Often many Christians from the Protestant churches criticize Catholics and our relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many Protestants accept Mary was the mother of Jesus, but they are unable to see that God chose her to be our model and teacher as well. We can see the importance of her role for all humanity if we look at Mary’s first appearance in the Scriptures in Luke 1:28-38, in an event called throughout Christian history, the Annunciation.
Catholics understand how important the Annunciation is to the salvation history of humanity and have made it the first meditation in the joyful mysteries of the rosary prayer. These mysteries, such as the Annunciation, and the rosary are often misunderstood as Mary worship. We are clear as Christians that we only worship God, but at the same time we honor Mary for her role in bringing Jesus to the world. When we pray the Hail Mary, we are only following Scripture where the angel Gabriel first said, “Hail Mary, full of grace (God’s favor), blessed are you among women…” (28) God’s own messenger proclaims her the blessed one, the most favored one, whom He respects and we should also, not just as the mother of Jesus but as a model and teacher.
We can call her our model for several reasons. First, Mary is the model for all Christians because she was the first person to accept Jesus into her life. She accepted Him into her life before He was even born. Her yes to God models for us how we are to respond to God. When she faces the power of God, through His messenger Gabriel, she does not run away even though she is afraid. Also, she does not doubt God’s power and ability to bring forth life from a virgin, though she does ask the question, How is this possible? She is our model because she shows us the only answer to God is “thy will be done…” (38), the same words Jesus will later give us in the Our Father.
We also call her our model because the angel Gabriel tells us she has found favor with God. In some Bibles, she is called “the most favored one.” For centuries, we have understood this honor is because she led a model life herself and God felt she would be the best model for God’s own Son. If she was the best model for the Son of God, she certainly is worthy to be our model as well.
Yet, she is even more than a model, she is also our teacher. She teaches us in this short story what is faith and how we are to live our faith in God. In her question, how can this be so? she teaches us that ultimately faith is a mystery. There is no complete understanding in matters of Faith or God’s will, which is beyond our human minds. Faith means we are to believe in something we do not and will not fully understand. Faith asks us to say yes to God, even when we do not understand everything.
Next, she teaches us that to follow Jesus in faith, we must do two things. Faith needs words and actions. The first thing she does, as should we, is to profess in words, our yes to God. Faith is not just a thought in our heads, it requires for us to speak these words out loud so God and others can hear what is in our hearts.
Mary, in her faith, accepts Gabriel’s words, “that nothing is impossible for God” (37). She gives her yes to God because she knows, “she is the handmaid of the Lord” (38). Even after Gabriel tells her she will bear “the son of God” (35), she does not begin to think of herself as the most important person in the world, but rather she sees clearly who she is before God, His handmaid. As God’s handmaid, as His servant, her response teaches us that faith asks us to completely surrender ourselves, mind and body, to God’s will. We are all called, just as Mary was, to make a place for Jesus in our bodies. We will not carry Him in our wombs in the way Mary did, but we are still called to receive Him through our daily reflection on the Word of God, in our prayers, in rosaries, and in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Her complete surrender to God’s will leads us to the second reason she is our teacher. She teaches us that faith is not only expressed in words, or it is dead. She teaches us that faith must be expressed in actions, as she will say yes with all her mind and all her strength, and all her body. Mary lives the great commandment of Jesus even before He speaks it. She teaches us that to live our faith cannot simply be words or prayers or even just rosaries. Our words must turn into action for God’s will to be done.
Mary knows and teaches us that the only response before the power of God, or any power, is to not respond with more power, but to respond in loving service. In the footsteps of Mary our model and teacher, we are also called to respond to God with loving service to others, especially those most in need. Our world has many problems because many think the only response to power is to respond with more power. When we too face the power of God or even the power of men, and respond in service, Christ is born anew in our world.
If we follow Mary’s example as our model and teacher, our words and our lives will be a new Annunciation in our world as we announce that God is born anew through us in our words and actions. Our loving service to one another will be a new Annunciation for all to come to know Him, love Him, and serve Him, as we do, as Mary did. And it all begins with our yes.