In his Easter Vigil homily, given in Westminster Cathedral on Saturday, 7 April, President of the Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, called on the faithful to be “steadily and confidently Catholic”.
In particular, he celebrated the light of the risen Christ and its impact on our lives through difficult times:
“As we pass to one another the light of the Easter candle, we express our desire for Christ to work through us, that his grace may enable us, quietly and confidently, to drive away the darkness, to assure one another of the reality of his promises.”
The Archbishop spoke to the congregation about illness and trauma, economic uncertainty, tension and unrest in the Biblical lands before concluding by focusing on the victory won by Christ – celebrating His light that penetrates the darkness.
Looking specifically at the Holy Land and the “grave challenges” facing the wider region – particularly tension between followers of the Abrahamic religions – Archbishop Nichols said:
“In this slow and steady work between Arab and Israeli, between Jew, Muslim and Christian, the light of a new start is slowly passed from hand to hand, kindling hope even in the face of real darkness.”
The Archbishop also praised those who care for dementia sufferers and pointed to the unifying power of prayer in the case of Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba who suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch in front of millions of TV viewers
This evening, the darkness of this Cathedral was filled with a glorious light. Inch by inch the light of the new Paschal candle, the light of Christ himself, filled this vast space. The light penetrated the darkness; it overcame the darkness.
The light we celebrate this evening is the truth of the Son of God’s resurrection from the dead in our human flesh; a truth prefigured, as we heard, in the sacrifice of Abraham; in the liberty from slavery won for the people of Israel and celebrated, in anticipation, by Isaiah.
St Paul spells it out clearly: ‘Christ, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. When he died, he died once and for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God.’ The victory is complete.
What is more, you will have noticed, that the light filled this cathedral because it was passed among us, from person to person. We are partakers in the light. We are its bearers. If the light is to spread, it relies on us to do it.
St Paul explains: ‘When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised into his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.’
So we who rejoice in the resurrection, also share in its fruit. It changes our lives.
How does this come about?
The darkness is like a blank wall. It blocks out the light. There is no way through. Our lives can sometimes take on that same impression. Today, many of us may feel surrounded by difficulties: times are hard, economically and socially; problems seem intractable, especially in difficult relationships in which we think we’ve run into a dead-end.
The light of the Resurrection breaks through that wall. Suddenly we see beyond it, beyond our darkness, our confinement. We glimpse our true destiny, the glory for which we have been made: the very glory of God! And that light, which floods through into our darkness, opens for us entirely new horizons, new hopes. It is those which now guide our actions. It is that light which now warms our hearts and enlightens our minds.
The risen Christ stands before us. He cries out: ‘See, I am making all things new!’ We hear and our hearts are thrilled. New promises are there, a new hope is born within us.
The Book of Revelation is full of those promises: ‘I shall give you the crown of life for your prize’ (2.10); ‘I will give water from the well of life free to anyone who is thirsty’ (21.6); ‘See I am standing at the door and I am knocking. If anyone opens the door I shall come in and dine with them and they with me.’ (3.21)
These promises reshape our lives. For in our daily deeds we try to signal here on earth the kingdom we hope to inherit.
As we pass to one another the light of the Easter candle, we express our desire for Christ to work through us, that his grace may enable us, quietly and confidently, to drive away the darkness, to assure one another of the reality of his promises.
Christ has won the great victory. Our task is to fashion the small victories, the single candles which share in that same light.
In recent days we have heard of the extent of the burden of dementia. Tonight we thank God for the numerous families and friends who spend their time and energy caring for those with that disease. Governments may understandably speak of the economic value of this care. We salute it as a sign of God’s goodness and as crucial for our well-being.
We hear of the agonies of personal illness and trauma. Yet in response we know that there is a great wave of prayer, seen with unusual publicity in the case of the young footballer Fabrice Muamba. This prayer, our prayer, can always support and transform personal distress. It is a true sign of the light of the Risen Christ in our lives.
Our attention returns, again and again, to the seemingly intractable difficulties in the Holy Land, apparently yet again in deadlock, as well as the grave challenges facing the wider region. Tonight we also recall those who work persistently, quietly, for deeper mutual understanding, for step by step economic progress, for justice and peace for all. I think of the University in Bethlehem and charities such as Friends of the Holy Land; I think of OneVoice and, here at home, the Council for Christians and Jews. In this slow and steady work between Arab and Israeli, between Jew, Muslim and Christian, the light of a new start is slowly passed from hand to hand, kindling hope even in the face of real darkness.
This night is the feast of hope! On Thursday we celebrated the virtue of faith as we received again the gift of the Eucharist. On Good Friday our focus was on charity, for only through the total love given by Christ on the cross are we set free. Now, as we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, we are filled with hope, that virtue by which we desire the Kingdom of God and eternal life as our true happiness, placing our trust in God’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the Holy Spirit. On this foundation, with this inspiration, in this grace, do we build up our friendships, our families and our society. And how our world needs such builders, such workers of hope!
I wish you all a very happy Easter! I encourage you all to be steadily and confidently Catholic, strong in faith, generous in love, firm in hope, for in that way you embody the resurrection of our Saviour and spread his light that so shines in our midst. Amen
Archbishop of Westminster