Here's the homily I preached last Sunday. People commented positively upon it after Mass so I thought I'd put it up. (Perhaps they were just being kind...)
In the prayers of today's Mass there is a great note of humility on the part of the Church. She comes before God pleading for pity and mercy:
"Let Thy continual pity cleanse and defend Thy Church, we beseech Thee, O Lord; and because it cannot continue in safety without Thee, govern it evermore by Thy help." (Collect)We are not a people celebrating ourselves, but rather conscious of our need of continual guidance and help from God. We are not a self-governing body where things are decided by a majority vote, political expediency, etc. "Govern it evermore by Thy help." The Church looks to God for its governance.
Man always searches for autonomy, but when he finds the kind of autonomy he seeks he is lost. He is like a man taken into space without oxygen and without a suit. It is only when we allow ourselves to be "governed" by God that we find true life and freedom.
This "governance" God carries out - in our souls and in the Church - by the work of the Holy Spirit: living in the Spirit, walking in the Spirit as St Paul puts it. (Epistle, Gal. 5:25,26; 6:1-10)
The humility with which the Church comes before God beseeching His guidance, knowing that She "cannot continue in safety without" Him, must characterise our own personal lives too:
- we should have a spirit of meekness
- we must consider ourselves lest we also be tempted
particularly when carrying out the sacred duty of fraternal correction.
We each know how proud we can be, how easily we can deceive ourselves. Every big fall begins with a little compromise here, a self-deception there.
A friend told me recently how, as a young priest, he had delayed his return to the parish where he was due to hear confessions. When he left, he put his speed-radar detector on the dashboard so that he would know when he was approaching a police radar check. He noticed, too late, that he had passed such a check and saw the police car coming behind him. He hurriedly hid the radar detector in the glove compartment and pulled over. "In a hurry Father?" asked the policeman. "Yes, sir, I'm running late for confessions" replied the young priest. "Where's the radar detector?" "It's stowed away." "Well, Father, I could overlook this, but you set out this afternoon with the intention of breaking the law and so I have no alternative but to book you."
I think the policeman gave that young priest, who is now a bishop, a very salutary lesson in the art of hearing confessions!
Another great bishop who as a youngster went off the rails was St Augustine whose feast we kept last 28th August. In his "Confessions" we learn that, as Pope Benedict said recently in a Wednesday audience, he "drank in the name of Jesus with his mother's milk and that his mother brought him up in the Christian religion whose principles remained impressed upon him even in his years of spiritual and moral dissipation."
In those years of dissipation, he sought happiness in things that could not satisfy the human heart, whether in the sinful desires of the flesh on the one hand, or the other manicheistic extreme of considering all things of the world to be despised, to be treated with contempt.
All the while there was a woman, a widow, praying for him: his mother St Monica. Like the widow in today's Gospel (Lk 7:11-16) she was grieving over her son's soul, as the widow was mourning the death of her adolescent only son as she took him to be buried.
That widow had no idea that Jesus would pass by and restore him to her. St Monica's grief was markedly different for she never ceased to pray to God that her son would return to the fold of the Christian faith.
Many families experience the total lapsation of their children. They might themselves have failed to pass on their faith to their children; perhaps they didn't realise how different the world in which their children were growing up was from the one they grew up in; they didn't reliase there would be a battle to be fought; they thought they could leave it to the schools, the Church...
What is sad, sometimes, is when parents simply shrug the lapsation of their children off: "They've got to make up their own minds." And they give up.
Is this what St Monica did? No, she prayed, ceaselessly, for her wayward son. She saw the whole purpose of her life in terms of winning him back, and once he had converted and, further, consecrated his life to the service of God, she considered her life's purpose fulfilled and that there was nothing left for her but to die. And she did so happily on 27th August 387 at the age of 56, asking her son not to trouble about her burial but to remember her, wherever he was, at the altar of God.
So, mothers, fathers, never cease to pray for your children who may have wandered from the faith, and pray with real faith and hope. Forgive me for referring to the example of my own mother, who spent one hour each day in the church praying for each of her six children, a different one on each day. Thankfully, five of those six children practise the faith. The other still needs winning back, hopefully by the prayers of our mother from heaven.
You don't know whether your prayers will be answered in this life or the next, but the Lord surely can't fail to have compassion on you as she had compassion on the widow in today's Gospel.
That widow could also be considered as imaging the Church that prays for her wayward children too. Recently I witnessed a young man laugh mockingly has he remembered his first Holy Communion, showing such lack of regard for the great gift that had been given him but which he now rejects. The Church mourns and prays for people like that. The Church constantly prays for the return of the lost sheep, and she has so many experiences of joy as the Lord restores to her those who may have wandered.
The Offertory antiphon sums up well the experience of the Church and of us as we place our trust in God:
"With expectation I have waited for the Lord, and He had regard for me; and He heard my prayer, and He put a new canticle into my mouth, a song to our God." (Ps. 39, 2-4)