Saturday 12 December
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Mary said “yes,” and her yes was huge! How did she get there? It wasn’t a blind yes that lacked thought. Initially, she was troubled at the angel Gabriel’s greeting to her as “favored.” She listened to the angel’s words that she would bear a child who would be the son of God. She considered Gabriel’s words very carefully, and she pondered.
She was unsure about the mechanics; she asked for clarification about how this could come to be as she was a virgin. As the angel explained how all this would unfold, Mary must have been terrified, but she moved forward in her discernment beyond her feelings.
The angel also gave her a sign she could hold onto for strength and comfort. Signs are special favors from God. We don’t ask for signs in order to believe, but through the eyes of faith, sign are a helpful nod from God that give us a little boost of confidence.
For Mary, Elizabeth’s seemingly implausible pregnancy was a sign. The angel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth, well past her childbearing years, was also pregnant. This was a sign that nothing is impossible for God. When Mary expresses her obedience and accepts the angel’s words, she says “yes” and had all she needed to move forward in faith. Mary had faith, she discerned, was obedient, and received a special sign that gave reassurance.
Discernment is prayerful consideration. It is a Christian approach to decision making. Discernment varies depending on both the decision to be made and who is making the decision, but some things don’t change. First, it is prayerful. Mary first listened. When we discern, we listen to what God is revealing in our hearts through prayer. If you have the luxury of time, you can also listen to those close in your life whom you respect, such as a spouse, a friend, or a priest.
In discernment, from listening comes questioning. This is where you form your inquiries, and do an examination. You may go back and forth between listening and questioning, but eventually every Christian comes to prayer in discernment. In the Gospel, Mary pondered, and questioned, and the angel then gave her the sign. We receive signs in prayerful discernment.
There is confirmation during a prayerful discernment, but discernment doesn’t end when the decision has been made. This is key, because if you stop the discernment prematurely, you will miss the sign. As simple human beings we need signs as a bit of reassurance. We experience God with our sense, and signs help us to do that. Signs are little graces of discernment. Signs are usually visual to satisfy our need to see to believe.
St. Therese of Lisieux relished in signs. She saw them everywhere. She saw the snow on the day she professed her vows as a special sign from God. Carmelites are powerhouses of prayer, discernment, and seeing signs. In fact, Therese wanted to work tirelessly after death, in part, to deliver signs to the prayerful: “to send down a shower of roses from the heavens…” She wanted to be an active participant in the delivery of God’s graces.
Marian apparitions, like the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego, are themselves a huge sign! On this Solemnity of Our Lady of Guadalupe, ponder her signs that brought millions to the church.
Imagine the discernment of San Juan Diego and the clergy, and how through Our Lady of Guadalupe, the indigenous people of Mexico saw the signs they needed to see from the clothes she wore, to the stars on her mantle, the reflection in her eyes, to the literal shower of roses that Juan Diego and the Bishop Zumarraga experienced when Juan Diego displayed his tilma, revealing the miraculous image.
Prayerfully consider your next decision, look for a sign, and walk boldly forward in that decision in peace.
Lord, Help me to discern like Mary did as I face important decisions in my life. Allow me to remember that as a beloved daughter of Christ, prayer is always an integral part of decision making. After my decision is made, help me to see the sign you send me to give me hope as I continue to walk forward on the path to holiness. Amen.”