Given at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday 7 June 2014.
In the newspaper a few days ago I read of a girl called Athena. She died of cancer aged 12. Her parents found some of her thoughts written on the back of a mirror in her bedroom. One thought was this: ‘Life is a game for everyone but love is the only prize.’
Today we rejoice in that prize which has entered your lives especially through the marriage you celebrate and affirm again today, and through your families. Love is the true and lasting prize, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As we begin our celebration of Pentecost, the Gospel passage we heard speaks of the thirst that we all feel: a thirst to be loved, accepted, cherished and nurtured. It tells us that through Jesus come that love and nurture: 'for from his breast shall flow fountains of living water!' Then it adds: 'He was speaking of the Spirit which those who believed in him were to receive.'
We heard, too, that only when Jesus had been glorified would the fullness of the Spirit come. Our gaze is directed to the Cross. For St John understands that in his sacrificial death Jesus is already gloriously radiant with the light of Easter and Pentecost is anticipated.
And on the Cross Jesus says “I thirst”. He thirsts for our faith. We come to him as believers, thirsting for truth and love. With his dying breath he gives forth his life-giving Spirit. “From his breast shall flow fountains of living water”. “They pierced his side with a lance and there flowed out… water”. From the Sacred Heart of Jesus broken open for us, the Holy Spirit flows into our hearts, into our flesh.
This is such a lovely Gospel, a truly life-giving Gospel. It saves us from pursuing so many mistaken sources of love by directing us to Jesus. We are to come to his breast the Gospel says, to receive that living water, the Holy Spirit: the Holy Spirit, the very Love of the Father and the Son; the Holy Spirit by whom the Son, sent by the Father, took our flesh of the Virgin Mary and became man.
The life of Jesus, the flesh of Jesus, is the story of a family, the family of Nazareth depicted on the front cover of our Mass booklet today. The story of that family is the story of the Holy Spirit: a story which is to be the story of every human family. When a family is centred on Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit, divine Love, flows freely within it, love given and received, nurtured and faithfully sustained. When we are centred on Jesus in our family lives, the Holy Spirit fashions within us the capacity to forgive, the readiness to be selfless, and the strength to be faithful. When we are centred on Jesus in our family lives, the Holy Spirit fashions within us a love that is ever- generous in the giving of new life, in the accepting of new neighbours, in readiness to embrace visitors and strangers, in compassion for all who are needy and lost.
These are the qualities which bring us contentment and flourishing: that we are forgiving and faithful, selfless and generous, open-hearted and welcoming. I don't need to list their opposites and remind you that they leave us bitter, closed in and resentful, unhappy and so often joyless. Today's Gospel is simple: come to Jesus to receive the gift of life-giving water that refreshes and restores love in your lives.
How do we come to Jesus, how do we learn to cling to him?
For a number of years I was fortunate enough to go to the Lake District for a summer break. I stayed at a house which had, just yards from its front door, a swiftly flowing steam and the freshest, clearest water you can imagine. One great pleasure for me was to wake each morning to the sound of that flowing stream and listen to it intently. At times I would spend a while during the day just sitting near that stream - when it wasn't raining, of course (but without rain there are no streams!). I would sit and allow myself to be lulled by the sound of the water. At other times I would dip into it, for a drink or a quick splash on my face, or on my feet, sore after too long a walk.
These are the ways in which we come to Jesus, in which we stay close to him. We turn our hearts to him, to listen, each morning at the start of the day, before anything else, or anybody else, gets going. We pause each day to sit in his company, in his shade, and let the murmur of his love enter our hearts. We dip into the living water of his grace, through the Sacraments, through our patterns of prayer, so that he can refresh our weary faces, soothe our sore hearts and feet. He is there, always, with the gift of his Holy Spirit. He is always ready to give, far more ready that we are to ask.
Today, as we celebrate his great love for us, in the outpouring of his Spirit, let us be resolved to turn to him again, to make time and space for him in our lives. Teach and encourage each other to do so. Talk about the comfort and joy you find in silence and in prayer. Pass on this great gift to your children and especially your grandchildren for whom you are such a source of wisdom and wonder. Teach them how to pray for in doing so you obey the Lord’s command and offer a divine teaching, better than any other teaching you can give. Then will our family life be strong, faithful and fruitful. Then will our love be open and generous. Then will our hearts be full of the joy of the Gospel. Then we shall indeed be his missionary disciples in our world today.
I thank you for the witness of your lives, of your tenacity in faithfulness to each other and to your Lord. Yours is a voice which is much needed in our world and in our Church today, even as we go about our preparations for the Synods of Bishops on the Pastoral Challenges Facing The Family In The Context Of Evangelisation Today. Be sure that I take to that Synod all that I hear and celebrate today, so that your witnessing to the blessedness of married love may be heard and your example encourage and inspire many others to celebrate and live this great Sacrament of Marriage.
I thank you, and may God bless you all.