Feast Day: December 21st
I have to laugh every time we enter Advent and we hear again and again the Gospel of the Annunciation. It is given to us on December 8th, for the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and then again on December 12th for Our Lady of Guadalupe (though this year, the 3rd Sunday of Advent took priority). Last year, it came up again on the 4th Sunday of Advent, though this year we will be meditating on the Visitation that weekend. And, on top of all those occasions, we heard it twice this year during our Novena leading up to the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and we got it again a few days afterwards, during our Advent Lessons and Carols. And, we will hear it again on December 20th, Monday of the 4th week of Advent. (We hear it the rest of the year only on the Annunciation itself, March 25th; on Our Lady of the Rosary, October 7th). Don’t get me wrong, it is one of the most important moments in world history. There are few seconds that have had as much impact as did that second upon which Mary said “yes” to the Angel Gabriel, and the Word of God, the Son of the Father, became man in her womb. But, it has to be one of the most repeated Gospels in our liturgies!
This week, I want to go beyond this passage just a bit with a saint we celebrate this week: St. Peter Canisius. A Jesuit scholar up in Germany after the Protestant Reformation, this holy priest was a force to be reckoned with in bringing people back to the fullness of the faith and truly swaying whole countries back to Catholicism (Poland, Lithuania, Bohemia, Austria, Hungary, parts of Germany … all these countries could have swayed towards various protestant sects if not for the preaching and publications of St. Peter Canisius). But, though he was known by the end of his life for his gentleness in evangelizing, his boldness in smuggling tracts from the council of Trent to bishops who could not be there, and the popularity of his catechism (which went thorough 200 editions, in 12 languages, within his lifetime). He was first, and best, known for a tender love for the poor and humble, and above all for our poor and humble Blessed Mother.
I tried valiantly to track down some of his sermons on her, for they are said to be tremendous, but did not have much luck as my midnight cutoff was approaching … but, I realized something better! When our saint first got to Vienna (center of Germany, a crossroads of Europe, and disintegrating around the fragmentation of faith which follows from sola scriptura), he started preaching fervently in the main cathedral. And no one came. What was the saint to do? He had to become a living homily. He cared for the poor, he nursed the sick, he tended the dying. Here was a pre-curser to Mother Theresa – along with so many other saints – wearing a very different guise, working in a very different century, and entering a very different slum, but incarnating the very same radical Gospel. As is the case whenever Christ’s love pours forth from the heart of His follower, people take notice. The tender love that Peter had found in his Blessed Mother, now captivated the crowds in Vienna.
But how might he sum this all up? How might he send this ember of Christ’s love down the centuries? How can he possible package into words what he had discovered in the poor and humble mother, who loved the poor and humble multitudes? He pondered the question as he meditated again on his rosary, and as he repeated “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus” it came to him: he would add a few words to each recitation of the angelic salutation. He wanted to keep it short, what about: “Holy Mary, mother of God, Pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.” These last words of our Hail Mary didn’t come from Gabriel, nor from Elizabeth, they came from St. Peter Canisius during dark days as the Church splintered and the poor suffered. But with those several extra words, he entrusted all that suffering, and his own self, into the hands of the greatest of mothers, and he’s reminded us to do the same all these years since!
– Fr. Dominic Rankin has prayed the rosary daily since he was a little child. It started with just a decade before bed, and then the whole rosary (14 minutes feels like a long time when you’re little!) with the family sometime in the evening. But, those hundreds of thousands of Hail Mary’s add up over time, and it makes a lot of saints smile as we join our little greetings of our Queen to all the times they did the same!