Preparing for Christmas Like Mary, Fourth Sunday of Advent (B), December 18, 2011 Audio Homily

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA
Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year B
December 18, 2011
2 Sam 7:1-5, 8-11, 16; Rom 16:25-27; Lk 1:26-38

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click at the bottom of the page. The following text guided this homily:

PREPARING FOR CHRISTMAS LIKE MARY

  • Earlier this year, we celebrated with joy the beatification of Blessed John Paul II. He was known, and wanted to be known, for his love for the Blessed Virgin Mary. He said publicly that his favorite prayer was the Holy Rosary, which he would pray continuously throughout the day in between appointments and more formally when he would walk and get some exercise. He took his motto, Totus Tuus, from a formula of total consecration to Mary, meaning that he was all Mary’s, that all he had was hers, that he received her totally into his life like St. John did at the foot of the Cross and begged her to give him her heart so that he would be able to love Jesus with it. He said that when he was in college, he had begun to wonder whether Marian piety could be excessive, whether many of his fellow Poles were so devoted to Mary that it could compromise their relationship with God. But he soon saw, with the help of St. Louis Marie Grignion de Monfont, one of the greatest writers on Mary in Church history, that she always leads us to Christ “provided that we live her mystery in Christ.” Our focus on Mary is always meant to help us to enter into her relationship with Jesus, to live the mystery of her life in Christ her Son.
  • Each year on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Church has us concentrate on Mary precisely so that we may learn from her how to prepare for and live the mystery of the birth of the Son of God, Christ her Son. Today we focus on what she teaches us in the mystery of the virginal conception of Jesus at the Annunciation. Next year we focus on the mystery of the Visitation, as she with fervent faith and charity takes the newly conceived Jesus on mission to sanctify John the Baptist in the womb and make him leap for joy. Last year we concentrated on St. Matthew’s account of the mystery of Jesus’ birth. What unites all three years is that the Church wants us to focus on her living these mysteries so that we might imitate them and live them.
  • This need for us to take on this Marian perspective becomes more acute by the year.
    So many of us spend Advent more in the mall than we do in prayer. We shop and go to parties and run to the post office and before we know it, it’s time for us to get ready for Christmas Mass.
  • We’re also living in a culture that no longer supports Christmas like it once did. Out of a warped political correctness coming from secularist trends and a lack of courage on the part of Catholics to challenge our culture, we often no longer hear Christ mentioned, as if the name Christ and the expression Merry Christmas are vulgarities not to be mentioned in polite company. It’s becoming rarer to hear the name Christ mentioned even on radio stations that advertise that they’re playing Christmas music, where they instead focus on jingling bells, reindeers, Santa Claus’ coming to town, snowmen with corncob pipes, and whether there’ll be a white Christmas. Television programs and newspapers generally cover Christmas in two ways, obsessing, first, about how much shopping is being done and whether department stores will finish in the black, and, second, about those who generously give to support the needy. The latter focus is obviously a good one, but we also have to admit that it misses the main point: Christmas is not principally about anonymous people paying off strangers’ layaway bills at Kmart, but about God’s unbelievable charity and love toward us.
  • So we need help to focus on what’s most important and the Church gives us Mary to help us. But for us to be ready for Christmas, we need to learn how to live her mystery in Christ. Let’s see what she teaches us in the scene of the Annunciation before us.
  • In the first reading today, David wants to build a house for the ark of the Covenant, for God’s presence. But God tells him, rather, that he was going to build him a house and that his house, kingdom and throne would be established forever. We know that this promise was fulfilled in David’s descendant according to the flesh, Jesus. And when the Son of God took flesh and dwelled among us he took up his first abode, his first tabernacle, in Mary’s womb, living there for the first nine months of his human life.
  • Similarly, we can be focused so much on our doing something for God that we can miss the point that God wants to do something for us. He wants to make us a temple where Jesus Christ can come to dwell in a similar way to how he dwelled in Mary. But like David and like Mary we need to cooperate.
  • The first thing we need to do is to be allow God to clean our interior abode.
    The archangel Gabriel refers to Mary as “having been filled with grace.” She was filled with the presence of God within and that presence would reach its culmination in the incarnation. Likewise, to receive Jesus, we too need to be filled with grace. Unlike Mary, we’re not immaculately conceived and filled with grace from the first moment of our life. But God has created the sacraments of baptism and confession so that we may be cleansed by God and filled with his own life. In this, Mary continues the work John the Baptist has been trying to do in us over the course of the last two weeks.
  • The second thing she helps us to do is to pray.
    Mary is a model of prayer. Her expectant prayer was the prayer of the Jewish people awaiting the Messiah. She treasured everything in her heart. She longed for God.
    The Archangel Gabriel said to her, “the Lord is with you,” and she sought to be with the Lord.
    We’re never going to relive her mystery in Christ with prayer, without carving out the time to meditate on all God’s has done, is doing, and wants to continue to do.
  • The third thing she’d want to help us with is our sense of amazement at the mysteries we’re preparing to mark.
    As pure as she was, as much as she prayed, little could she have ever imagined that, first, the long-awaited Messiah would be God the Son and that God the Son would be her Son according to the flesh.
    The Word of God became flesh and dwelled within her, and dwelled among us.
    She became for nine months the living temple of God.
  • Mary, therefore, can help us rekindle the wonder of our minds and hearts at the mystery of the incarnation, not merely 2,000 years ago, but now, in the Eucharist, in us when we worthily receive Jesus in the Eucharist, the greatest privilege in the world.
    For many of us we have lost that wonder because the practice of faith has become routine. Mary can teach us how to recover that amazement.
  • Fourth, she teaches us about how God’s life is meant to grow within us and change our lives.
    A few years back, the preacher of the papal household gave some beautiful Advent reflections to the Holy Father and his chief collaborators on how we’re called to imitate Mary as mother. He said that there are two essential acts of motherhood we’re called to emulate. Mary was told by the Archangel Gabriel that she was to conceive in her womb and bear a son and he said, we, too, are called to conceive and give birth to Jesus. The question is how.
  • Fr. Cantalamessa began answering that question by taking us to the part in the Gospel when Jesus was preaching in a crowded house and they told him that his mother and his relatives were all outside wishing to see him. Jesus replied by saying, “My mother and my brothers and my sisters are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice.”
    In this, we become “mother” to Jesus by a two-fold action: the first is to “hear the word of God,” which Fr. Cantalamessa relates to “conceiving” Jesus, the Word of God, within our hearts. The second action is to “put that word into practice,” which he relates to childbirth.
  • There are many people, he says, who are guilty of a sort of spiritual abortion or miscarriage, when the word of God either is killed through deliberate sin or when it dies for other causes. The power of the Most High, the Holy Spirit, overshadows us so that the Word that has been planted may bear fruit, may come to light, but we need to treasure that Word of God within us just like Mary did. We need to give birth to the Word by putting the Word into practice, by living with Jesus in our moral choices and actions.
  • Fr. Cantalamessa says, however, that actions are not enough; they need to be actions in response to the conception of the Word. There are some insufficient forms of motherhood today in which a mother gives birth without first conceiving the child, when the child is conceived in a test-tube through in-vitro fertilization. To all external appearances, this person seems to be a mother, but not in the full sense God intended, which involves conception, then pregnancy, then birth. There are many today, Fr. Cantalamessa says, who focus on action, even good action, but who don’t first “conceive.” Their actions are not a fruit of a cooperation between a human being and God, but only of the “technique” of the human being; Their actions are made, not begotten. There’s not a “hearing” first, not prayer.
  • To imitate Mary’s motherhood, we need both conception and birth. Our vocation like hers involves both.
  • Pope Benedict talked about how we’re called to conceive and give birth to Jesus in his exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church from late last year.
  • Mary is the image of the Church in attentive hearing of the Word of God, which took flesh in her, … an active listening that interiorizes and assimilates, one in which the Word becomes a way of life. … As we contemplate in the Mother of God a life totally shaped by the Word, we realize that we too are called to enter into the mystery of faith, whereby Christ comes to dwell in our lives. Every Christian believer, Saint Ambrose reminds us, in some way interiorly conceives and gives birth to the Word of God: even though there is only one Mother of Christ in the flesh, in the faith Christ is the progeny of us all. Thus, what took place for Mary can daily take place in each of us, in the hearing of the Word and in the celebration of the sacraments.
  • We, too, are called to conceive the Word within, which is not just Jesus’ words but also the Word made flesh; we’re called to nourish that Word with our own life and allow Jesus and his words to grow within us; then we need to give birth to Jesus and share him with others. This is what Mary shows us how to do.
    This process happens by the power of the Holy Spirit, who seeks to overshadow us as he did Mary.
    Our response is likewise supposed to imitate Mary’s. She said, “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”
    That’s what this week is meant to help us to do, so that we might say, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let my life develop according to the word of God in me.”
  • To live Mary’s mystery in Christ. We ask her to pray for us sinners so that God may help us to clean our hearts, pray, wonder and freely allow God’s work to be done in us, so that God may make us a temple of his presence all the days of our life.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 2 SM 7:1-5, 8B-12, 14A, 16

When King David was settled in his palace,
and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side,
he said to Nathan the prophet,
“Here I am living in a house of cedar,
while the ark of God dwells in a tent!”
Nathan answered the king,
“Go, do whatever you have in mind,
for the LORD is with you.”
But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said:
“Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD:
Should you build me a house to dwell in?’

“It was I who took you from the pasture
and from the care of the flock
to be commander of my people Israel.
I have been with you wherever you went,
and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.
And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.
I will fix a place for my people Israel;
I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place
without further disturbance.
Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old,
since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel.
I will give you rest from all your enemies.
The LORD also reveals to you
that he will establish a house for you.
And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his kingdom firm.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 89:2-3, 4-5, 27-29

R/ (2a) For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
The promises of the LORD I will sing forever;
through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.
For you have said, “My kindness is established forever”;
in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness.
R/ For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
“I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.”
R/ For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
“He shall say of me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock, my savior.’
Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.”
R/ For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

Reading 2 ROM 16:25-27

Brothers and sisters:
To him who can strengthen you,
according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ,
according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages
but now manifested through the prophetic writings and,
according to the command of the eternal God,
made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith,
to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ
be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Alleluia LK 1:38

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.

“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.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.