“Henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” Luke 1:48
I smile now when I recall how I initially reacted to that pronouncement. I was raised Catholic which means: (a) I grew up calling Mary “Our Blessed Mother,” and (b) I had not read the Bible in any of the religious education classes I attended during those formative years. In fact, prior to Vatican II, Catholics were discouraged from reading the Bible, so I doubt if any of my teachers had read it either.
At college, I was introduced to Scripture by a charismatic woman who lived on the same floor in my dorm. I was amazed to discover that much of it was familiar. The Old Testament readings I’d heard at Mass — there. The readings from the Letters (primarily) of St. Paul — there. The gospels — yep, they were there, too. Even the Lord’s Prayer, which I learned before starting school, was there. Wow!
But reading it myself drew me into a more intimate relationship with the Word of God, and changed the way I understood it. Unfortunately, some of my training caused me to misunderstand some passages. When I first read The Magnificat, which is what Catholics call Mary’s song of praise, I thought she was saying, “I’m so amazingly special that everyone is going to acknowledge it by calling me ‘Blessed,'” which is — of course — what Catholics do: Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Blessed Mother, Blessed Mary Mother of God. Yep, we call her “Blessed.”
Months — maybe years — passed before I finally understood she wasn’t saying that at all. She was experiencing joy, and in that joy, she was expressing — maybe using a little hyperbole, but maybe not considering the role of oral tradition in her time — her wonder at the incredible gift she had been given. An easy gift? Probably not. Two thousand years and millions (if not billions) of pretty Christmas cards have removed us from what must have been an incredibly difficult experience for an undoubtedly religious and probably very young woman. And yet, she is filled with joy, wondering that someone with nothing special to commend her — at least from her perspective — should be chosen by God. She experienced her joy as a sense of being blessed, so abundantly blessed that people would talk about it.
People probably did talk, though human nature being what it is, they probably used words more akin to “slut” and “whore” than to “blessed among women.” But Mary knew the truth, knew the Word of God both from His messenger and from His life within her, and she could not contain her joy. “I’m so incredibly happy, I just know everyone will come to know the truth and realize how blessed I am”
I can’t imagine her joy, but I know my own and sometimes it does bubble over just like that! Last week, as I traversed South Dakota, hugged dear friends, talked for hours with sisters of the heart, enjoyed my daughter’s companionship, over and over one thought ran through my head, “I am so blessed; thank you, Lord. I am so blessed; thank you, Lord.”
Has my life been easy? No, but it has been good. God has worked through it all to shape my heart and mind until I could see him, could feel his hands creating in me a way of being that includes gratitude and hope and compassion as well as kindness and love. He has helped me to see his face in the homeless and to experience his grace in disappointment, to know in my bones that trusting him with the circumstances of my life leads to greater fulfillment than any plan of mine.
Will all generations call me blessed? Probably not, but that’s OK. I know I am blessed and that’s enough.