On the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Parish of St. Josemaria, Rome (December 8, 2004)
On the Solemnity of
the Immaculate Conception
at the Parish of
St. Josemaría, Rome
Dear brothers and sisters:
1. Today we are filled with a special joy because we are celebrating a feast day of the Mother of God and our Mother. We somehow sense more strongly her nearness, her protection. Our Lady is the omnipotent supplicant; God always listens to her. Let us take advantage of her intercession.
“I exult for joy in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God; for he has clothed me in the garment of salvation and robed me in the cloak of justice, like a bride adorned with her jewels.”
The Church makes use of these words from the prophet Isaiah in the entrance antiphon today. It is not too hard to recognize in them some of the elements that our Lady collected from various parts of Sacred Scripture when reciting spontaneously—inspired by the Holy Spirit—her marvelous canticle, the Magnificat, which priests repeat every afternoon at vespers, in the prayer of the whole Church. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior....”
On the solemnity of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, we find this canticle especially attractive. It can help us contemplate so many “great things” that God has worked in Mary, preparing her—as the opening prayer teaches us—to be a worthy dwelling place for his Son, to whom she was to give birth. It can also help us to be more aware of the “great things” that he has carried out in the Church and in each Christian as well, because our Lord also wants to live in each one of us.
Why does Mary’s soul glorify the Lord and her spirit rejoice with exalted adoration and gratitude? Our Lady herself tells us: “Because he has regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” Mary is overcome with surprise, and therefore with jubilation, when she realizes that she has been chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah, the mother of the Son of God made man for our salvation.
2. Humility is an essential virtue in the Christian life: so essential that, if it is lacking, there is no other virtue. Our Lord said: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” We frequently forget that mankind has been taught this truth by the Gospel and that twenty centuries of the Church’s history has forcefully reaffirmed its importance. But before Christ this was not the case. The ancient world did not count humility among the virtues, but rather despised it. Jesus gave it such great value because he came to teach us that only the one who knows how to serve, who know how to help others, is truly great. St. Josemaría never ceased to teach that we should make our heart into a carpet so that others can step softly upon it.
If we consider the meaning that the ancient world gave to the word “humility,” we will understand even better the surprise that overwhelmed Mary’s soul, which she forcefully expressed in the Magnificat. She, who without any shadow of hypocrisy considered herself the least of all creatures, discovered thanks to the annunciation of the angel that she had been chosen to enter history in a new and surprising way, through the incarnation of the Lord in her most pure womb.
It was Mary, therefore, as a sign announcing and representing Jesus, who gave a new meaning to the word “humility.” Precisely because she recognized her lowliness before God and other men and women, our Lady was filled with all graces; her humility prepared her to be able to receive God and give him to the world. Not only was Mary preserved from original sin and from all personal sins, but the divine benevolence took full possession of her from the first moment of her conception, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of all men and women. When to her immense surprise she saw that these marvels had been worked in her, Mary’s soul broke forth in a song of praise to God with irrepressible rejoicing.
We all want to join our Mother in blessing God because it was his will that a daughter of Adam and Eve, like ourselves, be raised so high. I invite you to meditate on the words of the patron saint of your parish, Saint Josemaría Escrivá, who wrote: “How people like to be reminded of their relationship with distinguished figures in literature, in politics, in the army, in the Church! —Sing to the Immaculate Virgin, reminding her: Hail Mary, daughter of God the Father! Hail Mary, Mother of God the Son! Hail Mary, Spouse of God the Holy Spirit! Greater than you, no one but God!”
Let us learn to be more humble every day, so as not to place obstacles between ourselves and God, between ourselves and others. And let us consider how sad and ridiculous it is to be a vain and proud person, loving only oneself.
3. But the Magnificat, the canticle of humility, does not belong to Mary alone. One of the earliest Fathers of the Church, Saint Irenaeus, commenting on the scene of the Annunciation, states that “Mary, filled with joy, raises her voice prophetically in the name of the Church: My soul glorifies the Lord....” That is why the Church, as we just recalled, recites this canticle every day through the voice of her priests, and why all of us should recite it with our lips and our hearts.
The Church has many reasons to rejoice, as do all of us. For, called by the Father, the Church has become the People of God on earth; she has been redeemed by the Blood of Christ, who has made her his beloved Spouse and his Mystical Body; the Holy Spirit has filled her with his gifts and is constantly raising her up as the holy temple of the Blessed Trinity.
Among so many reasons for marveling and giving thanks, I would like to recall especially one that is very timely, in this year dedicated to the Eucharist: the fact, namely, that the Church is the depository of the Sacrifice of Christ, who becomes sacramentally present on our altars; and, at the same time, she has been given the charge of preserving the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of our Redeemer. Doesn’t this seem to you more than enough reason for the Church to intone each day the Magnificat and give voice to the “great things” that the Almighty has done?
Besides, let’s not forget that Christ’s remaining under the appearances of bread and wine, when the Eucharistic species are reserved in the tabernacle, constitutes our Lord’s greatest manifestation of humility, giving himself to us completely. I will read for you another passage from Saint Josemaría: “The humility of Jesus: in Bethlehem, in Nazareth, on Calvary. But more humiliation and more self-abasement still in the Sacred Host: more than in the stable, more than in Nazareth, more than on the Cross.
“That is why I must love the Mass so much.”
The best way to thank Jesus for his Love, which has led him to remain with us in the Holy Eucharist, is to take part with attention and devotion in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, preparing ourselves very well to receive him in communion, giving thanks after receiving him, and visiting him frequently in the tabernacle. These are the fruits that the Pope is looking for during this Year of the Eucharist, as he said in his Apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum Domine: “The Eucharist is a great mystery! And it is one which above all must be well celebrated. Holy Mass needs to be set at the center of the Christian life and celebrated in a dignified manner by every community, in accordance with established norms, with the participation of the assembly.”
I give thanks to God because this is the case in your parish of Saint Josemaría, where Jesus is adored and accompanied with so much love. But isn’t it true that we could always do more? Isn’t it true that we could prepare ourselves better to receive our Lord, that we could keep him company more frequently, that we could invite others to do likewise. I recommend to you, as our Holy Father suggested, “During this year Eucharistic adoration outside Mass should become a particular commitment for individual parish . . . communities.” I am sure that your love for Jesus and the zeal of your priests will impel you in this direction. If you act in this way, how much spiritual fruit there will be in the life of each of you, in your families, and in the entire parish community!
4. Let us turn our eyes once more to Mary. On today’s solemnity we want to direct to her our heart-felt petition.
Mother, we tell her. You are the path leading to God, after God made you the path to descend to us, taking from you our humanity. How we would like to contemplate you with the eyes of the body and the soul! But to do so, our Mother, we need to have the scales removed from our eyes that prevent us from looking at everything that happens in our life with supernatural outlook and humility. We need to be convinced that only to the extent that God fills our life—our work and our rest, our sorrows and our joys—will we be truly happy and useful to others, as you have taught us with your own life.
To attain this, Mother of God and our Mother, in addition to God’s grace, we need a sincere humility. The reason for your greatness, the fertile ground that made it possible for the great gift of your divine motherhood to germinate, was nothing other than a profound humility, your letting God act through your active cooperation. Obtain for us, O Mother, the grace of deeply grasping the meaning of this virtue. It is true that in our life, there are, thanks be to God, so many good things; but we have received all of them from our Lord. Knowing ourselves to be debtors will make us docile instruments, prompt to serve.
Teach us, Mother, that to love God we have to struggle to serve others, beginning with our families, our friends and our colleagues. And let us not forget that the best service we can offer them is to encourage them—in the first place, by our example—to drink deeply at the fountain of grace: sacramental Confession and the Eucharist. Let us beseech our Mother that many people may approach the sacraments during these days and come closer to her Son Jesus through our apostolate, carried out without fear of what others may think. Amen.