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Michel de Verteuil
Lectio Divin: The Year of Luke
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Gospel reading: Luke 1:39-56
vs.39 Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah.
vs.40 she went into Zachariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.
vs.41 Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in the womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
vs.42 She gave a loud cry and said, “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
vs.43 Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?
vs.44 For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.
vs.45 Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
vs.46 And Mary said;
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
vs.47 and my spirit exults in God my saviour,
vs.48 because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
vs.49 for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name,
vs.50 and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
vs.51 He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart.
vs.52 He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
vs.53 The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent away empty.
vs.54 He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy
vs.55 – according to the promise he made to our ancestors –
vs.56 of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.”
General Textual comments
Today’s gospel passage is in two sections. They were composed separately and are different in character:
– verses 39 to 45 and 56 are narrative, the story of the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth;
– verses 46 to 55 are a prayer.
It is difficult to meditate on both sections at one time; today I am proposing a meditation on the Magnificat.
The Magnificat is Mary’s personal prayer, made on the specific occasion of her meeting with Elizabeth; but it is also a universal prayer, as Christians have recognized through the centuries -one of the best loved of Christian prayers. When we meditate on the Magnificat, we identify with Mary as she “stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord who confidently hope for and receive salvation from him” (Second Vatican Council, Document on the Church).
The Magnificat is primarily a prayer of thanksgiving, but as with all biblical prayers, once we enter into it we will find ourselves moving spontaneously into other aspects of our relationship with God. With Mary we thank God for his grace, but the words of the prayer lead us to ask for a fuller outpouring of his grace and even its final fulfillment. The prayer also reminds us of how we fall short of what God wants us to be, so that it becomes a call to conversion.
Our meditation will lead us into the many dimensions of the Magnificat. It is a personal prayer but also the prayer of the Church and indeed of all humanity. We celebrate (and long for) our individual victories of grace but also the social victories, the righting of injustices in communities – families, church, country and world.
With a well-known text such as this one we must make a special effort to be concrete in our meditation. We must ask ourselves in whose name we are praying the Magnificat: our family? A particular individual? Our church community? Humanity?
We must also concretize the images: in what way has God “looked upon” us (or our communities)? What are the “great things” he has done for us? How has he “shown the power of his arm”? Who are the “princes” he has “pulled down from their thrones”? In what sense has he “filled the hungry with good things”?
We must be careful to interpret verses 50 and 52 in the light of the constant New Testament teaching that we “love those who persecute us”. If we find ourselves gloating over “princes” being “pulled down from their thrones” or “the rich being sent away empty” our meditation has taken a wrong turning. We can avoid that error in one of two ways. We identify the “proud of heart”, the “princes”, not with individuals, but with forces within ourselves or in society – arrogance, elitism, a sense of inferiority, racism, sexism, and so on. Or we take “routing”, “pulling down” and “sending away empty” as a moment of grace when oppressors of the poor (including ourselves) are brought to repent of their evil ways.
Scriptural Prayer Reflection
Lord, as we contemplate Mary, the lowly virgin of Nazareth now assumed in heaven,
we celebrate all the lowly people of the world who are lifted up before our eyes.
We think of those who face difficult situations with courage,
do not let themselves be overwhelmed by the evils they experience,
find time and energy to celebrate the gifts you have given them,
are nourished by the faith that whatever life has in store for them,
they are safe in your hands.
We celebrate in particular
– parents who continue to care for their children when they are on drugs,
in irregular relationships, embarked on a life of crime;
– men and women whose spouses were unfaithful and who accept them back
in sickness or old age;
– leaders of communities torn apart by conflict who persevere in working for
reconciliation and end up being attacked by all the parties involved;
– individuals battling with their weaknesses, addiction, depression,
lack of self-confidence, jealousy;
– the terminally ill and those who have contracted AIDS.
Lord, we thank you in the name of all these Marys, those of today and those of the past,
we proclaim your greatness, and our spirits exult in you, our Saviour.
There are times when we feel discouraged
– disappointed by someone we considered a friend
– looked down upon by those who are more successful than we are
– mocked by those who say, “I told you so!”
– ashamed within our own selves.
But we hold our heads high because we know
that even if we are lowly in the eyes of others
you send us Elizabeth who looks upon us with love and respect.
The future may look bleak, but we remember that from this day forward
all generations will call us blessed.
We have been failures in the eyes of some, but you have done great things for us,
and holy is your name, your mercy reaches from age to age to those who fear you.
When we feel powerless before the obstacles in our path
– many of them within our own selves, others put there by people,
including some who think they are acting for our good –
help us to remember the power of your arm,
how you will rout all the forces that oppose your loving plan for us.
They seem too great for us now,
but you will pull them down from their thrones and exalt us;
they are like wild beasts ready to devour us,
but you will fill us with good things and send them away empty handed.
Lord, we thank you that you look on us as the Israel of our time, your servants,
and that you come to our help, mindful of your unconditional love,
according to the covenant you made with our ancestors that you would never
go back on the love you promised to Abraham and his descendants for ever.
Lord, we pray that our Church communities will be your dwelling place on earth
where the lowly ones of the world
– the poor, the aged and the children, those who are shunned by the wider society,
strangers, immigrants, refugees, minorities from different religious or ethnic groups –
are welcomed; where they will exult because they are called blessed,
and the great things you have done for them are celebrated;
where the proud of heart are routed, those who set themselves up as princes over others
are pulled down from their thrones and the lowly are exalted,
the hungry are so filled with good things that those of us who thought we were rich
now realize that we have been sent away empty.
We pray that your Church, the true Israel your servant,
will always remember your preferential love for the poor
and the promises you made to Abraham and his descendants for ever are fulfilled.
Lord, help us to keep alive the dream of your kingdom as Mary saw it,
a world where there is no lording over others,
where princes are pulled down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up,
the hungry are filled with good things and the rich walk humbly alongside them,
where all receive the good things of the world as expressions of your merciful love,
the fulfillment of your promises to Abraham and his descendants for ever.
What shall I say?
Theme: The final destiny and reward of the greatest human being that has ever lived: the outcome of her ‘fiat’
Liturgical Text: ‘Victory and power and empire forever have been won by our God … ‘ (1st Reading)
1. Mary was a woman having the greatest place in the whole of human history; a wife familiar with simple homely tasks; a mother from whom Jesus took the whole of his humanity; a virgin, pure and filled with the Holy Spirit; and a widow familiar with bereavement.
2. Mary was not only unique in these ways, but in the same way that each one of us is – as opposed to many who believe in re-incarnation.
She highlights the value of the human body by her Assumption into heaven. She was glorified as we too are destined to be, made good, holy and totally beautiful.
A reminder today when the body is either treated with contempt or worshipped …
3. The first basilica dedicated to Our Lady is at Ephesus indicating that she must have lived there with St John (places of worship were, in the early church, only dedicated to people who had lived or died there). In the nineteenth century a nun, who had never left Germany, saw in a vision the Hills of Ephesus and Our Lady’s house. Archaeologists found the foundations of this house as she had described it. It is now reconstructed and a place of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims.
4. In AD 431, the Great Council of Ephesus declared Mary the Mother of God.
A. A second century fragment of John’s gospel the Ryland’s manuscript, includes the prayer:
‘We fly to thy protection, a Holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.’
B. A woman is our fallen nature’s solitary boast. (Wordsworth)
C. In the home of Nazareth she would have each day gone to the well in the town to fetch the water, probably helped by her son. One can still follow the route, from where the Holy Family probably lived, to this well.
The Word of God is Living and Active
Today’s feast celebrates the good news that because Mary belonged to Jesus in a special way throughout her earthly life, she now shares in a special way in his risen life. This feast does not celebrate a privilege of Mary alone, because where Mary now is, God wants all of us to be. We are all destined to share fully in the Lord’s risen and glorious life. In the words of Saint Paul in today’s second reading, ‘all will be brought to life in Christ’. The opening words of today’s first reading from the Book of Revelation has been understood as an imaginative depiction of Mary’s glorious life, ‘a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown’. Yet, at the same time, that first reading also brings home to us that Mary’s glorious destiny belongs to us all.
Whereas the woman in that reading has been heard as referring to Mary, the woman can also be understood as an image of the church. The reading depicts a conflict between the woman and the dragon. The dragon’s seven heads would have suggested the seven hills of Rome. At the time this book of Revelation was written, the church was under great pressure from the Roman society to worship the Roman emperor as the agent of the Roman gods. Because the members of the church refused to do so, they were always at risk of persecution. The woman, the church, is trying to give birth to Christ in that Roman world, but the dragon, the evil power that is behind the Roman Empire, stands ready to devour this child, this Christ who claims to be the ruler of the nations. It is an image of the church confronted by forces that are opposed to God’s purpose for the world. The woman signifies both Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, and the church who continues to give birth to Jesus in every age through the lives of its members.
Mary, in that sense, is an image of the church and, so, when we look to Mary, we can learn a lot about ourselves as church. In Luke’s gospel, from which our gospel reading is taken, Mary is portrayed as the ideal disciple. She embodies what we, as church, as disciples of the Lord, are called to become. Mary not only shows us our ultimate destiny, but also what it means to be a disciple of the risen Lord now. In the gospel reading, Elizabeth addresses Mary as ‘the mother of my Lord’. In that regard, Mary is unique. However, Elizabeth then goes on to declare Mary blessed because she believed the promise made to her by the Lord. In that regard, we can be like her. She was a woman of faith; she entrusted herself to the Lord’s word, ‘let it be to me according to your word’. We are all called to entrust ourselves to the Lord’s word so that it shapes our lives, as it shaped the life of Mary. In that gospel reading, Mary shows us what a life shaped by God’s word looks like. She went as quickly as she could to her older cousin Elizabeth, whose need was greater than Mary’s. It was a journey of love. Here was Mary’s faith expressing itself in the loving service of someone more vulnerable than herself.
The second half of the gospel reading shows us that Mary’s faith also found expression in prayer. It reached out to others in love and it reached out to God in prayer. If our faith finds expression in love, it will also find expression in prayer. In her prayer, Mary comes before the Lord in her poverty, as his lowly servant, ready to receive from God all the great things that God wants to give. Mary teaches us that when we pray we always come before God in our need, with open hearts ready to receive all God has to offer us. Mary’s prayer also shows another side of her faith. It is a faith that hungers for God’s justice to become a reality on earth. She sings of a God who pulls down oppressive princes from their thrones and lifts us the lowly, the downtrodden, of a God who works to fill the hungry with good things at the expense of the self-satisfied rich. Today’s feast celebrates Mary as one who not only shows us the glorious destiny that awaits us at the end of our life’s journey but also how we are to travel that journey as disciples of the Lord.