Yesterday, March 25, we usually celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation: one of the holiest days most worthy of honor throughout the year. It falls during Holy Week this year so the Church has moved the observation of this solemnity to next Monday, but this confluence of days makes for an interesting meditation on choice and life. Come along with me.
It was on this day that THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH in the womb of Mary the virgin when she said to Gabriel, the messenger of God, “Let it be done unto me as thou hast said.” Mary considered the angel’s words, questioned how it could be, what it meant for her and for the people of Israel, and she consented. She chose to accept the invitation of the Lord Most High to be the mother of His Son, to be the fulfillment of the prophecies: behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Mary could have chosen otherwise, but she did not. Her obedience and docility to the will of God undid the revolt and recalcitrance of Eve.
God the Almighty, creator of the world and of this humble virgin, did not impose Himself upon her. He revealed His plan and awaited her consent. He allowed the choice of a creature set in motion His means of reconciling the world to Himself. He made His redemptive action subject to the choice of a young woman.
And what of the implications of the angel’s words and this conception? Could the angel’s words to Mary have meant anything other than “this will happen immediately and the new human being in your womb will be a Divine Person”? With that message from the angel, could the child conceived at that moment in her womb been anything other than the God-man from the moment of conception? If that is what Gabriel meant, how can any Christian accept the legitimacy of abortion at any point after conception?
If abortion were acceptable at any time after conception, Mary would have been within her rights to abort the God-man who was conceived when she chose and said “yes.” The God-man was conceived and existed as a new human being at the moment of conception. If this is true of that conception how is it not true of every other conception?
Fast forward about 33 years and we see a few more examples of choices that could have gone very differently.
We’re in a garden outside Jerusalem. Over here are three rough-looking men snoring away. Over there are eight more. And off a short distance is a solitary figure, clearly in agony though not apparently injured. We hear him say, “Let this cup pass from me!” A cup must be drunk, it does not force its contents down your throat. The God-man is struggling within Himself, horrified in his human nature of the pain and agony he shall soon endure. However, since his will is that of the Father’s He bows his human desire to avoid discomfort and continues, “yet not as I will, but as Thou wilst.”
Soon thereafter another choice is made. It is the final choice in a series of choices that has led Judas Iscariot to the point of ultimate betrayal. He walks up to Jesus and greets him with a kiss. A kiss is a sign of affection and a very close relationship. It is an intimate gesture between persons who trust each other greatly. Judas poisoned this intimate friendship with a kiss of betrayal. Judas chose not to believe. He chose to go to the chief priests. He chose to tell them when he would do it. He chose to negotiate a price. He chose to fetch them during the Last Supper. He chose to bring them to the garden where he knew Jesus would be. And then he finally chose to apply that fatal kiss.
Judas could have chosen differently at any of those points and reversed course and repented and believed, but he would not. Then he makes one final choice to utterly reject God and humanity: he chooses to destroy himself, disbelieving ultimately that God could or would forgive him his betrayal.
In the providence of God, this series of choices against God redounded to the glorification of God rather than His destruction, but God’s persistent habit of bringing good out of the worst evil we can cook up does not mean we are justified in seeking ways to be evil so that we can be impressed by God’s goodness.
The fourth series of choices happened shortly after Judas’ betrayal. Simon Peter, the always passionate chief follower of the Lord who frequently spoke before he thought—for good and ill—chooses to follow along behind the rabble that has taken Jesus away. In the courtyard he is confronted three times by bystanders who observe that he is (most likely) one of the followers of Jesus. There is no imminent threat to Peter should he admit it: they do not appear to mean him ill, just to notice that he was a follower. For all Peter knows the only injury he might suffer for admitting his allegiance would be embarrassment for following an arrested man. An injury to pride and nothing more.
But he cannot bring himself to admit even that. His pride and fear are too great. He denies it, three times. He hears the cock crow. Jesus turns and looks at him. That look must have been one of the most tender compassion from Jesus, but felt like the points of a thousand spears to Peter. He betrayed Jesus also. He did not hang himself; he wept bitterly and awaited the day—though he did not yet know that it would happen on the lakeshore near a breakfast fire—when he could express his repentance and gain forgiveness.
A series of choices that have had a profound impact on the lives of us all. The difference is whether we choose to align our will to God’s or to reject God’s will out of fear and pride.
“Do not fear, only believe!” Jesus said to Jairus when the servants came and told him his daughter had died.
Belief is a choice. Fear is an emotional reaction. The former may not entirely mitigate the latter, but the choice to believe will give one the frame of reference and the strength to handle the fear, especially by demonstrating the weakness of that which causes the fear. The only fear that truly deserves to be heeded is the fear of the pains of whatever hell we construct for ourselves when we reject God.
But even that fear can be overcome by rejecting that rejection. Turn back to the Lord for He is good, and His love, mercy, forgiveness, endure forever.
God is absolutely pro-choice: he invented this thing we call “free will,” after all, and he gave it to us so that we might choose to love him and do His will. But inherent in the ability to choose God’s will is the ability to choose not-God’s will.
Consider the choices that make this week “Holy.” The choices you make may not have the same far-reaching impact that these choices did, but for yourself and those around you they may. God bless.