14th October, 2019

Homily for Sunday 13th October

John Henry Newman

Please see below Fr Gabriel's Homily from Sunday 13th October

On behalf of Fr Abbot and of the monastic community I welcome you all to Mass this morning. We have no shortage of special themes today. We welcome members of the Ampleforth Society who are visiting Ampleforth this weekend. In Rome today Pope Francis is canonising St John Henry Newman, a very significant event for the Catholic Church in England as elsewhere. Here we are commissioning our catechists who will be leading the preparation of candidates for confirmation, a role which Newman took very seriously as do we. Members of the school staff and students are also preparing for the house retreats later this week. Were this not a Sunday we would be celebrating the feast of St Edward the Confessor, the second patron of the abbey. And then the booklet for the Ampleforth Society Weekend optimistically announces the unveiling of OA Mark Coreth’s ‘Flight of Swifts from the Tree of Hope’ sculpture at 10.30am. Well let us settle for 11.30am and I will certainly try not to go on too long. This unveiling and blessing will be taking place appropriately for today in the Newman garden immediately outside Church to the north, in the garden of the Abbey Tea Room. We are very grateful indeed to Mark and to members of his extended family, who have given us this gift and who have energetically pursued the arrangements for it.

As I noted at the beginning of Mass there is no shortage of themes for this Mass and a full exposition of all of them would put in danger even the revised time of 11.30 for the blessing of the sculpture of the flight of swifts in the Newman garden, to say nothing of testing your endurance beyond all reasonable limit. So I am going to concentrate on the primary task the Church lays on every Sunday preacher in any circumstances of addressing the set readings for the Sunday and then relating these to other matters as briefly as may be and as well as I can, which I hope will be well enough.

The first reading concerned the healing of Naaman, a leper and a foreigner to Israel. He had come to Israel looking for a cure and had been directed to the prophet Elisha. Elisha heals him in the name of Israel’s God, and Naaman desiring from now on to worship God, asks to take some of the soil of Israel back home, because in his view he needs to stand on the soil of Israel to worship the God of Israel. Of course this seems a quaint idea to us but Naaman could only think of God as one God among many.

There is a little line, easy to miss, in the course of the reading which tells us that after his healing from leprosy, Naaman’s skin, his flesh, became once more like the flesh of a little child. His life was beginning over again. It is true for us that any conversion, any repentance, any celebration of the sacraments, notably confession, baptism and confirmation are a new birth, a starting over again. St Benedict tells us about the prayer of monks, that always it begins again. The role of a catechist is a sort of midwife role – you are bringing something very valuable to life, more valuable even than life, namely faith.

Then in the Gospel there are more lepers, ten this time and they are healed by Jesus but only one of them comes back to him to give thanks – and this leper is a double outsider because as well as the curse of his illness, he is a Samaritan. Jesus says not without sadness ‘It seems that no one has come back to give praise to God, except this foreigner’ and then to the healed Samaritan he says ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’ Again the importance of something even greater than life or a physical healing, the importance of faith which saves for eternal life.

We can be partial to our clubs, to insiders and outsiders, to belonging to the former and excluding the latter. Oh be careful of that! All the evidence suggests God has no time for inward looking and excluding clubs, that his church ‘one, holy, catholic, apostolic’ is without borders, like a flight of swifts, that its mission is to reach out to all and to include all. In it we will find ourselves rubbing shoulders with some strange folks and God willing we find them to be our friends.

And then there is the second reading. By a happy coincidence, or better by the working of a providence, this is a passage gifted to catechists. So catechists see yourselves in it. St Paul is writing to his fellow worker in the passing on of the faith, St Timothy and he says ‘Remember the Good News that I carry ‘Jesus Christ risen from the dead’, the very heart of the faith that went out from Jerusalem and is still today the heart of our faith, the message we proclaim and pass on, all our difficulties and challenges notwithstanding, which for Paul meant being chained like a criminal, but St Paul goes on ‘They cannot chain up God’s news. So I bear it all for the sake of those who are chosen, so that in the end they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it.’

In his ninth lecture on the present position of Catholics in England, entitled on the duties of Catholics addressed to the fathers of the Oratory in 1851 – we had it during the novena leading up to today’s canonisation - John Henry Newman said this and it seems to apply particularly to catechists: ‘I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it’.

Maybe, catechists, this scares you a bit. You certainly have a role which you should take seriously. And note the ‘nots’; I think we all know people who can be arrogant, rash and disputatious, making a tedious fight out of everything. God defend us from such persons. But catechists, be encouraged, be people of faith and love and what you have to say will be given to you and it will shine through your actions as much as your words, maybe more than your words. And be people of prayer – go forth on wings of prayer and you will fly like swifts.