ARMAGH DIOCESAN PILGRIMAGE TO LOURDES
HOMILY BY CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
Eternal life is this: to know You, the only true God of Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
In the Magnificat which Mary pronounced on the occasion of her visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, she says, “My soul praises the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour”. The God whom Mary knows and loves and praises is a God of faithful love – a God who reveals Himself in His actions and in His message. And, the hope of each one of us is that we will experience, in a new way, and in a deeper way, during these days of pilgrimage to Lourdes, the God who revealed Himself in a new way in Jesus Christ, as a God of faithful Love.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one can come to the Father except through me”. And, since he is the way to the Father, since he is the truth that will set us free, and the life that we are all thirsting for, it is important that we come to know Jesus. If you want to know the nature of a tree it is sometimes important to examine the soil that encloses its roots. The soil from which its sap grows into branch, blossom and flower. To understand and know Jesus we would do well to look at the soil that produced him, Mary his mother.
We are told that she was of royal descent. Certainly Mary’s answer to the question of the Angel Gabriel was queenly. She was confronted with a choice of tremendous greatness, a decision that called for a trust in God which reached far beyond her understanding. She gave her answer simply, totally unconscious I would say of the greatness of what she was doing, because, from that moment on, Mary’s destiny was shaped by the destiny of her child, Jesus. This is soon obvious in the journey to Bethlehem. In the birth of her son which took place amidst danger and in poverty. In the sudden break off from the protection of her home and in the flight to a strange land. We can think of the wrench it was for her not to be allowed to return to her home with her newborn child and all the uncertainty and the troubles she had to endure.
The true nature of what stands at the centre of her existence is probably only revealed to her years later in the finding in the temple when her son said, in reply to her question, Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking all over the place for you?, in sorrow Jesus said: “How is it that you are looking for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business”. At that moment Mary must have begun to understand the prophesy of Simeon when he said: “And your own soul, the sword shall pierce”. We are not surprised to read and they did not understand the words that he spoke to them and his mother kept all these things carefully in her heart. She does not understand but she buries the words like precious seed, deep in her heart. The vision of Mary is unequal to that of her son, but her heart, like chosen ground, is deep enough to sustain the highest trees.
There follows eighteen years of silence. There is not a word in the Scriptures except that the boy went down with them and grew in wisdom, years and grace before God and men. And yet, the silence of the Gospels, speaks a powerful message, deep, still, eventfulness, cloaked in the silent love of this holiest of mothers. Then Jesus leaves home to begin his mission. Still Mary is near him, for example, at the wedding feast of Cana. Later on she was upset probably by wild rumours that he was out of his mind. She leaves everything and goes to him, and stands outside the door. And of course, at the last she is with him, under the cross to the end. From the first hour to the last, the life of Jesus is enfolded in the nearness of his mother. The strongest part of their relationship is her silence.
Mary did not understand. How could she, a mortal, understand the mystery of the living God? She was capable, however, of something which on earth is far more than understanding, something possible only through that same divine power which, when the hour has come grants understanding, faith – she believed. “And blessed is she who has believed”, Elizabeth said of her. This cry of her cousin, Elizabeth, describes Mary’s greatness.
Mary believed blindly. Then again she had to strengthen that belief and possibly each time with more difficulty. For years she had to combat confusion. Who was this holy one whom she, a mere girl, had brought into the world? This great one she had suckled and known in all his helplessness.
Later she had to cope with seeing him outgrow her love and to rejoice in it as the fulfillment of God’s will. Despite the fact that she did not understand everything that was happening, she never lost heart.
Perseverance in faith, even at Calvary, this was Mary’s greatness and every step which Jesus took towards the fulfillment of his destiny, Mary followed in faith. Understanding came only with Pentecost. Then, at last, she understood all that she had so long reverently stored up in her heart. It is this heroic faith which places her forever at Christ’s side in the work of saving the world. And, what is demanded of us, as of her, is a constant wrestling in faith with the mystery of God and the evil resistance of the world. And, the purer we see and understand the figure of Mary, the Mother of God, as she is recorded in the New Testament, the greater the gain for our own lives.
“Blessed is she who has believed”. And, I suppose there are times in the lives of each one of us when we are confused, have doubts. Perhaps we do not understand why something should have happened to us, yet those are the moments when God is closest to us. We should try to experience his presence in those moments.
Take the incidence in the Temple of Jerusalem. He was, after all, only a child when he stayed behind, without a word. It is a time when the city was full of pilgrims, when not only accidents but every kind of violence could be expected. Surely they had a right to ask why he had acted like this. Yet his response expresses only amazement. No wonder they failed to understand. It is the same at the wedding feast in Cana in Galilee. He is seated at a table, Mary tells him there is no wine. Jesus answers “What would you have me do woman? My hour has not yet come”. In other words I must wait for my hour. Another time Mary came down from Galilee to see him. He was told your mother and your brothers are outside looking for you. He said: “Who are my mother and my brother? It is the one who does the will of God that is my brother and sister and mother. And, although certainly he went out to her and received her with love, the words remain and we feel the shock of his reply and sense something of the remoteness in which she lived. Even his reply to the words: “Blessed is the womb that bore thee and blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it”.
Finally, in Calvary, his mother on the cross thirsting for a word, her heart crucified with him, he says with a glance at John “woman behold thy son” and to John “behold thy mother”. Yes, here he is, this is the expression of a dying son’s concern and care for his mother’s future and yet her heart must have twinged. Once again she is directed away from him. Christ must face the fullness of his last hour, all alone. He must fulfill it from utterly alone with the load of sins he has shouldered, before the justice of God. Everything that affected Jesus affected his mother. Yet no intimate understanding existed between them. His life was her life. He is the holy one and yet her faith was finally rewarded.
In the course of our lives we may meet many doubts and yet none of them can be settled by our intelligence alone for the essence of true understanding is not the fruit of argument but of obedience and faith. And so, we ask for the great gift of a faith like Mary’s, a rock-like faith, a granite-like faith. From the start Jesus demanded of all his followers a clear yes or no to the demands of faith he made upon them. Jesus came to redeem us, to do thus he had to inform us who God is and what we are in the sight of God.
Faith is as essential to our understanding of Jesus Christ as the eye to colour and the ear to sound. If anyone should ask what is certain in life and in death, so certain that everything else may be anchored in it? The answer is: the love of Christ. That is the only true reply. Not people, not even the best and dearest of people, not science, philosophy or art or any other product of human genius. Not even God for His wrath has been roused by sin and how, without Christ would we know what to expect from Him? Only Christ’s love is certain. We cannot even say God’s love, for ultimately we know that God loves us only through Christ. And, even if we did know without Christ that God loved us, love, the more noble it is, the more demanding it is. Only through Christ do we know that God’s love is forgiving. The only thing that is certain is that which manifests itself on the cross. What has been said so often is true, the heart of Jesus Christ is the beginning and end of all things.
Faith is not easy. Everything in and around us contradicts us, often with arguments which are difficult to answer. It can be pointed out that the greatest power and weightiest deeds come from elsewhere. We might be asked the embarrassing question whether the redeemed shouldn’t look more redeemed. The faithful, the true are names of the Lord. How is it possible then that the Divine Word is not believed?
Truth is the foundation of existence and the bread of the Spirit, yet in the realm of human history truth is separated from power. Truth counts, but power forces. What truth lacks is immediate power. The loftier the truth, the weaker its direct force. The nobler the truth the more easily it can be shoved aside or ridiculed. This applies particularly to sacred truth, for the moment it enters the world it lays down its power and comes in the shape of a helpless slave. The light shines in the darkness and darkness did not grasp it, but one day truth and power will be inseparable. Then truth will have as much power as it has validity and value and the higher it stands, the greater will be its force.
How will this come about? Through the word of Christ, truth’s first word was weak, as weak and defenseless as Jesus himself and the powers of darkness could easily reject it. But truth’s second word will be as forceful as its sense which is all-powerful and then everything in us that shrinks from the light will have to go for there will be no more shade. Now untruth can exist because truth is feeble. Just as sin can exist because God allows our free will room in which it is able to decide against Him. Now, for yet a little while, it is possible to ere and to lie. However, once truth comes into power, untruth will no longer be able to exist because all existence will brim with truth and light.
For those who long for truth, for that in us which loves it, what a liberation. As Thomas Aquinas says, ‘Beauty is the splendour of truth become reality’.