Monday, December 08, 2008

Mary: Perfectly Consistent!

(Immaculate Conception 2008: This homily was given on December 8, 2008 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 2008]

What words would you use to describe Mary?

Think about that for a moment.

What words would you use to describe the Blessed Mother?

Holy?—that’s probably the first one most people would think of. Other possibilities might be: favored, sinless, unique, loving, selfless, immaculate, pure, chaste, faithful, and humble.

I’m sure you could come up with many others.

But here’s one that the vast majority of Catholics probably would not think of immediately—although I would say it should be near the very top of the list: CONSISTENT!

Mary, our Blessed Mother, was consistent. And, believe it or not, this was at the root of her greatness! We say that Mary was the greatest human person to ever walk the face of this earth. And she was great because of her consistency.

Which really shouldn’t surprise anyone, because even for the rest of us, greatness and consistency are intimately connected.

A great athlete, for example, is someone who plays well consistently.

Many of the golfers on the PGA tour are able to hit shots just as proficiently as Tiger Woods does. But Woods hits a lot more of them! And that’s the difference! He’s far more consistent than all the others, and that’s what makes him the greatest golfer in the world right now.

A great student is someone who applies himself to his studies and consistently gets good grades. He might get a bad mark now and again, but for the most part he gets A’s and B’s.

A great businessman is someone who consistently makes good deals: deals that earn him a profit. His business prospers, while others go bankrupt.

Mary was consistent in the most important matters of life. She was consistent, first of all, in her yes to God. “Be it done unto me according to your word,” wasn’t something she said to the Lord in one isolated moment of time (at the Annunciation). It was something she said to God—at least implicitly—in every situation and circumstance of her life.

She was consistent in her charity (we see this in the story of the wedding at Cana, when she intervened to save the newlyweds from embarrassment and disgrace); she was consistent in her selflessness (we see this at the Visitation, when she went to help her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, even though she herself was pregnant with Jesus); she was consistent in her chastity, in her purity, in her faithfulness.

All the great saints of the Church, of course, were consistent in these very same ways (at least they were AFTER their conversions!). But Mary was unique among them in that she was PERFECTLY CONSISTENT!

Mary was like a golfer who never made a bad shot; she was like a student who never got anything less than a 100 on a test; she was like a businesswoman who never made even one bad, unprofitable deal in her entire career!

This moral and spiritual perfection that we find in our Blessed Mother was all a consequence of the event we commemorate in the Church today, the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception refers to the fact that Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Ann, without original sin. (It does not refer to the virginal conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, as you all know after listening to me preach on this feast for so many years! Right?)

Because Mary was not afflicted with original sin, she did not experience the inclination to sin that we call “concupiscence.”

Concupiscence is what’s wrong with the rest us. Concupiscence is the problem. Concupiscence is what makes the rest of us something less than perfectly consistent.

And isn’t this what really frustrates us in our spiritual lives? We get upset with ourselves because we recognize our inconsistency in living the virtuous lives God calls us to live. I encounter this in the confessional all the time. People come in and they say things like, “Fr. Ray, I was doing so well for all these months. I thought I had finally overcome this fault—this sin—in my life; but the other day, I gave in, in a moment of weakness. I can’t believe I did it.”

Oh yes, believe! It can happen that quickly.

Now we can take some consolation in the fact that even the great St. Paul stumbled in this way from time to time. As he said about himself in Romans, chapter 7, “[At times] I do, not the good I will to do, but the evil I do not intend.”

That happened because concupiscence was still at work in St. Paul—even after he was converted by Jesus on the road to Damascus.

It was not at work in our Blessed Mother.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us on this feast of your Immaculate Conception, that we will receive the grace we need to be more consistent in our lives: more consistent in our faithfulness to God, more consistent in our charity, more consistent in our purity and holiness, more consistent in saying yes to virtue and no to vice. On this side of the grave, we know that we will never be perfectly consistent in the way that you were; but deep down inside we all know that we can be a lot better than we currently are. And we believe we will be better, with the help of your powerful prayers. Amen.