Homily of the Archbishop Msgr. Angelo Becciu
Holy Mass for the Order of Malta members and pilgrims
Lourdes, 6 May 2018
Dear brothers and sisters!
Once again, we come to the feet of Mary Immaculate. We express our devotion to her and we entrust to her our daily efforts to follow the Lord more closely in joyful and faithful witness to the Gospel. As always, we feel accepted and loved by our heavenly Mother. The theme of acceptance is highlighted by the Evangelist John. He tells us that he himself, the Lord’s beloved disciple, accepted Mary into his own home (cf. Jn 19:27). Yet the entrustment that Jesus made by Jesus is reciprocal: he asks his Mother to accept John as her son, and John to accept Mary as his Mother. In this way, a new family is born, uniting the disciple and the Mother.
Mary, the Mother!
The realization that Mary is Mother of the Church took root gradually. In the Gospels she appears as the “Mother of Jesus”, and later, at the Council of Ephesus, as “Mother of God”. Finally, at the Second Vatican Council, Blessed Paul VI proclaimed her “Mother of the Church”. On Monday after this coming Pentecost, 21 May, the liturgical feast of “Mary Mother of the Church” will be celebrated for the first time in the Church. The celebration is new, yet the faith is ancient, present in the ecclesial consciousness ever since Augustine, who considered Mary the Mother of the members of the Body of Christ. As he wrote in his treatise De sancta virginitate: “Mary is truly mother of the members [of Christ] … for she cooperated with charity in the birth of the Church’s faithful who are the members of that head” (n. 6).
Today’s Gospel (Jn 15:9-17) brings us to the Upper Room, to that last evening when Jesus spoke openly and gave himself fully to his disciples. Before departing, like a father with his children, he voiced his final wishes and left his testament: “Love one another”. He left his disciples a word that nowadays is often misused, and can even sound trite, but on his lips has a revelatory power that discloses something of the infinite mystery of God. That word is “love”. Jesus is so concerned about bequeathing this legacy that in his farewell discourses during the Last Supper he repeats it fully five times. It is something about which he cares deeply.
The command to “love one another” invites us to experience among ourselves the relationship lived in the Most Holy Trinity: on earth as it is in heaven. For this reason, the Second Vatican Council states that the Trinity’s “law” of life has become the law of life of the People of God, the icon of the Trinity: “the law” of the messianic people “is the new command to love as Christ loved us (Lumen Gentium, 9; cf. Jn 13:34). Henceforth, mutual love will always be the mark of the Church: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). It makes the Church what she is. The new commandment is not a suggestion, a proposal or something optional. It is a commandment: “My commandment is this”. Jesus demands mutual love as a condition for us to become his disciples. Only thus, in the gift of self and in the reciprocity of the gift, can each person become truly what he or she is called to be. For we have been created in the image of a God who is a communion of persons.
Mutual love is also a commandment that Jesus addresses to all of us as his disciples, and also to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, present here in such great numbers from throughout the world for your annual pilgrimage. Jesus’s message is echoed in your constitutional charter, which states that the Order desires to be “true to the divine precepts and to the admonitions of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “affirms and propagates the Christian virtues of charity and brotherhood” (art. 2, par. 2). These words, fundamental as they are, are more than sufficient to make us realize that at the heart of the Order the commandment of mutual love reigns. Jesus sums up the “commandments” in a single “commandment”, his own, which is “new” with regard to those that came before. It is no longer only love of God and love of neighbour; these two precepts are now integrated and elevated in the “new” precept of charity. A charity expressed in reciprocity: “Love one another”.
To be sure, God’s commandments are not abolished. Jesus did not come to take away but to bring to fulfilment. The commandments are summed up in the new commandment of mutual love, and, as a whole, they help us to give concrete expression to that love. They tell us how to love in actual practice. Only in this way, can the Christian virtues be affirmed and propagated. Especially the virtues of faith, hope and charity that are so expressive of the spirit of Lourdes. In this shrine of Our Lady, those who are ill in body and spirit have pride of place. In this grotto, where Mary appeared, they can find the strength to make a new start, to live anew the life of faith. In Lourdes, everything is centred on what really matters. Here, at the centre, we find union with God, fostered by the Eucharist, prayer, and love for our brothers and sisters.
A particular place is occupied by our dear brothers and sisters who are ill, those who suffer and, in their suffering, wish to encounter God. Most of them do not receive the miracle of healing, yet these men, women and children go home spiritually transformed. They embark on a truly Marian life because, in the brief but memorable days spent in this blessed place, they come to know the spirit and the grace of Lourdes. They come to know the God who lovingly watches over them and reveals himself to those experiencing hardship and pain.
At Lourdes, we can almost touch the mystery of Mary’s motherhood.
Mary embarked on her maternal mission in the Upper Room, praying with the Apostles as they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:14). The Twelve, with certain women, the brothers of Jesus and his Mother, Mary, gathered there, and there Mary carried out her mission of ecclesial motherhood. Her presence in the Upper Room is significant. The age-old iconography that has accompanied the Church’s reflection and prayer has always put Mary in the centre, while the apostles surround her and grant her primacy in the nascent Church. In the words of the Second Vatican Council (cf. Lumen Gentium, 63), she is “preeminent”.
We can begin to grasp Mary’s role among the disciples. She quietly helps bring the family together, as every mother does. The new family born of Jesus’ death and resurrection gathers around her. She teaches the disciples how to live in mutual love. Her presence helps them to realize that they are brothers, to follow the new commandment that Jesus gave them several days earlier, and to become an authentic fraternity.
Let us too invoke her, here at the grotto of Massabielle, where she appeared to Bernadette. Let us ask her to preserve among us that fraternity which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, so that we can dedicate ourselves to the service of all, especially the poor and the marginalized, and, by the tenor of our lives, bear witness to the Gospel of charity, which “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7).