16 July 2008 - World Youth Day Catechesis

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World Youth Day Catechesis
Homily, Wednesday 16 July 2008

When we were speaking earlier about the countries we come from, I did not recall anyone mentioning that they came from Israel or the Holy Land as we know it in our tradition. Unfortunately, because of difficulties that are faced by the people who live there at the present time, visits to the Holy Land have not been easy in recent times. The people who live there very likely would face great difficulties travelling outside the country.

For those however, who are familiar with the geography of the area, the mountain known as Mt Carmel is a very prominent feature on the landscape. It is close to the Mediterranean shoreline, with just a narrow gap between the water and the mountain itself. Over the centuries it has been a place for spiritual people to find solitude, for criminals to go into hiding, and for armies to find places to outwit their opponents.

It was the place where the prophet Elijah is believed to have resided in one of the grottos. It was the place where the founder of the Carmelites, St. Simon Stock, received his inspiration to begin what has become a strong spiritual tradition in the Catholic Church, with many significant spiritual writers following in the Carmelite spirituality. Most prominent of them all would have to be St Teresa of Avila, and St John of the Cross.

Mt Carmel is something of a cross-over point in that part of the world – people moving north and south along the coastline, going about their daily lives and seeking a way to make an income.

The readings that we have heard today during this Mass have something of the same feel about them. They refer to a cross-over point in the lives of Jesus and the disciples.

The gospel words recall the final moments in the time Jesus was still with the disciples before ascending into Heaven. You might recall that just a page before in the gospel of Luke, we read about the beautiful experience of the two disciples, meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Jesus began to remind them of all the things he had said and done, and it was through that outline, that they came to their senses and realised who their companion was. They realised it had been a mistake to leave the community of disciples in the first place.

Jesus does the same again for the benefit of all the disciples – reminding them of what was written in the Law of Moses, the prophets and the psalms, and how everything had come to fulfilment in him. Then it was time for him to leave and to give them the responsibility of carrying on his mission.

The passage from the Acts of Apostles takes up the next phase of the experience of the disciples. They were assured that they would, in due course, receive the power they needed, through the Holy Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost, and they would be witnesses to what they had seen and heard. Their witness would extend to the ends of the earth.

It was important that they maintained the group to full strength, and so they arranged for the replacement of Judas by Mathias. The wider group also was kept together, and one of the most prominent members of that group was “Mary, the mother of Jesus.”

As we have heard during the catechesis, the Holy Spirit was well to the fore, in assisting Mary to make the right decision, and to accept the invitation to become the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God. It was through the Holy Spirit that she became pregnant and eventually Jesus was born.

Mary, in other words, was also a point of connection, the bearer of Jesus into the world. She performed her role with great dignity and care, but it was in her role as the first of the believing disciples that we honour her and give thanks for her.
The name of Carmel means literally a “plantation of high quality trees.” The slopes of Mt Carmel are covered with a wide variety of vegetation including oak, pine, and olive and laurel trees. The location itself has had along and versatile history, and still today it has an important part to play in the lives of the people who live there.

As we reflect on the many elements of the feast of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, we can perhaps see ourselves and being connection points with other people, particularly in the communities from which we come.

I am sure that among all of you, like the rich vegetation on the mountain side, there is a great variety of gifts spread among you. Over the coming days, you will become more aware of the power that is within you, the gift of the Holy Spirit that has been given to you, and the call to use those gifts and that power to be witnesses yourselves.

But as witnesses you are in the very best of company, because the first disciples were called to be witnesses as well, and the greatest witness of them all was none other than Mary, the Mother of God, Our Lady of Mt Carmel.