The Anunciation refers to the announcement (Luke 1:26) by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus. Upon hearing this, the Evangelist tells us that Mary was deeply troubled. But the angel said to her:
“Do not be afraid, Mary: for you have found favor with God. And behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And of course, Mary’s response, was—Yes! “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord: let it be done to me according to your word.”
Now in our own lives, most of us can tell stories of saying—yes. Regarding the simpler things in life, we quickly answer in the affirmative: “Yes, I’ll have my eggs over easy” or “Yes, dear, I’ll take the garbage out at the end of the baseball game.” But for other affirmations having the potential to bring about great change in our lives (e.g., marriage proposals, career choices, etc.), we take greater time and fully employ the gift of reason. And yet, overarching all of these possibilities rests still another. For at each moment of our lives, God asks us an eternal question: “Will you follow the plans that I propose for your life?” By doing so, he calls us to be something that, at present, we are not.
On March 9, 1978, one such life-shifting experience happened to a permanent deacon. Having been ordained just three years, Bill Steltemeier was a successful graduate of Vanderbilt Law School and senior partner at the Nashville law firm of Steltemeier & Westbrook. On weekends, he served as a prison chaplain.
That morning, while attending a legal convention in Chicago, he stumbled upon a flyer in the vestibule of that city’s Holy Name Cathedral promoting a talk to be given by Mother Angelica later that evening. After a day of meetings, a tired Deacon Steltemeier checked back at the hotel and asked for directions to St. Margaret Mary Church. And he was off. But before long, he found himself in the midst of a blizzard. Having skidded past accidents and hazy interstate signs, his car eventually ran out of gas and puttered into a gas station. For the second time, he asked for directions to St. Margaret Mary Church. Fortunately, it was right around the corner.
Upon entering the church, he quickly made his way to the front pew and noted that only once did Mother Angelica look in his direction. But while seated there, he heard a voice: “Until the day you die.”
According to Steltemeier, “It scared him to death. I knew my life belonged to her from that first instance, no question about it.” At a reception afterward, he recounted that Mother smiled at him from across the room but that they did not speak. And as he drove back to his hotel that evening, he kept telling himself that “he was not going to get involved.”
Upon returning home to Nashville, however, his prayer life kept repeating the words, “until the day you die.” After a month of this, he had enough and began to drive down to the monastery in Alabama. When he arrived and knocked on the door, Mother answered: “I wondered when you were coming.” (Adapted from Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles, Raymond Arroyo, Doubleday, 2005, pp. 137-138)
In a certain sense, these words from Mother Angelica are the same words that God speaks to us—each day of our lives. For having touched our hearts through Sacred Scripture, the Sacraments, and the ordinary things of life, God then grants us a gift of freedom and room so that we might “take it all in.” But in his mind, God must wonder when we are coming.