On Saying Yes: Mary’s Magnificat

The Visitation by Domenico Ghirlandaio, circa 1491

In the last post in this series, I noted how I had prepared to write about Mary’s “yes” by going back to the first Chapter of Luke to review the story of the Annunciation.  As part of the process, I read the verses on the Annunciation and then expanded my reading to the entire chapter to gain context.  This resulted in me being drawn to the story of Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah and ultimately to writing a post comparing the two visits.

As I began to prepare for the next post on Mary, I repeated this process.  Again, I was drawn to something else in the chapter.  This time it was the Magnificat, the Song of Mary spoken in response to John the Baptist leaping for joy in the womb of Elizabeth.

Here is the entire Magnificat from Luke, Chapter 1, verses 47-55:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
   of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”

It was verse 48 that caught my attention and became the focus of my prayer:

for he has been mindful
   of the humble state of his servant.

As soon as I read and understood it, I felt that the assertions I had made about Mary and her embrace of Spiritual Poverty had been confirmed by her own words.  And then, as I read and reread the entirety of the Song through the lens of this verse, a pattern of praise of poverty emerged that I had never identified before.  I was not unfamiliar with these verses, but I had never concentrated on them previously in prayer, and thus had never realized how profound they were in relation to the Franciscan ideal of Spiritual Poverty.

This is the power of taking the time to completely immerse yourself in the gospels.  I patiently abided in this scene, watching Elizabeth react to Mary’s visit and then Mary’s response, and I was overwhelmed.  How had I never caught the references to poverty in Mary’s Song before?  Every time I had heard this gospel read at Mass or recited as part of the Liturgy of the Hours, I missed it!

The richness of the gospels makes it impossible to catch everything as you experience them in routine encounters.  But when approached from a patient and prayerful perspective, they never disappoint.  There is always something new, waiting to be discovered, waiting to take one deeper into the mystery of God and the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.  God’s plan for eternal salvation is offered to us unconditionally and unceasingly through His Word but we must make ourselves present to that Word to internalize it. 

Spiritual Poverty is the key to integrating and maintaining this presence.  It is what allows us to separate ourselves from the distractions of the world and focus our attention on God. We must work at it rigorously as part of our conversion process just as our Rule urges us to do.

Mary knew this long before Francis did.  She used poverty as a tool for placing God foremost in her life and it changed her future utterly.  Her example almost certainly encouraged Francis to his embrace of poverty, and it impels us to the same.  Our charism pushes us toward poverty so that our futures can be changed as completely as hers was.  We long to experience God as intensely as she did. 

There is no limit to the joy that we can know as God reveals Himself to us again and again in the gospels and the balance of holy scripture.  But we must be there, regularly, attentively, to secure that joy.  When we first commit ourselves to poverty and the quest for a deeper relation with God, we do not have the wisdom to know what to expect.  Then the Holy Spirit (along with Mary) acknowledges our desire and meets it.  He nurtures our commitment and guides us to successes unlike anything we have known before. 

We progress in our conversion.  Looking back, we begin to understand what Mary meant when she said, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”

We begin to appreciate what it means to allow our souls to “glorify (or magnify) the Lord.”

_____________________     

Please read through the full Song again.  Do so multiple times using Mary’s poverty as your focal point.  Pick out the words and phrases that speak to humbleness, mercy and service. Juxtapose them against those that speak to the fate of the proud, the rulers, and the rich.

As I allowed these verses to work on me, I found myself wanting to rearrange them in order to emphasize the message of poverty’s power.  I began to read the verses specifically affecting me in these two groupings:

He has scattered those who are proud
in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
and has sent the rich away empty.

He has been mindful
   of the humble state of his servant.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has lifted up the humble
and filled the hungry with good things.
 He has helped his servant Israel,

   remembering to be merciful…………….

Spend some time on the rearranged words, then narrow down again and concentrate on the verse originally suggested:

               “He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”

Recognize that when Mary says “his servant” she is speaking about herself.  The words “humble state” describe her own orientation to God.  The He is God Himself.

Mary is clearly asserting that the reason “the Mighty One has done great things” for her, the reason she is to become “the mother of my Lord,” to quote Elizabeth, is her humility. 

She has successful positioned herself as a wholly dedicated servant of God via a complete embrace of humility.  God is “mindful” of what she has freely chosen.  He recognizes the perfection of her humility and servanthood and judges her worthy to become the Mother of Jesus. 

The worthiness of her humility then extends to her position in history.  “All generations will call her blessed” because she has freely embraced fear of God.  We often think of fear as being defined by distress, anxiety, or even terror.  Fear does not mean those things in this context.  Instead it indicates respect.  We do not shrink from that which we fear.  Instead, we venerate that which we are meant to venerate and draw closer to it.  This fear does not paralyze.  It liberates us to fully love that which we were meant to fully love.  It brings us into close communion with our Creator.  It unites us to God with an intimacy that is otherwise impossible.

God’s mindfulness of Mary’s absolute humility and willingness to serve causes Him, in His Mercy, to extend His arm and lift her up, filling the one who trusts Him completely with good things.  Mary knew her embrace of positive fear safeguarded her from all concern.  To quote article twelve of the Rule, Mary “set herself free to love God” and found that in the end she had nothing to fear, at least in terms of the negative connotations we typically associate with that word.

Her trust, confidence and veneration of God translate into Mary becoming, as the Office of the Passion describes her, “the Daughter and Handmaid of the Most High, Sovereign King, the Heavenly Father, Mother of our most Holy Lord Jesus Christ, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit.”

Daughter.  Mother.  Spouse.  Her intimacy with God is unparalleled and perfect.  All made possible by an absolute embrace of Spiritual Poverty from a position of humility and servanthood. 

Mary is our ultimate model.  If we choose as she chose, if we assume humility, servanthood, trust, and veneration as she did, what wondrous things might happen to us? 

_____________________

The post before this was on the twelfth chapter of the gospel of John.  It was subtitled “Maturing from Following into Service.”  Following on the heels of the post on my cancer diagnosis and its relationship to the reflection on chapter eleven, this is the second consecutive post from Journey thru John where the timing seems more than coincidental.

In the Annunciation and the Magnificat, Mary calls herself “servant” twice.

At the end of the Annunciation, she says directly, “I am the Lord’s servant” and asks that the “word to her be fulfilled.”  She is ready to serve God respectfully and fearlessly, relying on Him completely, willing to do and experience whatever may come (including difficulties as predicted in article 10 of the Rule) despite the uncertainty of what the favor of the Lord means for her future. 

As we have discussed in detail above, in her Song she references “the humble state of his servant” in response to the words of Elizabeth.

And then, at the end of the Magnificat, there is a third use of the word servant as she acknowledges God’s “remembering to be merciful” as He “helps his servant Israel.”  

In the post on Chapter 12, I maintained that servanthood is the mark of maturity in one’s relationship with God.  We begin by following but following is not enough.  Only when we adopt servanthood does our relationship with God fully ripen.  Only then can we unlock the potential for understanding the mysteries of God and Creation in a new and deeper way.

Labeling herself as servant reveals Mary’s maturity.  She unveils herself as the epitome of what is possible when servanthood is perfected.  She exemplifies maturity fulfilled to its greatest extent.  Her total embrace of Spiritual Poverty translates to a level of relationship with God that is flawless, so faultless we consider it to be Immaculate.  It leads to such a deep communion that she becomes Daughter, Mother and Spouse to God all at once.

Her maturity also gives her unequaled insight into the workings of God and Creation.  Despite her young age, she possesses the spiritual wisdom to speak the Magnificat and thus reveal to us, well ahead of the time of Francis, the nature and importance of what Francis would ultimately label Lady Poverty.  (Its hard to imagine that Francis was not influenced by the Magnificat in his choice of words.)

She is not only the Mother of Jesus, but in some sense, at least in this moment, she is also a Prophet of God, revealing to us a most important Truth about the nature of Creation.  We would all be wise to embrace the Truth of Spiritual Poverty entirely if we wish our relationship with God to come to full maturity.

_____________________

Mary wears many titles within the church.  One of the most profound is Advocate.  (See the reflection for chapter two of Journey thru John.)

Perhaps we should consider The Magnificat the beginning of her career as Advocate?  In it she reveals and confirms for us the foundation of her own “yes” to the call of God.  She lets us know directly that it is humility and servanthood that led to her becoming Daughter, Mother and Spouse.  At the same time, she invites us to follow her example into our own deep and productive relationship with God.  Inherent in her invitation is the promise that she will be our guide on a journey of continual conversion to the way of Spiritual Poverty that she has revealed in her Song.

In other words, she pledges to be our Advocate as we seek to find our own way into profound relationship with God.  Like her Son, she will shepherd us as we go.  She will incessantly beseech God to assist us as we seek Him out via the freedom of Spiritual Poverty.  She will be there always, as faithful to us as she is to God, providing Motherly support as we seek to move beyond simple following into the wisdom that she achieved and models and desires for us. 

She will be our tireless advocate as we seek the mature relationship with God that will ultimately result in our eternal salvation.   

The only possible response to her invitation and advocacy is to seek to wholly emulate her “yes” as presented in the story of the Annunciation and reinforced by the Magnificat.

_____________________

If we possess any wisdom at all, we acknowledge in humility that imitating Mary is not an easy thing to do.  We know that we suffer from human frailty.  We know that the enemy and the world will seek to distract us from this purpose.  We know that we need the strength and support of Advocates (not just Mary, but the Holy Spirit and the Communion of Saints as well) if we are to have any hope of succeeding in our quest to exemplify Mary’s profound “yes.”

The only way to aspire to that “yes” is to embrace her position of humility and servanthood and acknowledge our need for her assistance. 

Lucky for us, we know her to be boundless in her capacity to be our steadfast help.  As we seek to imitate her trusting “yes,” we know we can pray to her for guidance and assistance and that she will respond by unceasingly carrying our prayers to the Father.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for this sinner, now………………!”  

Not just at the hour of my death, but now as well, that I might better apprehend the “yes” you said to God at the Annunciation in response to the word of Gabriel. 

Now, that I might gain enough insight into the “yes” that allowed you to speak the Magnificat that I can learn and grow from it.

Now, that I might fathom and embrace the humility that was integral to your “yes.”

Now, that I might realize and welcome servanthood as you did so that my “yes” might be more complete and perfect in the eyes of the God as I seek an ever deepening relationship with Him according to your example.

Now, that through the imitation of your “yes” I might move one step closer to my ultimate goal of eternal salvation!

2 thoughts on “On Saying Yes: Mary’s Magnificat

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