This month we celebrate International Women’s Day. Women’s rights have been in the headlines, especially after Hollywood’s exposé’ where many actresses and actors have since been speaking up against sexual harassment. Time Magazine’s 2017 Persons of the Year, the Silence Breakers, are courageous women who have stood up against violation of their rights by people – especially men – who are in power, or we may say by society itself which in the past has somehow silenced the voices of women who were oppressed and suffering.
In March, there is a little known feast, although it’s quite familiar to Catholic circles- the Feast of the Annunciation (usually it falls on March 25, nine months before the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25). It is a very important feast in the Christian world because in this event we contemplate the Incarnation, God who took on human flesh. Yes, he took on the form of man, but Christ was formed from the flesh of Mary, who is a woman. This act of God in choosing a woman, as God’s way to enter into the world, has raised the dignity of women, and men as well, for the story of this woman – Mary – is the story of humanity itself, being reconciled with God. Through the Incarnation of the Word in Mary, man’s reconciliation with God took place, as she embraced fully the mysterious plan of God. Mary could have been portrayed as a submissive woman, never asserting her own rights, instead she has shown, with her Magnificat, God’s mighty hand: “He has put 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” (Lk. 1:52-53). The explosion of this beautiful hymn shows Mary as a forerunner of a non-violent revolution…believing that only the power of genuine love wins out, and with her heart rooted in God, she has become the true maid-servant of the Lord, and of humanity. Although aware of her rights as a daughter of God, she knew that she really had only one right: to love and to serve humanity. The paradox in the lives of Mary and Jesus was succinctly summarized by Chiara Lubich: “The Son of God, a carpenter, and the Seat of Wisdom, a housewife.”
Mary’s Magnificat reverberates throughout history in the lives of the saints and of people of goodwill. There is Gandhi’s non-violent way, determined to find ways to liberate his people through the simple and ordinary production of salt, and the weaving of the Indian sari… and also Therese of Lisieux, who lived her life in anonymity, serving her sisters in the convent, especially the sick and the elderly. St. Therese has also produced one of the most beautiful books in the Christian world – a best seller – in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul.
The echoes of Magnificat continue and will continue, for this is the prize of real service and concern for humanity – “All Generations Will Call me Blessed” (Lk.1:49).