Given at the Mass for volunteer workers of charity for the Year of Mercy at Westminster Cathedral on 10 September 2016.
I thank you all for coming together this afternoon to celebrate this Holy Mass and to renew your dedication to the work of charity in our diocese. I thank you all for your generous work in the great fields of mercy which, as Pope Benedict said so clearly, are an essential part of the mission of the Church, from its very beginning (Deus Caritas Est 32). Indeed, he reminded us that the three essential actions of the Church are those of proclaiming the word of God, celebrating the sacraments and exercising the ministry of charity. Then he added: 'These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable' (DCE 25).
Your work, then, whether voluntary or paid, is at the heart of the life of the Church and it is the ministry particularly entrusted to lay people. This work should be a characteristic of every parish, and I am glad of all the developments in the diocese in recent years that help to make this so.
We are blest to be living in this country at this point in its history. Ours is a society and a culture which shows great and untiring generosity to those in need. Time and time again people respond to emergency appeals with astonishing generosity. For the most part, neighbours quietly care for neighbours. People do this out of an instinctive kindness and recognition that we are bound together in this life, whether we like it or not.
The Gospel passage we have just heard, then, can be applied to our society. 'Every tree can be told by its fruits.' In this regard, our society is a good tree, producing sound fruit. For this we must be grateful. But the Gospel passage also demands that we are attentive to good roots and solid foundations. So let us look for a moment at the deeper roots of this great charitable instinct that we share.
This generosity is, I am sure, inseparable from that instinctive feeling that those in need are, in some way, our brothers and sisters. This instinct has its foundations in a sense of the unseen Creator in whom the great impetus of life has its origin. When we are tutored in faith, as indeed our culture has been, then we recognise that this Creator is in fact a Father who has created us out of love and who reaches out to us in every need or woe. Then we begin to see the true sources of our compassion and generosity.
In our work of charity, it is a joy to work alongside many partners whose tough and effective love matches our own. But it is also our joy and responsibility to bear witness to the origins and sources of that love. And that is what we ponder today.
Let me start at the deep end. (I have always disliked going slowly, step by step, into the water of a fresh swimming pool!)
St Augustine says this: 'If you see charity, you see the Trinity' (cf DCE 19). Yes, I repeat: 'If you see charity, you see the Trinity.' You do the work of charity. You are showing forth the Trinity, the deepest mystery of God! Every act of charity, understood and seen in its deepest dimensions, in its full beauty, lays bare the plan, the mind of God our Father who, moved by love, sends his Son into our world to bear our burdens. Every work of charity points to and makes tangible, the pierced side of Christ and the lifeblood which flows from it, the great symbol of God's love and mercy. From that side of Christ comes the Holy Spirit. This Holy Spirit harmonises our hearts with Christ's heart and moves us to love others as Christ has loved them when he bent down to wash the feet of his disciples and when he gave his life for us all.
Yes, to see charity is to see the Trinity!
This, then, is the deepest nature of the work that you so generously do. It follows that we must do all we can to preserve, protect, and promote these foundations of the work of caritas. We must always build on rock so that when the floods rise and put this work under threat it does not fall because it is well founded, well built.
The great strength of our foundations is that we know, beyond any doubt, that before we lift a finger in love for another we are first and always loved. We are loved by a Heavenly Father who knows us through and through and, nevertheless, pours his love upon us unceasingly. We know from experience that we cannot live by giving alone, for then we suffer from such fatigue, but we also know that we are always receiving love. Anyone who wishes to give love must first receive love. Or, in other words, to become a source of love one must constantly drink anew from its true and original source. And that source is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf John 19.34) (cf DCE 7).
We are blest to be celebrating this Mass within days of the canonisation of Mother Teresa of Calcutta of whom much has been rightly said about her being a saint for our age, an age which is so attracted by compassion and justice. Yet Mother Teresa, as we may continue to call her, also taught us that Christ's love for us and our love for others are inseparable. When she insisted that service is the fruit of love, she was pointing first to the love of God. Love of God and love of neighbour are inseparable.
This inseparable bond is so powerfully expressed in the Eucharist, in this Mass which we are now celebrating together. Pope Benedict said this: 'Sacramental communion is social in character for in sacramental communion I become one with the Lord, like all other communicants. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own' (DCE 14). He also explained that in the Eucharist the concept of 'neighbour' becomes universalised, without bounds of place. 'Anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbour' (DCE 15). He insisted that the Eucharistic communion, which we celebrate and share here and now, includes the reality of both being loved and of loving others in turn. He insisted: 'A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented' (DCE 14).
This Eucharistic root of our work is also sustained in our prayer, especially in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. You will all know how Mother Teresa insisted that time spent in prayer, and therefore away from hands-on work, was never time wasted. Rather it is the resourcing of that work from the most powerful of sources and inspiration.
It is, then, through the Eucharist that the works of charity and mercy find their true energy. Without the Eucharist we will not develop those deep roots that we need to sustain our work in its freshness and spontaneity. It will risk becoming routine and heartless. Yet what those in need most truly need is not only effective help and support but love! This is why Pope Benedict also insisted that the Magna Carta of all ecclesial service is the great saying of St Paul: 'If I have all the eloquence of men or angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing....If I give away all that I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing whatever (cf DCE 34 and 1 Cor 13.1-3)
This is the witness we bear in our caritas work: that God loves everyone, without exception, and that we seek to serve in his name and in the name of Jesus. This should be clear. But it does not mean that we are seeking to proselytize. As Pope Benedict said: ‘Love is free; it is not practiced as a way of achieving other ends.’ Then he added: ‘A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak. He – or she – knows that God is love and that God’s presence is felt at the very time when the only thing we do is to love. (DCE 31).
Thank you, again. Thank you for your faith, for your being willing to give your time, your hands, your intellect to the tasks of charity where God will use you, just as he uses my hands and words, those of a priest, in the action of this Mass. I thank especially all the young people who help and who are drawn into the works of mercy. For them, for you, this widespread involvement is a school of life which offers you a priceless formation in solidarity and in readiness to offer others not only material aid but your very selves, the gift of your love and the love of God living within you.
May God bless our work and sustain it always. May the simple elegance of our kindness and charity to others always be to God's greater honour and glory. May it serve to keep alive in our society the rumour of God's love for all, a love which excludes no one and offers everyone the path to new life.