22 December 2012

Mary: our magnifying glass

3rd Week of Advent (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Knowing what we know about Mary and her mission to give birth to the Christ Child, it seems not at all unusual to us that Elizabeth would heap praise on her cousin, calling her “blessed among women.” After all, Mary is the virginal mother of Word made flesh, the virgin prophesied by Isaiah centuries before who would bear a son and name him Emmanuel. Elizabeth's praise sounds right to us b/c we have the distinct advantage of historical hindsight. Elizabeth didn't. Because we know who and what Mary is, it is all too easy for us to gloss over a vital element in Mary's visit to Elizabeth: the difference in age and social standing btw the two women. Elizabeth is the elderly wife of an important temple priest, a woman of some standing in the community. In stark contrast, Mary is the teenaged wife of a skilled laborer. Keeping this in mind, recall Elizabeth's question, “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Who am I to be worthy of such a visit? Mary doesn't answer the question directly. However, the answer she gives demonstrates why the Blessed Mother is worthy of our veneration. 

In what we have come to call The Magnificat, the Blessed Mother performs a prophetic act worthy of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Where as God's prophets of old looked forward into the divine plan for His people, and guided them toward righteousness, the BVM looks back through God's plan and sings a hymn of praise for the fulfillment of His promises. How does she do this? The first verse of her hymn tells us: “My soul magnifies the Lord. . .” Close your eyes and imagine: Mary and Elizabeth are standing, facing one another. You step behind Elizabeth, looking over her shoulder. As Mary begins to sing, you see unfolding behind her, being magnified in her presence, a long line of images. You see the genealogy of her husband, Joseph. From his father, Jacob, back to Azor to Josiah, all the way back to David and Abraham. As she sings of the Mighty One's deeds, you see His hand bless His people. You see Him lead His people out of slavery, through the desert. He feeds them during famine; protects them in war; and gives them the Law through Moses. You see Him send prophets for correction; judges to rule; priests to sacrifice. Through the BVM, the you see the history of our salvation magnified, brought closer, made larger, given flesh and bone in her womb. The BVM is worthy of our veneration b/c—in her humility—she answered the Lord's call, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” 

If you have any doubts about the prophetic character of the The Magnificat, consider this: Mary's hymn uses phrases and images from Genesis, Deuteronomy, the Psalms, both books of Samuel, Micah, Jeremiah, Job, Isaiah, Sirach, and Habakkuk. Her hymn both summarizes and enlarges the prophetic tradition of the coming Messiah. She is for us the gateway, the focal point, the lens through which we see and enter the history of our Father's divine action in His creation. And more specifically, she is the Mother of our salvation, giving birth to the Christ, the only means through which we are made heirs to the kingdom. Because of her humble submission to the Word of her Lord, Mary, a virginal teenaged girl, is raised above and well beyond her natural station to become the one through whom the works of our God are magnified, brought closer to us. By giving her the honor she is due, we grow closer to the Christ; we become—like her—more and more Christ-like. In three days, we will welcome our Lord once again into the world. Will your soul magnify his love and mercy for all the world to see? 

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  1. Mighty awesome - beautiful and, just, wow. Made me cry :-).

  2. Anonymous9:13 PM

    Thank you for this awesome homily on God's Masterpiece. Everything we say about her ends up glorifying God! How wonderful.