14 May 2018

Our Hope in Christ, Assisted by Mary

Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
This past Thursday I buried a brother; not a biological brother, but a brother priest.  Fr. Tom Butler was a priest of the Diocese of Lansing, and well-loved for his sense of humor that he shared with his parishioners and with us priests.  And while many of his jokes could not be told in a church, probably not even in polite company, there is one story for which I will always remember him.
Fr. Tom told this story at a regional penance liturgy at St. Anthony in Hillsdale, where he was pastor for many years.  Fr. Tom and his family were originally baptist, but converted to Catholicism.  His mother embraced the faith, but always found a relationship with our Blessed Mother difficult.  Fr. Tom’s brother passed away some years ago in the Dallas, Texas area.  It was a cold day, and so, at the end of the funeral, he and his mother stayed just inside the doors of the church while the casket was carried to the hearse.  As it happened, his mother turned a little, and was noticeably startled.  Fr. Tom asked his mom if she was alright, and she said yes.
A few weeks later, his mom called Fr. Tom.  She said, “Tom, do you remember your brother’s funeral?”  “Yes, mother,” he replied.  “Do you remember when your brother’s casket was put into the hearse, and I was startled?”  “Mother, are you ok?” Fr. Tom asked.  “Yes,” she said.  “When I was standing there, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder.  I thought it was you, but then when I turned, I saw Mary, the Blessed Mother standing next to me.  She said to me, ‘I’ll watch over your son until you can join him.’  Then she disappeared.”
Perhaps it’s not fair to tug at the heart strings on this day the we honor mothers and celebrate the Ascension of the Lord.  But this story is perfect for these two celebrations.  We all know that the Ascension is when Jesus went, Body and Soul, into heaven.  But the Ascension is also our hope, because where Christ has gone, we are meant to follow.  Jesus took our human nature, which He had united to Himself at the Annunciation, and brought it into heaven at the Ascension.  He showed us the way to get there: by following Him with all our heart, mind, and soul.  Because Jesus has gone to heaven, we hope that we can go there, too.
Hope is not mere optimism, a wish that things will go well.  Hope is the grasping of things unseen.  It is, as we might say, the already, but not yet.  Hope is being at the edge of victory, and only having to finish.  Hope is what belongs to us as baptized Christians.  Our hope is that if we have died with Christ in baptism, then we shall rise with Him to new life.  When we are baptized, God does all the work, and we have only to cooperate with His grace throughout our life to claim the prize of victory.  
And how do we cooperate with God’s grace?  Mary shows us how.  Our Blessed Mother watches over all of us, her sons and daughters, and helps us grow closer to her Son.  Mary always said “yes” to God, and that’s how we take our hope and make it a reality.  It’s as simple and as complicated as that: say “yes” to God in all the decisions of our life.  And if we don’t say “yes” to God, Mary, as our loving Mother, picks us up, cleans off our wounds, and encourages us to try again.
Sometimes it may seem like we give Mary too much honor, and go to her too much.  That is often the complaint from our Protestant brothers and sisters.  Some accuse us of worshipping her, which we don’t; we worship God alone, but we honor Mary, the Mother of God.  But think about it this way: Jesus loved Mary, and Jesus’ love is infinite.  So there’s no amount of love that we can give to Mary that would ever even come close to rivaling the love that Jesus showed her.  
And Mary, free from all sin, does not let that honor stay with her.  Because she is the first and only perfect disciple, Mary always takes whatever honor we give her, and directs it toward her Son.  Mary has no selfishness, no pride, no ego that would cause her to take something away from God.  Her soul, as she herself said, proclaims the greatness of the Lord.

So today, as we celebrate the Ascension and Mother’s Day, we celebrate our hope of eternal life in Christ, and our Blessed Mother who helps us make our hope a reality.  Never be afraid to run to Mary to help you make Christ’s life your own in your daily experiences.  Never be afraid to run to your Blessed Mother when you fall down in sin; she will help pick you up and direct you to the forgiveness that God gives to His children.  Cling to that hope that belongs to us as children of God, that where Christ has gone, we are meant to go, too.  If we die with Christ, we will live with Christ, and if we live with Christ daily, then we will reign with Christ for eternity, in the kingdom of heaven, where our human nature is seated at the right hand of the Father in Christ.