17 October 2019

Eyes speak to eyes and heart to heart: Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, St Gregory, St Edward & St John Henry, at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, 13th October 2019

It is the outsider that the Lord encounters today. First, St Paul tells us to separate ourselves out from those in whose midst we live: “Go out from them, and you shall be My sons and daughters”. (II Corinthians 6.16-7.1) He says that this purification is the way God brings about the completion of our holiness. Then, in the gospel (Matthew 15.21-28), a Canaanite woman implores Him to relieve her daughter from terrible spiritual affliction – it has depressed her mind and her body. At first the Lord says that salvation comes according to a certain plan, all in due course: first, those who had lost their place in the house of Israel, ahead of anyone else. But the insistence of her faith crying out, which has driven the disciples beyond toleration, tells the story that no one is ultimately outside the scope of salvation.

There is St Paul saying, “go outside from among them”; and here is an outsider forcing her way in. St Paul points out the way for getting rid of the stains and pollution in our personalities, our attitudes, our hearts and our habits, so that it is clear for the Lord to come all the way along it, to fill us with His life and love and presence. This is another way of saying that His holiness becomes our character, difficult and outlandish as that may sound. And then the Gospel tells us that the purification we need does not come from our efforts, or turning our back on what is wrong with life, but by turning toward faith in the One who has come flooding into our midst. You get the impression that the Canaanite woman was not planning this. She just heard that Jesus had arrived, and it is her instinct to believe in Christ and no other that surprises the disciples. As we often find in the Christian life, faith precedes our confession of belief, and grace from God precedes our response to turn to Him.

Notice that when she appeals to Him, He answers not a word. It is the same as in the manger. It is the same as when He is baptised and transfigured. It is the same when He stands before Pilate. It is the same when He is risen from the dead. It is not wording that is being strung together, but the extent of faith that is being tested and explored. Christ is the Word that need not be articulated, because it is His Person and His all-pervading Presence and His sheer significance that cause the cleansing out of what stands in the way of encountering Him - of bringing His holiness in us to completion, of bringing to flower the faith that has been seeded within us.

Look at what will happen in our midst in a few moments. Will Christ who will come among us take one look and say to Himself, “Be separate from them; go out from their midst; be separate from them”? Or will He, like He did at journey’s end on the road to Emmaus, without scarcely a word and by His presence and act, make Himself known to us in the Breaking of Bread? The Lord of hosts and the Man of Sorrows, despised and rejected, acquainted with grief, the outsider of all outsiders, becomes our insider.

This Sunday in London, for the Latin Church of Westminster among whom we live, it is the Feast of St Edward the Confessor, whose crown adorns our monarch, and whose remains lie close to the High Altar of Westminster Abbey, where only a few years ago they were venerated by Pope Benedict XVI. The great king of the Anglo-Saxons remains the patron of good government in our land, and the bulwark against misrule and injustice as he has been for 1000 years. Here in our Church, we remember Gregory, a refugee from pagan Armenia, who learned of Christ for himself when he was raised in Cappadocia, at the heart of Greek Eastern Christian spiritual life and theology, to became the “Illuminator” of his people when he returned to organise his nation’s Church, so that the oldest Christian state in the world remains a proud Christian civilisation in the East and in diaspora across the world to this day.  And in Rome, John Henry Newman, England’s son and its greatest Christian teacher and theologian, will be included in the canon of the saints of the whole Catholic Church, on account of his life’s dedication to the binding nature of the Truth and the Lord whose salvation in the One Church of Christ he embraced.

One of Blessed John Henry’s phrases described his spiritual journey. It was not one of picking up or looking for hidden messages, but a path of realising the plain reality before his eyes. So he spoke of moving “out of shadows and illusions into truth.” He also said that this was because “heart speaks to heart.” If we are honest, we all know what these two sayings mean, since we have all encountered them, in our truer moments, in our souls.  The second phrase is adapted from something St Frances de Sales said in his Treatise on the Love of God (Bk VI):

Speaking to God and hearing God speak in the bottom of the heart … is … a silent conversing. Eyes speak to eyes, and heart to heart. And none understand what passes save the sacred lovers who speak.

The Canaanite woman knew the silent conversing when she cried. The apostles cried back and told her to stop. But the Lord said not a word. For heart speaks to heart. And when St Paul told us to clear the temple of God that we are of all the clutter of noise to other idolised obsessions and our illusory falsehood, it is to make way for the presence and worship of God. Thus in the purity of lovers in relationship He may see only us as we are, and we may see only Him as He is, for “eyes speak to eyes, and heart to heart, and none understand what passes save the sacred lovers who speak”. This is why, when we pray to God, we do not hear with our ears; it is how we have an inkling that prayer is not something that we do to God, but what God does to us. It is the path of falling and being in love.

St Edward, St Gregory and Blessed John Henry all in their way knew what we are learning too. There is other light. There is no other faith. There is no other Church, save to be in that one place where He gazes in His heart upon us and we upon Him, where we are not alone, but see ourselves to be in the company of all the rest who have gone their way and found that it leads purely nowhere else than to the Church wherein He makes Himself know in this breaking of Bread. As St Bernard put it:

Jesu, the very thought of Thee/ With sweetness fills my breast;

But sweeter far Thy face to see, And in Thy presence rest.

O Hope of every contrite heart, O Joy of all the meek,

To those who fall, how kind Thou art! How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this/ Nor tongue nor pen can show;

The love of Jesus, what it is/ None but His loved ones know.

And so, with St Paul, the Woman of Canaan and her daughter, with St Gregory, St Edward, St Bernard, and St John Henry Newman, we pray:

Jesus, our only Joy be Thou, As Thou our Prize wilt be;

Jesus, be Thou our Glory now, And through eternity.