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Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Text: Cardinal Cormac's homily at Wembley Arena
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¬†Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, celebrated Mass at Wembley Arena on Friday to mark the launch of At Your Word, Lord, the programme of spiritual and personal renewal in the Diocese of Westminster. Around 11,000 people from parishes across London and Hertfordshire took part in the celebration which was the largest Mass in London since the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982. It is expected that 40,000 people will join a small faith sharing community in their parish and as many as 100,000 will participate in the daily prayer and meditations. The Cardinal delivered the following homily: " It must be a long, long time since so many Catholics of our diocese were gathered in one place to celebrate our faith together and to give glory and praise to God. Are not those words of St Peter to the first disciples addressed to us tonight, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God, Who called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people at all, and now you are the people of God. Once you were outside the mercy, and now you have been given mercy." "As I look at all of you, gathered round this great space, I think to myself that we are the inheritors of a tradition. Just over one hundred and fifty years ago the Diocese of Westminster was re-established. The people who lived here then did so in very different circumstances. They had got used to living in London quietly during penal times because of the possibility of persecution. The re-establishment of our diocese was marked by a large influx of immigrants especially from Ireland, where the poverty engendered by the famine brought the poor and destitute to London. " From other countries they came as well during those first fifty years of our diocese -from Italy, from Poland and elsewhere, and of course from other parts of the United Kingdom too. We are part of a story of the Catholic faith in this part of our country. Those religious ancestors of ours built our churches and our schools. They gave of their little money to the missions for the up-keep of their priests and religious. They not only kept the faith, they helped to spread the faith. " Today, our diocese is very different. Our ancestors have a new people. There are immigrants now from all parts of the world: from the Philippines, India and Asia, from the countries of Africa and the Americas, from Europe and the 'new' world; those many people who have settled and find their home here, and are part of the family of our faith. You and I, dear people, are part of this story of the Catholic faith in this country, in this diocese. " The earliest chapters of that history were written, sometimes in tears, often with considerable suffering, and yet with steadfastness and faith and courage. Those early chapters of our history have been written and it is my task now, with all of you, with priests and religious and people of our diocese, to write the next chapter so that the faith that has been given to me, and to you, may be handed on to those who come after us. " Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. He says to us, "I am with you always 'till the end of time". The Church will never fail. We have been chosen by God to be faithful to His word, to His promises, given to us in Jesus Christ. "You are a chosen race a people set apart, to sing the praises of God Who called you out of the darkness into His own wonderful light". By our prayer, by our works of charity and love, by our witness, by the testimony of our own lives, we give praise to God and we endeavour to spread the good news of His love, of His forgiveness and of His purpose for all humanity. " But when we look closely at ourselves, as Peter must have looked closely at himself when he encountered Jesus on the shore of the lake, then all we seem to see is our empty boat and our torn nets. Sometimes we look and see the empty boat of those who have left the active practice of their faith, or those faithful in our parishes who do not feel the Spirit of Jesus in the depths of their hearts because they have not heard His voice adequately. " We see the torn nets of our own lives; the disappointments and the scars, the weakness and the sinfulness that inhabits all Christian people. We are conscious that we live in an ocean of spiritual hunger, combined with an apathy about our Christian faith. People do not always know their need of God. Our world offers much that is supposed to satisfy ≠ power, material wealth, drink, drugs, sex. " Ultimately none of these satisfy. They simply put us closer in touch with the depth of our most profound need. We become more aware that we do not really know what direction to take in order to find the food that will truly satisfy. Sometimes I think that many Catholic people feel discouraged ≠ because they cannot make much impression on the society or culture of our day, or because they find it hard to resist its enticements. We long to hear the voice of the true fisherman who will lead us to real food, and yet is it not true that sometimes we are afraid. We are afraid to hear the call of Christ and afraid to face the mission of the Church. " Pope John Paul made a point recently about how many lack a real understanding of their faith. He says, "Many of the baptised live as if Christ did not exist. The gestures and signs of faith are repeated, especially in devotional practices, but they fail to correspond to a real acceptance of the content of the faith and fidelity to the Person of Jesus". How sad! " This is why we are called, not to lose courage but to have faith in Jesus Christ and to launch out into the deep as Jesus invited Peter, despite his weakness and his failure. We should not be discouraged because there is a real yearning for God amongst people, and a real search for meaning in our world. " There is we know deep down a hope and a meaning to our lives, which does not disappoint. It is not an object or an idea, but a person. It is Jesus Christ. It is His presence, His promises and His assurance that God is with us which gives a purpose, a meaning and a destiny to each one of us and, indeed, to the whole of humanity. We are His witnesses. " Just a fortnight ago I met the Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Vlk, and during the meal we had together, he told me about his experiences during the Communist era in Czechoslovakia. He told me how, for ten years of his life, he was persecuted by the authorities and his licence to practise as a priest was removed. He was thrown out of his parish and old to earn his keep and make his own hidden way in the world. He became a window-cleaner in the city of Prague. One day he was cleaning windows. He was high up on a ladder on one of Prague's beautiful streets. " Below was a group of German tourists window-shopping. He could hear them laughing, joking, and chatting about what they wanted to buy. And then it struck him. A voice deep within him: "Nobody knows who you are . nobody cares that you are a priest, nobody cares that you have faith, nobody is interested in the message of Jesus that you preach." He shared with me his sense of abandonment and isolation. " But then he said, very beautifully and very profoundly, "It became clear to me that the Cross is not a pious object out there but the Cross is a living reality in my life, for on the Cross God is present but hidden". His story reminded me that we all called in a very real way in our own hum-drum lives to share in the Cross, in the suffering of Jesus in our world today. We are called especially to search for the God who lies hidden in human suffering. " We have come here today for the launch of At Your Word, Lord, and once again we have heard that Gospel we know so well, when Jesus invites His followers to launch out into the deep. I understand very clearly that launching out into the deep means that we don't know what the result will be. But we do know that part of this launching out into the deep will be an encounter with Jesus on the Cross. I do not believe that this programme of renewal can be achieved without sacrifice, without some suffering because Cross and Resurrection go together. " This was the path that Jesus took. This is the path that Peter and the earliest disciples took. This is the path our ancestors took. This is the path that we must take. I understand that in my own life, just as in your life, there must be some suffering connected with the practice of our faith. Coupled with that is a confidence that if we are faithful, and if we are generous, then it is the Lord who will provide the fruit, the blessings. That is my earnest desire as we launch our process of renewal today. " I cannot tell each one of you what it will involve, precisely, in your community, in your parish. All I know is that it must involve prayer, it must involve meeting together with others, in the liturgy, in the Mass, in your small groups. Beyond this it must involve sacrifice, a sacrifice of time, a sacrifice of effort but above all it must involve a desire to do what Jesus did and to participate in his suffering and in his offering for the sake of the world. " Some years ago I paid a visit to the Holy Land and when I went to the Sea of Galilee I was fortunate to go to the very place where our gospel today took place. There is a little church there dedicated to the Primacy of St. Peter. The water of the lake laps up against the church wall - on which is written these words: The deeds and miracles of Jesus Are not actions of the past. Jesus is waiting for those who are Still prepared to take risks, at His word, Because they trust His word utterly. " So I invite you ≠ or rather, Jesus invites you, His people, to follow Him and to deepen your faith in Him. You see, my dear friends, it is Jesus Christ who is the fisherman ≠ not us, who are poor and weak, and yet called by Him. It is Jesus who invites us to launch out into the deep. "At Your Word, Lord," said Peter, "I will let down the net". My prayer tonight is that all our faithful people will echo those same words of Peter. " Putting our trust in God, and prepared to risk and commit ourselves to Him, let each of us say, 'At Your Word, Lord, I will let down the net'".
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