Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; Thanksgiving for Our Lady of Victory Catholic School

June 12, 2021
Our Lady of Victory Catholic School
Fort Worth, Texas

Second Corinthians 5:14-21
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Luke 2:41-51

Today we celebrate the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. As we celebrate this memorial in communion with the Church throughout the world, we come together to give thanks for the fulfillment of the mission of Our Lady of Victory Catholic School. We gather within the structure and enclosure of these brick walls, walls of a building that have stood for well over one hundred years. We might be tempted to sit and imagine what these walls would say if they could give testimony to all the events and experiences of so many people who taught and who were taught within them. We might be tempted to become nostalgic for what we would consider to have been a simpler time in the life of the Church, the life of our country, or even in our own lives.

Yet, the memorial that we celebrate today in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary saves us from reducing the very vibrant and ongoing mission of Our Lady of Victory Catholic School from becoming merely a melancholy point of nostalgia for the past. The Immaculate Heart of Mary instead forms in us a spirit of the present with ever more growing gratitude for the gift of the Gospel shared and exemplified by the sisters, lay teachers, benefactors, students, and their mothers and fathers who have been faithful and attentive to the mission of Catholic education and formation of the family and society here in Fort Worth.

The spiritual tradition of the Church speaks of the seven sorrows that pierce the heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This truth has its source in Scripture as recorded in the Gospel of Luke in the section immediately preceding the section we have just proclaimed. The prophesy of Simeon in the Temple speaks of the sword that too will pierce the heart of the Blessed Mother, Mary.

One of the sorrows that pierce the Immaculate Heart of Mary is the experience of losing Jesus but then finding Him in the Temple listening and asking questions of the teachers in the Temple. He is busy about His Father’s business in His Father’s House — an old building of bricks that has stood for well over one hundred years — the Temple of the Old Covenant to be exact. Mary, despite the anxiety that she truly experiences in her Immaculate Heart, experiences also more purely the mystery of wonder at God’s saving work present in her Son’s interaction with the teachers in the Temple. The purity of her heart shown in the obedience that she offered to God in accepting the call to be the Mother of His Son, carrying Him in the virginal womb of the Temple of her Body, is entirely attentive to His mission and her mission as the first of all His disciples. She knows Him better and more purely than any other human being.

This wondrous event in the lives of Jesus and Mary as recorded in today’s Gospel takes place in the Temple of the Old Covenant. It is the Temple that could have been the site of much nostalgia for Mary — this is where the prophet Simeon blessed Jesus and announced joyfully that Jesus would be the cause of the rise and fall of many. It is the Temple that could have prompted nostalgia for Mary as the site where the prophetess Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, gave thanks to God because of Jesus and where Anna spoke about Him in relationship with the long-awaited redemption of Israel. It is also the Temple of the Old Covenant that within seventy years of the events recorded in today’s Gospel will be destroyed and taken down just as Jesus will have prophesied through the events of His suffering, death, and burial — events that will also pierce the Immaculate Heart of Mary with sorrow to be consoled only by the resurrection of Her Son by which He rebuilds the Temple as He foretold.

Yet, the heart of Mary is immaculate and free of preoccupation with self and attachment to the material of the bricks of an earthly structure as if they contained in themselves the significance and beauty of God’s love and compassion for His people. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is instead replete with gratitude for Jesus and is itself compassionate for and sensitive to those so in need of Jesus’ mission of God’s mercy and for those most harmed and vulnerable to the effects of sin — effects that include ignorance, oppressive poverty, injustice, and the apathy of the powerful of this world. The Heart of Mary is too immaculate for nostalgia because Her heart is so attentive to Jesus with compassion that serves as the example for all His disciples throughout the history of the Church including the sisters and lay teachers who taught here at Our Lady of Victory Catholic School and the very many disciples whom they instructed with wondrous hearts imitating the pure heart of Mary with the words she uttered at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you.”

Saint Paul writes to the Corinthians, “The love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” This loving impulse experienced and proclaimed by the Apostle Paul was first and more purely experienced in the sensitivity of the motherly heart of Immaculate Mary whose life was freely given to God completely and lived for others beginning with her Son, and then including those for whom her Son died and to whom He entrusted her as her heart was being pierced by Jesus’ suffering for love in His death on the Cross.

The Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that we celebrate today places its focus upon the purity of Mary’s heart that is filled with life, love, and the sensitivity of compassion for others and should not be confused by our shadowy intellects as a frigid sterility of narcissism. It is the Immaculate and purely loving Heart of Mary in her willing obedience that places her as the preeminent human advocate for every human person throughout history, especially for those who are most overlooked and ignored by the powerful of this world. The purity of her heart shows in her example the obedient willingness of the disciple of Jesus whose trust defies the impossibilities that oppress us with despair and threaten us with isolation and fear as caused by sin and its effects.

It is this hopeful defiance against the impossibilities caused by sin as proclaimed by Immaculate Mary that has imbued Our Lady of Victory Catholic School and its mission entrusted to the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur here in Texas as well as in Africa, South Carolina, Hollister, California, Lockport and Buffalo, New York. In the strictest and most evangelical sense, it is this hopeful defiance of impossibilities caused by sin that have marked the charism of the sisters of Saint Mary of Namur since their foundation in Namur, Belgium in 1819. As Sister Saint John Begnaud identified in her history of the Sisters of Saint Mary in Texas entitled, A Little Good: “The Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Mary was established in Namur, Belgium in 1819, when religious communities were forbidden throughout Belgium. The Sisters of Saint Mary would travel to New York in 1863, during the raging Civil War. Arriving in Texas in 1873 from Lockport, New York, they might have been labeled as despicable ‘carpetbaggers!’ In each of these events, there seems to be a defiance of impossibility, but divine guidance is clear.” This is not a defiant stance reacting against another defiant stance. It is not a “no” spoken in reaction to a previous “no.” It is a defiance of the pomp of the devil born of a “yes” made confidently in response to God’s call.

As we offer this Mass let us ask the Immaculate Heart of Mary to remember us and to lead us to desire what Her heart desires — that is, whatever Her Son asks us to do. Let us thank God for the ongoing mission of Our Lady of Victory School that defies the physical limits of brick and mortar. Let us seek from God the obedience of love given through the Immaculate Heart of Mary that defies the discouragement wrought by sin and selfishness. If we do this, then we will be able to pray with greater confidence the words of today’s responsorial psalm: “The Lord is kind and merciful.”

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