Submission. In our world today, where pride, power, individualism, and autonomy dominate the cultural landscape, the word submission sounds so negative. It connotes weakness and failure. Only losers submit, and only because they are forced to. Today’s feast, the Annunciation, dispels such worldly errors and shines a bright light on the true greatness of submission. Mary’s “yes” to God is the most momentous submission ever to take place. It is an event the Church celebrates with great joy and solemnity nine months before the visible fruit of Mary’s “yes” appears for the first time at Christmas. Without Mary’s submission to the will of God, Jesus would not have been born into the world. Salvation history would not have unfolded. We would still be languishing in the darkness. But Mary did submit herself totally to the supernatural message she received, and the whole world is bathed in divine light.

Mary gives us the gift of seeing, as if with her eyes, with her faith, what it means to humble oneself before the will of God. Her acceptance of what the angel tells her, despite her fear and confusion, shows us the beauty of saying “yes” to God, no matter how impossible the circumstances may appear. Gabriel’s assurance to Mary is enough to dispel any lingering hesitation: “For nothing will be impossible for God.”

Submission to God is not defeat; it is not beneath our dignity. It is using our freedom properly, in the best possible way, to give glory to God. According to the Catechism, “To adore God is to acknowledge, in respect and absolute submission, the ‘nothingness of the creature’ who would not exist but for God. To adore God is to praise and exalt him and to humble oneself, as Mary did in the Magnificat, confessing with gratitude that he has done great things and holy is his name” (CCC 2097). Submission is our decision to release our control, stepping aside so that God can take over. It is giving up the pilot’s seat so that God can fly the plane. It is John the Baptist saying, “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). It is our saying to God: Empty me of me and fill me with yourself.

There is a divine foundation to every act of submission to the will of God: the absolute submission of the Son to the Father. Jesus brought this perfect eternal “yes” into the world, saying, “I come to do your will, O God.” He made a perfect offering of himself on the Cross, and now, as the Letter to the Hebrews explains, “we have been consecrated through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Mary too was sanctified by Jesus’ sacrifice, though she is a unique case because she was sanctified in advance, preparing her for her future role as Mother of God. This is why Gabriel could address her as “full of grace.”

When Mary said, “May it be done to me according to your word,” she conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. She was forever changed – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually – once she allowed the Word to be made flesh in her. By God’s grace, this pattern is repeated in us whenever we make a wholehearted “yes” to God. We too are changed forever. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ lives and grows within us. In time, his presence in the “womb” of our hearts becomes evident through our words and deeds, as we “give birth” to him in acts of selfless love and service for others.

There is another option, however. The tragic case of King Ahaz reminds us that it is also possible to refuse to submit to God. God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, any kind of sign, but the king rejects God’s offer – which is a foolish thing to do! Ahaz disguises his pride behind a façade of humility. The truth is he does not want a sign. It would involve him in too direct an interaction with God, and his decision not to submit would be exposed. The wise prophet Isaiah tells Ahaz that even if he will not accept God’s offer, God is going to give a sign anyway: the virginal conception and birth of a Child who will be “Emmanuel,” “God is with us.”

Just as we can say “yes” like Mary, we can say “no” like Ahaz. We can refuse the gifts God offers to us. Why would anyone say “no” to God? Our nature tends to react with fear when God draws near. What does he expect of me? Can I do it? What else will he ask? What will I have to give up if I say yes? What if he asks me to do something I do not want to do? These fears, if we listen to them, hold us back from saying “yes.” They are the seeds of a “no.”

Today’s feast urges us not to be afraid! Because of Mary’s “yes,” God is with us! And if God is with us, who can be against us? The road to glory is in submission to his will. Together with our spiritual Mother, we repeat from our hearts, “May it be done according to your word.”

How does the total submission of Mary to the will of God inflame my heart to follow in her footsteps? Why is it so difficult for me to step aside and let God take over my life? How have I experienced “giving birth to Jesus” in acts of selfless love and service for others?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.