[These are the notes of a talk I gave this past weekend to a chapter of the Magnificat Women’s Ministry. I had been invied to give my “testimony.” What is here ends rather abruptly because the speech went into the five Magnificat moments of my life which I mainly told as stories without notes. (The talk is available on CD from the San Gabriel Valley Chapter of Magnificat.) But, even without the examples, the point still seems to me generally shareable.]
II. There was one phase in my life in which I was asked to give my testimony like once a month. I launched a program in 1999 to help Christians make a better start in Hollywood as writers and producers. The program, Act One, began as a sub-ministry at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, which was a Biblically traditional Evangelical community at the time. They were fascinated by my story and – as one person expressed the confusion to me once – “Barbara, you seem to really know the Lord, but you’re Catholic.” When I was being recruited for the ministry, one of the pastors at the Church met with me and asked me to tell him my religious story. So, I told him I had been raised in a devout Catholic home, blah blah blah, we went to Church and took it very seriously, blah blah blah. But he was clearly missing something from me, and so he asked, “Yes, but tell me why you are a Christian.” So, I went on about how I had gone to a Catholic college and then went into the convent and spent three hours a day in prayer and meditation. But the pastor had a frown in his brow as thought it was still not what he wanted. So I asked him, “Pastor, what is it you need to hear from me?” And he said, “I need to hear you say that you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior.” To which I answered, “Every morning at Mass.” But this morning, I am going to tell the rest of the story.
IV. I want to begin with the title of your ministry, because it seems to me the highlight the key aspect of all of our individual journeys in faith. There are so many ways to tell one’s testimony. I could speak about the people – starting with my parents – who, one by one, reveled the Lord to me. I could speak about the greatest struggles I have endured and how these dark nights brought me closer to God. I could talk about the Church, and how my sense of Her has grown and acquired new meanings through my life. But, in the end, the only thing that fully answers the question of why I believe this stuff, and why I have spent most of my adult life in ministry is because I have had a handful of undeniable Magnificat moments.
I feel like I need to make a codicile about this whole testimony thing, because it is so geared to one’s whole life in Christ starting in a particular moment of clarity. I have to say, honestly, I never had a moment when I “met the Lord.” Growing up in a very committed Catholic home, Jesus never just appeared. He was always on my bureau with his little lamb. He was always dying on the wall of every room of our house. His mother was always watching there from her place of prominence on the fireplace mantel in the living room. And then there was St. Joseph right beside her with the three children of Fatima holding court. And St. Barbara on my nightstand and St. Paul on my desk. It’s an argument for Catholic homes being little churches surrounded by the extended family. But, for me, it has meant that my spiritual life really had no beginning. And I pray that it will never have an end. So, what I am telling you here is that my story is basically all middle.
V. I feel we should share the reading from Scripture of the original Marian Magnificat moment, and note that most people seem to emphasize the Annunciation with Gabriel as the more significant event. I had to fight pretty hard to keep the Visitation in the movie I wrote about Mary. The producer said something about the scene being all talk, talk, talk. Well, I think that they are really one event – part one and two, and they constitute the kind of event that I am going to speak about this morning. I want to start by reading the passage in Scripture about the original Magnificat moment. Just before this moment, the Angel Gabriel has come to Mary and the Scripture notes that she was “troubled by his greeting.” He tells her not to be afraid. She questions how this thing he has foretold could possibly happen to her. Finally, he gives her a sign which is where we are going to pick up on the reading. And the angel said,VI. Luke 1:36-48 36 “And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.”38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechari’ah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” 46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
VII. The word “blessed” [makarios in Greek] literally means “happiness” or “beatitude.” It describes a kind of joy that is serene and untouchable, self-contained, and independent from chance and changing circumstances of life. It is the joy of knowing something and being taken out of the realm of doubt. Up until the moment when Elizabeth cries out, Mary doesn’t seem to have been sure that the Incarnation had happened in her. She knew it was going to happen, but, remember the angel didn’t tell her when. He does tell her to go to Elizabeth for “a sign.” Mary gets “a sign” and then she knows. And she breaks into a song of faith and humility and joy. Mary’s Magnificat is her prayer response of knowing undeniably and with absolute certainty that she is in the Divine sight. The miracle of Elizabeth’s prophecy, and baby John’s leaping in witness is a proof that changes the course of Mary’s life.
VIII. It seems to me, that one of the truths of human life, is that we each get our share of moments like this. Note that we don’t live in these moments. We get just enough. And in the moment when we too “know” we feel our own Magnificat song swelling up inside of us. It would be impossible not to and it makes the experience real. As a teacher, I know that my students tend to remember what they hear themselves saying. In the same way, we remember these moments because we have made some kind of wondrous response. The question is, as life continues to unfold, are we loyal to these experiences? Do we begin to attribute them to youthful idealism, or the emotion of a certain period of life? Do we begin to induge in doubt of the thing that we knew for certain, that touched us in a way that was real? My mother always says that every sin has the stamp of Judas on it somewhere. That is, sin is in some way always an act of disloyalty. Having faith then, is really just living in recognition of the Divine initiative in us, and particularly in a few moments of His undeniable, personal revelation to each of us. There could be no damnation without these moments. This is why the Church uses the phrase “the obedience of faith,” because living in belief is simply our response to something that has been made obvious to us. It’s the day to day decision to be loyal to the moments we have been given in which we knew God was speaking to us. These moments are the answer to the question that Jesus asks of Peter, “Will you leave me too?” which Peter answers with the weary truth, “Lord, to whom else shall we go? We know you alone are the Son of God.”
So, here are my five ‘Magnificat’ moments….