Given at Mass for the blessing of the newly-decorated Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs, and of the glass doors in the west porch of Westminster Cathedral, on the feast of Ss Simon and Jude, 28 October 2016.
The contrasts between Victoria Street and Westminster Cathedral are many, and obvious. The glass and concrete of the buildings, the constant rush of people and machines, the endless noise are of the street are as different as can be imagined from the peace and uplifting space which embrace all who enter the cathedral.
Between these two contrasting places lie the doors of the cathedral. The Door of Mercy has been a particular focus for these past months, but today another set of doors demands our attention. These glass doors, to be blessed today, have an attractiveness in their own right, the scallop motif of the brass echoing one of Bentley’s designs seen in glazing nearby. But their greatest value lies in the fact that their presence allows the great west doors to be stood open more often, inviting the passer-by to pause from their business, put their phone away, and enter into the peace of the cathedral, a space where God has a chance of speaking more insistently than the clamour of a text message.
Space for recollection has been something the cathedral has provided throughout its existence. Indeed, it was built to do so, built not as a work of art and craftsmanship, but as a temple where God chooses to dwell and where his people are drawn to pray and to worship him. This is the true and only purpose of our cathedral. Anything else can so easily be a distraction.
This, too, is the purpose of the efforts of succeeding generations to embellish this cathedral and enhance its beauty, a beauty which is always to raise our minds and hearts to God. This work, much of it in marble and mosaic, comes only gradually. Today the latest adornments, to the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs, will be blessed. They remind us that contrasts are not the preserve of the modern, digital era alone.
Within the chapel, our eyes are drawn to the lettering on the end wall of the chapel. They remind us powerfully that, two miles from here and four hundred or so years ago, the truths enshrined in the Catholic faith and the expectations of the state clashed in the most violent of ways. The setting if these words, within the recollected space of Westminster Cathedral, cannot mask the horror to which they refer. They challenge us to see that the time we give to God in worship is not, or should not be, offered so that we may feel good in ourselves, but so that God may work more effectively through us. Prayer grants us a deeper awareness of our role as missionary disciples, strengthening us to take his mercy and compassion, his truth and his love into every part of our lives. And only God knows where that role may ultimately lead us.
In today’s Gospel, the first disciples are mentioned individually, by name. Most of them would have had little social standing in the society of their day; none of them could have had much of an idea what being an apostle would entail. But they offered themselves as they were. For the most part, and despite any number of setbacks along the way, they remained faithful. Their fidelity has brought such a light into our world!
In St George’s Chapel, there are more than twelve flames in its dark mosaic sky. Each of the flames is inscribed with the name of a martyr. Unlike the first apostles, many of them had a considerable status in the world. But their courage and faithfulness, expressed in quite different stories, speak to us of an integrity and a courage rarely seen. They light up more than the ceiling of the chapel. They offer us a witness that challenges us to assess afresh our own commitment to the faith and our practice of it.
Many people already know of this cathedral and its qualities. Many thousands pass by each day and never give it a second glance. It is my hope that more will now be attracted to discover this sacred space, drawn by what they see through the new doors. They will not be attracted by the prospect of martyrdom. That only comes with a deep and constant love of the Lord in his love for us. But we pray that the peace and the holiness they find in this house of prayer may encourage them to seek its Source. In that silent search, may they come to a realisation of the love offered by God to all those he has created and the purpose he has for us all: to know, love and serve him in this life, and be happy with him forever in the next.