Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent
Readings: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 33; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
27 March 2022
On Friday we celebrated the feast of the Annunciation of Mary, the day of Jesus’ conception, when Mary heard the angel declare ‘Don’t be afraid’ and when she replied, ‘Let it be done’, or in Latin: ‘Fiat’. Pope Francis decided this was the appropriate day to storm heaven praying for peace in Ukraine. Earlier in the week, he wrote to the world’s bishops announcing his intention ‘to carry out a solemn Act of Consecration of humanity, and Russia and Ukraine in particular, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary’. To understand such an intention, we need to recall that in 1917, three children experienced a series of visions of Mary at Fatima in Portugal. They were convinced that Mary spoke to them and revealed three secrets. The third secret was revealed by Sr Lucia, the last surviving one of the children, in a letter on 31 August 1941 during World War II. Lucia spoke about the consecration of Russia. Pope Francis went on to say, ‘This Act of Consecration is meant to be a gesture of the universal Church, which in this dramatic moment lifts up to God, through his Mother and ours, the cry of pain of all those who suffer and implore an end to the violence, and to entrust the future of our human family to the Queen of Peace.’
On Friday evening, he then led the universal church in this prayer:
‘Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the Church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine. Accept this act that we carry out with confidence and love. Grant that war may end and peace spread throughout the world. The “Fiat” that arose from your heart opened the doors of history to the Prince of Peace. We trust that, through your heart, peace will dawn once more. To you we consecrate the future of the whole human family, the needs and expectations of every people, the anxieties and hopes of the world.
‘Through your intercession, may God’s mercy be poured out on the earth and the gentle rhythm of peace return to mark our days. Our Lady of the “Fiat”, on whom the Holy Spirit descended, restore among us the harmony that comes from God. May you, our “living fountain of hope”, water the dryness of our hearts. In your womb Jesus took flesh; help us to foster the growth of communion. You once trod the streets of our world; lead us now on the paths of peace. Amen.’
I have to confess to being one of those contemporary Catholics for whom this type of Marian devotion seems a little overdone. My devotion to Mary has not been enhanced by descriptions of visions others have had during the course of the last century. But in times of such desperation, we can join with Christians of all types praying for peace, including those with a great devotion to Mary informed by particular visions. Contemplating the situation in Ukraine, we all have grounds for despair and fear, even those of us living on the other side of the globe. Praying for peace, we recommit ourselves to peace in our own circles and we look to how our own government might be more active in pursuing peace.
During the week, Tanya Plibersek, the Shadow Minister for Education and for Women, delivered the 38th Archbishop Daniel Mannix Lecture at Newman College. Speaking on faith, politics and leadership, she said:
‘In the modern world, our values come from many different places. There’s no longer a single pulpit or a universal source of truth. Secular philosophy and religious faith live side by side, largely in peace. But … even in our fractured world, the timeless lessons of Christ continue to inform progressive politics today. Love thy neighbour. Turn the other cheek. The first will be last and the last will be first. The meek shall inherit the earth. These are simple statements. But that shouldn’t hide just how radical they are. If we take it seriously, Jesus’ message was incredibly demanding. Have you ever tried to love your neighbours?… All of your neighbours? The call to universal love will always be profoundly difficult, whoever we are. But it’s especially challenging in our polarised world.’
No matter how we class our politics, as progressive or conservative or none of the above, each of us is called to follow the timeless lessons of Jesus of Nazareth. We’re given one of those timeless lessons in today’s parable of the Prodigal Son. There are three main characters – the son who goes his own way, squandering his share of the estate, coming to his senses, and returning home asking for forgiveness if only to get himself a better deal than having to live on scraps left over by the pigs he tended; the son who is the ‘goody-goody’ who stays home, working the farm, never asking more than his due, and being resentful of his wasteful brother being showered with love and forgiveness; and the father who loves both sons equally but at this moment showers his bounteous love on the returning repentant son. It’s an arresting parable because we are all able to identify with all three characters. There’s something of both sons in each of us. We instinctively know the decency and humanity of the father. Each of us has had to forgive a loved one some time in our lives. And surely each of us has had to be forgiven.
There is no point in our praying fervently to Mary or to Jesus for peace in the world unless we have a commitment to acting for peace ourselves. Let’s pray with Pope Francis that the Lord will ‘water the dryness of our hearts’. Affirming that Mary’s Fiat which arose from her heart opened the doors of history to the Prince of Peace, we need to work hard to keep those doors open to the Prince of Peace. Otherwise our prayers are simply platitudes and our Marian devotion infantile. We need all the resources at our disposal in our pluralist world, including the insights of secular philosophy and of all religious faiths, and the commitments of governments and the United Nations to the maintenance of peace and the fundamental principles of the UN Charter. We have to tread the streets of our world in the shoes of the dispossessed and marginalised if we are to lead our neighbours on the paths of peace.
We sought the Lord and he answered us;
From all our terrors the Lord set us free.
Look towards the Lord and be radiant;
Let your faces not be abashed.
Poor persons and besieged persons called;
The Lord heard them
And rescued them from all their distress.
 In 1941, Sr Lucia wrote that Mary said to the children in 1917: ‘I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world’. See https://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000626_message-fatima_en.html
 See https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2022/documents/20220321-lettera-consacrazione-cuoredimaria.html
 See https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/prayers/documents/20220325-atto-consacrazione-cuoredimaria.html
 See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVeAjTrGGQE
 See https://www.tanyaplibersek.com/media/speeches/speech-tanya-plibersek-the-38th-archbishop-daniel-mannix-lecture-melbourne-wednesday-23-march-2022/
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA). He has been appointed a peritus at the Fifth Plenary Council of the Australian Catholic Church.