Fr. Roger J. Landry
Our Lady of Grace Chapel, Alma, MI
Retreat for the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma
Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of the Dedication of St. Mary Major Basilica
August 5, 2014
Jer 30:1-2.12-15.18-22, Ps 102, Mt 15:1-2.10-14
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
In today’s first reading from the Prophet Jeremiah, we see a dramatic shift. At the time when God had made Jeremiah’s calling to be a prophet to the nations clear, he had told him that he would “root up” and “plant,” that he would “tear down” and “build.” After relentlessly prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah due to the people’s infidelities, that their wounds were “incurable” and bruises “grievous,” today we see the shift to the planting and building that would come. God announces through Jeremiah that he would “restore the tents of Jacob,” that there would “resound songs of praise,” that their leader “shall be one of [Jacob’s] own and his rulers shall come from his kin,” and ultimately that “you shall be my people and I will be your God.” Those words would receive a partial fulfillment at the end of the Babylonian exile but they will be brought to total completion at the end of the exile from sin when God himself would take on the flesh of one of their own, when God himself would pitch his tent among us, when God himself would lead us in songs of praise and make us not only his people but his sons and daughters.
That would happen, of course, with the incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Today we celebrate the Dedication of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, constructed in the 430s by Pope St. Sixtus III and his archdeacon, the future St. Leo the Great, in response to the Council of Ephesus that Mary was not just the Mother of Jesus Christ according to his humanity but insofar as he was a divine person with two natures, the theotokos or Mother of God. In the fifth century mosaics that still wondrously adorn the Basilica, we see on display the victory announced by Jeremiah at the culmination of salvation history: the progression salvation history through Abraham, Moses, Joshua and David culminating on the Triumphal Arch where we see Mary’s virginal yes, Jesus’ miraculous birth, the homage of the Shepherds and Magi and how we’re all on an ark from Bethlehem to the heavenly Jerusalem. The Basilica itself has a special relationship to Christmas because of the presence of what is reputed to be the crèche of Jesus, a homage not only to the Incarnation and birth of the Lord but also to Mary’s motherhood. In the 13th century mosaic in the apse, we see Jesus welcoming Mary onto his throne and crowning her queen mother, mother not only of Him but all of us whom he entrusted to her as he was triumphing on the Cross. And we know that the Basilica houses the famous, miraculous image of Mary “Salus Populi Romani,” the salvation of the Roman people, because it’s through her yes that he Savior was brought into the world and it’s through the sacred humanity he received from her that we receive graces and it’s through her, seated with him on the throne, that he continues to respond to our prayers united to her maternal intercession.
As we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of the Basilica reminding us of all of these truths, the Church has us ponder, as she always does when we celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of any important Church, how it is meant to be a reminder of our own dedication as a temple or tabernacle of God. The true temple, as Jesus reminded us when he drove out the money changers, is Jesus himself, torn down but re-erected on the third day. But the temple of Jesus’ body is not merely the sanctuary of this physical body received from Mary but also his Mystical Body. Jesus’ salvific work, as St. Paul describes, is meant to make us individually (1 Cor 6:19) as well as communally (1 Cor 3:16) his holy dwelling place. Feast days like today are opportunities for us to ponder our own dedication and to reconsecrate ourselves to God’s purpose.
As we were examining yesterday with the help of Pope Francis’ words on adoration, everything we do liturgically is meant to foster adoration. He noted that sometimes there’s a temptation sometimes to focus so much on rubrics or liturgical action that we can forget the why behind the what, we can be professing the Lord’s name on our lips but our heart be far from him. This danger or externalism is shown in all its clarity in today’s Gospel when many of the Jews of Jesus’ time were focused far more on whether their hands were ritually cleaned in a specific way passed down by the Halakah or Jewish oral traditions than whether their hearts were pure. More than anyone, Mary seeks to mother us to become true temples with hearts that are fitting dwelling places for God, pure hearts that not only see him (Mt 5:8) but welcome and praise him. We celebrate the feast of the Dedication of St. Mary Major Basilica on August 5 because, prior to the building of this great Basilica to Mary, tradition says there was a simpler Church dedicated to her as a result of a miracle of snow falling on August 5 at that section of the Esquiline Hill. Snow falls in Rome once a generation and that it would fall in the heart of a typical hot and humid Roman summer is unheard of, but fall on August 5 it did, the night after the Blessed Virgin appeared in dreams to a nobleman named John and to Pope Liberius saying that she wanted them to collaborate in building a church on the place she would indicate. Mary wants to bring about in us a far greater miracle than a summer snowfall. She wants more than to have white snow fall on the ground but to have our hearts become as white and pure as snow. She wants to assist us from above not to build a Church on a hill but to build a shrine to receive her Son and experience his triumph.
Today as we celebrate the dedication of the Basilica built to honor her motherhood, one of the greatest ways we could venerate her is to allow her to mother us to become more and more like her, a true tabernacle of God’s presence. As we enter more deeply into this retreat on the Missionary Transformation of the Church, remembering that the Church doesn’t have a mission but is a mission, and that the Church is Marian before it’s Petrine, we can turn to Mary to help us learn how to become that the Church is. We can summarize the metamorphosis God wants by looking at the seven things she says in Sacred Scripture and what that means for the temple we are called to be both individually and communally.
Mary’s first word was “How can this be?” That question posed to the Archangel in the Annunciation was not a query flowing from doubt like we see Zechariah say after he was told that his wife Elizabeth in her old age would conceive John the Baptist, but rather one of modality, because it implies that Mary was already totally consecrated to God in her virginity; otherwise there would have been no reason why she would have asked how she would become a mother. For us called to become God’s temple, this teaches us not that we are all supposed to remain perpetual virgins, but that we live out what John Paul II called the “virginal meaning” of our existence, that we first and foremost seek to make a gift of ourselves, body and soul, to God. Like Mary, we’re called to listen to God’s word, to dialogue with it, and to treasure it so much that it can take on our own flesh. Mary is the model of “sacred tradition” because she conceives God’s word with in, assimilates it into her own reality, and then gives birth to the Word together with her own flesh. That’s a model, St. Ambrose says, of how each of us is meant to conceive the Word, to become pregnant with it, and let it grow so big that we have to give it to the light, transmuted by our own existence as our existence has been transmuted by it. To be a temple of God means to listen in this way, to incarnate the Word, and then to give that word as a gift.
Mary’s second word was “Let me be done to me according to your word.” She wanted her entire life to develop according to God’s will and placed her whole being at God’s service. A temple of God is where the words “Fiat voluntas tua” resonate, in which we consecrate ourselves to God.
The third word is “Magnificat!” As temples dedicated to God and seeking to do his will, we, like Mary, will then with haste and enthusiasm seek to bring Christ to others, so that they may rejoice and leap with God. To be a temple we must allow God to be magnified in our souls, to allow him to be joyfully praised in our spirit, because he never ceases to look on us in our humility and make us blessed, because he never fails to respond to our deepest hungers by giving us good things.
The fourth word is why: “Son, why have you done this to us?” She was totally disoriented when she thought she had lost Jesus for three days, but Jesus’ words in reply not only taught Mary something crucial but continue to teach us: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I needed to be about my Father’s business?” Jesus is always doing the Father’s work. We, too, are called to be about the Father’s affairs, remembering our divine filiation and living in accordance with it. At the end of the scene, St. Luke tells that Mary kept all of these things, pondering them in her heart, a type of contemplation of our day-to-day life that is meant to happen in any temple dedicated to God.
Fifth, we learn from Mary how to bring needs to Jesus and pray to him directly. “They have no wine,” she said in Cana, something she noticed before anyone else did, because love always notices the details. On this day of the rededication of our temple to God, we are called to reconsecrate ourselves with Mary to this mission of intercession, even to the point of “bothering” Jesus if we have to, persistently asking him even if it doesn’t seem the right time or place, even if it doesn’t seem to be his hour.
“Do whatever he tells you!” is the sixth word. It’s not enough for us to be handmaids of the Lord. To be a true temple of God’s presence we also, like Mary, need to help others become the Lord’s servants, to do what he says, to cooperate with him in his saving work, to trust in him enough to give him the water he made and pronounced good so that he can transform it into something better, something that like wine can warm men’s hearts and fill them with joy (Sir 31:27).
Seventh, we have her most eloquent word of all: Her silence at the foot of Jesus’ Cross, which is a not a void but an inaudible fiat in body language. Like Mary, we often must live out our dedication to God in silent presence with others, in good times and bad, in prosperity and poverty, at baptisms and bedsides. We speak this silent word in our prayer. We speak it in humble service. We speak it in compassionate accompaniment. To be a temple of God’s presence we allow him to speak in our silence and then we, often like a mime, act on that word in ways more eloquent than audible oration.
The greatest way we become a temple is by cooperating fully with what Jesus wishes to do at Mass. The Mass is the mystery of the Annunciation happening live each day. This is where we say “How can this be?,” and Mary replies by saying, “The same Holy Spirit who overshadowed me is about to overshadow this altar and this priest and the same Jesus whom I carried within me for nine months you’re about to receive and carry.” This is where our “amen!” echoes Mary’s “fiat.” This is where our spirits rejoice and souls magnify God. This is where we’re strengthened to do the Father’s business. This is where we bring the needs of the world asking God to change bride and wine into something better than the best of loaves and wines and change us in the process. This is where we’re strengthened to do whatever God says with enthusiasm and trust. This is where we stand reverently and silently at the foot of the Cross as Jesus gives his body and blood for us while at the same time kneeling before the throne of grace. This is where we are rededicated, where we are most God’s people and he is our God. The Lord who promised to rebuild Zion again and appear in all his glory not only did that in the consecration of the Daughter of Zion but does it here, in all the glory of his humility and self-abasing love. This is where Mary, the total opposite of a blind guide leading us into a pit, directs us into her Son’s eternal embrace.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
JER 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22
For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel:
Write all the words I have spoken to you in a book.For thus says the LORD:
Incurable is your wound,
grievous your bruise;
There is none to plead your cause,
no remedy for your running sore,
no healing for you.
All your lovers have forgotten you,
they do not seek you.
I struck you as an enemy would strike,
punished you cruelly;
Why cry out over your wound?
your pain is without relief.
Because of your great guilt,
your numerous sins,
I have done this to you.Thus says the LORD:
See! I will restore the tents of Jacob,
his dwellings I will pity;
City shall be rebuilt upon hill,
and palace restored as it was.
From them will resound songs of praise,
the laughter of happy men.
I will make them not few, but many;
they will not be tiny, for I will glorify them.
His sons shall be as of old,
his assembly before me shall stand firm;
I will punish all his oppressors.
His leader shall be one of his own,
and his rulers shall come from his kin.
When I summon him, he shall approach me;
how else should one take the deadly risk
of approaching me? says the LORD.
You shall be my people,
and I will be your God.
PS 102:16-18, 19-21, 29 AND 22-23
The nations shall revere your name, O LORD,
and all the kings of the earth your glory,
When the LORD has rebuilt Zion
and appeared in his glory;
When he has regarded the prayer of the destitute,
and not despised their prayer.
R. The Lord will build up Zion again, and appear in all his glory.
Let this be written for the generation to come,
and let his future creatures praise the LORD:
“The LORD looked down from his holy height,
from heaven he beheld the earth,
To hear the groaning of the prisoners,
to release those doomed to die.”
R. The Lord will build up Zion again, and appear in all his glory.
The children of your servants shall abide,
and their posterity shall continue in your presence,
That the name of the LORD may be declared on Zion;
and his praise, in Jerusalem,
When the peoples gather together
and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD.
R. The Lord will build up Zion again, and appear in all his glory.
MT 15:1-2, 10-14
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?
They do not wash their hands when they eat a meal.”
He summoned the crowd and said to them, “Hear and understand.
It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles the man;
but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.”
Then his disciples approached and said to him,
“Do you know that the Pharisees took offense
when they heard what you said?”
He said in reply, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted
will be uprooted.
Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.
If a blind man leads a blind man,
both will fall into a pit.