In the name of the Living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Speaking to the arid intellectuals of his own day and what I would call their absolute fixation with figuring out religion rationally and theoretically, G.K. Chesterton, that great early 20th century English apologist, famously stumped his supposedly “brilliant” interlocutors by asking them: “Why don’t you try letting your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair?”
Needless to say they were quickly silenced.
But I don’t want you to misunderstand. He’s not say that theories – or theological doctrines, if you will, are unimportant. Doctrines and dogma are very important, and he knows that. What he is suggesting, rather, is that all too often theorizing and what we might call rational analysis, if always forced to take center stage, can get in the way of the main thing; namely, the outright love affair that God wants to have with each of us.
And, inevitably, I have learned that when this great feast before us today comes up – the Solemnity of Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary – somehow the love aspect – the love of God in and through Her and what that means for you and for me – gets tossed out the window, and the theory part does a hostile takeover.
I feel like, every time she is celebrated, the very person whom we know to be the Mother of God – the human person who brought the Christ-Child into the world – becomes yet another doctrine we’re forced to examine and analyze.
And before you know it, whether we mean it or not, the focus shifts from love and what it means to be encapsulated in God’s love – to what we think about Her, as if our consent about what She did (or didn’t do) or who She is (or who She isn’t) makes any real difference at all.
Seriously, come on, think about it this way: None of us, on our mother’s birthday, would replace the obligatory birthday card by sending a twenty page theoretical analysis of their lives. (Hell-o, Dr. Freud!)
In fact, my mom’s birthday was this week, and if I’d started the festivities by giving her my professional, theoretical analysis of everything going on in her life – past, present and future – I’d rightly be in SMH recovering from the injuries! That’s not how love works. Less theory, more love, says Chesterton.
I remember how my dear friend and mentor, Bp. Ed Salmon, likes to tell the story of sitting on an airplane next to someone, who, upon the first bit of real turbulence that rocked the plane on an afternoon flight (you know, when all the thunderstorms pop up) looked over at him in his bishop’s outfit, with his purple shirt and pectoral cross and all, and cried out, “Well, I believe in God, you know!” He looked back and said “So what!?”
After it calmed down, he then asked the guy “Suppose you sent your mom a card on her birthday and simply said ‘Mom, I believe you exist’. Do you think that would do anything for your relationship?” The man said “Okay, I see your point.”
Likewise, when we celebrate Our Lady, the Mother of God whom God has “taken to Himself” as the collect says, somehow, some way, we are tempted to spend most of our time analyzing Her as if She were a cadaver in a high school laboratory, picking Her apart and cataloguing our findings so we might develop a better theory.
And that’s why, when I was thinking about this little homily, Chesterton came to my mind this week: “Why don’t you let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair?”
I’d frame it this way to all of us: if we want to get something out of this celebration, why6 don’t we let our understand of and regard for the Blessed Virgin Mary be a little less theory and a lot more of a love affair?
And when we do begin to look at it through the lens of love, we’ll soon realize that Church doctrines and theories about Mary really aren’t doctrines or theories at all. They are only mere shadows of the love that God has for each of us, and how that love is related to, and shines so beautifully and brightly through, the Blessed Virgin, the very first disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you ever considered the terrifying prospect that if the very One in her womb is not God Incarnate, we are still in our sins and the love of God we have not and know not. And if we have not Christ and His resurrection, we are, to borrow from St. Paul, above all people “most pitiable.”
But Our Lady said “Yes” – yes to God, and yes to love. “Be it unto me according to Thy word. And then everything changes!
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, in one of his many homilies dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, describes the scene just before the passage we have in our gospel reading appointed for today. You’ll remember that the archangel Gabriel had just invited a young, innocent, Jewish peasant girl named Mary to say yes to God and to accept the most priceless gift of love that has ever been offered to a human being – to tabernacle God’s own Son and bring Him forth into the world.
In his homily, Bernard, rhetorically – yet lovingly – pretends to encourage her, saying “Why do you delay? Why are you fearful, Mary? Believe. Confess. Receive.”
Why do we delay? Why are we fearful?
You see, this day has been given to us not for us to theorize and analyze but as a great gift given out of love so that we may once again, or for the very first time today, believe, confess, and truly receive.
And when we believe with Our Lady, and confess with Our Lady, and receive with Our Lady, the Christ-Child is born in each of us and everything changes.
Mary became the Mother of God by saying yes. You and I become the children of God by saying yes.
Don’t you see it? Today is our day to say yes to God – yes to His love, yes to His mercy, yes to His forgiveness, yes to His grace.
That’s why we’ve gathered together to day to celebrate Our Lady, the one who shows us the power of yes.
Hail Mary full of grace. The Lord is with Thee.
May the same, in due time, be said about you and about me.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Charleston D. Wilson
The Church of the Redeemer
St. Mary the Virgin
16 August 2015