Given on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, 2 February 2015, at the Solemn Diocesan Celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life at Westminster Cathedral.
Today I welcome you to this Solemn Celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life, proclaimed by Pope Francis for the whole Church. He stated clearly the intentions he had in mind: ‘that this Year would give all in religious and consecrated life the opportunities to look to the past with gratitude’, ‘to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope’. We shall do our best! He also graciously established that on the occasions of Masses such as ours today, a plenary indulgence may be received by those attending this Mass who also spend some time in prayer in the Cathedral concluding their prayer with the Our Father, the Profession of Faith and an approved invocation to the Virgin Mary, observing the normal conditions of sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father, intentions which surely include his aims for us all in the Year.
Again, a very warm welcome to you all, first to those celebrating significant jubilees at this time or on this day. Welcome to those newly present in the Diocese, in particular Mother Mary Gregory the newly elected Mother General of the Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre and present here at Tyburn. And a special welcome to Sr Martina Teresa, who yesterday made her final profession into the Poor Clare’s at Arkley! You are all most welcome. I deeply appreciate your presence and your prayers today.
We gather in this Year of Consecrated Life, which embraces not only those who publically profess the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience by taking vows as members of religious institutes in all their wonderful variety, but also those who do so by other kinds of sacred bond. I rejoice in the richness which your vocations bring to the life of the Church.
At the heart of our lives as Christians lies one key characteristic: we have chosen to place Jesus, the Christ, at the centre of our lives, both privately and publicly. He is our choice. Or rather, as we well know with great and enduring thankfulness, we are his choice. He is first in our hearts, our minds and our actions. With Pope Francis, echoing St Paul, we say ‘For me to live is Christ’ (Phil 1.21).
As I say, this is true of us all as Christians. But those called to the consecrated life live this choice in a particular manner. Even though I am not a member of an institute of consecrated life, please permit me to dare to offer some reflections on how your particular calling is a marvellous gift and inspiration to us all.
He is the first in your hearts. Your love is first of all for him. And that love which is his gift shapes every other love in your lives. It gives new shape and depth to the continuing love within your natural families. It moulds the course of the love of friendship in your lives, your intimacy with the beloveds of your life story. The love of Jesus fashions and preserves that love in the purity and fruitfulness you strive to show. The love of Jesus is at the heart of your community lives. The patterns of human friendship, rich as they may be, are never enough to sustain your community living. It must be centred on the Lord, on the shared desire to serve him, otherwise it will not last and will witness only to human generosity, however frail that will certainly be. No, community life must be focussed on him as the source of unity. Contemplation of his face and action in his name are inseparable.
The love of Jesus must also be first in your minds as you struggle to discern the truth in all the complex circumstances in which you live. Theories abound. Human sciences can truly enlighten and enthral. Yet in all your study and research you cling to Jesus, the fullness of the truth of our human condition. He alone opens the mystery of our humanity, the secrets and designs written into our nature by the Creator. You study, explore, and discuss always in his presence. He is surely with you, and delights in you. He guides and protects you from the intellectual pride that places passing human achievements, no matter how brilliant, before the compassionate light of his face.
The love of Jesus must also shine through your actions. Whatever you do, whatever field you enter, your every engagement is to be shot through with the hallmark of Christ himself. Let the presence of Jesus shape your dedication, fashion your conviction, be visible and unmistakeable in all you do, not simply implicit or barely discernible, but evident, radiant and attractive to all who witness it. Your consecrated life is your proclamation of Jesus!
Your proclamation, both intensely personal and clearly public, forms the basis of your pathway of discipleship. You are public signposts to Christ, proclaiming him by your very way of being. That is why it is right that we celebrate important anniversaries of that act, that moment when you asked the Lord to take you into this special and enduring relationship with him, a relationship that is ever new and never ending.
In the Gospel we heard of Simeon and of Anna. Both pointed to the presence of the Saviour. Both said, in different ways: 'Look, look here. This is the one. This is he for whom your heart longs. Come and see. Come and meet him. Come.'
This is your role too: to enable the world, the world of your colleagues, streets, shops, offices, hospitals, schools, universities, residential homes, nurseries, and housing estates, to meet Jesus; to look upon him in all his loving compassion; to know he longs for his Father’s will to be fulfilled - for our happiness! Be constantly on the lookout for those emerging places in which the needs of the world are most clearly seen. This is surely one of the sources of renewal in consecrated life: to see with fresh eyes the wounds in the flesh of our family, our society, and see how best we can respond, even if it means leaving old ways.
You are also like Joseph and Mary, who presented Jesus in the Temple. In the pattern of your profession or consecration, seek to present him to our world, bearing him wherever you go, with joy in your hearts, offering him to all.
This, of course, is the work of Evangelisation, so much to the fore in the life of the Church at this moment. Indeed, this year all our parishes are being invited to renew all their activities with a fresh focus on the first and enduring proclamation of the Gospel, the kerygma. How well this quest for a fresh energy for evangelisation goes with this Year of Consecrated Life.
I say this because the life of each of you, as true consecrated people, is an act of evangelisation itself. Your very presence is a testimony to the transcendent. Your personal stories and those of your religious family, at their best, marvellously give flesh to the invitation of the Lord that all can come to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and be happy with him for ever in the next.
I hope that during this Year of Consecrated Life you will have many opportunities to tell your stories, to invite other people to listen to all that has been done and learned. These are rich stories, reaching back, and they are fascinating to young people. I learned recently that in Dublin a group of young women, calling themselves the ‘Rise of the Roses’ are taking the initiative and organising opportunities for people, themselves included, to listen to these precious narratives in the life of the Church. What a wonderful idea!
I pray that during this fresh initiative for evangelisation you play your full part. I earnestly ask you to bring all the richness of your experience, the deep love that you have of all that is truly human, to this endeavour. Our society longs for the word that only Jesus can bring, that only he truly is, the word of love that endures, of belonging that gives life, of mercy that lifts up again, of compassion that does not condemn, of sacrifice that does not count the cost and of hope that has horizons beyond death itself.
Today I really rejoice in your presence. Again I congratulate all the jubilarians, and the newly professed! I thank those in consecrated life. Together let us entrust ourselves to Our Blessed Lady, the Star of Evangelisation and the most precious Mother of us all.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols