We honor Mary, which is quite right to do,
because of her amazing generosity: she said yes to God.
We honor her because she acted at the great fulcrum of history:
everything that matters for us hinged on her yes to heaven.
So, we have St. Bernard, who wrote a moving appeal
to the Blessed Mother, as if he – and all humanity –
were watching in the wings as Gabriel came to her.
He says, answer boldly, don’t be afraid to answer, we all beg it of you!
Or, we have a Protestant poet, Wordsworth,
who described Mary as our “tainted nature’s solitary boast,”
and I confess those words bring tears to my eyes
every time I call them to mind.
My point being to describe – and defend –
our extravagant honors to Mary.
I might add, in passing here, that sometimes our friends and family
who are not Catholic do not understand this.
They think it goes too far and they suggest we are worshipping Mary
in a way that only God is to be worshipped.
I want to answer those objections, as someone who –
when I was in my 20s – would have made those very same arguments!
Because in my 20s, I was away from the Church
and bought into many of those ideas.
Let me point out, first, that if you understand clearly
what IS Catholic worship,
you will realize how wrong it is to say we worship Mary.
What, after all, is the heart and center of Catholic worship?
What are we all commanded to do at least on Sundays,
but attend Holy Mass? And Holy Mass is offered every single day.
Here is something you will never see; indeed, it makes me shudder
to think of it: you will never, not ever, see a Catholic Mass
offered TO Mary.
When the priest lifts up the Body and Blood, what does he say:
“Through him, with him, in him, O God almighty Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is YOURS,
forever and ever.”
There it is: the Mass is offered TO THE FATHER,
through JESUS, “in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Never, not ever, will you hear a priest say these words to MARY.
Likewise, we believe that as the consummation of Mass –
if we are in a state of grace, we receive the Eucharist –
which is Jesus of course.
But here’s a great way to explain our devotion to Mary.
We worship Jesus – particularly in the Eucharist.
But we know that without Mary, there would be no Eucharist.
She gave us his Body and Blood, when she conceived him in her womb!
So while we ADORE Jesus, we are GRATEFUL to Mary.
The other point I want to make is this.
In a prayer of dedication used at baptisms, it says, “our love for you” –
that is, Mary – “is only a participation in the love of Jesus for you.” There it is.
Who can doubt that Jesus’ own love for his mother
must be more intense than a thousand suns?
Each of us feels such great gratitude and love for our own parents,
who can ever imagine Jesus feeling any less?
Indeed, it surely must be far, far MORE than our love can ever be.
So I will just say that if you think Catholics get silly
in our love for Mary,
all you really have to do is think long and hard
about how much Jesus must love his own mother.
She who, after all, was mocked by people who ridiculed her claim
that the Holy Spirit caused her pregnancy.
She who suffered in so many ways
as a result of being the mother of the Messiah,
and the worst of it, of course,
was seeing her son tortured and murdered.
Who could ever bear such a thing?
And what son could see his mother so tormented,
and not feel a gratitude and love beyond all description?
If you think Jesus could behold that
and not love Mary beyond all words, you are basically saying
he had no human heart at all, but was some sort of emotionless robot.
So, our friends who mean well when they say we overdo it,
while intending only to honor Jesus, actually end up –
again, unintentionally – diminishing him.
But back to the main point which is this.
Yes, we honor Mary, we thank her, we love her.
But do not make the mistake of thinking she is unapproachable.
That she is simply to be admired. That would, indeed, go too far.
Mary is a companion, as are all the saints.
As we are called to be to each other.
The Scriptures always show her companionship.
Immediately, she went to visit Elizabeth and Zachariah,
no doubt because she learned her relative was six months pregnant.
She accompanied Joseph and Jesus to Egypt
and to Jerusalem for Passover.
She and Joseph searched for Jesus when he was missing.
After Joseph died,
Mary was with her son and his companions constantly,
right up until the day he died.
She was with the apostles, praying for the Holy Spirit,
in the days after Jesus ascended into heaven.
And remember, Jesus gave Mary to the Apostle John to care for,
and tradition tells us that is what he did,
until her life on earth ended and her body was taken to heaven.
Surely she, too, cared for John?
What I invite you to do is remember this prayer book in the pews –
on page XX you will find a litany to Mary.
Some of the titles are obscure –
although you can look them up online if you like –
but many are perfectly understandable.
They are invitations for you
to see her as a companion in your own troubles:
“Mother most amiable” – that means friendly
“Mother of good counsel” – she will always give you good advice
“Mother of mercy” –
she will always welcome you and help you seek out her son for forgiveness.
“Mother most prudent” –
no one has a more level head and calm disposition.
She’s been through a lot!
“Virgin most powerful” – her Son is God and he’s always listens to her!
She is a companion when you are sick, when you are afraid,
and when you have lost your way.
She knows what sorrow is, what missing someone you love feels like,
and she knows the heartache of losing someone you love.
She was there when Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist,
she helped take care of Zachariah, she cared for Joseph until he died,
and she stood at the foot of the Cross.
There is no trial, no fear, no pain, she doesn’t know.
Let her be your companion.