Posted by: catholicrelics | September 23, 2009

Evening Mass – Filton, Bristol

Filton, Bristol: Evening Mass, originally uploaded by Catholic Church (England and Wales).

Homily of Fr Michael McAndrew – St. Teresa’s Church, Filton, 23 September 2009, 7pm

The crowds continued to grow throughout the evening, as more than a thousand attended the 7pm Mass, celebrated by Father Tom Finnegan.  Here’s the text of the homily delivered by Father Michael McAndrew:

I grew up in a parish on the other side of Bristol but, as a boy, I came to this Church of St Teresa’s often because I had friends who lived nearby. It was in this Church that I first heard of St Therese. The Parish Priest, Canon Lucy, would often speak of her in his sermons.  So it means a great deal to me that the present Parish Priest, Fr Tom, has asked me to say a few words this evening in the presence of her holy relics. Fr Tom and I worked together in the parish of St Bonaventure’s for several years. In that time of working together we only had one argument. It was a big one.  However, last Saturday evening Fr Tom rang me up and dropped a very subtle hint that the homily tonight should be short. So this may lead to argument number two because there is so much to be said about Therese that I hardly know where to begin or where to end.

We could begin, perhaps, by remembering her longing to be a missionary, a longing to make Jesus known on every continent and island. And then reflect how, over these past 15 years, her relics have been taken on pilgrimage around the world to more than 40 countries. It would appear that her seemingly impossible desires have been realised. And it is also interesting to note that as a girl of 12 she drew a map of the British isles and she included a few cities on the map – not many – but very clearly Bristol is marked out. So the relics of Therese come to our city of Bristol so that the Gospel may be proclaimed.

Of all the many things that can be said this evening I would like to focus on one thing. We know about Therese principally through her writings, her autobiography, her poems, her letters. Amongst her letters there is a beautiful correspondence between Therese and a young missionary Priest called Maurice Belliere. Therese and Maurice exchanged 21 letter letters and in them Therese taught Maurice what it is to be a Priest, what it is to be a follower of Christ.

What did she teach him? Therese taught Maurice that we can place all our confidence and trust in God and we can do that because God is love. God, she teaches, is an overflowing fountain of love. However, Therese says that few people will stand in God’s presence and allow him to love them and so God has to restrain himself.

In Therese’s time and perhaps in our own people thought that God was stingy with his love or that we had to be perfect to receive it.

Therese stands in the tradition of the Gospel and proclaims that God is a torrent of love. There is no obstacle to God’s love if we would receive it. That, of course is what Jesus taught, and that is why the poor, the sinners, those on the edges responded to him and followed him. Therese understands the love which is the heart of Jesus, that we can know that love and live in it.

Back in the 1960’s I remember visiting my grandparents who lived next to the Church in Lawrence Weston in Bristol. When I stayed with them as a boy I remember how the bell at Our Lady of the Rosary Church would ring at midday, and in the evening, and we would all stop and pray in silence. The first time I didn’t quite know what everyone was doing but my grandmother taught me that they were silently praying the angelus and she taught me that prayer.

I remember especially how the prayer ended, ‘Pour forth we beseech you O Lord your grace into our hearts.’ I heard a modern version of that prayer during the summer. It began ‘Give us your grace O Lord…’ The traditional version is better: ‘Pour forth we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts.’  God is longing to pour his love into us.

So what are the things that stop us standing in God’s presence. Even if we have faith to believe in God’s love we may think we are not worthy of him. We may feel that our sins and failings stop us drawing close to God. We can allow all sorts of things to stand in the way of knowing God’s love.

The barrier is all on our side. There is no obstacle to knowing, experiencing God’s love. There is no obstacle on God’s side. The teaching of St Therese is that nothing should stop us drawing close to Jesus, no sin, no failing, no weakness.

As we heard in the letter of St John: ‘God is love’ and God wishes to come to us and live in us. Therese states simply, ‘I will allow God to love me as much as he wishes’.

Like many of us Maurice finds all this hard to comprehend, especially when he commits what he says is a very grave blunder. When he had to do his national service in the army he falls into sin. He writes to Therese to tell her of this great failure but she doesn’t even ask him what this sin is, she simply writes back to him:

‘For those who love God, and after each fault come to ask pardon by throwing themselves into his arms, Jesus trembles with joy… ‘Ah’ she writes, ‘how the goodness of Jesus, his merciful love is so little known.’

When she wrote her letters to Maurice Therese was very ill. In her last letter to him she speaks of three things which are relevant this evening.

First, Therese tells him how she received the Sacrament of the sick during her illness, just as we in a moment will celebrate the Sacrament of anointing.

Second, she speaks of relics. She tells him how she would leave him one of her few possessions, her little crucifix: ‘it is not beautiful; the face of Christ has disappeared. I have had it since I was 13 years old. It was especially during my voyage in Italy that the crucifix became dear to me. I touched it to all the holy relics I had had the joy of venerating in Rome’. She is reminding him of our need for the physical and the material in our relationship with Christ. As we venerate the relics of Therese she herself teaches that God uses things we can see and touch to draw us closer to him.

Third, Therese reminds him of how the saints are praying for us in heaven. She promised to pray for Maurice after she had died and had entered the kingdom of heaven. ‘I am your sister and your friend and I will watch over you always.’ Maurice went to be a missionary in what is now Malawi. He set foot on African soil on the day Therese died.

Maurice wrote that he was afraid that when Therese got to heaven she would know all his faults and would love him less. She answers him:  ‘I have to tell you, brother that we don’t understand heaven in the same way, have you forgotten that when I am in heaven I shall also share in the infinite mercy of the Lord’. This is perhaps the appeal of Therese – why so many people come to venerate her relics. ‘I have a heart’ she says, ‘especially for everyone’.

Having allowed God to love her, to pour his love into her, she was able to love as God loves. The love of God lived in her. We do not love first and then God comes gives himself. No. ‘This is the love I mean not our love for God but God’s love for us.’

If we allow ourselves to stand in God’s presence we too will feel our hearts expand and then be able to live as Christ teaches. In the Gospel we heard the words of Christ. We must become as children to enter the Kingdom.

The word to us this evening is simple:
Stand in the presence of God as his child – a beloved son or daughter of the Father.
Let nothing prevent you drawing close to him.
Allow him to love you as much as he wishes.
Let me end with the national prayer for the visit of Therese.

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Responses

  1. What a wonderfully, uplifting homily. Thank you. I write from Scotland and so appreciate the news of the journey of the relic.


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