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Godzdogz

The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

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The Annunciation of Our Lord: Embracing Human Frailty

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

By Br Gabriel Theis, O.P.The Annunciation of Our Lord presents us with a truth that gives our human existence its deepest meaning, even or especially at this time of public confusion and distress: our whole being, with soul and body, is of infinite worth to God – so much so that He took it unto Himself to experience it first-hand.

Before the liturgical reform in 1970, the Church celebrated the feast of St Gabriel on the 24th of March, that is, on the day before the solemnity of our Lord’s Annunciation, which we celebrate today. Since I myself am named after (as Aquinas thinks: STh III 30,2 obi. 4 et ad 4) the most important archangel, it might not come as a surprise that I am much in favour of commemorating St Gabriel separately. The deeper reason is not just an inflated opinion about him, or that I would like others to share my personal piety, but that he reminds us of a truth at the centre of our Christian faith: God “did not abhor the Virgin’s womb” (as we sing in the Te Deum); He cherishes our human existence, and even our corporeality, although “God is spirit” (Jn 4:24) and does not have a body Himself.

Christian artists have expressed this truth by depicting St Gabriel bowing or (as in Botticelli’s version above) even kneeling before Our Lady at the Annunciation. If we consider the order of creation as presented by Aquinas and others, we realise that this gesture is not to be expected at all: as purely spiritual beings with a deeper knowledge of God than we as human beings on earth could ever possess, angels outrank us in the created order. However, the angels and even God possess something that, Romano Guardini, an important German spiritual author, describes as a kind of humility: while we often understand this virtue as recognising one’s own smallness before something greater (like God), Guardini thinks that the angels and God, although much or, in God’s case, entirely beyond our worth, recognise something of infinite value in our human existence.

In this time, where the coronavirus pandemic reminds us of our frailty and contingency, the Annunciation is nothing else but a reminder that God loves each human being infinitely. Our experience of our natural weakness and the physical limitations to a freedom that most of us might have taken for granted until most recently should not make us feel desperate and lost! God uses our lack of happiness to enter our everyday lives, or in the words of St Paul: in the moment when our weakness and frailty – which we have to accept as our human condition, but also as deeply connected with the mystery of sin – seemingly overwhelm us, “grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20). At this moment in time, where we are confronted with a grave crisis of our way of life, let us not despair! Just remember how Our Lady cried out with joy, when Elizabeth’s praise of her fate finally helped her to make sense of everything that had happened to her: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid; see, henceforth all generations will call me blessed!” (Lk 1:46–48). Like Our Lady, in a few weeks we will understand what this difficult time means for us. And at the end of our days, when we encounter God, our whole life will finally make sense to us, and we will not be able to contain our joy and exultation.


Art: Annunciation by Sandro Boticelli (1489), via WikiCommons.

Br Gabriel Theis O.P.


Born in a Catholic family in North Western Germany, Br Gabriel first encountered religious life in Jerusalem (Israel), where he spent a year as a volunteer after Secondary School. He went on to study Theology and Philosophy at the University of Vienna. There he also met the Dominicans for the first time. After three years of studies, he joined the Order in 2015 and made simple vows in March 2017. After finishing his theological studies in May 2019, he is now spending a year at Blackfriars Oxford to begin his doctorate. Outside theology, Br Gabriel is interested in classical music, cinema and the arts.


MORE ON: FEASTS, OUR LADY

Below you can also watch our live stream of today's Mass at Blackfriars, Oxford

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