Homily for the Solemnity
Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Most Reverend Silvio José Báez, O.C.D.
Auxiliary Bishop of Managua
Saint Agatha Catholic Church
Archdiocese of Miami
December 7, 2019
Dear brothers and sisters:
Tonight we celebrate the Eucharist on the Solemnity for the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which will be followed by the joyful and heartfelt Nicaraguan feast of the Gritería. We Nicaraguans have grown up singing to the Virgin, feeling our hearts pounding with emotion at the cry of “Who causes so much joy? The Conception of Mary!”, turning our gaze to the Mother of the Lord, awaiting Her loving protection, with the certainty shouted at the top of our lungs in churches and in homes in our country: “Mary of Nicaragua, Nicaragua of Mary”.
In tonight’s Gospel, we heard that God sent the angel Gabriel to a house in Nazareth, who upon entering, greeted a young virgin named Mary, saying, “Rejoice, full of grace. The Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). The first word that the angel utters is: “Rejoice!” God has chosen Mary to welcome the joy of the Messiah’s salvation in the name of all humanity. She receives from God the proclamation, “Rejoice!” because of the Savior’s coming. God invites her to rejoice even when she is a young woman of scarce resources, belonging to an almost unknown town in Galilee, even when she is part of a people who are subjugated, oppressed and bereft of hope. In this humble young woman of Nazareth, God causes messianic joy to emerge and she, welcoming it, makes it her own to be experienced every day.
Recently the Bishops of Nicaragua stated in this year’s Advent message that “experiencing joy is a challenge for the people who live in Nicaraguan society because we live in a Nicaragua that is ravaged by deep divisions and ruptures, where the abundance of gloomy faces are an eloquent testimony to the deep despair, suffering and sadness that Nicaraguan men and women are going through today.
It’s true. Our Nicaraguan society is bleeding, her heart is wounded, and we have shed tears of sorrow and helplessness; in the people who live on the streets and in the homes of our country and in those of us who live abroad, gloomy faces and troubled hearts abound, expressing sadness, powerlessness, and uncertainty. We can’t deny it. Moreover, we mustn’t deny it, for the joy that the Messiah brings us is born and reborn again and again in the midst of pain and despair.
The Virgin Mary, the first recipient of Messianic joy, reveals to us the secret of this joy, which is possible to experience even in the midst of the night of helplessness and anguish. In today’s Gospel, the angel, after inviting Mary to rejoice, went on to say to her: “The Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). It is a very short phrase, but it expresses in synthesis the foundation of our faith and hope. This is the secret of Christian joy: God is in our midst as a powerful Savior. Mary rejoices because she is the bearer of Emmanuel, of ‘God with us’, and this presence causes her to exult with joy. This certainty allows us, like Mary, to sing and exult with joy. She lived with this joy that no one could take away from her, neither poverty, nor the darkness of faith, nor the pain of her son’s crucifixion. The Most Pure Virgin Mary is “Our Lady of Joy”. “The Lord is with you”: this is the secret of the Virgin’s joy and of our joy, for as St. Paul says: “If God is for us, who can be against us”? (Rom 8:31). Let us rejoice, the Lord is with you, Nicaragua! The Lord is with us, dear Nicaraguan sisters and brothers!
Without joy we remain paralyzed, slaves of our sorrows, weakened by the problems of life and the challenges of the times, unable to dream and build a better world. Our Lady teaches us that true joy does not belong exclusively to the realm of affections and feelings, but is rooted in the experience of faith and trust in the Lord’s love. To be happy or sad is a matter of faith when all is said and done. In her prayer of the Magnificat, Mary once again reveals to us the secret of her joy: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior because he has looked with favor upon his lowly servant” (Lk 1:48).
From her littleness and poverty, she contemplates the greatness of God who has gazed upon her with love. Despite her problems, which were not insignificant, she lives with joy because she trusts completely in the Lord and feels loved and cared for by Him. God fulfills all her longings. She needs nothing other than God to live with joy, to be joyful. Our Lady teaches us something as simple as letting ourselves be looked upon by God, always trusting in him; feeling welcomed and enfolded in his tenderness, cared for with a love that is attentive and caring, as we are continually forgiven with mercy. This fundamental feeling that is at the root of faith, by infusing us with joy, gives us a new capacity to overcome with faith the most painful and difficult moments; it makes us able to act with mercy towards others, serving and caring for one another; and, it also gives us the strength and creativity to imagine and build a new society founded on freedom, social justice and respect for human dignity. When we are sad, none of this can be done.
Our Lady of Joy is also the Mother of Joy. At the birth of her son, a great joy is announced to the shepherds: “he announced to them a great joy: to them is born this day in the city of David the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk 2:11). Mary not only gives birth to her son Jesus, but she also gives birth to a new joy, which never ends and of which we can always partake, on the condition that we live in communion with her son Jesus, the Messiah who has brought us joy, by “doing what he tells us” (Jn 2:5), as the Virgin at Cana in Galilee advised to do. Let there be no doubt. To think and act according to Jesus’ standards; to incarnate the Gospel in our personal and social life; always seeking and accepting God’s will, even at the cost of sacrifices and often without understanding everything that is happening to us, that is the pathway of joy. Let’s not fall into the temptation to think that those who ignore or reject God, those who live locked up in their egotism and trample on the dignity of other human beings, are living a joyful life. No. That is not the pathway of joy.
The perfect joy to which we are called follows a different trail and Mary, Our Lady of joy, assures us that it is possible to follow this path when we accept our littleness with serenity and abandon ourselves with trust into God’s hands. It is precisely the mystery of Mary’s Immaculate Conception that gives us the certainty that this joy is possible, for the loving will of a God who has always desired to give us perfect joy has been revealed in Mary, molding each of us in the image of His Son. She, the All Beautiful One, is that beautiful and luminous first fruit of the redemption of Christ, who in the Immaculate Conception of his Mother, the one “full of grace” (Lk 1:28), has brought forth the seed of the joy of a new world in the midst of the history of sorrow and the sin of humanity.