Saturday, August 13, 2016

MARY, WOMAN OF FAITH


The Assumption.  1 Cor. 15: 20-27.
AIM: To present Mary as the model of faith and our intercessor before God.
 
Mary, the Second Vatican Council says, Ashines forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, a sign of certain hope and comfort to the pilgrim People of God@ (LG 68).  The Council spoke often about God=s Apilgrim people.@ The phrase expresses the awareness we have today that in the Church we are underway to a goal we have not yet reached.  Our pilgrim way is beset with difficulties. We are reminded of them each time we read the morning headlines, or watch the news on television.
On this feast of Mary=s Assumption we are reminded that Mary also confronted difficulties on her own pilgrim way. We know remarkably little about Mary=s life. What we do know, however, shows that she had to walk often in darkness. There were many things which, as Luke tells us, Mary Adid not understand@ (Lk 2:50) and could not understand.       
What did Mary understand about the angel=s message that even before her marriage to Joseph she was to become the mother of God=s Son? She understood at least this: that in a tiny village where everyone knew everyone else and gossip was rife, she was to be an unmarried mother. Yet Mary responded without hesitation in trusting faith: AI am the servant of the Lord.  Let it be done to me as you say@ (Lk 1:38) 
That act of trusting faith was not blind. Young as Mary was B and the Scripture scholars think she may have been only fifteen B she asked what any girl in her position would have asked: AHow can this be, since I do not know man?@ (Lk 1:34) Even this question, however, reflects faith. Mary was questioning not so much God and his ways as her own ability to understand God=s ways.
Nor was Mary=s faith a once-for-all thing. It needed to be constantly renewed.  Before her Son=s birth, Joseph wanted to break their engagement. When the couple presented their newborn child to the Lord in the Jerusalem temple, Mary heard the aged Simeon prophesy the child=s rejection and his mother=s suffering (Lk 2:34f).  Three decades later, after Jesus left home, he seemed on more than one occasion to be fulfilling his command to his disciples about turning one=s back on parents and other relatives (cf. Lk 14:26). At the marriage at Cana Jesus seemed to speak coldly to his mother. She seems not to have been present  at the Last Supper. Only at Calvary was Mary permitted to stand beside her now dying Son, along with Athe disciple whom Jesus loved@ (John 19:26); deliberately unnamed, many Scripture scholars believe, to represent the ideal follower of Jesus Christ in every time and place.
The last glimpse we have of Mary in Scripture is immediately before Pentecost. With the apostles and Jesus= other relatives, she is praying for the descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). Thereafter Mary disappears. Her work of bringing Christ to the world was taken over by the Church. 
How did Mary=s life end? We do not know. In defining Mary=s Assumption on All Saints Day 1950, Pope Pius XII said simply: AWhen the course of [Mary=s] early life had ended, she was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.@ The body the Pope referred to is Mary=s new resurrection body: the body with which Jesus rose from the dead B the heavenly and spiritual body which, as St. Paul says, each one of us will receive in heaven (cf.1 Cor. 15:35-53). There Mary continues to pray for us on our pilgrim way. As the Catechism says: AThe Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary ... and to entrust supplications and praises to her.@ (No. 2682).
For many Christians, however, and for almost all Protestants, Catholic teaching about Mary, and our devotion to her, are troubling. Especially troubling is the Catholic practice of praying to Mary. Surely, Protestants say, we can pray only to God. Strictly speaking, they are right. When we Catholics pray to Mary, or to any of the other saints, what we are really doing is asking them to pray for us and with us. The conclusion of the classic Marian prayer, the Hail Mary, makes this explicit: AHoly Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.@
If it makes sense to ask our friends on earth to pray for us, doesn=t it also make sense to ask the prayers of our friends in heaven, the saints? The Catechism says it does: ABeing more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven ... do not cease to intercede with the Father for us. ... We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.@ (No. 956 & 2683) Without Mary=s prayers, I would not be a Catholic priest today. Let me tell you how I know this.
As some of you know, I had the great privilege of serving for six years, like my father and grandfather before me, as a priest of the Anglican Church, called in our country the Episcopal Church. Leaving the church which had taken me from the font to the altar, and taught me almost all the Catholic truth I know, even today, was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Starting in 1959, and for almost a year, the question of the church, and of my conscientious duty before God, were not out of my waking thoughts for two hours together. 
One of the many obstacles to my decision was the need to abandon, possibly forever, the priesthood to which I had aspired from age twelve, and which had brought me great happiness, with no guarantee that it would ever be given back to me. In Holy Week 1960 a Trappist monk at St. Joseph=s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, himself a convert from Judaism, who was helping me along the last stretch of my spiritual journey, said to me: AWhy don=t you give your priesthood to Our Lady, asking her to keep it for you, and to give it back to you when the time is right?@ With his help I did this. 

Had I known then that it would be eight years before I could once again stand at the altar as a priest, I would never have had the courage to go through with it.  During those years I had many difficulties B so many that well meaning priest-advisers told me I should forget any idea of priesthood and embrace a lay vocation.  This I was never willing to do. I knew that Our Lady was keeping my priesthood for me, and I was confident that she would give it back to me one day. 

After eight years, on January 27th 1968, I knelt before the bishop of Münster in northern Germany, where I was then living, to receive the Church=s commission to stand at the altar once again, as a Catholic priest. I had never told the bishop about entrusting my priesthood to Our Lady. You can imagine my joy, therefore, when, at the end of the ninety-five minute ceremony in his private chapel, the bishop turned to the altar and intoned the Church=s ancient Marian hymn: Salve regina, AHail, Holy Queen.@