When God manifests himself to a human being in an extraordinary way, we call it a “theophany.” A theophany is invariably accompanied by a command: Do this … be this … say this. I don’t know whether there’s a special word by which to talk about a appearance by someone very close to God, but not God himself, to a human being in an extraordinary way, so I’m going to invent one: hagiophany—the appearance of a saint, a holy one.
Today we celebrate a hagiophany. And it’s not just any saint, any holy one. It’s the person who is as close to God, as close to Jesus, as it’s conceivable to get—his mother, the one who gave birth to him, the one who gave birth to God-in-the-flesh. And in this hagiophany, as there would be with a theophany, there is, indeed, a command. When Our Lady appeared to Lady Richeldis 950 years ago in an out-of-the-way Norfolk village, her command was, “Build a house.” Build a house that replicates the house in Nazareth where the boy Jesus was nurtured to adulthood by Mary and Joseph. Lady Richeldis obeyed that command, and the house she built was a pilgrimage destination for the next 500 years, serving the spiritual needs of the vast majority for whom a trip to the Holy Land was not possible. By the grace of God, Walsingham is once again a pilgrimage destination, and now, places like Holy Trinity Church serve the spiritual needs of those for whom a trip to Walsingham itself is either impossible or inconvenient.
A house, of course, is a home. And a home is intended to be a place of refuge from the impositions of life in the world. A home is a place of warmth when it’s cold outside. A home is a place of safety when it’s dangerous outside. Children are raised in homes, and we expect those homes to provide nourishment—nourishment of the body, nourishment of the mind, and nourishment of emotional well-being. And if the home is a Christian home, we expect it to be a place of spiritual formation, a place where all the members of the household are given, through their daily interactions with one another, an opportunity to grow in their knowledge of God, in the strength of their faith, and in the fullness of their discipleship. And, of course, we expect that all of this—the refuge, the nourishment, and the formation—we expect that it all happens in a context of love, a context of self-giving mutual submission, and constant forgiveness.
Mary made a home for Jesus. While it is certainly meet and right that we honor her for being the theotokos, the God-bearer, this is not the only reason that all generations call her blessed. We also properly revere her for being, in the best sense of the word, a home-maker. Mary made a home for Jesus. She made a home for Jesus first in her womb, a marvelous act of generosity and hospitality on her part, given the circumstances of her life. And then she, with Joseph, made a home for Jesus in the “holy house” of Nazareth, the template for the “holy house” that Lady Richeldis would build in Walsingham a thousand years later. And, if we can allow ourselves a gesture in a yet more mystical direction, Mary makes a home for Jesus by becoming, in her own person, a microcosm of the Church. To borrow language from the world of technology, if the Church is a collection of files, Mary is a ZIP folder into which all those files are compressed, making them transportable and shareable, and, thereby available, manifest, accessible. The Church is the household of faith, St Paul tells us, and Mary is, quite literally, the “lady of the house,” the home-maker. She is, indeed, “Our Lady.”
Of course, then, as children of the household, Mary invites us to imitate her in her discipleship as a home-maker. She sanctifies “making a home” as a holy vocation, a sacred calling. In our life together in the household—in our worship, particularly at the Mass, in our fellowship, the community we form with one another, in the moral and political decisions we make—we welcome Jesus into our lives, making a home for him in our going out and our coming in, our waking and our sleeping, our words and our actions. And then, even as Mary made a home for Jesus, we, as the Body of her Son, the one whom she bore and raised, we have an opportunity to make a home for the “homeless” of the world. I speak not only of those who are physically homeless, although they are always first in the imagination of our hearts, but of all who lack the emotional security, the mental nourishment, and the spiritual formation of a proper home, all who are rootless, directionless, purposeless. For them, for these “poor” ones, we have gospel, we have good news. We can offer them redemption for the past, meaning for the present, and hope for the future. We can offer them a home.
Our Lady of Walsingham, home-maker, pray for us. Amen.