7 December 2011
Cathedral of the Holy Family
Last evening, I was privileged to offer Holy Mass in the presence of the Spiritual Mothers of Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa. The Mass–of the Immaculate Conception–was offered in humble thanksgiving for my twenty-five years of priesthood. It marked, at the same time, the third anniversary of the beginning of the Spiritual Mothers of Priests in our diocese. A lovely reception followed. I am immensely grateful to the Spiritual Mothers of Priests of the Diocese of Tulsa for saying “Yes” with magnanimity to a special vocation that, while hidden, is bearing fruit in the lives and in the hearts of priests the world over.
A Song From the Womb
“Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God. He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, and with the robe of justice He has wrapped me about, as a bride adorned with her jewels” (Is 61:10). A song intoned from the womb! The Church takes the jubilant words of the prophet Isaiah and places them in the mouth of the tiniest and most vulnerable of human creatures, an embryo implanted in the mothers womb, a human person, already full of grace: this is the Immaculate Conception. The mother is Saint Anne. The child full of grace will be named Mary.
Oh, the audacity of the sacred liturgy! The Immaculate Conception begins to sing in the cloister of the womb. If you would delight the heart of God, says little Mary, learn my song and sing with me. Nothing so ravishes the heart of God as the song of one very little, very vulnerable, very poor, and, at the same time, immensely great in the mind of God. Here is the immaculate child destined to crush the head of the ancient serpent. Here is the immaculate child lowly, poor, and inexpressibly rich in the mercy that clothes her like a garment and in a holiness that shines more brightly than a million galaxies in the firmament’s darkest night.
Prelude to the Magnificat
“Gaudens, gaudebo in Domino.” “Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord.” The melody of this evening’s Introit soared pure as crystal in a kind of ecstatic cry of undiluted joy in God. Mary herself intoned the first chant of the Mass today: a kind of prelude to her Magnificat. Already — just conceived — the child Mary begins to sing, and the whole Church takes up her song. On no other feast of the year does the Virgin Mary open the Mass by singing in the first person singular. “Rejoicing, I will rejoice” (Is 61:10). Mary’s message, from the first instant of her Immaculate Conception, is one of joy in God.
The Tree of the Cross
The joy of the Immaculate Conception springs from the mystery of the Cross. The Collect says that Mary was “preserved from all stain” in foresight of the death of Christ on the tree of the Cross. Yes, in foresight, for there was never a moment when Mary was not present in the mind of God: present to God in all her loveliness, in the immaculate splendor that would be hers because, from all eternity she was destined to be the all-holy Mother of God.
Conceived in the Mind of God
Given that Mary was conceived into a race rebellious and hostile to God, she too had to be redeemed, bought back from the bondage of Adam’s progeny in this valley of tears. God, conceiving her in His mind, before she was conceived in the womb of Saint Anne, willed her, and saw her immaculate.
The Precious Blood of the Son
The Father, from all eternity, willed an Immaculate Mother for His Only-Begotten Son. Thus did the Father accept, in advance, the Precious Blood of the Son shed in His most bitter Passion, not in atonement for any sin of Mary’s, but in order that by the power of that Blood, the very Blood formed for the Word by the power of the Holy Ghost in her virginal womb, Mary might enter the world pure and free, with a purity and freedom unknown in the world since the creation of Eve
Holy and Immaculate Before the Father
In the Collect we asked that, by Mary’s intercession, we might come into the presence of God “with pure hearts.” Saint Paul says that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:3) chose us in Christ “that we should be holy and immaculate before Him” (Eph 1:4). This standing before God in holiness contrasts with the fear of Adam and Eve who, upon hearing the sound of God in the garden, “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen 3:8). The naked Christ, exposed to the gaze of the Father on the tree of the Cross, casts out the fear that caused our first parents to make of the trees of the garden a screen between themselves and the Face of God. The first effect of the grace of Christ is that it makes us come into the presence of the Father, “free from fear” (Lk 1:73). “For you have not received the spirit of bondage in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: ‘Abba, Father'” (Rom 8:15).
Blessed the Clean of Heart
In the Collect, we further asked that we might come unto God with clean hearts. “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is the Mother of the clean of heart. By her intercession, she obtains from Christ, again and again, the application of “the blood of his Cross” (Col 1:20) to every heart darkened and defiled by sin. The Collect inspires us to pray, specifically through the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the poignant petition of King David: “A pure heart create for me, O God” (Ps 50:12). And you, dear spiritual mothers of priests, will you not make this same prayer for every priest as he ascends the altar to offer the Holy Sacrifice? “A pure heart create for him, Thy priest, O God.”
The Secret of the Mass returns to the same petition, asking that “we may be delivered from all our faults” by Mary’s intercession. A culpis omnibus liberemur! What a stupendous petition! And it is a petition that the Father grants freely and graciously, for all that is sought through the Immaculate Heart of Mary is, by that very fact, asked through the Heart of Jesus, and nothing of what is asked through the Hearts of Jesus and Mary will the Father deny. “If you ask the Father any thing in my name, He will give it to you” (Jn 16:23).
The Communion Antiphon will deploy a phrase from Psalm 86, a song in praise of Zion, the city cherished by the Lord “Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God” (Ps 86:3), but in place of “city of God” will say “Mary.” “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O Mary.” Yes, glorious things, because from Mary “has arisen the Sun of Justice, Christ our God” (cf. Mal 4:2).
In the Radiance of Christ
In fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy, the “sun of justice” rises from the womb of the Virgin “with healing in His wings” (Mal 4:2), that is to say with wholeness for those fractured and fragmented by sin; with purity for those fallen into the filth of every manner of vice; with beauty for those distorted by the attempts of the Evil One to twist and disfigure men and women created in God’s image and likeness. Mary, the Immaculate Mother of the clean of heart, is also the Mother of all those whom she brings to be healed in the radiance of Christ, the Sun of Justice.
Spiritual Mothers Collaborate With Our Blessed Lady
Spiritual Mothers, if you would continue faithful and fearless in your mission: entrust your priests–all priests–to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Weaknesses do not shock Our Blessed Lady. The sight of sin does not repulse her. Even betrayals do not make her bitter. She was, I think, even more of a mother to Peter after his shameful denial of Jesus than before. Speak to the Immaculate Virgin confidently, as mothers to a Mother. In the priests entrusted to your own maternal care, collaborate with Mary; unite your hearts to her Immaculate Heart. There are no sins so dark, no vices so entrenched in a soul, no trials so harsh, no work so burdensome that Mary cannot enter in, ministering mercy, delivering from enslavement, infusing hope, and making light the burden.
The First and Last Word Given to Joy
Return, for a moment, to the Introit. “Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God. He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, and with the robe of justice he has wrapped me about, as a bride adorned with her jewels” (Is 61:10). This is the song of every new beginning in grace. For me, for us, this New Year of Grace will be marked by a new beginning, or rather, by continuity in the newness that characterizes every thing wrought by Him who says, “Behold, I make all things new.”
The New Song
Sing then the new song of every man and woman once paralyzed by fear, but now set free to stand unafraid with the Son of the Virgin in the sight of the Father. Sing the new song of every heart darkened and stained by sin, but now made bright and clean by grace. Sing the new song of every life wounded by sin, but healed by the Sun of Justice who, in a few moments, will be lifted above the altar “with healing in his wings” (Mal 4:2). The last word and the first belong to joy. This joy is Mary’s. And she wants you to have it, this evening, and for ever.