Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mary, Our Hope For World Peace

Holy Angels Church: My home parish in Barrington, R.I.

(Holy Angels’ Patronal Feast 2006: This homily was given on August 13, 2006, at Holy Angels Church, Barrington, R.I., at the annual patronal feast Mass in honor of Our Lady of the Assumption.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Holy Angels Feast 2006]

It’s nice to be back home for this great celebration, which was so much a part of my youth—although I will admit that in my younger days I was more enthused about the carnival than I was about the Mass and the procession. After all, at the carnival I had a chance to win a brand new album at the “record booth”. Some of you young people might not know what a “record” is; you’ll have to ask your parents when Mass is over.

As many of you know, my second home now is in Westerly (which to some people in Barrington, like my Aunt Louise, is on “the other side of the universe”!). I say it’s my second home because I’ve been there at St. Pius X Parish for eighteen years (eleven as the assistant and the administrator, and now seven as pastor). Westerly, of course, is where Fr. Giudice is from. In fact, it’s really thanks to him I’m able to be here with you today. He’s saying my 8:30 and 10:30 Masses this morning. It’s interesting how God works things out: I was his altar boy here in Barrington for many years, and now he’s my part-time assistant in Westerly in his “retirement.”

Although I’ve been away from Holy Angels and this feast for awhile, I’ve still been a part of a yearly celebration in honor of the Blessed Mother. Every year in July (often, it seems, on the hottest day in July) at the neighboring parish, Immaculate Conception, there’s a big procession in honor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. When I march in that one, I almost always think of the one here at Holy Angels. Thankfully, however, the one here is a little shorter: in Westerly, it’s three-and-a-half miles!—a real penance on a hot day, believe me!

I mention this today because I want to make it clear to you in this homily why celebrations like these so important, and why they need to be preserved: It’s because of what Mary can do for the world by her intercession before the throne of God. It’s because of what Mary—and perhaps only Mary—can do for the cause of world peace.

We know what’s going on in Lebanon and Israel right now; we know what’s been going on in Iraq and in Afghanistan and in the Sudan and in countless other places throughout the world in recent years. And we remember all too well the events of September 11, 2001.

The world has been experiencing what some have called “a clash of civilizations”. It’s been extremely violent, and it seems to be getting worse every day, in spite of the efforts of so many well-intentioned people.

Which begs the obvious question: Is there any hope? Can anything be done to change this situation and establish peace with the Muslim world? Or is this the way it will always be from now on?

Well, aside from the obvious political and diplomatic efforts that need to be made, I think there is something that all of us can do on a very practical level to bring about positive change and to help establish peace, in particular with devout Muslims: We can take our personal devotion to Mary very seriously—more seriously than ever before!

You know, it’s ironic. In the past three or four decades it’s been common to say that Mary should be ignored whenever we deal with people of other faiths—especially Protestants—because Mary somehow drives a wedge between us. But I’ve discovered that, in reality, the exact opposite is true! I’ve come to realize that Mary is actually the key to greater unity! She’s not the one who divides us; she’s the one who can bring us all together: Christians, Jews—and even Muslims.

Did you know, for example, that Muslims traditionally have had a deep regard for the Blessed Mother? (I’ll bet many of you didn’t! Most Christians are totally unaware of it.) She’s mentioned over thirty times in the Koran. No other woman is mentioned even once! There she’s described as “Virgin, ever Virgin.” Imagine, the very doctrine some liberal Christians reject—the perpetual virginity of Mary—is accepted by Muslims!

Concerning his daughter Fatima, Mohammad—the founder of Islam—once said: “She has the highest place in heaven after the Virgin Mary.”

Is it a coincidence that, in 1917, Mary appeared to three children in a place which was named after a Muslim convert to the Catholic faith: a woman who at birth had been named after Mohammad’s daughter? I don’t think that was a coincidence, I think it was a “God-incidence”! In fact, many Muslims today actually make personal pilgrimages to the Catholic shrine of Mary located there in Fatima, Portugal.

This means that, as we speak, Mary is already bringing Christians and Muslims together in peace.

And don’t you think that Mary can also be a bridge between Christians and Jews? What better way to share the Good News with someone of the Jewish faith than to speak to them about the greatest human person who ever lived: a Jewish mother!—one of their own who was faithful to the Mosaic Law, as St. Luke clearly indicates in his infancy narrative.

And what about our Protestant brothers and sisters? It’s been my experience that once devout Protestants understand what the Church really teaches about Mary, many of them fall in love with the Blessed Mother, and they realize that she’s a great biblical role model for them. Why? Because committed Protestants are devoted to God’s written Word (which is great!), and they want to obey Jesus. Well guess what? Mary was also devoted to God’s Word and wanted people to obey Jesus! We see that in her two famous lines from Scripture: “Be it done unto me, O Lord, according to your Word,” and, “Do whatever he [i.e. Jesus] tells you.”

So you see, Mary is not a barrier as many have mistakenly believed all these years, she’s actually a bridge—the bridge I believe God wants to use to bring greater peace to our world in the third millennium.

And we have a precedent for this. We’ve already seen historically how Mary can have a decisive role in bringing peace to a potentially cataclysmic situation. Remember the Cold War? Remember the threat that Soviet Communism was to the security of this nation? Remember the fallout shelters? Remember the threats of nuclear annihilation?

If I had told you thirty years ago that the Berlin Wall would someday be torn down and that the Soviet Union would come to an end without a major military conflict of some sort, how would you have responded?

Let’s be honest about it, you probably would have laughed in my face and said, “Sure, Fr. Ray. That’s a really nice thought—a really nice idea—but that’s all it is, an idea. It will never, ever happen that way.”

But it did.

And even secular historians admit that one of the major players—if not THE major player—in this peaceful collapse of the Soviet bloc was Pope John Paul II. And many of them maintain that the collapse began in June of 1979, when the pope went to his native country of Poland for the very first time. Do you remember the news footage of the Polish Communist leader, General Jaruzelski, visibly trembling in the presence of the Holy Father? Historians tell us that that papal visit sent shock waves throughout the Communist world, and ignited a “revolution of conscience” among the people, because for the very first time someone had publicly confronted a Communist leader on his own turf and had lived to talk about it!

Not coincidentally, of course, John Paul II was intensely devoted to Mary—so much so that he took as his papal motto “Totus Tuus”, meaning “Totally yours.” Some people think that the pope’s motto was a direct reference to Jesus, but it wasn’t. It was a reference to Mary. His motto meant, “I’m totally yours, Mary. I’m totally committed to Jesus Christ through you.”

At Fatima in 1917 the Blessed Mother had told the world to pray the Rosary for the conversion of Russia. I believe that God combined the grace from all those rosaries that were said for more than seventy years (and from all the Masses that were said during that time) with the actions of a pope intensely dedicated to the Blessed Mother, to put an end to an oppressive, godless form of government in eastern Europe that had been responsible for the murder of millions of people in the 20th century.

As Peter Cetera once put it in an old 1980s song, “Just goes to prove what one good woman can do”—especially when the woman in question happens to be the Mother of God.

Do you see, now, why this feast is so important? Do you see why this tradition and others like it need to be maintained? Do you see why you should have a personal devotion to Mary and why you should be praying the Rosary—or at the very least a decade or two of it—every day without exception?

It’s because of what this Heavenly Woman can do for our world and will do for our world—if we ask, and if we continue to ask in faith every day.