I was working at Ave Maria University in Florida when a new sculpture of the Annunciation had just been commissioned. I witnessed a massive block of marble transformed into the engaging face of the Blessed Virgin.
It would be fascinating to watch a beautiful creation emerge from a cold chunk of stone, I thought. I had always admired artistic inventiveness. With the addition of a spiritual subject, I expected the process to hold my undivided attention. The sculpture was being carved on site so I would have a face-to-face encounter with Mary everyday.
I should have been brimming over with enthusiasm. So why did I hesitate to approach the work? Why did I coyly try to avoid eye contact with the stunning representation of Christ’s Mother?
For a long time I shied away, unwilling to admit I was evading the encounter. How strange, I thought after the fact. I answered the call of Jesus in my vocation to the priesthood, yet I had shunned meeting His Mother’s gaze. It made little, if any, sense.
Though I could rectify neither my actions nor my thought process, it mattered little. Mary was firm but sweet in her own resolve. The more I tried to scurry by her, either reading a text message or making a call on my cell, something inexplicable always paused my pace as I neared the sculpture. Why? Why would I suddenly stop when my intention was to pass hurriedly? Why was I fighting the inevitable attraction? What is happening? I whispered in prayer.
My courtship/resistance with the Annunciation sculpture continued until it was completed and ensconced on the front façade of the Oratory at Ave Maria University, gaining recognition as the most massive and prominent caption of the Annunciation in the World. On the morning of the unveiling and blessing, the air was humid and weighty. The sun was a no-show at dawn, casting a bit of a pall over the event. As I walked my dog, Truffles, the mounting fog left minimum visibility, making of us a looming apparition in a bystander’s vision.
Nearing the sculpture I stopped, fixing my gaze on Our Lady’s delicate features—the one whom I had been avoiding. In that moment I knew I was not merely glancing at a work of art. Instead, it was if I was approaching the entry of a sacred shrine. Mary was calling me on a pilgrimage of faith, an interior walk of my soul. The destination: God’s plan for me in this particular moment in time, a misty, muggy day in Florida.
Yet in the midst of the fog, my annunciation came to fruition. Stirring ever so gently, my renewed encounter exploded, signaling the Lord was about to orchestrate a new dimension of discovery. I had already given my life to God as a priest, but Mary was calling me to a renewal. Renewal means change, it can be scary—no wonder I was avoiding Mary’s gaze. But it is also life-giving and exhilarating. It was through the gaze of Mary that I began, to renew, to breath new life into what had begun long ago.
Excerpted from a book themed on the Annunciation, due for publication in early 2013.