Saturday, December 08, 2007

Mary: Willing To Help Fix a Problem She Hadn’t Caused!

Where 'the problem' began

(Immaculate Conception 2007: This homily was given on December 8, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Genesis 3: 9-15, 20; Luke 1: 26-38.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Immaculate Conception 2007]

“You did it; you fix it! You caused the problem; now you fix the problem!”

That’s often our attitude, isn’t it?—especially when it comes to problems within our own families!

And sometimes it’s the right attitude—because the person we’re dealing with needs to learn to be responsible for his or her actions.

But at other times God wants us to do what we can to make a bad situation better, and for whatever reason—maybe because of laziness, or selfishness, or anger—we refuse.

We say things like, “He did it, so he should fix it!” “She brought this on herself and on the rest of us; now she needs to make it better!”

Today, on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we should thank God that Mary, the ‘new Eve,’ never said those words about the wife of Adam, who was the original Eve.

Because if she had, we’d all be going to hell when we die! We’d have no hope.

Let me explain . . .

When we say that Mary was “immaculately conceived,” we mean that from the moment of her conception in the womb of her mother, Ann, she was preserved by the grace of God from original sin. The saving grace that Jesus would later die on the Cross to give the world was given to Mary beforehand. (God, after all, is not limited by space and time in terms of what he can do.)

One little aside here: This means that the gospel text we just heard from Luke 1 is not the story of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, as many people mistakenly think. This is the story of the virginal conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary at the Annunciation; the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, Ann!

So why is the story of the Annunciation read on this feast day? Simply because Mary’s Immaculate Conception prepared her to be the pure vessel through which the Son of God would come into the world. The Immaculate Conception, in other words, prepared Mary for the Annunciation—and for everything that would follow it.

Now when Mary agreed to become the Mother of God—when she said to the Lord, “Be it done unto me according to your word”—she had to know that she was saying yes to something that was extremely difficult! I mean, how do you raise a Son who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit? How do you give motherly instruction to the Creator of the universe? What can you possibly teach him? And what if you make a mistake? What will happen to the world if you fail to do for this boy what God wants you to do for this boy?

And the difficulty of the job was confirmed several months later in the Temple, when the prophet Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her soul because she was the mother of the Savior.

This brings me back to something I said earlier: today we should thank God that Mary never said about Eve, “She did it; let her fix it”—as we sometimes say about other people.

Mary never said it, although might have, if she had been like the rest of us!

You see, when God spoke to her at the Annunciation, he was really asking her to help him “fix a problem”—a big problem that had started in the Garden of Eden with Eve (and with Adam), as we heard in today’s first reading. It was the problem of human sin and its effects. But, this was a problem that Mary hadn’t caused, nor had she added to it in any way by her actions as we’ve added to it by ours (remember, by the grace of God, Mary never committed even one personal sin in her entire life!).

So knowing how difficult the job was going to be, Mary could have said, “Wait a minute, Lord. I didn’t cause this problem! It’s not my fault! So why are you asking this of me? I didn’t bring sickness, evil and death into the world through sin—Eve did! So let her fix it! Or let some other sinner do the job—someone who’s doing evil and causing problems in the world right now!”

The next time we’re asked to help fix a problem that we haven’t caused, it would be good for us to do three things:

First of all, we should think of Mary! We should think of her Yes to the Lord at the Annunciation—a Yes that was repeated over and over again throughout her entire life. We should remember that she took on an incredibly difficult role in helping to free the world from the problem of sin, although she herself was immaculately conceived and perfectly sinless.

Secondly, we should pray to—and through—Mary. We should say, “Blessed Mother, I’ve been asked to help fix a mess that I had nothing to do with—like you were asked to help fix a problem that you had nothing to do with. Ask God to give me the grace of discernment, so that I’ll know the right thing to do—as God helped you to know the right thing to do.

And thirdly, we should imitate Mary, and say yes, and do whatever God wants—even if it’s difficult.