Mary must have been stunned.
She didn’t hear him come or go. In the blink of an eye, he was there: a resplendent angel of God, greeting her with words never uttered before—even to Abraham or Moses.
“Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with you.”
Trying to understand what his greeting meant, she remained silent. As if reading her mind, he assured her that she was pleasing to God and there was nothing to fear.
After the angel explained God’s desire for her, she declared her “Yes” and willingly surrendered her hopes and dreams for His. Her future—everything she had planned and anticipated—changed in an instant. But despite her concerns, she trusted God and the angel’s words. At that moment, the Eternal Word entered into time. The God, who created the universe, entered into Mary’s womb.
In a sense, when she said “Yes” to God, He said, “Yes” to her and turned her life into something far beyond her wildest dreams. Following the same journey everyone has, He spent the first nine months of His existence hidden in her womb. He rested in her as He was being formed. And, as she continued her daily, normal life, Mary patiently waited for His birth.
This waiting was filled with joy, hope, and expectancy. It was filled with preparation. It was filled with God. Because when Mary said “Yes,” she became a shrine of God. Christ was now present wherever she went. Everything she did was imbued with Him. Knowing that the Child in her womb was the Son of God, she must have pondered the scripture verses that spoke of the Messiah. She must have prayed, asking God to help her become the mother she was destined to be. And she must have journeyed deeper into a living faith. Luke’s Gospel is a testament to this amazing grace, which had been extended to her.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Hearing about her aged cousin, Mary rushed to visit Elizabeth who was six months pregnant. No one would have questioned Mary if she had waited a day or two before beginning her journey, or if she had only stayed a month to help her cousin. But scripture notes that she left in haste and stayed for approximately three months—up to the birth of St. John the Baptist.
This was a mission of compassion, a mission of reaching out to help someone in need. And yet, from all appearances, Mary’s journey to Elizabeth and the time she spent there probably appeared insignificant. But when we open our hearts and lives to God, He urges us to reach out to others—and permeates everything with a new and deeper meaning. Luke’s Gospel illustrates that beautifully. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, her child leapt for joy. Suddenly, what started as a simple journey of charity became a moment that is still remembered and celebrated 2,000 years later. It became a channel of grace for Elizabeth and John.
Can we honestly imagine that after returning home, Mary would have stopped assisting people in need? At the most amazing moment of her life—when an angel appeared to her, when she had every right to stop and reflect on what it meant to become the Mother of God—she didn’t become self-focused but rushed to help her cousin. Is it possible that in all the subsequent moments of her life, she would have suddenly become absorbed in her own concerns or ceased helping others? Her “Yes” was not a one-and-done statement; it was an ascent to God’s will in all the moments of her life—whether that meant traveling to help her elderly cousin, riding on a donkey to Bethlehem in her last month of pregnancy, or giving birth to the Son of God in a dingy cave.
With each “Yes”, the world was forever changed. Her journey through Advent transformed her life, the lives of her husband and family, and the lives of all humanity.
Our journeys can do the same.
THE JOURNEY TO THE POOR
Just ask Sr. Michelle Nguyen, DC. Born to a poor family in Saigon, she and her family would often turn to a local community center run by charitable religious sisters, who provided the care they needed. “My sisters would bring me to the Daughters of Charity for food or medication. We knew that the Sisters were missioned there to serve the poor.”
Though Sr. Michelle and her family were destitute, they didn’t wallow in self-pity, but rather, focused on the plight of those around them. At the tender age of five, Sr. Michelle was deeply moved by the suffering she saw—especially homeless and abandoned children.
“When I passed by an orphanage, I saw a lot of children who were handicapped. They had no families or parents. They were poor, sick, and miserable. I thought to myself: ‘I have my parents, but they don’t. When I grow up, I will become rich and sponsor these orphans and all the children around the world’.”
She was unaware that God had bigger plans for her. He was going to ask for her “Yes”—to willingly give everything to God and surrender her own hopes and dreams for His.
For Sr. Michelle, that meant becoming a Daughter of Charity. It meant leaving her family and going to Dalat, Vietnam. It meant living under the terror of Communism until she could escape. Like Mary, when she gave her “Yes,” she didn’t know the details of her future. She didn’t even know that the religious Congregation she joined was the same one that assisted her family throughout her childhood. But she knew that God was with her, and she was filled with hope and expectancy. Only later, when she recognized, “Oh, this is the center where we came for food and health care,” did she understand that throughout her youth, God had prepared her.
For eight years, Sr. Michelle worked with the Daughters of Charity serving the needs of Vietnamese communities, villagers, and orphaned children.
When Communism reentered Vietnam in 1975, Sr. Michelle and her fellow Daughters dispersed in fear of governmental retaliation against Catholic religious communities. She lived among the people and worked in the fields while raising money for the orphan boys she was secretly helping. Unfortunately, she contracted tuberculosis and was in dire need of medical attention. It was then she knew she had to leave her country to survive.
Fleeing a Communist country is no easy feat. After each attempted escape, Sr. Michelle was either sent home or incarcerated. But she found consolation in prayer. She recalls asking St. Vincent de Paul, the co-founder of the Daughters of Charity, for a sign to continue her mission. “I told St. Vincent that if I was supposed to continue in my vocation, he needed to give me a sign. I just didn’t know what sign to look out for.”
After her ninth attempt, Sr. Michelle finally escaped by boat. Unfortunately, she was stranded at sea under the scorching sun for 29 days, facing starvation and dehydration. It was then, on the Feast Day of the Assumption of Mary, that she received a sign. It began with a simple yet life-giving rainstorm that gave her the ability to survive and the extra push to continue her mission. Soon after, she was rescued by a fishing boat, where she received medical attention and recuperated.
Upon her escape from Vietnam, Sr. Michelle immigrated to the Americas, serving youth and families in Canada, New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. With a special love for the youth, she encouraged them to serve the Church with the gifts God has given them. “I see the gifts in others, and I help them prepare for their calling. Once they are ready, they take over, and I support them from behind.”
Recently celebrating her 50th jubilee as a Daughter of Charity, Sr. Michelle still has more to give. “After 50 years in the community, God has helped me realize my dream of serving children around the world. I am happy because even amid trials and difficulties, God has always been there to help me serve their needs.”
Just like our Blessed Mother, when Sr. Michelle said “Yes” to God, He said “Yes” to her.