Given on 23rd September 2023, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham for the diocesan pilgrimage.
It is our great joy to be here in Walsingham again on our annual pilgrimage.
I thank most sincerely those who have made the arrangements for today, especially Fr John McKenna, our Director, and Elizabeth Uwalaka, our Pilgrimage coordinator.
I also want to offer a very special word to the Rev Fr Dr Robert Billing who has greeted us so warmly as the Rector of this historic Shrine. Fr Robert has only recently arrived here, from his Diocese of Lancaster. In fact, tomorrow he is formally installed as the Rector of the Shrine. We thank you, Robert, for your generosity in accepting this office and we assure you of our prayers and warmest wishes.
This year our theme here in Walsingham is ‘Mary, Mother of the Home’. What a wonderful title for her and what a powerful theme for our reflection and prayer.
Now the Gospel we have just heard sets us on our way. Here we are reminded of the joys and dramas of family life. The Holy Family has gone up to Jerusalem for the great feast of the Passover. This must have been a journey of excitement – a pilgrimage just a little like ours today. Each year, as Jesus got older, for their family the pattern of the pilgrimage must have changed, with Jesus going off on his own, with his friends, rather than clinging to his mother’s skirts. But then the drama: he seems to be lost! The distress and anxiety of a three-day search! How difficult that must have been.
I can remember, as a teenager, saying to my mother that she should not worry if I was out late – which was not very often! – but just go to sleep as normal. She told me in no uncertain terms that as a mother there was no way she could go to sleep until she had heard my footsteps on the stairs and knew I was safely home!
Mary of Nazareth was at the heart of her family – my mother’s name was Mary – and Mary of Nazareth is to be at the heart of every family. She knows our troubles and our joys. She is with us every step of the way. She can bring the stability of love that every family needs.
At home, and even now in Archbishop’s House, it was St Joseph who presided over the kitchen. But Mary watches over the living room and the bedrooms. I hope that is so in your homes, too!
Today we are invited into Mary’s own home, once so wondrously replicated here in Walsingham. This afternoon, as we gather at the site of the Holy House, open your hearts to Mary, asking her to take up residence in your own homes and radiate through every room something of her joy in her Son, something of her love for his disciples, something of her endurance at the foot of the cross, something of her glory as she is now Assumed into heaven.
Recently the Children’s Commissioner for England, an important public official, spoke of the importance of the family. Dame Rachel de Souza took up that post in March 2021 after a career in education. She has conducted wide surveys of the thoughts and opinions of children in England today. She tells us that children all over England recognise the great importance of education. Indeed she asked us all to work together to reverse a trend of children staying away from school. There are 1.8 million children in England persistently absent from school!
But she went on to say that children recognise that more important than the school is the family. Children, she said, believe in the family. They look to their family for love, for protection, for life. They have a natural sense for the wider family, recognising deep friendships as strengthening family life. 78% of children said that when they are facing challenges, they would turn first of all to their family.
Today we pray for all families. We want to say loudly that strong families are the fabric of a healthy society and that families need support and encouragement. Families are not a problem to be solved, but a resource to be strengthened. As one young boy said: ‘A loving family is worth far more than any money’.
Today we pray for all families and we ask our Blessed Lady to be the protector and champion of family life in our land today. Then we will be, more and more, the Dowry of Mary.
At the end of the Gospel, we heard that, after the drama of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Jesus went and lived with his parents – ‘under their authority’. There, we read, he ‘increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.’
Parents can do that. They show youngsters the way. Grandparents, too, teach us all how to face the future. As Pope Francis once said to a million young people: ‘If you want to be a sign of hope for the future, go and talk to your grandparents!’ It was in Nazareth that Jesus grew. It is in our homes that children grow in grace, in wisdom, in patience, in resilience, in prayer and in joy.
This was true for me. It was from my mother and father, together with my brothers, neighbours and friends, that I learned a little about how to entrust myself to others, and how, day by day, to entrust myself to our Blessed Lord, with and through Mary. These are lessons I still have to learn every day – as do we all.
But foundations are laid, or are missing, in our youngest years. At home, we talked about our faith, exploring it in arguments and chatting, even while doing the washing up. We said the Rosary together in our living room. Every night my parents blessed me with the sign of the cross before I went to sleep. I can still remember the peace that brought. Do it yourselves as a daily gift to your children or grandchildren! And may Mary be with you as you do so, fashioning with you a home which is blessed and full of grace.
In the hours we have here in Walsingham let us turn to Mary, Mother of the Home, bringing all our intentions and worries to her, who is the untier of knots! As we walk the holy mile, we can talk with her, for she listens to her children today and always. As we continue with the celebration of Mass, she stands with us at the foot of the cross, showing us how to open ourselves and receive the gift of Christ so that we too, with her, maybe dwelling places of the Lord and bears of his light in our world today.
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster