Friday, January 1, 2016

HOMILY Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God January 1, 2015

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 are not devoted to Mary,
she seems to be a Catholic devotion and thus an outsider.
Dean William Ralph Inge was at one time
a dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London,
the center of the Anglican Church in England.
The story is told that when he 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 celebrated as
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.
Because Mary is the patron of our cathedral,
we celebrate Marian feasts in a special way:
We have our parish dinner in conjunction with the
Solemnity of The Immaculate Conception, and
our parish picnic in conjunction with
the Solemnity of the Assumption, our patronal feast.

Today we celebrate Mary being the Mother of God.
This is also a major feast for us.
For, it is the feast of our great window
where in we see depicted
a scene from the Council of Ephesus,
at which Mary was declared to be the Mother of God.

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,
conferred on the simple woman of Nazareth
the grace sufficient to her new task as the Mother of God.
The Franzen definition of grace is a freely given gift from God
that can, if we cooperate with it, empower us
to be more like Him.

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.
Mary wondered why, asked how and submitted.
God called and Mary answered with
“Why? “How?” and “Yes.”
Today, we celebrate what God did with Mary;
and what Mary did with God and for us.


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,
as adopted sons and daughters of God,
she is our Blessed Mother also.
Just as children look to parents for guidance and example,
we can look to Mary.
When God calls, we might wonder why, we might ask how,
but we must say, “Yes.”  

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.
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 we must seek to listen
to his message for us and respond to that message,
even when that message might be puzzling and interrupt
the comfortable routine of our lives.

And if we start thinking, “Why me?”
we must remember that there may not be
an immediate practical answer.
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 that 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.
There is a very tried and true saying:
          “God does not call the qualified,
           he qualifies those He has called.”
To be “full of grace” is to be both disposed to the will of God
and enabled to follow it.
I am reminded of a song by the contemporary Christian composer
and performer, Matt Maher, entitled:
          “Your Grace is Enough”

And what is 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 mindless obedience and submission
to a powerful will
is all that it takes for faithfulness in the Church.
It is not mindless obedience;
it is a loving obedience like that of Christ 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 talent 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,
           “How can I better listen to God’s call
           in the coming year?
           How can I better cooperate with the graces that
           I will receive in the coming year?”
Like Mary, it is our task to discover
how God can and will use our lives
 in fulfillment of his plan of which we are a vital part.
We  may wonder, “Why me?”
We may think, “How can I do this?”   
But in the end, we, like Mary, must say,
           “Yes, God.  Your will be done.”