7 September – Birthday of Our Lady – St Malachy’s Church, Armagh
HOMILY GIVEN BY
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
ST MALACHY’S CHURCH, ARMAGH
MONDAY 7 SEPTEMBER 2009
I think it is a great tribute to all of you that you are here tonight to honour, in a special way, the birth of Mary – the Mother of Jesus. Some people are not good at remembering birthdays – and I am one of them to my shame – but I have taken up the habit recently of putting up, in my Oratory, the Memoriam Cards of my friends who have died. The idea is to remind me to pray for them. The Church calls the day on which a saint dies a birthday because it is the day of their birth into Heaven.
I say that your presence here is to your great credit. It indicates that you realise clearly that Mary is not only the Mother of Jesus – she is the Mother of all of us. Mary is really our mother in a very real way since Jesus gave her to St. John to be his Mother. Jesus did that as he hung on the Cross of Calvary, pouring out his life blood for love of us. He turned to Mary and he said: ‘Behold your son’. And to John he said: ‘Behold your mother’. It is generally recognised and accepted that John represented all of us on Calvary and Jesus there is giving Mary to all of us to be our mother – to pray for us – to look after us – to intercede for us. Your presence indicates that you do know that Mary is your mother also and that she is alive in Heaven where she pleads on our behalf.
The birth of Mary brought joy to her parents no doubt. I can imagine her father Joachim inviting in all and sundry to drink a glass of wine with him on that day in celebration of the event.
Of course the names of Mary’s parents are not named in the Gospel but they are generally known to us from other sources as Anna and Joachim. Anna is another name for Hannah or for Hannanial. The name means ‘Yahweh is gracious’. For the Hebrews the name of somebody was very important. It told you something really important about that person. I would think that the name Anna or Hannah is totally appropriate for the mother of Mary – Mary who was full of grace, in the sense of being the most highly favoured person by God.
Their names given to us in the Gospel of James while a writing that has not been recognised as one of the gospels – inspired by God – it is valuable. The birth of Mary brought joy to her parents but it also brought joy to the world. Why is that? Because from Mary has come Christ – Christ Jesus our Saviour. He released us from the ancient curse – the curse that came down on the whole world as a result of the disobedience of Adam and Eve – our first parents. Jesus, son of Mary – has made us blessed. By destroying the death that awaited us and by giving us eternal life.
God is all-powerful – he could have saved us in any one of many ways. He chose to become one of us. In Jesus, God enters fully into the reality of a situation. He just does not ‘jet in and jet out’ for a short time. In church, God sets us free from sin.
For the Feast of the birthday of Our Lady the Church has chosen the first chapter of St Matthew’s Gospel. It is the family tree of Jesus entitled: The Book of the Birth of Jesus – Messiah. It reveals that Jesus entered fully into the world. He had a mother and grandparents and great-grandparents like each one of us. His family tree goes all the way back to the beginning. His ancestors were real flesh and blood people and they weren’t all saints during all of their lives – far from it.
Today – the Church invites us to celebrate the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is quite open and honest that we do so in our own interest – that she may intercede for us with her son, Jesus as she interceded at Cana. Through the birth of Mary – God’s plan to save the world was revealed to all who believe. The problem is that often we don’t feel any need to be saved. That is why it is important to pray for faith – greater faith – that we may believe that God sent His Son to save us because we do, in fact, need saving if we don’t accept that then there is no sense in this fuss about Our Lady. But if – on the other hand – we do believe that Jesus is indeed the Saviour of the world – well then it does make sense to say the kind of things which the Church says about Our Lady today, for example, that the light of her life shines out upon the world. Her birth signalled the dawn of a new era. Jesus showed that his day was dawning with the birth of his mother. We, and many others, sometimes need help to walk in the daylight of His presence.
This evening we pray for the millions who have never even heard the name of Jesus or of his power to save. We think of missionaries – who may be losing heart because the good news they bring is being rejected.
We think of those who have indeed heard of the Name of Jesus in their homes and in their schools – who have been sealed with the Spirit of Jesus and yet choose to walk away from him.
On Saturday last we celebrated the Feast of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa had this fantastically clear idea of God’s love for each one of us. It was the same love that led God to decide to send his son into the world and, of course, to choose Mary to be the mother of his son. Mary responded to that love in both her words and in what she did. My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.