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A Song from the Hill Country

A song from the hill country...

Mary's Magnificat

The Shrine of our Lady of Penrhys stands boldly on the mountaintop of Penrhys that divides the two Rhondda Valleys.

It stands boldly in the sense that there has, since Medieval times, always been a shrine there and even after the Reformation, when the stones of the chapel were overturned and the image seized under cover of darkness and taken to London to be burned in the same fire as the image of Our Lady of Walsingham, it still somehow remained, if not in public devotion then certainly in silent, subtle witness, in the memory of those who had once journeyed there, waiting to be stirred again. Yet, to say that the image of Our Lady stands boldly is also somewhat misleading for perhaps the distinctive feature of the shrine at Penrhys is its subtlety, there is little now remaining except for the modern statue erected in the 1960s and a small hut like structure standing over the well, further down the mountainside. There is nothing elaborate or immediately impressive. Perhaps a more appropriate word to use than subtlety is humility.

Although Mary stands tall and stands out among not just women but all Christians it is simply by virtue of her humility and the offering of her life to God in obedient and loving acceptance of God’s plan for her and the world, that she holds such a special place in the Church. For the secret lies in who she carries in her arms, the little child she nurses for a kiss. It is Jesus who gives purpose to her life, it is Jesus who fills her life, and it is Jesus whom she holds out to us, for us to know and love, for us to honour, worship and adore. So, yes, the Shrine of Our Lady of Penrhys is both bold and humble.

When she visits Elizabeth in the hill country of Judah (Luke 1:39-56), Mary’s joy spills out in a bold canticle of praise, ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.’ And so, on another hilltop, far away from Judah, we too sing for joy. We sing confidently of all that God has done for us and the world, of all that he has done through Mary. We are called to be bold in witness, confident in faith, daring in our discipleship, as well as to be humble and obedient in response to God and in our love and service to others. Boldness and humility can and do go hand in hand, if what we understand by those words is coloured and inspired by Mary’s delicate and daring response to God and the song of joy she sings in the hill country.

‘Soon afterwards Mary set out and hurried away to a town in the hill country of Judah.

She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.

And when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby stirred in her womb.
(Luke 1:39ff)

‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things to me.
Holy is his name,
and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.
He has shown the power of his arm,
he has routed the proud of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones
and exalted the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things,
the rich sent empty away.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant,
mindful of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
of his mercy to Abraham and his descendants for ever.’

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