Fr John Horgan SMA preached on the third night of the SMA National Novena in honour of Our Lady in St Joseph’s SMA Church, Blackrock Road on Sunday, 18 May 2014. Fr Horgan preached the following homily on the theme: Mary, Queen of the Missions.
Mary was born into a family of Jews who belonged to a section of Judaism, who after the disaster of the Babylonian captivity, continued to trust God, live by His word and base their hope for the future on Him. They were a prayerful, humble people; a people who had endured suffering in captivity; a people who by prayerfully reflecting on their sad experience of slavery in Babylon, gleaned new insights into God’s ways, coming to realize that the Messiah, the hope of Israel, would not be a political leader but a spiritual one. They were ready and open to acceptGod’s plan and the future He had planned for them. They longed and prayed for the ‘new thing’ that God was going to do as foretold by Isaiah in these words:
Remember not the former things; nor consider the things of old.
Behold I am doing a new thing;
Now it springs forth.
Do you not perceive it? (Is. 43: 18-19).
Mary had the same faith, virtues and trust that God’s plan would be fulfilled. And indeed that plan wasfulfilled in the life death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, the promised and long awaited Messiah.
At the Annunciation Mary realized that God’s plan for her was critical to the fulfilling of his plan for his Chosen People and indeed for all people. God asked her consent to be the mother of Jesus the Christ of Messiah, for whom the angel said ‘God had a very special destiny’. Even though the angel told her nothing of the details involved, Mary said ‘Yes’ to God; she accepted it all in faith as a mission or role God was giving her.
Having conceived Jesus and brought Jesus into the world with great faith, she nurtured and formed him in his infancy and childhood into adulthood.
In the last Gospel story of his childhood we are told the twelve year old Jesus strayed off from his parents as they celebrated the Pasch in Jerusalem. After Mary & Joseph eventually found him they returned to Nazareth and Mary kept all these things in her heart. She was a reflective prayerful person who pondered on things to make sense of them.
When Jesus began the mission God had planned for him, the proclamation of the kingdom / reign of God, Mary accepted it and developed a great interest in it as it was God’s special project for Jesus. It was the fulfilling of the few words the angel Gabriel said to her.
Mary with a small group of disciples, mostly women were the most loyal supporters of Jesus and the twelve in their mission; this group provided for the basic needs of Jesus and the 12 right up to his passion and death where they stood at the foot of the cross until he died.
On the cross Jesus said to Mary: “Woman, here is your son”. Then he said to his beloved friend John: “Here is your mother” (Jn 19:26-27). These words of the dying Jesus to his mother show us his devotion and concern for her; and his words to John indicate that he was giving his mother as a special gift to the Church as it was about to be born.
After the AscensionMary joined the disciples in praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit who made possible the outburst of missionary activity which took place at Pentecost.
Since Pentecost, the church continued its mission to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all peoples throughout all ages so that the kingdom of God will progressively grow in individuals and in society So that the world will change from its imperfect state to become the world God wants it to be.
The church does this through evangelisation, of which there are three types:
primary evangelisation where the Gospel is preached for the first time to a people;
then follows consolidation evangelisation which helps to Gospel to become more rooted in the mentality, the life and the culture of the people through formation on issues of Social Justice and the principles of inculturation.
The church continues to nourish the faithful everywhere with the daily celebration of the Eucharist, the administration of the sacraments, preaching the Word and commitment to Social justice and the works of Charity. This gives life to many; it shows them a path to follow and gives light and joy to many.
In recent decades, a large of number of people, do not find the Gospel in what the Church is doing. Nor do these people find a convincing answer to their question; “How do I live a meaningful life?” So we have witnessed a gradual falling off in the number of practising believers. And more recently still we see a progressive process of de-Christianisation and a loss of human values in society that is worrying.
That is why the Church is seeking a new approach to make the Gospel relevant and nourishing those who do not find Good News or nourishment in the present daily menu the Church offers.
This new evangelisation (the third type) means spreading the same gospel message with a new enthusiasm, with the zeal and fire of the Holy Spirit, forming ourselves in the virtues of Mary and her people. Like them we need to reflect prayerfully on God’s Word, be humble and open to the ‘new thing’ that God is doing and to the suffering conversion may involve for us personally; we need to pray as if our life depended on it and work knowing that it is God who makes all our efforts fruitful. We cannot make God known though words alone. God must be known personally and deeply by us if we wish to make him known to others. On the human level we cannot say we really know a person if we only know about them ‘second hand’. The same holds in knowing God. To evangelise is to introduce somebody to a relationship that I have with God, to how I experience God in my own life.
For us personal prayer important, just as it was for Mary; so are our popular prayers and devotions and our liturgical prayer. All these forms of prayer complement one another. Speaking about God and speaking to God must always go hand and hand. Jesus preached by day and prayed by night. All our efforts and methods of spreading the Good News will be empty without the foundation of prayer. Our witnessing and our proclamation of the good news must be drenched in prayer.
Jesus did not redeem the world by his beautiful words and sermons. He redeemed it through his sufferings and death. His Passion is the source of life for the world; it is a source that will never be exhausted. Our daily carrying of the cross of our own suffering, is an essential part of our witness to Jesus, the Good News. As St Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians [Col 1:24] “It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to sake up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ, for the sake of his body, the Church..”.
The history of salvation shows us that suffering has always been a feature in the lives of all who witnessed to Jesus the Christ. The great success of St Paul was not the fruit of his great preaching or his pastoral strategy; the fruitfulness of his work is linked to his suffering in communion with the passion of Christ. [1Cor. 2:1-5 & 11:30. Also Galatians 4:12-14]
In the Early church Tertullian said “the blood of Christians is the seed of Christians”. And St. Augustine commenting on the text in St John’s gospel where Jesus said to Peter “Tend my sheep” said that this means ‘suffer for my sheep’. And Augustine went on to say “A woman cannot give life to a child without suffering; every birth is a suffering and becoming a Christian is a birth”. The Cross each of us has to carry is an essential part of our life and we cannot help in giving new life to others without giving up our own life in some form or other.
The kingdom of God always starts anew as the tiny mustard seed. So the New Evangelisation does not mean that using new and more refined methods will immediately attract back large numbers of people who have distanced themselves from the Church. The New Evangelisation means never being satisfied to sit on our oars because from the mustard seed the Great Universal Church has grown so that a huge number of people find a place in its different units or branches. As then Cardinal Ratzinger said back in 2000 the New Evangelizsation means that we dare again with the humility of a tiny seed to leave ‘the when and the how’ it will grow, up to God..
The Holy Spirit is the soul of the New Evangelisation and Mary is its Star. She will show her maternal care and concern for it just as through her various apparitions down through the ages she has shown her maternal care and concern for the Church and her children in all the stages of the Church’s growth.
During our novena we focus on Mary and contemplating her, we realize that she is the one who carefully keeps “all these things, pondering them in her heart’ and so is the one able to recognize the traces of God’s Spirit in all events both great and small. She is the woman of prayer and work in Nazareth, and she is also ‘Our Lady of Practical Help’, who sets out from her own village “with haste” (Lk 1:39) to be of service to Elizabeth and who asks her son to save the newly weds at Cana from the embarrassment of running short of wine.
This balance of contemplation and active practical concern for others, is what makes Mary a model of each of us as we try to live God’s plan in our lives. We pray that by her maternal intercession that we may be a people of confidence and unshakeable hope in the words of the Risen Christ in the book of the Revelation: “Behold, I make all things new”.