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 for the Mass of the Sacred Chrism 2017

 

In this Holy Week of 2017, we are conscious of many uncertainties in the world around us and in the many challenges of contemporary society. Like all generations before us, we cannot foresee what is over the horizon and cannot fully calculate what the future may bring.  However, in the Mass, the Eucharist we are always invited, like those people gathered in the Synagogue of Nazareth, to ‘fix our eyes’ on Jesus (Lk. 4:21). This is because, in those striking words of the Book of Revelation, Jesus is “the faithful witness, the first born from the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth …the Alpha and the Omega who is, who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev 1:5, 8). As Isaiah foresaw, Christ alone brings “good news” into our poverty, giving us “for ashes a garland; for mourning robe the oil of gladness; for despondency praise” (Is.61: 1,3). Yes, the Mass and our time spent before the Blessed Sacrament will always be for us the most important church meeting! It is here that you and I will regain the only perspective which matters, and find the true direction for our life and mission.

Seven years ago, at my ordination as bishop, we sang an ancient hymn: ‘Christ is made the sure foundation’.  The choice was significant, for the words reminded us that everything depends not on the human element – Mark Davies – but on Christ who always remains “the head and the cornerstone”. I am sure this was a reassurance for the diocese and it was certainly reassuring to me! In this diocesan ‘Year for Mission 2017’, we are now embarking on so many bold initiatives in our parishes and in the Diocese as a whole with the new resources, new volunteers and new energy generated by the ‘Our Mission Together’ project. Tonight, I want to record my thanks to everyone who has worked so hard on this undertaking which is important for the future. Now with the help of Caritas Diocese of Shrewsbury, we can look forward to the development of our social mission for the most vulnerable and in support of families. We can now foresee the launch of our Youth Mission Team before the end of this year. And have gathered much-needed resources to support the unprecedented number of priests entering retirement, men who have not only served us all their lives but who continue to serve in so many ways in these years. And we must put at the centre of our prayer and priorities the men who will follow them, as we support and provide for the training of a new generation of priests. We have created space for the discernment of this priestly vocation in the renewed facilities at the Cathedral, and in this way have placed this priority at the very heart of the Diocese as I proposed at this Chrism Mass three years ago.

With the contributions and ever-growing pledges for ‘Our Mission Together’, we want to support and promote the vital vocation of marriage and to train and support new lay catechists for all of our parishes. Together with local projects chosen in every parish, we are thereby seeking to build-up the missionary parishes needed for the future. This is a challenging and exciting vision. However, Pope Francis would remind us that in all our projects if we ever allow our eyes to stray from Christ, if He is not the sure foundation of our mission then, in the Holy Father’s stark phrase: “things will go wrong”.

I have been reading the diaries and spiritual notes left by his predecessor Saint John Paul II. You might expect to read in such papers and diary entries from 1962 to 2003, the Pope’s comments on significant events; his interaction with famous people; or records of his own feelings or emotions amid tumultuous events. However, you would be disappointed. In Saint John Paul II, you encounter someone whose whole attention is constantly fixed on Christ alone; great events and personalities are only glimpsed from this perspective. It is, of course, the perspective and sense of direction which all the saints offer to us; and how they help renew the Church and re-direct us in every generation.

Before Christmas, I came across some words of our own Blessed John Henry Newman which describe this perspective in his journey into the Catholic Church. Newman observed how Catholics had gathered in their often poor, back-street chapels with a strange lack of self-consciousness, even a heedlessness of the presence of others because, as he recognised, their focus was beyond themselves. Cardinal Newman later wrote that it is because “…the Incarnate Saviour is present in the tabernacle” in the Holy Eucharist; and he reflected how this joyous “intimate, immediate dependence on Emmanuel, God with us, has been the characteristic, almost the definition of a Christian” across the centuries. May this always be true for us as we seek to build up the mission of our parishes and our whole Diocese.

So it would be good to finish by recalling the custom of the early church when the bishop would always end the homily by crying out the words: “Turn now towards the Lord!”  And so invite everyone to turn towards the Altar and to go out to meet Christ coming to us in the Holy Eucharist.  This is, as Emeritus Pope Benedict observed, always the Church’s true orientation, our sure sense of direction amid the changes of time.  And as your bishop, I too want to similarly call us to turn towards the Lord in the Sacred Triduum which is about to begin, and in all we undertake in our mission together. Let us keep our gaze fixed firmly upon Him! (cf. Lk. 4: 21).

 

(Photos by Simon Caldwell)