Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church
Hot Springs Village, Arkansas
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  Probably the first thing I need to say is that we are celebrating when Mary was conceived, not when Jesus was conceived.  It is pretty easy to see how we could be confused since today’s Gospel reading is not about Mary’s conception.  In fact that is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture.  No, today we celebrate the belief that Mary was totally preserved from the stain of original sin and that she remained pure from all personal sin throughout her life.  Pope Pius IX declared this dogma in 1854.  The Assumption of Mary, body and soul, into heaven follows naturally from the belief that she was free of both original sin and personal sin all her life.  She had no need for purification or purgatory after her death.  The fact that she was free from all sin is why the angel Gabriel greeted her with, “Hail, full of grace!”  Grace is a share in God’s own life, in His divinity and who would share more in that than Mary, the mother of Jesus.

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I want to thank everyone for being here this morning for this Mass of Remembrance.  We usually come together as a parish family to celebrate the life of one of our parishioners who has died.  But so often when a sibling, a cousin, a child, grandchild or close friend dies somewhere else, we miss the comfort and support of our parish family.  I know this firsthand because a few months ago my brother, Jim, died in Colorado and I couldn’t be there.  This Mass gives all of us that have lost a loved one over the past year the chance to come together as a family and comfort and support each other. 

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There is a story entitled, “What is the World Like?”  God and a man are walking down the road.  The man asks God, “What is the world like?”  God replies, “I can’t talk when I am thirsty.  If you could get me a drink of cool water, we could discuss what the world is like.  There is a village nearby.  Please, go and get me a drink. 

The man goes into the village and knocks at the door of the first house. A beautiful young woman opens the door.  His jaw drops, but he manages to say, “I need a glass of cool water.”  “Of course,” she says, smiling, “but it is noon.  Would you care to stay for some food?”  “I am hungry,” he says, looking over his shoulder.  “And your offer of food is a great kindness.”  He goes in and the door closes behind him.

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Our first reading from the prophet Malachi starts with “Lo, the day is coming” and Jesus repeats that phrase in opening of the Gospel, “All that you see here - the days will come.”  There is always a great deal of emotion in anticipation of “the day.”  Sometimes we look forward to the big day with a lot of excitement - our wedding day, the day our first child was born.  Both of those involved not only a day of happiness and joy but the promise of many more to come.  Then there are days that worry us, maybe even frighten us.  It is game 7 of the World Series.  We fought so hard to get here but one mistake and it isn’t just a bad day, it is the beginning of the 109th year of bad days.  As the Church comes to the end of the liturgical year the “day” our readings focus on is “the day of the Lord,” the “end times,” the time of final judgment.

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According to the Gospels, whose life and lifestyle changed the most after they encountered Jesus?

Perhaps the best answer to that question (and the most obvious) is the apostles.  That is made clear by Peter's own statement to Jesus in which he said, "We have left everything to follow you.  That included their livelihood, perhaps their families, obviously their routine and many if not all of the things they were used to doing before they followed Jesus.

I think one could make the case, after the apostles, that Zacchaeus, is the one whose lifestyle must have changed the most after encountering Jesus.  It tells us in today's Gospel, that he pledged to Jesus that he would give half of all his belongings to the poor and repay 4 times the amount of money he had defrauded people of, in his time as a tax collector.

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