Today’s Gospel reminds me of an African praise-name for God that likens the Divine to a “large and deep pot.” Another African proverb says “a mother’s heart is as deep as a well.”
Imagine the heart of God, the heart of a mother, like a large and deep pot! That is precisely what today’s Gospel tells us about Mary in so many words: “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Have you ever wondered what things Mary kept in her heart? I think I have an idea: Mary kept the mystery of the incarnation in her heart, pondering and relishing it with reverence and awe.
As I reflect on today’s Gospel, the image of a mother’s heart, like God’s heart, as a large and deep pot, or a deep well, strikes me as a profound invitation to meditation and contemplation. This rich symbol reveals a spiritual depth and rootedness; it signals an amazing capacity to birth and to contain God, which is what Mary does. Such a gift of rootedness and depth is precisely the opposite of so much shallowness and superficiality that characterizes our world and our relationships in this day and age.
Imagine how Mary harbored and reflected on the mystery of God in her large and deep heart. What I find even more fascinating is the awareness that her profound contemplative reflection that the Gospel describes is anything but a portrait of passivity. Far from it. In reality, Mary is our quintessential “missionary disciple,” to use one of Pope Francis’s favorite expressions. She is an apostle of joy. Everything in today’s Gospel points us to this understanding.
Consider what happens after the shepherds encountered Mary and her incarnate divine bundle of joy. They leave her presence completely transformed: their awe is transformed into a passionate proclamation of the Good News; from simply gazing in amazement at the mystery of God-with-us they leave the manger glorifying and praising God. Their reaction and transformation, and the reaction and transformation of all the people who heard the Good News, tell us something about the depth, beauty, and radiance of Mary’s heart. Her heart is silent, but resplendent with divine glory; her heart is deep, but overflowing with life-giving love; her heart is large, but radiating boundless joy. Mary’s heart is one with God’s heart, who births us to life, and nourishes and sustains us in our daily living.
As I see it, Mary’s contemplative posture teaches us that the quality of our presence to one another, the depth of prayer in which we hold one another, and the expanse of our love for others can be life-giving beyond words and healing beyond all remedies, especially at times of anxieties and worries, loss and pain, uncertainty and despair, such as we have experienced during the pandemic. Her contemplative poise draws us into the loving embrace of the Divine, who loves and enfolds us in Christ. Her contemplative openness reveals God’s desire to touch and transform our lives with God’s light. Not only is Mary a missionary disciple, an apostle of joy, she is – to use a phrase from St. Ignatius of Loyola – a contemplative in action.
Like Mary, we, too, are called to cultivate and relish the interiority of God’s presence by opening our hearts to the deep and expansive love of God. Above all, we are called to be a source of life, a wellspring of healing, and a fount of hope for all women and men, especially those who are weak, vulnerable, abused, and marginalized. It takes a heart as deep as Mary’s to cherish and savor the gift of God-made-flesh for us. It takes a heart as large as Mary’s to come home to God’s loving embrace in this season of Christmas.
Anne Arabome, SSS
Anne Arabome, SSS
Anne Arabome is a member in good standing of the Sisters of Social Service in Los Angeles, California.
She is presently the Associate Director of the Faber Center for Ignatian Spirituality at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. The Faber Center is dedicated to providing faculty and staff with support and guidance in leading a reflective life. Through retreats, reflection groups, and spiritual direction, faculty and staff connect to their spiritual core and God (https://www.marquette.edu/faber-center/).
Her ministerial and research interests include ethical and theological issues that shape the spiritual and devotional lives of African women in African and North American Diaspora; spirituality of minority groups in the 21st century; contemporary and contextual expressions and applications of Ignatian spirituality and practice; justice-informed ministry, counseling, and accompaniment; social justice; and the interplay of religions, spirituality, cultures, gender, church, and society.
Of Nigerian parentage and origin, she is a naturalized US citizen. She holds
· a PhD in Systematic Theology from the University of Roehampton in London, UK. Dissertation title: “‘Bridge over troubled waters’: a critical reevaluation of gender in religion with particular emphasis on the role, identity and mission of African women in Christianity in rhetoric and practice within the Roman Catholic Tradition.” 2015 – 2016.
· a Doctor of Ministry in Spirituality (DMin) from the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, USA. Dissertation title: “Gifts and Challenges of African Nigerian Women in Diaspora to the Parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago.” 2008 – 2011.
· a Graduate Certificate in Pastoral Studies from the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, Illinois. 2008 – 2009.
· a Masters in Religious Studies and Pastoral Counseling from Mt. St. Mary’s College, Los Angeles, California. 2002 – 2004.
She has published several articles and book chapters on Theology, Gender, Ecclesiology and Church Leadership; Feminist, Womanist, or Mujerista Ethics; and Women’s Spirituality and Spiritual Practice, including:
· Why do You Trouble this Woman? Women and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola (Paulist Press, forthcoming in 2022)
· “A Beautiful Life: Portrait of Inculturated Religious Life in Africa” (A commissioned article written for “Women Religious Theologians Symposium,” a community of sister scholars engaging the global issues of religious life today under the auspices of the International Union of Superiors General [UISG], due out in January 2022).
· “I can’t breathe because God can’t breathe” in National Catholic Reporter (https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/i-cant-breathe-because-god-cant-breathe) June 10, 2020.
· “Who is Christ for African Women?” in Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table, ed. The Catholic Women Speak Network (Paulist Press, 2015).
· “How Are Theologians Challenged by their Engagement with the Sense of the Faithful in the Global/Local Church,” CTSA Proceedings 70 (2015): 60-71 (Keynote address at CTSA convention; also published in chapter 25 of Bradford E. Hinze and Peter C. Phan, eds., Learning from All the Faithful: A Contemporary Theology of the Sensus Fidei (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2016).
· “When a sleeping woman wakes” in The Church We Want: African Catholics Look To Vatican III, ed. Agbonkhiameghe E. Orobator (Orbis Books, 2015).
· “African Spirituality for a New Ecclesia in Africa” in The Church We Want: Foundations, Theology and Mission of the Church in Africa, ed. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator (Paulines Publications, 2015).
· “Reimagining African Theology: The Promise of a New Generation” in Theological Reimagination: Conversations on Church, Religion, and Society in Africa, ed. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator (Paulines Publications, 2014).
· “The Sacrifice of Africa and the Midwives of a New Church and a New Africa” Modern Theology 30 (2): 408-413 (2014).
· “Dreams from My Mother, Prayers to My Father: Rethinking the Trinity of God, Woman, and Church” in Feminist Catholic Theological Ethics: Conversations in the World Church, eds. Linda Hogan and A. E. Orobator (Orbis Books, 2014).
· “‘Woman, You are Set Free!’ Women and Discipleship in the Church” in Reconciliation Justice, and Peace: The Second African Synod, ed. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator (Orbis Books, 2011).
· “Gender and Ecclesiology: Authorities, Structures, Ministry” in Gender in Theology, Spirituality and Practice,Concilium 2012/4, ed. Lisa Sowle Cahill, Diego Irarrazaval, and Elaine M. Wainwright.
· “Making Justice at Home or Justice Begins at Home” in Practicing Reconciliation, Doing Justice, Building Peace: Conversations in Catholic Theological Ethics in Africa, ed. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator (Paulines Publications, 2013).
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