Over the last several years I’ve told you so many silly stories that I can’t remember when or where I told them, but in my opinion, a good joke is worth repeating and sometimes they can’t be helped. As I know I’ve told you, if I hear the word “unique”, then that stupid joke immediately pops in my head and it is a struggle not to tell it: “How do you catch a unique rabbit? You ‘neek up on him.” All that to say, as this is a day when our readings focus on the Blessed Virgin Mary, then I have to tell / re-tell this one…
The main place of worship at Nashotah House is The Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin. Perhaps this is why so many of the graduates of the House have such a love for the Blessed Virgin, myself included.
The joke tells of a priest that dies and finds himself standing before Peter at the Pearly Gates. The priest tells Peter who he is, but Peter says that he’s not on the list. “What do you mean. I faithfully served the Church for over 50 years! Please check again.” Peter checks, but comes up with nothing. “Would you please go get Jesus, so that I can talk with him?” Peter obliges, but even Jesus says he’s not on the list. The priest protests again, giving a litany of the things he has accomplished in service to the Lord, hoping something will spark a memory. Finally, having exhausted all other options, he blurts out, “I went to Nashotah House,” at which point Jesus holds up his hand and smiles. Jesus says, “That explains everything! Come on in. You’re a friend of Moms.”
I’m hoping that I can get into heaven because I’m on the list and Jesus knows me, but if necessary, it will not be beyond me to have his momma talk to him.
Today in our Gospel we read about Mary going to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant with the forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist. Elizabeth said to Mary, “Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” Why did John leap in his mother’s womb? St. John Chrysostom tells us that in Mary, “The Lord is present, so [John] cannot contain himself or wait for nature to run its course; he wants to break out of the prison of his mother’s womb and he makes surefire he witnesses to the fact that the Savior is to come.” (From a sermon recorded by Metaphrastrus) Mary has brought Jesus very near and through the power of the Spirit, John recognizes that he is in the presence of his Lord, so even though he cannot speak, he proclaims the Savior by leaping for joy, just as David leapt for joy and danced before the Lord when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Israel.
This all points to the most important role of Mary for us all: to bring us into the very presence of God, by bringing us to her son, Jesus. What can such an encounter look like?
I know of a man who, while praying the Rosary, had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
He had been walking along a country road. On one side of the road was a piney forest and on the other was a field and a pond. As he was walking, he had been searching for the Virgin, but unable to find her. Then in the distance, he saw her walking toward him down the road. He quickly turned and ran to meet her, but—and this is probably funny—the closer she got, the bigger she got so that when they finally met, she was able to reach down and pick him up and put him in her pocket.
He tried to see through the weave in the fabric of her dress to see the outside world and determine where she was taking him, but was unable to. Not only that, but the further they went, the darker it became until all was dark. Yet as the light had lessened, he had been able to detect something new: a sound. At first, it sounded like the soft beating of a drum, but a short distance on, the sound was unmistakable: it was the beating of a heart. He began to not only hear the heartbeat, but to also feel it in his entire body. Each beat was like a loving embrace. It was then the man realized that Mary had done what she had always done: she had brought him to Jesus. You see, it was not her pocket that she had placed the man into. No. Mary had placed the man in the wound in Jesus’ side so that the man could be near the beating loving heart of the Risen Lord. There the man learned even more of the great love of Jesus. He had been allowed to remain in that place for a short time and then was sent on his way to try and fulfill the Lord’s will.
There is always much confusion surrounding the role of Mary in the Church and in the life of God’s people, but that confusion only arrises when people fail to understand her purpose. The Venerable Fulton Sheen (I do like him) says, “Devotion to the Mother of our Lord in no way detracts from the adoration of her Divine Son. The brightness of the moon does not detract from the brilliance of the sun, but rather bespeaks its brilliance.” Because of who she is, Mary receives our devotion, but she never seeks to be worshipped. Instead, she seeks to draw people to herself so that she can then lead them or even take them to her Son. So that she can place them near His heart that they might know of His great salvific love for them.
I encourage you all to take a quiet walk with Mary. You may think that she is simply spending time with you, which she is, but when the walk is over, just like John, you will find yourself in the presence of the Lord, and your soul (if not your body as well) will leap with joy.
Father, source of light in every age,
the virgin conceived and bore Your Son
Who is called Wonderful God,
Prince of Peace.
May her prayer,
the gift of a mother’s love,
be Your people’s joy through all ages.
May her response,
born of a humble heart,
draw Your Spirit to rest on Your people.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.