Given at the Mass offered for the victims of the attacks on Westminster Bridge and Parliament, at Westminster Cathedral on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday,26th March 2017.
In the texts for our Mass this morning, as they are in the Missal, there are three phrases which we can do well to remember today and in the days to come.
The first is from the Psalm that is given for today: ‘The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.’
The second is from the Gospel: Jesus says, ‘I am the light of the world.’
And the third is from St Paul where he tells us: ‘Be like children of the light.’
These three texts help us to reflect today, especially in context of the terrible events that took place on Wednesday.
The first phrase, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.’ These are words of great comfort: comfort for those who mourn, comfort for each one of us. In the Psalm, we hear of the shepherd carrying his crook: that’s the symbol of his ability to bring back to himself those who have slipped away. We hear of him carrying his staff, a staff that he uses to drive away wolves, or drive away robbers.
There is a realism about this Psalm, for it includes those words that we may be walking in the valley of darkness. We know this experience. It’s very immediate and very painful for some today. Sometimes the darkness just creeps up on us. Sometimes we can be suddenly plunged into darkness and the sun goes out. Its light and its sparkle seem lost. In these moments we remember the words: ‘The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want,’ because he has prepared a banquet for me there at the end of this pilgrimage.
The second phrase, ‘I am the light of the world.’ It’s spoken in the context of the Gospel narrative we’ve just heard: the man who is born blind and who is cured, and of the people with sight who fail to see what is before them. At the heart of this narrative is Jesus, the light of the world, the light that shines in the darkness of this world, a darkness of grief and a darkness of sin, a light by which we learn to take just the next step. I don’t think we should necessarily think of the light of Christ as a floodlight that shows up everything. That would be too much. Maybe it’s just a single light at times that helps us through one day. But he is the light of the world. He is the one who shows us how to walk in the dark places in which we find ourselves from time to time.
And then thirdly there are the words of St Paul: ‘Be like children of the light.’ He is saying to us that we have a task to discover what the Lord wants of us in any particular situation, and to be like children of the light means to do our best with kindness and compassion and courage. It means to do our best, handing over our troubles to him because he willingly takes them on and he willingly takes on our trouble, our illness, our pain, our dismay and makes of them something special for God, his Father. St Paul says to us, ‘Have nothing to do with the futile works of darkness.’ Have nothing to do with talk of hatred or retaliation. Have nothing to do with bitterness, or scorn, or mockery, or gossip, or all that undermines who we are individually and together as children of a common Father.
Today on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, we move a step closer to Holy Week and to Easter. The days of Holy Week are days in which we enter and embrace the great mystery, sometimes the puzzle, of human life, that puzzle now lit up by the light of Christ. In Holy Week we stand face to face with the darkness of betrayal, of suffering, and of death. We stand face to face with the emptiness of mourning before the tomb. And we stand face to face with the astonishing gift of new life in the glory of the Resurrection. In many different ways, some small, some tragically all-consuming, we live this mystery, each of us in our own lives, and we wait and prepare ourselves to bring it to the celebration of Easter.
May our heavenly Father bless us this day and always hold us close in his tender and loving mercy. Amen.