Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Work of Unity and Perseverance

A Homily preached on Thursday in the Octave of Pentecost in the Church of the Epiphany, Pittsburgh, by Msgr Andrew Wadsworth during the Church Music Association of America Colloquium XXI, June 23, 2011:
Whether or not we call these days the octave of Pentecost, we find ourselves in the afterglow of that momentous occasion, the reverberation of which is still felt across long centuries, being as it is, the moment when the Church, the Fathers tell us, born from the side of Christ as he is dying on the cross, begins in a very spectacular way its public life and ministry, the magnalia Dei, as we say, in a rather intriguing double sense: the wonders which God does both in and through the Apostles.

During this time, and through the days that lead up to the great feast of Pentecost, the first novena in the life of the Church, when the Church, in its vulnerability, tiny, afraid, is huddled together in the place of the cenacle. The Acts of the Apostles, in its first chapter, records three characteristics of the Church gathered inthat place: it says, first of all, that they were [unanimiter], of one heart; secondly, perseverantes in oratione, persevering in prayer; the third characteristic of the Church, is that she is cum Maria, with Mary.

I would suggest to you that these characteristics which are so emblematic of the Church as she is being born, have in every age been characteristics of the Catholic Church, and are still now discernable characteristics of the same Church.

We sometimes fall prey to the temptation to believe that unity is something which we work hard to bring about. We should work to see a more visible unity among those who call themselves Christian. But unity is a gift and a quality which God bestows upon the Church and our task in proclaiming God's truth is to work and pray that many are drawn to that unity. The greatest expression of being of one heart is to be of one voice. Surely I am not the only one to have felt during these days that something of the same holy experience has touched our lives. We feel ourselves to be of one heart because we are of one voice. That is as it should be. This divinely ordained characteristic of our liturgical worship is based on a deep-seated truth.

Perseverantes in oratione

Perseverance is not a modern virtue. We live in a world where things are easily disposed of once they outlive their usefulness. We live in a fast-moving world where things do not seem to be built to last. But we worship a God who is unchanging; in Him there is neither shadow of change, or decay. That's so very hard for us to grasp. Even our physical bodies are evidence of the change and decay that takes place over time, which is so much a feature of our human condition. So as we replicate in our lives that changelessness which is in God, and which He so looks to find in us a little echo of that which is in himself – it is seen in our perseverance; in our sticking to it, regardless of what the discouragement may be, the disappointment, the lack of appreciation, whatever it is that we find that may discourage us - our dogged perseverance, our fidelity, and so often our generosity will win through. Not only will we see a victory for those things that we hold so dear, but in a very real way, for our own salvation, and for the salvation of others. Ours is a praying Church, a singing Church, a believing Church, and a persevering Church.

Cum Maria

The essential quality, I think, of that gathering in the Cenacle, the person who enabled it to continue to hope against all the odds was the one who treasured all these things in her heart, and even when she saw no absolute encouragement to continue believe, did not despair. Fr Frederick Faber, founder of the London Oratory, in his wonderful study, "At the Foot of the Cross", says, reflecting upon the Gospel you have just heard, that as Christ was dying on the cross, the Church was present in the heart of Mary. That’s where the Church was, in that moment. That's how small it had become. And from the smallness of that Church, something great has come.

So my dear brothers and sisters, as we rejoice to find ourselves here, and to feel the power of the Holy Spirit breath over us, and inspire us - let us be of one heart and voice; let us be persevering in prayer; but above all, let us be, with Mary.