Bishop McKinney's Homily for Easter 2021

The Easter story, of encounter with the Risen Jesus, is one full of hope, of new life and new beginnings. Let me illustrate this through the life of one of the women mentioned in today’s gospel reading, Mary Magdala. So, what do we know about Mary Magdala? We know that, as Luke tells us in his gospel, that a small group of women which included “Mary surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out”, accompanied Jesus and the twelve apostles as they travelled around. These women provided for them out of their own resources. There is no attempt in the gospel to hide or cover up Mary of Magdala’s past; her mind and life had been imprisoned and tormented by demons of some kind, which would have brought about in her a lack of self-esteem, perhaps even self-loathing, self-harming. We, more than ever through this pandemic, are more sensitive to how fragile, under strain, the state of our mental well-being can become; how easily our own demons from the past can come to the surface and deceive us as to our true self-worth. This woman, Mary of Magdala, who probably had every reason, in her tormented state, to doubt that she could ever have a fresh start, a new beginning, encounters Jesus, the one who can make all things new. What precisely happens, the gospels don’t tell us. But we do know that Mary of Magdala, who had been tormented by her demons, was healed and set free from her past. Jesus restores to her the precious gift of self-respect and an experience of being loved for who she truly is. As a consequence of that encounter with Jesus, it seems nothing will now deter her in her discipleship, her desire to serve him. We are told that she ministers to Jesus and his disciples, and follows him, even to the Cross. While the apostles all run away, she, Mary of Magdala, is to be found with Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross.

In today’s gospel reading Mary, with other women, sets out at sunrise to go and anoint Jesus’ body which had, just before the Sabbath restrictions on movement, been placed hastily in the tomb. This faithful disciple, Mary of Magdala is among the women, that first Easter morning, who hear those joyful words, ‘You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; he has risen, he is not here…go and tell his disciples.’ Given her past anxious and tormented state, isn’t the choice of Mary Magdala rather surprising as the one to proclaim to Peter and the apostles the news of the Risen Lord? Not to God it isn’t, for He looks not at someone’s past but rather to their openness of heart and mind to first receive and then share with others the Good News of Easter. Mary of Magdala is one such person. She had joyfully accepted the healing love of Jesus; she knew the difference that knowing and following Jesus had made to her life – how her sense of well-being and self-esteem had been restored. She is in fact such a credible witness! What’s more, in John’s gospel, Mary of Magdala encounters not just a messenger of God, the young man in the tomb, but the Risen Lord himself. You will recall that she doesn’t at first recognise the Risen Jesus; thinks he’s the gardener. It’s only when the Risen Jesus calls her by name that she turns and recognises him with joy as her Master, her Lord and Saviour. He then sends her to tell his apostles. Mary of Magdala is, for us this Easter, such a good role model of missionary discipleship because, like her, we are each invited to encounter afresh the Risen Lord and then to help others to experience his presence. We so often feel inadequate to the task. We, like Mary of Magdala, struggle with our own demons: our fears, anxieties, low self-esteem, our feelings of inadequacy, and even our own doubts about God. We cling to what little faith we have, and often feel that the call to discipleship, first given to us in baptism, seems too much to ask of us.

Christ Jesus shows us in his choice of Mary of Magdala that worthiness or virtue is not what’s essential. What’s needed is our willingness to let the power of God’s grace work through our human weaknesses. Time and time again, God chooses the weak and makes them strong. Jesus did not leave Mary of Magdala in her state of being imprisoned by her demons, he called her by name. She responded to his healing, and then chose freely to proclaim to others the good news of what Christ Jesus had done for her, and how he now is Risen from the dead. The Resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate story of the victory of life over death, light over darkness, grace over sin, and hope over despair. As we prepare to renew our baptismal promises, let’s ask the Risen Lord, this Easter, for the grace, like Mary of Magdala, to bear witness to what God has done in our lives.



"It’s a very special feeling to be so close to the Lawrence Chapel here, whose altar stone was found among the ruins of the nearby Beauvale Priory. What’s more, that altar stone may very well have been used by the Martyrs, St Robert Lawrence and St John Houghton, whom we are honouring in this special Mass, so close to the anniversary of their martyrdom on 4 May 1535.

"As you know they were both Priors of Beauvale Priory, founded in 1343 by Nicholas de Cantilupe and one of nine Priories to be built in England dedicated to the Carthusian Order of Monks who lived and worshipped God there for some two hundred years until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. John Houghton was Prior in 1531 for only a short time, because later that year he was elected Prior of the London Charterhouse. His successor, Robert Lawrence, continued as Prior until 1535. That year, those two, along with Augustine Webster, Prior of Axholme in Lincolnshire, travelled in good faith to meet Thomas Cromwell to plead for a dispensation, for themselves and their monks, from the new Oath of Supremacy which recognised King Henry VIII as head of the Church in England. But Cromwell had them arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. When they refused to take this Oath, they were first hanged at Tyburn, and then, while still alive, they were savagely drawn and quartered, so making John Houghton and Robert Lawrence the first Carthusian Martyrs in England.

"St Thomas More, from his prison window in London Tower, saw the martyrs being taken out to Tyburn and, turning to his daughter said, “Lo, dost thou not see, Meg, that these blessed fathers be now as cheerfully going to their deaths as bridegrooms to their marriage?” What would have sustained these men during their imprisonment in the Tower and given them such courage and peace of mind to face martyrdom? No doubt it was their lives of faithfulness to God spent in silence, prayer and manual labour in the Beauvale Priory. There they would each have spent several hours a day alone in their simple cells in silent prayer and study, some time in manual labour to help sustain the Priory and its land, a little time to eat, and the rest in communal worship. Priors Robert Lawrence and John Houghton were men who had given their lives to service of Christ, not out of a sense of duty but out of love for Christ, whom they had personally encountered in their hearts, whom they wished to serve as his disciples, and whose love sustained and directed the way they freely lived and gave their lives as witness to him. When we stop and think about it, their generous witness is a perfect illustration of the living out what Jesus is saying to his disciples in today’s gospel reading:

“Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me…for cut off from me you can do nothing.”

"When, on the night before he gave his life for us, Jesus spoke in this way of himself as the true vine, he promised to abide within us and to nourish and make our lives fruitful: “whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty.” I do believe that the time Robert Lawrence and John Houghton spent in silent prayer at Beauvale, with hearts open to doing God’s will, was the foundation for Christ Jesus being able to do such great work in their lives, and also through their deaths. I say this because the blood of the martyrs has, down through the ages, inspired so many Catholics to live, and give of their lives, generously in the service of Christ. May their example continue to remind us of our absolute dependence upon Christ: “cut off from me you can do nothing”; that without his love, allowed to work freely in our hearts, we would not have the motive to live our lives generously as his disciples; without his promise, “I am with you always”, we would not have the courage to persevere in times of difficulty; and without the gift of his Holy Spirit, being given the freedom to work within us, we would not be inspired and enabled to do God’s will in our lives, here and now. What is certain is Christ Jesus also wants our lives to be fruitful: “It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit.” He is generous always towards us, let us in turn live our own lives generously in his service.

"St Robert Lawrence, pray for us.

"St John Houghton, pray for us."


Bishop Patrick McKinney