For the eternal Father in heaven to choose a human being, Mary, to be so instrumental in God coming among us is truly amazing. If God gave Mary such an extraordinary role and honour, then it makes sense that we should also give Our Lady extraordinary honour. God asked her to be the instrument through which Jesus would come into the world. He didn’t force her, He asked her. That also gives us an idea of how God respects us as human beings. He doesn’t force things on us. He invites us to follow his way, the way that leads to life, but He lets us choose it or reject it. What could be a more wonderful way to begin the new year than by giving honour to that same woman to whom He entrusted so much.
When the angel Gabriel came and told Mary that God was asking her to become the Mother of Jesus, the first words of the angel were: ‘Mary, do not be afraid, you have won God’s favour.’ What the angel then said to Mary might be summed up in a different way. The Lord was saying something quite startling to Our Lady: ‘Mary do not be afraid... God is asking you to put aside all your plans for the future and do his will instead. Will you accept?’ This is what the angel was saying to her, but he started it off with ‘Mary do not be afraid.’ ‘God knows what he is doing.’
No doubt all of us have had various ideas as to what we hoped our lives might involve; different plans and indeed often very good plans. I believe that one of the greatest challenges facing anyone who tries to be faithful to God, as most of us do, is when God dramatically changes what we thought He was going to do. God asks us, ‘Will you leave aside all your plans for serving me, and take on my ones instead?’ The thing is we probably weren’t even aware that we had our own fairly definite plans, until He asked us to give them up, by making our lives take all kinds of unexpected turns. And then what did actually happen may have turned out to be quite disappointing. ‘I had hoped it would be much more.’ Think of the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection when they meet Jesus but don’t recognise him: ‘Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free’ (Luke 24.21). ‘We are so disappointed.’ What must Our Lady have been thinking as she watched Jesus being tortured and suffer such a brutal death? What about all the promises of the prophets and the angel? Now he was dead.
The plans we had may have been really excellent ones. I have no doubt that Our Lady probably had really beautiful plans as to how she would serve the Lord, but the Lord may ask us at some stage, ‘Will you follow my plans for you?’ ‘Are you prepared to give up this brilliant work that you are doing at the moment, because I have a different one?’ ‘Are you prepared to accept this disappointment in your family, or your marriage?’ I think that this can be a key moment in anyone’s life. Two things can happen from it. We can accept it in faith and go with it, thereby opening the door to allow Jesus to transform us. Or we can fight it and resent the fact that ‘It all went wrong for us’, which may lead us to great bitterness.
If we really remain open to accept what God asks, to the many twists and turns that God takes us through, He will bring the greatest good out of our life, because He will transform us through these struggles. This is really the only thing that is important, that we allow God to transform us. God’s purpose for us is to fill us completely with himself, to unite us to himself at a far deeper level than we may have ever imagined was even possible and then use us a hundred times more effectively in the world, but God asks for our openness, our consent.
To sum up: If we are open to following God, He may continually ask us to take different directions, often having to let go of plans or ideas that we thought were very good. The more open we are, the more quickly the Lord can transform us within. So if you do find yourself thinking sometimes, ‘Everything seems to have gone wrong. I never managed to do this or that,’ remember that if you just stay open and allow the Lord to guide you, then not only have your plans not been wasted, but in fact you have allowed the Lord to do far more in you than you might have imagined. ‘Mary, do not be afraid.’