15th August 2009
Moving in and out of the Word of God
"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his posterity for ever."
The group was made up of young men from a deprived Dublin suburb; some were struggling with addiction to alcohol or drugs, others had been in trouble with the law; from their early years all of them had faced serious obstacles. We were reading the story of David and Goliath. David was young and slight. Goliath was a giant of a man, a mighty warrior armed from head to toe. David faced him with a sling and five small stones. He also faced him with faith and courage, and though the odds were completely against him, he overcame Goliath. Talking in a group about the Bible or about their own experience did not come easy to the young men. At the end of the session and after the tea, one of them got on his bike and said, "I am going out now to take on Goliath again." As he returned to the hard realities of his life he remembered the Bible story and may have been encouraged; what was possible for David was possible for him too.
We hardly notice how important are the stories we carry around in our heads. Children are aware of their own littleness and of their dependence on the goodness of grown-ups; they are reassured by the fairy-tales and stories that make them feel safe. Evil giants and cruel step-mothers make life difficult for those who are little, but in the end goodness wins out and the little ones can go to sleep in peace. We all have inspiring stories stored away in our memories - stories about good people we have known in our own families and neighbourhoods and through our reading and through the media. These stories come back to us in the ups and downs of our daily living and sustain and guide us. We are guided too by wise words we have heard in the past. An elderly man may say, "My mother always told us: 'Don't get into debt. Don't buy something until you can pay it.'" He may go on to tell you that he has followed that advice for a lifetime.
One of the great things that is happening in the Catholic Church today is that people are beginning to open the Bible and to read it for themselves, and not only to read it but to ponder prayerfully its words and stories. They are filling their minds with stories and wise words which will be a source of guidance and inspiration. In doing this they are re-discovering a great tradition. St. Patrick was so familiar with the words of the Bible that when he came to write his life story, his "Confession," he constantly used words out of the scriptures to describe the things that had happened to himself. Mary did this too in her Magnificat.
Weaving from threads of scripture.
At the end of his first encyclical on love, Pope Benedict draws our attention to the Magnificat. He says that in it, Mary gives a portrait of her own soul: "The Magnificat is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture. Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the Word of God, with ease she moves in and out of it. She speaks and thinks with the Word of God; the Word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the word of God. Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God."
In her Magnificat, Mary echoes words of Isaiah: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God." She is remembering also the prayer of Hannah who was full of joy at the birth of her long awaited child Samuel; Hannah prayed, "My heart exults in the Lord... The Lord brings low and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes." Mary is familiar with the Book of Genesis: when Asher was born, Leah said, "Happy am I! For the women will call me blessed!" Some of Mary's words come from the Psalms: "Then they said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them.' The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad." (Ps 126:2-3)
"For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he knows from afar." (Ps 138:6)
The last words of the prophet Micah find a clear echo in Mary's prayer:" You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old."
Indeed, Mary thinks and speaks with the Word of God.