Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, on this feast of the Annunciation, we can hear Mary proclaiming our psalm’s refrain which echoes down through the ages:
We are all here to do God’s Will. That’s why God made us. But sometimes, we struggle so hard either to learn God’s Will or to avoid it.
Praying with Mary this morning, I thought this about “God’s Will” – It is not a plan we must discover, or that unfolds in surprises throughout our lives. It’s not a set of circumstances meant to test our faith. If we think of it this linearly, we cripple and diffuse its power.
Because God is Love, God’s Will is simply this:
Love. Always love. Love always as God would love. Choose always what Love would choose. Love.
That’s what Mary did.
Poetry: Aubade: The Annunciation – Thomas Merton (An aubade is a poem or piece of music appropriate to the dawn or early morning.)
When the dim light, at Lauds, comes strike her window, Bellsong falls out of Heaven with a sound of glass. Prayers fly in the mind like larks, Thoughts hide in the height like hawks: And while the country churches tell their blessings to the distance, Her slow words move (Like summer winds the wheat) her innocent love: Desires glitter in her mind Like morning stars: Until her name is suddenly spoken Like a meteor falling. She can no longer hear shrill day Sing in the east, Nor see the lovely woods begin to toss their manes. The rivers have begun to sing. The little clouds shine in the sky like girls: She has no eyes to see their faces. Speech of an angel shines in the waters of her thought like diamonds, Rides like a sunburst on the hillsides of her heart. And is brought home like harvests, Hid in her house, and stored Like the sweet summer's riches in our peaceful barns. But in the world of March outside her dwelling, The farmers and the planters Fear to begin their sowing, and its lengthy labor, Where, on the brown, bare furrows, The winter wind still croons as dumb as pain.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, I pause in my scriptural reflections to ask all of you to join in prayer for peace in Ukraine. As I typed today’s date, it hit me that we can’t just watch the evolution of this crisis on the news, as if it were a movie that isn’t really happening. We have a responsibility to be active peacemakers in our volatile world, and to foster a resolution that honors all human life.
I’ll tell you why Saturday’s date struck my heart so forcibly.
February 19, 1945
I was not even alive yet. I was kicking around inside my Mom and waiting to be born exactly two months later. There was joyful expectation in my family that afternoon, as you can imagine. What they did not expect was that at that very moment, my mother’s nineteen year old brother had bled to death on the shores of Iwo Jima.
When the word finally reached my family, Jimmy had already been buried at sea. The coordinates are noted in the WWII War Logs: 21°N latitude; 111° E longitude. That’s where he is buried, somewhere in the middle of the Philippine Sea. It feels so very lonely when you look at it on a map.
His death, his slaughter, wounded my mother so deeply that it reached into my incipient spirit. I never knew him, but have never forgotten, my Uncle Jim. Some of you will understand how that can be.
No young man or woman should be left alone forever at the bottom of the sea, or in an mountain gorge, or under the flaming sand. No human being should suffer and die because of war, because of the bloated egos and stunted imaginations of undraftable world leaders who pretend it is the means to peace.
It may seem that we can do little to prevent these travesties, but that’s not true. We can vote; we can lobby; we can advocate for international justice and equity that ameliorate the catalysts to war: poverty, hunger, and political and economic domination.
And we can pray.
We have the power through prayer and political action to fuel the demand for peaceful and diplomatic relationships in our world. These powerful interventions can confront our unexamined militarism and transform it.
Pope Francis has said:
“The news coming out of Ukraine is very worrying. I entrust to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, and to the conscience of political leaders, every effort on behalf of peace. Let us pray in silence.”
But the responsibility belongs to us as well. Will you join me on this Saturday of the Blessed Virgin Mary to ask her powerful intercession in this outrageous situation in Ukraine?
The following prayer was very meaningful to me and you may want to pray with it:
Happy New Year, everyone! Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate Mary, Mother of Jesus.
I begin my prayer today by asking a question posed by distinguished theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ:
What would be a theologically sound, spiritually empowering and ethically challenging theology of Mary, mother of Jesus the Christ, for the 21st century? This question has no simple answer, for the first-century Jewish woman Miriam of Nazareth, also held in faith to be Theotokos, the God-bearer, is arguably the most celebrated woman in the Christian tradition. One could almost drown surveying the ways different eras have honored her in painting, sculpture, icons, architecture, music and poetry; venerated her with titles, liturgies, prayers and feasts; and taught about her in spiritual writings, theology and official doctrine.
In my own prayer today, though, I am not reaching for a deeper theological understanding of Mary. I simply want to talk with her as my Mother, my older Sister, my Friend. I want to seek her guidance and her inspiration. I want to thank her for her continual willingness to bear Christ into the world, and into my life.
How significant it is that the Church begins the year inviting us all to Mary’s Light! Our first reading blesses us in a way that Mary might bless us:
The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!
Mary was all about giving us the LORD, not giving us herself. We see Mary best when we see her holding Christ toward us – the “God-bearer” or “Theotokos”.
This title, used especially in Eastern Christianity, originated in the 3rd century Syriac tradition. It affirms Mary as the Mother of Jesus, Who was both human and divine in nature.
Our reading from Galatians assures us that we too, by our Baptism, are the daughters and sons of God – thus becoming Mary’s own. She is our Mother too by the power of this sacrament.
Our Gospel reveals the spirituality of Mary who “pondered” all the mysterious workings of God deep in her heart. This Mary is my revered sister, guiding me as I meet the unfolding of God in my own life.
Today, let us pray with Mary, our Mother, our Sister, Bearer of God. Let us pray for the whole Church, the whole world – all of whom she tenderly loves.
Poetry: Mary Poems – Lucille Clifton (1936 –2010) was an American poet, writer, and educator from Buffalo, New York. She was Poet Laureate of Maryland and twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
Clifton traced her family’s roots to the West African Kingdom of Dahomey, now the Republic of Benin. Growing up, she was told by her mother, “Be proud, you’re from Dahomey women!”. (You will catch some of her Creole cadence in the verses below.)
Her uniquely insightful poems about Mary capture aspects of Mary’s humanity, vulnerability and womanhood that we might otherwise not consider in a religious tradition that highly spiritualizes Mary.
A Song of Mary
somewhere it being yesterday. i a maiden in my mother’s house. the animals silent outside. is morning. princes sitting on thrones in the east studying the incomprehensible heavens. joseph carving a table somewhere in another place. i watching my mother. i smiling an ordinary smile.
winged women was saying
"full of grace" and like.
was light beyond sun and words
of a name and a blessing.
winged women to only i.
i joined them, whispering
Joseph, I afraid of stars, their brilliant seeing. so many eyes, such light. joseph, I cannot still these limbs, I hands keep moving toward I breasts, so many stars. so bright. joseph, is wind burning from east joseph, I shine, oh joseph, oh illuminated night.
after the all been done and i one old creature carried on another creature's back, i wonder could i have fought these thing? surrounded by no son of mine save old men calling Mother like in the tale the astrologer tell, i wonder could i have walk away when voices singing in my sleep? i one old woman. always i seem to worrying now for another young girl asleep in the plain evening. what song around her ear? what star still choosing?
Music: A Peaceful Hymn to the Theotokos – Nuns of the Carmazani Monastery in Romania
With these two brief excerpts from Father John Foley’s magnificent book, we see a young Mary – innocent, joyful, and delightfully human. She is a Mary we can relate to and turn to in trusted prayer.
This was a little child who knew not man, Nor life, nor all the needed frauds of life, Nor any compromise, and when she turned To raise the earthen jar, and faced the airs Of Spring, she smiled for young security, And she was glad. These were her own, these lanes, Of Nazareth. She’d known the slope and feel Of them for all her years, and they had known Of her, and she was walking now and was Familiar, and the well she sought not far Beyond the clustered house was so old It had become a part of permanence. The sky around it was so clear, serene With blue, and framed with hills that had been hers For always, and which lifted up a silence She had loved. These thresholds were her friends, These white walls leaning, and the narrow doors, And she could watch the shadows and the slant Of sun, and turn a corner so, and hear The farther crowing of a cock, and guess That in the marketplace were dusty sheep She could not hear; and passing on, she marked With deeper care that from an opened window Rose the sound of psalms. She was at home. few streets and the ruts in them were home, And she was sure, and young, and now the others At the well had called to her, and said Among them it was Mary who had come.
And smiling in the peace that mantled her, She reached her father’s door again and stepped Within to old repeated tasks and cares That for these brief months still would be her own. No change had come because the plighted word Of Joseph had been said, and villagers Could recognize she was betrothed to him. The spinning must be done, the weaving threads Be caught and mended, and the knots untied, The pans and ovens filled with bread, the crusts Must still be hoarded, and the counted needs Of poverty be met. She walked upon The stairs and watched for Joachim, and called Across the street to neighbors and received Their news, and when the day was bright, she closed The shutters to the sun.
She woke, and slept, And moved, and bound her hair up in a braid. She saved the moments out that gave her heart To God, as she had always done, and all Around her, Nazareth was small and old And settled on its hills, and kept the old Ways it had learned. She was a young girl here….
But when across the years we see her so, Our generation finds it hard to think Of her as one with us. Our stains have made Us hesitant, and sad remembrance curls And turns within to slow the prideful binding To ourselves, as if the very claim Could soil in her the grace whose essence is It is not soiled. This name is benediction On our blood, defense and refuge, hope And harbor, and our one fair memory Of innocence, and we have known too long Its silence on the world’s wild clamoring Not now to know this name is uttered prayer And not a name.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate one of the many feasts honoring Mary, Mother of Jesus.
Today’s feast can be confusing to people. It is sometimes mixed up with the Virgin Birth – the moment when Jesus was born. What we celebrate today, however, is the moment Mary was conceived by her parents, Anna and Joachim.
Over the centuries, devotional practice has tended to make Mary more than human – to separate her from the rest us because of her great holiness. However, many theologians today encourage us to find in Mary the same human struggles and triumphs we all meet in life. In this way, we can learn from her and be supported on our own path to holiness.
Today, as we pray with our many images, devotions and understandings of Mary, may we open our hearts to be inspired by her singular witness to God’s desire to be among us.
Poetry: On a separate entry today, I have copied a few passages from the beautiful classic, ” A Woman Wrapped in Silence”. I absolutely love this book and it has been my treasured companion through at least fifty Advents (and Lents). I highly recommend it to you. Read it in small doses that you can break open in your prayer.
Music: The Magnificat – Mary’s radical prayer for justice and mercy, sung here in Latin by the Daughters of Mary (English below)
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden. For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their seat s and has exalted the humble and meek. He has filled the hungry with good things. And the rich he has sent empty away. Remembering his mercy, he has helped his servant Israel as he promised to our forefathers Abraham, and his posterity forever.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke, evangelist, writer of the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, and devoted missionary companion of Paul.
Luke’s Gospel is unique in several ways.
Six miracles appear only in Luke:
the miraculous catch of fish
the raising of the widow’s only son
healing a possessed, crippled woman
healing a man with dropsy
cleansing of ten lepers
healing the man’s ear in Gethsemane
Eighteen parables are unique to Luke, including the beloved stories of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.
While both Matthew and Luke contain the story of Christ’s birth, only Luke includes those beautiful passages which now comprise the joyful mysteries of the rosary: Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Presentation, and Finding in the Temple.
Only Luke gives us the Magnificat and the cherished words of the Hail Mary.
Think of all that we would not be able to visualize without Luke’s blessed writings. No Gabriel. No Elizabeth, Zachary, Anna or Simeon. No tender Samaritan or merciful loving Prodigal Father to show us God’s face.
Maybe some of your favorite passages are among these Lucan treasures. You might want to choose one to accompany you throughout your day.
Poetry: Luke by Malcolm Guite
His gospel is itself a living creature
A ground and glory round the throne of God,
Where earth and heaven breathe through human nature
And One upon the throne sees it is good.
Luke is the living pillar of our healing,
A lowly ox, the servant of the four,
We turn his page to find his face revealing
The wonder, and the welcome of the poor.
He breathes good news to all who bear a burden
Good news to all who turn and try again,
The meek rejoice and prodigals find pardon,
A lost thief reaches paradise through pain,
The voiceless find their voice in every word
And, with Our Lady, magnify Our Lord.
Music: The Gospel According to Luke ~ Skip Ewing – a different but interesting take on Luke’s Gospel. The music today is a country song, not really about St. Luke’s Gospel, but certainly reflecting its love and respect for those who are poor.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 111, a rather exultant prayer for such a somber feast.
I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart in the company and assembly of the just. Great are the works of the LORD, exquisite in all their delights.
The psalm allows us to see beyond the sorrows we commemorate today. At the same time, the memorial reminds us that these sorrows of Mary were real human sufferings endured for Love.
Through her heart, his sorrow sharing, All his bitter anguish bearing, Now at length the sword had passed. Oh, how sad and sore distressed Was that Mother highly blessed Of the sole begotten One!
from The Stabat Mater
The scriptures give us precious little of Mary’s life. But each small account demonstrates the same thing: Mary responded, she showed up, she acted, she stood by Jesus until the end.
Poetry: Today’s poetic passage is from one of the great classics of Christian literature, A Woman Wrapped in Silence by Father John W. Lynch.
The book is a masterpiece best appreciated in reflective contemplation. I have chosen a sliver of its beauty today, one of many that captures Mary’s joy born of faith-filled suffering. This selection imagines what it was like when Mary remained in the Upper Room as the others, not knowing what to expect, went to the tomb early on Easter morning. The Resurrected Jesus comes to Mary first, before any other appearance.
it true or thought of her she found no need
To search? And better said that she had known
Within, they’d not discover him again
Among the dead? That he would not be there
Entombed, and she had known, and only watched
Them now as they were whispering of him,
And let them go, and listened afterward
To footsteps that were fading in the dark.
To wait him here. Alone. Alone. A woman
Lonely in the silence and the trust
Of silence in her heart that did not seek,
Or cry, or search, but only waited him.
We have no word of this sweet certainty
That hides in her. There is not granted line
Writ meager in the scripture that will tell
By even some poor, unavailing tag
Of language what she keeps within the silence.
This is hers. We are not told of this,
This quaking instant, this return, this Light
Beyond the tryst of dawn when she first lifted
Up her eyes, and quiet, unamazed,
Saw He was near.
Music: Much magnificent music is available for the Stabat Mater, a 13th century poem written by Franciscans and interpreted by many musical masters.
Stabat Mater – Antonio Vivaldi A short piece – Section 5: Eja Mater, fons amoris performed by Tim Mead
Eja, Mater, fons amóris me sentíre vim dolóris fac, ut tecum lúgeam
O thou Mother! fount of love! Touch my spirit from above, make my heart with thine accord.
2. The complete work by Vivaldi is below for those who would like to hear it:
3. A little bit of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater here with the same fabulous Tim Mead and Lucy Crow
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 13. We can imagine it being sung in Mary’s voice as we celebrate her birth.
Though I trusted in your mercy, let my heart rejoice in your salvation. Let me sing of the LORD Who has been good to me.
These psalm verses can bring us deeply into Mary’s generous, prophetic soul. She is, even before the Annunciation, a holy young woman, at peace and unity with God ….
I have trusted in your mercy
But when she is invited to donate her solitary peace to the infinite self-giving of God, Mary says, “Yes!”.
Let my heart rejoice in your salvation
Mary realizes that the moment Israel has longed for has dawned in her little room, her little cottage, in little Nazareth. And her faith is large enough to believe that God could do such a thing!
Mary calls us to make our dream of salvation larger than ourselves – to allow God to release the power of mercy, astoundingly, from our small and simple lives.
In this great fiat of the little girl Mary, the strength and foundation of our life of contemplation is grounded, for it means absolute trust in God, trust which will not set us free from suffering but will set us free from anxiety, hesitation, and above all from the fear of suffering. Trust which makes us willing to be what God wants us to be, however great or however little that may prove. Trust which accepts God as illimitable Love.
Caryll Houselander – The Reed of God
Poetry: After the Annunciation- Madeleine L’Engle
This is the irrational season when love blooms bright and wild. Had Mary been filled with reason there’d have been no room for the child.
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 103, a well-known and loved hymn of praise. It is a fitting psalm for today’s feast which unites us with Mary as we pray.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all the benefits of the Lord.
Mary lived much of her life in the actual presence of God, in the person of Jesus her Son. And no doubt, she received this holy proximity as a surpassing gift.
But even more importantly, Mary lived her whole life in total awareness of God – before and after Jesus was present with her.
There is a practice many of us learned as children called “Blessing the Hour”. The prayer goes like this:
Let us remember the holy presence of God Let us adore God’s Divine Majesty.
Sometimes a classmate was assigned to watch the clock and ring a little bell to trigger our prayer. We needed a reminder, every hour, that our whole life is held in the Breath of God.
But Mary always remembered. She lived so completely within God’s promise of mercy that she became the vessel of its accomplishment.
My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior.
For you have looked with favor upon your lowly servant,
and from this day forward all generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,
and holy is your Name.
Your mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear you.
You have shown strength with your arm;
you have scattered the proud in their conceit;
you have deposed the mighty from their thrones
and raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
while you have sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of Israel your servant,
mindful of your mercy
—the promise you made to our ancestors―
to Sarah and Abraham and their decendants forever.
So today, like Mary, let us remember the holy Presence of God in our every moment –
the Lord who is kind and merciful.
and pardons all our iniquities,
and heals all our ills
and redeems our life from destruction,
and crowns us with kindness and compassion
Poetry: John O’Donohue, ‘The Annunciation’, in Conamara Blues
Cast from afar before the stones were born And rain had rinsed the darkness for colour, The words have waited for the hunger in her To become the silence where they could form. The day’s last light frames her by the window, A young woman with distance in her gaze, She could never imagine the surprise That is hovering over her life now. The sentence awakens like a raven, Fluttering and dark, opening her heart To nest the voice that first whispered the earth From dream into wind, stone, sky and ocean. She offers to mother the shadow’s child; Her untouched life becoming wild inside.
Today, in God’s Lavish 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.
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:
Poetry: Two poems to honor the two blessed women of this scene
The Visitation by Joyce Kilmer (For Louise Imogen Guiney)
There is a wall of flesh before the eyes Of John, who yet perceives and hails his King. It is Our Lady’s painful bliss to bring Before mankind the Glory of the skies. Her cousin feels her womb’s sweet burden rise And leap with joy, and she comes forth to sing, With trembling mouth, her words of welcoming. She knows her hidden God, and prophesies. Saint John, pray for us, weary souls that tarry Where life is withered by sin’s deadly breath. Pray for us, whom the dogs of Satan harry, Saint John, Saint Anne, and Saint Elizabeth. And, Mother Mary, give us Christ to carry Within our hearts, that we may conquer death.
Visitation Villanelle by Sarah O’Brien
She came to me, the mother of my Lord, and grinned with amazement at the sight. All creation with me seemed to roar.
Grey haired, belly swollen like a gourd, I stood to kiss her in the morning light. She came to me, the mother of my Lord.
Her voice, as she crossed the threshold of my door, rang through my womb – from a great height, all creation with me seemed to roar.
The baby leapt – tethered only by the cord. The joy coursing through us! I shouted outright. She came to me, the mother of my Lord.
Already she faced her share of the sword She who believed all God said would be, might – All creation with me seemed to roar.
Blessed one! With your yes you moved us toward the home we long for, and all things made right. She came to me, the mother of my Lord. All creation with me seemed to roar.
Music: Also 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”