Mass with Religious and Consecrated Persons, St George’s Cathedral, Southwark, 5 Feb 2022

Dear sisters and brothers in religious and consecrated life

Dear friends in the Lord Jesus

It is a real joy to see you here in our Cathedral. Thank you for coming today and making this an act of remembrance and dedication of religious life in our Archdiocese.

I was fortunate to visit recently something called the Van Gogh Immersive Experience. As a long-time fan of Vincent Van Gogh’s works, it was a remarkable presentation of his life – a very complex life – and his art, with virtual reality technology and enormous animated projections of his paintings. You really did feel you were in the middle of them and they were alive all around you.

I was fascinated especially by the visual portrayal of his famous work The Starry Night. Painted in 1889, it captures the view from his room at Saint Remy de Provence Asylum where Vincent was treated for a psychiatric illness. During this time of immense personal torment, his creative genius birthed a swirling starlit sky above a darkened village. Vincent wrote to his brother Theo: ‘This morning, I saw the countryside from my window, a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.’ If you know the painting, you’ll recall immediately the power of light over darkness, the power of hope in the face of despair.

Falling forty days after Christmas, Christ’s Presentation in the Temple is a feast of light and hope. This stopping place in the history of salvation is symbolised today by our own procession of candles through this temple dedicated to God’s glory. Here and now, like Anna and Simeon, we declare Christ to be really and truly the light of hope. He shines in our darkness, whatever darkness means to you and me personally, to our Church or to our world. Christ shines in the darkness. Christ reaches into moments of fear and anxiety, into our darkened hearts and minds. Christ reaches with the glowing grace of Emmanuel, God with us and for us.

Basic Christian truth is writ large in this liturgy. Christ really is light for the nations. He teaches peace and calls to reconciliation, if only we and our world have the ears to hear. Christ really is light of hope for sinners and for doubters, for the broken and the desolate. Through forgiveness, there is a way back. We are never ever alone. In the words of the Easter Exultet, Christ is that Morning Star who never sets, who came back from death’s domain, who sheds his peaceful light on humanity, who overpowers darkness with the brilliance of love.

My dear friends, my dear religious and consecrated sisters and brothers your beautiful vocation is to mirror Christ’s light as missionaries of hope. In your own way, like Anna and Simeon, you have each welcomed Christ into the temple of your heart. You live for him as lanterns and beacons. Lanterns that guide the way for others, lanterns that can be lowered to minister to people’s pain and anguish. Beacons that are raised high, to call people forward into wholeness through faith in the living God. Each of you is a lantern and a beacon. Please never doubt it.

Please know for certain that the Holy Spirit rests on you; that the Holy Spirit makes a home within you. Your sacrifice is not turtle-doves or pigeons, but yourself, the offering of your entire self, sacrificed to Christ for the proclamation of his Gospel. You have abandoned yourself into God’s hands, into the refiner’s fire to be perfected like gold, into the fullers’ alkali, the lather of his purifying providence. This is your gift to Christ, to his Church and to his world.

I want you to know that we rejoice in your presence and service in our Archdiocese. I want to thank you for your faithfulness, especially when the sword of suffering pierces your own soul. Today we honour your unique place in the life of our Church, grateful to God for each of you, and not least to those marking special anniversaries of profession or consecration this year. Each of us is wonderfully unique. Each of us a precious gift.

Your witness remains essential. Whatever is cloaked by shadows, please continue pointing to Christ the light of hope. Whatever is masked by gloom, please continue to be watchwomen and watchmen who wait for the dawn, who look with faith towards Christ the Morning Star, convinced that in him a new beginning is always possible.

Seeking and following faithfully the light of Christ, we are journeying together on our synodal pathway. Our accompaniment and discernment is a process of listening attentively to the Holy Spirit working within us. We need to sift wisely, reading the signs of our times, so we can hear afresh the Lord Jesus’ command to ‘go and make disciples.’ (cf. Mt 28:19-20) With renewed missionary awareness we will be able to identify the priorities which require action. We will be able to embrace the longer-term proposals for mission. We will be able to determine what is of lesser importance and that, of which, we can let go. In communion of faith, in common-union, we will step forward with Christ, our light and hope, on the way to life in its fullness. We do this not just for ourselves, but for the sake of our world. We do it for everyone waiting and needing to hear the Good News of God’s favour.

There is a painting of another starry night by Vincent Van Gogh. This one is called Starry Night over the Rhône. Here, again, the darkened sky is lit by the stars. But the town of Arles below is also aglow and its light reflects across the water, it reaches out. Perhaps we have here an image for our synodal journey. Can we allow Christ’s heavenly light to so enlighten us, to so enlighten his Church that we here below might shine more brilliantly with God’s luminous love? That we might radiate more extensively God’s resplendent mercy?

For a time, I lived in the northeast of England when I taught in a seminary near Durham. Quite often I would go to Durham Cathedral, to the tomb of St Bede, the Venerable Bede. Over his tomb are inscribed words he wrote which inspire me and hopefully inspire you as we journey on our way: Christ is the morning star who, when the night of this world is past, brings to his saints the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day.

May we be witnesses to Christ the morning star. The night always gives way to the light. We must open the way to the everlasting day.