Saying “Yes” With Mary

Saying “Yes” With Mary March 27, 2012

I’ll admit, I’m an obsessive reader. I like to keep a book on hand for that spare moment at a stop light, between bites at lunch, during a lull in conversation (just kidding… mostly). A few months ago, I was getting on a plane–one of those little ones that flies between cities you’ve never heard of–and the flight attendant took my bag at the last minute. I didn’t even have a chance to grab my book. I fell into the seat dejected, lamenting the 45 minutes of reading time I’d just lost.

As much as I love to read, I usually avoid the in-flight magazines. The ‘Ten Hottest Spots to Visit in Vegas’ is usually much less interesting than whatever I’ve brought along with me. But since I’d been stripped of my portable library, I pulled the magazine out of the seat in front of me. I was delighted to find there a story there about the University of Dayton.

I’d known that the University of Dayton is a Catholic university. I have a friend who teaches there. But I didn’t know that it’s run by a Catholic order–the Marianists–that is committed to cultivating the spirituality and hospitality of Mary, who welcomed Jesus into her womb. I was fascinated that such a mission was featured in an in-flight magazine.

When I was in Dayton last week for a conference on the new monasticims, I ran into two young men who recently graduated from the University of Dayton. They shared about how they had been impressed as undergraduates by the life that vowed Marianists lived right there on campus in community houses where they ate together, prayed together, and invited students to join them. “I wanted to live a life like that,” Mike said, “but I wondered if it could happen in the city.”

After becoming a lay Marianist, Mike moved into the Twin Towers neighborhood of Dayton with some other young people and the support of the Marianists. When the new community learned that two homeless men were living in their back yard, they prayed about what to do. “We wanted to know how to say ‘Yes’ like Mary said ‘Yes,'” Mike told me. They invited the men to live with them, and they kept praying.

A beautiful woodcut of the Annunciation from Common Prayer.

Five years later, one of those men has moved on to his own apartment and the other has died after finding a new family in this little community. Mike talked about how he watched his homeless neighbors change as people called them by name. “They’d never really had names in the neighborhood. They were just those guys that lived in the woods. But when we learned their names, the neighbors started calling them by name, too. You could watch them stand up straighter.”

Of course, inviting two homeless men into a young community was extremely difficult. Mike was honest about the struggles of those first years and readily admitted that he hadn’t known what to do. When I asked what kept them going, he talked about the Marianists who were always there to talk, to listen, to pray and to support. “They have a lot of wisdom,” Mike said. An older order, it seems, is giving birth to an expression of new monasticism, offering it the best of her gifts.

Mike was with another young man, also named Mike, who’s been living in community with his wife and another couple for the past few years. They were inspired to try this, he said, because they heard the story of what the folks in Twin Towers were doing. They heard that others were saying yes. So they wanted to say yes too.

Because it’s nine months til Christmas, the church celebrated the Annunciation this past Sunday–the day when the angel came to Mary, announcing that she had been chosen to mother God. Because she said “Yes,” God took on flesh nine months later and walked among us, moving into our neighborhood and into our lives. Because there are folks who’ve been saying “Yes” ever since, we find our way amidst a great cloud of witnesses. So the everyday awakening slips into an in-flight magazine. And I get to meet kindred souls in a strange place and share their story with you.

This “yes,” I’m convinced, is infectious. Look forward to hearing how you’re saying it where you are.

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