Being asked to preach about Mary is a double-edged sword. On one hand – what a huge honour – to preach on the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady, Our Hope, Our Love, Our Mother… on the other hand… what more is there to say that you have not already heard?
It was in that conflict that I started to pray about what I should say this evening. As I sat with my rosary it occurred to me that one of the central truths of Our Lady in all our lives is that she is never dull or over-preached or over-talked about. She is fresh and current and engaging at all times. When she touches us, appears before us to guide us towards Her Son, she is always radiant and loving and – to use a horrid word – contextual. She is always relevant; she is always present, and she always points us to Our Lord.
There is no danger that I can stand here this evening and preach about Our Lady in a way that you could possibly receive as ‘well I’ve heard that before’. Because as you sit here this evening open to her guidance she will touch each one of you in a different way – and therein lies her most powerful gift to us – her ability to reach past the layers of defensive crust we place around our hearts and point us towards Christ.
I often ponder on the Sacraments and I was once asked to define exactly what a sacrament was. I immediately responded that worship was where we reached for Christ and a Sacrament was where Christ reached for us. Where he reached right into our souls and bodies and grabbed hold of our heart and claimed it for Him. He does this over and over and over and over again and this constant flow of earth trembling love should floor us to our knees in love and terror. But… we forget this awesome love, this awesome action and over time we become blind to it. We approach the altar rail with hearts cloaked in darkness, in sin, in perhaps in sheer defence of the flooring awesome Love that we know is ours.
Our hearts are encased in steel. Our beating Love for Christ is diminished and hidden and throttled to within an inch of its life through indifference, through lack of prayer, through sin without thought of repentance and through the slow draw and the flashy lure of secular culture and so-called progress.
Week by week we approach the altar with our hearts hidden from Christ and week by week he still claims us, but we feel that claim on our lives in ever diminishing ways. Our fault. Our failure, Our Loss – not His.
And this my friends is why Our Lady is so so important in our lives. She is as necessary to the redeemed as she was to the Redeemer. Her goodwill, her obedience and love and consent was required before mankind could be elevated to eternal beatitude.
The sanctification of our souls is more dependent upon Our Blessed Lady’s continuous care and maternal love than upon any other influence.
The whole world is filled with her glory and in particular England is considered her dowry. It has been a wonderful and joyous year as we have watched the Roman Catholic Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham take her image around England to be venerated and to re-ignite a national devotion to her. More churches are dedicated to Our Lady in England than in any other nation on earth. There is no good church in our good land that does not have an altar dedicated to her glorious honour.
Earlier this year I was honoured to be at Westminster Cathedral as the image of Our Lady of Walsingham from the Anglican Shrine was taken back into the heart of our country. The first time her image had travelled from Walsingham to London since that dreadful day in 1539 when she was taken from her shrine and burnt in London.
Bishop Philip North who preached that day asked the assembled congregation
“What have we just done… We have just carried a penniless peasant girl from Nazareth into this great symbol of our National Life.”
“And we are not putting her here in some innovative or original act [of course this was before helter skelters and golf courses took over our Cathedrals]. No, we are putting her back, for this nation has always been Mary’s. Many of the monarchs who lie here loved Our Lady, many of them indeed would have made the pilgrimage to Walsingham that is so familiar to us. We don’t have to go back many years to find this land littered with her Shrines. Countless of its Parish Churches and numerous of its Cathedrals are dedicated to her and to her glorious Assumption.”
Our Lady is making herself felt in our midst once again. Her powerful devotion to us is being felt throughout every community, every church and in the throbbing arteries of the institutions that run our country – and THIS IS THRILLING!
Why?! Why is this thrilling? Why am I so excited about this?
I shall tell you… I am so excited about this because who comes before Christ in all things?
If Our Lady is being felt across this country in such a powerful way it gives me hope that we’re about to feel and see the powerful presence of Our Lord.
It gives me hope in the face of reduced congregation sizes in our more middle of the road parishes – because I see those churches that are turning to Our Lady growing and drawing in people who the church feels were lost to Her generations ago. I am excited because I am seeing so many people pick up the Rosary and dedicate their devotion to Our Lady so that they may come to know Christ better. I am excited because I see teenagers at Walsingham just getting it. Just wanting to know Her better. I see Our Lady taking these children, these young people and holding them in front of the sacrament in exposition, adoration and benediction and saying to them – HERE HE IS!
I am excited because this is how our hearts are broken open again. I am excited because our Lady is capable of taking the crud and the steel and the sin around our hearts – tearing it away from us, throwing it away and holding our hearts open to her Son. And I see her doing this everywhere. I see her doing this in small chapels in rural Hereford, I see her doing this in large churches in London, I see her doing this in tiny oratories and private shrines in peoples living rooms and I see her doing it in Westminster Cathedral in the beating heart of our country!
How then can we ensure that we are all part of this re-ignition, this exciting breaking open of hearts for Christ? Well, in a small way we can all pray the Rosary. The rosary is a tiny tiny thing. It is a collection of beads on a bit of string – or it’s a collection of fine cut glass on links of gold – it doesn’t really matter about the THING – what matters is that it forces us to sit and to pray and to ask our lady to pray for us for about 20 minutes. That discipline is hard to find. It takes time and practice to find a rhythm that works and allows you to sit and ask Our Lady for her intercession. The more steel and crud and sin we have collected around our hearts – the harder that will be to find. So go to confession. Come and see Fr. Tom and lay aside your sin and be forgiven. Shred a small part of that enclosed heart and then sit with the rosary and pray. Pray until a crumb of crud falls from your heart. Then come back and pray again until a large chunk falls from it, and then pray again until a crack appears and then pray again until it shatters into a thousand pieces and you can once again come to the altar and be floored by the awesome power of Christ claiming you for himself.
Then take your heart out into the world. Out of this church and shine so brilliantly and brightly full of love for Christ that others will be blinded by your radiance – a tiny reflection of the radiant love that Christ has for you – and when they ask you – what’s changed? What’s new! Tell them! Tell them Our Lady has prayed for you and opened your heart to Christ and tell them to do the same. Hand them your rosary, walk with them as they pray for the first time, hold their hand as the first crumb of crud breaks from their heart, hold them in prayer as the first crack appears and it may feel like their heart is breaking, assure them of Our Ladies prayers as it shatters and then bring them to the Altar – bring them to Christ and let Him claim them!
And then! Only then, will we start to see the coming of Christ, foreshadowed by His Mother.
Oh Blessed Mary – pray for us.