By Jeanne Grammens Hidalgo
I was recently co-facilitating a retreat for student leaders who want to be involved in ministry at Marian University. John Shelton (Campus Minister) was presenting on tenets of effective Christian leadership, and the final point was how vital it is to a relationship with Mary, the mother of Jesus. I was to "bring it home," by offering an activity regarding this idea. As John spoke, I felt that warm sensation, which I have come to recognize as the Holy Spirit, which lead me to ask the students this question: “What do you and Mary have in common?" As they threw out a wide variety of responses, I cut to the chase, stating two simple, yet profoundly powerful words, "Free Will." This is not something we often reflect upon, in regards to Mary and her unbelievable response to God’s invitation. It is easy to assume that the conception of Jesus was a done deal and tend to disregard the power of Mary’s YES. The students were silent. Yes, Mary had free will. She was free to say Yes or No to the offer to carry the savior of the world in her womb!!
In my own humanity, I have often wrested with free will and in my less inspired moments, questioned the value of my “YES.” I have been greatly formed by the spirituality of an amazing Christian artist, Amy Grant. In fact, I have been known to joke that if she only knew me, we would be best friends. She has seriously impacted my faith journey over the past 30 years and I have been privileged to hear her sing in person on several occasions. At one of her concerts, years ago, I Iooked upon Amy in all her talent, her beauty and her incredible ability to impact the spiritual lives of what I believed to be millions of people. I marveled at her gifts and her willingness to use them for God’s glory. Yes, I was COMPARING myself and my value with Amy Grant’s! And what I was doing in that moment, was also questioning God's ability to use whatever has been planted in me, for fruitful completion (Paul's letter to the Philippians). It was a low moment for me, but what followed was a conviction, (yes, again the Holy Spirit) that my YES, my willingness to offer whatever I have been given for the good of all, was just as important as Amy Grants. As Mary says in her magnificat, “my soul magnifies the Lord…” God can and does magnify all that we willingly offer, no matter how humble the offerings.
This reminds me of my favorite Christmas story rendition in clay mation; (very popular back in the 1960s—to date myself); the Little Drummer Boy. An angry, resentful young lad, living in first century Palestine, has lost his home, family and now, one of his beloved animals. He approaches one of the wise men, at the scene of the birth of Christ, and asks for help. The very wise man redirects the lad to the stable where Jesus is lying in the manger. The boy hesitates, saying, “I have not gift to bring,” and suddenly, he realizes that he can offer what he has, the gift of a song played on his crude instrument. He is told that Jesus favors this gift and alas, his pet donkey is restored. The point for me? Be willing to say YES to utilizing what we have, no matter how seemingly insignificant. God can and does magnify our gifts. It will be done!
So the lesson of Mary's "Yes"? In a chapel in Italy at La Verna, Italy, is a rendition of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in order to invite her to allow the incarnation. God is up above her with his ear inclined, waiting to hear her response! This is what I shared that day with the students. Mary had free will. She had a choice! This is a stunning concept for us to consider! We are all glad that she said yes. And it is humbling to remember that we have a choice as well, to say Yes or No to blessed with the power of free will. We can say Yes or No to God’s invitation. Either way, He will never give up on us and will keep offering opportunities for us to respond in the affirmative, to allow God to live and move and have his being within us.....in our own "small" way, to allow the incarnation to have a home within us! It is our choice and I believe our free will makes our Yes (es) all the more valuable!