The Bishop's homily for the opening Mass of the Dowry visit of OL of Walsingham
Between Thursday the 10th and Saturday the 12th of October, 2019, the Cathedral hosted an image of Our Lady of Walsingham, which is travelling the country in the company of the Rev. Mgr. John Armitage, rector of the shrine at Walsingham, and a dedicated team of helpers. As part of the several events arranged for the visit to the Cathedral, the Bishop offered Mass at the Cathedral on the evening of the Thursday. The following is his homily at that Mass.
"'Here is your mother'. At one level, it could sound like a simple domestic arrangement: Jesus, just before his death on the cross, tidying up some of the practical details for the ongoing care of his mother by entrusting her to his closest disciple. It could sound like that, but for the fact that this is John's gospel that we're listening to and, from earliest times, scripture scholars have shown us that John's gospel is deeply theological and symbolic; it works on many layers.
"So, when Jesus says to Mary, 'Woman, this is your son', and says to the beloved disciple, 'This is your mother', you just know that something much deeper is being expressed here than Jesus just making sure, before his death, that there is someone to look after his mother. So, what is John trying to express here? A closer look at the figure of the beloved disciple in John's gospel reveals that this figure represents the ideal disciple , the ideal follower of Jesus, that we are all invited to become. In John's gospel we see that the beloved disciple is portrayed as one who is close to Jesus, leaning on his Master's breast at the Last Supper, one who remains faithful to Jesus even in the face of all that happened to Jesus, even to following Jesus to the Cross when all the other disciples run away; one who is the first to believe in the Resurrection, and first to bear witness to the Lordship of the Risen Christ . Jesus, in his last act before he dies, entrusts this beloved disciple, who represents all of us, to his mother.
"So today, in the presence of this beautiful statue from the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, let us reflect that each of us, like the beloved disciple, has been entrusted to Mary's maternal care. It’s quite a thought, isn't it, that Mary's maternal care was in fact Jesus' dying gift to his church, to all his disciples? Mary's first Yes to God was to accept the invitation to give birth to Jesus, to become a mother to Jesus and to protect and nurture him. But here at the foot of the cross she is asked to carry on this motherly role now to all who are Jesus' beloved disciples, to you and to me.
"Such was the openhearted response of the people in Medieval England to Mary's maternal intercession that England became known as the dowry of Mary. In medieval English law, a husband would set apart a portion of his estate which was then designated for the maintenance and care of his wife, should she become a widow. So, the historical understanding of this lovely title, 'Mary's dowry' is that England has been 'set apart' for Mary. The title reflected the deep devotion of the people in England towards the Mother of God. Well, that was then; what about now, in our time? In November 2017 the Catholic Bishops agreed to rededicate the faith of the people in England, as Mary's dowry, and this would take place on or around the Solemnity of the Annunciation, on Sunday 29th March in 2020; we are therefore now well through a time of spiritual preparation for this date, during which the beautiful statue of Our Lady of Walsingham has been visiting every Catholic Cathedral throughout England. Now it's our turn as a Diocese, and we pray that these precious few days will provide us with a grace-filled opportunity to give expression to our devotion to Our Lady as our spiritual Mother; to seek her prayerful intercession for family, friends and for ourselves; for the living out in our lives of the diocesan themes of 'Encounter', 'Discipleship' and 'Missionary Discipleship', and our desire as parishes, chaplaincies and schools to become more missionary. The challenge to each of us here today, and to all those who visit over the next few days, is to take Jesus at his word when he says, 'Here is your mother' - take her into your home. This means accepting and freely welcoming her into our hearts, into our lives, as our spiritual mother. It means saying the Angelus regularly in our homes, in our parishes, our chaplaincies, in our schools, and in our places of work. It means taking up again the praying of the rosary as frequently as we can, and particularly now in this month of the Rosary. It means committing ourselves to regular Confession and to a prayerful invocation of the Saints and Martyrs of England. Let us especially over these few precious days, and in the months to come, do all that we can to prepare ourselves spiritually for the re-evangelisation and re-dedication of England as 'Mary's dowry'."