God Loves the Lowly
BY John Lilly
March 5-11, 2006 Issue | Posted 3/5/06 at 11:00 AM
Pope Benedict XVI met with 9,000 pilgrims in the Paul VI Hall during his general audience on Feb. 15. Prior to his general audience, he met with another 7,800 pilgrims in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Holy Father concluded the series of teachings on the psalms and canticles of the Liturgy of the Hours that his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, began five years ago. He offered his reflections on the Magnificat, found in Luke 1:46-55, noting that the Magnificat is recited daily at the end of the Liturgy of the Hours’ evening prayer.
“This canticle provides a glimpse into the spirituality of the anawim (lost and forgotten ones),” he said, “those faithful people of the Bible who are recognized as ‘poor’ not only because of their detachment from any idolatry of wealth and power, but also because of their profound humility of heart, stripped of any temptation to pride and open to an outpouring of God’s saving grace.”
Pope Benedict pointed out two movements within the canticle. The first movement “is a celebration of God’s grace that has been poured out into Mary’s heart and life, making her the mother of the Lord.” It is a song of praise, thanksgiving and grateful joy. In the second movement, he said, “the voice of the entire community of the faithful is joined to Mary’s voice in a celebration of God’s amazing decision.” The second half of the canticle reveals that God “chooses the side of the lowly.” In this regard, Pope Benedict quoted the words of St. Ambrose, which, he admitted, never cease to amaze him: “If, according to the flesh, Christ has only one mother, according to faith all souls beget Christ. Indeed, each one receives in himself the Word of God.”
The Holy Father concluded his reflections by urging Christians to join in Mary’s prayer so that they, too, might take Christ to today’s world.
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We have now come to the end of the long journey my beloved predecessor, the unforgettable Pope John Paul II, began exactly five years ago. It was the desire of this great Pope to cover in his catechesis the entire sequence of psalms and canticles that make up the fabric of the essential prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours’ morning and evening prayer. Having come to the end of our pilgrimage through these texts — much like a journey through a garden blooming with praise, petition, prayer and contemplation — we will now devote some time to the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the canticle that, in a most fitting way, concludes every celebration of evening prayer.
This canticle provides a glimpse into the spirituality of the anawim, those faithful people of the Bible who are recognized as “poor” not only because of their detachment from any idolatry of wealth and power, but also because of their profound humility of heart, stripped of any temptation to pride and open to an outpouring of God’s saving grace. The whole Magnificat, which the Choir of the Sistine Chapel just sang, is characterized by this “humility,” or tapeinosis in Greek, describing a situation of concrete humility and poverty.
In the first movement of Mary’s canticle (see Luke 1:46-50), a lone voice rises to heaven in order to make contact with the Lord. It is significant that the first person is repeated throughout: “my soul … my spirit … my savior … will call me blessed … has done great things for me ….” At the soul of her prayer, therefore, is a celebration of God’s grace that has been poured out into Mary’s heart and life, making her the mother of the Lord. Indeed, we can hear the Virgin’s voice speaking in this way of her Savior, who has done great things in her soul and body. The intimate structure of her canticle of prayer is, therefore, one of praise, thanksgiving and grateful joy.
However, this personal testimony is not solitary, private and purely individualistic, because the Virgin Mary is conscious that she has a mission to fulfill for mankind and that her experience is part of the history of salvation. Thus she can say: “His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him” (verse 50). With her praise of the Lord, the Virgin Mary speaks for all the redeemed, who find God’s mercy in her fiat and, likewise, in the figure of Jesus to whom the Virgin gave birth.
At this point, the second poetic and spiritual movement of the Magnificat unfolds (see verses 51-55). Its tone is more like that of a choir, as if the voice of the entire community of the faithful is joined to Mary’s voice in a celebration of God’s amazing decision. In the original Greek version of the Gospel of Luke, we find seven verbs in the aorist verb form, indicating an equal number of works that the Lord has carried out throughout history in a lasting way: “He has shown the strength of his arm. … He has scattered the proud. … He has cast down the mighty from their thrones. … He has lifted up the lowly. … He has filled the hungry with good things. … The rich he has sent empty away. … He has come to the help of his servant Israel.”
The inspiration for the “style” in which the Lord of history acts is evident in these seven divine works: He chooses the side of the lowly. Often, his plan is hidden under the opaque terrain of the events of daily life, where the “arrogant,” the “rulers” and the “rich” often triumph. However, his secret strength will ultimately reveal those who are truly God’s special people: “those who fear him” and are faithful to his Word; “the lowly, the hungry, Israel his servant”; namely, the community of God’s people who, like Mary, are made up of those who are “poor,” pure and simple of heart. This “little flock” is invited to have no fear because the Father is pleased to give it his Kingdom (see Luke 12:32). Thus, this canticle invites us to join this little flock and to truly be members of God’s people in purity and simplicity of heart and in love of God.
Let us respond, then, to the invitation that St. Ambrose makes in his commentary on the Magnificat. This great doctor of the Church tells us: “May the heart of Mary praising the Lord and the spirit of Mary rejoicing in the Lord be in each person. If, according to the flesh, Christ has only one mother, according to faith all souls beget Christ. Indeed, each one receives in himself the Word of God. … Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God because, consecrated to the Father and to the Son with her soul and spirit, she adores with loving devotion only one God, from whom everything proceeds, and only one Lord, by virtue of whom all things exist” (Esposizione del Vangelo Secondo Luca, 2,26-27: Saemo, XI, Milan-Rome, 1978, p. 169).
In St. Ambrose’s wonderful commentary on the Magnificat, I am always especially moved by these amazing words: “If, according to the flesh, Christ has only one mother, according to faith all souls beget Christ. Indeed, each one receives in himself the Word of God.” With these words, the holy doctor, interpreting the words of the Virgin herself, invites us to ensure that the Lord finds a dwelling place in our souls and in our lives. We must not only bear him in our hearts, we must also take him to the world, so that we, too, might give birth to Christ in our times. Let us ask the Lord to help us to praise him with Mary’s spirit and soul and to take Christ once again to our world.
Register translation of the
Feb. 15 general audience.
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