Shaken, and Stirred: Dec. 20, Fourth Tuesday of Advent

But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. ~ Lk 1:29

One of the rhetorical techniques I learned about in divinity school has the fancy Latin name captatio benevolentiae, or the “winning of goodwill.” We might call this “buttering up” one’s audience. Gabriel uses it to good effect in the Annunciation, hailing Mary warmly as “favored one,” and assuring her, “the Lord is with you.” A peasant woman of no means or social standing, Mary reacts fearfully to this effusive greeting: Luke tells us she is greatly troubled, using a participle, dietarachthe, that derives from a verb meaning “to shake together, stir up.”


If Mary is stirred by Gabriel’s opening words, she is shaken to the core by the rest of his message. “How can this be?” she asks the angel. We, too, may be apprehensive about our ability to succeed at what God asks us to do. We, too, may struggle to understand what it all means. And we, too, may echo Mary’s anxious question as we pray, hoping that God will hear our worry and fortify us with calm confidence to do His will. Whether we recall Moses asking God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh?” or Jeremiah insisting that he does not know how to speak, the Bible furnishes us with countless examples of servants of God whose initial query is, “How can this be?” So it was with Mary, so it is with us.

RELATED: To subscribe to these Advent reflections, sign up here and check "Digital Content Updates."

In prayer, we ask for the courage to accept the call, knowing that we will not go forward alone. For the Lord, as Gabriel said, is with us.

 RELATED: Read all of our Advent reflections for 2016

Lord God Immanuel, Take and receive all my worries, my doubts, and my fears, and let me hear your response when I call to you. Amen.

For today’s readings, click here.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

Father Michael Nixon and parishioner work a volunteer table at St. Dominic Catholic Church in Panama City, Fla. Photo by Atena Sherry.
Much like New Orleans’ Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina, the low-income neighborhoods east of Panama City, where St. Dominic is located, were especially hard-hit by the storm. Now residents here are desperate for help.
Atena SherryOctober 18, 2018
“I believe there are adequate, alternative options for true women’s health care out there, and Planned Parenthood is not needed,” said Alisha Fox, a health and wellness coach at a Catholic fertility center in Chicago.
Colleen ZeweOctober 18, 2018
 Ethiopian Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel of Addis Ababa checks out the name badge of Nathanael Lamataki, a youth delegate from the French territory of New Caledonia in the South Pacific, as they leave a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Cardinal Souraphiel highlighted the role globalization plays in connecting young people in unjust ways.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 18, 2018
The pope said he would visit North Korea “if an official invitation arrives.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 18, 2018