Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC
Feast of St Mary the Virgin - Saturday, August 15, 2015
|The Annunciation - Fra Angelico|
I think of Fra Angelico’s Annunciation -- one of my favorites. It’s often viewed as Mary’s pure, unambiguous surrender to God and God’s plan. I can’t imagine anything further from the truth or more disheartening for us as disciples. As Gabriel delivers God’s invitation I can hear Mary response not as a submissive “fiat”, but rather as “Are you serious?” We know she was anxious, confused, and frightened. We know that she had her own plans for the future. She was engaged and about to make a new life with Joseph. But still, despite this, she said “yes”. She wasn’t saying “yes” to being an unwed teenage mother, ending her engagement, inviting the gossip of her neighbors, disgracing her family, or risking death. She was saying “yes” to God, although as a consequence of her choice, she was opening herself up to everything else with it. She trusted God enough to believe that the other stuff would be worked out. She trusted enough to take the risk.
And things only got worse. She and Joseph became refugees in a foreign land where they scratched out a living. They returned to a small hill town and raised their growing family in uncertain times under foreign military oppression. She knew the pain of grief and the vulnerability of being a widow. She understood the frustration, impatience, fear, and confusion of having a son whom she just couldn’t understand. She disagreed with his choices, his lifestyle, his friends, and his conflicts with authority. I have no doubt that Jesus was no prize as a teenager!
A few years ago, the Presiding Bishop spoke of the place Mary might play in our prayer. It resonated with me because Mary figured prominently in my thirty-day retreat. The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius are intended to draw one through the life of Jesus, his Passion, and Resurrection into a deeper relationship with God. Mary was my guide through the Passion. Jesus, quite literally, sent me to her. Initially I thought it was for me to be a companion to her. In fact he had turned me over to her care. She walked with me every step of the way to the cross. I was given the grace of entering so deeply into her pain at seeing her son’s suffering that it brought me to a whole new understanding of how we suffer in the suffering of those we love. It can feel less painful to be crucified than to stand helplessly by to watch the one you love be crucified. Perhaps that was the sword Simeon spoke of piercing her own heart. It seems to me that anyone who loves opens themselves up to being pierced. I continue to draw deeply on the experience of this mother and her son in relationship to my own mother.
Our impulse at pain is to draw in, rather than to open up. When faced with our inability to make things better, we are invited to surrender more deeply. Surrender is not devoid of other feelings. Nor do other feelings negate the act of surrendering. It is not a once and for all action. At each step, in the face of each new development, we are given the opportunity to let go a little more and sink down further into God’s embrace.
The archetypal image of human relationships is that of mother and child. It affirms our common humanity, and in this particular relationship, it affirms our common inheritance. In his letter to the Church in Galatia, Paul says that Mary’s ministry, like her son’s, was above all else to be the incarnation of the Gospel message. This mother and son are our hereditary links to kinship with God. To prove that we are sons and daughters of God, this child was born of this woman, “ so that we might receive adoption as children” (Gal. 4:5)
In the person and image of Mary we are reunited to that radical connectedness we share in our common birth and life. This was and continues to be “the greatness of the Lord” proclaimed in her song: that God is firm in the promise to our ancestors, that God has not forgotten to show mercy from generation to generation, even to our own day. This is the greatness that rejoices her spirit and ours: that in God’s greatness we are all embraced as one family. This is her eternal mission and ministry---that we might look to this image, ponder it in our imaginations until it becomes incarnate in our own lives---reunion with God, neighbor, and self as whole and as holy as the union of mother and child.
Mary has always been for me the model of a person’s love affair with God, in all its messiness, with all its rough edges and imperfections. Today we honor her by opening ourselves to the power of her witness. She has much to teach us about what it is to be fully human, and unconditionally loved by God.
On this ancient feast called the Dormition by our Eastern sisters and brothers, the final verses of Ann Johnson’s poem, Dormition, from Miryam of Nazareth: Woman of Strength and Wisdom, conjure up for us a vision of how a life of faithfulness blossoms into eternity.
Her lifetime of shadowy knowing was
confirmed in the quieting joy.
Summoning cadences, ancient and deep,
Echoed the call of God’s peace.
Miryam, aware, reached out.
Holding the knowledge of change, reached out.
Accepting the newness of challenge, reached out.
Reached out to begin the renewing.
Miryam embarked on the journey.
Her mind precise for the journey.
Her soul enflamed for the journey.
Journeyed to the arms of God.
In the warmth of those arms, she knew.
Ancient pathways op’ning before her, she knew.
Words of her people streamed into her heart, she knew.
Knew that her God had come home.