The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception doesn't appear to be a teaching which many people give a second thought - if they ever consider it at all. However this pivotal teaching has everything to do with the Virgin Birth of Christ, 2000 years ago. Pope Benedict has called the Immaculate Conception a Dogma for modern times. In his wisdom he directs us to consider how God has chosen to bless us - how God has chosen to enter the world.
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Father Paul Weinberger
Saint William the Confessor Catholic Church
Feast of the Immaculate Conception
December 8, 2006
Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to Thy Word.”
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
Yesterday, December 7th was the 65th Anniversary of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The words by the President of the United States the following day were declaring war on Japan. This was an obvious response. The President said that the 7th of December is a day that would live in infamy. He said this with his typical northeastern accent. The radio broadcast of that announcement is still repeated again and again. A day that will live in infamy! It is easy to see how the world can forget Pearl Harbor; there is a lack of honor and respect given to that Memorial, which is so precious to our country. We couldn’t give that Memorial enough respect or honor.
If you recall, after having dropped the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese Emperor’s voice was heard for the first time on radio, August 15, 1945. The people there had never heard the voice of their Emperor transmitted over the air. The war had come to an end.
It is interesting to view the most important events of this country. World War ll is at the very top. It is obvious, a seminal moment for our country. Of course, being so remote from that war in those days, people forget what great sacrifices were made and minimize the great effort that our country put into protecting our citizens and winning the war.
Sunday was the First Sunday of Advent and if December 3rd had not been a Sunday we would have celebrated the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit and one of the first Jesuits along with St. Ignatius of Loyola. Yes, I go on and on and on about St. Francis Xavier.
He was ordained around the age of thirty and went on to Baptize a million people. If I intended such an undertaking I would have to have an organization behind me to line people up so they could be next. I still would not be able to Baptize a million people. Someone was helping St. Francis Xavier; of course it was the Holy Spirit! To be a missionary, going out into uncharted waters and into pagan territory and then racking up a million Baptisms is not mere coincidence or “luck” and skill. It is obviously the grace of God working through this saint.
You may recall that he reached that last island in the chains of islands that we know today as Japan. The first time he set foot on that island was August 15, 1549. On the other side of that same island the Cathedral of the Assumption was built in what is today, Nagasaki. The people of that island have a great devotion to Our Lady’s Assumption and it was not coincidence that the bomb that exploded three days after the bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima on the Feast of the Transfiguration in 1945, exploded directly above the Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady, which Catholics had filled for years, praying for an end to the war and asking that their lives be taken as a holocaust or sacrifice. It appeared their prayer had been answered or more correctly, the prayer of Our Lady was answered.
Think of this as bookends; the end of the second World War for our country was the seminal moment of December 7th and then the following day, the announcement that came on the 8th of 1941…December 7th and 8th in 1941 and August 15, 1945… The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1941 and the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1945.
Looking at the events of WWII the way I just have, is not a common thing to do. Perhaps you have never given it any thought. Mothers are used to this; mothers are used to being taken for granted but it doesn’t stop mothers from loving but it is axiomatic…if you are a mother you are either being taken for granted right now or in the past your children have taken you for granted. To my shame, I will say that I have taken my mother for granted and my brother and sisters would say the same. This is part of being a mother. How many times do children walk by a towel on the floor and one stoops to pick it up and the other child tells them to leave it because mom likes doing that kind of stuff. Again, mothers may get very angry but they continue to do the things mothers do, especially give the love that is so innate in a good mother.
Today we remember a day that will live in infamy; I don’t mean yesterday on the memorial of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, I am talking about the sneak attack that happened in the Book of Genesis. Of course as Catholics we know that our Church does not allow us to read the Bible; we are forbidden to read the Bible or even think about the Bible or meditate on stories in the Bible. This appears to be the attitude of too many Catholics. I do have a friend, who grew up during the 2nd World War and the pastor at her parish actually did tell her and her classmates that they were not to read the Bible. So, going back a generation it is possible to find people who were given this misinformation. St. Jerome, who helped to organize the Bible as we know it today said that ignorance of Scripture in the Bible is ignorance of Christ and he is correct of course. St. Jerome is a Doctor of the Church.
If you look at that day that will live in infamy, it is spelled out in the First Reading today…the first sin if you will, the Original Sin. People do not understand our faith and it is not because our faith is not reasonable but because it is left unstudied. We look at our faith or the Catechism like the dog on the record label for RCA Victor. Tilting our heads, we recognize some things there that we just can’t figure out what it is. It is indeed the Master’s Voice that we hear whenever we study our faith and the Catechism. Let’s just admit it; as Catholics we have better things to do. That is blasphemy of course because there is nothing better to do than to study and live our faith.
This Feast of the Immaculate Conception seems to be so much “fly over territory” for Catholics.
“You mean that is a Holy Day of Obligation? I “gotta” go to Church?”
How sad, how sad that we understand our faith so little or even study it.
The infamous day, back in the Garden of Eden is remembered today because on this day God raised up a New Eve, who would bring forth a New Adam. The Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated today and it appears to be all about her as if we are able to honor her, love her and venerate her memory too much. It is impossible to do. It appears that the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin is often confused, or Catholics have a muddled understanding and just walk away from this teaching all together. This is the correction that God Himself planned after the first or Original Sin. Many times when you ask someone whose Immaculate Conception is celebrated on December 8th, Catholics will say that the Immaculate Conception is of Jesus. This is to confuse the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is the first moment of the first minute of the nine months she spent in the womb of St. Anne, free of Original sin, with the Virgin Birth of Christ on December 25th.
Notice how the Church gets the chronology correct. Oh yes, it is condensed; we have the Immaculate Conception and then a few weeks later we have Christmas. Both are Solemnities and Holy Days of Obligation. December 8th and December 25th are never early. These Solemnities are always December 8th and 25th. The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary comes before the great Feast of Christmas because it is through Mary that Christ comes into the world. The faith is not studied and the Bible is not read and so, Catholics scratch their heads or just disregard these two Feasts as well as the aspects of these two Feasts. In fact, we are greatly influenced by Christians around us, who are indeed Christians but not “Catholic” Christians. We are also influenced by the movies that we might view.
For example, a movie has just come out which was obviously an “attempt” of good will to bring some light to Christmas. This movie is called, “the Nativity.” It is about the Nativity of Christ of course, like the Passion of the Christ, but on the other end of His Life. But, this new movie has erroneous depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I haven’t seen the movie but have heard it described more than once. St. Anne is speaking to a teenage Mary, Blessed Mother, and the Blessed Mother is depicted showing her obvious disdain for something that St. Anne is talking about. Today we would call it “showing an attitude” toward St. Anne. This of course is sinful! The Blessed Mother was without Original Sin and without any Actual Sin. She could have sinned; she was not a preprogrammed robot that had been dropped into this world from the sky. She was given the same privilege that Adam and Eve were given. If Adam and Eve were privileged in this way and in a sense they dropped the ball or spiked the ball, then God planned from that moment to begin again.
Christmas is not understood. For example, in the movie on the Nativity, Our Lady is pictured with “labor pains”. The Catholic Church has spoken on this issue oh say, for 2000 years. With one voice She has taught that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the birth of Christ was a virgin; before His birth, during His birth and after His birth she remained a virgin!
“Well, that is just too much for me to take; I can’t understand or believe that. I m going to walk away from that!”
Anything I don’t understand or know how it works, I am just going to walk away from it? If you have that as an axiom ruling your life, before Mass is over just leave me your car keys because I can guarantee you that when you go outside and put the key in the ignition and are ready to turn it over …
“How does that work?”
“Well, I don’t know how it works but I know it gets me from here to there.”
“I am sorry but if you don’t know how something works you walk away from it.”
“Oh, well that is just when it comes to faith!”
“Do you ask how email works?”
“No, but I know it works. We even have DSL and I know it is faster but don’t know how that works.”
“Wait a minute! I thought the principal ruling your life was that, if you didn’t know how something worked you walked away from it?”
“Oh, it is just things connected to our Catholic faith”
What hypocrites we are! I use the inclusive, WE. We are hypocrites if we live this way, especially concerning the Blessed Virgin Mary! It is as if we have studied for years at the top Catholic Universities and that we have just immersed ourselves in the Catechism, memorizing it backwards and forward. Looking at our Catechisms you find them dog-eared and all marked up with special notes in the margins. That is not the case is it? It is not the case and yet when we come to something like the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Virgin Birth and we hear something we don’t understand, our pride directs us to throw it down and walk away. It just concerns the greatest disciple of Jesus, who is the Blessed Virgin Mary. You see, when He grew up and this Cross was laid on His shoulders, apart from Simon of Sirene, who had to be pressed into service, the Cross was also placed on the shoulders of His Mother. She was there carrying the Cross and her heart was united to the Heart of her Son and yet she didn’t lash out at those who were torturing Him.
Let’s just go back to the Book of Genesis. If we read the Book of Genesis, God is speaking to Adam and Eve after the Original Sin. He says to the serpent,
I will put enmity between you and the Woman; she will strike at your heel while you strike at her feet.
This could be a reference also to Christ striking at the head of the serpent while the serpent strikes at His feet. Do you know that a few years ago there were people who actually promoted the idea that the Blessed Virgin Mary didn’t hate the devil? THE DEVIL SHE DIDN’T! Of course she hated the devil! The person argued that the Blessed Virgin never hated anyone. That is blasphemous and ridiculous in the extreme because God said,
I will put enmity (HATRED) between you and the Woman!
He was speaking to the serpent.
When God is speaking to Adam and Eve after the fall, He explains a few things and what they have just lost through the Original Sin. He tells them that by the sweat of their brow will they labor. God says that work will be a 4-letter word now. W O R K…that is a four-letter word but I mean one of the other four letter words. Work will now be useless because it will be something we “gotta” do; you know, like a Holy Day of Obligation. Work will now be something we have to do to support ourselves and our families but we will find it very tiring and at times, very depressing. That is WORK after the fall. Work before the fall would bring us joy. Now work might bring us joy but it certainly will make us tired and perhaps depressed.
What else did God say to Adam and Eve? He spoke about how woman would bring children into this world and suffer the pains of labor. Well, when the movie, “The Nativity”, which was obviously produced by Christians, portrays the Blessed Virgin Mary in agony and in labor? The Blessed Virgin Mary was without Original Sin and that gift of being sinless from the first moment of the first minute of her life was not something she did on her own; she didn’t wiggle he nose or snap her fingers and be instantly without Original Sin. Every grace that ever existed or exists today and ever will exist comes from the Cross of Christ. So graces coming from the Cross of Christ prepared her from the very first moment of the first minute of the first hour of the nine months she spent in the womb of St. Anne so that later on she would go on to give Birth to Christ some 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. Of course we all know this, right? We study it all the time; we are theologians! Of course we are not! I don’t study this enough and I am a Catholic priest. I say this to my shame.
To study this is not merely opening a book, it is praying a Rosary. Why is it that Catholics almost have to be pistol-whipped to pray a Rosary. If you knew that you had ten minutes to live, most Catholics would start a Rosary. Well, good thing because I know I can’t pray the whole Rosary in the ten minutes I have left to live so I can only pray part of the Rosary. How sad that our faith is so weak because we fail to take the opportunity to study our faith or meditate upon the faith in praying the Rosary.
Yesterday I made my weekly trip to the most blighted part of Dallas. I go there to place a great cross upon the shoulders of four tremendous Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity. Their version of wearing a hair shirt is having me over once a week to talk to them.
“Sisters, we all have to do penance so we will have Fr. Paul over once a week.”
Each one of these Sisters is from far away and not from the United States. These Sisters live in extreme poverty in a very difficult neighborhood and they are here voluntarily serving others. No, their families have not been held hostage and they are not working here as slaves so that their family members will be treated with kindness. These women have followed the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the end of the Gospel today she said,
Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
A better translation would be,
I am the slave of the Lord
I had to switch my schedule around because of the two Masses yesterday afternoon so I arrived at the Sister’s early and they were already praying and singing in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament Exposed on the Altar. They live in such terrible conditions and of course these are four women. So, walking in there you would expect the heat to be turned up high. My parting words to the Mother Superior yesterday were,
“Sister, you need to turn the heat up in there because they are going to get sick and we don’t want that.”
Here they are in a blighted community and they are economizing on the heat. These sisters are tremendous. Women really don’t like the cold and it was cold yesterday. I heard it on the radio this morning and so it is official…it is cold today. It is bitterly cold.
I gave the sisters a talk and when I went into the next room to hear their Confessions they began to sing Immaculate Mary, the song we sang here at the opening of Mass. I remember the sisters singing it with such joy as they always do. They love the Blessed Virgin Mary. These women do not even have a mirror in their convent. Can you imagine four women living under the same roof and having no mirror? Well, how do they put on their make-up? Look at the sisters; they don’t need make-up! They help each other to dress and be presentable. They wear the only make-up that is worth wearing and that is JOY, joy in God’s service and joy in imitation the Blessed Virgin Mary. To hear them sing Immaculate Mary so joyfully is a sure sign they are singing to the Blessed Mother. They are in love with Our Lady and most especially in love and in service to her Son, Jesus Christ.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to be on TV and radio, proclaiming that he was in love with a very special women; she was the same woman, who is the Blessed Mother. Pope John Paul II used to speak and write so eloquently about his love for the Blessed Mother. His motto was Totus Tuus, All For You Mary. It was a motto he’d lifted from St. Louis de Montfort, who was also in love with the same woman. When we look inwardly and we don’t see that same love in us, no wonder we have no joy in us, and joy is not with us.
In laboring so, the Blessed Mother has brought into this world Jesus Christ; the One Who would save us from the consequences of that day that will forever live in infamy…the Original Sin.
Father does not mean laboring so as in child birth.
What does Our Lady get for it? She gets the back of our hand; disdain. We don’t think about her, we don’t love and honor her as we should and that is sad because our country has a rare distinction. This country is Consecrated to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A few years ago I met for the first time, the retired Cardinal Archbishop of Puerto Rico. You see, I am a very important person. [Laughter] During our conversation he told me that it was his great joy to dedicate Puerto Rico to Our Lady, under the title of Our Lady of Divine Providence. Mexico is Consecrated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here in the United States, Our Lady, under the title of the Immaculate Conception is honored and yet we don’t feel inspired to honor her Immaculate Conception; we don’t love her as we should and she is a mother that loves us so much that she is always there looking to help such ungrateful children.
Saturday will be the 475th Anniversary of the first appearance of Our Lady to St. Juan Diego in 1531, in what we know today as Mexico City. Our Lady appeared to him twelve years after the beginning of the conquest of Mexico. She appeared to “St. Juan Diego Nobody”. He was an indigenous person living in Mexico, which had been soaked in human blood for centuries. Every vile practice or sin you could think of and then only have ready about, was practiced on a national level for centuries in Mexico. The most egregious of these was being the worship of Satan and human sacrifice. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared for the first time on December 9, 1531 and on December 12, 1531 she did something she’d never done before and has never done since then; she left us he own image. There is a statue over there, which is similar but we have a larger picture, which is an exact copy of the Tilma, as it is called. This is the only time in the history of the world that our Lady left us a photograph, if you will, of her.
When the Blessed Mother appeared to Juan Diego he had been nursing an uncle, who was sick and dying. Our Lady gave us a message through Juan Diego and handed on to us. She said,
|Am I not your mother? Am I not of your kind? Is there anything else I can do for you?|
Doesn’t that sound like a mother? Yet, she gets the back of our hand. I have no doubt that the Blessed Mother was instrumental in bringing that terrible war that we know as WWII, to an end. On this day we should be encouraged to love her and honor her; she who was chosen by God to right the wrong, along with Christ, to begin the family of God all over again; the family that God tried to start through Adam and Eve, She made herself the slave of the Lord and in doing so, by giving everything up and over to God she possessed the joy of having God in her every action, every thought, and every word. It is kind of like what I see those Sisters do over at the Missionaries of Charity. It is obvious that the Sisters aren’t sinful; they go to Confession once a week…you know…just like you and I do…most people don’t go every week.
When we think of the joy the Sisters of Charity have, do we wonder what they will be watching on television tonight? Is it going to be the rerun of the Sopranos or some HBO special? They don’t even own a television and I am sure if I held a gun to their heads they still wouldn’t watch television. They have so many other things to do. They are voluntary slaves; they have made themselves the slaves of God, to serve Christ in imitation of Our Lady. There is a joy on their faces and in their voices that is not in this world but should be. The reason it is not in this world is because you and I find their work and that model distasteful.
A day like today is a great day to recommit to the service f the Lord. To possess that joy means that we have to give up everything and to put ourselves at the service of the Lord. In doing so we are following the example of the Immaculate Conception who said,
Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to Thy Word.
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing!