Given at the Mass at the Grotto, Lourdes on the Feast of St Joachim and St Anne, Wednesday 26th July 2023
Here at the Grotto, we gather at the feet of Mary, our Blessed Mother. We come to her with our troubles and our joys. We salute her – ‘Hail Mary!’ – as the one who is ‘full of grace’, who carried within her the Incarnate Word of God, ‘the fruit of thy womb, Jesus’. We turn to her for her prayers ‘now and at the hour of our death’.Today we are also invited to see our Blessed Lady in another light. Today we look upon her as the daughter of Joachim and Anne, her father and mother, who fashioned their child through their own flesh and who formed her throughout her childhood.
Today, then, is the feast day of the family of Our Blessed Lady. So we may make it into a day when we remember and rejoice in our own families: our parents and grandparents, our children and grandchildren, our relatives and those who through the love of friendship have been grafted into our family life. We pray for them all today in this blessed and joyful place.
The words of the Gospel alert us to be attentive to what we hear and see here, at the feet of Mary. And what we can learn from her is what she learned from her parents. There are three gifts for us to attend to, given by this blessed family.
First, Joachim and Anne taught Mary how to pray. In their Jewish family life the rhythm of daily prayer was surely steadfast and all pervading. We can only imagine that the Angel came to Mary while she was saying her prayers. In that family there must have been times when the family prayed together in the patterns of family prayer that we know and appreciate so well.
Can we not learn that lesson, too and ensure that there is a daily rhythm of prayer in our lives, and that our children are nurtured in that way, too? This is a joyful duty for every parent, and for grandparents too.
Secondly, Mary surely learned her exquisite capacity to listen within her family life. I doubt if there was much shouting at each other in that household. But true listening goes beyond that. It is an attentiveness of the heart, a desire to understand how another is feeling, hurting, rejoicing. It is a readiness to enter into that space of compassion and empathy.
Without that attentive listening, Mary may well have missed the message of the Angel. We, for our part, often miss the promptings of God, whispered through the quiet words and gestures of those who surround us. We may rightly think of them, in those moments, as the angelic messages of God’s call. In those moments God is coming to challenge us, to invite us to reach out for something more. These are the moments of our annunciation. Let us not be so inattentive that we miss them, again and again.
And there is another lesson for us today. Not only was the heart and soul of Mary tutored in the practice of prayer and the capacity to listen with quiet patience, but she had also been taught how to choose well. When she said ‘Yes’ to the Angel Gabriel and opened the door of our salvation, she demonstrated in a sublime way what it is to make a fine and noble choice. This she must have practiced on a daily basis, choosing an action, or a word, that was designed to serve the well-being of another, rather than self-interest, having a readiness to respond for the greater good of others, within her family or beyond. Her daily practice of small decisions and choices made her heart and mind ready for this one defining choice, the acceptance of her calling from God. Her practice made perfect this readiness and we are filled with joy at its fruit: the coming of our Saviour and our Redemption!
May our daily practice of choosing in little things that which is good, wholesome and generous tutor our hearts, like the heart of Mary, for those moments of greater decisions, especially when they are costly decisions, requiring of us some sacrifice of our very selves.
The practice of prayer, the daily attentiveness to each other and generosity of life must have been the hallmarks of the faithful family of Joachim, Anne and their daughter Mary. Here we see their fruit, in our Blessed Lady, Mary, the Mother of God. May these be the hallmarks of our lives, our daily living, too: the rhythm of prayer anchoring our daily routines and efforts; the readiness to listen to one another with a heart constantly open and receptive and the making of good choices, even in the small and passing opportunities of each day. May our answer, like that of Mary, be a ‘Yes’ to all that is asked of us, strengthened by the rest and fruitfulness of prayer and gratefully receiving the love and support of those around us. Then we will indeed be disciples of the Lord in the pattern of Mary, joyfully her children, grateful to those who have shared and nurtured faith in us and together forming the family of God, the Church, the sign and presence in our world of his love and forgiveness for all.
St Joachim and St Anne, pray for us.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster