Bottom line: We not only admire Mary; we need her help
This Advent we focus on three figures, three saints who help us prepare for the Birth of Jesus. They are: John the Baptist, St. Paul and the Virgin Mary.
John the Baptist teaches the seriousness of life. We are here to make a choice and that choice determines where we will spend eternity - in heaven or, separated from God, in hell. To help understand what this choice involves, I recommend a booklet titled God Reveals The Six Classes of People and the Reality of Hell.
The very seriousness of life helps us to not take seriously the disappointments and difficulties that make up much of everyday life. In that regard, St. Paul shows the way. He says, "Rejoice always." St. Paul suffered plenty - physically, emotionally and spiritually. You can see that clearly when you read his letters. But at the same time a beautiful joy shines through.
We see the most profound joy in our third Advent figure - the Blessed Virgin Mary. A person might ask: Why is Mary so important? Why do we honor her? Pope Benedict gave a reflection on the importance of Mary.* He said that when Christ was born, every creature offered a sign of gratitude: the angels, a hymn; the heavens, a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, admiration; the earth, a cave. But, asked the Holy Father, what about the human race? What do we have to offer God?
The Holy Father answered simply: What we have to offer is the Virgin Mary herself. She is the greatest boast of the human race. She shows what humanity is capable of. For sure, you and I suffer from an inner division called original sin - and we have many personal failings. But when we look at the Virgin Mother, we recognize the true capacity of our human nature.
In Mary we see purity of heart. Purity - a heart that desires one thing - fascinates people. Most of us are torn in so many directions that when we meet a single-hearted person, it stops us in our tracks. People like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul the Great had that effect. They had a purity of heart, not equal to, but modeled after the Virgin Mary.
Now, many people mock purity, they make fun of those who hold a high ideal. But the same ones who mock purity, give themselves away. "Religious people" make them nervous and they love to hear about the hypocrisy of Christians. They readily admit they themselves are "bad," but at the same time they will eagerly tell about someone who has a more disordered life than they do. They betray a secret admiration for those who show a beautiful love. And no one had a more beautiful love than the Blessed Virgin Mary - and St. Joseph. In Mary we see purity of heart.
But we not only admire Mary, we need her help. She is a powerful intercessor. One of the good things we can do this time of year is help our fellow Christians see the important role of Mary. I heard about a priest who did this in an amusing way. A Protestant congregation invited him to give a presentation. Their only requirement was that he stick to the Bible and not bring in any Catholic "superstitions" about Mary. He promised to follow those guidelines.
The priest began his talk by asking them to reading aloud a couple of Scripture verses. He told them to find Luke, chapter one, verses 28 and 42. They opened their King James Bibles and read with him: "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." Then, "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." He encouraged them to make those verses part of their daily prayer.
And so should we. On this final Sunday of Advent, we focus on the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the greatest boast of our human race - and the intercessor we all need. Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou and blessed is the fruit of thy womb - Jesus.
*The Blessing of Christmas, p. 112
General Intercessions for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle B (from Priests for Life)
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
(St. Michael, Defend Us)
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Avery Cardinal Dulles, RIP newsreel of his ordination (45 seconds)
USCCB resources on Dignitas Personae:
The Church moreover holds that it is ethically unacceptable to dissociate procreation from the integrally personal context of the conjugal act: human procreation is a personal act of a husband and wife, which is not capable of substitution. The blithe acceptance of the enormous number of abortions involved in the process of in vitro fertilization vividly illustrates how the replacement of the conjugal act by a technical procedure – in addition to being in contradiction with the respect that is due to procreation as something that cannot be reduced to mere reproduction – leads to a weakening of the respect owed to every human being. Recognition of such respect is, on the other hand, promoted by the intimacy of husband and wife nourished by married love.
The Church recognizes the legitimacy of the desire for a child and understands the suffering of couples struggling with problems of fertility. Such a desire, however, should not override the dignity of every human life to the point of absolute supremacy. The desire for a child cannot justify the “production” of offspring, just as the desire not to have a child cannot justify the abandonment or destruction of a child once he or she has been conceived.