Any Catholic who has known the habit of going to confession will also know that most traditional penance given by the priest, "Say three Hail Mary's." It's very little to ask, especially if we emphasize the word say instead of pray. Nevertheless, in some way however deficient, the phrase suggests an understanding that penance is essential if indeed we desire the broken, contrite heart referred to in Psalm 51:17. Let's hold this thought.
Watching the neo-Nazi and KKK marches recently and listening to their Jewish-hating chant, I remembered when I was twelve years old that I had a German pen pal from Hessen, Germany. My mother's kind friend, a Holocaust Survivor, translated Hans' letters for me. In time I came to understand what the numbers on her arm meant and that she had come to this country to be safe and to heal.
As a young priest I visited the American cemeteries at Normandy, France: thousands of marble-marked graves - young soldiers who fought back Nazi hate! So to hear these young, white, flame-carrying "Christians" whose numbers and boldness are increasing in our country; leaves me deeply troubled.
But you know (and here's the Three Hail Mary's connectiont) our Church has had a hand in the hatred of Jews, even to our own time. It was only in 1959 that Pope John XXIII removed the word perfidious from the Good Friday prayers which prayed for the Jews. The most kind meaning of perfidious is unbelieving: the unbelieving Jews.
And this was the Prayer for the Jews in my 1962 boyhood missal:
Almighty and everlasting God, You do not refuse Your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of Your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness.
Well, thanks be to God, that prayer was finally changed and evolved in the 1970's - the Jewish people repeatedly having asked for that as early as the 1920's. But here's the thing: It seems to me that the religion which produced the little three-year old Mary, who un-escorted climbed the temple stairs before the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies and by her stopping to dance there, delighted all of Israel - that religion could not be living in blind darkness.
So here are three little meditations about the young Mary on the day of her Presentation in the Temple. We might perhaps consider them and "Pray three Hail Mary's" along the way as an Act of Reparation for Catholic sins against the Jews - even to our own time.
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At her presentation Mary climbed the temple steps at age three. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel has said in an interview, "I think every human being is almost by definition capable of hatred. But what I've learned is that a child, until the age of three is not. A child begins to hate at the age of three. In other words, the child has been taught how to hate." Hate is strong feelings against other people. With Mary, I want to climb inner temple steps: up and out of ignorant hatred, to insight, understanding, mercy, compassion and love.
Old Zechariah received the three-year-old Mary, who climbed the steps unassisted to the Holy of Holies. It was right for Mary to climb the temple steps - she is higher than the angels. And when she reached the top, Zechariah took her by the hand, leaning on her as if she were a little staff, who would lead him to life. Then she went past the veil into the deepest and most secret place of the temple, where only the High Priest was allowed to enter once a year. Oh Lady, enter with your brightness and light up the inner places where we are blinded by dark inclinations.
Mary is presented to God in the temple at age three. And at Mass there is the presentation of the bread and wine to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. There is almost nothing in our culture inviting inner transformation - only the transformation of, who can lose the most weight and whose face can be transformed by surgery into sexy. But the best transformation is from sin to forgiveness, or an old life to the new life of Christ. And when I undergo that transformation - then I am free to love. But it begins with an oblation - a conscious offering of myself to God, who wants so much to grow-me-up in goodness.