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Cardinal congratulates Downside for teaching the 'art of belonging'
posted on 13 March 2006

In today’s Europe of ‘believing without belonging’, where the family is fragile, monasteries teach the “art of belonging to each other”, the Archbishop of Westminster told monks gathered at Downside Abbey church today.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor was speaking at 10am Mass on the community’s patronal feast day of St Gregory’s, as part of the Benedictine abbey’s  400th anniversary celebrations.

In a society where people seek the “fruits” without the “roots”, monastic communities show by their lives that “it is the roots of our existence which need to be tended if our lives are to be joyful”, the Cardinal said in his sermon.

He said a monastery “is not a flight from the fragility of human nature, but a way of meeting it and transforming it”. It is a place of “mutual caring and covenant relationships” where “people learn to relate, to love others, to meet the person behind the label, to live tenderness, to communicate, to forgive, to grow in freedom and to worship together.”

The Cardinal also praised the Rule of St Benedict, which he described as “a rock, but not a hard place”. He said he wished everyone could see the Church’s own rules and doctrines in the way that St Benedict intended his: “as gentle prods to change, not weights and burdens; and as lessons in the school of love.”

The Cardinal said it was “a  very good time to be a monk”, to be part of “a great tradition which is a vehicle of abundant Grace”.

Congratulating Downside on its anniversary, he told the monks: “Continue to make your monastery a place of joyful freedom, a sign of peace and a testament to the beauty of holiness, and we shall all be grateful.”

SERMON preached at DownsideAbbeyChurch 10am on 13 March (St Gregory’s Day) by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, as part of Downside’s 400th anniversary celebrations. 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

A priest-uncle of mine had the rather endearing habit when he made short speeches at our family gatherings by beginning always with the words from Isaiah, Remember the rock out of which you were hewn.  The rock was faith and family. But he had other sources of solidity. That uncle was stationed in the Channel Islands when the Second World War broke out and had a very hard time during the Occupation.  Having a wireless was strictly prohibited under the pain of concentration camp. My uncle took his wireless and hid it under a slab beside a pillar in the church.  Every night he would lock the church, take out the wireless and listen to the 9 o’clock news on the BBC, to hear a voice that was true and gave indications of hope for the future.

We all need rocks to cling to. This day for the Community here at Downside is an opportunity to remember the rock out of which you were hewn. The rock of your faith and your tradition have been firmly set by all those who went before you, those like St. St. Gregory, after whom your foundation four centuries ago was named.  What a great monk Gregory the Great was.  Every time his feast comes round I am reminded of the words we heard in the reading from Ezekiel:  Son of man, I have appointed you as sentry to the House of Israel.   St. Gregory says, Who am I?   What kind of watchman am I?   I do not stand on the pinnacle of achievement, I languish rather in the depths of myweakness.  And yet the Creator and Redeemer of Mankind can give me, unworthy though I be, the grace to see life whole and power to speak effectively of it.  It is for love of Him that I do not spare myself in preaching Him.   It was in imitation of him and so many other great Benedictines that your forefathers trained monks from exile for the English mission.   For two hundred years, from 1606, they sent monks to this land to preach the Word of God.  Among them were your two great Martyrs, John Roberts and Ambrose Barlow.   Reading their lives, one is impressed by the way in which, in spite of incredible hardship and suffering, they were full of a sense of joy and cheerfulness as they went about their tasks and, ultimately, as they faced their cruel martyrdom.  How right that we should remember and honour them today – they still pray for us and especially for you.

In response to Peter’s profession of faith, Jesus tells him:  You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church. He is the rock of faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God, the meaning and the hope for all humanity.  It seems an age now, but it is still less than a year ago that, along with the other cardinals, I came out on to the balcony alongside our new Peter, who just moments before had chosen the name of Benedict to cheers, I am sure, from OSBs across the world. You are familiar, from your own abbatial elections, of this process of discerning the one among you who should carry the weight of office; you know that it can be a dramatic, and sometimes quite brutal, process: that from the moment the majority is reached, the one who is elected and accepts takes possession of the office and all its faculties and the heavy responsibility – as well as the many graces – which attach to it. It carries with it something of the immediacy, and the drama, of Jesus’ call to his disciples: to leave everything and follow him. 

The name Benedict carries great resonances for the history of our Church in Europe, of which  St. Benedict is the co-patron. The Rule which he wrote, and which is the bedrock of your lives together, was the light that streamed through the Dark Ages to this day.

In the 1700s, Pope Benedict XIV confronted the scepticism and rationalism of the Enlightenment. Pope Benedict XV was the great bridge-builder who between 1914 and 1922 was the still small voice of compassion and peace in a Continent tearing itself apart in war. Our own Pope Benedict said he took his name partly because of his special c

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