Bishop Philip writes…
Last Tuesday, I went to St. Cecilia’s Ryde to bless the new abbess, Mother Eustochium (pictured here on the left, with Mother Ninian the retired abbess on the right). Mother Eustochium is the fourth abbess of Pax Cordis Iesu monastery. Here is the homily I preached at the blessing.
First, may I on behalf of Mother Ninian, Sister Eustochium and the whole community welcome everyone to this historic celebration. I welcome especially my brother bishop Robert, Abbot Dupont, other abbots and mother abbesses, monastic and religious sisters, fellow clergy, distinguished guests and not least, sister’s own family and friends. In this Mass, we give thanks to God for 35 years of Mother Ninian’s selfless service and with trust we ask Him to bless Mother Eustochium as the fourth abbess of Pax Cordis Iesu. We pray for all the members of this community in their work of leit-ergon, liturgy, their public work of prayer and praise on all our behalf. We pray too that the mission of the Church may flourish, not least in our Diocese of Portsmouth. I often jest with brother bishops that this Diocese, stretching from Oxford and Reading in the north, to Windsor and Ascot in the east, to Bournemouth, Southampton and Portsmouth in the south, to the Isle of Wight and on to the Channel islands – that this Diocese is geographically the largest diocese in England and Wales, if you include the sea-bed going out to Jersey and Guernsey. Not only that, we can boast that this is the Diocese with three mitred abbots, and a mother abbess wielding a crozier.
The rubrics of today’s liturgy direct that the Rite of Blessing be given ‘by the bishop of the place where the monastery is situated’ and so I am happy to be here. The rubrics also direct the bishop to give a homily; the Latin says brevitur alloquitur, a brief homily, and so we will try to oblige. In fact, we can sum up this brief homily in just one phrase: Do whatever He tells you. This is the good counsel the Blessed Mother gives us in today’s Gospel: Do whatever He tells you. This is not, of course, to foster anarchy; we need carefully to discern the Word of God in our lives and to put it into practice. In this, Mary gives us a faultless example. She gave birth to the Wonder-Counsellor Prophet Isaiah spoke of in 1stR: Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, the absolute Truth, the meaning of life and existence. Moreover, Mary is filled with Good Counsel because she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, Who made her virginal life so fruitful, and counsel is one of the seven gifts of the Spirit constantly to be prayed for. This is beautifully captured in the painting at Genezzano, Our Lady of Good Counsel, which has inspired so many down the ages. It reminds us of the 2ndR, of Mary in the Upper Room, with St. Peter and the Apostles, praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. To do whatever Jesus tells us, we should first turn to Her, the Mother of Good Counsel, She who tells us to listen to her Son and to pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We should ask Mary to bring us to Christ and to obtain for us the gift of counsel, that we may know the Word and will of God and have the grace to put it into practice.
Mother Eustochium, it is providential to have this blessing today on the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel, the Secondary Patron of this abbey. The role of an abbess is to be the servant of the Lord’s servants, and as any bishop, abbot or abbess, or anyone exercising authority in the Lord’s name will tell you, counsel is a gift of the Holy Spirit constantly needed. Do not be surprised to find yourself having a lot of meetings! For as you pray for counsel, you must duly listen to trusted counsellors and in turn give wise counselling to others. The Prayer of Blessing says Spiritus tui, Domine, ipsam implere: ‘Give her the gifts of your Spirit. Set her on fire with love for your glory and for the service of your Church. And may she in turn inflame with zeal the hearts of her sisters.’ That is our earnest prayer for you today, and our prayer for this community.
St. Cecilia’s, for many of us, perhaps for all of us, holds a special place in our hearts for the beauty and solemnity of its leit-ergon, its liturgy. In the reform of the Roman Rites, initiated by the Second Vatican Council, a welcome element of variety and adaptation has been introduced to assist the Church’s mission and evangelisation of contemporary culture. Yet the fathers of the Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium called for the preservation of the Latin language and Gregorian chant. On behalf of the whole Church, I thank this community for fulfilling what the fathers requested, and whilst in the future open to whatever the Lord asks of us, I hope and pray St. Cecilia’s will continue to develop the Solesmes tradition and its patrimony. Gregorian chant, the natural music of the Roman Rite, expresses eloquently, with its changing modes and lilting melodies, the prayer and affectivities of the human soul in the presence of the Transcendent God. And Latin, a sacred language, noble, economic, evocative, is a sacramentál that unites our hearts and minds with the Word made flesh in classical history. In this way, within the broad tent of modern Catholicism, this monastery serves the needs of the Diocese of Portsmouth and of many throughout the Church, who, in the darkness of our times, seek to glimpse the glorious light of Christ.
O Mother of Good Counsel, secure for us from thy Divine Son the love of virtue, and the strength to choose, in doubtful and difficult situations, the course agreeable to our salvation – a prayer of Pope Pius XII, Servant of God, to Our Lady of Good Counsel. All of us face situations, great and small, that need careful discernment. We can do no better than turn to Mary Herself, Who in Her own life faced difficult decisions, not least at the Annunciation. May She unite us with Her Son, the Word of God, and obtain for us the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In this Mass, let us take to heart Her instruction: Do whatever He tells you. We pray for all members of this community, living and dead, not least for Sr. Mary David – may she rest in peace – whose first novice is now this duly-elected abbess. We pray for Mother Ninian that the Lord will one day richly reward her for her labours. Above all, let us pray for Mother Eustochium, who has taken for her motto the delightful words of St. Bede supernae pietate deservire ‘to serve the Divine Goodness,’ with an heraldic blazon that depicts the amazing Stockport viaduct with its 11M bricks, a symbol of the countless acts of humble service and prayer that make up the monastic way to God. The Lord Jesus, Priest and Victim, the Good Shepherd, lays down His life for us now on this altar. May we all imitate Him in our daily lives on earth and so one day, guided by the Mother of Good Counsel, be found worthy to pass over with Him to the unending liturgy of heaven.