Loving devotion to Mary

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The following is the text of Bishop Rhoades’ homily on December 8, 2014 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne:
It is with special joy and gratitude that I celebrate this Mass on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the title of our beautiful cathedral, the patroness of our diocese and nation. Tomorrow, December 9th, the feast of Saint Juan Diego, is my 10th anniversary of episcopal ordination. My heart is filled with gratitude to God for the gift and privilege of serving as a successor of the apostles these past ten years. My heart is also filled with gratitude to you and all the faithful of our diocese for your love and goodness to me during the past five years that I have been privileged to serve as your bishop. Half of my life and ministry as a bishop was in Harrisburg and half of my life and ministry as a bishop has been here in Fort Wayne-South Bend. It’s hard to believe it has been ten years already. I think back to December 9th, 2004 and the joy of my family and friends that day. It was Pope Saint John Paul II who named me as a bishop at the age of 46, a huge surprise to me. God is a God of surprises, Pope Francis says. It’s true. Another big surprise came when Pope Benedict XVI transferred me to Fort Wayne-South Bend. These surprises have all been blessings for which I thank the Lord.

The greatest surprise and greatest event of grace in human history was the Incarnation, the great mystery of God becoming man. We heard the surprising announcement of the Incarnation in our Gospel today. Imagine Mary’s surprise (shock really) when the angel Gabriel said to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Though Mary was surprised and even naturally afraid, God had prepared her for the awesome vocation to be the Mother of His Son. He prepared her by preserving her from all stain of original sin from the moment of her conception. In view of the merits of His Son, God enriched her with the rich fullness of His grace. That’s why Gabriel would greet her as “full of grace.” This is the beautiful mystery we celebrate today: the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I have always felt close to Mary throughout my life, including these past 10 years as a bishop. I think back to the Marian year we celebrated in the diocese of Harrisburg when I was bishop there and also of the Marian consecration here in our diocese this past summer. Pope Saint John Paul II used to speak about “the Marian thread in his life.” Inspired by the great John Paul, I also see a Marian thread in my life. It is good today for all of us in this diocese, which has Immaculate Mary as our patroness, to think about our relationship with Mary — are we close to her? Do we practice devotion to her? She is our model of holiness. She is our loving mother who protects us and leads us to her Son. She is an advocate of grace for us. Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote that “the Blessed Virgin was so full of grace that it overflows onto all mankind.” She then surpasses even the angels. In every struggle or danger, we can find refuge in her. She’s involved in our salvation. Love for Mary helps us tremendously to live a deep spiritual life of love with her Son. As I mentioned, I was ordained a bishop on December 9th, the feast of Saint Juan Diego. Interestingly, 500 years ago the feast of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated throughout the Spanish empire on December 9th. December 9, 1531, was the date of the first apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the humble Indian, Juan Diego.