Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption by Jerry Franzen
Numbers 6:22-27 Galations 4:4-7 Luke 2:16-21
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
Words that are quite familiar to us.
But not the words you would expect
at the beginning of a sermon by a Baptist minister.
Yet, these were the words used at the beginning of a sermon
by the Baptist minister, Rev. Peter Gomes,
delivered to his congregation at the Memorial Church
on the campus of Harvard University.
He used them to help to make the point that Protestants
are not sure what to do with Mary.
To those non-Catholics who do not know her,
she seems to be a Catholic and thus an outsider.
The story is told that when Dean William Ralph Inge,
a dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London,
the center of the Anglican Church in England,
died and went to heaven, Jesus came down
from God’s right hand and said,
“Ah, Dean Inge, welcome to heaven,
I know that you have met my Father,
But I don’t believe you have met my mother.”
There are, however, some signs of change.
There have been some reports of Protestant devotions
now including Mary,and of some Protestant churches
even having statues of Mary.
They may be beginning to realize
that they cannot fully celebrate the incarnation,
the coming of God among us as a human,
without also giving due consideration
to the woman who served as the means of this new creation,
the woman who was the bearer of God to us.
Just one week ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus.
Today we celebrate the woman
who was God’s instrument in that birth
This favored date of just one week after Christmas,
the octave, or the eighth day including Christmas Day
was at one time
the Solemnity of the Circumcision of the Lord.
In 1969, the Catholic Church decided to place
the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
on the octave of Christmas.
We have other Marian feasts such as:
The Immaculate Conception,
all related in some way to Mary
being the Mother of God.
But this is THE FEAST of celebrating Mary
as the Mother of God.
After the change to
the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God,
Pope Paul VI asked that, on this day,
we also pray in a special way for world peace.
This aspect was emphasized for a number of years.
While non-Catholics may be learning “what to do with Mary,”
of course we already know.
But, today, is not the occasion to consider so much
what we or the Protestants “do with Mary,”
but rather what God has done with Mary.
God, having sent the angel Gabriel with a message,
interrupted Mary’s plan to wed the carpenter Joseph.
She was confused and afraid.
The scriptures say that
“She was greatly troubled at the saying or message,
and considered in her mind
what sort of greeting this might be.”
Mary joined a line of others in the Bible that included:
Moses, Jeremiah, Abraham, Isaiah,
All who were called in an unsolicited interruption
of their daily routines.
All, including Mary, wondered, “Why me?”
The angel said, “Hail Mary, full of grace.”
The message came to Mary
not because she had some special quality
of her own doing.
Mary was greeted by Gabriel, NOT JUST as who she was,
a simple peasant girl betrothed to a man named Joseph,
She was greeted as one whom she herself did not yet recognize:
the favored one, the chosen one,
the one full of grace.
The power of God,
moving in ways unknown yet not unseen,
confered on the simple woman of Nazareth
the grace sufficient to her new task as the Mother of God.
And how did Mary respond?
1. She was puzzled at what this visit by the angel might mean.
2. When she finds out that it means a birth, she is practical,
“How can this be, since I have no husband?”
3. She submits to the will of God;
she offers herself to fulfill a purpose that is not hers.
This is what God did with Mary; and what Mary did with God.
Today, we celebrate what God did with Mary;
and what Mary did with God.
And how does this relate to us?
In the second reading we heard that,
through God’s sending his Son, born of a woman,
we become adopted sons and daughters of God.
Mary is the Blessed Mother of Jesus and
our Blessed Mother as adopted sons and daughters.
Just as children look to parents for guidance and example,
we can look to Mary.
So you see, we have come back to the original question of
“What are WE going to do with Mary?” Emulate her.
It’s unlikely that we will be confronted by an angel,
or that any message we might get
will be as earth shattering as Mary’s.
But we must be a people of prayer,
persons who, in prayer, not only thank God
for all his goodness and ask for what we need,
but also in prayer seek to listen to his message for us
and respond to that message,
even when that message might interrupt
the comfortable routine of our lives.
And the question, “Why me?” might be interesting,
but the answer is of no consequence to us or God.
God does not choose us to fulfill his purposes
because of some special quality we have.
God chooses us for reasons known only to him,
and it is the choice that confers on us the special favor:
we call it grace.
We waste our time in seeking out
the special hidden, secret qualities
that determine why God does what he does.
For to be God means never having to explain why.
God does not choose for grace, but when God chooses,
grace surely follows.
To be “full of grace” is to be both disposed to the will of God
and enabled to follow it.
And our response? Often like Mary, we are puzzled.
“What does this mean?
“Lord, what is it that you are telling me?”
Evangelization? I don’t even know what that entails.
A religious vocation? What would that be like?
Teaching? How would I find out more about that?
Nursing? I don’t think that I can deal with blood.
Missionary Work? How would I deal
with being in a different culture?
And in the end Mary gives us that wonderful example of
“No struggle, no argument, do as you are told.”
It suggests that a mindless obedience and submission
to a powerful will
is all that it takes for faithfulness in the Church.
But Mary’s obedience is no more demeaning
than Christ’s obedience in the Garden
when he said, “Not my will, but your will be done.”
Mary has taken the power that God gave her,
and used it to do what God called her to do.
Bach wrote the music
that he was given the power to write.
Rembrandt painted with the gift given to him.
Mother Theresa did the work she was called to
and empowered to do.
Today is a day to ask “What are the graces that God has given
each of us in the coming year?”
I say “God has given” not “God will give,”
because there is no time frame with God.
All that we experience as God giving on our time scale
has been already given by Him.
Like Mary, it is our task to discover what God has given us
and how God can and will use our lives
in fulfillment of his plan of which we are a vital part.
Mary is the mother of our vocation;
we share with her the task of bringing Christ to others.
Such an opportunity and so great a gift we dare not deny.