Homily for Solemnity of the Annunciation 2021
Nazareth, March 25, 2021
Dear brothers and sisters
May the Lord grant you peace!
Last year, in this period, we were all shocked by the pandemic breaking into our personal and collective lives. Everything was new, and we felt unprepared for such a situation. In reality, a tiny virus paralyzed ordinary life worldwide and wiped out economic and social programs in almost every country.
Now, a year later, we do not have the clearest ideas. Fear has led us to think that the world is a hostile and dangerous place. Maybe we can better manage the health emergency, but everything else: the economy, sociality, education, work, everything is even more fragile and exposed to many questions.
We come here today to bring our difficult experience before the Virgin of Nazareth and ask ourselves what we can learn from what we have experienced. We have asked ourselves about the economy, social life, and health. But what does all this say about our faith? Faith and life must talk to each other. Faith is also a particular way of receiving life. Our principle relationship, one with the Lord, can and must enlighten our experience and help us understand the signs of the times. The Lord himself asks us: “You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times?” (Matt. 16:3).
That is the precise question that we most often asked ourselves in the Church during this past year. In that period, when we almost always had closed churches, suspended celebrations, without Easter and Christmas, and where even the faith life seemed to become virtual, with online Masses, Pastoral ministry on Zoom, remote blessings, and so on.
Let us then allow ourselves to be questioned by today’s solemnity and try to take a further step to understand, as far as possible, what the Lord is showing us.
The first consideration, precisely, concerns the mystery of the Incarnation. Today we celebrate the “yes” of Mary, who permitted God to break into the reality of the world assuming our very flesh. Here the Word of God took flesh in everything but sin, took our humanity. And that already tells us how much God loves our reality. The world has never been a happy island: problems of every kind, injustice, division, wars; there are diseases today as in the past and always. But all this has not prevented in any way the fulfillment of God’s plan in our world. Our disobedience did not stop His desire for salvation. He became one of us because He so loved us. If we had been made perfect, perhaps, there would be no need for a plan of salvation, of His intervention in history.
Therefore, celebrating today the Incarnation also means knowing how to welcome and love this world’s reality, just as God loved it. It is not a question of closing eyes to the pain of the world and ours. It is to believe in the certainty that this world, wounded and offended, is nevertheless the place in which God manifested himself and in which he met us, and where we still meet him today. There is nothing, in fact, in this world that can prevent us from living fully. Faith also involves recognizing the beauty of our reality, knowing how to face the facts of life, whether beautiful or tiring, with the certainty of the good that dwells in us, a Word that saves us. Faced with the Archangel’s request, incredible and humanly impossible to understand, Mary responds with confidence in the Provident God, whom she knows she can trust.
We said that increasingly, especially in this last year, in school, in work, and even in the Church, we have lived more virtually than really. In this year of lockdown, technology has come to our aid and allowed us to maintain a minimum of sociableness. But it is not through technology that we will meet the Lord; it will not be virtual Masses that will save us, nor even social media, but a personal encounter with the Lord.
The mystery we celebrate today is also an invitation not to flee from the real, not to avoid dealing with who we are but, on the contrary, to find in one’s reality, personal and communal, as it is, the signs of God’s presence, the place to meet Him. We need to recover a positive and serene view on the Church and the world, still inhabited by His presence. Evil, pain, injustices, and our loneliness cannot be the only voice that challenges us. Even today, if we want to listen to Him, God invites us to welcome His Word sown in each of us and that wants to bear fruit, “a hundred, sixty, thirtyfold” (Matt. 13:8). In this world, this society, this Church, we are invited to pronounce our “yes” to God who calls us for His salvation project. A “yes” that translates then into concrete and positive action for good and justice, a “yes” that prevails over all fear and worry because “nothing is impossible to God” (Lk 1:37).
The Gospel account that we have heard speaks to us of so many witnesses surrounding the Annunciation event: it speaks of the spouse of Mary, Joseph, whose solemnity we celebrated a few days ago; it speaks of Elizabeth, who, despite being elderly, is pregnant, waiting for the Baptist; of course, there is the Archangel Gabriel, and above all the Holy Spirit. This plan of salvation is not an intimate action reserved for the Virgin but sets others in motion, creates a community of persons united by the “yes” of Mary to the movement of the Spirit of God. Behind that “yes”, in short, are protagonists of salvation history, witnesses of past and present who, moved and guided by the Spirit, became collaborators in the realization of the Divine plan.
We can say that the ultimate meaning of the Annunciation is Pentecost: Mary is filled with the Spirit to beget Christ so that He, through Easter and the gift of the Holy Spirit, can be generated in all believers.
The Spirit gives us a new way of looking, the ability to grasp God’s work within the various passages of history. It enables us to recognize Christ also in the life of others. And we always need this because, if it is true that everyone must find within themselves the security of their relationship with God, it is also true that there is a confirmation that can only come from outside, in the relationship with the other.
Today more than ever, we need witnesses that help us to stand with hope and trust in the face of the facts of life, who collaborate to make our “yes” to God determined and confident. We need the Church, that is, believers who are united precisely by that “yes”, a community with a free and serene look at the life of the world, without fear and desirous to construct and promote the good and justice.
And I am thinking now about our Land and our Church: how we need this gaze! How we need trust in the Holy Spirit, who gives our Church the capacity and determination to fulfill His Word here, among us, that we also say with the Virgin Mary: “let it be done to me according to Your word” (Lk 1:38). All too often, we shut ourselves within our problems, which become our only horizon. We are absorbed in the small chores of life, things to do, or even big plans that we forget the essential: existence only makes sense if it opens up to love and the world, all of us, need to make it an authentic experience, need the embrace of God’s forgiveness, His irruption in the life of the world. Reminding ourselves and others of this, putting it into practice, is the Church’s vocation and mission today.
The answer to the question we initially posed about how to interpret this time is, therefore, in the words of the Virgin Mary: listen to and fulfill the Word of God. There is no need for new formulas, to look no further, because “this word is very close to you, it is in your mouth and your heart, that you may put it into practice” (Deut. 30:14).
May the Virgin of Nazareth accompany and sustain our Church and make it fruitful again and joyful for the good of all! May she help our ecclesial community be a light placed on a lampstand (cf. Mt 5:14) to show everyone how to encounter God, in the pain and fatigue of each day’s life, encounter which gives meaning and due weight to everything.