“Here at Loreto [Italy] fifty years ago, Blessed John XXIII issued an invitation to contemplate the mystery, to ‘reflect on that union of heaven and earth, which is the purpose of the Incarnation and Redemption,’ and he went on to affirm that the aim of the Council itself was to spread ever wider the beneficent impact of the Incarnation and Redemption.”
— Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at Our Lady of Loreto Square, Loreto, Italy (October 4, 2012)
An ancient tradition tells us that the Holy House of Mary and Joseph was transported to Italy where it has been a center of pilgrimage and devotion. Indeed, I once recall that Our Lady of Loreto was the Patroness of airmen because of this particular transportation feat. Pope Benedict XVI went to Loreto on the fourth day in October because Blessed John XXIII had done so at the beginning of Vatican II, which opened on October 11, 1962.
Benedict took the occasion to remind us that Jesus Christ did have a home, a home in which the “greatest event of history took place.” This greatest event is the union of the Word and human flesh in one person, in a child at that. No other event of history actually bridges the gap between the divine and the human in such a concrete manner. And yet there is a whole tradition of mankind that refuses to acknowledge what took place here because of its implications about what man and God are.
“The Shrine [of Loreto], built around her earthly home, preserves the memory of the moment when the angel of the Lord came to Mary with the great announcement of the Incarnation, and she gave her reply.” But Mary, of course, “offered her very body; she placed her entire being at the disposal of God’s will, becoming the ‘place’ of his presence, a place of dwelling for the Son of God.” The real heart of any home is, we might say, in the womb of the mother.
“The will of Mary coincides with the will of the Son in the Father’s unique project of love and, in her, heaven and earth are united. God the Creator is united to his creature. God becomes man, and Mary becomes a ‘living house’ for the Lord, a Temple where the Most High dwells.” The Father’s unique project is precisely to associate other beings—beings who are not gods—with Himself, if they will.
The purpose of the Incarnation and Redemption was to unite in a real fashion heaven and earth. That unity could only take place if there were in the universe beings who were free, who could know and act. We sometimes think of heaven and earth as antagonistic to each other. We know they can be. In the Gospel of John the world is sometimes pictured as what is opposed to God. But this antagonism is caused by the free will of the creatures.
The union of God and man in the Incarnation is designed to make all human beings “adopted” sons of God. However, this unity cannot take place automatically. It always involves the free acceptance of God’s initiative. One part of the living history of the world is that which recounts the city of men who reject the divine purpose, both for themselves and for others.
“The Incarnation of the Son of God speaks to us of how important man is to God, and God to man. Without God,” Benedict adds, “man ultimately choses selfishness over solidarity and love, material things over values, having over being. We must return to God, so that man may return to being man. With God, even in difficult times or moments of crisis, there is always a horizon of hope; the Incarnation tells us that we are never alone, that God has come to humanity and that he accompanies us.” The Trinity tells us that God is not alone; the Incarnation tells us that in this universe, we are not alone.
“So here in Loreto we find a house that lets us stay, or dwell, and which at the same time lets us continue, or journey, and reminds us that we are pilgrims, that we must always be on the way to another dwelling, toward that home, the Eternal city, the dwelling place of God and the people he has redeemed.” Here Benedict joins the several meanings of home—the house, the womb, the place of eternal rest and wonder.
“God asks for mankind’s ‘yes’; he has created a free partner in dialogue from whom he requests a reply in complete liberty.” God does not let us alone. We are not allowed to not think of what we are and our destiny. If God freely offers us eternal life, He expects a response.
“God asks for Mary’s free consent that he may become man. To be sure, the ‘yes’ of the Virgin is the fruit of divine grace. But grace does not eliminate freedom; on the contrary, it creates and sustains it. Faith removes nothing from the human creature; rather it permits his full and final realization.” Benedict often notes that grace improves philosophy indirectly. Mary represents the relative autonomy of the world. She must consent to the greatest event in history. The Incarnation and the Redemption are intended to rejoin God with His creation through the example of Mary’s “let it be done according to thy word.”