Dedication in this Year of Grace
By Fr. T. Corbishley, S.J. Master of Campion Hall
TIMECONDITIONED and calendar-minded as we human beings are, there is for all of us a special atmosphere about beginning a new year.
We take stock; we look back on the year that has gone, we look forward, questioningly,. fearfully or hopefully to what lies before.
The politician and the economist, even the literary critic and the sports reporter, are busy recounting the triumphs and failures of 1953, assessing what 1954 is likely to bring.
And the Catholic? What attitude does he take up as he confronts the year that is before him?
It would be an affectation on his part to refuse to begin, at least, by some reference to the unique stamp which has been placed on this year—this year of grace—by the Holy Father himself. It is Our Lady's Year. All years are her Son's; for some 14 centuries now we have used the term A.D.—a reminder of the central point in human history. All years then are her Son's.
In what sense is this to be hers? How can we overcome the temptation to think of this "Marian Year" as a piece of "mere edification," of "mere piety"? How can we bring ourselves to see the profound and practical lesson it holds for us all?
Dependence on God
IT1-T is not, I believe, an and purely superficial reference to think back over the past year, seeing it dominated, as it has been dominated for all of us, by the figure of an earthly queen. Foremost amongst the thronging memories of 1953 shines out the splendid scene in Westminster Abbey when Elizabeth of Windsor was hailed and hallowed as Queen of England and her other Dominions beyond the seas.
For a space during those moving h our s the true meaning of life seemed to be presented to us in all its dazzling beauty and deep importance.
The cynic might scoff; we ourselves in our more workaday mood might wonder whether perhaps we were not indulging in a piece of sentimental day-dreaming, in a childish attempt to escape from the sordid cares and chilling fears of "real life." Yet, I am sure, we were right to surrender to the appeal of superb pageantry and stately ceremonial.
For what we witnessed was so much more than pageantry and ceremonial. It was the deliberate statement of nothing less than the truth about every creature of God —that each one of us is utterly dependent on Him. point and purpose of this year if Servant of God We took ride in the achieve we do not remind ourselves that p
WHEN we watched the Queen, a lonely yet lovely figure, anointed, royally apparelled, crowned, bearing orb and sceptre, with her Lords doing homage at her feet, we were witnessing a symbolic manifestation of that entire dedication of a human being which is at once the humble acceptance of duty and the
endowing with authority. Servire regnare.
The ceremonial, shorn as it was of some of its deepest theological
meaning, yet stemmed directly
from the great ages of Faith, when men had not yet learned to think in the shallow terms of modern political theory, when they still saw the splendid vision of the truth—that all power comes from God and is validly held and rightly exercised only where there is conscious acceptance of the sovereignty of God.
In that recognition there can be no such thing as absolute power, with all its corrupting possibility, wielded by any mortal man.
Nor can we doubt that the Queen sees herself as the servant of God, and of her people under God. That is why she is such te wonderful and inspiring expression of true power: not political power, which is so corrupting; not power resting on the possession of weapons of destruction; not power based on menaces backed by force—but the power of the spirit, the power wielded by one who puts her trust first and foremost in God.
Inner battle We shall miss so much of the point and purpose of this year if
Our Lady is indeed our Lady— meat of those men, not because we Mother of God, Queen of Heaven thought we could have done it and Earth, meriting all the many ourselves; indeed our pride sprang titles which our love has invented from the realisation that it defor her—because she was and is manded qualities in a measure above all a dedicated creature. which we knew to be overwhelmShe stated the complete truth ingly beyond our scope. But unwhen she described herself as less, in some degree, we have tried ancilla Domini—God's serving to exercise those splendid virtues woman; the profound meaning of of courage, devotion to an ideal, her life is summed up in the fiat self sacrifice and sheer grinding 11111111181111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111f1(111111111111111111111111111111111111aitalititiaM111111111111111111111111111111111111111 WHEN we watched the Queen, a lonely yet lovely figure, anointed, royally apparelled, crowned, bearing orb and sceptre, with her Lords doing homage at her feet, we were witnessing a symbolic manifestation of that entire dedication of a human being which is at once the humble acceptance of duty and the
effort, we had no right to take pride in it; we were cheating, It is even more true to say that we have no right to take pride in Our Lady's achievement, no right to sing her praises, to pray to her, sinless, at our own level, and at least in desire and intention, we honestly try to put into practice her ideals.
What constitutes the great appeal she has for her faithful is surely that she is so obviously one of us. In its material externals, in its round of humble service, simple pleasures, piercing sorrows and abiding human love, her life was a typical woman's life.
Our Lady was fulfilling to perfection the will of God not by adopting an extraordinary way of life, not by carrying out any sensational mission, not by following any special vocation. Her vocation was to be that of the perfect mother—Mother of God, it is true, but of God made Man.
Her virginity itself was not adopted, self-consciously, or selfregardingly, as a recognised means to sanctification. It was, for her, the natural, almost the inevitable outcome of her sense of dedication. She belonged to God; so completely was she filled with the realisation of that truth that she would not pretend to "give herself" to any other.
But because her virginity was the unselfconscious, wholly Godcentred dedication of her whole being, it blossomed and flowered into motherhood. Because she had given herself so completely to Him, therefore did God give Himself so completely, uniquely to her.
All God's doing THAT, then, is what this year is all about. Il is a summons, a challenge: a summons to each one of us to render as explicit as possible in our own lives that entire dedication of ourselves to God and to God's purposes which is the whole sense and explanation of our existing at all. And if we pray to Our Lady in that spirit, not asking her to do things for us, but rather asking her to show us how things are done, if the whole Church of God on earth is fired with this ambition and this resolution, then, but only then, may we look for great things from this year.
Fecit mini magna cui potens est. It is all, in the end, God's doing. But He has chosen to employ human instruments for his work, instruments in His Hand, yet human—and therefore free, intelligent, responsible, exercising initiative, individual in the manifold v a r i e t y of their gifts and their achievements.
To each one of us God's message comes. It is for each one of us to reply, with Our Lady : Ecce ancilla, ecce servus Domini: fiat mihi secundum verbum tram.
THE world is threatened by evil in man y forms, supremely in this hour by a system that seeks to enslave men body and soul. That system will be overthrown only by men who prize true freedom, the freedom of God's children, the freedom of those who are convinced that when man serves his Creator and his fellow-men for his Creator's sake, then is he most truly free. which was her reply to the angel's announcement, which she uttered not in word but in deed, at every moment of her existence.
ALL too often, what is =called "devotion to Our Lady" is what St. John of the Cross would call "spiritual luxury" rather than an expression of true devotedness.
We human beings so easily mistake the shadow for the substance,
confuse means with ends, prefer the trappings and the trimmings to the underlying reality. Nowhere does this happen more frequently than in our religious observance; and within the sphere of that observance most frequently of all in this matter of devotion to Our Lady.
We multiply pious practices, we visit shrines, we read and argue about the latest alleged apparition. All this may hide instead of revealing the personality of Our Lady herself.
True devotion S we say our Rosary, re iterating again and again the "Hail Mary," do we remember what we are talking about? "Full of grace," we proclaim her, and forget that the phrase commits us to belief in the whole order of God's supernatural dispensation, which turned a creature of our clay into the shining and splendid b e i n g who eclipses the angels themselves.
"The Lord is with thee," we murmur glibly enough, but fail to recall that He is with her, because from the beginning she walked with Him.
Obviously, we cannot expect each recitation of the "Hail Mary" to be a theological meditation. What we can do is to ensure that our uttering of the Hail Mary, of the Rosary, of the Litany of Loreto and the rest is not a substitute for theology but an implicit, indeed to some extent an explicit, embodiment of theological truth.
In reciting the Rosary we are not, or should not be, just going through the motions of prayer. Prayer is not repeating a polite but rather meaningless formula; it is committal. We commit ourselves to the ideas to which we are giving expression.
LET us take another -"example from an event of 1953 which thrilled the world, the conquest of Everest. WE prayed for her then, that she might prove worthy of her high vocation. We still pray for her.
Do we pray for ourselves, that we may be worthy of the occasion, that we may help her to fight, in ourselves, no less than in others, the injustice, selfishness and greed, the cruelty, weakness and dishonesty which constitute the deep threat to the peace of the world?
We look about us in fear and anxiety, thinking of the piling up of appalling engines of destructive power, of the unceasing persecution of our fellow-Christians in so many lands, of the brutality and licence, the squalor and oppression and hatred, which disfigure our civilisation.
Do we perhaps forget that these are all the outcome of those tendencies in our nature, which separate us all, in some measure, from the charity of Christ, which is the sole hope of the world.
AND so, as we look for
ward to the coming year, dominated still more completely for us by the figure of an incomparably greater woman, let us make certain that we shall not just contemplate the surface trappings, but shall pierce through to the profundities of the occasion.