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 Grotto of Lourdes, 31st July 2017

“The Almighty works marvels for me” (Lk. 1:49)

 Saint Luke records the wonder Mary knew in recognising her calling. This same wonder has been shared by a countless number who have stood where you and I stand today, in the silence of prayer and the gentle company of Mary. Bernadette, despite her youth and frailty, saw in the silence of prayer the greatness of her own calling, that in the words of Saint Paul: “Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ” (Eph. 1:4). How many have likewise glimpsed, in this same place their true vocation: a divine call addressed to us, whether in the days of our youth or when weighed down by age or sickness? How many have discovered how God leads us – as Blessed John Henry Newman once described – by strange and wonderful ways? How many have recognised that God alone knows what we can best do with our lives and what truly makes for our happiness.

Today, two English Dioceses, separated by the Mersey, come together by the Gave united in our Christian calling at a time when our own country faces uncertainty about its calling and struggles to define arbitrary values which might preserve society now confronted by aggressive ideologies and homicidal terror. A recent opinion survey allows to glimpse what lies at the heart of this confusion: a ComRes Poll found that 1 in 3 Britons now regard the claims of Christianity and even the person of Jesus Christ as representing extremism. It is even possible that the very faith in Christ on which our nation was built, might become a focus of the Government’s counter-extremism agenda.

And yet, we must all hold up our hands and admit that as Christians we know of no moderation! No moderation in our following of Christ and in all that contributes to the good of society, recognising how we are all called to the extremes of charity; of virtue; of grace; of unswerving adherence to goodness and truth, to the high goal of holiness in which lies our ultimate happiness.

In a world that had grown deaf, this was the message entrusted to little ones in Lourdes and across the mountains in Fatima. It was the same message which formed the heart of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council: an utterly inclusive message, that we are all called to holiness which is the perfection of love, the complete happiness of becoming a saint. This was the first calling of the English people and it is the divine vocation which can now shape our lives, our families and the whole future of our society. Nevertheless, there is a destructive extremism we ought to fear, one which seeks not only to de-construct marriage and the family, but the very identity of the human person; which calls for medical experimentation with no reference to ethical boundaries; that decrees the unborn may live only to terms fixed by man, demands legal protections be removed from the sick and the aged. It is such extremism which surely threatens the foundations of society.

In Lourdes, a prophetic message was entrusted to Bernadette as she knelt – a tiny figure, like so many who would be swept up all in the technical progress and the devastating errors and destruction of the century which was to follow. In the sight of Heaven, Bernadette recognised her eternal value and her own great calling. And this will always be the extreme agenda of Christ and His Church: the call to the perfection of charity and the fullness of the Christian life which today we share.  Let us here entrust the Christian vocation of our land and the wonder of our own personal calling to Mary, who is truly “the mother of all who live” (Gen. 3: 2)

+ Mark

Bishop of Shrewsbury