Understanding the Assumption: Maturing in Faith

Readings: Click here for Reading

Rev 12_1 Assumption

 (Republishing last year’s reading. I’m on retreat and trying to keep my time empty. Praying for all my dear followers.)

Many of us grew up in households where we were surrounded by a strong devotional faith. I am happy to be one of those people. These simple, sacramental practices awakened and engaged my young faith and offered me a visible means to respond to its stirrings. These practices also gave my parents and grandparents the tools to teach me to love and trust God, Mary, the saints, and my Guardian Angel.

I remember with gratitude the many parameters of that deep devotion which accompanied our fundamental practice of a sacramental and liturgical life.

  • Our home had a crucifix in every room to remind us of God’s Presence
  • Over the main door was the statue of the Infant of Prague and the first Christmas card we had received depicting the Three Kings to bless us on our journeys.
  • All year, Dad’s fedora sported a tiny piece of straw tucked into its plaid band. He had plucked it from the parish Christmas crèche, near to St. Joseph who was his patron.
  • During a really violent thunderstorm, we might get a sprinkling from Mom’s holy water flask kept for especially taxing situations.

And, maybe because we live not too far from the east coast, we had one special summer practice. We went into the ocean on the Feast of the Assumption, believing that, through the water, Mary offered us special healing and graces on that day.

wedding-of-sea-mike

I can still picture young boys helping their elderly grandparents into the shallow surf. I remember mothers and fathers marking their children’s brows with a briny Sign of the Cross. There was a humble, human reverence and trust in these actions that blesses me still.

While that August 15th ritual, like similar devotions, might seem superstitious and even hokey to some today, the memory of it remains with me as a testament to the simple faith and deep love of God’s people for our Blessed Mother.

It was just such devotion and faith, expressed over centuries by the faithful, that moved Pius XII to declare the dogma of the Assumption:

“We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
(MUNIFICENTISSIMUS DEUS 44)

On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption in the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus(The Most Bountiful God). The world at that time was still healing from the horrors of World War II. The Pope himself, no doubt, was wounded beyond description by what he had witnessed. One can hear his deep pain as he begins his letter by saying:

“Now, just like the present age, our pontificate is weighed down by ever so many cares, anxieties, and troubles, by reason of very severe calamities that have taken place and by reason of the fact that many have strayed away from truth and virtue. Nevertheless, we are greatly consoled to see that, while the Catholic faith is being professed publicly and vigorously, piety toward the Virgin Mother of God is flourishing and daily growing more fervent, and that almost everywhere on earth it is showing indications of a better and holier life.

This belief is complementary to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. These two articles of faith embrace the totality of Mary’s life which was uniquely blessed among all humans. Mary gives us, in our humanity, both a model of and a supportive invitation to holiness.

Marie T. Farrell, RSM presents a scholarly and insightful essay on the Assumption here. Her work gives us a rich understanding of the theological layers within this teaching.

Click here for Sr. Marie’s article

Sister Marie closes her essay with these words:
Mary assumed into heaven and Spiritualised in her whole personhood is a prophetic symbol of hope for us all. In his Resurrection-Ascension, Jesus has shown the way to eternal life. In the mystery of Assumption, the Church sees Mary as the first disciple of many to be graced with a future already opened by Christ, one that defies comprehension for ‘…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him…(1 Cor 2: 9)

Musical Reflection with Song below: Prayer of Pure Love ~ Letty Hammock and Sue K. Riley

 

 

 

 

Learning Mary

Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church

June 10, 2019

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Mary EcclesiaJPG

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate a rather new memorial feast. On February 11, 2018, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (yes, that really exists, even though it sounds a little bit like something from Harry Potter!) inscribed a new obligatory Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, into the General Roman Calendar. This memorial is celebrated every year on the Monday after Pentecost.

We might wonder why we need another feast and title for Mary after 2000 years of devotion to her. But the intent is to open our hearts and minds to new and more dynamic understandings of the role of Mary in our spirituality and theology.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments said, upon announcing the feast:

This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life
must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ
in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed.

When any new Feast is decreed, liturgical readings and texts are assigned to it. For this memorial, a Latin hymn was designated, written by the modern Latin poet Anselmo Lentini:

O virgo mater, filia tui beata Filii,
sublimis et humillima præ creaturis omnibus,

Divini tu consilii fixus ab ævo terminus,
tu decus et fastigium naturæ nostræ maximum:

Quam sic prompsisti nobilem,
ut summus eius conditor in ipsa per te fieret arte miranda conditus.

In utero virgine o amor revixit igneus,
cuius calore germinant flores in terra cæ lici.

Patri sit et Paraclito tuo que Nato gloria,
qui veste te mirabili circumdederunt gratiæ. Amen.

Interestingly, Lentini’s text is a clear replication of Dantė’s “Divine Comedy” – Paradiso Canto XXXIII, here translated by Longfellow:

Thou Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son
Humble and high beyond all other creature,
The limit fixed of the eternal counsel,
Thou art the one who such nobility
To human nature gave, that its Creator
Did not disdain to make himself its creature.
Within thy womb rekindled was the love,
By heat of which in the eternal peace
After such wise this flower has germinated.
Here unto us thou art a noonday torch
Of charity, and below there among mortals
Thou art the living fountain—head of hope.
Lady thou art so great, and so prevailing,
That he who wishes grace, nor runs to thee
His aspirations without wings would fly.
Not only thy benignity gives succor
To him who asketh it, but oftentimes
Forerunneth of its own accord the asking
In thee compassion is, in thee is pity,
In thee magnificence, in thee unites
Whate’er of goodness is in any creature.

This new memorial of Mary is a further development of the hopes of Pope Paul VI as indicated in his encyclical “Marialis Cultus”:

“ ( There is) the need for Episcopal conferences, local churches, religious families, and communities of the faithful to promote a genuine creative activity in proceeding to a careful revision of expressions and exercise of the piety directed toward the Blessed Virgin. We would like this revision to be respectful of sound tradition and open to the legitimate desires of today’s people.”

Elizabeth Johnson summarizes: “This renewed Mariology should be

  • biblical, (rooted in scripture) 
  • liturgical, (respecting Mary’s role especially in Advent and Pentecost) 
  • ecumenical, (be in harmony with agreements already in place among Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholics) 
  • anthropological (conscious of the changing role of women in society, especially as women take on leadership in society: an image of Mary as passive and subservient is not acceptable to many modern women) 
  • theological (it would have God as the center – with Mary placed in relation to Christ and to the Church” 

Catholic Update, “In Search of the Real Mary,” by Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, (Cincinnati : St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001)

Music: Pascal Heni – Paradiso 33

A Women’s Feast?

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

May 31, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation, when a newly-pregnant Mary travels to be with her shockingly pregnant older cousin, Elizabeth. Although a universal feast, it is certainly a feast for women to treasure.

Visitation
The Carmignano Visitation, a unique masterpiece by one of sixteenth-century Italy’s greatest painters, Jacopo da Pontormo (1494-1557)

The Gospel is replete with the quiet but powerful understandings women share with one another:

  • the haste to support one another
  • the blessing and bolstering of each other’s faith
  • the shared joy to cause a baby’s leap in the womb
  • the desire for mercy and justice for the suffering
  • the “staying with” until need’s end

Of course, men too experience many of these holy sensibilities, but today most certainly invites women to celebrate the gifts of God within their bodies, minds and spirits.

Perhaps we might pray on these things while watching this movie clip of the imagined scene:


Music: Two selections for this wonderful Feastday:

Ave Maria (Schubert) sung in German, as Schubert wrote it, by the incomparable Marian Anderson


Magnificat (Bach) Imagine composing this powerful first movement based on only a single word: “Magnificat”

The New Jerusalem

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

May 26, 2019

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(I know you’re having a holiday weekend but, if nothing else, listen to today’s glorious song)

Today, in Mercy,  in our readings, we definitely get the sense of a young Church growing in its self-understanding.

The early Church leaders, most of whom are Jews, grapple with the question of whether new Gentile followers must first be circumcised in order to be baptized.

Over twenty centuries later, the answer seems obvious. But the question nagging the disciples shows us how they experienced their Christianity as emerging from Judaism. They had no concept of the call to Christianity coming in any other way.

It seems it was a huge shift for some of them to realize that God is not Jewish, that God is the God of all peoples – just as some of us today have trouble understanding that God is not Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, male, white, born again or any other human limitation we attach to the Divine.

Rev21_2 Jerusalem

Our second reading reveals how John dealt with navigating this shift. Still cemented in his Jewish symbols, he sees “Jerusalem” coming down out of heaven from God. But it was a new Jerusalem – one without the central symbol of Judaism, the Temple:

I saw no temple in the city
for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.
The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gave it light,
and its lamp was the Lamb.

For John, the New Creation in Christ included, but exceeded the Jewish narrative.

In our Gospel, Jesus prepares his disciples for life without his physical presence. They, too, need to learn to let go. He encourages them to open their hearts to even greater graces:

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.

Jesus is reminding his disciples, and us, that the graces and learnings of the New Creation are infinite. If we can learn when to let go of our old practices, our material symbols, our impregnable sureties, the Holy Spirit will astound us, and re-shape our understanding of God, just as She did for Mary, Peter, Paul, John and all the many enlightened saints through the ages.

As Pentecost approaches, let us pray for such Enlightenment in ourselves and especially in our Church. For the world grows ever more resistant to the Holy Spirit Whose Gifts are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and awe of God.

Let us pray for a New Jerusalem where all are one in God.

Music: If you do nothing else with this reflection, please allow yourselves the thrill of listening to the celestial voice of Miss Jessye Norman. (Always gives me goosebumps!)

Mary, Mother and Friend of God

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

May 18, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we encounter a reading we had reflected on just recently – when Philip asks Jesus to show him the Father. So, I will refer you to that reflection here, if you would like to revisit.

Click here for Philip’s Question

Instead, today, because this is a Saturday in May, we might like to pray with Mary of Nazareth. Do we know her?

May

The little we know of Mary we find in the New Testament. Like all women of the early Church, the power of Mary’s story was lost in the Romanized, masculinized Church of the 2nd century. Instead, the growing Church and the ensuing centuries’ cultures developed images of Mary, and other women disciples, which served the emerging characterization of women – gentle, passive, obedient and defined by their relationship to men. This did the real Mary a great disservice.

Beautiful Mother

Click here for hymn.

But, if you are like me, you grew up loving this re-characterized Mary. I pray to her as my Mother. I see her as a go-between with God, a Father who might not understand my needs. I love the old hymns I learned as child, and can still gustily sing almost all their flowery words. I still, and always will, have my favorites. 

Learning to think of Mary in a clearer and stronger light has been a challenge, and a gift, for me. Many women theologians have been helpful to me in this. Primary among these is Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ. This is a link to a superb article Dr. Johnson wrote for America magazine. It is a challenging and extremely worthwhile read. I encourage you to take time with it.

Click here to read Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ’s article

Today, as we pray, we may wish to use Mary’s own powerful hymn, given to us in Luke’s Gospel ( Luke 1: 46-55 )

My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.

Music: Latin Magnificat – Daughters of Mary

One Heart, One Mind

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter, April 30, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we read about the Love which unified the early Christian community.

Acts4_32 One

Their love and faith so satisfied their needs that they voluntarily disposed themselves for the good of others. That mutual self-donation generated a shared abundance beyond expectation. And the witness of radical community inspired new generosity:

Thus Joseph, also named by the Apostles Barnabas
(which is translated Ason of encouragement”),
a Levite, a Cypriot by birth,
sold a piece of property that he owned,
then brought the money and put it at the feet of the Apostles.

Our Christian communities today may never experience the simple unity of the early Church. The complexities and sophistications of centuries now impede us. But the principle within that simple unity is still available to us:

We are One Body and
the basic needs (both material and spiritual)
of all should be met
through our mutual generosity,
so that everyone may be free to worship in peace.

That principle must never be obscured by institutionalization, divisive interpretation of dogma, or pharisaical religious elitism.

May God inspire us to be a generous and merciful Church!

Music: One Heart, One Mind – David Haas ( Lyrics below)

May we be of one heart, one mind
Giving our lives for each other
All that we are, we hold in common
By the grace of the Lord
May there be no one among us
Who is need or alone
May we be of one heart, one mind

Grounded in hope, strong by faith
Filled with joy, led in peace
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

Courage lived, wisdom shared
Mercy shown, truth be told
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

Wonders and signs, day by day
One in love, offering praise
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

4.Unity, generous hearts
Table spread, breaking bread
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

5.Kingdom bound, blind now see
Hungry fed, poor no more
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

No more tears, fear has fled
Dead are raised, justice reigns
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

Silver or gold, we do not have
Only the name of the Lord
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

Spirit poured, prophecy sung
Visions and dreams by old and young
Blest by God, one in the Body of Christ!

Fearful Yet Overjoyed

Easter Monday, April 23, 2019

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Mt28_8 fear_joy

Today, in Mercy,  we enter the Easter Season which will last until June 8th. The next day we will celebrate Pentecost.

Throughout these several weeks, we will have a thorough reading of the Acts of the Apostles. 

Theologian Walter Brueggemann says this about Acts:

In the Book of Acts the church is a restless, transformative agent
at work for emancipation and well-being in the world.

As Easter People, transformed by the Resurrection of Jesus, that’s what we’re all called to be. Our models and inspiration will be found in these early women and men we read about over the next few weeks. This was a community that acted – within a culture of death – for an alternative, life-giving world.

“The whole book of Acts is about power from God that the world cannot shut down. In scene after scene, there is a hard meeting between the church and worldly authorities, because worldly authorities are regularly baffled by this new power and resentful of it.”
At one point, in chapter 17, the followers of Jesus are accused of “turning the world upside down.
” (Brueggemann)

Our world sorely needs such an active Church, speaking clearly to the issues that threaten and limit human life and wholeness in God. It’s not easy to be that witness, but it is critical. Our Gospel suggests the difficulty, but also defines the motivation:

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary
went away quickly from the tomb,

fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce the good news …

May we, though sometimes fearful, choose to be agents of the joyful Good News for our times.

Music: Alleluia from Mozart’s Exultate et Jubilate- sung by Barbara Bonney

Will You Anoint Him?

Monday, April 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, as we set out with Jesus on the path to Calvary, we might consider his companions who accompanied him.

John12_3 Mary

Closest to Christ’s heart on this journey is his Father. Today’s first reading gives us some insight into that profound divine sharing:

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spreads out the earth with its crops,
Who gives breath to its people
and spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

In other words, “Have courage, Son, I am with you.”

His disciples, women and men committed to the Gospel, also share the dramatic events of these days. Our Gospel today gives us Mary of Bethany, a leader and gatherer of the early Christian community. Her heart is broken at the now obvious prospect of Jesus’s death. In the name of their primal church, Mary offers Jesus the first sacrament of anointing.

In other words, “Have courage, Beloved Leader, we are with you.”

On this Monday morning of Holy Week, where are we in the community gathered around Jesus? How are we speaking to him, comforting him, loving him?

Jesus’s Passion is enfleshed in our time in the suffering of the poor, the refugee, the sick, the disenfranchised, those called “vermin” by the powerful. How am I with Jesus in his anguish today?

Music:  Two offerings today, one classical, one modern.

Timor et Tremor – from Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence (Four Penitential Motets) by Francis Poulenc

 

Pour My Love on You –  Phillips, Craig & Dean

According to Thy Word

Monday, March 25, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. It is a sacred and beloved feast.  Have we not come to love its phrases, ringing in our hearts like treasured memories? Let us pray with them today, asking to welcome the astonishing Will of God in our own life as Mary did.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth…

Annunciation,_Rome_-_Fra_Lippi
by Fra Filippo Lippi

And the angel said:
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”

Botticelli,_annunciazione_di_cestello_02
by Botticelli

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus, for nothing is impossible for God.

BURNE-Jones,_Edward_The_Annunciation_1876-79
by Edward Burne-Jones

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896
by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Music: Ave Maria – Franz Schubert

None like You, Merciful God

Saturday, March 23, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, our readings pour out the lavish mercy of God. Our prayer invites us bask in that warmth and understanding.

Prodigal son

The prophet Micah asks,

“Who is there like You … the God who delights in clemency?”

Our Psalm reminds us that “the Lord is kind and merciful”:

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.

(Two musical selections today.)

Then Jesus tells us the tender parable of the Prodigal Son, which is really more about the Merciful Father. He receives his contrite child in the same way that God receives us in our repentance.

Sometimes we become so content with ourselves that we fail to realize our need for contrition. Sometimes our failures are buried so deep and so long in us that we become blind to them. Repentance is the grace to break through that blindness.

We were created to be an image of the merciful God we meet in today’s scripture. Where we are short of that in our actions, words, choices and attitudes – that’s where we have need of repentance.

Rembrandt’s magnificent painting captures a sacred feeling that might help our prayer. Sometimes we are the gracious Father – loving, forgiving, hoping and working for life in others. Sometimes we are the son, returning from our own destructive selfishness to seek a new beginning. Sometimes we are a little bit of each.

Music: Father, I Have Sinned – Eugene O’Reilly