Sr Kathleen McGarvey, OLA Provincial Leader shared on the sixth night of the SMA National Novena in honour of Our Lady in St Joseph’s SMA Church, Blackrock Road, Cork. Sr Kathleen shared on the theme of Our Lady, Prayer and the Eucharist.
My sincere thanks to the SMA Fathers for inviting me here this evening to say a few words on Prayer and the Eucharist.
Mother Teresa said “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at God’s disposition, listening to God’s voice in the depth of our hearts.” Mahatma Ghandi said “It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
Prayer is not all about words, it is much more about love, coming into the presence of God who is Love and allowing Love to flow through me to others in my daily actions, words and gestures; this is prayer. Mary is an example of a woman of prayer: she listened, she contemplated these things in her heart, she sang God’s praise, she trusted, she loved, she let God’s will be done. One of the good things in Ireland today is that many people desire and recognise the need to be mindful, to be calm, to listen with the heart, to be attentive to creation, to be in the presence of God; in other words, to pray. The greatest prayer is the Eucharist, from which Mary can never be absent.
As Catholics we believe the Eucharist is the place where God continues to take concrete physical flesh just as God once did in the womb of Mary. But of course to believe this requires faith. The Eucharist is not a magical act, but it certainly is a mystery and it requires faith to believe that in the Eucharist we really meet God who becomes flesh and walks with us. As we celebrate this Novena in honour of Our Lady, who St. John Paul called the Woman of the Eucharist, it is fitting that we should reflect on the Eucharist and ask Mary to strengthen our faith, help us and our young people to appreciate this great gift and to understand a little more this great mystery, and help us to give the Eucharist a central place in our lives.
Two of the things for which Catholics are most known are devotion to Christ in the Eucharist and devotion to Mary and these two devotions are inseparable. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, since Jesus was born of Mary, the flesh of Jesus is the maternal flesh of Mary, the blood of Jesus is the maternal blood of Mary, and therefore it will never be possible to separate Jesus from Mary. One of our OLA Sisters told me that she has a picture that she really loves which helps her to pray, of Our Lady holding the child Jesus in her arms and saying: “This is my Body. This is my Blood”. The fact is: it is always Mary who gives us Jesus.
When the Angel told Mary she would conceive the Son of God, she said ‘Fiat: let your will be done’ and she was glad to give her body for God’s Word to become flesh. Saint John Paul compares Mary’s Fiat to the Amen we say when we receive Holy Communion. When the priest or Minister gives us Holy Communion and says ‘the Body of Christ’ we say ‘Amen’. We are saying, yes, I believe this is the Word of God become flesh and I am willing to give my body to making you present in the world, and to let others know and love you through my words and actions.
Mary’s Fiat is often called the first Eucharist. Mother Teresa loved to say that the Annunciation was Mary’s First Communion and we share in this Annunciation every time we receive Communion. But, we must also share in the Visitation. After receiving God within her at the Annunciation, Mary didn’t keep Christ for herself. She went “in haste” (Luke 1:39) to take Him to her cousin Elizabeth and Elizabeth was able to see Jesus in the eyes and voice of Mary. In the Visitation, according to Saint John Paul, Mary was a tabernacle. In the same way, each time we receive Communion, we too are called to go on ‘visitation’ and be a tabernacle.
Holy Thursday is the feast that marks the institution of the Eucharist, and it is not by accident that the Gospel that day is from St John’s account of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. At the first Eucharist, Jesus got on his knees and washed the feet of his disciples. Hence, the Eucharist is not just an act of devotion; it is a call to service. To take the Eucharist seriously is to begin to wash the feet of others, especially the feet of the poor.
In Ireland today there are a lot of poor and there is no shortage of opportunities for us to go out and wash the feet of others. So many of our own Irish people have been disillusioned by the Church and have given up on religion and on God but have not found inner peace or community or meaning. They need people who will show them love and help them know that Christ is with them. There are also many immigrants, refugees, and so many others here in Cork and probably even here in Blackrock who are alone, are suffering, and are in great need in many different ways. This parish is the SMA parish and hence of its nature it is a missionary parish; a community that goes out from worship to the service to those most in need, especially in Africa but also to those near to us in our own area. I encourage all of you to continue to be that Eucharistic, or missionary community.
The fact that we celebrate the Eucharist and receive the Body of Christ does not mean that we will be kept safe from all harm. I worked in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria, and only left there in November. Fr Maurice who is celebrating this Mass this evening also recently left Northern Nigeria. There are many people there of great faith, both Muslims and Christians, calling on God daily and living their faith with steadfast conviction and generous self-giving. But they continue to suffer. Yesterday we heard of over 200 killed in a bomb blast in Jos. On Monday we heard of a bomb blast in Kano. We have all heard of the almost 300 girls who were abducted a month ago and still have not been found. These people know that the Eucharist is not magic; it does not take away the harsh reality of life. Mary also tells us this; her Fiat is the first Eucharist and her life was given totally to being of service; and as we know she suffered! She watched her own only Son scorned and crucified, killed on a cross. In the Eucharist, Jesus gives himself to us, shares our journey and makes himself the food that sustains our lives, even when the road gets rough and obstacles slow our steps. The Eucharist does not take away our difficulties but it helps us to be strong. In receiving the Eucharist with faith, the Lord leads us to follow his path of service, sharing and giving; and whatever little that we have, the little that we are, just as Mary was little, becomes a treasure because the power of God, who is love, descends to our poverty and transforms it.”
The faith of the people in Nigeria even when bombing of their churches is a very real threat, their generosity even when they have barely enough themselves… all of this was a lesson for me in seeing how God does sustain people and does transform even the poor into generous givers of hope and strength. Here in Ireland and in Blackrock, in these difficult times with financial pressures, unemployment, young people emigrating, sickness… we pray we will be able to trust in God. That we will draw strength from the Eucharist and that the Eucharist will give us the strength to be a help to others, even in our own need and suffering.
I thank you very much for your attention and I wish you a very fruitful and blessed novena.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh.