ST PATRICK’S CHURCH, DUNDALK
25 MAY 2010
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
ARCHBISHOP OF ARMGH
That lovely prayer is said all over the world every day by millions of people. Why has Mary become our life, our sweetness and, above all, our hope? Why is it that men and women of every time and place have recourse to her motherly kindness, in all their needs and aspirations, their joys and sorrows, their moments of loneliness and their common efforts?
I want to pick out three moments in the life of Mary which give me great hope. The first is the time she went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. You remember when that happened? The Angel Gabriel had just left Mary. Mary had said “yes” to God’s proposal that she should become the Mother of His Son. In the course of their conversation the Angel had made some fantastic promises to Mary. Her Son will be great. The Lord God will make him a King for ever because His kingdom will have no end. Now these are fantastic promises. This is a humble daughter of Nazareth, which wasn’t exactly the centre of the world. Mary thought about those promises. She believed them, because she believed that the Angel was speaking on behalf of God, and of course we know that nothing is impossible with God. So Mary said, “yes”. Then she set out on a long journey to visit her cousin Elizabeth. She also had got good news. She too was going to give birth to a son and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and said to Mary, “How happy you are that the Lord’s Message to you will come true.” I am really happy that you meet faithfully here every week to celebrate the Miraculous Medal devotion.
I imagine that they give you great hope as you recall the various events in the life of Our Lady. Last October it was my privilege to celebrate Mass at the famous Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in the Rue de Bac in Paris. It really is a lovely church, always people there lighting candles and praying to Our Lady, asking for her help. I was particularly impressed by the large number of people from Asia and Africa who were there. I was very struck by the fact that these people, far away from home, seeking work, often in trouble perhaps, put their trust in Mary.
Mary put her trust in the Lord, absolutely, and not in herself. And of course she was not disappointed. Unfortunately today a lot of people are under the illusion that nothing is impossible for them or to them. All they have got to do, according to themselves, is to set their minds to it and they can do it. So they flounder underneath this myth. They believe that they can save themselves and that they can achieve self-fulfilment on their own. Of course they inevitably are disappointed and defeated in these efforts and the temptation is to give in to pessimism and despair. It would seem that poor people, who are far away from home, feel threatened or in danger, turn to Mary for help in their valley of tears. In our moments of sickness and trouble people of faith turn to Mary to give them hope. Hope is one of the greatest gifts which last. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit offered to everyone who is open to Christ in faith. And that is exactly how Mary was, and is. She was filled with the Holy Spirit because she said yes to becoming the Mother of Christ. She put her faith in God and in His promises. She is a model of hope because hope is all about believing in promises and being confident that they can come true. Nobody can give what they have not got themselves. Mary gives hope because she has hope. The cure of all despair is hope, Christian hope. It is a gift which God offers to everyone who believes, to help us on the journey to everlasting life. We may never get to Lourdes or Fatima or even Knock but we are all on pilgrimage. We know that God is calling us to himself. We know well that we have not yet arrived at the vision of God, but hope spurs us on. Hope makes us reach into the interior, beyond the veil, beyond the curtain which death draws down.
Last Sunday, Pentecost, we celebrated the fact that the Holy Spirit came to fulfil the promises made by Christ. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit we get a taste of future glory. Come Holy Spirit, fill our hearts and enkindle in them the light of hope. The Holy Spirit lives and prays and works in the depths of the soul of each one of us. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth said to Mary, “You are the most blessed of all women and blessed is the child you will bear.” Every time we say the Hail Mary the Holy Spirit inspires us to pray the same prayer. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. The Holy Spirit keeps us from going astray. The Spirit guides us to see the true purpose of our existence which is to give glory to God in this life so that we may share God’s glory in the next life.
Our devotion to Mary and our hope in her moves us to say with her, My heart praises the Lord, my soul is glad because of God, my Saviour. That is the cure for our discouragement.
We know that Mary saved a newly-wed couple huge embarrassment at Cana. The wedding reception risked turning into a fiasco. They had no wine. Just imagine being at a wedding in a hotel that had no drink. Well, Mary came to the rescue by spotting the disaster that was coming down the tracks. She turned to her son and enlisted his help. Of course the rest is history. And down through the centuries people have taken huge hope from those words of Mary, “Do whatever He tells you.”
It was my privilege, during my thirteen years on the staff of the Irish College, to have celebrated hundreds of weddings. And I am quite sure that every couple that came to be married had high hopes for the future happiness of their life together. I have met many of those I married, since returning to Ireland, and I am glad to say that very many of them are happily married. It is a great joy, especially in places like Knock, to meet people from all over Ireland who are happily married. But, unfortunately, I know there are some who are not and who have gone their separate ways. Now that must be a devastating experience and it doesn’t have to be that way. It is not the wine that can run out in a marriage, people’s faith in each other can run short; people’s patience with each other can fail, people can yield to temptation and if forgiveness has run out, well then disaster looms. So I would say that every couple preparing for marriage should try and develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He is our only Saviour. It is His spirit, the spirit of the risen Christ, living in us, praying in us and working in us who can give us all the gifts we need to meet the challenges of life, whether that life is as a married person or a single person, in religious life or in priesthood. So I am sure, as you pray these devotions you turn to Mary, who got her Son to work that wonderful miracle at Cana. I am sure that is often in your thoughts.
The last moment in the life of Mary I would like to think about is, the one described in the First Reading. It described that after Christ had left them and ascended into heaven the disciples went back to Jerusalem, from the Mount of Olives, which is about a half a mile away from the City. They went on a Sabbath day walk because you weren’t allowed to walk very far on the Sabbath and St Luke is making a point that the apostles were observant Jews and they kept the law. They entered the City and went up to the room where they were staying; Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James, Simon, Judas, son of James. They gathered frequently to pray as a group, together with the women and with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. You see, at Calvary, Jesus had given Mary to John, to be his mother. John represents all of us. He represents the whole Church and there Mary is, with the Church, praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit. We see there that Mary, the Mother of Christ, was present in the Upper Room during the days of preparation for Pentecost. Just as the birth of Christ is closely related to Mary, so the birth of the Church is linked with her. The simple statement that she was present in the Upper Room at Pentecost is enough to show us the great importance which Luke could attach to this fact. In the Upper Room in Jerusalem, Mary, together with the other disciples prepared for a new coming of the Holy Spirit which would mark the birth of the Church. Yes, she was already a temple of the Holy Spirit by her fullness of grace, by the fact that she was the Mother of God, but she took part in the prayers for the Spirit’s coming again so that through His power there should burst out in the community the energy to carry out the mission which Jesus had received from the Father and had left to His Church. Jesus had promised to them that when the Spirit would come, they would be filled with power and would be witnesses for Him in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Somaria and to the ends of the world. The Apostles needed her presence and her devotedness to prayer. In the prayer with Mary we see her special intercession, her special powers of intercession which she used at Cana. That power came from the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The Second Vatican Council said that Mary co-operated in the formation of the Apostles, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, the brothers and sisters of Christ with her motherly love. The Church, in her turn, from the day of Pentecost by her preaching, brings forth to a new and immortal life the sons and daughters who are born to her in baptism, who are conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God. That is the teaching of the Council. The Church, therefore, by becoming herself a mother in this way looks to the Mother of Christ as her model and that looking towards Mary, the mother of Christ, began in the Upper Room. We are here this evening looking toward the Mother of Christ for inspiration for an increase of faith and above all for a stronger, more powerful hope.
I was here for the Christmas Message last year with Bishop Harper. I saw some of the great things which the followers of Christ were doing to mark the compassionate love of Christ in this town.
May the celebration of this Novena in love of Mary, the Mother of Christ, gladden your hearts and fill you with hope.