Bishop Kevin Doran’s homily for Mass to celebrate World Day of Peace 2023

01 Jan 2023

It is good for us to gather as one year is ending and another beginning, to give thanks for what we have received and to ask God’s blessing, not just for ourselves, but for the world. Mary, the Mother of God, whose Feast we celebrate today, stood -as we do – at a decisive moment of ending and beginning. A woman of the Old Testament, she fulfils in her childbearing the hopes of many generations of God’s faithful people. She is also a woman of the New Covenant;  through her pregnancy she lays the foundations for a new relationship between God and his people.

The birth of a child brings a mixture of excitement, joy and relief. It is a time for giving thanks, not least for the mother who has carried the child in her womb for nine months. The motherhood of Mary is associated with Christmas, but it started for Mary, as it does for every mother, from the moment her child began to take flesh in her womb.

It is from St. Luke that we hear the account of the Annunciation, when the angel said to Mary “Hail, full of Grace, the Lord is with you”. We use these words regularly, when we pray the Hail Mary,  or the Rosary. The difficulty with familiar words is that they can roll off the tongue without much awareness. What does it mean to say that Mary is “full of grace”? Grace is a word that means “free gift”. What we receive through the Son of Mary is not something that we have earned, or can ever earn. It is something which is freely given to us. Mary is, quite literally, pregnant with God’s gift for us.

Mary’s role as mother passed through the infancy of Jesus and brought her to the foot of the Cross. The Gospel tells us that Jesus spoke to her, saying “mother behold your son”, as she stood there with John the beloved disciple. Then, speaking to John he said: “son behold your mother”. On that day of suffering, Jesus entrusted the Church to the care of Mary. She remains close to us today , as a mother, whenever we stand at the foot of the cross, in any kind of suffering, sickness and death, depression, homelessness and, of course, the violence and separation brought about by war.  

This first day of the year is also celebrated as the World Peace Day. In his message this year, Pope Francis remarks that, while COVID-19 revealed the fractures in our humanity and in our social systems, it also brought people together in a new way. Now, however, as we begin to pick up the pieces, we are challenged with a terrible and sinful war. To use the Pope’s own words: “While a vaccine has been found for Covid-19, suitable solutions have not yet been found for the war. Certainly, the virus of war is more difficult to overcome than the viruses that compromise our bodies, because it comes, not from outside of us, but from within the human heart corrupted by sin”. War always represents a failure to love and respect others. It has it roots in sinful attitudes such as pride and arrogance, greed and thirst for power. Hearts are slow to change, and that is why, to use the words of W. B Yeats, “peace comes dropping slow”.

In his World Peace Day message, Pope Francis says: “We cannot continue to focus simply on preserving ourselves; rather, the time has come for all of us to endeavour to heal our society and our planet, to lay the foundations for a more just and peaceful world, and to commit ourselves seriously to pursuing a good that is truly common.” While the global solutions appear to be in the hands of politicians and diplomats, each one of us can work towards the formation of attitudes and the creation of the conditions for peace in our own local communities. We do this through attentive listening which leads to understanding.

By way of conclusion I want to return to the theme of grace. Sixty years ago, the bishops of the world were gathered for the Second Vatican Council. One of the key documents under discussion was the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (otherwise known by the first words of the Latin text “Gaudium et Spes”). It begins with the statement that “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ”. The document went on to talk about the contribution that the Church can make to modern society. Pope Francis reminds us in his message that: “…. our greatest and yet most fragile treasure is our shared humanity as brothers and sisters, children of God. And that none of us can be saved alone”.

Gaudium et Spes was being prepared against the background of the cold-war and the fear of nuclear annihilation. In the course of the final discussions, before the document was approved, one of the Irish Bishops (Bishop William Philbin, of Down and Connor) made a suggestion which I think is just as important today, when it comes to the unique contribution that we as Christians can make to the well-being of society. Bishop Philbin was anxious that, in a well-meaning attempt to offer solutions, the Bishops at the Council might not give sufficient emphasis to the one unique contribution that the Church has to offer, namely the Grace of God. Without grace, we face into all sorts of challenges with nothing more than our frail humanity. Bishop Philbin said: “The sole hope of the world, even the modern world with all its complexities, is Christ, not merely as teacher of the moral law, but chiefly as the author of Grace, by means of which the law can be fulfilled. We, therefore, particularly in the present context, must preach Christ, who said: “Without me you can do nothing”. To that, we might answer, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you”.

  • Bishop Kevin Doran is Bishop of Elphin.  This homily will be delivered at 11.00am Mass in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo.

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