Given at the thanksgiving Mass for the Golden Jubilee of his priestly ordination at Westminster Cathedral on 21st December 2019
Thank you for coming to this celebration of Mass and joining me in thanking the Lord for his gift to me of fifty years of priestly ministry. The years pass so quickly! I am humbled to think, even fleetingly, of all I have received during them, most of all for the love and support that has been a constant gift to me throughout these years. It is my privilege to serve the Lord, in and through you, the Church, the living Body of Christ for all this time, and, please God, for the years to come.
There are so many things on which I could reflect today, so many changes that have taken place, in society, in our sense of self, in how we build community, in the Church. These years are times of brightness and shadow, as, in fact, are all times.
The readings of our Mass push me insistently, and gently, to one theme above all, a theme which is so central to our faith and to my journey: the theme of meetings and greetings, our meeting with the Lord, the presence and mystery of God in our lives.
In the Gospel, we see Mary making her arduous journey across the hill of Judea to meet and greet Elizabeth. She carries within her body the very light of the world. Filled with the wondrous work of the Holy Spirit, she is seeking out Elizabeth.
Elizabeth, too, is filled with the Holy Spirit and ready to greet her.
So are we all!
When Elizabeth meets Mary, her most profound and hidden self cries out with joyful recognition. She welcomes that Light and his Mother. ‘The child in my womb leapt for joy’, she exclaims. Can anything be more alive, more intense, more expressive of the depth of her being?
This is our joy, too, whenever and wherever we meet Jesus. Sometimes that joy is deeply hidden, merely sensed; sometimes it is as clear as the day. This quiet, profound joy of meeting lies at the heart of our faith. It sustains all our effort. Our deepest sense of identity, our stability, and joy, flows from our knowledge of Jesus. He is who we are! Every time we come to meet him, we are flooded with the life and love which only he can give.
In these days of Advent, we come to meet him afresh, especially if we are burdened with too much to do, or with a sense of how unfair life is, or that too much is expected of us. We are to dig deeper into our hearts, each day, to find him there, always coming to meet us, to greet us and again fill us with his life.
Let me repeat the words of Pope Francis: ‘At this moment, I invite all Christians, everywhere, to a renewed encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”’ (Evangelii Gaudium 3).
On this jubilee day, by way of a message, I can do no better than this!
Or maybe I can go a little deeper.
Year by year, and increasingly so, I love hearing the first Reading of our Mass today, from the Song of Songs. It is so full of emotion and of the language of love.
The first voice is that of a desolate soul, a lover distanced from the beloved. This soul is thrilled at the promised coming of the beloved, who leaps like a gazelle, yet the soul is still shut in, behind the latticework.
How often do we too feel shut in?! The monotony of daily effort; the sense of being caught in a web of unceasing demands, tensions, expectations. I know that well enough.
Yet that is precisely when the Lord speaks: ‘Come then, my love, my lovely one, come’. Come out of your hiding, come out from under your cliff of duty.
He invites us to a new start, to a fresh look at everything.
His first invitation is to a fresh vision of life around us: our neighbourhood, our community, our parish, our family. Look, he says, everywhere are appearing the flowers of generous service and practical help; listen to the glad songs of prayer and praise that fill so many hearts; hear the cooing of the Rosary being quietly recited by so many every day; see surrounding us the blossoming vines of fruitful family and community endeavour. He says, ‘Come then, my love, for see winter is past, the rains are over and gone.’ And seeing we give joyful thanks to God!
Only with these eyes, refreshed by his love, can we see the goodness surrounding us and so sustain our life of faith and ministry. That, at least, is my experience.
But the Beloved also has another message for us of his transforming love. He invites us to look deep within ourselves, to the very depth of our hearts and to be refreshed there, too.
It can happen that, quite often in the course of the years, our hearts enter a state of winter. Within us a cold frostiness can descend. It comes with a sense of our own continuing sinfulness, or with the oft-repeated criticism of our best efforts, or with negative hearsay and gossip. Then, we lose touch with our own goodness and of our integrity.
Precisely at that time the Beloved calls out to us, into the depth of our most private gloom or despondency: ‘Come, then, my love ... show me your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.’
How often do we need to hear these words? How often during fifty years?! Indeed, as these years go by, it seems to me that this heart of a priest needs to hear them more and more often.
Cardinal Hume once said that while young people may at times find the celebration of Mass to be boring, as the years go by we grow more and more to love the Mass until it becomes an inseparable part of who we are.
This daily meeting with the Lord, his daily call to each one of us, it seems to me, become more insistent and more irresistible as the years pass. Slowly, I believe, we come to sense how he will indeed draw us to that final meeting, that final greeting, our final fulfilment, when we meet him face to face.
Then, I shall bow, in humble adoration, and hear the sublime words: Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom so long prepared for you. Come, show me your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.
A jubilee is but a staging post, a moment to reflect on a journey thus far, to try to grasp its gifts, its lessons. It is also a time in which to take a glimpse of all that lies ahead. The coming Feast of Christmas sums this up: his desire to be with us, to greet us with outstretched arms, to draw us to himself and to be for us the true pathway home. This Feast so tenderly discloses the beauty of the mystery of God, a beauty inscribed in each one of us, the beauty that will find its fulfilment in God’s good time.
So let us rejoice in him, now and always.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster