“Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.” - Lk 1:36-37
With five minutes remaining in my third period class, the PA system makes its three-chime ring and a voice comes over the loudspeaker, calling the school to midday prayer. We stop our work, stand, and turn to face the board, which I’ve quickly switched to display the Angelus prayer. “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,” says the voice. The class responds “And she conceived of the Holy Spirit,” and we pray the first of several Hail Marys.
The Angelus and the Liturgy of the Hours are intended to weave prayer into the rhythm of daily work, and the school where I teach adopts a few of these prayers into our regular schedule of bells, passing periods, and classes. In a perfect world, the transition from work to prayer would be seamless, even imperceptible, but in practice it is seldom so: the PA comes a minute too early or too late; I am caught mid-sentence or a student is interrupted mid-question.
Looking at today’s gospel, the scene of Mary’s fiat from which the Angelus comes, I’m reminded that God’s call in our lives often feels the same way: interruptive and unexpected, despite (or perhaps even due to) our anticipation. I imagine Mary going about her daily tasks or chores, interrupted and disrupted by the arrival of the angel Gabriel, uncertain what to make of his presence. “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you,” Gabriel says. Words of praise and comfort—and yet Mary is “greatly troubled by what was said.” The angel’s appearance would no doubt be startling, but his first words appear the opposite of troubling. Why, then, does Mary find them discomfiting?
When caught unaware, even by something overwhelming good, we often feel ill-prepared to accept it. I’m not ready, Mary could have said. I’m not prepared to have a child, much less the Son of God. I’m uncertain of my capacity to be filled with grace, to have the Lord be so intimately with me.
But despite her initial worry and confusion, she says none of this. Interrupted by the angel, she responds: “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
So often we think of preparation as being ready for what is known: preparing food for a certain number of guests, outlining an itinerary for a trip, studying diligently for a final exam, practicing for a presentation. Or, in the face of the unknown, we think of preparation as accounting for all possible contingencies: we plan for things that might go wrong, we anticipate the unexpected, we over-prepare to avoid being caught unaware.
But Mary offers us a different model of preparation here: a preparedness to receive and accept what we can never fully plan for or even comprehend. A preparedness that includes surprise, confusion, and questioning when God’s call interrupts our lives at an inconvenient moment—but that ultimately allows us to respond with a trusting “yes.”
Let us pray,
God, you continually interrupt the pattern of my day with moments of grace, beauty, and challenge. Help me to be attentive to these interruptions today; allow me to pause and consider the ways in which you call me closer to you. Prepare me to respond to unexpected calls for my time, attention, and contemplation. Grant me an inner flexibility, like that of Mary, so that I may answer yes when your call is other than what I anticipate. Be it done unto me according to your word.
This reflection was written by Jane Wageman
Jane Wageman is a high school English teacher living in South Bend, Indiana.