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When your problems and sins are too big for you to handle. A homily by Fr Stephen Wang

Why is it often hard to find meaningful community in a Catholic parish or chaplaincy? A homily by Fr Stephen Wang

Homily from the Mass at the Abbey Grounds in Walsingham, Youth 2000 Summer Festival, Saturday 26 August 2017

Fr Stephen Wang

“A Message from Our Lady: Rebuild the Holy House!”

 

WE STAND ON HOLY GROUND

We made it! We have walked the Holy Mile, from the Youth 2000 festival site at the Slipper Chapel to the site of the original Holy House here in Little Walsingham.

We survived the early morning rain. We survived the mysterious disappearance of the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham – she is back with us now. And we survived the battle of the rosaries, with rival groups of pilgrims vying for dominance of the airwaves, as the Hail Mary’s and the Mysteries got more and more out of synch with each other along the pilgrim path.

We are here on Holy Ground. We are on the site of the ancient Augustinian Abbey of Walsingham. Just in case you didn’t notice it, take a look at the enormous ruined arch of the main tower to my left.

You at the back there, you are in a zone of medium holiness. You are sitting just outside the southern wall of the medieval church. Here at the front, you are sitting in the former nave, this is definitely a zone of high holiness. But these people behind me, the servers and the musicians, are positively radioactive with holiness, because they are standing on the exact spot where the Holy House of Walsingham stood for so many centuries.

This is why we are here. This is the heart of our pilgrimage.

 

THE STORY OF WALSINGHAM

Nearly a thousand years ago, in the year 1061, a woman called Richeldis had a dream. In this dream, the Virgin Mary appeared and showed Richeldis the Holy House of Nazareth, the home where Mary lived with her parents, Joachim and Anna. This is where the Angel Gabriel came to greet her at the Annunciation. This is the place where Jesus entered our world and became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

In the dream, Mary asked Richeldis to build a replica of the house here in Walsingham. Why? We can listen to Mary’s own explanation as it is recorded in a medieval poem known as the Pynson Ballad. She made this promise to Richeldis: “All who are in any way distressed, or in need, let them seek me there in that little house you have made at Walsingham.  To all that seek me there shall be given succour.  And there at Walsingham in this little house shall be held in remembrance the great joy of my salutation when St Gabriel told me I should through humility become the mother of God’s Son.”

Joy. Remembrance. Mary’s help. Especially for the needy. That’s the meaning of Walsingham.

This house, which stood here right behind me, became the most important shrine to Mary in the whole world for the next 500 years. And Walsingham, this little village, in the heart of England, became a place of pilgrimage and holiness that ranked with the great shrines of Jerusalem, Rome and Compostella.

People came from all over Christendom to make their petitions and offer their prayers of thanksgiving, here at “England’s Nazareth”. They came to renew their faith in Jesus Christ, and to express their devotion to his Holy Mother, Our Lady of Walsingham.

The identity of England and the English was formed by a love for the Virgin Mary, and specifically by a love for Our Lady of Walsingham. England alone amongst nations was given the title “Our Lady’s Dowry”. The word dowry, in medieval English, has a very specific meaning: it refers to the gifts and property that a husband gives to his wife with the legally binding promise that they will never be taken away from her, even after his death.

You see this, as Fr John Armitage explains, in the famous Wilton Diptych in the National Gallery. In this painting the Infant Jesus, held in the arms of his mother Mary, receives a flag offered to him by King Richard II. The flag represents the Kingdom of England, symbolised by the red and white Cross of St George, and the clear meaning is that King Richard is entrusting his Kingdom into the hands of the Holy Virgin and asking for her special protection.

So England belongs to Mary in a unique way. And always will. English Christians should be incredibly proud of the title “Our Lady’s Dowry”, which has been given to no other country. The tragedy is that King Henry VIII, who loved Our Lady so much in his youth, destroyed the Holy House and took the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham – holding her son Jesus – to be burnt on the banks of the River Thames in London.

 

THE MEANING OF MARY

Why is Mary so important for us and for our faith today? Because in her, in her purity and goodness, in her Immaculate Conception, the beauty of holiness began to shine in our world in a radically new way. And through her we were given our Saviour Jesus Christ.

God the Father gave his Son Jesus Christ to Mary at the Annunciation, and Mary gave him to the world. Mary is not the Saviour. But we would not have a Saviour without her. And this pattern – of Mary bringing Christ to us and Mary leading us to him – is part of her spiritual vocation.

What was true in history is true today. She is still the Mother of Christ, still the Mother of God, and still the Mother of the Church. Mary, now in heaven, continues to lead us to Christ through her prayers and intercession. This is what it means to go “to Jesus through Mary”.

This is not some unusual devotion, it is the very shape of the Christian story, the very pattern of Biblical salvation history: that Jesus comes to us through Mary and that Mary helps us to find and know and love her son Jesus. She gives him to us; she brings us to him.

Devotion to Mary does not distort or get in the way of faith in Jesus Christ, it deepens that faith and helps it come to its fulfilment. The focus is always on Jesus, but it’s never without an implicit understanding of Mary’s essential role. That’s why I think the most helpful form of the Totus Tuus prayer by St Louis de Montfort is this one, which saves any theological confusion because it is actually addressed to Jesus. It goes like this: “I am all yours, and all I have is yours, O dear Jesus, through Mary, your Holy Mother”.

Jesus is the Saviour. Mary is his mother, and our mother too in the life of faith, because we belong to him, and he belongs to her as her son.

If this sounds slightly abstract or theoretical, let me say something much more personal to you now, speaking from the heart. If you only knew the depth of Mary’s love for you, for you personally – because you are so precious to Jesus, and because you are so precious to her. If you only knew the power of her prayers, and how much she can help you in your life and in your difficulties.

If nothing else, I pray that this festival can be a moment when you discover the personal love of Christ for you, and of his mother Mary; and that never a day would pass without you turning to her as well as to him.

 

GOD WORKS MIRACLES

Walsingham is a place of miracles. We have already had a great miracle on the main festival site. One hundred years ago, in Fatima, they had the Miracle of the Sun. This weekend, in Walsingham, we have had the Miracle of the Sofas. How do you get twenty-seven vintage sofas into a field in Norfolk?

Think of all the families, the children, the elderly couples, all over North Norfolk, sitting on the floor this weekend as they eat their supper and watch the TV, because they have no sofa. Imagine what it was like on Monday evening, in the dead of night, when the Youth 2000 team spread out over the county with their minibuses and crowbars, to break into all these living rooms and steal all these settees!

I’m not sure what Pope Francis would make of this. Lots of you were in Krakow last summer for World Youth Day. Do you remember that Pope Francis spent the whole of the Vigil Service telling us to get off our sofas and get out into the real world. And now we have designed the whole festival around the joy of the sofa and the delights of barista coffee.

Walsingham is a place of miracles.

God wants to work a miracle for you this weekend. It might be something very big. If that’s the case – fantastic! You don’t need me to underline it for you. But it could be something very small: a word, a thought, a prayer, a conversation, an insight, an unexpected grace; something small but important that God wants to give you, to do for you, to help you. So the question is not “Will God work a miracle for me?” but “Will I spot it? Will I see it?

Trust him. Listen to him. Pray. Be attentive.

What is he saying to you? What is the one really important thing that he wants to reveal to you this weekend? It might be very hidden, but it will be just what you need. Find it. Treasure it. Be sure to take it home with you and to ponder it. He is giving it to you for a reason.

 

“REBUILD THE HOLY HOUSE”

And if God wants to work a miracle for you, he also wants to work a miracle through you. And I’m going to tell you what that is.

I think that Jesus, and his Mother Mary, want you to rebuild the Holy House.

Look at these ruins. The faith it took to build this shrine and this abbey. The tragedy of its destruction. The apparent impossibility of restoring it to its former glory, and of restoring this country to its Christian faith. But never forget the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets in which to Dwell” (Is 58: 12).

You must go home, with God’s help and with Our Lady’s, to raise up the ancient ruins, to rebuild the Holy House.

First, in your heart, so that your heart, like Mary’s, becomes a place of holiness, freed from the darkness of sin, and full of light, life, peace and joy. So that even in the midst of difficulties and struggles, the light of Christ can shine out of your life, as it shone from the Holy House of Nazareth.

Then, you must rebuild the Holy House in your home and family life, through your love and kindness and forgiveness.

Then, in your school or college or workplace, through your example and friendship and witness.

And you must rebuild the Holy House in your local church, in your parish community, through your faithfulness, your commitment, your acts of service and generosity and evangelisation.

Go home. Don’t go with a sadness in your heart, wishing you could stay here in England’s Nazareth. Go home with a desire to turn your home and parish and even your college or workplace into another Nazareth. It doesn’t take much, just a simple faith and loving heart, and a desire to let Jesus and Mary be present in your life as they were present in the Holy House of Nazareth.

Walsingham was the very centre not just of English faith but of English life and English identity. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could rebuild the Holy House – metaphorically, symbolically, and perhaps literally as well – so that our whole country, and I mean the whole of the United Kingdom and not just England, could know the love of Jesus Christ, and of his Church, and of his Holy Mother Mary.

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