Given at the Mass for Jubilarians in Westminster Cathedral on 24th May 2022
The prayers of the Mass we celebrate during Eastertide often speak of the joy that fills our hearts at the Resurrection of our Blessed Lord. This is, indeed, the season of joy. And today, as we celebrate these anniversaries of priestly ordination that joy is as overflowing as ever.
Here we have the list of all our jubilarians, those present and those unable to be here. It is a list spreading over three years so that those whose anniversaries occurred during the pandemic are far from forgotten and named, individually, today. I cannot read out the full list, but there is one name I want to mention: Fr Brian Reynolds whose diamond jubilee of ordination actually occurs today. For us all, Fr Brian, I offer you our congratulations and thanks!
I have not gone into the business of adding up the total of years of priestly ministry for which we are thanking God today. I’m sure someone will do that. It will be an astonishing total. But indeed, we thank God for every single one of those years, years of service, prayer and daily effort. Thank you, one and all.
Today's prayer, while it does not speak of Easter joy, does ask that 'we may receive in truth a share in the Resurrection of Christ, your Son'. And the Gospel reading, from the Gospel of John, spells out how that sharing may take place.
This passage from John has often puzzled me: the threefold ways in which the world is wrong. What exactly is meant here?
Remember, the text speaks of the coming of the Advocate who 'when he comes, he will show the world how wrong it was, about sin, about who was in the right (or righteousness) and about judgement.' (John 16: 8-10). What does this mean?
Well, the key phrase is translated in various ways. It can be ‘he will show the world how wrong it was', or 'he will convict the world concerning', or 'he will bring to light the condemnation of the world', or 'he will prove the world to be wrong' about sin, about righteousness and about judgement.
I think that this triple 'condemnation', or 'conviction', or 'proving wrong the world' actually takes us to the heart of John's Gospel and its central challenge. Basically, this Gospel constantly asks us this one question: where do you stand about Jesus, about who he is and where he is from? Answer that question and the rest makes sense.
So, the world is wrong about sin because the only lasting sin is to reject Jesus and to fail to stand with him. Life without his Spirit, or set against the Spirit, is dead at its source, for such sin brings only death. To stand with him is to share in his risen life.
The world is wrong about righteousness or fulfilment, because true fulfilment never comes from the law, from conformity, or from success, or from accrued wealth, but only from the victory of Jesus and from his Father to whom he is now returning in glory. This fulfilment is our heritage.
The world is so often wrong about judgement because the only judgement that matters is the one that comes before God and those that reflect that truth. No other opinion matters at all. No other judgement lasts beyond a fashion. Those princes of this world, who set themselves to stand in a godless judgement over others, are a sham for Jesus, who condemned by them to death, has overthrown that judgement and replaced it with his mercy. In this, too, we pray to share.
Today's Gospel, then, and our anniversary celebrations, ask one thing of us: to be renewed in our focus on the Lord, on him alone, through thick and thin, through trouble and in joy.
Today we try to do that.
We try to focus again on his call, the call that has shaped our lives and brought us to this day.
Today we focus on thanking him for this great privilege, the privilege of his using our hands, our voices, our hearts to be instruments of his grace and mercy. What greater calling and ministry can there be?
Today we look afresh to our future, whatever it may hold, that he may always be at its centre, as our heartbeat, our soul's desire, our constant and never-failing love.
In recent days, a question has been put before me. What gives life to us priests, especially in these times that have been difficult and disruptive? What gives us life?
In response, I return to one of our Easter readings, from the Book of Revelation, a reading that contains one of my most cherished images of all. Here it is. Here is what gives us life.
'Then he, the angel, showed me the river of the water of life,
bright as crystal,
flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb,
through the middle of the street of the city;
On either side of the river, the tree of life
with its twelve crops of fruit in a year,
yielding its fruit each month,
and the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations' (Rev 22:1-3).
So today, as here we gather around that throne in our Easter joy, let us be refreshed, healed and made fruitful by these waters of life, this gift of the Spirit, given to us constantly at the hand of the Lord.
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster