Given at the Mass for Candidacy at Allen Hall Seminary on the Memorial of the Venerable Bede, 25th May 2019.
‘Forth in thy name O Lord I go, my daily labour to pursue…’
These opening words from Charles Wesley’s well-known hymn remind us that the daily life and labour of the Christian demands a close relationship with Jesus, and that it is in his name, that we live, and act and have our being. The vitality of this relationship is expressed strongly in the opening words of Pope Francis’ post-synodal exhortation on youth, faith and vocational discernment, Christus Vivit, ‘Christ is alive and he wants you to be alive. He is in you, he is with you and he will never abandon you.’
Today we celebrate the liturgy of candidacy and choose you as candidates for service in the particular church of Westminster or East Anglia. You are called to stability in these churches. I will ask you, ‘are you resolved to complete your preparation so that in due time you will be ready to be ordained for the ministry of the Church.’ To complete the preparation means to continue to build on the firm foundation of solid rock and not on sand.
To be alive in Christ presents the invitation to build the house of our life on the firm foundation of faith nurtured and sustained by daily actions. This wisdom is found in today’s gospel when St Matthew contrasts the building of the wise man who built on solid foundations and the stupid man who built on sand. Stone buildings can endure the cold blasts of an icy wind, shelter one from the rain, protect one from the blazing sun and gives warmth over time. The living stones of prayer, adoration, the Mass, confession and the works of love build such a dwelling.
Although diocesan priests are not monks, each of us needs to find a balance of action and contemplation in daily life. This we can learn from the Venerable Bede whose life was built on solid rock. Bede was born around 673 AD near the monastery of Wearmouth in the north east. At the end of his Ecclesiastical History, at the age of about 59, he writes, ‘When I was seven years of age I was, by the care of kinsmen, put into the charge of the Reverend Abbot Benedict and then of Ceolfrith, to be educated. From then on I have spent all my life in this monastery, applying myself entirely to the study of the Scriptures; and amid the observance of the discipline of the Rule and the daily task of singing in the Church, it has always been my delight to learn or to teach or to write’. His joy is found in the rhythm of life that leads him to God. He probably never travelled more than fifty miles from the monastery. His life moved between the chapel, the library and the scriptorium where he wrote.
St Cuthbert describes Bede’s death in today’s Office of Readings. He died on the Tuesday before Ascension. He describes a scene of love and devoted attention as his fellow monks prepare for his passing from this life to the next. He works unceasingly to the end trying to write his last sentence and complete the work. He says: ‘The time of departure is at hand, for I long to be dissolved and be with Christ; and my soul longs to see Christ my King in all his beauty. This said he spent his last day in gladness until the evening.’
The life of Bede reminds us of the need for contemplation in the midst of a busy apostolic life. Each of us needs to have our cell, where we go and talk to the Lord and bring the joys and hopes, the anxieties and the sorrows of life to Jesus, and hand them over to his help. There we bring the needs of the people we meet each day to prayer and the petitions and secrets which they have entrusted to us. Our cell may be before the Blessed Sacrament, or it may be in front of an icon, but a place of regular prayer is necessary to build the house on rock and not sand.
Bede also teaches us two important aspects about life; one about death, the other about gladness. As priests, we spend many hours at death beds. It is always a precious moment and people will forgive you many faults if you make the effort to go to the hospital, to be at the bedside, and say the prayers of the dying and offer consolation. He also teaches us to be men of gratitude and at the end of each day to sift out under the gaze of the Holy Spirit the gladness in the day and give thanks to God for it. All is sheer gift!
The first reading reminds us of our reliance on the Holy Spirit. Invite the Holy Spirit into your heart and let him prompt you as you grow in faith and hope. The promptings of the Holy Spirit reveal gradually over time the pattern and shape of our lives if we respond generously and with love. As you are admitted as candidates for your dioceses, allow the Holy Spirit to shape your life ‘in mind and spirit to give faithful service to Christ the Lord and his body, the Church.’ Prompts and hints, suggestions and desires, examined with the gift of discernment, will show the way that Jesus is leading you. Pay attention to feelings of joy and delight as well as despondency and guilt. They are invitations to help your growth in conformity to Christ. It is only by the gift of the Spirit that we will discover an understanding of the mysteries of God: ‘The Holy Spirit fills the heart of the risen Christ and then flows over into your lives. When you receive the Spirit, he draws you ever more deeply into the heart of Christ, so that you can grow in his love, his life and his power.’ (CV 130)
Take comfort in the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, ‘Let all those who are troubled take this comfort to themselves, if they are trying to lead a spiritual life. If they call on God, he will answer them. Though they have no earthly friend, they have him, who, as he felt for his Mother when he was on the Cross, now that he is in his glory feels for the lowest and feeblest of his people.’ (MD 78-79)
Pray for one another.