For God has looked upon his servant in her lowliness, all ages to come shall call her blessed.
Today we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the womb of her mother Anne. There is no specific information about Anne and Joachim in the Scriptures. The Protoevangelium of James, described her father as a wealthy member of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. These writings are not considered authoritative, but give us a glimpse of traditional beliefs about Anne and Joachim and their beloved daughter, Mary. They were both deeply grieved by their childlessness. They dedicated their lives in the temple trusting God would hear their prayer. Soon an angel revealed to Anne that her future child would be honored for all generations. Not knowing what that meant, they trusted that as God blessed Sarah and Abraham, they too would know the meaning of the angel’s words to Anne. They are greatly honored in the Eastern Catholic Churches, which celebrate their feast on September 9. Anne is known as the protector of woman in labor.
Pope Francis in declaring the third World Day of the Poor at St. Peter’s Basilica a few weeks ago was attended by 70,000 including 20 cardinals and 30 bishops and over 1,500 of the poor. He then hosted lunch for 1,500 of the poor in the Paul VI Hall. He started this new tradition at the end of the Year of Mercy in 2016 with his apostolic decree “Misericordia et Misera,” declaring “Let us love not with words but with deeds.” This year he called the poor “the treasure of the church.”
He spoke of two temptations facing us as Christians: “the temptation of haste, of the right now;” and “the temptation of self-centeredness.”
“Haste and right now.” Jesus tells us that “we must not follow the alarmists who fuel fear of others and the future, fear paralyzes the heart.” We will learn through the Gospel writer Matthew that the “end of time,” will only come when we have truly heard the “good news” of the kingdom of God. Pope Francis drew the poor into his message, when he spoke of a disposable society: the elderly, unborn, disabled, and poor. He said “we go our way in haste, without worrying that gaps are increasing, that greed of a few is adding to the poverty of many others.”
“Self-centeredness, now.” Jesus calls us to “genuine love,” to give to those who cannot repay us, to serve others without seeking gain for ourselves.” Pope Francis noted “that the poor are valuable in the eyes of God because they do not speak the language of self; they need others to help them; they remind us to live the Gospel: like beggars reaching out to God.” The poor who are on our Advent trees in the vestibule, the poor are families that St. Vincent de Paul ask us to support, taking a poor woman to lunch, actually reaching out to your neighbor who may be alone for Christmas, serving the poor, we see things as Jesus does; with our heart space.
I believe the gatekeepers of heaven are the lepers Jesus cured, the widowed mother of her only son, Lazarus, who ate the scraps with the dog of the master’s table. The blind man at the gate gets an upgrade, Zacchaeus goes from a tree to the banquet table of Lord and Peter, who denied his Savior, three times. Plus millions more who served the poor by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisons, burying the dead, that brought drink to the thirsty, providing shelter to the homeless, and visiting the sick.
This week I invite you to pray the Magnificat in Luke 1: 46-55. Mary gave us a great prayer for Advent helping us let go of haste and self-centeredness.
Mary Ann Ronan