Given at the Golden Jubilee Mass of the Inauguration of the Tyburn Association of Adoration at Tyburn Convent on the feast of St Vincent de Paul, 27 September 2016.
Just outside this oasis of prayer and peace, there are some of the most complicated road junctions in London. They are littered with signs: some giving information about directions to be taken, some telling you what you must do, some telling you what you must not do. They are to be seen on either side of you, and on the road below. No wonder we get confused sometimes!
But this convent is also a sign. Here is what Pope Francis has said in his recent Apostolic Constitution on the contemplative life:
‘Contemplative communities of prayer constitute an instance of discernment and summons to the whole Church. They are signposts pointing to a journey and quest, a reminder to the entire People of God of the primary and ultimate meaning of the Christian life’ (Vultum Dei Quaerere, 4).
The document is called Seeking the Face of God and Pope Francis starts his message with the simple affirmation that seeking the face of God has always been part of our human condition. Then he goes on to add that in seeking God we quickly realise that no one is self-surprising. He said we need each other in this search, and when we act on that need we begin to experience ‘an ever more profound experience of communion’.
Today we remember the official approval of the Tyburn Association of Adoration, given 50 years ago on this day, by my predecessor Cardinal Heenan. This Association demonstrates the truth of those words of Pope Francis, then in seeking the Lord we are, in a great variety of ways, drawn closer to each other.
Mother Garnier wanted each one of her convents not only to be a place in which Jesus is continually adored in the Blessed Sacrament, but also to be a place in which lay people could share in this perpetual Adoration. The association fulfils her deep desire.
Testimony by those who watch here, during the long hours of the night, assures us that it is not an easy task. One of the association’s early members, Eva Jennings, wrote this: ‘Those that take their turn at regular intervals know that there are times when it is hard to pray even in this holy place. The flesh is weak and one can feel tired, sleepy or just plain restless. Sometimes it is the incessant noise of the traffic that seems to take all one’s attention.’
Yes, that is true. Keeping watch with the Lord demands determination and a deep desire. As one archbishop of this country was fond of saying: ‘It is only after 50 minutes of a silent holy hour that the atheist in me comes out!’
Pope Francis takes trouble to remind every contemplative community, and, I add, its associates, that, and I quote, ‘The great challenge faced by consecrated persons is to persevere in seeking God with the eyes of faith in a world which ignores his presence, and to continue to offer that world Christ's life of chastity, poverty and obedience as a credible and trustworthy sign ... they devote themselves exclusively to seeking his face, longing to find and contemplate God in the heart of the world.’ Then, quoting from the Rule of St Benedict, he adds that ‘the one criterion of the authenticity of the consecrated life is whether the person truly seeks God’.
But let me return to Eva Jennings. She continued her remarks about the difficulty of prayer at night with these consoling words: ‘I think it is the universal experience that sometimes during the night there is that feeling of closeness with Our Divine Lord, an almost physical consciousness of the Real Presence, a feeling of being happy with God, a small foretaste of Paradise.’
In this, we strongly affirm, this convent, this chapel, is indeed a visible representation of the goal towards which the entire Church is journeying.
It is not surprising, then, that in his message Pope Francis is loud in his thanks. So am I. He says: ‘The Church greatly esteemed your life of complete self-giving. The Church counts on your prayers and on your self-sacrifice to bring today's men and women to the good news of the Gospel.’
Here at Tyburn prayer and Adoration have a very precious quality. Here, in this place, we remember especially the Tyburn Tree, the gibbet from which hung so many martyrs. As I listened to the first reading of our Mass, and visualised Moses sealing in the blood of oxen the first covenant between God and the people, I could not help but think of the blood of the martyrs, mingling with the blood of Jesus, in which is sealed the New Covenant, which we celebrate with such solemnity and joy this evening. Just as the people of that first covenant cried out: ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do!’, so too we cry out: ‘All that the Lord asks of us, we will do!’ And first among those works is the work of prayer and praise.
Forgive me if I take a moment to add another thought. Today, after all, is my personal feast day, the feast of St Vincent de Paul. My mother wanted me to take this seriously. So I just add, that the second work the Lord asks us to do is to care for his poor, those in whom we will touch his Body, whom we cannot only serve in his name but also serve him in them. We too must be alert to this way in which the Lord shows himself to us.
I end with the glorious vision of the Book of Revelation, with that scene of the ‘great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the lamb’. Here we are, a tiny and humble foretaste of that great scene, offering our inadequate prayers, from our broken hearts and sinful ways, relying totally upon his mercy and consoled, beyond words, that he is in our midst, that he will be our shepherd and he will guide us to springs of living water, and knowing that God himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes. To him be glory and praise for ever and ever. Amen.