Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of December 8, 2007
1st reading: Gen 3:9-20; Psalm 97; 2nd reading: Eph 1:3-6, 11-12; Gospel: Luke 1:26-38
Although the homily today was preached by Jesus and beautiful, touching and full of food for thought it was, I too, always standing behind our Divine Master, feel obliged to talk to you. First of all I would urge each of you to address your guardian angel. I hope you are familiar with your angel, even if you do not know his name. It is a gift that God grants to every human being regardless of religion, culture or nation he belongs to. Ask your guardian angel, I have already asked mine, Joel, to lead, to accompany you before Mary Immaculate Conception, Mother of the Eucharist, in order to contemplate, enchanted and amazed, the greatest masterpiece of God, she, despite being human, is recognized by those who have angelic and spiritual nature as their queen. Immerse yourself in the beauty of this great work of God. Maybe we are used to always hear the same concept underlining Our Lady's greatness, meaning that the amount of grace present in her soul is greater than the sum of all the grace present in men. This sometimes leaves us indifferent because it has become such an obvious concept that it is taken for granted and there is no longer any emotion or involvement. This is wrong and that is why I invite you to reflect on the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, not only on the negative trait that is the deprivation of original sin and any other sin but also on the positive trait.
"At that time, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said: "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you". Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her: "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end". "How will this be?" Mary asked the angel, "Since I am a virgin". The angel answered: "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail". "I am the Lord's servant" Mary answered. "May your word to me be fulfilled". And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
So that you can better understand, I tell you that none of the saints canonized by the Church can be addressed with Gabriel's greeting, meaning that none of them can be invoked as "full" or "full of grace". This is another great intervention of God, who not only made Mary full of grace, but she was endowed with the widest possible soul for the capacity to receive the grace. God gave Mary all the grace He could and there is no possibility to add more. When a person is declared a saint, and you do not need the Church judgment, for the only, important, true, authentic judgment belongs to God, is like a vessel not completely full, although so much holiness is present in it. If we would list all the saints of the liturgical calendar we could say that none of them has all the grace that could be present in their soul. In Mary, on the other hand, there is a double aspect: she is capable of receiving an immense quantity of grace and this grace, which potentially could have been given to her, was indeed given. I hope to be able to make you understand the greatness and beauty of this mystery, and because we cannot quantify Our Lady's holiness and grace, we can only say that it is great, huge, immense, but they are human expressions that can never define such a high concept we are talking about.
In the presence of such a masterpiece that the angels recognize as their queen, begins the hymn "Hail, Holy Queen" we well know: "Hail, Holy Queen... our life, our sweetness and our hope..." Our Lady is the hope of mankind, the hope of the Church, the hope of every human being, so that all men, amazed and astonished before this masterpiece of God, may be comforted and enlightened by this grace. Look at Mary full of grace in this painting and in the other you see the fall of our first ancestors, Adam and Eve.
"After Adam had eaten of the tree, the Lord God called to the man: "Where are you?" He answered: "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." And he said: "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" The man said: "The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Then the Lord God said to the woman: "What is this you have done?" The woman said: "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."
So the Lord God said to the serpent: "Because you have done this, Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life".
"I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."
To the woman he said: "I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." To Adam he said: "Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat from it', "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food
until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."
Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living" (Gen 3:9-20).
No one but Mary has received so much grace and so many supernatural gifts as our ancestors. They, too, were a masterpiece and we could have been like them, but temptation meant that consciously and deliberately, and in this case we have to put ourselves at their side, we have disobeyed and turned our backs on God, so from the greatness and spiritual wealth we have fallen into poverty, frailty and weakness. However, despite that this frailty is transmitted from generation to generation, it is still in the human being the hope to stand up again. "I will put enmity between you and the woman" and the woman and the child that will be born from her will gain victory, then Mary is our hope in the sense that humanity has found in her the right compensation, from a human point of view, after the offence to God.
Mary is the hope of mankind, the hope of the Church. Jesus foretold very clearly that we would have met persecution along the centuries, that even our own relatives would have betrayed us, that we would have been offended. All this means suffering, means pain, humiliation. The Church in her journey, sometimes fraught, thorny and difficult, is supported by Mary who says: "I accompanied my Son along His journey, in the same way I will accompany the Church that my Son has entrusted to me in the supreme moment of His death" . We can hope and are assured to resemble God because this is His will: "God created mankind in his image" (Gen 1:27), but we never thought that if we resemble God, we spiritually resemble also Our Lady. If there is a physical resemblance between the natural mother and father and the natural children, in the same way exists a spiritual similarity with the Immaculate Conception. We can hope, since hope is certainty, to be sure to become pure and immaculate host, pleasing to God.
Let me add one more thought. I was committed to look up in the Holy Scripture, in the New Testament, in all the passages relating to hope, in Paul especially, in Peter, John, in the Acts of the Apostles and I managed to find about thirty of them. I would like to comment on at least one of them with you, the most common, the most famous and well known. It is located in the Letter to the Romans, at the point where, referring to Abraham, Paul writes: "He believed, hoping against hope" (Rom 4:18). I think that the true concept that Paul meant by this expression was not really shown. Ordinarily, at this passage of Scripture, commentators sneak off because probably they do not have the problem centered. What does hoping against hope mean? In this passage we talk about of both the human hope, commonly present in men's life, and of supernatural hope, the theological virtue, present only when man is in a state of grace; if man lives in sin he does not have the theological virtue of hope. Hoping against hope is to have the certainty that what God said will be fulfilled and that the Lord is sustaining me in accepting, believing and bringing forward what He has shown me, then, it means to believe blindly in God even when human appearances are fully against it. In the following case we are dealing with a concrete fact. God tells Abraham that he would become the founder of many peoples. Miraculously, as he was old and now barren, generates Isaac. From his lineage, besides the people of Israel, other peoples would have had to arise. Instead, God asks him to offer his son as a sacrificial victim. While failing the human condition, Abraham remained confident that he would become the founder of countless people like the stars in the sky. We too are called, like Abraham, to hope against hope. The one speaking to you, ordained Bishop by God, is now, and you also heard it in the Letter of God, out of the Clergy. How it is possible that one expelled from the clergy may become head of the clergy? We believe it, therefore we hope, that is, we have the certainty that what God has promised will be realized even if the conditions, the human appearances, indicate exactly the opposite. No-one would think that a person morally killed could rise to make things so great as to surprise the whole world. That is why we launched the year of hope, that is why I spoke about hope. We must ask the mother of hope to instill and give us hope, just in this moment when we are alone, deserted, betrayed, humiliated, slandered and scattered. How many are, by now, long gone from us, broken off from us. If all the people who came to this place would have been here, this garden could not contain them. Against us there are human facts and yet we continue to believe. They consider us dreamers? Is God deluding? Is Abraham a dreamer? Then let us follow Abraham and let me say, with all the respect I have for him, that maybe someone has shown to have greater hope than he had because Abraham showed it for a limited period of time, there is one who is showing it for more than thirty-six years. Next to them there are other people, you. Each of you continues to hope, even if the times are different for each person, but also in this case I apply for you the parable of the talents: does not matter the time and quantity, what matters is the commitment to answer the call of God from the moment that a person is called. The Holy Mass that I celebrate is just to give me, Marisa and you an ever stronger hope. We need to be reinforced in the certainty that God does not disappoint, that God does not deceive, but He realizes what He promised when He decides. Now read these two other small sentences, two pearls gleaned from the scripture, from Paul, our great friend, "Hope does not disappoint" (Rom 5:5), which is the conclusion of what I have said. The other: "Rejoice in hope" (Rom 12:12), suggesting that in addition to not be deluded we should not feel like that, but wait for the realization of God's plan and striving, and it is not automatic, to live a joyful waiting, Mary's waiting. From the moment of Annunciation to the time of Jesus birth, Our Lady had been waiting with joy, but also with trepidation, with suffering because she knew that the baby in her womb would have had to suffer so much. We learned, with wonder, from her words that while she was accompanying Jesus on the way to Calvary, Jesus dragging the cross, covered with wounds and blood, though suffering, she rejoiced because the death of her Son would resurrect other children, many children, we hope all the children. Praised be Jesus Christ.