Living a Life of Penance (Conversion) in the Example of Our Blessed Mother Mary
Given as a Mass Homily upon the Life Profession of a Confraternity of Penitents member.
My joy could not be more for you this day, Patrick, and not only for you and the Confraternity of Penitents but, indeed, for the Church. And is it not the providence of God that we have this beautiful ceremony on the day when we we have these glorious readings for Franciscans? I mean, really? Do I have to preach?
The first reading is about the thorn in the side. And no, Franciscans are not the thorn in the side of the Church, although sometimes they might think they are. That thorn in the side is our desires, our inordinate passions, our concupiscence.
This beautiful life of self-denial, this beautiful life of living the way of St. Francis, is the remedy to the thorn. When the Lord says “My grace is sufficient for you,” what does he mean? He means that through this beautiful life of sacrifice and of penance, the grace that you receive is the very remedy for the thorn. And it is the remedy for sin itself.
For it is in denying yourself that the Lord gives you the grace to master yourself, to master your passions, and so become as God has created you to be. That is ultimately what this is about.
Patrick, this pledge that you make is a particular way of life that helps you become who God created you to be. You said, before we walked in here, that you really thought that God has been calling you to this, and we agree!
We think God has been calling you to this because in this life, not only will you grow in holiness, but the Church will also resound because the more people who live this way of life, the more people who live the life of penance, the life of prayer, the life of sacrifice, the greater conduit they become for grace to flow into the Church so souls can be saved. Most especially yours, right? But then also, other souls of the Church.
And then of course we come the Gospel verse, that beautiful verse in between the two alleluia’s. “Jesus Christ became poor although he was rich so that by his poverty, we might become rich.” In fact, that is the mystery of the Franciscan life. It is a giving up of everything the world supposedly has to offer that we gain more than the world could ever offer.
Because it is just in giving up everything that the world offers that we gain the greatest experience of the Lord and Savior, this is how we gain trust in God and not only trust in God but also the ability to live out that life in freedom and to show the world what it is that Christ beckons them to. Out of the worldliness, out of the cares, so that we might live the Gospel, so that we might have no more worries. The world has so many worries.
One thing that I love about the Confraternity of Penitents is the uniform. You know--the uniform! The dress restrictions, right? I just think they are a great idea!.
As someone who wears a uniform, I know what a blessing that is! When you wake up in the morning, there is no anxiety! What should I wear? Is this appropriate? Whatever it is, there is no question.
For me it is even simpler. Black or black. That’s it. I know you have a couple of variations. But regardless, it is beautiful.
When we get rid of the things of the world, we do not have to worry as the world worries. And that is my prayer for you, Patrick, that as you continue to deepen your life in this beautiful pledge, and this beautiful way of life of the Confraternity of Penitents, that the worries of the world pass away and the worries of God become your worries. That is the goal. Take on the worries of God.
And what is the worry of God?
God thirsts for souls. He thirsts for you and for every single person on this earth. He cares not for food or for drink or for clothing. He cares for the hearts of men.
And my wish for you is that your hope might be his hope, hopefully through your sacrifices and offering those for the sake of the whole world, that many more hearts might be his, that many more hearts might come to know him, love him and serve him. For that is what truly satisfies the heart, the love of God. That is the only thing that will bring happiness to the heart.
And so the readings could not be more perfect except for this, and this puts the cherry on top. Today is Saturday and today is a day dedicated to the Blessed Mother. And that makes today so perfect.
Francis knew this charism of poverty so well, but Francis himself would say that he only falls in the shadow of the Blessed Mother, following after her. And though I ask you to follow after her on this day of the Blessed Mother, I ask you to do it every day. When I thought of this beautiful pledging ceremony, I thought of seven ways that the Blessed Mother can teach you what it is to live the Rule of the Confraternity.
The first is something that you have already done. You have received the call. The Angel Gabriel came to her and she did not shy away or run away. She listened. I think that is the first thing that you can learn from the Blessed Mother.
The angel of God will come to you in many different forms, many different disguises, but however he comes, you must listen. Continuously listen to the word of God especially in Holy Scripture. The tradition of the Church says that is what Our Lady was doing when the angel came to her. She was studying the word of God. And so I hope that you study the word of God often so you, like her, might be ready to receive the call to do whatever it is he asks of you in your life.
The second thing is obedience to the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Mother is the spouse of the Spirit. When called upon by the Holy Spirit to take on this great task of bearing Christ to the world, she obeyed.
I hope that you have that obedience as well, that you might bear Christ to the world and that her words might be yours, “Let it be done unto me according to Thy word.” May you not only meditate on the word of God but may you, more and more each day, seek to practice it, to bring the word of God into the world.
Thirdly, you might not be surprised if I point this out, but her poverty of life. She left all. She left all. She embraced not only poverty in physical things but most especially poverty in those emotional things. She gave up her good name. She gave up her credibility in the eyes of the world. She gave up caring about what people might think of her, all for the sake of God.
For when she received our Lord, she did so in a precarious situation. How many people do you think believed her? “I’m pregnant, but it’s by the Holy Spirit.” “Mmm hmm, Mary.” Do you think she was free from judging eyes, from gossiping lips?
In this life, you will be judged as well. You will look different. You will act different. You will live different in because you have accepted Jesus Christ radically into your life. Poverty of life. Not just poverty from material things but poverty in the way you live, and your life is not your own.
So live it well, knowing that if you bear Christ, you will have a beautiful relationship with Christ. Fear not. Trudge out into the world . No gossiping lips will harm you. No judgemental stares will distract you for Christ is in your midst.
Number four. The Blessed Mother teaches us to avoid all evil. When the Holy Family fled into Egypt, what were they fleeing? Herod, right? They were fleeing from persecution. They were fleeing from evil. They were fleeing in the sense that they wanted Christ to dwell in their life.
Guard your life, Patrick, so that the Lord might grow. This day the Lord is going to come into your life in a very special way and so you must guard this life. You must make sure that you flee from the world, in a sense. Do not allow the allurements of the world or the dangers to come in and to tarnish this way of life. Pray to St. Joseph who protected the Holy Family. May he protect this beautiful life of a pledged member of the Confraternity.
Number five. Intercede for those who are in danger. In this life you will encounter those who do not realize the beauty of your life and do not realize that they themselves need to live this life, and do not realize that they need to draw away from the world. And so intercede for them just like the Blessed Mother did at Cana. The bride and groom were most especially in need of joy which wine symbolizes in the Gospel.
Be like the Blessed Mother and go to Christ our Savior and intercede for the world. This pledge is not just for yourself. It is for the Church, for all of the people of the world. Intercede for them. Offer up your sacrifices so that the world might have joy, which consists in drawing away from the world towards Christ.
Number six. Suffer for the sake of the world as Our Lady did at the base of the cross. How often you suffer in this life! You will suffer because of poverty. You will suffer because of want. You will suffer because of so many things, but in your recognition that God is more important, you take the sufferings and turn them into joy.
May you offer those sufferings up so that the world might know the joy of the Gospel.
And last. Remember that all of these events in the Blessed Mother’s life led to her coronation in heaven. Remember that this life that you lead ultimately has a promise. And the promise of eternal happiness with the Lord is for ever.
St. Paul says, “So run the race so as to win the crown.” So follow after the Blessed Mother and long for a crown like hers, a crown of humility and majesty, a crown of sorrow but of joy, a crown that brings you closer to our Lord and Savior.
May this day be a day of joy for us all. May Mary, the Mother of us all, intercede for you today, Patrick, as you take on this beautiful life for yourself and for the Church.
--Father Jacob Meyer, Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents