This evening I am going to celebrate Mass for a group of women who support one another in their spiritual lives. Part of that support has, over the years, included making and renewing the St. Louis de Montfort Consecration to Mary. I joined them in preparing for and then making this Consecration on December 8, 2003, a few months after becoming the U.S. director of the Apostleship of Prayer. We will renew the Consecration tonight and this is what I'll say in my homily.
Our first reading (Acts 8: 1b-8) begins on a very negative note--"a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem"--and ends on a very positive note--"There was great joy in that city [of Samaria]." What happened in the intervening verses to bring about such a change?
The persecution led the Christians of Jerusalem to leave the city and to scatter "throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria." They brought with them the Good News of Jesus. They brought healings, both physical and spiritual. Would these Christians have scattered had they not been persecuted? We don't know if they would have followed the command of Jesus to "make disciples of all nations" (see Matthew 28: 19), but we do know that God allowed the persecution to take place and used it to move the Church beyond Jerusalem. This is another example of what St. Paul wrote in Romans 8: 28: "We know that all things work for good for those who love God."
We struggle to believe that. Suffering seems pointless. We cannot see its value. We cannot see its effects other than the negative ones. Yet, as the Church has taught from the beginning, suffering has redemptive value. Blessed John Paul II was an example of that.
In Lent 2002, he asked Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche (The Ark), an international network of communities in which volunteers live with people who are mentally disabled, to come to Rome to address the press conference at which his Lenten Message was released. John Paul was 81 and suffering from Parkinson's. He was stooped, he walked with a cane, he slurred his speech, and he drooled. Vanier said the following:
"He's never been more beautiful. It is a blessing to have someone so fragile--he is an incredible sign for the world. He is teaching an incredible lesson in assuming his disability, his fragility and trusting in St. Paul's words: 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'
"There is a great mystery around people with disabilities. It is a scandal, and we cannot underestimate the pain. The most oppressed people in the world are those with disabilities--in France, 96% of women who find out that they are carrying a child with disabilities will opt for an abortion. The disabled are often made to feel guilty for existing.
"It is scandalous, but it is the same scandal as the Cross. Many handicapped children cry out: 'My God, my God, why have I been abandoned?' It is the same cry from the Cross. This is the mystery--those who appear to be less human teach us to be human and those who are most rejected are those who heal us."
This is the lesson of Jesus that we are all called to follow. In today's Gospel (John 6: 35-40), Jesus says, "I am the bread of life." These are more than words, more than a metaphor. In John 12: 24, Jesus said: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit." Jesus is the grain that dies, the grain that is ground up to form bread to be consumed and give life. According to Pope Benedict, Jesus, at the Last Supper, anticipated his death on the cross and transformed it. In his homily at the end of World Youth Day 2005, he said:
"By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart, and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence--the Crucifixion--from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15: 28)."
Jesus can give life because he died. In today's Gospel Jesus goes on to say that he came to do one thing--the will of the Father which he says is "that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day." His entire will is united to the will of the Father which is that all people may come to eternal life in heaven.
Consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary is one practical way that we follow the example of Jesus. In this consecration we offer ourselves to the Mother of Christ so that she in turn will offer us to him. She will purify all that is not worthy of God. She will complete what is lacking. In offering ourselves to Jesus through Mary, we declare that we want to die to ourselves, to our self-will. We declare that we want to surrender ourselves completely to the will of the Father, as both Jesus and Mary did, trusting that God will make everything work together for our good and the good of those with whom and for whom we live our lives.