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Friday, November 29, 2019

Se quedó - 1st Sunday of Advent

Note: For the season of Advent and Christmas, these reflections will focus on the Virgin Mary rather than the weekly Gospel. 

In Ohio, one of my closest friends had six children. I was once charged with getting Frances, the 2-year-old, to sleep. I sung the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” while she rested on my shoulder. As I finished, a smile spread across her face. “Again!” she screamed delightedly. I obeyed, but got the same response: “again!” And so on I went several more times, singing more and more softly. Each time, the same response. “Again! Again!” It didn’t put her to sleep — it’s never that easy — but, with each one, she got a little less giggly and her eyes got a bit more heavy. She’d begun to settle into the comfort of the song. Indeed, its warmth and constancy — “again!” — was part of what made it comforting. 

It’s an odd way to start a reflection on Mary — by recalling a child lulling off toward sleep. But Frances did teach me something about Mary and why Catholics cling to her. The theologian Roberto Goizueta tells a story about an old Mexican abuelita who was once challenged to defend her devotion to Mary. [1] “Why do you love her so?” After a moment, she replied: “Se quedó. Se quedó ― She stayed. She stayed.” Maybe that’s an odd response, but I think Frances taught me what that abuelita meant by it. Above all, in the song, Frances wanted someone to be with her, to be near her ― she wanted someone to stay. “Again! Again! Don’t leave!”  

In the spiritual life, Catholics — the abuelita included — have always sensed that Mary stays, that she is near to us. Catholic life, of course, is decked out with Mary. We name churches after her, put up statues, sing songs about her. She’s with us in her picture hanging on our walls, in tangled up rosaries the children have strewn about our rooms, in the tattooes painted across our arms. 

But it’s not just because we’ve decided to honor her that Mary’s name has stuck around. Mary, too, has decided to stay. Again and again, she’s appeared to the faithful across the world ― Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe, Kibeho, Akita ― often dressed and looking like the people to whom she’s appeared. That is part of what makes Mary, Mary. She has a motherly instinct, an ability to be there 

And it’s not just that Mary is always there. Even when the going gets tough, Mary stays. Catholics know that, in times of anguish, Mary’s presence is often most keenly felt. It’s worth noticing, for instance, that when Mary has appeared, it’s often been to those who are poor or alienated, or to children. And the fact of the matter is that we are all poor, anxious, and hurting. But Catholics have always sensed that, no matter what, Mary is with us. She is with us when we beg for God’s help, with us when we weep or angrily tell God how we really feel, with us when we just can’t go on. In those times, “se quedó, se quedó ― she stayed, she stayed.” She is an ever-present reality, a motherly reminder that God is still at work in the world and in our lives. 

It is this constancy that marks Catholic devotedness to Mary, the constancy of this reminder that God himself draws near to us in our pain. This is the constancy that we all crave. It is the constancy that Frances craved as I sang to her ― the assurance that someone would be near her, that someone would stay. Indeed, Frances understands why Catholics embrace the constancy and repetition of Mary’s rosary, why, as soon as we finish ― “now and at the hour of our death” ― we start (“again!”) at once: “Hail, Mary!” [2] It is a reminder that Mary is always among us ― that she is always there to hail and to greet ― that she stayed and that she will always stay.


[1] Roberto S. Goizueta, Christ Our Companion (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2009): 11.
[2] See Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Threefold Garland (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1985), 23 for a similar way of thinking about the rosary's use of the Hail Mary, but from a different theological angle.

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