Mary: Protectoress and Guide
Mary Protectress and Guide: Sermon by Fr. Michael Clothier, OSB
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Come O Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit and their hearts shall be created and you will renew the face of the earth. Let us pray: O God, who has taught the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant that by the gift of the same Spirit we may always be truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolation. Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us. St. Benedict, pray for us.
I’d like to begin by reading you a little text from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. “This then is what I pray, kneeling before the Father from whom every fatherhood in Heaven or on earth takes its name.
In the abundance of His glory may He, through His Holy Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner self so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, then, planted on love, built on love, with all God’s holy people, you will have the strength to grasp the breadth, and the length, the height and the depth so that, knowing the love of Christ which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.” That was Chapter 3 of the letter to the Ephesians, verses 14 and following.
I’d like to begin by reading you a little text from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. “This then is what I pray, kneeling before the Father from whom every fatherhood in Heaven or on earth takes its name. In the abundance of His glory may He, through His Holy Spirit, enable you to grow firm in power with regard to your inner self so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, then, planted on love, built on love, with all God’s holy people, you will have the strength to grasp the breadth, and the length, the height and the depth so that, knowing the love of Christ which is beyond knowledge, you may be filled with the utter fullness of God.” That was Chapter 3 of the letter to the Ephesians, verses 14 and following.
If the evil one cannot persuade you to sin seriously, he settles for another ploy of his and that is to give you a low sense of self-worth, a low sense of the value of what you do and who you are. A low sense of the value that other people have of you. It is a carefully calculated form of discouragement designed to weaken you in your faith and in your work for God and for others, and it seems at the moment to be having something of a success story. Because, as you probably know and as I encounter, many people actively involved in Christian living, perhaps pillars of their parish, survey the world around them and come to the conclusion that the forces of evil and idolatry seem to hold the floor - the battle is being won. At the same time they feel their own helplessness. What can I do in the circumstances? And indeed the media lead us to a view that we are in the hand of dark forces manipulating, nuclear powers pulling the strings in a way that makes us feel utterly incapable. This whole myth must be destroyed and rejected today by you and by me. It is tempting in my life, of course, to look at pastoral work and wonder why it seems to be that congregations are failing in some areas and seminaries are empty. We are not allowed to think that all is lost. But more importantly, we are not allowed to think that we ourselves are useless.
Now obviously the Pharisees suffered from an excessive and quite unqualified and unreasonable self-esteem. They had got to the top, they intended to stay there and they denounced the crowd as being sinners. For you and for me--we can accept the Devil’s charge that we are useless. By ourselves we are. We’re absolutely nothing in one sense. We have nothing that wasn’t given to us by God in the first place. And in terms of cash and success and popularity and glamour, we may rate very low indeed. None of that matters in the slightest. In Christ great things are taking place, and you and I have a unique role to play.
It is important that each one of you thanks God daily for having brought you into life and into this world at such a crucial and urgent time. God saw, because He can see future centuries and He is the Lord of time. He saw the tragic times in which we live, and He chose you to be here now, to be praying, to be loving, to be bearing witness to the world. So therefore have a sense of the great worth of everything you have and do and are. You have been commissioned for a great work. As St. Peter says, you were bought with a great price.
The Lord our Savior thought each one of you was worth dying for. But, furthermore, through your union with Christ, your prayers added to His and, inspired by the Holy Spirit, have a supreme power. Greater things shall you do than those you have seen, says Jesus to the Apostles. There is nothing too great to be included in your prayers. Have confidence that the Holy Spirit will indeed use you, and be content not to know how and not to see results. It’s not really for us in our present life to see the consequences of all we do.
All this should be conducted with the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is in these difficult times Our Protectress. The Refugium Peccatorum (Refuge of Sinners). I count myself as very especially in that category. She is our Protectress, and under her mantle you and I must take refuge, especially when the storms seem to be raging around us and people who, perhaps our close family, people who are regular church goers, suddenly seem to go completely wild and we find ourselves under attack. Do not be surprised, because, if you are doing something important and valuable, the evil one is bound to try and put you off. So therefore ask confidently for protection. Ask protection for others around you because we can see so many people suffering as it were under fire and not knowing what to do or why it’s happening. People sometimes say to me: I don’t know what’s the matter, Father, but everybody in the family seems to have gone mad, or perhaps in their place of work. You and I know the answer, and we must help others to persevere.
Furthermore, Our Lady wishes to be our guide. She is, as the Litany says, the star of our sea. She is the one who leads us towards our heavenly home on the journey and on the storm-tossed sea of life. Allow her to be your guide. People today don’t have spiritual directors as they used to in the old days when many people who were trying to lead a life of prayer realized that it wasn’t something you did on your own but you got help with. So today I advise you to get guidance and help and remember that St. Francis de Sales, that prince of spiritual directors, is also the patron of spiritual directors. Ask him to help you. And of course the tradition of the Church is that, for those who have no spiritual director, John the Apostle, author of the fourth Gospel, is the one to whom you can turn with confidence. He will give you the direction and, if it’s God’s will, will find you a director.
Now the Blessed Virgin is of course the “solace infirmorum,” health of the sick. Jesus her son has deputed her to be the healer of our ills. Not talking about physical ailments now, though she often does that, but I was thinking of the emotional, spiritual and mental ills that are so very prevalent in our society.
In fact the so called developed societies suffer more from mental illnesses than physical. This is particularly the case with the young. Indeed the depressive illnesses which used to concentrate on the area of 30-50, now have settled upon the late teens as well. Ask Our Lady, therefore, to heal you so that you can be a sense of encouragement and hope to others. She wishes to heal you so that you in turn can help others. Give them that sense of hope when, in material terms, there doesn’t seem to be very much. Now the Blessed Virgin wishes to be your companion as friend and as Mother, because often we are very lonely on our pilgrimage but without anyone who really understands our needs or perhaps doesn’t even see things our way. Often we find ourselves marginalized at our place of work, in our neighborhood, in our family simply because were thought to be a bit odd. Be content to be at times rather solitary. Sometimes God wishes to isolate you for a little so that He can draw you to Himself and fill you with the grace that wasn’t possible when you were perhaps the center of attention and the life and soul of the party.
This solitude is sometimes enforced upon us. We shouldn’t seek it ourselves since we are called to live in the world but not of the world. But when it occasionally, comes accept the fact that that is what is perhaps necessary for your moment of grace. I always think of the two saints, Edith Stein and Ignatius of Loyola. Both of them were highly successful in their particular fields. Edith Stein, the great philosopher, secretary to a well known professor, and St. Ignatius, the successful aristocrat soldier, were both suddenly isolated for a little. In both cases, that was the moment where God chose to bring them to an awareness of Him.
You remember Edith Stein was not particularly religious, merely a practicing Jewess from time to time. And finding that she was staying with a family and they’ve all gone out, she picks up a book by random. It is the autobiography of Teresa of Avila. She starts to thumb through the pages and decides to look at the first chapter. And at dawn that day, she’s finished the book having read it all night, and she shuts it and she realizes that she is now a Catholic at heart and soon to be baptized. So, too, in the case of St. Ignatius. He with his broken leg is placed in one of his family’s
many Spanish castles and forced to recuperate frequently all alone. Bored to distraction he calls for some entertainment. All that can be found is some dull old book about religion. He starts to read it and that too for him is an awakening. Allow the Lord therefore to speak to your heart today, for He always wishes to speak, but He does not always find that we have a listening ear.
And finally Our Lady is our intercessor. ”Turn then, most gracious advocate,” we say. See her as interceding for us before the throne of her Father, her Son, her Spouse. We have a powerful support at times when we know not how to pray or when we feel so dejected that prayer seems hardly to be worth it or even an effrontery. We find ourselves very aware of our sinfulness, our weakness, and our sloth. Therefore, be persons of encouragement, encouraging others. Let us accept the fact that we’re not very important, and perhaps not very holy either. I speak for myself of course. In a certain degree that doesn’t matter. The important thing is to persevere in trust and in hope and to ask God to take out of our hearts the things that separate us from His love. He is only too glad to do that. He doesn’t need to be asked twice. And I’m sure He brought you here today to fill you with His love, His peace and His joy. Allow Him to do that very thing.
By way of a slight addition to this little meditation, I should remind you that St. Paul speaks of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as being love and joy and peace and patience. Those of us who are gloomy, dejected, and despondent and rather disenchanted and cynical as a habit, must ask ourselves why this is, for it should not be. It is not
becoming for Catholic Christians to be persons of gloom, despondency, and grim sadness. Allow the joy of the Holy Spirit to enter your life and your heart and to give joy to others around you. In the early Church, depression was a sin. You weren’t allowed to be depressed since you were beloved of the Father, redeemed by the Son, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. No matter what was going on outside, as it were, in your life, the inside was absolutely magnificent. So therefore ask the Lord to help you at this time to have a gladsome mind. It is a help if you have a slight sense of humor and see the many opportunities for a smile because God enjoys, as it were, giving us moments of high humor. There are many such occasions which take place almost every day. If you can see with a light heart some of the brighter moments of life, it is good to share them with others.
You remember the actress and singer Dolly Parton appearing here in this country a few weeks ago and under the spotlights saying at the beginning: “It cost a lot of money to look as cheap as this.” Well you can see, it’s a good idea to take a light hearted view of your life for the Lord takes you very seriously and wants you to be confident in His loving concern and care. To the Father, to the Son, to the Spirit, be honor and glory and power now and forevermore. Amen