Monday, January 4, 2016

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

The text of Fr Christopher Gray's homily on January 1st, 2016: The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

What is the measure of a year? The things we’ve done, the places we’ve been? Or the things we’ve left still to be done, or the promises we have yet to keep? This last year for me will always be ruled with the memory of returning to Rome to reengage the academic world, while at the same time coming to better understand the spiritual value of authentic friendship. On this point especially, I’m still coming to grips with a paradox; friendship is something that is
“Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness…
(costing not less than everything)”
But I also know that
“[And] all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well”
Because even if
“We shall not cease from exploration
[And] the the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning.”
(c.f. Little Gidding, TS Eliot);
for all of us there have been births, marriages, funerals, graduations—closings and new beginnings. This evening we closed the Year of the Lord 2015; we gather to give thanks for the many graces we have received even as we look forward to what this new year has to offer.

And it has quite a lot! The visions and revisions of what even just today may present to us will spin round and round even until after this day fades into the next day and the next. How slippery a thing time is, and how vaporous our plans for it! When the shepherds made haste to see the newborn Christ, none of them thought that either the appearance of angels they had just experienced was an everyday experience or that they knew precisely what they would find in Bethlehem when they got there. It’s a startling challenge to us—Although we have the benefit of having already heard the news of the birth of Christ and everything that happened thereafter, maybe not often enough do our hearts or footsteps quicken to find Him where we know He will be. Maybe this could even be something we could work on for the new year: Renewed excitement in our love for the Lord!

How do we invigorate our relationship with God? By spending time with Him and opening our Hearts to Him. How do we find Him? We find the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in any Catholic Church; we find the Lord in His Holy Spirit at work in the lives of all around us; We find the Lord in His work of creation, in Sacred Scripture, and whenever we gather in His name, so long as we have real integrity and purity of heart. How easy it is to find the same Lord the Angels announced and the shepherds ran to see!

We hear in the Gospel that “Mary held all these things in her heart,” a mysterious phrase about how the Blessed Virgin pondered the marvelous events from the time when Gabriel first gave her the message that she would conceive and be the mother of the Messiah, to the accounts of the shepherds and everyone else, to the message of the prophets she had unlocked, and peering in, had seen herself. The prime witness to the Incarnation of God, she would not divulge these thoughts to anyone, but instead, Luke tells us, “held all these things in her heart” where their spiritual reality enveloped everything about her. There’s another great example for us here as we consider our new year—what do we hold in our hearts? Things that will last an hour or a day, or things that are worthy for a lifetime or, better, for an eternity?

Time passes and does not return. God has assigned to each of us a definite time in which to fulfill His divine plan for our soul; we have only this time and no more. Time spent poorly is lost forever. Our life is made up of this uninterrupted, continual flow of time, which never returns. In eternity, on the other hand, time will be no more; we will be unendingly, forever, in the degree of love which we have reached now, in time. If we have attained a high degree of love, we will be forever in that degree of love and glory; if we possess only a slight degree, that is all we will have forever. Without time, there is no more progress: In heaven, where there is no time, there is no progression in love. As St. Paul says to the Galatians: “Therefore, while we have time, let us work good to all people” (Gal 6:10). One holy Carmelite nun once said: “We must give every moment its full amount of love, and make each passing moment eternal, by giving it value for eternity” (Sr. Carmela of the Holy Spirit OCD).

What a fascinating statement! This is the best way to use the time given us by God. Charity, love, allows us to adhere to God’s will with submission and love, and so at the close of life we will have accomplished God’s plan for our soul; we will have reached the degree of love which God expects from each one of us and with which we will love and glorify Him for all eternity. Everything depends on love; everything depends on our heart.

How do we fill our hearts with worthy things? Pray better. How do we pray better? We follow Mary’s example. Just like our Lady, we worship God with our words in verbal prayer; Mary’s words in the Gospel are few but powerful: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord”; “Do whatever He tells you.” But “Mary [also] held all these things in her heart,” showing us how to meditate on God’s presence in our lives. And whenever she looked at her Son, she contemplated the face of God; the same is true for us. These are the three modes of prayer modeled by our Lady: Verbal prayer, meditation, contemplation. Three small things that open up whole worlds of intimacy with the Lord and the greatest of joys.

The Blessed Virgin Mary held more than news of great joy in her heart; she bore our Savior in her womb and so became the Mother of God. Jesus was Jesus just as much at His conception
as at His birth
as at His death on the Cross
as at His resurrection,
and so throughout was always Word of God, God Himself, our Lord, our Redeemer, consubstantial with the Father and yet also consubstantial with His mother and so with all of us as well.

Ponder this for a moment. Christ is of the same stuff as us. For one week now, the Church has been immersed in the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ, a whole week that has been the same “most sacred day on which blessed Mary the immaculate Virgin brought forth the Savior for this world” (Canon). In this mystery, Christ who is our savior and God, is also like us through and through, flesh and bones, or, more appropriately for Christmas and for this holiday, hunger, laughter, crying, wiggling, sleeping, waking, and all the other things which are natural for newborns. What we have been celebrating isn’t just that God was born in Bethlehem, but that Jesus is our brother, who is also the light of the world, who is also true clarity, true intimacy, true presence, true God. All of this, and our brother.

For us, since there was no time when Jesus was not God, it would never enter our minds to worship a glorified Jesus while merely revering or esteeming a child Jesus. In the same way, Mary was not the mother of Jesus’ humanity only, but of Jesus in His fullness; not of a part, but of the whole. So when we say that Jesus is our brother, we mean something very important: He is our brother through Mary who is our mother too; He is our brother through God the Father who is our Father too. He is our brother because he was born of Mary according to the flesh; He is our brother because He is the eternal Son, our Creator Who lowered Himself to the level of a creature. He is our brother because He gave us His mother as our mother at the foot of the Cross; He is our brother because He gave us His Father as our Father through His death on the Cross. Our Lord Jesus Christ is our brother, and so we have been made sharers in His divinity. Christ is not just a part of the creation of the world, His glorious incarnation which we celebrate, His glorious coming again as Judge, but also in every part of our lives. He changed us, He changes us, He will change us. He saved us, He is saving us, He will save us. He loved us, He loves us, He will love us. He was made low for us, He is made low, He will be made low. He was exalted for us, He is exalted, He will be exalted. For us.
By us. With us. In us. 
What we share with Christ is much more than we can imagine.

All of us here have an outward life and an inward life, the roles we fill in society and also that part of our being we bring before the Lord as who we are in ourselves. Remembering that Christ loves us as a brother, let us enter into this new year not with a list of resolutions reminding us how to seem to be better, but with firm resolve to love Christ more and more, to let ourselves be loved by Christ more and more, and to let this love be the center of our lives. In a world of change, in a world of comings and goings, only Christ remains the same yesterday today and always, and it is Christ’s mark on us that defines us. And what is this mark? What is the banner of the victorious Lamb? The Cross, the power of love and the weight of love. Recall the words of the Song of Songs:
“I sat down under his shadow with great delight,
and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house
And his banner over me was love.”(Songs 2:3-4)

Indeed we are in the banqueting house, and the banner over us is the banner of love. All of us here are brothers and sisters in Christ, mothers and fathers in Christ, sons and daughters in Christ, friends in Christ, workers in Christ, worshipers in Christ, and this so that finally when we sleep in Christ, we may truly live in Christ forever. May whatever good we do and sufferings we endure cause us to grow in holiness and so bring us always closer to our Lord, our brother, our savior, Jesus Christ. This is the goal of all our prayer, and no use of our time could be better placed.

Just before Mass we invoked the Holy Spirit to consecrate this year to the Holiness to which we are called and to implore His divine assistance. Earlier this evening, last year, we sang the Te Deum, the great hymn of thanksgiving that was born out of the excitement to be joined with Christ that St. Augustine felt the night before his baptism. He and St. Ambrose, according to tradition, stayed up all night composing this song which has ever since been the definitive Hymn of Praise that comes from the very heart of the Church. It is not the hymn of our selfish joy, but rather of our thanksgiving for that faith in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, in our Eternal Father which is the glory of the saints forever. As a model of prayer, with the Te Deum we accomplish four motions typical to the best kind of prayer: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication. For the first couple dozen verses we adore Sacred Trinity; near the end we ask for mercy, the mercy which can only be given by the Just Judge, the mercy that we do not deserve, the mercy that holds back the judgment that we do deserve; throughout we give thanks to God, and we pray that our days may be joined to Him, and that we may forever be guarded from sin. In the Te Deum we verbally give thanks to God, something so good to do at the end of the year that it is privileged with a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions.

Our act of thanksgiving neither ends nor begins there, but rather is completed in this Mass as we praise and give thanks to God liturgically, fulfilling what this is called: Eucharist, the glorious banquet where the Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit are the true light, fullness of satisfied desire, eternal gladness, consummate delight, and perfect happiness for us all. To the Lord who is, who was, and who is to Come, the eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be endless praise now and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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