Given at St Mary's, East Finchley on Sunday, 17th September.
Today we thank God for the gift of the parish of St Mary’s East Finchley. We celebrate 125 years since the foundation in 1898 and 70 years since the building of this Church in 1953, the first to be built in the diocese after the Second World War. The original Church was bombed in 1940 and the parishioners quickly moved to a recently built wooden hut. As the number of Catholics grew in the post-war period, it was recognised that there was need for a new Church. The building of this present Church was a sign of hope and courage.
As we enter through the front door of the Church, we enter a space of gathering and we are greeted by Our Blessed Lady, Mary, to whom the Church is dedicated. She always points us to Christ. We remember in the words of St. Louis de Montfort, ‘To Jesus through Mary’. We then see that the shape of the Church is cruciform and reflects the Cross of Christ. The nave represents the upright of the cross, the transepts the arms of the beam of the cross, and the sanctuary where the head of Christ rested. Christ continues to rest here as we celebrate the Mass on the altar. Christ the Head, represented by the priest, surrounded by his Body, God’s holy people; all come to receive the Body of Christ and be sent out into the streets and houses as the Body of Christ. This dynamic has given life to this parish for 125 years for which we thank God.
This celebration of these anniversaries reminds us of the countless prayers that the walls of the Church have heard whispered or prayed aloud, the rosaries and the celebrations of the Mass, Christ’s Sacrifice, day by day and week by week, to ask for God’s help and to renew and refresh the life of God’s holy people. In joy and in sorrow, in birth, marriage and death, in the celebration of the sacraments, the life of God’s holy people has been built up to sustain and deepen peoples’ faith, to give comfort in distress, courage in weakness, faith in doubt. As we heard in the second reading, the life of each of us has its influence on others. We are here to live our faith because of the rich tapestry of people who have shaped and helped to mould our lives; parents, families, schools, parishes and our priests. We thank God for the service of the priests who have led God’s holy people in prayer. This parish has been rich in giving vocations to the Church. We thank God for the priestly service of Canon Robert Plourde (ordained 1975), Canon Mehall Lowry (1991), Fr Michael O’Boy (2000), and the deceased priests Fr Michael Archer (1959, d.2014) and Canon John McDonald (1955, d.2016) - a wonderful total of 219 years of priesthood – in a line this would stretch back to 1804.
Pope Francis expressed the life of the parish in a beautiful passage in his letter The Joy of the Gospel (28),
The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members (to spread the gospel) to be evangelizers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach.
The word ‘sanctuary’ is a lovely word invoking safety, solace, and love. It offers a word of welcome to those whose lives are dry and parched. Here they find a place for prayer and silence with Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. Around the altar the thirsty for Christ can receive his body and blood; since Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35).
A healthy parish always looks after its families – so important for the good of our children. The family needs to be at the heart of Catholic life. We thank God for our schools and teachers which play such a vital part for the good of children and the future.
A healthy parish looks outwards to serve the needs of the people around it. We thank God for Sisters of Nazareth and their care at Nazareth House dating back to 1921.
A healthy parish always looks outwards for to serve the needs around it. In recent years, the need for the foodbank has grown and its activities have expanded to serve increasing needs in a society where the divisions between people grow wider.
All these activities, with Christ at the centre, as well as the conversations in the streets and the local shops, are moment when we can give hope to others and communicate, often not in words, the hope that is in our heart that is Jesus Christ risen from the dead to save us and call us his friends.
Mary is Our Mother and the Mother of the parish. Her titles can help us understand this better.
On Friday, we celebrated Our Lady of Sorrows. Our Blessed Lady stands at the foot of the cross and prays for her Son. She brings all our needs to Jesus. We are invited to make a home for her in our hearts, just like the Apostle John.
Our Lady is the Mother of Mercies. She reminds us of God’s forgiving and generous merciful love which frees us from our sins and restores us to full life in Christ. We have been forgiven greatly, we have had mercy poured upon us, as we heard in the gospel. The more challenging invitation is to forgive others. St Mary is our advocate to help us.
Our Lady, the Morning Star, lights the way to Jesus. She is the star that shines out leading us to her Son so that we may tell others of his love and mercy and reach out as a parish to serve the needs of others. As we look to the future, we pray that Our Mother Mary will help the parish to grow, to nurture the faith, and to reach out to others in mercy and love.
St. Mary, pray for us.
Bishop John Sherrington