The following is the text of the homily delivered by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades at Mass on the Memorial of Our Lady of Loreto Dec. 10 at the Church of Our Lady of Loreto, Notre Dame.
Three years ago, Pope Francis added today’s feast to the universal calendar of the Church as the optional memorial of Our Lady of Loreto. I imagine you were very happy when you heard this news, since your chapel here is under the title of Our Lady of Loreto and the first permanent chapel on this Saint Mary’s campus was the Holy House of Loreto.
The Holy House of Mary in Nazareth was a place of pilgrimage and worship since the early centuries of the Church. The emperor Constantine and his mother, St. Helena, had a basilica built around it in the year 313. When the Christians were driven out of the Holy Land in the late 13th century, the Holy House disappeared and ended up in Croatia and eventually in Loreto, Italy. Some believe that angels transported the house there. Others believe that it was brought over by ship. In either case, archaeologists have studied it and testify that the stone is indeed from Palestine, as are minute bits of pollen found in the stone. There is graffiti on the stone that matches graffiti in the ruined basilica built by Constantine. Also, the measurements of the remains of the foundation in Nazareth perfectly match the Holy House of Loreto.
Why is this house so important? In the reading today from the letter to the Galatians, St. Paul wrote: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” That woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, received God’s Son in her womb at the Annunciation which took place in her humble home in Nazareth, what we now call the Holy House of Loreto. The shrine in Loreto recalls the great mystery of the Incarnation. So many who visit there do so to consider the “fullness of time,” when God sent His Son, born of a woman, as well as to meditate on the words of the Angel Gabriel to Mary and Mary’s words of response to the divine call, the words we just heard in the Gospel of the Annunciation. Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, the humble handmaid of the Lord so became the dwelling place of God, the purest image of the Church.
Your church here, and especially the Holy House of Loreto chapel on this campus, are sacred places where you also contemplate the wondrous mystery of the Incarnation. Sisters of the Holy Cross, since the beginning, together with your founder, Blessed Basil Moreau, have had a strong and loving devotion to the Mother of God. It’s no wonder that the early sisters here had the Holy House built on this campus and then named this church Our Lady of Loreto. The humble home of Our Blessed Mother, now in Loreto, Italy, is a physical, tangible witness to the greatest event in human history, the Incarnation. The Word became flesh and Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, is the privileged channel through which God came to dwell among us. Mary offered her very body. She placed her entire being at the disposal of God’s will and became the place of His presence, a place of dwelling for the Son of God. In her, heaven and earth were united. Mary herself became God’s holy house, a temple where the Most High dwells.
When I think of your consecrated life as Sisters of the Holy Cross, I think of how, when you consecrated your lives to the Lord and made your perpetual profession of vows, you opened your hearts to the Lord, wishing to offer your lives as His dwelling place. You continue to do so through your lives of prayer and service in the Church. When our lives are His dwelling place, the Lord frees us from being closed in on ourselves. When we imitate Mary, we do not thirst for power, possessions and domination. We learn that our lives have meaning and are fulfilled through the gift of self, the gift of love.
The Advent season is truly a Marian season. On this memorial of Our Lady of Loreto, our minds and hearts again turn to Mary, as they did two days ago on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. There’s no one greater to accompany us on our Advent journey to Christmas, the humble handmaid of the Lord who lived in the humble house of Loreto. May we follow her example of faith and humility that is so pleasing to God! In these next two weeks, may our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Loreto, help us by her prayers to enter more and more into the mystery of the Incarnation and experience with her and St. Joseph the deep joy of Christmas!
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