Homily for the Solemnity of Our Lady Help of Christians, Year C 2019
From the very beginning, we, Christians have been a minority, or in the words of Johnathan Sacks, “a creative minority”. We have had to suffer many trials, persecutions and even the threat of being killed and suppressed as a group. Many Christians have gone to their graves early because of their belief. While we may treat these stories as things that happened in the past, statistics are showing that Christians are still persecuted right now, even in the Western world.
I would guess everyone who has heard of the persecution of Christians has asked, “How did they go through those trials and persecutions? What kept the faith alive and kept them faithful”? The answer is found in the One whose Name we bear – Christ. He promised to be with us until the end of time. He sent us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate to be with us through thick and thin. It is the Holy Spirit that inspires us in those difficult moments to respond in a creative way.
One of the most effective ways we have responded to persecution is prayer. Like the Israelites, we have always turned to the Lord asking for His help and deliverance. We have taken seriously His command in Psalm 91:15, “When you call to me, I will answer you; in time of trouble I will be with you; I will deliver and honour you”. And the Lord has always delivered us. He delivered us when we were persecuted by Anti-Christian Jews, the Romans and the Barbarians.
This memory of God’s intervention in history has been a source of confidence for us. Over the years, we have fallen back to it and we have drawn from it the inspiration to call for prayer, fasting and pilgrimages especially in times of persecution. In the 16th Century, Pope Pius V, remembering what God has done through the intercession of Mary Help of Christians, called on all Christians to seek her intercession to stop the Ottoman Empire from taking over Europe.
Christians prayed the Rosary and fasted, and the Turks were defeated in the famous Battle of Lepanto. In thanksgiving to God, Pius V instituted the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on the 7th of October 1571. Some years later, Pope Pius VII was captured and imprisoned by Napoleon I who was spreading an atheistic civilisation around Europe. Pius VII remembered Mary Help of Christians. He asked Christians to seek her intercession for freedom from Napoleon’s reign.
God answered their prayer. Pius VII returned to the Vatican. And in thanksgiving to God, he instituted the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians on the 24th of May 1816. In Australia, when the young Fr. John Therry arrived in the 19thCentury as a chaplain, he immediately noticed that Catholics were not allowed to celebrate Mass. He called on all Catholics to seek the intercession of Our Lady Help of Christians. Later, Catholics gained the right to celebrate Mass in Australia.
Thus, Our Lady Help of Christians was chosen as the Patroness of Australasia by the First Provincial Synod convened by Archbishop John Bede Polding, in Sydney in 1844. According to the commentary on 24th of May of the Weekday Missal used in Australia, “The fledging colonies needed Mary’s help at that time, as the nation does today. We are helped through Mary’s powerful intercession, and through the example of her life that we find in the Gospels”.
Today, as we recall these memories which serve as the reasons for our celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lady Help of Christians, let’s not merely remember these stories for the sake of remembering; rather let’s be inspired; and summoned by them to learn how to ask for help. For we live in a society that tends to suggest that asking for help is a sign of weakness. And many of us are afraid of being weak. So, we live in denial, we waste away our lives.
However, the genius of today’s celebration is the fact that asking for help is our strength. It is the strength of Christianity. It is the strength of Christ, the One who calls us, whom we are following as Christians. During His life on earth, Christ was always in prayer with the Father. He prayed literally for everything. He commands us to pray always so that we don’t fall into temptation. The temptation of pride that makes us believe we don’t need God’s help. We are in full control.
Unfortunately, we aren’t in full control. We can’t stop the other from behaving the way he or she chooses. Despite our laws, our security systems, technology, people still commit crimes and things still go wrong even in the hands of the best of experts. So, we need help to face what life throws at us. We need help to resolve the puzzle of life. We need help to remain hopeful and to navigate our way through the rough seas of life. We need help to be truly human, free.
Perhaps, the mother and brothers of Jesus were looking for help when they came looking for Jesus as we heard from the Gospel Reading (Luke 8:19-21). Be that as it may, notice the effort they made to reach Jesus. When they couldn’t get to Him because of “the crowd”, they had to seek the help of “someone” who took the message to Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to see you”. For us, Our Lady of Help of Christians is that someone.
She takes our prayers to her Son when “the crowd”, our realities, our cares, our sins prevent us from reaching Jesus. She does this because it is what mothers do; they reach out to help their children. Let’s not be ashamed of our need. She is our mother. She is not going to judge nor condemn us. Rather, she is going to plead our cause as she did in the Battle of Lepanto, and as she did when Fr. John Therry asked her help. Remember! She is Our Lady Help of Christians.
Fr. Francis Afu