Just before dawn this morning, I heard a prayer that took my breath away.
A mother, Mary – a dear friend, and one of the ‘regulars’ at our 6:30 daily Mass – offered up a petition for the repose of the soul of her son, Danny.
It’s not the first time our ‘daily Mass community’ has prayed for Dan. Stricken with cancer, his health had ebbed in recent months…and so we’d been storming the heavens regularly on his behalf. Sadly, his life’s journey ended earlier this week. And as we prayed again this morning, I was struck by the tenderness in his mother’s voice – and the long-ago name, ‘Danny’, with which she commended her precious son into the presence of the Lord.
My heart breaks for Mary and her husband George, and for their whole family…to suffer so great a loss, especially at this time of year.
My heart is filled with wonder, too, at the odd liturgical coincidence that provided a mystical — and salvific — context for this mother’s touching prayer today.
The first reading on this third-to-last-day before Christmas is from the book of Samuel. It recalls the heart-rending action of another mother, Hannah, for whom a son was the answer to her fondest, deepest, soul-healing desire. Hannah, much like my friend Mary, somehow understands that this child is (and will ever be) more ‘gift’ than ‘possession.’ And so in the presence of Eli, she is able to say:
I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request.
Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD;
As I reflect on the scene, it occurs to me just how extraordinary it is – in part because our mailbox is so crowded these days with Christmas greetings, more often than not containing a photo (or two or three) of the latest additions to our friends’ clans – the babies or grandbabies they welcomed in 2017. Every one of them seems just about perfect, at least in the grown-ups’ eyes. So how can you imagine that any one of them would be willing to let their babies go?
Then in today’s gospel reading, we hear from Mary, the mother of Jesus. There’s a beautiful song of praise on her lips, anticipating the joy of the truly perfect son she has not yet seen:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
for he has looked upon 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.
Jesus is perfect, we know. But he’s also a heart-breaker. Like my friend’s son, he leaves his mother’s life far too soon. He leaves Mary at the foot of the cross. Leaves his mother to wonder what good could possibly come of such a gruesome scene.
Yet, immense good does emerge from Mary’s heartbreak. An incalculable gift: the world’s salvation.
So even in our suffering, in our often-troubling experience of human imperfectability, we find there is good reason gaze into, and beyond, the veil of tears. Mary’s song tells us where to seek the ultimate victory – in the faithfulness of God…in God’s blessed and mighty assurance that we can never be robbed of hope:
[The LORD] 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 for ever.
Come, Lord Jesus!
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.