December 22, 2014, Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent
1 SM 1:24-28; 1 SM 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8ABCD; LK 1:46-56
What does it mean to be blessed by God? As Luke writes it, Mary sings out, “Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed!” Mary’s exclamation to Elizabeth might today be said more like, “Oh my God! Now I’m blessed!” Surprise, delight, JOY, all bursting forth uncontrollably in public song to pregnant Elizabeth. Mary, the unwed, pregnant teenage girl from the outskirts of the Roman Empire and yet chosen to bear God’s son, can’t help but respond to God’s action in her life by singing, “Oh my God! Now I’m blessed!”
In choosing Mary, God is telling “all generations” that being poor, unwed, young, female, pregnant, and on the margins puts you in God’s favor—you are blessed.
God has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
It is a reversal of fortune found elsewhere in Luke (Lk 6:20-21, for example), supporting the gospel’s major theme of God’s favor to the poor. We learn over and over again through the Gospels, the lives of the saints, Church tradition and history, and in our encounters with those we marginalize in our society, that the ways of this world rarely align with the ways of God’s kingdom. To be blessed is to be empowered by God’s love, to embody the vision of God’s kingdom—however reversed from our norms that might be.
This past summer I was fortunate to be included on a delegation to Ghana with Catholic Relief Services (CRS). On the trip we witnessed several CRS development projects, including the SHARPER project in the Catholic Diocese of Navrongo-Bolgatanga, which is Strengthening HIV/AIDS Response Partnerships with Evidence-based Results. It was there that I met Joanna, a woman living with HIV/AIDS who, like Mary, felt so blessed that she was bursting with eagerness to tell us her story.
Joanna stood before our group and boldly proclaimed how the SHARPER project had transformed her life from being stigmatized and suffering poor health, to receiving treatment, proper nutrition and care, and invaluable support from the community. Joanna boasted that she plans to soon return to her job as a school teacher, which she was forced to leave due to her illness. Like Mary, unwed, female and on the margins of her society, Joanna dared to see herself as blessed, worthy and loved.
I ran into Joanna at the Cathedral Mass the following day and she came up to me to grab my hand and give me a huge hug. Her embrace was powerful, firm, confident and joyful. It was the embrace of a woman who sees God’s working in the world and knows that we are all so very blessed.
Written by Kelly Hickman, Missions Office Assistant Director. Photo: Joanna and Kelly at the SHARPER project in Navrongo-Bolgatanga, Ghana. Photo by Christ West for CRS.