Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38
How easy it is to profess our faith and try to conform our lives to God’s will when all is well and life is going according to plan.
In times like these, I rise early each morning to pray. I recite the Angelus in my sacred space at home, followed by my own “Yes, God,” when I commit the day to the Father’s divine will. My personal renewal of the Blessed Mother’s “Yes,” along with my other daily devotions, are especially joyful when my life is simple and normal.
But lately my family life has been anything but simple or normal. My aging mother’s health crisis has become increasingly complex, and the rest of my life is filled with stress and worries. My daily prayers sound like a laundry list of woes, spat out with my arms outstretched, as I plead to God for relief. I should know better than to do this in prayer, but when the problems mount, I can’t help but complain to God like Job, who famously lamented, “I have no peace nor ease; I have no rest, for trouble has come!” (Job 3:26)
During this season of Lent, it seems I have a million and one reasons to withhold my “yes” to God. So for me, the Solemnity of the Annunciation couldn’t be more perfectly timed.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Mary’s pivotal moment, the event that we celebrate on this Solemnity, in this way:
At the announcement that she would give birth to “the Son of the Most High” without knowing man, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responded with the obedience of faith, certain that “with God nothing will be impossible”: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word.” (CCC #494)
My guess is that when Mary said “yes,” she was afraid and didn’t totally understand what was to come. Nevertheless, she trusted wholeheartedly in God’s will, and participated fully and spotlessly in the divine plan for the salvation of the world. Despite her tender age and personal circumstances, Mary—later accompanied by St. Joseph—gave herself completely to God, in total trust. It is this outlandish, incomprehensible, marvelous “yes” we celebrate each year on March 25.
The Gospel passage for the Solemnity – the first chapter of St. Luke – describes that first fiat, and recalls a few words of encouragement from the angel to Mary that we can also rely on when we say “yes” to God…
“The Lord is with you.”
“Do not be afraid…”
“…nothing will be impossible for God”
As I walk alongside St. Elizabeth Ann Seton this Lent, immersed in her voluminous correspondence, I’ve received the gift of her “fiat” to emulate during my own personal trials.
Elizabeth’s letters provide a compelling look inside the heart of a woman who knew great joys, but also intense struggles. Whatever the circumstances, her deep faith is always evident in her writings, as highlighted in a letter she penned to her close friend Julia Scott in October 1801. Even before she converted to Catholicism, while her husband’s business was crumbling, and his death was almost upon them, this young wife and mother had the conviction to confide in her friend,
“Thy Will be done”—oh Julia what a comfort and support those four little words are to my Soul—I have repeated them till they are softened to the sweetest harmony. They recall the death bed scene of my own Father, and I counted his Dying pulses so long to that time that whilst repeating them I can imagine I still hold his hand—Surely in my last hour my heart will lean on them— (Collected Works 1, #193)
Trust in God’s providence and His divine will are hallmarks of Mother Seton’s life and legacy. Elizabeth offered her profession of faith on March 14, 1805 at St. Peter’s Church in lower Manhattan and a few weeks later, on March 25, 1805, she celebrated the Annunciation by receiving her first Eucharist. When she was sealed with the sacrament of Confirmation a year later, she took “Mary” as her confirmation name, opening a lifelong door to her patroness, the Blessed Mother.
Perhaps it is fitting then that Mother Seton and her Sisters always renewed their religious vows annually on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation.
Mother Seton’s surrender to God’s will was not a decision to cloister herself. Her Sisters of Charity lived a mission of faith and trust, carrying grace, encouragement, and hope to those most in need. “God has given me a great deal to do,” she once wrote to a friend, “and I have always and hope always to prefer his will to every wish of my own.”
The great challenge and opportunity of the Annunciation – especially in the context of Lenten fasting, almsgiving, and prayer – is the possibility for a true conversion of heart. Indeed, it was in St. Elizabeth Ann’s most desperate hour of need, following the premature death of her beloved husband, that she found consolation and ultimate solace in the True Presence of Jesus Christ.
Recently I came across Mother Seton’s writings on the presence of God, written for her community, that have helped me unite my morning “yes” to a more faithful following of Mary’s fiat – especially on my most difficult days. I offer it here as encouragement for your own personal “yes” as we journey together this Lenten season beyond the Passion of Our Lord toward the glory of His Resurrection.
“Much depends also on our first waking thought if we give them faithfully to God, and resist our distractions before they take possession of our mind we will find it much easier to do it the remainder of the day. The best way to do this is to store our heart with exclamations – my God I open my eyes but for you, and to love you…” CW IIIa 403
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton — even in moments of poverty, loss and death —followed Mary’s example with grace, courage, and a mission to serve others. May this be the same “yes” you and I strive for in our personal mission, even when times are particularly tough.
Mother Seton, patroness of those who struggle yet persist, pray for us!
LISA M. HENDEY is the Founder of CatholicMom.com, an award-winning international speaker, the host of the weekly “Lisa Hendey & Friends” podcast, and the author of several books for adults and children including “I Am God’s Storyteller”. Discover her work at www.LisaHendey.com and connect with her on social media @LisaHendey.