Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A 2020 with the Croatian Catholic Community, 13 September 2020
Readings: Micah 5:1-4; Matthew 1:18-23
Our Lady of the Grand Croatian Baptismal Covenant
Dear brothers and sisters,
We gather to celebrate one of the most significant feasts for Croatian Catholics. Your homeland Croatia on the Adriatic Coast should have been an easy target for the ambitious empires of the world. It could have been conquered, colonised, or even destroyed by powerful nations. Yet somehow, it has managed to survive and thrive along with its unique religious and cultural identity. Over the centuries, Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Grand Covenant has been venerated because of the belief in the power of her intercession.
In speaking about modern Europe and Croatia within it, the late Pope St John Paul II commended the example of heroic Croatian Catholics for their faithful witness to Christ despite enormous sacrifices made under totalitarian and anti-Christian regimes. He pointed out that your people endured the entire tragedy that afflicted Europe during the 20th century, marked by the great evils of fascism, Nazism, and communism. The Pope singled out your beloved Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, as the shining evangelical response to these evils. He said that Blessed Alojzije embodies those virtues upon which Christians are called to build a new Europe.
In Australia, you have brought your Catholic heritage and faith to enrich the life of the Church in this multicultural society. Here, in fact, the society is at best neutral to our faith and at worst critical of the Church. Here, too, we witness the erosion of the faith not simply by external pressures but even more so by the generational change in religious practices. In other words, the challenges don’t just come from outside. Catholics themselves, especially the young are questioning and even giving up their faith. In a new and inhospitable environment, we need to solidify and deepen our faith.
Today, we have come to draw inspiration and strength from Our Lady of the Grand Covenant. We honour Mary not only as the mother of Jesus but even more so as an exemplar of Christian discipleship. She became a model disciple who followed her Son faithfully. Therefore, this celebration commits us to follow her example and become the community of disciples.
Mary modelled her life on Christ who, St Paul says, did not cling to his divine status but became servant and humbled himself even more by accepting death on the cross. She likewise did not stay in her comfortable environment. Rather, like a missionary disciple, she constantly went out of her way to respond to God’s invitation and to the needs of others. She was undaunted by life’s many uncertainties: the flight into Egypt, the years of living in exile, the constant uprooting and replanting, the journey to Jerusalem, the agony at the foot of the cross…. Mary lived out the demands of faithful discipleship.
The Gospel tells us the story of how God’s plan unfolds and impacts on the lives of Mary and Joseph. In the story of the Annunciation, Mary was disturbed by the words of the angel that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her plan to have a normal life with Joseph was interrupted. In spite of the mystery and uncertainty, Mary gave that faith-filled response “I am the handmaid of the Lord and let it be done unto me according to your word”. How difficult it is for us to accept God’s plan for us that can come through unexpected circumstances. We need a faith and trust of Mary to surrender ourselves to God.
My dear friends,
The Word of God today is a summons to us to live our lives with radical openness to God’s will that is revealed to us in so many ways. Like Mary, we need to be ready for divine interruptions; we need to adjust to life’s constant changes. Growth and transformation can occur if we learn to discern and act on what God requires of us in the light of lived experience.
The Church in Australia is very blessed with your strong faith and devotion. You contribute to its richness, vitality, and diversity in so many ways. In celebrating this feast day, let us recommit ourselves to the task of nurturing and deepening our precious spiritual legacy. As we face the new and spiritually challenging environment, may our commitment not waver but grow stronger for the benefit of ourselves and our children.
May Mary our Mother who is the humble handmaid of the Lord intercede for us and the Croatians everywhere to distinguish ourselves for our strong and enduring faith. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to His call; what are the riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones.