Shrewsbury ... shall be a name 'as stirring to the heart as the glories we have lost'

Blessed John Henry Newman, 1852

Letters and Homilies

Homily at the National Conference of the Catenian Association, Telford, 13th May 2018

Today, the Gospel allows us to hear the priestly prayer of Jesus as He institutes the Eucharist (cf. Jn. 17: 11-19). It is the moving dialogue by which Christ offers to his Father the sacrifice of his Passion and Death – the one Sacrifice which is offered and renewed in every Mass. We call the Eucharistic Sacrifice the Mass:  ‘Missa’ in Latin meaning ‘mission.’ The Mass ends with a call to “go” a direct call to mission which flows from the Heart of Christ in the Eucharist. This is the call to which the first Catenians responded. It is the call which is renewed in the Mass this morning as you gather in conference.

This Sunday, we are preparing for another great and historic event to take place in Liverpool in September: the National Eucharistic Congress and Pilgrimage which will bring Catholics together from across England and Wales. It will be a unique moment to renew our faith together and an event of such significance that I hope many of you will be able to travel to Liverpool and all of you will share in some way in this moment of grace.

The Eucharistic Congress in Liverpool has a special connection to the Catenians, for it was in the same year that this Association was born that the first National Eucharistic Congress took place in London. It was an event over-shadowed by the Asquith Government invoking a new law to prevent the Blessed Sacrament being carried onto the streets. In the same year of your foundation, Catholics rallied in defence of Church Schools in the face of the McKenna Education Bill which threatened their existence. In these same years the far-seeing Pope, Saint Pius X, began to speak publicly of an approaching catastrophe for humanity to be tragically realised in the most deadly and destructive century in human history.  

We might sometimes think of those last years before the Great War – in which the Catenian Association was born – as a calm summer before the terrible storm that Saint John Paul II called, “the century of tears.”  However, I have said enough to recall it was a time marked by troubles and foreboding in which this fraternal chain of Catholic lay men was to be forged. It was an association forged consciously to break the bonds which restricted Catholics in their education and had limited their involvement in the life of society.  Time will not allow us to survey the profound challenges taking shape in this new century: the threat to the human person and to the lives of the most vulnerable; the assault upon religious freedom; and the clouds of international conflict gathering on the horizon. Yet, we recognise that it is in these times that we must hear the call of Christ anew in this Mass, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17: 18). The world as it is entrusted to the lay faithful, as Christians in the midst of the world.

This Sunday, we all are aware that the Government has gone back on its manifesto promise to remove the admissions quota which prevents the opening of Catholic free schools. It is a situation not unlike that of a century ago, which sees a Governing Party swayed by a vocal minority. It is a decision which is not merely a betrayal of a manifesto pledge or the promises made to the Catholic community. It represents a deeper shift in attitude across the whole political spectrum, where the rights and choices of Christian parents in raising their own families are made subservient to an ideology. I say this, because it is was not diversity or social inclusion that is at issue. We know Church schools represent the fullest ethnic diversity and contribute enormously by their values to social cohesion. It appears to be an ideological understanding of ‘diversity’ which has seen the Church barred from a particular field of education in spite of the facts. This was very definite defeat for Catholic education and more specifically the aspiration of parents seeking a Catholic education for their children. However, it is a defeat from which an ominous lesson can be drawn of how a government can acquiesce with a small and largely secularist lobby to undermine the freedom in which Christians can live and educate their children.

It surely demands of us a new steadfastness in the face of an ever-extending secularist agenda in education and every field of public life. The Catenian Association, as a fraternal union of Catholics across this land and in so many fields of professional work has an important part to play in rising to this challenge.  As we remember the example of those who first formed this association in the troubled years of the early 20th Century, let us not be afraid to “go” and meet the challenges of this new century. A challenge which can only be met with the great assurance of the opening prayer of this Mass: May we “experience, as Christ promised, his abiding presence until the end of the world” (Collect for the Seventh Sunday of Easter).  And so we will be able to leave the witness of our faithfulness for generations still to come.

+ Mark

Bishop of Shrewsbury