Saturday, May 1, 2010

May 2010 Parish Letter

“Almighty God, You chose the Virgin Mary to be the mother of Your Son and made known through her Your gracious regard for the poor and lowly and despised. Grant that we may receive Your Word in humility and faith, and so be made one with Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

[Collect for the Visitation]

Tucked at the tail end of this month of May is the day set apart by the Church for the Festival of the Visitation. Celebrated on May 31, the Visitation is a minor festival. This year, very few will pay it much attention, except perhaps for the most devout of Christians, since it coincides with our national Memorial Day commemoration. But perhaps that helps to illustrate the significance of the day.

Being overlooked is not unusual in our society. Many who live among us attract none of our attention. Some live in near anonymity. It is especially so for those who do not hail from the upper classes, who lack possessions, who have no special status. And even if some are noticed, they quickly fade back into their place as a face in the crowd, a name on a list, or a forgotten memory. But the Scriptures tell us that from among such as these, the Lord God chooses some to be instruments of great deeds.

That is part of the story of the Visitation. The Collect of the Day refers to it. It is at the heart of the Gospel Reading for the day. For on the Festival of the Visitation, the Church hears about the favor that the Lord God has poured out upon those who were once anonymous. Divine favor is the focus of Elizabeth’s statement: “And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ’Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” (Luke 1:41-43) The formerly barren priest’s wife ponders in amazement the privilege she has received: her Lord’s mother is seen with her own eyes.

But the favor shown to those of low estate is not limited to Elizabeth. No, it was given in a greater degree to the Blessed Virgin. That forms the heart of her song of praise raised to the Lord God. Responding to the statement that her kinswoman makes about her—“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”(Luke 1:45)—Mary discloses what has happened to her: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.”(Luke 1:46-49) Through divine choice, the humble maiden is now regarded as great. She has great things done for her by the Almighty. Her anonymity is discarded, for all shall call her blessed.

This is what the Lord God’s actions do. They bring about great changes. A woman who would have been known only in her native village, by her small number of relatives and acquaintances is now revered worldwide. Why is this so? Because the Lord God graciously regards the poor, lonely, and despised. They may be anonymous to the world, but not to Him. That is His desire. It is His will which He fulfills in manifold ways.

The showing of favor to cause a Galilean maiden to be the Mother of God is certainly unique, but the Lord God has a track record of similar notice being given to those once considered insignificant. It is part of His character, as the Psalmist describes: For though the Lord is high, He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar.”(Ps 138:6) In the Scriptures, this is clearly seen in His actions. For the same Lord God who showed favor to Elizabeth and Mary also made a slave into the Pharaoh’s chancellor [Joseph], selected a prostitute to be one of the Christ’s ancestors [Rahab], called a wheat farmer to life as a general [Gideon], and turned a shepherd boy into a king [David]. This is His way.

Such action is also promised about the Christ: “His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide disputes by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall kill the wicked.”(Isa 11:3) And when the Christ appears among humanity, what happens? Fishermen and tax collectors become apostles. A Samaritan woman is given to know Him. A slave even becomes a leader of the Church. And even we are brought from sin and death to holiness and life.

The recipients of divine favor are made great. The Lord God’s choice is not dependent upon familial background or caste membership or earthly wealth. Such things do not play into His decisions: “For God shows no partiality.”(Rom 2:11) He acts differently than we are wont to do by nature; we often take into consideration many factors when we choose to offer our favor. But that is not the Lord God’s way. Because it is not, we are exhorted to leave our ways behind. The Apostle instructs in the Epistle Reading for the Day: Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited.”(Rom 12:16) As we have received divine favor by being considered by the Lord God in our lowliness, so we are to show the same to others.

You are no longer anonymous. Your Lord calls you by name, because He has made you His own. Divine favor was shown to you. He has chosen you, graciously regarding you in your poverty, lowliness, and scorn. You have the benefits of Christ’s work given to you. So even the hairs of your head are numbered and known; your days and life are in the Lord God’s hands. May your souls magnify Him, because His will for you is fulfilled: you who were lowly are now called blessed.

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