Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
And he came to her and said, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!"
Or "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28)
Many people are familiar with this encounter between an angel and the Virgin of Nazareth named Mary. At this wonderful time of year we remember the encounter and we open our hearts and our homes to the One who came as a fruit of her "Fiat", her surrender, her response to the message.
The story of the encounter is taken from the pages of the New Testament of the Bible. The text has formed the words of an ancient Christian prayer called the "Angelus" which is prayed early morning, midday and evening throughout religious houses, monasteries and religious homes throughout the world.
Perhaps as children some of us recited this prayer in a Church service. Maybe we are among the many that still pause at the appointed hours every day to pray the words as a devotional practice in honor of the Incarnation.
It is repeated three times each day, morning, noon, and evening:
"The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary:
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
Be it done unto me according to Thy word..."
It invites us to remember that scene so that we make it our own.
Picture the scene. Most historians place Mary's age between thirteen and fifteen when this extraordinary encounter with the angel appeared.
I have had the honor of raising three daughters (along with two sons) through that season of their lives that is perhaps the most emotionally volatile, their teenage years. I love them deeply. However, I am not sure how any of them would have responded if visited or confronted by that Angel, Gabriel, who visited Mary of Nazareth.
For that matter, I am not sure how I would have responded. However, through the Biblical account, I know how Mary of Nazareth responded and I am forever grateful.
In the Christian tradition this event is referred to as "the Annunciation." It has become the symbolic backdrop that has inspired some of the most beautiful art work in human history depicting the event. God sent a "messenger" to announce what He was about to do, not only in Mary but in the world as a result of her response!
Both the event and her response changed all of human history. Both the event and her response can be made our own if we enter into the mystery that is the prayer of Mary and learn to live a life of surrendered love as she did. Maybe we have read this story, accepted that it occurred, but actually believed that it had no real relevance to our own lives. It is time to think again.
Can we encounter God in our own daily lives? Does God still visit men and women? Does he still send "angels" or messengers to reveal His plans? Does he send them to us to speak His words to specific people?
The answer to all these questions is "Yes"!
The Latin word translated "angel" is angelu and the Greek is aggelos. Both are found in the ancient translations of the Jewish and Christian scriptures. They are variations of a more ancient word found in the Hebrew texts of the Bible. It is literally translated as "one going" or "one sent".
Angels "go" for God. They carry His word and initiate His actions. We could also call them messengers and ministers.
Angels are mentioned throughout the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible. They are also found in many texts that inform other religious traditions. In our contemporary age there is a "rediscovery" of angels and a growing interest in their actions in our midst. This is evidenced in our popular culture on television, at the Movies and in our bookstores. This interest reflects a deepening hunger for God and a desire to hear his message.
The public life, ministry and words of Jesus Christ are filled with references to the Angels. Even more present are the tales of their actions. They ministered to the Lord Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, where He suffered his anguish before the final act of selfless love at Calvary. They attended to Him in the Victory of the Resurrection and announced the meaning of the event to His followers who came to the empty tomb.
In the earliest account of the New Testament Christian community called the "Acts of the Apostles" and in the letters to the early Churches, found after the Gospel accounts in the New Testament, the presence and actions of the angels are everywhere.
Finally, in the last Book of the Bible, the Book of the Revelation, they are woven throughout the Biblical texts and in a very unique way their territoriality is explained and revealed. For example, there are Angels delegated for each one of the early Churches.
If one were to remove the references to angels from the sacred texts of the Old and New Testament, not only would substantial amounts of the Bible be removed but even more of its meaning would be lost due to the role the very understanding that the existence of Angels plays in the "hermeneutic", the world view that lies at the heart of the Christian revelation.
This world view was Mary's worldview. It predisposed her for the encounter, prepared her to make the response of surrendered love, and paved the way for her life of surrendered love. It can be made our own through faith.
This world view begins with the knowledge that there is a loving, personal God who cares not only about the whole world, but about your world and my world; a loving God who communicates His love and who often does so through a visitation.
In fact, it is a part of the Christian tradition that each of us has a specific angel, a "guardian" assigned to each of us to guard and direct us through life.
If angels are real and they are everywhere, the real question is do we have the eyes, ears and hearts to discern their presence? Or, do we even know what (or better who) we are looking for?
The author of the letter to the Hebrews found in the New Testament exhorts the early Christians to:
" Keep on loving each other as brothers, do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it" (Heb 13: 1-2)
Interesting thought isn't it? In the daily events of all of our own lives, there are "angels" in our path. The question is not whether they exist but rather whether we recognize them, hear and respond to their "visitation(s)." In this sense they can also be people who deliver in word and/or deed the message and love of God to us.
I have had many such "messengers" in my life. Let me tell you of only one. Her name is Wanda
Wanda was a simple woman, a Christian, and a dedicated mother. I would come to discover that she was much more.
She was a mystic.
She contacted me because she needed legal help. Barely making ends meet, supporting her family day to day, she hadn't budgeted for a major car disaster. That old thing had held up pretty well. However, the transmission was shot and she had to take it in for repair.
Wanda left her car at the repair shop and waited for the bad news. It was worse than she had expected! The cost of repair was beyond anything she had even braced for. What followed was worse.
After the repairs were done, the serviceman had parked the car out in front of the shop (located in the inner city) with the keys in the ignition. His excuse was that the garage was full! Not surprisingly, Wanda's car was stolen! Not only was the insurance company offering less than what she owed (Wanda had been the victim of a loan company that committed usury---taking advantage of her disadvantage) but the repair shop was insisting on being paid for the repairs!
A friend told Wanda that I might be able to help even though she could not afford a lawyer. She also heard that I was a man of faith. By the time it was all over, it was Wanda who had helped me. She changed my life.
I did the dance I have learned to do after all these years of law practice. I negotiated, first from a position of what was just, and only then, when it became clear that the parties were not altruistic, by shifting the risk.
After all, who in a small claims court environment was going to be sympathetic to a business that parked a customer's car outside in a high crime district with the keys inside? What usurious loan company that took advantage of the disadvantaged would not be expected to write off part of it's ill gotten gains rather than run the risk of public exposure for it's exorbitant rates and questionable business practices?
At each step of the dance I kept Wanda informed. She was without a car, taking a bus daily to work, and had increased her hours in order to pay for the added expenses occasioned by the loss of her means of transportation. She never complained. Rather, she always responded with an extraordinary confidence that God would provide and take care of her family.
Her response to difficulty was not anger, blame or the naive kind of starry-eyed faith of a new convert. She was strong and resolute. It was a deep kind of conviction birthed in the furnace of failure, disappointment and perseverance. She KNEW that God would make a way.
When it was all over and Wanda was able to walk away with no financial obligations, I felt good. She deserved it. I enjoyed hearing her sincere "God bless you" on the other end of the telephone line.
We both went on with our lives.
Four weeks later, I was facing a severe crisis in my own life and career. I long ago learned that living by faith simply does not mean that everything will go smoothly. Anyone who says otherwise is either a con man (or woman), a liar, or insincere.
But this crisis was not bearing the fruits that redemptive suffering, joined to the cross, had done in my life in the past. In short, I was in serious "funk", depressed, despondent and hopeless.
I received a card in the mail from Wanda. Inside she expressed her gratitude for my legal assistance and wrote these words: "There is always a ram in the thicket." I was sure I recognized the reference but I was somewhat puzzled. I searched the scriptures and found them in the first Book of the Bible, Genesis:
"Abraham looked and there in the thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place 'The Lord will provide' ". (Genesis 22:13-14)
The story of Abraham's life of faith provides an extraordinary insight into the vocation of the Christian life. He is championed, among other New Testament passages, in the hall of heroes of the faith detailed in the eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews. His faith is presented as a model throughout the Christian tradition.
The early Father's of the Church expounded upon his willingness to sacrifice "Isaac" (the son of the promise) as a prototype of what we moderns would call "where the rubber hit's the road" in understanding and living the life of faith. Abraham was a man who lived complete abandonment to -and trust in-God.
Wanda was truly his daughter. I had much to learn and she was one of teachers who the Lord had sent to me .She was the "angel", the messenger, who would show me that there is always a ram in the thicket.
Praying the Liturgy of the Hours one morning, I read these words from the great mystic priest John of the Cross: -.
"Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire. The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross."
My personal difficulties did not subside and the circumstances did not change...at least not immediately. However, I began to have new eyes to see the "ram in the thicket." Over the last few months the darkness has subsided and I have begun to understand.
"The Lord will provide." Wanda was right.
Like John of the Cross-and all the sons and daughters of Abraham throughout the ages, she had uncovered the hidden treasures mined only at the foot of the Cross. It was there that Love Himself became the offering. It is there where suffering and sorrow are bathed in Blood. She, like the women at the foot of the Cross-, understood.
I believe Wanda is a mystic and an "angel", a messenger of God. Oh, some would object to my use of the word "mystic". After all, she had no "theological education", no clerical office, and little notoriety... This is all the more reason for me to believe that she was a gift, an "angel", sent from God specifically to me at a critical time in my life.
The same mystical Epistle that teaches us about Abraham tells us that "angels" (the word means messenger) can show up when you least expect them.
He now invites us all into the holy oblation of a surrendered life. When we accept the invitation we always find the ram in the thicket.
Wanda opened my eyes at a critical time in my life, to see the role that evn the mundane daily practice of law plays in my life as I continue to integrate what I have always called "my two professions", my Christian faith and the my profession.
Since that encounter, I have met many more "Wanda's" and through serving them I have continued to encounter the God who always provides. These encounters not only reveal God to us, but they help us to become who He desires us to become. They help to make us different. They help us to "change", to be converted, to be made more like the One whose birth we celebrate.
As the angel came to Mary, so "angels" come in our own lives if we have the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the hearts to respond.
When we respond to their message with our own "fiat" of surrender, we encounter the Messenger Himself, and we are changed by love.
Rev. Mr. Keith A Fournier, the founder and president of "Common Good", is a constitutional lawyer. He is a pro-life and pro-family lobbyist. He was the first Executive Director of the ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice). He also served as an advisor to the presidential campaign of Steve Forbes. Fournier holds a Bachelors degree (B.A.) from Franciscan University of Steubenville in Philosophy and Theology, a Masters Degree (M.T.S.) in Sacred Theology from the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University, a Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of Pittsburgh and an Honorary Doctor of Laws (L.L.D.) from St. Thomas University. Fournier is the author of seven books on issues concerning life, faith, evangelization, ecumenism, family, political participation, public policy and cultural issues. He is a features editor for Catholic Online and the Co-Director of "Your Catholic Voice"
http://www.commongoodonline.com VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President/founder, 757 546-9580
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