On the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, in the Parish of St. John the Baptist al Collatino (December 7, 2003)
My dear brothers and sisters:
1. Every feast of our Lady fills the hearts of Christians with joy, who are happy to give honor to their own mother. Today’s feast, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, has a special solemnity. The Church teaches that, foreseeing the merits of Christ, God preserved our Lady from every stain of sin and adorned her with all graces, from the first instant of her earthly existence, in order to prepare a worthy dwelling place for his Son.
We can say many beautiful things about our Lady, and we would never finish. De Maria nunquam satis, theologians have said; one can never say enough about Mary. Therefore I am very happy to be with you at the conclusion of the traditional novena in honor of the Immaculate Conception, since it gives me an opportunity to praise the Blessed Trinity for the marvels wrought in Mary.
Among the texts from the Old Testament that the Church’s tradition has applied to the mother of Christ, there is one I would like to use as the theme for this homily. It is a verse from the Canticle of Canticles. “Who is this that looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?”
Our Lady is poetically described as the dawn that announces the rising of the sun each day, a beautiful metaphor of the place God has assigned to Mary in his plan of salvation. Her immaculate conception was the announcing of the imminent arrival of Christ, the Sun of Justice, desired by all generations. The celebration of this feast at the beginning of Advent alerts us to the fact that Christmas is about to arrive and that we should prepare ourselves to worthily receive Jesus in the intimacy of our heart.
Let me ask you and ask myself: Are we really doing this? Are we striving during these weeks to prepare ourselves—with intense prayer and generous mortification, with work that is well done—for the arrival of our Lord?
2. There does not exist, nor could there ever exist, a more beautiful creature, in soul and in body, than the woman predestined to be the Mother of God. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: “Theologians have frequently come up with reasons to explain in some way the meaning of the abundant graces showered upon Mary…‘It was fitting; God could do so; therefore he did.’ This is the clearest reason why our Lord granted his Mother, from the very moment of her immaculate conception, all possible privileges. She was free from the power of Satan. She is beautiful, spotless and pure in soul and body: tota pulchra!”
Today the liturgy celebrates our Lady’s marvelous beauty. It is above all an interior beauty. Mary’s soul, exempt from all stain of sin, both original and personal, is adorned with all the supernatural gifts, starting with faith, hope, and charity. Thus, as we read in today’s Gospel, the Archangel Gabriel, upon bringing her the joyful announcement of her divine maternity, did not call her by her own name, but used a new expression that indicated our Lady’s status in God’s eyes: “Hail Mary, full of grace…” Mary is the one upon whom God has poured his grace so abundantly that she is totally filled with celestial gifts.
Very aware of her own unworthiness of such an honor, our Lady proclaimed herself ancilla Domini, the servant of the Lord. She realized that all she possessed had been gratuitously given to her, the fruit of God’s absolute benevolence, just as the moon receives all its light from the sun. If the full moon enables us to admire the beauty of the night, it is only because it reflects the sun’s light. And so it is with Mary. All her beauty, interior and exterior, comes from God, which she freely acknowledges: “For he who is mighty has done great things for me...for behold henceforth all generations will call me blessed.”
All that each of us possesses as well—life, intelligence, virtues, family, work—everything that is good in us, is God’s gift. Do we acknowledge this? Do we give thanks to God with our whole heart for the gifts he has granted us?
3. “Fair as the moon,” and also “bright as the sun.” This image, which completes the former one, teaches us that our Lady—like the sun, which is the source of light and warmth, without which there could not be any life—is for us a most lovable Mother, who not only gives life to her children, but feeds and educates them and accompanies them at every moment. Mary carried out a mother’s role with Jesus during his earthly life, which she continues to exercise now with all men and women, and particularly with Christians, so that we might gain the eternal happiness to which we have been called, which is nothing other than holiness.
St. Paul reminds us of this in the second reading, when he raises a song of praise and gratitude to God: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ.” Our adoptive filiation should be perfected by the grace of the sacraments and by our personal correspondence. Are we aware of this? Do we go regularly to confession and receive the Eucharist? Do we dedicate some time each day to prayer?
We can count on the help of our Lady, who has a special role in the work of our sanctification, since Jesus himself has entrusted us to her maternal care. John Paul II said in his Apostolic Letter on the Rosary: “In support of the prayer which Christ and the Spirit cause to rise in our hearts, Mary intervenes with her maternal intercession...If Jesus, the one Mediator, is the Pathway of our prayer, then Mary, his purest and most transparent reflection, shows us that Path.”
The Holy Rosary is a privileged means for reaching Jesus through Mary. Praying the Rosary is “both meditation and supplication. Insistent prayer to the Mother of God is based on confidence that her maternal intercession can obtain all things from the heart of her Son....This is a conviction which, beginning with the Gospel, has grown ever more firm in the experience of the Christian people....When in the Rosary we plead with Mary, the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:35), she intercedes for us before the Father who filled her with grace and before the Son born of her womb, praying with us and for us.”
4. Our Lady’s help is especially present in moments of temptation or trial. Above all, in the face of attacks by the enemy of souls. Mary shows herself to be “terrible as an army with banners.” She is our greatest defense, because she has never been subject, not even for an instant, to the power of the Evil One. The Blessed Virgin is the perfect fulfillment of the promise of God to our forefathers, as we heard in the first reading. Indeed, after original sin, God justly punished Adam and Eve and their descendants. And turning to the serpent, a figure of the tempter, he added: “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.”
Let us go then to our Lady in all our needs, especially our spiritual needs. And let us say to her with St. Josemaría: “Mother! Call her with a loud voice. She is listening to you; she sees you in danger, perhaps, and she—your holy mother Mary—offers you, along with the grace of her Son, the refuge of her arms, the tenderness of her embrace…and you will find yourself with added strength for the new battle.” Amen.