The SMA Laity Coordinator, Mrs Dympna Mallon, preached at the third night of our 2013 Novena, which coincided with Pentecost Sunday. Reflecting on the readings for the day (Acts 25: 13b-21, Psalm 102 and John 21: 15-19), Dympna shared the following thoughts on Our Lady of the Missions:
My name is Dympna Mallon and I am from Dungannon in County Tyrone. I am married to Paul and we have 5 children – or young adults as they prefer to be known. We also have a beautiful grandson called Fionn who is now 18 months old. In January I took up my post as SMA Laity Coordinator and some weeks ago Fr Damian asked me if I would speak at your Novena here in May. I felt a bit uncomfortable being asked to speak here because I have no special expertise; I am not particularly qualified to speak about either Our Lady or the Missions. But I talked to Paul and we decided that I would do this in honour of Our Lady who always said “Yes” to God.
I suppose I have always felt drawn to Mary – her virtue and humility were always something that we were encouraged to strive for at school but it has been in the 12 years since my own mother Brigid died, that Our Lady has taken on greater significance for me. She has become a mother-figure for me and my family as well as a role model for me as a woman and as a Catholic.
Over the past few years I have become increasingly aware that there is nothing that I may go through which is beyond her experience, nothing that she cannot understand. Mary was visited by an angel, faced with an unplanned, inexplicable pregnancy; the life of her new baby was threatened and the family were forced to become refugees in a foreign land; she was told that she would face great heartache and sorrow when her child was still a tiny baby; she lost her child in a strange city for several days; she had to let him go, as an adult, to follow a life over which she had no control or influence – a life which brought ridicule and isolation on her son and probably by extension onto her too; she was forced to endure his arrest and imprisonment and to watch him tried and executed as a criminal.
These are the realities we know of Mary’s life – these things actually happened. These are the realities that allow me as a broken, imperfect human being to ask Our Lady for help, guidance, comfort and protection. When our eldest daughter told us that at 19 she was expecting a baby, it was Our Lady who helped me find the grace to accept the situation. She is known by many titles but some of my favourites, those that create a strong connection with Mary for me are in the words of the hymn, Hail Queen of Heaven: Guide of the Wanderer, Star of the Sea, the Ocean Star – for me these titles reflect the constancy of Our Lady’s love and concern.
Yet reflecting on these titles – “Guide of the Wanderer”, “Star of the Sea” – also made me think about tonight’s theme of mission and how Mary offers her care and protection to our missionaries who have left their homes and families to share Christ with the world . I began to realise that Our Lady was herself a great missionary. She had only just been told that she was expecting a baby in the most miraculous circumstances, something that was going to be very difficult to explain, when she set out off into the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin Elizabeth. I find it incredible that, having being told by a heavenly body that she was to be chosen by God for such an important role, her first thought would be to go on a long journey, enduring hardship and fatigue to spend time with a distant relation who was also expecting a baby. Yet that’s what Mary did – she looked beyond herself, she sought out someone in need and she gave that person whatever help and support she could – even if it was just her companionship and her time.
And we know of the difficulties and trials she experienced throughout her life because she had said “yes” to God. Together with Joseph she was forced to seek exile in Egypt to protect their baby’s life – how frightening it must have been for her to leave her own land, not knowing where they would live or when they would return. She had to stand by and watch the agony of her son on Good Friday though her every instinct must have wanted to intervene to protect him from the suffering. But she had said an unconditional “yes” to God and she was committed to follow it through. We have had a great example of that sacrifice and commitment in the Community and buildings of the Society of African Missions around us here in Blackrock Road for over 130 years. This is the commitment that the members of the SMA, the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles and all the other missionary congregations have made and to which they dedicate their lives. They go to unknown places, often facing danger and uncertainty in order to provide hope and help to the most abandoned – teaching about Christ’s love by providing clean water, education or community building, as well as saying Mass and performing baptisms.
It is very fitting that we are reflecting on mission tonight as we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, the beginning of the Church’s mission. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the apostles left the Upper Room and began to preach the good news of Christ. Filled with the same Holy Spirit our missionaries have been carrying the same Good news of Christ to the four corners of the earth for generations.
Of course we cannot all be missionaries to Africa, India or South America. But we can follow the example of Our Lady as missionary in our own place. Fr Michael McCabe SMA wrote in an article several years ago: “The purpose of mission is to labour for God’s reign within the present time and situation.” We can be missionary in our own time and situation by reaching out to our family, friends and neighbours in need – think of Our Lady’s intervention at the wedding feast at Cana – her only concern was to spare the young couple any embarrassment or unhappiness on their wedding day – and even though it appears it wasn’t on Jesus’ “to-do list” for the day, he responded to his mother’s compassion for their hosts and performed his first miracle. We can be missionary in our homes by making God part of our everyday lives and not just on Sunday; we can help to build his kingdom on earth by becoming more active in our parish or community, by welcoming the stranger or the outcast. We can be missionary by allowing our relationship with God to determine how we treat others, how we respond to injustice or cruelty and how we can be kinder to the earth which we inhabit.
Just for a moment think about the Apparition at Knock where we will end this Novena on Saturday – Our Lady appeared with the Lamb of God, St John the evangelist and St Joseph – patron saint of Workers and a symbol of protection for the Holy Family. I like to think that Our Lady was saying something like this – “See the Lamb, the sacrifice of my son who lived, died and rose again that you may have life in all its fullness. St John has borne witness to that sacrifice of love; so too must you. Spread his word, share his love with all those around you. Go out to the whole world and let his light shine in you for others to see. Look to St Joseph for strength and protection; your work, your role, is vital however limited or small. I will watch over you day and night and love you always with a mother’s love.”
Our Lady of the Missions, Pray for us.