Sunday, August 13, 2017

Mary's Uplifting! August 15th Feast . . .

The Wise Woman’s Stone
A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.  The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without any hesitation.

The traveler left rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a full lifetime. But, a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman. “I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”

Today, we gather to celebrate, to remember and to affirm our belief once again in the passing of Mary into God’s embrace body and soul. We gather to celebrate all that she had within her that enabled her to trust in Mystery, to walk in the holy darkness of questions; to ponder her experiences in the light of faith; to hope in God’s love amidst her joys and sorrows; losses and findings and the deaths and risings she encountered; and to live with courage as she responded moment by moment to the challenges and surprises that resulted from her “Yes, let it be done”.

The Assumption of Mary into heaven is one of the oldest feasts of Mary.  It is easily traced back to at least the 5th century and some historians say it was even celebrated as far back at the 3rd century. The event is not found in Scripture, and there were no witnesses – the feast came before its definition – it came from the belief of the people, the heart of the people. It is written, that in 1946 Pope Pius XII sent an encyclical letter to all the bishops of the world and asked them to confer with their people about the mystery of the Assumption becoming a dogma of the Church. On the strength of their response and the testimony of history he declared the Assumption dogma in 1950. Isn’t this a great model for our Church!

Most of what we know about Mary in Scripture comes from the Gospels of Luke and John. As a young Jewish girl, she grew into womanhood with an extraordinary faith. Oftentimes she did not understand what God was asking of her, but she believed with all her heart that it could and would be done, and she acted accordingly. It was enough for her to be called to move within holy mystery and gently hold the tension of all that was being asked of her. She did not seek answers, clarity or quick results - we are told that “she held all these things in her heart” and treasured them until their meaning was revealed a grace at a time!

In our Gospel today, Mary, a young pregnant woman went with haste about 70 miles south to the hills of Judea to visit her older pregnant cousin, Elizabeth, who has lived the past six months, no longer barren, with a quieted husband. Mary remains there for at least 3 months to be of help and to share the joy of expectation that most mothers-to-be experience. They both embody God’s mercy while sharing their fears, finding courage through one another, expressing their hopes, and learning practical wisdom of body, mind, and spirit together. The mystery of the Incarnation is set in a familiar context – the friendship between pregnant women who await the birth of their children. Luke summarizes for us the deep relationship between Mary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and is the first person to recognize Mary’s child, Jesus, as the long-awaited one.

Elizabeth’s loud cry is translated with the same words used to describe the loud cry of the Hebrews before the Ark of God’s presence when it was brought into their midst.  Mary is now the living Ark of God and the promise to God’s people has begun to be fulfilled in her.

In response to Elizabeth’s greeting, Mary proclaims a song of liberation for all people; one in which ideals are reversed and the household of God will be peopled by the poor, the hungry, and the ones with no power. Hers is the first proclamation of justice in the New Testament.  Her song is revolutionary – she speaks of a political revolution in which God has shown strength and brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.  She speaks of a social revolution in which God has filled the hungry with good things; and she sings of an economic revolution, in which God has sent the rich away empty, and the poor are filled with good things.

Her message is so subversive that even in our time, it is written that “for a period during the 1980’s the Government of a Latin American country banned its public recitation.”  Her song of courage invites us to identify with the poor, the oppressed and marginalized of our day, to be in solidarity with them, and to dare to engage with God in the liberation of these people, believing, like Mary that this can be done so that we too can build up the kingdom with love and justice.

These women, who stand pregnant in an embrace of joy, laughter, and praise for God’s marvels, will give birth to children of the Magnificat. These children in turn will one day stand together and sing a new song that would be revolutionary as well. John will sing his song of Repentance and ring out the Good News that the Messiah is here. Jesus, will sing his song of Beatitude that will break through to the hearts of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and beyond the strict laws of purification.

No doubt that after Jesus' Ascension, Mary grew in age, grace and wisdom as well.  She, too, was filled with the Pentecost fire of the Spirit and would have received the same energy and power of the Spirit as the disciples. Legend puts her in Ephesus residing at the home of John the apostle. However, some scholars tend to think that Mary stayed in Jerusalem, the birthplace of the first Christian community. If so, then Mary’s mission was to reach out and speak to Jewish women and to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.  Her ministry was to build up the young community and make known this new faith to other women believers.

So how can this feast speak to us?  How can it encourage us on our journey?  How can it become part of our story?  Mary not only witnesses to the action of God in her life, but she is a woman who was fully human, gifted with grace, truth, mercy, compassion, faithfulness, on fire with the Spirit, generous in ministry, and centered in God.  These are a few of the treasures that she had deep within her that enabled her to be woman, wife, mother, sister, cousin, friend, disciple, prophet, and witness.  Finally, we ask boldly for all that she had within her that enabled her to be authentic, faithful, and trusting, so that we, too, will sing our prophetic song of faithfulness and proclaim that “God has done great things for us!”

I close with a selection from Soul Sisters by Edwina Gateley,
who reflects on this Gospel . . . .

“Affirmed, loved and comforted,
 You stayed with Elizabeth,
 Absorbing the experience and the wisdom
  of the older woman,
 deepening in your own resolve
 to nurture, hold
 and mother God.
 Your journey has blessed ours, Mary.
 Your Yes dares us
 to believe in the impossible,
to embrace the unknown,
 and to expect the breaking through of mystery
 onto our bleak and level horizons.
 The words you heard, Mary,
 we will forever remember.
 We will not be afraid,
 for the life that you birthed
 will not be extinguished
 in our souls.
 And the journey
 you took in faithfulness,
 we also take.
 We the people, women and men, the midwives,
 and the healers will also,
 like you Mary, our soul sister,
 Give birth to God
 for our world.”

Previously posted: August 2012

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