Re-consecrating St. Bernard’s to the Blessed Virgin Mary
Dec 5, 2023
Lisa Lickona, S.T.L.
This address was originally presented by Professor Lickona at St. Bernard's Re-Consecration to Mary event on September 21, 2023.
We are gathering today to re-consecrate our school to the Blessed Virgin Mary. And we are at the same time dedicating our very selves to her, trusting in her motherly affection for us and promising to renew our filial affection for her. We seek to become, as Pope Saint John Paul II so often recommended, totus tuus, totally yours, oh Mother!
The practice of consecrating physical spaces to God and His Mother is close to the very essence of our faith, which stands or falls not on an idea, a principle, or a teaching, however profound, but on a fact. This fact became alive for me in a new way last February when I was able to visit the Church of the Annunciation while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In that place, I and the other pilgrims descended one-by-one into the little grotto beneath the main altar to the ancient floor of the house of Mary of Nazareth to kneel and kiss the holy ground. At that spot you see a plaque that reads, “Verbum caro hic factum est.”
It is John 1:14 —“The word became flesh”— but with one little word added, the Latin hic, “here,” “ in this place.” This little Latin adverb highlights the historical fact that is the bedrock of our belief: the Incarnation. In this particular place the transcendent Mystery appeared first in human form. Here the Creator clothed Himself in the mortal flesh of His creature, becoming like us, that we might become like Him. On this fact rests our faith, and, indeed, our hope and love
Yet we must remember that this hic refers above all not to the ancient stone floor, but rather to the one whose floor it was, the Virgin who gave herself to become the home of God on earth. The Church of the Annunciation is the witness to that holy house that Mary herself willingly became when she pledged her entire body-person to participate in her Child’s work of redemption. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum: “Let it be done unto me according to Your word.”
In his encyclical letter, Redemptoris Mater, Pope Saint John Paul II draws a profound connection between the place that is consecrated to Mary and the place that Mary herself is:
One could. . . speak of a specific “geography” of faith and Marian devotion, which includes all . . . special places of pilgrimage where the People of God seek to meet the Mother of God in order to find, within the radius of the maternal presence of her “who believed,” a strengthening of their own faith. For in Mary's faith, first at the Annunciation and then fully at the foot of the Cross, an interior space was reopened within humanity which the eternal Father can fill “with every spiritual blessing.” It is the space “of the new and eternal Covenant,” and it continues to exist in the Church, which in Christ is “a kind of sacrament or sign of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind” (Redemptoris Mater, 28).
Let us ponder this mysterious “interior space” that Mary brings into the world.
By a particular grace, Mary was conceived without original sin, and thus her will, created though it was, was capable of the most exuberant freedom: it possessed the sufficient magnitude to enable her to respond fully to God’s invitation to receive His Son as her own. And yet Mary’s status as “full of grace” did not make her life automatic. Being without sin did not absolve Mary of the need to grow and adapt to her circumstances—rather it gave her the capacity to submit herself again and again to God’s will, in ever new ways.
When she saw the shepherds and then the wisemen at the door of the cave, blinking and awestruck; when Joseph awakened her from sleep spilling out the content of a dream as he packed her and the Child on the donkey to flee; when she was accosted by Anna and challenged by Simeon; and when, God help her, Jesus was lost… In all of these moments, the Author of reality invited Mary to go further in faith, to embrace more. She met each challenge with a new “yes.” Mary’s resolve ran every deeper. She remained in front of the ever-unfolding Mystery that was life with her Son and carried these things within her, pondering them, literally “holding them together,” in her heart. In prayer, she grew more, gave more, and then found more of herself to give.
And when Jesus was grown and gone from her, a time when most women were getting ready to become grandmothers, resting on their laurels, even more was asked of her: to let Jesus find a new family; to let Him put her on the back-burner; to let Him publicly push back on her and then quietly give in. The relationship with Him grew complicated, but in all of this, she continued to say “yes.”
And all of this brought her to the day when she would see Him rejected and beaten and bruised and hands and feet and side pierced. She saw all of His new family flee, but for one, and this grieving young man she had to accept as her own at the foot of the Cross—anticipating the many others who would become her children, all the way down to you and me.
In all things, she let herself be led one step further. Each time, “yes” meant another thing, a bigger thing—less her, more Him.
But “more God” meant that Mary was herself, as she put it, “magnified.” The sorrowful mysteries gave way to the glorious in a way that far exceeds all expectations. Grace upon grace. And for this reason, it is easy to imagine the woman who had already had the Holy Spirit descend upon her on the day of Pentecost, now in this second moment crowned in flames and filled with unrelenting joy—and all of it anticipating her future glory.
All of Mary’s experience brought a new “interior space” into the world: here was a woman who discovered a new breadth and length and height and depth (Eph 3:18) to herself. We might call it a contemplative depth, an untold capacity for prayer.
Ludwig Wittgenstein said that prayer means discovering that the meaning of the world is outside the world. And Saint John of the Cross pushed us to pray in such a way that we discover that transcendent meaning precisely in the most hidden recesses of the soul, Augustine’s “more inner than my inmost.” The twentieth-century master of prayer, Adrienne von Speyr, imagines this expansion of our prayer in decidedly feminine, Marian terms. It is a matter of a “growth” in the soul that permits God to be evermore God. In this process,
The self… is. . . stripped and abandoned: now the only important thing is the word of God, its truth and its realization. This word grows in the soul until it takes charge entirely, until the meaning of God has become the meaning of life, until the soul has been refashioned totally into the handmaid of the Lord (World of Prayer, 19).
Von Speyr says that prayer is:
... standing constantly before God, our unobstructed fellowship with him, our will to hear and follow him despite all the hindrances existing within us. It is a deep, fundamental readiness that provides the foundation for all particular dialogues and acts of prayer. This readiness must accompany us through all our daily work, condensing at certain times into what we are accustomed to call prayer in the restricted sense: that state in which there is no room left in us for anything but God’s voice, our listening to it, and our acknowledgement (World of Prayer, 16).
What an apt expression of what it is to become Totus Tuus: to become totally Mary’s is to enter into the prayer of the handmaid, to enter her interior space and thus to set out upon the path of becoming totally God’s. It is to aspire to that moment when there is no room left in us for anything but Him: His meaning becoming the meaning of our entire life.
In other words, in prayer we are called to the process that Mary herself has already lived. As John Paul II says, with simplicity, our Mother goes before us on this “pilgrimage of faith” (cf. Redemptoris Mater, 2).
There is no doubt that in this act of re-consecration, we acknowledge St. Bernard’s as a place, “where the People of God seek to meet the Mother of God in order to find, within the radius of the maternal presence of her ‘who believed,’ a strengthening of their own faith.”
As a school of Catholic theology and ministry, our work is intrinsically tied to the person of Mary. She is both our patroness and our inspiration as we seek to let God’s meaning be discovered as the true meaning of all worldly realities. But she is also our mother and queen, and the extent to which we enter into her journey and let ourselves be formed in her interior space, to that same extent will we realize our mission and our goal. Let us implore her to obtain for us this grace.
We ask you today, O Mother, make us totally yours.