Then Mary asked a reasonable question, touching on the birds and the bees. The archangel gave her an answer, mentioning the Holy Spirit.
There was a brief silence. Let the sexual harassers of the world take note: nothing would happen without Mary’s consent. The Archangel Gabriel waited for an answer. Our Lady had the power to decide whether or not she would become the Mother of God.
Let’s listen to St. Bernard, as he narrated the drama of that moment in one of his sermons:
You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him.
St. Bernard goes on. He speaks to our Lady on behalf of the human race:
We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us. The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.
Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
We all find ourselves involved in that moment, the moment of the Annunciation, as the archangel awaited our Lady’s consent. In a sense, we were all there, waiting. Yes, each of us has our own unique course of life to run. But none of us escapes the common fate of all the children of Adam. We need a Savior. We need the Messiah Who can liberate us from our own weaknesses, Who can atone for all our mistakes, and Who can give us a life that death cannot destroy.
St. Bernard continues, describing how everything will unfold if the Virgin says Yes:
Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.
Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving.
…”O blessed Virgin, open your heart to faith.” St. Bernard has profound insight into Our Lady’s soul. Her consent to the Archangel required a great act of Christian faith. She had to believe–to believe that God loved the world so much that He would give His only-begotten Son. She had to believe that the Holy Spirit could make her the Virgin Mother of the eternal Word. And she had to trust that God in His providence would see her through all the excruciating difficulties that she knew she would face.
In other words, Mary conceived a son in her womb by believing precisely what we believe. That God is one God in three divine Persons–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And that the Son willed to unite Himself to our race, so as to become our Savior. In one all-important moment, Christ’s human life began, and Christianity began, with a young girl believing in the magnificent providence of God.
As we just heard, St. Bernard concludes his narration with dramatic fervor, coaching the Virgin, exhorting her, fathering her. ‘Believe, young lady! God is that good.”
Did Mary believe? She did. How do we know? She said:“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word.”