Sunday, December 22, 2013

Preparing with Mary

Angel Appears to Joseph - Anton Raphael Mengs
Readings for Sunday, December 22/ 4th Sunday of Advent:
Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 24:1-6
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-24

I don’t get anything out Mass. These were words that I spoke often when I was younger and they are words that I hear even more often now as a priest. It’s not surprising. After all, everything else in our culture accustoms us to simply showing up and being able to get what we want when we want it to fulfill our perpetual desire to be satisfied. But the truth is that it just doesn’t work that way; there has to be some preparation. It would be like me buying a field to raise sugar cane and showing up at harvest time and getting upset because there wasn’t anything to harvest when I never even planted the cane to start with. If we want to get something out of Mass, or anything really, we have to be willing to put something into it first. Preparation.

Last night (Saturday) I went home for our family Christmas party and I got there a bit late since I had the evening Mass up the river. When I walked in I said hey to everyone and since they hadn’t seen me in months they started to comment on my weight loss.  My mom immediately came over and wrapped her arms around me and said, “Look how much weight my baby boy lost!” I have to laugh because I’m 29 years old and am still her ‘baby boy’ – although I sometimes wonder if the dog hasn’t replaced me, but that’s a different homily. Later in the evening when most of the younger families had gone home and it was just a handful of the adults left my cousin and I were watching TV and a commercial came on of a child crying. At a near full sprint from the other room came all of the ladies looking frantically and asking, “Who is crying?! What happened?!” I was struck by it because they knew good and well that there weren’t any more kids in the house and yet they still ran. Also, all the men stayed in the other room. Only the ladies came. There’s something in a woman’s heart that connects to her child in a way that doesn’t go away and is always there to care for them. The child doesn’t even have to be their own; there is still a mothering instinct in the heart of a woman to care for a child in need. And if that is true of earthly mothers, it is even truer of our Blessed Mother who walked the Earth just like the rest of us and yet is privileged to have remained sinless and now beholds God’s face for eternity in Heaven. If we are looking to receive something out of Mass, why not turn to the woman who has the ability to make that a reality? Why not ask Mary to help us prepare for the Mass?

In the Gospel tonight we heard how Joseph was visited by an angel in his time of confusion and was told, “do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” The awesome thing is that in welcoming Mary into his home, he also received Jesus into His home. That’s the whole mission of the Blessed Mother: to bring us to Jesus and Jesus to us. Her life was given entirely for that mission and she continues to fulfill it in glory even now. The invitation for us is to imitate St. Joseph and welcome Mary into the home of our hearts, that as she comes to us she might also bring to us the Lord of all creation.

St. Louis Marie de Montfort, a saint from the 19th century who had a great Marian devotion spoke in his writings of the many ways that we can invite Mary to be with us in the celebration of the Mass but I would like to speak to just three points tonight. The first is to pick up the Scriptures for Sunday earlier in the week and ask Mary to help you to pray with them. Several times the Gospel writers speak of Mary “pondering these things in her heart” and if we ask her, she is more than happy to help us to ponder the Word of God too and see how it might be speaking to us today as it spoke to people for many years before us.

The second point is to ask Mary to be with us during the Mass itself. As a priest and many times as a layman, I have come into a church during the day or before or after Mass and seen a mother or grandmother with a little child walking around to the saints telling them who they are and what their story is. I see it often in Mass as parents take their little ones and try to explain what is going on and what the words means that we say. As a priest, it’s an absolute joy to witness that passing on of the faith and the fact is that Our Lady wants to do the same with us. She wants to speak to our hearts by God’s grace and to call our minds to be attentive to the words we pray, or to some particular aspect of the Mass or the chapel we haven’t thought about before. To, in a sense, take each of us in her arms and to say “listen to that” and “look here” all throughout the celebration.

The third point is to welcome Mary to our hearts as we prepare to receive Holy Communion. I know I’m not the only one in church who has a hard time focusing sometimes. It is easy to get caught up thinking about something that is happening soon or was supposed to happen already or any list of possible options that pull us away from what is important. When that happens we sometimes fail to receive all of the grace that we could have received in Holy Communion. St. Louis suggested that immediately prior to receiving the host we should pray a simply act of entrustment to Mary giving ourselves entirely to her and trusting that she will help us to receive Communion well and to receive every ounce of grace possible. The pray is short, sweet, and to the point: “Mary, I am thine and all I have is thine.” The prayer recited three times, he suggested, truly permits us to receive Our Lady into our hearts and to bring with her the Lord Whom she bore in her blessed womb.

Throughout this Advent season we have been awaiting the Lord’s arrival and return. We have called upon Him under many names and tonight we hear them again – Emmanuel, God with us; Jesus, God saves; Christ, the anointed one. He is truly Emmanuel, God with us. And not just in a sense of being present to all people generically but in the sense of being with us personally. He knows us by name and created us Himself. He longs to be with us, but we must long to be with Him in exchange. Let us welcome Him to our hearts tonight. Come, Lord Jesus. Come, O come, Emmanuel.