Homily for Common Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the occasion of the Bicentenary of the Marist Brothers at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 12 August 2017
It is fitting that we are celebrating this Eucharist here at St Patrick’s Cathedral as part of the Marist Bicentenary Celebrations. We are proud of the fact that Parramatta – not Sydney – is considered the cradle of Catholicism in Australia. This proud heritage was made even richer by the presence of the Marist Brothers, their residence and school on this very site. It is not only the name “Marist Place” but also the legacy of the Brothers particularly in education that have left an indelible mark on the history of this young Diocese, for which we are truly indebted to.
Our celebration today as we look back over 200 years of foundation is filled with joy, hope and gratitude. Like a richly textured tapestry, each member Marist, each community and each generation have woven on it with the unique threads of its stories, achievements and yes, failures, also. Like earthenware vessels, we hold within our human fragility the pearl of great price. We are conscious of and grateful to the power of God working through us, his humble servants.
Much has changed since the pioneer Marists put into action “God’s mission with Marian joy, hope and audacity” here in Parramatta and other parts of colonial Australia. As religious in a secular society, Marists face formidable challenges, not the least of which is their dwindling numbers. Yet, they are not sitting around, moping and hoping for the good old days to return. They are busy getting on with the mission God has given them to do. I dare say, they are reinventing themselves and re-birthing their charism in ways beyond the traditional structures of religious life. They are thinking outside the square by virtue of their charismatic audacity. They are busy with nurturing and delivering new life. They are like the embers in the ashes that will start the fire the morning after. The words of St Paul may best describe what many religious like the Marists are doing today “Death is at work in us but life in you”.
The Word of God today speaks about crisis and opportunity. We are told that the wine ran out in the middle of the wedding banquet in Cana. “They have no wine left”, the observant Mary pleads with Jesus. Then, despite being told that his hour has not yet come, she instructs the attendants with confidence “Do whatever he tells you”. In other words, Mary has absolute trust in her Son. This trust was not based on her foreknowledge of his supernatural powers. “Trust me. My boy Yeshua can do anything. He has Midas touch”. No, I contend that this trust was born out of a deep and personal relationship – it was a kind of trust that enabled Mary to remain at the foot of the cross and believe in the triumph of God’s plan despite limited or even contrary evidence. Mary’s faith was instrumental in accompanying the people in crisis and in preparing them to welcome the graced moment of the new wine.
Like a wedding at Cana, we also experience a situation of crisis. For us religious, that crisis is called the crisis of diminution. Believe me, being five foot four, I have to live it not just metaphorically but also existentially. We have been drinking the good wine of our institutional charism. But we also know that the old wine is running low and near empty. The Marists are as aware of this much like the motorist is aware of the “low fuel” sign.
We can react with fear, despair or denial. This was the way many Israelites reacted when faced with the barren desert. I suspect many of our contemporaries do the same with respect to the crisis in the Church. Mary provides us with the alternative, that is, with the absolute trust. This trust tells us that we are not indispensable and even our institution is not indispensable. God alone is indispensable and we must, like the message of the Shema in the first reading, cultivate our relationship with him above all and in spite of all things.
This trust also allows us to live this fallow time, this transition time between the old wine and the new with optimism, or Pope Francis would say, with the joy of the Gospel.
We don’t know the fate of our congregation. We don’t even know how the Church will fare with its problems. But what we are confident of is that the new wine will flow in God’s own “hour” even if we have to wait til the old runs out. Religious are never about immortality, quantity and numbers. The purpose of our existence lies not so much in our works but the sign value that we are. As catalysts for its renewal, we often occupy a liminal space rather than a centre stage. There on the margins, we explore new frontiers and possibilities. Our job is to inspire and to keep the fire of the Gospel burning for the sake of the Church and of the world.
Like Mary, we accompany people in crisis and we show the way forward by cultivating faith and trust in God who alone transforms the water of our poverty into the new wine of God’s creative power and enduring love.
May we be strengthened to walk the journey of faith with those entrusted to our care, proclaim the message of hope, understand the signs of the new Kairos and lead them in the direction of the Kingdom. May the example of Marcellin inspire us to be the servants of the Kingdom, acting as its leaven and pointing others to its new manifestation with our characteristic joy, hope and audacity. Then, we can be confident that the miracle of the new and better wine will happen and transform us all.
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