The Prayer of Mary
Each evening clergy and religious, as well as many laypeople, pray Mary’s words; “my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord...” The Magnificat is a beloved prayer that has consoled many throughout the centuries. In Mary’s words God’s mission throughout the Old Testament is recapitulated and Christ’s plan in his own life and in the life of the Church is laid out.
“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” These words can inspire many Catholics in our country to believe that the Church should be a radical voice for justice. And in many ways, they are right; the Church must speak prophetically to our country, we must encourage Catholics and the wider community to work for justice, for the poor, the refugee, the oppressed, and in a preeminent way, the unborn child. Much of the work the Church does on these issues on the ground in parishes and in lay-led movements, but much is also done in the political sphere. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Washington State Catholic Conference encourage civic engagement, advocating for a just and pro-life society both in Washington, DC, and in Olympia.
At the same time that we can hear the words of the Magnificat as prophetic, many Catholics will hear the Magnificat spoken of in a political lens and worry the faith is being co-opted. There is a real danger here too. Our faith does call for us to build a just society, but it first calls us to welcome Christ’s peace into our hearts, and speak charity in truth. We can too easily replace God with the idol of politics.
As we move ever closer to the November election, Catholics must be committed to Our Lord Jesus Christ before all else. There are real concerns at hand in this election. Religious freedom is threatened in many ways, in some localities even the freedom to worship in community is severly curtailed. Capital punishment is unfortunately in use at the federal level once again; racial justice concerns dominate the news, pro-life gains appear threatened in many places, just to name a few contentious and important issues. Catholics cannot afford to become one more partisan group. In the Magnificat we see first and foremost what opens a door for God’s desire to lift up the lowly, fill the hungry with good things and offer mercy to us sinners is Mary’s faith and love for God. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” Mary’s humility and openness to God, her gratitude to the Lord, are the openings by which she allows God to act in her life, by which Christ enters into history. If we as Catholics want to work for the cause of life, for the cause of justice, for the cause of peace, our prayer needs to imitate Mary. We need to trust; we need to proclaim God’s greatness and recognize with gratitude the favors God bestows upon us. Being grounded in the love of God will allow us to engage with others in true Christian charity.
Earlier this year, the US Bishops renewed our civility in politics initiaive, Civilize It; we asked Catholics to take a pledge to work towards restoring basic civility in politics. (You can learn more about the Civilize It program at: https://www.wearesaltandlight.org/civilize-it ) Civility is not merely the absence of viciousness; civility is grounded in the same place as Mary’s yes – a peace that can only come from dependence on God.
As we approach the election, I urge you to rely on God’s grace as we navigate this fraught political season; we can see the need for a restoration of civility in politics. I want to recommend to you to pray for peace in your own heart, for Christ’s love to reign in our society. As Catholics, we should witness to the Gospel in all we do, including in politics. We should not only support policies that advance the Gospel and the common good, but we must also support those policies with Christian love for all we encounter.
Magnificat: The Prayer Of Mary
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.
(Lk 1: 46-55)