Fr. Roger J. Landry
Retreat given at Sacred Heart Retreat House
“Encountering Jesus” Mass Homily
November 15-17, 2002
1) After the Ascension, the apostles all gathered around Mary, to pray. Why to pray, and why around her? Well, first the Lord told them to pray. Before he ascended in heaven, he told his apostles not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” Jesus said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” And they were faithful to his promise and they prayed. They huddled around Mary and prayed the first day. Then the second day. Then the third. Fourth. Fifth. They prayed all together nine days, until, while praying on that ninth day, the wind blew open the windows of the Upper Room and the Holy Spirit came upon them as tongues of fire. That was the first nine-day novena of prayer in Church history. The Church has been praying novenas, especially to Mary, ever since.
2) But why around Mary in the first place? There were essentially two reasons. The first is because she is, without a doubt, the greatest example of a pray-er the world has ever known. So many times in Sacred Scripture, we see her praying, we see her listening attentively to the Lord, treasuring his words in her heart and then putting them into action. When a woman cried out from the crowd one day to Jesus, trying to bless his mother on account of her physical relationship to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore thee and the breasts that nursed thee,” Jesus replied with the real reason for Mary’s beatitude: “Blessed rather is she who heard the word of God and kept it.” The woman from the crowd wanted to bless Mary simply for her bodily relationship to the Lord, from whom he received his human flesh and blood. Jesus wanted to bless his mother for her real discipleship, for her hearing the word, treasuring it and putting it into practice. One of the fathers of the Church used to say that before Mary ever conceived the Word of God in her womb, she had already conceived the Word of God in her heart. She listened and treasured the Word of God so much that that word became flesh within her. He took on her flesh. This is the model of prayer. To listen attentively to the Lord, to know that he hears us, to know that he wants to have this dialogue of conversation with us, to treasure his words, to trust his words and to act on them. The apostles huddled around Mary because she could teach and show them how to pray with the same attentiveness, receptivity and response that she did.
3) The second reason they grouped around the Mother of God was because she was and is the greatest model and example of fidelity to the Lord, no matter what. She was the faithful one. Mary was the faithful 14 year old girl whose “yes” replied to Eve’s “no” and set in motion the plan of redemption. She was faithful in her mission to raise the Son of God, to protect him, to nourish him. Mary was the faithful one all the way to the Cross, where she was one of very few to be present, even though it must have been so much more revolting for her to see her crucified than it would have been even for his apostles. She watched as the hands that used to grip her finger were hammered to the wood of the Cross; she watched as the feet, which once couldn’t walk, couldn’t walk again. She watched that side which she used to bathe pierced by a lance and bathed in blood. But she was faithful to the very end, no matter how much suffering it entailed, because she always trusted faithfully in the Lord. The apostles learned from her how to be faithful disciples of her Son, because she was the first and greatest disciple of all. In order to be an apostle, in order to live the faith and preach it by words and deeds, you first have to be a disciple, and they learned that from her.
4) What was the source of Mary’s fidelity? Why is she such a model for us? It is found in her pure heart, her listening to God and her seeking to say “yes” to Him in all things. We learned this lesson very well during the past century. On May 13, 1917, Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. The message she brought them remains crucially urgent during our time. What did she reveal to us through the three pastorinhos? She first proclaimed the need for penance for all our sins and those of the world, showing them an image of an angel saying “Penance! Penance! Penance!” She taught the kids about the reality of heaven and the reality of hell and gave them a vision of the terrible pain of those in Hell, the place where God is not present. She let them see clearly the tremendous suffering that the Church would undergo in the years ahead, the suffering that the Church and the popes have undergone throughout the 20th century up to our own day as a result of various infidelities. She described a city full of cadavers and even an assassination attempt against a “bishop in white.” But she also proclaimed God’s solution — the solution to all of these problems, to the lack of peace in the world, to the lack of peace in our families and societies, to the lack of peace in our hearts. It’s an answer that’s always very surprising at first glance, but when you look at it more deeply, you see the wisdom in it. The solution was consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Why? Hers is a heart that says yes to God, say a categorical no to sin, a heart that sees God in all things and tries to love and serve God in all things. The pure heart, as Jesus tells us, in the Sermon on the Mount, is the heart that sees God in all things. It is a heart that listens and treasures God’s word and gives her yes to it. “Let it be done to me according to thy word.” It is also the heart that prays, that depends on God, that trusts him in all things. A pure heart is a weapon that’s more powerful than all the nuclear bombs, hijacked planes, bullets, hatred and sin can muster. This is the type of heart we’re called to have. If her yes to God’s plans in response to the Archangel Gabriel could change the whole history of the universe, what impact do you think yours will have? Each of ours?
5) The Pope recently asked the whole Church to gather around Mary again. On the 24th anniversary of his election as Holy Father, one month ago today, the Pope gave us a tremendous gift, a new beautiful document on the Rosary. He proclaimed the year starting one month ago until next October the Year of the Rosary and asked all Catholics to pray the Rosary every day. The point of the Rosary, he wrote, is not the multiplication of the words of the Our Fathers & Hail Mary’s, but is the contemplation of Christ in the mysteries. As we’ve been discussing, the first step of prayer is to seek Christ, to come to know him, to come to love him, to come to obey him. Mary is our model and she is our mother. When we pray the Rosary, she brings us to the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus. She accompanies us to the mystery of his conception in Nazareth, birth in Bethlehem, trips to Jerusalem, agony, suffering and death, resurrection and Ascension. The Holy Father also gave us in that document five new mysteries of the Holy Rosary, to be prayed on Thursdays in particular, the Mysteries of Light: his baptism in the Jordan, the wedding feast of Cana, his proclamation of the kingdom and calling us to conversion, his transfiguration and his giving us his body and blood in the Eucharist. I could preach whole conferences on each of these parts. The point for us is to allow Mary to take us to Jesus in praying the Rosary, which, when prayed well, is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal to bring about world peace; when prayed together, perhaps the greatest thing we can do to strengthen the family. Ad Iesum per Mariam! This was the great motto of saints, especially the great lover of Mary, St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort. To Jesus through Mary! Mary always brings us to her Son, the blessed fruit of her blessed womb. That’s what she wants to do during this retreat. Let’s ask her to intercede with her divine Son now to give us a pure heart, a heart that will enable us to see God in all things.
6) We now return with her to the upper room. The same Jesus whom she conceived in her womb is about to come down here upon this altar in our midst. The same Holy Spirit who overshadowed her is about to overshadow me and the gifts brought forward. The same Jesus whom she treasured inside of her you’ll soon have inside of you. She said her fiat to this divine mystery. And you have the chance to say yours. When you come forward to receive this greatest of all mysteries, the greatest of all gifts, you’ll say “Amen!” which means “so be it!” “yes!!” “thy will be done!” With Mary’s example, with her intercession, may we all mean it!