I thank Youth 2000 Ireland and its national leader Paul Rooney for the invitation to come here. It enables me to share in your Christmas Retreat in Greenhills. I want to praise God for the existence and work of Youth 2000 in Ireland today. By this point you should then know them.

Before leaving Armagh I spoke to Sister Mairead in Siena Convent in Drogheda where two former Youth 2000 girls have entered as novices. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I met another former lady from Youth 2000, originally from Belfast.

I have been asked to speak on how Our Lady helps us to come to know Jesus. We could begin by reflecting, for a moment, on how Our Lady helped Jesus to come into the world. Let us see how Our Lady and her mother, Anne, must have cared for the baby Jesus when he came into the world as he was growing up. Perhaps we could reflect on how our own mothers and grannies looked after us when we were young and taught us to pray and cared for our every need. I want you to thank God for the love which they brought to your life; for the care which they took of you and the sacrifices which they made. I am sure that they often deprived themselves of things so that you might have enough. I want you to remember maybe some Christmas when your mother or your father had to do without something which they themselves could have used, so that you could have the wherewith to celebrate Christmas – to get Christmas presents or Christmas toys.
From the beginning the Church has been attracted to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. That attraction continues to the present day. Just think of the crowds that go to Marian Shrines – to Lourdes; to Fatima; to Knock; to Skovoa. The people of God, time and time again, turn to Mary because she is an example of someone who lives in response to the Word of God. Mary is the model of the One who listens for the Word. When she hears it, she responds in trust and in faith; in silence and in wonder; in generosity and in hope. In responding to the Word she becomes the first disciple of her son. So, from the very beginning of the Church she has a central place among the disciples. She is called the Mother of Disciples. There are many in today’s world who wish to receive the Word of God as Mary did. I think you are among those who seek to have Mary as your model and your inspiration.

Three times the Gospels speak of her as receiving the Spirit:
· Firstly, at the Annunciation.
· Secondly, at the foot of the cross;
· Thirdly, at Pentecost.

The Spirit came upon Mary when she responds to the word of the annunciation. In response to her acceptance of the word, Mary is told that a “Spirit will come upon you”.

From that moment, Word and Spirit work hand in hand in the drama of salvation. This will be the constant feature of the Gospel story as it unfolds – Spirit and the Word working hand in hand. Note also her ability to listen and discern. We too have received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit prompts us, inspires us to listen to the Word and to think about what Jesus said and respond to it. Her ability to say yes, adds to the mystery.
Then we have her silent and sorrowful presence at the death of her son, Jesus. This shows her final surrender to God’s will. Here is the climax of her life – lived by one who lets it be done unto her, according to the Word.

Just as Eve, the woman of the Garden of Eden, became mother of all the living, so Mary, the woman of Cana, becomes the mother of the beloved disciple and so becomes the mother of all disciples. As Jesus, on the cross, leaned his head forward and handed over the Spirit to the infant Church, so his mother is at the foot of the cross. She is at the centre of the new community, formed by his Spirit.

Recently a well-known American singer/song writer* was interviewed on radio. The interviewer noted that all her songs were love songs. “Do you know love?” he asked. “I know heartbreak” was her reply. How true. To know the heartbreak is to know love. To know the pain of love it to know its depth and its price. To know the depth and price is to know self-giving and loss. Christmas speaks to us of love. It is the love of God for us. “For God so loved the world that he gave us his only son” (John 3:16). And the baby speaks of the heartbreak of God, of the self-giving of God, of the emptying of God to become human. “His state was divine…He emptied himself to become as humans are, taking on the condition of a slave, and he was humbler yet”(Phil 2:6). And the wood of the manger would one day be exchanged for the wood of the cross, the price of love.

Lastly, we have Pentecost. The Spirit came upon the disciples as they were gathered around Mary at Pentecost. The Word of the Lord calls forth the community that is shaped by the Spirit. To welcome that Word we need both the Spirit and the community.

Mary is the model of faith, of trust and enquiry. In the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, Mary as a young woman, is open and ready to respond to God’s invitation to surrender to an unknown future. She listens to God speaking through the angel. Her faith and trust show themselves in her obedient welcome as she responds: “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word”. She shows us the way of honest enquiry as she wonders anxiously how can this be? Answering the question, she discovers the depth of her faith. In the same way, I understand that many of you are undertaking courses of study at Maryvale Institute and other similar institutes. It is continuing that spirit of enquiry, of asking questions about the faith.

Mary sets out to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. It is a sign of her compassion for her cousin but Elizabeth, in turn, declares Mary ‘blessed’ for believing that the word spoken to her would be fulfilled. Years later, when he was told that his mother and brothers were close by, the answer of Jesus was to emphasise the centrality of Mary, the real reason for her blessing. He said: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it”.

Here we see, once again, her ability to listen for the Word of God, to discern what is God’s will and to carry out God’s will. Listening to the word, followed by discernment and leading to action, that is the process which those who are in authentic relationship with Jesus all follow.

So, responding to the word, Mary journeys to meet her cousin. Her meeting with Elizabeth is the occasion of her magnificent song of praise which we call the Magnificat.

The word that she has received becomes a witnessing proclaiming and praising and thanksgiving word. Mary made the word her own as she speaks the prophetic word of truth about what Jesus is doing in, and through, her life. “My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my saviour. The almighty does marvellous things for me”. There is nothing wrong with enjoying ourselves when we give praise to God. Rejoice was the command of the angel to Mary. Enjoyment is one of the reasons for us being here.

Mary ponders over the various happenings in the early life of Jesus. They are happenings which will cast long shadows over the unfolding of her personal story. We are told that Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. She is a woman of silence. She has an inner life – a spiritual life. She is one of those who has been taught wisdom in the secret of her heart. From that place of stillness and reflection and suffering, Mary receives the strength to do, in loving surrender, what God asks of her when a sword would pierce her own soul.

St John’s Gospel describes the signs which Jesus did so that we might have life in his name. The first of those signs took place at the wedding feast of Cana. We are told that the mother of Jesus was there. She performed a central role in the miracle.

She is a bridge between the Old and the New Testament in this highly significant wedding feast. At the wedding feast she is the one who is alert. She recognised the plight of her neighbours. Out of a sense of charity and compassion she takes action as she declares, to her son, “They have no wine”. Today she is also the one who sees the spiritual need. She issues the directive: “Do whatever he tells you”. She puts her total trust in God’s plan and the result is that Jesus performs his first sign.
The Word of God needs to be listened in the lives of believers in every age. The world in which we live is a noisy world. It militates against hearing God’s word or perceiving the presence of God in ourselves. But this Gospel picture of Mary as a model and mother of listening to the Word of God is compelling. In times of personal ill-health; family problems; bereavement or other trials, many men and women are sometimes at a loss to understand why their burdens are so heavy. They often ask the question: Why is this happening to me? And as they struggle to understand, they accept with courage and generosity, like Mary, and say: “Let it be done unto me according to your will”.

In the midst of modern injustices, whether they be those concerning the displacement of persons – migrants, poverty issues or the exploitation and trafficking of children or women for the sex industry, the life and values of Mary provide inspiration. There are many religious congregations that have Mary as their patron who campaign bravely for issues of justice – both locally and globally.

It is often said that we must go through Mary in order to reach Jesus – to know Jesus – to love Jesus – to serve Jesus – to model and embody in our own lives the virtues which Jesus lived and exemplified.

We hear the Word of God but we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to understand the word and to apply it wisely and correctly to our own lives. We need the help of the Holy Spirit to see and know and understand ourselves as God’s Holy Spirit sees and knows and understands us.

Mary was in the middle of the community that received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. It was the infant Church really. It is interesting that it was to a community and not to an individual that the Holy Spirit came.
May your community be always open to receiving God’s word and ready to meditate on it with the Holy Spirit and willing to discuss it and to respond to it as a community.