Homily of Cardinal Nichols at his Golden Jubilee Mass, 21 December 2019
Year by year, and increasingly so, I love hearing the first Reading of our Mass today, from the Song of Songs. It is so full of emotion and of the language of love.
I hear my Beloved.
See how he comes
leaping on the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My Beloved is like a gazelle,
like a young stag.
See where he stands
behind our wall.
He looks in at the window,
he peers through the lattice.
My Beloved lifts up his voice,
he says to me,
‘Come then, my love,
my lovely one, come.
My dove, hiding in the clefs of the rock.
In the coverts of the cliff, show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet
and your face is beautiful.’
My beloved is mine and I am his.
Set me like a seal on your heart,
like a seal on your arm.
For love is strong as Death,
jealousy relentless as Sheol.
The flash of it is a flash of fire,
a fame of the Lord himself.
Love no food can quench,
no torrents drown.
The first voice is that of a desolate soul, a lover distanced from the beloved. This soul is thrilled at the promised coming of the beloved, who leaps like a gazelle, yet the soul is still shut in, behind the latticework.
How often do we too feel shut in?! The monotony of daily effort; the sense of being caught in a web of unceasing demands, tensions, expectations. I know that well enough.
Yet that is precisely when the Lord speaks: ‘Come then, my love, my lovely one, come’. Come out of your hiding, come out from under your cliff of duty.
He invites us to a new start, to a fresh look at everything.
His first invitation is to a fresh vision of life around us: our neighbourhood, our community, our parish, our family. Look, he says, everywhere are appearing the flowers of generous service and practical help; listen to the glad songs of prayer and praise that fill so many hearts; hear the cooing of the Rosary being quietly recited by so many every day; see surrounding us the blossoming vines of fruitful family and community endeavour. He says, ‘Come then, my love, for see winter is past, the rains are over and gone.’ And seeing we give joyful thanks to God!
Only with these eyes, refreshed by his love, can we see the goodness surrounding us and so sustain our life of faith and ministry. That, at least, is my experience.
But the Beloved also has another message for us of his transforming love. He invites us to look deep within ourselves, to the very depth of our hearts and to be refreshed there, too.
It can happen that, quite often in the course of the years, our hearts enter a state of winter. Within us a cold frostiness can descend. It comes with a sense of our own continuing sinfulness, or with the oft-repeated criticism of our best efforts, or with negative hearsay and gossip. Then, we lose touch with our own goodness and of our integrity.
Precisely at that time the Beloved calls out to us, into the depth of our most private gloom or despondency: ‘Come, then, my love … show me your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.’
How often do we need to hear these words? How often during fifty years?! Indeed, as these years go by, it seems to me that this heart of a priest needs to hear them more and more often.
Cardinal Hume once said that while young people may at times find the celebration of Mass to be boring, as the years go by we grow more and more to love the Mass until it becomes an inseparable part of who we are.
This daily meeting with the Lord, his daily call to each one of us, it seems to me, become more insistent and more irresistible as the years pass. Slowly, I believe, we come to sense how he will indeed draw us to that final meeting, that final greeting, our final fulfilment, when we meet him face to face.
Then, I shall bow, in humble adoration, and hear the sublime words: Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom so long prepared for you. Come, show me your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.
A jubilee is but a staging post, a moment to reflect on a journey thus far, to try to grasp its gifts, its lessons. It is also a time in which to take a glimpse of all that lies ahead. The coming Feast of Christmas sums this up: his desire to be with us, to greet us with outstretched arms, to draw us to himself and to be for us the true pathway home. This Feast so tenderly discloses the beauty of the mystery of God, a beauty inscribed in each one of us, the beauty that will find its fulfilment in God’s good time.
So let us rejoice in him, now and always.