(This Sermon was preached by His Grace Archbishop Charles Bo on the occasion of the feast of Our Lady of Velanganni in St Anthony's Church, Yangon - Myanmar on 8th Sep 2014.
The feast with nine day Novena, draws huge crowds from all over Myanmar and from all religions.
We have gathered in hundreds today to honor a simple Jewish woman whose birthday changed history. We have gathered to honor a woman who was praised by the Protestant Poet William Wordsworth : 'our tainted nature's solitary boast'.
For the last nine days you have shown commendable faith through prayer and penance to reach this spiritual peak today. With Mary our mother you can exclaim with gratitude "The Lord has done marvels for me". May thousand blessings be on all of us.
This shrine is gaining praise more and more as a focal point of interreligious meetings. The last nine days not only brought Christians of all races together but scores of non- Christians. For the last nine days you soaked your body and soul in pious practices, novenas, offering and the poignant show of piety through walking on your knees for from the gate of the church to the altar. Your faith is admirable.
End of the novena, we are standing on a peak of spiritual experience. From this vintage point we need to reflect what this feast means to us in our daily life today in a fast changing country. Every feast is a blessing - and a challenge. A challenge because feasts can turn into events when Christians can flaunt their wealth, re affirm the social fragmentations and leave the rich with the feeling of superiority and the poor much impoverished spiritually and emotionally.
Mary is our Guide in all this. She was a pilgrim in the mission of Jesus. Her magnificat was sung with such glorious dream of God's plan in our life "He has demonstrated power with his arm; he has scattered those with Pride, he has brought down the mighty from their thrones And lifted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich away empty". (Lk 1: 51-53)
Strong words from a woman. But Mary was not just a devotee of Jesus, but she was a disciple of her Son's mission that would be elucidated later : The Spirit of the Lord is on me, he has sent me to proclaim the good news to the Poor Liberty to Captives, sight to the blind and the let the oppressed go free( Luke 4: 16-19)
All feasts are occasions for all of us to return to the radicalism of the Bible. Every feast needs to provoke the Christians towards more brotherly action for whom life is not easy.
As I was preparing for the sermon, I came across a beautiful but a very fiery sermon by one of the early fathers of the Church - John Chrysostom - on the need to balance our feasts with concern for our brothers and sisters: Do not adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother Do you want to honour Christ's body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honour him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me (Mathew 25:30-40).
Very frightening words, indeed. He castigates those who spent a lot on church devotions but forget the neighbor. In these feast you have brought many costly clothes to adorn our Mother's statue. While we are happy about the honor, the spirit moves us to the fact in this country that 40 percent of the children do not pursue their higher education because they do not have enough even to have decent uniforms to schools.
After five decades of darkness, new
Myanmar is yet to fulfill its promises to poor. A neo liberal economy opens the
country to international loot. More people are poor in democracy. More people
Today we celebrate this feast as the Feast of Our Lady of Health. But in Myanmar our Lady looks like the mother of Sorrows. How many daggers pierce her heart in this country? Those of us coming around the Table of God needs to remember that we break bread every day on an unjust world where more than 20,000 children die of hunger and mal nutrition everyday. Every mass is a challenge to our sensibilities. Let us listen to John Chrysostom again:
First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table.
He echoes Mary's magnificat. The hungry needs to be filled.
The new temples of businesses : New hotels, new skyscrapers, new business are being built.
Every feast, every gathering is a clarion call for change. That change starts with each one of us:
I was deeply moved by your piety of walking on the knees. Only a true devotee can endure the pain of walking on the knees from the gate to here. I have great admiration for each one of you. Your knees are bent, you are willing to do every penance.
But what is the use if the same knees refuse to bow to the enemy, refusing to heed to call of Jesus "forgive seventy times seven(Lk 17:7).
This call for self purification during festivals is called for an equal awareness of Injustice and compassion to our less fortunate brothers. Mother Mary in Velanganni reached out to a handicapped milk vendor through her compassion. She saved those sailors caught in a storm to reach safe shores. Compassion is needed in every human heart. That is the primary call.
A new magnificat is needed for the Myanmar that is in a spiral of change. Our nation was a mother of Sorrows for the last five decades - with evil daggers of darkness piercing her compassionate heart.
That is the challenging thought
today as we culminate this feast. It is said feasts are for devotees of Christ.
Being a devotee is an easy task. Activating Christianity inside the Church
during the festival
Let us listen to the Prophet Amos :
I absolutely despise your Feasts! I get no joy in your assemblies; Even if you offer me burnt and grain offering, I will not be satisfied; I will not look with favor on your peace offering of fattened calves. Justice must flow like a river, righteous actions like a stream that never dries up! (Amos 5: 21-25).
So that is the challenge today. As a
church and as citizens of Myanmar we need to articulate a new Magnificat today.
Christ continues to be crucified in our suffering brothers and sisters today.
That needs our faith in action. ( James
2:14-17). Those of you who are rich be compassionate to the poor brothers and
sisters in this parish and the town. Thousands need support for quality
+ Archbishop Charles Bo (SDB)Yangaon Archdiocese