Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Reflection for Thursday, December 12, 2013

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Fr. Chris Collins, S.J. gave a reflection on the Advent season last week, and as circumstances would have it, his remarks focused on today’s gospel - the Annunciation - particularly on what it means for God to have called someone like Mary of Nazareth to the mission of bringing Jesus into the world: not only going to Judea, a minor province on the far edge of the Roman Empire; not only going to Galilee, seen even by Judeans as a backwater; not only going to Nazareth, a scrabbly little corner of Galilee; but going to an adolescent female at a time in which that demographic had no real influence or voice to speak of. Such an image suggests something about God’s way of being in the world: if God’s power were simply a muscular power-over-others, then certainly there would be more effective ways of enacting God’s will than through such underwhelming actors. But that’s exactly where the Biblical texts of the day take us: in the first reading, the nations of the world turn their eyes to a tiny and occupied people among whom God has chosen to dwell, and in the gospel, as Fr. Collins noted, an insignificant member of that tiny and occupied people takes up the mission to enact the dwelling of the word of God in history.

Such a reading “from the underside of history” sets the stage for the roots of the events we celebrate on this, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. in 1531, a moment marked politically by the enslavement and eradication of native peoples and ecclesially by heavy use of the rhetoric of damnation, for Mary to appear not only TO a Native American but AS a Native American is a strong reminder that the God of Mary is a God who does simply bring justice to the oppressed from on high, from a position of power, but a God who comes to being in the midst of oppressed people, who shares in the sufferings of the vulnerable. What we celebrate in anticipation of Christmas is hardly different: as humble a beginning as one could imagine, no huge displays of power-over-others or manipulating structures of political control, just the power of compassion, closeness to marginal people, and courage to confront the injustices that grind people down.

This week the entire world has said farewell to Nelson Mandela, who is remembered around the world for his influence both in and out of political office and for his efforts at reconciliation, particularly after spending 27 years in prison for his opposition to apartheid in South Africa. Whatever the lasting results of his time in office might be, his moral authority came not from his ability to bend people to his will but his patience, his ability to speak to suffering people from a place of common experience, and his effort to reach out to his opponents to make new things happen. Maybe we can only see patterns like this in hindsight, but feast days like today, readings like today’s readings, and people like Mandela remind us of who our God is: a God who makes exoduses happen, who rises up from the midst of injustice and obscurity and remodels our fantasies of power by the strength of compassion and solidarity.

Patrick Cousins works in the Department of Campus Ministry.

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