Mary’s Magnificat completes the story of the visit between Mary and Elizabeth. Although Elizabeth was the first to hear the beautiful words, had Mary sung it in her heart before? Did the refrain “My spirit rejoices in God my savior” match her steps on the road to Ein-Karim? Did the clip-clop of the donkey provide a cadence for “holy is his name”? Along the miles did Mary remember God’s many “promises of mercy”? I cannot imagine the beauty of the soul of Mary—she the one whom “all generations will call . . . blessed.” There would be at least thirty years ahead of her—years filled with all the emotions of a wife and mother. Some days would be excruciatingly difficult; many would be filled with joy. Her faith knew that God would always “come to the help of his servant” Mary. No matter what the day held, I imagine that Mary always found a way to proclaim “the greatness of the Lord.”

As Advent comes to a close and last-minute Christmas preparations fill the day, ask Mary to help you recognize “the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”

Soul-Friends

December 21st, 2020 | Posted by Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Had Mary and Elizabeth ever met before the visitation recorded in today’s lectionary reading from Luke? Did they know of each other through stories from their parents? Whatever their previous knowledge or acquaintance, this particular visit lasting three months cemented their friendship. Hardly had Mary finished her greeting, when Elizabeth “filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” Perhaps Mary was relieved that Elizabeth recognized her as “the mother of my Lord.” Mary could save the details of the Angel Gabriel’s appearance for later. They would have three months of intimate, deeply spiritual conversation. Artists’ renderings of the visitation portray the two women in a warm reverent hug, while their eyes suggest experiencing something mysterious and holy beyond themselves.

I hope you have a deep spiritual friendship. If so, “blessed are you.”

Mary, the Mother of God, teaches us what to do when the odds are not in our favor: Trust that all is possible with God. The Annunciation story in the original Greek sounds stronger than that in English. It suggests Mary’s plan is shattered by the message of the Angel Gabriel. The pieces no longer fit together.  Mary wasn’t expecting to become pregnant, she didn’t plan on traveling miles to her relative Elizabeth, she didn’t intend to cause Joseph unimaginable anxiety. Like a broken jigsaw puzzle, the pieces of Mary’s future lay at her feet. But in her heart, she had a promise that nothing is impossible with God, and in her womb God was growing.

For many people very little was in their favor this year. When the odds are not in your favor, how do you respond? Mary teaches us: “May it be done to me according to your word.”

Icons of Christ

December 19th, 2020 | Posted by Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

We are called to be icons of Christ. This means more than imitating Jesus. We are to actually incarnate Christ in our lives. This means that we should be willing to give up things—even give up our very selves–as Christ gave up the full intensity of his divinity. The incarnation means that Jesus became not only a sacrament of God but also the sacrament of what it means to be human. All of this came from his kenosis, his self-emptying (Phil. 2:7). ‘Tis the season of candles. As you light a candle, perhaps the fourth one on your Advent wreath tonight, reflect upon yourself as a candle. When you share Christ’s light, you are consumed. You are emptying yourself of yourself. There’s less of you and more of Christ. Sort of like John the Baptist who decreased so Christ could increase.

God’s reign of justice, peace, and goodness began with the birth of a baby boy. How simple and adorable! No upheaval, no force—just God becoming a child so we could become children of God. Yet the incarnation was indeed revolutionary and powerful! Because of the Incarnation we can let our humanity become like God while making us more fully human. One way is to bring God’s justice, peace, and goodness into out world. The prophet Jeremiah claimed, “This is the name they give him: The Lord our justice.” Perform an act of justice, peace, and goodness today. Remember the long lines of people waiting for food in this time of global food insecurity. Remember the art piece “Christ in the Breadline.” Feed Him and them.

Advent has two parts, and its second half begins today. During these last eight days the Church’s Evening Prayer has a nightly O Antiphon. The O antiphons are chronological with the oldest Messianic title of Wisdom, representing the Holy Spirit at the creation of the world. We climb through history: Leader, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Radiant Dawn, King, Emmanuel.  (By the way, the first letter of each of these titles in Latin spells “Ero Cras,” which means “Tomorrow I will come.”)

Monasteries produced elaborate hymnody to sing the O Antiphons. The monks also had a tradition of enjoying special treats on each of these eight days. On the day on which they sang of Root of Jesse, for example, they had peanuts, a root food. The cook served oranges on the day remembering the Rising Sun or Radiant Dawn. My favorite is the Key of David, when the monk in charge of the wine cellar served the finest wine. Why not follow the monks’ joyous tradition? Make each day to Christmas special as the O-O-O prepares the way for the Ho-Ho-Ho? 

Although we await the Second Coming, salvation is here in Christ, and sacred history continues in us. John the Baptist claims that salvation is “personalized” in Christ. Jesus the Christ is salvation. Are we ready for Christ at the end of our lives? The Baptist tells us to put the axe to the root, share out coats, be content with our money, don’t bully. How will I bring salvation to others today? How is Christ evident in my ministry? If there is a chance to share with others what you have seen and heard in your prayer, Scripture, Advent hymns, and so on? Go tell what you have seen and heard!!

“In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the church” (Col. 1:24). The purpose of the Church Year is to fill up what is lacking in us until we pattern our lives fully on Christ. No Advent should be like the one before. How are we more like Christ this year? What events of this past year will help us appreciate the Incarnation more? Certainly our lives are filled with repetition. Some are very meaningful like the annual Advent wreath or the decades-old ornaments we put on the Christmas tree. Others are simply necessary. Read; Do the dishes; make the bed; take out the trash on Mondays. Whatever action we choose today has potential for filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body. As you do something repetitive today that is fairly mindless, focus on the impact your actions have on Christ’s Body, the Church.

How many Hallmark movies have you watched this season? Have you noticed that a single star often marks the climax or denouement? Ever since a star guided the Magi, the star plays a central role in the Christmas story. The Bethlehem star heralded the Light of the World. The Magi found the Light and returned home. We have found the Light and keep journeying toward the Light who is our eternal home. Perhaps we’ve gone through childhood and young adulthood, professional life, maybe retirement. We’ve gone up mountains and into valleys. We’ve crossed deserts and seas. One step after another in the direction of the Star. We set out to seek him years ago with faith that we know God will be found. The light of the star always has a direct line to your heart. Feel the warmth of God touching your heart, obey your heart, set out again on your life’s journey to the Star who advances before you.

John the Baptist does all he can to make sure the people of his time recognize the Messiah when he comes. For us people of the 21st century, we know that the Messiah has come, but he is still coming. Even when Christmas Day dawns, the Christ will still be coming. It is always Advent, and we are always waiting for God who is always coming into our lives. Eternity still awaits us, and so we walk on pilgrimage. The Baptist didn’t live at home; he lived in the wilderness. We, too, are not in our true home. We live in the wilderness. But we are not alone. We live in the here-and-now and the not-yet. God is with us every step of the journey to eternity. Our cry in the wilderness must be “Make straight the way of the Lord!” What we do today and throughout the rest of Advent—and Advent is our whole lives—will let people know God when he comes. We will know him when we recognize God today in family, friends, and neighbors. See the face of Christ in stores and in zoom gatherings. See the Suffering Christ in those who cannot be with families, in the sick, in over-taxed medical professionals. See the Radiant Christ in the joyful face of a child and the patient face of an elder. Even amid a pandemic wilderness, we can rejoice that God is here!