Challenged to live the Gospel

“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” The speaker, a Scripture scholar-in-residence at the university, stopped. The class waited. The focus of the series was the Infancy Narrative in Luke and the students were, understandably, expecting to be instructed in how best to study and understand the text in its historical context. Consequently, what the teacher said next was definitely not what they were expecting.

“Today,” the theologian continued, “the angel is talking to you. You are full of grace, and God is with you as surely as God was with Mary.” At first the students disagreed. They had trouble picturing themselves as the recipients of the angel’s greeting, which they had always so closely identified with the Annunciation. But after some discussion of what it means to say that the Divine Spirit lives within every human being, most were generally able to accept that, indeed, the angel’s greeting might be directed to them as well. But the instructor wasn’t content to stop there.

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son …” Surely these words were only directed to Mary. After all, it was she who was to be the mother of God, not some 21st-century college student. But the professor continued, “Imagine yourself at work. A customer, or a client, or a patient walks into your office seeking help. You have it within your power to decide how the matter will be handled. Will you agree to become pregnant with God? Will you birth Jesus in that situation? Or will you refuse God’s invitation and remain a virgin, untouched by the Divine? How will you respond to the angel’s greeting?”

The students became very quiet. It was one thing to study the Gospel of Luke, but quite another to be challenged to live it. Mary’s “fiat” had seemed so easy. But now, in the cold light of this Monday morning, it sounded very different. Like Mary before them, they needed to ponder the question: How would their lives be changed if they chose to say yes? Perhaps, today, we need to ask ourselves the same question.

Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.