Next Tuesday, 8th September, the Church celebrates the birthday f Mary, the Mother of Jesus and Mother of the Church. It also marks the close of the pilgrimage season at Our Lady's Island here in the south of Wexford.
This year's pilgrimage season took place in very unusual circumstances. We thank Fr Jim and his team for a enabling us to come here and pray at a time of great uncertainty for our world.
And yet it is entirely appropriate that we came here at this time of uncertainty because people have been coming here for centuries in pilgrimage and in prayer, invoking Our Lady’s intercession, precisely at times of uncertainty in their personal lives and in the life of the whole world. The Island has been walked upon and made sacred by the feet of people of faith who recognized the complexity of life, indeed the mystery of life and the fact that much of what happens is outside of our control.
And so we think of expectant mothers hoping and praying for a healthy child who have come here to ask the Lord’s blessing for the future. We think of the countless people who were sick who have come to this place, to place their lives in God’s hands in the face of uncertain futures. We think of people who have lost jobs or who sought work at times when employment was scarce. We think of young people who have come here during the pilgrimage season to pray for a new school year or the beginning of College. We think of prayerful people who were hurting, bereaved and asking God for the strength to carry on after a major change in their lives and as they faced great uncertainty.
For all these people from the past and from the present, Our Lady’s Island has always been a place of refuge and a sanctuary where people have found new hope and the graces to live through uncertain times.
One of the main reasons I believe this is true is because of the faith of Mary, the Mother of God and our Mother, who lived almost her entire life during times of uncertainty. One of the consequences of her ‘Yes’ at the Annunciation, is that her life was plunged into immediate uncertainty. Mary’s security as a woman engaged to be married was severely tested after it emerged that Joseph was not the father of her unborn child. She risked divorce, alienation or a fate even worse. As the Holy Family made their way to Bethlehem, the place of Jesus’ birth was unknown until the last hour as Mary and Joseph made the hazardous journey in rocky terrain in circumstances far from certain or safe. Then when he was born, they had to flee to Egypt in the face of more uncertainty as Herod was seeking the life of the child. She worried when she could not find Jesus in Jerusalem and was uncertain of where she could find him. After her Son became a wandering preacher in Galilee and headed south towards Jerusalem, I’m sure she worried constantly about his safety and welfare. Yet she is found by his side and with him as his faithful disciple. Even when his terrible death became certain, she stood by him and stood by the cross and watched him die. Even after his death, not knowing what exactly would happen next, she gathered all the Apostles to pray in the Upper Room. She faced uncertainty all her life but throughout it all, she believed that ‘the promises made to her by the Lord would be fulfilled’.
Friends, we are invited to make our act of faith like Mary and with her at a time of uncertainty for our country and for the world. As Catholic Christians we are called to be responsible, safety conscious and health conscious as best we can but we also know that nothing is guaranteed. We live in a time of change but also in a time where God is present and at work: ‘Behold I make all things new!’ It is his Kingdom, his Church and his world. With Our Lady we pray that God’s will be done and that we be attentive and docile to any way in which we can pray and work for a new order where he ‘fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty and comes to the help of Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy, the mercy promised to Abraham and to his descendants forever’.
For us as Church it is a time to be on one hand reflective and prayerful but on the other to be creative and find new ways of reaching people. With her Visitation, Mary would have known the uncertainties that such a visit would have entailed. Yet, the Good News was too big and too good to stop her travelling. It had to be shared and had to be told. For us as Church, this is not a time to do nothing or lament what we can’t do. It is a time to explore what we can and to find new ways of being on mission in a time of uncertainty. It is very interesting to note how pandemics of previous centuries were followed by a renewal of the Church because the Church stayed close to the people at the time of crisis and remained committed to her life of prayer.
On the feast of Our Lady's birthday, we commit ourselves to just that – to stay close spiritually and in solidarity with one another and the whole country and world; and to intensify our lives of prayer. In that prayer we gather with Mary our Mother who teaches us how to trust and keep trusting during times of uncertainty.
I conclude with the Memorare prayer to Our Lady that invokes her prayers at times of uncertainty and trouble:
'Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me’.