Friday, December 9, 2016

Homily for Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Homily for the Solemnity of the
Immaculate Conception
Dec. 9, 1996
Eph 1: 3-6, 11-12
Provincial House, New Rochelle

On Thursday, Dec. 8, this year I celebrated 2 well-attended parish Masses in Champaign and preached without a written text.  Here's a vintage text for you.

“God chose us in [Christ] before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph 1: 4).

The Immaculate Conception
St. Benedict's Church, the Bronx, N.Y.
The sacred Scriptures today offer us a mini-course in the history of salvation.  We recall the fall of mankind.  We praise God’s “vast eternal plan” (to use Tevye’s words).  We hear the beginnings of God’s restoration of his plan after the fall disrupted it.

“God chose us”—every man and woman—“before the world began, to be holy in his sight.”  Just how that election, that divine choice, was to be “in Christ” before the world began, before the world needed redemption, is less certain.  We may let the theologians dispute whether or not the 2d Person would have become man had man not sinned.

But we did sin.  So, passing from the hypothetical to the actual, we discern God’s plan as it has unfolded.  His election of us to be holy and blameless before him after the fall is effected by the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus our Savior, Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32), by our call through Christ Jesus to receive the divine favor and become God’s adopted children (Eph 1:5-6).

God has effected his plan with the necessary help of a specially chosen woman, the 2d Eve, the 2d “mother of all the living.”  The son of the Most High could become the Son of David only by becoming human, by inserting himself into Jewish history by birth into a Jewish family.  Therefore God specifically chose Mary of Nazareth, chose her to be his “highly favored daughter” (Luke 1:28), chose her “in Christ before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be full of love”; to be not only a highly favored daughter but even the mother of his own Son.

God chose Mary to be the 1st to share in the mystery of Christ’s salvation.  He chose her not for herself but for his plan, “according to his will and counsel” (Eph 1:11), as he once chose Abraham, Moses, and David.  The plan does not exist for Mary, but Mary for the plan.  So she recognizes herself as “the handmaid of the Lord” and submits herself completely to “his will and counsel” (Luke 1:38).  It is this submission, this humble service, of course, that contrasts Mary of Nazareth with Eve of Eden and makes Mary the bearer of Life rather than of death.

God chose, God predestined, Mary “to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be full of love.”  He bestowed such a fullness of blessing upon her in Christ—“such was his will and pleasure” (Eph 1:5)—from her beginning, as soon as she began to be in the world.  Unlike us and the rest of our fallen race, she entered the world “full of love,” full of grace, already enjoying the divine favor—in view of Christ, in view of what God meant to do in Christ—in Christ, but not without the handmaid of the Lord.

The 2d Eve gave birth to Jesus, and “in him we were chosen” too for the praise of God’s glory (Eph 1:12).  As God knew and chose Mary “before the world began,” so did he know and choose us:  not “to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be full of love” from the 1st moment of our existence, like Mary, but to be so from the moment of our birth into Christ, and, like Mary, as long as we remain united with him.  “Likewise he predestined us through Christ Jesus to be his adopted sons—such was his will and pleasure” (Eph 1:6)—that we might join OLJC and Mary of Nazareth in praising the divine favor in the Church on earth and as part of the Church in heaven.

Mary was chosen and made holy in view of Christ her Son and of her part in the divine plan.  We are chosen and made holy in Christ for a part in the divine plan too.  Ultimately our part is to praise God’s glory.  But like Mary we have a part, some humble servant’s part, to play that will advance God’s plan on earth.  May it be done to us as he says.

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