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If the angel Gabriel appeared to me, I would be very surprised. In fact, I would be shocked. When the angel appeared to Mary she was not surprised at the appearance; she was surprised by the message. Why would the greeting “full of grace” surprise Mary more than the appearance of a heavenly angel? The reason is that Gabriel used a perfect passive participle to describe grace. So what is a perfect passive participle?

I teach New Testament Greek at St. John’s Seminary and I love to ask that question to my students They all look down at their desks trying to recall their English grammar classes. I am enjoying the moment because they do not know it is a trick question. Perfect passive participles do not exist in English. In Greek, it is an adjective that describes something that happened in the past and once it happens, it never leaves you, it always stays in you. For example, I was ordained thirty years ago. Even though it happened a long time ago, my ordination is always in me. I say Mass today because of that event. I often contribute to the New Testament Abstracts. The editor came to me and asked if I knew Italian. He had a few articles and wanted me to figure them out. I told him, “Yes, I spoke Italian thirty-five years ago, but that was a long time ago.” I took the articles and amazingly, I could read them. I learned the language, and it has never left me.

My friend asked me to ski with him for the afternoon. I hesitated to go because the last time I skied was twenty-five years ago. I didn’t want to be stuck on the bunny trail all day. I went and to my great surprise, I spent most of the day screaming down the black diamond trails. It came back, it never left me.

So when the angel told Mary she had a gift from God that would always be there for her, she was surprised. What is this gift? So the angel explained to her that the gift is God Himself. She will always have God. Not only is she going to conceive and give birth to the Son of God, but also, the Holy Spirit overshadows her.

The angel left Mary and after that, we see a string of events that took place in her life. When her spouse found out that she was pregnant out of wedlock, Joseph wanted to leave her. Then Herod the great mustered up his brave army to kill babies in Bethlehem. For that, she had to flee in the middle of the night a foreign country and stay there for an undetermined about of time. Next, the mother lost her son for three days. Then Mary had to stand by and see her son tortured and die the cruelest of deaths. Then, Mary had to bury her son. We look across Mary’s life and see one difficulty after another, but all of these events are strung together to tell a beautiful story. Mary always had God with her and was able to do the impossible.

Today we talk about grace. We believe that God gives us grace but what exactly does that mean? The angel tells us. It means that we have God and we will always have that gift. So no matter the difficulty or hardship that we encounter in life, we know that all of it will produce a beautiful story for us. We will be able to do the impossible because God is always there with us. Grace means that God has given us a gift. So love the gift, appreciate the gift, and most of all, use the gift.

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