Mary, Our Lady Liberty (7/3/2016)
Jul 6, 2016
For thus says the Lord, lo I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.
This weekend in a more emphatic and celebratory way, we remember that the Promised Land of America is a land teeming with opportunity and plenty...the wealth of many nations because we are a country of immigrants who coming from all over the world wished to nurse from the prosperity that is the promise and hope of the American dream.
And the great symbol and beacon of this hope is the Statue of Liberty standing tall, magnificent, beautiful and welcoming in NY Harbor. Interestingly enough, the idea for this statue was inspired by the nearly one hundred foot Colossus of Rhodes erected in 280 BC in the waters beside the Greek Island City of Rhodes to commemorate Rhodes victory over Cyprus.
The Colossus is the Greek Titan god of the Sun Helios who then guarded and defended the freedom and prosperity of the people of Rhodes, and any who in good faith would sail to its shores in hopes of sharing in their good fortune. It is considered one of the 7 wonders of the world.
Coming to America, especially by way of Ellis Island, seeing Lady Liberty mounted firm and beckoning upon those NY waters, how the oppressed and weary immigrant heart must have pounded with relief and renewed enthusiasm and anticipation arriving on this greatest of America's shores.
The resurrected hope of starting a new life, becoming a new creation...an experience and sensation made famous in the poem The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, part of which is inscribed in the book held by Lady Liberty:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
And how not so ironic the name Emma Lazarus, as in Lazarus the dear friend who Jesus restored to life resurrecting him from the dead.
We all love a good symbol, especially one that celebrates the greatness and blessings bestowed upon America. And Lady Liberty is an iconic and epic symbol of this beautiful country as there is. But symbols are never good substitutes for the real thing.
Given our choice between the symbol and the reality it signifies, we prefer the experience of the reality. More than the prosperity she represents, we want the actual white-picket fence American dream fulfilled for our family with plenty left over to help others achieve their goals and dreams.
Because at the end of the day, Lady Liberty is still a statue made of bronze, cold to the touch and life-less...who in our many trials and disappointments in life remains mute and still, not able to move those metal arms to wrap them around us in an embrace of comfort.
As human beings we know and cherish the value of comfort especially by way of human contact: the beating heart of love of another to rest one's weary head upon...the embrace of friendship...those heard words of encouragement or promises of prayer...treasured most when coming from the support offered by our families.
The Catholic Church, the New Jerusalem, is also a nation of immigrants. The term Catholic means universal, as in from all walks of life, from all places, peoples and continents. And we too have our welcoming, beckoning arms and heart always opened Lady Liberty...not made of corroding bronze but the glorified and assumed into Heaven flesh and blood of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
One may wonder, why is it that the New Colossus who is Lady Liberty is not depicted instead as a man like Helios? Perhaps because it is in the nature of a woman, especially a mom, to bring such soothing, healing and restoring comfort.
That in a life where there are many occasions of scraped and bruised knees and deeper bruises and hurts of the heart, no one provides more consoling and comforting love than mom.
Jesus understood this perfectly for himself and more so for us when from His Cross at Calvary He gave to us the Blessed Virgin Mary as our Mother.
The religious leaders of our newly created country appreciated this reality as well and petitioned Rome to accept Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception as our Patroness, our truest and dearest Lady Liberty. And 169 years to the day on July 2nd 1847, this was made official by then Pope Pius IX.
There is then no greater symbol of freedom than Mary. She is free of sin, a condition we all hope to be in since sin causes all the pains, hurts and miseries in life, none worse than dying and death.
The Assumption of Mary into Heaven is the emblem of our ultimate hope and declaration of independence, that freed from sin, suffering and death it is our destiny to live in everlasting peace, enjoying the prosperity of our true citizenship which is in Heaven.
And if there were to be a lady liberty like statue to symbolize this ultimate dream of freedom come true I believe it would be Michaelangelo's most famous sculpture...The Pieta.
As once she did beginning in that cave at Bethlehem and countless times since, Mary holds her precious child, her God and creator, all broken, bled-out and dead upon her lap.
Yet her youthful face maintains a tender, serene though deeply mournful look...as though she knows that though her son has died, it is so that the rest of her children, all of us, held in bondage by the slavery of sin, fear and death might now be free.
The Pieta like our Revolutionary War and so many wars since reminds us...freedom is not free. It must be respected, defended and protected often at the great cost of sacrifice and life.
And that one life which contains within it all life, yours and mine, was sacrificed in full on the battlefield of Calvary...our Ellis Island, the entrance through which as immigrants now disciples we enter through into eternal life.
And more bright and illuminating of one's way to hope and prosperity as Lady Liberty's torch may be, is the infinitely brighter light of the world Himself who Mary gave birth to, the true Son who created the Helios or Sun, Jesus Christ the Son of God.
As we hear from that first chapter in the Gospel of John: The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world...conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
There is then no greater symbol of freedom and its reality than woman who share God's ultimate power which is to give and sustain life. And when that woman, that mother is the Blessed Virgin Mary, as a person, as a country, as a Universal Church and family we know true acceptance, peace, light and freedom...for blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.