Saturday, December 08, 2012

Lessons from ‘The Breezy Point Madonna’

'The Breezy Point Madonna'--still standing!

(Immaculate Conception 2012: This homily was given on December 8, 2012 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 2012]


They’re calling her, “The Breezy Point Madonna.”

I’m sure many of you have either read about her or seen her on TV.

In Queens, New York, on a narrow strip of land known as “Breezy Point,” there was almost total devastation after Hurricane Sandy.  That’s because, in addition to the wind and the water, there was also a terrible fire in that area which destroyed more than 100 homes.  One of those homes belonged to the McNulty family.  On the New York Times website the other day there was this description of the scene: “Where the McNulty home once stood on the corner of Oceanside and Gotham, a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean on the spit of land in Queens called Breezy Point, there now remains a charred, twisted ruin. Flooding and fire have left behind nothing but the foundation. Within it are strewed a dislodged bathtub, an air-conditioner casing battered into a helix shape, a mailbox coated with ashes.”

If you’ve seen any pictures of Breezy Point in recent days you also know that most of the homes around the McNulty’s suffered a similar fate.  In all honesty, when I first saw a snapshot of this area after the storm, it made me think of old pictures I’ve seen of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped on that city in 1945.

And I’m not exaggerating.

But there was one item that survived it all—one item that was not washed away in the flood or destroyed by the fire: a beautiful statue of the Blessed Mother that Mary McNulty had placed in her garden many years ago.  Frank Franklin of the Associated Press took a picture of it on October 30, the day after the hurricane, and since then it’s appeared in newspapers and magazines and on TV newscasts all over the world.  And that’s inspired many people to visit the place.  As it said in the New York Times article that I read, “Pilgrims have come [to the Breezy Point Madonna since October 30] to leave offerings: a bouquet of yellow roses, four quarters, a votive candle, a memorial card for the victims of Sept. 11, a written admonition that healing begins with acceptance.”

Many are calling it “a miracle” that the statue survived as it did, and I’m inclined to believe them—especially since it’s enclosed in a cement shell.  By all the laws of physics, that shell should have caught the onrushing water, which in turn should have caused the statue to fall over and break apart like everything else around it.

Many people have obviously found comfort, and strength and hope in this extraordinary phenomenon—and that’s a good thing.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that God allowed the statue to survive as it did.

But, I believe the Lord is also trying to teach us important lessons through this event, some of which relate directly to the feast we’re celebrating today: the feast of our Lady’s Immaculate Conception.

For example, this phenomenon of the Breezy Point Madonna reminds us that, in the midst of the devastation of a fallen world—a world tainted by original sin—Mary stands!  As today’s feast teaches us, by a special grace of God, given in anticipation of what her Son Jesus Christ would accomplish for her (and for all of us) by his passion, death, and resurrection, Mary was preserved from original sin from the first moment of her conception.

We’re all clear about that, right?  The Immaculate Conception does not refer to the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb at the Annunciation (which is what many people think it refers to); rather, it has to do with Mary’s conception in the womb of her Mother, Anne.

Of course, there is a connection between the two events: The Immaculate Conception prepared Mary for the Annunciation—it prepared her, in other words, to be the holy vessel through which the divine Son of God would come into the world—which is why the story of the Annunciation is the gospel reading on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. 

And Mary never committed even one personal sin during her entire life!  From the very first moment of her existence until the moment when she was assumed, body and soul, into heaven, our Blessed Mother “stood” with God.  Hence the fire of hell could not—and did not—touch her, just like the fire didn’t touch the Breezy Point Madonna a few weeks ago during Hurricane Sandy.

In fact, not even the purifying fire of purgatory touched our Blessed Mother, since she was completely without sin.

But Mary does understand us, because she lived her life among us.  This is yet another lesson we learn from the miraculous survival of this statue.  Yes, it’s true, Mary was without sin (in that she was unlike you and me), but she was not without suffering!  At the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Simeon prophesied that a sword would someday pierce Mary’s soul, and it did.

So we should go to her in our pain—as many have been going to the Breezy Point Madonna in the midst of their pain since Hurricane Sandy struck.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that this statue is one those images of our Blessed Mother in which she has her arms open and stretched out to us?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all!

With open arms Mary is inviting us to seek her prayers and intercession—especially (though not exclusively) in the midst of our trials.

As she was there in the midst of the devastation in New York on October 29, so she is there in the midst of whatever “devastation” we’re experiencing in our lives right now.

She is there to help us and to inspire us.

That’s why we should say a Rosary—or at least part of a Rosary—every day.

Do you?

And where Mary is, her Son is; where Mary is, God is.  Let’s be honest, it can sometimes seem like the Lord abandons us in the midst of our sufferings, but he doesn’t.  He never does—just like he never abandoned the people of Breezy Point, New York.  He’s with us in every storm we face in this life: to bring us through the experience to a place of greater holiness and strength.  As Msgr. Michael Curran, the pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Breezy Point said about the statue: “It will be a symbol of the suffering, but also of our rise from the ashes. It will be a symbol of what we’ve been through but also of our resurrection. It will be a reminder that for all the property we lost, God never left.”

God never leaves us, and neither does our Blessed Mother.

May the Breezy Point Madonna help us to remember that—and, even more importantly, may she inspire us to go to the real Madonna every day: the one who can (and who will) help us by her prayers.