By Ava Lalor
There is a mosaic Rosary walk at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Every time I visit the site, I always make sure to stop by the Marian walkway. The four alcoves include simple blue and white mosaics, depicting the five decades of each Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious mystery.
My favorite is the image of the Annunciation, the very first mystery of the Rosary. Without this mystery, none of the rest would follow.
The image itself is familiar: Mary kneeling before the Archangel Gabrielle as he announces God’s plan for the lowly girl and mankind, asking her to be the mother of the Son of God. And yet, the image speaks to me. It is her face, serenely accepting, absorbing, leaning into this request of God. Her hands are loosely outstretched, palms up to the Lord. There is not the fear you would expect of a fourteen-year-old girl at such a huge announcement. Her entire demeanor breathes fiat: Yes, your will be done, Lord. This image depicts so clearly that the Lord is already her beloved, that she would do anything for the Lord, that she is completely satisfied in him.
Whenever I turn on my phone, this image greets me. And while it is often crowded with notifications, it reminds me, fiat.
I’ve reflected on this image countless times since first seeing it. When I visit the shrine, I tend to pause and sit before this image, often speaking my heart out loud to Mary my mother, a woman younger than me, than most of us, at the time of the Annunciation. The peace and trust that radiates from this simple image always is a balm to my soul.
But it is more than a feel-good image.
This view of Mary is truly a challenge to all Christians, and maybe specifically all women. I am most struck by her hands, open to receiving the will of God. In the moment of her fiat, she doesn’t know the pain ahead. Mary doesn’t know the sorrow motherhood will bring: the trial of telling Joseph and enduring criticism of neighboring opinions; being forced to leave her native town during her final weeks of pregnancy; giving birth in a stable to the God made Man; having to flee to a foreign country to protect her son from a king who wishes his death; losing her son during a pilgrimage; and finally seeing her son rejected, mocked, flogged, desecrated, and put to death by the people he came to save. She doesn’t know what lies ahead, but she kneels before the angel, hands open, trusting that God will see her through whatever he has planned.
Picture her at each stage of her life in the same position: kneeling with hands open before Joseph as she tells him the news, graciously accepting any decision; kneeling in a dirty stable, holding her newborn in her open hands; kneeling at Jesus’ feet with her arms outstretched as she finds her lost son in the Jerusalem temple; and kneeling at the foot of the cross, allowing him to die until he is placed in her open arms.
It is this last image that recalls a more prominent piece of artwork to mind: Michelangelo’s sculpture, the Pieta. This famous depiction of the Blessed Mother holding her recently crucified son is the completion of Mary’s fiat. She holds her son in her outstretched arms. This is what she said fiat to, and even in this darkest hour she repeats her decision through embracing the cost of the cross. In fact, one of her hands is still open, continuing her fiat amid the darkness. It is said that Michelangelo did not want the focus of the statue to be on Christ’s death but rather the "religious vision of abandonment and a serene face of the Son." While Jesus did abandon his body to the people and his spirit to the Father, I believe Mary’s abandonment speaks louder in this work of art.
In fact, isn’t that what her fiat is? An act, a life of abandonment? The moment she says yes to God’s plan, a plan that she only knows a fraction of, she abandons her life into God’s hands. And while her fiat is the moment we see as the beginning, only a person who had prepared and lived the life of perfect fiat could have accepted God’s will when it was asked. Mary’s fiat was not a moment; it was and is her life. Never for one moment does she draw her hand back or close her fists in resistance to God’s plan. She accepts it, leans into it with openness, desiring to please the Beloved, knowing that she is satisfied in his love despite the difficulties that come with it.
These images are not just about receiving whatever God asked of Mary. They are about giving back to God. She gives of herself in the Annunciation. She gives of her body by being the mother of God. She gives of her son by fearing for him through trying times, finally giving her son back to God in his death. Openness is always twofold, giving and receiving.
We are called to this trusting abandonment, to this life of being satisfied in God’s will for our lives, knowing that it will bring us the deepest joy even amid suffering and confusion. Yet how often do we pull back when moments get hard, clenching our fists believing what God is asking is too difficult? Or do we even give God the opportunity to ask, keeping our backs to him and refusing to open our hands, our hearts to his voice?
The times I am most likely to live with my hands open, leaning into God’s will, are when life is going well, when I am aware of his blessings and feel content in my life. But when struggles test my faith, my hands waver, sometimes clenching shut over what I already have and afraid will be taken from me, or closed to the opportunities, for joy or struggle, that God is asking me to be open to or take a step of faith toward.
When I die, I want to stand at heaven’s gates like Mary: on my knees, hands open, leaning into the Beloved and the kingdom that awaits. Not walking in as if I deserve it, not waiting in a corner to see if I get called through. No, just being there knowing that God has brought me there by his grace and that I am open to the next adventure of eternal joy in heaven with him.