On the memoria of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, 16 July 2016, Cardinal Vincent along with Bishop Peter Doyle of Northhampton, celebrated a Mass to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the Catholic Women's League (CWL) at Westminster Cathedral.
Preaching the homily, Bishop Peter spoke of the loving gaze of Jesus and his Mother as 'a gift for which we can ask the intercession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mother of Mercy, that we, too, may gaze on one another with eyes of love and mercy and not with judgement or condemnation'.
He praised the members of the CWL for their commitment to 'charitable work for the marginalised and for refugees and asylum seekers' and explained that 'we must look into our hearts to ensure that our words and actions are in harmony with our inner thoughts'.
The celebration came only a few weeks after the EU Referendum, which 'has evoked deep feelings and fractured relationships even within families'. Bishop Peter went on to explain that 'many members of our parishes and schools from other nations who bring so much vitality and faith to our communities are feeling uneasy and insecure, and have a sense of being unwanted or unwelcome'.
He reminded those gathered that most Catholic communities in England and Wales are descended from immigrant stock and therefore it is incumbent on all to 'remember our roots and welcome one another and embrace one another as sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ'.
Bishop Peter echoed these same words in a message to parishes and schools of his diocese, in which he also said: 'I want us to seek first the common good, the good of all with no one excluded. I want us all to be alert and have a care for people who are afraid or who feel unwanted or unwelcome.'
In the same message, he paryed 'for God’s wisdom for our politicians who will negotiate the way forward'.
Bishop Peter Doyle is pictured at an earlier celebration in the Diocese of Northampton. Photo: Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk
The full text of Bishop Peter's homily follows:
Dear members of the CWL, dear friends of the CWL, dear sisters and brothers,
I wonder what adventures you have had on your Holy Year pilgrimage here to Westminster Cathedral for Mass with our Cardinal, His Eminence Vincent Nichols, to celebrate the League's 110th birthday. Believe it or not, there is still one more step to go. In this Mass in honour of Our Lady, we are invited to climb Mount Carmel, not physically, but spiritually which, in some ways, is more challenging.
We all know that in the Bible it is on mountains that there are encounters with God, from Moses to Peter and James and John at the Transfiguration. On Mount Carmel the Prophet Elijah challenged the four hundred and fifty priests of the false god, Baal. Only the sacrifice prepared by Elijah was consumed, accepted by the one true God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Many centuries later on the same Mount Carmel, a mountain sacred, not only to Jews and Christians, but also to Muslims and Baha'is, the Carmelite Order began to emerge under the patronage of Our Blessed Lady. Hence, Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
The spiritual challenge for us is to open ourselves to the presence of God, like the holy men who climbed the mountain to reach out and touch the divine. But, rather than us reaching up, God reaches down to us. In our first reading from the Prophet Zechariah, we are invited to sing and rejoice because the Lord will come to dwell in our midst. Of course that came about through the power of the Holy Spirit, in Christ, born of the Virgin Mary.
In this Holy Year, we honour Mary as the Mother of Mercy. As Pope Francis has written, may the sweetness of her countenance watch over us in this Holy Year, so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God's tenderness. Mary was closest to that tenderness made flesh when she brought Jesus into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. She lived that mercy in every moment of her Son's life on earth. Because she shared intimately in that love and mercy, the mother of the one who was crucified and is risen has entered the sanctuary of divine mercy.
Chosen to be the Mother of the Son of God, from the outset Mary was prepared by the love of God to be the Ark of the Covenant between God and man. She treasured divine mercy in her heart in perfect harmony with her Son, Jesus. Her hymn of praise, sung at the threshold of Elizabeth's home when she went to visit her, was dedicated to the mercy of God which extends ‘from generation to generation’. Her words, of course, include this generation, all of us.
At the foot of the cross, Mary, together with John, the disciple of love, witnessed the words of forgiveness spoken by Jesus: ‘Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.’ This supreme expression of mercy towards those who crucified him show us the point to which the mercy of God can reach. Mary attests that the mercy of the Son, her Son, knows no bounds and extends to everyone, without exception.
Pope Francis often speaks of how Jesus gazes on us with loving mercy, and Jesus' Mother, Mary, shares that gaze. And it is a gift for which we can ask the intercession of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mother of Mercy, that we, too, may gaze on one another with eyes of love and mercy and not with judgement or condemnation. Then we can accompany one another on our journey to the kingdom of heaven as we have accompanied one another on this pilgrimage here to Westminster Cathedral.
If we are to be children of Mary, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, not only must we look upon one another with eyes of mercy, we must do the will of our Father in heaven. As members of the Catholic Women's League celebrating your 110th birthday and committed, as you are, to charitable work for the marginalised and for refugees and asylum seekers, we must look into our hearts to ensure that our words and actions are in harmony with our inner thoughts. The reason I say that is because the holding of the EU Referendum has evoked deep feelings and fractured relationships even within families. Many, many members of our parishes and schools from other nations who bring so much vitality and faith to our communities are feeling uneasy and insecure, and have a sense of being unwanted or unwelcome. Yet most of our Catholic communities are descended from immigrant stock. So, whatever our political stance, we must remember our roots and welcome one another and embrace one another as sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ.
In that context, I am delighted that members of the League have been equipping themselves with social media skills. Not only do those skills enable us to keep in touch with one another, especially with the sick and the housebound, they also enable us to reach into the hearts of our families. With social media we have the extra opportunity to encourage family and friends to live life to the full in the way of Jesus. And the use of social media can provide contact with many people in our society who want to identify with so many aspects of our faith: the dignity of the individual, the common good, and marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman. Perhaps the vibrant use of social media is one of the new ways that the CWL can serve the Lord and his Church.
On this memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, we ask for the motherly protection of Mary for the Catholic Women’s League, we ask her prayers, too, that each of us may imitate her, in heart and spirit, being totally orientated to the presence and action of God.
My late mother, herself a member of the CWL, used to give us presents on her birthday. It must be a characteristic of CWL members as, at the end of Mass, you present a gift for the Passage on your 110th birthday.
As our Mass continues, let us pray for the peoples of France and Turkey, and let us give thanks for the CWL’s 110 years of ‘caring with love’. Let us pray for all the deceased members of the League. Let us ask God’s blessing on the League and their families today, and let us pray for the future of the League that, like Mary, its members may continue to do the will of our Father in heaven. Amen.