25TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
SERMON – VIGIL MASS – SATURDAY 20 SEPTEMBER, 1997
BY CARDINAL SEAN BRADY
The disciples were angry about which of them was the greatest. Jesus sat down and said: “To be the greatest you must make yourself least of all and servant of all”. To drive home the point he took a little child and set the child in front of him and put his arm around the child and said: “Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me and anyone who welcomes me, welcomes not me but the One who sent me”.
Last Monday and Tuesday I had the great privilege of being in the company of people who took those words to heart and lived their lives according to them. I was in Calcutta for Mother Teresa’s funeral. On Tuesday we visited the Home she set up for abandoned babies. We went there on Tuesday morning and saw 440 babies in their cots. They were being looked after by Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, the Order set up by Mother Teresa to carry out her wish and the wish of Jesus to serve the poorest of the poor. In that Home we met a Sister who has been working there for over twenty years. She showed us round the place and we saw babies of all shapes and sizes. Babies who were well, babies who were sick, babies with AIDS, babies with disabilities. We saw half a dozen incubators, given through the generosity of friends from Germany. We saw volunteer workers from many continents of the world who went there to help the Sisters. We saw babies crying to be picked up and hugged and loved. Babies in need of love. That love was brought to them by the Sisters of Charity and by the many wonderful lay volunteers.
Later that same day I again had the privilege of visiting a Home run by the Christian Brothers. There is only one Irish Christian Brother there at the moment. His name is Brother Finn who worked here in the North of Ireland for many years but I think about twenty years ago he decided to go to India, to Calcutta. He is the only Irish man in the place, there are four or five Indian Christian Brothers and they have, I would say, about two hundred boys in their teens most of them, who are homeless or abandoned. We had the opportunity of meeting those boys and seeing Brother Finn and the wonderful relationship he has with them. They looked to him with affection and with love. Those boys were wonderfully refined and cultivated and courteous: “Good evening Father” they would say. “Thank you for coming to visit us. Welcome here Father” and they would ask for a blessing: “A blessing Father” “A blessing Father”.
They didn’t have much to start off with. They had no home but the Brothers obviously took them in and lavished care and love upon them and shared their life with them. I saw Brothers out playing basketball with them. Brothers supervising them in the swimming pool. Brothers helping them out playing football in the front and of course teaching them, educating them. No wonder Brother Finn wanted us to meet them because I am sure he is very proud of the contribution which he, and the Christian Brothers, make to the lives and the well-being of those unfortunate young people.
The Irish Christian Brothers went to India in 1848, that is almost 150 years ago. The Irish Loreto Sisters went there in 1841 and again we had the opportunity of seeing their work. They went to educate the people. They went, in the words of Jesus Christ, “to welcome those little children” because they knew that in welcoming them they were welcoming Jesus Christ and that in welcoming Jesus Christ they were welcoming God the Father.
We visited two of the Loreto Sisters’ schools. In one school there was a fantastic concert given to us by the girls. We had When Irish Eyes are Smiling, It’s a Long Road to Tipperary, Fields of Athenrye sung with a very enthusiastic Indian Loreto Sister at the piano and this community of children who have no homes, of being abandoned by their parents. They told us some of the stories of their lives which would horrify you. But those Loreto Sisters went there in obedience to those words of Christ: “Anyone who loves me, anyone who welcomes me, welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me”.
It was to them that Mother Teresa went, to those Loreto Sisters in 1928. We met there two Sisters who knew her very well. One Sister who is alive, Sister Marie Therese from Dublin, went to India seventy years ago this year I think. There is another one who went about the same time as Mother Teresa that is sixty-nine years ago, who was a great friend, she is Sister Rosarie O’Reilly. It was marvelous to see the quiet contentment of those Sisters as they shared in the proud story of Mother Teresa’s life because that funeral really was a celebration of the triumph of God’s grace in the life of Mother Teresa and the life of a religious sister. It was the triumph of somebody who took the words of the Gospel to heart and lived them truly and faithfully. These Loreto Sisters were in the background because in 1948 Mother Teresa decided to found her own Order: the Missionaries of Charity, which served immediately the poor and down and out and the outcasts and the one who were shunned.
Do we have any opportunities for doing anything like that? Yesterday evening a lady called upon me to talk to me about Faith and Light Communities. What are Faith and Light Communities? Well they bring together people with learning disabilities, people from the families of people with learning disabilities and people who would like to be their friends, particularly young people. The communities meet together in the belief that the person with a learning disability is really important. They know that the person with a learning disability has something to give to the Church and to society. The communities meet regularly. They form deep bonds of friendship and welcome as they share more of their lives with each other. They share the difficulties and sufferings as well as the good times.
This is just one example of putting Jesus’ words into action. Jesus came especially for the poor, the weak, the disadvantaged. He came to give life and to give us all the opportunity to grow and to develop. Many people in the world today have a learning disability. Very often they are pushed aside and seen as valueless and unable to make progress. Surely they are one of those little children that Jesus was talking about and he has promised that anyone who welcomes one of these little children in his name, welcomes him. Jesus doesn’t make false promises, empty promises. And if we meet him as he promised, in those little ones, in those weak people, we can meet God and we too then may realise just how blessed we are, how fortunate we are.
I was struck, as I said, by the number of people in India, poor people and weak people who asked me for a blessing. They know that life is fragile, life is precarious, they see death all around them, so they asked to be blessed by God. They believe firmly in a God who blesses, who wants to bless His people.
The First Reading talks about the godless. You know it is easy to become a little bit godless. We might be shocked to say that. Yes, we say we believe in God but how do we show it? Do we have respect for God’s name?, the kind of respect that God’s name deserves to get. How often do we find people using the holy name of Jesus carelessly, disrespectfully. Are we shocked by that? Are we appalled by that?
It is not enough to say “I believe in God”. It is not words but deeds that count. Do I see God where He is to be seen? In what sense do we remember to keep holy the Sabbath day, the Lord’s day? Is Sunday really a holy day apart from the while we spend at Mass? Is there any other thing in this day that will mark it off as the Lord’s day? Do we think of the Lord or is it a godless Sunday apart from Mass? Is it a day on which we ask for the Lord’s blessing? The Lord’s Name, the Lord’s day, the law of the Lord. Is the law of the Lord a powerful force in my life? Is it the guiding force, the guiding light of my life, the Commandments? They are signposts given to us to lead us to heaven. We all say we want to go to heaven but unless we follow the signposts we won’t get there. Coming here this evening I had to follow the signposts otherwise I would never have got here. I would have ended up in Ballybay or Castleblaney or Newry maybe. Is there a certain godlessness in our lives then if we disregard the Lord’s name, the Lord’s day and the Lord’s law? The word of the Lord for example, the word of God, ‘Thanks be to God’ we say. The word of God, is it really God’s word for us? When do I see God? If I got a solicitor’s letter accusing me of being Godless – how would I set about proving the charge to be false? One way is to see God and welcome God in the person of my neighbour, especially the neighbour who is weak.