Dear friends, it is really wonderful to see all of you gathered round our beloved Mother Mary, in this holy shrine of Madhu. You are all her sons and daughters – elderly persons and children, young and not so young – and you have come from all parts of Sri Lanka, together with your religious brothers and sisters, your priests and bishops, to show your love for the Blessed Virgin, as her faithful children.
Why did we undertake this journey? We have all arrived here, from far and near, to offer our love to our heavenly mother Mary and to rejoice with her on this great feast of her Assumption into heaven. On this pilgrimage we praise and thank God for all the gifts He bestowed on the Virgin Mary from the moment of her conception till the moment of her death. We praise God for choosing Mary as the mother of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, and for giving her to us as our Mother. Today we also wish to renew our loving devotion to her as her children, while we also seek her protection and ask her to help us in all our needs, while leading us to God.
The readings from Holy Scriptures, which the Liturgy presents to us on this great Feast, remind us that our life is a journey. Sometimes this journey takes the form of an “escape” from danger. At other times it leads us to help our brothers and sisters in need. In both cases we can see that our life is a journey leading to an encounter with God and with our brothers and sisters. These are the two reflections I wish to share with you this morning: Mary teaches us to turn away from evil and to reach out to those in need.
1) You all know the story of this Marian Shrine. You all remember how the Catholic faithful of Mannar had to flee from persecution and came to this place in the middle of the jungle. Here they erected a small chapel to protect the blessed statue of Our Lady. And here, protected by nature and under the maternal care of Mary, they regained their strength as a community and deepened their faith in God. And Madhu became a centre of prayer and a sign of hope, a refuge for the afflicted and a sanctuary for reconciliation, where all can meet as brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Church will always have to face persecution, as is clearly indicated in the first reading proclaimed today, taken from chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation. The woman adorned with the sun, the moon and the stars is a wonderful description of Mary representing the Church, the People of God. God’s faithful, including all of us as members of the Church, will always have to face the attacks of the “dragon”, symbol of all evil. But God will always be with his people. God will always save us from evil, just as He saved the woman leading her to a safe place in the desert.
Today, in several countries of the world, Christians are still being attacked because of their faith. New forms of discrimination, which limit the freedom of Christians, exist in countries that are supposed to be very “democratic”. Even in our beloved Sri Lanka, unfortunately, we see some instances of intolerance based on ethnicity or creed. Discrimination and religious intolerance are like a terrible monster always trying to lift up its evil head.
In our society, moreover, there are also other forms of evil that invade our heart and try to lead us far away from God. Drugs, sexual abuse, violence, alcoholism, corruption, these are all forms of evil trying to destroy our faith, our life and the bonds of family life and of friendship. It is necessary that we “run away” from these forms of evil. We have to avoid temptation if we wish to grow in our communion with God. Let us ask the Virgin Mary to help us. She can protect us from all evil, but we too have to do our part to remain faithful to Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Like Mary, we are also called to bear witness to the merciful love of Christ by showing compassion to those we meet, by caring for them and understanding them with patience.
2) The Gospel tells us that Mary “went as quickly as she could” to help her cousin Elizabeth (Lk 1, 39). Mary’s profound communion with God and her love of God opened her heart to care for those who needed help. When we trust God, when we put all our faith and hope in his love, He leads us away from our egoism. God teaches us to pay attention to the needs of our brothers and sisters, starting with the members of our family. He teaches us to make the first step, to take the initiative, just as He did when He sent us his beloved Son to save us. Mary understood this because her whole life was formed by the word of God. That is why she hurried to her cousin to help her. And when Elizabeth recognized her greatness, Mary was able to sing the praises of God, thanking him for all the gifts He bestowed on her, while also showing us how God favours the lowly and defends those who trust in Him.
Let me ask you one question: if we look at the person sitting next to us right now, are we ready to welcome him or her in our hearts, or are we silently judging and criticising that person? Are we, like our Blessed Mother Mary, ready to reach out and offer a helping hand?
Mary never lost her faith in God’s love, even in the darkest moment when she stood at the foot of the Cross. She shared in the sufferings of her Son and thus became our Mother, the Mother of the Church, always ready to help us in our pilgrimage on earth. Today, as we celebrate her glorious Assumption, she reminds us that we are all called to the fullness of glory with Christ, if we remain faithful to Him, following his example of love till the end of our pilgrimage here on earth.
Let us ask her help in the two journeys that challenge us every day. Let us ask her to lead us away from all evil. And may she also teach us how to welcome every person with the same maternal care she has for all her children, irrespective of race, colour, social status, language or religion. If we follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in our life and reach out to others just as Mother Mary always did, we too will be able to sing the praises of God, while building a better society, based on justice, solidarity and fraternity. And we will be able to achieve, with Mary our Mother, our ultimate destiny: to be fully and definitively free from evil and to share in God’s glory for ever.