Monday, March 11, 2013

Lenten Evening Reflection

Parishes offer varieties of ways into Lent and to sustain Lent. One parish has invited men and women to lead Evening Prayer during Lent and offer their reflections in the context of communal prayer.

Unseen and Overlooked
Evening Prayer, Lent Sunday4 (10 Mar 2013)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J. at St. Catherine Parish, Du Bois, PA
If I were to live another life, I would want to be a rabbi. Here’s the reason. From the first-century rabbis used scripture to interpret scripture. They let a passage of God’s word shine light on another passage of God’s word not easy to grasp. By doing that rabbis connected scripture with their present times and circumstances.

I assure you I do not want to live in the first-century. I want greater fluency in scripture so I may let it illumine my life. Why scripture? My desire dawned on me when I studied New Testament Interpretation. I took the course after studying the Old Testament. As I listened to my lecturer, I appreciated the Old Testament more richly. I heard the New Testament comment on the Hebrew scriptures. New Testament writers reflected on the first scriptures after experiencing risen Jesus as their Messiah and Lord. That means our reading and hearing of New Testament makes us all rabbis. Our liturgical worship does as well.

Liturgies of the word, as you’ve noticed, give us two or more scriptures. By being together one scripture comments on others. In the Liturgy of the Hours antiphons frame the psalms and canticles. Antiphons for the morning Song of Zechariah and the evening Song of Mary are verses of gospel of the day. I want to reflect with you on an effect I notice today’s gospel verses, closing Jesus’ parable of the prodigal father and lost sons, have on hearing Mary’s song of praise.

Each of us has personal images of Mary, not to mention devotions to Mary. The doctrine of her sinlessness as well as centuries of art also shape how any of us pictures Mary. A poll among us would show many of us think of Mary as any one or combination of these: quiet; innocent; reserved; hesitant, even reluctant; reflective; shy; introverted; prayerful; learned; devout; dutiful; compliant; youthful; sensible—add yours.

Few people have one quality, though one quality may predominate. As times change and a person experiences life more, another quality may predominate. Mary’s overlooked quality is boldness. She was bold to visit Elizabeth. Mary was bold to hasten to attend to her cousin who needed assistance in her last three months of pregnancy. Mary would face again her Yes to her divine pregnancy. She did not fathom it when the angel Gabriel first told her, so her presence daily with another divinely pregnant woman would deepen the mystery.

Mary’s travel to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah1 early in her pregnancy was risky: risk of dangers anyone faced going from Galilee toward Jerusalem; as well as risk to the embryo implanting within her womb. Yet Mary boldly defied both risks and others we will never know. The human risks paled next to the faith-risk: staking one’s life on God’s promises. Mary was bold, bolder than we are. Do we take God seriously? Do we take God at God’s word? Are we convinced that God has: dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart; has lifted up the lowly; has filled the hungry with good things; has sent the rich empty away; that God is always remembering God’s mercy?

Mary boldly praised God not only for how God had favored her. What God had done for Mary, she sang God was doing for those who fear him in every generation of people who would bless her. Mary, whom God chose for her self-admitted lowliness, boldly believed God, and she blessed God with her praise.

A reading of Mary’s song makes it hard to miss God’s action. Mary’s song summarized God’s action through the history of God’s people. God reverses: slaves were freed;2 a second-born twin gained the inheritance3; the youngest shepherd-son shepherded the people Israel4; captives in foreign lands became powerful among their captors5; and lifeless loins of Abraham6 and Zechariah7 and dead wombs of Sarah8 and Elizabeth9 pulsed with life and gave birth. God’s reversing actions always offer freedom and richer life in spite of human frailty, stupidity and selfishness. As mind-bending those reversals Mary echoes in her song, they are nothing compared to what they point. Enter the verse from today’s gospel at mass: My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was right that we should celebrate and rejoice because your brother was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.

God’s greatest reversal, of course, is Jesus raised from death. Jesus, like prophets before him, resuscitated others who would die again. Resurrection is not that. Resurrection is birth to absolutely new and indestructible life. Resurrection is the God-given hope of each of us. Do we live from our hope? We do when we make Mary’s song ours. We make her song ours by inhabiting the world her words summon and portray. Inhabiting God’s world of reversing action frees us from walking death. Lenten practices help us count on God helping us grow freer from what enslaves us; grow concerned about and help others instead of focusing on ourselves; grow more hungry for and do good things; and perhaps our greatest challenge, to accept God kindly accepts us as we are. Beginning as we are opens on to becoming those whom God creates each moment. We cannot become unless we accept ourselves. It is always bold to do that.

Mary remained with [Elizabeth] about three months and then returned to her home. As we let her song echo deeper in us, we realize Mary returned to more than a building or her address. Her true homecoming? Mary accepted herself and saw herself as God her Savior looked upon her even before she was born. Making her song ours frees us to be at home with ourselves, accept God embracing us with God’s compassion and live more boldly the compassion who creates us constantly. Our true homecomings reshape our world until our risen Lord returns.

  1. Luke 1.39.
  2. Exodus 3 onward.
  3. Genesis 25.29-34; 27.1-28.9.
  4. 1Samuel 16.1-13.
  5. Examples are Joseph and Daniel.
  6. Genesis 15.1-6.
  7. Luke 1.7.
  8. Genesis 16.1-3.
  9. Luke 1.5-7.
Wiki-image of rabbi used by {{PD-old-100}}Wiki-image of the Madonna of the Magnificat detail is in the public domain.

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