Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Mary, the Mother of Mercy made Flesh, begins the events that reverse humanity’s downward spiral since the time of Adam and Eve. At a time of darkness when humanity was most in need of a Savior, Mary assented to the Holy Spirit through Gabriel’s visit, so that mercy could be born into our hearts and minds. Mary’s magnanimity allowed her to become the new mother of all the living and the dead. Mary answers the questions we hear echoed in the first reading when God asks, “Where are you?” because Mary is the one who places us with her son.
Where are you? This is often a question we ask of God. Were you there when this unfortunate event happened in my life? Did you see what happened, O God? I thought you might have been around. Why didn’t you take care of me? I pleaded to you. I must not really matter all that much to you because you do not show yourself to me or talk to me. I’ve spent some many hours in prayer begging for your help and yet you remain silent. Where are you? is a perennial question we have of God.
Our daily prayer is punctuated with our search for God, and as we are not accustomed to listening for God’s voice, we think God is not answering our prayers. We could not be further from the truth. A problem with our prayer is that we are putting ourselves in the place of God. We search, we evaluate, we judge. That is God’s domain. Let God be the judge. Sometimes we do not realize how controlling we really are! Sometimes we are wrapped up in our drama and chaos that we cannot recognize those who are trying to help us. So, we are asking God, Where are you? While God is asking us, “Where are you? Why won’t you let me come close? I want to be with you.”
Many times, we get in the way of seeing God. The walls we once built to protect us from harm also serve to cut us off from one another. Whether we are widowed, orphaned, from a family with a divorce, gay, straight, woman, man, a from  a particular race, culture, or language, we find there are walls to help us and harm us. On top of that, we add other factors of our self-image: I’m not attractive enough, never went to college, don’t like my body weight, have an addiction or some disability, never feel heard or acknowledged when we speak, or we feel as if we could never measure up. These conditions in our life set the wall a little higher as they protect us from harm and keep us safe. Each negative experience we face, if we do not confront it positively, adds another brick to the wall. Sometimes these walls can get so high that we can only see ourselves, but God stands both inside and outside the wall asking, gently, probingly, “Where are you? Will you tear down this wall with me?” It is God’s mercy that has no limits and can penetrate any wall – even the walls of death and sin.
Mary’s special role in our salvation is to place us with her son. She is able to place us before God with friendly intercessions. As we get to know her more familiarly, she is able to tell God, “I know this friend well. I recommend that you cherish this person deeply.” Sometimes mothers have a way of representing their children very well. Mary wants the best for us and can soothe our wounds and encourage us with hope to do things we never have done before. Mary gives us courage. It is one thing to know that the walls around us have to come down, it is quite another thing to have someone help us dismantle the wall. It is tiring work. It is risky work. It is constant work. Mary wants to be our friend on the journey, and it is much less lonely to do this work with her by our side.
When I get weary and feel low and don’t have the energy or courage to talk directly to Jesus, I meet Mary in our previously arranged place for conversation – her kitchen. I hear her singing as she is baking. She carries a nice tune – like a mezzo-soprano and she is baking something tasty. I come sit at the table and watch her and we have casual conversation. She then says something like, “You are not singing today. You don’t have a song in your heart. Tell me what is burdening you?” Eventually I get around to it and I feel so much better for talking about my fears, self-doubts, and feelings. She typically has good advice that I don’t want to hear, but she is gently intrusive into my life that makes me get up the courage and energy to tell Jesus what is going on with me. Sometimes she takes me by the hand and leads me to him; Other times, she says, “Get up. You are a grown man. You know what to do. Go see him.? But she is always acting for my own good. She knows her role in my salvation. It is in placing me with her son before God. Together, they encourage me to take another brick off my wall so I can love and see myself the way Christ sees me. When I do that, I can love and see others the way Christ sees them. I always have some glimpse of their mercy, a mercy that extends the limits, a mercy that has no frontiers, a mercy that heals, forgives and encourages, a mercy that makes me thankful.

This time when God asks, “Where are you?” I can say: Here I am, right in your arms where I belong, right where Mary placed me.