Homily for the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
In every parish where I have served I have known people of great and persevering prayer. On whom in a hidden way all our parishes depend. They are often seen at daily Mass and devotions but they are always what a famous preacher, Monsignor Ronald Knox, once called “a hidden stream” always flowing but not always seen on the surface of events. This year of prayer with Mary, this Marian Year which comes to its end with this Mass today has been an appeal quietly made to that well-spring of prayer upon which I know this Shrewsbury Diocese always depends. Like the man St. John Vianney found in the quietness of the church at Ars and when asked how he spent his time said: “I look intently at Him and He looks intently at me.” Yes, this prayer re-directs and focuses our gaze to where our life and hope is always found.
Such people “in prayer” and “of prayer” who have responded so generously to this Marian Year become in this way those points of light of which Pope Benedict spoke of in his letter “Spe Salvi” (Saved by Hope). “The true stars of our life are people who have lived good lives,” he wrote, “they are the lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by – people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself …” (Spe Salvi no.49).
As we glance around this Cathedral today we are reminded of the long journey of this Shrewsbury Diocese across more than a century and half. So many whose names and faces are no longer remembered on this earth left to us what is more precious than fame or memory: the testimony of their faith. Like the daughter of Zion where the poorest had once gathered in Jerusalem they rejoiced not in their circumstances but that the Lord was truly in their midst. They were as Zechariah describes, “silent before the Lord,” awaiting His initiative, His saving act. And they were brought into that closet and most intimate relationship described by Our Lord in the Gospel not by consisting in family ties or connections but in “doing the will of my Father in heaven …”
We know the journey ahead of us may at times be dark or turbulent but we recognise in Our Lady what generations before us called “the star of the sea” helping us keep our bearings and maintain our true course. For the Church from earliest centuries experienced how the veneration of the Mother of God brings us to deeper faith in Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, just as she first “joyfully showed her firstborn son to the shepherds and the Magi” (Lumen Gentium 57). And as the Church at her beginning continuously prayed with the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1: 14) so we have prayed together during this Marian Year. We have prayed never to be diverted from the true centre which is Christ Himself
Following the example of our first bishop and the founding generation I wish to once more entrust this Diocese to Mary always the Help of Christians. Before the Lady Statue in this Cathedral, the image of which has now travelled to every parish and school in the Diocese, I invite you to join me in entrusting the life and future of this Shrewsbury Diocese to the Mother of God and the Mother of us all. So may we increase in faith and in faithfulness in all our vocations. For this is the pastoral plan always needed, the first generation of this Diocese had seen it so clearly, to say with her: “let it be to me according to your word.” Amen.