“Missus est Angelus Gabriel… The Angel Gabriel was sent by God….” It is this Ember Wednesday in Advent which gave us some of the most beautiful elevations of St Bernard in particular on the Gospel of the Annunciation (called homilies “Super Missus est”). So much has been written about that scene which took place in the tiny room of the small house of that little known and somewhat despised town of Galilee called Nazareth, and yet, we have hardly begun to uncover its depths.
As those who have made the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius know well, the moment is best contemplated in contrast with the broader scene of the world and under the gaze of the Most Holy Trinity’s merciful gaze upon mankind. The gist of it all is that whereas man continues to turn his back on God, to go about his life as if there were no God (ac si Deus non daretur…) God (who does exist!) steps into our world to save it, and He does so in a way that contradicts human passions and ambitions. For His plan is to elevate the world to partake in His Divine Life, and that He cannot do without first withdrawing it from the mire of the sinful passions which it has chosen for idol. The true message of authentic Christianity will therefore always be one of denouncing the idols of the day and inspiring a life of authentic virtue, especially those which the world abhors the most at a given point in history.
Today more than ever, the best response to the situation will be the one we contemplate in the scene of the Annunciation and Incarnation: the really great events of history occur in humility, in poverty, in chastity, in silence. Whereas the world makes more and more noise, the answer of the Church must be more and more silence. Whereas the world idolizes the flesh with increasing gusto to ensare the weak, the answer of the Church must be a renewed and cogent apology for the spirit, for modesty, for the peace of heart which can only come through the practice of virtue and generous self-denial.
Today as in the middle ages, the greatest response to the growing chaos is the retreat into the hidden life of prayer and work (ora et labora) under the gaze of God and that of Mary Immaculate. We must save the world by removing ourselves from it. Never did a man do more for the world than St Benedict did when, as a young man about to set foot into the world, he withdrew to the grotto of Subiaco. Europe, Christian Europe, began there with those three years of solitude, silence, prayer, work, in contemplation of the Incarnate God in the womb of the Immaculate Virgin. Ave Maria.