Mystery surrounded the Blessed Virgin Mary's "yes" to God

"How can this be?" asked Mary. "How can this be since I have no relations with a man?" Before responding to Mary's question, I'd like to ask some questions of my own.

"How can it be that salmon from their place of hatching, swim downstream through connecting creeks and rivers, delay at the mouths of rivers to change physiologically from fresh-water to salt-water fish, swim out to sea for thousands of miles, and years later, reverse the process, return upstream to the exact river and estuary where they now spawn and die?

How can it be that holly trees appear in nature as either male or female, and that only the female holly trees have berries, and they produce berries only in proximity to male holly trees?

How can the wings of the hummingbird move so rapidly? How can the hummingbird and other migrating birds fly non-stop across open seas for a thousand miles or more?

How can it be that our technologies allow us to land on the moon, but technology still can't replicate the human thumb or human retina. Robots can build cars, and can disarm bombs, but robots still can't rotate and apply pressure like a human thumb. Eye doctors can perform very delicate operations. Last month, highly trained doctors removed Fr. Murphy's cataract and damaged retina, and implanted another retina from a deceased donor. Our wonderful doctors can implant existing retinas, but technology can't yet reproduce the function of the human retina.

How can anthropologists trace our human origins from a quarter million years ago with Neanderthal Man in Germany, or a half million years ago with the Peking Man in China, or two million years ago with Austrapalithecus Man in Kenya, but we still can't discover that missing link when God breathed a soul into our likely ancestors, and we became man and woman?

How can a sperm fertilize an egg, and eight weeks later, the child in the womb is complete in all its parts, and with its complex systems?

How can it be that oftentimes the greatest communication between persons is not words, but touch? Why is physical presence and speechless silence oftentimes the most profound communication?

How can it be that words are so powerful? We go to war over words. We fall in love over words. Poets put into words what everybody experiences but which few of us can express in words. By the same token, words become seared into our hearts. On the one hand, words spoken in anger may never be forgotten or forgiven by the person who hears them. On the other hand, a few words of encouragement can motivate us for a lifetime.

Back to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary said, "How can this be since I have no relations with a man?" The angel Gabriel replied, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you." Okay. That answer leads to more questions, like, how can the Holy Spirit impregnate Mary with the child who is "true God from true God" and "like us in all things except sin?" Mary's subsequent response says it all: "I am the handmaid/the servant of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to your word." Mary could not understand how her pregnancy would take place. She simply yielded to God's will, God's word, and God's way.

You and I, we don't understand and never will completely understand while we are on earth, how God has done and continues to do all that He does. For us, one question oftentimes leads to another question, and to a deeper level of admiration and appreciation. Our minds are wonderful gifts from God, but our minds can never completely grasp God; our intellectual arms can never completely embrace and hold God. To try to understand completely God and his ways, is a frustrating endeavor. When we think we have completely understood God, all we have done is to put our limits on God who is limitless. All we have done is grasped thin air, and God once again has escaped our understanding.

Like Mary, we have fears and questions. We give voice to them in all honesty and humility. We yearn to understand better; we want to understand more; that is the way that God has made us. To not to yearn to learn more is not to utilize the great gift of curiosity which God has given us. Like Mary, we know and accept our limitations and say, "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word." Like Mary, our proper response to God is obeying Him, praising Him, glorifying Him; and accepting and admitting that much of life occurs at the level of mystery. With mystery in our lives, we live at a deeper level; i.e., at the level where God operates in and through us. Like Mary, let's be more in touch with the God. Like Mary, let's enjoy the mystery of God.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley