Homily for the Solemnity of the Annunciation, 25 March 2017
Without losing his majesty, God in humility came down among us. Without ceasing to be infinite, eternal, immortal, out of love for us God became small, mortal, dependent. He came into his creation as a creature, without ceasing to be its Creator. He became the child of his holy Mother, without ceasing to be her Lord. He came to her who was Immaculate, in order to be her Redeemer and Saviour. This mystery is rather easily stated, and in familiar words: yet it will always remain for us utterly astonishing; apparently impossible; unheard-of; beyond our comprehension. Never can we come to an end of marvelling at it, wondering before it, puzzling over it; giving thanks for it, rejoicing in it. The Incarnation is a blessing for us beyond our imagination; a gift infinitely beyond our deserving; an outpouring for us of grace and mercy beyond hope or expectation, and beyond all measure. Today we ask the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts: that we may comprehend, appreciate, enter into this mystery ever more and more. We ask him to take away our spiritual and moral blindness and deafness and hardness of heart, which alone enable us to be heedless, and complacent, and indifferent. The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, and filled her, and gave us Jesus through her. So we ask him to help us respond as we should, as we can - like Mary, with Mary, through Mary - to the fullness of grace poured out for us today.
This year two important anniversaries have some bearing on our celebration of this Solemnity. First, there was Martin Luther’s break with the Catholic Church, inaugurated in 1517; then the Fatima apparitions in 1917.
About the theological understanding of the Incarnation, Martin Luther was completely orthodox. He strongly upheld the truth of the Divine Motherhood; he unhesitatingly preached the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin. Nowadays we can freely and willingly rejoice that Catholics and Lutherans are able together to affirm this essential message, this good news of our salvation. The unbelieving world knows nothing about it. Catholics and Protestants alike want to proclaim it convincingly, and with united voice, ever asking the One Lord we worship to heal the wound, and schism, which 500 years ago tore the Latin Church of the West apart.
Sometimes you hear the suggestion that for the sake of ecumenism, Catholics should quietly drop those aspects of their faith which Martin Luther rejected. Sometimes indeed you have the impression that some Catholics have already done that. But true Christian unity will not be brought about through weakness or lukewarmness of faith; nor through compromise rooted in false doctrine. On the contrary. We know that. The Catholic Church knows that. And as a matter of fact, in case there were any doubt, heaven itself spoke 100 years ago to the three children of Fatima, with a message for the whole Church, and the whole world to listen to.
Very remarkably, we find there strongly affirmed precisely those doctrines which Luther and the Reformers denied. Luther marginalised Mary, rejected the idea of her mediation, and outlawed devotion to her, because he considered it an obstacle to faith in Jesus. But at Fatima, precisely, Our Lady was placed in the foreground; her mediation was emphasised; and devotion to her was promoted as a necessary consequence of faith in Jesus.
Two other central doctrines of the Catholic Church rejected by the Reformers were highlighted at Fatima: the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, and the mystery of the Church herself, as the universal means of salvation in Christ. All three of these doctrines flow from the central mystery of the Incarnation. They cannot be separated or removed from it without damage. They are part of God’s plan, God’s dispensation of salvation. If we want to receive what Jesus came to give us, we need to accept also the means, the gifts, the helps he bequeathed to us: including his Mother, the Church, and the holy Eucharist.
According to the message of Fatima, our chief trouble is that we don’t have enough devotion to our Lady, or to the Holy Eucharist, or to our Mother the Church. We are not sufficiently confident in our Catholic doctrine; not whole-hearted enough in living out its consequences. In addition, our Lady of Fatima emphasised several aspects of Christian life which are very seldom spoken of nowadays: the importance of sacrifice; of voluntary penance; of reparation for our own sins and the sins of others; of prayer for the salvation of sinners: that they may escape the eternal punishment of hell.
The Church accepts the credibility of the Fatima apparitions because they are in accordance with her faith; because of the trustworthiness of the three seers, and because of the miracles that accompanied their visions, as witnessed by many thousands of people, including many unbelievers. These events, so full of light, and grace, and consolation, had as dark background the First World War, and the Russian Revolution. But war and revolution were not merely background: our Lady came precisely in order to reverse them. She asked for constant, earnest prayer for peace; especially through the holy rosary. And she asked for the consecration of Russia to her Immaculate Heart, in order that the godless and inhuman ideology it would soon spread around the world be effectively countered.
The Second Vatican Council synthesised Catholic doctrine about Mary with great economy and sobriety of language, and also with sensitivity to possible Protestant objections. We read in Chapter 8 of Lumen gentium: Virgo Maria ... Verbum Dei corde et corpore suscepit et Vitam mundo protulit - The Virgin Mary received the Word of God in her heart and in her body, and she brought forth Life for the world (LG 53).
Today we give thanks for this gift of life; this gift that is God himself. Mary Immaculate received Jesus, and therefore she is able to give Jesus. Far from being an obstacle to Jesus, Mary points us to him, leads us to him, helps us also to receive him as she did, each according to his own capacity: and she does so actively, lovingly, powerfully, as our Mother. Hearing again the message of Fatima, we renew today our consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Mary, so pure, so full of grace, so beautiful, so loving, so holy; she is also afflicted by our sins and the sins of the world; by the sufferings of her Son, and of her children.
To her then we turn as we beg for the gift of peace for our afflicted world today. We ask for the reconciliation of all Christians; we ask for the conversion of sinners, and above all we ask for our own conversion. Forgive us our sins, Lord, we cry: save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially ourselves, who are most in need of your mercy.