Monday, December 12, 2011

Queen of the Americas

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 — the tempter — 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 even necessary.
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.
Homily, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, 2005
Reflection – It’s all a question of how we attain greatness, isn’t it? We are made for great things. There is something in every human being, even the most prosaic and mediocre, that somehow somewhere knows this. There is never a human being who is truly content with being an extra in the drama of life, merely a member of the chorus, to be listed in the credits of the universe as “Man Wearing Hat” or “Woman Customer.”
No we all await our star turn, the moment when we are ‘discovered’ by… well, by somebody anyhow. We are made for greatness.
The question is how do we get there. The path laid out for us by the pattern of original sin is that of self-assertion, self-aggrandizement, self… self-self, basically. I am great because I am me, and I am special, and I will show you just how great I am.
The path of the world. And this is what Pope Benedict is reflecting on in this part of the homily – how convinced we are that we need a little disobedience in our lives, need a little rebellion, need to go off the path of goodness if we are going to ‘be all that we can be’. “If you want to have a future, you’d better get a past,” Cole Porter quips in one of his songs (can’t remember which at this moment…).
This, like so many of Cole Porter’s clever and witty lyrics, is a lie. The world created by this lie is the world we live in – a world increasingly without a future, as everyone scrabbles for their fifteen minutes of fame/piece of the pie/place in the sun/howeveryouwannaputit. And the Euro goes broke, taking the rest of the world economy down with it, while the culture of death yields a demographic winter and we all end up reverting to barbarism. Such is the future yielded by the Gospel of self-assertion.
The Gospel shows us a different path. And Mary stands as the one human creature who walked that path perfectly by God’s grace. And she is Queen of Heaven and Earth.
This queenship of Mary – what does it mean. Is she standing on a cloud, or the moon, or sitting on a throne with a scepter and a crown?
Maybe. But her true and essential queenship is her sharing in the kingship of her Son. And his kingship is his superabundant, infinite charity for all his creatures. So our Queen, Mary, is overflowing with love and compassion for all God’s children who are now hers too. And this is what we see at Guadalupe, why it is such a beloved and tender feast of the Mother of God. Her concern, compassion, solicitude for the people of Mexico, so beleaguered then and now, her desire for a church to be built so they can ‘come and tell me their sorrows’, her tender interactions with St. Juan Diego, so motherly, so gentle, and yet so firm. Queen of the Americas, indeed.
This is what a human being looks like when they cooperate with God. They become great. They become radiant. They become everything any of us wants to be, really: regal, majestic, loving, happy, secure, strong.
There are two paths: the path laid out by original sin, which leads to degradation and death, and the path of the Gospel which leads to glory and life. And yet somehow we hesitate about which one to take. Funny creatures, we human beings, eh?

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