Category Archives: Mary

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 seven sorrows of Mary – then and now

The Friday before Holy Week is, in many parts of Latin America, the celebration of Our Mother of Sorrows – la Virgen Dolorosa.


Icon by Father Bill McNicols

We remember especially the seven sorrows of Mary, when she experienced profound dolor.

  1. At the presentation of Jesus in the temple, when Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce her heart. (Luke 2: 22-35)
  2. When the Holy Family fled into Egypt to escape the fury of King Herod. (Matthew 2: 41-50)
  3. When Jesus was lost in the temple when he was twelve years old. (Luke 2: 41-50)
  4. When Mary met Jesus when he was carrying the Cross to Calvary.
  5. When she stood at the cross of Jesus, her son. (John 19: 17-30)
  6. When the body of Jesus was taken down from the Cross. (Mark 15: 42-46)
  7. When the body of Jesus was placed in a borrowed tomb. (John 19: 38-42)

It would be good for us to contemplate these mysteries today and during the coming week, not only from the perspective of Mary almost 2000 years ago, but also from the perspective of all those who are suffering these days.

Consider what Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, said in 2015, to 100,000 pilgrims at a Marian shrine in Myanmar, spoke of “seven swords that pierce Mary’s heart in Myanmar”:

The seven swords of Our Lady of Sorrows in Myanmar, are:

  • crony capitalism, so few families have everything;
  • the refusal to resolve conflicts through dialogue, but with the use of violence;
  • unjust laws that continue to deprive the poor of their lands;
  • the criminal economy of drugs and human trafficking;
  • discrimination of ethnic minorities;
  • the destruction and looting of natural resources;
  • the lack of opportunities for education and employment for the poor.

These are also the swords that pierce the heart of our people here in Honduras and in many parts of the world.

Mother of sorrows, be with us.



Mary and the resurrection of the body

In [Mary’s] glorified body, together with the Risen Christ,
part of creation has reached the fullness of its beauty.
Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 241

 Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Assumption of Mary into heaven; the Orthodox Church calls this feast the Dormition of the Virgin.

Fresco, Santa Maria Maggiore, Roma

Fresco, Santa Maria Maggiore, Roma

We celebrate the power of Christ’s resurrection and the hope, expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, for “the resurrection of the body” in this feast where Mary shares the heavenly presence of God in both her body and her soul.

It is a feast to celebrate God’s work in bringing creation to fulfillment.

As opposed to a body-denying spirituality, we affirm that God will raise up our mortal bodies and Mary is the first to experience this.

It is therefore a fitting feast for a world that often misuses creation for immediate ends, for a world that often makes the body merely an object of pleasure and thus demeans the body of women, for a world that looks down on and despises the poor.

Mary is a sign of God’s love for the earth, for women, and for the poor.

In his latest encyclical Pope Francis makes this plain:

Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power.

Pope Francis is not the first to note this. In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton wrote:

That God should assume Mary into heaven … is the expression of the divine love for humanity, and a very special manifestation of God’s respect for His creatures, His desire to do honor to the beings He has made to His own image, and most particularly His respect for the body which was destined to be the temple of His glory….If human nature is glorified in her, it is because God desired to it to be glorified in us too, and it is for this reason that His Son, taking flesh, came into the world.

God wishes to be glorified in creation and in the human body and, I would add, especially in the body of woman. As theologians Ivonne Gebara and Maria Clara Bingemer have noted:

Mary’s Assumption restores and reintegrates women’s bodiliness into the very mystery of God.

So today we honor Mary as we praise a God who is not afraid of the body, who is not afraid of creation, but was made flesh in the womb of a poor woman and lived among us, enjoying the creation.

So today we honor Mary but we also praise a God who is not afraid of the body, who is not afraid of creation, but was made flesh in the womb of a poor woman and lived among us, enjoying the creation.

In Mary, heaven breaks through

DSC04666Thursday and Friday in New York City I visited the Cloisters and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. This time I was stuck by several images of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

In the Cloisters I came across a few images of the Virgin Mary, including one of my favorites – this Burgundian wooden statue made between 1130 and 1140.

What always struck me is that Christ is headless – incomplete – yet he is sitting on the lap of the Virgin Mary, the Seat of Wisdom.

But this time I noted another image from Spain, from about 1280-1300. What struck me is that both Mary and Jesus are smiling.


There is a deep joy that the unknown artist captured,


the joy that is, as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “that deepest freshness deep down things.”

Also in the Cloisters, in a series of carvings of the lives of Jesus and Mary, there is this image of the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, depicting the scene from Luke’s Gospel.


Note that Elizabeth is gently touching the womb of her cousin.

Today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art I got a new perspective at a painting I had seen before. It helped that I was there with two friends, who are sisters, and their children.

The painting comes from Florence in the early 1400s. Mary, with people at her knees, is touching her breast and saying to Jesus: “Dearest son, because of the milk I gave you, have mercy on them.” Jesus, in turn, asks the Father: “My father, let those be saved for whom you wished me to suffer the passion.”


What strikes me in all of this is how very human these images are – but how they open to all of us the transcendent nature of all that is. They show us that heaven breaks through in all creation.

God comes in the ordinary

The Word was made flesh,
and pitched His tent among us.
John 1: 14

I wonder what Mary was doing that day in Nazareth when the angel came to her.

Some pious images have her praying. One of my favorite images, Fra Angelico’s fresco in San Marcos in Florence, has her seated with her arms crossed.


But maybe she was kneading bread or washing clothes or preparing wool for making clothes. Maybe she had just returned from drawing water at the local well and was resting after the walk. Maybe she was laughing and playing with cousins or nephews and nieces.

I like to think that God made the announcement to Mary in the midst of her everyday activities, to remind us that we find God anywhere and everywhere, that God calls us in the midst of our daily lives – not to escape, but to make God incarnate in the ordinary aspects of daily life.

More than ten years ago I had the blessing to spend almost two weeks in the Holy Land, hosted by a friend who was volunteering with a Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. I spent one day alone in Jerusalem, during which I walked the Via Dolorosa, the Sorrowful Path, the Way of the Cross.

DSC00128What struck me most was that ordinary life was going on in the streets of Jerusalem, probably as it did on the day Christ carried his cross to his crucifixion: parents walking with their children, people selling from their small shops, even soldiers leaving their barracks.

In the midst of ordinary life, Christ was conceived and Christ was crucified, The extraordinary is revealed in the ordinary.

The Word was made flesh…

Suyapa and Romero

Today I was awake at 4:15 am as the firecrackers went off to honor the Virgin of Suyapa, the patroness of Honduras and of the church here in Plan Grande. I brushed my teeth, put on sweat pants and sweatshirt, and went to church for the rosary at 5:00 am.

Today’s feast commemorates the finding in 1747 of a tiny cedar statue of the Virgin Mary, only 2.3 inches tall, by two young campesinos – one of them a boy of 8 years.

Image of the Virgin of Suyapa in the Plan Grande church

Image of the Virgin of Suyapa in the Plan Grande church

The devotion grew over the years and now it is a major feast with celebrations in the basilica near Tegucigalpa where the image is enshrined. From her small beginnings, Mary has become a major figure whom the powerful seek to use for their purposes. The major Mass in the basilica is often attended by the Honduran president and major political and economic leaders.

This is a far cry from the humble beginnings – a far cry from the tiny statue of a poor woman found by poor young Honduran campesinos.

There is a real need to recover the humility of the Virgin Mary and her identification with the poor.

When I came back from the rosary, I made coffee, showered, and sat down to pray.

Afterwards I looked at Facebook and found that the Pope had ratified the decree of a Vatican commission that declared Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero a martyr, who was killed in odium fidei, as an act of hatred for the faith. This means that the way is open for Romero’s beatification.

Romero, who I believe had a love for the poor from his earliest years, became a major advocate for the poor when he was made archbishop of San Salvador. His eloquent defense of the poor and his calls for justice – based in his faith in a God of love and justice – aroused the ire of political and military elites. He was killed on March 24, 1980, while saying Mass in the chapel of the cancer hospital where he lived. (He had rejected an episcopal residence for the sacristy of the hospital chapel; the sisters later built him a small house on the hospital grounds.)

The altar where Romero was martyred

The altar where Romero was martyred

Romero has been a sign of the incarnation of God among the poor. Jesus was born poor, of a poor woman, in a poor oppressed country.

In a homily on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12, 1977, Romero spoke of Mary, referring to her apparition in Mexico to the indigenous man Juan Diego:

Mary and the church in Latin America are marked by poverty.
Vatican Council II says that Mary stands out
among the poor who await redemption from God.
Mary appears in the Bible
as the expression of poverty, of humility,
of one who needs everything from God.
When she comes to America,
her intimate, motherly converse is with an Indian,
an outcast, a poor man.
Mary’s dialog in America begins with a sign of poverty,
poverty that is hunger for God,
poverty that is joy of independence.
Poverty is freedom.
Poverty is needing others,
needing brothers and sisters,
supporting one another so as to help one another.

So today I rejoice in the feast of the Virgin Mary revealed to the poor as we celebrate the coming beatification of Monseñor Romero, the voice of the voiceless, martyr of love and justice.


The quotation from Romero is taken from The Violence of Love, p. 35.

Mary Immaculate

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.

The feast refers to a teaching of the Catholic Church that Mary was conceived without original sin, through the working of the redemption of the human race by Jesus.

The teaching does not deny the saving power of the death and resurrection of Christ but recognizes that God’s grace is not limited by time (or place).

Mary was conceived sinless – and, by being in the presence of God all her life – remained sinless. It was God’s doing, not hers.

On this day, we who are beset by sin – not only original sin, but our own sins – might remember God’s loving grace and ask for forgiveness so that we might share in the joy of the Lord and live in his gracious love.


This feast is special for Franciscans since they have been advocates of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, especially Blessed John Duns Scotus. Though many theologians (including Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and Bonaventure) opposed it, we can find its roots even in St. Efrem the Syrian (306-373) who wrote in one of his hymns: “No blemish in you, my Lord, and no stain in Your Mother.”

Below is a photo of a large mural int he Vatican Museum of the proclamation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. I have no idea who all these people are – though I can identify Franciscans, Carmelites, and Dominicans.

Mural, Vatican Museum

Mural, Vatican Museum

The paradox of Mary’s nothingness

…[Mary’s] highest privilege is her poverty
and her greatest glory is that she is most hidden,
and the source of all her power is that she is as nothing
in the presence of Christ, of God.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Today we Catholics celebrate the Assumption of Mary into heaven. Among the Orthodox, this is the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin.

The Dormition Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome

The Dormition, Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome

The Gospel, the account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, closes with Mary’s Canticle, the Magnificat.

Mary is the Lord’s handmaid, God’s lowly servant. But she connects that status with the grand revolutionary vision of a God

who scatters the proud-hearted
who casts the mighty from the thrones
and raises up the lowly,
who fills the starving with good things
and sends the rich away empty.

How can one whose “chief glory is in her nothingness,” according to Thomas Merton, be connected with such an upside-down vision of the world?

That’s the paradox.

Nothingness puts oneself at the service of a radical transformation.

God uses the poor and weak of the world to confound the strong.

Just because we are lowly doesn’t meant that our vision should be limited.

Our lowliness can open us to the wide vision of God and put us at the service of God’s Reign.

That lowliness recognizes our limitations but give us hope that our limitedness can help God transform ourselves and the world.

The encounter of Mary and Elizabeth

Visitation SuchitotoToday is the feast of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. Perhaps it might be better called “The Encounter.”

Four people encounter each other – Mary, Jesus in her womb, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist in her womb.

Elizabeth greets Mary with words that are now part of the “Hail Mary.” John leaps in his mother’s womb. Mary responds with the Magnificat, a canticle of God’s liberating love. Jesus is just there – in Mary’s womb.

Jesus does nothing but be present. He does not say anything; he doesn’t move in Mary’s womb. He is just there.

That is the mystery of the encounter with God – Jesus is, Jesus is present.

How do we respond?

Do we recognize Him as Elizabeth and John did?

Do we carry Him to others as Mary did?

Do we even recognize Him?

Perhaps we need to recall this paraphrase of a poem of St. John of the Cross:

If you meet the Virgin
coming down the road,
ask her in —
she bears the Word of God.

Will we recognize Jesus and will we bear him to others?



De Verbo divino
la Virgen preñada
viene de camino
si le dais posada.

Fiat – Let it be

“Let it be…”

Mary’s response to the surprising and disconcerting announcement that she was to be the mother of the Lord was a simple “Let it be so for me – as you have said.”

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Santa Maria in Trastevere

So simple and yet so difficult. But remembering God’s great love it may become easier.

Last week, during my retreat, I prayed the contemplation on the incarnation in Ignatius Spiritual Exercises.

The Trinity looking down on the earth – on all its people – and see us all, in our sin and suffering. They say, “Let Us work the redemption of the Human race.”

And “The Word becomes flesh” in the womb of a young woman in Nazareth.

God’s love is so great, wishing us healing and heaven – in love, willing our healing.

As I prayed, I thought of all the people throughout the world whom God looks upon with love – including me.

When we begin to realize this, we can say yes to God.

When we realize that God loves us and has our well-being in mind, it becomes easier to pray the prayer that ends Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my intellect, and all my will
—all that I have and possess.
You gave it to me: to Thee, Lord, I return it!
All is Yours, dispose of it according to all Your will.
Give me Your love and grace,
for this is enough for me.

Mary gave God all, recognizing God’s love.

Can I too say yes to God’s love?