HOMILY FOR FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION
15th August, 2017
So often we tend to take our place of worship for granted. We become so accustomed to the building, its surroundings, and the treasures which it contains. On this Feast of the Assumption it is appropriate to focus on our Cathedral which is appropriately named “The Cathedral of the Assumption”. 190 years ago this year in 1827 Archbishop Oliver Kelly laid the foundation stone. That was two years before the granting of Catholic Emancipation and you will appreciate that it took indomitable courage on the part of the Archbishop and the people of the time. Nine years later this Cathedral was consecrated by Archbishop John McHale. All of this took place against a background of famine and dire poverty. Today we stand in awe of the giant hearted men and women who contributed to and worked on, worshipped here, beautified this Cathedral over those 190 years – many of them members of your own families. The story of this Cathedral is fascinating. It is the ageless Catholic story of struggle and frustration, of success and failure, of sanctity and sin, of life and death. We have so much in our past of which we can be justly proud. I mean the parishioners, the religious priests and bishops who made and still make contact with their God in this Cathedral. They slaved and scraped to pay off the devastating Cathedral debt and struggled against discouraging odds to set up schools for the formation of the young in the vicinity of this magnificent Cathedral.
History can teach us so much about the past but what no history can adequately tell is the faith of those who built and worshipped here and continue to worship here, your trust in God, your concern for each other, in good times and in bad, in times of sick and in health, in poverty and plenty. People, religious, priests and Archbishops have laboured to make God’s presence an experience that challenges, comforts and consoles. Of course things have changed over the years and will continue to change. Families have scattered and new families have come to join us. Each age has its cherished traditions. There will always be those who deplore the new and yearn for what they term “the good old days” which have gone. And yet, we realise that we cannot live in the past, while yesterday may be a warm memory; today we have to live our lives and profess our faith in the God who journeys with us and is leading us into the future as we are challenged to respond to God and one another in faith, in hope, but especially in love.
As we celebrate this Feast of the Assumption we recognise that our Cathedral is particularly rich in stain glass windows, paintings and icons, related to and reminding us of Our Lady. Behind me we have the East window which depicts the Virgin Mary and the four Evangelists. To the right of the Tabernacle we have the Assumption, a painting by the Italian artist Carlo Maratta. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the theme of the stained glass window in the North Aisle and of course just behind me we have the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
In celebrating this Feast of the Assumption we celebrate hope which runs deep in the heart of all of us. This Feast, I believe, has a special relevance in our culture and in the society in which we live our faith today. While we recognise the importance of hope in human life, nevertheless we see evidence of hopelessness and despair in many quarters today. In today’s Gospel Mary sums up her relationship with God in the words “the Almighty has done great things for me”. So this is a Feast inviting us to believe that God can do great things for each one of us. This Feast of the Assumption therefore calls on us to live in the hope of the great things which the Lord will do for us. When Elizabeth greeted Mary with the words “of all women you are the most blessed” Mary acknowledges graciously but attributed all to God and his goodness towards her with the words: “my soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord …..the almighty has done great things for me”. At times we have perhaps a false notion that humility involves self-depreciation. Indeed humility is really the grateful recognition of our goodness, but acknowledging that this goodness is a gift from God. In our own situations we have been graced and gifted by God in different ways. It is important to recognise this fact and be grateful for it.
As we celebrate Mary’s Assumption, we celebrate the fullness and completeness of the life that she now enjoys. In this Feast we catch a glimpse of the destiny that the Lord has for all of us. God is at work in the lives of each one of us as we struggle to make our way towards that destiny. We recognise that God who has begun the good work in us will bring it to completion. While Mary has reached the end of the journey, we are still on the way. The preface of today’s Mass reminds us that Mary is “a sign of hope and comfort for their people on their pilgrim way”. As one who has gone before us we can now turn to her for help and support as we do when we pray “Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death”.