Monday, October 21, 2013

O Clemens, O Pia, O Dulcis Virgo Maria

Homily for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Parish (Union Street and Rosa Road)
16th of October, 2011

Rev. Michael Taylor

And the angel said to Mary:
“Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.” [1]

            So, there comes a time when you’re working on your homily, and you realize that something has happened in the world that completely throws all your hard work out the world. This week, it was the  news that his Holiness Pope Francis was going to consecrate the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and that his Excellency, Bishop Hubbard would be consecrating the Diocese of Albany to Mary in solidarity with Pope Francis. So, I thought, if both our Pope and our Bishop is doing something, maybe we should spend some time talking about our Blessed Mother. I think it’s important for us to reflect on this because I know it was the hardest thing for me in my journey to become Catholic and I know it’s one of the first things many Protestants ask Catholics: “Why do you Catholics worship Mary?” [Spoiler: we don’t].
            As I just mentioned, Mary was incredibly difficult for me. I couldn’t understand why Catholics felt so passionately about her. It goes above just an idea. There seemed to be this devotion that I couldn’t understand. I’ve told the following story many times before, so I apologize if you’ve already heard it but it was a pivotal moment in my understanding Mary. When I was in the process of looking at the faith, a friend of mine who was helping me through the process asked me, “Look, Michael, does anything the Church actually teaches about Mary take away from the glory of Christ Jesus?” To which I said, “well, no.” “Then don’t worry about it. You’ll understand Mary when she’s ready for you to understand her.” So I set it off to the side. It’s not that I didn’t believe them. I just set them off to the side to wait for that moment to occur.
That moment of understanding came when I was in seminary. I  was in my first year of theology at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Chicago. Now, the patroness of the seminary was the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. That meant there was all night Eucharistic Adoration the preceding night, for which seminarians would sign up for various time slots throughout the night. Being new, I thought I’d sign up for 2-3 in the morning, because it seemed like a really holy thing to do. The verdict is out on that. Anywho, it was at that moment in the chapel that I had my epiphany. Now, to take a step back, my own mother had died on December 7th, 2000. And on that cold December night in 2007, it clicked. It was as if Jesus said to me, “Listen, Michael, I know that the loss of your mother is going to be very hard on you, so I’m going to give you December 7th to remember her. But on the next day, I’m going to give you my own mother, and she’s going to help finish the work your mother began with you.” I felt like I was John standing at the foot of the cross as Jesus said, Behold your mother.[2] You see, it really is that simple. I could quote to you from the Church Fathers, and the theologians and the saints, but at the heart of all their writings, at the heart of every Catholic is the undeniable and unshakable belief that Mary really is our mother. And who doesn’t love their mom? This isn’t high theology. She’s mom and we are here beloved children.
Let’s take a step back now. Why do we ask for her intercessions? To understand that, let’s take a further step back and look at why we ask the saints for their prayers anyways. Why don’t we just go to Jesus directly? The first part to understand is the use of the phrase, “pray to Saint ‘so-in-so.’” We tend to only use the word today when we’re speaking about talking to God. It comes to us from the Latin, precari, and originally just meant, “to ask.” So you’d hear, “Pray tell” or “I pray sir, let us pass.” So, when we say “we pray to the saints” we are literally just asking the saints to pray for us. Now, why do we do this? Well we ask one another here on earth to pray for us all the time. If we believe that we are one Church, and that the saints in heaven are just as much a part of the Body of Christ as we are, and in fact even more so, since they stand before God himself, why wouldn’t we want them to pray for us? In fact, it goes back to that familial bond we have with Mary, only the saints are our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. That’s why our Churches have pictures, statues and stand glass windows of the saints. If you went to someone’s house, they’d have pictures of family members. Well, when you come to the House of God, you have pictures of the children of God, and no House of God would be complete without a picture of Mom.
Which brings us back to the idea of consecrating ourselves to Mary. Now first, let’s look at how Mary prays on our behalf. Look back to the wedding at Cana. Mary is the one who becomes aware of the problem. She’s the one who brings it to Jesus’ attention. Now he says, more or less, “Why should we care?” Notice what she does. She doesn’t beg him to do something, she doesn’t guilt him, and she doesn’t say, “Jesus, I’m your mother and I’m telling you to do something!” Rather, she turns to the servants and says, Whatever he says, do.[3] Isn’t that the heart of being a disciple of Christ? Whatever he says, do? And that’s how it works. She brings our concerns, our anxieties, our hopes and dreams to her son, and she presents these problems as if they were her own.
One last thing to consider about the consecration is how we appear before God. When I was a little kid (well to be honest, even now), I had not one shred of artistic talent. So I would bring home something that only with great charity could be called “modern art” and I’d go show it to my dad. Now he would have just gotten done with work and would be trying to catch the evening news before dinner, stretched out on the couch. So he’d look over, smile, say “that’s nice,” and go back to watching the news. But I learned. If I went to my mom and said, “Mom, look what I did! Do you think we should show Dad?” She would walk in with me, and she would say, “James…look what Michael did in school. Isn’t it great?” That was my dad’s clue that it was important. I see the mothers nodding like, “yes, yes this is the way the world works.” Mary does the same thing for us. She brushes off our awkward attempts at prayer, brings them before Jesus, and says, “Jesus, look what your brothers and sisters brought you. Aren’t they great?” To which Jesus looks at, smiles and says, “Yeah mom…they’re pretty great.” Pray to our Blessed Mother if you haven’t done so in a while. Pray a rosary. Pray an angelus. Pray a Memorare. If you don’t know them, Google them. Every mom loves to hear from her children.

[1] Luke 1.30 [Douay Rheims Translation. Most verses will come from Revised Standard Version-Catholic Edition (RSV-CE) unless otherwise noted, as above.]
[2] John 19.27
[3] John 2.5

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