Given at Westminster Cathedral on 21 and 22 February 2015, at the Rite of Election.
Welcome to you all. Welcome to Westminster Cathedral. Your Cathedral. Have a good look round and be proud of this wonderful place of prayer.
Today is a great occasion, full of joy and hope. I love it! Because today we are witnesses to the generous and gracious love of God, drawing us to himself so that we might be His people, His Church. Faith is a wonderful gift and each one of us rejoices today in this great gift.
There is an appendix at the back of our booklet. It's useful. It explains some of the language we use this afternoon. It describes the different stages of our shared journey of living by Catholic faith, moving towards the Father and our heavenly home.
Some in the Cathedral today are catechumens, women and men seeking baptism, seeking to root their lives deeply in the person of Jesus. Through baptism we enter into his tomb of death so as to share in His new and risen life. In baptism the old person dies and a new life is born in us. That is such a powerful moment, and it kick-starts our life in Christ.
Some in the Cathedral are candidates, women and men who have been already baptised, perhaps for many years, and now wish to come fully into the life of the Catholic Church. We call this 'full communion' because by this step they are invited to receive, in the Most Holy Eucharist, the sacred Body and Blood of Christ, given for us first in His death on the cross but always offered, in its substantial reality, in the celebration of Holy Mass.
To receive the Eucharist is a most profound moment. Every time we receive Holy Communion we are to prepare well, recognising that we are always unworthy, yet being clear and honest in wanting to live our lives in harmony with the heart of Jesus. We may never take receiving Holy Communion for granted, as if it were our right, as if we were entitled to it. No, to receive the Lord in Holy Communion is our greatest privilege for which we must be properly disposed and truly prepared, every time.
All of us here today are entering this season of Lent together. We do so with the same heart and mind. Through these weeks of Lent we wish to come closer to the Lord, to be ready to enter more deeply into the mystery of His death and resurrection through the celebrations of Holy Week. By doing this we become more faithfully his followers, his disciples, his brothers and sisters, his allies in the world.
What do we learn today about our journey in faith?
First, we are seeking that freedom of heart that permits Jesus to be first in our hearts, above all else. St Paul speaks of 'believing in the heart'. But that is difficult if our hearts are full of other desires, anxieties and ambitions. During Lent we try to loosen the grip of these other dwellers in our hearts, evict them, and offer the space to Jesus, knowing that in His resurrection, He is with us always. Indeed we want to take to heart those wonderful words of the Gospel we have just heard: 'Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.' Come we shall! The rest we shall welcome! And gladly we take up his yolk and learn from him the wisdom of the ages, the truth about ourselves and our world, written from the beginning by the Father from whom all life comes.
Then, following St Paul, we want to grow in our readiness 'to confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord.' Our faith cannot remain a secret affair of the heart, no more than any other love can survive if it is not owned and acknowledged in the right way. St Paul tells us that 'by confessing with our lips we are saved.' So our faith gives rise to action, to a life-style, to daily goodness, or virtue, to a willingness to speak of our faith to others, with joy and confidence; and perhaps most of all in a desire to join with Jesus in saying, over and over again, 'I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.'
Today I welcome you all not simply as individuals, but also as belonging to each other, as members of one body, the Church. You come because of what you have learned of the visible Body of Christ in your parishes, in this Catholic Church. So I thank all who come today because of their role in our parishes, our priests, deacons, catechesis, your sponsors and friends. As St Paul says, once we are knitted into Christ, there are no longer distinctions between us, keeping us apart. No, our new life in Christ is stronger than differences of race and rank because, as he says, we 'all belong to the same Lord who is rich enough, however many may ask for his help, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord to be saved.'
Parish life is so important and this afternoon we see its vitality, its freshness, its capacity to bring new people to the Lord. Thank you.
At this time in our diocese, in our Church, we are all encouraged to look again at how everything we do, especially in our parishes, is shaped for the task of bringing others to Christ. This call to a fresh evangelisation is so important for every parish. It's not a question of trying to do more. It's simply a question of looking at everything we do to see how it is shaped by, and serves, our first underlying purpose of faith, that we constantly proclaim the invitation of God, given in Jesus our Lord, that all are invited to this richness and joy of life.
Pope Francis puts it very simply. He tells us that what must ring out, over and over, in everything we do, is this first proclamation: 'Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you' (Evangelii Gaudium 164).
No one is to be excluded from this call. Even as we thank God for the gift of faith which so fills our hearts today, let us also try always to be his messengers to others, inviting them to share this joy and consolation of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord and friend.
So now let's welcome our catechumens and candidates in the solemn words and actions of our ceremony this afternoon.