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Archbishop Longley takes charge of Birmingham archdiocese

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Photo: Archbishop Longley at the installation Mass (Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

Archbishop Bernard Longley was installed in Birmingham yesterday, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. His homily can be downloaded as a PDF here.

He said:

Our Patronal Feast of the Immaculate Conception makes us aware of the power of Christ at work within us, as individuals and as communities, even – and perhaps with most effect, most fruitfully – when we are least aware of it. As Catholics we believe that our Lady was herself held free from sin and from the influence of original sin, from the first moment of her life, through the saving merits of her own Son, Jesus Christ. Her closeness to God is the first fruit of redemption and it eventually enabled her to recognise and welcome the hand of God directing the course of her life. Yet the most important moment of grace in Mary’s life occurred when she was as yet incapable of sensing or recognising it, still less understanding its importance.

It is often the same with us. Most of us were baptised as babies: the pattern of and potential for our lives of faith was established when we could never have understood or appreciated it. Only later in life we become grateful for what our parents and god-parents did for us and actively live the life of faith we received through their commitment to Christ and to us. Moments of grace often catch us unawares and it is only when we stop and reflect that we can appreciate their significance in the pattern of our lives.

Mary was prayerful and reflected on life’s experiences: she pondered these things in her heart. No doubt, as the life of her Son unfolded before her, she looked back and understood the meaning of what she had seen and heard and felt. St Luke does not disguise the fact that our Lady, even though she was full of grace, was deeply disturbed by the angel’s words. The natural, human reaction of bewilderment and astonishment at something so powerful caused her to face it and accept it. Mary had two moments of amazement: first that she was chosen: Rejoice, so highly favoured one. And then, that her life was to be fruitful with the birth of Christ, that she was chosen to be a mother.

Mary’s experience awakens in us the recognition of an extraordinary grace: we too, each of us, have been chosen and are highly favoured. In the words of St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: In him we were claimed as God’s own, chosen from the beginning. We shall never fully understand the reason for God’s choosing until we come one day to see him face to face, yet we have been chosen, each in our own particular way and together as the Church, to bear Christ to others.

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception reminds us, through Mary’s example, of the Church’s calling to be holy and to bear Christ to the world, and of the wonderment that overcomes us when we ponder on God’s choosing and calling and empowering.

Maureen Messent has a lively report on the occasion in the Birmingham Mail:

Let Rome’s detractors say what they will of us – our Catholic Church knows, as no other, when to parade the pomp, rejoice and remind ourselves our faith gives us a right to be merry.

We saw Bernard kneeling, in stark white, on the threshold of St Chad’s, to pray that he will be a faithful and prayerful servant of us, his flock, and, before that, came a long procession of priests from all over the archdiocese, identical in Birmingham’s ‘uniform’ of yellow and gold chasubles – and one poor priest got his skirt tangled around a cable so he looked, for a second, as if he were growing a little black tail.

Prelates in white lace with scarlet skirts followed. And after them came others with purple and scarlet vestments, bishops with crimson skullcaps – and a female worthy who wore an ostrich feather hat even more eye-catching than the male get-ups.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols was there in his old haunt, probably recalling his own enthronement in Birmingham and a tall and whippet-lean figure in crimson stood out as Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor – he still walks almost coltishly, albeit a little creakily these days…

[Archbishop Longley’s] homily was simple, almost humble, reminding us that this day was the feast of the Immaculate Conception when Our Lady’s life changed forever after the angel’s visitation.

“These thoughts have given me a profound sense of hope… for the Archdiocese of Birmingham,” he told us.

The clergy filed out. We had a new Archbishop who seemed likely to become a friend.

Here’s the Birmingham Post’s report, the BBC’s write-up, and the Independent Catholic News report.


Written by Luke Coppen

December 9, 2009 at 1:58 pm