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Given at the Mass of diaconal ordination of John Casey at Allen Hall Seminary on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11th February 2023

My brother John,

It is a great joy to celebrate your ordination to the diaconate today on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. For some of your childhood, you grew up in the parish of St Bernadette, where you will have grown in love and appreciation for Our Lady as a Mother to whom you could turn in times of adversity and joy. You have found protection under the mantle of Our Lady and have been shielded by her protecting veil as she gathers the Church to herself and watches over her children.

The hope given by the Church as Mother and exemplified in the discipleship of Our Lady and her assumption into heaven is expressed in an early form by the prophet Isaiah. Giving hope after the Babylonian Exile, he looks forward to the New Jerusalem, the city built on a hilltop to which both Israel and the Gentiles will come in procession to gather and to offer sacrifice on the altar of the Lord. In this prototype, the prophet also points us towards the Church as the New Jerusalem and the marriage between God with his people. God’s holy people are the Lord’s covenantal bride. 

At the marriage feast of Cana, through her perfect discipleship, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, appears as the embodiment of the faithful, obedient people of God. She instructs the waiters ‘Do whatever he tells you’. The mother of God is a model for us of obedience to God’s will and reveals the meaning of perfect faithfulness and love for God. Her faithful trust in her Son leads to the abundant gift of God which is revealed in the huge quantities of wine leading to joy and exuberance in the praise of God. St Thomas Aquinas calls Mary the mediatrix between her Son and the members of God’s household, as she intercedes with her Son for the needs of the people, and she encourages the people in the way of discipleship to obey Jesus. At Cana, God reveals the first of Jesus’ signs and the fulfilment of the covenant between God and his people. We see the Glory of the Son. The Venerable Bede writes, ‘By this sign he made manifest that he was the King of glory, and so the church's bridegroom… Therefore, let us love with our whole mind, dearly beloved, the marriage of Christ and the church, which was prefigured then in one city and is now celebrated over the whole earth.’ (Homilies on the Gospels, 1:14) John, your call as a deacon is to draw people into this mystery of the Church, into the mystery of faith which you proclaim in word and action, into the mystery of prayer offering the needs of the people to the Father through Jesus and the intercession of Our Blessed Lady. The humble example of St Bernadette who knew the joy of seeing Our Lady is a model for your prayer. 

Rejoice, Isaiah’s vision where Mother Jerusalem nurtures her children at her breasts shows us how God’s people receive milk which nourishes and gives life. This is fulfilled in the Church feeding God’s Holy People in word and sacrament. At Cana we are drawn into the covenant relationship of marriage between God and his people; God the Bridegroom and we the bride. The reading for this feast, and that of St Thérèse of Lisieux, as well as the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C), fulfils the image of the ‘virgin mother Zion’ as Our Blessed Lady. As she offers comfort, so Christ offers his peace to us. 

A development of this understanding leads to the image of Virgo lactans, the virgin giving milk to the Christ-Child, often depicted in art of the Middle Ages. Later, St Bernard describes a mystical vision in which he receives the milk of the virgin on his lips, known as the Lactation of St Bernard. Kneeling at a distance from the Virgin, who is feeding Christ, he received some milk onto his lips and received the gift of wisdom as well as faith that the Virgin is his Mother and Mother of the Church. 

My brother, John, grow in your devotion to Our Lady and ask her intercession for those you meet in your ministry as a deacon.

John, as you commit yourself to celibacy, in older years, you are called to embrace a life of chastity lived for others, and daily to place yourself under the living Word of God in selfless charity towards others. Your love for St Pio of Pietrelcina, Padre Pio, and his intercession will assist you. It will be your responsibility to help those who hear this life-giving word of God to meet the living Christ and grow in love and service. Help your people to eat the scroll of God’s promise as described by the prophet Ezekiel. As you reverence the Book of the Gospels with a kiss, grow in your love of Christ.

May you continue to bring the joy of the Gospel to the people of White City, a place of richness of faith and devotion, passion, faith lived in family situations and a complex reality. There you are called to serve. Recently, I was very struck by words of Etty Hillesum, the Jewish Dutch woman who died in Auschwitz in 1943, ‘Wherever you happen to find yourself, be there with your whole heart. If your heart is elsewhere, you won't give enough to the community where you happen to be, and that community will be the poorer for it.'  

On this feast, we pray for the sick and the countless pilgrims who come to Lourdes, especially those who gather today at the Cathedral. My first visit in 1980 was certainly a time when I felt the power of God’s calling me to be a priest. For many of us, the grotto remains a central place in our life of faith. As people assist the sick to come to Lourdes, so they follow the example of those who carried the sick to Jesus and the multitudes who followed him and tried to touch the fringe of his garment and be healed. They offered themselves to him for healing and transformation. We offer them to the Father through Jesus and through Mary. May our offering leads to the glory and praise of God – To him be glory and honour for ever and ever.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
St Bernadette, pray for us.

Bishop John Sherrington

Photo: Allen Hall Seminary