NB. Adapted from a 2006 homily preached at Madonna Hall, Univ. of Dallas.
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Mt. Carmel Academy, NOLA
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” What sort of greeting is this? A dangerous one, a very dangerous one. The angel Gabriel, sent by God to Mary, greets the virgin by telling her that she is most graced, wholly blessed, chosen, and attended to by the Lord. And Mary knows the greeting is dangerous: “But she was greatly troubled…” Troubled…and wise. Mary pondered the angelic greeting with dread. She understood that this particular, unique grace picked her out of all God’s creatures. She understood that receiving an angel from the Lord meant a mission, a purpose beyond her mortal end, a life for her of singular graces, an honored life of doing the Father’s will for His glory. Dangerous indeed!
Mary is being asked by the Lord to serve as bearer of the world’s salvation, the vessel of the Word, and the Mother of a redeemed nation. Saying yes to this places her at that moment in time, that instant of human history where the Divine takes on flesh, sets out toward selfless sacrifice, and heals us all. In her ministry to all creation, the virgin gives her body, her will for the rest of us so that the Infinite Word might speak Itself as a Finite Word and gather us together into a single heart, a single mind, one voice in witness to the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord. She is the mother of our salvation, the perfected vessel of our eternal healing. Mary is a preacher of the gospel, the first preacher of the Word – the most dangerous job there is in this world.
When we took on the responsibility of bearing the Word to the world – when we became preachers of grace – we took on the dangers of opposing all that the world worships as good. Speaking the Word of Truth against the Lie riles up the worst resentments and the most violent frustrations of those in the world who resent Mary’s Yes, who resent the gift of the Christ Child, and who turn their faces against his invitation to participate in the Divine Life. The danger for us here is twofold: 1) that we are punished as the source of the resentment and frustration among those who reject the Word and 2) that we succumb to the temptation to see these people as hopeless, beyond reach, and deserving of temporal punishment. The first – that we are blamed – is common enough in history and even now. The second – our judgment of others – is scandalously common and unworthy of the virgin-child who made our own Yes possible.
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is first a celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God as man. Mary’s dangerous Yes to God prepares the way of the Lord, make possible his advent in creation, and establishes her as the first preacher of the Word. Her clean conception in the womb of her mother points us unerringly to God’s mercy, unerringly to God’s invitation to bear His Word to the world with unyielding charity, steely will, and the mercy of truth.
We can meet the dangers of violent opposition and avoid the dangers of judging others by submitting ourselves in both cases to the ministry of the handmaid: “Lord, let your will be done in me according to your Word.”
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