HOMILY: The humility of the Lord's incarnation

The homily of Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews & Edinburgh, Christmas Midnight Mass, 2019, St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Edinburgh.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Allow me to start first of all by wishing you all a very peaceful and happy Christmas for you and yours. A special thank you goes to Mgr Burke, my Vicar General, to his assistant Fr Jamie McMorrin, and to all of you who make our cathedral a place of welcome and a sacred place, one that you have readied, that we might celebrate the birth of Our Saviour worthily. Many thanks indeed!

St Francis of Assisi is the one who gets a lot of the credit for putting up the first crèche or crib, some 700 years ago.

His biographer, Brother Thomas of Celano, wrote two different biographies of Francis, and a treatise on miracles associated with him, such was the popularity and the fascination in the man, during his lifetime and well beyond.

Tucked away at the end of the first version St Francis’s biography, Thomas inserts a lovely little story, almost, apparently, as an afterthought. It tells how St Francis “always” kept two things before his mind eye: the “charity” of our Lord’s Passion on the Cross, and the “humility” of our Lord’s Incarnation at Christmas. We are told that, for Francis of Assisi, these were “foremost in his mind, so that he rarely wanted to think of anything else”.

Putting aside the “charity of the Lord’s Passion” for another time, and concentrating on the “humility” of the Incarnation, we then read the story of the very first crib scene ever put together. Francis goes to the small town of Greccio, in Italy, and he asks a man to “portray [for me] the Child born in Bethlehem” so as to see “somehow with my bodily eyes the hardship He underwent, because He lacked all a newborn’s needs, the way He was placed in the manger, and how he lay on the hay between the ox and ass”.

So, on Christmas night in 1223, Francis’s brothers and the local people gathered with him, bringing torches and candles. They brought in an ox and an ass, and then laid some hay down between them. And that was the first crib. That was it. No statues of any kind. No further decoration. Thomas comments approvingly: “There, simplicity was honoured, poverty exalted, humility praised - and Greccio was virtually transformed into a new Bethlehem”.

A stark, but beautiful, scene. We also note that, visually, the first crib was very simple indeed: but this was what Francis wanted, because he was struck profoundly by the Incarnation, God becoming one of us, as an act of the utmost humility.

God becomes Man

Jesus Christ, God from God and Light from Light, becomes an infant in all simplicity and poverty and, above all, humility. The very act of God becoming one like us is an act of humility that is almost beyond description. Here is the Word of God, Christ Himself, the Mercy of God, coming down like the dawn from on high to visit us, and yet in the humblest of ways and the simplest of circumstances.

For modern, city folk like ourselves, its poverty is almost inconceivable. And yet, the point is well-made, and I think we understand it immediately. And it is a gesture of profound humility that is ours to imitate, in deep gratitude, for the consequences that will flow from God becoming one of us.

Looking again at the poverty of the first crib in Greccio, we see only an ox, an ass and some hay. There were no statutes to remind Francis and his friends of Mary or Joseph or even the infant Jesus. And yet we are also told St Francis dearly wished to see for himself, with his own eyes, the humility of God. He didn’t need much to do it. There is even something very poignant about the absence of statues, so that we have to make an effort to “see” for ourselves and to give birth to Christ in our own hearts.

And yet, there in Greccio, in spite of any further visual aids, we are told that St Francis and all who were with him “were gladdened with new joy over the renewed mystery”, and that the woods resounded with people’s voices, and the cliffs echoed their hymns of joy.

The second thing we notice in the story is how Greccio was “virtually transformed into a new Bethlehem”. How wonderful it would be to imagine that, wherever we place our crib and the manger, in our churches, in our homes, or in the city centre, that such a corner might briefly become a “new Bethlehem”, a corner near us here, helping us to make present again the presence of God-with-us in the simplicity, the poverty, and the humility of the birth of the Son of God among us.

The story of Greccio and the first Christmas crib is the last part of the story of St Francis’s life. So, the first version of the Life of Francis come to an end, not with his Francis’s death, but with the story of this little Christmas in Greccio. The book then finishes like this:

“The place [where the first crib was laid out] has now been consecrated to the Lord and an altar has been built [there]… so that in the place where the animals once ate hay […] men can now eat the flesh of the […] Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us with infinite and inexpressible love”.

This lets us understand the wonderful connection between what we celebrate in mystery in the Incarnation at Christmas, and the Eucharist, where our Living Lord, God made flesh, is present among us until He returns in glory. This also leads us joyfully to celebrate the Birth of our Lord above all in the Eucharist in our Christmas Masses, together with our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Everywhere, may the Christ child’s simplicity be honoured, may His poverty be exalted, and may His humility be praised. May our cribs and our very hearts be transformed into a new Bethlehem; and where the Christ child appears absent, may we be the ones to make him present in the flesh by our own love and charity.

A very joyful, happy Christmas to you all, and a Good New Year when it comes. God bless you all!

All pics: Benedicta Lin.

Shoppers encouraged to go to confession this Christmas

Shoppers in Edinburgh are being encouraged to take time out for confession this Christmas.

Record numbers of people have visited ‘Edinburgh’s Christmas’ so far, the centrepiece being the festive market in Prince Street Gardens.

Now the Archdiocese is asking visiting Catholics to receive the sacrament of reconciliation at St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral.

Archbishop Leo Cushley said: “We spend a lot of time preparing for Christmas.

“Many people across the Archdiocese visit the city to buy gifts and experience the market.

“As Catholics, one of the best things we can do is prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord.

“A trip to confession is a lovely way to do that, so we are able to welcome the Lord with a clear conscience and a pure heart when the time comes.”

Figures show that more than 500,000 visitors visited Edinburgh’s Christmas in the first nine days of the event. That number is up 13 per cent on the same period last year.

St Mary’s Cathedral is ideally placed for shoppers, being based on Broughton Street at the top of Leith Walk, next to John Lewis.

The cathedral's website states: "If you are nervous about coming to confession either because of what you have on your conscience, or because it has been a long time since your last confession, have no fear; what awaits you in the confessional is the joy and peace of God’s loving mercy and the priest will gently help to discover that."

A spokesman for the Archdiocese said: "If you haven’t been to confession for a while, don’t worry. Simply let the priest know and he will guide you. As Pope Francis says, in the confessional we don’t meet a severe judge, but the merciful Father.”

Confession at St Mary’s Cathedral is available weekdays after 12:45pm Mass and between 5:00-6:00pm. On Saturday it is available 10:30am-to midday and from 5:00pm to 5:45pm. Confessions are heard in Polish Monday to Friday from 5:00pm until 6:00pm and on Saturdays from 8:00am until 9:00am.

Guest preacher joins this year’s Red Mass

The annual Red Mass to mark the beginning of the new legal year took place on Sunday at St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh.

A guest preacher, who had come all the way from Oregon in the US, was in attendance to address the assembly of robed lawyers, advocates, judges and representatives from across the Scottish legal profession.

Abbot Jeremy Driscoll OSB, Abbot of the Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon (main picture, fourth from right), is a renowned international speaker and author and teaches at The Pontifical University of Sant’ Anselmo in Rome and has appointments to a number of key Vatican Commissions.

He preached on the importance of truth and justice and joined Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews & Edinburgh Archdiocese in welcoming the gathering of legal professionals from across the country.

Red Masses are historic events that occur in jurisdictions across the world. The earliest recorded Red Mass for the legal profession is in Paris in 1245 with England following in 1310. In Scotland, it is an official Court of Session event which (in modern times) has been celebrated since the 1930s, when Lord Carmont and Lord Moncrieff attended.

These days, it is now a very well-established feature on the Scottish legal calendar, though is yet to rival the Red Mass in Washington, which has been attended by a number of US Presidents.

This article first appeared online at scottoshlegal.com 

'If you feel drawn towards the diaconate, explore it!'

Eddie White, 42, is a married father of three and a teacher from Edinburgh who will be ordained as a permanent deacon tomorrow (Saturday) in Edinburgh. Here he discusses what’s involved in the process…

Why did you decide to be a deacon?
I felt drawn to it. I have a secular vocation of service in teaching. As a committed Catholic, I felt what I had to offer, what the diaconate wanted and what it gave back to the Church drew me to it and allowed me to respond to the Lord's call in both a practical and spiritual way.

 When did you decide?
I had contemplated it while teaching at Holy Rood High School in Edinburgh. The staff prayer group from that time was quite efficient as one other, older, teacher started the process before me, Deacon John Smith.

What are you most looking forward to in your ministry?
No more essays! I’m looking forward to the chance to serve the sick and the marginalised. Doing this while holding down a full-time job gives me some unique opportunities to be a face of the Church in day-to-day life.

What is your day job?
I am a maths teacher at Ross High in Tranent.

How does a deacon differ from a priest?
A priest has more focus in the Altar and the Word while a deacon's principle ministry is service - to the sick, to the prisoners and the marginalised. That said, a deacon still has a vocation to preach the gospel. Deacons never say Mass - the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is a reserve of priests and bishops. However, deacons can conduct baptisms, weddings and funerals, which not only gives them a ministry of the altar, it also helps release our over-burdened priests to other matters.

Tell us about the training you have to do…
There is a minimum of five years needed. There’s a propaedeutic year - an over-fancy name for the pre-vocations year, then four years of academic and pastoral training. The technical skills for the altar, lighting the thurible in such a way as to not set the smoke alarm off was one key skill I managed. The essays I also managed, and the music theory. However, singing... if that was a required skill I would not have managed the second weekend of training! There were lectures in Church theory, from early fathers to Gospel readings and Canon law and six essays a year. Finally, a homeletics weekend and a seven-day residential summer school makes up the remaining time commitment each year for the four years, plus a day for end of year exams.

What support have you been given from your family?
Without my wife and my mother, this vocation would not be possible. With three young children, I had to get the help of my mum in Dundee for many of the residential weekends. Tanya, my wife, has been very supportive throughout even though, as many of the trainee deacons' wives have noted, it can be hard. There is a real risk that some people forget about the importance of the role of our spouses. There were some frustrating moments for us, such as well-meant remarks directed at Tanya about how hard it will be as "The Deacon's Wife" (sounds like the name of a pub in the Grassmarket or something). Fortunately, my parish priest Fr Jock Dalrymple extended his support to her as well and was always available on the phone if ever she wanted to talk. That is something I would hope every candidate's wife would have available to them.

What advice would you give to married men considering the permanent diaconate?
If you feel you are being drawn towards the diaconate, you should explore it. If I understand it right, I will become the youngest deacon in Scotland at 42. People in their late thirties should consider the training and the draw to service if they feel the call. A chance to meet someone who has gone through it always helps, and I would extend a welcome for a meal and a chat if anyone wants to ask either Tanya or myself about our experiences.

Eddie White will be ordained a permanent deacon at midday on Saturday 7 September at St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh.

Four days to go: thousands expected to venerate holy relics

Thousands of visitors are expected in Edinburgh this weekend for the visit of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux.

The relics of the French Carmelite nun are touring Scotland in what is believed to be the biggest religious event in the country since the visit of Pope Benedict in 2012.

Around 20,000 people were estimated to have attended events in the Diocese of Motherwell last weekend, celebrating the saint known affectionately as ‘The Little Flower’.

Archbishop Leo Cushley will welcome the relics to St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Broughton Place on Saturday evening at 7:30pm.

He said: “We’ve been awaiting the relics of the Little Flower with great anticipation.

“From the Carmelite sisters in Dysart, Fife, to people from parishes all over the archdiocese, there is much affection here for this extraordinary woman who, in so short a life, became a profound inspiration to many as well as a doctor of the church.

“We hope and pray for many blessings from the visit of her relics.”

Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin was born in Normandy, in 1873.  She entered the Carmelite convent of Lisieux aged just 15 after petitioning both Pope Leo XIII and her own bishop.

She became known for her ‘Little Way’, emphasising simple obedience to everyday duties without complaining or criticising, and in doing everything as well as we possibly can.

She said that these acts of obedience, often involving sacrifice, are to be offered to God out of love to please him.

Thérèse believed special penances and heroic deeds are not necessary. What counts is to let ourselves be found by God and shaped by his totally gratuitous love for us.

Many cures are attributed to her and are documented in the Lisieux Carmel’s online archives.

The relics will remain in the cathedral until Monday and people are invited to file past the casket containing the bones of the saint. They may reverently touch the casket and bring to God, through the intercession of St Thérèse, whatever intentions they have.

Fr James Grant, General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland who has coordinated the visit said: “People today are fascinated by the idea of pilgrimage, of travelling to a holy place or site associated with a holy person.

“This once in a lifetime visit of the relics of Saint Therese to Scotland is a pilgrimage in reverse, where a holy person comes to us. We can expect many graces from this visit including healing, conversion and discovery of true vocation to God.”

Sir James celebrated at Cathedral which helped inspire his musical vocation

World famous Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan returns to St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh this Sunday - the place of his musical awakening

He will be at the Festival Mass, this year, held in celebration of his 60th birthday.

It features renowned choir The Sixteen, directed by Sir Harry Christophers, singing Palestrina’s Misssa Papae Marcelli, as well as several choral pieces written by Sir James.

A recent article in The Herald revealed that a visit to the Cathedral as a youngster left a profound impact on him.

Journalist Barry Didcock writes: "His musical awakening came aged five or six at St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh when for the first time he heard what he later learned was a Gregorian chant. It was an electrifying experience at an important age. Music and religion have been fused in his imagination ever since."

The Mass will be celebrated by Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, while Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, will preach.

Reading at the Mass will be philanthropist John Studzinski, the founder of the Genesis Foundation, a UK-based charity that nurtures the careers of outstanding young artists, as well as the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Frank Ross.

The cathedral’s organist Simon Leach will play the 1st and 3rd movements of MacMillan's St Andrew's Suite, specially chosen in honour of the relics of the Apostle which are held in the Cathedral.

Also attending will be elected representatives from the city council.

Archbishop Cushley said he was delighted to welcome Sir James to the Cathedral, adding: “This Mass reminds us of the origins of the International Festival as an endeavour to highlight our humanity and what binds us together, following man’s inhumanity to man in the Second World War. It’s an appropriate response of the Catholic community to gather together and worship God, giving thanks for what we have in common and to look to a better future.”

The Mass begins at 12pm this Sunday (18th). Read the full interview with Sir James by Barry Didcock at heraldscotland.com

Q&A: Patrick prepares for the priesthood

Deacon Patrick Harrigan describes his path to the priesthood ahead of his ordination at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh on Friday...

What are you most looking forward to in your ministry?
To being able to offer people access to the sacraments – especially to the Eucharist and to Reconciliation - to catechesis and to preaching and teaching the Word of God. I hope I can help people to realise both the importance of prayer and especially how much God loves them where they are.

When did you decide you wanted to be a priest?
The idea first suggested itself a very long time ago, I guess, just as I was about to leave school – around 1980 or so – as the result of my being impressed by the personal example of holy and prayerful priests I had met, especially Carmelites and Jesuits. I remember thinking ‘I want to be like them’. I eventually spent some very happy years trying my vocation with the Carmelites from 1984 onwards, but after that – when I decided that I wanted to try to qualify as a teacher – the idea became submerged in all sorts of other practical and professional considerations. It was a very long time before it re-emerged, partly because ‘life happened’, as the saying has it, and partly because I then kept ignoring the issue!

What did you do before becoming a priest?
For the last 12 or 13 years or so before going to Rome, I lived in Edinburgh and taught in (mainly) secondary schools in that local authority area. My teaching subjects were RE and Additional Support Needs. Before that, I lived and worked down south, doing all sorts of things – Further Education teaching, shelf-stacking in supermarkets, working as a lollipop man outside a local school, being a Learning Assistant… I was also unemployed for quite a bit of the time!

What's been the best thing about living in Rome?
Undoubtedly having the opportunity to prepare well academically for priesthood by studying at the Dominican Angelicum University and being taught by some of the most expert theologians in their field; also being able to live in an international seminary environment with other men at the Pontifical Beda College and so be formed in a way that exposes you to other cultures. Those essential chances would not have been possible at home in Scotland.

And the most challenging?
Mosquitoes, humidity, living in community when you’ve spent many years living on your own, and prioritising what is most essential – ie your prayer life.

What advice would you give to other men reading this who may be considering the priesthood?
Pray about it! Remember that God is on your side and wants to help you make a good decision. Then talk to a priest you respect, perhaps the vocations director of the diocese. Have a heart open to God and to the Church and be loyal to both. Don’t be put off; things may take (a long!) time, but if it is God’s will, then it will happen. Most of all, let God love you and be open to doing his will in prayer, whatever it is!

Who has played a key role in helping you become a priest?
Gosh, far too many people to mention! My parents and family, the Carmelites, Jesuits and Dominicans, the seminarians and staff at the Milltown Institute in Dublin, at the Beda and at the Angelicum, not to mention the people and priests of all the parishes I have lived in over the years. If I could only choose one person, it would probably be the late Fr John Hughes SJ who was on the staff at Campion House, Osterley in 1980 – a learned, holy and humble priest.

Who is your favourite saint?
Very difficult question; there are many contenders: St Therese of Lisieux, St Francis de Sales, St Thomas Aquinas! Perhaps surprisingly, I would probably choose the Dominican priest Blessed Anthony Neyrot OP. In the fifteenth century he apostatised, married and converted to Islam after ordination. He then – by the grace of God - repented of his actions and returned to the faith, to the Dominicans and to the priesthood. He stood firm in his return to the faith and was martyred in 1460. He was beatified by Pope Clement XIII in 1767. He is a very important and much-needed sign to the Church and the world that no one is beyond the grace of God’s merciful love and forgiveness.

Deacon Patrick Harrigan will be ordained to the holy priesthood at St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh. on Friday 28th June. The Mass begins at 7pm. Patrick will be assistant priest at St Mary's in Stirling.