Given at the Requiem Mass for victims of the Grenfell Tower fire on Wednesday 14th June 2023 at Westminster Cathedral
Today we mark the sixth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire in which 72 people died and the lives of so many families were changed in that dreadful event for ever. Many people carry the memories of those days deeply within them: the school community, pupils and staff, families and neighbours, the firefighters, the emergency services who tried to help in appalling circumstances, and the priests and chaplains who served the injured and the dying, and who brought hope and consolation into suffering. The Mass is offered for all those who died in the fire and all who continue to suffer. We do this because Jesus told his followers to come to him in their need, to offer their prayers, to gather around the altar and to celebrate the Mass.
In the Mass, the great Sacrament of Love, we join with the offering of Christ on the cross who intercedes incessantly for God’s holy people. I invite you to look up at the great crucifix in front of you and see there the love that Jesus has for you. We participate in this great act of love. There is no greater act of love than to pray for those who have died, those who continue to suffer, and those whose lives were forever changed on that night in 2017. All the saints join with us in the Mass which unites heaven and earth. Here is this great Cathedral with its fine mosaics we can imagine more clearly the continuity between life on earth and the future hope of life in heaven.
We gather in the hope of promise of eternal life in heaven for those who have died. It is this hope which characterises the prayer of Job in the first reading. In his suffering and lacking consolation from others, he continues to trust firmly in the God who will redeem him and free him from his suffering so that he can see God face to face and find peace.
For All Saints Catholic College, so very close to the Tower, whilst the events of that night and the subsequent years have influenced your lives, you have shown how the power of God’s grace and a community working together can build a new future. I thank Mr O’Neill and his staff for the way in which you have transformed the school, physically and academically, to become an Outstanding School of which you can be very proud. In the diocese we share in your achievement. Above all we thank God, whose power is at work in men and women, whenever they seek to respond to his Will and the invitation to trust in him.
The opening hymn of today’s Mass is full of hope. It sings of the closeness of the Risen Jesus to each one of us as he walks with us along the journey of life. As a good and faithful friend, he whispers into our ear,
‘Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, O weary one,
Lay down your head upon my breast.’
This beautiful image of intimacy is one which we can treasure in our hearts as we savour his closeness to us. It reminds me not only of the apostle St John who laid his head on the breast of Jesus at the Last Supper but the closeness of St Simon of Cyrene to Jesus as he helped him carry his cross and St Nicholas Owen as he awaited his execution in the Tower. These house saints of your school inspire you to listen to Christ’s voice echoing in your hearts.
Jesus is not only the faithful friend but still more, desires to share his life with us. He gives us the gift of Holy Communion to feed us and nourish us. In the second verse of the opening hymn, we sang,
‘Behold, I freely give
The living water, thirsty one;
Stoop down and drink, and live.’
We can respond,
‘I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in him.’
The gift of Holy Communion nourished the life of the saints. Christ present in the Eucharist strengthened them to follow the call of the Beatitudes heard in today’s gospel. These blessings of God paint in broad brush strokes the way to be a disciple in the world and follow Jesus the Way, the Truth and the Life. This pathway to heaven and the gift of Holy Communion gives us ‘the hope of the resurrection to eternity’ (St Irenaeus). Both St Teresa of Avila and St Ignatius, house saints, delighted in receiving Holy Communion. It was the most important moment of their day. St Teresa wrote:
Delight to remain with him; do not lose such an excellent time for talking with him as the hour after Communion. Remember that this is a very profitable hour for the soul; if you spend it in the company of the good Jesus, you are doing him a great service…(The Way of Perfection, 34.10)
Similarly, St Ignatius of Loyola drew his faith from the Eucharist. The Bread of Life nourished him to serve others patiently and show them, with gentle persuasion, God’s love for them. This led him to greater freedom to serve in poverty all those to whom he was sent. Both house saints can teach you about loving Christ in Holy Communion.
The final image which I leave with you is that of Our Blessed Lady praying in front of the cross of Jesus. Her mother, St Anne, taught her prayers and the life of her Jewish faith. St Anne encourages each of us to be strong in faith and to thank our mothers for their gifts to us. She was a devout and holy woman who can inspire you as a house saint to have a strong devotion to Our Lady. At the death of Jesus, Our Blessed Lady, like so many mothers, remained faithful to her Son and prayed for him, suffered with him, and trusted in the promise of God. She is Our Mother of Sorrows in whom we can trust and whom we can ask to help us as we pray for all who died or who were affected by the events of that tragic night.
For those who have died we pray:
Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord…
Bishop John Sherrington
Photo: Lichena Bertinato