Fr. Glenn: Our Feast Day

By Fr. Glenn Jones:

(Sigh)….57 years old and still reading the comics. But … it brings a little levity early in the day, and helps set a good mood. Maybe all of us sneak a peek at our old favorites now and again. I mean … how can you not like “Dilbert”?! And then there’s the golden oldies like Dennis the Menace, Peanuts, and even ol’ Garfield is getting a little long in the tooth. I can’t help but marvel at times at the cleverness of some of the writers. They are pretty good observers of the human scene.

A good one on Saturday with “Curtis”, centering on a couple of young brothers. The younger, frustrated that his older brother is going off to see his honey-snookems rather than playing with him, exclaims: “You’re a dumb poopyhead!!” Ah … our recent political “dialogue” in a nutshell—which I have little doubt but was the author’s intention. But, rather than respond in kind, the brother simply says: “Insults and name-calling don’t bug me…I don’t give ‘em the power! Sticks and stones…you know the rest.” Would that we all practice such wisdom!

But … we also know that the closer we are to the person, the greater the sting of insult … something which may have been in the mind of the author of Sirach: “The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes the bones.” (Sirach 28:17) And certainly Jesus taught that insults are diametrically opposed to charity and Godliness: “…whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”  (Matthew 5:22) 

Yikes. And we also remember Jesus: “…what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.” (Luke 12:2-3) How often we see this even in this life; it seems that anything we say eventually comes out … to some hurt. Thus, the wise heed the advice in Peter’s letter: “Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9) All throughout the Bible are exhortations against insults and gossiping and murmuring … and bearing false witness (oh, yeah … that Commandment thing!)

All of the wisdom given us above and elsewhere in scriptures is centered, of course, in Jesus and His teaching. And this weekend (June 29 this year) we Catholics celebrate one who points us to Him in the only command that she gives … the wisest advice of all scripture: “Do whatever He [Jesus] tells you.” (John 2:5). Yes, ‘tis His mother Mary. This weekend is normally (though superseded this year by another feast, however) the universal Catholic memorial of that which the Los Alamos Catholic church is named: the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Christians outside the orbit of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy—and to an extent including Anglican/Episcopal and Lutheran—are oft perplexed by our honoring of Mary. That honor is certainly NOT worship, as she was as human as any other of us … wholly dependent upon God’s grace. Nonetheless, she obviously occupies a special place in salvation history as the mother of the Savior Jesus Christ—the very fact of which indicates her “specialness” in the divine mind. While obviously not the source of Jesus’ divinity, she IS the source of His humanity, and utterly devoted to her only Son and Savior from conception to death … and from resurrection, ascension and beyond. She is, and is for all eternity, His mother.

And yet … she is by extension also the mother of all Christians and of the Christian faith, as Jesus alludes to so very poignantly almost at the moment of His death on the cross when He sees Mary and the disciple at His feet: “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” (John 19:26-27) This is far more than just “Look after mom when I’m gone”; we Catholics and Orthodox see this as divine assignment and affirmation of her role in the Christianity. And that brings up another of those Commandment things: “Honor thy father and thy mother.”

But why say prayers to Mary? First of all, the honor given to Mary and any of the saints is ultimately given to Christ, for without Him and God’s grace they would be nothing. But also … we Christians are a living community (“…have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:31-32)), and in our love for one another we pray for one another. Mary, as a saint, has no need of our prayers, but we continuing the earthly struggle certainly have need of hers … and of all the saints. Just as we might ask Aunt Betsy to pray for us, we ask the saints and our fellow Christians on earth to pray for us. We remember James: “…pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” (James 5:16) Well … there are none more righteous than those in Heaven! This is the “communion of saints” and the “one Body of Christ” of which all Christians are a part.

So where does this “Immaculate Heart” come in? Well, at the most basic level, non-Catholics/Orthodox could understand it as Mary’s pure will to do the perfect will of God in whatever she was called to do—accepting meekly the unprecedented mission of conceiving virginally, bearing, raising and witnessing the death of God’s Son … HER Son … through birthing in a stable, flight from murderers, exile, disgrace, uncertainty, sorrow, etc. She is truly “the handmaid of the Lord,” ever acquiescing to the greater will of God. And, thus, in that, she is mother and model for all.

Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.