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The Greatest Act of Human Freedom in History

The Greatest Act of Human Freedom in History
(Solemnity of the Annunciation)


AlessandroAlloriAnnunciation(sm)RestoredTraditions REQUIRES HOT LINKMy favorite solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Annunciation. I have to admit, Fulton Sheen is the one who opened my eyes to this great mystery like no other. When one looks at the mystery of Mary from the perspective of any of her great dogmas – the Immaculate Conception, her Perpetual Virginity, her predestined privilege to be the Mother of God and even her Assumption into Heaven – they all revolve around the mystery of the Annunciation. She is the central protagonist at the central act of all history as everything hinged upon her response to the angel. And thank God she said, “Yes!”

But did Mary really understand what she was getting herself into? Too often Our Blessed Mother suffers the insult of being painted as this naïve little girl whose innocence and simple love for God disposed her to say yes to whatever God desired of her. The truth is far from this mediocre portrait. For Mary’s fiat to have any significance to her (and for the Church which would be conceived by it) it had to be completely free and freedom is based upon knowledge. Mary would have needed to possess a profound understanding of Divine Revelation through PoussinAnnunciation(sm)RestoredTraditions(adjusted) REQUIRES HOT LINKthe Hebrew Scriptures. The theological tradition of the Church has firmly held that Mary indeed possessed unparalleled insight into the mysteries of salvation as a consequence of her fullness of grace and Immaculate Conception and the knowledge and wisdom which flowed from Mary’s consecrated life of virginity at the Temple from an early age.

Mary, therefore, not only would have known the prophecy of Isaiah of the Virgin birth of the Messiah, but also Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53) and the popular story of the bronze serpent (Numbers 21:9). Mary’s loving fiat to God, therefore, would be one that would begin with immense joy, but soon after turn into sorrow. She knew the prophecy of Genesis that spoke of a New Eve who would be inseparable in her association to the New Adam, thereby meaning that she was destined for EvgrafSemenovichSorokinCrucifixionMaryJesusintense suffering. The shadow of the Cross would accompany her from Nazareth to Calvary, as God would ask her to sustain her fiat until she had “untied the knot of disobedience” and perfect atonement was made by her Divine Son.

Mary’s 33 year-long fiat was one characterized by divine, self-sacrificing love in imitation of that of her Son. It was a love that involved the complete emptying of self in order that her fullness of grace could grow according to her expansion of heart. And when they together arrived at Calvary, when everything was mutually poured out, even then she stood and was found worthy of her second annunciation: “Woman, behold your Son!” Mary was now announced and installed as Mother of the Mystical Christ, the Church, represented by St. John. But that is not all . . . Jesus turns to the “beloved disciple” and heralds “the annunciation” of every Christian, “Behold, your mother!”

In other words, it is at Calvary where the “annunciation” of every Christian takes place, where Jesus reveals what it means to be a “beloved disciple,” a spiritual life that begins by welcoming Mary into every aspect of His being as the Trinity did at Nazareth thirty-three years prior. In that beautiful exchange between Jesus, Mary and the “beloved disciple” is the question we as “Christians” must answer every day of our lives, as Mary did: “Will you give me your human nature through which I will re-live my mystery of Redemption, so that you may receive the glory reserved for those perfectly conformed to me?” Translated into our modern language Jesus is saying, “If you say yes to me, you are saying yes to everything I revealed to you as the Way, the Truth and the Life – a self-sacrificing way that began with, in and through Mary, who I now announce to you as your Mother. Behold her!” What is our answer?

To discover more about Venerable Sheen’s profound and inspiring insights into the mystery of Mary check out Dr. Howard’s new book “The Woman: The Mystery of Mary as Mediatrix in the Teaching of Fulton J. Sheen” by visiting


To invite Dr. Howard to speak at your parish or event, you can contact him at

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Art: The Annunciation (Altar of Three Magi, Cologne Cathedral), Stefan Lochner, circa 1440, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons. The Annunciation, Alessandro Allori, 1579, Restored Traditions, used with permission. L'Annonciation [The Annunciation], Nicolas Poussin, ca 1653, Restored Traditions, used with permission. Detail from Crucifixion, Evgraf Semenovich Sorokin, 1873, PD-US copyright expired, Wikimedia Commons. Feature Image Art: The Annunciation, Auguste Pichon, 1859, Restored Traditions, used with permission.

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About Peter Howard

Dr. Peter Howard presently lives in Illinois with his wife, Chantal, and five children. Dr. Howard is a professor of Theology at the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation ( In 2015, Peter and Chantal founded dedicated to the mission of “awakening Catholic families to their critical call to live their faith with courage, passion and purpose.” He is also a Catholic videographer (, author and national Catholic speaker who has spoken at the 2015 American Chesterton Society Conference, 2012 Midwest Catholic Family Conference in Wichita, Kansas; the United States Air Force Academy; parish retreats and on Catholic radio programs such as Radio Maria. Peter earned his Doctorate in Sacred Theology (S.T.D.) from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas [Angelicum] in Rome, Italy. Dr. Howard's theological expertise lies predominantly in Mariology and the teachings of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen. He is the author of the 2014 book: The Woman: The Mystery of Mary as Mediatrix in the Teaching of Fulton J. Sheen. Like his spiritual mentor, +Fulton Sheen, Dr. Howard is passionate about evangelizing families by communicating the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith as the answer to the challenges and errors of the world. If you would like to invite Dr. Howard to speak at your parish or event, contact him at

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  • Linda Almaraz

    Thank you for your beautiful insight on what Archbishop Sheen spoke and wrote about our Lady: the world greatest Love. It is becoming abundantly clear to many of us that our Blessed Lady is the instrument the Blessed Trinity revealed at the foot of the Cross that would gives us Christians (as you wrote) our own “annunciation”. Now more then ever this call to say “Yes” to Jesus through Mary and “allow him to re live his mystery of Redemption” is desperately needed. St. Paul revealed his own “annunciation” when he spoke it was no longer him that lived but our Lord. St Teresa of Avila wrote ” Christ has no body now on earth but yours”. What is our answer to our own “annunciation”? If we follow St John Paul II example and totally consecrate ourselves to Mary, it will be a resounding YES. May all be done with us according to your will.

  • Judy Silhan

    Having recently taken your class on Mary and reading your reflection this morning on her fiat, I definitely agree with your opinion of this being “The greatest act of human freedom.” Thank you for the reminder that as His “beloved disciple” I need to, with Mary’s help, continually say yes to whatever He asks of me even if at times this means acting with “self-sacrificing love.” Prior to your class, I did not know or understand Mary’s role in my life. Thank you for helping me have a closer relationship with Christ; but also with His Mother, who assists me continually with getting to know her Son.
    Awesome reflection, Dr. Howard.

  • Patricia

    St. Ignatius starts that our journey with Jesus begins in belief and ends in love. As serious disciples we are called to not just believe with our intellect, but to love to the end with our body, mind, will, and soul. For us too, there will be self- sacrifice and suffering as demonstrated by Jesus and Mary because it is a total commitment… matter what. All the saints and martyrs tell this same story of perseverance under trial with their lives. Fulton Sheen has profound insights. He has written a great book about Mary called, The World’s First Love! He writes about Mary so wonderfully with deep and fresh perspectives and describes how she is the hope of the human race.

  • Jeanette

    Wonderful reflection Dr. Howard! The Solemnity of the Annunciation is beautiful because of Mary’s self-sacrificial ‘yes’ which brought about the virginal conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Just think of it…the virginal conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. What a miracle!

  • LizEst

    Beautiful reflection, Dr. Howard! Thank you.

  • Gloria Deleon

    Truly inspiring reflection of Our Blessed Mother. Thank you!

  • GregB

    Christ came both to redeem humankind from its sins, and to establish His Church in the New Covenant ratified in His Own Blood. The Church is called the Mystical Body of Christ. This being the case, the Mystical Body of Christ would be expected to manifest a mystical mode of operation. Mysticism points in turn to the three ways of Contemplative Prayer, the Purgative, the Illuminative, and the Unitive. In a purely human contemplative the way of Contemplative Prayer starts with the Purgative Way, which leads to the Illuminative Way, ending in the Unitive Way, the summit of which St. Teresa of Avila calls the Spiritual Marriage of the Seventh Mansions.
    When we look at the life of Christ it is the mirror image of this progression. His life in mortal flesh starts in the unique union of the Hypostatic Union at the Incarnation and ends in purgation with His Passion and Death on the Cross at Calvary.
    To me the Incarnation is a Prayer of Union. We Catholics call Mary the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. This agrees with the Spiritual Marriage of the Seventh Mansions. The Immaculate Conception and Mary’s Seven Sorrows satisfy the Purgative Way. When you add in Mary’s fiat at the Annunciation this produces the conformity of wills that makes it possible for her being to be fully illuminated by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit during the Incarnation. Like Christ, Mary’s publicly recorded ministry starts in union with the Incarnation, and she participates in the Purgative Way with Christ with her Seven Sorrows which ends with Christ’s Passion and Death. Christ and Mary’s lives follow a similar mirror image path. This mystical analysis appears to agree with the Catholic Church’s teaching as to mode of operation of the Immaculate Conception. It all centers on the Death of Christ on the Cross.

  • Jan England

    Dr. Howard I am wondering why we do not focus more on the mystery of the Incarnation of God on this feast day?

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