Homily of Archbishop Dermot Farrell on the occasion of a Prayer Service for Peace in Ukraine and Dedication of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, 4pm, Friday, March 25, 2022
Today we gather at the invitation of Pope Francis to pray for peace in Ukraine. We gather on a day that the Church dedicates to Mary, the Mother of God, whose heart resembles that of Christ more than any other. The barbaric killing of children, elderly people and of innocent, defenceless citizens brings immense suffering for millions of people to obtain vain political and national goals. The calculated, but reckless, armed aggression in Ukraine dwarfs in urgency the many other problems our world faces, some of which threaten the very life of this planet; on a scale not seen since the horrors of the Second World War, we have a war in the heart of Europe, begun by an unjust aggressor intent on the destruction of a sovereign country and its people.
In the abstract, figures say little: “10 million Ukrainians displaced,” what does it mean? However, for the people of Ukraine—our sisters and brothers, this is no statistic; it is not a memory; this is their reality. The killed, the wounded, the displaced, are their parents, their children, their husbands or wives, neighbours, friends: people, ordinary people like you and me, who have had their lives, their homes, their land ripped apart. And more: it is not only the indiscriminate destruction of tens of thousands of lives, but also a horrifying and tragic living reality that will haunt them forever.
The lives of Ukrainian civilians count for nothing in the eyes of their aggressors. In this they are like the poor the world over, who are invisible to the rich, the comfortable, and the powerful. And in this, they are like Christ whose life was of no value to those who dispensed with him. We look at the cross through the lens of the gospels, but that is from the standpoint of knowing who he is, and of what God is doing in him. However, the Christ of Calvary is poor and abandoned, and his Father is silent. Today, again, the world is confronted with violence and wanton destruction, and our ultimate silence reveals not only our shock, but also our confusion and profound bewilderment.
This unwarranted war unveils not only the horror of its victims but also, and equally frightening for us all the poverty of the aggressor. While, cynically proffering freedom, all that ultimately on offer is violence, gratuitous violence, and the loss that follows in its wake: not just loss of life, but loss of place, loss of dignity, loss of hope.
There are other ways to live; there are other ways to be with our neighbour (see Luke 10:25–37). To our neighbour we can offer freedom, faithfulness, friendship, presence, food for a life that brings us to life, and that permits us to offer life to others. In the Christian tradition we call this the Kingdom of God. It is the gift of God, and it is God’s gift for all.
On this Feast of the Annunciation, the Church both remembers and celebrates that this gift of God, the way to true life, took flesh in Mary, a young woman of tremendous openness and courage. And more, God’s gift of life was offered and received, not in Rome—the centre of power and privilege for the oppressive imperial elite, but in Nazareth, a provincial backwater, that nobody knew, to a young woman of no apparent consequence. But this is God’s way: God not only sees the lowly, and God not only hears the cry of the poor, God lifts them up (see Luke 1:46–55).
Mary embodies the gift of God: she both pre-figures her Son, and who follows him. She is a young woman of tremendous openness, trust, and courage. When we speak of a person’s heart we speak of who they are. To speak of Mary’s heart is to speak of who she is, this woman of gentleness and strength.
The focus and thrust of our prayer this afternoon is to unite us to God through Mary’s heart, through a process of consecration and sorrow. We consecrate ourselves to Mary’s Immaculate Heart as a way of being completely devoted to God, with Mary as our inspiration in this process of consecration: that she who was so open to the Holy Spirit and to the ways of God, would bring home to us that same openness and embrace of God’s will (see today’s Gospel; Luke 1:38).
We make this solemn act of consecration of humanity, and especially of Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so that she, the Queen of Peace, may inspire us all to be instruments of peace for the world.
Consecration to the Blessed Mother reminds us of the close connection Mary has with Jesus, and how she treasured everything she saw, “in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). “The heart that resembles that of Christ more than any other is without a doubt the Heart of Mary, his Immaculate Mother, and for this very reason the liturgy holds them up together for our veneration.” (Pope Benedict, Homily, 5th June 2005). To consecrate ourselves to Mary, and to consecrate our sisters and brothers in Ukraine and Russia to her ‘immaculate heart’ is bodily to express, to give voice to our interior desire to follow God’s will and unite our heart with His. It is make our own the faith and trust of Mary: “Be it done to us according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
On this Solemnity of the Annunciation of Mary, the gospel presents us with a young woman cast into the unfolding of God’s saving plan for all history. Mary discovered the truth of God’s love: what was revealed in her heart took flesh in her body, in herself, in all that she was. This is also the drama of these days! I was very struck the other day by the witness of Father Andriy Zelinskyy (SJ)—a Jesuit who is the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church’s chief military chaplain; he said, “In authoritarian societies, reality is dictated, not discovered, and the truth is constructed, not received. A “real” truth is dangerous. It sets people free.”
God set Mary free! That is the meaning and the hope of the Immaculate Conception. Her response is both to act and to ponder these things in her heart. Mary receives reassurance, consolation, and strength to take this step into the unknown. Church and civic leaders alike, along with all people of goodwill, are called to walk together with courage and creativity on the path of justice and peace.
History shows that neither war nor violence have ever solved problems; nor will they ever. The story of this island in the last 30 years is the story of people whose feet have been “guided on the way of peace.” (see Luke 1:79) Peace, while it is a fruit of the Spirit (see Gal 5:22), brings a cost for all who becomes its servants. One has to die to certain ways of looking at things, and embrace a worldview which not only has space, but also has welcome for the other.
God offers “freedom” to Mary. He offers her the gift He gives us all in his Son. “For freedom Christ has set us free.” (Gal 5:1) Mary embodies true freedom: freedom to give, freedom to commit. However, the way to true freedom is full of paradox and contradiction, as freedom is to be discovered and lived in service and in denial of self. This is the way of the cross; it is the way to love.
May the Lord guide our hearts and “our feet on the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). May we so work that our only home may truly become our Common Home—the place where mercy and faithfulness can meet (Psalm 85:10), where justice and peace can make their home.
May the Mother of God make of all of us true followers of her Son!
May she bring each one of us ever closer to the Heart of her Son!
May she preserve the world from the horrors and lies of war!
May she come to the aid of those who are persecuted and from the many evils that threaten them today!
Immaculate Mother, Temple of the Holy Spirit, enclose us in your Heart!
Archbishop of Dublin