Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster

Christmas Celebration 2014

Given at Westminster Cathedral on 17 and 18 December 2014 at the Christmas Celebration.

This evening we have heard many beautiful voices. This vast Cathedral has resonated with the glorious sound of the voices of this choir, with the sonorous tones of our readers and with the rich variety of voices of the instruments of the orchestra.

These voices touch our hearts, moving us to admiration, to a wonder and to an inner stillness. This is a memorable night, a lovely and joyful experience.

Tonight we also remember that all this skill and beauty is set before us not simply for us to admire, which we certainly do, but in order to touch our hearts with something far greater. Yes, voices of great beauty have filled this place and have lifted our spirits. They have done so in order to put before us a single word that is of far greater importance.

We can readily appreciate this beauty without paying much attention to the word it conveys. To do so would be to grasp only that which is passing and to miss that which endures for ever. Indeed, as we leave the Cathedral filled with this wonderful sound we may well find that by the time we have travelled two stops on the underground this satisfying feeling has faded to be replaced by other sensations.

Of course for some life is just that: a series of sensations and experiences: some uplifting, some distressing, some mundane and others simply routine and boring. For some life has no underlying pattern of purpose at all, no truth holding it together. For some beauty, the beauty of this evening, is a fleeting moment, one they would somehow like to hold on to, to purchase or possess for themselves. But that is to miss the point. This beauty, every beauty, is a signpost to something deeper, a glimpse of the wholeness of life that is there to be found and that shines out again and again. These voices, which we are privileged to hear, proclaim a deeper, lasting truth. Their harmony is not misleading for it expresses the truth of the deeper coherence and harmony for which we have been created; their orchestration is so satisfying because it touches the desire for a radical symphony or togetherness that is so rooted in our hearts.

And these desires are not deceptive. This evening's beauty is not simply a distraction from the ultimate ugliness of life. It is not a lie. It is a compelling expression of our deepest spirit and it serves for us the cause of truth, the truth of the life that each of us have been given and the truth of the life that together we share.

For this evening, by means of this beauty, a Word is given to us which never changes, which comes from the very heart of Life itself. This experience of beauty will fade, but this Word lasts for ever. The Word, which this beauty conveys, resounds eternally in the being of the Father. From the very first moment of creation, since the beginning of time, this divine Word has been pronounced with ever growing clarity in our world; but it is most powerfully proclaimed when this Word became flesh in the Virgin’s womb and came to birth in the stable of Bethlehem.

The music and poetry in which we rejoice tonight serve a greater purpose: to proclaim this Word and this Word is the Christ, the Word through whom all things were made, the Word in whom all fulfilment is to be found, the Word who is God come to dwell amongst us. These voices will come and go. But he abides with us for ever.

Herein lies the purpose of our Christmas Celebration. This is what we are invited to grasp, not simply the splendour of this performance, symbolised perhaps by the programme we will take home and keep, but the invitation of the one, true God who through this loveliness reaches out to us, reaches into us, so that we may never again be alone.

So this is a Celebration of a love story, to be told again and again, of which we are a part. We are being enticed to renew that love, to be touched again by the beauty of the Lord who so much wants to enter our hearts and fill them with His delight.

Pope Francis is a great teller of this same story. Like his saintly name-sake he is a troubadour for God. In word and deed he constantly sings of the joy that comes in knowing and serving God, especially in the person of Jesus, the one in whom God has chosen to reveal himself and for whose coming we are so joyfully preparing.

It is my joy to add my voice to his praise, to invite you, at this moment and in these coming days, to open your hearts not simply to the beauty of this Christmas Celebration but also to Jesus, to Him who is God-with-us. For He comes to bring us unfathomable joy in which we find our scattered souls knitted together through his mercy and our lives full of a profound purpose which will indeed last for ever. His coming is the greatest gift we can ever receive, the answer to all our longing and the healing of all our wounds. So I readily wish you all a very happy Christmas indeed. Amen

+Vincent Nichols

Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.

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