This coming Thursday, 15th August, the feast of the Assumption in England is a Holy day of Obligation. It was only in 1950 that Pope Pius XII infallibly proclaimed the truth of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He wrote in his apostolic constitution “the Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever Virgin, when the course of her early life was ended, was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.” Even though it was only infallibly proclaimed then it has been the teaching of the Church from earliest times. The term “assumption” is a biblical metaphor expressing the final destiny of the faithful. Mary is the perfect reflection of Christ, the template of all Christians. Her assumption is a sign of hope for the world, a guarantee that God will realise his saving plan for humankind. As Mary is now, we are to be. As we celebrate this feast we remember our ultimate destiny to be with God. Father Fio Mascarenhas S.J. in his book on Mary writes that Mary’s Assumption is not a personal reward. “It is a pledge of the fulfilment of the promises of God for all of humanity – for she is the model of the people of God, and where she is now, all the elect must hope to be one day!”
The Assumption of Mary has been a subject of Christian art for centuries and its feast day was made a public holiday in England by King Alfred the Great in the 9th century. St John of Damascus describes the origin of this belief in these words: “St Juvenal, Bishop of Jerusalem, at the Council of Chalcedon [AD 451], made known to the Emperor Marcian and Pulcheria, who wished to possess the body of the Mother of God, that Mary died in the presence of all the apostles, but that her tomb, when opened, upon the request of St Thomas who arrived late, was found empty; wherefrom the apostles concluded that the body was taken up to heaven.”
The Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God on August 15, the same day that the Catholic Church and some Protestant churches celebrate the feast of the Assumption of Mary. When I think of this feast I recall the beautiful Domitian Church in Jerusalem run by the German Benedictines. A focus point is an image of Mary asleep awaiting the assumption and the church is full of wonderful mosaics depicting the life of Mary.
The challenge for me in the gospel this weekend is to understand what Jesus is asking of me when he says that I need to make myself rich in the sight of God. God looks at me and knows I am rich not because I have made lots of money or that I come from a wealthy background. I am not rich because I have great power or that I am a celebrity and have lots of friends. I am rich because of God’s overwhelming love for me and that he has given me the gift of everlasting life. I am rich in God’s eyes because he gazes on me and he delights in me. I can become blind to my true wealth by my tendency to greed. I put my faith in what I can possess. These possessions give me a false sense of security and I think that what I possess will make me happy.
Flor McCarthy tells the story of a miser who had great deal of wealth and was looking forward to years of happy living. However, before he could make up his mind as to how best to spend his money, the Angel of Death appeared before him to take his life away. The man pleaded with the angel to be allowed to live a little longer. “Give me three days of life and I will give you half my fortune, he begged. But the angel wouldn’t hear of it and began to tug at his cloak. “Give me just one day., I beg of you,” said the miser, “and you can have everything I accumulated through so much sweat and toil.” But the angel refused his request. The miser just managed to wring just one small concession from the angel – a few moments in which to write down this note: “Oh you, whoever you are who happen to find this note, if you have enough to live on, don’t waste your life accumulating fortunes. Live! My fortune couldn’t but me a single hour of life.”
True happiness lies in living in the present moment and relishing what God has given to me.
This last Thursday the 11th Archbishop of our Diocese, John Wilson, was installed at our Cathedral of St George’s at Southwark.. It was a day of great joy and celebration. In his homily Archbishop John said that “if any of you are surprised of see me standing here today, then let me reassure you that you’re not as surprised as I am.” We were celebrating the feast of St James the Apostle.. The first reading for that feast was 2 Corinthians 4:7-15. It begins “We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us.” Archbishop John spoke of this passage when he said: “We may be fragile vessels, mere earthenware jars, only too aware of our limitations and conscious of our unworthiness, but God pours into us the gifts, and the graces, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Whatever we have to face, whatever problems or difficulties, we do so certain that we carry within us the very life of the Lord Jesus Christ.” He reminded us that we are pilgrims and that “together we will continue to make our pilgrimage of faith, trusting in the overwhelming power that comes, not from us, but from God.” He reminded us that each of us has a unique and essential place on this journey. “For my part. I will do my very best to try and love you as a father, try to walk beside you as a brother and try to serve you as a friend.” He talked about St Oscar Romero. There is a shrine to him in the Cathedral. The Archbishop John referred to a book of his homilies, entitled, “The Church is all of you” He reminded us that the Church is all of us, “joined with Jesus Christ, our head, and continues His mission. In this, every Catholic is called to be an evangelising disciple. Each one of us has a irreplaceable part to play in the flourishing of God’s kingdom. The Lord need you. His Church needs you. This Archdiocese and its Archbishop, its parishes and its schools needs you so that united in faith, here and now, we can announce anew the joy of the Good News, so that side by side we can serve the Lord in the downtrodden and in the despairing, in the weakest and in the poorest.”
As he continued theArchbishop referred to the words of St Oscar Romero about what was the ministry of a bishop. “A bishop is not a technician, an administrator, or a boss. A bishop is essentially a pastor, a father, a brother and a friend. He journeys with other people, sows hope along their path, shares their sorrow and joy, urges them to seek peace..justice and love, and teaches them to be brothers and sisters.” He then talked about the significance of the Pallium which he received from Pope Francis last month when he was in Rome. He said that it reminded him to exercise his ministry with the heart of the Good Shepherd. He said: “As bishops, priests and deacons, we share the social responsibility for shepherding the hundred, not just the ninety-nine.”
Let us pray for him, giving thanks that he has been chosen to be our shepherd. His final words were “Please pray for me as I promise to pray for you. Please ask our Blessed Lady to draw us, through the Immaculate Heart, ever closer to the Sacred Heart of her Son.”
I have been reading a book written by Chris Chapman entitled “Earthed in God”. He uses his experience and love of gardening as a way of talking about spiritual growth. He says that his book rests on the understanding that God desires and works for our flourishing much as we do when we sow seeds and watch over their development. In Chapter Five he quotes St Benedict in his Rule “Listen, what can be sweeter to us, dear ones, than this voice of the Lord inviting us?” We must not only listen but also “incline the ear of the heart”. I was reminded of this when reading the words from the book of Deuteronomy which is our first reading this Sunday. “The Word is very near to you, it is in your heart and in your mouth for your observance.” Chris writes that we need to allow ourselves time to stop and be open to what we are experiencing. Many of us find this difficult. We are under pressure of time. “In a garden – as in other areas of life – it is easy to be swept along by what needs to be done and to forget to be present to what we are part of creating.” I thought about this when sitting on a seat in a beautiful garden this past week. Seats, says Chris Chapman “are invitations to stop doing for a while and being present to the sun on your face, the fresh green light of spring foliage.” We need to take time to listen to the Word that is in our heart and in our mouth. If we are constantly on the go and doing then we will not hear the word in our heart. The seat in the garden, if you like, invites us to lay aside preoccupations that guard and govern us. Yes, we do have to plant and sow and weed and harvest and the seasons make masters of when we do this. But within this cycle – just as the cycle of the Church’s liturgical calendar – is a rhythm, a heart beat of the spirit behind all we do.
In my former role as part of the team responsible for promoting religious education in the diocese I would often meet with the staff of primary schools to help them formulate a mission statement for the school
If you search on the internet for an answer to the question “What is a Misson Statement ? This is the sort of answer you get. “ A mission statement is a short statement of why an organisation exists, what its overall goal is, identifying the goal of its operations: what kind of product or service it provides, its primary customers or market, and its geographical region of operation.” In today’s Gospel reading Jesus sends the seventy two out.
They have a mission. Note that Jesus didn’t gather them together first for a meeting to thrash out a mission statement. He sends them to go ahead of him to prepare for his visit. They go in pairs, taking nothing with them. They are instructed to salute no one on the road. They must be focusing and not allow themselves to be distracted. In the town they visit they accept the hospitality there and cure the sick and give the message that the Kingdom of God is close at hand (very near). Here we have a mission statement in action. Jesus didn’t promise that things would be easy. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”. Despite this they returned rejoicing. As a parish we are empowered by Christ to continue his mission. We are called to prepare the way for the coming of Christ in the lives and hearts of all. In fact at the beginning of the our Parish Directory there is a statement of our vision as a parish which reads “to build trusting relationships with each other across every age group and nationality so we can reverently share in joyous celebration of the Eucharist and share the Good News with all.” How well do you think we are doing in making this vision a reality at St Thomas of Canterbury today? This coming Tuesday I am on a study day for clergy, looking at the phenomenon of “Divine Revelation” a process of parish renewal intended to move parishes from maintenance to mission. This was instigated by Fr James Mallon, a Canadian priest who with a team of lay people transformed their parish of St Benedict’s in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Divine Renovation is one of the popular initiatives that encourage parishes to move from Maintenance to Mission. If we want to be missionary it will mean that we will be called to leave the comfort of the familiarly and cosy to become more like sheep among wolves.
This weekend we are celebrating the Solemnity of Corpus et Sanguis Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ). This feast gives us the opportunity to recall the greatest gift of the Eucharist given to the Church by Jesus at the Last Supper. It stands at the centre of the Church’s life. Pope John Paul, in his encyclical letter of 2003 “Ecclesia et Eucharistia”, sought to rekindle the sense of amazement that should always fill us when we gather for Mass. Why should we be so amazed and filled with a sense of joyful wonder? Because the Risen Christ is with us as he promised. “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church“. We believe that the Eucharist, the Mass, contains the Church’s entire spiritual wealth, that is Christ himself, our Passover and our living bread. Receiving Jesus in Holy Communion unites us with Christ – with Christ in his death and resurrection and with Christ as Omega and End of history, the final goal of our life on earth. But it also at the end of Mass, the deacon or priest says “Go and announce the gospel of the Lord”. Like the apostles at the Last Supper, if we wish to be close to the Lord we must answer the command of Christ to wash the feet of others in humble service as signs of hope, signs of resurrection, to the world. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: “the Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and blood of Christ given up for us, we recognise Christ in the poorest, his brother and sisters.” Receiving Christ’s presence in Holy Communion should flow into social action, into active love for the poor and oppressed, the sick and the sad. “Those who recognise and worship Christ in the breaking of bread must recognise and serve him also in the broken lives of those around them” (Bishop Michael Evans).
This weekend at all Masses the Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion have the opportunity to renew their commitment of service for another year. This takes place after the Lamb of God.
We receive the whole of Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity under the form of bread alone, or under the form of wine alone. The fullness of the grace of his presence is available to us under one kind or another. However: “the meaning of communion is signified as clearly as possible when it is given under both kinds, and Catholics are encouraged to desire Communion under both kinds in which the meaning of the Eucharistic banquet is more fully signified.” Having Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion makes it possible for us at St Thomas of Canterbury. Thank you for your ministry of service.
This Sunday we are very pleased to welcome Archbishop Peter Smith who will be confirming our twenty young people at 11am Mass.
It was only last Monday that it was announced that Pope Francis has appointed, Bishop John Wilson as his successor. Bishop John will be installed as the new Archbishop of Southwark on the feast of St James, 25th July at our Cathedral of St George. This is a great opportunity for us all to thank Archbishop Peter for his 9 years of selfless and unstinting service to our diocese as the chief shepherd. It is great to have him with us for this celebration of confirmation.
When I see our young people coming forward to be anointed by the Archbishop my heartfelt prayer will be that the Spirit they receive today will lead them to experience something of joy of God that is expressed in the reading from Proverbs in Mass today. May they realise that their existence delights God. May they come to know God not as a abstract philosophical principle but as a family of intimate relationships, creating, playing and drawing delight. As one writer asked: “Does playfulness feature in your concept of God?” What about that saying from Julian of Norwich “God is my maker, my unhindered and my lover”?
Please do pray for them today and as they go forward as fully initiated members of Christ’s Church.
Travis Tasker, Kamlotachi Diugwu,
Hermione Espenilla, Geoffrey Giron,
Thomas Long-Castro, Leandro Ramos,
Vincent Dawson, Nwomiko Diugwu,
Katie Pereira, Kiona Henly,
Alice Summers, Brannagh Robinson,
Jadon Pereira, Alwinbenito Sathiendra,
David Seunarine, Olivia Yeung,
Guiseppe Morelli, Manuschaqueen Sathiendra,
Zea Vital, Henrique Zanlorenze
God our Father complete the work you have begun and keep the gifts of the Holy Spirit alive in the hearts of these young people. Make them ready to live his Gospel and eager to do his will. May they never be ashamed to proclaim to all the world Christ crucified, living and reigning for ever and ever.