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Feast of the Visitation – A month of Marian posts

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
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.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
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.
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 for ever.

What a fitting end to this Marian month, we celebrate the Visitation today, when Mary “set out in haste” to see her cousin Elizabeth. The feast of the Visitation conjures up visions of two cousins, meeting and embracing. Like so many Marian stories, it is so easy to make it into something too sweet and pretty.  This is one of the dangers of over-sentimentalizing something that is so deeply profound. For me, this story is at once, extraordinary, and ordinary.

In 2004, I had the good fortune to visit both Nazareth and Ein Kerem (Elizabeth’s home town). What struck me was the distance between the cities, and the terrain. This was not a simple walk from here to there; this was serious travel and not easy.  Of course, we could ask, what journey of Mary’s was ever easy?

Another thing that strikes me is Mary’s eternal “yes,” her fiat, which means, “let it be done.” There is such immediacy to her responses. When I think of so many other people in the Scriptures, there is some hesitation in many, the word no comes from others. I think of Moses, Jeremiah, Jonah… and that is just the tip of the Scriptural iceberg!

Mary is clear – yes. She says yes to God when told she will bear the Christ child, she then says yes to make this journey to her cousin.

What I am also forced to consider is my own hesitation in life and often my own “no!”  Mary is a model for immediacy, and Elizabeth is too. It is always about God first and then our response. That’s why we can’t make ourselves holy or “get saved.” Jesus has already done this and we simply need to open our heart to the yes, with hesitation or not, we must say yes.  Mary and Elizabeth. They both respond like that. Uncomplicated. Clear. Direct. God-focused, God-centered.

Their cooperation with grace requires courage, humility, inner authority, intuition, deep faith.  Very remarkable, very beautiful.

So on this day, let us remember the speed and clarity that Mary and Elizabeth have in responding to God. And let us all remember that it is about responding, not doing it ourselves.

How do we respond to God? How do we respond to one another?


As you ponder that question, allow me to add this. I am always heartened to remember that the public recitation of the Magnificat was against the law in Guatemala in the 1980s. These words that I leave you with are from author Kathleen Norris‘s book, Amazing Grace:

Mary utters a song so powerful that its meaning still resonates in profound and disturbing ways.  In the twentieth century Mary’s “Magnificat” became a cornerstone of liberation theology, so much so that during the 1980’s the government of Guatemala found its message so subversive that it banned its recitation in public worship. 

The Magnificat reminds us that what we most value, all that gives us status – power, pride, strength and wealth – can be a barrier to receiving what God has in store for us.  If we have it all, or think we can buy it all, there will be no Christmas for us.  If we are full of ourselves, there will be no room for God to enter our hearts at Christmas.  Mary’s prayer of praise, like many of the psalms, calls us to consider our true condition: God is God, and we are the creatures God formed out of earth.  The nations are but nations, and even the power of a mighty army cannot save us.  We all return to dust. And if we hope to rise in God’s new creation, where love and justice will reign triumphant, our responsibility, here and now, is to reject the temptation to employ power and force and oppression against those weaker than ourselves.  We honour the Incarnation best by honouring God’s image in all people, and seeking to make this world into a place of welcome for the Prince of Peace.” (p. 113-114 in “God With Us”).


The May Magnificat – A month of Marian posts

The Marian window at The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Glenville, NY. (photo by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn)

Today I happened upon this poem by the late Gerald Manley Hopkins, entitled  The May Magnificat.


May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season-

Candlemas, Lady Day:
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honor?
Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is Spring?
Growth in every thing-

All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathizing
With that world of good,
Nature’s motherhood.

Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
Much, had much to say
To offering Mary May.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
Robert, Cyril. Mary Immaculate: God’s Mother and Mine. New York: Marist Press, 1946.

Saturday Song – A month of Marian posts

A Marian song, for a Marian month, Taize’s double canon Magnificat. I love this song, we sing it at Evening Prayer at St. Edward the Confessor. (We offer weekly Evening Prayer during Lent and Advent, all are welcome.) We have begun to sing it in this fashion, as a round. It is quite lovely and a reminder of the power of Mary’s words.

Please note, at least on my computer, this was LOUD. So please mind your volume!

A month of Marian posts – Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today, during this Marian month of May, we look to the Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here is some information from the Saint of the Day page at American Catholic.

The feast in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe goes back to the sixteenth century. Chronicles of that period tell us the story.

A poor Indian named Cuauhtlatohuac was baptized and given the name Juan Diego. He was a 57-year-old widower and lived in a small village near Mexico City. On Saturday morning, December 9, 1531, he was on his way to a nearby barrio to attend Mass in honor of Our Lady.

He was walking by a hill called Tepeyac when he heard beautiful music like the warbling of birds. A radiant cloud appeared and within it a young Native American maiden dressed like an Aztec princess. The lady spoke to him in his own language and sent him to the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumarraga. The bishop was to build a chapel in the place where the lady appeared.

Eventually the bishop told Juan Diego to have the lady give him a sign. About this same time Juan Diego’s uncle became seriously ill. This led poor Diego to try to avoid the lady. The lady found Diego, nevertheless, assured him that his uncle would recover and provided roses for Juan to carry to the bishop in his cape or tilma.

When Juan Diego opened his tilma in the bishop’s presence, the roses fell to the ground and the bishop sank to his knees. On Juan Diego’s tilma appeared an image of Mary as she had appeared at the hill of Tepeyac. It was December 12, 1531


Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego as one of his people is a powerful reminder that Mary and the God who sent her accept all peoples. In the context of the sometimes rude and cruel treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards, the apparition was a rebuke to the Spaniards and an event of vast significance for Native Americans. While a number of them had converted before this incident, they now came in droves. According to a contemporary chronicler, nine million Indians became Catholic in a very short time. In these days when we hear so much about God’s preferential option for the poor, Our Lady of Guadalupe cries out to us that God’s love for and identification with the poor is an age-old truth that stems from the Gospel itself.


Mary to Juan Diego: “My dearest son, I am the eternal Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God, Author of Life, Creator of all and Lord of the Heavens and of the Earth…and it is my desire that a church be built here in this place for me, where, as your most merciful Mother and that of all your people, I may show my loving clemency and the compassion that I bear to the Indians, and to those who love and seek me…” (from an ancient chronicle).

This is really an extraordinary story, and one of the most beautiful in our church. I have spent a lot of time reading and studying this particular apparition, and I always moved by this chapter of our Mother Mary’s presence.

To understand the power of the story, one must enter into that time. The Spaniards were in serious conquest mode, and the indigenous people were really being pushed to convert to Catholicism. This was not a time to be proud of evangelizing efforts – the Spaniards thought of the natives as savages, and were not very charitable towards them in general.

Some, like Saint Juan Diego were converted, or at least baptized. Many of the local people felt the pressure of being under the foot of the Spanish, and were slow to follow. Many baptisms were done under this kind of duress. It does appear, that Saint Juan Diego was indeed a prayerful man, who had been converted in his heart. All that was about to change, illustrating to one and all, that conversion is an on-going process of faith for everyone, without exception.

It is what happens next that changes everything. Our Lady of Guadalupe does not appear to the Bishop or a priest, not to the men in all their finery, with their educations, and their books, and their words; the men with their extraordinary vestments and who were building churches. Nor does she does not appear to any of the Spanish Conquistadors, who have taken over the land as their own. She does not appear to Aztecs who were of a higher class than Juan Diego.

No, when Our Lady chooses, she chooses this Juan Diego, a “nobody” in his own words, a class below the classes. A simple man, a poor man, a humble man.

That is the story, like so much of what we find in Sacred Scripture, the story is inverted. God is forever using the outsider, the one on the edge, the one with no power or position, no real place at the table. It is an important reminder to us all – and it is a most beautiful thing as well.

After they first meet, Our Lady sends Juan Diego on a mission, which he does not succeed at. Then, as Juan Diego tries to avoid her, Mary finds him anyway. I love that part of the story and it brings to mind the great Annie Dillard line from The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

“Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”

The Guadalupe story is so much about how beauty and grace are ever present in the sacramental invitation to embrace all that is offered to us, with great and loving persistence by our God. God is calling to a certain type of person…. The ultimate outsider. The real shock is the the ultimate outsider is always ourselves.

And then – only when this ultimate outsider is called – then that is when the people open their hearts and change, be transformed and move more deeply into a life of faith. This life is a process, going on for all time.

Another story that comes to mind as I consider this is from the Gospel of John – the Samaritan Woman, at the Well. Jesus makes sense to her and to her compatriots, they are so far out that they have no place to go but in.

And those on the inside, they often remain confused and unconverted.

Like us.

It is a provocative thought for us to sit and pray, isn’t it? How are we the outsider? How are we the complacent insider? How are we proud? How are we humble? And how willing are we to change?

That is Mary, the Mother of God at work. Calling to us, loving us, bringing us forth. If, that is – we are willing to go. And she always goes to great lengths to find us.

Mary Mother of God

(I’m publishing a series of posts about Mary the Mother of God during the Marian month of May. This was originally published at my Times Union blog.)

When the movie The Passion of the Christ was about to come out in 2004, I got very caught up in the fervor against the movie. There was so much propaganda, and I really believed that the film would be filled with anti-semitism. I was prepared to not go see the movie and I was ready to rail against it.

The film opened and my friend’s dad went to see it. So what? Well, he is an observant Modern Orthodox Jew, who lives in Jerusalem, but happened to be in New York City for business that week. She called and told me that he did not find it offensive at all and that Continue reading

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