Madonna of Hope

Toward the end of his encyclical “Saved in Hope,” the present Holy Father Benedict XVI turns his and our attention to Mary. Using the title “Star of the Sea,” he notes how life is a journey in which we need stars to indicate the route we should take. He then turns his attention to Mary -- one who shines “with His light and so guides us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her ‘yes’ she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us”(cf. Jn. 1, 14).

And he adds a personal address to the Virgin which I believe we must keep in mind. “When you hastened with holy joy across the mountains of Judea to see your cousin Elizabeth, you became the image of the Church to come, which carries the hope of the world in her womb across the mountains of history.”

The French poet Charles Peguy, whose life was a struggle, penned “The Portal of the Mystery of Hope.” He sees hope as central to our spiritual strivings. He believes that in many ways hope quietly carries faith and love to their true fulfillment. A few of his insights should be noted:

Faith sees only what is,

But she, (hope) she sees what will be.

Charity loves only what is,

But she, she loves what will be

Faith sees what is

In Time and in Eternity.

Hope sees what will be

In Time and for Eternity.

In this broad context, I believe we should conclude our Advent meditations on his note of hope -- and how we should be fostering this hope within our own lives.

Mary was conscious of the Life within her -- a Life which she knew would bring about a radical transformation in the world. It was her conscious concentration on the Life which compelled her to become an icon of hope.

The Mystery and the Joy of the Christmas season is that this same life can and is born again and again within us. The dynamics remain constant and simple, but they bear repeating. We begin by listening to the Word of God. Then we pray for the grace to nourish that Word within us. Finally, we present Christ to the world through our acts of compassion, love, forgiveness, etc. And like Mary, we must learn to look at the Life within -- at the One who is God-with-us and who attaches himself to us.

There is a striking image in the Italian artist Botticelli’s “Madonna of the Magnificat.” Mary is depicted before an open book and an inkwell, penning her prayer. The right hand of the Infant Jesus covers her hand as she finishes her prayer of praise -- a prayer in which she envisions “What will be in Time.”

He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones

but lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things,

the rich he has sent empty away... (Lk 1: 52-53)

In her visionary words, Mary is describing the beginnings of the Kingdom of God -- a kingdom of justice, love and peace. As we know, we are a long way from achieving this Kingdom. But her vision and in our image, Christ’s blessing of her sentiments compels us to work for this goal.

In my imaginary journey with Mary toward Bethlehem, two incidents occurred which might explain why we have not made better progress toward realizing God’s earthly desire. The first would lead us to the Inn-keeper who failed to offer hospitality. Such was a sacred tradition in Biblical times. For whatever reason (perhaps busyness) he did not welcome Mary and Joseph into his house and into his heart. From him we learn that we must never fail to reach out in hospitality to those who are in need. For us, they represent Christ in disguise: “as long as you did it to the least...”

Secondly, in quiet meditation, we might pause before the traditional creche scene. The image of the Baby is always appealing. It enfleshes so much: innocence, joy, etc. Then we realize that the child is utterly dependent. And the truth is that Christ still remains dependent upon us to bring His good news to our world.

Msgr. McDonnell is a senior priest of the archdiocese and is residence at St. Mary, Dedham.