The late Benedictine Cardinal Basil Hume of Westminster when asked what makes a good homily gave the following advice: ‘first there must be a good beginning, secondly a suitable ending and thirdly the two should be as close together as possible’! Well, I will leave it to you to judge if I have taken his advice today!
Let me begin today by sincerely thanking each of you for taking the risk of following Christ as religious. Today our church rejoices that each of you have committed yourself so generously to Christ.
All of us gathered here today heard a call at one point in our lives — it may have come in ways as varied and different as each of us — but that call came from the Lord, developed and grew in the Lord, led and consecrated us to the Lord, motivated us in the Lord. Whatever our age, whatever our experience, whatever our ministries, our imperfect yet consecrated lives took shape in the communities and congregations in which we find ourselves.
The Lord consecrated us in those communities and congregations, through the joys we celebrated and through the crosses we carried. Religious life is not either/or — it is both/and. No resurrection without crucifixion. No living for others without dying to self. No being full without poverty. No being free without obedience. No true love without chaste sacrifice.
And, as you all know, when it comes to every person's journey of faith; one point is crucial. We Christians are always 'beginning again'. We are never 'arrive' and never have all the 'answers'.
I thank God each of you has discerned and prayed like Solomon before the Lord (in today's first reading) to: 'give your servant a heart'. And in your inner self you have discovered that faithfully following Christ means having the courage to take up your cross daily.
The story is told that the Brazilian Bishop Helder Camara once attended the Golden Jubilee of a religious sister who was, as they say these days, in the 'third age'. After Mass he went up to the sister and asked an innocent question: "Sister. How long have you been in the religious life?" The sister replied with a smile: ' Dom Helder I have actually only been in religious life one day! Because every day I have to start again!"
Every day we start again.
But there is also so much to be thankful for from our past. Education, healthcare and the social services in our Archdiocese have been built on the shoulders of you, the religious. Today we give thanks for this huge contribution to society.
Perhaps the newer needs you see require different ways for your ministry. However, what will always count first is your gracious presence in our parishes and communities. It is your Christlike prayerful witness and presence that matters most.
Especially your care for your more senior colleagues in your communities which speaks very loudly to me; just as a church and society must keep the protection of children to the forefront; so too we will in time be judged on our care for those in their more vulnerable, tender older years.
And what of the future? Let us cast aside all anxiety and know the Lord is faithful. Let us listen to today's Gospel afresh : 'Come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while.'
If we find ourselves anxious and confused and not knowing exactly where things are going; trust in Jesus. Pray with him for the courage to face the future with joy and hope. Take heart today from what Pope Francis recently said to religious and priests in Chile:
‘God’s people neither expect nor need us to be superheroes. They expect pastors, consecrated persons, who know what it is to be compassionate, who can give a helping hand, who can spend time with those who have fallen and, like Jesus, help them to break out of that endless remorse that poisons the soul.'
This is our mission. It will always be so. The cycle of Christ Jesus's death and resurrection goes on in our daily lives. There is pain and hurt, but these are never the last word. Serious mistakes are made, but nonetheless we hold a treasure in earthen vessels: Christ the Lord.
Our God is faithful. He will continue to call people to follow Christ to consecrated life for the service of the People of God.
Yes, there are endings. But we also trust in God's promise that consecrated life will continue and flourish in the future in ways that we cannot control or plan. Listen to Clement of Alexandria and be filled with hope for: ‘Christ has turned all our sunsets into sunrises.’
+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.