|Mary Says "Have the Courage to Dare
On Thursday morning, 8 December, the Solemnity of the Immaculate
Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Father presided at Mass in
St Peter's Basilica. The pope first recalled that it was on this day and
in this Basilica 40 years ago (8 December 1965) that Paul VI concluded the
Second Vatican Council. Not only its setting but its whole focus was
Marian, the Holy Father said.
On this special Feast of Mary, the
Holy Father preached, in honour of Our Lady, and ended by asking the Lord
"to put Mary on our path like a light that also helps us to become a light
and to carry this light into the nights of history".
The following is a translation of the Holy Father's Homily, which
was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate and the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Pope Paul VI solemnly concluded
the Second Vatican Council in the square in front of St. Peter's Basilica
40 years ago, on 8 December 1965. It had been inaugurated, in accordance
with John XXIII's
wishes, on 11 October 1962, which was then the Feast of Mary's Motherhood,
and ended on the day of the Immaculate Conception.
The Council look place in a Marian setting. It was actually far more
than a setting: it was the orientation of its entire process.
It refers us, as it referred the Council Fathers at that time, to the
image of the Virgin who listens and lives in the Word of God, who
cherishes in her heart the words that God addresses to her and, piecing
them together like a mosaic, learns to understand them (cf. Lk 2:19, 51).
It refers us to the great Believer who, full of faith, put herself in
God's hands, abandoning herself to his will; it refers us to the humble
Mother who, when the Son's mission so required, became part of it and at the
same time, to the courageous woman who stood beneath the Cross while the
In his Discourse on the occasion of the promulgation of the Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church, Paul VI described Mary as "tutrix humus
Concilii" "Patroness of this Council"
(cf. Oecumenicum Concilium Vaticanum II, Constitutiones Decreta
Declarationes, Vatican City, 1966, p. 983) and, with an unmistakable allusion to the account of Pentecost
transmitted by Luke (cf. Acts 1:12.14), said that the Fathers were
gathered in the Council Hall "cum Maria, Matre Iesu" and would also have left it in her name (p. 985).
Mother of the Church
Indelibly printed in my memory is the moment when, hearing his words: "Mariam
Sanctissimam declaramus Matrem Ecclesiae" "We declare Mary the Most Holy
Mother of the Church", the Fathers spontaneously rose at once and paid
the Mother of God, to our Mother, to the Mother of the Church, with a
Indeed, with this title the Pope summed up the Marian teaching of the
Council and provided the key to understanding it. Not only does Mary have
a unique relationship with Christ, the Son of God who, as man, chose to
become her Son. Since she was totally united to Christ, she also totally
belongs to us. Yes, we can say that Mary is close to us as no other human
being is, because Christ became man for all men and women and his entire being is
"being here for us".
Christ, the Fathers said, as the Head, is inseparable from his Body
which is the Church, forming with her, so to speak, a single living
subject. The Mother of the Head is also the Mother of all the Church; she
so to speak, totally emptied of herself: she has given herself entirely to
Christ and with him is given as a gift to us all. Indeed, the more the human person gives himself, the more
he finds himself.
The Council intended to tell us this: Mary is so interwoven in the
great mystery of the Church that she and the Church are inseparable, just
as she and Christ are inseparable. Mary mirrors the Church, anticipates
the Church in her person, and in all the turbulence that affects the
suffering, struggling Church she always remains the Star of salvation. In
her lies the true centre in which we trust, even if its peripheries very
often weigh on our soul.
In the context of the promulgation of the Constitution on the Church,
Paul VI shed light on all this through a new title deeply rooted in
Tradition, precisely with the intention of illuminating the inner
structure of the Church's teaching, which was developed at the Council.
The Second Vatican Council had to pronounce on the institutional
components of the Church: on the Bishops and on the Pontiff, on the
priests, lay people and Religious, in their communion and in their
relations; it had to describe the Church journeying on, "clasping sinners
to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification..." (Lumen
Gentium, n. 8).
This "Petrine" aspect of the Church however, is included in that
"Marian" aspect. In Mary, the Immaculate, we find the essence of the
Church without distortion. We ourselves must learn from her to become
souls", as the Fathers said, so that we too may be able, in accordance
with St. Paul's words, to present ourselves "blameless" in the sight of the
Lord, as he wanted us from the very beginning (cf.. Col 1:21; Eph 1:4).
Mary, the 'holy
remnant' of Israel
But now we must ask ourselves: What does "Mary, the Immaculate" mean?
Does this title have something to tell us? Today, the liturgy illuminates
the content of these words for us in two great images.
First of all comes the marvelous narrative of the annunciation of the
Messiah's coming to Mary, the Virgin of Nazareth. The Angel's greeting is
interwoven with thread: from the Old Testament, especially from the
Prophet Zephaniah. He shows that Mary, the humble provincial woman who
comes from a priestly race and bears within her the great priestly patrimony of Israel, "the holy remnant" of Israel
to which the prophets referred it all the
periods of trial and darkness.
In her is present the true Zion, the pure, living dwelling place of
God. In her the Lord dwells, in her he finds the place of his repose. She
is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in
the heart of living man. She is the shoot which sprouts from the stump of
David in the dark winter night of history. In her, the words of the Psalm
are fulfilled: "The earth has yielded its fruits" (Ps 67:7).
She is the offshoot from which grew the tree of redemption and of the
redeemed. God has not failed, as it might have seemed formerly at the
beginning of history with Adam and Eve or during the period of the
Babylonian Exile, and as it seemed anew in Mary's time when Israel had
become a people with no importance in an occupied region and with very few
recognizable signs of its holiness.
God did not fail. In the humility of the house in Nazareth lived holy
Israel, the pure remnant. God saved and saves his people. From the felled
tree trunk Israel's history shone out anew, becoming a living force that
guides and pervades the world.
Mary is holy Israel: she says "yes" to the Lord, she puts herself totally
at his disposal and thus becomes the living temple of God.
The second image is much more difficult and obscure. This metaphor
from the Book of Genesis speaks to us from a great historical distance and
can only be explained with difficulty; only in the course of history has
it been possible to develop a deeper understanding of what it refers to.
It was foretold that the struggle between humanity and the serpent,
that is, between man and the forces of evil and death, would continue
It was also foretold, however, that the "offspring" of a woman would
one day triumph and would crush the head of the serpent to death; it was
foretold that the offspring of the woman
and in this offspring the woman and the mother herself
would be victorious and that thus,
through man, God would triumph.
If we set ourselves with the believing and praying Church to listen to
this text, then we can begin to understand what original sin, inherited
sin, is and also what the protection against this inherited sin is, what
What picture does this passage show us?
Protection against original sin
The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the serpent, he harbours
the suspicion that in the end, God takes something ways from his life,
that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully
human only when we have cast him aside; in brief, that only in this way
can we fully achieve our freedom.
The human being lives in the suspicion that God's love creates a
dependence and that he must rid himself of this dependency if he is to be
fully himself. Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness
of his life from God.
He himself wants to obtain from the tree of knowledge the power to
shape the world, to make himself a god, raising himself to God's level,
and to overcome death and darkness with his own efforts. He does not want
to rely on love that to him seems untrustworthy; he relies solely on his
own knowledge since it confers power upon him. Rather than on love, he
sets his sights on power, with which he desires to take his own life
autonomously in hand. And in doing so, he trust in deceit rather than in
truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.
Love is not dependence but a gift that makes us live. The freedom of a
human being is the freedom of a limited being, and therefore is itself
limited. We can possess it only as a shared freedom, in the communion of
freedom: only if we live in the right way, with one another and for one
another, can freedom develop.
We live in the right way if we live in accordance with the truth of our
being, and that is, in accordance with God's will. For God's will is not a
law for the human being imposed from the outside and that constrains him,
but the intrinsic measure of his nature, a measure that is engraved within him and makes him the image of God, hence a free creature.
If we live in opposition to love and against the truth
in opposition to God
then we destroy one another and
destroy the world. Then we do not find life but act in the interests of
death. All this is recounted with immortal images in the history of the
original fall of man and the expulsion of man from the earthly Paradise.
Dear brothers and sisters, if we sincerely reflect about ourselves and
our history, we have to say that with this narrative is described not only
the history of the beginning but the history of all times, and that we all
carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking, illustrated
by the images in the Book of Genesis.
We call this a drop of poison "original sin". Precisely on the Feast of
the Immaculate Conception, we have a lurking suspicion that a person who
does not sin must really be basically boring and that something is missing
from his life: the dramatic dimension of being autonomous; that the
freedom to say no, to descend into the shadows of sin and to want to do
things on one's own is part of being truly human; that only then can we
make the most of all the vastness and depth of our being men and women, of
being truly ourselves; that we should put this freedom to the test, even
in opposition to God, in order to become, in reality, fully ourselves.
In a word, we think that evil is basically good, we think that we need
it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. We
think that Mephistopheles
is right when he says he is the
power "that always wants evil and always does good" (J.W. von Goethe,
Faust I, 3). We think that a little bargaining with evil, keeping for
oneself a little freedom against God, is basically a good thing, perhaps
If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that
this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not
uplift human beings but degrades and humiliates them. It does not make
them any the greater, purer or wealthier, but harms and belittles them.
This is something that we should indeed learn on the day of the
Immaculate Conception: the person who abandons himself totally in God's
hands does not become God's puppet, a boring "yes man"; he does not lose
his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds
true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good.
The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for
through God and with God he becomes great, he becomes divine, he becomes
truly himself. The person who puts himself in God's hands does not
distance himself from others, withdrawing into his private salvation; on
the contrary, it is only then that his heart truly awakens and he becomes
a sensitive, hence, benevolent and open person.
Mary, an image of God himself
The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this
in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so
close to human beings.
For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every
help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in
weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for
everyone the open power of creative goodness.
In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who
follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and
thornbushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the
crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders
and bring it home.
As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting
portrait of the Son. Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin,
of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image
of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling
together with God. In her, God's goodness came very close to us.
Mary thus stands before us as a sign of comfort, encouragement and
hope. She turns to us, saying: "Have the courage to dare with God! Try it!
Do not be afraid of him! Have the courage to risk with faith! Have the
courage to risk with goodness! Have the courage to risk with a pure heart!
Commit yourselves to God, then you will see that it is precisely by doing
so that your life will become broad and light, not boring but filled with
infinite surprises, for God's infinite goodness is never depleted!".
On this Feast Day, let us thank the Lord for the great sign of his
goodness which he has given us in Mary, his Mother and the Mother of the
Church. Let us pray to him to put Mary on our path like a light that also
helps us to become a light and to carry this light into the nights of