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A Centenary Sunday

Bishop John Sherrington celebrated Mass at Fisher House on Sunday 12 May and

conferred the Sacrament of Confirmation on members of the Chaplaincy. An alumnus of Queens' College, who worshipped at Fisher House during his undergraduate years, it was good to have Bishop John with us as we continue to celebrate the centenary of the purchase of Fisher House by CUCA. Here is his homily:

It is a great joy to visit Fisher House this Sunday and to celebrate Mass with you. Fisher House is much transformed since I was in Cambridge. We gathered on Sunday mornings in less splendid, somewhat impoverished conditions, to celebrate Mass. At the same time, the strength and witness of the community, combined with the testimony of faith which endured, sustained me not only to keep arguing the faith against detractors and some of my friends, but to begin to deepen my faith and understanding and reflect about my vocation. During those years the Holy Spirit began to prompt a rather reluctant hearer to be open to a call to priesthood. The promptings of the Holy Spirit became stronger. Ventures of a less well read mathematician into Mowbray’s on King’s Parade – now an art shop - led me to buy books to explore my faith. There I also discovered the recently published homilies of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador, who inspired me and brought the gospel to life.  

Little by little I was called into the embrace of the compassionate and loving Father, the shepherding of the Son and the power of the Spirit, who holds all things in being. I was being consecrated in the truth (although I would not have used those words) which led me to respond to the call to service in the Church. Each of us is called to grow in this relationship and consecration to Christ. For a few people, conversion is like the road to Damascus experience, but for many like me, the growth is much slower step by step by God’s grace.

This Sunday, between the Feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, is a time of attentive watching and waiting. We pray for the renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our Church at Pentecost and in each one of our lives. St Paul VI described the mission of the Holy Spirit fifty years ago, ‘The Holy Spirit is the animator and sanctifier of the Church, her divine breath, the wind in her sails, her unifying principle, her interior source of light and strength, her support and her consoler, her source of charisms and songs, her peace and her joy, her reward and her prelude of blessed and eternal life. The Church needs this perennial Pentecost: she needs fire in the heart, words on her lips, prophecy in her glance.’

Surely these words present a very powerful description of the life of the community of disciples of which we are a part. By being alive with fire in our hearts, the word of God on our lips, and the prophecy of the merciful gaze of Jesus in our eyes, we share Christ with others. 

We are invited into the mystery of the Trinity through our baptismal calling. Jesus desires to share his joy with you and me and draw us further into this relationship of eternal love with the God who is Love. Our life in heaven begins on earth and is completed only in eternal life. The joy and glory of the Father's relationship with the Son and the Son’s kenotic self-offering in obedience to the Father on the cross invites us into this intimate union of love through the power of the Holy Spirit and builds the Body of Christ. St. Paul tells us, 'You have been given full union with Christ’ (Col 2: 10). The Collect of the Feast of the Ascension gives us the hope that ‘where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is sure to follow’. Lines from St Robert Southwell’s poem, The Nativity, articulate this hope: ‘God is my gift, Himself He freely gave me, God's gift am I, and none but God shall have me.’ 

I mentioned at the beginning of the homily the inspiration that Archbishop Oscar Romero gave me as a student here. His assassination on 24 March 1980 echoes the words of Jesus, ‘I passed your word on to them, and the world hated them, because they belong to the world no more than I belong to the world’. Today named as a saint, the Church rejoices in his life and faithful witness. The power of the witness of the cross shines through the joy of St Paul and Silas, who sang God’s praises with feet bound in the prison stocks in Philippi. When the earthquake occurred and the doors flew open, their steadfastness of remaining in the cell brought the gaoler to ask, ‘what must I do be saved?’ He opened himself to hear the gospel, to wash the feet of his former prisoners and was baptised. 

The history of the Church and the lives of modern martyrs, like our patron St. John Fisher, reveal the ongoing persecution of the Church in so many parts of the world. In this country martyrdom is subtle, whether the inability to profess science or medicine because of the Church’s teaching about the dignity of life from conception to natural death, or the business practices which do not respect the dignity of man and woman. You will need courage and trust in God in the future. Today’s celebration of the sacrament of confirmation is a reminder of the gifts of the Holy Spirit which include counsel and fortitude. 

The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, inspires, confirms, strengthens, and deepens our faith as we are led more fully into the intimacy of God who is Love and called to bring forth the fruits of the Holy Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. May you bring forth joy which is infectious and attracts others into the communion of the Church. In the words of St Philip Neri: “Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in a good life; wherefore the servant of God ought always to be in good spirits.”  

Sound words to ponder on this Sunday. 

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