The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Homily: Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Readings: Is 61:9-11 • Psalm 1 Sam 2:1,4-7 • Lk 2:41-51

Back in the year 431 the Council of Ephesus gave Mary the title, Theotokos, a Greek word meaning “God Bearer” or “one who gives birth to God” or as we say today, “the Mother of God.” By giving her that title, the council didn’t mean that Mary was the Mother of God from eternity. But because Jesus Christ is true God and true man, and Mary gave birth to Him, she is, therefore, the Mother of God in time.

It’s the misunderstanding of the Church’s long-held teaching on this relationship between Mary and Jesus that has led some Christians to think that we Catholics worship Mary as some sort of goddess. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, from the reality of this relationship, we can fulfill her prophecy in the Magnificat and can call Mary the “Blessed Mother" [Lk 1:46-55].

As many of you know, motherhood is no easy vocation. Both my mother and my wife had to put up with a lot and sacrifice even more during those years when the time and effort of their lives was focused so intently on raising their children. But can you imagine how it must have been for Mary…to be the Mother of God…and be fully aware of it? After all, Gabriel didn’t hide anything from her:
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” [Lk 1:31-33].
The Annunciation

And so Mary knew from the first that this child of hers was the “Son of the Most High.” It must have been a remarkable family life; she and Joseph raising Jesus who is fully human, all the while aware of His divinity.

Luke, and to a lesser extent, Matthew give us a glimpse or two of life in the Holy Family. It’s as if the Holy Spirit is telling us, You don’t need to know the details of daily life in this holiest of families, but I will share a few incidents with you, so you will know who Jesus, Mary and Joseph really are.

Just consider all that Mary encountered:

The long arduous trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and the unexpected need to give birth in a cave, a stable fit only for animals [Lk 2:1-7].

The Presentation in the Temple, the prophecy of the pain she would suffer, the sorrow she would experience [Lk 2:34-35].

The life-saving flight to Egypt, refugees in a foreign land where they would await the death of a brutal king [Mt 2:13-15].

The quiet years in Nazareth, when she must have wondered how this Son of hers, this Son of the Most High, would fulfill all that had been prophesied [Lk 2:39-40].

And that one event Luke shares with us in today’s passage: the Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem, when the 12-year-old Jesus is lost in the crowd of pilgrims. The panic she and Joseph experience, the frantic search, the joy of finding him, and their bewilderment when after three days He wonders at their parental concern [Lk 2:41-52].
Jesus in the Temple

In each instance Mary found herself in the dark -- just as later she wouldn’t fully understand her Son at Cana, or when He asks the crowd, “Who is my mother?” [Mt 12:48], or when she cradles her Son’s lifeless body in her arms at the foot of the Cross on Calvary.
Michelangelo's Pieta

But in every instance, Mary ponders these things in her heart. She need not fully understand these things; and, anyway, how could she understand? How could any mother understand the crucifixion of her Son?

And so she ponders. She steps away from the crowd, seeks the quiet of contemplation, and savors all that has been revealed to her. In doing so teaches us how to pray, how to accept God’s will, how to abandon oneself to God’s love.

She ponders, she returns to the source, to that day when the angel declared her, “full of grace,” when her heart overflowed. Yes, that pondering heart of Mary is immaculate, perfectly pure in its intent, because it is full of grace, because it focuses solely on Jesus. Mary, then, is single-hearted. She trusts in God, just as she trusted when Gabriel asked for her response.

But now, that same trusting, pondering, immaculate heart intercedes with her Son for our salvation.

This is the immaculate heart, the heart of Theotokos, the Mother of God that we honor today.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us.

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