My monastery of Turvey Abbey is affiliated to the Benedictine Congregation of Monte Oliveto. We keep today’s feast as a Solemnity. I remember older sisters referring to this feast as Maria Bambina. It was not until I had the chance of a trip to Rome in September 2002 that I was to learn more of how the feast is celebrated there. I was attending a conference for Benedictines and September 8th was a free day. Some American sisters had been exploring the churches of Rome and came back with tales of cradles made from flowers, in which lay baby Mary. I drew back a little then from this Italian piety.
Twenty years later and I may have experienced a little shift within me. I am beginning to see the place which affective piety holds in the life of faith. I don’t think it really bears close analysis. There is something there which stirs the heart and speaks of the power of God’s promise.
In the liturgy of the Word today we are invited to reflect on the power of God’s promise. Prophesying in the southern kingdom of Judah, Micah says that it is the smallest clan that God will use as his instrument of salvation. From the small and little known town of Bethlehem a ruler will be born. From this small town near Jerusalem we move to the equally insignificant town of Nazareth. Matthew doesn’t name the town, instead we have a text which situates Jesus in terms of lineage. Matthew’s carefully worked out schema neatly moves through salvation history, arriving at the all important verse:
and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary;
of her was born Jesus who is called Christ.
Though it is neat on the page, this story of salvation is anything but neat in reality. Sr Maria Boulding speaks of this in her book, The Coming of God:
‘The story of Israel’s hope is a story not of smooth progress but of successive breakthroughs. God’s promise had been made to the people through Abraham, Moses, David, or one of the prophets.
Each time someone, or some people, had been asked to make a leap of faith and love in response to the one who promised, to break through a barrier, to be reborn to a new possibility. The result was a fuller life, a new level and sphere of existence, but at the cost of everything on this side of the barrier. It always meant a letting go, a dying to something that had been familiar, controllable, perhaps even perfect of its kind.’
Mary takes her places here as one whose life was fully at the disposal of God’s plan. She too had to die to something familiar in order to give birth to and be reborn into a new possibility. When we celebrate Maria Bambina we celebrate the potential that we have each held from the moment of our birth. We celebrate the potential that we each have to put our lives at God’s disposal.
Where is God calling you to a new possibility in your own life?