Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mary, light of our home, church (Musings on the feast of the Assumption)

WE have a saying: “Ang ina ay ang ilaw ng tahahan (“Mother is the light of the home”). To this I once heard a friend quip: “Kung ang ina ang ilaw ng tahanan, ano naman ang ama? (If the mother is the light of the home, what is the father?)” He answered his own question: “Kung mabuti sya’ng ama, s’ya ang kandila; kung hindi sya mabuting ama, sya ang -----co! (If he was a good father, he would be the candle; if not, he would be -----co!)”
I have a sense that very few among Pinoy Catholics will contest the proposition regarding Mary being the light of our home, the Church. If we, on the one hand, believe, as we say we do, that Mary is our Mother as Jesus told us so from the cross (Jn 19:27: “There is your mother”), then Mary in our Filipino Christian culture, on the other, is the “Light of our Home, the Church”. We say so for a big reason. Mama Mary is resplendent with the light of faith. That is the Mama Mary that we see being presented in her Assumption. Revelation’s reference to the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and her head a crown of twelve stars”  (Rev. 12:1), as Bible experts tell us, can give us a variety of meanings. She could refer to the People of God in the OT founded on the twelve tribes, a people who gave birth to the Messiah; second, she could also be the New People of God founded on the twelve apostles, the Church; third, she could be Mary who represents the best of OT Israel and NT New Israel, the Church. She herself gave birth to Jesus, the Messiah, whose Body we are all members of. In a word, by virtue of our being members of Christ Jesus her Son, Mary is our Mother.
            It is in this context that we can say Mary is, by extension, the Light of our Home, the Church (understood here as the locus of the Father’s Family) through her faith. The gospel of Luke especially is our witness to how that faith truly gives light to us. First, it is her faith that shows us that listening is an essential component of our life as children of the Father. She is portrayed unambiguously as reflecting on the Word of the Lord and the events of her and her Son’s life through which God also speaks to her (Lk 2:19, 51). Second, she follows up her listening with doing, as when she obeys God’s plan for her to be the Mother of God’s Son. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me as you say” (Lk 1:39). Her obedience casts an enlightening ray on our struggles to find the path to God. Third, even Elizabeth extols her for “trusting that the Lord’s words to her will be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45). It is a faith manifested in trust. The art of trust, however difficult at times, is necessary in our primary relationships, with God as foremost. The leap of Mary’s trust in God teaches us that faith, admittedly a risk, is one always worth taking. Fourth, her faith is also shown by her loving service, as when she visits Elizabeth during her time of need, as she is about to give birth. The light of faith, Mary shows, may meander but it leads to charity.
On top of all these, faith such as that we glimpse in Mary provides light to society in various ways. On this Pope Francis is our foremost authority. One, faith, teaches the pope, gives a firm grounding to the brotherhood of man by referring it to God as our one and common Father (Lumen Fidei, no. 54). Two, faith brings human beings an understanding of “the unique dignity of each person, something which was not clearly seen in antiquity”, as the case of the pagan Celsus reproaching Christians for considering man greater than grass and brute beasts (ibid.). Three, faith reveals to us “the love of God the Creator” and thus “enables us to respect nature all the more, and to discern in it a grammar written by the hand of God and dwelling place entrusted to our protection and care” (LF 55). Four, “faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted” (ibid.). Five, “it teaches us to create just forms of government, in the realization that authority comes from God and is meant for the service of the common good” (ibid.). Six, “faith likewise offers the possibility of forgiveness” especially "once we discover that goodness is always prior to and more powerful than evil, and that the word with which God affirms our life is deeper than our every denial” (ibid.).
            Let’s examine Mama Mary in relation to the ways faith can be light to society. The grounding of the brotherhood of human beings on God as our Father was made possible because Mama Mary consented to being the Mother of God’s Son in whom we are God’s children. Our unique dignity as human persons precisely comes from sharing in the sonship of Jesus Christ, something that would not have been possible if he did not assume our human nature through Mama Mary. The revelation of God as Creator finds its unique form when the uncreated Son of God took on a creature’s nature through a human mother named Mary. Mama Mary’s making herself available for service to her cousin Elizabeth and even to a newly wed couple in Cana certainly speaks for her faith’s concrete manifestation seeking other persons’ welfare not based “on utility and profit” but on love. Mama Mary’s Magnificat speaks of unjust rulers being deposed by the Almighty God through his own mysterious ways positively speaks of God’s desire for “just forms of government”. Finally, does Mama Mary stand for forgiveness? By implication. She stood by Jesus to the bitter end, even when he prayed to the Father, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Moreover, she still remained with Peter and the other apostles even when they abandoned her Son on the way to his crucifixion.
            If Mama Mary’s faith lives in us and in our society, society will be transformed from inside out.

CL, ibid.). The response? “It is now clear that our people are poor because our leaders have kept them poor by their greed for money and power. What are you doing to help get worthy people to positions of authority and power? What are you doing to get rid of the politics of patronage, violence and uneducated choices? ” (FCL, ibid.). I would even add: What are you doing to check the abuse of and greed for power and, instead, promote it as a means to truly serve society unselfishly?

            All these questions are summed up in this: Are you, the laity, listening to and obeying the Lord’s call to establish on our islands and the whole world “his eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace” [Preface on Christ the King Sunday]?
            In his letter to the Romans Paul brings to our awareness the right response to the Messiah called Jesus Christ whom we profess to follow. “Through him we have received the grace of apostleship, to bring about the obedience in faith, for the sake of his name among all the Gentiles…” (Rom 1:6-7).
            The president and we, his “bosses”, could act like Ahaz who disobeyed the Lord and reaped the whirlwinds. Or like Joseph and Mary who, in their obedience, were instrumental to the dawning of our and mankind’s salvation.
            To pick the right choice St. John XXIII gave us the clue written in his coat of arms: “Oboedientia et pax.”

            My translation (I know full well how difficult the act can be): “Obedience [to the Lord] begets peace.”

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