Tag Archives: Magnificat

Sending the rich away empty

God casts down the mighty from the thrones
and raises the lowly,
fills the hungry with good things
and send the rich away empty.
Luke 1: 52-53

DSC04679When Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, she broke into the song we call the Magnificat. This hymn, rooted in the hymn of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2: 1-10, is a revolutionary call to recognize and live the Reign of God which has begun in this world with the incarnation of Jesus in the womb of a young poor woman from the backwoods hamlet of Nazareth.

Something new has happened: God has become flesh.

Something new can begin: human beings saved by God can begin to live in the light of the Reign of God.

“God sends the rich away empty,” Mary sings.

Now that’s a bit much for some of us who have more than we need – even if we are not super-rich. It’s really a challenge to those of us who live among the poor but with all the security of a US bank account, Social Security, and more.

But what might God be saying to us?

During my canonical retreat before ordination as a deacon, the retreat director led a session on Mary. Sometime later that day, I was praying the Magnificat when this insight came to me, which I quote from my notes:

You fill the hungry with good things
and send the rich away empty
so that we may experience
the emptiness that you alone can fill,
with the emptying out of ourselves for others.

We who are rich need to be emptied out of all that keeps us safe and isolated from the precariousness of existence for so many in the world.

This became very clear to me the last week. I live a comfortable, uncomplicated life here in Honduras, with easy access to what I need. But this past week the village has been digging up the road to put in a sewage line before the road is paved. It’s a major inconvenience. I cannot park my car by the house. I have to find alternative places to park the car and walk ten minutes to the house.

Yesterday, I had to travel an alternative route to get to where I wanted to go. We were going to a nearby village to celebrate Mass on their feast day – anticipating the Assumption of Mary. The truck was full – with people and with the drinks for the meal after Mass.

But even this adventure proved to be a valuable lesson in the vision of the Reign of God. Isaias helped me find a back way out of Plan Grande. But we got stuck in the mud and even four-wheel drive wasn’t enough. So almost everyone got out of the truck and tried pulling and pushing. No luck.  Sure enough, about five men from nearby came and pushed and pulled the truck. We proceeded to Mass but, as I look back, I realized that act of being pushed and pulled by the poor was also a sign of God’s presence and what God wants for us.

May God continue to empty me of my attempts to be self-sufficient and move me to serve at the table of the poor.

The photo was taken in the Cloisters Museum in New York City.

Raising up the lowly

He has cast down the mighty from the thrones
and raised up the lowly.
Luke 1: 52

 If today were not the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Gospel reading would be the Magnificat, the canticle of Mary in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1: 46-56).

Mary visiting Elizabeth sings a song of rejoicing in the hope of a Messiah. She acknowledges a God who looks on the lowly and takes their side.

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the killing of Chico Mendes, a rubber worker who organized other workers and sought to defend the Amazonian rain forest. Cattle ranchers and large land-owners would often burn the forest to have land for their cattle.

For his efforts, Chico was killed by a rancher and his son.

Mary’s son would also die and it appears that the mighty are not cast down from their thrones and the hungry are not filled with good things.

The world does not seem to work as Mary’s canticle proclaims.

But God calls us to have hope, to keep the vision of God’s love and justice in our hearts and in our sight – spurring us on to work for the Reign of God.

The Gospel which will be read in Catholic churches today is the vision of Joseph who is told that his wife’s child is God-with-us, the One who is to come to save God’s people.

As Father Gustavo Gutiérrez puts it:

Joseph is confused and this perplexity prepares him to understand God’s action. When we think that everything is occurring “normally,” we are not capable of perceiving what is new. The unexpected interrupts our plans.

Can we see God’s plan interrupting our lives – calling us to work with God in raising up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things?

In the midst of darkness, light shines. Will we reflect that light – or let ourselves be overwhelmed by the darkness?

After Chico Mendes died, his wife observed:

Chico had a lot of faith. When he died, I was filled with despair. But God comforted me and inspired me to work alongside others to carry on Chico’s work. They killed him, but they didn’t kill his ideals or crush the struggle.

Will we let God inspire us to continue the struggle that Christ may be born in our midst?

The Virgin of Guadalupe: raising up the lowly

Who am I that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
Luke 1: 43

 These words of Elizabeth express wonder at the mystery of the Word made flesh in Mary who has come to visit her.

Today the Church in the Americas virgen of guadalupecelebrates the feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mary who came – as La Morenita, the dark skinned-maiden – to Juan Diego. She identified herself as “the Mother of the true God through whom one lives.”

What was Juan Diego’s reaction?

My dear Lady, this I beg you, entrust your mission to one of the important persons who is well known, respected, and esteemed so that they may believe him. You know that I am a nobody, a nothing, a coward, a pile of old sticks.

How many of the poor and the indigenous of this world have been so put down that they fell this way? “I am a nobody.”

But it was to “a nobody” that Mary entrusted her mission. Mary came not as a Spaniard, but as a young indigenous woman, speaking in Nahuatl – not in Spanish.

She appeared first on December 9 on the Hill of Tepeyac and told Juan Diego to go to the bishop, requesting a church on the site of her appearance. The bishop was skeptical. But Juan Diego returned the next day, after the Virgin had sent him again. The bishop now asked for some sign that this was true.

Juan Diego stayed at home the next day to care for his sick uncle. The next day he went looking for a priest to visit his uncle and tried to avoid the Virgin.

But an early account notes that “she came out to meet him.”

The rest is history – Juan Diego picks roses in December and presents them to the bishop, only to discover that there was an image of La Morenita on his tilma, his cloak.

But what strikes me is the remark of an early account of the event by Antonio Valeriano:

“she came out to meet him.”

Mary, as evangelist, comes out to the poor, the indigenous, who consider themselves as nothing. She reveals to them their gift, their power to evangelize – a capacity I see continually here in Honduras. The poor are evangelizers of each other, of their neighbors, and of us foreigners.

In the canticle of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:  1-10) which is the inspiration for Mary’ canticle (Luke 1: 46-55), Hannah triumphantly sings:

The Lord lifts up the lowly from the dust
And raises the poor from the ash heap.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is again an indication of God taking the side of the poor, lifting them up, and giving them the mission to evangelize the world, especially those of us who are held bound by our money and power.

May our hearts be open to the poor, who bring us the Good News of a God who comes to save and liberate all of us.


Martyrs and Mary’s Magnificat

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
Luke 1: 52-53

 Mary’s canticle, the Magnificat, has been set to music by many, including Johann Sebastian Bach. But its words are a great challenge to the powerful and rich of this world and have been lived by many, often to the point of martyrdom.

Mary proclaims the greatness of the Kingdom of God and describes what it entails:

food for the hungry, the exaltation of the lowly.

 But many who have struggled for this Kingdom has lost their lives in the process.

On December 22, 1988,  Chico Mendez, rubber-tapper, advocate of the environment, was killed in Brazil. This martyr for the environment once said:

“If a messenger from heaven would guarantee that my death would strengthen our struggle, it might be worthwhile. But experience teaches us the opposite; so, I want to live.”

On December 22, 1997, in the chapel in Acteal, municipality of Chenalhó, Chiapas, Mexico, 45 civilians were murdered. They were members of Socieded Civil Las Abejas (The Bees Civil Society), a nonviolent community involved in the struggle for justice for the indigenous in one of the poorest areas of Mexico.

A survivor of the massacre said:

“. . . we do not have arms to defend ourselves. . . .But we decided to trust in God and we began to pray in the church. Now we know that they are martyrs. We know that God received the 45 and that God is preparing to receive us also. Because the struggle continues. We are not afraid to die. We are ready to die, but not to kill. If God permits us some more days here, all right. If not, that is all right also.”

It appears from these and other cases that the lowly are not being lifted up, that the rich are grabbing more and more. But in the plan of God there is a hope for something different as well as a call for God’s people to struggle for a world where the lowly are lifted up, honored, and have what they need.

Will we live the Magnificat – or just “pray” it?