My grandma held up 3 fingers — “Three days!” she said. “My grandson is coming in three days!”
The next day, she held up 2 fingers — “Two days! He’s coming in two days!”
Then, only one. “Tomorrow! Anthony is coming tomorrow!”
Yesterday morning, I had the immense privilege and honor of celebrating a mass of thanksgiving outside the window of my Grandma’s nursing home in Pittsburgh. The building is still on lockdown, obviously, so this was the best we could do given these frustrating and bizarre times we’re all living in. But for the chance to pray one of my first masses as a newly ordained priest for one of the most important people in my life — on her 98th birthday no less! — more than made up for the fact that a wall of glass, a face-mask, and six-feet of social distancing separated us.
Just to hear how excited she was as she anticipated our visit: “My grandson is coming!” was a source of hope, encouragement and joy.
This morning in our first reading, we hear the prophet Zechariah deliver these words of hope to us: “See I am coming!”
“…I am coming to dwell among YOU!” says the Lord!
Our hearts should be filled with joyful anticipation, like my Grandma was so filled with excitement, when we hear these words! Our God is a God who comes to us. He makes the first move to come visit us. He initiates this grand adventure of faith and pursues us in love. He is on the way, coming to us! — Not in three days, not when Coronavirus is finally a thing of history, not once we can make our souls more presentable, not at the end of our lives when we’re on our death beds.
He’s coming to us — now.
This beautiful fact sits right at the center of the mystery of our Christian faith: By His Incarnation, Jesus Christ came to us, he approached us from the recesses of Heaven — He did this first of all two-thousand years ago in Palestine, but even now, right here in Newport News, Virginia — he CONTINUES to come to us.
The same way as he ever has: Through His Mother — The Blessed Virgin Mary.
Today we celebrate your parish feast day: Our Lady of Mount Carmel, so it’s fitting that we meditate on one of the most jarring and fundamental truths of our faith:
Jesus comes to us through Mary.
St. Paul put it best in our second reading: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.”
You can’t have Jesus, the Son, without Mary, the Mother. It’s not biologically possible — nor is it spiritually possible. They come as a unit. To separate them would be far more deplorable than the glass window and 6-feet that separated me and my Grandma yesterday morning.
Simply put: You can’t socially distance — or spiritually distance — Jesus from his Mom.
Blessed James Alberione once said that Mary is the “Editor” of the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ — the Word made flesh. The terms “edit” or “edition” imply a “coming forth” — a “bringing forth.” In a deep and mysterious way, Jesus is the “edition” of Mary — He came forth through her by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. She gave him her humanity.
With all this in mind, listen again to Zechariah’s prophecy: “See I am coming to dwell among YOU!” says the Lord!
Jesus came — and is coming! — through our Blessed Mother. What a gift! What a source of hope, encouragement, and joy!
We need Mary if we want to have Jesus.
Now at this point, maybe you’re thinking: “I don’t know, Fr Anthony — You’re brand new at this priest-thing. Didn’t you hear Jesus in our Gospel today? Didn’t he VERY clearly distance himself from his Mother? She was standing outside asking to speak to him, we heard, and when someone said: “Your mother wants to speak to you, Jesus,” he responded: “Who is my mother?”
Didn’t he insult her? Didn’t he push her away? Shouldn’t we ignore her just like Jesus seems to be doing?
Don’t miss the deeper truth in this passage! Rather than distancing himself from his biological mother, Jesus is drawing her closer still.
He IS, however, distancing himself from too earthly an understanding of his relationship to his mother. It’s as if he’s saying:
“I am the Word made flesh through her! She absolutely IS my mother — the Mother of God! — and she is to be YOUR mother as well. From the Cross, I’ll make that clear: ‘Behold! Your Mother!’ How could I ever insult my Mother and yours? I love her! But so that YOU might understand that I must come to belong to you even as I belong to her, I’ve used this situation as a teaching moment: ‘Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother and sister and mother.’”
Mary, of all people, would wholeheartedly agree with this statement. She wants nothing more than to do God’s will and to help others do the same. It’s who she is. She wants only to form Jesus Christ in the womb of your soul.
This is really good news, because although the Lord is certainly coming to us, He is not the only one coming.
The world, the flesh, and the devil are coming at us constantly to ruin our lives. A radical secularism that would drive away all trace of religion is coming for us and our families. An aggressive apathy is coming at us. An activistic spirit that would keep us too busy to pray is coming at us. A preoccupation with pleasure and materialism, ideologies about the human person and sexuality that are incompatible with the faith, are coming at us — bombarding our fortifications of faith, hope and love.
We need an Advocate. We need a loving and devoted Mother who will swat away every heresy and falsehood that would lead us away from our Heavenly Father’s will. We need a helper who will inspire fathers to take their faith seriously and rise up to defend their families spiritually. Who will cover our children with her mantle and give young people courage to be holy when nobody else cares. We need Mary, who constantly dispenses blessings through the power of the Holy Spirit from her queenly throne in Heaven.
God’s will becomes clear to us through the hands of Mary. I can personally testify to the role the Rosary played in my discernment of the priesthood. I wouldn’t be here today without her intercession.
If I may be so bold to propose an exhortation to all here today: Learn to pray the rosary regularly! It’s such a beautiful practice. When you pray the rosary, Mary will take you by the hand and lead you into the depths of the Heart of her Son. The Rosary is not a mindless or repetitive prayer. It’s a meditative walk with the Mother of our Lord, who knows Jesus better than any other human being ever did. When we pray the Rosary, we spiritually visit those most pivotal moments in the life of our Savior, and Mary points out how these moments have changed YOUR life.
Jesus comes to us through Mary. Soon, he will come to us upon this altar. Our Lady cannot be separated from the Eucharist. It is the True Flesh and Blood of our Lord — the same Flesh and Blood he received from her. She stands with us here at the foot of the Cross, re-presented anew under the appearance of Bread and Wine. Come and see — He’s coming to dwell among you!