(Readings: Gen 3:1-15, 20; Ps 102; Eph 3:14-19; Lk 8:19-21)
It’s very nice to be here with you this morning … thank-you to Fr Columba for the invitation and welcome to share in these celebrations with you – celebrations not only of the patroness of this shrine, but the patroness of our country. This is an important feast in our liturgical calendar.
For the past couple of years I have been in Ottawa, Canada, studying canon law. Now that I’m back one of the offices I hold is that of Judge of the Regional Tribunal. Just like in the secular law courts, in the cases we hear in the Tribunal our trials are about finding the truth of a matter. Gathering and putting forward evidence to prove some contention; or gathering evidence to overturn a presumption of the law.
And so as I reflected on today’s feast day I wondered to myself: what does it look like to have Our Lady as our help? What does that mean in practice? If you or I was to be put on trial with the charge being that “Mary is our help” – would there be enough evidence to prove that Mary is our help? Would the evidence show that we lived our lives relying on the help of Our Lady?
I don’t know about you, but I’m quite fascinated by our new Pope. When people have quizzed me about him since his election, I have often responded: “well, he’s got everyone’s attention!” And one of the things that is very obvious is his love for Our Lady. In those first moments after his election when he was presented to the city of Rome and the world, and made that beautiful gesture of praying for our beloved Pope Benedict, Pope Francis said, “Let us pray together for him, that the Lord may bless him and that Our Lady may keep him” (1). Then as he promised that night, he went the next morning to the Basilica of St Mary Major, to pray before the icon called the “Salus Populi Romani” – or the Protectress of the Roman People; and there he laid flowers before the icon of Our Blessed Mother.
Just this week, on Monday – the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima – the Cardinal Archbishop of Lisbon, Portugal, did what Pope Francis had several time requested: at Fatima on the feast of our Lady of Fatima, Cardinal Policarpo of Lisbon consecrated Pope Francis’ pontificate to Our Lady of Fatima. In the prayer of consecration he prayed: “Give him the gift of discernment to know how to identify the ways of renewal of the church; give him the courage not to hesitate to follow the ways suggested by the Holy Spirit; support him in the hard hours of suffering to overcome with charity the trials that the renewal of the church will bring… We consecrate to you, Our Lady, mother of the church, the ministry of the new pope … Fill his heart with the tenderness of God that you experienced so that he can embrace all the men and women of our age with the love of your son Jesus Christ.”
On the first Saturday of this month, the Holy Father led the Rosary at St Mary Major Basilica. During those prayers he offered a reflection in which he indicated three ways that Mary is our help. Firstly, he said that Mary helps her children to grow well. She teaches them not to yield to laziness. As a good mother, Mary takes care that her children’s growth is not stunted, that they grow strong and capable of taking responsibilities upon themselves, that they take on commitments in life and lean towards great ideals. We know that Mary did this for Our Lord. St Luke says that in the family of Nazareth Jesus “grew and became strong in the spirit, filled with wisdom …” This is what Mary does for us: she helps us grow humanly and in faith, to be strong and not to yield to the temptation to be superficial Christians – but to live with responsibility, reaching upwards all the time.
Secondly, the Holy Father taught that Mary helps her children by teaching them to face the difficulties of life. Mary lived with difficulties: her unexpected pregnancy; the birth of Jesus when there was no room in the inn; the flight into Egypt; the passion and death of her Son before her very eyes. Our Blessed Mother helps her children to look at the problems of life with realism, not to be lost in them but to tackle them with courage and faith; not to be weak, but to know how to overcome them. Mary is close to us so that we won’t lose courage before the adversities of life and before our own weaknesses, before our sins: she gives us strength and points us always to the path of her Son.
Thirdly, Mary – like a good mother – helps us take important decisions with freedom. This freedom is not allowing ourselves to be dominated by our passions, or only doing what we like, but rather is the freedom to make good choices. As a good mother, Mary help us to be – like her – capable of making important decisions with the same full freedom with which she said her fiat – her yes – to God’s plan for her life.
So Mary helps us by looking after our growth; by helping us to face and overcome trouble and adversity; and by helping us find our true freedom to make important decisions (2).
So if I return to my original question: is it proven – for Pope Francis, that Mary is his help? We would have to say: yes! absolutely!
Our Lady has most definitely been the help of Christians in our nation. In our early years before we had resident priests, and before even the Mass was allowed to be celebrated, Mary kept the faithful close to her Son through the recitation of her rosary. As we head into the future we need to turn again with full confidence to our patroness. I was delighted to hear that there is some talk of creating a national shrine to Our Lady Help of Christians: a place where we can honour her as a nation, and go to her on pilgrimage. As the Church in Australia embraces the mission of evangelization that we are called to at this moment, we need Mary’s help not to be daunted by the challenges but to be courageous as we live the faith more fully and take our faith in Jesus Christ to the world. We need our Blessed Mother’s help so that we will not be superficial Christians, or part-time Christians – but that our lives will become more fully aligned with God’s will as she was, and that we will be more docile to the Holy Spirit and freely give our own “Yes” to God’s desires in our lives.
As we celebrate our patroness, it’s a good moment to think practically – if Mary is to help us, then we have to open ourselves to her, come to her frequently. Our pilgrimage here today to her shrine is a sign of our desire for this … let’s make that grow in our daily lives: our recitation of the Rosary, prayer before her image in our homes and churches, making sure our shrines to her in our Churches look loved, making a special effort to participate in Mass on her feast days through the year, giving witness to others of the ways that Mary has interceded for us and shown us her help.
May our love for her today, which is a source of our joy and consolation, overflow into every day, and may we always rejoice that we have the help of the Mother of God as we grow, as we face the challenges of life, and as we embrace more and more God’s will for us.
Marian Valley on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Marian-Valley/269499189730079?fref=ts