"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Our Lady Of The 'Here-And-Now'

Credit: https://papaherman.wordpress.com
"Trust the commonplace, the ordinary, the everyday. Live in the here and now. Sometimes we live in an unhealed past or an unknown future, whereas God may be found right under our nose, here and now. The good spirit draws us to deal with our ordinary life, as it is, not as we may like it to be, and there discern his presence. We often look for God in the spectacular and extraordinary, yet he is to be found in quiet and mundane moments. He comes to us poor, naked, in prison, hungry, and thirsty..."
(Richard Leonard, SJ, 2017:129; What Does It All Mean? A Guide To Being More Faithful, Hopeful, And Loving)

"God has promised to abide with us come what may. Living in the power and love of the Spirit is an intensely practical affair." (Richard Leonard, SJ, 2015; What Does It All Mean? Reflections On Lent And Easter)

We probably have become too familiar with the life of Mary but our focus is often just tied to the big events. We miss out on the ordinary moments of the 'here-and-now' in her life starting from the angel’s announcement until her last moment on earth. Mary's fiat or yes was an everyday yes that brought about God's saving plan for humanity. It was far from things being predetermined or automatic. Two helpful metaphors for Mary: first, Mary is compared to a Great Aqueduct which floods the earth with grace (St. Bernard of Clairvaux c. 1153); second, she is like the neck of the hourglass through which graces from heaven pass (Edward Yarnold, SJ, A Do It Yourself Retreat). We can combine the two to portray Mary's role as both the way and the vessel Her life was filled with decisions she had to make and which were chosen rightly and consistently on a daily basis. Like any ordinary person, she had to deal with doses of normal life struggles and their immediate implications. Twice in identical words Luke's Gospel points to the 'here-and-now' of Mary as she 'kept' the words in her heart (2:19; 2:51). Mary contemplated God in that humble way which helped her son to grow "in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man" (2:52; 2:40).

God Comes To Us Poor: Mary’s Brave Fiat

The angel Gabriel appears to Mary, telling her not to be afraid because she will bear a son, and her son will be great and will rule over the house of Jacob forever. After Mary questions the angel, asking how this can be possible because she has not known man, the angel explains that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and the holy one in her womb will be called Son of God. Mary is coming from the perspective of an ordinary Jewish girl and is not yet thinking about any big responsibility or anything near to being Theotokos (God-bearer). Not yet.

After the angel explains how Mary's conception will occur, the angel goes on to report another miracle to Mary that may likely help or encourage her to see that the child she had conceived came at a time of other extraordinary events. Sometimes, a relative or a friend’s supporting or inspiring presence is all that one needs to embrace larger than life events. It was normal to be overwhelmed and to admit that she did not understand at first what was happening. Often the first step to understand is to accept that we do not know full well for now how to untie the knots.

Mary is amazed by the news about her relative Elizabeth, who had also conceived and was six months pregnant. However, Zechariah is struck dumb in disbelief by the same angel who breaks the news that his barren wife Elizabeth will give birth. He is so attached to his unhealed past of unanswered prayers and his fears, doubts and pessimism towards the future in his old age. Only when he names the child, John, by physically writing the name on a tablet, does he wake up to his 'here-and-now'. After nine months of his lockdown in silence, he regains his speech and the first words to come out of his mouth are words of praises. In Zechariah’s beautiful canticle we hear him singing how God has been so great in his plan which he failed to fully recognize at first.

God Comes To Us Dancing: The Visitation

She travels in haste to the hill country of Judea to be with her. As soon as she greets Elizabeth, the infant leaps in Elizabeth's womb, and Elizabeth immediately recognizes the holiness of the 'here-and-now' as she loudly proclaims: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." Then she goes on to say, "But why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to visit me?" (Lk 1:43). God's visitation to us is mediated by people we encounter around us. At first we just gloss over them, and only after looking back do we catch a glimpse of the beautiful tapestry God has woven with the threads of our life. We can then exclaim like Mary and Elizabeth that our experiences, both the good and the bad, are all part of a Divine plan. There is this Old Testament Greek word that is only found in the Psalms, γαλλίασις (ag-al-lee'-as-is). It is translated as exceeding gladness, exuberant joy. Because of such exceeding emotion the person who rejoices could not help but accompany his or her gladness with bodily movements. In the New Testament, we come across this word in Mary's song called Magnificat—she bursts with exceeding joy which is possible only in the 'here-and-now'. There is another instance where γαλλίασις is used—when the fetus John the Baptist leaped or jumped for joy inside the womb of his mother Elizabeth.

God Comes To Us Naked: Mary Gives Birth To The Child Jesus

Luke's Gospel is the only one in which a census forces the holy family to journey to Bethlehem. They are law-abiding citizens. Mary gives birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and lays him in a manger (Lk 2:7). Nearby shepherds are minding their flocks. An angel appears to them to announce that a child named Christ is born in Bethlehem. Arriving there, the shepherds find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger just as the angel had prophesied. They are amazed at all the things and they share their story with the holy couple. Everyone marvels, and Mary "kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Lk 2:19). The old proverb 'empty vessels make the most sound' fittingly depicts who Mary is.

After Mary and Joseph lose their twelve-year-old son in Jerusalem and then search for him for three days, they find him in the temple. Mary says, "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety" (Lk 2:48). Jesus responds with a statement that some believe is one of rebuke when he says, "Did you not know that I must be in my father's house?" (Lk 2:49). According to Sally Cunneen in the book In Search Of Mary, the response Mary gives to Jesus is astonishing, because Mary does not scold Jesus for a remark that might have sounded arrogant coming from the lips of a twelve-year-old. This is probably one among many teachable moments of Mary as she begins to see how her child is father to the man Jesus.

In the Gospel stories, Mary is able to adjust with flexibility to her son's evolving identity even when it causes him to say or do things that might have appeared rude coming from any other child. From the 'here-and-now' vantage point of view, Mary has faith that there is something beyond the jumble of textures and colors hidden underneath the tapestry. Grace allowed her to remain faithful until everything is revealed at the appointed time.

God Comes To Us Thirsty: The Wedding At Cana

Jesus and Mary are at a wedding. It seems that Mary is one of the wedding planners, and when the wine begins to run out, she becomes alarmed. She tells Jesus that they are out of wine. Jesus responds to his mother's prompting with some very blunt words. He says, "Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour has not yet come" (Jn 2:4).

Mary, however, does not seem to be offended. Her son eventually responds to her concern, though. The wine that he creates from the water is so good which shows that Jesus was in a very willing mood. The guests comment that usually one puts out the best wine first, and when it has been consumed puts out the lower-quality wine, but at this wedding, one has been holding the best wine out on them. Mary is so in touch with the 'here-and-now' which is inclusive and this prompts Jesus to start his public ministry. Jesus begins his mission in response to pastoral needs in the 'here-and-now'. Mary's decision-making is not only strong and determined but most of all inclusively selfless. This cannot be accidental. Mary ignites in Jesus the kenotic path of total dying to oneself that happens in the 'here-and-now'.

When Jesus addresses Mary "woman," rather than mother, he is addressing her as one of his disciples, and, in fact, the first among them. This is a view shared by some recent scholars which is consistent with Mary's being honored by her son truly as both family and follower. Jesus says that whoever does the will of the Father are His mother, brothers, and sisters (Mt 12:50).

God Comes To Us Imprisoned: Mary At The Foot Of The Cross

In John's Gospel, Mary is said to be at the foot of the cross, along with Mary Magdalene, and another Mary. Jesus speaks from the cross and commits his mother to the care of his beloved disciple. He says to John, "Behold your mother," gesturing at Mary, and then he says to Mary, "Behold your son" (Jn 2:4). We ask how does Mary muster such strength to be able to stand there in front of her suffering son? She has been used to contemplating God in the humblest of ways before this moment with her son at the cross. She would dance if that is the loving response being called for by the moment. But this time, it is different. Now the most inevitable of all 'here-and-now' has come. Mary shows up not to fill the place of the friends of her son who supposed to be there but they were hiding in fear. In the third week if St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, the grace that is asked is to suffer with Jesus in his passion. It is not a suffering in place of or for Jesus. Mary, in touch with her 'here-and-now', suffers with her son. Mary is the model of all contemplations. She is there at the cross because that is simply the most loving thing to do for a mother who sees her own child undergoing great suffering. There are times in a person's life when the silent presence of somebody becomes the most redemptive of all human gestures.

God Comes To Us Hungry: Pentecost

In Acts, after the Crucifixion, Mary and some women go to the upper room with the disciples to pray (Acts 1:6-14). She is present as one of the disciples--she bears a responsibility to Christ that went beyond her biological connection to him and relates directly to the spiritual responsibility she feels to continue to bear into the world. Her being Theotokos or God-bearer is a mission that she continues to fulfil until the present. Mary naturally responds to the timely call of accompanying the fearful disciples, like any mother, extending her comforting presence to the closest friends of her son. That is the call of the 'here and now' that became the aqueduct for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the Pentecost. This brings about the birth of the Church, the Body of Christ that feeds a long line of disciples and followers in need of spiritual food. When you go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Mahattan New York City, you will find an art piece entitled "The Intercession of Christ and the Virgin" (before 1402). It is attributed to Lorenzo Monaco (Piero di Giovanni) ca. 1370–1425. When I saw this painting, it occurred to me how the Virgin Mary embodies the 'here and now' of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit engaged directly towards humanity. This is her perfect depiction as Mother of God where she holds and shows one of her breasts in order to ask her son whom she once breastfed to "feed the hungry with good things" (Lk 1:53). The caption says,

Credit: The Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York City
Christ and the Virgin are shown pleading with God the Father for mercy on behalf of eight small figures, perhaps members of a prominent Florentine family. In the tradition of hieratic scale, the divine figures are portrayed many times larger than the mortals, who kneel in adoration and prayer. Pointing to the wound in his side, Christ says, "My Father, let those be saved for whom you wished me to suffer the Passion." The Virgin, holding one of her breasts, pleads, "Dearest son, because of the milk that I gave you, have mercy on them." The axis of God the Father, the dove of the Holy Spirit, and the kneeling Christ also represents the Trinity. The drama of the bold devotional image, with a geometric composition typical of Florentine painting of the later fourteenth century, was heightened by its original placement inside the entrance of the cathedral, where it faced the length of the vast interior.

Let me end with a quote from Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, taken from his book about praying with icons of the Virgin Mary and infant Christ titled Ponder These Things. I quote, "It is not only that we cannot understand Mary without seeing her as pointing to Christ: we cannot understand Christ without seeing his attention to Mary... Jesus does not appear to us as a solitary monarch, enthroned afar off, but as someone whose being and loving is always engaged, already directed toward humanity."
Fr. JM Manzano, SJ

Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

The above icon is that of the Most Holy Theotokos known as “the Softening of Evil Hearts” or “Simeon’s Prophecy.” The Mother of God is depicted without Her Child, with seven swords piercing her breast: three from the left side, three from the right, and one from below.

A similar icon, “Of the Seven Swords” shows three swords on the left side and four from the right.
The icon “Simeon’s Prophecy” symbolizes the fulfillment of the prophecy of the righteous Elder Simeon: “a sword shall pierce through your own soul” (Luke 2:35).
Before the Revolution of 1917, this miraculous icon was in the St. John the Theologian Bogolyubsk-Seven-Arrow Church, a small country church on the banks of the Toshin River, not far from the town of Vologda.
The Mother of God is depicted in an unusual pose, alone, without the Pre-eternal Divine Infant. She is pierced by seven arrows: four on her left side, and three on her right. The following is an account of the earliest glorification of this icon:
Much time passed, with nothing again heard of this icon until 1830, at a time when cholera was rampant in Vologda. The terrified residents ran for help to the Queen of Heaven, and taking up her Seven-arrow and Seven-city icons, carried them about the city in a solemn Procession of the Cross. The epidemic visibly abated, and soon the cholera entirely disappeared. From that time on, the icon was glorified through many miraculous healings of the sick.

A certain peasant of the Kandikovsky District who as the result of disease had for many years suffered with generalized weakness and a limp, had a dream in which he learned that he would be healed if he visited the St. John-Bogolyubsk church and found the icon of the Mother of God in the bell-tower. Twice he went there, related his dream, and asked permission to enter the bell-tower. However, they did not believe him, and his request was denied. Finally, the third time, they took pity on him and allowed him into the bell-tower. He immediately found the Holy icon which he had seen in his dream. It was being used as a floorboard on a stairway landing. They washed the icon of the dirt and bird droppings covering it. The sick peasant requested that a moleben be served before it, and, thereafter, was healed.

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