Speak Lord: Saviour.

Our Lady of G, LourdesToday In England and Wales this year, Sunday 14th August is being kept as the Solemnity of the Assumption, (in other years the Solemnity is kept on 15th August).

The first reading is the source of a typical image of Mary, Mother of God.

The imagery may well have its origins in a narrative developed by non-Jewish Christians, drawing aspects of the myth and traditional representations of the Egyptian goddess Isis. l also be lying behind the imagery

But, in this Christian narrative, the woman of Apocalypse 11 is  commonly, and understandably, understood to be a symbolic representation of Mary, Mother of God. and her Son, Jesus.  However other interpretations of the figure too are legitimate too, eg that the woman symbolises the Israel, the heavenly Jerusalem, Wisdom, or the Church. However the passage is read, it is not difficult, and surely appropriate, to relate any or all of these symbolic readings to Our Lady.

The sanctuary of God in heaven opened and the ark of the covenant could be seen inside it. Then came flashes of lightning, peals of thunder and an earthquake, and violent hail.

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, and with the twelve stars on her head for a crown. She was pregnant, and in labour, crying aloud in the pangs of childbirth. Then a second sign appeared in the sky, a huge red dragon which had seven heads and ten horns, and each of the seven heads crowned with a coronet. Its tail dragged a third of the stars from the sky and dropped them to the earth, and the dragon stopped in front of the woman as she was having the child, so that he could eat it as soon as it was born from its mother. The woman brought a male child into the world, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron sceptre, and the child was taken straight up to God and to his throne, while the woman escaped into the desert, where God had made a place of safety ready, for her to be looked after in the twelve hundred and sixty days.

Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, ‘Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God, and all authority for his Christ, now that the persecutor, who accused our brothers day and night before our God, has been brought down.’

Apocalypse 11:19,12:1-6,10

The passage is dramatic, and indicates in a powerful way the salvation won for us, and the real dangers from which we are saved.

  • How have you known God’s salvation?
  • What are the threats to spiritual health that you have faced/face?

Our Lady of Guadalupe. Detail of Mosaic, Lourdes. (c) 2016.
(The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe bears some of the features of the image of the Woman of Revelation.)

Speak Lord: of wisdom and life

Family

The First reading at Mass today, the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, comes from the book of Wisdom. It offers a relatively unusual, and refreshing, opportunity to hear the feminine pronoun used in proliferation in our Liturgy of the Word.

The usage may be prompted by a feminised personification of an attribute of God, rather than a woman, per se, but it is welcome all the same.

I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I entreated, and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.
I esteemed her more than sceptres and thrones;
compared with her, I held riches as nothing.
I reckoned no priceless stone to be her peer,
for compared with her, all gold is a pinch of sand,
and beside her silver ranks as mud.
I loved her more than health or beauty,
preferred her to the light,
since her radiance never sleeps.
In her company all good things came to me,
at her hands riches not to be numbered.
Wisdom 7:7-11

In our days when women of this generation, in the UK, have the opportunity of ‘competing’ (more or less equally) with men for places of power, the metaphor of Lady Wisdom may not work as well as it did. It may not be as culturally challenging, ‘woman’ is no longer in quite the striking opposition/tension to ‘man’ as once it was. (Though the qualifications in the first sentence of this paragraph remind of how much still waits to be realised before there is real equality of opportunity for women even in our time.)

Lady Wisdom was first set before (mostly) men as a challenge to the choices they made from all the opportunities available to them – exhorting them, if they wished to be faithful, to make healthy and loving, life-giving and life-sharing, choices.

If now those same choices must be made equally by men and women maybe that’s the price of progress. And maybe word ‘progress’ can be read without irony when, with God’s help (and under the inspiration offered by Lady Wisdom), we make wise choices.

  • Pray for wisdom – for you and yours
  • Pray for justice and equal opportunities for all
  • Pray for the Synod on Family life and mission

Photograph of carving of a family from the Cairo Museum. The man is ‘disabled’, but (not least because of the woman) the family seems mighty fine! (c) 2007, Allen Morris

Taste and See: That perfect wife…

Centenary sign

A number of women were seen nudging their husbands in the ribs during the first reading at Mass yesterday, the 33rd Sunday of the year.

A perfect wife – who can find her?

She is far beyond the price of pearls.
Her husband’s heart has confidence in her,
from her he will derive no little profit.
Advantage and not hurt she brings him
all the days of her life.
She is always busy with wool and with flax,
she does her work with eager hands.
She sets her hands to the distaff,
her fingers grasp the spindle.
She holds out her hand to the poor,
she opens her arms to the needy.
Charm is deceitful, and beauty empty;
the woman who is wise is the one to praise.
Give her a share in what her hands have worked for,
and let her works tell her praises at the city gates.

Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31

Why is it that ‘woman’ is the image of wisdom in the Writings of the Old Testament? Why the perfect wife that is singled out here?

Is it because socially, politically and economically women were marginalised in Semitic culture? And thus the ‘surprise’ quality of their at least equal virtue was a help in teasing even men’s minds to a fresh appreciation of what the metaphor proposed?

Or is it that in the areas of life that women were ‘sentenced’ to there were more opportunities to realise the virtues of the community and the family that men sought to defend (or were they defending the potential vices of these?) through politics, manufacture and trade, and military might?

  • Who are the poor among your neighbours? What makes them poor?
  • Who are the needy among your family? What is it they have need of?

Plaque commemorating the UCM in St Johns Wood (c) 2013, Allen Morris.

Speak Lord: of women

La reine d'Arles

This Sunday we return to the Ordinary, the numbered, Sundays of the Year. And on this 33rd Sunday of the year the first reading comes from the book of Proverbs, and offers praise of the good woman, the good wife.

A perfect wife – who can find her?

She is far beyond the price of pearls.
Her husband’s heart has confidence in her,
from her he will derive no little profit.
Advantage and not hurt she brings him
all the days of her life.
She is always busy with wool and with flax,
she does her work with eager hands.
She sets her hands to the distaff,
her fingers grasp the spindle.
She holds out her hand to the poor,
she opens her arms to the needy.
Charm is deceitful, and beauty empty;
the woman who is wise is the one to praise.
Give her a share in what her hands have worked for,
and let her works tell her praises at the city gates.

Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31

In our days of presumed equality between women and men the culture-shock of this ancient passage might evade us. But ours is a time of presumed equality. The reality is different. Patriarchy and the privileging of men continues. Still it is common that women earn less than men for doing the same work. Still there are glass-ceilings in industries that prevent women’s career progress. Still popes and Church speak of the need to help women’s voice to be heard and be effective. Still the media obsess about the age, the clothes of women, their looks, whereas the notable things for the media about men are otherwise.

This passage does see this woman in terms of her role as wife, but this woman also has a relationship with the world that is from herself, and not only from her being wife to her husband. She holds out her hand to the poor, opens her arms to the needy.

It is to her goodness, her virtue, not to her nominal rights as a human being, that we are asked to respond. Maybe her goodness and virtue will put some of us to shame. Perhaps we have privileges, due to gender, class or other ‘accident’ of birth, and maybe they do not lead us to live as well as others who are much more constrained by their circumstances.

  • What is your best quality? Why?
  • How do you tend and nurture it?

Photograph of street art depicting La Reine d’Arles. (c) 2014, Allen Morris.