Yesterday the Bishop of Portsmouth, Bishop Crispian Hollis gave the following homily at Mass broadcast by BBC Radio 4. The Mass, from St John's Cathedral was celebrated by the Cathedral Dean, Canon David Hopgood, with prayers of intercession were led by the Principal Catholic Chaplain to the Royal Navy, Monsignor David Madders. St John's Cathedral, in the centre of the City of Portsmouth, is adjacent to Portsmouth Naval Base. We come to prayer this morning with our thoughts inevitably with those who are caught up in the war in Iraq - those who are directly involved, innocent civilians who fear for their safety and those at home who wait anxiously for news. As we come before God, so we are joined by Mary, the mother of the Lord, "mother of sorrows" and "comfort of the afflicted", as she is often called. Today and on Tuesday's Feast of the Annunciation - we are celebrating the fact that God spoke to Mary in her inmost heart with such power that, at that very moment, His Son was conceived in her womb. The voice Mary hears is not, as inner voices often are, an incitement to violence or condemnation. Instead, it's an invitation to respond to that most beautiful and wonderful of callings, to be the mother of a human being more than that, she is invited to be the mother of the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Mary receives her call to motherhood in circumstances that are extraordinary because she has no husband. She is called to motherhood out of what St Paul might describe as "the foolishness of God." It's a call which speaks of gentleness, of caring, of nurture and of that extraordinary love that only a mother can give. But, as every mother knows, that love can be a two-edged sword. It brings great joy but it can also bring great pain and suffering when she has to witness things happening to the child she has borne events beyond her control things like childhood illness and even that awful experience of seeing her child die. God's foolishness is at work in Mary's call and it's a foolishness that's wiser than human wisdom; it's a foolishness that takes flesh in human weakness and frailty and yet, it's stronger than human strength. And there's a sense in which God's foolishness the foolishness of unconditional loving is always at work in the commitment of all parents to their children. It's not just that they accept the constant responsibility and the need for sacrifice; it's there too in the waiting and the worrying as their children face horror and danger and pain. Mothers have been saying many prayers and are surely praying today - for their children who are serving in the Gulf. They know only too well what it is to be anxious. They know, with frightening certainty, that sense of fearful anticipation as they witness events outside their control. We turn to Mary, the mother, so greatly revered in the Christian tradition, as we seek strength and comfort. She prays with us and - this is most appropriate for today in doing so, she brings us closer too to our Islamic brothers and sisters who also hold her in great esteem as the mother of Jesus. Praying with Mary the mother doesn't lock us into some soft or romantic vision of family where everything is sweetness and light. It exposes us, rather, to the steely resolve and purpose of the one who can say to us "do whatever he tells you." Mary journeyed with her Son throughout his ministry and his mission. She followed Him to the end probably at the Last Supper possibly near the Garden of Gethsemane certainly on the Way of the Cross and certainly also to the foot of the Cross on Calvary. It was here, above all, that she realised the full implications of Simeon's prophesy when he said that her Son was to be a sign rejected a sword of rejection which would pierce the very depths of her spirit. In so many ways today, we find ourselves on the same way of the Cross. We face the horror and uncertainty of war. We witness the sufferings of the poor and the hungry. We struggle to be generous so as to share our good things with those who have nothing. No one knows this better than Mary, the mother who journeys with us. She is with the Lord at the foot of the Cross and she gathers us around her there. She looks at us with pride, as we stand there, because we have been faithful and we have come. She prays that we may embrace the Cross on which Her Son dies because that's the only way we can take up the new life that flows from His Easter rising, a rising of which she was, if legend is to be believed, the first and greatest witness. We Catholics and many others have a much-loved prayer, and I share it with you now as we pray for an outbreak of peace in our dark and suffering world: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
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