Today we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. As a child, I had a hard time distinguishing this feast from the Immaculate Conception.
Both of them deal with, at a fundamental level, the freedom that Mary and Jesus enjoyed from original sin. The difference is that the Immaculate Conception actually refers to Mary’s sinless conception while the Annunciation refers to Jesus’s conception despite Mary’s virginal status.
Normally we celebrate the Annunciation on March 25 (exactly nine months before Christmas) but this year it’s celebrated a little later, on March 31, to avoid placing it in Easter Week. And as every parent knows, babies don’t show up right on the appointed day anyway, so moving it a bit doesn’t do anything to distract from the central message.
At one level, the message is that life is sacred from the moment it is conceived. So while Christmas, the day of the virgin birth, is better known, the Annunciation has enormous theological significance as well.
But let’s go back to the question of freedom from original sin. As humans, we know this all too well. In the recently completed lenten season, we endured in a very real way our struggles with sin and temptation. So it’s easy to imagine that it would have been a great blessing for Mary to have conceived without sin.
The Gospel passage, however, shows how Mary struggled with this. She questioned the angel Gabriel and, in a human way, seemed to be wondering why she couldn’t have a more "normal" existence. But ultimately she succumbs to God’s will.
Of course, we humans face this all time. We want to put off God’s call until later so that we can deal with our more earthly and immediate needs. That’s what it is to be human. But we ultimately need to answer God’s call like Mary did.
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