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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

The Annunciation - The Beauty of God and the Faith that Receives

The Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary reveals the mystery of the Gospel to the world, a mystery of such profound beauty that it can change our lives forever if we turn our hearts to it. The Annunciation is the manifestation of beauty from above into this lowly world below and its light illumines and warms the hearts of all who will seek it with the eye of faith. Moreover, this splendor is not a passive reality -- God has sent it into the world to evoke the deepest response, a response so powerful that it restores our humanity and raises it above itself. Jessica Powers, Sr. Miriam of the Holy Spirit, was a Carmelite poet who died in 1988. One of her poems, Beauty, Too, Seeks Surrender, includes these lines: God takes by love what yields to love, then pours a glowing allness past the demolished walls and towers into the spirit's smallness. God's beauty, too, surrender seeks and takes in the will's lull whatever lets itself be changed into the beautiful.


An encounter with the truly beautiful evokes the most humanizing surrender, drawing the heart to love, unlocking powers to love which until that moment were latent and hidden to the soul. Beauty's truth and goodness pull forth from the deepest depths an intense longing, tender joy and holy sorrow all at once. Suddenly the heart bursts with such aching fullness and one's very being can no longer contain itself. One's whole existence must be given over, yielding to the love that beauty manifests. So it is beauty that unlocks the heart's capacity to be taken by love and to yield to love. Anyone who has heard or seen what is truly beautiful knows this experience. One does not seize beauty but surrenders and yields to its sweet call. Beauty evokes a kind of reverence because there is something holy about it. Real beauty can sometimes cause a soul to freeze with fear or to turn away in timidity. Yet, if a soul is patient with the moment, it knows that its cowardice could cost it the chance of happiness not only for oneself but for all those one most loves. When a man sees his future bride and hears her offer her heart, come what come may, because of what he has seen and heard, his life will never be the same again. This is true beauty. He must give himself to what has been given to him. Something worth laying down one's life has impressed itself irrevocably and he knows all at once not to respond to this call is to be diminished. What is beautiful has laid claim over the soul - and the soul is forever more beautiful because of this. This logic grounds marriage's indissolubility and reflects the sacred order that exists in every genuine encounter with the Lord.

When we encounter the Lord, his beauty is not the less than it was at the moment of the Annunciation. Instead, what holds Him back from giving Himself the more to us is our lack of faith. We believe, we complain, we beg Him to help our lack of faith. This is a good start -- an opening in humility that allows Him to unveil his beauty to us in new and more powerful ways. He will give us the faith to behold his hidden beauty shine, to hear his silent canticle resound, and as we learn to see and hear, we like His Mother, will offer the surrender He seeks. Christ is the Bridegroom sent by the Father and His beauty seeks surrender - because He has already surrendered Himself for our sake. Surrender is the form revealed in his radiant clarity, his due proportion, and the wholeness by which He has come to us. Because the Angel's greeting disclosed such warmth and light, not even the broken walls and towers of that same hubris we know today could distort its meaning. This message from above was the most beautiful truth that earthly ear has ever heard. Gabriel revealed the shadow of the Most High, and in that sacred darkness what splendor shone in Mary's eyes! In that hidden and still silent eternal goodness, she knew love and loving offered her consent. In that most sacred moment in human history, God took by love all that Mary yielded to love - and she yielded everything - her entire soul, life's blood and body. In her yielded "yes" her heart saw and heard by faith the unsurpassed wonder of the Word even before her womb conceived.

What kind of faith allowed her to yield so radically to love? Her attitude was one of a handmaid, a humble servant. She identified with the lowly, the hungry, the powerless, those who fear the Lord and those who trust in Him. This means, among other things, that she was grounded in her humanity and at peace with the limits of being a creature before the Lord. Such humility allowed God to pour "glowing allness" into her smallness. Such faith does not grasp but receives what it asks for. What it confidently seeks, it gratefully finds because it knocks and humbly waits until the door is opened.

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