Solemn Chapter of the Annunciation
Yesterday, it was our postulant Sr. Lauren’s turn to give the sermon at our Solemn Chapter of the Annunciation. Her talk is below:
In the linguistic history of the word ‘sin’, we find the word originally used to describe the deviation of an arrow from its target. Sin then is understood as a sort of degradation. The archer, seeing his end, fails to pierce it by reason of his sin. This description captures something of what has been lost to many in their current understanding of sin in perceiving it as a ‘wrong action’, or a violation of an arbitrary set of rules.
In a talk on the corruption of love in our culture, apologist Jason Evert uses this image of the archer to highlight the great good of desire when it is properly ordered. While Evert focuses on the target, that is on Communion with God as our ultimate end, there is much to be gained by consideration of the analogy’s other elements and key areas that cause us to fall short of that target, for ‘all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God’ (Rom 3:23).
Two aspects stand out: the integrity of the arrow and the skill of the archer. It is clear that a broken arrow is unlikely to move far from the string, and anyone who has seen my attempts to shoot even a good one understands the importance of skill. Let us then examine these more closely, using the example Evert cites in demonstrating the principle: The Annunciation of the Lord.
“Hail, Full of Grace!” – The Arrow & The Integrity of Desire:
An arrow is something that penetrates, that pierces through all resistance to its proper resting place. In the spiritual life, we liken this to the desire of the creature to penetrate the mystery of the Creator, to reach through the veil and find the rest that is beholding the face of God.
Similarly, as the integrity of the arrow rests on the condition of its basic elements, in the spiritual life, the integrity of our desire rests on the conformity of the soul to the Truth. The impact of sin is obvious, for it rots the core of the shaft, blunts the tip and strips the feathers that give our desire direction.
In the Annunciation, we see the wonder of Our Lady’s virginal integrity and the perfection of God’s grace in his intended ideal. As one ‘Full of Grace’, Our Lady is in perfect interior unity – mind, will and emotions ordered towards the ultimate target – a desire designed to succeed. In the ‘Dialogue of St Catherine of Siena’, the Lord describes this interior unity by way of a unique interpretation of Matthew 18:20 referring to the powers of the soul: ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ During this Season of Lent, by fixing our eyes on Christ, we gather ourselves in His name and allow the Lord’s grace to enter in and restore the elements of our integrity, redirecting the arrow of our desire.
“How can this be?” – The Archer & The Immolation of the Fiat:
The question of the archer is less intuitive and misunderstanding it has worked much damage in society. The deficiency of Man’s skill as archer is plain; despite many claims to the contrary, there is a drive to improve ourselves. Even those who defy all religious definitions of the human person believe in an infallible idea called ‘Progress’. The result is a bevy of reform programs, the outcomes of which have varied from the inane to the catastrophic.
The true principle to be gained in this consideration, is revealed throughout salvation history – from Abraham and Isaac, to our own example of the Annunciation – and it is one of utter immolation. The key to perfecting our skill in archery is to forgo our own ability altogether, to ‘be still and know that He is God’ (Psalm 46:10), and to surrender ourselves to His steady hand. God is the Supreme Archer, the only one able to return His creatures to Communion with Himself.
At the Annunciation, we see this play out in Our Lady’s questioning of the angel: ‘How is this to be, since I know not man?’ (Luke 1:34) The imminence of her human powers turns her attention to them. Desiring to serve the Lord, she humbly asks what she should do, considering her position. As the angel makes plain to her that this is to be the Lord’s work and His alone, she does that which is often unthinkable to us. She abandons every conceivable means of her own, and bows her head to the Will of the Father. The staggering result is that the ineffable Word of God takes on her finite flesh.
This is the fruit of holy immolation.
Ultimately, Evert’s argument is this: if we know how incredibly destructive deviant desire can be, understanding the Glory of God, how can we fail to anticipate the immensity of its power when properly ordered?
As contemplatives, this question bears a special significance, for it is the very foundation for our vocation and the true hope that we possess. Seeing the many powers given to us by the Father, and met with the need to birth these into the world, to give life in proportion to our nature, we have been met with the baffling invitation to lay it all down in humble futility. This invitation is a sign that contradicts the utilitarian drive of this generation, which so readily vests its future in its own integrity and skill. To such, the question is rephrased: ‘What can possibly be gained by this incalculable loss?’
The Annunciation makes it clear: by her virginal integrity Our Lady brings forth the arrow of infinite desire, laid down in the holy immolation of her fiat. Met there by the power of the perfect Archer, the result is an inexpressible reality – and the invitation to bring this life into the world still remains.
As we approach the Paschal Season, then, I pray we may renew the promises made, enter fully into the invitation to immolation Our Lord has offered and stand in perfect faith that by Him we will bear richly the fruit we so ardently desire.