Fr. Hurd, 10/21/12

Fr. Scott Hurd's Sermon given on the occasion of the confirmation and reception of members of the Fellowship of St. Alban, October 21, 2012. Fr. Hurd is the Vicar General of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.
In preparation for my being with you this weekend, I thought it might be good to brush up on the life of Saint Alban, in hope that I might find something useful to weave into my homily. I sniffed around the Internet- including a visit to your own very fine website- and was reminded that Saint Alban is a martyr- the very first martyr of Britain, as I'm sure you know full well. As with every martyr, Saint Alban died on account of his faith in Christ, in imitation of Christ, who died on account of his love for us.

How fitting it is then, as the Fellowship of Saint Alban is received into the Ordinariate, that our first reading spoke of one who accomplished God's will by offering his life for the forgiveness of our sins. This ancient passage, of course, looks forward to the sacrifice of our Lord, which we celebrate at this and every Mass. But it also brings to mind Saint Alban and all those whose martyrdoms re-presented the sacrifice of Christ, in their own day and time.

Just decades after our Lord's sacrifice, Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote: "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church." The blood of Saint Alban was certainly a seed for the Church in ancient Britain, a seed which blossomed and grew with the passing centuries. But what about Rochester, New York? How might the blood of Saint Alban, through the Fellowship of Saint Alban, be a seed of the Church in our time, and in this city?

As we reflect on that question, it might be helpful to recall that today is World Mission Sunday- an annual observance on which we celebrate, pray for, and seek to support those who spread the gospel as missionaries to every corner of the globe. We also remember those twenty-six missionaries and pastoral workers who, over the past year, like Saint Alban, suffered violent deaths on account of their faith, becoming modern-day martyrs.

"Martyr" means "witness." By their deaths, martyrs witness to their faith before others. And history testifies to the seeds that sprout from such witness. In the case of Saint Alban, his witness bore immediate fruit, as the first man designated to be his executioner was so inspired by Alban's courageous faith that he himself converted on the spot. He thereupon, after Alban, became Britain's second martyr.

Precious few of us are called to martyrdom- thanks be to God! But in a sense, all of us can be martyrs, because all of us can be witnesses. And the Lord can use our witness to plant seeds in our communities- be it Rochester, or wherever- that can bring forth an abundant harvest. As with Saint Alban, our witness- our "martyrdom"- can lead others to faith in our Lord.

One particular way the Fellowship of Saint Alban can collectively witness is through celebrating and sharing the Anglican patrimony- pastoral, spiritual, theological, and in particular our beautiful liturgical tradition, through which God is worshiped in the "beauty of holiness." You may discover that there are those who will go out of their way to worship with you, for this very reason. On Sundays, the Fellowship of Saint Alban may well become a pilgrimage destination, a bit like England's Cathedral of Saint Alban, where your patron is buried, and which pilgrims have visited for over a thousand years. As someone posted on Facebook this past week: "The Anglican Use- It's Worth the Drive!"

Through our Patrimony, and our Ordinariate, we can pray that the Fellowship of Saint Alban will be a bridge to the fullness of Catholic faith and order for those Anglicans the Lord is calling to join us. This is depicted so well by a picture on your Fellowship's website, which connects a bridge over Rochester's Genessee River with a bridge over Rome's Tiber. The story of Saint Alban's martyrdom features a bridge too - one that was overcrowded with people who had come to see his being martyred. They wanted to witness his witness, if you will! And there are those today who will wish to witness your witness, too.

At the same time, the Fellowship of Saint Alban is called to be more than just a bridge. Our Ordinariate is not simply about "receiving," it's also about "reaching" - reaching out. We're to reach out to those who think they've heard the Gospel before, and assume they know what our faith is all about, but have either turned away, or grown indifferent. We're invited to propose the Gospel to them in what is called the "New Evangelization"- a major initiative of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI- the very one who gave us the gift of our Ordinariate. We're to reach out also to those who have never before heard the gospel or encountered God's love. According to a study released earlier this month, their number is growing in our country. They need our witness.

Our second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, suggests how we might witness: "Brothers and sisters," it pleads, "let us hold fast to our confession." Saint Alban certainly did. As he stood before his accuser, he insisted: "I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things." That confession is still offered today as a prayer, at Saint Alban's Cathedral. Alban's confession, and our confession, is a confession of the truth- the truth that will set us, and can set others, free.

Legend tells us that as Saint Alban was being martyred, his executioner's eyes fell out. That's a gory detail, to be sure, but perhaps it's also a metaphor- that to live without Christ is to live life blind, and walk in darkness. Our Lord, however, wants everyone to walk with the light of life- which is why he invites us, like Alban your patron, to confess- to witness- to the truth.

When referring to your patron, the ancient historian St. Bede could write, in Latin:

Albanum egregium faecunda Britania profert

translated as "Fruitful Britain holy Alban yields." In other words, his witness bore great fruit in his time and place. May your witness, do the same.
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