Monthly Archives: July 2013

Ann and Her Daughter Mary

A few years ago on pilgrimage to Jerusalem I visited the western wall that once supported the ancient Jewish temple where Jesus worshipped and taught. He announced that he would replace this temple through the mysteries of his death and resurrection. Some years later, in AD 70, the temple was destroyed.

The day I visited this holy place, Jewish mothers and their daughters were fervently praying at one section of the battered wall, all that’s left of the glorious buildings that once filled pilgrims with awe and pride. I wondered what they were praying for at this majestic ruin.

Tradition says that the parents of Mary, Ann and Joachim, whose feast we celebrate today, were closely connected to the temple of Jerusalem and may have lived near it or in a town close by. Joachim had a role in providing for the temple, tradition says. Like the Jewish women I saw, Ann and her daughter Mary must have prayed often in this holy place.

What did they pray for; what did they believe? God is here, the Prophet Isaiah said; all the peoples of the earth will stream toward this place when the Messiah comes. Pray even when dreams seem gone. God raises up the poorest to do great things. God’s kingdom will come, no matter how dim the present seems. God works even in ruins.

Ann was old when she conceived Mary, tradition says. Too old to conceive. “Nothing is impossible with God,” the angel said to her daughter when she conceived her Son.

We ask the grace to believe and pray as these two women did. I can’t help thinking that the Jewish mothers and their daughters I saw that day praying at the wall are their descendants too.


Manna in the Desert

The next five Sundays we’ll read from the 6th chapter of St. John’s gospel, beginning this Sunday with the miracle of the loaves and the fish. All four gospels recall this miracle, Mark and Matthew report it twice. The miracle and Jesus’ words that follow it in John’s gospel are about the Holy Eucharist. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the answer to our hunger.

The miracle takes place across the Sea of Galilee, in a “deserted place,’ as Matthew’s gospel describes it. There’s no place to buy food for a hungry crowd.

There’s only five barley loaves and two fish a small boy has. Barley loaves were the ordinary food for the poor.

Jesus initiates this miracle by pointing out to his disciples  a hunger in the crowd. They seem hardly aware of it and have no answer what to do, except to say “We don’t have enough!”  Taking what’s there, the five barley loaves and two fish, Jesus multiplies this food and feeds a multitude. John notes the Passover is near; it’s spring and green grass has grown up in this deserted place. Not only is it enough, but fragments are left over as the crowd has its fill.

Keep in mind the basic reality the miracle addresses: hunger. It’s bodily hunger, yes, but hunger of all kinds is addressed here. Like the disciples, we may be hardly aware of it. Humanity is hungry, this gospel says. Only God can fill its silent, hidden hunger, this miracle says. Only Jesus can.


“I come among the peoples like a shadow,

I sit down by each man’s side,

None sees me,

but they look on one another and know that I am there

My silence is like the silence of the tide that buries the playground of children

Like the deepening of frost in the slow night, when birds are dead in the morning.

Armies travel, invade, destroy with guns roaring from earth and air.

I am more terrible than armies.

I am more feared than cannon, kings and chancellors

I give no command to any, but I am listened to more than kings

and more than passionate orators

I unswear words and undo deeds,

Naked things know me.

I am more the first and last to be felt of the living.

I am hunger. “

Lawrence Binyon

Mary Magdalene

Today’s the feast of Mary Magdalene. Some recent writers in an attempt to “de-mythologize” Jesus would like to romanticize his relationship with Mary, basing themselves on flimsy late evidence from the gnostic writings of the 3rd and 4th century. They claim he was even married to her. However,tohe gospels see Mary primarily as a disciple who loved him and followed him along with other women. According to the earliest authentic sources we have Jesus was unmarried and his ministry and life was transparent to his early followers.
The media loves sensationalism; it sells and draws an audience. Unfortunately, it takes on a life of its own.

Mary Magdalene

Along with Peter, Mary Magdalene is a key witness to the resurrection of Jesus. Her story is told in John’s gospel which describes their meeting in the garden. For the rest of her years Mary would remember those moments by the tomb.
In the morning darkness she had come weeping for the one she had thought lost forever. She had heard him call her name, “Mary”. She had turned to see him alive and the garden became paradise.
Like a new Eve she had been sent by Jesus to bring news of life to all the living. She was his apostle to the apostles. The belief of Christians in the resurrection of Jesus would be founded on this woman’s word.
On Easter Sunday the church questions her:
“Tell us, Mary, what did you see on the way?
‘I saw the tomb of the now living Christ.
I saw the glory of Christ, now risen.
I saw angels who gave witness;
the cloths, too, which once covered head and limbs.
Christ my hope had indeed arisen.
He will go before his own into Galilee.'”
–Easter sequence

Fascinated by her story, medieval spiritual writers added simple human details to the Gospel accounts. According to the author of the Meditations on the Life of Christ, Mary held the feet of Jesus when he was taken down from the cross, because she had kissed them and washed them with her tears once before.

“(At the tomb) she could not think, or speak, or hear anything except about him. When she cried and paid no attention to the angels, her Lord could not hold back any longer for love… ‘Woman, whom do you seek? Why do you weep?’ And she, as if drugged, not recognizing him said, ‘Lord, if you carried him away, tell me where, and I will take him.’ “Look at her. With tear-stained face she begs him to lead her to the one seeks. She always hopes to hear something new of her Beloved. Then the Lord says to her, ‘Mary’.

“It was as though she came back to life, and recognizing his voice, she said with indescribable joy, ‘Rabbi, you are the Lord I was seeking. Why did you hide from me so long? …I tell you so much grief from your passion filled my heart that I forgot everything else. I could remember nothing except your dead body and the place where I buried it, and so I brought ointment this morning. But you have come back to us.’

“And they stayed there lovingly with great joy and gladness. She looked at him closely and asked him about each thing, and he answered willingly. Now, truly, the Passover feast had come. Although it seemed that the Lord held back from her, I can hardly believe that she did not touch him before he departed, kissing his feet and his hands.”
For more on Mary Magdalene, see