One of the sisters in my house used a poem by Denise Levertov called “Annunciation” as a part of our evening prayer heading into the weekend of the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. A line of this poem caught my attention and it has stayed with me. Speaking of Mary’s interaction with the Angel Gabriel:
“No one mentions courage.
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.”
In this day and age of the Me Too movement, consent is a big word. Consent is an active and enthusiastic YES, not the lack of a NO. This interaction between Mary and the Angel Gabriel says a lot about both God and Mary. God clearly respects Mary enough to give her the information and the space to make her decision and the openness to accept her answer either way. Mary also clearly trusts God and says yes out of that trust. Mary doesn’t just say maybe, she gives her consent, an active and enthusiastic “yes, let your will be done.” We too are called by God in small and big ways and are given the autonomy to say yes or no. Part of the information that helps us to make these decisions is our current relationship with God and if we can trust God even somewhat like Mary did. Sometimes it does take courage as Denise Levertov suggests.
As a second year candidate with the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, my candidate director and I have been having conversations about the next stage of formation and she has given me some prayer and discernment resources to use to discern if that is the right move for me to make. In some ways my biggest decision was deciding to enter the community, moving in with the sisters, and starting candidacy. When I made that decision I imagined staying for good, unless something big caused me to re-evaluate. The last year and a half as a candidate has been awesome. It has challenged me, given me many graces, and helped me to strengthen my own relationship with God. So of course, my immediate sense is that Novitiate seems like the right next step. Even so, we are going through a proper discernment process because it isn’t an assumption, I need to give my consent and enthusiastically say yes to moving on to the novitiate.
How fitting that my discernement coincides with Advent, a time of deeper reflection and prayer. Advent also features more stories about Mary. The story of the Angel Gabriel coming to Mary, Luke 1:26-38, was the Gospel for both the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe. I happened to be planning the prayer service at school for Our Lady of Guadalupe with a group of students and they picked out the sense of call and Mary’s response as the theme to reflect on in the prayer service. So as I prepared for Our Lady of Guadalupe, this reading kept coming back to me and Mary’s consent kept coming back to me and weaving in with my own discernment. As Advent deepens, I will continue to walk with Mary and God in discerning my next steps.
Article and picture by: Christian Cahill, a second year candidate with the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary