Given on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, 7th October 2018, at the Rosary Shrine, at Our Lady of the Rosary and St Dominic Church, Haverstock Hill.
At the root of our faith is a divine promise. It comes to us through the Mother of Jesus. She cooperated uniquely with God to bring this promise to fulfilment. ‘Mary,’ the Angel Gabriel said to her, ‘do not be afraid.’ ‘You have won God’s favour...you are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.’
God’s promise is a person. Love, forgiveness, salvation, come in flesh and blood. Born in poverty, crucified on Calvary, raised from death on the third day to open the way to heaven. The Lord Jesus is God’s promise of hope to the world. The Lord Jesus is God’s promise of merciful love to you and me.
St Bernard of Clairvaux said when Gabriel announced to Mary she was to be the Mother of God’s Son, it was as if all the angels in heaven held their breath waiting for her to say ‘Yes.’ ‘Yes, let what you have said be done to me.’ Through Mary’s faith and obedient consent, Jesus enfleshed God’s fundamental promise to humanity. That each of us is precious. That each one of us is worth dying for. That divine mercy has no limits. That we are made for the eternal life of heaven. In faith receive again today God’s promise to you in Jesus through Mary. God’s favour rests on you.
Beginning with the Annunciation to Mary we heard in the Gospel, all the beautiful truths of our faith find their place in the Rosary. Perhaps like me, you have rosaries in different pockets and places around the house. I take a rosary with me everywhere and one always hangs on my bedpost. When I wake up in the middle of the night, restless or anxious, it’s the Rosary that brings me through Mary to Jesus.
St Pio of Pietrelcina, Padre Pio, said, ‘Love our Lady and make her loved; always recite the Rosary and recite it as often as possible.’ Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has asked every member of the Church to pray the Rosary everyday this month of October. On the bus or the tube, out for a walk, in a lunchbreak, sitting quietly in church or at home, each bead is a prayer, each decade a share in the mysteries Christ.
After the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles joined in continuous prayer with Mary. This image of the Church, prayerfully gathered around our Blessed Lady, comes to life every time we pray the Rosary. As the beads move through our fingers, we pray with Mary as she shows and leads the way to Christ. Moving through the scenes of salvation, Mary guides us into tender intimacy with Jesus. Through our prayerful repetition Mary, who received Christ within her womb, invites us to enthone him in our heart. The Rosary is the remembrance of God’s promise. A virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son who is forever Emmanuel, God with us. God is with us in our joys and sorrows. God is with us in our successes and failures. God is with us in darkness and light. God is with us through life and death and in glory.
A few years ago I travelled to the Greek Island of Cephalonia. It became famous as the idyllic setting for Louis de Bernieres’ moving story of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Both the book and the film are based on true events during the Second World War and refer to the patron saint of Cephalonia, St Gerasimos. The picturesque village where the story unfolds was sadly only a movie set. But the shrine and monastery of St Gerasimos really do exist. And so I went to visit them.
The new monastery church is the size of a cathedral. The inside is covered completely, from floor to ceiling, by the most exquisite iconography. High up, in a gallery on the right hand side, are a series of large sacred images. They trace the unfolding truth of God’s promise to Mary about Jesus. Beginning with an icon of the Annunciation, then follows the Visitation, when Mary visited Elizabeth, her cousin. Then an icon of the nativity, the birth of Jesus, followed by his presentation in the Temple. As I looked, I thought there was some kind of mistake. There was not one icon of the Annunciation, but two. The first showed Gabriel reaching out to Mary, communicating God’s promise that she would conceive his Son. The second was almost identical, but showed Mary reaching out to Gabriel, embracing the promise for herself.
In Jesus, God promises that we can be saved from sin and death. This is a lavish promise, cast out from the cross into human history and beyond. This is a promise of life, of joy and of peace. But God’s promise awaits a response. God’s promise awaits our response. It needs a personal embrace, an acceptance in the heart of each person, in your heart and in my heart.
Mary took God’s promise to herself, into her heart: ‘I am the servant of the Lord,’ she said, ‘let everything you have promised be done in me.’ This is the mighty faith of a true disciple. But is it our faith? Is it my faith? Is it your faith?
Sometimes it is. Sometimes our faith is strong like Mary’s. But it can also be hard to believe God’s promise in Jesus. We can doubt our faith, listening more to the world than to the Lord. And yet, whatever the challenges to our faith and in our life, we come today to place ourselves in God’s presence, to ask Our Lady’s prayers. No matter how spiritually firm or flimsy we might feel, we continue, with Mary, as the pilgrim people of God’s promise.
Just over I week ago I took part in the ad limina visit of the Bishops of England and Wales to Rome. It concluded with a privileged meeting with Pope Francis. We spent over two hours in conversation with our Holy Father. Towards the end I asked Pope Francis about his own devotion to Our Lady under the title of ‘untier of knots’. He spoke movingly about his simple trust in the power of Our Lady’s prayers to untie the knots of life, the difficult situations that affect the world, the Church, other people and ourselves. ‘To some it may sound naïve,’ he said, ‘but I pray.’
We come as students to the school of Mary to be taught to pray. With her we learn to trust that, for God, nothing is impossible. In fact, for God, everything is possible. Our Blessed Lady shows us how to live according to God’s promise. She witnesses how to receive Jesus into our lives and hearts. She mirrors how to follow him as faith-filled disciples. And Our Lady teaches us, especially through the Rosary, to prayerfully ponder and live the mysteries of Christ.
Always keep a rosary close at hand, in your pocket, by your bed. Pray often through these truths of faith, embracing them for yourself and those in need.
Lord, we are your servants.
Please give us new faith and trust so that, like Mary,
everything you have promised might come to life in us.
Our Lady the Holy Rosary, pray for us
St Dominic, preacher and teacher of the Holy Rosary, pray for us