My dear friends,
The Scripture readings of today’s Mass offer us at least two dramatic presentations. All the readings are from the New Testament and were written down after Jesus had completed his mission on earth and returned to the Father. The First Reading gives us a visionary and artistic picture of the Incarnation; the mystery of God becoming man to rescue mankind from the mess they had made of things and to share his love more intimately with them. In the picture painted pride of place is given to the mother of the child and she is depicted as eminently endowed with everything necessary to succeed in the task she has taken on.
The same person appears again in the little piece of drama offered in the Gospel reading. She is now named – Mary, she is called – and is pictured visiting her kinswoman Elizabeth. They are both expecting child and each in exceptional circumstances. They have extraordinary greetings for one another. Elizabeth declares herself to feel honoured by Mary’s visit. She refers to the exceptional child which Mary is carrying and tells her she is blessed on account of the trust and generosity she showed in accepting the role which God had given her.
Mary humbly deflects all the compliments and praises God for all he has done and for the manner of his doing. He has always shown his special care for the weak, the poor, the lowly and the hungry. The rich and powerful look after themselves and have chosen a different path; they don’t look for God’s help. She recognises that big things have happened to her which have all kinds of consequences for the future and which will put her very much in the public arena. All of these things are God’s doings. He knows what he is doing and she has every confidence in his providence.
They come across as two rather special women. They were to spend three months together so they had obviously a lot of talking to do and many feelings to share. Each probably needed a trusted and understanding friend to provide the kind of support the occasion and their circumstances merited. There is no arrogance, self-pity or complaint in the words they exchange. What they express about God is full of affection and trust. They appear to have a generously positive attitude to life. God is God and whatever responsibility he lays on them will bring blessings rather then a curse. They are happy to leave whatever space in their lives that God needs, knowing that he will fill it with good things.
During World War 11, in the early 1940’s, a young Lutheran brother from Switzerland travelled around Europe working for reconciliation in a continent devastated by the fighting. He came to a village in the middle of France and stayed as a guest in this small rural community. It came time for him to move on. As he was leaving, an old French lady asked him to stay and make his home with the villagers. He had never before been offered such an invitation. So he accepted and took up residence in one of the local farmhouses where he began a simple life of prayer.
After the war, many other young men joined him. Many years later, young people began to come to share in the life of the prayer community. The young Lutheran brother was brother Roger and the village was Taizé, now renowned throughout the world as an ecumenical community with a special appeal to young people. When Brother Roger was complimented some years ago in an interview by a reporter for all he had accomplished he deflected the compliments and said “Thank a humble old French lady because without her invitation Taizé would never have happened.”
The old French lady had done like Mary and Elizabeth. She left plenty of space in her territory to allow God the freedom of the park. Christians, since the time of Jesus Christ, have given Mary the kind of honour accorded to her in the apocalyptic vision expressed in the First Reading. Christians have traditionally believed that Mary’s faithfulness and generosity, expressed in the words of the Gospel, have been honoured in the manner of how she was received into eternal life. This belief is acknowledged and finds expression in today’s feast.
The dramatic pictures painted in the Scripture Readings of today’s Mass challenge us. They invite us not to be mean spirited and comfortable in our whining. They show us what can happen when we unlock the handcuffs, throw open the doors and the windows and let the sunshine in. They assure us that God can be trusted and if we place our anger, hurt and insecurity on the crest of the wind and leave space for God’s grace, he will not disappoint us. If you need assurances, have a word with Mary or Elizabeth, – “the Almighty has done great things for me.”
+Liam S. MacDaid
15 August 2011