Monday, February 3, 2020

Marianist Monday

February 2020

My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

 Admittedly, it’s not easy to read all the quotations etched on the tabernacle wall in our Community chapel, but if you concentrate, you’ll find this hidden gem from Blessed William Joseph Chaminade: “It is for us an infinite honor to be like Him by being a living expression of the life that He lived when He was among us. Now, it is by Mary that this life is communicated to us.” That quotation pretty much sums up our entire Marianist life. We’re all about the imitation of Christ, under the guidance and strengthened by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And, if you think about it a little further, that same quotation pretty much sums up the entire Christian life. We are all infinitely honored to be infinitely loved by Jesus Christ. We all strive to be like Him. Moreover, it is Mary who brings Jesus to us. Quite literally, she, as Christ’s mother, gave birth to the Savior of the world. She brought Christ to the world. Furthermore, she continues to bring souls to Christ – to her son. Think of her appearances at Guadalupe; at Lourdes; at Fatima; and at Saragossa, a favorite Marian shrine among Marianists worldwide. Recall some of the most beloved prayers that Catholics recite: the Hail Mary, the Memorare, the Salve Regina. 

Consider the many parishes and churches throughout the world that bear some particular title of Our Lady. From Christianity’s earliest day until this very moment, Mary has communicated Christ and the Christ life to us. That’s why I’d like to pause for a moment and communicate four facets of the Christ life that Mary communicates to us, by both her words and her actions. 

1. Be humble. Humility seems to be in short supply these days. In so many quarters of public life, selfaggrandizement rules the day. But against the spirit of self-promotion and self-indulgence stands Mary’s humility. At the Annunciation, she replied to the no-doubt daunting news that she would be the mother of the Christ, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38). At the wedding feast of Cana, she uttered those words that were so near and dear to Blessed Chaminade’s heart: “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2: 5). For this humble handmaid of the Lord, it was not about having her own way. It was about doing God’s will. To do the will of the Father. How might we grow in our ability to do the will of the Father? Might I suggest that we start by trying to do the will of our family members, our friends, and our neighbors? Not in all things, of course – and especially not in those things that lead to sin. But certainly, we could practice the virtue of deference. In matters of preference or taste, might we not defer to others? Must we always have it our own way? The humble man or woman defers regularly and gracefully to others.

2. Be open to ambiguity. We love clarity, don’t’ we? Certainty is comforting, reassuring. For the most part, I think we prefer black and white to grey. Unfortunately, most of life is not black and white. Personally, I experience lots or ambiguity. The people I know are capable of great good, but they are also beset by considerable weakness. And that applies not only to my students, but to my friends, to my family members, and even to the Brothers. Most of all, it applies to me. I can certainly identify with St. Paul’s confession: “For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I do not will, that I do” (Romans 7:19). Who among us could not echo that cry of frustrating moral ambivalence? Jesus Himself knew our moral ambiguity personally, profoundly, and painfully. That’s why, even from the Cross, He could appeal to God on behalf of us sinners: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23: 24). Mary too knew firsthand the ambiguity of life. What strange and baffling events filled her early years as the mother of Jesus! Magi fell on their knees and did her son homage. At the presentation in the Temple, the priest Simeon prophesied, “You see this child; He is destined to be the rise and fall of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul as well” (Luke 2: 34 – 35). When their son was just twelve years old, Mary and Joseph lost Him, only to find Him again in the Temple, instructing the doctors of the Law, and admonishing his earthly parents, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2: 49 – 50) As the Gospel tells us, “His mother pondered all these things in her heart” (Luke 2: 52) There must have been much for Mary to ponder: so many questions, so few answers, so much faith! Can we live with ambiguity? Sometimes, I have my doubts. We demonize those who disagree with us or who are different from us. Unfortunately, I see this kind of demonization – “We have it completely right; they’re all wrong” – not only in politics but even in the Church. Because of the “absolutizing instinct,” as William F. Lynch, S.J. explains in his spiritual classic Images of Hope: Imagination as Healer of the Hopeless, “The good becomes tremendously good, the evil becomes the absolutely evil, the grey becomes the black or white, the complicated, because it is too difficult to handle, becomes, in desperation, the completely simple.” By contrast, Mary lived with ambiguity. She did not lash out, speak harshly, or grow angry when she was not offered a clarity that life simply does not give us. Instead, she “pondered all these things in her heart.”

3. Go to Mass. At every Mass, the priest reenacts Christ’s sacrifice of His body and blood upon the Cross. That’s why it’s called the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As horrific as it was, Mary was there, at the foot of the Cross, pondering all these things in her heart, her soul pierced by a sword, just as her son’s side was pierced by a lance. As Mary knelt at the foot of the Cross, so let us kneel at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, because it is in this moment that our salvation is won. It is at this heavenly banquet where we are invited to partake of the divine life and receive, quite literally, the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Once we understand the depth of this heavenly banquet – once we realize exactly what Jesus is giving us at Mass – we will want to attend Mass as often as possible. The Mass bring us to the very heart or our salvation.

4. Cling to the community of believers. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read a description of the infant Church. “ . . . when they reached the city [Jerusalem], they went to the upper room where they were staying: there were Peter and John, James and Andrew . . . together with several women, including Mary, the mother of Jesus” (Acts 1: 13 – 14). It was in this upper room that the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and the Apostles in the form of tongues of fire. It was in this upper room – most likely, the same upper room that was the site of the Last Supper – that John, the Beloved
Disciple, made good on his promise, from the moment of the Crucifixion, to make a place in his home for Christ’s mother, now his mother too, now our mother as well. Cling to the community of believers. Belong to a group of godly friends. Have all kinds of friends, of course, but be sure to have a core friend group of firm believers who will support you in your faith and spur you on to become more and more like Him. We are nourished by the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. We are also nourished by the Body of Christ which is the community of believers.

As Lent approaches, let us resolve to become more and more like Him by cherishing the lessons that Mary communicates to us: Be humble. Learn to live with ambiguity. Go to Mass. Cling to the community of believers. We enjoy the infinite honor of being loved infinitely by Christ. Now, let us enjoy the infinite honor as well of being like Him! 

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers, 

Bro. Stephen