Brought low by the power of the moment

There are few words to express the unutterable suffering of so many people on our planet today. As we witness the horror of Covid -19 throughout the world and, in particular as I write, in India and the heart-breaking cries for help we are left feeling powerless and unutterably sad. What do we do with this sadness, this fear? What might we say?

This past month, May, is the month devoted to Mary in the Catholic liturgical year.  Over the centuries May has been portrayed in many rich and diverse ways in art, music, popular piety and devotion and in doctrine. All of these expressions of Mary are worthy of pondering because, amongst other things, they say much about the needs of humanity. In the rich Marian tradition of art and music we find not only magnificent paintings, sculptures and music that truly do touch the soul but often too we see in these depictions the cries of pain and longing of any time and place.  We have only to think of the tenderness of Michelangelo’s Pieta to see in Mary the pain and grief of anyone who has lost a loved one.   But as I reflect on Mary today, it is the young woman, and indeed the older woman too, of two thousand years ago that I feel might touch that deeply sorrowful place within us at this time.      

In recent decades feminist and other theologians have done much to demystify and demythologize Mary, to cut through the many layers of tradition and discover the Mary of the Gospels.  There is some wonderful literature on this Mary and one beautiful source is the work of Ann Johnson, Miryam of Nazareth.  The woman portrayed in Ann Johnson’s story is the person who was the one witness of the entire drama of Jesus’ life.  She was a woman deeply rooted in her religious Jewish history.  Johnson presents Mary as a type, a typical Jewish woman of deep faithfulness to God and, in this book, she looks back through Jewish history and sees many instances of strong, faithful, hope-filled women who greatly impacted the community of their time and its development.

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