Solemnity of the Anunciation

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
. . .
It is the solemnity of the Anunciation. So I went to Mass, and the readings for today have come to me not through my own reading and reflection, but in the context of the liturgy, and a homily. Part of me thinks it’s cheating to begin from someone else’s comments on the readings, and yet it is impossible not to do so.
‘What if Mary had said no?’ The priest reported the question; he didn’t pose it. In fact, he suggested that the speculation about what might have been rested on a mistake about who God is and how God acts. “God doesn’t need a plan B.” True enough. And after Mass, my husband had an exchange with the priest that was about Mary’s will and whether or not it was possible to for her to say no. Turns out the answer to that one depends on how you define words like ‘possible’ and ‘necessary’, though in the end I think they agreed.
The thing is, though, that “no one is ever told what might have been.” This is neither St Thomas Aquinas nor St Augustine, the two thinkers involved in the discussion about Mary’s will. It’s CS Lewis, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Lucy has just asked Aslan a ‘what if’ question. His answer has stayed with me for years, as I have stumbled along trying, and often not trying hard enough, to be a Christian. However often and however badly I fail in my endeavor, ‘what if’ questions after the fact are never fruitful.

God doesn’t need a plan B. In eternity, there is no ‘might have been’ but an everlasting ‘is’, in which everything is in the present tense. From that point of view, wisdom can be seen as arranging all things delightfully, as it says in Wisdom 8: 1. From that point of view, all the crash-and-burn experiences of my life find their way into the tapestry of ‘all things’– arranged delightfully, worked together for the good (Romans 8: 28), having been wrought, however incomprehensibly, in God (John 3: 21).

So the invitatory psalm (Ps 94 [95]) invites us each day anew to ‘listen to his voice’ and to ‘harden not [our] hearts’. It is today that matters, today that affords me the opportunity to do God’s will. That is, more or less, what Aslan says next: anyone can find out what will happen. Let my ears and my heart be open, and my will freely to conform itself to his: and let it be done to me according to His word.
Advertisements

Wednesday of the fourteenth week of the year

The Lord looks on those who revere him,
    on those who hope in his love,
to rescue their souls from death,
    to keep them alive in famine.
                                      Psalm 32 [33]

.         .       .

The first reading from today is about the famine in Egypt, the first episode in the story of Joseph’s reunion with his brothers in Egypt. It is one of my childhood favorites, the story of Joseph and his many-colored coat, his fall and rise again in Egypt, and his restoration to his family. It made a great musical.

But it’s more complicated than that, isn’t it? Joseph must have been a really annoying kid. He told his older brothers that he would rule over them, and his father singled him out. Now that I have a 9-year-old son who has his challenging days, I can imagine how aggravated his brothers must have been. Not, of course, that they can be excused for getting rid of him. Turns out, though, that it wasn’t such a bad thing after all: God chose ‘to keep them alive in famine’ through the very wrong act they committed.

Now, I should have seen that before. It is a picture of redemption bigger than the one I had five minutes ago. Really. Although I am a big fan of Romans 8:28 (‘God works all things together for the good…’), I tend not to include intentional sins in that ‘everything’ that God causes to work for the good of ‘those who hope in his love.’ So, as I look back over my life and cringe as I remember things I shouldn’t have done, I don’t need to worry so much about the ‘what if I hadn’t…?’ and the ‘what if, instead, I had…?’ No. Certainly things would have turned out differently. And I might have been spared some grief, as surely Joseph’s brothers might have if they had borne with their brother’s vexing attitude. But the purposes of God would not be served any less. I cannot thwart the saving purposes of God.

Does that mean I shouldn’t worry about whether I am acting in accordance with God’s will? Of course not–as St Paul says. But I can act in faith, knowing that even if I have read wrongly, God will still ‘keep [me] alive in famine’: the thing is to ‘hope in his love’. He’s God. That’s all he asks of us.

Deo gratias.