The hope of Mary

Emile Krenn-Grosvenor says there’s never been a better time to light a candle for the Mother of God.

During the cost-of-living crisis that marks this Advent season, I find myself leaning on Mary more than usual. Mary, after all, dared to hope in a time of uncertainty and scarcity.

The great 20th century theologian, Dorothy Solle, often referred to Mary as the supreme example of a human being’s greatest act of hope–bringing a new and vulnerable life into the world.

When I was pregnant with my sons I sometimes used to joke with my husband that I needed him to bring me some tea and biscuits because, at the moment, I was working on making a toe or an ear.

Of course, the mother doesn’t will the child into being, but the love we have for that child calls us to nourish and make space for this new life.

The way a mother cares for her child by caring for herself, and the way those who love her ideally do the same, is the first relationship any of us know.

This web of love is integral to our development before we even take our first breath, when our bodies are still one with those of our mother.

However, Mary’s example should inspire more than just mothers. Pope Francis made clear in his speech to World Youth Day in Panama in 2018 that Mary’s ‘be it done unto me according to your word’ in response to the angel, was really a ‘yes’ to giving birth to God’s dream.

This request, he noted, is something that God asks all human beings. We are each called to cultivate the hope of God within our- selves, and to then share it with the world.

This is not always an easy task when the systems meant to support us seem to be working against us and we have become accustomed to doomscrolling through the newsfeeds on our mobiles, not to mention any personal difficulties we might be encountering.

At such times, choosing to hold the light of hope as Mary did is more radical. It is easy to fall into denial or cynicism. It is more difficult to radically accept the reality of one’s current situation and find ways to bear Christ within it.

More recently, Pope Francis implored Catholics to light candles of hope rather than listen to prophets of doom. When I think of Mary’s song upon meeting her cousin Elizabeth, I think of this radical form of hope.

Mary is incredibly vulnerable at this time. She has not yet told her husband about the pregnancy. She is a young woman who does not yet hold the rights of a wife who is head of a household. She is part of an occupied people in a time of unrest. She has no means of providing for herself and her child should her husband and family reject her.

Despite the very real fear and anxiety which we can imagine gripped her in this moment, upon seeing her cousin’s welcome, she shares all that God is doing for her and for her people.

We might wonder how to light and protect candles of hope as Mary did when we ourselves might be struggling. My grandmother would say that is why we turn to Mary, because she knows what it is to struggle.

She must have asked herself, ‘How will I provide for my child? How will I keep him warm?’ It is important to remember here that Mary couldn’t do it alone.

She was helped by those who found a way where there seemingly was no way – Elizabeth who welcomes Mary with joy, the innkeeper who provides shelter for the Holy Family when all the rooms are full, and of course Joseph, who chooses commitment and constancy, ultimately sacrificing his home and stability to stand by and protect his wife and child.

It takes courage to make a space for hope, faith, joy, and peace when it would be easier, and more reasonable, to resign ourselves to bleakness. How are you protecting and committing to that light of hope, even in the midst of uncertainty?

To answer this question, we might reflect on those saints in our own lives who have reflected this Marian way of being.

I think of a friend’s mother who, since her children are now grown, often shares the extra bedroom in her home with someone in a period of hardship; the older gentleman at my home church in the US who, now retired, spends Advent preparing gifts for children, meals for those without shelter, and serving the parish.

Even the smallest of such actions, in their own way, are radical in their witness to joy and hospitality.

In the Northern Hemisphere, Advent comes at the darkest time of year. In the midst of this darkness, we commit to hoping for and creating light. Let us be guided by Mary then, who was the first to do so.

Emile Krenn-Grosvenor is a PhD student of Theology at the University of St Andrews.

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