Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Friendship with Mary


(Immaculate Conception 2020: This homily was given on December 8, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Genesis 3:9-20; Psalm 98:1-4; Ephesians 1:3-12; Luke 1: 26-38.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Immaculate Conception 2020]


It’s a very interesting phenomenon—a phenomenon that’s been observed many times on battlefields all over the world.  When soldiers are severely wounded in battle and on the threshold of death, the person they usually call out for is not their spouse; it’s not one of their children; it’s not their best friend.  The person they most often call out for is their mother!  Perhaps it’s because when children have problems in their young lives the person they normally go to first—the person who seems to have all the answers and can make them feel safe and secure in a difficult situation—is their mother.

Everyone needs a mother, and everyone needs a mother’s love.  Jesus, of course, knew that—which is why he gave us his Mother—the Blessed Virgin Mary—to be our heavenly Mother.  He did that when he hung on the cross on Good Friday and said to the Beloved Disciple (who represented all of us): “Son, behold your Mother.”

We’re all the children of Mary, whether we realize it or not.  Pope St. John Paul II, as many of you know, was someone who took his status as Mary’s child very seriously.  His earthly mother died when he was only 9-years-old.  After her death, encouraged by his devout father, John Paul began to look more and more to Mary as his mother.  I read an article this past week, in which it said that the future pope and his dad visited a nearby shrine not long after his mom’s passing, and at one point his father pointed to a portrait of the Blessed Mother and said to him, “Your mother is dead.  This is your mother now.”

Young Karol Wojtyla (the future John Paul II) needed a mother—and he had one, provided for him by God.  And so do we.  But for our heavenly Mother to do for us what she wants to do for us we need to build our relationship with her, we need to grow in our love for her.  We do that, first and foremost, by meditating on the Scriptures and on what the Scriptures tell us about our Blessed Mother.  The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit—so what the Bible says to us about Mary is what the Holy Spirit says to us about Mary.

And then, of course, we need to pray the Rosary (or at least part of it) every single day without exception.  The Rosary is an extremely powerful prayer.  Almost every canonized saint in the last 8 centuries has told us that.  And I believe the whole world has seen the power the Rosary firsthand in some recent historical events (more about that in a minute).

There are also other prayers we can say and other of things we can do (above and beyond reading the Bible and praying the Rosary) that can help us develop our relationship with the Blessed Mother.  I’ll only mention two of them today—specifically because Pope John Paul II mentions these in his book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”.

One is sacred images.  We can develop our relationship with Mary by meditating on sacred images of her. John Paul said that in his childhood he would often go to his parish church and pray before an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  Later on in his life he prayed a number of times in the presence of the Black Madonna in Czestochowa, Poland.  Sacred images helped him connect with the Blessed Mother in a deeper way.

So did pilgrimages—which is the second point he makes in his book that I’ll highlight today.  I said earlier that John Paul’s father told him that Mary was his mother after his own mom had died.  That happened at a local shrine to the Blessed Mother.  John Paul learned other important lessons at other shrines.  We know how very important the shrine at Fatima in Portugal was to him.  He credited Mary with saving his life on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima (May 13) in 1981 after he was shot in St. Peter’s Square.  As he later said, after they told him that it was miraculous that the bullet missed all his vital organs, “The gunman fired the gun, but Mary guided the bullet.”

Having a relationship with Mary—being a close friend of our Blessed Mother—can literally save your life (sometimes here on earth—as was the case with John Paul II, but most certainly for eternity).

It can also bring us greater peace.  In fact, I believe that Mary is a key figure in what God wants to do in our world right now to make peace more of a reality for everyone.  She’s the instrument God wants to use to bring people together—even people of different faiths.

Now you might say, “But, Fr. Ray, every Protestant I know says Mary is the problem, not the solution!  They say that Mary divides us and takes us away from Jesus.”

I realize that, but in most cases that’s because they don’t understand what the Church actually teaches about her.

For many years we’ve bought into the false idea that Mary is to be ignored in our dealings with people of other faiths because Mary somehow drives a wedge between us; but I’ve come to realize that the exact opposite is true!  Mary is actually the key to greater unity—even with Jews and Muslims.

Did you know, for example, that Muslims have a deep regard for the Blessed Mother?  She’s mentioned over 30 times in the Koran.  No other woman is mentioned even once!  There she’s described as “Virgin, ever Virgin.”  Imagine, the very doctrine certain liberal Christians reject—the perpetual virginity of Mary—is accepted by Muslims!

Concerning his daughter Fatima, Mohammad—the founder of Islam—said this: “She has the highest place in heaven AFTER the Virgin Mary.”

Is it a coincidence that in 1917 Mary appeared to 3 children in a place which was named after a Muslim convert to the Catholic faith: a woman who at birth had been named after Mohammad’s daughter?  I don’t think that was a coincidence, I think it was a God-incidence!  In fact, many Muslims today actually make pilgrimages to the Catholic shrine of Mary located there in Fatima, Portugal.    

This means that as we speak, Mary is already bringing Christians and Muslims together in peace.

And don’t you think that Mary can also be a bridge between Christians and Jews?  What better way to share the Good News with someone of the Jewish faith than to speak to them about the greatest human person who ever lived: a Jewish mother!—one of their own who was faithful to the Mosaic Law, as St. Luke clearly indicates in his infancy narrative.

Today’s feast, of course, reminds us of this; it reminds us of our Blessed Mother’s holiness and greatness.  Today we celebrate the feast of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, which refers to Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother, St. Ann—not to the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary at the Annunciation (many people get those two events mixed up).  The Immaculate Conception prepared Mary to be the mother of Jesus, but the Immaculate Conception itself refers to the fact that Mary, by a special grace from God, was preserved from original sin from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb.

And then, of course, she never committed a single sin in her entire life—which is why she was the greatest human person who ever lived.  (Jesus, remember, was a divine person, so he’s in a different category.)

And what about our Protestant brothers and sisters?  It’s been my experience that once devout Protestants understand what the Church really teaches about Mary, many of them fall in love with the Blessed Mother, and they realize that she’s a great Biblical role model for them.  Why?  Because committed Protestants are devoted to God’s written Word (which is great!), and they want to obey Jesus.  Well guess what?  Mary was also devoted to God’s Word and wanted people to obey Jesus!  This is illustrated in her two famous lines from Scripture: “Be it done unto me, O Lord, according to your Word,” and, “Do whatever he [i.e. Jesus] tells you.”

So you see, Mary is not a barrier as many have mistakenly believed all these years, she’s actually a bridge—the bridge I believe God wants to use to bring greater peace to our world in the third millennium.

And we have a precedent for this.  We’ve already seen historically how Mary can have a decisive role in bringing peace to a potentially cataclysmic situation.  (I alluded to this earlier.) Remember the Cold War?  Remember the threat that Soviet Communism was to the security of this nation?  Remember the fallout shelters?  Remember the threats of nuclear annihilation? 

If I had told you forty years ago that the Berlin Wall would someday be torn down, and that the Soviet Union would come to an end without a major military conflict of some sort, how would you have responded?

Let’s be honest about it, you probably would have laughed in my face and said, “Sure, Fr. Ray.  That’s a really nice thought—a really nice idea—but that’s all it is, an idea.  It will never, ever happen that way.” 

But it did.

And even secular historians admit that one of the major players—if not THE major player—in this peaceful collapse of the Soviet bloc was John Paul II.  And many of them maintain that the collapse began in June of 1979, when the pope went to his native country of Poland for the very first time.  Do you remember the news footage of the Polish Communist leader, General Jaruzelski, visibly trembling in the presence of the Holy Father?  Historians tell us that that papal visit sent shock waves throughout the Communist world, and ignited a “revolution of conscience” among the people, because for the very first time someone had publicly confronted a Communist leader on his own turf and had lived to talk about it!

At Fatima in 1917 the Blessed Mother had told the world to pray the Rosary for the conversion of Russia.  I believe that God combined the grace from all those rosaries that were said for more than seventy years (and from all the Masses that were said during that time) with the actions of a pope intensely dedicated to the Blessed Mother, to put an end to an oppressive, godless form of government in eastern Europe that had been responsible for the murder of millions of people in the 20th century.

As Peter Cetera once put it in an old 1980s song, “Just goes to prove what one good woman can do”—especially when the woman in question happens to be the Mother of God.

So the bottom line is this: If you really want peace, increase your devotion to the Blessed Mother!  Be more like John Paul II!  Love Mary; go to Mary; pray to Mary.  Pray the Rosary—or at least one decade of it—every day, asking our Lady’s special intercession for peace with the Muslim world, for peace with people of all other religions and with people who have no religion—and for greater peace here in our own country.

Because, Lord knows, we need it.