Given at Mass with the Brazilian Community, Underwood Road on the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 15th October 2023
My dear brothers and sisters,
I am so pleased to be here with you today as we celebrate Holy Mass and place before our heavenly Father our joys, our anxieties and our sorrows, in union with Jesus. This is at the heart of the Mass. Here we stand at the foot of the Cross and see Jesus constantly offering us to his Father, through the sacrifice of his body and blood, broken for us and then given as our food for Eternal Life. What a great action this is! Before him we fall to our knees in adoration and gratitude.
Our day is enriched by the Feast Day of Our Lady of the Conception of Aparecida, a feast of such importance to you and to your entire nation, wherever you may be.
I have never seen the great Basilica of Aparecida but I have learned a little of its origins and growth. But this is a story that all of you know already!
I do remember the great meeting of the Bishops of Latin America that took place there in 2007. I have read how Pope Francis has said that the work of the bishops at that meeting was inspired by the faith of the people. I hope that is true today, too, and that I will be inspired by the goodness and depth of your loving faith in Jesus and in his Blessed Mother.
Pope Francis described the great Basilica as ‘the house of the Mother of every Brazilian’ and it is from her that we learn what it is to be a disciple of Jesus and to live in his way every day of our lives.
From her we learn to live with hope, to be people of hope, to have hopefulness always in our hearts.
Mary is described in Sacred Scripture as being in conflict with the great dragon, the symbol of Satan, of evil in our world. She is the one, who through the grace of God, is victorious. This is the hope we learn from her, not a hope that we are strong enough to overcome every obstacle, but a hope that God’s promise of a place in heaven, a secure future, made to each and to all of us, is utterly reliable. Nothing is stronger than God. Indeed you may recall the lovely image of heaven as a rich banquet, good food and fine wines, a banquet at which every tear is wiped away. That is the promise and our sure hope!
St Paul teaches us this, too. He says that God is the one who gives us strength, God is the one in whom we hope! And this is our message for today, the lesson we learn at the knees of Mary.
There is a second message, too.
At Aparecida we also learn to be open to our God of surprises! This was how Mary received the message of the Archangel Gabriel that she was to be the mother of God. Now that is a surprise beyond all others. And she carried that surprise with grace and love, trusting in the goodness of God to see all things to their completion.
We also learn to be open to surprises from the story of Aparecida itself. The three fishermen were utterly surprised by their miraculous catch. They were wanting fish. They prayed for a catch of fish. Instead God gave them a gift far more precious than any amount of fish: the image of Mary that was to become a beacon of such hope and joy for an entire people.
So we too ought to be ready to be surprised by God and never so sceptical as to reject God’s gifts.
And this is the third lesson we learn: to live in joy! Mary’s great prayer, the Magnificat, is a prayer of utter joy, joy based in her loving trust in God. So it can be for us too. Mary praises God with all her heart and soul. In doing so she remembers, above all, the great mercy of God, which reaches from age to age. Yes, this is such an important part of our joy: the great mercy of God who does not hold our offences against us, but frees us from the burden of our sin, so long as we turn to him in loving sorrow and willingness to do better.
I have read that a tradition in Aparecida is to go on pilgrimage along the Passarela da Fé. Many of you may well have made that journey. It is, as is every pilgrimage, a symbol of our journey through life. On this journey through life there are just a few things that are essential: the food of life, given here in the Eucharist. Coming to Mass is an essential part of our Passarela da Fé. Keeping company with one another is important, too, for we can never make this journey alone, we belong together, in the family of the Church, in the company of our Mother. And thirdly we travel always wearing the cloak of mercy, the mercy we receive from the Lord, and the mercy which we are so ready to offer to one another.
May God bless this community and May this celebration strengthen in you a strong and lasting hope, a readiness for the surprises of God and a profound joy in the Lord.
And now let us say together the Act of Consecration used by Pope Francis as his visit to the Shrine of Aparecida in 2014. Please say it in your lovely language of Portuguese!
Act of Consecration to Our Lady of Aparecida
Mary Most Holy, by the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in your beloved image of Aparecida, spread infinite favours over all Brazil.
I, unworthy to be counted among your sons and daughters but full of desire to share in the blessings of your mercy, lie prostrate at your feet. To you I consecrate my intentions, that they may ever dwell on the love that you merit; to you I consecrate my tongue that it may ever praise you and spread your devotion; to you I consecrate my heart, that, after God, I may love you above all things.
Receive me, incomparable Queen, you whom Christ Crucified gave to us as Mother, and count me among your blessed sons and daughters; take me under your protection; come to my aid in all my needs, both spiritual and temporal, and above all at the hour of my death.
Bless me, heavenly helper, and through your powerful intercession, give me strength in my weakness, so that, by serving you faithfully in this life, I may praise you, love you and give you thanks in heaven, for all eternity. Let it be!
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster