A rich harvest
Ahistoric event took place at Westminster Cathedral last weekend. The national newspapers didn’t notice it. Television news bulletins didn’t feature it. Even Catholic news websites barely mentioned it. But last Saturday Cardinal Vincent Nichols consecrated England and Wales to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and crowned a statue of Our Lady of Fatima that will travel to cathedrals across the country in the coming months.
This act last took place on July 16, 1948, when Cardinal Bernard Griffin said the words of consecration in the abbey grounds in Walsingham. Using a modified version of his predecessor’s prayer, Cardinal Nichols renewed the consecration for the third millennium.
Some ask whether such acts are suited to the 21st century. They wonder if consecrating a nation to the Immaculate Heart (or Christ the King, in the recent case of Poland) is a relic of the pre-conciliar age, unsuited to our pluralist world. They also question whether these practices are in tune with the reforming spirit of the current pontificate.
They needn’t worry: they are wholly in line with Pope Francis’s priorities. He is a deeply Marian pope who will visit Fatima in May to mark the 100th anniversary of the apparitions. The scenes in Westminster Cathedral last Saturday would have delighted him: a packed congregation waving white handkerchiefs as the statue was carried through the cathedral. For Francis has a great appreciation for popular piety. In his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he praised its role in spreading the Christian faith.
The scenes in Westminster Cathedral would have delighted Pope Francis
“Underlying popular piety, as a fruit of the inculturated Gospel, is an active evangelising power which we must not underestimate,” he wrote, adding tenderly: “I think of the steadfast faith of those mothers tending their sick children who, though perhaps barely familiar with the articles of the Creed, cling to a rosary; or of all the hope poured into a candle lighted in a humble home with a prayer for help from
Mary, or in the gaze of tender love directed to Christ crucified.”
Britain is supposedly one of the most secular nations on earth. But events in the past decade have revealed a vast spiritual hunger that belies that claim. In 2009, the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux drew the young and the old, Catholics and nonCatholics, together in intense prayer. A year later, an estimated 80,000 people knelt in Hyde Park during Eucharistic Adoration led by Benedict XVI. Last year the relics of St Anthony of Padua, St Claude de la Colombière and St Margaret Mary Alacoque all attracted significant crowds. What these occasions have in common – and what makes them so distinctive – is that they are centred on God. They allow the general public, saint and sinner alike, space to encounter the sacred, pray unselfconsciously and offer true worship. They are an astonishingly effective means of evangelisation.
The Church in England and Wales (and elsewhere) should seek to offer as many of these opportunities as possible. Yes, large public events are difficult to plan and execute, and the workers are few. But the harvest is abundant.
The word “Catholic” means universal, and, as one has the right to expect, the Catholic Church is one in which people from all walks of life, all nations and all backgrounds, can find a home.
Norma McCorvey, who found fame as “Jane Roe” of the landmark Roe v Wade case, was one such. As a girl in Texas, where she had a tough and challenging upbringing, her Catholic mother sometimes took her daughter to church.
Of this, Norma later said: “There aren’t many good memories from my childhood, but this is one of them. I liked it so much and was often moved to tears. I felt the presence of God. There was something very moving about the Catholic ritual and symbolism – the procession with the priest and altar boys, the incense, cross and candles, the statues and the music.”
She continued: “I knew God was everywhere, but in Catholic churches I always felt especially close to Him.”
Later, with the help of a campaigning lawyer, Sarah Weddington, Norma became the test case for so-called abortion rights, though she herself never had the abortion for which she and her lawyer campaigned.
Later still, Norma had a change of heart and abandoned her support for abortion. She was baptised in an Evangelical church, and then, in 1998, she came back home to the Catholic Church. As she did so, she said: “I am dedicated to spending the rest of my life undoing the law that bears my name.” She was as good as her word.
At her passing we must reflect on two things. First, the grace of God was not inactive in her, for which we must do as she did, and give thanks. God calls all of us, and some of us come to God through unusual paths, as Norma did, and these strange routes are enlightening and tell us much of the ways of God, which are not our ways.
Secondly, just as Norma dedicated the last two decades of her life to fighting abortion, we too must dedicate ourselves to that struggle. It may well be, God willing, that the whole world will one day follow Norma’s path, from grief to grace, from supporting abortion, to cherishing life. So let it be.
CATHOLIC HERALD, FEBRUARY 24 2017 3