Friday, 22 May 2009

Archbishop Nichols' homily

Since the announcement that Vincent Nichols would be the next Archbishop of Westminster, some have commented that he would be an Archbishop who would implement the policies of Pope Benedict XVI. Whilst this remark might have been made with reference to internal Church politics, it also has a wider reference.

The homily that Archbishop Nichols preached at the installation Mass would seem to bear out this comment. In my view, at least, the style of the preaching is reminiscent of that adopted by Pope Benedict XVI, starting as it does from the scripture texts of the Mass and then extending to comment on the contemporary situation of the Church. One can also see a Benedictine style in the choice of a votive Mass of St Paul - I wish I had known about this in advance, as I would have prayed a votive office of St Paul at Morning Prayer instead of that of the Holy Spirit that I did in fact pray.

As the following quotations show, the content of the homily reflected on recent controversies affecting the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and took up some themes common in the preaching of Pope Benedict XVI.
Faith builds community and it expresses itself in action. As a society, if we are to build on this gift of faith, we must respect its outward expression not only in honouring individual conscience but also in respecting the institutional integrity of the communities of faith in what they bring to public service and to the common good. Only in this way will individuals, families and faith communities become whole-hearted contributors to building the society we rightly seek.

At the heart of Paul's effort in Athens was an appeal to reason. He did not seek to impose his beliefs, nor exploit anxiety or fear. Rather he had learned that his faith in Christ was compatible with the mind's capacity for reasoned thought. Indeed it complemented it. Some today propose that faith and reason are crudely opposed, with the fervour of faith replacing good reason. This reduction of both faith and reason inhibits not only our search for truth but also the possibility of real dialogue. In contrast, as Pope John Paul memorably said: 'Faith and reason are the two wings on which the human spirit soars.' (Fides et Ratio n.1)

This knowledge, which is of love, discloses the true worth of our humanity, our real dignity. This is its supreme advantage. For we human beings are not plasticine figures, to be moulded into shape at the hands of a political ideology, or under economic demands. Nor, at the end of the day, can we shape ourselves as we please, according to fashion or our untutored desires. We are not self-made. Our humanity, thankfully, is more deeply rooted and therefore resilient. Indeed our humanity is a gift to be respected not only from its beginnings to its natural end, but also in the other ethical demands it places on us all. Tragically this humanity is often corrupted and distorted, by the misuse of power, by every evil and disaster.

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