By Lara Pickford-Gordon
‘Inter faeces et urinam nascimur’- ‘We are born between faeces and urine’.
This quote attributed to St Augustine, was referenced by Cathedral Administrator Fr Martin Sirju to drive home the message that Mary, known as immaculate—without stain—“lived in the messy circumstances of life” and she continues to be present today amidst the sin and grime.
Fr Sirju was delivering the homily at the Cathedral for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Monday, December 9. The feast day is December 8. Archbishop Jason Gordon presided with clergy concelebrating.
He said it is from the great Christian narrative, the story of redemption, victory over sin and death came the great expression “immacula” (the Irish and Latin form of the word ‘immaculate’) “which means without sin”, and the title of the mother church of the Archdiocese.
Fr Sirju said the title of ‘Immaculate’ has had positive and negative consequences. The positive can be seen in art with representations of Mary “in degrees of perfection, of superlatives of beauty” etc. On the negative side was the antiseptic image of Mary, who “does not dwell in certain places, a Mary who is not to be seen amongst certain types of people”.
Fr Sirju reflected on his experience coming to Port of Spain after 28 years in San Fernando. He was enjoying the experience though it can also be very challenging. He got a “shocker” from the faeces and urine left at the presbytery explaining, “People would come and defecate on my compound and every time I drive my car, this is what I see. In addition to that, if I don’t see anything, I smell something because they come and urinate on my compound as well.” Fr Sirju was also disturbed by the lack of discretion.
He related, “Right by the Cathedral, by CAMSEL (Catholic Media Services Ltd) Catholic News light pole dem fellas in broad daylight pull out what God gave them and do what they have to do right there for everybody to see and that reminds me of an expression of St Augustine ‘We are born between filth and piss’.” He commented, “I live dear friends among filth and piss and Mary, this mother of the public defecators and pissers as well, who surround our Cathedral with this kind of behavior.”
Fr Sirju said anthropologists have reported Nazareth was a dirty place where people burnt their garbage and died before the ages of 40 and 50. Mary lived in the “messy circumstances of life” and Jesus entered that life; He died in Golgotha with rotting bodies “in the unhappy and filthy circumstances of life”.
During the Cathedral restoration there was talk of moving the church to central and the north west, Fr Sirju commented that it was “very much Marian” to keep it in Port of Spain. The church is surrounded by scenes which would be familiar to what Mary: faecal matter and urine, the garbage in the East Dry River, the mentally ill who come into the church. Fr Sirju said, “So we should have another title the very opposite of Immaculate. Mary is the mother of filthy places as well and people who dwell in those filthy places, and if that makes us start to include a much larger number of places and cultures of people in different parts of the world ..” It is a privilege to have Mary as patroness of the Cathedral and to keep the emphasis on beauty, perfection, striving to become kecharitomene, ‘hail to the one who has been graced by God’ the Greek meaning for Angel Gabriel’s greeting at the Annunciation.
‘Where sin abounds the grace of God abounds even more’ (Rom 5:20). Fr Sirju said amidst the dirt, grime, sin, the grace of God ever more abounds. The congregation was reminded that grace has also been poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit though not as abundantly and individuals did not cooperate as comprehensively. He instructed the people, “May we leave these hallowed walls with that conviction and go out into the world and as Mother Theresa said in this dirty, dirty world in which we live let us all do something beautiful for God.”