At Northampton Cathedral, 8th December 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I want to begin by asking the intercession of our principal patron, Mary Immaculate, that our Diocesan Year of Prayer and Vocation may be fruitful, fruitful for each of us who make up the family of the Diocese of Northampton, and fruitful in our life and mission as the family of her Son, Jesus Christ.
What is very important is that we grasp the understanding of this special year. It is not a year of prayer for Vocations, but a Year of Prayer and Vocation. It is about our openness to God’s presence in prayer and about learning to listen and respond to God’s call, to what God is asking of each one of us in our lives.
None of us finds prayer easy perhaps because we put the emphasis on our efforts rather than just leaving space and letting God be with us. The other obstacle is that we just do not have time though, strangely, we do find time to do what we want to do. So, let’s make time this year to be still and open our hearts to God.
Only then, with the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, faithful to the commandments and the teaching of the Church, can we discern God’s call in your life and in my life.I
It is a call, an invitation, first to holiness, to live our lives with integrity, in communion with God and with one another. Then - is God calling me to be single or to be married, to focus my energies on my family, on coping with a broken marriage, on a neighbour in need? Is he calling me to work for justice in the community or to have a care for the environment?
So, the idea of vocation is very broad. It is not just about a call to the priesthood or the permanent diaconate or the religious life though my hope is that, if we are a prayerful people, conscious that we are called and chosen at Baptism, then those particular vocations will emerge.
Of course, Mary is the model for us all in prayer and in her vocation, her response to God’s call.
Last week almost thirty of our clergy gathered for a day of prayer to prepare for Advent. We had brilliant talks given to us by a scripture scholar. In one of those talks, the speaker focused on this evening’s Gospel of the Annunciation. He suggested that, when Mary speaks of herself as a virgin, it is because, at the age of three when she was presented in the temple by her parents, she was consecrated as a temple virgin.
As she grew up, she would have undertaken one of the tasks of the temple virgins, to weave the veil at the entrance to the Holy of Holies. Now God is asking her to weave the flesh of his Son through which God becomes one with us. When her questions are answered, her response is wholehearted. The translation we hear, “let what you have said be done to me” really does not do her justice. She really says, “Bring it on!”
Mary is the model for us in her prayer and in her vocation. She is also a model of confidence, conversation and connection! What confidence and trust in God Mary displayed in her conversation and response to the angel Gabriel and, as a result, there is the ultimate connection between God and ourselves. She gives birth to Jesus, true God and true man.
You may be tempted to think that Mary has an unfair advantage, that unlike us she was conceived without sin, that she is exceptional. In one sense she is exceptional but in another way she is the norm as a human being, meaning that God created us to be like Mary, free from sin. We are all dysfunctional because of sin. That was illustrated in our first reading about Adam and Eve who did not listen to God.
Through Christ, born of Mary, the Father is working to make things better, as we heard in the hymn of praise in the reading from the letter to the Ephesians – “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ” – and then – “Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence.” There we have praise and calling, prayer and vocation.
When Mary responds to the angel, Gabriel, to the call of God, she speaks for us all – “Bring it on!” When so few around us seem to believe, may this Year of Prayer and Vocation bring on God’s presence and God’s call in our lives.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
Bishop of Northampton