Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is one of the most important solemnities about our Blessed Mother. Pope Pius IX declared in 1854 that Our Blessed Mother, through a special grace, was preserved free from original sin right from the moment she was conceived in her mother, Anna’s, womb. It is part of the reason when the angel Gabriel came to tell her that God had chosen her as the mother of Jesus, the angel called her “full of grace.” She did not have a quarter of the grace, or have half of the grace, but she was full of grace!
St. John Damascene, priest and doctor of the church, is quoted as saying, “Prayer is the raising up of the mind to God.” It was the phrase “raising up” that caught my attention as I reflected on the reading from Isaiah, where Isaiah speaks of the Lord’s house “established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills.”
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As I read over today’s readings and began to reflect on their meaning, asking God to help me to write this homily, I was also thinking of Mrs. Howley, the mother of my friend, Joe, who is preparing to go home to God.
I have heard this story about the committal service of a man. As the casket was about to be lowered into the grave, a mourner came forward and said, "He was a very nice man; he loaned me a hundred dollars, and I owe him that money." He took a hundred-dollar bill and placed it on the casket. Another man came forward, stating that he also owed the deceased a hundred dollars and wanted to pay him back at that very moment. He also placed a hundred-dollar bill on the casket. Then, as the undertaker was about to lower the casket into the grave, another man came forward and declared that he owed the deceased three hundred dollars.
Today, we are gathered here, my brothers and sisters, to commemorate the faithful departed. The first reading says, all the faithful departed shall abide with the Lord in love. We are here to prayerfully remember our loved ones - friends, family, neighbors, people we knew and some we did not know - who have already gone to the Lord. We celebrate their lives and thank God for the time we spent with them here on earth. We pray that God gives them good rest and peace. We pray that their lives remain an inspiration to us who are still on pilgrimage here on earth.
A priest speaking at a retreat influenced me to use my Rosary to think of something I’m thankful for on each bead, calling it a rosary of gratitude. It takes around 5 minutes but can be life-changing. “Things I used to complain about, I now thank God for,” he told the audience. He instructed us to look even at our difficulties and see the blessings. For instance, having the flu is not fun, but we have plumbing, a bed, clean sheets, access to a washing machine, and so much more that we can be thankful for.