Ms Juli Rea shared on the fourth night of the SMA National Novena in honour of Our Lady in St Joseph’s SMA Church, Blackrock Road, Cork. Ms Rea shared on the theme: Mary, Queen of Peace.
Good evening. My name is Juli Rea. I am a parishioner here in the parish of SMA Blackrock Road and have been invited to be this evening’s homilist.
When I was growing up on a small farm outside of Mitchelstown in the early 1970’s, if you had told my father (Lord rest him) that his second eldest daughter would one day be invited to speak at the SMA Novena to Our Lady, he would have expired there and then on the spot in a mixture of joy and disbelief; joy that his own faith in Our Lady had been passed on but disbelief that his daughter, as a lay person and not a religious scholar would be speaking at Mass.
And that has made me think of how on the face of it life seems to have changed so much over that period of years. And yet I know, as you do, that the fundamental areas of Life, of love, of fear or worry, those personal preoccupations and concerns have remained the same.
People may now be looking to meet those needs in different ways but for those of us who come to this Novena, and I know many of you have been coming to this Novena for many years, we do so because we find in it some consolation for the worries and concerns of everyday life.
None of us are here because we have to be, not because anyone else would think less of us if we didn’t go and indeed I’m sure it’s not even a remotely cool thing to do! No! We come here because we believe in the power of prayer and we are searching within ourselves for the comforts and consolation (and of course the blessings) that comes from those prayers.
And for that reason tonight’s theme, Our Lady Queen of Peace, especially resonated with me when I, as the amateur of the week’s speakers, was given opportunity to pick my theme of choice.
I selected tonight’s theme, Our Lady Queen of Peace, because it seems to me that this is fundamentally what we are all searching for; that peace of mind and heart as we face difficulties whether of health or personal happiness or whether we are fretting for ourselves or someone close to us.
We come to this Novena largely searching and yearning for Peace.
The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in a really simple but beautiful poem writes
“I have desired to go where springs not fail,
to fields where flies no sharp and sided hail and a few lilies blow”
and I am sure we have all from time to time hoped to find ourselves in a world where springs not fail and a few lilies blow.
But often life is not like that and at those times of loss or worry I think there is great consolation and inspiration to be taken from Our Lady and the life she lived while on earth.
I think of all the challenges she faced and all the circumstances she had to make peace with and know that whatever comes she has walked that journey too.
I think of her as a young woman, engaged to Joseph, when she learns she is to have a baby.
While Luke’s gospel tells us that she answered yes he tells us too that “she was deeply disturbed” by the words of the angel. And that can hardly be surprising given how monumentally her life is to change and how overwhelming it must have seemed to her. As my husband Brendan remarked “she probably just wanted to marry a carpenter and instead she discovers she is to be the mother of the saviour” And so while it must have been a huge honour it must have been frightening too. Yet we know that by the time she goes to meet Elizabeth she had made peace with her destiny and is ready in fact to proclaim the Magnificat. But she had to make that personal journey of faith to accommodate the will of God in her life
I think too of her in the Jerusalem Temple when she and Joseph went to present Jesus as a baby.
Here she is with her little baby who is just less than 6 weeks old, presumably filled with all the pride and joy of any new parent when Simeon approaches. While he is evidently overjoyed to see her baby son his remarks take on a more sombre tone as he foretells of harm for her beautiful baby and tells Mary “A sword will pierce your own soul too”.
Anyone who has had the joy of holding a small baby in their arms knows how you instinctively want to protect them from any harm or to quote a great Bruce Springsteen line “you pray that no shadow, no darkness, no tolling bell will pierce their dreams”. And here, Mary, the child’s mother with her beautiful new born baby in her arms with all his lovely new born baby smells and soft baby skin is forced to face the reality that real pain is part of his destiny.
And you can imagine that faced with that knowledge she might have sought to shield Jesus, wrap him up in cotton wool and not let him out into the big bad world.
But that is not what she did; instead, despite all her fears and worries, all the things that she stored in her heart along the way, we are told that it was Mary who prompted Jesus to perform his first miracle at Cana. So despite all her reservations and fears for her beloved son, Mary must have made peace with what was to come. We know that she is given very few lines of dialogue in the bible and so those words she speaks at Cana are especially of note. Mary tells them: “Do whatever he tells you”.
Do whatever he tells you. Maybe for us there is a message in that to help us understand that it is only through acceptance of the will of God in our lives that we can actually find peace.
Mary’s journey brought her to the foot of the cross and to a set of circumstances the pain of which I cannot begin to imagine. And yet she stayed there and watched and waited. And in that watching and waiting she gives testament over and over again to that virtue of peace; of finding a reserve of ‘peace within’ that allows you to cope with the world as you find it.
Ms Rea is pictured with Fr Maurice Henry SMA, Provincial Councillor, and organizer of the Novena.
Mary is inspiring to me not because of all she faced and overcame. Or at least she is inspiring to me not just for that reason. Rather I find especially inspiring the fact that she, like all of us, had worries and fears, that she was afraid and unsure and, while she was open to the voice and love of God, she felt those very real emotions of uncertainly and fear. And so I know that when I sit here of a night fretting about my little niece and nephews, Brendan’s job, the welfare of my extended family or the happiness of my friends, I know that I sit here in the company of a woman who has faced all those fears too and learned to make her peace with them.
And to say through it all “do whatever he tells you”.
And if I can just remember that I feel I will have learned something and that I may find in my heart the peace to feel that springs not fail and a few lilies blow.