Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Homily for Mass Consecrating the Diocese of Scranton to the Care of
the Blessed Virgin Mary on the 100th Anniversary of the Apparitions at Fatima
28th Sunday on Ordinary Time
October 15, 2017
In his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis quotes from a homily that he had given at a Mass celebrated with new cardinals in 2015: “The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone forever. It is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. … For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous.”
These words sum up today’s readings and the special nature of this celebration. From Isaiah’s vision of God providing for and sustaining all people through his gracious and unconditional love – to Saint Matthew’s parable of the wedding feast to which all people: Gentiles, foreigners and even those who do not believe in God are invited and welcomed – to Saint Paul’s powerful reminder that we can do all things and face all things through him who strengthens us, the Word of God today challenges us to trust in God and to put our hope in his power and presence at work in our lives and in our world.
In so many respects, these scripture passages not only remind us of the posture that we would do well to embrace in our life of faith and in our relationship to God. They also capture the essence of the one who best understood what it meant to live as a faith-filled disciple and child of God – the Blessed Virgin Mary – to whom we consecrate our local diocesan Church this day.
Let’s take a moment to reflect upon her life, all that she teaches us this day, and what her presence in the Church provides us with as we journey through life.
In another gospel passage taken from Saint John, we are given a glimpse into the life of Mary and the very foundations for her greatness in the Church. That passage takes us to the wedding feast at Cana, which finds Mary concerned about a seemingly insignificant issue. The wine for the feast had run out and she brings that discovery to her son, Jesus. She’s met with a sharp rebuke by her son. “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” Mary’s response, however, which is not based on one shred of information in the story, sets her apart from among all other disciples. “Do whatever he tells you.” … In those words, Mary becomes the first disciple of Jesus to show the quality of true belief. She trusts unconditionally in the word of her son, even in the face of apparent rejection and rebuke. … She trusts unconditionally! … Hold on to that reality and reflect with me a bit more on the woman whom we honor today.
We really know very little about Mary from the scriptures. Yet, she has intrigued us for twenty centuries. … Why? … What is her appeal? … The answer is found in her human journey with God – which, in reality, is our journey as well. Let’s reflect, then, a bit more on how this incredible woman – Our Lady of Fatima, our Queen of Heaven – speaks to our lives. And as we reflect, I’d ask you to see yourselves in her life. I assure you that she will speak most poignantly to us not from her throne on high, but from the struggle of her journey of life and faith as well as the deep sense of trust that gave life to her relationship with God.
When we first meet Mary, she is the object of an ugly rumor. She is pregnant without a husband. That she was innocent and touched by the Holy Spirit simply wasn’t believed. … Isn’t Mary a source of comfort for all who have suffered from rumors and have had their reputations soiled? Doesn’t she speak to unwed mothers who chose the life of their unborn child yet who are misunderstood and often maligned in our self-centered and self-interested world?
During our initial encounter with Mary in the scriptures, we are also confronted by her anxiety and fear. When invited to become the Mother of God, Mary’s response is likely no different from our own. “How can this be?” … Isn’t Mary like any of us who have ever wondered: “What does God want from me?”
And when her son, newly born, was sought after by those who wanted to destroy him, isn’t Mary like any mother who worries about her child and wants to protect him or her from all those individuals who seek to kill spirits and potential and who trample our deepest hopes and break hearts – the drug dealers, the child molesters, the preachers of false values.
Recall that after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph fled with their son to Egypt – a foreign land – homeless and displaced – like the millions of refugees and immigrants who wander our world in search of a better life for their children and are often, sadly, turned away.
In later years, when Jesus was a young man and appeared to have been lost in Jerusalem during the Passover feast, he told his parents who were frantically searching for him, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And the scriptures tell us that Mary and Joseph “did not understand.” … How many of you don’t understand your children’s decisions or choices? How many of us struggle at times to make sense of what others do – even with the best of intentions on their parts.
At some point, Mary became a widow and cried like so many of us who have lost someone we love in death. … She saw her son leave home and she faced the fear and uncertainly of life alone.
Mary heard rumors about her son. She sought him out but couldn’t get near to him because of the crowds. … Then her son was caught by those who sought to destroy him simply because he spoke truth to the hearts of those who sought a way forward through their faith in God. He was betrayed by one whom Mary had undoubtedly welcomed into her home many times with her son.
She saw her son mocked and beaten as he hung on a cross, even while she was told to keep her distance. … And suddenly, every parent who has seen their child carted off to prison – or dealing with addiction – or content to raise his/her own children without having them baptized – or going through a divorce; every parent who witnesses such “crucifixions” and is told to keep away can identify with Mary. … Like Mary, sometimes all we can do is pray and suffer in silence.
Finally, Mary cradled the dead and broken body of her only son in her arms and sobbed uncontrollably. … Once more, Mary speaks to every parent who has ever lost a child, to every soul who has ever lost a spouse or parent or friend.
Mary has known all of life, as you and I experience it. And we call her blessed – not because she reigns today as our Queen of Heaven – but because she walked our world and embraced it as a woman of faith: a trusting disciple of her son, Jesus. Scan the scripture and you will discover that Mary’s faith by no means guaranteed her a perfect world, free from suffering and pain. Yet her faith enabled her to trust and to see life in a hopeful way. … And it can do the same for us.
Pope Francis described Mary’s vision of life in these words: “At the message of the angel, Mary did not hide her surprise. It was the astonishment of realizing that God, to become man, had chosen her, a simple maid of Nazareth – not someone who lived in a palace amid power and riches, or one who had done extraordinary things, but simply someone who was open to God and put her trust in him, even without understanding everything. ‘Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38). That was her answer. … And God constantly surprises us, he bursts our categories, he wreaks havoc with our plans. And he tells us: trust me, do not be afraid, let yourself be surprised, leave yourself behind and follow me!”
Because of her willingness to trust unconditionally and to say “yes” to following the Lord completely, Mary becomes a woman for all ages. Therein is the secret of her appeal to all of us who have struggled to find true meaning and purpose in our lives. … Mary was the handmaid of the Lord who traveled a lowly path throughout her life. And God lifted her up and did great things for her!
The message of Mary – the message of our consecration of the Church of Scranton to her loving care this day – and the message that God places within our hearts every time we invoke her memory and example – is a simple message of hope. … Mary is faithfulness rewarded. … She now is where we hope to be when we come to the end of our journey of life. … And she reminds us that the same mercy and love of God that carried her through life and entrusted to her the gift of her son Jesus, will fill our lives and lead us to lasting peace if we but open our hearts to God and trust in his ways.