The following is a homily delivered last week in Saint Mary’s Chapel by Father John Morris, O.P., preacher and member of the Theology and Religious Studies Department of the College. Father John teaches Christology, Bible, and the social doctrines of the Church, and leads Collegiate seminars. He is also the Social Justice Promoter of the West Coast Province of his order.
The Almighty has done great things for me (Lk 1:49)
Many years ago, I don’t know exactly when, Brother Mel determined that a special day should be set aside in order to suitably express appreciation for the staff members of Saint Mary’s College. The Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary was chosen as that day. This was a good choice for two reasons: first, because it is the patronal feast of the College; and second, since this feast falls in the summertime when faculty and students are largely absent from the campus, our attention rests entirely on the staff members. This is an appropriate time to thank you and to honor you the staff members of Saint Mary’s College for your service.
Since we are celebrating the patronal feast of the College let us begin our reflection by considering for a moment the stained glass window over the reredos in the sanctuary. It is a beautiful artistic depiction of Mary’s Assumption. This beautiful window contains an image of Mary’s permanent home in heaven. It also depicts her final resting place on earth now adorned with roses. It is fittingly surrounded by the Twelve Apostles; Peter is to your right holding the keys of the kingdom; and there are three Apostles without beards making it difficult to determine which is John the Beloved Disciple.
Our attention is naturally drawn upward to the image of Mary in heaven, which seems only fitting for our devotion. But at the same time it invites our attention downward to her time with us on earth. The question is this: can we recover anything of her earthly life that might make it easier for us to relate?
As you leave the Chapel this morning I invite you to examine its corner stone. It is engraved with these beautiful and meaningful words: “To Mary of whom was born Jesus.” This naming of Mary without title strongly invites us to consider her in ways in which we are unaccustomed. We are invited to focus on the lived experience of Mary and her son.
How may we connect with Mary? She possesses four significant qualities that may help us. The first of these is that during her earthly life Mary was largely invisible. There is precious little in Scripture about her or her daily activity. A few passages perhaps: she is central to the Infancy Narratives; we find her at the foot of her son’s cross; she appears once in Cana (The wedding feast in John’s Gospel); and again she appears once in Capernaum (in the Synoptic Gospels). Her name is hardly mentioned: only once in the Gospel of Mark; twice in John; five times in Matthew; a few more times in Luke. The important point is this: in spite of the absence of Scriptural references to her, in spite of her invisibility, this story is not told without her presence. Invisible she may be; but she is always present to us.
Mary was faithful. She was the first to hear the saving news from the Angel Gabriel and she accepted it in faith. She was dedicated to keep this commitment for her entire life. Her fiat made her a model of the Church.
Mary was humble. In her Magnificat, Mary praises God because he has “Looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness” (Luke 1: 48). Her situation in life was shared with many. It was marked by a complete lack of resources and power. We should understand her humility, her being humble, as falling somewhere between personal self-aggrandizement and being self-deprecating. True humility is recognizing one’s true worth before God and knowing that this is his gift. So it was with Mary.
She was joyful. We know that in the Temple Simeon revealed to Mary that her heart would be pierced by a sword, that she would experience deep sorrow. We also know that this prediction came true. It reached its culmination at Jesus’ death on the Cross. But we can be assured that there was a place deep within her very being no sorrow could touch. The proclamation she sang when she visited Elizabeth never left her: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1: 46-47). If these words were not always on her lips, they were always in her soul.
Mary was a woman who lived her life deeply “in the holy presence of God.” Our connection with her is that her qualities mentioned above are reflected in some way in all of us. They are rarely realized perfectly. But it is certain that there are times when we become invisible to many with whom we work. We know that faith and humility are often demanded of us. We pray that our joy and equanimity never leave us.
Mary is not important because she accomplished great things, because she stood in the limelight of many admirers. Mary is important because she said yes: let God’s will be done. Without Mary’s fiat, without her “yes,” there would be no Incarnation. We make a similar claim about you, the College staff members. Without your fiat, without your “yes” to all the services you provide, which for the most part remains invisible, this College would be quite a different place.
We thank you, we honor you, and we praise you. May God bless you for what you are and for what you do.