40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, 25 March 2021 Isaiah 7:10-14, 8:10 + Hebrews 10:4-10 + Luke 1:26-38
Last Monday I celebrated my 56th birthday in quarantine after having a close contact with a person with COVID-19. The health officers were both smiling in disbelief as they took my swab test that morning after finding out after my interview it was indeed my birthday.
Between that morning and its eve – in fact since Saturday when I went on quarantine – I felt like in another scene of the Annunciation as I awaited the “good news” with my whole world standing still in animated suspension.
Earlier that morning, I celebrated Mass in my room when I looked back to my birthday last year. It was a Sunday, the first week of the lockdown when public Masses were suspended. After celebrating the Mass alone in our Parish church, I borrowed a truck and mounted the Blessed Sacrament at the back and went around our parish that afternoon to bless the people who knelt on the road with some were crying.
This year, I felt the Lord wanted me to celebrate my birthday in quarantine to be alone with him again to realize the rich meaning of this Solemnity in relation with our lives, especially with me as his priest.
Brothers and sisters: It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats take away sins. For this reason, When Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.'” By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.Hebrews 10:4-7, 10
The mystery of Christ’s coming
Notice that in Mass today at the proclamation of the Creed, we are asked to genuflect at the words “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” to remind us that the Incarnation of the Son of God is the fundamental mystery of our faith which the Church has always proclaimed since the beginning.
This is the gist of our short but rich reflections by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews of how Jesus truly became human born by the Blessed Virgin Mary in the power of the Holy Spirit without losing any of his divinity in the process in order to save us and make us new again before God our Father.
In his reflection, the author of the Letter mentions how the Old Testament worship was more symbolic and a preparation to the perfect offering made by Jesus on the cross.
In the Old Testament, priests offered animals for atonement of sins with the blood symbolizing life. They offered three animals: first for their sins so they may be cleaned before God in making the sacrifices for the people for whom the second animal stood for. The third animal was usually a goat to cover all the other sins of the world from which we got “scapegoat” as term for one who takes all the blame.
Jesus Christ came to perfect the temple worship in his very body when he told the Pharisees and scribes after cleansing the temple, “Destroy this temple and in a three days I will raise again” (Jn.2:19).
By dying on the cross, Jesus fulfilled his words to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well that someday, people would no longer worship in just one place because through his “hour” of glory – his crucifixion – people will be able to “truly worship the Father in Spirit and truth” (Jn.4:23).
On the cross, Jesus made himself the perfect sacrifice to God by atoning for our sins. The word atonement was coined by a Protestant translator of the bible to convey the idea of salvation as being one again with the Father, or “at-one-ment”.
Following the reflection by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, we find that the very coming of Christ announced by the angel to Mary was in fact directed toward this paschal sacrifice of Jesus.
In the gospel today we have seen the angel telling Mary to name her child “Jesus” that means “God is my savior”. The angel was more explicit in the Annunciation to Joseph who was instructed, “you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt.1:21).
It was from this celebration of the Annunciation of Christ’s birth that we have the tradition of praying the Angelus every 6am, 12noon and 6pm to make our day holy, reminding us of this great mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus who became both “the gift and the giver” when he offered himself on the cross for us which we remember and make present in every celebration of the Mass.
The life of obedience in Christ
From that beautiful story of the Annunciation of Lord we find how in the coming of Jesus Christ from the very start – from heaven to its coming on earth to Mary’s virginal conception at Nazareth – the mystery of his Incarnation has always been characterized by obedience.
In being obedient to the Father, Jesus consecrated us through him in offering his body once and for all that opened for us an avenue to a life of holiness through obedience to God. And the first to have this distinction is his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.Luke 1:38
Next to Mary is her husband, St. Joseph whose Solemnity we celebrated last week. His “yes” to following the angel’s instruction upon waking up from his dream echoed the Blessed Mother’s obedience to God’s plan and will for everyone through Jesus Christ.
Here we find Mary and Joseph, two righteous people who allowed themselves to be instruments in the fulfillment of the divine plan in Jesus Christ, relying more in the power of God, believing in his words spoken by the angel to them.
On this Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, we are challenged and invited to be open and obedient to God, to his words we hear proclaimed in the celebration of the Mass and in our personal prayers.
Jesus is the word who became flesh and dwelled among us, present among us because of the obedience and faith of Mary and Joseph.
It is always very tempting to be like King Ahaz in the first reading, when we rely more in ourselves, in our wisdom and intelligence, expertise and experience that we sometimes feel it no longer needed to bother God at all for directions especially with “earthly” things and concerns like the economy or defense of the country.
This is the saddest part with COVID-19: a year after it started and wreaked havoc on this planet, we still continue to consider it as a medical and social issue, refusing to see its spiritual meaning.
This pandemic is an annunciation moment when God is telling us something very important for our salvation like with Mary over 2000 years ago.
God has been sending us messengers since the start of this crisis to welcome his Word, Jesus Christ so that he can work in us to bring us back to the Father and with one another through our loving service especially with the weak and most needy.
It is easy for God to send us solutions right away to end this pandemic. In fact, he had blessed us with at least six vaccines that took only a year to develop unlike the normal course of 3-5 years.
But vaccines will not entirely solve and end this pandemic. This we can see right in our country where spas and gyms and malls are seen as more essential than religious gatherings. Its worst part is how we have modern King Ahaz so confident with themselves in addressing the issues from the pandemic. Incidentally, the main sin and mistake by King Ahaz during the time of Isaiah was his aligning himself with the superpower Assyria that eventually conquered Israel – something so similar with our dealings and reliance with China, the origin of this virus and pandemic!
How sad at how this government pinned all its hopes last year in the discovery of vaccines without working hard in other aspects of mitigating the effects of the pandemic when now that there are vaccines available, it is still at a loss in making any progress in the vaccination program especially with those most vulnerable like the medical frontliners who are doing a life of offering like Jesus Christ.
Early this year, we had our major revamp in our parish assignments in almost nine years. It was an Annunciation event for us priests as it directed us to new challenges in the ministry to continue proclaiming the mystery of Incarnation.
I was assigned as chaplain of Our Lady of Fatima University (OLFU) and Fatima University and Medical Center (FUMC). At first, I was afraid like Mary in going to a new ministry at the forefront of facing the pandemic. But like Mary, I gave my fiat to God, joyfully coming to my assignment with so many plans and dreams.
And just when I was starting to heat up in my ministry, I was suddenly sent on a quarantine. That was when I realized the meaning of this Annunciation of the Lord to me: becoming like the Body of Christ to be offered too for many.
As I heard news of more people including friends and relatives getting COVID-19, I promised God in my prayers during my “quarantined” birthday that whatever may be the result of my swab test, I will still serve him with same enthusiasm in my previous assignments.
Like the Blessed Virgin Mary, may we say yes to God everyday, relying more than ever in our relationships with him and with others in Christ than in the hopes of things getting better; should things get worst like Jesus dying on the Cross, like Mary, may we hold only on God’s loving mercy and presence in this world marred by sin. And pandemic. Amen.