Monthly Archives: August 2020

What kind of queen is Mary?

Maybe I am too much immersed in the egalitarian and anti-hierarchical ethos of the United States, but for several years I have had problems with this feast day, the Queenship of Mary, and the corresponding mystery of the Rosary, the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.

I also have had some problems with the feast of Christ the King, but these have been assuaged by the words of Jesus, Matthew 20:25-28

… the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them… But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

And so when I speak of Jesus as prophet, priest, and king, I often use the term “servant/king.”

But Mary as Queen? It reminds me too much of royalty, of class privilege, of power over others.

Yet recently I have been led to think about Marry as Queen in another way.

In the list of saints there are quite a few queens, among them: Margaret of Scotland, Hedwig of Poland, Elizabeth of Hungary, and Elizabeth of Portugal.

Reading about them, I find that there are three aspects of their lives that reveal true Christian royalty.

First of all, they have a special love for the poor and personally distributed food to the poor, often to the consternation of their husbands. Some established hospitals and houses for the poor.

Saint Margaret of Scotland invited several dozen beggars to dinner each night, serving them and washing their feet.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary once opened the king’s granaries to feed the poor when her husband was away. She also refused to eat any food that was the product of injustice or exploitation.

These women took seriously the call to the works of mercy in Matthew 25: 31-46.

Secondly, these holy queens often are involved in evangelization, mostly by providing funding for the building of churches.

Thirdly, they are most often peacemakers, sometimes between members of their own families. Saint Elizabeth of Portugal is a patron saint of peacemakers, known for her reconciliation of her husband with one of her sons and for preventing a war between Portugal and Castile.

These holy women saw Christ in the poor, they wanted to share the message of Christ, and they worked for peace. Their royal character was revealed in their love of Christ, the poor, and peace.

But then what is the royalty of Mary?

Isn’t this what she prays in the Magnificat, Luke 1: 46-55:

My soul glorifies the Lord….
You look on your servant in her nothingness;
henceforth all ages shall call me blessed….
You put forth your arm in strength
and scatter the proud-hearted.
You cast the mighty from their thrones
and raise up the lowly.    
You fill the starving with good things
and send the rich away empty….

And so I think of Mary as queen with two rather distinctive images.

The first is Mary with children and the poor under her cloak that may have first come from the Middle Ages.

This reminds me of the stories about some saintly women who were distributing food to the poor to the consternation of the king. When he confronted them, they opened their cloaks and flowers poured out.

The other image is a more contemporary one, Mary who raises her arms against oppression. She is the queen of the oppressed.

Mary, mother of the poor, queen of peace, evangelizer of the Good News of God’s liberation, pray for us.

The faith of Saint Peter and Blessed Franz

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew 14:22-33, Peter, at the call of Jesus, begins to walk on water. He was daring enough to risk this, but his faith faltered. Jesus grabbed him by the hand and then asked him, “Why did you do doubt, you of little faith?”

Sometimes I think we are a little too hard on Peter. The other apostles cowered in the boat, but he had  the audacity to ask Jesus to call him out of the boat to walk on the water. Yet, when he lost sight of Jesus, he was afraid and started to drown.

On August 9, 1943, Franz Jägerstätter, Austrian peasant, husband, father of three girls, was beheaded for his refusal to take the military oath to serve in the Nazi army.

His story has moved me since I first read it in the 1960s in Gordon Zahn’s In Solitary Witness.

What is remarkable is that, despite the opposition to his stand of his neighbors and even of religious authorities, he persevered. He saw evil and refused to cooperate. Sustained by his faith in God and the love of his wife, Franziska, he persevered, even when the waves of the evil around him threatened him with death. As he wrote to his wife from prison:

“I am convinced that it is still best that I speak the truth, even if it costs me my life.  For you will not find it written in any of the commandments of God or of the Church that a man is obliged under pain of sin to take an oath committing him to obey whatever might be commanded of him by his secular ruler.”

He persevered in his faith, despite death. The faith of the saints is not something that flounders when beset by difficulties. Though there may be doubts, these doubts strengthen the commitment to have confidence in God. As Franz wrote,

“If the road signs were stuck ever so loosely in the earth that every wind could break them off or blow them about, would anyone who did not know the road be able to find his way? And how much worse is it if those to whom one turns for information refuse to give him an answer or, at most, give him the wrong direction just to be rid of him as quickly as possible?”

My prayer corner

“The modern saints by Gracie” facebook page has asked people to share their prayer corner. Here are two photos of the place where I pray in a small room set apart in my house here in Plan Grande, Concepción, Copán, Honduras,

On the upper left is the San Damiano Cross mounted on a piece of wood. I Huntington, Indiana, I mounted it on a piece of wood from St. Feliz Friary. In the mid-1970s, they were doing some renovations of the sanctuary and I believe this may have been part of an altar rail. I cherish this because Blessed Solanus Casey, OFM Cap, had lived in that friary,

On the upper right is a cross I put up composed of pieces of paper with laments. I did this about the beginning of March this year, in light of the pandemic.

In the center is an original icon of Mary and Jesus, written by Yaroslav Surmach Mills.

The image of Saint Francis was a gift from Assisi from my former pastor who died a few years ago from cancer.

The image of Saint John the Baptist is the first icon I had. I purchased it at Mount Saviour Monastery, near Elmira, New York, which was the place where I returned to the practice of the faith in the early 1970s, after about a year alienated from the church.

On the far left is an angel which I purchased in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. I believe it is in the style of the nearby Missions.

On the far right is an icon of Saint Oscar Romero, whose beatification and canonization I was blessed to attend.

In front of the icon of Mary and Jesus there are four small pieces.

There is a piece of the Berlin Wall which a couple I know gave me after their visit to Berlin.

There is a piece of a tile of a house in Hiroshima which was a gift from Sister Mary Evelyn Jegen, a sister of Notre Dame de Namur, who was a co-founder of Pax Christ USA and whom I knew from the board of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

There is a piece of what I think is a small bone (or olive pit) which I found under an olive tree in Lydda, Palestine – now in Israel. A friend’s mother and grandparents (Orthodox Christians) had lived there until they were forced out in 1948.

About 2001 I participated in a Mass in a small unfinished chapel in Los Leones, Canton Platanares, outside Suchitoto, El Salvador. There, on July 24, 1980, the seminarian Othmaro Cáceres and twelve young people with him were murdered by a death squad.

At the front is a wooden cross, made locally from a cross I purchased in the Pauline Sisters’ shop in New York City a few years ago. We had copies made to give to the sick, since the cross fits comfortably int he hand.

Around the cross is a thirty three bead “rosary” which I use for praying the Jesus Prayer each morning.

A small angel and a small dove were gifts from two young women I worked with when I was a campus minister in Ames, Iowa.

Other Images from my Prayer Room

Saint Oscar Romero and Saint Lawrence
Dove of cloth made by a friend many years ago.
Poster of two martyrs beatified inGuatemala about two years ago.
Saint Benedict the Black (gift of a Franciscan friar in the late 1950s) and an image of Mary (Guadalupe) bought in a market in Guatemala City.
Between them is a gift from the Iowa City Catholic Worker, Jesus in the boat with the disciples. The image is from the Andes.
There is also a shell with the Our Father carved on it; this belonged to my father. There is also a hand cross with the image of the Australian Saint Mary McKillop.
Icon of Elijah the prophet and a carved wooden cross from Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala,where BlessedStanley Rother were martyred, 1981.