On March 25, the Church celebrates the Annunciation – the moment when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary and issued God’s request that she become the Mother of his Son. We normally think about the Annunciation in regard to our Advent strivings and Christmas preparation, but there’s a lot we can learn from it in regard to our Lenten strivings as well.
Many of us start Lent by declaring that we’re giving up xyz – something or somethings that are hard for us to do without, so that the act of depriving ourselves will make us better people in the end. And it will, to an extent.
But there’s the catch. Often we declare that we’re giving up xyz and think that’s the end of it. We’ll stay away from this or that and at the end of Lent we’ll be changed people and closer to heaven. Maybe we will, maybe we won’t.
That’s where we fall into the cistern, figuratively speaking. What we end up doing for Lent shouldn’t be what we want for ourselves, but rather what God wants for us. We tend to approach Lent by asking ourselves, “What can I do to torture myself in order to prove that I’m a good person?”
That’s a little backwards. Not only at the beginning of, but all through, Lent, we should be asking ourselves, “What does God want me to do in order to become more like his Son?” God knows better than we do what work needs to be done on our souls, and so we should be asking him what to do for Lent.
We can take our queue from Mary at the Annunciation. There she gave us five steps, five components of a pure attitude for Lent.
1. Mary paused. According to tradition, Mary was alone in her room when Gabriel arrived. Mary had removed herself from the busy world around her so that she could be with God without any distraction.
2. Mary emptied herself of self. She set aside any self-will so that she could be aware only of God’s will.
3. Mary prayed. She opened the dialog with God so that she could move closer to him and focus on him entirely.
4. Mary listened. She listened for God to speak in the quiet of her heart and, once the angel appeared, she listened carefully to his message for her. In that moment, she had only one questions, “How?” She only needed to know how she would become pregnant in spite of her vow of chastity, and only to assure that she was following God’s will as requested.
5. Mary observed. Once the angel’s message had become clear to her, Mary accepted it, cooperated with it, and then observed what God was doing with it in her life.
That’s how our Lent can and should be. No matter what we did or didn’t give up, we can make our Lent even more fruitful by following Mary’s example at the Annunciation.
1. Pause from our crazy lives so that we can give our full attention to God.
2. Empty ourselves of self so that we can be completely open to his will – what does he want us to do this Lent?
3. Pray so that we can enter into dialog with God.
4. Listen to what he has to say to us.
5. Observe what he’s doing in our souls, in our lives this Lent.
In five simple steps, we’ll be fostering an Annunciation Attitude this Lent.