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Mary’s question is just as intriguing as her answer to God

       The Blessed Virgin Mary plays some major roles in the months of December and January, so let’s take a look at our Blessed Mother before the month of January is out. What I’d like to look at is the Gospel reading for both the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle B (they are the same): The Annunciation, the First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. And what I’d like to zero in on in the Annunciation account is Mary’s question, “How can this be?”

       I love that question, because not only does it focus in on Mary’s immediate befuddlement and concern, but also because it illustrates her willingness to wrestle with the divine. Mary is not afraid to throw the counterpunch, and in doing so Mary joins her august ancestors like Abraham, who whittled God’s wrath down from 50 innocent people in Sodom and Gomorrah to just 10; and Moses, who jousted with God to not destroy His own people who were down at the base of the mountain fashioning a golden calf; and Jacob, who literally wrestled with the Mysterious Stranger all night.

       In other words, Mary’s got spunk. This in no way subtracts from her glory, in fact, I would argue that it merely adds to it.

       But neither is Mary flip. There’s no hint of sarcasm in her question, no sense of self-righteousness in her voice. Just a Galilean Jewish teenager sincerely wanting to know: “How can this be?”

       The Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer for the Immaculate Conception says that, “Mary is our model.” Mary models how you and I are to interact with the Lord. Reverence, yes; respect, yes; awe, yes.

       But also unafraid, unfettered, free to ask the tough question like, “How can this be?”

       Yes, Mary may have been conceived immaculately, but you know what? She’s still like us. She still wants to know.

       So often our approach to God is belittling ourselves, abasing ourselves. “Smite me not, O Lord!” 

       Mary shows us a different approach. She’s obedient, but confident; deferential, but comfortable in her own skin. She understands who’s who in this Gospel exchange, but she’s not going to be steamrollered, either. Just tell me, she says, “How can this be?”

       Don’t you want to know how can this be? How can it be that at both last Easter and this Christmas. . .restrictions were still being imposed on attending Mass? How can it be that my senior year of high school - already half over - is going down the drain? How can it be that these masks are always fogging up my glasses? And I wear bifocals! That’s even worse!

       Those are the easy questions, folks. The virus itself? That’s a question on par with Job.

       Mary’s fiat usually captures the preacher’s attention. Deservedly so. But it’s her QUESTION that tickles my fancy.

       Perhaps it does yours, too.


       Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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