Immaculate Conception 2018
Homily notes of Bishop Wm. Crean
“Mary, do not be afraid;
you have won God’s favour”.
My friends, the story of our salvation is both well known to us and a continual source of consolation and inspiration. However, periodically we need to revisit and contemplate some aspect of that story in order to drink deeply of its refreshing inspiration.
To-day’s conference is such an exercise. That happening on this Marian Day of Festival is no accident.
“I am the handmaid of the Lord said Mary
Let what you have said be done unto me”
Depending on who you listen and pay attention to we are in a time of crisis in the Church in Ireland. It calls for urgent action to “steady the ship” and re-orient our efforts and direction. In viewing and analysing the current reality in Ireland it is important to do so through a lens that enables us to take the longer view of our faith history. Doing so will help us avoid focusing solely on our recent experience. Our reality is complex in its creation. It does not surrender to easy analysis and solution. It is prudent that we take on no more of the burden than we are responsible for.
My friends, I am sure that you have often had the experience of encountering a person, event or an insight that has the quality of coincidence but in fact is providential. So it was for me as I read the letter of St. Ambrose in the Office of Readings on his Feastday yesterday December 7th. It is addressed to a bishop. In it he uses the image of the captain of the ship as one who ensures safe passage. Might I quote a few brief pieces to illustrate his point.
“You pilot the ship against the waves.
Take firm hold of the rudder of faith
So that the severe storms of this world
Cannot disturb you…..”
“Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds the Church possesses the safest harbour of salvation for all in distress”.
Shifting his image from the raging sea to the flowing stream he observes “There is also a stream which flows down on God’s saints like a torrent. There is also a rushing river giving joy to the heart that is at peace and makes for peace”. He continues with other pieces of good advice for those called to leadership in the community of the Church. I quote St. Ambrose as an “ancient” voice reflecting on the experience of the Church in words that seem so apt in our contemporary setting. That is what I mean by viewing our reality through the longer lens of history – it makes for a more balanced and less anxious perspective.
In difficult times our faith in God is tested – because we do not know the ways of the Lord. In this experience of testing it is good and fruitful for us to revisit the well of our salvation that is Jesus, the Christ – St. Pauls hymn of praise and blessing that opens his letter to the Ephesians is virtually poetic in its praise of the blessings we enjoy in Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
Testing times call us to deepen our personal spiritual resources – to enable us to be resilient and persevering in adversity. If we are hurt and offended by the words and actions of those who differ from us, we must never resort to resentment and bitterness. The balm of forgiveness needs to run through all our ministry in the name of Jesus and Mary His mother and the mother of Church.
Mary’s Magnificat – “My soul now glorifies the Lord” is a model of personal surrender to God, in trust of what can be realised through the Lord’s grace and power in us. In our current socio-cultural context we experience a great powerlessness. This is a humiliating experience because of shame, guilt and failure on the part of our brothers and sisters. In that sense it is like family, it is personal.
On the other side there is a rejection of the spiritual heritage we hold dear. It is hurtful to be dismissed as right wing even extremist when for us it is a radical choice for all that is true, good, noble and just in humanity. Humiliation is difficult but not wasted. In the refiner’s fire it is tested and purified to become precious and priceless. Many speak of a spiritual battle and it seems appropriate to do so. In that context, might I make my own, the words of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippines (2nd Reading; 2nd Sunday of Advent)
“My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognise what it best. This will help you to become pure and blameless, and prepare you for the Day of Christ, when you will reach the perfect goodness which Jesus Christ produces in us for the glory and praise of God”.