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With Mary, go in haste to a new land

09/04/2011: General House

1 - Fathers without a fatherland

The fatherland is defined as « the land of the fathers ». But if we go back to the origins of the Jewish people, we discover fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, without lands. In fact, they live between two lands: the one they have left, but where they go to find their wives, and the one they live in as strangers; land which is promised them but which is not yet theirs. So the Jewish people has « fathers without fatherland, without land, clinging to a Promised Land! ».

But these fathers without a fatherland are not fathers without a Father. On the contrary, that is already what they have from the beginning and most preciously: God weaves a unique relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: « He will be their God and from them will be born his people! ». God is their first treasure, their true Promised Land, their eternal homeland. All the children of Abraham, all the children of Abraham’s faith are on a journey towards God, the Promised Land. These Fathers without fatherland already have their fatherland and, at the same time, they will be continually travelling, like all humanity, towards the Promised Land. This Land is the Alpha and the Omega of the human adventure, but it begins to take body with Abraham, with the promise of a land which is first of all a spiritual reality before becoming this stretch of territory called the Holy Land, a pale image of the Promised Land. If God is the Father of our fathers in the faith, what can the Promised Land be if not Himself, already given and never totally possessed.

When our chapter document places before us the New Land, do we think of this presence of God? of this search for God? Of this journey directed towards the heart, towards within? Yes, the Document makes a special allusion to a journey of  conversion, to a greater openness to the Lord. Although it may be necessary for our steps to take us towards mankind, we should first of all undertake a journey within, towards the One who is the treasure, the Promised Land, the Land always New to which we must accompany our brothers and sisters. This is not an abstraction, it is a priority. Otherwise, what have we to offer mankind, the young, the children?

 

2 - The desert as fatherland

It is not a pleasant thing to have « the desert as fatherland ». But that is the route to freedom; the condition for escaping from slavery, even one preferred, but unworthy of man who by nature should be free. The desert is simply a place of purification, of passage, a test, the place where the people is in training to be free.

But it is in this hostile land that a People is formed and the Law is given. The arid land produces a People from what was a mass of refugees; in this unforgiving land the Law is engraved.

It is not yet the Promised Land, but it is already a People being born; it is already a Law, this people’s soul. In the desert, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob becomes the Father of a people. This people has not yet a fatherland, but already has a Father, a Law, and knows itself as the People of God.

Important realities are acquired while the people are still on the way towards the Promised Land; realities much greater, much more durable, than the piece of geographical land towards which the People of God are travelling. They are given on the route.

This, perhaps, may give us courage: setting out is already giving ourselves the chance to receive more important gifts than concrete missions.

 

3 - A people who loses its Land

The people of Israel who leave for exile lose their land, their fatherland, and find themselves on the way to a land of exile far from Jerusalem. A land of tears on the banks of the rivers of Babylon, and the joyful harps are hung on the weeping willows.

Yet this people of exiles is given a new heart,a new spirit, a more refined mysticism. It loses its kings, it loses its Temple, but within it grows a Word of God stronger, more luminous, more human; in it speak new prophets who make it dream of much more than an earthly kingdom. Prophets who cause it to discover a God more Father than King…

Even this bitter route of exile, that they have to travel in haste, produces its fruits of  purification and humanisation. This people thus purified is disseminated among the other peoples, in Lands which appear strange and where, however, they prepare the terrain for the Gospel. The diaspora is the true fatherland of Paul.

 

4 - A people which loses its Temple

The dream of the Promise Land has always a tendency to settle for less: the desire for a piece of land, for something palpable, for a pure people barricaded within the walls of the law, of the Temple, of the Land called Holy. It is the dream of Ezechiel against the dream of Isaiah.

God and the Romans take responsibility for depriving this people of their centre, their heart, the Temple, as much later history will take it on itself to deprive the papacy of all its lands.

The new people of Israel will give itself a new temple: the Scriptures, which no enemy can destroy, but which can live only with the love of the faithful.

When the land is taken from the Jewish people, they acquire in suffering a much greater freedom, a worship of  God they find everywhere and whom they adore « in spirit and truth »( Jn 4: 23). The land disappears but the soul grows. This may seem a paradox: the less the territory, the more the spiritual values. And yet all this is drawn from the future by the utopia of the New Land. The utopia can be aborted in territory, state, nation, frontiers, then the light of the people of God is extinguished. But the utopia can also be generosity, going out to others, making the weakest more human: heaven comes to make its dwelling among us, the Word becomes flesh, the Word becomes brother.

 

5 - And Mary?

She goes in haste to a new land, but it is not to make it her fatherland. She goes in haste, but it is to carry the Child of the Promise. She goes towards the sign that Gabriel has given her, for the sign is part of the grace of the Annunciation and contains in itself all the graces of the  Visitation. There is audacity in the young Mary and plenty of faith. Her setting out is going to mean Elisabeth’s joy and song, the singing of the Magnificat, the canticle of Zachariah, the son proclaimed Lord, Saviour, the Sun from on high.

 

6 - And us?

The history of the Jewish people teaches us that, the poorer it is in land, territory, fatherland, the more luminous it is. The poorer the Jews are, the more they are children of God, recalling the first of the Beatitudes.

Mary, who is among the anawim, has no other wealth than the child. This child kindles faith and joy in the family of Elisabeth. Mary tells us that the first condition for going in haste is to be  rich with the child. The Chapter invites us not to look at a woman who has arrived but at one who is setting out, a woman en route. Luke makes the route the place of evangelisation and salvation. The route leads to Jerusalem, then to Rome, then to the ends of the earth. Men and missions await us on the route and they are themselves the New Land.

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Giovanni Bigotto, FMS

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