Fourth Sunday of Advent 2011

“Through the gentle mothering of Mary, may the Christ Child grow to full stature and grace in the hearts and souls of all of us.”

Andrew Nugent, OSB

We were listening this afternoon to one of the campus scholars who got a double doctorate abroad and seems able to read 5 foreign languages. The topic was on the “how” of getting published and in either format, book or journal articles. He was very good and obviously, an intellectual paragon in his field of international studies, someone younger academicians can look up to in their career trajectories.

But my mind was caught between his scholarly feat and Mary and an exotic foreign place name Sepphoris. When you have just done checking students’ papers and on the penultimate days of making and submitting grades, often, the last thing you want to sit in is in the formality of an academic exchange, unless it is interluded by the awarding of bottles of wine for the achievers which to the delight of most, especially the men in the audience,provided some bouyancy to the seriousness of the occasion.

Why “think” about Mary? Why Sepphoris? Because the story of the Annunciation will be read again this Sunday and for nights now, I have been sleeping with the Lukan text. And Sepphoris because back then during the first century, it was one of the four major centers of the Greco-Roman culture, a hub of learning and trade, and on whose urban sophistication of hippodromes, theaters, and temples the silent farming village of Nazareth, around 500 in population and about 5 miles away, was but only its shadow. Metro Manila could be one Asian reincarnation of Sepphoris, crammed by malls and universities, by cultural actors and aesthetes and moneyless bystanders, by night bars and window shoppers.

Why “think” about Mary? I don’t know about you but in my case, I can’t seem to figure out through all these years how she has been to my life, what kind of relationship have I labored or gifted with. I scanned back my journal of the last 5 years and on top of the recurring one-sentence prayer: “Mama Mary, please comfort us in our afflictions. Amen” was this dream entry on April 15, 2005:

“This is such a “rapid dream.” Like a puff of wind. The most interesting scene was the image of a woman holding a child. It was like the statue of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart holding Jesus that I grew up with. She was standing on top of a tree. I saw them only for a few seconds and then they were blown away by a strong wind. Even in my dream, I had no doubt that it was The Madonna.”

But truth be told, it is a kind of relationship in which affective intimacy would be the last descriptor and any Freudian reader among you could take this under the slight of mother-child psychoanalytic aberration. When I pray the Rosary, my weapon against the whip of afflictions, my mind easily wanders off except that I beat those mental monkeys by keeping on until it is capped by a short litany of my bookmarked “holy fools.” Mindless, scatter-brained rosary-praying? Sounds like the best phrase to describe it except that the current rosary bead I have has been with me for 12 years now, through the height of trans-ocean air travel and the dark nook of my jeans’ pocket. Countless fears and anxieties have been poured out with it; uttered as well were countless names.

“Marian” as this country is, I never had a particular devotion to one image of Mama Mary until now. Truth be told, I still have some carryover confusion from my days of youth when San Isidro de Labrador, Our Lady of the Rosary, Immaculate Conception, and Mother of Perpetual Help are all mixed up in one small barrio even as we pray the novena to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart back in the convent. Schillebeeckx seems to make a point on the other side of the plural faces of Mama Mary:

“In other words, the foundation for all honorific titles of Mary lay in the fact that, or rather in the believing way in which, she became the ‘mother of Jesus of Nazareth’, the mother of God’s own beloved Son, our Lord. That is not only the foundation for all recognition of particular legitimate honorific titles for Mary, but also the necessary limit to them.”

Perhaps, I can get academic at times as I seek for clarity on this relationship and how Mama Mary is exactly answering my prayers, the kind of consumer-producer, buyer-seller arrangement so infectious in our pragmatic society, in the “Sepphoris” of our times. Perhaps this could be, too. But I am not closing my doors of perception because it could also be a desire beyond my understanding to submit myself to Her silent mothering, silent in this sense of an “overshadowing, cloud of unknowing.” ‘There’s no need for those clear, blue, cloudless canopies’ seems to be the message because this is what she had exemplified as a woman of faith: no evangelist had reported an apparition of Jesus to his believing mother. That I don’t have her level of faith yet is already the burden of desire that keeps me going, that pushes me to listen to her silent mothering. That I don’t have her level of faith yet is already the burden of asking human Dawkinsian questions: “how did you converse with an angel?” or “how can I converse with mine?” both telling of my wobbly faith and devoid of the meaning of ‘angel’ that Carmina Navia Velasco had quoted from Drewermann: “Everything that gives wings to the soul of the human person, everything that sheds a light from heaven on us, creates a sphere in which angels speak to us.” For all I know and beyond my comprehension compounded by my dull listening, the Word has been spoken long before I beg that it speaks to me. “Before we say our own “Amen,” it is God who has said “Amen” to Mary” wrote Leonardo Boff.

“Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Such openness. Such humility. Such vulnerability to simply walk in abiding faith. The spheres of grounded living where proofs and projected outcomes, even career trajectories take the backseats. Again, how to get there that ordinary human beings are charged of arriving? By way of Mama Mary, who the early Church Fathers believed had conceived the Christ Child first in her “mind” and heart before she conceived him in her body. Something worth praying for.

Mama Mary, the blessed one,
you said ‘Amen’ and gave birth to our Lord and Savior.
Allow us to be born again through your silent mothering in us,
so that the Christ Child will be born in us. Amen.

__________________

Andrew Nugent, OSB. “December Mysteries,” in Spirituality Vol.17 Nov-Dec 2011 No. 99.
Edward Schillbeeckx and Cathalina Halkes. Mary: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (Crossroad NY, 1993)
Leonardo Boff. Praying With Jesus and Mary (Orbis Books: New York, 2005). On the virginity of Mary, Boff wrote: “Virginity also expresses the radical quality of Mary’s surrender to God. Her virginity is a living testimony to the fact that God is absolutely central to her existence. Virginity here entails no disrespect for human love or marriage; they are also forms of love of God. But Mary’s virginity reveals a uniquely radical quality, such a concentration on God that every other form of love will always be a love based on the love of God, a love in God.”
Carmina Navia Velasco. “Mary of Nazareth Revisited” in Concilium 2008/4 (SCM Press: London)
Photo credit; biblecliparts

“Mind” – silence of the deep mind – read ravenwilderness.blogspot post Event Horizon and Deep Mind/Theology, July 11,2011, a well-groundedcorrective on the Cartesian doctrine on the brain/mind issue.

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