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Homily in Chartres by the Very Rev. Fr. John Berg, Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter


Homily at the Mass of Whit Monday 2012 for the 30th Paris to Chartres Pilgrimage.

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It is both an honor and a profound joy to welcome you, and to address a few words to you here in Chartres in the language of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Chesterton.

In particular on this 30th anniversary – and hopefully the final Pentecost on which there will be two different Pilgrimages – I would like to address just a few words to you in English. As a foreigner I believe that I share with you the sentiment that in this day and age there is no finer living sign and example of Christendom – the fundamental role of the Church within society – than these three days.

The theme of the family, which was chosen for this year, is also fundamental in each one of our English-speaking cultures and countries.

May our Lady of Chartres grant to each and every one of you the great grace, in accord with your own duty of state, to protect and promote the family in this world which is so badly in need; and may she intercede for you and each of your families.


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Dear Pilgrims of Our Lady,

The first time that I walked the Chartres pilgrimage was nearly twenty years ago. It was an enormous grace. I was a pilgrim amongst pilgrims, part of a group of seminarians from our seminary of Wigratzbad in Germany. Like so many others, we wore out the soles of our shoes, praying with our feet, and after three days we arrived, tired but happy, at Notre-Dame de Chartres.
What a joy it was to follow in the footsteps of Saint Louis and Charles Péguy, and, like them, to make my way from « Notre-Dame-in-the-city » to « Notre-Dame-in-the-fields » !
I was particularly struck by certain things: firstly, I decided that the preacher himself should always – if he is able – walk from Paris to Chartres and thus keep in mind during his sermon the physical exhaustion of the pilgrims. So I will make sure that it is not too long.
Above all, I was impressed and inspired by the sight of thousands of families, young people and children, walking, singing and praying together whether under the scorching sun or in the pelting rain for three days, before finding safe harbour here in Chartres.
How exhilarating it is to participate in such a spiritual adventure, in these all-too materialist times! It gave me, a stranger as I was, a particular idea of France. Three days spent on the road to Chartres each year established in my mind the thrilling image of a country which was « ever French, and ever Catholic », saluting its origins, baptised with Clovis, and more than anything, still based upon the rock-like foundation of the family.
But with the passing years, I have seen how your country has been moving further away, day by day, from this beautiful image. For in France, as elsewhere in the world, society is increasingly alienating itself from divine law and natural law, and the foundation of society – the family – is increasingly under attack.
In France, political dialectics are sharp and the pundits are often very ideologically-motivated. The most useful thing for society, however, is to develop a Catholic perspective, and it is up to us to promote it.
The American poet T. S. Eliot wrote these prophetic lines: « The world is trying to experiment with attempting to form a civilized but non-Christian mentality. The experiment will fail ; but we must be very patient in awaiting its collapse ; meanwhile redeeming the time : so that the Faith may be preserved alive through the dark ages before us ; to renew and rebuild civilization, and save the world from suicide.».
My dear pilgrims, our faith is the antidote to this suicidal culture. It is the remedy which our world needs. We stand alongside the Pope ready to take action against today’s drift towards moral relativism, which destroys human life and families.
When the Holy Father received the cardinals last week, he reminded them that we can see « how evil wishes to dominate in the world and that it is necessary to fight against evil. We see that it does so in so many ways: cruelly, through the different forms of violence, but even disguised as good and thereby undermining the moral foundations of society. »
Evil often spreads in covert ways. Each time it hides behind an apparent benefit. For example, in the name of equality, the theory of gender is promoted, which denies the objective differences between the sexes, or again, homosexual marriage is called for and the adoption of children by those entering into this kind of union. In the name of women’s freedom, the right to abortion is proclaimed. In the name of medical progress, we allow experiments on embryos which are treated as raw materials which we can test and destroy, even though these are human beings. In the name of the fight against discrimination, we use our schools as a tool to forge new consciences, formatted by « politically correct » thought; and this happens in defiance of the educational responsibility of the parents.
As we can see, these abuses are all attacks on the family. Now, to undermine the family is to destabilise society as a whole, because the family is its core cell. Attacking the family also presents a grave threat to the Church, since the family is at its very heart: it is in the family that the faith is transmitted and the fundamentals of Christian education communicated. The family is the cradle of the missionary impulse of the Church. It is a centre for evangelisation: the living example of Christian families and the charitable love radiating out from these homes can reach those souls in search of meaning and truth, and draw them towards the faith and towards God.
The witness that you provide, dear pilgrims, is irreplaceable, and we priests do admire your generosity! Your witness can turn into the most powerful form of preaching, provided that the lives of your families reflect the values that you profess.
Christendom lives in your families, which are its cradle, and which prepare for its rebirth. In our godless world, it is your families and the works in which you are engaged which are so many bastions in the vanguard of victory.
To take up the words of Benedict XVI, you share « in the joys and the troubles » of the Church, and you participate in her struggle, which is a merciless struggle between two loves: love of self to the point of despising God, and love of God to the point of despising oneself. « We are caught up in this struggle » Benedict XVI states, « and in this struggle it is very important to have friends. » For each one of us is too weak to keep up the combat alone: we are links in the chain of families and of souls, held together by a powerful supernatural friendship in the service of Truth.
We go forward together, all aboard the barque of the Church amid the tempests of our days. According to Charles Péguy, « we must save ourselves together ». We are all part of each other, Christ being our head and his life diffusing through us. As Benedict XVI said, « we are on the Lord’s team, hence on the winning team ».
Dear pilgrims, in view of everything that is threatening the family in our times, it would be easy to let ourselves fall into despair. But, courage! « Christ has conquered the world ». And whether in the dark nights or in the days of joy, we walk with Christ and we understand with him that « those nights are necessary and good », for they are there to purify us.
Let us not be afraid. After this pilgrimage, we will return to our normal activities. We have had three days to build up our strength. Now we must bring to fruition the graces received on the road to Chartres. Our families must be missionaries, remaining ever in the vanguard of the Church militant which bears within her the Truth. Let us be counted amongst those friends on whom the Church may rely in the immense spiritual challenges before her. Let us bring Christendom to life as a great friendship in the service of the True, the Good and the Beautiful. And may Our Lady be always with us on the way.
Amen.

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