Midlands Synod Homily 2016
There was a foreign language student who was spending time in an English classroom as a way of improving her mastery of the English language. During a wet Friday afternoon in the far left hand corner of the classroom a commotion broke out as a fierce argument erupted between three of the children. The young foreign language studentrushed into the corner to sort it out. And what she meant to say was, `What on earth are you doing?’ but because her English wasn’t yet perfect what she actually said was, `What are you doing on earth?’
`What are you doing on earth?’
On Founder’s Day, and at Synod Mass it is a very good question for us to ask about our Society. `What are you doing on earth?’
Like all first order questions such as Where do we come from? Where are we heading? Who are we? Does our life have any ultimate meaning and purpose? The question `What are you doing on earth?’ has the potential to stop us in our tracks.
`What are you doing on earth?’ ,is a question that as brethren we can be asked quite appropriately.
The Rule ,of course reminds us, that what we are doing on earth is this: The call of Christ invites us to take up the Cross, and to follow in the way of the Cross, in faithfulness and obedience to Christ, and in union with Him, even unto death, in the fullness of resurrection life. The Rule then adds: The Brethren shall endeavour to imitate the Crucified Saviourin every aspect of life, and, through following this discipline in their teaching and pastoral care, to help others to do the same.
In this Jubilee Year , this Holy Year , of Mercy it is I believe essential that we recover the truth that at the heart of the life and ministry of the brethren of the Society must lie the teaching and practice of mercy for nothing less would represent an adequate imitation of the crucified savior in every aspect of life and nothing less than the golden thread of mercy running through our teaching and pastoral care will help others to follow the crucified lord.
I am trying to say that our Society should exist for mercy as fire exists for burning. Mercy should be part of our very essence , it should be the beautiful fragrance of Christ that is exuded by brethren in their disciplined lives of catholic and apostolic teaching and pastoral ministry.
There are just three pieces of the Holy Father’s teaching which I want to remind us of to illustrate this conviction that mercy must lie at the heart of what we are about as priests of our society.
Firstly, the field hospital. The Holy Father has said In one of his extended interviews that he thinks of the Church as a field hospital where treatment is given above all to those who are most wounded , a church that warm’s peoples hearts with its closeness and nearness. This image can bring to mind for us Fr. Lauder and his work first in Wappingwhere he was renowned for providing schools, a refuge for prostitutes, a hostel for homeless girls, night classes and parish clubs, an insurance scheme for dockers, coal for the poor and general poor relief. And then his time at S. Peter’s London Docks and his self sacrificial caring for and even carrying of the victims of the cholera outbreak.
Another well known saying of the Holy Father has been that the priest should smell of his sheep. At his first Chrism Mass as Bishop of Rome he preached that : Priests, need to go the "outskirts” where there is “suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters.”
God’s grace, he added, “comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.”
He warned that a priest who never puts his heart on the line “never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks.” Instead, he said, he becomes a manager rather than a mediator.
“This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad — sad priests — in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with "the smell of the sheep",” the Pope explained. “This I ask you: be shepherds, with the "odor of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.”
How redolent are these words of those of our own Bishop Weston: But I say to you, and I say it to you with all the earnestness that I have, that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum.
Mercy in the field hospital , mercy with the people and finally mercy in the confessional.
Pope Francis has recently told this story of a dialogue that he had with a man when he was still serving in Argentina. After the explanation of God’s mercy had been given to him , the man exclaimed: ‘Oh, Father, if you knew my life you wouldn’t talk to me like that! I have done some terrible things!’ This was Francis’s reply: ‘Even better! Go to Jesus: He likes to hear about these things. He forgets, he has a special knack for forgetting. He forgets, he kisses you, he embraces you, and he says: ‘Nor do I condemn you: go, and sin no more.’ That is the only advice he gives. If thing haven’t changed in a month … We go back to the Lord. The Lord never tires of forgiving: never! It is we who tire of asking him for forgiveness. We need to ask for the grace not to get tired of asking for forgiveness, because he never gets tired of forgiving.’
Brothers, may we never get tired of asking for forgiveness for ourselves or of encouraging our people to ask for forgiveness because the Lord never gets tired of forgiving.
So then, what are we doing on earth: we are aiming to imitate the Crucified Saviour in every aspect of life, and, through following this discipline in our teaching and pastoral care, to help others to do the same. We are aiming to be genuine missionaries of mercy in the field hospital , smelling of the sheep and never ceasing to ask for mercy for ourselves and for others because God never tires of forgiving. Amen.