* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
Gratitude Week 10: Most Grateful for Mary
(August 15, 2021)
Bottom line: Of all creatures we are most grateful for Mary. She points to her Son Jesus - the one way to happiness that lasts.
This year the Solemnity of the Assumption falls on Sunday, Today we also have the final homily in our summer series on living a life of gratitude. Before talking about Mary, I'd like to review what we have learned:
First, gratitude begins when we stop taking things for granted. Then we can thanks God for things small and great. We can be grateful even during affliction. We are able to choose a life of gratitude which means to choose happiness. Last week we saw two steps to a life of gratitude: Get rid of all bitterness. Then, get up and eat - not just ordinary food, but the Bread of Life, Jesus' Body and Blood, the Eucharist.
When we talked about the duty of happiness, I acknowledged that some children seem born with a little cloud over their heads - and it follows them all their lives. These gloomy souls do have a role - they remind us that life is tragic. The Buddha begins his teaching by recognizing the tragic nature of life. The Buddha's "First Noble Truth" states that the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and death is inevitable. In the Bible, Ecclesiastes saw something similar, "Vanity of vanity, all is vanity."
One of our Catholic prayers - the Hail, Holy Queen - recognizes the inevitable suffering of human life: "Hail Holy Queen...to thee do we cry poor banished children of Eve." On account of sin, we have been banished from paradise. In spite of our clever schemes, we cannot create heaven on earth. The Soviets tried and failed miserably. We dream about some perfect day in the future. When the day arrives, it usually disappoints. Once I talked with a bride on the morning of her wedding day. They had spent a year planning the event. "I can hardly wait," she said, "for all this to be over." Stunned silent, I looked at her, touched her shoulder and said, "big smile."
Even in best moments, a puzzling sadness can come over us. When we pray the Hail Holy Queen, we acknowledge that we are "mourning and weeping in this valley of tears." No matter how you cut it, this world is a valley of tears. The people we love die. The projects we work on, they often go awry.
We live in a valley of tears, but some happiness is possible. Let's quickly review levels of happiness: Level 1 is sensual pleasure - that steaming bowl of linguini. It's great but it lasts only a few moments. Level 2 is ego gratification - some achievement that distinguishes a person. In the sixties I was winning quarterback for the Stanwood Spartans. Not really, but even I was not many people would care today. Level 3 happiness is better than ego gratification. This happiness comes from service to others which is excellent and noble. Even that happiness disappoints. Charles Mayo, founder of the Mayo Clinic, treated hundreds of patients, saving the lives of many. Eventually, however, they all died. Service to others brings deep, genuine happiness (and is part of one's eternal salvation) yet in the end it disappoints. We humans are weak, fragile and flawed.
Thanks be to God there is a fourth level of happiness. It is based on things that transcend this world, namely, truth, beauty and goodness. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." He enables us to have a relationship with God who is perfect truth, beauty and goodness.
We can see level 4 happiness in Mary. She is God's most perfect creature. In the Hail Holy Queen prayer we call her "Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope." This does not take away anything from God. In fact, it glorifies him.
A young man might say to his beloved, "I adore you. You are the most beautiful. You are my life." We don't say, "Stop. You are idol worshipping." No, we know he is seeing a glimpse of the divine. Soon enough, he will know she is a fellow human being, not a goddess. Their relationship will last if they come to God together. That's what Mary wants for us. So we say, "pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
Thus we reach the end of our summer series on gratitude. Next Sunday we celebrate my 50th anniversary of priesthood. Despite being a weak, sinful man, God has given me grace to find happiness in this call. Next weekend I'll tell you how it happened.
For today we see that we cannot create paradise on earth. We mourn and weep in this valley of tears. Of all creatures we are most grateful for Mary. She points to her Son Jesus - the one way to happiness that lasts. So we pray, "After this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus." Amen.