Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mary: "a sister to all the children of Adam as they journey toward the fulness of freedom"

Celebrating the solemnity of Our Lady’s Assumption yesterday, we were reminded of our ultimate destiny, for the prayers emphasise Mary’s sharing in the totality of her Son’s resurrection victory as the end to which the Church also “in her foreshadowed” makes her journey through time and space.  
And if that is true of the Church, it is also true for us as individual Christians. In “Ye who own the Faith of Jesus . . .” (from which I have already quoted) the second last verse speaks of those for whom we seek Our Lady’s prayers:
For the sick and for the agéd,
For our dear ones far away,
For the hearts that mourn in secret,
All who need our prayers today,
For the faithful gone before us,
May the holy Virgin pray.
Did you notice “. . . For the hearts that mourn in secret”? I’m always deeply moved at that point in Canon Coles’ hymn, for it makes me think of Christian brothers and sisters I have had the privilege of knowing who have quietly embraced the suffering and pain of their lives and relationships - in some instances extraordinary suffering and pain - and, rather than retaliating or taking it out on everyone around them, have become “the hearts that mourn in secret.” From a place of real spiritual and emotional strength (that they often didn't think they had!) they have been content to offer themselves and their experience to the Father in union with the suffering of Jesus so that it at least becomes redemptive for the sake of others, while they themselves are strengthened at the foot of the Cross by the presence with them of the Mother of Sorrows.
Sometimes there is a trusted friend or spiritual director who will understand. But sometimes there is no-one. We “mourn in secret” perhaps even crying ourselves to sleep at night in a kind of loneliness that feels like spiritual exile. It is especially in those moments that we are grateful for the loving embrace of our Lady Mary, Mother of Jesus and Mother of all his people. It is out of that experience that generations of Christians have regularly prayed the Salve Regina at the end of the Rosary:
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy;
hail, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy towards us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Even if some of us have been spared those particular depths of personal suffering, it is sadly true that living the full Catholic life within Anglican structures is more and more difficult. The sense that we are called to do so, at the same time bearing joyful witness to the Faith once delivered to the Saints, causes us to suffer very deeply the sense of being exiles within our own Church. 
But it is now becoming clear that the rapid changes in our western European culture that in most places has deliberately decided to “move on” from its Judaeo-Christian foundations, pose equally great challenges for ALL Churches of every tradition. We are still called to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus, whatever the cost - and in the short to medium term future, the cost may be very great indeed, as Pope Benedict XVI has suggested in his writings.
In this context, a very small proportion of Anglicans, with hearts on fire with love for Jesus, holding on to the full Catholic Faith may seem a fairly impotent and thinly spread community as far as the big picture is concerned. But, as St Paul wrote, 

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” 
(1 Corinthians 1:27-30)
It is my belief that God has raised us up in our particular contexts to keep alive aspects of the Faith that might otherwise disappear from notice. In the aftermath of celebrating Our Lady’s Assumption let us rededicate ourselves to that vocation.
In the Book of Masses of Our Lady, there is the most wonderful Preface for the Mass of Our Lady, Mother of Divine Hope. Since its publication, many years ago, it has been one of my favourite prayers (especially in this particular translation). I share it with you as an encouragement to be faithful to the Lord in joy and in sorrow, and to be those who journey through this world with our eyes raised to Mary, our “sister in Christ”, the “Mother of all her Son’s people”, “the fairest fruit of Christ’s redeeming love” who continues to pray for us as we make our pilgrimage to the fulness of heaven’s glory where we, with her, will share the completeness of her Son’s victory over sin and death:
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
to give you thanks with all our hearts,
Lord, holy Father,
for your gift to our human family
of Jesus Christ, the author of our salvation,
and of Mary, his Mother, the model of divine hope.
Your lowly handmaid placed all her trust in you:
she awaited in hope and conceived in faith 
the Son of Man, whom the prophets had foretold.
With untiring love she gave herself to his service
and became the Mother of all the living.
Mary, the fairest fruit of Christ’s redeeming love,
is a sister to all the children of Adam
as they journey toward the fullness of freedom
and raise their eyes to her,
the sign of sure hope and comfort,
until the day of the Lord dawns in glory.


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