Homily by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna
St John’s Co-Cathedral
8th September 2017
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (cf. Rom 8,28). In this first verse from the Reading just proclaimed from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans, chapter 8, we find several important verbs that underline the significance of today’s feast, the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that is, love, work for the common good, and the call for the providence of the Lord.
We are rejoicing today because at dawn, the aurora broke into the darkness of the history of humanity.
On this feast day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we find a delightful and extraordinary expression of the love that the Lord offers to humanity in the beauty of the dawn, of the aurora, moments before the sun rises (“the sun of justice” Mal 4,2). For centuries the ancient liturgy of the Church helps us pray by depicting the nativity of the Blessed Virgin as the aurora, the dawn. The birth of Christ, then, is the moment when the sun of justice breaks over the horizon. In this eloquent image of the dawn and the rising sun, we perceive the link between the nativity of the Mother and the nativity of the Son. In the Canticle of Zachariah, the father of Saint John the Baptist, Saint Luke compares the advent of Christ to the rising sun (cf. Lk 1,78).
We are rejoicing today because at dawn, the aurora broke into the darkness of the history of humanity. In this expression of the providence of God and in the co-operation of Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim, in the generation and nativity of Mary – we also discover the love of these two devoted disciples for the Lord. We witness the Lord working with them hand in hand for the sake of goodness, not for their own good, but rather by means of their daughter Mary, for the good of humanity. Anne and Joachim are called to be the parents of Jesus’ mother. Today they will both become parents once again, and with the birth of their daughter’s son later, they will also become grandparents. In the mission given to them, Mary’s parents are rejoicing once again with the birth of their daughter. We join in their rejoicing because in the girl born to us today, we see the Mother of Jesus.
Saint Paul provides each one of us with important verbs on our road to discipleship. These verbs are especially significant today on the feast commemorating the process of birth and anticipated motherhood: “For those whom he foreknew … he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified” (cf. Rom 8. 29-30).
He knew them: Jeremiah writes “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jer 1, 5), a reading that is also proclaimed on the feast of the solemnity of the nativity of St John the Baptist. Such a reading is also echoed in Psalm 139: “For it was you who knit me together in my mother’s womb; you have searched me and known me, you discern my thoughts from far away” (cf. ibid, vv 13. 1-2). The Lord knows us and through his knowing us, he loves us. Because he knows us, he also gives us a mission.
Predestination: what is this mission that is given to the disciple? A disciple must assume the image of the Son of God. When we are commemorating the nativity of Mary, we are also celebrating her predestination, that she is born today, nine months after being conceived without sin. Even Mary was called to this mission, she was called to be an image of her own son, the mother who with the grace of God, becomes the image of her son.
Called: Through her nativity, the Blessed Virgin Mary is also called to become a mother wholly dedicated to the Lord in her virginity and her maternity.
She was justified – this is the fourth verb [from Paul’s letter to the Romans] – from the beginning of her conception. This is the privilege that was bestowed on the mother of God, that her justification is preventative, that is, she was not saved from sin after she committed it, but rather, was protected from original sin, from committing in the first place. We celebrated her glory, only recently, at the feast of her Assumption into heaven, but also in the prophecy spoken at Elizabeth’s house at Ein Karem “from now on all generations shall call me blessed” (Lk 1, 48).
In the history of our nation, today is Victory Day. We are gathered here today in the conventual church of the Order of Saint John, which forms part of an ambitious project marking the victory of 8th September 2008. Not far from here, in the Grand Harbour, on the 8th September 1943, the Maltese could rejoice, that at least for these islands, the Second World War had ended. Alas, the war continued with the tragedies of the 8th May 1945 and of the 15th August 1945 because the war, as you know, ended in stages. By the time the war ended in the rest of the world, it brought great destruction on European cities, and later on Nagasaki, Japan with the detonation of the deadly atomic bomb.
Europe is once again experiencing the scourge of unbridled nationalism, which is closed on itself – auto-referential – from home-grown racism spreading like wildfire on social media networks.
We were part of this theatre of destruction, of hate, of aggression, of violence, and our victory, together with our colonial masters, the British, was a victory over pagan ideology that considered members of the human race so diverse from each other, that many deserved to be exterminated, killed, burned, gassed.
The victory over the last siege remains relevant even today because the enemy is still sprouting like weeds all over the continent. Europe is once again experiencing the scourge of unbridled nationalism, which is closed on itself – auto-referential – from home-grown racism spreading like wildfire on social media networks.
I will conclude my reflection by referring to the few words with which I welcomed you at the beginning of this Mass. Both the victory of 1565 that guaranteed our freedom of religion and freedom from slavery, and the victory of 1943, are still works-in-progress. For the sieges we overcame then are still assailing us today and thus we must continue to fight them.
The victory we are celebrating today fills us with hope, but it is not the last word. It gives us hope that truth prevails, but does it always? It all depends on us, on the attitudes we embrace. It could be that we are not resolute as much as our forefathers to engage in certain battles. It could be that we downed arms before we even started fighting. Therefore, if we want past victories that were in favour of certain fundamental values to be relevant still, such events should inspire us to espouse values that guarantee us true freedom, the dignity of each and every one of us, while at the same time, the brotherhood and sisterhood that is the basis of a true civilisation.
+ Charles J. Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta