14 Dec December 7th-Achbishop B. O’Brien; Solemnity of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception
Homily by Archbishop Brendan O’Brien
Immaculate Conception Mass 2018
The solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a feast which reminds us of many important aspects of the Christian life. We see this in the readings which the Church designates for this liturgy.
If we turn to our first reading from the Book of Genesis, we see that it is a story about mistrust. In the verses immediately preceding the reading, the serpent sows the seeds of doubt when it tells the woman that the reason God doesn’t want them to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden is not to protect them from death, but, rather, to ensure that they will not become like God, knowing what is good and what is evil. The serpent seeks to undermine the reasons for trusting in God, suggesting that God is not acting in the best interests of our first parents.
In contrast to the story of mistrust that we find in Genesis is the Gospel scene of the Annunciation, where we have Mary’s ‘fiat’, “Here am I; let it be done according to your word.” This is a supreme expression of trust, the antithesis of the Genesis account. As the passage indicates, Mary is perplexed by the angel’s greeting; she questions, “how can this be?”, and yet she trusts. And her trust is based on her understanding of God’s consistent action in the past, and the goodness and benevolence which he has shown to Israel. Mary is part of the anawim, the faithful remnant, the ‘poor ones’ who, despite Israel’s turbulent history, remained faithful to God. Mary knew that her trust was not misplaced, because she was aware of the great deeds that God had done in the past, which she proclaims in the ‘Magnificat’.
Mary is often spoken of as the ‘perfect disciple’; that is to say, the model of one who is open and attentive to what God is asking of her, and, even though she doesn’t know where all this will lead, she doesn’t doubt – she trusts. Because of Mary’s trust, she was able to positively respond to the divine plan for her to be the Mother of God and was preserved from original sin through the merits of Christ.
There may be a great difference between Mary and us in the wholeheartedness of her acceptance and our often hesitant response. But the difference between Mary and us is not that she was chosen and we are not. We, too, are chosen in Christ to be holy and blameless before him in love, as the second reading from St. Paul reminds us. Unlike Mary, we were not preserved from original sin. However, through the gift of baptism and all the other gifts of grace that God gives us through His Church, we have the possibility of being redeemed from our sins.
By that same sacrifice of Christ which preserved Mary from sin, we have the possibility of being cleansed of our sins and delivered from all our faults so as to be holy and blameless before God in love. In the words of Pope Francis, all of us are called to holiness.
“Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect.” (10)
For example, he says, are you married? Be holy by caring for your husband or wife (as Christ does for the Church). Do you work for a living? Be holy by working with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.(14) So each of us has this call to holiness, which we need to discern and respond to, as did Mary, “wherever we find ourselves”.
In the ordination to the Permanent Diaconate, which we celebrate tonight, we see how a vocation to the ordained ministry has a certain parallel with Mary’s experience of being ‘chosen’, in the sense that ordained ministry is not something that we simply decide to do someday; it is not a service that we take upon ourselves to render. Like any vocation, there is always that dimension of being ‘called’ and being ‘sent’. Our role is to not let that call pass us by, but to be attentive to what God is asking of us.
As we know, diakonia, or service, is the responsibility of the whole Church, of all the baptized. For, by baptism, we are integrated into the Body of Christ and united to Christ, our head, who made himself the servant of all. However, the deacon, in a very public and visible way, symbolizes this call to service which all are to exercise in the Church. The diaconate is not to monopolize the call to service, but, instead, to model it and to promote this sense of service throughout the Christian community.
Through ordination, these candidates for the diaconate will be configured to Christ in his servant role. You will be entrusted with the responsibility of being a living sign of Christ, the servant, calling the whole Christian people to service.
As deacons, you make this aspect of service sacramentally present before our eyes. You remind us of this each time that we see the deacon’s stole draped over your shoulder, a visible sign to us of your dedication to serve, and of our call to service. As a symbolic representation of the ‘towel’ used by Christ when washing the feet of the disciples, it reminds us of those words of St. John’s Gospel, “I have set an example, that you should do as I have done to you. (Jn 15:15)
In this service which you will offer to the Church as a deacon, there are three interrelated areas. As a deacon, you are charged with preaching the word of God; and, thus, in the ordination rite, you will be presented with the Book of the Gospels and given the admonition to “believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you preach.”
As a deacon, you are also called to the service of the altar, as were the Levites of the Old Testament. You are to assist the presider at the Eucharist and carry out other liturgical functions. This is recognized in the ordination rite by your investiture with the stole and dalmatic, the vestments proper to the deacon.
And, as I have mentioned, the deacon has a special responsibility to care for – and lead others to care for – the hurting and needy of the world, in imitation of Christ and his compassion for those to whom he ministered.
One bishop described the ministry of a deacon as being “like a bridge”, linking service at the altar with service to the needy of the world. It will be your privilege at the end of the Mass to send forth the People of God into the world to glorify the Lord by their lives.
It is my joy tonight to receive the commitment of these four men to respond to God’s call and to confer on them the grace of ordination. You and your spouses and families have been preparing for this day over the last few years, and I thank you for the sacrifices you have made in order to serve the Church in this ministry.
I hope that all of you who are taking part in this celebration will be encouraged to see God’s call in your own lives and to respond according to the grace and gifts which you have been given.