The final Advent reflection of our four-part series is written by Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent are Micah 5:1-4; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16. 18-19; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45. You can read the texts by clicking here.
Today’s Gospel reading focuses on a beautiful story of two women, one of whom is a central figure in the Advent narrative—Mary.
I must confess that I have never felt close to Mary. Growing up Catholic, with yearly May processions, Marian feast days, and rosaries filled with “Hail, Mary’s” just didn’t help me feel a devotion to Mary, our “Blessed Mother.”
I did think of Mary about two weeks ago when my favorite cat, Kitty, was put to sleep. My grief seemed unfathomable. I found myself thinking of Mary and how she must have felt at the death of her beloved Son. I had a moment of connection with her.
I’m thinking now of other “Marys” in my life–other people with whom I do not feel close. I think of those more distant than Mary–people I overlook, do not appreciate, deliberately ignore, or disagree with. For example, Archbishop Cordileone, who is the chair of the U. S. Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Defense of Marriage, comes to mind.
About a year ago, Frank DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, and I met with Archbishop Cordileone to talk about LGBT pastoral issues. The Archbishop characterized the meeting as positive and very cordial. He said that being personal and civil to each other can change perspectives. Afterward, he facilitated my sending a letter to Pope Francis, which resulted in New Ways Ministry pilgrims receiving VIP seating at the papal audience on Ash Wednesday. As unlikely as it might have once seemed, Archbishop Cordileone and I felt a wonderful connection, a mutual bond. I’m amazed to think what good things can happen when we treat the “neglected Marys” in our life with more consideration.
But Mary is not the only person in today’s Gospel story. The youthful Mary, who has just heard from the angel Gabriel that she is to be the mother of the Son of God, travels to visit her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, who is also pregnant with John the Baptist. Elated to see each other, the two women are filled with abounding joy and the promise of new life about events they could never have imagined.
The joy of the two women remind me of how fantastic a year 2016 has been for marriage equality for LGBT people and their allies. With a popular referendum in Ireland of almost 2 to 1 and a Supreme Court decision in the United States, same-sex couples in about two dozen countries throughout the world can now be legally married. Furthermore, an increasing number of governments are considering the legalization of same-sex marriage. And the icing on this year’s cake was the policy change by the German bishops; lesbian and gay Catholics in Germany no longer need to fear being fired from their church jobs because they marry the whom they love.
LGBT Catholics are becoming more and more public with their faith and their lives. Like Mary and Elizabeth, they are joyfully embracing their situation and looking forward to more good things to come. One’s true sexual orientation or gender identity is not a contradiction of faith, but a living out of faith in the person God has called one to be.
Back in the second century, Saint Irenaeus gave us a splendid theology of human nature when he said, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” God’s magnificence is mirrored in human beings who become the persons they are called to be by the spirit of God within them. Of course, this includes LGBT people.
Like Mary and Elizabeth, we look forward to the new life that is to come. For Catholics, this includes new life for our Church’s hierarchy. History proves that church leaders do listen to the faithful. It just takes them a really long time, but that new life will come!
As we pray and reflect on this last Sunday of Advent, let’s ask ourselves, “Who are the “neglected Marys” in our lives with whom we can find a connection?” and “What are some joyful life events that we could never have imagined?”
–Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry