Saturday, 20 July 2013

Bishop Alan Hopes's Installation Homily

I am heartened by the first homily of Bishop Alan Hopes as Bishop of East Anglia. Three things stand out from His Lordship's homily. Firstly, it is Marian - always a good thing. Secondly it calls for a radical Catholic counter-culture to the one in which the Church finds herself and, thirdly, focuses on Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist and our need to be holy in order to manifest the Eternal Word to the World.

I was talking recently with a friend asking whether the wake of the Second Vatican Council had thrown out important devotions like the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I am so glad to hear a Bishop preach with respect for simple but important devotions that can lead us to Jesus and Mary. Bishop Alan Hopes is also unafraid to stick his head above the parapet on pro-life issues.

'Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ, in our Diocese of East Anglia we have two places that have been especially associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary: Walsingham – where Richeldis had a vision of Mary; and Cambridge where tradition has it that Mary entrusted St Simon Stock with the promise of her protection of all who would wear the brown scapular of the Carmelites.

Both visions established rich and fruitful traditions in the centuries that have followed. Our Lady of Walsingham is the principal Patron of our Diocese. In Walsingham, Mary asks Richeldis to build a house modelled on the home of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, a place which can become England’s Nazareth. 
The shrine is a powerful witness to and a reminder of the One in whom we believe Jesus Christ and what it is we believe about him. Walsingham recalls for us the story of how a young woman from Nazareth, poor and betrothed, conceives and bears a son. This event is no ordinary event. For in this moment God is making a new beginning. Just as at the beginning of creation. God said, Let there be light, so through Mary he carries out a new act of creation. Jesus is not simply the birth of another boy. By the same Spirit who hovered over the chaos before creation began, God overshadows Mary and the power of the Most High came upon her. Not only is God creating anew but in this moment he is Himself entering his creation and becoming man. 
The Slipper Chapel at Walsingham
This is an entirely unique and powerful act: God is assuming our human life in order that through his Son’s life, death and resurrection, we might one day share in his eternal life. Mary is the first fruits of this sacred exchange: at the Annunciation in Nazareth, the moment of the Incarnation, she shares her humanity with Jesus Christ: at the end of her life she is given a share in his divinity. That glory awaits us all. The whole of history leads up to the moment of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ – and through this unique moment the course of history has been changed for ever. God is present in all the ordinary things of daily human life, loving and redeeming us. And our human nature is already with God in heaven through Jesus Christ. 
All this lies at the heart of our Faith. Yet, it is not just a question of knowing what we believe. We need to encounter the One in whom we believe – then our lives will be transformed and we will want to witness to him. Today’s feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel speaks to us of a profound encounter with God which transforms lives and leads to deep faith and witness. We see this faith and witness in the life of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. It is on Mount Carmel that he challenges his fellow countrymen who, through worshipping pagan gods, have been unfaithful to God. Their encounter with the true God through Elijah’s work, transforms their weak faith and their attempt to create God in their own image until they are able to profess: The Lord he is God! We see this same faith and witness in the lives of those early hermits who settled on Mount Carmel to live a life of prayer and contemplation. Their lives were transformed by their encounter with God. When later, they were expelled from the Holy Land, they were content, for they believed strongly that they were under Mary’s protection and that God still had a purpose for them.

This particular moment in history, the twenty first century, is also a challenging one and often a rather bewildering one for us Christians. Our faith seems under attack; Christian morals and values which have been the bedrock of western society have been all but rejected and we are often portrayed at the best old fashioned and at the worst bigoted. There are those who would want to marginalise the Christian voice in our society because they think of faith as a privately held conviction which has nothing to say to society as a whole. We should not, however, be daunted or lose hope. There has never been a time when the Church has not had to face huge challenges as she witnesses to her faith in Jesus Christ and his Gospel. They are saying something to us: we need to enter more deeply into our encounter with God in Jesus Christ so that we can live the life of faith close to Him in communion with his Church; we can then set out our stall as to Who and what we believe in and to explain clearly why we believe and the difference it makes to our lives. 
Mary is our greatest example of entering into this encounter with God as she ponders on all these things in her heart. She shows us how to deepen our faith and witness to her Son. First, she is the woman of obedience. Mary does not fully understand what God wants from her nor does she fully understand her Son. But she hears and listens to God’s Word brought to her by the angel. She trusts God’s word and surrenders herself to it. She consents to God’s choice of her to be the Mother of his Son: I am the servant of the Lord: let what you have said be done to me. In communion with the Church, we too need this loving obedience in our faith. We need to attune the ears of our hearts to God’s Word and to trust that the One who chose us in Christ, will show us where our vocation to serve him lies. As we do so, we shall discover God’s loving providence and faithfulness in our lives. Second, Mary is our greatest example of perseverance which brings hope. Her perseverance enables her to walk with confidence and hope beside her Son as he makes his way to Calvary. It enables her to stand at the foot of the Cross without losing faith and hope in him. In communion with the Church we must persevere in our faith, and especially when we go through those dark moments of doubt and emptiness.
We need to keep our eyes trained on Jesus Christ by persevering in the well and trusted ways of our faith that keep us close to Him – regular prayer; reflecting on the Word of God in the Scriptures; seeking to grow in our understanding of what the Church believes and teaches; receiving God’s love and forgiveness when things go wrong in our lives; regularly receiving the greatest gift of all, the Blessed Eucharist.

God’s grace strengthens our faith – without it those things opposed to our faith become so much more attractive. Our encounter with God will lead not only to a deeper faith but a real desire to witness to his Son and the Gospel. It is at our Baptism that we are given the gift of faith and called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ – witnessing by handing on the faith to others; witnessing by living lives which are rooted in the values of the Gospel; witnessing even when we have to face contempt or indifference, ridicule or persecution.

As we entrust our Diocese and its mission over the coming years to Our Lady, may her example of obedience and perseverance in faith help this Local Church of East Anglia, in communion with the Universal Church, to deepen our faith and to be strong witnesses for Jesus Christ. Through our faith and witness, may the world be given a glimpse of the possibility of a different way of living, a world transformed by faith, hope and love – the world of the one true God – who shares in our human so that we might one day share in his eternal life.'

Thank you, Your Holiness, Pope Francis, for appointing this man to the Diocese of East Anglia. May God bless His Lordship, grant him length of days, courage and holy wisdom in his ministry. 

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