Sunday, 18 November 2012 00:00

Homily: Marian Festival, 2012

Written by Bishop Les Tomlinson
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18TH November, 2012

“When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near,he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”  John 19:26-27

In this passage from John's Gospel, Jesus Christ, dying on the Cross, tells the disciple to behold his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. And so, in that moment, Mary becomes Mother of all disciples of Jesus, including all of us who follow Jesus today. To quote Pope John Paul II in his 1987 encyclical Redemptoris Mater (45.3) ‘This is true not only of John, who at that hour stood at the foot of the Cross together with the Mother (of Jesus), but it is also true of every disciple’.

As the mother of Jesus, Mary has a central role in the Catholic Church. Veneration of her as the Blessed Virgin Mary has grown over time both in importance and manifestation, not only in prayer but in art, particularly in Michelangelo’s beautiful Pieta; in poetry and in music.  Alongside Schubert's Ave Maria , the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria has become a fixture at wedding Masses, and funerals. Many of us take comfort in hearing those beautiful words and other Marian hymns sung at special times. That is also why the Hail Mary is the prayer said by so many Catholics across many centuries.

It is interesting to look closely at The Hail Mary. It is commonly described as consisting of three parts. The first, ‘Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women’, embodies the words used by the Angel Gabriel in saluting the Blessed Virgin (Luke, I, 28). The second, ‘and blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Jesus)’, is borrowed from the divinely inspired greeting of St. Elizabeth (Luke 1:42).  Finally, the petition ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.’ is stated by the official Catechism of the Council of Trent to have been framed by the Church itself.

Again many of us pray this prayer to Our Lady so that by her intercession she may intercede with God and obtain for us the blessing we need both for now and in the next life. Other famous Marian prayers include the Rosary, the Magnificat, the Angelus, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Memorare. Marian hymns include Hail Queen of Heaven, the Regina Coeli, and of course the Salve Regina and the Ave Maria.

As we know, ‘life happens’!  Sometimes plans change quickly, and our world can be turned upside down.

This happened one morning, to a young girl in Galilee, who woke up to begin her day – to do her chores or say her prayers.  She could not have imagined how her life, her future, her plans, would change – how her day would be different than any other since the dawn of time, how the months and years that followed would take her places she never dreamed:  to motherhood; to Bethlehem; to Egypt;  to Calvary.

The girl who woke up in Nazareth on that morning nine months before,  could not have imagined what was in store:  that she was about to become the most important woman in human history – the woman we honor as the Mother of God.

But, of course: life happens... plans change… and God intervenes!

And Mary has shown us that when such things happen, God won’t leave us there alone. Let’s look at Mary’s life; look at this woman He chose to bear His son, and who became the Mother of God. Through every struggle, every pitfall, every pilgrimage, He was with her.  Through every sorrow, every joy, every setback, every heart-break, God never abandoned her. Her journey was never solitary.  She was never alone. And neither are we.

Life isn’t always easy, and the journey isn’t always smooth.  There may be delays and setbacks, diversions and detours. But we all hope to arrive at the same destination. We all hope and pray that we may one day —like Mary – gaze upon the face of God.

Mary was God’s mother. She did for him all the things that mothers do. She held Him in her arms. She had the most intimate relationship with God that is humanly possible.

This is the root of all the other special gifts she received from God. In order for her to be a worthy vessel, God preserved her from any stain of sin right from the beginning of her existence – a gift we call the Immaculate Conception. Because she maintained her purity of soul and her spiritual unity with her Son, accompanying Him from the cradle to the tomb and to the Resurrection, she was also given the gift of being taken body and soul into heaven, which we celebrate at the Feast of the Assumption.

This also means that she has a special relationship with us. We become united to Christ in various ways, members of His spiritual Body, through Baptism and the other sacraments. Since Mary is the mother of Christ, she is also our mother. We turn to her in our needs and ask her to intercede for us, not because God won’t listen to us too, but because we hope that Jesus will listen specially to his mother’s requests.
Among the most prominent Marian titles are : Mary the Mother of God; the Immaculate Conception; Queen of Heaven; Queen of the Angels; Queen of Peace ; Star of the Sea and Mother of All Sorrows. Possibly the best-known apparition sites are Lourdes and Fátima, but the Church as confirmed a number of others including  Guadalupe; Rue du Bac, (Miraculous Medal), and La Salette. These apparitions have helped the spread of Marian devotions such as the Rosary, to millions of people.

And so we read that the shepherds, when they went to adore the Child Jesus in the manger, told all that the angels had said to them. ‘But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19). Again after the boy Jesus was found in the Temple, we are told that ‘His mother treasured all these things in her heart’ (Luke 2:51). Mary was a woman who valued the word of God, who treasured it and made time to meditate and ponder it. It is true that the holiness of Mary is attributed to the grace of God, but this should not make us forget that she needed to make an effort in order to cooperate with the grace of God. She pondered the word of God in order to discern what God was saying to her at every stage in her life as the handmaid of God.

The two examples above of Mary pondering the word of God, show that Mary found the word of God both in divine revelation (the angels' words to the shepherds) and in her own experiences (her encounter with her son in the temple).

Similarly, God speaks to us today through divine revelation (e.g. the Bible, the teaching and preaching of the Church) as well as through our personal experiences, if only we make time to reflect on them as Mary did.

Let us do this now together, by praying to Our Blessed Lady in the beautiful Memorare:

Remember, O Most Loving Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection,
implored your  help or sought your  intercession,
was left unaided.
Inspired with confidence,
I fly unto you, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother;
to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful.
O Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but in your mercy, hear and answer me.



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