The astonishing link between the Annunciation and the eclipse

A few years ago, OSV published “The Complete Illuminated Rosary,” a set of four “illustrated” books on the Rosary designed to captivate kids as they pray each Our Father and Hail Mary. All told, there are nearly 90 images of sacred and contemporary art relating to the mysteries of the Rosary found in these volumes, and they really are quite beautiful.

I remember looking at the books with my daughter when she was very little. Because she has a peculiar (for a young child) and rather interesting fascination with the passion and death of Jesus, we spent a lot of time perusing the book filled with art depicting the Sorrowful Mysteries — no light task. But we also spent a lot of time looking at the Joyful Mysteries — particularly at the images pertaining to The Annunciation. In each, she could point to the Holy Spirit, usually in the symbol of a dove, visibly shining its rays onto the humble handmaid of the Lord.

As we prayed that first decade of the Rosary, we would think about the passage from Luke’s Gospel: “And the angel said to her in reply, ‘The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (1:35).

An illuminating coincidence

I’ve been thinking about the use of the word “overshadow” in recent weeks after I realized that, most intriguingly, a total solar eclipse in North America predicted for April 8 coincides with the solemnity of the Annunciation. Because the typical date of the Annunciation (March 25) overlapped with Holy Week this year, the feast was pushed to the Monday after the Easter Octave, the first appropriate day liturgically. The result is that, on the day when the moon is scheduled to pass between the sun and the Earth, casting a pathway through the planet into shadow during the middle of the afternoon, the Church is remembering how the Holy Spirit overshadowed a young virgin in Nazareth, beginning a specific course of events that would change the world.

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Dr. Mark Miravalle of Franciscian University has an interesting episode of his “Mary Lives” podcast on this topic that teases out possible connections between the two events, including the symbolic connection of a darkness covering a country that has “been spiraling spiritually in the last 10 to 15 years especially.” It’s most certainly worth listening to and reflecting upon.

But I’ve also been reflecting on the scientific event through the broader lens of the Christian life — one exemplified by Mary and which began with her “yes” to God’s plan. This “yes” did not mean her path would be without trials — far from it. Following Jesus Christ is not an easy task, and there will be moments of great suffering and pain for each of us, as there were for Mary.

God’s liberating will

Mary shows us, though, that truly believing in her Son and following him ultimately means that any darkness we face will be overcome. Because of her great faith, the journey that started with the joy born of a humble obedience to the will of God ended with the joy that comes with life forever with God in heaven. Any suffering in between is relegated to the shadows.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke on this beautifully in a general audience back in 2012. Mary’s “faith experienced the joy of the Annunciation, but also passed through the gloom of the crucifixion of the Son to be able to reach the light of the Resurrection,” he said. “It is exactly the same on the journey of faith of each one of us: we encounter patches of light, but we also encounter stretches in which God seems absent, when his silence weighs on our hearts and his will does not correspond with ours, with our inclination to do as we like. However, the more we open ourselves to God, welcome the gift of faith and put our whole trust in him — like Abraham, like Mary — the more capable he will make us, with his presence, of living every situation of life in peace and assured of his faithfulness and his love.”

On April 8 — on a day when simultaneously we give thanks to Jesus Christ for his mother’s “yes” and experience an awesome celestial event during this hopeful season of Easter — let us renew our own yes to the will of God, so that we, too, may step out of the darkness and into the light.

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