Homily for Wednesday, May 24, 2017Published:
We are privileged to have as our Patroness Mary, the Mother of God, under her title Help of Christians. It is our joy today to honor her, who has so faithfully watched over her abbey and college through the years, and thus paying homage to her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of all her privileges and singular virtue. There could be, I think, no better way to honor Mary and celebrate her feast at her abbey than to celebrate the monastic profession of someone who has come to seek God in her abbey, as we are doing for our Brother Columban today. Our dual celebration today honors not only our Patroness, Mary Help of Christians, but also in a special way presents her, the first among all the disciples of her Son, to you, Brother Columban as a model of those virtues specially recommended by our Holy Father Benedict for those who seek God according to his Rule and way of life: humility and obedience.
The Virgin May herself notes that God has looked upon His servant in her lowliness, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Aware that she, a poor and insignificant young girl, unknown and unrecognized, had no claim to anything in her own right, she acknowledges that all her blessings come from God because of His fidelity to his oath to Abraham and his descendents forever. In that clear-sighted truthfulness that genuine humility imparts, she acknowledged that she was merely the handmaid of the Lord, and by thus acknowledging her total dependence on the Lord’s command, she was able to be full of grace beyond all other creatures. Her humility is witnessed by the divinely inspired Scriptures, where she, who above all others played an irreplaceable role in God’s plan of salvation in the Incarnation of His Son, appears only rarely, disappearing as proper for the Lord’s servant, behind the figure of her Son.
In St. Benedict’s Rule, the lengthiest and most difficult chapter is Chapter 7, “On humility”. One of the ways St. Benedict’s Rule and way of life seeks to bring us to God is by that virtue of humility which brings us to see clearly our true state, viz. that we are those who have drifted away from God through the sloth of disobedience. He shows us the way of return as he admonishes us: “This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.”
Because of her humility, because she possessed herself, knew clearly and accurately her true state in life, the Blessed Virgin Mary was able to be perfectly obedient. In her response to the Angel Gabriel, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word, she gave up her own will once and for all and gave herself totally and completely over to the vocation given her by God. She remained faithful and steadfast in her obedience every moment of her life. We should not imagine that her obedience was somehow easy and without effort. Again and again she undoubtedly had to repeat her initial words recorded in the gospel: How can this be? In her unwavering trust that the Lord’s word to her would be fulfilled, no matter how mysterious the manner obedience was required, she exemplifies for us the fourth step of humility, namely, “In this obedience under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions, [the monk’s] heart quietly embraces suffering and endures it without weakening or seeking escape.” Her fidelity eventually led her to the foot of the cross, where, without seeking escape, she shared more profoundly than anyone else, the agony of her only Son. The child to be born to her, she had been told, would be called holy, the Son of God, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the House of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. How can it be that it had come to this? In her steadfast obedience she penetrated to the profound truth of the words of the Apostle we heard just now: Those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified. For the glory Mary was intended to share in was nothing other than the glory of her Son, who, in the inscrutable plan of God’s love, was glorified by being lifted up from the earth and becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross. And having learned obedience through what he suffered, he became the source of eternal life to all who obey him, for God raised him high and bestowed on him the name above all other names. Because she was obedient under these “difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions”, Mary is the exemplar for us likewise of the words of St. Benedict at the conclusion of the prologue to his Rule: “We shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom.” Having shared more profoundly than all in the sufferings of Christ, she has been taken up as first to share fully in the glory of the resurrection.
As we have heard as well in the Acts of the Apostles, Mary’s obedience continued in the church. We find her, after the Ascension, obedient to her son’s command: Remain in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. She, who was full of grace from the very first moment of her existence did not need to await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Nor did she need the assistance of the Spirit as one who was to be sent as an apostle to announce the Good News. Rather she is present with the apostles and disciples to support them by her prayer. In this, too, she is specially our model for our life and our abbey. For the days are now finished when the pastoral care of the faithful for the building up of the Church in North Carolina was entrusted to us. Rather, we have now been directed to continue building up this church by the witness of our monastic life, supporting our brothers and sisters in the faith by steadfast prayer, giving witness to the power of God by continued intercession. For we have been instructed in these days of retreat from the Conferences of St. John Cassian: “The end of every monk and the perfection of his heart incline him to constant and uninterrupted perseverance in prayer.”
Finally, the gospel text itself, by which the Lord speaks to us today, gives us perhaps the most compelling images of Mary to be our model. She, who trusted that the Lord’s word to her would be fulfilled, turns to her Son and, by her unshakeable faith and her charity for a newly married couple, brings forth from the profound depths of the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ Our Lord, the first of the signs of his saving work among us.
If you, Brother Columban, are willing to heed the words of the Mother of God, Do whatever he tells you, I invite you to come forward now and make your vows before God and His saints in the presence of the community assembled here.
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