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The Summer—and our Lives—Begin and End with Our Lady

Howard Stringfellow
4 June 2012

The summer in very truth begins with The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (May 31) and has well entered its decline with the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15). When this discovery dawned on me, I began to see the season as a figure for life, for living well, and for letting life take its Providential course. Summer is much more than baseball.

Without shame and certainly without rebuke, I’ve persevered in my catholic or high-church devotions over the years. But my expectations of them have changed. I hope that I have matured to discern less self-definition in the outward sign and more self-definition in the inward grace: I make the sign of the cross less often but apply the grace given me to try to believe more. I am devoted to Our Lady, and the hymns to her I sing I do so less to glorify her than to give thanks to God for her example of devotion to God’s will. That is her specialty: she is devoted whole-heartedly to God’s will. Her decision and our decision to obey is a decision to decide to live well.

The Feast of the Visitation that begins the summer season honors her expressly for her devotion to God’s will, as the Collect reminds us. And that devotion we see carried out in very ordinary circumstances. Two women, each bearing her first child, each bearing a specially miraculous child, greet each other, and the Gospel tells us that one baby leaps at the recognition of the other (Saint Luke 1:39-49).

Two women live their lives as their lives unfold from God’s Providence. Their lives only seem ordinary. As their lives unfold, their ordinariness hides the devotion to God’s will that elevates those lives from the ordinary and places them in the heavenly realms though on earth.

We forget that one of Christianity’s strongest attractions is the value, the eternal consequence, of every person’s choices. You do not have to be noble or rich or intelligent to have value. You do not have to be in Canterbury, or New York, or Indianapolis, to do the will of God. A dusty Judean hill town will serve as the scene where God’s will actually is performed.

Each one of us wills our happiness or our unhappiness. And each one of us, I think, stretches the extremity of our limitations when our choices are like hers.  Service is perfect freedom. Who among us truthfully cannot say, “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name”? To the extent that we conform our wills to God’s will, we perceive with greater clarity the great things God has done for us, and our response can be nothing other than thankful praise.

The Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary that concludes the summer season honors her for her having been taken to God (with a swiftness and resolution Genevan in its exactitude, as if she were among John Calvin’s elect), and we ask to share with her the glory of God’s eternal kingdom, as the Collect reminds us.

I can remember distinctly an August 15 in Scranton when the chill in the air was unremittingly Genevan, like that of October, and when it brought me to think about life after summer.

The Gospel for this feast is the entirety of the Magnificat (Saint Luke 1:46-55), in which Our Lady sings her willingness to be part of the rising and falling in Israel in accord with God’s Providence: to obey and to rise in her obedience from her lowliness. Saint Basil of Caesarea, in a commentary on Psalm 33, reminds us that those who were brought low by hunger and thirst, because they clung to the Lord, were filled with spiritual goods. Mary rises in her obedience while those who are mighty are put down from their seats.

We forget that another of Christianity’s great attractions is that less is more. The last will be first and the first will be last. You are asking for a reversal that you will find hard to understand if in sitting on your seat you think that you put yourself there. God’s will defines the unfolding, the development, and the final course of our lives. Our wisest choice resembles Our Lady’s choice, to praise God in and through all things.

We can allow ourselves to take on the October chill if we have made the choice to live by making the choice to serve and to be perfectly free.

I love summer, and the least part of it may just be baseball.

[The Venerable Howard Stringfellow serves as archdeacon for the Diocese of Bethlehem.]


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