Mothers and weddings go together, so it is appropriate to have as the Gospel reading for our Centenary Mass here in Westminster Cathedral today, the Gospel of St John, describing the Marriage at Cana.
The Union of Catholic Mothers was founded a hundred years ago to promote the wellbeing of children so that they were given the opportunity to receive instruction in their faith. This was seen as part of a mothers duty to her children; as part of her living out the sacrament of marriage. Just as a few years earlier, in 1906, the Catholic Women's League had been founded by Miss Margaret Fletcher to promote the education of women and their place in society, and it was quickly seen that the young generation were essential to bringing change and they began to work in what we know today as Catechetics. In 1913 the Bishops of England and Wales recognised that catholic married women had a special role to play in the handing on of the faith to their children: Mrs Ethelreda Chichester, the daughter of Lady Mary Catherine Berkeley, is recognised as the initiator of The Union of Catholic Mothers, though it was her mother who approached the then Archbishop of Birmingham, Dr Edward Ilsley, and received from him the first letter of approbation of The UCM. For the first ten years of our existence we were mentored by the CWL until in 1923 we became autonomous.
Today we gather in this cathedral to give thanks to God for His Providence over these hundred years and reflect on the gift that we have received and prepare to pass it on. We were founded to bring the light of faith into our families and communities; and I'm sure it is no coincidence that we celebrate our centenary during what is also the Year of faith with its call for a new evangelisation. There are no coincidences with God, but there are surprises.
Jesus and his mother were at the wedding in Cana to support the newlyweds and their families in recognising and strengthening the vocation of marriage as understood in the Jewish tradition of their time. They were reflecting the first of the objects of The UCM 'to help women appreciate the sacramental character, responsibilities and permanence of marriage and to live in unselfish love, observing the laws of God and his Church'.
Cana is understood by the Church as the moment when marriage is recognised as an effective sign of the presence of God (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1643). In marriage we are called to evangelise in a particular way, through the nurture and raising of children in the knowledge and love of God. ' The family which lives love even though imperfectly, and opens itself generously to the rest of society is the primary agent of a future of peace. A civilisation of peace is not possible if love is lacking.' (Bl John Paul II) Cana is one of God's surprises because in the sign worked by Jesus we see reflected the generous love of God Himself for us.
Another of our objects reads: 'to offer love, sympathy and practical help to the family in difficulty'. Isn't that exactly what Our Blessed Lady does? No one said anything, she just noticed - not being nosey, but being interested in the outcome of the day for the family, offering love. Because of her love for her friends she acts to 'save the day' by taking her concern for them to her so the one who brings peace and harmony to every day. And faith and evangelisation depends on us taking things to Christ and listening to Him. The words; 'my hour has not yet come' is not a refusal to the ears of his mother who knew him, but an invitation to take a step in faith - 'Do whatever he tells you'. Whatever, even if it seems not to be the answer we are looking for. How can water jars be the answer to a lack of wine? And what happens? What happens is an expression of the boundless generosity of God. Christ doesn't just provide wine and save the families embarrassment, he provides over a hundred gallons of it! God's generosity will always surprise us. St Alphonsus, in a sermon on the Cana miracle, said 'If the good lady acted in this way without being asked, what would she not be willing to do when asked?!
So looking back over one hundred years there are many times when we have been surprised by God, and there will be many more to come: It is part of the wonder of 'marriage' between God and ourselves in Christ Jesus his Son. Pope Francis said 'to find Jesus, go to Mary and ask where he is!' The Year of Faith is symbolised by an open door. One of the titles of Our Lady is Porta Caeli, Door/Gate of Heaven. Mary has been the gate of heaven ever since Jesus from the Cross, now that his hour had come, said 'Mother, behold your son', meaning not himself but to St John representing every single one of those who make up the Body of Christ, the Church. So Mary has been our mother going around 'picking up' after us, anticipating our needs and soothing us in our sadness's and disappointments, sharing our joys and successes and encouraging us to set out into the deep - always to set out to proclaim by our lives the love of God.
As we conclude looking back at our centenary and turn yet again to face the future, let us pray the prayer Pope Francis prayed at the shrine of Our Lady in Brazil and commend ourselves to Our Lady, our Mother and her maternal care.
Mother, help our faith!
Open our ears to hear God?s word and to recognise His voice and call. Awaken in us a desire to follow in His footsteps, to go forth from our own land and to receive His promise.
Help us to be touched by His love, that we may touch Him in faith. Help us to entrust ourselves fully to Him and to believe in His love, especially at times of trial, beneath the shadow of the Cross when our faith is called to mature.
Sow in our faith the joy of the Risen One. Remind us that those who believe are never alone. Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus, that He may be light for our path. And may this light of faith always increase in us, until the dawn of that undying day which is Christ Himself, your Son, our Lord?
Intentions that Pope Francis wants us to pray for this month