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Reflection Title: 
Gratuitous Gift
Reflection Content: 

In the ancient Christian calendar, this moment is commemorated every year on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. Take note of the time: what happens nine months later? Virgin births and the birth of gods into the world are not peculiar to the Christian story. We find these motifs in Hindu and Buddhist narratives, in Greek and Roman mythology, and in archaic cultures—the miraculous birth of gods and heroes. The human heart and mind long for such stories. And what we have made of this central story of Western culture? What is announced brings, nine months later, the Feast of the Incarnation that we turn into Christmas. The announcement to an unmarried young woman that she is pregnant is turned into a feast of the family, a household feast. But there is something deeper at work. Have you noticed that at Christmas many friends, neighbors and strangers, some of whom neither believe nor know the story, still gather and give gifts to each other? Kindness to strangers is heightened at this time of year. It is a time of gift-giving. What could be more gratuitous that the birth of a child. And such a child. His name, the story tells us, shall be called Emanuel, which means, “God with us.” In the moment of grace to loved one and stranger, the moment of gift-giving, the divine is born between us. It also is a moment of incarnation.

Story Title: 
How Can This Be?
Story Content: 

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, with a message for a girl betrothed to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David; the girl’s name was Mary. The angel went in and said to her, “Greetings, most favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was deeply troubled by what he said and wondered what this greeting might mean. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for God has been gracious to you; you shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall give him the name Jesus. He will be great; he will bear the title ‘Son of the Most High’; the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and he will be king over Israel for ever; his reign shall never end.” “How can this be?” said Mary; “I am still a virgin.” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will over-shadow you; and for that reason the holy child to be born will be called ‘Son of God.’”

—Luke 1:26–35

Contemporary Story Title: 
Love’s Sacrifice
Contemporary Story Content: 

Frank Faulk, a radio documentary producer with CBC radio, examines how the biblical concept of “The Chosen” is central to Western thought and culture, and plays a powerful role in the way people see themselves:

“The idea of the chosen one is also found in many hit movies. There’s The Matrix, where the central character Neo is the chosen one to liberate humanity from the false world of the Matrix. The Chronicles of Narnia movies are based on the children’s books of the same name by the late Christian author, C. S. Lewis. The themes of these films are all about good versus evil, death and resurrection, the power of love—all very Christian themes. There are many movies and many characters we could talk about, but let’s look at Harry Potter and Frodo from The Lord of the Rings. They go on an adventure because they are the chosen ones—obviously—and they undergo many hardships and they have a lot of temptations. But towards the end of their journey, they find love, and this becomes a huge advantage to them. See, love is the power that Harry has over his adversary, the lord of the darkness, Voldemort, and love is the power that will save Frodo when he is near death. Both of them find the importance of love, and there is nothing more important of course in scripture than the whole notion of love, the fact that God loves us and that we love him in return. There’s also the notion of sacrifice in Harry Potter: his parents, to prevent Harry from being killed by a curse, step in front of the curse and are themselves killed.” 

“They sacrifice themselves out of love for their son—nothing more biblical than that. The biblical idea of the chosen not only permeates popular culture, it also expresses an inner experience common to many people- having a calling, or vocation.”

—Audio: CBC Radio Idea’s The Chosen “Part 2” with Frank Faulk. 2013. 

Artwork Title: 
Return of the Exiles
Artwork Content: 

Fra Angelico (1387–1455), born Guido di Pietro, was an early Renaissance Florentine painter whose work consists entirely of theophanies—encounters with the divine. He lived a devout life as a Dominican Friar, and received prestigious commissions to endow churches with devotional paintings. The Cortona Annunciation, (1432–34) was created as the altarpiece for the convent church of San Domenico in Cortona.

Fra Angelico worked out of the belief in the perfect conjunction of nature and divine grace. Thus, the artist has rendered the meeting of the angel in a Florentine setting, within an open-vaulted loggia with elegant columns. The need for the annunciation finds expression in the left background of the painting, depicting the exile of Adam and Eve from Paradise. An enclosed garden, a Marian symbol, with a lawn covered in flowers, rose bushes, and a palm tree that echoes Christ’s passion. The Angel’s words to Mary are recorded in soft golden letters that flow from the angel’s mouth. Light radiates from the angel, giving the painting a warm glow. The prophet Isaiah is depicted in the central rosette of the loggia, and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove hovering above the Virgin. The predella within the golden frame includes scenes from the life of the Virgin. The scenes include: The Birth of the Virgin, The Marriage of Joseph and Mary, The Visitation, Adoration of the Magi, Presentation in the Temple, and The Dormition of the Virgin. The story of the annunciation spoke of the promise of redemption addressed to Mary, a reversal of the spirit that addressed Eve in the Garden of Eden. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is the antidote to the alienation spoken of in the Genesis story. Fra Angelico created various versions of the annunciation theme, including famous frescoes for the Dominican Convent of San Marco in Florence. 

Question Title: 
Most favored one?
Question Content: 

Love’s Knowledge into Flesh

When Eve, in love with her own will,

Denied the will of Love and fell,

She turned the flesh Love knew so well

To knowledge of her love until

Both love and knowledge were of sin:

What her negation wounded, may

Your affirmation heal today;

Love’s will requires your own, that in

The flesh whose love you do not know,

Love’s knowledge into flesh may grow.

—“Gabriel” in W.H. Auden, (1907-1973)

A Scandal

This painting looks sweet and tender. Take a moment and think of what is happening. A strange visit with a shocking announcement that changed everything. Mary, a young girl, unmarried, told she was pregnant. A scandal. Have you had such news? Perhaps you have had to bring such news to another person. Did you hesitate to make the visit, seeking the right moment to speak, knowing it would forever be a dividing line into “before” and “after”? Did you worry the news would be more than the person could bear? Could it possibly lead to new life?

Music Content: 

The Angelus

“The Angelus.” traditional, A Day in the Cloister, Daughters of Mary, 2010.  Track 12.


Angelus ad virginem [The Angel to the Virgin]

John Rutter’s “Prelude” to Dancing Day, written for solo harp, employs thematic material from the first carol in the suite, “Angelus ad virginem,” a fourteenth-century Advent sequence set to a rhythmic dance meter. The sequence was well known in the middle ages: Nicholas, the Clerk of Oxenford, a character in Chaucer’s “Miller’s Tale,” 

“...made a nightes melodye

So Swetely, that all the chambre rong;

And Angelus ad virginem he song.”

Rutter preserves the Middle English character of the piece by following the Latin stanza with an early English translation of the same verse.


“Angelus ad virginem.” John Rutter, and English traditional, adapted by John Rutter, Dancing Day, Toronto Children’s Chorus, Judy Loman, harp, Jean Ashworth Bartle, director, Marquis Classics 1990. Track 2.


Cuncti simus concanentes Ave Maria (a ball redon) 

[Let us sing together Ave Maria (a round dance)]

The Llibre Vermell, copied in the closing years of the fourteenth century, recounted the miracles attributed to the Virgin of Montserrat and also included a collection of ten songs for pilgrims who wished to sing and dance during their visit. Cuncti simus is the voice of the story teller at work, passing along good news to the gathered community.


“Cuncti simus concanentes.” Llibre Vermell de Montserrat: Cantigas de Santa Maria, Brigitte Lesne, Catherine Sergent, et. al. with members of Choeur d’enfants de la Maîtrise de Notre-Dame de Paris William Anger, Raphael Mas and Emmanuel Pousse, Opus 111 1995. Track 10.


Image Theme: 
Image Thumbnail: 
Image Summary: 

The Annunciation, (Cortona Altarpiece), 1432–34. Fra Angelico, 1387–1455. 

Story Audio: 
Contemporary Story Audio: 

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