(The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on Oct. 15 during the Diocesan Pilgrimage at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.)
The relationship of mother and child is unique. We know this from our own personal experience: how we would instinctively run to our mother and seek her help in time of need.
In the days following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, our hearts were profoundly touched by the pictures of mothers holding their children to protect them. We read " with tears welling from our eyes " the stories of mothers searching frantically for their children or children crying inconsolably because they can not find their mothers. Yes indeed, the relationship of mother and child is truly unique.
We have come here on pilgrimage this day because we too have a unique relationship with our Blessed Mother. Each one of us has a unique relationship with Mary, so today we are expressing in a tangible way, by coming to Mary's House, to this Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, our great love for this Mother, whom Jesus gave to us as He hung dying on the Cross.
What does “pilgrimage” mean? Does it not mean “people journeying together to visit a holy place”? Indeed, it does! Today we are repeating what is projected in our first reading: “The elders of Israel and all the leaders of the tribes came to " Jerusalem to bring up the ark " from the City of David, which is Zion.” We are a people who have journeyed together: we are the Church of Arlington on pilgrimage to this holy place. We have come here with one request: “Mary, Woman of the Eucharist, lead us to Jesus.”
It is Mary's role to lead us to Jesus, the source of all holiness. Her advice to us is timeless and timely: “Do whatever He tells you.” And Jesus tells us to draw closer to Him and, through Him, to each other, especially in and through the Holy Eucharist, which is both a sacrifice and a sacrament.
How does Mary lead us to Jesus? By the witness of her life. She is indeed the first and the best disciple of the Lord. Keeping our eyes on her, we do not go astray. Keeping our eyes on her, we imitate her virtues and way of life, for she is a true model and guide. She is our Mother!
Mary is the woman of faith above all others. When she heard God's word and discerned His will, she surrendered totally in obedient faith. We see this so clearly in today's Gospel account. What does Mary do once she realizes that the Lord God is asking her to become the mother of His Only-begotten Son? She surrenders in faith and in trust. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Do we obey God's will in our lives as did Mary? Will we be more willing to follow her example and seek her help, so that like her, we too may live: “Let it be according to your word, O Lord”?
Mary is the woman of charity. Hearing that Elizabeth, her elderly cousin, is pregnant and in need of assistance, Mary travels in haste to visit Elizabeth, Zachary and the unborn John the Baptist. In the presence of need, do we, like Mary, hasten to offer assistance that is real and practical?
Mary is the Woman of the Eucharist. This title is especially dear to us during this pilgrimage because our gathering here today brings to a close our diocesan celebration of this Year of the Eucharist. As we know, the late Pope John Paul II called Mary “Woman of the Eucharist” in his encyclical letter “Ecclesia de Eucharistia”: “Mary is a 'woman of the Eucharist' in her whole life. The Church, which looks to Mary as a model, is also called to imitate her in her relationship with this most holy mystery” (No. 53). Pope John Paul II reminded us that our faith in the Real Presence must reflect Mary's deep faith in the Eucharistic Presence of Her Son. Every time we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, is not Jesus present in us similarly to how He was present in Mary's womb? Does not the “Amen” which every believer says when receiving Jesus in Holy Communion echo the Fiat or Amen Mary said in reply to the angel? Above all, was not Mary the first “tabernacle” in history as Jesus dwelt within her, and are we not also other “tabernacles” when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion?
Above all, is not Mary the Woman of the Eucharist, because she does lead us to Jesus, whose Real Presence is made present at every Mass and remains among us in the tabernacles of our churches? Does not Mary desire with all her being that we be drawn into deepened intimacy with her Son? And this intimacy with Him is nurtured and strengthened above all by our union with Him in the Eucharist. This is why Sunday Mass is so essential in our lives. Without Sunday, we cannot live, as our Holy Father recently reminded us! Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is also so necessary often, if not daily!
Yes, as we celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice and receive Jesus Himself in Holy Communion, like Mary, we too become living tabernacles, holy temples of the Lord. Filled with His Presence, we then bring Him into our homes and onto our streets. Pope Benedict XVI put this so beautifully in his homily on Corpus Christi. Referring to the Eucharistic procession on that day " a procession similar to the one in which we took part earlier today, our Holy Father said: “We bring Christ, present under the sign of bread, onto the streets of our own city. We entrust these streets, these homes, our daily life, to his goodness. May our streets be streets of Jesus! May our homes be homes for him and with him! May our life every day be penetrated by his guidance” (homily on May 26, 2005).
Yes, we ask Mary to lead us to Jesus in the Eucharist, so that, reliving His Dying and Rising at Mass and praying before Him truly present in the tabernacle, we may then live this Eucharistic mystery out there in the real world by pouring out our lives in loving and humble service of God's people, beginning with the family and always including those in need.
O Mary, Woman of the Eucharist, lead us who form the Church of Arlington, to Jesus Your Son! Make us a Eucharistic people, serving the Lord in holiness of life, revering His presence in our neighbor and proclaiming His greatness! Help us, dear Blessed Mother, to open our entire being, always more, to Christ's presence; help us to follow Him faithfully day after day on the streets of our life, (cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Corpus Christi homily) until our pilgrimage ends and we arrive home to be with you and with Jesus, Your beloved Son and our Redeemer, forever and ever. Amen!