Thursday, December 08, 2011

Do You Try to ‘Pull Mary Down’ to Your Level, or Do You Let Mary ‘Pull You Up’ Closer to Hers?

(Immaculate Conception 2011: This homily was given on December 8, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Luke 1: 26-38.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Immaculate Conception 2011]

On December 1, CTV (a Canadian television network) aired a Christmas special, “A Russell Peters Christmas,” during which there was a little comedy sketch that involved the Holy Family.  Peters, who’s a comedian from Brampton, Ontario, played the role of St. Joseph in the skit.  But guess who was chosen to play the role of Mary, our Blessed Mother.

Pamela Anderson.

(No, I’m not kidding.  I wish I were, but I’m not.)

The woman described by columnist Brent Bozell as “the ridiculously surgically enhanced former Playboy Playmate, home-movie porn specialist and ‘Baywatch’ star’,” was hired to play the role of the all-holy, immaculately-conceived, ever-virgin mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Russell Peters and those in charge of CTV should be ashamed of themselves.

But, of course, they aren’t.  If anything, they’re proud of what they’ve done!  In fact, when Peters was questioned about the matter in late November, he was quoted as saying, “We had written the sketch and we didn't know who we were putting in it and we thought hey Pam Anderson is Canadian, we can use more Canadian people in this show. . . . I didn't even think of the other side of Pam Anderson which is so long ago, it's like come on, give the chick a break already.”

Have you noticed how often Mary is blasphemed and ridiculed like this in contemporary western culture?  People love to try to “pull her down” to their level, morally and spiritually.  It happens all the time, but especially right before Christmas and Easter each year.

And have you ever wondered why?  Why would people want to blaspheme and ridicule and tear down someone like Mary, a woman who was—and who is—so good and so loving and so holy?

Well, believe it or not I think the answer to that question is rooted in the feast we’re celebrating today in the Church, the feast of our Lady’s Immaculate Conception.  Let me begin with a little catechetical review: As Catholics we believe that Mary was the holiest human person who ever lived.  (Jesus, remember, is a divine person so he’s in a separate category.)  She was, in the words of the poet William Wordsworth, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast”—and that’s primarily because of the truth about her that’s contained in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

Many Catholics think that this dogma concerns the virginal conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary.  That, of course, is wrong.  The feast that commemorates Jesus’ conception in the womb of our Blessed Mother is known as the Annunciation, which is celebrated 9 months before Christmas, on March 25.  (If you’re not sure why that is, you should enroll immediately in Biology 101!) 

So why was the story of the Annunciation read as our gospel text today?  It's because Mary’s Immaculate Conception prepared her for that Annunciation event—and for all that would follow in her role as the Mother of the Savior of the world.

The Immaculate Conception, properly speaking, refers to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, St. Ann.  It teaches us that, by a special grace of God, given in view of what her Son Jesus would accomplish many years later on the cross, Mary was preserved from original sin.  The preface for this Mass says it perfectly: “For you preserved the most Blessed Virgin Mary from all stain of original sin, so that in her, endowed with the rich fullness of your grace, you might prepare a worthy Mother for your Son.”

Mary was free from original sin—which means that she had sanctifying grace in her soul from the moment of her conception.  Not only that, she never committed even one personal sin—mortal or venial—at any point during her earthly life. 

Mary, therefore, reminds us of the power of God’s saving grace.  She reminds of the great things that God can do in our lives, if we let him.  She reminds us that we can be better people than we now are, with the Lord’s powerful assistance.

For those of us who are really trying to live the Gospel, that’s good news—really good news! 

But what happens, my brothers and sisters, if you’re not interested in being any better than you currently are?  What happens if you’re perfectly content with the lust and anger and greed and other sinful attitudes that are in your heart at the present time?  What happens if you don’t want to change your life in a positive way and become holy like Mary and the rest of the saints?

Well, then you’ll do exactly what comedian Russell Peters did.  You’ll do what all the anti-Mary blasphemers do: You’ll try to pull our Blessed Mother down to your level! You’ll make fun of her; you’ll ridicule her holiness; you’ll have Pamela Anderson portray her in a television sketch!  You’ll do anything and everything you can to try to convince yourself that she’s no better than you are.

You’ll engage, in other words, in the ultimate delusion.

If we love Mary, we will never, ever try to pull her down to our level of imperfection and sin; rather, we will constantly ask her to “pull us up” to her level of holiness!  We will say, “Mary, you show me what a human person can be if they really trust in God and yield to his grace.  You said yes to the Lord at every moment of your life; help me to say yes to him more often in mine.  By the grace of God you never sinned; pray for me that by the same grace of God I will sin less frequently.  Sometimes I get discouraged and think that I can’t be better than I am; sometimes other people tell me that I can’t be better than I am; but you have shown me by your life that I can always be a better, holier, more Christ-like person than I am right now.”

That’s the kind of prayer we will say if we want to be “pulled up” by our Blessed Mother.  Or we could keep it really simple and just say, “Mary, I love you. Please pull me up!  Please pull me up a little higher today.”

She’ll know what we mean.