Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2005
The [Second Vatican] Council took place in a Marian setting, [which refers us] to the image of the Virgin who listens and lives in the Word of God, who cherishes in her heart the words that God addresses to her and, piecing them together like a mosaic, learns to understand them. It refers us to the great Believer who, full of faith, put herself in God's hands, abandoning herself to His will; it refers us to the humble Mother who, when the Son's mission so required, became part of it, and at the same time, to the courageous woman who stood beneath the Cross while the disciples fled. * * *
Not only does Mary have a unique relationship with Christ, the Son of God who, as man, chose to become her Son. Since she was totally united to Christ, she also totally belongs to us. Yes, we can say that Mary is close to us as no other human being is, because Christ becomes man for all men and women and His entire being is "being here for us." Christ, the Fathers said, as the Head, is inseparable from His Body which is the Church, forming with her, so to speak, a single living subject. The Mother of the Head is also the Mother of all the Church; she is, so to speak, totally emptied of herself; she has given herself entirely to Christ and with Him is given as a gift to us all. Indeed, the more the human person gives himself, the more he finds himself.
* * * Mary is so interwoven in the great mystery of the Church that she and the Church are inseparable, just as she and Christ are inseparable. Mary mirrors the Church, anticipates the Church in her person, and in all the turbulence that affects the suffering, struggling Church she always remains the Star of salvation. In her lies the true center in which we trust, even if its peripheries very often weigh on our soul. * * * [The] Petrine aspect of the Church, however, is included in that Marian aspect. In Mary, the Immaculate, we find the essence of the Church without distortion. We ourselves must learn from her to become "ecclesial souls," as the Fathers said, so that we too may be able, in accordance with St Paul's words, to present ourselves "blameless" in the sight of the Lord, as He wanted us from the very beginning.
But now we must ask ourselves: What does "Mary, the Immaculate" mean? Does this title have something to tell us? * * * Mary, the humble provincial woman who comes from a priestly race and bears within her the great priestly patrimony of Israel, is "the holy remnant" of Israel to which the prophets referred in all the periods of trial and darkness. In her is present the true Zion, the pure, living dwelling-place of God. In her the Lord dwells, in her He finds the place of His repose. She is the living house of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the heart of living man. * * * She is the offshoot from which grew the tree of redemption and of the redeemed. God has not failed, as it might have seemed formerly at the beginning of history with Adam and Eve or during the period of the Babylonian Exile, and as it seemed anew in Mary's time when Israel had become a people with no importance in an occupied region and with very few recognizable signs of its holiness. God did not fail. * * * Mary is holy Israel: she says "yes" to the Lord, she puts herself totally at His disposal and thus becomes the living temple of God. * * *
The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings. For this reason she can be the Mother of every consolation and every help, a Mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need in weakness and in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness. In her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thorn-bushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home. As a merciful Mother, Mary is the anticipated figure and everlasting portrait of the Son.
Thus, we see that the image of the Sorrowful Virgin, of the Mother who shares her suffering and her love, is also a true image of the Immaculate Conception. Her heart was enlarged by being and feeling together with God. In her, God's goodness came very close to us. Mary thus stands before us as a sign of comfort, encouragement and hope. She turns to us, saying: "Have the courage to dare with God! Try it! Do not be afraid of him! Have the courage to risk with faith! Have the courage to risk with goodness! Have the courage to risk with a pure heart! Commit yourselves to God, then you will see that it is precisely by doing so that your life will become broad and light, not boring but filled with infinite surprises, for God's infinite goodness is never depleted!"
On this Feast Day, let us thank the Lord for the great sign of His goodness which He has given us in Mary, His Mother and the Mother of the Church. Let us pray to Him to put Mary on our path like a light that also helps us to become a light and to carry this light into the nights of history. Amen.