In Her Flesh

by Maria Grizzetti

Petrus Christus, The Annunciation | c. 1450, oil on panel, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Petrus Christus, The Annunciation | c. 1450, oil on panel | Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


The Feast of the Annunciation is the Feast of the Incarnation. We look to the Virgin whose free consent changed the course of human history, and we see ourselves at the threshold of redemption.

The surprise of the visit of Gabriel to Mary is not that we were given a second chance, for God loves totally and is of limitless benevolence, but that the second chance came only through the consent of a woman — through human consent, through a human body. God asked permission to redeem us. He who made the world ex nihilo, from nothing, would not, could not recreate it, without the Fiat of the Mother who then bore His Son.

And this is the madness of Love. For true love is not forced, true love does not impose. True love does not assert. The lavish charity of God requires our consent. True Love attends at the door, and waits for permission to enter.

True love is free, and freedom is the one thing that is very much our own. So much does God love us, that he leaves us free to opt to love or not to love Him back. Freedom is the first and final human possession: our bodies, our talents, our wealth, the full sum of our actions pass away. Freedom remains ours, even onto the moment of death.

The human heart knows contingent loves — loves based on parameters of human limitation.

The Divine Heart is incapable of contingent love, and also begs for the the totality of ours. Freedom was the first gift of God to man — Eden its place of birth, and place of loss. And yet, freedom remained the means through which He would redeem the world. In the freedom of God, He became as a slave, emptying Himself, becoming a man to ransom a lost treasure — to unfetter us from the bondage of death.

And should this not be sufficient, He chose a woman, Mary ever Virgin, to be His mother, to bear in the hiddennness of her womb the Eternity that time can not contain. God chose to redeem the world through Christ, His beloved Son — One who was bone of her bones, and flesh of her flesh. And He would redeem the world through the Virgin’s freedom, lost in His will — a freedom abandoned, and so fully gained; a freedom fused into perfect maternal love, cherished so completely it was lavished away.

What a marvel of descent to enable our ascent! What gift of rebirth and Incarnate Grace, hidden in the flesh, within the Virgin’s womb.

How deep the extent of fruitful love, that from the ‘Fiat mihi’, the ‘be it done onto me’ of a totally undivided heart, the world would receive a Savior. For it was through the raising of the flesh from the depths, that a woman, immaculate and pure, becomes the Mother of her God — our Savior.

The Word became flesh by exaltation of the flesh, not by failure of the Godhead: which so tempered its power and goodness as to exalt our nature by taking it, and not to lose His own by imparting it. … For the earth of human flesh, which in the first transgressor, was cursed, in this Offspring of the Blessed Virgin only produced a seed that was blessed and free from the fault of its stock. And each one is a partaker of this spiritual origin in regeneration; and to every one when he is re-born, the water of baptism is like the Virgin’s womb; for the same Holy Spirit fills the font, Who filled the Virgin, that the sin, which that sacred conception overthrew, may be taken away by this mystical washing.
–St. Leo the Great, Sermon on the Feast of the Nativity, IV

Be not afraid, O Soul! Be not afraid! For the waters of rebirth pour forth! Claim victory in the One who became flesh so to free our flesh from the depths of sorrow.

Wonder at the hidden maternity of the Virgin who contained our Redeemer in her womb. Look to her and see the hopes of fruitful love; see in her the fulfillment for the promise of salvation. Seek from her the courage, the freedom to conceive Christ, and bear Him into a fallen world. Win hate with love, fear with hope, strength from her strength and faith from the purity of her believing heart.

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lecturn, a book; always
the tall lily.

Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whome she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent. God waited.

She was free
to accept or refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another in most lives?
Some unwillingly undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,

More often those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.

God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes..

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked

a simple, “How can this be?”
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God.

This was the moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,

She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.

The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.

courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

Denise Levretov, 1923-1997

Contemplate the wonder of that day, when in the stillness God visited the world and dwelt there — flesh and blood — maternally bound in her flesh, exceeding the expectations of the ages.

The Lord’s glory filled the house of God (2 Chronicles 5.14) and the Virgin becomes the dwelling place of God Incarnate.

Here, now, the soul of man is elevated again to meet the Heart of God — the threshold of redemption is crossed in her flesh, and nothing would ever be the same again.

You may reach Maria Grizzetti at

This continues a series on maternity. See also She Loved Him To the End, Modern and Barren, Conceiving Christ, The Hidden Face of Love, The Common Good of Hidden Maternity, Why I Choose Not to Buy Myself A Child, and Procreation is Not For Us..