Homily by Bp. Mark O'Toole, Bishop of Plymouth

In Plymouth Cathedral

Text of the homily

You will know that on 13th May this year, on the Centenary of the First Apparition at Fatima, the Holy Father, visited Fatima and whilst there canonised two of the young children. So, now, we have two new saints to intercede for us – Saint Jacinta and St Francesco. And what it is a joy that we have their relics with us in the Cathedral today as we gather around this altar, and together we consecrate ourselves and our Diocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Of course St Jacinta and St Francesco are best known to us because of the visits made to them by Our Lady a century ago. But their sanctity, their heroic virtue, does not rest in this fact, but rather in the fact that, in their lives, they sought to put into practise the lessons they had learnt from Our Lady. These were lessons about prayer, particularly for others, and about sacrifices or penances – to put your own will aside in order to seek to do God’s will more fully.

To put the other person first as a sign of love and of service, so that they might know the love of Jesus and Mary more. This reality of prayer and sacrifices is at the heart of the consecration we make of the Diocese to Mary’s Immaculate heart. As we heard in that Gospel, Mary holds all that happens to her loved ones, in her heart (Luke 2:51). She held all that happened to Jesus in that way, and she holds everything that happens to us, in her heart, too.

These lessons, our two young saints lived in the personal circumstances of daily life, at home, in their village, among their friends and neighbours. St Jacinta and St Francesco are a reminder that sanctity, holiness of life, can be lived in the home, even among the youngest members in a family. And in receiving the struggles and sufferings of daily existence and in offering these out of love to Jesus, through Mary’s immaculate heart, for others.

We know that in their deaths especially Francisco and Jacinta showed enormous courage. Jacinta had a premonition of hers and asked for the Sacrament. The priest said he would bring it the following day and she shouldn’t be too dramatic. She died before he came that day, and alone. She was only nine, but had made it clear she knew she was going to her heavenly mother. We should never assume that someone is too young to hear aboutGod, to be taught about Our Lady, to begin a path of following Jesus.

Many of you here today are mothers, or fathers, grandfathers or Grandmothers. Particularly nowadays, you have a sacred task to help your children and grandchildren receive our Catholic faith, in simple ways. Please pray with them, teach them the Our Father and the Hail Mary, pray and teach them the rosary, and continue to teach them about Jesus and Mary.

When I was a child, we often prayed the rosary at home, usually in the evening. It was always with a particular style, on our knees, with each of us facing into a chair, with head down. We knelt in a circle but turned outwards, not facing one another. There were five of us all together – my parents, my two older brothers and I, and my mother insisted that each of us led a decade of the rosary. I think it was so that we didn’t fall asleep. Yet these simple things taught me that I had to find my own voice in prayer and that prayer wasn’t talking to one another but turning in another direction, to talk to God.

When we visited my Grandmother’s house during the summer holidays, she would often have a rosary in her hands and seemed to use it most of the day. She lived in a simple house in the West of Ireland and the back door was left constantly opened and her chickens would often wonder in looking for specks of food on the stone floor. The words of her Hail Mary’s would be interspersed with her shooing the chickens away and swearing at them in Irish. I’m afraid they were some of the first Irish words I learnt! But I learned, too, that the language of prayer and the language of life is intertwined, and in prayer nothing that comes is a distraction, but something merely to be taken up, and offered to God along with everything else.

When we pray with our young ones, when we teach them to pray, we give them a very precious gift. A gift that only Jesus and Mary can give. It is the gift of their inner life. None of us are alone. None of us are Spiritual orphans. In that Gospel about the Temple, Jesus reminds us that we have a Father. All of us have a Father in heaven, who loves us so much, that He gave His only Son. In Jesus we have a brother who is with us always.

And in Mary we have a mother. Our mother in heaven, the greatest and most loyal of all mothers. You know the story of someone who was praying to Mary at the shrine in Fatima and it was the 13th of the month, and there were tens of thousands of people there, and this person became a little despondent. They started to think to themselves, ‘But how can she know and see me, how can she divide up her love between all these thousands of people”. And then the thought came to her as though the voice of Mary were whispering gently to her in the depths of her heart, “But I don’t divide it up, I multiply it.” And this is what our heavenly mother does. She sees us, she looks us and she loves us. She does not abandon us.

Mary, mother of Jesus, pray for us and for our young people. Help us to show them the way to you, so that you can bring them to Jesus. Amen.

Our Lady of Fatima….Pray for us
St Jacinta…..
St Francesco…..

+Mark O’Toole
Bishop of Plymouth