March Madness

“Pain tells us when there is a problem. It tells us when we should stop doing something.”

Maybe you had to be a Creighton basketball fan to recognize when it was a rebuilding year. The basketball season ended this week. Even though Creighton won 26 games, I saw the Drake game and it looked like a rebuilding year that day to me.

I heard that Tom Shanahan, S.J., is the team chaplain. He had to quiet the storms when there was too much drama in the lives of these players. His role was helping the team reach the acceptance stage about where they were in this world. It was the end of the year, a time for the final Examen for these guys.

Speaking of Tom Shanahan, S.J., there was a lot more emotion in the Annunciation story found in today’s reading for me than discussed on the Creighton website. By Father Shanahan.


The Examen. Jesuits like to conclude an Ignatian retreat by discussing the Examen. People went on retreat really to try to learn how to pray. As every life is so different, so was the prayer method. But the Examen was a reflection back on the day just lived, to try an answer where it was that you met the Creator in the day.

There was a lot more emotion for me in the story found in TODAY’s reading than Father Tom Shanahan leads me to believe.  In  The Annunciation. Catholics hear the story of the interruption in Mary’s life on this day each year.  It was the “Why me?” feast.

But Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?’ She just wanted to know what she had done. “Why me?”

I saw this as a bit of God’s past medical history. God’s pain over His creation. And then wanting to do something about it…. again.  And so He got a girl pregnant.  Maybe Shanahan, when you lived with the guys, you missed the emotions of the female world. [And ladies, if you don’t like the use of the masculine personal pronoun, how did you explain the Holy sperm in the story?  So God is, for purposes of understanding, referred to as HE.  Here.]

“I’m pregnant.” The first reaction was fear. For the baby. For the girl. For the announcement to the world. Starting with her own parents. “Hmmmm. St. Ann? Mom, are you awake yet?”

Father Shanahan talks about the wondrous message Mary hears as she goes about the daily routine. “I am pregnant” in a world where unmarried women get stoned to death in some kind of honor killings. It does not sound all that wondrous to me.  Not in the real world.  If you ever had  daughter of your own.

How many more kids did God want anyway? And were there not enough kids in this town? Mary’s fear had to be about acceptance of the news in the real world.  Maybe it would be easier for the next virgin birth.  But for now, would she be stoned to death?  Gabriel’s “The Lord is with you” really seemed more an assurance that she would not be.  Maybe the first born son of God — who would also be her son — would be killed, over all this, but Mary would not be.  Living the unconventional life, Amidst God’s Chosen People.  It would have been easier in San Francisco maybe 2000 years later.  Or in Omaha?

So this was what it meant to be human? Pain tells us when there is a problem. It tells us when we should stop doing something. So God was gonna learn a bit more about pain. Maybe this girl can teach Him a new point of view.  Like every man’s spouse.  About why did God really choose her?

Today is the feast of the Annunciation, by my math, nine months before Christmas day. If she did the Examen as suggested by Ignatius Loyola about 1500 years later, she one day might have realized that she had a role in God’s creation and his desire to do something about the pain. Things were not looking good. Pain was all over this room when Gabriel came in.  And Mary was not a bit player. “The Lord is with you.” He sure darn well was.  Intimately.

God’s pain over his creation. And the emotions that went with the pain. “Excuse me, young lady, but you are pregnant.” There was no longer a denial. “Would you like a Coca-Cola? Yeah, you! You’re the One!”

This was the chance for the anger. All those human stages, that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about. And then Mary’s fast acceptance about the pain. His and hers. Where was the bathrobe? Hers, anyway.

“May it be done to me according to your word.” Then that angel departed. “We’ll see how all of this goes.”

The Examen.  “The Lord is with you.” You just had to look for Him. Mary seemed to have a lot less anger than God. She was the peaceful one in the story. She found the 5th stage of grief in her world by a young age. Those Hail Marys were about reaching acceptance, amidst all of life’s pain, but still doing something about this world.

So this was the start for the mother of God. An identity that she could not quite get away from, in the days before cell phones, text messaging, tweets. And so those Hail Marys that stormed the heavens each day, in modern day Tweets.  About the Human Condition. The Annunciation, announcing the human point of view to the divine, when this would be the beginning of a new relationship about shared pain. And when pain tells us when there is a problem.

The Examen. A reflection back on the day just lived, or a season past, when it had looked like a rebuilding year . . in Omaha.  .  where the basketball team was, to so many,  the face of the Institution.  At a Jesuit university.

Post Script:

In the mechanics of the sentence, what did the Angel of The Lord “declare?” That Mary was holy? And she believed the angel?

In the mechanics of Time quantified, neatly stacked away, banked in both history or on premises called institutions, “ANTECEDENT” is a word for which a pronoun stands.

“Behold the handmaid of The Lord!” Like the formal precedents set by the nameless handmaids of Sarah, of Leah, of Rachel? Behold all the women who got pregnant first, out of wedlock. Out of some form of slavery which came NOT out of romantic love or by arranged marriages — or by any love at all? Mary is a type of ANTECEDENT for all the prior nameless handmaids in the stories of the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac,and the God of Jacob, challenging the concepts of human legitimacy.

“Behold! Behold all of the precedents in the stories! And behold the WORD made flesh!”

Behold! Bending down to the arrangements of the times. Challenging the dogma of the times, BEHOLD! Behold all of the social conventions in the story, before challenging the concepts of social justice. Behold the true birthright which came down from the nameless handmaids, from the human culture which did not in this part of the world give much if any significance to a woman.

And BEHOLD the son of David, the stories always said.

The ANGELUS was a prayer about how Mary should believe that she was significantly holy, as I am to come to believe that I too am somehow legitimately unconventionally holy. What that Angel of the Lord DECLARED in the hovering darkness was the message of God’s love for this woman. 


2 comments so far

  1. paperlessworld on

    So what was it like in times gone by to be a handmaid, or a slave?

    “I have my dear friend — striven faithfully to give a true and just account of my own life in slavery — God knows I have tried to do it in a Christian spirit…I ask nothing — I have placed myself before you to be judged as a woman, whether I deserve your pity or your contempt — I have another object in view it is to come to you just as I am a poor slave mother — not to tell you what I have heard but what I have seen — and what I have suffered — and if there is any sympathy to give — let it be given to the thousands — of slave mothers who are still in bondage…let it plead for their helpless children…”
    — Letter from Harriet Jacobs to Amy Post, June 21,1857

  2. paperlessworld on

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