Friday, December 12, 2008

Mary: aid of fallen people

A very beautiful reflection by J. Peter Nixon of Commonweal, following his learning of the chant Alma Redemptoris Mater.

Throughout most of my life, this sort of thing has not been my spiritual cup of tea. I grew up at a time when visible expressions of Marian devotion seemed to vanish from the Church. Many prayers and devotions to Mary drip with the kind of pious sentimentalism that makes me want to run screaming from the room. For a variety of reasons, I’ve always been more comfortable with the bold, prophetic, and, yes, masculine Jesus than with the Mary who prays “let it be done to me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). I take some comfort from the fact that Pope Benedict has faced his own challenges with Marian devotion.

As I’ve grown older, though, I’ve come to have a greater appreciation of the contemplative virtues that Mary embodies. Sometimes my preference for vigorous action runs up against its limits. My wife suffers from a chronic illness that, while not life threatening, creates significant challenges for her. Medical treatments have had only limited success. In all likelihood, this is something that we will simply have to live with. The instinct of a husband is to protect his wife and it has been difficult for me to accept that this is a burden that I cannot lift from her shoulders. I will not deny that sometimes the prayer “let it be done to me according to thy word” is made through gritted teeth, but it is made none the less.

He makes a very important point here. One of the failings of mainstream parish music today (and I mean the style more than the text) is that it appeals to and expresses a truncated range of emotional experience. Mostly it suggests a sense of contentment and satisfaction, often to the point of superficiality. There seems to be little about struggle, disappointment, pain, suffering, and finding peace even within great difficulty. If "happy" is all that our parishes offer, what happens when tragedy strikes? Sometimes it seems that our missalettes are training us to live in denial, so that when we have to deal with terrible illness, war, depression, we are asked to buck up and get with the happy program or go somewhere else.

In any case, I didn't intend to make this a complaining post. Nixon has written a beautiful reflection.