Novena in Honor of the Most Sweet Name of Mary
Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral-Basilica
Hagatna, Guam
8th Day: September 5, 2008

Based on 1 Cor 4:1-5 / Lk 5:33-39

We are, as you know, deep into the year-long celebration in honor of St. Paul on the occasion of his 2000th birthday. A few days ago, I spoke to you about a particular harbor he landed on in the year 58 AD, in the island of Rhodes, Greece. The sight of it led me to reflect on how empowered he felt, and how that power had led him to do what was seemingly impossible by any standard.

As I reflect on that empowerment, my thoughts also go to the woman, the first among the redeemed, Mary, who, on account of a direct intervention of the Spirit, conceived in her virginity and bore in her womb the Word made flesh. By her cooperation with God, she became for posterity, the Mother of grace, the Mother of God, both theotokos and Christotokos, God-bearer and Christ-bearer.

The account of the annunciation merits being revisited time and time again. There is so much to fathom and so much mystery to be unwrapped in that short account that contains the summary of the mystery of the Incarnation. There we find a great deal of Christology. There, too, we see a lot of anthropology, exemplified by a woman like no other, Mary, whose FIAT literally changed the course of the world awaiting redemption since the fall of Adam and Eve.

Mary who listened to the word of the angel, did not only listen. She treasured the Word in her heart. She gestated the Word in her mind and in her spirit. And the Gospel tells us: the Word became flesh.

The Word did indeed become flesh in many senses. In a theological and Christological sense, the utterance of God, the Logos, who was right from the very beginning, took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, born into the world, through the cooperation of Mary most holy. But word also does become flesh in other senses too. Let me illustrate …

One author recounts the story of a little girl named Mary Ann, who was born with a cleft palate. Being poor, her parents had no means to get her face straightened out. She grew up to the taunting of playmates and school mates and others who kept on badgering her and asking her whatever happened to her lips, so distorted and twisted that would make Betty La Fea look utterly beautiful in comparison. Somehow, along the way, Mary Ann knew better than to tell the truth. Somehow she learned that it was easier to simply say she fell while playing and her face hit a sharp object and that caused the ugly contorted scar on her lips and face. Somehow, telling a lie felt lighter than the prospect of having to accept the reality that she was born ugly. Mary Ann did not bloom. Mary Ann did not pursue the limelight. It was sweeter to be simply far from the madding crowd, and away from prying eyes and prying lips. Until she had a wise and kind teacher, one with genuine motherly concern. One day, the teacher made a simple game in class. It was a “read my lips” game. The teacher would stand right outside the door and would whisper something to every child in the room. And every one of them was told to guess what she was saying in whispers. When it was the turn of Mary Ann, the teacher slowly whispered to her, “I wish you were my little girl.” Mary Ann read her lips right. Mary Ann heard the words alright. Mary Ann treasured those words and mulled them over and over again. She gestated those words in her heart and mind. And those words bore fruit in self-esteem, and healthy self-respect and love.

The words became flesh in a renewed little girl who found new reason to believe in herself. Someone loved her. Someone cared for her. Someone believed in her. And that all made a big difference in the little girl’s life from then on.

She heard the ultimate blessing from someone else – a good utterance, a good word, a gentle whisper of an encouragement. And the words became flesh indeed!

One recent study of priests in the United States, shows that a great majority felt a certain tenderness when it comes to the Blessed Mother. As a counselor/therapist myself, I am not surprised. I have read other earlier studies that showed a direct correlation between priests’ affective closeness with their mothers and their ability to adjust to the rigors of the priesthood later in their adult lives.

The image and reality of mother figures prominently in our lives as priests. Years ago, I read a memorable book written by a Cistercian monk entitled “The Man Who Got even with God.” It impressed me very deeply, as I thought that it was no nonsense apologia or a confession of the difficulties the author had to face while trying to become a monk and to pursue holiness in the context of monastic life. A line remained in my heart and mind after all these years: “The child in us needs a mother. The man in us needs a woman. And the knight in us needs a Lady.”

We all need mother in our lives. Don’t we all believe in this? That home is where mother is. Home is associated with mother, for after all, her womb was our home for the first nine months of our lives, and to that womb, our umbilical cord was connected for a long, long time. Mother gestated us. Mother brought us to term, and mother brought us and introduced us to the external and bigger world. Mother is everything to all of us. Mother is mother for many reasons. Small wonder that Mary, mother, maiden is mirror to so many titles and honorary names, more than enough to fill a twelve-month calendar, with some more to spare.

But I am digressing from my topic. The Word taking flesh is a Christological mystery. That is the mystery of the Incarnation. But Mary is not only instrumental for that sublime mystery. She is also mother who gestated and bore fruit in other ways, like our earthly mothers did … like that wise gentle teacher of Mary Ann did.

We need to be generative people. We all need to gestate Jesus in our hearts and minds. We all need to father and mother the Word until it becomes flesh in our lives and in the lives of others. And we do this, like Paul did, by being stewards of the mysteries of God. This we do by storing them in our hearts and minds.

The Latin word for believe is Credo, which is a contraction of two words: cor dare, which means to give one’s heart. Faith, creed, belief is a matter of the heart. When one believes, one gives one’s whole heart to what one cares for. The teacher of Mary Ann did precisely that. She believed in Mary Ann. She reached out and offered her heart to the little girl. She gestated her in her heart and mind. And that word of affirmation became flesh in a renewed Mary Ann, confident now that she is also worthy of being loved and considered part of the human family of beautiful souls.

I invite you all to go on treasuring the mysteries of God in your heart. You do that by taking to heart what you utter Sunday in and Sunday out: Credo in unum Deum Patrem Omnipotentem. I believe in one God, the Father Almighty … We do this by holding on to these symbols of the faith and gestating them ever so carefully and lovingly our lives.

Mater amabilis, ora pro nobis!