August 15, 2019
Today at Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis and throughout the world, Catholics celebrated the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I am always moved as a priest when folks pause from their busy lives and worship the God who made them and redeemed them. Today, in a particular way, we give thanks for the gift of Mary, the Mother of God, who is our Mother in faith. Mary is also the Queen of the All the Saints and the preeminent disciple of Jesus. Over these past 17 years of priesthood my devotion to Mary has moved from my head to my heart as I and the communities I have pastored benefited richly from the intercession and maternal care of Mary.
Several years ago when I was in seminary, our class had the opportunity to study in Jerusalem for a semester. It was fall of 2000 and a particularly fraught time in the Holy Land. Our leader for the semester was a wise and somewhat crusty Franciscan priest. One of the classes he taught us was Mariology – aka, the Theology of Mary. I will never forget what he said in one of the lectures on the dogmas regarding Mary. He said the dogmas and doctrines regarding Mary are given for us and for our faith. They are not abstractions, but rather teachings that are meant to encourage us and provide us hope as we continue our journey of faith.
As many Catholics know, the last year has been a dark time for the Catholic Church – a time of suffering and pain – not least of which has been experienced by victim-survivors of clergy abuse. Anyone who thinks that we can somehow return to business as usual or simply turn the page is kidding themselves and not appreciating the full weight of the crisis and the attendant problems borne of an ecclesial culture in need of serious reform and renewal. The anti abuse summit in Rome as well as the new papal and episcopal (in the United States) protocols related to accountability are all steps in the right direction. Much work is yet to be done regarding greater acoountability in the Church.
I have written extensively as to the underlying causes and effects of the crisis – which I believe are manifold and grave. I will not burden you by re-presenting those here. I am a person of Christian hope (not naivete) and thus believe that God can and will restore the Catholic Church. In freedom, we can either grasp or reject the outstretched hand of God. The choice is ours and the path back to God awaits us.
On this Feast of the Assumption, Mary the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church, stands as a compelling model of holiness for a Church in crisis and offers us a path back to God. From Scripture, Mary’s discipleship can be seen in its full splendor and beckons us to follow. At the Annunciation, we see that Mary, already knowledgeable of Scripture, ponders the strange greeting of the Angel Gabriel. She responds with great faith and obedience to the will of God and the path of salvation opens up for all of humanity. Mary’s immersion in the word of God helped provide the disposition for her yes to God’s will. She experiences God’s word as vital and dynamic.
In the beginning of Luke’s Gospel proclaimed tonight we see two important virtues manifested by Mary – her resolute solidarity with Elizabeth in sharing and celebrating the astonishing goodness of God and her proclamation of God’s justice in the Magnificat. Finally, in Mary’s pierced heart and in her suffering experienced as she accompanies her son to the cross, we see the tender love of a mother who will not abandon her child in pain and in need.
These characteristics manifested so beautifully by Mary have not been seen in the Church’s response to the abuse crisis and its attendant cover-up. Too many Church leaders have thwarted the will of God and have failed to act with solidarity and justice. Rather than reach out to those who we have harmed with love and tenderness, we have left them wounded on the side of the road. One victim-survivor advocate in the Twin Cities refers to this as an inversion of the moral order. The path back to God and to greater holiness and integrity for a Church in crisis is illumined by Mary, humble virgin and faithful disciple. May we benefit in this time of need from Mary’s model of holiness and from her efficacious intercession.