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home : from the bishop : from the bishop March 20, 2018

Homily from Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., for the diocesan pilgrimage
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C., September 17, 2011

On April 29th of this year, 72 million people watched a wedding on television or via the internet. Some reporters called it “the wedding of the century.” Of course, I am referring to the royal marriage ceremony of Prince William and Kate Middleton. It was a magnificent affair, picture perfect from beginning to end: a flawless ceremony and an exquisite celebration. As an observer and as a priest, I was impressed by the religious elements of the event: the reverence, the prayers, the setting itself, Westminster Abbey.

When I listened to the homily given by the Bishop of London, my attention was fixed on its contents. Although the royal ceremony was the liturgy of the Church of England, his sermon could have been given at any Catholic wedding. Quoting St. Catherine of Siena, Bishop Chartres began:

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire. … Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.”

What a beautiful and profound thought. Urging the royal couple to be live selflessly, to be constantly attentive to one another’s needs and to transform each other through love not the desire to change, the Bishop of London concluded by reading a prayer composed by the couple themselves:

“God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage. In the business of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy. Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”

Our Gospel this afternoon focuses our attention on another, different wedding, witnessed by a much, much smaller audience. And, yet, it has been talked about more than any wedding in human history over the past 2,000 years. We have come to know it simply as the “Wedding Feast of Cana.” And, St. John tells us, “the Mother of Jesus was there.”

It seems that Mary might have been present at the Cana celebration before Jesus and his disciples arrived. I say that because St. John mentions her first, before Jesus -- the only instance in Sacred Scripture where that happens. And, if you read through all of St. John’s Gospel, the name of Mary is never once mentioned. She is always referred to as “mother” -- Jesus’ mother. We find her at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry -- the Wedding Feast of Cana, today’s Gospel reading -- and we find her again at the end of his ministry, standing at the foot of his Cross. She is again called Mother, but only this time, she is the mother who he has given to the Church. In both instances, Mary leads us to her son, Jesus -- first in the miracle of water changed to wine at a wedding; finally in the moment of our salvation as blood and water flowed from his side.

Today we come in pilgrimage to a place known as “Mary’s House,” the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. And as we look around this magnificent basilica, we cannot help but realize that here, in this holy place, like Cana and Calvary, Mary is present everywhere under all her titles and once more, leads us to Jesus. As we contemplate this woman whose life is inseparably bound to that of her divine son, we sense how her motherhood embraces us so intimately, we who love and follow Jesus her son. We hear him say as he did at Calvary on the Cross: “Behold your Mother.” And we hear her say, as she did in Cana at the wedding feast, “Do whatever he tells you.” 

My dear sisters and brothers in Christ from the Diocese of Trenton, a pilgrimage is a journey that carries with it great spiritual significance and great spiritual opportunity. It is a time of grace for those on the journey because it is made possible only by grace: the grace of God that instills and enlivens faith within us who believe. Deep faith that convinces us to believe what is unbelievable in the eyes of the world: faith that in and through Mary our Mother leads us more closely to Christ.

Our diocesan pilgrimage this year takes as its theme, “Mary Mother of those called to the vocation of marriage and their families.” She is, indeed, our Mother. She shares the vocation of marriage to Joseph. And it is precisely because of that vocation that all of us can turn to Mary our Mother to intercede for us, to ask her son for the strength to live our married lives with love and fidelity. She knows what it takes to be a good wife and she saw in her beloved Joseph, what it means to be a good husband.

Today, in this holy place, as we enter ever more deeply into the Eucharistic mystery of Holy Mass, let us place our lives in the hands of our Blessed Mother Mary; let us ask her to beg from her son the ability to open our hearts, to love our spouses and families without reserve or condition, to recommit ourselves to the beauty of marriage and family life as God intended it, to turn sadness into joy, anxiety into peace, life into love that lasts forever, and love into life that lasts forever. Amen.

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