Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady
December 8, 2014
Gn 3:9-15.20, Ps 98, Eph 1:3-6.11-12, Lk 1:26-38
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
The special prism to examine this feast
An ecclesiastical holy year is meant to influence everything the Church does. It is supposed to flavor our personal, familial and communal prayer, the way we celebrate baptisms, weddings and funerals, the way we mark Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter and all of the feasts of faith, the way we go about our day to day life. And so the 14-month Year of Consecrated Life we began with Pope Francis eight days ago is supposed to be a prism through which we approach everything we do over the course of this year, to help us examine, understand and live better all aspects of our faith. Today on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we can deepen our appreciation for this mystery, and the impact its supposed to have on our discipleship, if we examine it from within the perspective of Mary’s own consecration, the light her consecration sheds on all those in consecrated life and the help her life gives for all of us to live out the consecration of our baptism.
What we celebrate today on the Immaculate Conception is the fact that Mary was consecrated to God from the first moment of her existence in the womb. God consecrated her body and soul in light of her mission to be the Mother of the Eternal Son of God. This consecration is alluded to in the way the Archangel Gabriel addressed her, calling her kecharitomene, “you who have been filled with grace.” To say that she’s been filled with grace means that she was filled with God, there was no room for sin, and we Catholics believe by faith that she was filled with God from the first moment of her life in St. Anne’s womb. The words St. Paul said to the Ephesians in today’s second reading apply in a special to her: She was blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens and chosen in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and immaculate before him. This consecration became her identity. When she appeared to our patroness St. Bernadette in 1858, Bernadette, prompted by Fr. Peyramale her pastor, asked her what her name was. Mary didn’t respond, “I am Mary of Nazareth.” She didn’t reply, “I am the Mother of God.” She humbly looked down at the ground, then looked up serenely to heaven as she raised and then folded her hands and said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” She assented to the consecration God made of her from the womb and found her identity in it.
To be consecrated means to belong fully to God. It means to be literally “cut off” (sacer) from profane things in order to “transfer the title” of one’s life to God and his service. Unlike Mary, we haven’t been immaculate conceived, but like her, we have been chosen by God from before the foundation of the world to be holy, to be immaculate, to be consecrated before Him. This happens for us in our baptismal consecration and is meant to be constantly renewed, renewed in our prayer, renewed in our oblation at Mass, renewed in the Sacrament of Penance that brings our soul back to its baptismal purity.
Mary is in a special way the model of the consecrated life not only for all those who are monks, cloistered nuns, active religious sisters, brothers and priests, members of societies of apostolic life and secular institutes, consecrated virgins and widows and hermits, but also for all of us who have been consecrated to God by our baptism. St. John Paul II focused on how Mary’s consecration is the type for every consecration in his beautiful 1996 exhortation on the Consecrated Life in which he wrote, “Mary is the one who, from the moment of her Immaculate Conception, … is the sublime example of perfect consecration, since she belongs completely to God and is totally devoted to him. Chosen by the Lord, who wished to accomplish in her the mystery of the Incarnation, she reminds consecrated persons of the primacy of God’s initiative. At the same time, having given her assent to the divine Word, made flesh in her, Mary is the model of the acceptance of grace by human creatures. … Consecrated life looks to her as the sublime model of consecration to the Father, union with the Son and openness to the Spirit, in the knowledge that acceptance of the “virginal and humble life” of Christ also means imitation of Mary’s way of life. In the Blessed Virgin Mary, consecrated persons … like John, are called to take the Blessed Virgin Mary to themselves (cf. Jn 19:27), loving her and imitating her in the radical manner that befits their vocation, and experiencing in return her special motherly love. The Blessed Virgin shares with them the love that enables them to offer their lives every day for Christ and to cooperate with him in the salvation of the world.”
What I’d like to do today is ponder seven different ways Mary models for us the consecration that both those in specific states of consecrated life and all of us who have been consecrated to God in baptism are called in this year to live out more profoundly. These are seven ways in which God comes to meet us and in which we’re called to imitate Mary in receiving God’s grace and order our life in accordance with it.
Consecrated in Prayer
The first way Mary models for us the consecrated life is through a life of consecrated prayer. There’s a reason why the apostles, awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, huddled around Mary in prayer for nine days, because she is the icon of someone totally dedicated to God in prayer. She is the one who sought always to listen to God in prayer. She is the one whom St. Luke told us on three occasions would ponder and treasure the words and actions of God in her heart. She is the one who burst out with praise and thanksgiving to God in her Magnificat. She is the one who prayerfully interceded with her Son for the newlyweds of Cana. She is the one who was still praying, devoutly, at the foot of the Cross when most had abandoned Jesus. Consecrated men and women are distinguished above all by making prayer the great priority in life. All of us are called to imitate them and imitate Mary in consecrating ourselves to God in prayer, not only by making the time to pray, but by going into prayer seeking to respond with our whole heart to what the Lord himself says and gives to us.
Consecrated in Joy
The second way Mary exemplifies the consecrated life is through consecrated joy. It’s highly significant that the first word God wanted the Archangel Gabriel to say to Mary at the Annunciation was “Chaire!,” “Rejoice!” That was a command but a description with no expiration date. There was a joy that always characterized Mary. We see it clearly in her Magnificat, when she praised God aloud with words that were doubtless always resonating within, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” She has been justly called by Christians throughout the centuries “Causa Nostrae Laetitiae,” the “Cause of Our Joy” because it was precisely her yes to God that brought Jesus into the world so that his joy may be in us and our joy complete (Jn 15:11). She shows us the real root of joy. The Archangel Gabriel said to her, “Rejoice! You who have been filled with grace. The Lord is with you.” The source of our joy as Christians is that God is with us, that he has sought to fill us with every grace, every spiritual blessing in the heavens. Leon Bloy once said, “Joy is the infallible sign of God’s presence,” because when we are truly with God, when we are conscious of his presence and are present and attentive to him, then how can we not be joyful? Even if lots of things in our life are going poorly by human standards, if God is with us, we have every reason to be joyful. Because of God’s presence, because of God’s saving action, because God makes everything work out for the good (Rom 8:28), every moment of Christian life is supposed to be part of the “Good News.” Even our sufferings can be converted into eternal joy when we realize that all of them in Christ have meaning and can be part of the redemption. Consecrated men and women are particular signs of joy in the world because of their dwelling in the Lord’s holy presence and all of us who are baptized are called by God to be similar signs of joy.
Consecrated in Poverty
Mary likewise typifies the consecrated life through her consecrated poverty. If any disciple ever lived fully the evangelical counsels it was she. Her whole treasure was God, a treasure that stood out all the more because of her and St. Joseph’s physical poverty. They were too poor to have a hotel room during the census and so Jesus needed to be born in a cave and placed in an ancient animal dish. They were too poor to be able to offer the required lamb at Jesus, the Lamb of God’s, presentation in the temple and so needed to offer two pigeons. But at the same time through this poverty, she was the richest person on the planet in terms of what matters most. She placed her treasure in God’s kingdom and she was made rich in him who, though he was rich became poor for our sake to enrich us with his poverty (2 Cor 8:9). If any human being was blessed to be poor in spirit, it was she. She emptied herself of attachments to the monopoly currencies of the world in order to place her heart where her treasure was, God. Consecrated men and women imitate her spiritual poverty and they set an example for all of us, who are tempted to serve both God and mammon, to choose God.
Consecrated in Chaste Love
Fourth, Mary epitomizes the consecrated life in her consecrated chaste love. We call her in the Litany of Loreto, “Mother most chaste” and “Mother most chaste.” To be chaste doesn’t mean to love less, but to love more and to love purely. She loved Jesus, she loved St. Joseph, she loved her cousin Elizabeth, she loved her neighbor with the unselfish love of God. She consecrated her love to God and was “all in” to her mission to be the Mother of the Savior. We see that she was always consecrated in chaste, virginal love to God before the visit of the Archangel. Her question, “How can this be?” that she asked when the Archangel told her she would become the mother of the Son of the Most High only would make sense if she was not planning in any way to make love to St. Joseph; otherwise she would have well known how she would conceive in her womb and bear a Son. This type of chaste love of God was practically unheard of in Old Testament times because fertility was considered one of God’s great blessings, “increase and multiply” was the first and one of the sweetest and most important commandments, and lack of fertility was deemed one of the worst curses. But in forsaking sexual relations and physical motherhood, she was opening herself up to a different type of love and spiritual fertility, something that would lead her to become the new Eve and the mother of all the living. Her chaste love is a sign and a challenge to all those in the consecrated life, who in turn show us how to consecrate our bodies to God, our love life to God, and keep our love holy rather than horny, leading us, like Christ, to sacrifice ourselves for others good rather than sacrifice others for our gratification.
Consecrated in Obedience
Fifth, Mary illustrates for consecrated men and women and for all of us the beauty of consecrated obedience. Her words, “Let it be done to be according to your word,” really summarize her whole life, which developed in obedience to God’s will. She gave God permission with loving trust to do what he wanted with her. She recognized that the most important use of her freedom was to say “yes” to God, to say “amen!,” to say “fiat!” Jesus pointed out his mother’s faithful obedience as her supreme virtue after an anonymous woman from the crowd blessed her saying, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you.” Jesus replied saying, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Lk 11:27-28). Mary was one who listened so attentively to God’s word that it took on her own flesh. St. Athanasius said of her in the fourth century that before she had ever conceived the word of God in her womb, she had already conceived the word through her ear in her heart. She shows us all the beauty of obedience and how it leads to human fulfillment rather than alienation. She is the pattern of the obedience of consecrated men and women and together with them, we can all learn from her how to be attentive to God’s word and let our whole life develop in accordance with God’s holy will.
Consecrated in Community Life
The sixth way Mary demonstrates the consecrated life is through the communion she seeks always to bring about and dwell within. In consecrated we are “cut off” (sacer) precisely in order to be “with” (con) God and others. God cuts us off in light of a deeper communion with him and others. This is the communion we see in the early Church, who stayed “together and had all things in common” and who were of “one heart and one mind” (Acts 2:44; 4:32). Mary seeks to help bring us all into communion, to make us all a Holy Family. When she spoke to St. Bernadette in Lourdes, she asked her to do two things: to pray for the conversion of sinners and to have a chapel built. As a spiritual mother, she had a special predilection for her sons and daughters in greater need and prayed and wanted us to pray and work for their return. She also wanted us to come together on pilgrimage, to come together to pray in the shrine that would be built, so that we would be able to inspire each other to grow in faith. Authentic Christian community life is so important not just for those in public consecration, but all of us. Mary as our Mother wants to gather us all under her mantle in order to prepare us for the communion of saints in heaven by sharing in the unity of the Trinity here on earth and reflecting it in our interactions with each other.
Consecrated in Seeking First the Kingdom
The seventh and final way we’ll touch on that Mary exemplifies the consecrated life is through living for the kingdom of God. All consecrated men and women are supposed to be “eschatological signs,” those whose choices and very lives point to the eternal. No one was a greater eschatological sign than Mary, the one who would eventually be crowned with twelve stars, the one who all generations would one day call blessed. She lived for God, she ordered her whole life to her Son. At the end of her life, how fitting it was that she was assumed body and soul because her body and soul longed for heaven, for holiness, for eternal happiness. Hers was a longing consistent with suffering, as we see her own heart pierced. She shows all those in consecrated life how to live in this world without being of this world but being, rather, citizens of heaven. Her example is a powerful witness for us, that each of us is meant in some way to be a “gate of heaven” as she as called, a portal by which others are able to glimpse a little of eternity by the way we are and live.
Entering into Mary’s Consecration
As beautiful as these seven parallels between Mary’s life and the consecrated life are, we need to ensure that they don’t remain an academic point. It’s not enough on this Solemnity merely to ponder her consecration as a model for our own. It’s also fitting for us on this day to make for the first time or renew our consecration to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, to entrust ourselves over to her. Mary explicitly asked for us to consecrate ourselves to her Immaculate Heart when she appeared in Fatima in 1917. When we consecrate ourselves to her in this way, we enter into her consecration to God. We enter into her response to God’s grace, her prayer, her joy, her poverty, chastity and obedience, her communion and her eschatological living. And as we enter into her consecration, we also enter into her Son’s consecration, who consecrated himself to the Father so that we might be consecrated in the truth of his Word (Jn 17:17-19), the Word that Mary took on as the pattern of her life. This consecration helps us to become who we were created to be. I would urge everyone today to consecrate or reconsecrate themselves to Mary. I have made my own the practice of St. John Paul II who would consecrate himself to Jesus through Mary everyday according to the formula of St. Louis Marie Grignion de Monfort: “Totus tuus ego sum et tota mea tua sunt. Accipio te in mea Omnia. Praebe mihi cor tuum, O Maria!” I’d urge you to make those words your own: “I am all yours, O Mary, and all I have is yours. I accept you into the totality of my being. Give me your heart, O Mary!”
The consecration of the Mass
Such a consecration can certainly be renewed every time we come to Mass. It’s noteworthy that the same word “consecration” is used to describe the consecrated life, the consecration we make to Mary, and what we do with bread and wine. In each circumstance, we offer, we entrust, we hand over ourselves or something we have to God and God transforms them and gives them back totally changed. We give God bread and wine and he gives us back himself. We give ourselves to God in baptism and he seeks to make us divine. We give ourselves to Mary and she helps form us into her Son. Consecrated men and women give of themselves to God and they become more and more like the poor, chaste and obedient Christ. The Mass is where we come with Mary to give ourselves to God and allow him to transform us into himself, so that we may be one body, one spirit in Christ, so that we may dwell in a holy communion with him and others, finding in him the reward for our spiritual poverty, the long desired one of our chaste love, the summit of our obedience as we do “this” in his memory. Mary is the one who shows us best how to appreciate and pray the Mass. With what great devotion she must have attended the liturgies celebrated by St. John and the other apostles! What thoughts must have been bursting from her Immaculate Heart as she heard the word of God proclaimed in their primitive Masses and as the apostles, by her Son’s power, brought him back into the world under the appearances of bread and wine! With what loved she must have received him once again within, him whom she had borne in her womb for nine months! With what tenderness she must have said her “Amen!,” which is the echo of her own “fiat!”
Today, on her great feast day, as we by our consecration to her enroll in her school and allow her to teach us the meaning of the consecrated life of baptism and evangelical counsels, she — if she could be audibly heard today — would probably take on the role of the Archangel Gabriel and say to us, “Rejoice!, all you highly favored sons and daughters. Rejoice! The Lord, my Son, is with you!” Immaculate Mary is praying for us now that each of us will respond to the Lord’s action with our own consecration to him who has consecrated himself to us. She’s praying that we will say to him, as she did, “Behold the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word!”
O Mary conceived without original sin. Pray for us who have recourse to thee!
The readings for today’s solemnity were:
Reading 1 GN 3:9-15, 20
the LORD God called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden;
but I was afraid, because I was naked,
so I hid myself.”
Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked?
You have eaten, then,
from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!”
The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with meC
she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it.”
The LORD God then asked the woman,
“Why did you do such a thing?”
The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.”Then the LORD God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this, you shall be banned
from all the animals
and from all the wild creatures;
on your belly shall you crawl,
and dirt shall you eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike at your head,
while you strike at his heel.”
The man called his wife Eve,
because she became the mother of all the living.
Responsorial Psalm PS 98:1, 2-3AB, 3CD-4
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous deeds.
Reading 2 EPH 1:3-6, 11-12
Brothers and sisters:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens,
as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world,
to be holy and without blemish before him.
In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ,
in accord with the favor of his will,
for the praise of the glory of his grace
that he granted us in the beloved.
In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ.
Alleluia SEE LK 1:28
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you;
blessed are you among women.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 1:26-38
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.