Recently we have seen a number of changes in the vicariate of Eastern Africa. For example the Master General raised St. Dominic’s in Karen from a house to a priory. The community elected new leadership accordingly. St. Martin de Porres priory in Kisumu elected a new prior. The archdiocese of Kisumu erected a new parish, St. Dominic (Kianja), and placed it under the pastoral care of the Dominican friars. The vicariate appointed a new priest to our parish in Nairobi, St. Catherine of Siena. And the first African was elected as the vicar provincial of the vicariate.
These changes present both a challenge and an opportunity. How should we respond to these changes? The Blessed Mother Mary offers us a way to respond to these changes in a life-giving way. I wish to reflect on her response as demonstrated by three mysteries recounted in canonical Scripture: The Annunciation, the Visitation and the Wedding at Cana.
First there is the Annunciation. Mary lived an ordinary life. Her daily chores were probably menial such as fetching water and collecting firewood. All of a sudden she experienced a significant change in her life. We can imagine Mary’s surprise at the archangel Gabriel’s announcement that she would be the mother of the Messiah. Sacred Scripture tells us that she was perplexed by the angel’s greeting and wondered what kind of greeting it might be. Gabriel reassures her that she has found favour with Lord. (Luke 1:26-38). The Annunciation brought significant change to Mary’s life.
Many wonder how the changes in the vicariate will affect them. Some may even feel anxiety. The words of the angel Gabriel apply; “do not be afraid.” Just as He did for Mary, the Lord will do “great things” for us. When we examine how Mary responded to Gabriel we realize that we should remain confident in the face of change. Our faith encourages us to respond to change as Mary did; “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
The recent changes in the vicariate invite us to imitate Mary, to trust that the Lord will accomplish great things for us. He wants to give new life to the vicariate, just as He gave new life through Mary. As with Mary we know that with the Lord all things are possible. He can overcome whatever challenges we face, such as gaining economic independence, increasing vocations and finding self-sustaining ministries. Mary presents a model of trust in the Lord even when things change significantly and the future is unclear. If we trust in God’s providence, then we have every reason to hope for a better future.
Mary’s yes to the message of the angel reflects the faith of Abraham who was asked by God to accept a radical change. The Lord asked him to leave his home and settle in an unknown land. Reflecting on the happy result of Abraham’s trust in God’s promises gives us reason to trust that the Lord will guide us, as well. As with Mary and Abraham, God will guide us to a better future. It remains for us simply to embrace this new experience and accept the challenges. We know that the Lord will use these changes to help us grow and become better preachers of the Gospel.
Second is the Visitation. We should reflect on the response of Mary to her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who in her old age had conceived and was in her sixth month. Mary does not take pride in her privileged position as mother of the Messiah but instead she immediately offers service to Elizabeth in her need. Mary approaches her cousin with humility. Elizabeth experiences great joy, and in return Mary ponders the great things that God has done (Luke 1:39-45).
The interaction between Mary and Elizabeth reminds us that having a privileged position in the Church means being a servant. Those in leadership roles should take Mary as a model; identify the needs of the brothers and place themselves at their service. Just as Mary humbly went in haste to Elizabeth, so leaders should make haste to help the brothers rather than use their authority to serve themselves. The temptation is to view leadership in worldly terms. Mary could have taken a worldly approach to her new position and expect others to come to her and praise her, after all she is the mother of the Messiah. Instead she chose the path of humility. She went to her cousin and served her needs.
But service is not only for leaders. All brothers should look for opportunities to serve one another, to inquire as to their welfare, and to offer a helping hand. Such humble service will go a long way to build up the vicariate.
Third is Mary’s role at the wedding of Cana. Though she was invited as a guest (John 2:1-12) she does not just come as a guest. Rather, she demonstrates concern for the welfare of the couple. She noticed that the wine ran out and so went to tell her son. Turning to the attendants she said of Jesus, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)
The wedding at Cana offers a valuable lesson in problem solving; “Do whatever he tells you.” Because of Jesus and Mary the wedding celebration was a success. Our life, too, can be a success. When something is lacking, all we need do is invite Jesus and Mary. Inviting Jesus and Mary into our lives ensures a good outcome. They are the best of guests. They know our particular needs. They especially help those brothers entrusted with leadership to fulfill their roles. And we need the help of Jesus and Mary, for knowing all the needs of the vicariate and of each particular brother and how to respond to them is impossible by human resources alone.
We need Jesus. But Mary’s support is also essential. She does not despise our petition, but in her clemency she hears and answers us. She does so by directing us to Jesus, the one unique savior of the world.
Mary is a sign of hope shining in a world of cynicism. She could have kept silent when the wine ran out, but she chose instead to bring the problem to Jesus. In this way Mary was able to find a solution where the world could only find a problem. Mary encourages us to ask Jesus for solutions. If we do, then in the next few years we will achieve great things in the vicariate.
Dennis Wataka, O.P.