4 April 2023, Westminster Cathedral
Cardinal Vincent Nichols used his homily at Westminster’s Chrism Mass to call us to embrace this time of renewal to be ‘instruments of Christ’ as we continue on our spiritual journey through Holy Week.
“St Athanasius said that this Feast of Easter ‘guides us through the trials we meet in this world.’ Do I need to list those trials? I think not. We are all experts at listing our tribulations and our burdens.
“But here is the startling Easter invitation: to see those trials in an entirely different way, to see in each one of them a pathway by which we can be drawn closer to the Lord, to appreciate even more the wonder of his presence with us and his invitation to us to walk with him even as we walk in the valley of darkness.”
This is a moment of profound renewal for us all. In this solemn liturgy, we reach out to the Lord, asking him to renew in us the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we may be strengthened and restored in our daily effort to be his faithful disciples. He is our Blessed Lord. He is our Leader. We reach out to him.
A key symbol of the renewal we seek are the oils that are blessed today. Every one of us receives the blessing of one or more of these oils, and through that anointing, we receive the Holy Spirit: to re-fashion us through baptism; to strengthen us in confirmation; to transform our suffering and illness into an act of union with Christ our Lord; and for those ordained as priests and bishops, to surround our entire lives to be instruments of Christ, the High Priest. This Chrism Mass is for the renewal of us all.
During every moment of this prayer, then, let us put aside the business of our daily preoccupations and reach down as deeply as we can into the depth of our souls, where the living water of Christ flows more clearly and deeply than we can ever know. From there will come into our stilled hearts the grace for which we long.
The reading from the Book of the Apocalypse we have just heard provides a key phrase for our renewal today. It describes Jesus as ‘the faithful witness’. As his disciples, this is what we long to be: faithful witnesses to his constant presence in our midst, to his mercy and forgiveness, to his saving truth of who we are, to his gift of the Holy Spirit giving us new capacity, to his defeat of death, our ancient enemy, to his promise of fulfilment to each and everyone; to his showing to us the face of our beloved Father. In a thousand different ways, we are invited to make plain, in all we do and say, wherever that may be, these shining jewels of faith, this pathway of true life. As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote: ‘Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his…’ (As Kingfishers Catch Fire).
One of the ancient fathers of the Church, St Athanasius, said that this Feast of Easter ‘guides us through the trials we meet in this world.’ Do I need to list those trials? I think not. We are all experts at listing our tribulations and our burdens. But here is the startling Easter invitation: to see those trials in an entirely different way, to see in each one of them a pathway by which we can be drawn closer to the Lord, to appreciate even more the wonder of his presence with us and his invitation to us to walk with him even as we walk in the valley of darkness.
Perhaps today, with my brother priests and myself in mind, I can pause on the trials that we, in particular, may well face. Anyone who has read the novel called ‘Silence’ by Shusaku Endo or seen the film derived from it, will never forget the trials of the Jesuit priests in Japan. Deprived and frustrated in their mission, they fall into great loneliness and a sense of having lost all purpose. These are feelings that can come our way too, in the face of a receding tide of religious sentiment and an increased burden of regulation and control.
In this moment of renewal, we priests must look into the depth of our being, a being reconstituted in Christ through our ordination. Today we reach out again for his healing touch, for the embrace through which he first drew us to himself and by which, today, he can restore our spirit. He is our leader, our master. We have none to replace him. We can only strive to be faithful and docile before his presence and in his love.
In the Gospel of John, there are passages which resonate in my heart at this point. When we face this uncertainty and weariness, we can easily reach out for affirmation from many sources. But I heed the words of Jesus: ‘If I were to seek my own glory that would be no glory at all’ (John 8:50). Yes, this we know. If I seek my own glory, it is no glory at all. A certain glory may come our way, we may even seek it out, in the affirmation of our contemporaries, in those welcomed words of praise, those moments of adulation. Such glory does not last. It can be stripped away as quickly as it came. And sometimes it is. It is ‘no glory at all’. Rather, Jesus says, ‘My glory is conferred by the Father’. And this must be true for us too. What we seek to live by is an affirmation, a glory, that comes, for now, in silence before the Lord, in knowing his presence, in embracing both our honest striving to be faithful and our failures to be so. This glory comes to us when we are on our knees, in prayer or in weariness and downcast. This is the glory of his mercy we seek, the glory of the Cross. This is the glory that in these coming days we will so solemnly proclaim. And we know that, in due time, when our course is run and we have carried his cross, we shall stand before the Father to receive the fullness of glory that lasts forever, the glory that forever fills the heavens and will fill our hearts with final and overwhelming joy.
In this spirit of service, refreshed and strengthened on this day, let us priests, in our hearts, again lie prostrate before the Lord, as we did on the day of our ordination. Here and now we renew the promises of our priesthood, promises that bind us both to him and to each other in this sacred ministry.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster