Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 8th September, 2022,
Homily at the Grotto of Massabielle, Lourdes,
Fr Gareth Byrne, Vicar General and Moderator of the Dublin Diocesan Curia
Micah 5: 1-4; Psalm 12; Matthew 1: 18-23
Last Saturday, 3rd September, was my niece’s 18th Birthday. I can remember that day 18 years ago and I can remember seeing her for the first time with her mum and dad a couple of days later. I always tell her she is my favourite niece – I can do that as she is my only niece! Friends of mine too, who I had married a few years earlier, had twin boys on the same day. As you can imagine, this coincidence reinforces a special connection with this couple and we all remember each other, and our young people, fondly on the 3rd September each year.
How many of you have celebrated a birthday recently, in August or September? Hands up – a good number. And how many of you have celebrated a birthday in the last year? Oh, nearly everyone – a couple of ladies here haven’t put their hands up – they are hoping to go backwords – its younger looking you are every year!
Today we are celebrating the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 8th September, just as pilgrims from the Archdiocese have done here in Lourdes over so many years, except of course for the last two years when the trauma caused by the COVID pandemic enveloped us all, and this celebration and the pilgrimage had to be marked at home. It is especially wonderful then to be back at the Grotto in Lourdes to celebrate this special day joyfully here again.
Celebrating the Birthday of Our Lady, we are brought back to her earliest years, imagining her as a child with her parents Anne and Joachim, and how every year they would celebrate her birthday and give thanks to God for the gift of Mary in their lives.
We have a sense that the young Mary who was full of grace, must have been full of joy too, because that is how she responds to all of life and to God’s specific calling to her when it came.
St Therese of Liseux speaks about her this way: ‘The blessed mother appeared beautiful to me, so beautiful that never had I seen anything so beautiful. Her face radiated an undeniable kindness and love, but what penetrated to the very depths of my being was the smile of the Blessed Virgin’
We call Mary ‘the cause of our joy’ because she ‘who was to give birth gave birth’ to the greatest joy in all our lives, Jesus Christ, her son, the Son of God, Emmanuel, ‘God-is-with-us’.
This ordinary and extraordinary woman… who gave birth in a strange place away from home, who became a refugee in Egypt, who lost her son for a moment in Jerusalem… this ordinary and extraordinary woman, full of grace, full of joy, was able to say ‘Yes’ to God, because that is who she was. The Angel Gabriel addressed her with the well-known greeting, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’. Thomas Casey in his lovely reflection on Mary (Smile of Joy: Mary of Nazareth, 2018), describes Mary as, ‘the one who was always full of grace.’
We understand the Blessed Virgin, from her very beginnings, from her Immaculate Conception, as someone who was always full of grace, full of God, someone who made God’s dream for her, her own. She said Yes because it came naturally to her, her Yes was the only thing that could have made sense to her. Her Yes was freely given.
Recently over the summer I found myself in a conversation with a friend who was celebrating his 60th birthday. He told me about the day when he visited one of the churches in Dublin, in his early twenties, and in a quiet prayerful moment, asking himself so many questions about God, and faith, and life, it came to him clearly that, even if he couldn’t explain everything to others, he believed in God, that he was a person of faith, and that he would be a person of faith for the rest of his life. He would put his trust on God… and he has carried that moment of saying Yes with him all his adult life.
We are the same, with all our questions. We don’t have all the answers but we have our Yes to God too, and it is wonderful for us to know the Lord, and His Blessed Mother who cares for us just as she did her son, Jesus.
When Mary said Yes to God, she said Yes in freedom, full of joy, always full of grace, trusting fully in Him. ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’, Mary said to Bernadette Soubirous here in this very place, to a young girl, who did not know what this could mean. ‘Go tell the priest’ she was told… to build a chapel here… and that people should come in procession.’
And so here we are, in this wonderful place today, by the gift of Mary’s invitation to all of us, to come and know God’s grace at work in our lives too, and to live joyfully. We may not have all the answers but we too have put our trust in the Lord, and said Yes, following Our Lady’s example, embraced by God’s love for us as she was, opening ourselves up to the grace of God at work in our lives, and to his Holy Spirit who guides us into the fullness of life.
With Mary, Our Mother, we pray for the Church in the Archdiocese of Dublin at this time of reflection and change. We pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the protection of Mary as we move forward and plan for the future with Archbishop Farrell and our Building Hope initiative. We pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, to the diaconate, to the lay apostolate and to lay ministry in the Archdiocese, in humble and loving service of each other.
With Mary we welcome all the gifts God gives us, we welcome Christ, and with Him, on her birthday, we contemplate the life and mission of His Blessed Mother, our compassionate and loving Mother:
With Mary there is life, always full of grace, life fully celebrated
With Mary, there is joy, there is freedom, there is peace,
With Mary, there is the realisation of being loved by God, Holy is his name,
With Mary, there is our Yes, too, willingly made, exuberant, humble,
With Mary, there is the bringing of God’s light and peace into the world,
With Mary, there is a life lived in love, watched over by the Mother of Our Lord and Saviour,
With Mary, there is His love cherished, His miracles witnesses to, His teaching pondered,
With Mary, there is sorrow, yes, but sorrow shared and offered up for the transformation of the world,
With Mary, there is new life with Jesus risen from the dead,
With Mary, there is a waiting for the promised Holy Spirit, and a welcome for the Spirit’s fire in our lives,
With Mary, there is Christ’s word proclaimed to all the world,
With Mary, there is a place prepared for us in heaven from where the Queen of Angels and Saints watches over us,
With Mary, there is, now and for all ages, protection for God’s people, motherly care for each one of us, intercession from above.
With Mary, we present all our needs, all our prayers, to her Son who is our peace, along with the people we said we would remember and pray for, they are with us, all of us wrapped in a mother’s love.
Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us,
Mary, our Mother, pray for us.