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Archbishop Paul's homily for the Mass of Thanksgiving

Homily for the Mass of Thanksgiving for the Reopening of the Cathedral, Friday 7 June, 7.30pm

Most of us have grown up hearing about the Sacred Heart.  If we are honest, it is probably more in terms of the schools and colleges that bear that name, or in my case the parish in which I grew up.  We have seen the statues and pictures of Jesus with his heart pierced with the crowns, the cross at the top and the light emanating from his heart, with Jesus pointing to his heart with one hand and out to the world with the other.  Indeed, these images have almost become somewhat fashionable for people who have no religious affiliation at all.


The risk for us in all of this, is that this devotion loses the significance of what it represents and calls us to.  The sensibilities of the modern age may not be so attuned to the image itself.  And yet, it captures a deeply powerful reality, and a central aspect of the nature of God and his Son, which we lose sight of at our peril in terms of our journey of faith and our connection to the God who made us.


We know that devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus began early in the life of the Church but came into prominence with the revelations to St Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century.  This in part was a counter to the rigor of Jansenism which was spreading in Europe, a movement that stressed a very pessimistic view of human nature and freedom, and that relied totally on God’s grace to save us.  The revelation of the divine heart of Jesus was to focus on the real and deep love and mercy of God for us, his people, coming from his very heart.  It is about the light and hope that comes from this deep love, a love which forgives all wrong when it is sought, which shines light into the darkness of sin, which draws us into the heart of Jesus, which is indeed the heart of God.  This is an image of great hope and affection for us.  It is no wonder the people at the time, and since, have found such solace and consolation from this devotion to the Sacred Heart.


If we think of Jesus, I wonder how often we think of him as a flesh and blood person on this earth?  That God sent his son to be one of us is such a mystery, but he was physical as we are physical.  He did feel as we feel.  He did experience the emotions that we experience.  We see that so clearly in what he did – he wept at the tomb of Lazarus, he was deeply moved by people’s response to him, he was angry when the temple was turned into a trading post.  He was moved in his heart, not just in his intellect or his will.  He responded from the heart.  His two great parables of the Good Samaritan and Prodigal Son show us his wish for us to understand what God’s love for us is like, that it is real, and has expression in the physical realm.  It isn’t just some nice idea about God in the intellectual realm.  Perhaps that is what we are struggling with now when we turn Jesus into a kind of guru who said and did good things for others, or who gave a philosophy for living life that can lead to contentment.


We know what the heart means to each of us.  We know what it is to love, to be moved with sorrow, to be filled with delight when we experience moments of connection or beauty or tranquillity.  We have a God who knows and experienced that as well in Jesus his Son, and who wants us to rest in that same heart, his heart, as we move on our journey to his kingdom.


St Paul captures this most beautifully in his letter to the Ephesians that we listened to tonight in his prayer for his people.  He wants that Christ may live in our hearts through faith, and being planted in love and built on love, we will be able to have the strength to grasp and know the love of Christ, which then allows us to be filled with the utter fullness of God.  Oh, that we are able to do that fully.  Oh, that we would set aside the time and space to allow this reality to fill us.  So often we try and fill that space with all sorts of other dross, wrapped up to look beautiful, but which when exposed leaves our hearts unmoved, or provides fleeting pleasure or contentment.  For our true contentment is found in the fullness of God, and this comes when we experience the love of God for us, a love that involved the cross, the flowing of his healing blood and water, for us, so that the light of truth and healing might be ours.


In coming to have a true and real relationship with God we often begin with the intellect.  We can think our way into believing that this God is possible.  We can also engage our will and make choices that help us to become familiar with the things of God, with the practices that are part of being a follower of Christ.  But until our heart is engaged, until we fall in love with Christ and allow our hearts to speak to his heart, to be filled with his love and mercy, we will never have the fullness of what is promised to us as sons and daughters of God.  Today’s feast reminds us not only of the deep love of the Heart of Jesus for us, but also the invitation to respond in kind, to allow our hearts to be moved, to dwell in that love and mercy which helps us to be freed from the barriers we build in our lives, that stop us being able to let the life of God dwell in us, fill us and overflow from us to others.


One of the powerful realities of our religion is that we are an earthy religion.  Our God came to this earth in matter, he walked on it, engaged with us his creatures, in an earthly body like our own.  He experienced life on this earth and all that goes with it.  We express that reality in turn in earthly ways, through sign and symbol, words and gestures, in the clothes we wear, images that are physical and tangible.  It is expressed in our buildings, in the architecture and how we decorate them.  It is also about the names we have and those who we seek protection and care from, the living and the dead.  It is why we are so blessed to have a Cathedral that bears the name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and also of St Mary his mother, the perfect disciple, and the one who helped Jesus develop his own heart of love in this world.  May each of us take this opportunity as we re-open this Cathedral to allow the beauty and promise of this feast to touch our own hearts.  May this place be one where people are able to experience the fullness of God, to be freed from fear, forgiven their sins, experience the mercy and love of God, find a community of faith for support in the Christian journey, and go from here bringing the Good News of Christ to our world.

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