2 November 2013
It is an honour for us all to welcome here today the precious relics of St Anthony of Padua. I welcome too so many priests and people who have come from far and wide, especially all the Friars who graciously accompany these holy relics.
St Anthony is a saint of the whole Church, loved throughout the world. And these last two days in our calendar, the Feast of all Saints and All Souls Day also embrace the whole Church, a Church united in the praise of God and in the prayer of supplication for all the departed.
These holy relics have been on quite a journey, through Ireland and the United Kingdom. We are so glad that they have come to rest here for a few hours.
Anthony, too, was a great traveller. As you all know he was born in Lisbon and soon was on the road, at first to Coimbra where he began his life of studies. Then he travelled to Morocco, then to Italy, getting shipwrecked in Sicily instead. Of course he travelled extensively in Italy and to France and then returning to Italy.
And there were no easy jet planes to help him on his way. He walked, as did so many of the great preaching saints. It gave him plenty of time for prayer and contemplation.
Yet Anthony is a leader not only in these kinds of journeys, but more importantly in the journey of life to our heavenly homeland in heaven.
On this most fundamental of all journeys we often get lost, taking a wrong path, ending up in a cul-de-sac, distracted by bright lights or misjudgement. St Anthony is well known for helping us to find lost things. And he can help us in this way too. He can help us to find again our true path whenever we have lost our way.
The readings of our Mass today give us great help and a wonderful sense of direction for this pilgrimage of life to our heavenly home.
In the First Reading, from the Book of Wisdom, we are given the words by which we focus on all that surrounds us on this journey. These words give us the eyes through which to see the land through which we are travelling and all who are our companions. Listen again to these words, spoken about God himself:
'You love all that exists
You hold nothing you have made in abhorrence
For had you hated anything
You would not have made it.'
These words summon us to look again at all that we see. We are surrounded by the good things that God has made. Often we cease to see our world in this light. But when we do so, we are so encouraged on our journey. Look again; see with fresh eyes. Look especially at the people around us and try to free your hearts of all bitterness towards others, of all easy condemnation and criticism. See again with fresh eyes. See again the goodness of God in every person and see in them a precious companion on the journey.
Of course we do not do this. We harbour resentment, we repeat easy criticism and gossip, repeating negative things. So it is not surprising that the second lesson we learn from this Reading is the need for everyone of us to repent, to start again.
We are to strive continually to grow in goodness by turning away from such negativity and by embracing again the view and vision of God, who is so wonderfully described as 'the Lover of life.' We can do this because the God who calls us is merciful. He will draw us on, day by day, into a better way of life, if we permit him. Listen again to these words, spoken of our God:
'You are merciful to all
Because you can do all things
And overlook men's sins
So that they can repent.'
This work of repentance comes to us day by day, step by step. Not often is repentance a moment of great drama and radical reappraisal. More often it is a slow day by day effort. Some more words from the Book of Wisdom:
'Little by little you correct those who offend......
So that they may abstain from evil and trust in you, Lord.'
So the gift of starting again, one that we need so very much, comes to us not simply with a deep sense of shame or remorse, but as an act of joyful cooperation with the grace of God. The pathway of repentance is the pathway of joy. Of course we come to see the folly of our ways, and we regret them. But the regular act of repentance, and of reconciliation, is an act of joyful welcome, in which we receive The Lord, the lover of life, who alone can bring about the new start we so desire.
The Gospel passage we heard this evening illustrates this so clearly. Zaccheus joyfully welcomes Jesus and joyfully embraces the repentance to which he is called, becoming trustful of our Lord, and demonstrating that trust in joyful generosity to those in needs. This teaches us another lesson. The fruit of true repentance is practical charity, the opening of our hearts to those most in need. We know when repentance has taken root in us for then we become freshly compassionate to those around, for we ourselves have received the compassion of God.
This is shown so clearly in the life of St Anthony, too. In holiness he was the champion of the poor, a priority which is continued to this day in the tradition of St Anthony's Bread.
The third lesson we learn today for our pilgrimage through life is that we are to pray continually. St Anthony teaches us this, too. His finest gifts were those of preaching and teaching. But he had to wait until the time came for him to exercise these gifts to the full. Patient prayer carries us along this pilgrimage of life. PatienT prayer built into the rhythm of each day is what keeps us going up the steep hills of our journey and through its dark valleys and forests. This is the way we are to walk, as Anthony did and as St Paul tells us: to pray constantly.
St Anthony is often depicted holding the child Jesus in his arms, for Jesus appeared to him in prayer. On our journey may we too always hold Jesus close to us, in our hearts, so that he may hold us and bring us to his Father, for all eternity.
Archbishop of Westminster