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Ashley McKinlessDecember 22, 2022
Visitation, by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1491), depicts Mary visiting her elderly cousin Elizabeth. (Wikimedia)

A Reflection for Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent

You can find today’s readings here.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name” (Lk 1:46-47).

After a friend gave birth for the first time, she said to me, “I hope you have a baby one day so you can learn to love your body, too.” It was not exactly what I was expecting to hear, but I understood what she meant. Like so many of us, this friend had never been quite comfortable in her skin and knew I also struggled with the same insecurity. But something had changed for her during her pregnancy. Her body had not only created new life but carried it through nine months of morning sickness and swollen feet and then pushed it out into this world after hours of excruciating contractions. It was a body capable of protecting and nourishing and enduring great pain. How could she be anything but in awe of such a thing?

I thought of my friend’s words when reading today’s Gospel, Mary’s Magnificat. What struck me most this time was the confidence of Mary. Here is a girl who had recently received what at first must have been terrifying news: that she was with child despite never having been with a man. We can imagine all the fears and questions weaved into her response: “How can this be?” Would Joseph leave her? Would her family disown her? What would people say about her?

Who would blame Mary for feeling insecure about her position, even after she accepted Gabriel’s implausible explanation?

Who would blame her for feeling insecure about her position, even after she accepted Gabriel’s seemingly implausible explanation?

Yet here we find Mary telling her relative Elizabeth, “From this day all generations will call me blessed.” Both women have good reason to be in awe of their bodies. Elizabeth because she has conceived in old age; Mary because she carries within her the Son of God.

Of course, you should not have to give birth (much less give birth to Jesus) to love your body or to know your worth. This is precisely what we celebrate at Christmas. Through the Incarnation, God took on our flesh, our imperfect, flabby, always-aging flesh. Each time we take the Eucharist, we, like Mary, carry the son of God within us. It is an awesome thing. And it should give us, too, the confidence to proclaim the great things God has done for us and the good things he promises for the poor and lowly.

Get to know Ashley McKinless, executive editor at America and co-host of “Jesuitical”

Favorite Advent or Christmas themed art?

This year, thanks to America Media’s Hark! podcast, I’m letting myself feel the natural melancholy that the colder, darker months bring with the help of “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

Favorite Christmas tradition?

Every year, I bake about 200 Christmas cookies that my family dutifully decorates with colorful powdered sugar icing and sprinkles. Five years ago, we invited the family of Afghan refugees that my parents briefly hosted upon their arrival in the United States. It’s now a yearly tradition—and their kids put me and my siblings to shame with their decorating skills.

Which project are you most proud to have worked on this year at America?

“Can a pro-life and a pro-choice Catholic find common ground? We gave it a shot.”: In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, my colleague, former O’Hare fellow Keara Hanlon, suggested that America publish a dialogue between women who held different views on legal abortion. Though I was reluctant to engage publicly on a subject that elicits such strong feelings, I’m glad I took part in the conversation, which I think demonstrated that pro-life and pro-choice people can find common ground without sacrificing our deeply held principles. You can read it here.

Favorite Christmas recipe?

Homemade stuffing is a staple of my family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Step one is spreading out eight loaves of the cheapest white bread you can find on cookie sheets and placing them on various high surfaces around the house where there are heat vents. (Yes, it looks ridiculous, but it dries the bread out in about 24 hours.) Tear up the bread into small pieces once dry. Sauté thinly sliced celery and onion in an ungodly amount of butter and add poultry seasoning to taste. Mix bread and butter and chicken or vegetable broth until sufficiently moist (but not too moist). Set aside some for the vegetarians like me and stuff the rest in the turkey.

Favorite Christmas photo?

Christmas cookie decorating with the Ibrahims (2019)

Christmas cookie decorating with the Ibrahims

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