Mary shows us the way

Melvin Arrington, Jr

By Melvin Arrington
We can learn much from what Mary says and does in the Gospels. Her act of faith and trust at the Annunciation, her beautiful Magnificat prayer, and her steadfast presence at the foot of the Cross are just some of the instances in which she demonstrates the meaning of holiness. Most importantly, in all things she points the way to her Son and compels us to turn our eyes toward Him, as when she instructs the servers at the wedding feast at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5).
One of Mary’s traits that sometimes gets overlooked amidst her humility, charity, piety, devotion and other great virtues is her gentleness. I first discovered Mary’s gentle ways through the mild, non-abrasive manner of speech my wife would employ when telling me she needed help with household chores. It was a humbling and eye-opening experience when I finally became aware of the close parallels between her approach and Mary’s.
Many times in the past when my wife would say to me something like, “The dishwasher is full of clean dishes,” I would offer some inane response such as, “Oh, okay.” My interpretation was, “If you’re looking for your favorite iced tea glass and it’s not in the cabinet, it’s probably clean in the dishwasher.”
This pattern would show up in all kinds of situations. For example, she might say, “The grass is looking pretty tall in the front yard,” which meant: “Please mow the lawn before the grass gets any taller.” Or she might tell me, “The trash can is overflowing,” meaning that I should get up and take out the trash. Other times she would say, “I think the flag is down on the mailbox,” when she wanted me to go outside and bring in the mail. One final example is particularly embarrassing, now that I look back on it: “The basket in the laundry room is full of your clean clothes.” There’s really no excuse for not understanding that one.
Years went by before I learned how to translate what she was saying. I would hear her words without really listening for the subtext. What sounded like a mere statement of fact was actually a softened way of trying to get me to help out.
Somewhere deep inside it must have registered that she wanted me to empty the dishwasher, mow the lawn, takes out the trash, bring in the mail or put away my clean clothes because usually an hour or so later, I would get up and perform the task. For instance, I would go to the kitchen and, after searching in vain for a particular glass, remember to look in the dishwasher and, in the process, empty it, and put up all the clean dishes. Why couldn’t I have acted on this sooner?
One day, while reading the account of Jesus turning the water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-12), the true meaning of my wife’s soft and tender method of pointing out chores that needed to be done was suddenly revealed to me with great clarity. I had read this passage many times before and thought I had a solid understanding of it but, as the saying goes, each time you read Scripture you find meanings you didn’t see there before. Well, that was truly the case with me.
Verse 3 says, “When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’” Mary was aware of the wine shortage even before the headwaiter learned of it. When she told Jesus about it He immediately understood that she wanted Him to do something to save her friends and relatives from embarrassment. After informing her of the consequences of performing a miracle, He proceeded to do it. Needless to say, my response time to requests is somewhat slower.
Is taking an indirect approach and using non-confrontational language a form of “woman speak,” as opposed to more direct “man speak”? Most men probably respond best when given direct commands, albeit softened ones, such as “Please do this for me,” or “Could you do that for me?” Some of us are not very good at reading between the lines.
When she talked about dishes, laundry, and all those other chores, my wife was simply incorporating Mary’s indirect method and using “Mary speak.” In essence, she was acting like Mary, while I was just, well, being me. As a result, the real miracle occurred whenever I would actually get up and do something useful. A person listening with a servant’s heart would have understood instantly what she was asking.
Mary’s manner of speech in verse 3 is noteworthy because it tells us a lot about her gentleness. She can teach us a kinder, gentler lifestyle, and she can show us the way to happiness. Jesus is the Way, and Mary will point us to Him, if we only let her.

(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of Oxford St. John Parish.)

State Religious leaders honor MLK with joint statement

To mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the bishops of both Catholic Dioceses as well as the Methodist and Episcopal bishops in Mississippi signed a joint statement marking the day and urging their faithful to action. It read:
“As our nation gathers to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this is an ideal time for our respective Christian communities to devote an even greater commitment to fostering understanding across racial, ethnic and gender divides.
As Bishops of the Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist traditions, we are asking each of our faithful to stand with us in recognizing and rejecting continued injustice against our neighbors. As we celebrate this Easter season, a season of rebirth, let us all be reborn with a renewed spirit of love and compassion to strengthen our parish and secular communities and to not be afraid of the stranger at the door.”
The statement was signed by Bishop Joseph Kopacz from the Diocese of Jackson, Bishop Louis F. Kihneman, III, of the Diocese of Biloxi, Bishop Brian R. Seage, the Episcopal Bishop for Mississippi and Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr., the United Methodist Bishop for the state.

Carol of Christmas past

Melvin Arrington, Jr.

Guest Column
By Melvin Arrington, Jr.
“Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that . . . Old Marley was as dead as a doornail.” What little boy with a fertile imagination would not become hooked on those opening lines?
More to the point, how could a child know that a tale about death and ghosts was really about divine mercy and metanoia (repentance and the redirection of one’s life toward Christ), if not for a big person to guide him to an understanding of the spiritual truths conveyed by the story?
I was the little boy, the guide was my daddy, the time was one Christmas in the late 1950s, probably 1958, and the book was, of course, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. That year Santa Claus brought me, in addition to a few toys long since forgotten, a brand new edition of Dickens’ classic story published by Grosset and Dunlap and visually enhanced by sixteen unforgettable color illustrations by Libico Maraja. At that point I was just beginning to leave comic books behind. That hardcover volume was one of my first “real” books.
Almost 60 Christmases have come and gone and I still have that copy of A Christmas Carol. Considering its age, it’s still in pretty good condition. I think I can truthfully say that it has held up better than I have.
The period from Thanksgiving to year’s end was always a happy, joyful time in our family. I think my parents looked forward to Christmas almost as much as my little sister and I. Mama liked to spend time in the kitchen preparing holiday meals, and Daddy enjoyed getting everyone in the Christmas spirit by telling the story of Old Scrooge.
Why did my father take such a special interest in Scrooge? I knew that following his service in the Pacific during World War II he had returned home, married and started a family, like so many young men of his generation.
But during those post-war years he found himself moving further and further away from God, and he stopped attending church. He was never a hateful old miser like Scrooge, but he had let sin dominate his life. Then in the spring of 1957 he had a profound life-altering conversion experience. It was several years later when I came to understand that Daddy liked Dickens’ story so much because in many ways it mirrored his own transformation.
Christianity is a religion of second chances.Scrooge, in revisiting all the times in the past when he failed to be charitable eventually realized that his life was not about himself. Daddy made a similar discovery. Given a second chance he, like Scrooge, responded to the call to metanoia and became a new person.
I’m thankful that Santa Claus brought me a copy of A Christmas Carol that year. Books have been an important part of my life ever since, and that one has brought me great joy because of the wonderful memories it evokes of my daddy.

(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of Oxford St. John Parish.)