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Condescension of Compassion: The Annunciation Reveals the Meaning of Life

By Deacon Keith Fournier
March 26th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

What Pope St Leo called the "Condescension of Compassion" invites us. Mary's Response Reveals the Mystery and Meaning of Life. "What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for ´we no longer know Christ according to the flesh´, but He dwells in us spiritually and the Father takes up His abode with Him, the Gospel tells us. In this way the child Jesus is born in each of us." (St. Gregory of Nyssa)

CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord in the Roman Catholic Liturgical Calendar. This year, the great Feast was supplanted by the 5th Sunday of Lent so we celeberate it today, March 26, 2012. In the Office of Readings we find an excerpt for Pope St Leo the Great inviting us to reflect on the profound implications of this Feast. God's greatest gift to us. The Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ, invites a response of "Yes" to our own vocation - and Mary shows us the way.

Pope St Leo writes: "He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So he who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself."

This "Condescension of Compassion" reveals the Merciful Love of God and invites a response of surrendered love. Thus, the Feast of the Lord is also a Feast of Our Lady. Her 'Yes" is the prototype of all vocational responses to such a great act of Love. Another great father of the Church, St Gregory of Nyssa, invites us more deeply into the mystery with these words:

"What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for ´we no longer know Christ according to the flesh´, but He dwells in us spiritually and the Father takes up His abode with Him, the Gospel tells us. In this way the child Jesus is born in each of us." (St. Gregory of Nyssa)

It is interesting to note that when the Solemnity falls during Lent, we break with our Lenten fast. Canon # 1251 of the Code of Canon Law reads "Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday."

So, we do not fast - we feast. Why? Because the Solemnity takes precedence over even our Lenten observance. This importance should invite us to consider again the mystery of Mary's cooperation in God's plan and our cooperation in God's plan. In the midst of all of the challenges we face as Catholic Christians in a Culture which has forgotten God, we celebrate God's loving plan and remember the heart of the Christian message, conversion through Jesus Christ.

The great event of the Annunciation reveals the path to salvation and to cultural recovery. The little Virgin of Nazareth teaches us how to live our real lives in a real world! When the Angel of the Lord appeared, bearing the message and calling her to a special mission, she said "YES."  We must say "Yes" as well and believe that "nothing is impossible with God."  Let's consider her response to the message: "I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word."  It is in these words that we discover the heart of the Christian vocation.

"What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for ´we no longer know Christ according to the flesh´, but He dwells in us spiritually and the Father takes up His abode with Him, the Gospel tells us. In this way the child Jesus is born in each of us." Gregory of Nyssa

When Mary spoke those words, human history was forever changed. They came from a deep spiritual reservoir within the heart of a young Jewish girl who was in love with the God of her fathers - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Mary´s "Yes" is called the Fiat:  in Latin, "Let it be done."
Mary´s Fiat was spoken from a heart filled with love for God. In the Biblical context, "heart" is a word that means much more than the fleshy organ at the center of our chest cavity. It refers to our center, the core of each of us, the place where our deepest identity is rooted, and from which our fundamental choices about life are made. Mary´s words proceeded from a humble heart.

This young woman was not full of herself, not self-protective, not cynical, she was emptied, in order to be filled. She was therefore able to completely surrender herself in love, to Love.  Her initial assent to the Angel Gabriel´s announcement reveals the very meaning of another Biblical word, "holy". holiness is not about looking pious.  It is about being selfless. Mary was holy, and she shows us the way to become holy, too.

In the original languages, the words in Holy Scripture which are translated into the English word "holy" mean set apart or consecrated, entirely dedicated to God´s service, given over to God and His worship.  If we want to be holy, we need to explore the meaning of these words and make them our own. We are also called to be set apart for the living God. We are to make a place for Him within ourselves and within the world. We are to bear His message through a lifestyle that radiates His love.

It is only by being set apart and consecrated that our own personal histories can be truly transformed.  This happens through conversion, or "metanoia", which, in Greek, means "to change." Our hope for change, for becoming holy, is to open our lives to the One who is the source of all goodness and holiness, Jesus Christ. We are called to respond to His invitation, to say "Yes" to a relationship with Him.

This is what Mary´s Fiat is all about. In saying Yes to God, as Mary did, we are able to discover the path to conversion, to holiness, to authentic spirituality. Our call to embrace the Fiat and to make it our own is not a formula for easy spiritual growth, nor is it the first in a series of steps that lead to solving the problems of life. The spiritual life is a path, a Way, and it involves a continuing, ongoing walk with the Lord.

He has invited each of us into an intimate, personal, exchange of love. This kind of intimacy with a living, loving God is the interior meaning of Mary´s Fiat, her Magnificat, and her way of life. When we embrace Mary´s Prayer and make it our own, we allow the Love that Mary bore in her body to be incarnated in and through us, too.

Each of us can say "Yes" to God, right now, wherever we are. Each of us can respond with our entire being, with a Fiat of surrendered love. When we do so, our positive response marks the beginning of a participation in the very life of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We become sons and daughters of the Most High and enter into the life of the living God.  In Him we find our deepest identity, our real selves, through our participation in the One who made us, who redeems us, and who transforms us by His continual grace.

Conversion begins when we say Fiat with our words and our deeds. It introduces to us a new and dynamic way of living with God, and in God. As we lose ourselves in Him, we find ourselves again, made new and completed.  This holy exchange-our life for His-is the essence of the spiritual journey. It is not about power but powerlessness. It is not about increase but decrease. It is not about becoming greater but about becoming smaller. In short, true spirituality is about surrender.

Mary teaches us how to live. Her way is to become an ark within, to open herself to the Word of God and allow Him to make His home within her. It is the same loving Word who became incarnate within her who now takes up His residence within us. He comes to dwell in all men and women who say "Yes" to Him. Mary invites us to participate in the ongoing incarnation of God´s Word, to become vessels of His Love, for the sake of world.

This Feast is an an invitation to live redemptively. The ongoing re-creative and redemptive work of God´s love continues through each one of us individually and in the communion of the Church which is his body. We are invited throughout our life to learn how to become arks, or dwelling places, through which Incarnate Love comes alive for all those around us. We are invited to respond with our own "yes", daily, even hourly, by living a life of surrendered love. We enter more fully into the mystery of the Incarnation as we respond the same way Mary did: "Behold the servant of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word."

Mary, in her selflessness, was open to the angel´s visit. She recognized who was speaking. She listened, received and responded. In so doing, she shows us the way to respond to the Lord's call in our own lives. God initiates a relationship and we respond in surrender to Him. This dynamic, this heavenly road, leads to a dialogue, a conversation, a communion, a new way of life. By saying Yes, giving our own Fiat. Mary shows us the way to live our lives to the full by living them surrendered to Jesus Christ.

What Pope St Leo calls the " Condescension of Compassion" invites our response today, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. Mary's Response Reveals the Mystery and Meaning of Life. For more reflections on Mary's "Yes" as a model for every Christian, visit "Mary, Mother of God"

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