Thursday, 8 March 2012

Hanging on to the hem of Our Lord's garment

Last Sunday afternoon I assisted at Benediction at Sacred Heart Church, Loughborough, where the priest of the parish, Fr Mark Lawler, is putting on Devotions each Sunday at 4pm for the duration of Lent - each one with a guest preacher. Fr Ian O'Shea of Liverpool Cathedral gave the Homily, which I thought was well worth reproducing as food for thought for many of us, with some practical ways helping us to remember what a wonderful gift the Lord's presence among us really is. We might see the Lord's garment today as the Church itself - what He is clothed in on earth. She gives us many ways of "hanging on" to Him - if only we would reach out and take them!

Here is the Homily:

Shortly after the death of Mary Tudor and the accession of Elizabeth I the Blessed Sacrament was removed from Westminster Abbey for the last time. The English composer, William Byrd, was moved to compose a motet: Civitas Sancti Tui. I say 'motet'. It was more a cry of grief:

'The city of your holy one is left empty.

Zion is become a desert.

Jerusalem is in desolation.'

We ourselves get a taste of that desolate emptiness, should we enter a Catholic church on Good Friday evening. The red lamp is not there, the Lord has gone. We get a chilling glimpse of what life is like without the presence of Christ.

But, thanks be to God, for us that emptiness does not last long. The first Mass of Easter comes, the Consecration of the Mass... and Christ is among us again in the Blessed Sacrament: Immanuel, God-with-us. And from the Tabernacle, from the Monstrance, we seem to hear Him say: 'Behold I am with you always, until the end of time.'

The Gospels tell us there was once a woman who had suffered from what we would call 'women's problems' for twelve years. Such was her reverence for the Body of Christ that she reached out from the crowd as Our Lord passed and took hold of the hem of His garment. 'If I can touch even the fringe on the hem of the garment that touches His Body', she said, 'I will be cured'. And, of course, she was.

And we ask, 'What are the fringes that we have to hold on to to express our love for the Body of Christ, to SECURE our love for the Body of Christ and to draw healing grace from it ?' A few suggestions:

Regular Confession.

These two sacraments have long gone together. The Catholic who has stopped going to Confession regularly will first of all become blasé about venial sin. They've stopped taking seriously the fact that regularly receiving the Lord's Body and Blood demands that we strive for holiness, for perfection. We mustn't be 'content' with our venial sins. Venial sin isn't trivial sin.

Eventually the person who is blasé about venial sin may become blasé even about mortal sin. At Requiems and First Holy Communion Masses we often see whole hordes of people coming up to Holy Communion whom we haven't seen at Mass since their last family celebration. Some people see no need to go to Confession before receiving Holy Communion, even though they are in mortal sin. Do they really believe in the Real Presence ? Do they really believe that this is Our Lord? St Paul tells us in his first letter to the Corinthians that those who receive this Food in mortal sin eat and drink their own condemnation.


Our love for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament will show itself even from a distance, for example in the way we bow our heads when we pass a church. But our reverence will become more evident the nearer we get to Him. So, our genuflection on entering the church will be more than a perfunctory 'bob'. It'll be a real prayer, thoughtfully done. Look at the tabernacle when you do it. Make it an act of homage to the Master of this House.

And, of course, when you come for Holy Communion. We know nowadays you are permitted to receive Our Lord in the hand. If you do, do it reverently. But the Holy Father on many occasions has said that the instinct of Catholics in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament should be to kneel and to receive on the tongue. In most Catholic churches the altar rails have long since gone. It is a brave person who dares to kneel; though, God bless them, some do.

If you should have a Parish Priest who allows you to kneel, if you have one who provides you with the possibility of kneeling, take it. Here is St Francis of Assisi speaking to his brothers:

O admirable greatness, O amazing kindness, O sublime humility!

The Lord of the universe, God and Son of God

so far abases Himself that, for our salvation,

He lies hidden under the appearance of bread!

Brethren, seeing this humility on the part of God, let your hearts be opened;

bow down before Him, so that He may lift you up!

Making a Preparation for Mass and a Thanksgiving after Mass.

If only we could get back to arriving early to prepare for Mass, allowing our soul to 'warm up' so that we're ready to enter into the Mass when it begins. It would transform our participation in the Mass. And then, at the end of Mass, kneeling down to make a few moments' Thanksgiving. The minute or two you get, if you're lucky, after Holy Communion isn't enough. You need longer to be with Our Lord. Make a Thanksgiving. If you're a daily Mass-goer, can I suggest that you give a lead and show a good example to other Catholics.


The blessed silence of a Catholic church. Do you remember it ? Time was when, after the Blessed Sacrament itself, the greatest treasure of a Catholic church was its silence. Whatever happened to it ? You know, I wonder if there aren't some people who come to Mass and go home without hardly having spoken to Our Lord at all, not personally. They've joined in with all the vocal prayers but they've not been allowed to speak to Him in silence.

And yet it is in silence that true 'active participation' takes place. The Mass gives you some moments for silence. (The Extraordinary Form of the Mass certainly does. Little wonder that in the past it produced so many vocations.)

But each of us has a responsibility to make sure that silence is preserved in the church before Mass and after Mass too. Courtesy alone demands that we let people pray who want to. And, in time, we might begin to get a taste for the silence ourselves.

Remember the woman in the Gospel ? : 'If I can only hold on to the fringes of the hem of His garment... Regular Confession, Reverence, Preparation for Mass, Thanksgiving after Mass, Silence... I will be healed.'

In the Gospel we heard St Peter say to Our Lord during those unforgettable moments with Him on the mountain, 'Rabbi, it is wonderful for us to be here.' He wouldn't be anywhere else. It is wonderful for us to be here too, though there are a thousand-and-one other places we might be, a thousand-and-one other things we might be doing.

HERE is where Our Lord wants us to be: with Him. We are not here by chance. We have been summoned, just as surely as Peter, James and John were. Our Lord took them with Him 'and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone.' This time will pass quickly. Let's savour it. For Christ is as truly present here as he was on Mount Tabor.

And the Father is still saying: 'This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to Him.'


Dorothy B said...

ldedueThank you, Father, for printing this wonderful homily, and please convey my thanks especially to Fr O’Shea. This was a great spiritual gift for the Catholic community of Leicestershire.

It is lovely to see these rays of light from the Archdiocese of Liverpool. I hope Fr O’Shea will also have the opportunity (perhaps he already has) to preach these same good things to the faithful of the Liverpool Archdiocese.

Kinga Grzeczynska said...

Good homily. Thank you for reproducing it.
Kinga Grzeczynska

torchofthefaith said...

A great homily!

Another ray of light is Fr. Ian's care for the catechumens in his care in Liverpool.

This week we were glad to support him in providing orthodox catechesis on the Sacrament of Marriage.

Please keep him, his catechists and his catechumens in your prayers.

God bless
Alan and Angeline

Dorothy B said...

Alan and Angeline

Very interested in your comment. I love to read these good things about the Archdiocese in which I grew up and spent so many years of my life.