Homily by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna
23rd March 2018
Today’s feast is a devotional one and goes back in time. The Maltese, like other Mediterranean peoples, have treasured this feast since time immemorial and will continue to do so. You might recall that in his commentary on this feast, Oliver Friggieri called it “a truly national feast” because brings so many people together that might be at each other’s throats for the rest of the year, and these days even more because of social media.
Her example softens our hardened hearts
I remember celebrating this feast at the Dockyard and also at the Shipbuilding where one could never fail to happen upon the image of Our Lady of Sorrows in the shops, or as they are commonly to in the Dockyard, the workshop. The image of a mother stunned by grief under the cross of her son, cannot but elicit a response even from the most hardened of hearts. Her example softens our own hardened hearts. In her we see so much suffering that is not two thousand years old, but of these days, these times. Today we remember so many mothers who are worried sick for their children.
Yesterday I had the occasion to visit the residents of YOURS, the correction facility for young people in Imtaħleb. Four young girls and sixteen young men whose ages range from fourteen to twenty-four. I met each one of them personally asking them “How much time do you have left? How long have you been here?” While I tried to work out their offenses throughout the day, I also thought of their mothers; the distress of the mother for a son she loved, for the son she gave life to or adopted, is not with her, but is far away, locked up somewhere.
Our Lady of Sorrows has this power: that from her heart flows a maternal instinct that touches all of us
Your mothers look at you, their children going out to places of entertainment at the weekend, and they must surely ask themselves: Will there be anyone who will look after my son, my daughter? Or will the same thing that happened to others befall me too: my son goes out full of life, and returns to me a corpse? On this day we honour these maternal instincts, we feel for these mothers, for every mother in the world.
Our Lady of Sorrows has this power: that from her heart flows a maternal instinct that touches us all. Why is this? Because today is also the commemoration of her maternity. Every mother who is also a father goes through this trial of suffering. The Lord gave us his own mother for a mother during this type of trial of suffering.Your mothers look at you, their children going out to places of entertainment at the weekend, and they must surely ask themselves: Will there be anyone who will look after my son, my daughter? Or will the same thing that happened to others befall me too: my son goes out full of life, and returns to me a corpse? On this day we honour these maternal instincts, we feel for these mothers, for every mother in the world.
Her suffering with her son was as great as his innocence. She knew her Son; she carried him in her womb, she heard the prophecy that he will save his brethren from sin and that is why he was called Yeshua, God saves, because it was his mission.
A mother’s tears are truly distinctive
However, when together with Joseph, she presented her baby at the Temple forty days after his birth, “Simeon, [the prophet] blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Lk 2, 34-35). Mary heard these words when her child was only forty days old. She heard the prophecy that this birth is the salvation, the light of the nations, the glory of Israel, but she also heard the brutal prophecy: that he will be a sign that will be opposed …and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” This is why a sword is depicted in the iconography of Our Lady of Sorrows. The sword represents this prophecy. The sword is the word uttered by Simeon in the Temple when Jesus was only forty days old. We also recall the iconography that depicts not one sword but seven – these seven swords represent the seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin.
Today is not only a feast of maternity that suffers, but it is only an invitation for true solidarity.
On this day, we must also salute those who give their lives to be close to the weak, the vulnerable, the suffering. For this reason, today is not only the feast day of a maternity that suffers, but it is also an invitation for true solidarity. The world can be a place of solitude when solidarity is in short supply. So our presence and our devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows today must be our answer that we are ready to give our lives in solidarity to our neighbour.Every mother goes through this terrible trial to come into her maternity. We are moved when we think of our mothers that are anxious for us because a mother’s tears are truly distinctive.
Even in our dreams! How wonderful would it be if in our dreams we ask ourselves: does what I wish to do with my life have any use for others? How shall I give my life for others? Do my dreams, what I want to accomplish, what I want to create, the project we are working on – how will all this help others? We recall the famous scientist, Alfred Nobel, who following his invention of explosive, underwent a conversion and atoned for the untold destruction that ended so many lives caused by science, the gift that God gave him. In response, Nobel became an apostle of peace and instituted the Nobel Prize for this end.
Each one of us is in need of someone who is close to us.
This is the question that you, who attend this tertiary institution for research, and academia, need to ask yourselves. How useful and concrete are your endeavours? Ask yourselves: Where is the element of solidarity in all that we do, in our motivations and in our dreams? After all, today we are commiting ourselves to show solidarity with each other. Each and every one of us goes through a period of crisis, depression, lack of motivation or reduced physical or mental energy. Each one of us needs someone close to us. The decision that the mother of Jesus took was to remain close to him when everyone had abandoned him. When everyone was ashamed of him, except for Mary Magdalene and John, the Beloved Disciple, she certainly felt no shame for her son. She was standing there; the mother of the condemned man, the mother of the man who said he is the King of the Jews and ended up crucified instead. But she is also the mother of the one who forgives: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23,34). It was Jesus who promised the Good Thief, not earthy goods or honours, but told him “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 43). The one who seemed poor, could offer eternity. The condemned one, had the power to forgive. The one who felt that his Father had abandoned him, and cried out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27,46), could give paradise to the Good Thief and find communion with God by finally saying: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23,46).
Today we stand next to Mary standing under the cross of her son and we hear the words of Jesus; the words that were addressed to her and to us: “Woman, here is your son…Here is your mother” (Jn 19, 26-27). In his typical way, Jesus thought of us, because she would be soon a widow without a son taking care of her; a widow without her extended family in Nazareth that had already taken care of her for three years. When he entrusted her to John, the trusted and beloved disciple, he wanted to set his mind at rest, him being God and man, that someone is taking care of his mother. What a holy notion when we understand that the heart of Jesus is one that is totally given to others, for others! “You gave us your last drop of blood” (L-aħħar qatra ta’ demmek tajthielna” (Maltese Hymn: Tina l-Ħlewwa).
Let us pray that during these days we do not mind being washed in the blood of Jesus that came out of his side, that we do not mind welcoming the tears of the Mother so that like her, we too learn to show solidarity with people in need.
✠ Charles J. Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta
1st Reading: Romans 8, 31B-39
Gospel: Jn 19 25-27
Photos: Curia Communications Office – Ian Noel Pace