A Visit and a Song (Part 02/04)

The gift of blessing: Part of what’s so challenging about Mary’s story is its brevity. We know from the Gospel accounts that she’s perplexed by Gabriel’s announcement. We also know that she says yes to the angel’s request, anyway. But so much lies hidden beneath that seemingly quick and simple “yes.” So many questions. So many possibilities. So many occasions for doubt. Again, Luke doesn’t elaborate, but I can well imagine the questions I’d ask if I were in Mary’s place: Is Joseph going to stick around? Will my parents still love me? How will I survive the pain of childbirth? Who will help me when my time comes to deliver? Who will support this baby if my fiancé bails? Who am I to raise the son of God? Is any of this for real, or am I losing my mind?

Into this maelstrom of questions comes an outpouring of blessing: “Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth tells Mary, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Elizabeth astutely connects the dots in Mary’s story; she makes the connection between trust and blessing. In Elizabeth’s mind, Mary’s “favored” status has nothing to do with wealth, health, comfort, or ease. Her blessing lies solely in her willingness to trust God and to surrender to God’s will. To lean hard into God’s promises and believe that they will sustain her, no matter what.

I wonder how desperately Mary needs this blessing by the time she lands on Elizabeth’s doorstep, exhausted and scared. How badly she needs someone to remind her that even after the angel leaves, the light fades, and the vision recedes, God’s faithfulness remains.

My guess is, Mary carries Elizabeth’s blessing in her heart for the rest of her life. After all, her vocation as Jesus’s mother is not easy. It leads her straight from scandal to danger to trauma to devastation. How blessed can she feel when she delivers her firstborn in a smelly stable? When she becomes a refugee, fleeing to Egypt to prevent her son’s murder? What does blessing feel like for her years later, when her miraculously conceived child is arrested? Beaten? Mocked? Killed?

God’s call on Mary’s life requires her to be profoundly courageous and countercultural, to trust an inner vision few others understand or value. Elizabeth recognizes that Mary’s faith is precious — that faith alone will fuel the ongoing surrender Mary’s journey will require. So she names and blesses Mary’s capacity for deep trust as a gift worth cherishing.

We don’t live in a time or culture that encourages us to bless one another, and that’s a terrible shame. What would it be like to recover Elizabeth’s vocation of blessing? To cultivate spiritual attentiveness? To gaze long and deeply at each other, looking for glimpses of God? How would our churches change if we made a point of discerning, naming, and blessing the divine gifts we see in each other? Elizabeth “exclaims with a loud cry” when she recognizes God’s life-changing work in Mary. What a compelling image. Joy flourishes when we’re willing to humbly bless each other.

to be continued…

Be Born In Me (Mary’s Song)

*

Everything inside me cries for order
Everything inside me wants to hide
Is this shadow an angel or a warrior?
If God is pleased with me, why I am I so terrified?
Someone tell me I am only dreaming
Somehow help me see with Heaven’s eyes
And before my head agrees, my heart is on it’s knees.
Holy is He. Blessed am I.

Be born in me. Be born in me.
Trembling heart, somehow I believe
that You chose me
I’ll hold you in the beginning,
You will hold me in the end

Every moment in the middle,
make my heart your Bethlehem
Be born in me
All this time we’ve waited for the promise

All this time You’ve waited for my arms
Did You wrap yourself inside the unexpected
So we might know that Love would go that far?
Be born in me, be born in me
Trembling heart, somehow I believe

that You chose me
I’ll hold you in the beginning,
You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle,
make my heart your Bethlehem
Be born in me

I am not brave
I’ll never be
The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy
I’m just a girl
Nothing more
But I am willing, I am Yours
Be born in me, be born in me
I’ll hold you in the beginning,
You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle,
make my heart your Bethlehem
Be born in me

A Visit and a Song (Part 01/04)

By Debie Thomas

The angel Gabriel leaves, and Mary runs. “With haste,” the Gospel writer tells us on this fourth Sunday in Advent, a newly pregnant teenager makes for the hills, not slowing down until she reaches the home of Elizabeth, her also-pregnant cousin. When her kinswoman welcomes her, she bursts into song — a song so subversive, governments twenty centuries later ban its public recitation.

love this Gospel story. I love it because it’s one of the rare narratives in the Bible that is female-centered. (The priest Zechariah — Elizabeth’s husband, and the man-presumably-in-charge — is literally silenced throughout.) I love it because its setting is domestic, intimate, and earthy. But most of all, I love it because it allows me to view the mother of Jesus as a whole person. To view her, in Nadia Bolz Weber’s language, “without sentimentality or cynicism.”

This is no small achievement, because we (the Church) have buried Mary under so many layers of theology, piety, and politics, she’s nearly impossible to excavate. Some of us pray to her. Others ignore her on monotheistic principle. Some call her “Theotokos,” the God-bearer. Others champion her as a model of holy femininity — ever sinless, ever virgin, ever mother. To some, she is a child prophet extraordinaire. To others, the victim of divine manipulation.

Would the real Mary please stand up? Well, I think she has. I think Luke’s account of the Visitation gives us a portrait of Mary that cuts through most of our assumptions and stereotypes. A nuanced portrait that balances fear with courage, doubt with faith, vulnerability with strength. Along the way, it gives us a portrait of ourselves — of what we, the Church, might become at our very best. Here, then, are three gifts I believe the Visitation story offers us for our Advent meditations.

The gift of community: As soon as Mary says “yes” to Gabriel’s astonishing request, she goes “in haste” to see Elizabeth. She doesn’t isolate herself. She doesn’t keep God’s revelation a secret. She doesn’t play Lone Ranger and attempt to go it alone. Instead, she seeks out a fellow-traveler

Although Luke doesn’t elaborate on Mary’s reasons for visiting Elizabeth, it’s easy to imagine why a girl with a story as crazy-sounding as hers might make such an urgent journey. Tradition tells us that Mary is only thirteen or fourteen years old when the angel Gabriel appears to her. In her cultural and religious context, her pregnancy is a scandal. At best, it renders her an object of scornful gossip. At worst, it places her at risk of death by stoning.

Needless to say, she needs safety, affirmation, empathy, and companionship. She needs someone to recognize, nurture, deepen, and celebrate the work of God in her life. Someone who will receive, not reject. Love, not judge. Nourish, not condemn.

Could there possibly be a better job description for the Church? A better prototype for Christian community? What would it be like if we sought each other out with the trust and openness of Mary? What would it be like if we (like Elizabeth) received with tenderness the marginalized and vulnerable people who dare to come to us, seeking refuge and nurture? What would it be like if our communal worship echoed the full-throated call-and-response of these two kinswomen who find themselves caught up in God’s bold, risky, world-changing work, and decide to find strength in each other’s company?

In this Gospel story, Luke essentially describes the first Christian worship service in history. Mary and Elizabeth — the young and the old, the unmarried and the married, the socially established and the socially vulnerable — finding common ground in their love for Jesus. As Henri Nouwen describes it, “God’s most radical intervention into history was listened to and received in community.” What a gorgeous and challenging example for us to live up to.

to be continued…

A Walk With Mary As We Prepare For Christmas

We invite you to journey with us over a series of six short biblical reflections, with Mother Mary, in the lead up to Christmas when Jesus was born.

Each reflection contemplates a specific event in Mary’s life, and is accompanied by a graphic and verses to help us in our personal reflection.

Mother Mary is our model of gentleness, humility and meekness. She teaches us to be silent, to pray and to contemplate. She is our Lord’s Mother, and she is our Mother.

May these reflections help us to walk with our gentle Mother, to entrust ourselves to her motherly care, and to inspire us to imitate the virtues of Mary, which are also the virtues of Christ.

And as we learn from Mary, we realise that she brings us closer to herself, and to her Son Jesus.

Part 1: The Annunciation: The Angel Gabriel Appears

The angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, to tell her that she will bear a Son whom she will name Jesus. Mary was confused, because she did not know how it could be possible, since she was a virgin. She was afraid, because she would be judged and condemned by the Law and people around her.

Yet, Mary believed the angel’s assurance, and trusted that the Lord would see her through the journey, so she replied, “I’m the Lord’s servant, let it be to me according to your word.”

Reflection:

We may not always fully understand why or how things will work out, and we may sometimes worry about the difficulties that we may face in our journey ahead.

Mary shows us that if we trust the Lord, He will see us through the journey. He will dispel our hesitations and fears, and He will give us the courage to say with Mary, “I’m the Lord’s servant, let it be to me according to your word.”

Verses to ponder:

[The angel] came to [Mary] and said, “Hail (Mary), full of grace, the Lord is with you!”
(Luke 1:28, RSVCE)

“I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary; “may it happen to me as you have said.”
(Luke 1:38, GNT)


Above is part of the 1517 painting, “Visitation” by Raphael (Find out more: Wikipedia)

Part 2: The Visitation: Mary visits Elizabeth

After hearing from the Angel Gabriel that her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant even in her old age, Mary made an arduous journey through the hills and valleys to visit her cousin.

Elizabeth was already six months pregnant and Mary stayed for three more months, which meant Mary supported Elizabeth during the remainder of her pregnancy.

Reflection:

Mary teaches us that even though we may have our own worries, or we may be busy with our own activities, we can still pay attention to the needs of people around us.

Just as Mary helped Elizabeth in small ways, we can brighten the lives of others by running little errands, by offering a simple smile and greeting, or by just by spending time with them.

Verses to ponder:

“Mary got ready and hurried off to a town in the hill country of Judea. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.”
(Luke 1:39-40, GNT)

“Mary stayed about three months with Elizabeth and then went back home.”
(Luke 1:56, GNT)

Part 3: The Magnificat: Mary praises the Lord

Mary’s well-known song of praise, the Magnificat, is found in Luke 1:46 – 55. These words, “my soul magnifies the Lord,…” were spoken when Mary first met her cousin Elizabeth. [Find out more: Magnificat, Our Catholic Prayers]

In the Magnificat, Mary proclaimed the greatness of the Lord and said the Almighty had done great things for her. She did not exalt herself but recognised that God was working through his humble servant.

Reflection:

Mary teaches that we should never become proud or exalt ourselves. Rather we must recognise that it is the Lord who has given us good things.

She also teaches that if we are encountering difficulties in life, we can trust in the Lord to lift us up, reminding us to always stay humble and be grateful to God for His kindness towards us.

Verses to ponder:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… ”
(Luke 1:46-47, RSVCE)

“He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.”
(Luke 1:49, RSVCE)

Part 4: Mary journeys with Joseph to Bethlehem

Since the Emperor had ordered a census to be taken, Mary, now heavily pregnant, has to make the arduous trip with her husband Joseph to Bethlehem for registration.

Reflection:

When we are already burdened by worries, guilt or work, the last thing we want to hear are new edicts that add to our load. Yet Mary teaches us to humble ourselves, forget our ego, and learn to be meek, gentle, submissive and obedient.

Let us not forget that just as God provided Mary with a loving husband, Joseph, on this difficult journey, God will also send people to walk with us through our many trials and tribulations.

Verses to ponder:

“[Joseph] went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant …”
(Luke 2:5, GNT)

Part 5: The Nativity: Mary gives birth to Jesus, Mary our Mother

Mary was about to give birth and she was suffering from labour pains. However, Joseph and Mary could not find a proper room in the inn, and had to settle for a place where the farm animals lived.

When Mary eventually gave birth, she wrapped baby Jesus in cloths and laid him in a manger, which is a trough or container used to hold food for animals.

Reflection:

Mary shows we can be happy in a lowly place like the stable where Jesus was born, and there is no need for worldly riches or pleasures.

The image of Mother Mary wrapping Jesus in swaddling cloths also reminds us that she is our loving and gentle Mother, and we are her little children.

Verses to ponder:

“[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
(Luke 2:7, NABRE)

Part 6: The Angels and the shepherds – Mary silently contemplates

When Jesus was born, angels appeared to shepherds, singing praises to God, and telling them about the birth of the Holy Child. The shepherds went to Bethlehem, and found Joseph, Mary, with baby Jesus lying in the manger.

The shepherds could not hold their joy and told Joseph and Mary what the angels have said.

Mary treasured these words in her heart, and pondered deeply about them.

Reflection:

This is one aspect of Mary that often draws us to her. Mary doesn’t speak much and is prayerful and contemplative. She took note of what happened and pondered about them day and night.

There’s a need for us to stay silent and humble, to pray, ponder and cling to Jesus and Mother Mary, and not get distracted by the many activities around us that may not be relevant.

Verses to ponder:

“[The shepherds] told them what the angel had said about the child.”
(Luke 2:17, GNT)

“Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
(Luke 2:19, RSVCE)

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We hope you have enjoyed this 6-part series reflection on Mary this Advent!
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Reflections by Gabriel Liu
OLPS Communications Ministry

Taken from: http://www.olps.sg/walk-mary-we-prepare-christmas-1478#.XBdImrPQ7IU

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#MoralStory: A Sheep’s Tale

Here’s a story for an all-age Christmas service retelling the events of Luke2:8-20 from the point of view of the sheep!

What a commotion there was out on the Bethlehem hillside that night! Bright lights, heavenly singing and that amazing message! God’s special rescuer had come. Everyone in those days knew that Messiah was coming one day, so these local shepherds realised straightaway that this message was important.

History was coming to a huge turning point. This really was a special moment and they, mere shepherds, were the first to know about it! They would be first with the news – what a scoop! Can you imagine their excitement, amazement and joy? They were just nobodies – in fact more than likely just hired shepherds taking the night shift for someone else – but God had chosen to speak to them. Mind you, I don’t think it was by chance that God chose to go to shepherds first. Shepherds have always been very important to God and a shepherd had of course long been a picture of God’s character.

So off they went to Bethlehem – running, dancing, tumbling and… leaving their sheep! It must have been important. Fancy leaving their livelihood behind – unheard of!

And I wonder what the sheep thought of all this? Let’s use our imagination.

Take these three for example. They look pretty puzzled, don’t they? Let me introduce them to you. They have names. Yes, listen:

30 Megabytes [of Ram]

Potters [Bar]

and Lionel [Blair]Read More »

Mother Of Fair Love

As a mother loves her children, and watches over
their welfare, so thou, oh our most sweet queen,
lovest us, and dost procure our happiness.

DISCOURSE:

The second time in which Mary brought us forth to grace was when, on Calvary, she offered to the eternal Father, with so much sorrow of heart, the life of her beloved Son for our salvation. Wherefore, St. Augustine asserts, that, having then co-operated by her love with Christ in the birth of the faithful to the life of grace, she became also by this co-operation the spiritual mother of us all, who are members of our head, Jesus Christ.

This is also the meaning of what is said of the blessed Virgin in the sacred Canticles: “They have made me the keeper in the vineyards; my vineyard I have not kept.” Mary, to save our souls, was willing to sacrifice the life of her Son, as William the Abbot remarks. And who was the soul of Mary, but her Jesus, Who was her life and all her love? Wherefore St. Simeon announced to her that her soul would one day be pierced by a sword of sorrow; which was the very spear that pierced the side of Jesus, Who was the soul of Mary.

And then she, in her sorrow, brought us forth to eternal life; so that we may all call ourselves children of the dolors of Mary. She, our most loving mother, was always and wholly united to the divine will; whence St. Bonaventure remarks, that when she saw the love of the eternal Father for men, who would have his Son die for our salvation, and the love of the Son in wishing to die for us, she too, with her whole will, offered her Son and consented that He should die that we might be saved, in order to conform herself to that exceeding love of the Father and Son for the human race.Read More »