As we celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe today, the patroness of unborn children, it’s a great time to announce that the Diocese of Camden will host its annual Respect Life Mass on Thursday, January 22, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Shrine in Lindenwold. A pro-life rosary will begin at 6:30 pm, and Mass will start at 7:00 pm.
Download, print, and distribute a flyer for the event here: Respect Life Mass 2015
Two years ago, I published my first reflection on this blog, which included three of the Blessed Mother’s best life & justice lessons. That reflection is reprinted below, with a few small edits.
Mary is one of our tradition’s best teachers of life & justice. There are so many elements of her story that call us to be Christian disciples devoted to protecting and nurturing human life wherever it is threatened.
Mary’s “Yes” to Human Life
In the Gospel for today, we hear the familiar story of the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary, and tells her that she is going to be the mother of God. She’s skeptical at first, but ultimately says to Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
This powerful “yes” to God’s call is at its heart a “yes” to human life.
Surely Mary knows what bearing a child out of wedlock could mean for her in her community: at best, rejection. At worst, execution. Being a teenaged single mother was not part of her own plan. But she says yes anyway, trusting in God’s plan. (No wonder Pope John Paul II also declared Our Lady of Guadalupe Protectress of Unborn Children.)
Immediately after agreeing to bear the Son of God, Mary takes an arduous journey through the hill country to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth. Mary is looking for support, for validation, for safety, for home. Elizabeth provides these things, and assures Mary that all will be well. “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth wonders in today’s Gospel, affirming Mary’s “yes.”
Elizabeth’s welcome reminds us that we must also be supporters of life in a similar way. We are called to welcome and lift up all expectant mothers—married and single, wealthy and poor, teenagers and adults. This means not resting until all mothers have access to good healthcare, a safe home, and nutritious food. A mother’s “yes” to life must be met by our own “yes” of support.
Mary’s “No” to the Status Quo
At a parish mission at Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in Collingswood two years ago, the presenter (Rev. Jim Greenfield, OSFS) talked first about Mary’s “yes,” but then also about Mary’s “no.”
After being welcomed by Elizabeth, feeling safe and blessed, Mary sings a song of praise to God—the Magnificat.
In this beautiful passage, Mary says “no” to society’s status quo: “[God] has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Powerful stuff. Mary praises a God who flips things on their heads, who cares for those most in need, who sends away those who can’t be bothered to think about the poor and vulnerable. The message is so threatening to the status quo that the government of Guatemala banned the Magnificat’s public recitation in the 1980s.
Mary’s prayer proclaims that if we want to be followers of Christ, we must have the courage to criticize societal structures that fail to protect what Cardinal Timothy Dolan calls “the uns”: the un-employed; the un-insured; the un-wanted; the un-wed mother, and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb; the un-documented; the un-housed; the un-healthy; the un-fed; the under-educated. The Magnificat demands this criticism, and Mary’s third lesson calls for faith-filled action.
Mary’s “I’m With You” to Juan Diego
Juan Diego was a native Mexican and a poor peasant. And yet Mary chooses him, and appears to him as a native Mexican teenager. She speaks Nahuatl, Juan Diego’s language. Mary does not appear to the local bishop, or to someone else with power and prestige.
By appearing to Juan Diego, Mary asserts that she stands with those who are on the margins of society. “I am one of you,” Our Lady of Guadalupe suggests. It’s an inspiring moment of solidarity.
Today’s celebration is complements the message of the Magnificat. Mary’s “no” to the status quo is not the end of the story. Criticism of unjust structures that forget “the uns” is not enough by itself. Like Mary, we are called to stand with the forgotten and the oppressed, taking concrete action together to build the Kingdom of God on Earth.
May Our Lady of Guadalupe inspire us to say “yes” to life, “no” to injustice, and “I’m with you” to all who suffer.
Today is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which you can read all about here. To celebrate our awesome mother, I’m going to take a close look at today’s Gospel reading, which includes the Magnificat — my favorite Scripture passage.
Some context: In Luke’s gospel, after Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her she is going to be the Mother of God, Mary travels to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth. Turns out Elizabeth is also expecting (John the Baptist — impressive family), despite her old age. Elizabeth comforts her cousin, and confirms that Mary’s encounter with the angel was not a crazy dream. Relieved and emboldened, Mary offers a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
Let’s jump in:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
Some English versions translate this line as “My soul magnifies the Lord.” (The prayer gets its name from its first word in Latin: Magnificat.) I love this idea. I picture Mary holding up a huge magnifying glass. When we approach her, we get a closer look at what God is like. Also, the glass shoots divine light off in every direction, illuminating the Earth with God’s love. We all know those people who seem to magnify the Lord by their lives — by their kindness, gentleness, humor, energy, or depth of their commitment to the Gospel. When the journey of faith is particularly challenging for me, I seek out time to chat with those people. Not because they can give me every answer to every difficult faith question, but because their example inspires me to keep going. If he or she wants to be about this stuff, so do I — even when it’d be easier to give up.
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
True humility is not playing small or deflecting praise whenever it comes. Instead, humility is awareness of both the gifts and shortcomings you have; it’s a realization that you are a blessed, unique child of God who didn’t do anything to earn the gifts you’ve been given. In these lines of the Magnificat, Mary acknowledges that God has chosen her for an extremely important task. But she also says that she will have to depend on God to guide her through her big-time vocation. Her humility is a great example for us.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
I’ve been reflecting on God’s mercy recently in light of Pope Francis’ special emphasis on the concept. He is plugged in to Mary’s idea that God’s mercy is available in any age to those who seek God with open hearts.
From his press conference on the plane back to Italy from World Youth Day, in response to a question about divorced and remarried Catholics, Pope Francis talked about our own time as an age in particular need of God’s mercy:
Mercy is a larger theme than the question you raise [divorced and remarried Catholics]. I believe this is the time of mercy. This change of epoch, also because of many problems of the church — such as the example of some priests who aren’t good, also the problems of corruption in the church — and also the problem of clericalism, for example, has left many wounds, many wounds. The church is a mother: It must reach out to heal the wounds, yes? With mercy. If the Lord never tires of forgiving, we don’t have any other path than this one: before anything else, curing the wounds, yes? It’s a mother, the church, and it must go down this path of mercy. It must find mercy for everyone, no? I think about how when the Prodigal Son returned home, his father didn’t say: ‘But you, listen, sit down. What did you do with the money?’ No, he held a party. Then, maybe, when the son wanted to talk, he talked. The church must do the same. When there’s someone … but, it’s not enough to wait for them: We must go and seek them. This is mercy.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
Mary has an intimate relationship with God that predates Gabriel’s announcement. The Magnificat itself echoes the Song of Hannah from the Books of Samuel — Scripture Mary knew deeply and used to frame her own song to God. So when Mary starts describing what God is like here, it’d be smart to pay close attention. This section starts by describing God’s strength, and what he does with that strength.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
Mary uses stark contrasts to describe what God’s mercy and power look like. Mighty: Down. Lowly: Up. Hungry: Filled. Rich: Empty. God is a threat to those who proudly lord it over others. So subversive is this line that public recitation of the Magnificat was banned by the authoritarian Guatemalan government in the 1980s. At the same time, God has a special care for the weak and vulnerable. His action in the world is simultaneously disbanding and uplifting.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.
The biggest word here is promise, which is repeated in consecutive lines. Mary is recalling the covenant relationship God established and renewed with Israel throughout Hebrew Scriptures, and places herself in that tradition. God promises Mary (and us) he is present, and empowers her (and us) to use our gifts to change the world.
On this Feast of the Assumption, may Mary’s prayer inspire us to pray with conviction, to practice humility, and to work for a more just world.
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which commemorates the appearance of Mary to a peasant named Juan Diego in 1531 near Mexico City.
It’s an important day for Catholics on this continent, as Pope John Paul II declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the “Patroness of the Americas” in 1999.
I particularly love this celebration because Mary is one of our tradition’s best teachers of life & justice. There are so many elements of her story that call us to be Christian disciples devoted to protecting and nurturing human life wherever it is threatened.
Let’s look at three of her lessons after the jump: