A dynamic and explosive universe!
The north rose window at the Cathedral in Chartres.
An ordered, contained universe!
Feast of the Immaculate Conception December 2010
Five hundred years ago when Ignatius of Loyola was a teenager (if they had teenagers then!), the Blessed Mother held a position of great honor in the popular European imagination. In tribute and devotion to her, cities all over Europe had constructed and were still at work on the great cathedrals. These public works projects in every major city created community energy and developed the talents and skills of all kinds of people from stone masons to architects to glass makers to those who worked in tapestry.
The great spaces of the cathedrals embodied the very place where the virgin gave birth to Jesus and provided the security, the peace and the promise that sustained and comforted the faithful.
This effort at creating these beautiful tributes was in reaction to the anxieties that beset these communities often visited by devastating plagues, by wars that resulted in pillage and mayhem and by the usual uncertainties about crops and livestock. Our Lady was accessible both in the community effort to create the Cathedral and in her presence as symbolized by its central place in the community. Our Lady provided her personal guarantee of stability and confidence.
Here in Philadelphia we are no longer subject to plagues that we do not understand, though for a short time HIV wore that mantel. We do not have wars, though we do have a living memory of civil unrest. We are not worried about what we will eat today or in the years ahead. We have lingering anxieties, of course, about the safety of family and friends just as people did five hundred years ago.
But we do have a new anxiety, unimagined by Ignatius and his peers. They imagined the universe, then, as contained and ordered. Today our science tells us that the universe is dynamic and explosive. The number of stars is unimaginable and the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in this universe that we struggle to measure is almost certain. Our anxiety today is about our place on this tiny, fragile speck of earth sustained by a sun that will one day die.
In this contemporary context we need Our Lady just as much if not more than the Europeans of five hundred years ago. She comforts us in the vastness of creation by her witness. Willingly she bears the first born of all creation, Jesus. God in the Lord Jesus, with some power inaccessible to us, rules with divine love over all that we know and do not know in our physical world. But Our Lady remains as accessible to us as our own mothers and gives us confidence by her presence. Just as she did among the disciples in the anxious time after the calamity of the crucifixion, she now offers a posture of comfort. She can see us through our calamities as well.
In approaching Mary it helps us to be humble like the young Mexican couples in Mexico City who bring their newborns, sometimes so young that their skin is still wrinkled and red, to the Virgin of Guadalupe, to present them to her for her blessing and protection. In any joy or sorrow, but especially to ward off useless anxieties, we go to Our Lady and let her love of her son help us to be in love with his changing world with all its uncertainties.