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Seasonal Reflection

Visitation WindowCARRYING JESUS
By Edwin L. Keel, S.M.

Most Catholics know that the word advent means coming or arrival, so that Advent is the season when we prepare for the coming or arrival or birth of our Savior. 

Some may also know that while we call Mary Mother of God, the Greeks use a different though similar expression, Theotokos, which means God-bearer or God-carrier or the one who gives birth to God.  This Greek expression reminds us that Mary not only gave birth to Jesus and raised him, but she carried Jesus in her womb, bringing him to us.  What I would like to present for our Advent meditation is to show to whom Mary was carrying Jesus during her pregnancy and also after his birth.

To the Poor
We are told by St. Luke in the first chapter of his Gospel that immediately after Mary learned from the angel that, with her consent, she was to become pregnant with the Savior, she set out in haste to assist her kinswoman Elizabeth who was also with child.  Theologians and artists have imagined Mary as the new Ark of the Covenant that, like the old Ark, was the bearer of God's presence amidst his people Israel. 

When Mary visited Elizabeth she was bearing Jesus, God's new presence among us, in her womb, carrying Jesus to Elizabeth and to the child in Elizabeth's womb, and at the instant of Mary's arrival carrying Jesus, that child, the future John the Baptist, leapt for joy at the presence of the one whose coming he would announce to the world. (See Luke 1:39-45)

Elizabeth and Zachary, the parents of John the Baptist, were "righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly." (Luke 1:6)  They were those the Bible refers to as the Anawim, the poor people of God, simple, humble, God-fearing, poor in spirit and in the things of this world.

Mary, too, was one of God's poor, a young woman living in a backwater village in a country occupied by the powerful and cruel Roman Empire.  But in her Magnificat (see Luke 1:46-55),  Mary expresses the essence of the Anawim, people who rejoice in God their savior, because of all he has done for them:  pouring out his mercy on those who fear him, lifting up the lowly, feeding the hungry in body and especially in spirit.

Mary was literally filled with joy, because she bore in her womb the One who is Joy itself.  Jesus is the joy of those who believe, the one who came proclaiming God's love for us "that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete." (John 15:11)  And Mary was the instrument of God, bringing this Joy to others.
 
Young ShepherdWhen Jesus was born, angels announced to shepherds "glad tidings of great joy, the birth of the Savior, Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10)  We usually have a romantic idea of these shepherds.  But shepherds in those days were the poorest of the poor.  They were rather crude people.  They often lived outdoors with the sheep.  Not having a lot to do with other people, their language was barely intelligible.  The Rabbis sometimes questioned whether they were even human.  Nevertheless, they were the first to hear the Good News, they were the first to whom Mary showed the Joy of the world, they were the first to wonder at the new things God was doing for us.

Pope Francis at the 2013 Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday addressed these words to priests:  "This is what I am asking you — be shepherds with the smell of sheep."  In other words, be close to the people, share in their lives.  Marists strive to do this.  In the Marist Constitutions, our spirituality is described as "simple and modest in its expression, close to the lives of ordinary people, apostolic in character, and marked by spontaneity and joy." (Constitutions S.M., #117)  Furthermore we are called to "take care that our dwellings, possessions, and manner of life bring us closer to the poor." (Constitutions S.M., #226)

Thus Mary, the God-bearer, is the bringer of joy to all who, like Elizabeth and Zachery and the shepherds, are humble, poor, and ready to believe in the Gospel of God, the Good News of Salvation.  And Marists, like Mary, are joyful people who bring the joy of Jesus to others, especially to the poor and to all who are poor in spirit.  Indeed, Fr. Jean-Claude Colin, the Marist Founder, wanted Marists to be poor in spirit, indeed poor in the things of this world, living simply and in a spirit of abandonment to God, relaxed and peaceful, and possessed by joy.  He said on more than one occasion that our mission is to "bring joy to the hearts of others." (A Founder Speaks 45:3 and 102:17)  Pope Francis also sees this joy as a gift that religious bring to the world:  "Wherever consecrated people are, there is always joy!" (Meeting with Seminarians and Novices, Rome, July 6, 2013.)

To Strangers, Foreigners, Exiles, Those Who Are Different
There are other people to whom Mary brought Jesus and the Good News of his birth.  They are the foreigners, the strangers, those who are different.

The MajiSt. Matthew is the one who tells us about the visit of the Magi.  Who were they?  They were people from Persia, present day Iran, far to the East of Israel. They studied the heavens.  They were probably primitive astronomers, but they were also astrologers, believing that the future was written in the stars.  They were pagans, worshipping many gods, and they were foreigners, Gentiles, people who were not of Jewish stock and thus did not belong to the Chosen People.  By including the story of their coming in the second chapter of his Gospel, St. Matthew was showing that the Gentiles, the non-Jewish people, were also included in God's plan of salvation in Jesus.  God's love is an inclusive love.  It excludes no one from the offer of eternal life.

When the Magi arrived, we are told that they found "the child with Mary his mother." (Matthew 2:11)   I imagine a scene something like those icons in which Mary picks Jesus up and shows him to the world.  She made possible his revelation to the Gentiles, to all the world, here represented by the Magi.

St. Matthew's story continues as Herod seeks to kill the child, and Joseph is told to take the child and his mother and flee into Egypt. They become exiles, political refugees, and thus bring Jesus to a foreign land to mingle with other exiles and with people not their own.

Marists from the beginning have been sent to bring the Good News of Jesus to foreign lands, to people who did not know him, and also to people who once belonged to the Church, but had become estranged in various ways.  We have also ministered to immigrants, to refugees, to people who were different, who were reviled and not welcome in the places they found themselves.  In this we continue the work of Mary, reaching out to the stranger and the alien, carrying Jesus and the joy of knowing him to those beyond the borders of acceptability, seeking to include everyone in the all embracing arms of God's love.

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Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
by J. S. Bach
(Myra Hess transcription)
Maria Dolnycky, piano

 

Marists from the beginning
have been sent to bring
the Good News of Jesus
to foreign lands, to people
who did not know him,
and also to people who
once belonged to the Church,
but had become estranged
in various ways.

 

Theotokos, God-Bearer
Icon of Theotokos

 

 We have also ministered
to immigrants, to refugees,
to people who were different,
who were reviled and
not welcome in the places
they found themselves. 

In this we continue
the work of Mary,
reaching out to the stranger
and the alien,
carrying Jesus and
the joy of knowing him
to those beyond the
borders of acceptability,
seeking to include everyone
in the all embracing
arms of God's love.



Our Lady
Artist: Laura James

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