Pope Benedict on the Blessed Virgin Mary

Homily for the Assumption of Mary – Passionist Monastery – August 15

Let me begin by telling you a lie.  The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI could not be here this morning, so he asked me to fill in for him.   That’s the lie. From now on I’ll only speak the truth.

The truth is that on Christmas of last year, Benedict released his first encyclical “God is Love,”  and he concludes his inspiring reflections with a beautiful meditation on our Lady.  I want to quote some excerpts  from his encyclical and reflect with you a bit as we go along.

“In the  Gospel of Luke, we find Mary engaged in a service of charity to her cousin Elizabeth with whom she remained for about three months so as to assist her in the final phase of her pregnancy. ‘My soul magnifies the Lord.’  … In these words she expresses her whole program of life: not setting herself at the center but leaving space for God  who is encountered both in prayer and in service of neighbor – only then does goodness enter the world.
“Her whole program of life: not setting herself at the center. . . God  first, and then her neighbor.   Fr Lucian Hayden used to say, holding up his thumb and two fingers:  Jesus, others, you – which spells joy.  This is true for women religious, married, single, widowed, priests, young and old. This feast highlights this recipe for real joy, for real holiness. Mary is a beautiful model for us all!

Our holy father Benedict continues:

“Mary’s greatness consists in the fact that she wants to magnify God, not herself.  She is lowly:  her only desire is to be the handmaid of the Lord. She knows that she will only contribute to the salvation of the world if, rather than carrying out her own projects, she places herself completely at the disposal of God’s initiatives.

What a commentary on the vow of obedience!  Many spiritual writers believe that obedience is the most difficult of the vows to live.  (Original sin of course is responsible for this.) What progress we could make if we made a habit of focusing on this willingness to submit our wills to God’s will!  Of course God’s will is often manifested to us through some very ordinary means, through some very ordinary people, but people assigned to leadership roles, persons graced with that special call from God.

The encyclical continues:

Mary is a woman of hope: only because she believes in God’s promises and awaits the salvation of Israel can the angel visit her and call her to the decisive service of these promises.

We’re told that suicide among our youth is such a scourge today.  Many of our youth have tried all the “escapes” that the world offers – drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, whatever.  They have found no reason to continue living. They have lost all hope.  They see no worthwhile future. They do not believe that any of their dreams can be fulfilled.

Of course we know that hope, along with faith and love are the theological virtues that are poured into our souls at the time of our  baptism.   The goal of the spiritual life is to allow these virtues to come to full bloom. 

Pope Benedict says:  

Mary is a woman of faith: “Blessed are you who believed,’ Elizabeth says to her.  The Magnificat is a portrait of her soul.  It is entirely woven from threads of Holy Scripture, threads drawn from the Word of God.  Here we see how completely at home Mary is with the Word of God.  She speaks and thinks from the Word of God; the Word of God becomes her word, and her word issues from the Word of God.  Here we see how her thoughts are attuned to the thoughts of God, how her will is one with the will of God. Since Mary is completely imbued with the Word of God, she is able to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate.

So, we’d like to see into the depths of Mary’s soul.  Study, ponder, pray the Magnificat, and marvel at what the Lord and the Spirit will show us!  Remember Bishop Sheen’s quoting “Lovely Lady Dressed in Blue, teach me how to pray?”

The Holy Father continues:  

Finally, Mary is a woman who loves.    How could it be otherwise?   As a believer who in faith thinks with God’s thoughts and wills with God’s will, she cannot fail to be a woman who loves.  We sense this in her quiet gestures as recounted by the infancy narratives in the Gospel.   We see it in the delicacy with which she recognizes the need  of the spouses at Cana and makes it known to Jesus.  We see it in the humility with which she recedes into the background during Jesus’ public life, knowing that the Son must establish a new family and the Mother’s hour will come only with the Cross which will be Jesus’ true hour.  When the disciples flee, Mary will remain beneath the Cross; later, at the hour of Pentecost, it will be they who gather around her as they wait for the Holy Spirit.    

My dear friends, if we are not people who love, whatever our calling,  we will have failed our life’s purpose, miserably.  When Pope Benedict wrote his initial encyclical on love, he was highlighting for us what is absolutely essential in our lives. When you follow the dictates of your Passionist vocation, or your Dominican calling,  when I live out my life as a priest, whether  you  are married, single, widowed, divorced, young,  old…. All of us will be asked or an account of how loving we are, how loving we have been with our faith lives.   When I taught at Brescia College,  in preparation for a big exam, the students would ask “Father, are we responsible for all we’ve covered this year, or just since the last test.  At times, my answer was:  “You’re responsible for all we’ve covered this semester. “  So, with us… Of course, we’ll be tested on our hope, our faith, but especially on our loving.

The Holy Father says:

The words addressed by the crucified Lord to his disciples – to John and through him to all disciples of Jesus:  ‘Behold your mother!’ –These words are fulfilled anew in every generation.

I’d like to add: AND, in every Eucharist.  What we read about this feast, from the Liturgy, and from the Encyclical GOD IS LOVE  is being accomplished in our lives and in this community here this morning.  The words of Scripture, read at the ambo, are actualized as we move to the Liturgy of the Eucharist a few feet from here.  And I love what Pope John Paul II reminded us of in his Letter on  the Eucharist, written just two years before he died:  ‘Mary is present at every Mass.”   She’s here with us this morning.  Recently someone who ought to know better challenged me when I quoted John Paul that “Mary is present at every Mass.”  She is indeed.

Pope Benedict concludes:

Holy Mary, Mother of God, show us Jesus. Lead us to him. Teach us to know and love him so that we too can become capable of true love and be fountains of living water in the midst of a thirsting world. 

I started off saying that Benedict would be Guest homilist today. I was lying. But the rest of what I’ve shared is the absolute truth of the Scriptures.