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Bishop Koenig homily at Diocese of Wilmington Marian Pilgrimage: Mary ‘heard the word of God and observed it’

Bishop Koenig delivers the homily Sept. 25 at Mass during the Diocese of Wilmington Marian Pilgrimage in Washington. Dialog photo/Bob Krebs

This past week I spoke to a woman, whom I will call Betty. Betty is in her 80s and I was blessed to first meet her over 35 years ago when I was a newly ordained priest. She has five adult children, four of whom are married and have adult children themselves. She lives in a beach community and she is the type of mother and grandmother whose home is always open to her family. Her grandchildren, now in their 20s, will often come with their friends for a weekend overnight. If truth be told, it is an opportunity to be with their beloved grandmother, but also provides them with a place where they and their friends can get a break from their apartments and the city humidity.

As we spoke, Betty told me how she could not help but worry about her children and her grandchildren.  She said they are all doing fine; however, she still worried, amongst other things, about their health, their jobs and their marriages.

After listening to Betty, I told her the obvious: that her children were no longer children, they are adults. However, I also added, you will never stop being a mother. And a large part of being a mother is the maternal love and concern you have for your children, whether they are young or old. Betty seemed to agree and also mentioned how she needed to live in the present moment and not be overly worried and concerned about tomorrow.

As we finished our conversation and said goodbye, I was especially conscious of what a blessing her love and concern are to her two daughters, three sons and her twelve grandchildren. They undoubtedly know how important they are to her and how she wants only the best for each of them and is single-minded in her willingness to help each of them, unique as they are from one another, to be their best.

Bishop Koenig

As we gather this afternoon in the national Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, I would suggest to you that Betty’s maternal love for her children gives us a partial insight into the maternal love with which each of us is held by our Blessed Mother. Today’s very brief Gospel passage has always been a little jarring to me. Our Gospel recounts how someone shouts in praise of Mary for how she gave birth to and cared for Jesus. And Jesus’ response, at least at first, seems to be dismissive of this praise of Mary. Instead of Jesus saying that he agrees with the person who has shouted his praise of Mary, Jesus says that there is something else that makes one blessed. And this something else is hearing the word and observing it. And when we think about this, we realize that Jesus is, in fact, not dismissing that Mary is blessed but pointing out that far greater than her giving physical birth to Jesus is her life of hearing God’s word and living according to that word. Jesus is pointing to Mary’s Fiat, her saying “thy will be done” to the angel Gabriel’s request that she be the Mother of God’s only Son. He is pointing to Mary’s presentation of the newly-born infant Jesus in the Temple and being told that a sword shall pierce her heart. He is referring to her finding the twelve-year old Jesus in the temple and being enigmatically asked by Jesus whether she knows that he has to be about his father’s business. Jesus’ words will be lived out as Mary walks with him as he faces rejection and hatred and crucifixion.

Yes, Mary is the one who, we are told, pondered these things in her heart, heard the word of God and observed it.

And this brings us to one of the final things that Jesus said before dying on the cross. As he hung upon the cross, Jesus looked to Mary and his beloved disciple and said to his beloved disciple, “Behold your mother.” And to his mother, “Behold your son.” And at that moment in which Mary was given to John, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was given to the Church which John represented. At that moment, Mary, the mother of Jesus became our mother also.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

In returning to my opening story about Betty and her maternal love, it goes without saying that her love is going to impel her to action on behalf of her children.  If she senses that they need an encouraging word, she will certainly reach out to them with that word. If they need her help in meeting some material or physical need, she will certainly do what she is able to help them.  Love, in other words, is not just a sentiment but it is lived out with specific actions.  And so too with Mary.  While she is a model of discipleship and the example we strive to follow, as our Mother she is active.

In his encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, St. John Paul II, looks to the story of Wedding Feast of Cana and cites it as the “first manifestation of the truth concerning Mary’s maternal care.” Mary, aware even before the bride and groom know about it, that the wine for the wedding feast was running out, goes to Jesus with the situation that has developed. She then goes to the waiters and instructs them to do whatever Jesus tells them. Mary, in a word, takes an active role interceding on behalf of these newlyweds and pointing out to the waiters the need to listen to Jesus.

It is the message of the Second Vatican Council, which told us that while Jesus is the one and only Mediator between God and ourselves, Mary has a preeminent role in our salvation and our pilgrimage here on earth. In the words of St. John Paul II: “It is precisely in this sense that the episode at Cana in Galilee offers us a sort of first announcement of Mary’s mediation, wholly oriented towards Christ and tending to the revelation of his salvific power.”

As we return to our parishes from today’s pilgrimage, may we be strengthened in knowing Mary’s maternal care over our church, over our families and parishes. And may we know that Mary, our Blessed Mother, watches over and intercedes for us.

On May 13, 1982, St. John Paul II, celebrated Mass at Fatima, the place where, 65 years earlier, on May 13, 1917, our Blessed Mother first appeared to the three young shepherd children. It was on that date, one year earlier, that a trained marksman, at point blank range, attempted to assassinate the Holy Father. As we know, St. John Paul II survived that attempt on his life. In looking back on the day, John Paul said that one hand shot the gun but another hand guided the bullet so that the wound would not be fatal. In other words, Saint John Paul did not believe that it was just a coincidence that his life was spared that day, but believed it was through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. St. John Paul’s special relationship with the Blessed Mother can be seen in his episcopal motto: “Totus Tuus,” a Latin phrase meaning “Totally Yours.” It is taken from St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary, and signifies the desire to give ourselves entirely to Jesus Christ through Mary.

As we, on pilgrimage gather and offer ourselves at Mass today, John Paul’s words on the occasion of that 1982 visit to Fatima are particularly apt.  He reminded us that while our pilgrimage to this Basilica will end as we return home later today, it is only part of the Church’s greater pilgrimage along the ways of the world towards the eternal Jerusalem where God will wipe every tear from our eyes and there shall be no mourning or crying or pain.

At the same time, however, we are invited, in the words of John Paul II, to

recognize what an immense grace was granted to us human beings when, in the midst of our pilgrimage, there shone forth on the horizon of the faith of our times this “great portent, a woman” (cf. Rev 12:1).

Yes, truly we can repeat: “O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all women on earth …  walking in the straight path before our God … you have avenged our ruin”.

Truly indeed, you are blessed.

Yes, here and throughout the Church, in the heart of every individual and in the world as a whole, may you be blessed, O Mary, our sweet Mother.

As we gather on pilgrimage today and return home a little later, may we look to Mary, the Mother of the Church and our Mother. May we, like the waiter at Cana, heed her messages to us and to do as Jesus tells us. May we, through Mary give ourselves totally to Jesus.