I am writing this while with a HCPT Pilgrimage Summer group in Lourdes. I have missed all the news coverage of Pope’s visit to Ireland but from what I have seen on the internet, the secular press have concentrated on the issue of child abuse both in Ireland and the recent disturbing revelations in the USA. This is understandable as the reason for the Popes presence in Ireland was not news worthy enough. Pictures of placards held by protesters makes good copy. No one is denying the seriousness of these dreadful crimes against children and young people. We will continue have to face this serious issue in our church. We need to keep our focus on the victims of abuse. Yet I see this issue is used as a stick to beat us.As I walked in the Blessed sacrament procession on Sunday along with thousands of other pilgrims I felt very much part of a church that was focusing on healing and caring for the sick and vulnerable. The message of our Lady given to Bernadette was penance. She was asking us to have a change of heart. Mary was asking us to turn back to the love and healing of the Father. The call she gave was to care for the most fragile and the vulnerable. It wasn’t the powerful or important people that Mary asked to share her message but rather a fourteen year old girl who could neither read or write and who lived in one room with her three other siblings and her mother and father.The thousands that turned out to hear and greet Pope Francis at the shrine in Knock and in Phoenix Park clearly demonstrated the desire to focus on married and family love. Yes, Ireland is not the same Catholic country that Saint John Paul II visited 40 years ago. Just because the country is less Catholic today that doesn’t nullify the validity of the message of Jesus, the power of the Gospel and the mission of the Church. It means that we can’t be complacent about how we share the joy of the Gospel. There is much in our way of life today that mitigates against receiving Jesus as the way the truth and life. Conviction will come from seeing this gospel lived in the lives of ordinary people. The Gospel cannot not be mere words of talk it needs to be alive and active in the lives of us all. This is what Jesus is saying to us when he quotes from the prophet Isaiah:This people honours me only with lip-service,while their hearts are far from me.The worship they offer me is worthless,the doctrines they teach are only human regulations.I pray that the Spirit within us will transform us for that be people of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
Last Wednesday it was announced that Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to Blessed Oscar Romero, the murdered Archbishop of San Salvador. This will mean that he will now be canonised as a Saint of the universal Church. This is good news for us as a Parish because in the martyrs chapel we have a second-class relic associated with him. In 1995 our parish donated a relic of St Thomas of Canterbury to the Diocese of San Salvador and in turn they gave us an alb and stole belonging to Archbishop Romero, which is now within a glass case in the wall of the martyrs chapel. Oscar Romero was the Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 until he was assassinated in 1980. He was initially regarded as a conservative choice, but he became increasingly outspoken about human rights violations in El Salvador – particularly after the murder of his close friend Father Rutilio Grande. From his Cathedral pulpit he became the voice of the voiceless poor. There, in a society of cover-up and lies, he spoke the truth of what was happening in the countryside; he denounced the killings, the torture and the disappearances of community leaders; he demanded justice and recompense for the atrocities committed by the army and police and he set up legal aid projects and pastoral programmes to support the victims of the violence. With the emergence of armed guerrilla groups on the far left, civil war loomed. Archbishop Romero, rejecting the violence perpetrated by the left as well as the right, strained every nerve to promote peaceful solutions to his nation’s crisis. He was vilified in the press, attacked and denounced to Rome by Catholics of the wealthy classes, harassed by the security forces and publicly opposed by several episcopal colleagues.
The death threats multiplied. Archbishop Romero realised he was going to be killed. And he came to accept it. At 6.26pm on March 24th 1980, with a single marksman’s bullet, he was killed while celebrating Mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence. He died a Eucharistic martyr, a martyr to the option for the poor, a martyr to the Magisterium of the Church – and now he will be recognised as Saint Oscar Romero.
We are privileged to have in our Church the relics of two martyred archbishops who gave their lives upholding the truth.
“The only violence that the gospel admits is violence to oneself.
When Christ lets himself be killed, that is violence – letting oneself be killed.
Violence to oneself is more effective than violence to others. It is very easy to kill,
especially when one has weapons, but how hard it is to let oneself be killed for love of the people”.
Oscar Romero AUGUST 12, 1979
Last month on BBC 4 there were three excellent programmes entitled “Meditations from a monastery.” These had no spoken commentary and the hour-long programme followed the routines of certain monks in each of the three monasteries. What struck me was the silence in their lives, Silence was a key part of their life. The first word of St Benedict’s rule is ”Listen”. Sister Jeremy Hall OSB writes in her book, “Silence Solitude Simplicity” “ I must be silent enough to truly hear. Out of our wordiness there now seems to have developed a thirst for solitude and silence again. We have begun to realise that dialogue of itself is not the total solution. It is in fruitful, reflective, and prayerful silence that we come to some real measure of depth, clarity, rootedness, and cohesion. Otherwise, we are battling for air.” In the Bishops of England and Wales Guide to Catholic Spirituality, we read that real silence is not merely the absence of noise. We can be quiet in a noisy world. Real silence helps us to get in touch with our real selves and opens the path for us to hear the still small voice of God. However noisy and busy our lives are we need to create moments of silence in our day. As we wake, do not switch on the radio or immediately look at our emails. Sit on the edge of the bed and drink in those first moments. When you are in the car or on the bus be aware of the present and create an inner silence. There is one event in which we all participate where we can create moments of silence and that is the celebration of Mass. In the Liturgy, silence has an important part to play. Let’s look at some of the places where we can be silent. There are different types of silence at Mass. Silence expressing a break, giving a short pause for clarity of structure and flow e.g., before the Liturgy of the Word) Silence as a pause for recollection such as a pause before the Opening Prayer, at the Penitential Rite, and at the end of the Readings. There can be silence at our preparation for communion and at the prayer after Communion. We also need to be silent while something happens; while we listen to the readings, while we pray at the Eucharistic prayer. We also have opportunities for silent reflection when there is a more extended period after the Homily or after Communion (leading to prayer and praise).
Coming together in Church before Mass is both a personal and communal time. This is the one time when we meet each other but at some point before our opening hymn, there needs time for personal preparation, to recollect in prayer. Pope Benedict in his letter, “Sacramentum Caritatis” says “Active participation in the Eucharistic liturgy can hardly be expected if one approaches it superficially, without an examination of his or her life. This inner disposition can be fostered, for example by recollection and silence at least a few moments before the beginning of the liturgy”. Saint Teresa of Calcutta wrote: The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.
This Sunday afternoon I am representing the Archbishop, Peter Smith in the Luther Quincentenary Choral Evensong being held in Canterbury Cathedral. The last day of October is the 500th anniversary of the occasion when Martin Luther, a German Augustinian monk wrote to the Archbishop of Mainz, Albert of Magdeburg. He criticised the way the St Peter’s indulgence was being promoted and preached. Pope Julian II began to rebuild St Peter’s basilica in Rome and he announced an indulgence to help finance the costly project. Luther enclosed with his letter a copy of the 95 Theses which he offered as a way of clarifying the teaching on indulgences and other theological questions that he regarded a doubtful. As Holmes and Bickers wrote in their book “A Short History of the Catholic Church”.
“These theses, written in a polemic and provocative way, touching on questions and grievances long felt, became the symbol, and Luther, the spokesman, of all those who were disillusioned with the present state of the contemporary Church. The historical importance of this whole episode lies in the Church’s failure to respond because of both the inability or unwillingness to accept the seriousness of Luther’s complaint, and to recognise the number of those who supported him.”
What began as a justified reaction to corruption in the Church spiralled into schism and division and destruction. I strongly agree that, at the time of Luther, reform was vital but obviously do not agree or condone the change and rejection of Catholic teaching that followed.
Much dialogue and progress has been made since those days of the 16th Century, especially in the last fifty years. In 1999 a joint declaration on the Doctrine of Justification was agreed between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation.
Last October the Pope travelled to the Lund cathedral to commemorate the Reformation with Bishop Munib Younan and in our own Cathedral of St George, Southwark there was a joint commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation hosted by our Archbishop, Peter Smith. Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household, said, referring to this commemoration,
“It is vital for the whole Church that this opportunity is not wasted by people remaining prisoners of the past, trying to establish each other’s rights and wrongs. Rather, let us take a qualitative leap forward, like what happens when the sluice gates of a river or a canal open to enable ships to navigate at a higher water level. The situation has changed dramatically since then. We need to start again with the person of Jesus, humbly helping our contemporaries to experience a personal encounter with Him. Justification by faith, for example, ought to be preached by the whole Church – and with more vigour than ever. Not in opposition to good works – the issue is already settled – but rather in opposition to the claim of people today that they can save themselves thanks to their science, technology or man-made spirituality, without the need for a redeemer coming from outside humanity
On Tuesday we celebrate t I remember being asked by a non-Christian teacher where Mary is buried. I tried to explain to him the Church teaching on the Assumption. When the course of her earthly life had finished, Mary was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven. Her body is nowhere on earth. The Assumption is the completion of Mary’s redemption. It is the logical fulfilment of her conception in holiness. She was perfectly redeemed on earth so there was nothing to prevent her from enjoying the glory of heaven as soon as she departed this life. If you are ever in Jerusalem go to the Dormition Church. From earliest times there has been a church built over the traditional place, near the site of the Last Supper, where the Our Lady died, and from where she was assumed into heaven. In the crypt of the present building, under a rotunda, is a simple bier on which rests a life-size statue of Mary, fallen asleep in death. The statue is made of cherry wood and ivory. In Orthodoxy and Catholicism, as in the language of scripture, death is often called a “sleeping” or “falling asleep”, and this gave the original monastery its name, the church itself is called Basilica of the Assumption (or Dormition).
Why is the assumption an important doctrine of the church? For Catholics, this feast is a Holy Day of Obligation. It celebrates the praise of God expressed fully in the life of Mary. God invites us to eternal life, to enjoy the glorious new creation of his Son in body, soul and spirit. Our final hope is the resurrection of our own bodies at the end off time to exist forever in the new order of creation. The solemnity of the Assumption is our great celebration of this final hope. “Mary is a pioneer for us in faith. She was the first among us to accept Jesus Christ into her life. In her bodily Assumption, she is also the first to fully enjoy eternal life at the side of her risen Son in the glory of heaven. Where she has gone, we hope to follow.” We pray in the Opening Prayer of the feast. “Grant we pray, that, always, attentive to the things that are above, we may merit to shares in her glory.” In France, it is still a public holiday and in many parts of the world there are processions of Our Lady on this day. Also it is traditional to bless herbs on the feast of the Assumption. It would be good to pray the glorious mysteries of the Rosary on this day.
“Mary has of course entered, once for all, into heavenly glory. But that does not mean she is distant or detached from us; rather Mary accompanies us, struggles with us, sustains Christians in the fight against the forces of evil.” Pope Francis
Next Saturday, 18th March, the children that are preparing for their First Holy Communion will be meeting Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. They are doing their final preparation at this Sundays’ lesson. I don’t remember a thing about my first Confession! Yet throughout my life I recall times when it has been a time of great blessing and grace for me. I do know from experience as a priest, that a child’s first celebration can be an anxious time for mums and dads. This might be because they don’t necessarily have good memories of going to Confession. They naturally worry that it will go well for their children. Please remember our young children next week in your prayers as they experience this sacrament of healing, pardon and peace.
Lent is a fitting time to celebrate this sacrament. Pope Francis said last year : “A special sign of grace …. is the sacrament of penance, in which Christ invites us to acknowledge our sinfulness, to experience his mercy, and to receive the grace which can make us ever more effective signs of his reconciling love at work in our world.”
A writer who was an atheist and became a Catholic wrote “you get this chance to unload what’s been on your mind, in terms of what you’ve been doing wrong, or ways that you’ve messed up,” she said. “There’s something so cathartic about that. And, as Catholics, we believe you get real grace through that too.” She said there is something about verbalizing one’s shortcomings to another person that makes confession particularly beneficial. “Until you’ve done it, it’s hard even to imagine how powerful it is, to actually have to form the words and have another person hear them,” she said. “I think a lot of us don’t want to confess our most private sins.”
What we need to remember is that every time we go to Confession God embraces us. We encounter the overwhelming love of the Father. Confession might not be easy for me but it is not a chore. I encourage you this Lent to prepare to celebrate the Sacrament and experience Gods embrace.