Friday of the First Week


Gn 3:9-15, 20
PS 98:1, 2-3ab, 3cd-4
Eph 1:3-6, 11-12


When I was asked to offer thoughts about the feast of the Immaculate Conception, I felt overwhelmed because of the sense that, in the face of such an unconditional gift of love God offers in Mary, language would not bear up - especially my language.  But nearly instantaneously two Annunciation poems came to mind, one by Elizabeth Jennings and the other by Marie Howe.

Jennings, a twentieth-century British poet who wrote A Sense of the World, bespeaks the moment of Mary's encounter with Gabriel as one of ecstasy, simultaneously fleeting and full, one that eventually lifts and returns Mary to her simple furniture "though in heart new loving burns."  In such transcendence she wonders how to pray at all but trusts and knows now what thanks to give.  The final stanza of the poem marks the turn from the divine to the human:

So from her ecstasy she moves
And turns to human things at last
(Announcing angels set aside).
It is a human child she loves
Though a god stirs beneath her breast
And great salvations grip her side.

So, as the Gospel reminds us and the poem remembers, we are all invited to drop fear for love of God and one another, "to return to human things at last," to bear life and light as Mary and Elizabeth in their visitation ultimately reveal.

Marie Howe, a contemporary American poet, wrote about the Annunciation in her volume, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time.  Here, profound paradox marks the poem: the moment in time that refuses time; the effect on place, not something to move towards but an inward tilting to love; the capacity to endure sheer holiness by both "being no one" and so specifically oneself.  The poem captures the transformation in Mary and suggests that we, too, are "hailed" by annunciations, moments when we are compelled, unafraid, to turn to others in need of love by which we have been blessed. 

Sr. Mary Hotz, RSCJ
Associate Professor
Department of English