Given at the Mass for the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life at Westminster Cathedral, 3rd February 2024.
Today is a joyful moment. It’s a day when we celebrate another step on the emerging, from the long course of history, of the one who is our Saviour. His birth was heralded by angels. Shepherds came to greet him and then spoke to everyone about what they had seen. The Magi came to present their symbolic gifts. And today it is the turn of two elderly faithful to proclaim him and announce his presence.
Today we also give thanks for the response of faith to his coming. The joy of this faith gives rise to a heartfelt and generous response throughout the whole world. Here, in this Cathedral, we give thanks for the generous response of faith that has been shaped by the vows of religious dedication, those vows of poverty, chastity and obedience -yours, my dear sisters and brothers! We always understand that through these vows the witness and response you give is a declaration of the coming Kingdom of God. You point beyond the horizons of this life, to that fulness of life made plain and fulfilled in Christ Jesus.
Today we give thanks for the witness of your lives, women and men of prayer and action. It is impossible to calculate the contribution you make and the impact you have. I think of all the leadership roles you fulfil and the fine example you give: in our educational institutions, in teaching, in nursing, in catechesis, in social outreach, gathering in the lost and the marginalised, often at great cost to yourselves. I thank you for the wisdom and experience you bring, the courage and judgement, the patience and enduring enthusiasm. And so much more. Thank you!
Now let us return to the Gospel and to the figures of Simeon and Anna.
They were not young, probably grey-haired, like so many of us. I guess they might not have had such easy access to hair colouring! Simeon knows he is approaching death. Anna, we learn, at 84 years of age and that, with commendable understatement, ‘her days of girlhood over’. They are faithful disciples in the Jewish faith, especially, we hear, faithful in prayer.
At this point, I would like to record and thank those among you who are celebrating anniversaries at this time: Sr Bernadette O’Malley, keeping her 75th anniversary! Sr Christine Keane, on 70 years! Then our diamond jubilarians: Sr Margarita Byron, Sr Kathleen Delaney, Sr Dympna Reardon, Sr Paulette Tomlinson. The Golden Jubilarians among us are Sr Judith Routier and Sr Mary Vinetha and the Silver Jubilarians, Sr Ines Zwierzynska and Fr Andrea Fulco. Finally, Fr Jerome Dukiya celebrating the silver jubilee of his Ordination. Congratulations to one and all and thank you for your faithfulness.
What is it that Anna and Simeon display most importantly? What is the lesson they offer to us, the characteristic they share? It is, I believe, their clear-sightedness.
Both of them have such clear sight. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit. By it, they see the child in front of them for who he really is. They have eyes for Jesus. In him, they see the one who fulfils our longings, for whom our spirit waits. They have eyes for Jesus as ‘our salvation’.
Now both Anna and Simeon frequented the Temple. This means they must have been immersed in its way of life, its gossip, intrigue, the latest controversies, and all the things which attach themselves to a place of worship! Also, they would have been just one part of the ebb and flow of crowds of people, coming and going, in and out of the Temple. Yet they had clear sight. In the midst of all this, they had eyes for Jesus: the one necessary thing!
Can we learn this too? Perhaps such clarity of sight comes with advancing years? Perhaps not? Can we learn to see what is important – Jesus – rather than get preoccupied with the noise that can fill the air, the space, around us?
Then there is another lesson that Anna teaches us. Having recognised the Lord we learn that she immediately passed on this good news: ‘She spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.’ Her words of witness spring from a heart now filled with hope, from a mind that was no longer cluttered but was clear. She spoke in words that drew attention and drew the minds and hearts of others to the Lord.
May we imitate her today.
‘For he is like a refiner’s fire. He will take his seat (in our hearts) as a refiner and purifier. He will refine them like gold and silver and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made’ (Malachi 3:3-4).
Today we welcome him, presented to us.
Today we present ourselves to him afresh and find in him our fulfilment and our joy!
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster