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by Fr. Randy+
On Giving Up and Giving
I had the great joy of growing up as a kid in Columbia Heights, just a stone’s throw from Northeast Minneapolis. It was a terrific place to live in the late 1960’s and 1970’s—in a very tight community of mostly Polish and very Roman Catholic families. Everyone in the neighborhood knew each other and watched out for each other. If you got a bit out of line, there was a great number of neighbors who would without hesitation straighten you out, then let you folks know what happened so you could get “tuned up” a second time once you got home!
Most kids I hung out with had a last name that ended with “ski.” Wasleski… Schmigenoski…Levendoski… Wasnewski…Witkowski…you get the drill. It seemed I was the lone Scandinavian/Swede, with a last name that ended in “son.” My friends mainly attended church at The Church of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Columbia Heights—a beautifully grand and sacred building with lovely paintings, colorful stained glass windows, and solemn statuary.
Besides the different sounding last names, we had a different set of Christian denomination traditions and practices. While I was a Baptist/Evangelical, my friends were from strong Roman Catholic traditions. When it came to Lent, I really did not understand it—it was not something we really dwelled upon in our Evangelical tradition. Yes, we had Palm Sunday and Easter, but none of the Ash Wednesday, Lenten, and Holy Week traditions I have since learned to lean upon in my current walk with Jesus. I was always curious about the tradition of “giving up something for Lent.” My friends gave up stuff like chocolate candy, or Coca Cola, or dancing, or movies—things that would help them better understand the sacrifice Jesus made in the season that led up to Holy Week.
I was not quite sure how to feel about the whole “giving up” thing. I recognized that they were giving up something that they may have taken for granted in life, or something that was pleasurable, but now removed from their reach. Each time they wanted to partake in this activity or thing, they would think of what Jesus gave up in giving his life for us on the cross. I could appreciate this connection, but in reality I thought it seemed like a rather shallow response to such a tragic, yet holy event. On the other hand, I deeply appreciated the Roman Catholic emphasis upon the 40 days of Lent leading up to Holy Week and Easter—a season focused upon a penitent response to the Passion of Christ, as well as to reflect and pray upon the immense impact of this truth leading to the glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Today we are given the Lectionary reading from St. Luke (1:26-38), widely known as The Annunciation. Please take a few minutes look it up in your Bible—it is an amazing account of God’s sending of the angel Gabriel to Mary in the tiny, backwater town of Nazareth in Galilee—to announce the conceiving of the Christ Child through the work of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High. Jesus’ coming into this world is revealed to young Mary, and he is announced as the Son of God! No small announcement by any piece of imagination!
And my mind is going to a place today that is very distant from the memories of my childhood friends, in which they thought of ways to “give up” something for Lent. I suppose we could consider that Mary “gave up” much of her own life—potentially even her life itself, at a time in history in which being an unwed mother of a child not belonging to her betrothed husband, she could be stoned to death. She would be “giving up” all that a woman dreams of doing in lifetime--in carrying an unborn child to birth, then the many years of caring for, nurturing, and raising a child to adulthood. It is a selfless act of uncompromising love.
But today my mind draws me to the final statement made by Mary in response to Gabriel’s words--“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” This to me is not at all what I would consider words of “giving up” something. My heart and mind interpret it much more as a “giving in” to God’s will and word. This is what I believe is the truer nature of Mary—a woman of great courage, hope, and love. A woman who discerned and digested the words of the angel Gabriel, who was open to the moving of the Holy Spirit, and was singularly faithful in her response to the Most High. A woman we all can revere with awe and honor. Truly “giving in.”
Giving Up or Giving In? With the faith, hope, and love engendered in the person and heart of Mary, we, too, should be free to “give in”--as we know and believe that the words of Gabriel ring true for each of us--“For nothing will be impossible with God.” Amen.