When the serpent slithered up to Eve in the Garden of Eden, he asked a question rooted in a lie: “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Gen 3:1). God had not forbidden them to eat the fruit of any tree, but only from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve’s first mistake was to answer the serpent without stopping to consider where this question was leading. Once she started talking to the devil, he easily persuaded her to sin.
At the Annunciation, on the other hand, Mary paused before responding to the angel’s message. The Gospel tells us: “But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Lk 1:29). At first she didn’t respond at all. Instead, she waited for more information in order to discern what this message was really all about. She pondered. As she did so, she must have been listening to what the Holy Spirit was saying to her. Once Mary was sure the message was from God, she responded quickly with her “yes.”
The Annunciation has so many beautiful aspects to consider that we might easily overlook this one: Mary is the prudent virgin, the one who with great wisdom knew how to reflect before acting.
The Power of the Pause
In pausing first before speaking, Mary gave herself some time to consider what this was all about. It was quite a remarkable circumstance, having an angel appear to her. No wonder she was taken aback and greatly troubled by it.
We can surmise that in that brief moment, Mary took a little time to pray. She must have asked God to give her the light to know what to say and how to respond.
Her first response was to listen more. The angel continued his explanation and his request. Then Mary asked a question: “How can this be, since I know not man?” (Lk 1:34) The angel explained that the power of the Holy Spirit would come upon her to bring about this miraculous event.
Then Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done unto me as you have said” (Lk 1:38)
Though the visit of the angel was unexpected, Mary was prepared. She continually lived in union with God, so much so that her will was always perfectly aligned with God’s will.
So what lesson can we draw from this for our own lives?
1. Live in a spirit of continual prayer, always attuned to God.
2. When something happens that might disturb us, first pause. Take some time to pray and reflect. Don’t just react. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. At times it is useful to ask counsel from a wise person.
3. Then in peace make your decision as best you can according to the light God is giving you.
Note: this concerns decisions that are about things where we have legitimate options to choose one or the other, for example, to take this job or that, to move to one place or another, etc. Discernment is never about sin, because sin must always be rejected.
O Mary, Virgin most prudent, pray for us!