[This weekend, we mark the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, which serves as the feast day for my parish, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs. We are in the middle of a centennial celebration for the parish, so we’re marking that feast in a special way at all the weekend Masses. Below is my homily for the occasion, which has less to do with this weekend’s scripture and more to do with honoring the patroness of our parish — DGK]
When I was growing up in Maryland, my father once took me out to an empty field on a cold December morning to show me our new parish church. It was still under construction. The only things standing were several massive pillars, with arches. You could see the bare outlines of what would one day be St. Patrick’s Church. But you would have to use your imagination. For months, those pillars were all that stood in that field. It would be another year or so before the structure was completed and dedicated.
That image of those pillars came to my mind as I was putting together some thoughts to mark our parish feast day this weekend. I remembered a book we have in the sacristy. It’s a slender blue volume of special Masses devoted to Mary, honoring her by various titles. One of those titles is: “Pillar of Faith.”
As I look out at you this morning I’m looking out at the pillars of this parish – in every sense. I’m looking out at the people who support this parish with their prayers, their sacrifice, their time and their love. But I’m also looking at the pillars that support, in a very literal way, this very building.
And in that, I see reflected back everything that Mary is to the life of the Church, and to the life of this parish. She is our Pillar of Faith.
There are 12 pillars in the nave of the church – in and around the pews – just like the 12 apostles. Those pillars hold up the roof and the walls. They offer to all who come here shelter and protection and security.
So does Mary.
Those pillars enable the walls to hold up the stunning stained glass windows – windows that not only flood this space with color, but that also radiate light. Drive past this church on an evening when there’s a Mass being celebrated inside, and the windows send forth the clear message: there is life here. Something is happening—something joyous, and beautiful, and sacred. The pillars help the windows proclaim our faith, and put forth light.
So does Mary.
Finally, those pillars connect the floor with the roof – the earth to heaven.
And, of course: so does Mary.
She is the bridge between heaven and earth, between God and man— the humble woman “full of grace” who made possible the Incarnation and our salvation. She is our intercessor, our patroness, our help and, so often, our hope.
And that links her, in a powerful way, to the gospel we just heard.In Mark’s gospel, Jesus asked the defining question of our faith:
“Who do you say that I am?”
It’s defining, but it’s also central – in every sense. There are 16 chapters in Mark’s gospel, and Christ poses that question right in the middle of Chapter 8 – it is, literally, at the center of the gospel.
Well, every week, we come here to this church and answer that question – as it has been answered in this parish for a century, as it has been answered under this roof and in these pews and around these pillars for over 80 years.
“You are the Christ.” This is our faith. This is what we believe.
But we cannot forget, we must not forget, that being able to answer that question, and live the answer, all begins with Mary. The Pillar of Faith.
At St. Patrick’s in Maryland, long before there was an altar or pews or even walls, there were those pillars. They were necessary to support everything that followed. And while some things in that church have changed over the years, those pillars haven’t. They can’t. Everything that stands depends on them.
So it is with Mary.
When we hear the question, “Who do you say that I am?,” we are able to answer “You are the Christ” because two millennia ago a peasant woman in a forgotten town dared to believe that nothing is impossible with God. We can say, “You are the Christ” because she said, “Yes.”
And today, when we receive communion we will echo Mary’s yes. We will say, “You are the Christ” when we answer “Amen” to the elevated host.
But before you do that, as you line up for communion, you’ll walk past these pillars. They don’t call much attention to themselves. They aren’t ornate. But like Mary, they offer a quiet assurance: here is the support that makes everything possible. Here is stability in an unstable world… strength in the face of weakness … support that keeps the world from caving in around us.
In a way, they are prayers in concrete—enduring and unbending reminders of that great Pillar of Faith, Mary. As you walk past those pillars for communion, think of that. Remember the woman we honor here in this parish. And remember that the short journey past those pillars leads ultimately to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Or as an age-old saying puts it:
“To Jesus through Mary.”
Whether we realize it or not, we are blessed to live that very idea every time we come here to church. Let us seek to live it, as well, in the world. Let us pray for the intercession of Mary—the Queen of Martyrs, Our Lady of Sorrows—the woman who stood by the cross, who stood defiantly and courageously in the face of everything. Let us pray that this Pillar of Faith may uplift us, support us, shelter us and give us, by her grace, strength.
Our Lady Queen of Martyrs—and Pillar of Faith—pray for us.