Saturday, 15 September 2018

St Mary, Balcombe Trinity 16 (24B) Mark's Gospel 16 Sept 2018

  • Today we return to Mark, Year B’s Gospel source back from a few weeks of John and today’s Gospel from 8.27-38 is the hinge of Mark.
  • First 7 chapters show us who Jesus is. Now we move into why God sent him and what it means to us. Time on all three

  • Why I like Mark:
  • Short to read eg I used to give baptism and marriage couples a copy of this (show Gospel)
  • Action packed – always picked up on & Holy Week change to passivity (Vanstone’s Stature of Waiting)
  • Earliest Gospel 40 years after resurrection copied by Matthew and Luke. Only Paul’s letters are earlier. Papias 130 AD: Mark being the interpreter of Peter, whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy
  • Mystery of uneven ending -  the original may have got lost from the end of the scroll to be replaced by other texts in Chapter 16
  • Clear purpose set forth in Chapter 8 [giving credit to Christianity Explored] show us who Jesus is, why God sent him and what it means to us.
Who Jesus is
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ 28 And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ 29 He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’ 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
  • A crucial paragraph. In Mark 1-7 we’ve followed how Jesus’ identity emerges through miracles, healings and teachings. Today’s the hinge: ‘Who do people say that I am?’
  • Variations in how people see Jesus – then and now
  • ‘You are the Messiah (Saviour).’ Peter’s role (Papias) of voicing what was the truly the case. Wisdom given Peter by God (Cf Matthew 16)
Why God sent him
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
  • As Messiah Jesus didn’t and still doesn’t fulfil Jewish expectations
  • A suffering Saviour sent to rescue us from sin.
  • The world isn’t as it should be because we’re not as we should be. The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.
  • God’s Son was sent to earth to show us our sin and to show us his own heart and bring us, in Victor Hugo’s phrase, to ‘life’s greatest happiness’ which is ‘to be convinced we are loved’
  • Visual God made us for friendship. Sin made a barrier to this. Jesus died to destroy the barrier so restoring friendship with God.
What it means to us
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
  • Taking up your Cross: A church member in hospital offering their pain for all who’re there focussed outside of themselves with Jesus for all
  • Faith is ongoing choice for God and his provision in Jesus
  • In baptism Jesus’ principle of losing life to gain it is impressed on us
  • v38 Jesus is alpha and omega

Saturday, 8 September 2018

St Mary, Balcombe patronal September 9th 2018

An elderly lady told me of an incident at the death of her mother. With the family gathered at her bedside, mother uttered her last words: ‘Thy will be done’ and immediately the blind fell of its own accord! Mother spoke her last words and died and all went black in the room as the blind came down.

I remember the tale because those words - thy will be done - are too often uttered as passive resignation to God as fate, as in the dramatic circumstances of that death which spoke of the darkness of the beyond.

Hold that image and I’ll give you another, the grave of the priest who helped bring me to Christian faith and that has another clause of the Lord’s Prayer upon it - ‘Thy kingdom come’. This priest, seeing his death with active resignation, wanted a statement placed on his grave for the cause that would outlast him, namely the ongoing, death-defying work of God to bring ‘the kingdom of this world to become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ’ (Revelation 11:15)

What a different feeling there is to those two stories, all the difference between passive and active resignation and its the latter I’m commending on our Patronal feast, the active resignation we see so notably in our Patron the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.

Faced not with death but with virginal conception - pregnancy outside marriage and its consequences as God-bearer - Mary says in this morning’s Gospel: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Luke 1:38

Her bow to Gabriel celebrated in art for a thousand years is no passive bow to fate but the active acceptance stated in the Creed For us and for our salvation [the only Son of God] was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man.

We magnify Mary our Patron on account of that collaboration in service of God’s kingdom. Through her ‘Yes’ to God, given to Gabriel, salvation is ours. Through that ‘Yes’ confirmed in the hardships she bore Mary models to us active obedience. Simeon prophesied her heart would be ‘pierced with a sword’ in Luke 2:35 and we see this fulfilled in Mary’s presence at the foot of the Cross, obediently following her Son in his sufferings. She is model Christian, one with us, modelling active resignation to God’s will in sorrow and in joy. At the Marriage of Cana she gives advice to the servants we take for ourselves: ‘Do whatever [Jesus] tells you!’ John 2:5.

What is the Lord telling us here at St Mary’s Balcombe on our Patronal Festival?

I asked the church officers and this was their reply: ‘we need a priest, someone who loves Word and Spirit, but also the colourful tapestry of village life, and wants to lead us to Jesus and communicate in that environment.  Someone who keeps things transforming, who’ll help us be part of the subversive work of the kingdom of God’.

I sensed the Holy Spirit behind that perception and thought it important to repeat it to us all this morning as we mark a full year of our pastoral vacancy. As that vacancy continues - and all the evidence is that vacancies can continue and continue and continue - good will come as God’s people draw close to God and with Mary make the most of the divinely appointed challenge.

Yes, we should see the interregnum in that positive light. The lights didn’t go out in Balcombe when Fr Desmond left to carry his light elsewhere. Each one of us has in blessed Mary an upbeat reminder of how facing hardship, as in the vacancy, can bring faith aflame. This little light of mine I’m gonna make it shine!

Ten days ago I was in the congregation at a midweek eucharist and after Communion I sensed there was a sort of cobweb in my right eye. Off I went to A&E and the next morning A&E at Brighton Eye Hospital. I arrived mid-morning and left before lunch having received laser treatment for a retinal tear. Alongside that miracle I was given assurance that my brain will find its way through the cobweb, which I can still see when I chose to focus on it, and that it should fade away in the weeks and months ahead.

It's a challenge to set the Lord before me, as Psalm 34 verse 5 invites me, look to the Lord and be radiant. Active resignation is a gift but it's also a struggle, a challenge to get on with what God wants, looking away from myself to the needs of others and the agenda of the kingdom of God.

This morning as a congregation gathered on its Patronal Festival we have a similar challenge to see ourselves preparing the way not just for a new priest - so we can then sit back - but for the agenda God has in Balcombe and its surrounds. Remember Our Lady’s counsel: ‘Do whatever [Jesus] tells you!’.

As individuals we also have our struggles in which the gift of discernment is so very important. Sometimes it's a clear invitation, as in my eye floaters, to look forward in faith. Two men looked through prison bars. One saw mud and one saw stars.

Other times we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to show us what’s most important in our predicament. That knowledge when acted upon can have very large consequences as our lives move more towards what’s good, an upward trajectory which can take us out of darkness more rapidly than we’d ever think could occur.

Life can’t be lived without suffering but as believers we can see hardship as God’s megaphone, his way of showing us what’s most important. Where we catch on to this,  see things we need to put right in our lives and circumstances, good things always come our way. We just need to fix the things we know need fixing that we also know are within our power to fix. Something easier said than done though it's good to say it in the pulpit - there’s no word of God without power!

As we offer this eucharist may our prayer be that of blessed Mary: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

Here we are at St Mary’s, actively resigned to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness for ourselves and for the people in our village.

Here we are each one of us, prepared to offer God our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice actively resigned to his will, to his praise and service, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to whom be praise with blessed Mary, saints in heaven and saints on earth!

Saturday, 25 August 2018

St Richard, Haywards Heath Trinity 13 (21B) 26.8.18

Now I’ve more leisure I’ve more time for conversation around the place. Some time back I had one about spirituality with a businessman in the relaxation area at the Dolphin gym. His firm gave him a wellbeing allowance he used to go on a Buddhist meditation course. He was surprised to hear we did contemplation in the Church of England! Somehow he’d not come to see the Church as a spiritual body. I was thinking of him as I read today’s Gospel.

It is the spirit that gives life Our Lord says in the Gospel, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. All we’re about at St Richard’s - the door left open day by day, the many services we hold, the friendships built within these walls - all this is barren without the Holy Spirit’s touch upon our membership!

Reading up to this last section of St John Chapter 6 in recent weeks we’ve heard again and again from Our Lord how we must eat his flesh to have eternal life. Now we’re told at the end of the passage that flesh is of no avail, not the Flesh of the Son of God clothed this morning in the form of bread, but our flesh. When they speak of Our Lord’s intolerable language its a reference both to welcoming this Eucharistic change - bread into flesh - and to welcoming the life-giving Spirit, the living presence of God in Jesus Christ. Echoing Joshua’s words we too will serve the Lord, for he is our God in the Old Testament reading Simon Peter shows the same decisiveness: Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God.

How can our spirits welcome more of the Holy Spirit? This is the question for us this morning as we take on the decisiveness invited by today’s scripture.

As I hold my hand up to God as a prayer for the Spirit it's five digits remind me of a rule of life involving worship, prayer, study, service and reflection. Sunday Mass, daily prayer, regular bible study, service to others and confessing my sins are the means by which my spirit can welcome more of the Holy Spirit.

A quick thought on each heading.

First Sunday worship. One of the things Anne and I miss leaving Horsted Keynes for Haywards Heath is sitting by the fire. The way fires burn has something about it which challenges a major spiritual deception which is that we can live a healthy Christian life as long as we go to Church on occasion. Just as coals cool when separated from one another so Christians need one another and worship especially to keep being fired by the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s people gather on the Lord’s day in the Lord's house around the Lord's table. Each Sunday is a new Easter - and it can be a new Pentecost!

Second we welcome the Spirit of God in prayer. In prayer we affirm moment by moment what’s real. My life and my thinking is influenced all the time by material concerns which are natural to living with a body but in prayer I open myself to the primacy of the spiritual: It is the spirit that gives life.  Like God’s presence prayer is invisible, an activity of the soul, though as with God it can find a voice. Without that activity life turns soul-less in the sense it loses its place within the overarching compassion, truth and empowerment of the God who is ground of our being. This is why I’m excited about the Year of Prayer and our forthcoming Week of Guided Prayer.

I remember once in Horsted Keynes attending a Council meeting which many feared could turn ugly. The police had been called. After a few affirmative words to those attending I said I agreed we were in something of a hard place and in need of a miracle. I believed good would come out of our meeting if we listened to one another and assumed the best of one another. I announced I’d spend the meeting quietly praying through the Psalms with their different moods of joy and sorrow which I did for almost three hours. One of the leaders said afterwards he believed this action had turned the mood of things. For myself I felt my heart, carrying the people around me, caught up into and carried by the prayers God himself provides for us in Scripture through the Book of Psalms.

When I pray for specific things I am more surprised when nothing happens to change things than when there’s an obvious outcome as at the village meeting.  

Thirdly bible study. Prayerful reading of scripture is an indisputably powerful means of welcoming the Holy Spirit into our lives and through intercession into the lives of those in our circle. This is why the church provides us with a cycle of praying through the Psalms hour by hour and day by day. We’ll have a chance in the forthcoming Week of Guided Prayer to look at ways you can pray from scripture but I’ll rest content to give one example from my own experience when parish priest in Coventry. My mother was staying with us but I’d been rather busy and hadn’t found time to really be with her. One morning during a time of what’s called Ignatian prayer I was reading Luke 7 about the raising of the widow of Nain’s son.

As I came to the words he gave him to his mother I felt convicted of neglecting my widowed mother and came back from Church to spend time with her I’d otherwise not thought to have done. My spirit had welcomed the Holy Spirit as it leapt at me out of my Bible!

Fourthly to welcome the Holy Spirit we need to give to others of our own spirit in service. Whereas rules of worship, prayer, study and reflection are relatively simply organised a rule of service is more complicated. I can make time to attend Church on Sunday, pray daily, study and regularly examine myself but making time to serve my neighbour is so open ended as to be scary. One overarching rule is to see everyone you meet as God’s gift to you. That meeting, fleeting or ongoing, is given so we see Christ before us. Here’s one of the most exciting and challenging ways of welcoming the Holy Spirit, engaging in conversations such as the one I described as having earlier at the gym which impacted me as much as my business friend.

How can our spirits welcome more of the Holy Spirit? Lastly by reflection including self examination and confession. Thinking of the power of reflection, Albert Einstein was told off as a young man for wasting time though overall he made wondrous application of his life to science.

Why do people keep so busy they have no time to reflect?

Sometimes, I’m sure, because they can’t bear the pain of facing the truth about themselves, their situation or God. Yet - if only they knew - if only we sometimes knew - with all our failings God loves us through and through. If we follow Jesus our love for the God who so loves us finds expression in a rule of life in the power of the Holy Spirit so we worship on Sunday, pray every day,  study the Bible, serve our neighbour and reflect upon our lives confessing our sins.

Such is decided Christianity, the counter to superficial living, an opening up to the God of life who wants to anoint us with his Spirit. It is the spirit that gives life… The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Salvation - Gift, Promise, Choice St Mary, Buxted John 6 19th Aug 2018

Has anyone ever asked you if you were saved? How would you answer?

This morning's Gospel has a lot to say about salvation and what it is to be saved. These last few weeks we’ve been reading through the 6th Chapter of St. John's Gospel, a chapter that ends with Peter's famous summary: Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.

Salvation, eternal life, is a gift, a promise and a choice - three headings gathering up the teaching of St. John Chapter 6 - so we'll take them one by one!

The Gift

Looking over the whole Chapter we see a tremendous emphasis on the wonder and mystery of the gift of Jesus.

The chapter starts with a tale of miraculous feeding. Five thousand are fed - an image of overflowing, wondrous grace.

Then Jesus begins to make many points about this sign, bringing out not just the meaning of that lunch in Tiberias but the ultimate meaning of all things - and how we can enter into that.

The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world he says in the passage we read two weeks ago, v33.

The multiplication of the loaves represents the abundance of life-giving grace that has come to the earth.

Who is the bread of God? He answers, I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever. v51.

What a gift! To live for ever! Always we are longing, we human beings. We long for security, for love, for identity, for purpose and reason for life - and here it is, all of that for which we long, offered at last - through the great mystery of Jesus, God come to earth, lifting earthbound beings to live with him for ever!

To be saved is to welcome the gift of Jesus, the Bread of Heaven. The passage on the Heavenly Bread interprets and brings out the full meaning of the gift we welcome in this service week by week.

Can there be a passage in the Bible which speaks more strongly about the need to participate in the Eucharist than verse 53 of St. John Chapter 6 just read to us: I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.

Salvation is about welcoming Jesus - and what he has done by the separating of his body and blood in sacrifice. It is a gift given for us in the coming to earth, dying and rising of Jesus. You can't be saved, says Jesus, by contemplating your navel, by the vague religiosity of crystals and New Age, or even by our efforts for justice and peace, admirable as they are - but by welcoming the gift of Christ into our souls

Salvation is presented there as a gift - and also, secondly as a promise.

The Promise

You have the message of eternal life says Peter at the end of the chapter.

He is confirming his understanding of the earlier teaching where Jesus makes it clear that when we welcome him we also inherit a promise,

the promise of eternal life: Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my
blood has eternal life

When someone asks you if you are saved they are really touching on whether you feel sure that your life will not be lost when you die.

Are you sure?  Do you know that you have eternal life?

I remember someone rather surprisingly asking a holy and thoughtful priest whether he believed in God.  There was a long pause. Finally the wise old man replied - I'm not sure, but I'm sure of this - that God believes in me. Those humble, thoughtful words back away from arrogant certainty and they reach powerfully into our spirits.

We may lack belief but that doesn't stop God believing in us. We may be unworthy of salvation - but that does not stop God promising it! If I know I am saved it is because God has promised it to believers and I believe God - I trust God to keep his word to me - the key is knowing the promise.

Evangelism is about spreading good news, which means letting people know about the gift and the promises of God so that they can choose for themselves to believe - which brings us onto the last heading.

The Choice

At the end of this sixth chapter of St John’s Gospel we read in v60 that many of the followers of Jesus said, "This is intolerable language.  How could anyone accept it? And they choose to leave Jesus. He then says to the Twelve later in the passage: What about you, do you want to go away too?

When we contemplate the mystery of Christ we should be profoundly moved, awed by the generosity of God in sending his Son to save us and then giving us the choice of whether we accept him or not.
This is awesome - for us to be given a choice.  Awesome, but also perilous for us to be so honoured with freedom to choose in a matter affecting our eternal welfare.

There is a further mystery of how God himself seems to make a hidden choice of those who do respond positively to him, so that our choice of God is almost pre-empted by his choice of us.

What a wonder and a mystery - the choices of God! We are saved by choice not by chance. No one has a right to heaven.  You may think you're as good as the next person - but what does that matter when we are talking about having eternal life with God? Who are we, so full of deceit and inadequacy, made of the dust of the earth, full of frailty, to be worthy of God in his holiness?

Only by God's gift and his promise - and our choice of him.

Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.

Who shall we go to?  There is one giver of salvation who gives us today his flesh and blood as life to our spirit!

You have the message of eternal life  You, Jesus, Bread of Life, promise us through our communion with you a quality of life that is in its nature unending.

And we believe Given such a gift and such a promise the choice is ours, to live not by chance but by a definite choice, a choice for Jesus our Saviour, to whom be glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

St Mary the Virgin, Buxted Patronal 12.8.18 Why magnify Mary?

Having time for conversation in a queue can be rewarding. As Fr John and I were talking in a queue at the Cathedral for the Holy Oils before Easter we saw we’d a connection with my helping out at Father Wagner’s Church of St Bartholomew, Brighton and his manning Wagner’s former Retreat here at Buxted. I live in retirement nearby in Haywards Heath, former diocesan Mission & Renewal adviser, and, until last year, Rector of Horsted Keynes. Being Priest Associate of England’s Nazareth, the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham restored by our former Curate, Fr Hope Patten gives me another link.

So here I am, then, thanks to Fr John’s opportunism, privileged to speak almost a century on from Hope Patten’s Curacy at this ‘Nazareth of the South’. My subject on our Patronal Festival will be ‘Why magnify Mary?’ and what I share is built from an eight post blog I’m launching on Wednesday, the Festival of the Assumption. This is my salute for Our Lady’s Feast on social media, a daily posting of Marian images and commentary over the Octave on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Why magnify Mary?

We do so firstly because God honours her. How sad to see Christian disagreement about Mary! That despite today’s Gospel saying ‘all generations will call [Mary] blessed’ Luke 1:48. Its biblical to magnify Mary because God himself honoured her in making her Mother of his only Son Jesus Christ, God with us. Honour though is less than worship.

Secondly we magnify Mary because Jesus loves her. You can’t love Jesus without loving his Mother. The idea that magnifying Mary diminishes Jesus misses the point. Jesus and Mary aren’t in competition. Jesus is our Saviour. Mary’s love and prayer draws attention to our Saviour as it did especially on Good Friday when Jesus said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27.  She can be our Mother too! ‘Shall we not love thee, Mother dear, whom Jesus loved so well?’

Thirdly The Spirit fills her Art over centuries attempts to capture the radiance of God-bearer Mary. As the Archangel promised; ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God’ Luke 1:35. It is a widely held view, expressed in the Church of England Prayer Book, that the Holy Spirit kept Mary ‘a pure Virgin’ freeing her from sin to be fitting instrument of bringing our Saviour to birth. There’s no better reason for magnifying Mary!

Fourthly we magnify Mary because The Creed acclaims her. Week by week we honour Mary as we profess ‘the only Son of God… for us and for our salvation… came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man’. Salvation came into the world through the unique partnership of God and Mary. Though the choice of Mary is God’s and her cooperation is inspired by God it remains an astonishing truth that without that cooperation the cosmos would not be redeemed! ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women!’.

I was singing those words last Sunday in the Angelus after High Mass at St Bartholomew's before which I mentioned my visit to Buxted and that I’d bring good wishes from everyone there, which I do now - and hope I can reciprocate. Like you they go on pilgrimage to Walsingham, share a link with the Shrine restorer, Brighton bred Alfred Hope Patten and have pride in the Church of England’s catholic heritage.

We forget sometimes that the Catechism defines the Church of England as ‘the ancient church of this land, catholic and reformed’. When new priests are installed they swear to uphold the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation.

In sharing about the dignity of Mary I’m building on the work of recovery and renewal in full Christian faith Frs Wagner, Roe and Hope Patten were about, as well as Fr Lewis Hollowood whose funeral I conducted 11 years ago at St Richard, Haywards Heath where I still attend daily Eucharist.

I think of Fr Lewis, very brave in suffering a lot of isolation in his last years, as, I recall a fifth quality of Mary: Her perfect obedience In her ‘Yes’ to God given to Gabriel and confirmed in the hardships she bore Mary models to us an unselfish obedience. Simeon prophesied her heart would be ‘pierced with a sword’ in Luke 2:35 and we see this fulfilled in Mary’s presence at the foot of the Cross, obediently following her Son in his sufferings. She is model Christian, one with us, exemplifying obedience to God in sorrow and in joy. At Cana she gives advice to the servants we take for ourselves: ‘Do whatever [Jesus] tells you!’ John 2:5. Fr John was telling me about how St Mary’s is caught up into that obedience, into doing what Jesus tells you to do, through the funding that’s come from Tesco’s for the community garden helping us open the church every more to the community. May God who gave us that leading give us grace to complete it!

Why magnify Mary? Sixthly, in my scheme, for Her perfect prayer. Who on earth or in heaven pleads for us as effectively as the Mother of Jesus? She above all knows what Jesus wants. ‘There is one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus’ we read in 1 Timothy 2:5. Jesus made clear Christians gain a share in that unique mediation so that ‘anything we ask in his name he will give to us’ John 14:13. The only qualification we have as his intercessors is close abiding in him, a quality few would question of Mary. Invoking her prayer undoubtedly furthers God’s will. Our association with that prayer at Buxted and Hadlow Down over the last century has brought blessings to many. The power of prayer is a great resource for us - what better means to shake our community from indifference to God and awaken folk from spiritual apathy?

We magnify Mary in Buxted seventhly on account of Her prophetic role.  Over the Christian centuries apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been welcomed including the one at Walsingham to Richeldis in 1061. These apparitions have come with prophetic messages calling for repentance and deeper trust in God in the face of hardship and persecution as well as indifference towards him. Miracles associated with these apparitions amplify Mary’s thanksgiving to God recorded in our Gospel: ‘the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.’ Luke 1:49 On this Patronal Feast Mary is our prophet inviting the Lord to do such great things among us in the coming year as we recommit to sacrificial prayer and seek his possibilities for our villages.

My last reason for magnifying Mary is She’s normal.  It’s you and I who’re not as we’re meant to be, not Mary! If trust, obedience and Holy Spirit empowerment flow from Mary’s purity our own distrust, disobedience and spiritual apathy flow from our impurity. Visions of the Virgin Mary show her normality in an infectious display of warmth, joy and radiance. Such displays as at Walsingham draw pilgrims in their thousands to humble themselves before God whose norm is humility, as stated by Mary in today’s Gospel: ‘He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly’. Luke 1:52

May such God-given humility, warmth, joy and radiance be ours on this feast of Mary, Mother of the Lord, and flow out from this Church to the community we serve!