Posted by Webster
The Canticle of Mary, the Magnificat, was still echoing in my mind and heart as I woke up this morning, after we sang it in choir on Sunday. Then, at 7 am Mass, Father Barnes began the Gospel reading:
Mary said, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior—
When I told my sister, also Mary, that I was converting to Catholicism two years ago, she asked me to define religion. Without thinking, I said one word, Praise. “Praise?” she asked somewhat skeptically. Praise, I said.
If I had taken much longer to think, I might have cooked up something more elaborate, but two years later, I’m still happy with that response. Praise. A movement of thought and heart outside oneself to the source of being, the source of everything, the source without which I would not be here. I couldn’t even write these words. Praise, as I use it day to day out on the street, often sounds suspiciously like flattery. I praise you, you compensate me. But the praise I offer God is for a gift already given, and given again every day. And so Mary rejoices.
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed.
I don’t know about blessed in the sense of holy, but in the sense of having received a great blessing, I qualify. As much as I, with Frank’s help, have written nearly 200 posts since mid-August, some of which, like this one or this one, explain why I became Catholic, finally there is no conclusive chain of cause-and-effect to explain this blessing.
Up to age 56, I had lived an OK life, been an OK guy, done some good things, committed many sins. But what I have received in the past two years as a member of this Church is completely out of scale with what I or anyone else deserves. He has looked with favor on me, and when I am gone, for as long as they remember, all generations will call me—Catholic. Just as we, her grandchildren, call “Ammie,” another Mary, a Catholic, fifteen years after her death.
The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
Since I walked in the door of St. Mary’s on a chilly October morning in 2007, to attend Mass “on spec” as a non-Catholic, such great things have been done for me. From the first day, I was given a gifted pastor, Father Barnes. I have been blessed with wonderful, caring friends like my RCIA sponsor Joan of Beverly; my big brother in the Church Ferde; Frank K., and his wife Carrie; Frank G., who arrives by 6:15 for Mass every morning; the irrepressible Pietrini Brothers who include a Frank P.; the usually silent but sometimes talkative folks at Adoration; and even Mitch, now an RCIA candidate, who holds a mirror up to my own experience. I have been given opportunities to be a lector, to serve at the altar, to sing with the choir, to meet with a men’s group every Saturday morning, to teach CCD, to attend Daily Adoration . . . That may sound like a list of accomplishments, but I get more back from each of these activities than I could possibly put in. It’s a list of IOU’s that I still have to pay. Holy is His name.
At Easter Vigil and all year round, the Catholic Church recounts the 4,000-year history of salvation. Every generation since Abraham, since Noah, even since Adam, has known God’s mercy. He chose for his own a people, the Jews, who have been slaves, nomads, wanderers, the lowest of the low. They have faced obliteration as recently as 1945, and today they are back playing a central role in world history.
A former Episcopalian, I was surprised to learn what importance the Catholic Church gives to the Jewish people, as our ancestors in faith. This was confirmed to me by a remarkable statement from Pope Benedict when, in the interviews that became Salt of the Earth, journalist Peter Seewald asked him, “Are the Jews still today the core question for the future of the world, as it is said in the Bible?” Like many of Seewald’s questions, this one smells like a trap. My pope answered without blinking:
“I don’t know exactly which Bible passage you are alluding to. [Subtext: Young man, sometimes you don’t know what you’re even saying.] In any case, as the first bearers of the promise—and thus as the people in whom the great foundational phase of biblical history took place—they are doubtless at the center of world history. One might think that such a small people couldn’t really be so important. But I believe there is something special about this people and that the great decisions of world history are almost always connected to them somehow.”
As a Catholic, I am also a Jew, like Mary.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
There are so many thoughts in this one statement. It is enough for me to realize that we are filled with good things, the best thing, every time we receive communion. Give us this day our daily bread. All the riches of the world—possessions, accomplishments, self-esteem, all of them flattering—cannot buy this.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.
Since Abraham, God has offered us a personal relationship, a personal promise. He is not some abstract “force,” some impersonal power behind the Big Bang. He is He—God, the Father—and we are his children. The lowliest people in God’s family, but family all the same.
Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.
* * *
I myself am heading to the hill country—Vermont—for a few days. My sisters Elizabeth and Mary will not be there, but Katie, our daughters Martha and Marian, and my mother, Anna, will be. I may find my way to an internet hot spot between now and Saturday, but until then, Frank has the conn. The former-Marine, he can tell you what that means.