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 Mass of the Sacred Chrism for the Diocese of Shrewsbury17th April 2019

 This gathering of the Diocese, amid the shadows and sorrows of Holy Week always seems to anticipate the joy of Easter. For, in the words of the Psalm we “Sing forever of your love, O Lord.”  This is the joy which can never be taken away. It is the joy the Church has known amid every bitter trial.  It is the joy in which we seek to be renewed in this Diocesan Year dedicated to the Universal Call to Holiness.

Pope Francis himself speaks of holiness in terms of joy. Repeating the words of the Apostle Paul, he says that holiness is “joy in the Holy Spirit”.[1]  For holiness is our true happiness.[2]  “Far from being timid, morose, acerbic or melancholy, or putting on a dreary face” Pope Francis insists, “the saints are joyful”.[3]  Wherever such joy is lacking holiness is lacking too.  So when we bishops asked the Holy Father what message he wished us to pass on to you, his message was clear and simple: Rejoice!

“Rejoice and be glad”[4] are the Gospel words with which Pope Francis entitled his 2018 letter on our call to holiness today, the letter which inspired this Year of Holiness. “The Lord asks everything of us,” the Holy Father writes, “and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence”.[5]  Our joy will be in proportion to our striving for holiness – which is to say, our union with Christ, in prayer and in the Holy Eucharist; in the frequency and sincerity of our Confession; and as Saint Francis de Sales beautifully reminds us, doing the most ordinary things with love. For holiness is nothing other than the perfection of love.

As in the Synagogue of Nazareth, so too in this great gathering in Wythenshawe Scripture is being fulfilled as we now turn our eyes to Jesus Christ.[6] Each year in this Mass, we celebrate how we are a people that the Lord has truly blessed;[7]  for we have been anointed with the Spirit of the Lord. We are Baptised, Confirmed and even Sacramentally Anointed in time of sickness so that we might reach the goal of holiness and become in the end a saint. “This is the will of God, your sanctification” as the Apostle declared.[8]  And a priest is never ordained for himself – this would be clericalism – he is ordained to give his whole life for your salvation[9]. Tonight, in an anticipation of the day when the Eucharist and the Catholic Priesthood were born together, we give thanks to God for the gift of the Priesthood. We give thanks for the gift of our own priests and for many new vocations to the Priesthood. And we pray, above all, for the holiness of priests.

At Easter 2019, we are conscious how people are losing confidence in all human institutions, and have need to recall what the Second Vatican Council taught so emphatically “The Church … is held, as a matter of faith to be unfailingly holy”.[10] On the night and morning of Easter you and I will declare with renewed joy that “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church.” For the Catholic Church is holy because she is united with Christ, has received the Holy Spirit and has been gifted with the fullness of the means of salvation, above all, the Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist.

This realisation led the Christians of the first centuries to say without hesitation that the world was created for the sake of the Church; for she is the goal of all things; God’s intention is the salvation of men, they said, and it is called ‘the Church’.[11]   Let us never regard the Church as a merely human agency however benevolent or flawed. Let us never speak of Holy Church as if it were of our making or unmaking?

The Church is, and always remains, a Divine creation – the work of the Holy Trinity. Yet being made up of people like you and me, the Church in her members has frailties and defects.  She has known dark chapters when her children have not responded to the call to holiness and this led the Second Vatican Council to remind us that the Church “at once holy” is, “always in need of purification, following the path of penance and renewal”.[12] This is the task of our life-times, which we accept anew when you or I kneel to make our Confession or to receive Holy Communion.

Saint John Paul II spoke of the gift of holiness we received in Baptism becoming a task which shapes our whole lives, never allowing us “to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity”.[13] This is surely is where things have gone wrong. Each of us will always have something more, something greater to strive for until our last breath. Yet this striving is never by our unaided efforts, it is always with Holy Church that we acquire holiness.[14] In the Church, Pope Francis insists “you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness”.[15]   And so, on this night, we can rejoice in our Holy Mother the Church, for with her we will “Sing forever of your love, O Lord.”

 

 

 

[1] Rom 14:17

[2] Gaudete Et Exsulatate n.64

[3] Gaudete Et Exsultate n. 122

[4] Mt. 5:12

[5] Gaudete Et Exsultate n. 1

[6] Cf. Lk. 4:21

[7] Cf. Is. 61:9

[8] I Thess.  4:3

[9] Cf. Preface of the Chrism Mass

[10] Lumen Gentium n. 39

[11] Cf. Pastor Hermae, Saint Epiphanius, Clement of Alexandria cited CCC. 760

[12] Lumen Gentium 8

[13] Novo Millennio Ineunte n. 30.31

[14] Cf. Lumen Gentium 48

[15] Gaudete Et Exsultate n. 15