My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,1
Isn’t it wonderful that we gather today to celebrate our Blessed Mother’s birthday? Hopefully, at some point we will sing her “Happy Birthday” and even Las Mañanitas.
This is especially beautiful because we have gathered as the family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — celebrating our cultures and our faith and our love of God and Mary.
This Mass is always special for all of us because we can see how the Church is universal. We all belong to this wonderful family of God. Also because I always think — this is what the Kingdom of Heaven is going to look like. One family drawn from all walks of life and from all the ends of the earth — all gathered before the altar of God. Worshipping him with his saints and angels.
So we thank God this morning for the beautiful gift of being together as brothers and sisters, and our mother, Mary. And we want to be sure to ask for the grace to grow in our love and devotion and affection for Mary and to increase our devotion as children of God.
This year’s theme for our celebration of cultures is important: “Rooted in Christ — Firm in the Faith.”
As we know, in about a month, on October 11th, we will begin a special “Year of Faith” that has been declared by our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI.
The apostles used to ask Jesus: “Increase our faith.”2 As his disciples, we also need to ask Jesus for this same gift. To help us grow in our faith.
Every living thing has to keep growing and bear fruit or it will wither up and die. And our faith is a living thing. As you know, Jesus Christ compared our faith to a fig tree.3 Our faith is like a seed that God plants in our hearts. We need to nourish and nurture our faith. We need to stay rooted in Jesus Christ. And our faith needs to bear fruit — in our sharing of our faith with others and in our service to others.
So this celebration today calls us to grow in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ and in our commitment to bear fruits in our vocation as his disciples.
To be firm in our faith means that we have rediscover the beauty of our Catholic faith and the joy of practicing our faith.
My brothers and sisters, I especially feel that we need to grow in our faith that God is our Father.
God’s great plan of salvation is a “family story.” That is the story that we heard in our Gospel reading this morning — the story of how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. Each one of us is a part of this story.
St. Paul tells us, in the first reading of today’s Mass, that Jesus was born of Mary — to be the firstborn of many brothers and sisters. That means you and me.
This is who we are, my brothers and sisters. What an amazing dignity we have. We are the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. We are children of God.
And that’s what it means to be “rooted in Christ.” It means that we are realize and live with the dignity of the children of God. It means that we are really proud to be part of the family of God, with holy pride. It means that we understand what it means to be sons and daughters in God’s family, his holy Church.4
This is what gives our Church its beautiful energy and diversity. Because we are all sisters and brothers of Jesus — no matter where we come from, or where our families have come from. Our Church is a communion of cultures and peoples because the Blessed Virgin Mary is our mother, the Mother of the Church, the “mother of the living.”5
So today as we celebrate in this liturgy, the birthday of the Blessed Mother, and as we are still celebrating the 10th anniversary of this beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, we need to let Mary, our Blessed Mother, really be our mother and our teacher. She can show us, by her example, how to be good children of God. She listened to the Word of God. We know that she talked to God in prayer. We know that she trusted in God’s plan for her life.
We need to learn from Mary how to see the world through the eyes of God! She can show us how to have a generous heart and how to do little things with a great love. She can show us how to do everything for the love of God and for the good of our brothers and sisters.
St. Paul tells us today that we are “called according to [God’s] purpose ... to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
This tells us something that is very important for our life of faith. Because our faith calls us to conversion and holiness. God wants us to be saints, my brothers and sisters. That means we are called to live in the image of Jesus Christ. We need to live by his teachings and his example. In our words, in our actions, and in our thoughts and attitudes.
Our Church in America — and here in Los Angeles — is a Church of saints! Obviously, we are far away from becoming saints. First of all, in order to become a saint, you have to be dead. And as far as I know, we are all still alive.
But that’s the goal of our life! Isn’t it wonderful? It’s exciting. We all must be excited to be a part of the family of God and especially called to be saints. Good and faithful daughters and sons of God.
We have beautiful examples of holiness in the Church, as we all know. We see many of them over there, in the tapestries that hang in our sanctuary. There are some in our tapestries who are not canonized saints. And they represent each one of us, because we are called — believe it or not — to be in those tapestries. That would be something, no? Can you picture yourself in a tapestry? I cannot. But that’s what we are called to do. It’s amazing. It’s exciting. It’s wonderful. And that’s why we can say we are a Church of saints.
This coming month, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI will canonize two new American saints — Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, our first Native American saint, and Mother Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai. The Holy Father is going to also canonize seven new saints and as most of you know, one of them is Blessed Pedro Calungsod, the second Filipino saint.
So today, let us ask also for the grace to know the stories of these new saints.
We really need to know their lives. Because they are ordinary men and women who lived extraordinary lives with extraordinary faith. These were truly men and women who were rooted in Christ and firm in the faith. We need to know their life stories, their words. We need to imitate and draw inspiration from them. And we need to seek their heavenly intercession.
These saints all had a special devotion to Mary, our Blessed Mother. Some of them were really young. Blessed Kateri only lived to be 24. Blessed Pedro was 17 or 18 when he died.
Blessed Kateri used to say all the time: “Who will teach me what is most agreeable to God, that I may do it?”6
Let us make that our prayer today, my dear brothers and sisters. Let us ask Jesus to teach us what is most agreeable to God — and to give us the strength and courage to do it.
Let us learn from our saints. Let us ask for their intercession. Let us learn from their example.
And may Our Lady of the Angels, the patroness of this great Archdiocese, help us to make this “Year of Faith,” a beautiful time of grace for us to grow more rooted in Jesus Christ and more firm in our knowledge and our practice of faith.
1. Readings (Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Year B): Rom. 8:28-30; Matt. 1:18-23.
2. Luke 17:5.
3. Matt. 2:19-21; John 1:48-50.
4. John 3:5; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6.
5. Rev. 12:17.
6. Bechard, Kaitanoron Kateri Tekakwitha (Kateri Center, 1994), 124.