Canon Pat Browne gave the following homily on Holy Thursday evening, during Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Holy Apostles, Pimlico, in central London.
When ISIS attacked Mosul in Northern Iraq the Christians in that city were given three choices: Convert to Islam. Pay a heavy tax. Leave immediately within 24 hours.
Almost every Christian fled that city immediately with only what they could carry. Among them was Martin, a young man preparing for the priesthood. He carried with him the Blessed Sacrament from the Tabernacle in his local Church. This reminded me of when I met Canon Hadfield who was Parish Priest here in in Pimlico for years.
When the old Church over beside Dolphin Square was bombed during the Second World War, Canon Hadfield went in among the ruins, retrieved the Blessed Sacrament from the Tabernacle and with bombs dropping all round him, he cycled over to Westminster Cathedral to place the sacrament into the safety of the tabernacle there.
I feel humbled to succeed such a man here in Pimlico and felt deeply privileged to have attended Martin’s ordination in Erbil when I visited Iraq last September with some Members of Parliament. All of Martin’s family had fled as refugees to the USA. He refused to go with them, saying he wanted to be ordained a priest and stay with his people in Iraq.
On this Holy Thursday night we can ask ourselves what is so special about this Sacrament that these two men in different circumstances risked their lives to protect and save it?
And maybe examine our own attitudes to something that is so special.
Now it is true that if either of those men got killed that would have been a greater tragedy than if the sacred hosts had been blown to bits in the tabernacle or as they rescued them. After all Christ not only lives in the Sacred Host. He lives in people as well. And whereas God cannot be hurt when we damage the host, he can only be shown disrespect; God can and is hurt when we hurt each other. How? Remember Christ became human. He took a human heart so that he could feel our joy but also our pain. God with a human heart and body can be hurt.
But back to the Sacrament which was instituted this night. What is so special about it, is that it is the way in which Jesus communicates himself to us. It is how he enters into our lives in a very personal and intimate way and becomes part of us. He makes his home in us and allows us to make our home in him. This is togetherness, oneness at its deepest level. It is Communion.
This is why, when we approach the altar for communion we should be focussed on what we are doing or rather what Jesus is doing for us., and reach out for him one hand on top of the other. As one of the saints said, we make our two hands into a throne onto which the King may come. Then we eat what has been given and take him into our lives. We are no longer two, but one.
Don’t get hooked up on how Jesus does this. How he is present to us; Transubstantiation and all that. Just believe. This is a deep mystery – the mystery of love.
Just as those twelve apostles sat round the table with him the night before he died. We sit round this table with him here tonight and he gives himself to you and to me as really and truly as he gave himself to each one of them in this Bread and Wine.
It is a cause for great joy. My beloved comes to me. The greatest friend I will ever have. The one who understands me even more than I understand myself. The one who is totally faithful to me. He wants to be in my life. And he does this for me not because he has to, or because I deserve it, but because he loves me. This is a cause of great rejoicing.
It is because Canon Hadfield and the now young Father Martin appreciated this truth so much they could not let this sacrament be damaged or desecrated. That is why they rescued it from their respective churches.
Today we in Pimlico receive this gift of Jesus in Holy Communion week by week, some of us even day by day. There are no bombs around us thank God. We have the freedom to come and go as we wish. Not so for the Coptic Christians killed on Palm Sunday as they attended Mass. Let’s have the fervour and appreciation for what is on offer here.
This Holy Week Martin and some of his fellow Christians will have by now, made their way back to Eastern Mosul to reclaim their church. It may have no roof and the statues may have been smashed and the benches been broken, but the Easter they will celebrate there will be joyful, full of emotion, and full of fervour and faith.
At his ordination a member of Martin’s family gave me a little picture of him. I will put it on the altar for the rest of this Mass so that we in Pimlico can unite ourselves with our fellow Catholics in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and those other places where Christians have suffered so much but have remained faithful throughout their ordeal. May we be faithful too and may our love for our Lord be strengthened this night.
See earlier report: ICN 7 April 2017 Iraq: Young priest returns to bless his village