Homily given at Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Translation of the Relics of Saint Thomas Becket on Saturday 6th July at Northampton Cathedral by Bishop David Oakley.

Life today, as it always has, consists of joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties, for each of us as individuals, for our families and communities, for our nation and our world. So how does this gathering here for our Thomas Becket Festival fit into all of this? St Thomas Becket has been our diocesan patron since the 29th September 1850, when Pope Pius IX restored a diocesan hierarchy in England and Wales.

In his customary lyrical manner, this is how St John Henry Newman put things in his famous Second Spring Sermon:

‘A second temple rises on the ruins of the old. Canterbury has gone its way, and York is gone, and Durham is gone, and Winchester is gone. It was sore to part with them. We clung to the vision of past greatness, and would not believe it could come to nought; but the Church in England has died, and the Church lives again. Westminster and Nottingham, Beverley and Hexham, Northampton and Shrewsbury, if the world lasts, shall be names as musical to the ear, as stirring to the heart, as the glories we have lost; and Saints shall rise out of them if God so will, and Doctors once again shall give the law to Israel, and Preachers call to penance and to justice, as at the beginning.’

Now I have to confess, listening to these words makes me feel a little giddy. Of course, much has changed since those days when Bishop William Wareing emerged from being the Vicar Apostolic of the Eastern District to become the first Bishop of Northampton. And in this Festival today, we are invited to look back over the 174 years since our Diocese was established. There is much for us to give thanks for in our ecclesial family story.             A number of people around our Diocese are still able to call to mind some significant events and those clergy and people associated with them; the building of churches and schools. And now it is our turn to write the chapter of this generation. This too makes me feel giddy. But we should embrace the responsibilities placed upon our hearts, and do so with a great sense of wanting to build upon the legacy handed on to us.

We heard some moments ago, the apostle Paul speak of his irresistible need to become involved in the mission he had received from Christ. He puts things this way; I became the servant of the Church when God made me responsible for delivering God’s message to you. This has not significantly changed since the times of the first apostles. Our patron saint, Thomas Becket, also shared in the apostolic ministry, and indeed, the martyrdom in which the first apostles bore witness to Christ. I sense he may be pleased to be our diocesan patron. When the seminary at Wonersh closed a few years ago, we received the altar, ambo and tabernacle plinth from their chapel. It was my thinking that these lovely black marble pieces would fit well into our Cathedral. At the time, I had no awareness that the principal relic in the Wonersh altar is that of St Thomas of Canterbury. Our patron saint then, is coming home.

And can we believe that Newman’s words might also be coming home: Northampton, a name as musical to the ear, as stirring to the heart; and saints shall rise out of Northampton if God so will. Tomorrow afternoon, there will be an opportunity in our second Becket lecture to reflect on one possible saint. Fr Gerard Skinner will share with us something about the Passionist priest, Venerable Ignatius Spencer. Born George Spencer, a younger son of the second Earl Spencer, like John Henry Newman, he left his Anglican roots to become a Catholic. We pray his cause will move soon towards beatification and canonisation. He might be a worthy patron of our mission endeavours. Caroline Chisholm, born in Northampton and buried here, spent much of her life in Australia. There she achieved heroic virtue in her care of the poor. The Australian church is taking her cause forwards. She might become a patron of our Caritas social needs outreach.

I would urge you not to neglect our patron saint and those whose holiness has been recognised, and are on the way to sainthood. They are our dear diocesan friends in heaven. We should seek their powerful intercession as we seek the stirring of our hearts.

As we celebrate our Becket Festival, these are days of grace-filled opportunity. Our diocese is bursting with new house building and the potential new life to our parishes this brings. I have mentioned three names we might look to for inspiration, our diocesan patron, St Thomas of Canterbury, the Venerable Ignatius Spencer, the Servant of God Caroline Chisholm. How might these three help to focus our hearts?

They each demonstrated a determined and somewhat stubborn desire to be faithful to the Lord. Each of them stumbled across the grace to change and to become powerful agents of the Kingdom of heaven. They were insistent about living as perfectly as possible, the vocations to which they had been called to witness the streams of grace which were manifested in their very different circumstances.

And this can be our way to holiness too. St Thomas Becket assists us with the supernatural power we need for our Catholic life and witness today.