March 14, 2006

Magnifying God

Cross-posted to the Christian Alliance for Progress...

"My soul magnifies the Lord..." (Luke 1:46) This is a famous phrase among Christians and especially among Catholics like me. It's the beginning of the Canticle of Mary, traditionally referred to as the Magnificat, the song of praise that Mary offered to God proclaiming his fidelity to the promises of justice and mercy that he had made to Abraham and his descendants.

I couldn't help but think of Mary's Magnificat recently when I went to a free health clinic with a female relative who was trying to get help with buying her rather expensive medication. When we walked in, the first thing that struck me was how many women there were among the waiting patients. Since we were walk-ins and didn't have an appointment, we had to wait for quite some time, and I observed that an overwhelming majority of the patients who came and went were women. Many of these women were working women, some of them were disabled and couldn't work. A few of them were young women who had children with them, and a few of them were elderly women.

They join the 15% of American women who have no health insurance coverage, and many of them may be part of the 9.4% of American women who don't have a usual source of health care. Some of them may be among the 30% of women who have not recently had a mammogram or among the 21% of women who have not recently had a pap smear. I encourage readers to visit a free health clinic sometime soon; maybe you can volunteer some of your time, or find out if there's anything you can donate to help with the work they're doing. While you're there, be sure to look at the waiting patients and see those who give faces to the statistics I've presented here. These people are living human beings. They are our neighbors who we are not loving even as much as we love ourselves, and certainly not as much as God has loved us.

"My soul magnifies the Lord." To some, it would have been a scandalous thing for Mary to say. What is it about a Galilean peasant woman, the newly betrothed mother of a child who society will always look upon as having been conceived illegitimately, that could possibly magnify God? "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46) If Mary had been speaking to the wealthy elite in Sepphoris, in Jerusalem, or in Rome, they would have laughed her all the way out of town. But she speaks to them and to generation after generation. She speaks of a God magnified by the poor, the marginalized, the socially insignificant. She speaks of a God magnified by women sitting in our free health clinics every day struggling to meet their own most basic health care needs and those of their families.

It should come as no surprise to us that the Son of Mary who we worship as God in the flesh would later say that "when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him," he will separate those who cared for "these least ones" from those who did not because the latter did not care for him. Those who did not care for the least ones will ask him when they did not care for him, and he will answer: "Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me" (Matthew 25:31-46). We see echoes of the Magnificat in Jesus Christ's parable about the judgement of the nations; we see a God who is magnified by those who have no food, no drink, no shelter, no clothing, no friends, no health care, and no hope. We see a God who is magnified in the poor and vulnerable, in people who live in conditions just like the circumstances that Mary and her divine Son lived in. The Magnificat is the Gospel, and the Gospel is the Magnificat.

So what does it say about our so-called Christian nation that God in disguise is allowed to sit in free health clinics for hours, maybe to get a little bit of help or maybe to be turned away because she isn't quite destitute enough? You be the judge. In fact, we'd better all start being the judges -- because if we wait for God to judge our indifference and inaction, we might be hearing that unfortunate and surprising admonition: "Depart from me..."