I chose Houslander’s poetic The Reed of God, because many people mentioned how that book had touched them. It is a book about Mary, Jesus’ Mother and how we can claim her in simple yet profound ways as our teacher. Caryll makes Mary REAL. Yes, she’s a virgin, ever-holy, from an ancient world, and assumed into heaven, but to Caryll, Mary is someone we can imitate more easily than most saints. How little we know of Mary’s life details is a gift. What we have is essential in our walk toward holiness and pure love.
1) Mary reminds us we too are wed to the Holy Spirit, destined to be creative, employing with divine energy our unique gifts.
2) Her perpetual Virginity is a model of how to offer, wholly, our soul and body to be consumed with the fire of Love and changed into the flame of its glory. (In other words, virginity is something you “lose” through a sexual act, but something you can offer again and again through commitment to surrendering totally to God.
3) Mary shows we are all invited to “bear” Christ. She carried and birthed a divine human, into a sad, sweet world. We are called to re-birth our inner Christ and witness Christ being perpetually born in every single soul we meet. Just as the manger, with animal breath and the scent of manure in the air seems an unlikely place for GOD, our world’s darkest corners contain souls, like mangers, cradling CHRIST.
Most mystics and martyrs, while inspirational, appear hard to imitate. But Mary, simply and wholeheartedly obedient, models that it’s “merely” intimacy God asks of us: humbly carrying the Christ – God’s incarnate love – to others: allowing Christ to be FORMED, to grow, within us; simply with courage and love, witnessing the wounded and dying Christ-figures we meet daily. We DON’T have to fix anything, just be vigilant if we can lend a tender hand, as Mary, a lay person, did at Cana. In her natural human love she acknowledged the gift of the supernatural within her and because she “asked” the plain water of Cana was turned into wine – saving a celebration and symbolizing the sacrificial blood her son would shed. Jesus didn’t ask of Mary that she die a bloody death, only that she die to self and reply, “Be it done to me according to your will.”
Because we are (without exception in Houselander’s eyes) the Body of Christ, Mary’s guiding rule is two-fold. It helps us unite, to see that we are one in Christ, yet we are called to claim a personal and intimate life with Him. Mary had an intimacy with Christ like no one else’s. We can too. And she took on the yoke of a love which now unites us all.
The book looks at Mary through three strong symbols. Mary is the reed, hollow, through which the Eternal love was to be piped as a shepherd’s song. That music of Christ can so naturally be played by even a child. Mary is the flower-like chalice into which the water of humanity was to be poured, mingled with wine, changed to the crimson blood of love, and lifted up in sacrifice. Mary is the warm nest, rounded to the shape of humanity to receive the Divine Little Bird. She is the home, the shelter of Christ. She was nearby often even when he was preaching, and she was certainly there walking with him to his death and awaiting him in the upper room after he rose.
Some chapters look at qualities or concepts connected with Mary:
Emptiness, allowing the space for Christ to come to us.
Fiat (Mary’s promise to allow herself to be the instrument. Be it done to me…)
Advent – the seed planted, the waiting, the wondering, the excitement and the dis-ease of a big love growing inside our darkness.
Others are about moments in Christ’s life His being LOST (momentarily at 12 and momentarily to death). We too must look for him and we will find him exactly where HE needs to be. And IDOLS, how our well-meaning “seeking” turns us toward money, pleasure, ambition’s over-activity, perfectionism, and the projection and judgment of our unacknowledged failings onto others. The darkness which troubles us most is often a mirror of the inner work we need. Any obsession with the presence of God can be a shrinking from intimacy, a hardening rather than an emptying. She describes the idol of the harsh God, punitive and exacting nature, which allows us to judge others. AND “more popular today” (she writes just post war) the invented idol of a “convenient” God, who winks at our bad behavior; a vague, indefinite God whose not that upset as we “whittle away at the purity, and splendor and discipline of straight thinking, a God who is willing to humor us, accept our inattention and be grateful that we show up on Sunday.”
Just naming attributes of Caryll Houselander’s work and her view Mary as our teacher has been a joy.
Reading 1: Hannah’s Song: 1 Samuel 2: 1-10
Hannah was a childless woman. She prayed that if God would give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord. Eli the priest saw that she was praying and asked her about it. When she told him, he said, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked him.” She replied, ‘Think kindly of your maidservant,’ “ (1 Samuel 17-18). She did produce a son and offered him to God as she promised. When she left the temple, she sang this song. Do you see the echo in Mary? Mary would have known this story well.
Gospel Reading: Luke 1:39-56 (from Assumption of BVM)
Think of how Mary’s Magnificat speaks of how she sees God, and how she instilled those ideas in Jesus:
- “scattered the pious in their deceit” – a moral revolution, God’s ways before our ways
- “cast down the mighty from their thrones” – a social revolution, we are all worthy
- “filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” – an economic revolution, everyone must get only to give away (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible of Luke, p. 9-10)
Luke mentions Mary 13 times in 5 different episodes, more than any other evangelist (twice in Mark and 6 times in Matthew) or Acts (3 times and never mentions her name). So Luke has a strong influence on our Marian theology. Luke’s literary style has a theme of presenting Jesus as our Savior; everything is a part of our salvation history, culminating in Jesus’ Ascension. Mary is a big part of that (Fitzmyer, Luke, the Theologian, p. 57).
What did Jesus learn from his mother?
- Saying yes. Consider his baptism. Consider everyone who approached Jesus for help.
- Creating life. Mary birthed the Son of God. But she also taught him about God’s creation in growing food, etc, as being a woman in an agrarian society (Coffey, Kathy, Anthony Messenger, May 2013, p. 25).
Meister Eckhart says, “What good it is to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to birth the Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?”
Like Mary, am I willing to open my heart and place my life in the service of God’s plan? What would it cost me? How might I more fully accomplish this?
Mary, Our Model
- The first disciple
- Revealed Christ to the world
- Lived the Christian message
- Not for us to worship, but venerate
- Just as our own mothers interceded and are advocates for us (or we wish), all the more does Mary intercede for us to her Son and to the Father
In what way does Mary teach us to be a disciple? What exactly does she teach us? How might devotion to Mary invite you to be a better disciple? If she is a model for us, what exactly does she model and what can you emulate, admire and imitate?
Some Historical Facts:
- She was actually named Miriam, after the sister of Moses.
- She led the grinding life of the peasant class, triple taxed from Rome, Herod and the temple.
- She would have lived in an extended family unit, where 3-4 houses of 1-2 rooms were built around an open courtyard. Food, cooking and animals were all shared in this common area. She would have spent up to 10 hours a day doing family chores.
- She probably was not the fragile picture of Mary we often see in art. She would have had a robust physique to withstand all she did. She probably didn’t know how to read or write (Maloney, R., America Magazine, “The Historical Mary”).
As events unfolded around her, often to her surprise (and we have a God of surprises), she had to figure out continually what God was asking of her. Aren’t we asked to do the same?
Closing Prayer: Salve Regina
Hail! Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope!
To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us,
And after this our exile show unto us the blessed Fruit of your womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary; pray for us,
O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
The Gospel — John 11: 1-45
The cast of characters…
Martha and Mary are the voices of all faith-filled people who have suffered loss:
“Where were you? If You had only been here . . .”
Lazarus– “the one whom Jesus loved” is a paradigm of every believer.
Just as Jesus calls to Lazarus to “Come out!” so, too, he calls to each of us to come out from whatever entombs us and allow ourselves to be ‘untied’
by his grace and live to ‘go free’.
The disciples are the ones who pretend to be brave and wise, but are often clueless.
Jesus cries and is perturbed, also. Why? No easy answer.
If Jesus reveals to us the invisible God, what does Jesus show us here about God? Where do you see yourself in the story?
From Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship (A), p.179:
This story is a prelude to the cross. It leads the way; it shows us the meaning of Jesus’ coming passion. Lazarus was raised from the dead for a brief respite; Jesus was raised forever. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we all share in the Lazarus sign. The raising of Lazarus prompts every believer to answer the ultimate question: DO YOU BELIEVE THAT I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE?
What do you think of Thomas’ statement: “Let us go to die with him.” (verse 16) It is in John 20: 24-29 we also see Thomas after the Resurrection. From that story he gets the name, doubting Thomas. Aren’t we like Thomas, at times?!
Jesus waited. Scripture uses the word remained, which gives the waiting an intentionality. Lazarus was dead for 4, long days. All hope was lost. But everything is possible with God, right? As we heard in Paul’s letter to the Romans a couple weeks ago, “…hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts…” (5:5). It was for the glory of God. God’s time is not our time. What wonderful things may lie in wait for you if you hope in the glory of the Lord?
Martha is worried about the stench in the cave when Jesus approaches (as, of course, Martha would!). Jesus waves that off and focuses on why he is there, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” Jesus is not afraid to come to our stinky, dark places and breathe new life into us! And actually, Jesus does not go into the cave but calls Lazarus out. Jesus calls us OUT of ourselves. And he calls others in to help Lazarus with the bandages. We need the support of our community to jump in and be there with us. Jesus is in the midst of it all. Do you see yourself in this? Our church?
From Exploring the Sunday Readings, March 2002:
John 11: 1-45 – “This illness is not to end in death . . .”
Jesus said the illness would not end in death, but it did. Lazarus died. And so have our friends and loved ones over the years, some of them great believers in the promises of Jesus. We’ve all known people who’ve prayed and prayed that the cancer would go away, or the doctors would find a cure for their condition in time. Sometimes it doesn’t, or they don’t. And it hurts terribly, for the ones who have to let go of the life they know, the ones who have to say goodbye too soon.
Lazarus dies, and his family grieves. Even Jesus weeps at the loss. But then, Lazarus is called out of death to life! And now we hear what Jesus really said: not that Lazarus wouldn’t die, but that death would not be the end of him. Death wins the battle, but love wins the war. So we believe. So we profess.
Human suffering is a mystery we must live with and in – it is a part of everyone’s life eventually. As we head toward Holy Week, it is important to think about how as Christians we view this. What does the cross of Christ tells us about suffering? The cross does not really tell us the why of suffering, but it offers us instead the where of God’s sharing in it. When we suffer, God is in the midst of our suffering. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is also Christ on the cross, God-who-suffers-with-us.
Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are our guarantee that when we reach the limits of our mortality in failure, loss, and pain, we find ourselves on the surprising road to resurrection. (Today’s Parish, Lent 1996, p.22)
I’m changing my prayer routine for the New Year.
For most of my life my prayers have centered on the Blessed Mother.
As a teen babysitting, soothing a crying baby in the comfort of a carpeted and heated home while reciting Hail Mary’s put my problems in perspective. I was a middle class teen living in the abundance of America getting paid to mind a crying baby. Meanwhile Mary had been my age living in caves with dirt floors caring for her own child.
As a college student struggling with my studies, again I would focus on Mary’s life. She raised our Savior. Her challenge was great; writing a paper on Russian history not so great.
Any life experiences I have struggled with I have been able to bring to the Blessed Mother and ask her to intercede on my behalf or take comfort in the ritual of the Rosary.
Let me be clear, I love Mary. However this year I am expanding my prayer.
The very first prayer I learned as a child was to my Guardian Angels. Our family also said a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.
One of the great stories of our family was when my brother was getting ready to enter kindergarten at the parish school. All incoming kindergartners were required to recite a prayer for the principal. Most said a Hail Mary or Grace Before Meals. My little brother, with unruly blond curly hair, who had lost both front teeth in a scuffle at age four, proceeded to recite “St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil…”
Sister Mary Presentation had a hard time keeping a straight face but was very impressed.
I believe it was in my teen years that I gave up on angels. I think I put angels in the same realm as fairies, magical mythical beings. Beings you can’t see so they must not be real.
My grandparents had a deep appreciation for angels. My grandfather would insist that priests had two guardian angels as opposed to the one all of the rest of us have. This just pushed my teen-aged self to the edge and I allowed angels to drop off my radar.
Now I have aged and mellowed. I have children. We pray to their guardian angels at night. When they were little their favorite book was about a baby and the angels that watched over her.
As I have reflected on the Blessed Mother’s life I can see that she let angels into her life. It’s as if she’s telling me there are an infinite number of beings who can help me on this journey.
My reawakening toward angels came through a friend a few years ago. I was having some challenges at work and my friend asked if I asked St. Michael to help me at work. I had not. (Was she crazy?)
She instructed me to pray and reflect on St. Michael on my drive in, to invite him to be with me in the work place and protect and guide me. I listened. The challenges no longer bothered me.
As the New Year started my heater broke. As I struggled trying to fix it, I asked Mary to intercede; I reflected on the lives of every Rosie the Riveter I knew; I asked my Papa to intercede and give me the wisdom to fix the heater. The heater was still not working.
I reached the cursing stage. I put down my tools. I asked St. Michael to take over. I went upstairs, texted my brother for help and within the hour everything was working again.
I don’t understand angels. I do know there is a distinction between a spirit and an angel. When I die my spirit will still exist, it will not turn into an angel as the Hallmark Movie Channel suggests. An angel is a distinct being created by God. I suspect the angels around me and my family love us in a way I can’t understand.
I will spend this year inviting them into my life, hoping to get to know them better.
Reading I: Isaiah 62:1-5
Your God rejoices in you! You are God’s Delight, God’s Espoused! How does this speak to you? When were you so full of joy you could not be quiet?
The conferral of a new name designated God’s almighty power over creation. When one was given a new name, that person was made a new creation, (Birmingham, W&W, p. 88). Isn’t it endearing when someone calls you by a nickname? It draws you close to each other. God calls you by name, for you belong to God. Relish in it.
Reading II: Acts 13:16-17, 22-25
In this reading, Paul is connecting the messianic promise in the Hebrew scriptures to its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Paul wants to be sure his audience is listening to this message. Jesus came to save them – and us! Know that this Christmas. Jesus comes to us as a small child, unlike any image of Messiah anyone could have possibly imagined. But Jesus comes to us now, in our hearts. We must listen for it.
Gospel: Matthew 1:1-25
Matthew begins with this genealogical lineage, almost like a commercial before the main event. It was so important to the people at that time to see a link between Abraham, the Father of their faith, and Jesus. The important link is Joseph, since he is Jesus’ legal father and heir to the house of David. The genealogy shows that God used ordinary, unknown men and women to be part of the greatest story over told. Not just unknown – some were downright scoundrels! David himself was no saint, and others were horrible kings. But everyone has a place in history. We all may have a sordid family tree – Jesus understands that! (Remember that when you are at your family gatherings this Christmas!) Jesus stands as a beacon of light in the midst of relational darkness, (Birmingham, W&W, p. 90).
From Celebration Dec. 2004:
On keeping Christmas all year long: believe and live as if love is the strongest thing in the world – stronger than hate, stronger than fear, stronger than death. “God-with-us” – God’s power and love is forever involved with all that is human.
From The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew Vol I, Barclay:
Jesus is the answer to the dreams of men [and women]. It is true that so often we don’t see it that way. We see the answer in power, wealth, material plenty and the realization of anticipated ambitions. But if ever our dreams of peace and loveliness, and greatness and satisfaction, are to be realized, they can find their realization only in Jesus Christ.
The relationships in this passage are bewildering…first Joseph is betrothed to Mary, then he wants to divorce her, and suddenly she is his wife. These are the steps to a normal Jewish marriage procedure in those days:
- Engagement: This was usually done when the couple were only children, through the parents or a matchmaker.
- Betrothal: This was the sealing of the engagement. The girl could withdraw up to this point. Once entered, it was binding and lasted a year. The couple would be called man and wife even though they didn’t quite have the rights yet. Only divorce could end a betrothal. This is the stage Mary and Joseph were in.
- Marriage: Full marital consent.
Jesus is the Greek form of the Jewish name Joshua, meaning Jehovah is salvation. Jesus was born by the action of the Holy Spirit, a Virgin Birth. What does this mean for us? According to the Jewish idea, the Holy Spirit was the person who brought God’s truth to humanity. It was the Holy Spirit who taught the prophets what to say and what to do. This is how Mary and Joseph would have understood it. Jesus would be the one person who could tell us what God is like, and what God means us to be. In Jesus we see the love, the compassion, the mercy, the seeking heart, the purity of God as nowhere else in all this world.
From Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing:
God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink become a sacrament. God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him. God, in his many-faced face, has become as accessible, and visible, as the nearest water tap. That is they why of the incarnation.
God is still here, in the flesh, just as real and just as physical, as God was in Jesus. The word did not just become flesh and dwell among us – it became flesh and continues to dwell among us.