This afternoon our readings have been about three women; Hannah, Mary, and Elizabeth who all became pregnant in miraculous ways. All three dedicated their sons (Samuel, Jesus, and John the Baptist) to God’s service. The songs that were offered by Hannah and Mary were in response to God’s gift of these sons to them and to Israel. The theme of each is God’s reversal of fortune by bringing down the powerful and raising up the lowly.
Both Hannah and Mary are mothers rejoicing at the birth of an unexpected child. Hannah praises God that he has seen fit to end her barrenness, while Mary glorifies the Lord because he has chosen her to bear the promised Messiah. Each knew to her sorrow that she would have to give up her son one day.
Near the beginning of the first book of Samuel, we find Hanna deep in prayer asking God to end her barrenness and give her a son. She promises to give her son to God. Her prayer is answered and Samuel is born to her. When he is three years old, she brings him to Eli, the priest to be raised in God’s house. Later, Samuel becomes a great prophet of Israel and anoints its future king: David. (After Samuel, Hanna has three more sons and two daughters. God will not be outdone in generosity!)
Centuries later, in Luke we find Mary deep in prayer. When an angel visits she shows a willingness to be and do whatever God asks of her. However, in her relationship with God, she is not afraid to ask questions. “How will this be …?” and then “Let it be done, according to your word…”
Holding all these things in her heart, she hurries to visit Elizabeth. Now we women know when something momentous happens to us, we have a need to tell another woman or a group of our close friends! Perhaps this was true for Mary and Elizabeth. They needed to share the wonders that God was working in and through them.
It is when she meets Elizabeth that Mary proclaims the Magnificat. It echoes the song of Hanna. It is a song of hope and joy as well as a challenge.
To reflect more deeply on the Magnificat, I have divided it into three sections. Each section will have a brief commentary followed by one or more reflection questions.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
For he has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed
For He has done great things for me and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
This first part proclaims that God is a God of surprises. This is a song of pure joy – joy and gratitude in what God accomplished through a young woman of faith and the hope it brings for generations.
God is Good. God is Love. God’s great love encircles each of us and all of us. Let’s take a few moments to recall a time when we were overwhelmed with God’s love and goodness. It may have been so powerful that we were rendered speechless with awe; it may have been a time when we wanted to shout out in joy or to sing a song of gratitude.
God is Good. God is Love. God’s great love encircles each of us and all of us. With Mary, we give ourselves to God and sing with pure joy!
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.
This second part is a call to a prophetic stance. God redeems; God saves. God is God of the unexpected. God is the Mighty One, but he uses his might and power to help the poor. God wants all people to be free to live in a just and peaceful world.
What does it mean to be a prophet? A prophet speaks for God. In the Scriptures, there were fiery prophets, like John the Baptist or reluctant ones like Jeremiah: “I am too young…I don’t know how to speak…” But all of us are called by the Spirit to stand for the truth. Some of us are called to speak publicly; others are called to work quietly behind the scenes. By our words and actions – by our example, we speak for God. St. Francis said, “Preach always; sometimes use words.”
Let us take a few moments to reflect on how are we being called today? What issues draw us? Ecology? Human Rights? The Poor? Another?
He has filled the hungry with good things
And the rich he has sent away empty
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His servants forever.
The third part is a call to servanthood. As Jesus was Servant to us, we are called to serve one another with joy; with love. And God is with us.
There is a movie called The Three Feathers – I didn’t see the movie, but I was impressed with what I heard about it. The story takes place in India, during the 1800s. An English soldier is wounded and stranded in the dessert. A young Indian, the enemy, stops to help him – does everything for him, cleans his wounds, gets him food, and even protects him when there is danger of being attacked or captured by other Indians. Finally the soldier asks him, “Why are you helping me?” He answers, “Because God put you in my way.”
Let us take a few moments to reflect on who God is “putting in our way?”
As you can see, the Magnificat is a song of joy and a challenge. As we move forward to honor Mary, the Woman of the Magnificat and our Mother, we pray that we, too, will be people of the Magnificat:
Courageous Prophets and