Sunday, December 18, 2005

As we wait in joyful hope...

... for the coming of our savior.

We pray this prayer every time we go to Mass. And it's Advent, so we're waiting in a particular (only quasi-metaphorical) way for the savior. And it's Sunday, and what's a Sunday without me banging my head against the wall that is Catholicism?

Today's Gospel reading was Mary's Magnificat, which occurs in the context of the angel announcing to Mary that she will conceive a child whose name will be Jesus. And don't you just know THAT caused a few interesting conversations around the kitchen table? "Honest, Dad, there was an angel..." I don't mean that at all disrespectfully. Mary had HUGE obstacles to overcome, starting about 2 minutes after the annunciation when she, presumably, had to tell her parents that she was still a virgin and also pregnant. There's nobody divine at this point in the story, except for the baby -and he's not helping much just yet. So they probably ALL responded as people will to news that doesn't make much sense. Disbelief. Shock. Imperfection, in short. My guess is that this story got off to a rocky start.

Yet Mary is reported to have said "let it be done to me according to your word". Well, now. There are words to warm a feminist's heart. Or not. If I could take one sentence out of Scripture, this might well be it. (Although... there would be a lot of contenders for that excision, I have to say.) In my Catholic girls' secretly- feminist high school, the Magnificat was cast as a prayer of great power on Mary's part. That works for me, maybe, but it certainly hasn't been spun that way by most people over the centuries. Humble servant. Lowly vessel. Hardly descriptors of great power and strength. How far is it from "let it be done to me according to your will" to "whatever you say, dear" -or in the immortal words of Ingrid Bergman "you do the thinking for both of us"? In all seriousness, those aren't words I ever want to hear coming, say, out of my daughter's mouth. They aren't words likely to fall out of my mouth, even if it IS an angel standing in front of me. (Little wonder I wasn't the one chosen, I suppose.)

Here's how I make my peace with the Magnificat -and it's not quite peace. The angel offered Mary, a particular woman, a choice. She wasn't impregnated by a Zeus-like character marauding around the countryside, having his way with whomever was available. This turns out to matter to me. Moreover, the angel waits for Mary's consent. She had a choice. She accepted. I wish she'd used other words, but according to the story she acted from a place of personal power and made a decision. And that acceptance took her down paths that she didn't choose, couldn't have fully understood beforehand, and had repercussions forever. She chose to wait in joyful hope for the coming of the savior, in spite of knowing a little bit about how hard it was going to be. There's strength and courage in that.

Moreover, the Magnificat isn't just Mary's song. It's also, according to the catechism, the song of the church. Another story with a rocky beginning (middle and end, too). There's nobody divine in this part of the story, either. I mean -no person who is divine, literally sitting in the pews with me. It's just us. We mess things up all the time.

And it must be said, the church messes things up for women with some regularity. I know that and I keep going back. Is this madness? Why am I banging my head against this wall again and again and again...? I could be making another choice, after all. The particulars don't matter much, but believe me when I say it was a hard, hard morning at the old parish.

But here's what I'm going to try to do with the scant bit of Advent that's left. I'm going to try to wait in joyful hope for the church that lives its mission. I'm going to try to craft a church that lives its mission. I'm going to reframe this whole mess in my mind not as fruitless and bruise-inducing wall banging, but as the beginning of an "amen" -so be it. I AM Catholic.

Heaven help us all.

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