Breath of Heaven: Marian Discernment
Gospel Reflection for December 20, 2022 – Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
“But she was greatly troubled at the saying,
and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be” (1:29).
Verse 29, along with Mary’s fiat in verse 38 (“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”) serve as crucial bookends to the glorious Annunciation narrative. Verse 29 shows the path Mary took which led her to be humbly confident enough to surrender completely to God’s will in verse 38.
Without proper discernment, we’ll fall flat on our faces. If we don’t pray constantly (1 Thess. 5:17), if we move and act of our own accord without seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit, the consequences will likely be failure.
If we don’t ask God for discernment we’re following our own will, not His.
Mary knew she couldn’t trust the outward perception of her human senses. She saw the angel Gabriel, she heard his message—yet was he real, or was he a figment of her imagination? Or, worse yet, was he a trick of the Evil one, a demon sent to lead her astray?
Our Blessed Mother had to determine if the angel Gabriel was truly sent from God, or if he was, in the words of Ebeneezer Scrooge in response to the ghost of Jacob Marley, “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.”
Mary, conceived without sin and filled with the charity of the Holy Spirit, pondered all things in her heart (Luke 2:19). The beautiful Christmas song “Breath of Heaven” describes Mary’s inner turmoil well, balanced with her prayerful humility:
Do you wonder, as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of Your plan
Help me be strong, help me be, help me
Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness, for You are holy
It was this humility that led our Blessed Mother to realize the God-given truth of the message she’d been given. She was then able, through faith and charity, to willingly give her fiat.
St. Catherine of Siena heard God the Father tell her: “Without humility, a soul would be without discernment. For lack of discernment is set in pride, just as discernment is set in humility. A soul without discernment would, like a thief, rob Me of My honor and bestow it on herself for her own glory” (Dialogue 9).
Mary—full of grace, infused with humility—strove to discern God’s will in all areas of her life. She didn’t seek her own glory, but that of her heavenly Spouse, the Holy Spirit. This proper, prayer-filled discernment led to complete surrender, a total submission to God’s will. As we near the sacred anniversary of her Son’s birth, let us take the Blessed Mother’s example and strive to always live within the boundless confines of God’s most holy will, following the path of humble discernment.
Fiat. Let it be to me according to Your word.
Beautiful!!! The song Breath of Heaven spoke to me in two ways. First it made Mary and her words in Scripture come alive for me, and then I realized also what a wonderful prayer/reflection to repeat for myself. I too need humility, discernment and the grace of total surrender to Christ Jesus.