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Fourth Sunday of Advent

Homily at a Mass in honor of the 60th anniversary of Mercy Hospital

Homily delivered by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at a Mass in honor of the 60th anniversary of Mercy Hospital, held Dec. 18, 2010.

Mary’s annunciation is celebrated in liturgy and in great art. She welcomed the message of the angel – and though mystified by what it all meant – she trusted completely in God. A trust that is made explicit in her “Fiat”: “Let it be done to me according to your Word.
And with that “Fiat”, the prophecy of Isaiah spoken some seven centuries earlier is fulfilled. “Virgin will bear a son”.

Today’s gospel presumes Mary’s annunciation and her “Fiat”. Mary betrothed to Joseph is found “with child” – but Joseph knows that the child is not his child. He is a “just man” and so he decides to “divorce her” – according to what the Hebrew law would demand in such a circumstance but because Joseph has already deep love for Mary, he would do so “quietly”. And so, the stage is set for Joseph’ own “Annunciation” which takes place in a dream.

God intervenes in our history to save us. Mary who conceives not through the agency of a man but by the power of the Holy Spirit witnesses to the gratuitousness of God’s action. The birth of the Savior is pure grace – not earned, not merited and not caused by us.
Nevertheless, God does not allow humanity to observe the drama of its salvation to standby as a passive observer of what is to happen. God demands a response. Mary gave hers – and perhaps Joseph thought that his should be to “get out of the way”, to remove himself from the scene but then, in a dream, the Angel of the Lord asks him to give a different response. He dreams; he listens; he follows.

Through his own “fiat” he plays a role in the fulfillment of the Messianic promises. The Virgin will bear a son – but he would be known as David’s son. Joseph – as we learn in the gospels is of the House of David. (This is what brings them to Bethlehem to be registered for the census – since Bethlehem was David’s town). As Jesus’ legal father, he helps bring to fulfillment that the Messiah would be of the “House of David”. Both Mary and Joseph play active roles in fulfilling God’s promise to reverse the tragedy of the first sin and help restore us to friendship with God.

Today, this Hospital staffed for so many years by a community of sisters who look to St. Joseph for their own inspiration celebrates its 60th anniversary. For 60 years, the sisters and the rest of this hospital family have witnessed to God’s salvation among the sick and their families who have come here seeking solace and healing. We cannot forget to mention that the bishop who had the “dream” of bringing this hospital into existence was also named Joseph, Archbishop Joseph Hurley, the Bishop of St. Augustine. None of this would have happened without men and women of faith who trusted in God and embraced the mission of salvation by their own “fiats”. God does marvelous things for us but he does so only with our active assent and collaboration. And this evening we recognize one man who certainly has been a patient in this hospital any number of times but we recognize him for his constant availability and zealous pastoral care of the patients and staff of this hospital for many, many of those 60 years this hospital has been opened: Bishop Agustin Roman.

On this the last Sunday before Christmas, we have set before us the example of Joseph, the just man. He was the first to do what each of us is called to do: to take Mary and Jesus into our home. He made a home for them, a family for them. Through the prayers of that just man, Joseph the most chaste spouse of the ever Virgin Mary and foster father of Jesus, may we welcome the Savior in our homes this Christmas. See how easy God makes it for us to draw near him. Had he come in all his glory perhaps we would be frightened away shamed by our sins. But he comes as a helpless little baby. He will await us in that cave near Bethlehem where shepherds watch their flocks. As the angel told Mary and then Joseph, we too are told: Be not afraid. There is room in the cave for us and for all if we but stoop down and enter with humility and trust.

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