It is characteristic of our modern media that, when reporting news about an extraordinary event, they often miss the point. For some months now we have been building up to this great celebration of the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. We have been told about the parties that will be arranged, the concerts being held here in London and elsewhere. We have heard the stories of the lives of the Royal family, and especially of the Queen - her tastes, her habits, her domestic virtues.
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
When I was Rector of a seminary I used to ask the young men who had just arrived to commence their studies for the priesthood why they wished to be priests. It was interesting that few could reply very precisely why they had entered the seminary. Most of them would say they felt that in some real and mysterious way God was calling them to be a priest. In other words, it was not immediately what the priest had to do that attracted them but, rather, the kind of person that a priest is. A priest in a special way is identified with Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd....
THE SECOND LESSON
REVELATION 7: 9-17
After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.
And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders, and the four living creatures, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen; Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And 1 said unto him, Sir, thou knowest.
And he said to met These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.
For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
The early Christians had a particularly vivid sense of life beyond the grave. I have just returned from Rome and my mind turns to the Roman Catacombs - those extraordinary underground burial chambers in which you find the early Christians' faith in eternal life spelt out in simple graffiti on the stone walls. 'Dearest Antonia, may God refresh you in peace'. 'Atticus your spirit is in bliss'. And instead of the pagan Roman's despairing in aeternum vale, meaning 'farewell forever', you find the Christian's hope filled vision - vivas in Deo meaning 'live in the Lord'. In contemporary language, for those of us who, like them, believe in life after death 'adieu' is indeed 'au revoir'. We really will see each other again. Which is not to say that we therefore assume that the life we live here and now is hardly worth living. Precisely the contrary. Our life in Christ is life here, now and forever: it is life and living in all its fullness, and beyond time.
It goes without saying that for Christians Easter is a time of great rejoicing. It is our time of renewal, the time when our memories of death and of suffering are transfigured by the joy of Christ's resurrection and by his promise that we will have life in Him, life that will be abundant, and for ever.
This evening, the first Sunday after Easter, we gather to remember and to give thanks for the life of our much-loved Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again! Jesus is Lord. Alleluia! These are our Easter cries. But we should not celebrate Easter and the Feast of the Resurrection too easily. The first disciples of Jesus put their trust and hope in Jesus as their leader, as the Messiah, and hoped that He would lead them to the new Kingdom of God in triumph and in victory. They became profoundly disillusioned when they saw Jesus humiliated and ignominiously put to death. They wrestled with panic, doubt and even suspicion before they became aware of a new level of faith, a deeper kind of trust, which was totally different to what they had experienced in the past. As a result of God's love which touched and empowered them, liberating them from a lack of faith, they knew that Jesus had indeed risen, was with them in a new and different way and so they were able to shout together, My Lord and my God; Jesus is risen from the dead.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
Three weeks ago, at Pope John Paul's invitation, I was present in Assisi at a World Day of Prayer for Peace. One memorable aspect of the meeting was the journey on the Pope's train from the Vatican City to Assisi along with representatives from the World Religions. As the train slowed down at every main town station there were crowds of people waving and holding up placards, saying, We are praying for you and with you for peace. It was both very moving and a very human reminder of the deep yearning in people of faith everywhere to live good lives and to contribute to the building of God's Kingdom. As Jesus says in today's Gospel: You are the light of the World. As we prepare for the beginning of the Season of Lent on Wednesday we might reflect on those very simple but affirming words with which Jesus encourages us to take our place in the world...
This sermon was preached at the parish church of St Mary Magdalene in the grounds of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's Sandringham estate. This was the first occasion since the Reformation in which an English monarch had extended an invitation to a member of the Catholic hierarchy to come and preach.
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
Some time ago I was privileged to take part in a programme called Desert Island Discs. Among the eight records I chose on my desert island was the theme tune of a programme some of the older generation might recognize, namely, In Town Tonight. As a boy - and not a Londoner because I was brought up in Reading - that theme tune used to evoke for me the life, the spirit, the 'buzz' of London. I used to think it must be a very exciting place in which to live. And here I am, within a stone's throw of the Houses of Parliament where great decisions are made; of St. James's Park where hundreds of people gather to walk, to mingle; of Berkeley Square where the nightingale sang, of The Passage where the homeless come to be housed and fed. This, and much more, is London and this is life. I know that, deep down, all of us love life. Of course there are tragic circumstances which touch everyone at times but our instinct is to rejoice at birth and to mourn at death. Like God, at the dawn of creation, we look at our world and see that in spite of all its defects, it is good. It is good to be alive. Life is good. ...
This sermon was broadcast live on BBC1 television at a candlelit service in Westminster Cathedral celebrating the First Mass of Christmas
I was walking down a busy London street a week or so ago casually looking into various shop windows. They were full of glowing lights and decorations, enticing people to buy, buy, buy. To my surprise, in one shop window I saw the traditional crib and the baby Jesus, surrounded by Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the animals. I stood for a moment and gazed at it. I reflected on how many of those passing by had probably not looked twice at this crib because it appeared to have no meaning for them. I want to tell you tonight something of what the crib means for the world and what the crib means for me....