Stories Seldom Heard August 2017
Stories Seldom Heard
A Prophetic Woman: A Prophet’s Prayer
Luke 1: 43-54 The Magnificat
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. In June’s Stories Seldom Heard the Second Letter of Peter reminded us that we are called by our baptism to be prophetic people who seek and speak the truth. In July’s article, we explored the life of Pierre Claverie, O.P., of Algeria, who over many years became aware of his prophetic calling. He became a prophet of justice, mercy and compassion. As we reflect on our own lives our paths will take unique turns, but the result will be the same. If we listen carefully to the circumstances of our lives and pay attention to the Spirit’s guidance as we hear her in prayer and conversation, we will be graced to walk our own path as we live our prophetic mission in our unique circumstances.
“Prophetic mission” might sound a bit highfalutin. But when we remember that it is not our mission, but God’s mission and God’s grace, our vocation feels more possible. Put in everyday language “prophetic mission” means living in right relationship with others and God. In other words, it is biblical justice. It is “both-and.” It is a matter of prayer and being truly engaged with our world. For sure it is a slow process. It requires daily reflection on our actions and our circumstances because biblical justice is different from our contemporary understanding of justice as it is seen in our legal system. Biblical justice is concerned with the common good and the special care of the most vulnerable in society. In a world that is marked by so many conflicts and intolerable social and economic inequalities, Pope John Paul II often reminded us of our need for individual and corporate conversion.
In the New Testament, justice is Lady Justice. Lady Justice is not symbolized by the image we often see depicted on the walls of a courthouse building. She is not a blindfolded woman with scales in her hands. Rather Lady Justice in the New Testament can see, hear and speak. With those powers, she speaks as God’s servant and friend. Lady Justice, Mary of Nazareth, speaks with God’s authority. She speaks for the poor and she sings God’s praises. Her song is so well-known that it has been put to music, danced in liturgies, chanted daily as part of the official prayers of the church and prayed prayerfully in our homes. Mary’s spirit rejoices in God her savior. She reminds us that the promises God makes to the poor are not for some far-off time. They are for us now and every generation.
Mary of Nazareth praises God who scatters the proud, brings down the haughty from their thrones, fills the hungry with good things and lifts the oppressed. Mary, in her life, experienced the God of reversals, the God of surprises. Her song encourages us to be as trusting, for God is a promise keeper.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was killed by the Nazis, says, “This (Mary) is not a gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings; this is a passionate, surrendered, proud, enthusiastic Mary who speaks out.” She sings a “hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth” (1).
Over the years there have been many debates discussing the origin of Mary’s Magnificat. Some connect its origin with the Song of Hanna from the First Book of Samuel (1Sam. 2: 1-10). Other scholars suggest that it was written by the early church in Jerusalem. Still others argue that it was addressing the political struggle of the people ofPalestine against their Roman oppressors. There is merit to all ideas and certainly to the discussions they evoke. But for our purpose we don’t have to choose sides in this debate. What comes through clearly is that “people in need in every society hear a blessing in this canticle. The battered woman, the single parent without resources, those without food on their table or without even a table, the homeless family, the young abandoned to their own devices, the old who are discarded – all who are subjected to social contempt are encompassed in the hope Mary proclaims” (2). And, yes, even we who might not fall into the categories I just named, find hope as we struggle to live justly and mercifully in our daily decisions and actions.
Mary’s Magnificat, her song of joy and hope, has echoed throughout every land and century. We in the US might not always recognize the revolutionary quality of this prayer, but in other countries it has been heard and acknowledged. In the 1980’s the Magnificat was banned from public worship in Guatemala because the government of Guatemala recognized its subversive message. The Peruvian theologian Gustavo Guiterrez, now a Dominican Friar, reminds us that this song of praise underlines God’s preferential love of the lowly and the abused. God is on the side of the poor and lowly not because they are holier than other people, but because no one else will stand with them or speak on their behalf. God is on the side of the poor because God desires everyone to be justly treated.
The Magnificat is a prayer for every person and for all seasons of our lives. It is a prayer that helps focus our attention on what is important and what God desires of us. I wonder what changes would take place in each of us if we were to pray the Magnificat each day? I wonder if we read it slowly and reflected on it, would it give us the courage we need to face the small and large issues of injustice in our lives? Would praying this revolutionary prayer each day affirm our tenacity and encourage us to work for social and economic change, confident that our works are not in vain or too little to make a difference? What if we prayed this prayer with others? Would it, could it, strengthen our faith and hope that through our collective actions God’s kingdom might become more a reality in our lives? Would praying the Magnificat help us feel the joy that Mary expresses?
There are many issues in our lives as American Catholics that need to be viewed and reviewed in light of our Catholic Social Teachings and the Word of God.
The Magnificat reminds us that God works in ordinary people’s lives in mysterious ways. Never underestimate our God who desires that “kindness and truth shall meet, and justice and peace shall kiss” (Ps. 85: 10).
1. Johnson, Elizabeth, Truly Our Sister, Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, New York, London, 2003. p 267
2. Johnson, p. 269
Special thanks to Maria Hetherton and Mary Ellen Green who have helped in editing this article.
“Stories Seldom Heard” is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one’s personal and spiritual life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection. If you would like “Stories Seldom Heard” sent to a friend, please send a note to “firstname.lastname@example.org“.