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Holy Week(click to download PDF)
The Rector writes ...
I visit Nazareth House in Hammersmith on a regular basis to keep in touch with an ex-parishioner. The Sisters of Nazareth founded their house in West London in 1851 and since then it has been a haven of care for the elderly. I happened to be there last week on a warm day and was able to walk in the grounds, a part of which has been given over to a small cemetery for the earliest members of the Community. It was moving – and not a little shocking – to see that many of these pioneering nuns, most of whom were from an Irish background, had died in their forties, thirties and some even in their twenties. Their memorial crosses stand as a tribute to lives given in the service of the disadvantaged – presumably many of the sisters dying from the diseases of poverty prevalent at the time, most probably tuberculosis. We should never forget that in the years before a national health service and the many other aspects of care which we now assume to be the government’s responsibility, it was religious women like the Sisters of Nazareth who did so much - often at great cost to their own welfare - for the needy in the great urban centres of this country.
This weekend sees the annual day of prayer for vocations which is associated with the Gospel reading in which Jesus speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd. In his message for today, Pope Francis writes: “A vocation is a fruit that ripens in a well cultivated field of mutual love that becomes mutual service, in the context of an authentic ecclesial life. No vocation is born of itself or lives for itself. A vocation flows from the heart of God and blossoms in the good soil of faithful people”. If we unpack those words, it means that the discovery of a vocation – which means nothing more or less than the purpose of God for each of us as individuals – is best discerned within the life of the local Catholic community. We all share in the responsibility of building a parish which is holy in its dependence on the graces only God can give, and outward looking (“missionary” is the Holy Father’s favoured term) in its concern for the needs of those who make up its number and for the wider community in which it exists.
The response of the Mother of Jesus at the wedding at Cana defines vocation: “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). It is the life’s work of a Christian to grow in understanding of how each person’s unique blend of resource and history is to be utilised, not just for the benefit of themselves and their own dependents, but to build up the Church in its vocation of service to the world. Pope Francis challenges all of us when he says: “stake your lives on noble ideals”. There are, though, specific calls to service within the Church: the ministry of the Good Shepherd needs to have visible expression and there are particular vocations which are crucial if the other members of the Church are to be enabled play their part to the full. It is heartening to hear that in England the number of women entering religious communities (both active and contemplative) has risen significantly in the past year, and we know that there has been a steady increase in the number of seminarians in our own diocese (thirty five at present). But as Jesus says: “the harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest” (Matthew 9:37).
The Pope’s message this year contains a strong emphasis (“we are called to adore Christ in our hearts”) on the connection between holiness of life and the recognition of vocation: it is from within communities which are truly Christ-centred that individual men and women come to understand what is being asked of them. Only a minority will ever be called to priesthood or consecrated life but all the Baptised have the duty to help build a culture of vocation in which there is the expectation on the part of everyone that life will be lived not for themselves but for the Christ we discover present in others. “The more we unite ourselves to Jesus through prayer, Sacred Scripture, the Eucharist, the sacraments celebrated and lived in the Church, and in fraternity, the more there will grow in us the joy of cooperating with God in the service of the Kingdom of mercy and truth, of justice and peace. And the harvest will be plentiful” (Pope Francis).