Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
September 8, 2016
Rom 8:28-30, Ps 13, Mt 1:18-23
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- As today we celebrate the feast of the Nativity of our Lady, we can ponder how great was the joy of this day not only for Joachim and Anne but also for God. We can imagine, to the extent humanly possible, what it must have been like for the eternal Son of God to be looking at the birth of the little girl who about 14 years later would become his own mother and give birth to him in the Gospel scene we’ve just heard. We can look at the baby Mary with the joy-filled eyes and hearts of her parents and Son as she was an infant and began to grow, thoughts that even many with strong Marian devotions seldom contemplate.
- God the Father had had Mary in his sights since the beginning of time. St. Paul tells us that he has “chosen us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world to be holy and immaculate in his sight” (Eph 1:4), and how could he not be thinking of Mary as the icon of this divine election? We know that that the very instant of the fall, her advent was prophesied as the one in whom God would place an enmity for the serpent. Today, she who had been immaculately conceived was born full of grace.
- She was born according to a template. St. Paul tells us in today’s first reading that “those [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Mary was most certainly conformed to the image of the Holy One who would become the blessed Fruit of her womb and he, according to his humanity, would be conformed, mysteriously, to her earthly image. And this was a “shaping together” (literally con-formation) that would be manifested mutually throughout life, as her fiat would anticipate his, as her desire to help a young married couple would become his first miracle, as her pierced heart would emulate his pierced with a lance, as his glory would become reflected in her forever.
- It’s important for us whenever we celebrate a Marian feast to make explicit Mary’s Christocentric conformation, not just to avoid Protestant misinterpretations that we give Mary the homage that is only due to God, but also to help us deepen our own appreciation not only for our spiritual mother’s vocation and mission but for our own. Normally for us the celebration of a birthday is always an occasion to think with gratitude to God and to our parents for the gift of human life — and that is a very good thing to do! — but Mary’s birthday is a celebration of something more. As we see in today’s Gospel and know from throughout her life, she was born with a purpose, to be the Mother of God according to his humanity. She was born to conform her life to him. As we think about her birth, her early days, her upbringing and her life, it’s natural for us to think of our own, and it’s key for us to grasp that we, too, have been born with a similar purpose, to be conformed to Jesus in this life and, God-willing, forever. Sometimes in our Marian piety we can focus so much on her inimitable privileges — like her Immaculate Conception, the virginal conception and birth of Jesus, her raising the Son of God, her sharing in his passion, and her sharing even in her body in his resurrection and heavenly life — that we can miss the emulable qualities of her life.
- Today the great birthday present she’d like for us to give her would be to allow her to help us conform ourselves, like she was, to the image of her Son, to conform ourselves to his Word and let ourselves develop in accordance with it as she did; to conform ourselves to his holiness as she did; to conform ourselves to his proclamation of the Gospel as she did; to conform ourselves to his salvific suffering as she did; and to conform ourselves as she did to the newness of life he has given us by his triumph over sin and death. The great way we conform ourselves to Mary so as to conform ourselves to her Son is through consecration, in which we entrust ourselves to her to mother us, to form us, to help us pattern our existence on the blessed Fruit of her womb.
- As we continue in this special “St. Teresa of Calcutta Week,” which includes her canonization on Sunday, feast day on Monday, the 70th anniversary of her “call within a call” on Saturday, and two big events at the United Nations today and tomorrow, it’s helpful for us to enter into her own consecration to Mary. She wrote, “In a word, our consecration can be summarized thus: the resolution to remain always in her Heart, in prayer and in our apostolate, without attachments or worries, in prayer of heart and docility of will. To the extent that we are in her and of her, we will be in and of Jesus and He living in us; to the extent she is united to us, living and praying, serving and consoling, channeling the living waters of the Spirit of Love, we will fulfill our task.” It involves several parts, she said:
- “Total confidence in her: in her role and power in our life, with the conviction that together with her, and only with her, we can and will fulfill our vocation and reach the holiness to which we are called.
- “Presence: faith in the reality and constancy of her presence in our daily life; knowing beyond doubt that she is always with us, always hears us, and that her loving gaze ever penetrates our soul.
- “Absolute Trust: in her, in all that she is doing in our life in the present moment, and in all that concerns the future: expecting everything from her at all times and in every situation, knowing that all has been prearranged by her for our good.
- “Abandonment: the concrete living out of our trust — the act of free cooperation with Our Lady’s activity in our life; abandonment both in the specific circumstances we are living and as a general attitude of soul, allowing oneself to be led by her; giving over to her all attachments, worries, expectations and desires; making her the gift of complete interior and exterior docility.
- “Self-gift: giving ourselves in her service, to carry out her plan and aid in the accomplishment of her mission; giving to the Lord through her all we have and are — our entire self (“totus tuus“) and all that concerns us; seeking to please the Lord by doing all ‘through, in and with her.’
- “Entering her heart: to live in the temple of her Heart, in spiritual communion and incessant prayer with her; to dwell in her interior in the presence of the Trinity; to listen to her and learn from her; to know that our soul will be transformed in the image of Jesus by the Spirit at work within her.
- “Sharing her prayer: to meditate on the Word of God together with her; to embrace the Incarnate Word with her; to listen to Jesus’ cry of thirst and to satiate Him together with her…; to share in her Fiat and her Magnificat.
- “Sharing her mission: to live next to the Cross with her; to bring Jesus with her to the lost, the least and the last; to be the channel of her presence and work; totally at her disposal for the service of Jesus in the poor; to console her and share in her sorrow over the suffering of her Son and His mystical Body.”
- The greatest way we conform ourselves to Mary through consecration is by entering with her into her Son’s consecration in the Mass. In the Mass We conceive within ourselves first the word of God so that just like Mary did, it may impregnate us and grow within us to such an extent that we are umbilically united with this word until it becomes so big within us that we have to give it to the light. Then the same Jesus whom she bore in her womb for nine months will enter into us so that he can help us to conform ourselves to him from the inside. The purpose of Mary’s birth and life was not merely to be the Mother of God but to help facilitate our becoming like her through the conformation to her Son that is meant to happen in holy communion. Our Amen is meant to imitate her fiat at the annunciation. Let us ask her to pray for us today that we may respond to the graces for which she is interceding for us now with her Son so to conform ourselves to Him in this world that we may be conformed to Him, like Mary, forever.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1: rom 8:28-30
We know that all things work for good for those who love God,
who are called according to his purpose.
For those he foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the image of his Son,
so that he might be the firstborn
among many brothers.
And those he predestined he also called;
and those he called he also justified;
and those he justified he also glorified.
Responsorial Psalm ps 13:6ab, 6c
Though I trusted in your mercy,
let my heart rejoice in your salvation.
R. With delight I rejoice in the Lord.
Let me sing of the LORD, “He has been good to me.”
R. With delight I rejoice in the Lord.
Gospel: mt 1:18-23
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”