Homily given by Monsignor David Hogan, Prior of the Northumbrian section of the Knights of Holy Sepulchre
It is certainly fifty years this year since I was last at Padley. I was a boy at Mount St Mary’s, Spinkhill. The Mass, if my memory serves me aright, was celebrated by the then Bishop of Nottingham, Bishop Ellis, because of course in those days this lovely part of the world was in that diocese.
I can remember two things in particular which made an impression on me then and I hope that in a very different world now, they are worth recounting and pondering on as we all seek to live out the Gospel of Christ in the life of his Church today.
The first thing which I remember and it is still very apparent as I look around, is that there are stones all around, so being able to walk in a straight line is often impossible if not hazardous! Over the years I have come to learn that really that is a symbol of life, seeking to follow Christ, often coming up against obstacles especially when we are not looking ahead and being alert and aware of what lies in front. I rather think it is important to recognise two things, first we all make mistakes, and second when we stumble and fall, God’s grace and infinite love restores us to go on.
The second impression which was made on me was that the structure of the altar and its surrounds were not permanent, so if change of circumstances required one could go elsewhere, in other words what is unchanging is God’s gift of the Eucharist, but as to time and place, well that is conditional on the circumstances of life.
Surely those two valiant men, Nicholas Garlick and Robert Ludlam, arrested here for enacting that which was changeless, God’s gift of the Mass, on 12 July, 1588, did not need reminding of the obstacles in the path of the Christian life or for that matter what is unchangeable because it is of the truth of the Gospel; on the contrary they must have had a clarity of mind given the dreadful fate awaiting them, that we might well ponder on this afternoon.
Probably at this point, it is worth observing that today’s celebration here at Padley is not an exercise in raking over the coals, over the heat and pain of the past, but I rather think it is an exercise of faith and love of Christ our Lord which calls for a clarity of faith and understanding in our own lives.
One of the fundamental dilemmas the Catholics of those days were faced with was whether truth and faith go hand in hand, and from that basic point whether the Catholic Church has both the mandate from Christ and the guidance of God the Holy Spirit to proclaim what is true. In other words, truth is not a matter of opinion, but rather a matter of fact!
This touches on some raw nerves today, especially in a secular society like ours which in order to promote its own influence and power, very intentionally downgrades truth in word and conduct, pushes us to thinking and living in such a way, in order to be manipulated more easily. The martyrs did not die for us to become like putty in the hands of others. One of the consequences we can all see is the endless torrent of self justification which is all around us, not least of all because truth has become an option rather than a cause. There is in a way nothing new about this, it is just looking at today’s Gospel and applying the parable of the sower to our own times.
When everything in life is treated as being changeable or transient, everything starts to fall apart especially within oneself. I think any Christian worthy of the name has to know and believe what is constant and true, not least of all because of this – we say we believe in God and to say that means we know we are accountable to him, otherwise we are just mouthing words without substance.
Accountability requires truth, otherwise it is a lottery and a nonsense. The whole thrust of Our Lord’s teaching in this Gospel parable and the example of the martyrs, is that the truth of faith has an intimate bearing on how we live our lives and how each one of us grasps that to say we believe in God means we enter into a relationship of faith and love which makes us accountable.
Surely this is the timeless example of the martyrs by their countless numbers from the first to the present day. So as we ask for the prayers today of Nicholas Garlick and Robert Ludlam on this Diocese, we might very sensibly cast a careful eye upon ourselves and the society in which we live and make our choice anew for the refreshing Word of Life which is the Gospel of Christ and pray that his Church in our day, of which we are a part, will be renewed and enlightened by God the Holy Spirit through the prayers of Nicholas Garlick and Robert Ludlam.