciation” if I even knew how to spell it.
I would have then called myself a Pro- Choice Catholic! (Who knew that 6 years later I would be working on the Archbishop’s staff as the Respect Life Coordinator.)
What happened at that meeting changed my life. As Father patiently waited out my arguments on contraception, abortion and the anti- woman establishment that I saw as the Catholic Church, he offered some education, but most of all he offered me compassion. At one point I remember getting up to leave – I didn’t want to hear what he had to say.
Out of no where he said to me, “Sharon, what are you afraid of?” The words hit me like a ton of bricks. I sat back down, cried for 5 minutes and entered into a confession – a real confession; a confession of my life, of all my fears and my pain.
When angels appear in the bible – it seems they always start out with the phrase “Do not be afraid. ” Our common idea of angels is cute little cherubs or gentle looking young men with wings. But angles – must be awesome – and I don’t mean in the way that we say pizza is awesome. Fired by the Holy Spirit and carrying the message of God – they appear to us as something we ARE afraid of. Is it the wings of fire, glowing with bright light or with a voice that booms of an orchestra or organ? What is it that we are afraid of?
Ultimately, I think we are afraid of the message that they bring; the message of knowing ourselves and of seeing ourselves as who we really are. We are afraid because we cannot comprehend the idea that if anyone knew the real us – the us that only God knows – that we could really be loved in return. We also are afraid of what God may ask of us if we accept that love and try to return it.
On the day that the angel Gabriel came to Mary and said “Do not be afraid” Mary carried Christ within her for nine months. She carried her love for Him through his death on the cross.
Was she afraid of what God might see in her heart?
Was she afraid of what saying yes to God might mean?
I don’t know, but her “Fiat” meant that not only would she carry God within her womb, but that God would carry her and would always be with her.
I realize now just how unprepared I am to carry God within me to anyone. I realize how unqualified I am to work for Life. I realize how unworthy I am to even receive the Eucharist at Mass. But when I say ‘Yes” I don’t have to be afraid, because like Mary – God carries me too.
So this Lent, I ask – how long has it been since your last confession and “What are you afraid of?”