Sunday, December 7, 2014

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you: A Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
December 8, 2014
"Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you"
I’ve always been perplexed by the last line of today’s gospel: “Then the angel departed from her.” We have just finished hearing an incredible story about how the angel of the Lord drops in on Mary, completely out of the blue and unannounced, and asks her to do the most unfathomable task: to be the Mother of God. Despite both her fear and her confusion, Mary offers herself completely to the will of God and says, “May it be done unto me according to your word.” She agrees, she offers a resounding YES! And what does the angel do immediately after? He leaves. There’s no, “Thanks for your cooperation, we’ll be in touch” or any kind of response. He just departs, leaving Mary to herself.
This is a startling image: a young girl, who no doubt had her own plans in life, now has her entire life turned upside down. The burden of God’s plan for salvation is placed upon her shoulders. And the angel just left her. How incredibly frightened she must have been…how completely alone she must have felt.
Sometimes we feel this way. I know I certainly do. I did when I lost my grandmother and it felt like the world was caving in around me. Maybe we feel this way because we lost our job, or are facing a divorce, maybe we’re suffering through a serious illness, or maybe we’re dealing with the betrayal of a friend. We know what it’s like to be frightened, to be left alone with our thoughts and fearful of what comes next.
With this image in our mind from today's gospel, of Mary left alone and probably pretty scared, it seems odd that we are celebrating the Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception, the reality that from the moment she was conceived in her mother’s womb Mary was completely preserved from all sin. Sometimes it’s tempting to think of Mary’s sinlessness as something that separates her from us...we can exalt her to the point that she seems almost un-human. But despite her sinlessness, Mary shares in the full experience of being human. I think that’s why the Church gives us this Gospel reading for tonight’s feast – to remind us of Mary’s own humanity and her own fragility.
Though she was sinless from the moment of her conception, Mary is still the woman facing an unexpected pregnancy. Mary is still the young girl realizing that all of her plans and dreams have changed. Mary is still the teenager who fears isolation and unacceptance. Mary is still the anxious mother searching for her missing child. Mary is still the widow watching her son face a violent and unjust execution. Mary is the sinless Mother of God, but she still knows what it feels like to be confused, uncertain, scared, and alone.
As exalted and unique as Mary is, she is just as human as we are. But because of her unique status and role, she becomes a model for us and she teaches us how to handle the burden of our own humanity.
Despite everything she had to deal with, Mary continued to trust in God. At any moment she could have felt a sense of her own isolation, but she focused on the message of the angel: “The Lord is with you.” These words really meant something to her and they gave her the strength to bear all that was asked of her. For her these words meant that nothing would be impossible to bear, for God would always be with her no matter how tough things became and no matter how alone she felt.
In every Mass we hear over and over again the same greeting that Mary heard: the Lord be with you. We, like that young girl, are given the chance to allow these words to resound in our hearts. By these words we are given the reassurance that our lives are not lived in isolation – God promises us that no matter how lonely, or helpless, or worried, or frightened we feel, we mean everything to Him. And in our times of trial, Mary consoles us with the same words that once consoled her: “Don’t be afraid…you have found favor with God”?
Because we’re human, we suffer. Being a follower of Christ, finding favor with God, doesn’t mean we are promised a cushy life. Mary shows us this…as favored as she was, despite her own sinlessness, she still suffered as we do. We can’t escape our suffering, but Mary’s example shows us that we never truly suffer alone. After all, even though the angel departed from her, the unborn Christ Child lay hidden in her womb. In our moments of fear and suffering, will we, like Mary, dare to see that the Lord, hidden as He is, is still with us?

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