Saturday, June 2, 2012


Thursday I gave a homily at a baccalaureate mass for the graduating high school seniors of Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth, NJ. I thought you might enjoy reading it.

Dear members of the class of 2012, this graduation weekend certainly finds you looking ahead, it’s a time for dreams or more practically, for plans. But as some of you already know from experience, and as any adult here can tell you, there will surely be times in your life when things are going to happen that are part of God's loving plan for you but that were never part of your own plans!


In fact, there may even be times when God's plan will be terribly hard to see. For example, some day it may seem to you that there’s no purpose to your life: that going to this office or that school or workplace is but waste and weariness. But I want you to think about this, right now, ahead of time, so to speak: It may be that God has sent you into that workplace or into that school or house because if it weren't for you, Christ would not be there in that place. But, if your being there means that Christ is there, then that alone makes it worthwhile! You can bet on it: There will be lots of times when God will need you and count on you to make the Lord present in this sometimes sad, suffering, and often godless world.


And nowhere is this truth more beautifully portrayed than in the gospel story that we just read from the Gospel of Luke for the Feast of Visitation: Mary had been told by the angel Gabriel that God needed her to be the mother of the Messiah, Son of the Most High. Gabriel had revealed a second thing, a sign: Elizabeth her kinswoman was pregnant too, despite her old age.

Imagine what that meeting was like when the teenage virgin and the sterile old woman looked into each other’s eyes,and they each realized that the other already knew her miraculous secret! Even the unborn John the Baptist sensed the presence of Christ and, still in his mother’s womb, leapt for joy.

And here’s the  crucial point for you and me: Jesus was of course not even born, but because Mary was carrying him she had made Jesus present in the house of Zechariah that day. Keep that picture with you as you leave this chapel tonight and walk into the future: the scene of the Visitation. The only reason Christ was present in Zechariah’s house was because Mary brought him, she was carrying Christ within her!  

But you see, that’s your job too as Christian women. Your calling.  Your vocation. Wherever you are, whether a college dorm, a workplace, a home, people should be able to sense the presence of Christ because you are carrying Christ in you! And they, just like John the Baptist, will be filled with joy.


There are so many beautiful images in this gospel passage! Luke is one of the great story tellers in the Bible. Please let me share just one more detail from the story. Actually it has to do with plans.

Artists love to depict the moment when Mary enters Zechariah’s house and greets Elizabeth. It’s a great visual: The young Mary and the aged Elizabeth. And sometimes artists paint the two women as towering figures of heroic proportions. And the point the painters make is a good one: These are indeed two strong, powerful women, each of whom trusted God enough to accept willingly the Lord’s particular plan for them.

There’s a little phrase in this evening’s gospel that’s so familiar we can easily miss it: “Blessed art thou among women.” I want to take a moment tonight to tell you where that expression comes from.  First let me warn the parents with little children present that the two biblical incidents I’m about to relate contain a lot of violence and are rated PG-13.

 TWO MORE STRONG WOMEN (Pardon the gore!)

"Jael" by Lazzarini
The first scene I want to present  comes from the Old Testament Book of Judges. There was a great battle between the Israelites and a local Philistine tribe. The Philistine army began to scatter, and their general, Sisera, fled on foot. He sought refuge in the tent of a Jewish woman named Jael. Now Jael recognized him but didn’t let on. Instead she tricked him into hiding under some blankets. Then after he fell asleep she took a tent peg and drove it through his temple, killing him instantly, thus assuring the victory for the Israelites. Her Israelite sisters sang her praises with this refrain, “Most blest among women be Jael” (Judges 5:24)

"Judith" by C. Allori
The second time we encounter this phrase is in the book of Judith, where we meet a second courageous woman. This time it was the Persians who were invading Israel. They had laid siege to the city of Bethulia. One of the women of the city, a widow named Judith, went right into the enemy camp and bewitched the great general Holofernes with her beauty. And when he had fallen asleep in his bed she took his own sword and lopped off his head. Then she entered the city holding aloft the severed head of the enemy general. Want to guess what the women of the city sang about her? “Blest are you above all other women on earth” (Judith 13:18).

Both of these holy women, Jael and Judith, used their strength and wit to move the story of salvation history along at crucial times by courageously saying “yes!” to God, by risking, by trusting in the Lord.

Luke puts the same phrase in the mouth of Elizabeth to praise young Mary, that teenager from a little village who had demonstrated that same courage, strength and, in her case we should add love."Blest art thou among women!

My young sisters, there will be plenty of times in your life when God is going to call on you to use your strength and your wit, and especially your love to move the story of God’s loving plan on to the next step. And just as in the case of your sisters Jael, Judith and Mary, if you don’t do it, it won’t get done.


With your graduation you are now becoming part of the long tradition of women of Benedictine Academy and St. Walburga’s Priory. (My own younger sister graduated 51 years ago.) But you are also part of a long procession of strong, holy women reaching all the way back into the bible: You are walking with Sara and Rachel, and Rebecca, with Miriam and Esther, with Jael and Judith, with Elizabeth and Mary.

So, all of us here this evening pray for you that you will grow into women worthy of that great tradition: We pray for you that you will have the courage of Jael and Judith and Mary, that you will be able to say “yes!” to God’s particular plan for you, even when that plan is not the one you had in mind.

We pray that by your loving hearts you will be like Mary and bring the presence of Jesus with you wherever you go. 

Finally, we pray for you that one day people may say about each of you, the members of the class of 2012, what they once said about those courageous women ancestors of yours: “Blest are you among women.”

"Holy Women" - Mosaic, Sant' Appolinare Nuovo, Ravenna

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