Feast of St Mary the Virgin
A few weeks ago, I got in the car and the radio came on in the middle of an interview with Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, as well as a lawyer, poet,
and executive director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice.
Sister Simone leads a group called Nuns on the Bus.
She and eight other Catholic sisters were traveling around the country in their bus, attending both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions,
in what they called the Mend the Gaps tour.
The nuns visited 13 states, hosting conversations with ordinary Americans on both sides of the political divide, in an effort to bridge the divide and focus attention on the injustice of income disparity in the U.S.
People who committed working for justice were invited to sign their names on the bus.
The interviewer asked Sister Simone about the role of the church in politics, and she said,
Pope Francis is really abundantly clear on this. He says, "Meddle in politics. What we need is a healthy engagement," because we bring the values of our faith to politics. And it’s not about a litmus test on policy. It’s about how do we create community, how do we come together and find a way forward together, without the violence, without the hate, without the division, without the racism. We can do it, and faith is a way to nourish the roots of that commitment
And I think what Pope Francis is trying to do is to heal our church and to make us engaged in our society. He says what we sorely need is a healthy politics and that we are to be bridges to each other, not walls. And so, that’s what we believe, that’s why we’re doing this Mend the Gap tour, to be a bridge to those who are more often left out.
She went on to explain Mend the Gap:
Mend the Gap is our commitment to healing the income and wealth disparity in our nation; healing the democracy gap, where people are pushed out of voting, where they can’t vote; healing the healthcare gap; healing the citizenship gap, where our immigrant population are pushed to the margins because we willfully refuse to fix our broken immigration system; and finally, to heal the gap in housing. What we say is, if we want to be a nation that is great, the way both parties want to say it is, we’ve got to engage these gaps. We’ve got to make change. Our hope is, by creating community, then we will see the needs of others and be willing to engage in the hard work of change.
As I turned to the lessons for this morning, and read again Mary’s beautiful words of praise and hope, I was reminded of the Nuns on the Bus.
In fact, it occurred to me that Mary – far from being the meek and mild, seen but not heard, good little girl we so often sing of and depict in our artwork – would have fit right in with those radical, faithful, hope-filled Sisters.
As David Lose says in his commentary on these verses, Mary’s song is a rebel song.
She begins with words of praise and gratitude – these are the words used in a song setting by Marty Haugen:
My soul proclaims your greatness O God, and my spirit rejoices in you
You have set your sight on your servant here, and blessed me all my life through
Great and mighty are you, O Holy One; strong is your justice, strong your love
Then the tone changes, from her personal sense of blessing,
to a vision of God’s action in the world.
Her vision is one of justice: of God defeating tyrants and lifting up the lowly.
In a sense, Mary is saying that God has not chosen her because she is something special –
just the opposite, in fact.
God has made a habit of choosing people like her – ordinary, humble, poor –
to carry out God’s work in the world.
Elderly wanderers chosen to be parents of a nation.
A stuttering, exiled prince chosen to rescue God’s people from slavery.
A youngest son, a shepherd, chosen to be king.
A preference for the lowly, rather than the mighty,
has been God’s m.o. from the very beginning.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
Mary has grown up hearing the stories and Psalms and prophets,
which speak of God’s faithful covenant-love for Israel,
and she places God’s promise to her and her people in the context of that history and love.
David Lose writes,
“Prophets of all stripes have sung the same: that God cares for all people
but has a special interest in the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable.”
Lose points out that we have often tended to spiritualize this claim.
Those of us who enjoy privilege and a certain amount of wealth and power hear such words and decide he is talking about the poor in spirit; the humble of heart; and that can include us.
But Lose urges us not to make that move too quickly.
“Let’s imagine,” he says, “what it would be like for those with so very little –
power, wealth, privilege, hope – to hear Mary the mother of our Lord
sing this rebel song of justice and hope and to know that they, too, are blessed, favored, and folded into God’s promise to change the world.”
As well as being the Feast of St Mary the Virgin, today is also our back-to-school Sunday,
when we invite all our students and teachers forward for a prayer and a blessing
in recognition of their hard work and their new beginnings.
It’s a time full of anticipation and hope.
My Facebook feed this week has been full of photos –
posted by proud parents – of kids heading off to their first day of school.
(I’m especially impressed by those who get first day of high school photos. My teenage son yelled “bye” at the door and was gone before I could get the camera or gush or anything)
It’s great for all of us to celebrate our kids, and the kids around us.
As this new year begins, let us also remember children around our city and state who are happy to go back to school because it provides two meals a day for them –
meals they otherwise don’t have;
children who struggle at school because of chaos and violence in their homes;
children who leave school not knowing where they will sleep tonight.
We have taken a step, in reaching out to La Luz and MacArthur schools to say,
“What do you need? How can we help?”
But we can do more – both in direct help, and in advocating for policies that will mend the gaps between haves and have-nots in our state and our country.
Let us, with Sister Simone and the Nuns on the Bus, look beyond partisanship and mud-slinging, to work with people of all backgrounds and parties and heal our society.
As Sister Simone said, “We the people have got to be the leaders we’ve been waiting for.
We can do it, and faith is a way to nourish the roots of [our] commitment.”
May our faith be strong and our courage great.