Given at the Mass for the World Day of of Celebration for Consecrated Life at Westminster Cathedral on 1st February 2018.
My sisters and brothers, if we were celebrating this day tomorrow, as we really should be, then we would have just heard the cry of Simeon uttered in the Temple in Jerusalem. We remember that ‘guided by the Spirit’, Simeon took the child in his arms and broke out in a hymn of blessing and praise. ‘My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people, a light to enlighten the Gentiles and the glory of your people, Israel!’ (Lk 2.30-32)
These words must surely find an echo in our hearts today and we thank God for the gifts of consecrated life, not only here in our land, but throughout the world! We too have seen the salvation being brought in Christ. We too see the work of the Holy Spirit, in the countless hours of dedicated prayer; in every work of mission; in the embrace of the poor, of the little ones, in the classrooms, in the hospitals, in the streets. We too can be full of hope because our eyes have seen and continue to see today!
In his address for this World Day, last year, Pope Francis spoke in a most challenging way. He said we were not to give in to ‘the temptation of survival’. I quote (extracts only!): ‘The mentality of survival makes us … fearful, silently shutting ourselves up in our houses … it makes us look back, to the glory days … wanting to protect spaces, buildings and structures rather than to encourage new initiatives.’
Then he said this: ‘The temptation of survival makes us forget grace; it turns us into professionals of the sacred’ – what a phrase! – ‘professionals of the sacred but not fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters of that hope to which we are called to bear prophetic witness.’
Then he added: ‘This attitude is not limited to the consecrated life, but we in particular are urged not to fall into it.’
Today’s readings help us to avoid this temptation. The Gospel urges us to cling to Christ as tightly as a living plant (Jn 15.1-8). We are to be grafted into him because only then can we be fruitful.
You recall how St Paul uses the same image of grafting: that we are grafted onto the ancient olive of Judaism (Romans 11). This demands that in seeking new life we remember our origins, the vigour and vision of our founders: not only Jesus but those who in each religious family gave fresh expression to the vitality of the Holy Spirit. Being filled with hope means being deeply rooted in the work of God, in the first chosen people, in Jesus, in the ways of our founders, so that the shoots that we strive to send out today are filled with a rich sap.
Recently I came across some words of St Ambrose, commenting on the Benedictus in the Gospel of St Luke. He says:
‘You too my dear friends are blessed, you who have heard and who believe. Every soul who believes both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognises his works.
‘According to the flesh only one woman can be the mother of Christ. But in the world of faith Christ is the fruit of all of us.’
We pray today for that richness of faith that will continue to bear the fruit of Christ in our lives, the fruit of prayer, of service, of compassion, of generosity in every circumstance, but especially towards those who are nearest to us. Yes, to those who are nearest to us, for we know better than many the true challenges of community living!
Today’s words from St Paul also give us a great lift in our faithful living of our promises and vows. He spells out what a shared life in Christ should exclude: no competitiveness between you; no conceit, or feeling, that our way is the best, and certainly superior to those others; no putting our own interests first. Paul, too, does not mince his words!
Today, then, is a day for reaffirming our unity of purpose and of effort. Interestingly, it is true that the bond of affection among us, within a religious family, is not a natural bond. It does not consist in those compelling bonds which come from a sharing of flesh and blood. No, our affection for one another arises from our singleness of purpose! Because our hearts are focussed on a shared mission, a shared Lord, that we greet each other, always, with a warmth and trust that can only be sustained in him. It is fitting for us to be brothers and sisters, having one Father, united in one Holy Spirit, trying always to live in harmony under one roof.
We know that we do not always achieve this. We know the differences between us, some of which are painfully protracted, some of which are sharply edged. But today we reach out again, to the Lord, to each other, longing not just to survive somehow, somewhere, but truly conscious of each other’s needs and of our common mission here, in our needy world all around us today.
Today I thank you, each and every one, for the witness you give. I thank especially those who celebrate special anniversaries of profession at this time. May God live a rousing life in each of us! And may the prayer of renewal, which we now make, graft us closer to Christ and fill us with his joy.