MAGNIFICAT: Mary’s long view of life

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Has your past blest you? Have you found God in your past? Finding Your Roots is a popular TV show where in Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a Harvard scholar, helps celebrities get to know their roots, their ancestors, their past. The actress Queen Latifa never knew her grandparents and like every African American would not want to know their painful history as slaves of White America. But she finds out, through the show, that in fact, her great-great grandmother was one of the 10 percent African Americans already emancipated as early in 1800s. Freed by her employer, a certain Mrs Mary. She cries in this discovery and is moved by the realization of how one single person, that Mrs Mary —could change the lives of an entire family. The novelist Stephen King hated his father for abandoning the family when he was merely 2 years old. He would smack him if he ever saw him, he told himself growing up. Gates’ research reveals, his ancestors on the father side fought in the civil war against slavery, and his father lost his own father when he was six. Stephen King is relieved. The past has healed and blest him. Gates explains the objective of the show: to retrieve lost stories so that we can re-tell the resiliency of individuals and of the entire humanity.

I remember all this because on the solemnity of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven, we reflect on the special attributes or virtues that “earned” her the reward of heaven. And in the Gospel reading today, what stands out in the Magnificat is Mary’s sense of history, what philosophers term historical consciousness—her deep sense of her nation’s past and identity. But more important than that God’s presence in their history. Not only is she able to connect the dots of her life as the TV show we mentioned aims to do, but she is able to connect everything to God. This is of course typical of the Jewish nation. They see themselves not just a nation among many but the elected one, the chosen ones. “I will be your God and you will be my people.” “You are my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Look again at Mary’s Magnificat in the Gospel reading today. Elizabeth praises her for saying Yes to becoming the Mother of God. But Mary points to God. She says it is God who is great. It is God who is almighty. And then she traces as it were the history of God’s covenant with Israel, the chosen people, how he has fulfilled his promise to their ancestors. For sure, as she mentioned in her song, there were difficult times in their history—when they were oppressed in Egypt or when they were conquered by powerful Empires—but Mary as it were, had a synthetic view of time, she was confident God would save them again and again as of times past. In the end, God who is Lord of history and time, will be victorious.

How many of us have Mary’s sense of God’s palpable presence in our lives, in our past, in the present and in the future. How many of us look at our lives and histories as intertwined in God’s plan of salvation. And yet, how humbling that when calamities and tragedies strike like a death in the family or this covid pandemic, we easily panic, and some even ask where is God in all these? Indeed our lives have been a long journey, from an age of innocence to these troubled times. Many things have happened, good or bad. As we contemplate Mary today, we can look back at our journey and ask ourselves: how has God walked or journeyed with you through the years? How has he blest your life? Who have been the companions he has sent to walk with you in your little adventure. And in the difficult times, in those moments of failure, loss, or defeat, how has he saved you in the end? Finally, if you can capture it in a few words, at this point in your life, what would be God’s greatest lesson for you thus far? In other words (my dear friends), how would you utter to God your own Magnificat?

When Pope Francis was asked how he heard his call to the priesthood, he shared that it all started with a chance encounter. One summer break in high school, he and his friends decided to go on vacation somewhere off Buenos Aires. For some strange reason, he decided to pass by their parish church, perhaps to offer a prayer for their safety. But inside the Church, he saw that confessional box was lit. He knelt inside and started his confession. For the first time in my life, he said, I encountered Someone, someone who has been waiting for me all my life. And that changed everything.

Father Arturo Sosa, the superior general of the Jesuits, recently wrote a book entitled Walking with Ignatius. What I found new was his assertion there that Ignatius never saw himself as a convert. He never mentioned that word in his autobiography even though he set out on a new life in imitation of his idols Saints Dominic and Francis of Assisi. Rather he saw himself as a pilgrim, as someone on a mission, as someone walking with God. It’s a difficult life, Sosa says, because when you are a pilgrim you have no guide, no map, no blueprint but the Holy Spirit. You only walk with God. But God of course is the best companion and guide in this journey we call life.

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