Tuesday, January 01, 2008

There's Something About Mary

Cameron Diaz in the movie, "There's Something About Mary"

(Mary, the Mother of God, 2008: This homily was given on January 1, 2008, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Mary, the Mother of God 2008]

Several years ago, a movie came out with the title, “There’s Something About Mary”—and it had absolutely nothing to do with the Blessed Mother!

However the title of the film does have an application to Our Lady, because it implies that Mary—the main character in the movie—has a certain effect on other people. And Mary, the Mother of God whom we honor in the Church on this New Year’s Day, definitely has a powerful effect on us and on other human beings.

But, sadly, the effect is not always a positive one! And those of us who love her need to be aware of that!

For example, there’s something about Mary that strikes fear—intense, overwhelming fear—in the hearts of some believers (usually Protestants). They’re afraid that if they honor the Blessed Mother as Catholics do, they’ll somehow be compromising their faith in Jesus. They’re afraid that if they pray to Mary as Catholics do, it will mean that they think she is equal to Jesus (which, of course, is not true: Jesus is God, Mary is a human person like us. She merely intercedes for us to her Son). They’re even afraid to call Mary “the Mother of God” because they think that behind this title is the belief that Mary actually existed before Jesus! So they will refer to her only as “the Mother of Jesus”. This, of course, is not what Catholics mean when they call Mary, “the Mother of God”. In fact, when we use that title we’re really saying more about Jesus than we are about Our Lady. Jesus was a divine person, not a human person—and that’s the key truth behind the title! Mary was the Mother of God—not in the sense that she existed before the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity existed! She was the Mother of God because she gave birth on Christmas Day to a divine person, not a human person—a divine person who had taken on a human nature in her womb 9 months earlier.

There’s something about Mary that obviously also causes confusion in the minds of some people—believers and non-believers alike. For example, if being “saved” means “being saved from sin,” how could Mary have been saved by her Son since she was also sinless? Many people are confused about that. Why would Mary have gotten married if she intended to be faithful to a vow of virginity for her entire life? Why do people pray to Mary if she’s not God? Where are the Immaculate Conception and Assumption found in the Bible?

I have known several Christians who have hesitated to join the Catholic Church because of their confusion about Mary’s identity, her role in our lives, and her role in salvation history.

There’s also something about Mary, sad to say, that causes hatred to well up inside certain men and women. That may be hard for some of us to believe—because we know that Mary loves everyone without exception—but it’s true nonetheless. They hate Mary specifically because of what she stands for—and because of what she does not stand for.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of the blasphemous art that’s been produced in recent years has involved our Blessed Mother (like the portrait of Mary in the Brooklyn Museum of Art several years ago that had elephant dung all over it). They don’t like Mary because she stands for chastity and purity of mind and body—and that’s definitely not what they’re interested in. So they lash out at her in museums, and in books, and on TV shows (like South Park), and in gay pride parades.

Mary also stands for liberation—true liberation (which is liberation from sin!). And so many women in the so-called women’s movement, who are filled with intense hatred for men, also detest Mary! They hate her first of all because she loves everyone—including those of the male gender! They also hate her because she reminds them that in their quest for justice and freedom, they’ve actually become slaves—slaves to their hatred. And they hate her because she’s not a political tool that they can use to advance their cause.

Those, unfortunately, are some of the negative effects Mary has on people in our modern world.

But, praise God, she also has a powerful, positive impact on the lives of millions—inspiring them to live their faith and persevere in it.

There’s something about Mary, for example, that gives some believers incredible courage. They think of Mary’s strength at the foot of the Cross, as she watched her only Son die before her eyes, and they say, “Lord, if Mary can do that by your grace, then I can certainly handle my present difficulties. If she can remain strong in a devastating situation like that, then by your grace I can cope with all my daily crosses and trials.”

There’s also something about Mary that gives people hope and confidence in the midst of the sins they commit repeatedly. The fact is, everyone has sins that they commit over and over again—some of which may be serious. In the face of those sins, some men and women feel like they’re fighting a losing battle. But this is precisely where Mary gives them hope. They think of Mary’s constant yes to God—her sinless life—and they say, “Lord, Mary was a human person just like me. If she said yes to your grace and no to sin at every moment of every day, then by that same grace I can definitely do better in the future than I’ve done in the past! I realize it won’t be easy, but by the power of your Holy Spirit I know I can have victory over this terrible sin that’s been plaguing my life for so long.”

And lastly, there’s something about Mary that inspires some people to love and forgive others—even their enemies. They think of Mary’s attitude toward those who opposed her Son during his 3-year ministry; they think of her attitude toward the Jews and Romans who orchestrated her Son’s death—which, in both cases, was an attitude of love—and they say, “Lord, if she can love those who hated Jesus and murdered him, then by your grace I can certainly love those who hurt me every day. As she desired eternal life—the ultimate good—for the Scribes and Pharisees and Roman soldiers and all those who were in league with them, so I will desire eternal life for all those who hate and persecute me.”

C.S. Lewis used to say that it’s impossible to remain neutral about Jesus. Ultimately, you’ll either come to conclusion that our Lord was exactly who he said he was—the eternal Son of the heavenly Father—or you’ll come to the conclusion that he was “a madman or something worse”.

But, as I think I’ve made clear in this homily, it’s also impossible to remain neutral when it comes to the Blessed Mother. There’s something about Mary that either fills you with fear, confusion and hatred—or there’s something about her that fills you with courage, confidence, love and forgiveness. There’s something about Mary, in other words, that either repulses you or inspires you.

May the Lord help each and every one of us to be deeply inspired by Mary—always!