Confirmation at Our Lady of Lourdes ~ A Day of Silver & Gold
...Such is the way my old Parish Priest, Fr. Robert Mortimer-Anderson, would always describe his own Confirmation. On Sunday 22nd October at my Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes & St. Joseph, Leigh-on-Sea, we were fortunate enough to be joined by our Bishop, the Right Reverend Thomas McMahon, to celebrate another day of silver and gold, for fifty of our parishioners.
It has been my great honour to serve the community as a Catechist over the last few months of preparation to receive this great Sacrament, which provides the completion of the Sacraments of Initiation, and provides tenable link with our bishops, the successors of the Apostles. Just as Jesus Baptised with water and the Spirit, so we Baptise our Children, claiming them for Christ soon after birth, and then with the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, which recalls the laying on of hands and invocation of the Spirit wrought by the Apostles in Scripture.
On the 16th November 2012, I wrote a blog about what I considered would likely be the last Mass I attended presided over Bishop Thomas, who is now 77. On Sunday 22nd October just passed, he joined us again for a pastoral visit and Confirmation. He himself said that though there was no white smoke yet, we should have a appointment soon. God love him, he must be exhausted!
We had an amazing fifty candidates for Confirmation, a fact for which I thank God. Some great young people, who engaged with the issues during our group discussions, which I always try to make topical and pertinent.
It is my fervent hope and prayer that the Holy Spirit enlightens the hearts and minds of the candidates and inspires them to live their lives in the beauty and dignity of the Catholic faith. I tried to explain to them how living their lives in the Catholic faith would make a real difference to the way they look at life and especially their relationships.
Bishop Thomas gave a most excellent homiletic address to the Parish, and to the Confirmandi. I don't have a transcript, but I did take some notes. He began by thanking Fr. Kevin who he stressed was our teacher, priest and shepherd, a role which extends out to the whole of our deanery, and indeed, the wider diocese (as Fr. K is chairman of the council of priests). He also paid tribute to Fr. Con Joyce and Fr. Basil Pearson, both retired, who help out in our large and busy parish community: 1,000 at Mass on Sunday, a successful RCIA programme, and many groups and organisations all go to make up our Parish. We are also involved in numerous missionary projects including a twinned parish in South Africa and work for the homeless.
Addressing our Confirmandi, Bishop Thomas explained how the parable in the Gospel forms a good instruction for those Confirmed. The Pharisee gives a list of how good he is, then compares himself to the tax collector; a collaborator with the occupying power. The difference between the two characters is markedly that the tax collector demonstrates his dependence on and need for God. We all must recognise our dependency, so on this day of Confirmation, we come seeking the Holy Spirit.
Bishop Thomas explained that one of his favourite lines in Scripture comes from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans 8:26:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.In 627 AD Christianity came to Northern England brought by Paulinus who wisely considered that the best way to convert the Anglo-Saxons was to convert the nobles. Paulinus engaged in long private conversations about the Christian faith with King Edwin. The king sought advice from his councilors, whether he should become a Christian. One of the councilors responded by telling a parable:
“This, O King, is how the present life of humankind appears to me in comparison with that time which is unknown. You are sitting, feasting with your nobles in winter time; the fire is burning on the hearth in the middle of the hall and all inside is warm, while outside the wintry storms of rain and snow are raging; and a sparrow flies swiftly through the hall. For the few moments it is inside, the storm and wintry tempest cannot touch it, but after the briefest moment of calm it flits from your sight, out of the wintry storm, and into it again. So this life of humankind appears but a moment; what follows or indeed what went before, we know not all. If this new doctrine brings us more certain information, it seems right that we should accept it.”Bishop Thomas explained to the Confirmandi that each age of man asks these questions differently, our concerns focus the nature of our questioning in youth, middle-age, and in old age. A young person might ask "how does God effect me?", a middle-aged person "how will being Christian effect my family", an old aged person "what will happen when I face death".
When he visited our country, Pope Benedict XVI said that it was important that we should not ignore our Christian roots. The Christian message is, in fact, an integral part of the thought, culture, language, and faith story of Great Britain, and has been for over a thousand years, like a compass giving direction. There is darkness, but faith comes in; not against reason, but helping us face the contradictions of life. St. Anselms had a great way of explaining this: fides quarens intellectum, faith seeks understanding. Faith speaks to heart and mind and touches the God given space in each one of us. For us Catholics, we begin our journey with Jesus and the Gospel.
These are challenging times to be a Christian. How quickly the unthinkable becomes the thinkable, then the accepted in our society. The government seeks to abolish marriage (see here), a woman is prosecuted for wearing a cross, a man is sacked for refusing to work on the Sabbath. Secularism and equality are two watch-words yet we must have a collective set of values or society disintegrates. Pope Francis calls the Holy Spirit the strength of God who allows us the strength to follow Jesus who is the one who allows us to understand the world.
I thought this homily struck the perfect note for the Confirmation candidates I looked after and reinforced points that I had expressed as well as providing some really valuable new insights.
Thank you Bishop Thomas for your wisdom and gentle leadership over the years.
PRAYERS FOR A NEW BISHOP
Father, Eternal Shepherd of your people,
you never cease to lead your Church
with unfailing providence and to guide
and nourish your flock.
In your goodness grant to your church of Brentwood
a holy Shepherd under whose watchful care
we may grow in love and grace.
We make our prayer through
Our Lord Jesus Christ your Son,
who lives, and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.