“Mary: The Most Powerful Woman in the World” was the stunning headline in a recent publication. To the surprise of many, these were not the words of a Catholic newspaper, or a religious publication. Instead, this headline announced the lead article featured in the December, 2015 issue of National Geographic magazine!
The article is written by journalist, Maureen Orth, who spent three years traveling throughout the world trying to understand more fully why Mary, the mother of Jesus, is so crucially important to millions of people. Here are a few of Maureen’s words:
Mary is everywhere: Marigolds are named for her. Hail Mary passes save football games. The image in Mexico of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most reproduced female likenesses ever. Mary draws millions each year to shrines such as Fatima, in Portugal, and Knock, in Ireland, sustaining religious tourism estimated to be worth billions of dollars a year and providing thousands of jobs. She inspired the creation of many great works of art and architecture (Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” Notre Dame Cathedral), as well as the spiritual confidante of billions of people, no matter how isolated or forgotten.
What was it about this young girl that attracted and enticed, not only Joseph in today’s Gospel story, but even God?
I’d like to suggest two possible answers, with the reservation that there are surely a number of others.
First, she wasn’t a preacher. She wasn’t an evangelist. She wasn’t an activist. Instead, Mary was a listener who embraced simplicity. She was one who paid attention, who reflected, who meditated. All those Advent qualities...
Present. Open. Available. Receptive. Quiet. That’s the kind of person Mary was. Perhaps it was that collection of gifts that most enticed God, and Joseph, and so many people down through the centuries.
But perhaps there is another appeal of Mary – her life experiences are being repeated continuously by millions of people even today. Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem for a census that is now being mirrored by countless numbers of people displaced from their ancestral homes. The family’s flight into Egypt to avoid the death threats of a tyrannical king, just as today millions of refugees are doing the same. Mary’s loss of her child by an unjust state execution paralleled today in the disappearance and murder of beloved children under dictatorial regimes – the Herods of today.
Women, in particular, may possibly find in Mary a sister for marginalized women in oppressive situations throughout the world – women who are without food or clean drinking water, without housing, without education or healthcare or employment, without security from rape, without human rights.
To all of them, Mary offers words of hope to the neediest – such as these words from her great prayer, the Magnificat: “... O my God ... You have shown strength with your arm ... You have put down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.”
When asked what Mary meant to him, Pope Francis answered with one word, “She is my mama.”
May our “mama,” the one who is “blessed ... among women,” assist each of us in birthing anew the Child that falls from heaven into our arms ... our hearts ... our souls.