Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I wonder if we could pause for a moment to ponder the sanctuary lamp — the candle that’s lit in every Church to indicate that Jesus is present in the tabernacle.
The principal value of the sanctuary lamp is neither in the light it gives (not enough to read by) nor in the heat it gives (not enough to warm yourself), but in how it draws our attention to Jesus, and leaves us with Him.
We celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception this week (Dec. 8), as well as the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Dec. 12). It’s a good time to recall that every Church teaching about Mary, and every liturgical celebration of her, is like a sanctuary lamp. It’s meant to draw our attention to Jesus, and leave us with Him. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ (CCC 487).
What does the Church teach about Mary? First, that Mary is not Jesus! All grace comes to us from Him. He alone is the savior.
At the same time, the simple historical truth is that Mary is the one through whom Jesus came into the world as savior. And, since God deepens and expands the roles He gives to people in salvation history, she continues to be the spiritual mother through whom the grace of Jesus enters into our lives.
An outstanding historical example of that is the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in which Mary brought Jesus to an entire nation. And I thank the Mexican Catholic community — who not only received this truth into their history, but whose ongoing celebration of it offers each of us the opportunity to receive this truth into our history.
Summarizing Mary’s role with both great beauty and great precision, St. Anselm said, “He who could create all things from nothing would not remake His ruined creation without Mary … For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to Him as the Savior of the world.” That was true for salvation history 2,000 years ago. It was true for the people of Mexico 500 years ago. It can be just as true of our lives today.
As we move more deeply into Advent, let’s walk more deeply with Mary as our spiritual mother. She — and all the Church’s teachings about her, and all the Church’s liturgical celebrations of her — is like a sanctuary lamp. She will only ever lead us to Jesus.