Cardinal Nichols celebrates 11 years of Pope Francis’ papacy

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On the fifth Sunday of Lent (17th March), Cardinal Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW), gave a homily in which he praised Pope Francis because he “has never tired of telling us of the mercy of God for all”.

Speaking at Westminster Cathedral, where the Apostolic Nuncio, His Excellency Archbishop Miguel Maury Buendía was present, along with many other diplomats the Nuncio invited, Cardinal Nichols said:

“This is the garment we are to put on, the cloak of God’s mercy, a mercy received and then offered to all. It is a garment that covers our human frailty and points to our future glory.”

The full homily is below.


Your Excellency, Archbishop Maury; Your Excellencies, Ambassadors to the Court of St James; Chargés d’Affaires; friends and families, my brothers and sisters: I welcome you to this celebration of Mass this morning. Today, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, we move a step nearer to Easter, and we also remember His Holiness Pope Francis as we recall the eleventh Anniversary as his Election as Pontiff, on 13th March 2013. But we must also not forget that today, the 17th March, is the Feast of St Patrick. We have a full agenda!

Our first step, as always when we gather to celebrate these Holy Mass, is to pause and call to mind our failings, our sins, and seek God’s pardon and forgiveness so that we may celebrate worthily these Sacred Mysteries.


Since the day of his election, eleven years ago, Pope Francis has never tired of telling us of the mercy of God for all. This is the garment we are to put on, the cloak of God’s mercy, a mercy received and then offered to all. It is a garment that covers our human frailty and points to our future glory.

Excellencies, you are not unfamiliar with garments used to express the dignity of the offices you hold. You too, in your professional and personal lives, know only too well the frailties of our world and their terrible consequences in war and destruction of human life.

Today, on this Fifth Sunday of Lent, these realities are addressed head on. The readings we have heard from Sacred Scripture offer us some key messages.

From the Book of Jeremiah: 

That we are to learn to know God; that his presence, his law, is written in our hearts; that the obstacle in this pathway is the reality of sin; that the essence of sin is our being centred on ourselves, on our own will and self-determination.

And so today we pray: ‘A pure heart create for me, O God!’

The search for God is the restlessness of the human spirit. We long for peace, yet we live with, and witness, a restlessness that at times drives us to self-defeating obsessions and into despondency, or fuels our energy for conquest and adulation. Yet all the while, there is another word that is constantly whispered into the ear of our souls: ‘Learn to know God, then peace will truly be yours.’

One of the sayings of St Patrick, whom we cannot ignore today, is a signpost for this quest. He said: ‘God has spoken. I most certainly believe that it is the gift of God that I am what I am.’ That is our starting point: to know that the person I am – and each person who ever stands before me, and this entire created world – is a gift of God.

Yet it is a gift that is still to be revealed in all its glory. If I believe that I am already the finished product, then I have turned my back on reality and chosen to ignore the constant call of St Patrick that we need repentance and God’s mercy before we can truly enter the glory for which we have been created. In the imagery of the Book of Genesis, we truly are dust, as our behavior often confirms. Yet we are dust destined for glory, the glory of heaven, the glory of the fulness of life for eternity.

Today we are reminded that the journey to this promised glory is not an easy one. Yet, crucially, it is not a journey we make alone. The Letter to the Hebrews, in those few words, assured us that this journey has already been completed by the Christ, the anointed One, who through his suffering and obedience ‘became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.’

In the Gospel, we heard how the person of Jesus stands at the centre of our human quest. ‘Some Greeks’, we read, said ‘We would like to see Jesus.’ This is a moment when a small group, gathered round their leader, begin to see that the work of God in Christ is meant for all. Then, at this moment of a small triumph, Jesus takes them to the heart of his message: ‘unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.’

It is through the gateway of suffering and loss of self that we will gain our glory in Christ.

My dear Ambassadors, my dear people: how well we know that our lives are best understood as service, especially to those in need, distress or caught up in conflict. I thank you for this service that you give, observing our world today, building alliances, establishing shared understanding, creating friendships, so that our great human family may move in a little more harmony, in the quest for the peace and prosperity of all. 

Today we are reminded that service, as understood in this great faith, is inextricably linked to sacrifice. Indeed, far from being a ‘service provider’, the disciple of Jesus knows that all service, if it is to be more than a business transaction, is characterised by a willingness to go beyond self-interest and enter the painful territory of sacrifice, the sacrifice of one’s time and personal well-being, for the sake of greater goods, for the sake of our true calling. Service and sacrifice go together. They do so when they are shaped by love, and no love has ever been as eloquently expressed, nor its cost made so clear, as the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus.

The grain of wheat does fall to the ground. Jesus dies. But when he is lifted up from the earth, he draws all people to himself. He tells us that anyone who wants to serve with him, in his way of doing things, then that person must follow him into this pathway of self-giving that ceases to count the cost.

Today our world is severely marked by conflict, terror, famine, and the seemingly endless movement of desperate people. It is this world that we bring, this morning, to the foot of the Cross of Jesus, veiled as it is today as we enter Passiontide. From it flows a stream of mercy and healing compassion. We know our need. We know our source of life. And so we pray to God, in the words of the opening prayer of today’s Mass, that ‘we may walk eagerly in that same charity with which, out of love for the world, your Son handed himself over to death.’ Then indeed we will rise in glory and our longings will be fulfilled. Amen.

✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster