Posted by: frroberts | May 2, 2015

Sunday Sermon Notes

My first Thanksgiving in college, one of my sisters, who lived in New York City at the time, offered to foot the bill for a bus ticket from Boston to New York so that I could celebrate the holiday with her and her husband.  Having not spent significant time with family since August, I was very happy to take advantage of her generosity.

I had a great time those four days in New York and spent all the money that I had brought with me.  In those days, I had no ATM card and no credit card.  When I boarded the bus at Penn Station my wallet was empty aside from an Indiana driver’s license and my college ID.

After a four-hour trip back to Boston, I alighted from the bus and made my way to the South Station Subway stop, which was a good 40 miles away from my dorm room.  As I drew near to the turnstile to board my train, I felt a sinking feeling.  “Great gravy,” I said to myself, “I need money to ride on the subway.”  Perhaps I did not say “great gravy” but rather something that I shan’t repeat today.

I needed 85 cents to buy a subway token and I did not have it.  I paused for a moment to think.  There had to be some solution.

I could jump over the turnstile.  But that would be stealing, even if it were stealing only 85 cents. In addition, I might get caught doing it.  It is not as if I am easy to miss.  Maybe I could find spare change lying around the station.  Fifteen minutes  yielded nothing.  It was starting to get late and the subway would close soon.  I had to do something.

I decided to beg.

I knew it would be a comical sight: I was a tall, obviously able-bodied eighteen-year old in a Harvard sweatshirt begging for eight-five cents. But I had no choice unless I wanted to walk almost 40 miles through Boston in the middle of the night.

After scanning the river of people flowing into the mezzanine, I got the courage to ask someone.

“Excuse me, ma’am.  I hate to bother you and this is really embarrassing, but I forgot to make sure that I had 85 cents to pay for my fare to get back to school.  Could you please help me?”

The woman eyed me cautiously and asked me where I went to school.  She paused for what seemed like an eternity.  If I had to describe the look on her face, I would say it was something like.  “Smart enough to get into Harvard, but too dumb to remember to have enough money to get back after Thanksgiving.” Finally, she said, “here are four quarters, keep the change.”

I thanked her profusely.

Today we continue with part two of a three-part series of homilies on how Mary mothers us.  Last week we established that the Bible and the Ancient Tradition of the Church teach that Mary is the mother of all Christians.  If we claim Jesus as our brother, then His mother has to be our mother too.  Do we call out to Mary, asking her to help us to draw close to her Divine Son?

If we do not do so already, we should.

Why?

Because sometimes we forget to bring our subway fare with us when it comes to living the Christian life.  It is quite easy for us to become focused on all the wrong things, and to forget the one necessary thing, which is a relationship with Jesus.  We can spend so much on what goes on in the margins that we do not have the resources necessary to reach our destination.

Both the Epistle and the Gospel make it abundantly clear that the destination of the Christian life ought to be remaining in Christ.  Thus we read Our Lord say in the Gospel, “Remain in me.”  Likewise in the Epistle Saint John tells us, “Those who keep His commandments remain in Him.”  Remaining in Christ means that we become so close to Him that we are inseparable from Him.  Just as an internal organ belongs to a living body, a Christian should belong to Christ in such a way that it would not make sense to speak of us living apart from Him.

If you feel like you belong 100% to Jesus, you are welcome to stop listening to this homily.  I give you permission to doze off.

Now for the rest of us who still need to make progress in the Christian life, there is something to say..

If we focus on remaining in Christ exclusively, we are likely to become very frustrated.  We simply cannot maintain the standard of Christ-like behavior on our own steam.  The Epistle and Gospel both exhort us to remain in Jesus “as He remains in us.”  That phrase might seem like a flowery throw away, but it is not.  In the order of salvation history, Our Lord first came to dwell with us before inviting us to dwell in Him.  The history of our salvation, the same will be true.  First Christ dwells in us, then we are able to remain in Him.

Where was the first place that the Incarnate Word of God dwelt when He came into the world?  What is it not the womb of His Blessed Mother, Mary?

Let us think about this fact for a moment.  For nine months the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Eternal Word of God through Whom the entire universe was created from nothing, remained inside Mary’s womb.  His Divine and Most Precious Blood, a single drop of which would be enough to save the entire human race, mixed with Mary’s for two hundred and seventy days!  If anyone can teach us how to let Jesus remain in us, it is Mary.

She has been a mother to the Church through the centuries by reminding us how to let Jesus remain in us so that we become capable of remaining in Him.  Today I want to share just one very important example.

The Church in the 16th century faced many problems.  For Her first 1500 years, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that Jesus Christ founded not only spread, but enjoyed remarkable unity.  Some groups did break off from the Pope, but most of these disputes came down to relatively minor points.  The overwhelming majority Christians agreed on most of the  important doctrines like which books are in the Bible, the number of Sacraments, Who Jesus is, the saints and what constituted Christian morality.  But in the early 1500s, all hell broke loose.

A German friar who broke his vows started a new movement that removed books from the Bible, rejected most of the sacraments, condemned devotion to the saints and overturned much of what had been up to that point traditional Christian morality.  What is even worse, this Protestant movement grew in popularity and eventually wrested millions away from the Catholic Church.  Scotland, England, Wales, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and parts of Germany, Holland and Switzerland embraced the new Protestant movement.

One of the reasons that Protestantism initially made so much progress in Europe was that Catholics had began to direct their attention to all the wrong things.  Some bishops and priests were more interested in money and power than spirituality and a significant number of laypeople did little more than pay lip service to living out their faith in a meaningful way.

At the same time that the Church was losing ground to the innovations of the Protestants, many of her sons were exploring the Americas.  Spain and Portugal, countries that held firm to the Catholic faith, began colonizing swaths of land that included most of South and Central America as well places that are now part of the United States, like Texas, Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, California, Colorado and Nevada.

The civilizations that the Spaniards and Portuguese encountered practiced human sacrifice on a monumental scale.  For example, in 1487 the Aztecs re-consecrated their temple in Tenochtitlan in what is today Mexico by immolating over 100,000 people in a single ceremony.  Some historians estimate that one of every five people born in the Aztec Empire before the arrival of the Spanish died as victims of human sacrifice.

Despite great successes in exploration and colonization, many of the Portuguese and Spanish who came to the Americas did not live like exemplary Christians.  Some oppressed and enslaved Native Americans in the lands that they settled.  Missionary priests who sought to preach the Gospel to these indigenous populations found that the behavior of the colonists made the Indians reluctant to believe in Christ.  In fact, there were very few converts in the decades of Spanish and Portuguese missionary work in the early 1500s.

In 1531 one of the few indigenous converts to Christianity, Juan Diego, had a vision of Our Lady.  She told him to go to the local bishop and tell him to build a church on the site of the apparition, Tepyac Hill.  The bishop told Juan Diego that he would need a sign.  The next time that Mary appeared, she pointed to roses growing on the hillside.  Juan Diego gathered the roses up in his cloak and took them to the bishop’s residence.  When he unfurled his cloak and let the roses fall to the ground, an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared on the cloak.

But this was not an image of Our Lady that the bishop had seen before.  She was pregnant. Her skin was not pale like a Spaniard, it was brown.  The clothes she wore were not the clothes of a Spanish lady, but were those typical of an Aztec woman.

In the ten years that followed this miraculous image, ten million Mexicans accepted Christianity and received the sacrament of Baptism.  The Spanish colonists and the native Mexicans began to live as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Where conflict had been the rule between the two groups before, their common faith in Christ brought peace and greater harmony.  This peaceful coexistence between Spaniards and Native Americans is one of the reasons why, unlike in the United States, there are still millions of brown-skinned people today descended from the indigenous people of Mexico.

What happened in Mexico almost 500 years ago is just one of the many examples of how Mary has been a tender mother to the Church through the centuries.  She comes to our aid to help us refocus our gaze on her Beloved Son.  From Mary we can learn how to let Christ remain in us so that we might have the strength to remain in Him.

Next week we will look at how Our Lady can be our loving mother today.


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