Over the past few weeks we have been focusing intently on the figure of St. John the Baptist, the precursor to the Lord who prepared the way for Him. St. John has challenged us with harsh words and a dramatic call to conversion, a call that hopefully we have answered by becoming reconciled to God through the confession of our sins. If you have yet to do so, it is never too late – we have confessions at St. Charles this week on Tuesday morning (7:30 – 8:00 a.m.) and Thursday and Friday afternoons and evenings from 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. and at 7:30 p.m. It does not matter how long it has been since your last good confession – the Lord is waiting for you and wants to receive you with His unconditional love. There is no sin that He will not forgive if we come to Him with sorrow for our sins.
St. John the Baptist, our Advent protagonist up to this point, is the last of the prophets, the prophet foretold even by the prophets themselves. Today, though, we heard the greatest prophecy of the Messiah from the prophet Isaiah: “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” The prophets set their eyes not only on the Savior, but His Immaculate Mother, who will bring Him into the world. Not only has Christ been foretold from old, but even His virgin Mother. Thus it is that the Sacred Liturgy turns its focus today from St. John the Baptist to Mary, the Virgin Mother of God. Those of you who are familiar with the prayer called the “Angelus,” a series of prayers to the Blessed Mother traditionally prayed each day at 6, 12, and 6, will have noticed that the collect prayer of this Mass was the prayer from the Angelus.
Advent is very much a Marian season. As we are preparing for Christ’s birth and His coming at the end of time, the Sacred Liturgy invites us to enter into the expectation of Mary, who carried the infant Savior in Her womb for nine months. She best of all is able to teach us how to await the Christchild, She who did so without stain of sin. It is fitting that we have celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception during this season. (For many centuries, the Annunciation was also celebrated during this time of year in addition to March 25.) In this, the final Sunday Gospel of Advent, St. Joseph takes the Blessed Virgin into his home. This should be the goal of our Advent preparations as well – to take the Blessed Virgin into our homes.
What does this mean, to take the Blessed Virgin Mary into our homes? First, it means that we must have a lived devotion to Her, especially as a family. Many families have the custom of praying the rosary together each evening, which is a great custom that I encourage all of you to take up. If that seems like a lot to do, maybe you could start with a decade each night and build up from there.
In order to foster devotion to Mary, especially as a family, it is important to have images of Her in our homes. This is especially important for children, for whom images have a particularly powerful ability to capture the imagination and remind them of easily forgotten realities. That phrase, “out of sight, out of mind” is particularly true for children (though really, it is true of all of us). A Catholic home should be known as such by the presence of the Crucifix and the presence of Mary. Making a little devotional shrine to Her with an image or statue, rosaries for each member of the family, and booklets with reflections on the mysteries of the Rosary can help to provide a sense of place that helps to foster devotion.
We might also ask, “Why is it so important to have a devotion to Mary, to take Mary into our homes?” The Gospel today shows us an important reality – Mary has a very important part to play in God’s plan for the salvation of the world. In Christ’s incarnation, he comes into the world through Mary. Christ did not descend from the clouds, but was born in time, born of a woman through a true human birth (which nevertheless, by a divine intervention, left intact His Mother’s virginity). Mary, by bearing the pains of the childbirth of the Son of God, shows us God’s desire to be close to us, how He wants to be intimately involved in our lives. Again, God did not content Himself by simply appearing in the world. He wants to be involved in the “nitty gritty” of our lives. He does not stand off from afar, waving a magic wand to fix our lives when we call out to Him.
Oftentimes we can become frustrated when God seems not to answer our prayers, and that can be due to having an idea of God that would put Him far removed from the world, whose engagement with our lives is something like a fairy-godmother who waves a magic wand to grant our wishes. Why does God not just wave that magic wand and fix my problems? But the reality is that God is not a fairy godmother, and while we should never preclude the possibility of His divine interventions in the world (which are real!), Christ’s birth according to the flesh shows us how He wants to be a part of our world, how He took on human nature, becoming like us in all things but sin. And this, my brothers and sisters, is only possible through Mary. Without Her, without a loving friendship with Her, we will not be able to understand God working in our world through His Son, Jesus Christ. Mary shows us that God truly cares for us, that He is truly involved in our lives, that He has not abandoned us.
When faced with the many tragedies that beset our world (for example, the recent carnage in Aleppo, Syria), it is easy to conclude that God either is not really all-powerful (because if He were, evil like this couldn’t happen), or that He does not really care about the world (relating to the us like a watchmaker who makes a watch, sets it in motion, and then ceases to have a relationship with it). Mary shows us that both of these ideas are wrong. God is really all-powerful: He brought about the miraculous birth of His Son through a Virgin, and He really does care for us, as evidenced by His taking on our human flesh, sharing in the human condition, experiencing along with us our sufferings, trials, fears, and sadness.
Mary shows us just how deeply Her divine Son wants to be a part of our lives. We should make daily prayer to Her a priority in our lives so that we never forget the infant baby She brought into the world to save us.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. Charles Borromeo
IV Sunday in Advent, A.D. MMXVI