Dear friends in the Lord Jesus
Dear Daughters of Divine Love
It is an immense joy to give thanks with you today to Almighty God for the foundation of the Congregation of the Daughters of Divine Love. Born fifty years ago, in midst of the Nigerian/Biafran civil war, and inspired by a desire for reconciliation, the Daughters of Divine Love is the first indigenous Congregation of Woman Religious in Nigeria. And now, your ministry extends across the nations.
Dear sisters, in a very real sense, your foundation marked a watershed in the history of the Nigerian Catholic Church. The faith first transmitted by the early foreign missionaries to West Africa now stands, rightly and proudly, on its own feet with African roots. And, thanks be to God, the Church universal is now a recipient of the graces this embedded faith continues to bring.
We know that authentic mission is always a reciprocal relationship. We who have been evangelised, must, in turn, become evangelists. How blessed by your presence dear sisters are so many countries in Africa, Europe, and the Americas. You are called to ‘show Divine Love to the world,’ urged on by nothing else but the love of Christ, loving others by imitating that self-sacrificing love of the Lord Jesus.
It is at this point that I have to blow the trumpet for the Archdiocese of Southwark. It was my predecessor, the late and much loved Archbishop Michael Bowen, who invited the Daughters of Divine Love to England in 1987. Since then, the Daughters of Divine Love have expanded to 14 communities in 6 Dioceses in the United Kingdom. On behalf of all those Dioceses and Parishes, especially those represented in the Cathedral today, I extend to you our heartfelt gratitude and appreciation. You bring a joy-filled witness and apostolic dedication that is so encouraging for the Church in England and Wales. With St Paul we thank God for the graces bestowed on you in Christ Jesus and, through you, on us and our people.
It is, I think, very significant that the Gospel for this Mass of Thanksgiving highlights the importance of healing and faith. The Lord Jesus lovingly reaches out to the suffering, to those who don’t seem to fit in, to those forgotten and neglected. In the expression so beloved of our Holy Father Pope Francis, the Divine Love of Christ is directed personally and directly to those on the ‘peripheries’ of life. We who follow the Lord Jesus must imitate His way of living and loving. This missionary imperative sits at very centre of the charism of the Daughters of Divine Love.
Dear sisters, you are called to make real the Divine Love of Christ for the modern day untouchables: the weakest and the poorest, the suffering and the abandoned, the failures and the faithless. ‘Jesus, Master! Have pity on us’ cried the ten people with leprosy. As Daughters of Divine Love your vocation is to listen out for this cry in those you serve. Continue to be the healing presence of Christ towards them, giving of yourselves without counting the cost. As I am sure you already know, you won’t always be thanked or recognised for the love you show. But do not be discouraged. Rather rejoice, especially, when you share the love of Christ quietly and simply, without great fuss or fanfare. Your Father, who sees all that is done in secret, will reward you and is rewarding you.
We know that many people today struggle to believe or to practice their Catholic faith. So dear sisters, shine like lights in the darkness, like the lights of the Advent wreath that point towards Christ. Twinkle with faith, sparkle with joy, drawing others to the Lord Jesus and the beauty of discipleship and friendship with Him. Share with others our trust in the power of Christ’s mercy, in an attitude of gratitude that opens the way of salvation.
There is a wonderful chorus in your specially written Golden Jubliee Anthem. It has the words: Hurray! Hurray! Hurray! DDL is Fifty years! It captures the spirit of celebration and thanksgiving that fills the heart of each person here. But that chorus has a deeper resonance when it recalls ‘Fifty years of God’s nurturing and protection,’ ‘Fifty years of God’s blessing and care,’ ‘Fifty years of God’s leading and His steadfast love.’
In this gracious season of Advent, we journey towards Bethlehem with our Blessed Lady. Dear sisters, your blue habit is a reminder to you, and to all you meet, of the unique role played by our Mother Mary in giving the Lord Jesus to the world. He is Divine Love personified. As Pope Francis recently reminded us, “the merciful gaze of the Lord reaches us before we ourselves realize our need of being saved.” (Angelus 3/11/2019)
In our spiritual and liturgical tradition, Our Lady bears the title ‘Daughter of Israel.’ She brings forth our Saviour, born of the line of David. She is the faithful daughter who unties the knot of sinful disobedience. By faith she is that daughter of Abraham who, before she conceived the Lord Jesus in her womb by the Holy Spirit, first conceived Him in her heart.
Descended from the root of Jesse, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the preeminent ‘Daughter of Divine Love.’ She bears the sweetest flower, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Dear sisters, as Our Lady is the ‘Daughter of Divine Love,’ so each one of you is spiritually united with her in spreading the saving fragrance of Christ. In imitation of Our Lady’s faith you too are handmaids of the Lord, handmaids of Divine Love and servants of the Most High.
The final words of our Lord in the Gospel today are words for every evangelising disciple to hear. ‘Stand up,’ says the Lord Jesus, ‘and go; your faith has saved you.’ So, dear sisters, go forth, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Arise and, with great confidence step out into the next fifty years of your missionary adventure. We thank God for you. We ask God to bless you with new vocations. And, even in our own, perhaps rather reserved English way, we join with you wholeheartedly in singing: Hurray! Hurray! Hurray! DDL is Fifty years!