I love these statues of the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus that have survived from the Middle Ages: the Holy Infant sitting on Mary's slung-out hip, the way mothers do. And the brilliant colors of Mary's outfit reveal that what we casually call The Dark Ages - wasn't.
But here, while Mary is playing with Jesus or perhaps getting ready to cut up the apple she's holding in her other hand, something has got her attention. Indeed, she seems startled or alarmed. We might imagine some danger is near or something unpleasant. She might hide him in the folds of her great mantle and pull him in close. Perhaps her gaze and stance reveal to us that heaven knows and shares our own sense of alarm.
It's a wonderfully alive part of the Catholic imagination that we are all her children in the life of faith. Her motherly antennae are up and receptive when we invoke her in life's alarms:
- Terrorism which spares no one: not children, not babies in strollers, not the elderly, not a priest offering Mass is alarming.
- Science deniers are alarming.
- Our veneration of weapon-guns that anyone can get hold of and which leaves law enforcement vulnerable is alarming.
- Religion which covers its eyes and ears is alarming.
- The degradation of our planet is alarming.
- Religion twisted into an ideology of hate and death is alarming.
- The bizarre and fearsome talk coming out of this election time is alarming.
- The re-birth of racism and the new depth of hate is alarming.
- That a great country still knows so much poverty is alarming.
- Machinations to get hold of power is alarming.
- Legislators who don't legislate, even on behalf of children is alarming.
- Our inability to extract ourselves from war is alarming.
- The casual acceptance of "collateral damage" is alarming.
- The sex exploitation of children around the world is alarming.
- The normalizing of lies is alarming.
- The loss of the Christic-center is alarming.
And now? How are we not to become utterly depressed? Well, Pope Francis has just wrapped up five days in Poland which politically has taken a sharp right, nationalist turn. Catholic news sources report it's no secret the Polish clergy don't even like Francis with his themes of openness, even though it was Polish born Carol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, who said at the very start of his papacy, Open the doors to Christ.
How bad is it? There is an alarming report of an Orthodox Jew and German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, being burned in effigy in Poland. and that the Catholic Church is warm and friendly towards this new nationalist government. We might hope that by now the Church would have learned not to align itself with any government, as the Church falls hard when the supportive government falls. The Russian and French Revolutions bear this out.
But before leaving Poland and World Youth Day last week, Pope Francis said to the hundreds of thousands of young people:
"Believe in a new humanity which refuses to use borders as barriers and spurns hatred among peoples."
"God demands of us real courage, the courage to be more powerful than evil, by loving everyone, even our enemies."
When I was a sophomore in high school I was living in a very deep sense of inner collapse, lonely fear and failure. And one evening, escaping to the public library, hiding in the stacks from a thousand fears, I came across a vinyl recording of Bach's Easter Oratorio.
I took it home and listened to it again and again, especially the very beginning which I've shared with us here. If you can, listen to it a second or third time (full screen/full volume). Listen for the base line, the bottom layer with the heaviest instruments. I like to imagine this underneath, expresses the feet of the Risen Jesus trampling on death and fear and all that exhausts and distracts us with alarm. See if you can detect that too, and let Jesus, our Champion, give you some reassurance and peace.