Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Marian Talk at the 60th Annual Living Rosary

queen of clergyIt is a great honor for me to be able to give the Marian Talk this, the 60th Living Rosary Presentation. I believe some clever friends from St. Athanasius had a hand in my being chosen, I’ll talk to them later! Seriously though, as this is the first “living rosary” that I have been able to attend, I hope I am able to continue the tradition established by the good speakers who have given this talk in years past. Adding to the occasion, we celebrate this year’s event at Assumption High School whose name comes from one of the most beautiful Feast days that Holy Mother Church celebrates. With our theme being Vocations and World Peace, the Blessed Mother, in her Assumption, actually speaks well to both of these.

I fondly remember an inscription on the baldachino standing over the altar at the seminary I went to, St. Mary’s, in Baltimore, MD. It is the first phrase of Mary’s canticle of praise to God - Magnificat anima mea Dominum – My soul magnifies the Lord. At every daily Mass at the seminary, going back to when I first entered seminary in August of 2005, I read that phrase and pondered its meaning. What does it mean for one’s very soul to magnify the Lord? What does it mean for all of us today who celebrate Mary in a place named for her Assumption?

The answer begins in the Old Testament with the widow Judith. In the Book of Judith we read how she was highly praised for her victory over the Assyrians on behalf of the Israelites. Due to her splendid beauty and surpassing wisdom, she was able to get close to the enemy king. She had great courage and faith in the Lord’s protection and strength. When the king was asleep she took his sword and decapitated him, much to the horror of their enemies who fled in fear and were defeated. The Israelites praised her as blessed “above all women upon the earth.” They declared that God had magnified her name on that fateful day and that her praise shall come from the mouths of men forever. Judith was considered the glory of Jerusalem, the joy of Israel, the honor of her people.

The Church Fathers saw Judith as one who prepares God’s people to turn their eyes to the woman par excellence, most resplendent in beauty, most blessed among women, whom all generations shall call blessed – the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the glory, the joy, the honor not only of Israel, but of all mankind. By her courage in saying Yes to becoming the Mother of God and by her faith and hope in God’s promises she brought about a victory much greater than one nation over another. As Judith won victory for Israel by a fatal blow to the head of the enemy king, Mary brings about the victory over Satan by bearing our Savior, Jesus Christ, who crushes the head of sin and death underfoot. The Lord God prophesied to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” But, Mary does not magnify herself by her virtues. She sings, “my soul magnifies the Lord.” What does this mean? It means that her entire life joyfully proclaims to all generations our Lord’s conclusive victory over sin and death.

Due to the fall of our first parents, sin took hold over the beginning and the end of human life. At his conception, man inherits original sin and what we call concupiscence or the tendency toward sin. And at his very end he must suffer the wages of sin which are death and the decomposition of his body. But, the Blessed Virgin Mary escaped both. She shines forth as a beacon from God’s heavenly kingdom, showing us even now, before Christ’s second coming, that he is completely victorious over sin and death. The Lord, by Mary’s Immaculate Conception, saved her from original sin before she could be sullied by it, thus showing his victory over the beginning of life. By freeing her from the snares of concupiscence, he prepared her to live a life free from actual committed sin, thus showing his victory over the course of life. And by assuming her body and soul into heaven he showed his victory over the end of life. Mary was saved completely from the dominion and the bonds of sin and death.

When Pope Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption in 1950 he defined the essence of the dogma to be thus: “The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death” (Munificentissimus Deus). This is what Catholics must believe. But what does this have to do with us?

First, Mary’s Assumption is the guarantee that those who share in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, will share in his glory. By sharing in Christ’s suffering and death at the foot of the cross, she proved to us that Jesus keeps his promises: she shares in his heavenly glory. If we offer up our sufferings, great and small, to the Father and die to ourselves, our passions, and our own will, each and every day, we too will share in Christ’s glory alongside our Blessed Mother who reflects the glory of her Son every time we look to her.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary also teaches us the honor due to our father and mother. Jesus followed the fourth commandment to its ultimate degree by bringing his mother, body and soul, quickly to his side at the moment of her “death.” He crowned her queen of heaven and earth. As Mary described in her canticle of praise, “He that is mighty, hath done great things to me; … he hath exalted the humble.” Fr. Matthias Scheeben, the brilliant German theologian of the mid 1800’s, described beautifully the honor that the Son of God showed His Mother: “As He on the third day had raised from the sepulcher… so also this mother was snatched from the grave and conformed to her Son; and as He had descended to her, so she, as being closely united with that greater and more perfect tabernacle, was taken up into heaven.”

How do we honor our father and mother, especially as they approach old age or death? Do we forget them or abandon them? Do we “honor” them by squabbling over money or inheritance? Jesus Christ is calling us today to honor our father and mother as if they were his Heavenly Father and his Blessed Mother for they have been given to us to lead us to these Holy Parents.

So, again, two of the main principles we learn from Mary’s Assumption is Christ’s victory over the beginning, duration, and end of life and the honor due our father and mother. The way that Mary models Christ’s victory over life and death is itself a call and a challenge for us to model this same victory in our own lives. In our world, all too often, the forces of sin and death reign over the beginning, duration, and end of life. At its beginning, man’s life is plagued by abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and human cloning. Through its duration, man’s life is plagued by disorder and unjust war. At its end, man’s life is plagued by euthanasia and unjust uses of capitol punishment. We must follow Mary’s model of Christ’s victory rather than the allurements of Satan’s reign. Only then will true peace reign over the beginning, duration, and end of life. Christ, the Prince of Peace, is challenging us with Mary’s example to let him reign in our lives too. Her Immaculate Conception is lived out in our lives when we pray and work to eliminate abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and human cloning. Her freedom from the tendency toward sin is lived out in our lives when we pray and work to bring order to society and free it from unjust wars. Her Assumption is lived out in our lives when we pray and work to eliminate euthanasia and unjust uses of capital punishment.

Peace is a value, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches, and a universal duty founded on a rational and moral order of society that has its roots in God himself, “the first source of being, the essential truth and the supreme good.” Peace is not merely an absence of war, nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies. Rather it is founded on a correct understanding of the human person and requires the establishment of an order based on justice and charity (CSDC 494). Peace is the fruit of justice… and is threatened when man is not given all that is due him as a human person, when his dignity is not respected and when civil life is not directed to the common good. Peace is also, [and primarily], the fruit of love (494). Similar to the culture of life, a “culture of peace” must reign. In a climate permeated with the harmony and respect for justice [and charity], an authentic culture of peace can grow and can even pervade the entire international community (495). Mary’s life, shining forth Christ’s victory, is of primary importance in forming a culture of peace.

The second principle we learned from Mary’s Assumption, about the honor due our father and mother lends itself to vocations in the Church, vocations which are sorely needed in order to extend Christ’s reign of peace in the hearts of man so that it can then, and only then, spread out and influence the larger community. We need strong families in which mothers and fathers are honored so that young men can then grow up into the honorable position of father and young women into the honorable position of mother. When need strong fathers so that young men will desire to in turn be fathers of many spiritual children. We need strong mothers so that young women will desire in turn to be mothers of many spiritual children, to be the spouse of Christ, to be the handmaidens of the Lord. Through strong families in general, Mary’s model of peace can reign in the hearts of our children. This peace in turn will not admit to them the many distractions in life that detract from a religious vocation. When children are raised in a spiritual and lasting culture of peace they will more readily hear the call of God to mimic Mary’s “Yes” and respond to him generously.

Now that I have been ordained a priest, I sometimes miss kneeling in the chapel at the seminary and reading that inscription over the altar each and every day – Magnificat anima mea Dominum – My soul magnifies the Lord. Oremus pro invicem – Let us pray for each other, today and during the rest of this year. If we avail ourselves of the intercession of our Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven and Earth, we will not magnify ourselves by our faith and works, but instead always magnify our Lord. If we trust in her intercession we will share in Christ’s suffering and death and so share in his glory. If we honor her intercession we will honor our father and mother and give them the crown that they deserve. If we trust in her model, we will allow Christ’s victory to reign over our entire lives and so serve to instill peace in our hearts which will radiate into our families, communities, and world, also giving rise to many vocations. Finally, through her intercession, we have hope that we too will be brought swiftly to the side of our Lord when we die.

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