Cardinal Arthur Roche preaching at the 50th anniversary Postgate Rally – Photo by Michael McGeary
Cardinal’s Postgate Rally homily

Cardinal Arthur Roche’s homily at the 50th anniversary Postgate Rally at Ugthorpe on Sunday July 7 2024…

One of the more disturbing realities in today’s world is how quickly populist movements form and how the determined positions which mark them are often quite extreme. Not always based on wholesome foundations, they can reveal something quite murky underneath, flippant positions, prejudices, sometimes with unpleasant xenophobic undertones: at best dismissive, at worst, seeking something or someone’s annihilation.
It is a tendency in our human nature that we know of also from the Scriptures. How often we witness the sliding away from God by his chosen people.
That is what we see the beginning of in today’s gospel and in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. On the one hand, in the gospel, the discrediting of Jesus, and, on the other hand in the book of Ezekiel (and here we are getting to the theme of what the readings taken together are about today), the marginalisation of God’s voice among his own people: the blotting out of God in favour of something a little easier to accept, more reasonable, something that fits in more with our way of thinking.
The gratuitous nature of the Incarnation, of God becoming man, taking our flesh, living and loving in our midst, was difficult to take in. It was too ordinary, certainly too close for comfort for those in today’s gospel, and they wanted to put Jesus in his place. Where did he get all this from, these miracles, this wisdom? He is only a carpenter, after all, for goodness sake! We know his family, and they are not all that one would expect! Well, that was certainly true, especially when we refer back to the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew – a list which includes some notorious sinners and notable rogues. The Incarnation did not, indeed could not happen in the prosperous city of Jerusalem. It had to be in a remote town in Galilee, so utterly ordinary that people were oft heard to say, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). Yet it was exactly from there, amidst the down to earth rough and tumble of life, that the world was reborn. From that obscure location God was telling us that salvation is for everyone, not simply the chosen few. Mary’s humility and the straightforward and courageous trust she showed at the annunciation was to unravel as a leitmotif throughout the pages of the New Testament. Her faith, her trust in God’s word was to reverse Eve’s disloyalty which became such a force for destruction.
Popular discrediting is a cautionary tale. Unfortunately, it is one we know of from experience, one of which we are not personally strangers to, and that we are apt all too quickly to forget. Faithfulness to our faith: to the Scriptures and to the teachings of the Church provide us with a safeguard from such allurements. The fame of our English martyrs’ (for which they are universally acclaimed) was, after all, their faithfulness to the Mass and to the Pope – the sure compass by which to guide Catholics in any age.
The discrediting of Jesus and the rejection of the prophetic call to return to the tenderness of God’s love revealed a lack of faith – faithfulness to God. It unmasked a preference instead that led to a path of sinfulness. Sin creates an openness to more sin; it makes it easier and often reinforces sinfulness as being quite acceptable; it encourages others to cooperate with it and begins to flatter the sinful tendency as something usual, making all who participate in it unthinking accomplices of something that is in reality quite ugly. It is good to remember that the opposite to sin is not goodness, it is faith. How often we hear the priest say at Mass as we prepare for Holy Communion, ‘Look not on our sins but of the faith of your Church.’ Sin is unfaithfulness – it is selfishness not godliness. Faith, the persevering faith that is our daily lot, is the pathway of sanctity – a faithfulness to God through thick and thin with all the blemishes as well as the successes.
One might say that the opposite of being faithful to God, begins by searching for a security and protection in something that is built on me rather than on God. A sickness of the heart where there is no room for more – more than me, that is – or my ideas that can easily fall prey to a distorted view of God and of the world, one that is reduced to the size of me rather than to the grandeur to which we are called to by God.
Historically, we have seen something of all this, too, in the Church since its beginning – unfortunately from within as well as from without. Indeed, it was there at the Last Supper. Much of the Reformation can be categorised in this way. It is, isn’t it, what ultimately led to the fate of Blessed Nicholas Postgate in his venerable old age – a victim to the ugly prejudices of his day due to the greed of a lascivious king and the bigotry of those who thought they could put pay to the Church and build something better and more sure of their own.
But Blessed Nicholas would want us to keep our attention on what the Lord is saying to us in these readings for they contain the words of life that help each of us to be perennial converts, turning constantly more and more to what is true and good, and helping us to avoid falling into the trap of narrow-mindedness or intolerance or indifference or arrogance which is so un-Christlike, so pharisaic and which would cocoon us in a bubble of self-righteousness.
It was in the face of such choices that Saint Paul shares with us in his letter a personal moment in his own life – a moment that might well have taken him off in a different direction had he not trusted, had he not had faith in what God was doing within him. But the Lord left him with something that kept nagging at him – no, not that way, but this way! In living through this with God always in mind he began, through faithfulness, to know and understand and to live with God, trusting him. My grace is sufficient – you have my power in you, says the Lord, even when you are weak and when you are persecuted and when things are tough.  Why should you worry when I am with you, even when in the face of being ridiculed or dealt with contemptuously. I am always at your side.
We see that strength of faith in people we have all known. St Paul knew what could drag him down; what could coax him to take his eye away from his deep trust in the Lord, knowing that our destiny is not here but elsewhere. He knew that there are days when faith only advances in darkness, yet our faith is a sure rock on which to purchase our lives.
It is clear to me that this consciousness was also with Blessed Nicholas. On receiving his death sentence, a contemporary of his wrote, “which sentence was no ways unwelcome to him, who had been learning to die all his lifetime”. Fifty- one years a priest, of which the vast majority of them were spent on these moors, but not only. He lived simply, humbly. The description of his hut, ‘his cell’ on the moors would make anyone feel the cold, even on a day like this.  He knew that one day the intolerance of the age would seek him out – and it did. He had taken, as a young priest, the missionary oath in the seminary in France, committing himself to return home and to remain faithful even in the face of death – and he kept that promise to the end of his long days.
John Reeves, Henry Cockerill, Elizabeth Baxter, Elizabeth Wood, Richard Morris – some of the very people who had received Holy Communion from his hands – testified against him. Reeves, a young man, held hostage by a spirit of revenge, of sheer hatred, led the hunt for him for £20, a handsome sum by any reckoning. Hunting down and discrediting a good and humble, frail old man who was widely loved and who, in any descent court supposedly built upon Christian principles, would have met with mercy at his time of life. But, despite his venerable age, and along with St Margaret Clitherow, who was pregnant and who should have been exempted from execution, faced instead the ravages of the pursuivants who were no respecters either of the plight of women, or children or of old age! Sir William Cayley, the Justice of Peace who presided over the depositions at Brompton Hall was favourably disposed to Mr Postgate, we are told but, with little reluctance, sent him to the Assizes at the Guildhall in York to be condemned to an horrific death for the crime of being a priest.
Nicholas did not condemn any of them. Indeed, he died praying for them. A feature of his last days we are told was that he greeted everyone with the open arms of charity and joked that they had done him a great favour by giving him such ‘a short cut’ to heaven.
Yes, prophets are not always welcome in their own home and faithfulness to God is not always found there either. And it is true that Christians today are the most persecuted group of people everywhere throughout the world. The biases in our own country are well known to us all. However, today in this holy place, we thank God for our faith, for those who from the time of the Apostles have handed it down to us, and who have nourished us. We thank God for the Church, his gift of salvation, of which we are a part; we thank God for the Mass; we thank God for the Holy Father and for giving us all the opportunity to show our faithfulness when it is not always easy to do so. God’s word and the prophets who remain faithful to that word are not always welcome but they remain forever vitally important. Blessed Nicholas and our English and Welsh martyrs give us the courage not to lose our footing by taking the high road of indifference and superiority, but instead the track of life trodden by Christ that keeps us sane and close to reality, without the loss of hope, knowing that God calls us to greatness, to expand to the size of Christ, through facing reality with faith, and not to shrink to the size of self or a meanness of heart, which leads nowhere.
Blessed Nicholas, the great grandfather of those of you in these parts who share the faith he lived and died for, whose legacy then is still with you today, remains with you as a friend and a father, as someone who knows not to slip away from what is true and good, and who still points today by his life and death to the One who is and will ever remain most important in life. His faithfulness our model; his tenderness of soul our guide.  Let his example be our daily pilgrimage; his faithfulness our true compass in life. And let us call upon his intercession in times of real need so that one day his memory may be celebrated at the altars in this land – someone not dismissed or forgotten – but cherished by you as your very own saint! Keep his memory alive throughout the diocese. Keep asking God, through his intercession for the gift of that miraculous sign and do not rest until you get it!

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