Given at the Rite of Election and Continuing Call to Conversion on 13 and 14 February 2016 at Westminster Cathedral.
This afternoon I would like to tell you a story of a young man, aged about 17. Early one evening he was walking past a church and felt a strong urge, a call, to go inside. As he sat there, he saw a priest going into the confessional. Then, surprising himself somewhat, he went into the confessional and made his confession. During that conversation he experienced a great sense of being called and chosen to respond to God with his entire life. And he did so. That young man is now Pope Francis.
If we look closely we can see three steps in this story. And they apply to all of us gathered here today. The young man sensed a call, a summons; then he confessed; then he knew he was chosen for something special.
Today each of us is here because, at one time or another, we too have sensed this same invitation: to come in. The Gospel passage gives us those words: Jesus says: 'Come to me!' He says that to each of us today: 'Come to me'. And that is why we are here, because we too have heard and have responded.
Think for a moment, please, of the particular ways or moments in which that invitation has come to you. It will be different for each of us. Maybe it has been in the everyday routines of our family story; or at special moments such as a child going to receive Holy Communion: perhaps you said 'Why not me too?' Perhaps it has been the example of a friend, or a husband or wife, or parents, or grandparents, or the inspiration of a priest you have known. Just for a moment let us ponder the ways Jesus has used to offer to us his precious invitation: 'Come to me!' And then let us thank him heartily for that gift!
Then, when we have entered, we confess. What does this mean? Well, the words of the Gospel make it clear: 'Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.' When we come in we bring all our burdens with us. And they are accepted.
These burdens might be physical or emotional weariness. Life is tough and all of us get deeply tired. We need the calm, the rest, the peace that we find here.
But there is another burden, too, which we carry. It is the weariness we feel with our own wrong-doing. We keep on trying to get things right, but so often we fail. We lose heart. We get tired. We think, secretly, that there is no hope that we will ever be better, be what we truly want to be.
This is the first meaning of the word 'confess'. We acknowledge our weakness, our need, and we name and confess our sins. This is letting go of a great weight. It brings a lightness to our hearts. We can start again. This is the Sacrament of Reconciliation to which we are called, for some for the first time, for others who have forgotten its grace, to a renewal.
The word 'confess' also has another meaning. It means proclaiming our faith in Jesus. It means saying that he is indeed our Blessed Lord; it is he who died for us and who rose from the dead, to new life, that we too may live again.
St Paul has put this clearly: we confess with our lips and in our hearts that Jesus is Lord.
This, too, is what we do today. Those of you who are seeking baptism are stating that, yes, you do believe in Jesus as the Lord of your lives. Those of you who are seeking full communion in the Catholic Church are saying that you know you will find the fullest way of being a disciple within this community. Those of us who are 'old hands' today renew our faith in the Lord and take huge encouragement from your enthusiasm and joy in the faith.
Today we have also heard the words of the Gospel when Jesus says that this faith 'is not for the learned or the clever' but 'for mere children'. We are those children. Learning and cleverness are important. But they must be sought for the right reason: not in order to be better than everyone else, not to be superior, but because we want to know more about the object of our love. True learning and cleverness arise out of love. And theology is, as we know, faith seeking understanding.
We also learn today, from the Gospel, that this faith in Jesus is always a gift. Jesus tells us that it is he who gives to us the message of his Father. It is never our own invention, but always a gift, for which we truly give thanks. By this gift of faith we come to believe, without doubting, whatever God has revealed!
And this brings us, immediately, to the third step. Now we realise that we are here because we have been chosen, chosen by Jesus to receive this gift of faith. From all eternity he has wanted this for us, for each of us: to be here today, seeking to deepen this gift of faith, to live it in the context of his Church, to be joyfully part of this family of faith.
So we are chosen, firstly, to live by faith in a world which does not do so. And secondly, to be messengers of that faith in a world that wants to ignore it, push it away. That is the reason we are here today: to help each other to live by faith and to be its messengers in our world.
Pope Francis chose as his motto three words that summed up that experience of his youth. In Latin they are miserando atque eligendo. They mean, 'Having mercy on him, he chose him.' Yes, this can be our motto too. The Lord is full of mercy for us, with all our burdens and failures. And knowing that mercy we realise that he has chosen us, for faith, for life, for mission!
Let us indeed give thanks to him today!