Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Mary Shows Us What It Means To Be Human.

(Immaculate Conception 2004: This homily was given on December 8, 2004 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Luke 1: 26-38.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Immaculate Conception 2004]

What does it mean to be human?

Sounds like an easy question, doesn’t it?

Well don’t be fooled! It’s anything but easy! In fact, when it comes to analyzing what it means to be a human person, errors are very common. But one particular error overshadows all the rest.

Let me describe it in this way . . .

We’ve all heard the expression, “He’s only human.” Many of us—probably most of us—have used it casual conversation at some point in the past.

Think about it: In what circumstances is that line usually spoken? When do we look at another person and say, “He’s only human; she’s only human”?

Well, sometimes it’s when the person makes an innocent mistake—a mistake they weren’t expected to make.

When Tiger Woods, for example, makes a bad shot during a round of golf, the commentators will sometimes say, “That just goes to show that even Tiger Woods is human and makes bad shots like the rest of us.”

But even more frequently that expression is used when someone commits a sin—often a serious sin.

A man is caught in adultery, and some of his buddies will say, “Poor Bob. He just couldn’t say No. And that’s understandable, because he’s only human.”

A woman loses her temper on the job, and some of her coworkers will say, “Joan usually keeps her cool, but she was under a lot of stress the other day. That’s why she lost it like she did. It just goes to show that she’s only human.”

We use the adjective, “human,” in situations like these, as if to imply that to be truly human means to commit sin.

But that’s not true! And today’s feast illustrates the point perfectly!

Today we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother. This, of course, does NOT refer to the virginal conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb (the event we heard about in our Gospel reading a few moments ago). The Immaculate Conception prepared Mary for the virginal conception of Jesus at the Annunciation; but the Immaculate Conception itself refers to Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother, Ann. Here’s how Pope Pius IX defined the dogma: “the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin.”

We sometimes think of Mary as “Super-Human,” but that’s because in many ways we live in a “sub-human” manner ourselves. Mary, because she was free from original sin and never committed any personal sins in her life, was really the only perfectly “human” person who ever walked the face of this earth—aside from Adam and Eve before the Fall. (Remember that Jesus was a divine person, so he’s in a separate category altogether.)

You see, when God created us, he did not make sin a part of our nature. Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created in a state of original justice. In truth, sin is anti-human; it “deforms” human nature; in many respects it actually “de-humanizes” us!

And deep down inside, we all understand this. When someone, for example, commits a horrible crime (murder, rape, torture), don’t we often say, “He acted just like an animal”? In other words, he didn’t act as human beings are supposed to act! In his conduct he was less than truly human.

Mary reminds us that to be human means to live as God created us to live: in holiness and without sin.

That, of course, is something we need to work at, by the grace of God, each and every day. And part of “working at it” involves repentance—ongoing repentance—and the sacrament of Confession.

In the opening prayer of this Mass, we prayed, “Help us [O Lord] by Mary’s prayers to live in your presence without sin.” That line could have read, “Help us [O Lord] by Mary’s prayers to live a truly human life.”

May that be our prayer at this Mass, and may that be our deepest desire every day.