Given at the Mass for New Catholics at Westminster Cathedral on 1st June 2019 (Vigil of the Seventh Sunday of Easter)
The title on the Mass booklet for this evening is very clear: ‘Mass for New Catholics’. And so it is.
I welcome most warmly to the Cathedral this evening all who have newly come into full communion with the Catholic Church during this year, especially at the Easter Vigil. As we come towards the end of the season of Easter, this is a fitting moment to welcome you again and to reflect on the great gift you have received, the gift of faith in Jesus and in his presence in the Catholic Church.
Journeys to this faith are sometimes long and always very personal. Some of you have been kind enough to write about them. One of you wrote: ‘For 15 years, in every tragic and laughable way possible, I refused to heed God’s beckoning into his one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.’ The account he gives includes the appeal of youth slogans of ‘no gods, no masters’; moments of deep emotion, through the music of our faith, in which he experienced himself as ‘caught up in the mournful beauty of the words of suffering and redemption as tears streamed down my cheek …. I was on the trajectory now into the arms of Jesus …’. Finally, he writes about the moment he was received into the Catholic Church, here in the Cathedral, in these words: ‘Walking down the steps of the sanctuary at the Easter Vigil, having received the Body of Christ for the first time, I looked out at the sea of God’s people and realised: I am part of all this. I am part of Christ’s body, no longer on the sidelines. I am home.’
Yes, this is a Mass for New Catholics. But it is also for us all, so that we all may be renewed Catholics, inspired by the freshness of this new faith. The readings of the Mass today also inspire us.
We look first to the Gospel. In this wonderful prayer of Jesus, before his passion and death, Jesus opens for his disciples, for us, the inner secrets of his life. He and the Father are one. The One who creates all things, who holds our lives in being, the Father, is one with the eternal Word, through whom all life comes to be. The Father is our origin, our Eternal Father. We are created by him. And we are also created for him. He is both our origin and our destiny. We have been called into life, each one of us, so that we may find our way home to him for all eternity. This is the prayer of Jesus.
A little earlier, the apostle Philip said to Jesus: ‘Lord show us the Father’. Jesus replied in words of utter importance: ‘Philip, whoever has seen me has seen the Father!’ (John 14:8-9). To gaze on the crucified Jesus is to see the love of the Father. To be in the arms of Jesus is to be in the embrace of the Father. To be one with Jesus in the Eucharist, in the Church, is to be already glimpsing the glory of the Father’s presence, the glory of heaven.
This was the experience of Stephen, as told in the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’, he said, ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’ (Acts 7:56). It was this vision, this faith, which sustained him through his suffering and death. And it can do the same for each one of us, too. This is the vision, the horizon, against which we live and by which we try to judge everything in this life.
So, too, the wonderful words of the second reading (Apocalypse 22:12-14, 16-17, 20) stir in us all this same trusting hope for our final fulfilment: ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the beginning and the end. Happy are those who will have washed their robes clean so that they will have the right to feed on the tree of life and can come through the gates into the city.’ The Alpha and the Omega, the symbols inscribed on the Paschal candle, here, which is the light by which we guide our pilgrimage of life.
We all know that at times our lives can be shrouded in darkness: the darkness of pain, of confusion, of conflict, of a seemingly total loss of inner peace. Here, in Jesus, is the light that overcomes all darkness. His light is a shining invitation. It is the Holy Spirit that says to us ‘Come’. It is the Church, the Bride, who says to us ‘Come’. Let us, each one of us, answer afresh ‘Yes! I come!’ Then, in the words of that reading. ‘Let all who are thirsty come; all who want it may have the water of life and have it for free.’ (Isaiah 55:1).
As we rejoice so whole-heartedly today in this invitation, and in the gift of faith that enables us to respond to it, let us remember that it is addressed to all who are thirsty. They are many. We know them. It is now for us to take that same invitation to them, prompted by the same Holy Spirit and repeating the words of the Church, the Bride of Christ: ‘Come. Please come and see. He is here for you too!’ This is our mission and our privilege.
Finally, let us listen to the beautiful words of another person received into the Church this Easter. Before the Vigil, she described herself ‘as an anxious bride’. Then she describes her experience:
‘The Cathedral, clothed in darkness, steadily filled with the light of hundreds of candles. In the sanctuary, before the congregation, I was confirmed and received the Eucharist for the first time. Returning to my kneeler, through my tearful praise, I saw a vision of what heaven might be like. The choir sang choruses of Alleluia! My heart was full to overflowing and God was so very near to me. I was finally at peace.’
May God bless us all, strengthening our faith, our service towards each other and the witness we can give in our society today.