S. John Paul II Homil. 205
“Lord, you know everything: you know that I love you!”
My brothers and sisters,
1. With heartfelt gratitude and love I thank our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, that he has given me the grace of coming among you today. Today, for the first time in history, a Bishop of Rome sets foot on English soil. I am deeply moved at this thought. This fair land, once a distant outpost of the pagan world, has become, through the preaching of the Gospel, a beloved and gifted portion of Christ’s vineyard.
Yours is a tradition embedded in the history of Christian civilization. The roll of your saints and of your great men and women, your treasures of literature and music, your cathedrals and colleges, your rich heritage of parish life speak of a tradition of faith. And it is to the faith of your fathers - living still - that I wish to pay tribute by my visit.
I am happy that I can concelebrate this Eucharist with my brother Bishops who, together with me, are the successors of the Apostles, and whose task it is to sanctify and govern the portion of the Church entrusted to their pastoral care (cf. Lumen Gentium LG 19).
2. Let us reflect on the spiritual significance of this moment.
Christ, “the chief Shepherd” (1 Petr. 5, 4), gave to Peter - as we have heard proclaimed in the passage from Saint John’s Gospel - the task of confirming his brothers in their faith and in their pastoral duty: “Feed my lambs . . . Look after my sheep” (Jn 21,15-16).
I come among you in response to this command of the Lord. I come to confirm the faith of my brother Bishops. I come to remind all believers who today inherit the faith of their fathers that in each diocese the Bishop is the visible sign and source of the Church’s unity. I come among you as the visible sign and source of unity for the whole Church. I come at the service of unity in love: in the humble and realistic love of the repentant fisherman: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Christians down the ages often travelled to that city where the Apostles Peter and Paul had died in witness to their faith and were buried. But, during four hundred years the steady flow of English pilgrims to the tombs of the Apostles shrank to a trickle. Rome and your country were estranged.
Now the Bishop of Rome comes to you. I truly come at the service of unity in love, but I come as a friend, too, and I am deeply grateful for your welcome.
I have always admired your love of freedom, your generous hospitality to other peoples in their adversity; as a son of Poland I have the strongest, most personal reason for this admiration and for the thanks that go with it.
3. With these sentiments, I am especially glad to do what Peter did in the early Church. I shall administer Baptism here this morning and meditate with you on its meaning.
In a mysterious but real way, there is repeated and re-presented in this hallowed place that moment of the early Church’s life when, as we have read in the Acts of the Apostles, “Peter stood with the Eleven and addressed them in a loud voice” (Ac 2,14) concerning the need to be baptized and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. As a result many “received his word” and were baptized, being added to the number of the household of the living God.
4. Through Baptism we are incorporated into Christ. We accept his promise and his commands.
The meaning of Baptism is reflected in the symbolism of the sacramental rite. Water, washing over us, speaks of the redeeming power of Christ’s suffering, death and Resurrection, washing away the inheritance of sin, delivering us from a kingdom of light and love. By Baptism we are indeed immersed into the death of Christ - baptized, as Saint Paul says, into his death - so as to rise with him in his Resurrection (Cfr. Rom Rm 6,3-5). The anointing of our heads with oil signifies how we are strengthened in the power of Christ and become living temples of the Holy Spirit.
We are on the eve of Pentecost, the feast of the Holy Spirit who descend on us at Baptism.One of the finest passages in the Pentecost liturgy was written by an Englishman, Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury. In six short and vivid lines he calls upon the Holy Spirit to work in us:
Wash what is unclean.
Water what is parched.
Heal what is diseased.
Bend what is rigid.
Warm what is cold.
Straighten what is crooked.
Most of the ills of our age or of any age can be brought under that prayer. It reflects a boundless confidence in the power of the Spirit whom it invokes.
5. Through Baptism we are incorporated into the Church. The minister, our parents and godparents sign us with the sign of the Cross, Christ’s proud standard. This shows that it is the whole assembly of the faithful, the whole community of Christ, that supports us in the new life of faith and obedience that follows from our Baptism, our new birth in Christ.
In Baptism we are drawn into the community of faith. We become part of the pilgrim People of God which, in all time and in all places, goes forward in hope towards the fulfilment of the “promise”. It is our task to take our place responsibly and lovingly beside those who, from the beginning, “remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Ac 2,42).
6. Baptism creates a sacramental bond of unity linking all who have been reborn by means of it. But Baptism, of itself, is only a beginning, a point of departure, for it is wholly directed towards the fullness of life in Christ (Cfr. Unitatis Redintegratio UR 22). Baptism is the foundation of the unity that all Christians have in Christ: a unity we must seek to perfect. When we set out clearly the privilege and the duty of the Christian, we feel ashamed that we have not all been capable of maintaining the full unity of faith and charity that Christ willed for his Church.
We the baptized have work to do together as brothers and sisters in Christ. The world is in need of Jesus Christ and his Gospel - the Good News that God loves us, that God the Son was born, was crucified and died to save us, that he rose again and that we rose with him, and that in baptism he has sealed us with Spirit for the first time, gathered us into a community of love and of witness to his truth.
209 These are my thoughts as we gather to celebrate the sacrament of Baptism in this historic place.
This fine church where we meet is a symbol of the faith and energy of the English Catholic community in modern times. Its architecture is unusual for this country: it evokes memories of other parts of the Christian world, reminding us of our universality. Tomorrow I shall be welcomed in the much older cathedral of Canterbury, where Saint Augustine, sent by my predecessor Saint Gregory, first built a little church whose foundations remain. There indeed everything speaks of ancient common traditions, which, in this modern age, we are ready to stress together.
I, too, want to speak in this way - to mourn the long estrangement between Christians, to hear gladly our blessed Lord’s prayer and command that we should be completely one, to thank him for that inspiration of the Holy Spirit which has filled us with a longing to leave behind our divisions and aspire to a common witness to our Lord and Saviour. My deep desire, my ardent hope and prayer is that my visit may serve the cause of Christian unity.
7. I would like to recall another aspect of Baptism which is perhaps the most universally familiar. In Baptism we are given a name - we call it our Christian name. In the tradition of the Church it is a saint’s name, a name of one of the heroes among Christ’s followers - an apostle, a martyr, a religious founder, like Saint Benedict, whose monks founded Westminster Abbey nearby, where your sovereigns are crowned. Taking such names reminds us again that we are being drawn into the Communion of Saints, and at the same time that great models of Christian living are set before us. London is particularly proud of two outstanding saints, great men also by the world’s standards, contributors to your national heritage, John Fisher and Thomas More.
John Fisher, the Cambridge scholar of Renaissance learning, became Bishop of Rochester. He is an example to all Bishops in his loyalty to the faith and in his devoted attention to the people of his diocese, especially the poor and the sick. Thomas More was a model layman living the Gospel to the full. He was a fine scholar and an ornament to his profession, a loving husband and father, humble in prosperity, courageous in adversity, humorous and godly. Together they served God and their country - Bishop and layman. Together they died, victims of an unhappy age. Today we have the grace, all of us, to proclaim their greatness and to thank God for giving such men to England.
In this England of fair and generous minds, no one will begrudge the Catholic community pride in its own history. So I speak last of another Christian name, less famous but no less deserving honour. Bishop Richard Challoner guided the Catholics of this London district in the eighteenth century, at what seemed the lowest point of their fortunes. They were few. It seemed they might well not survive. Yet Bishop Challoner bravely raised his voice to prophesy a better future for his people.
And now, two centuries later, I am privileged to stand here and to speak to you, in no triumphal spirit, but as a friend, grateful for your kind welcome and full of love for all of you.
Bishop Challoner’s courage may remind all of us where the seeds of courage lie, where the confidence of renewal comes from. It is through water and the Holy Spirit that a New People is born, whatever the darkness of the time.
8. As the reading from the prophet Ezekiel reminds us, it is the Lord himself who is the true shepherd of this new People. He himself pastures his sheep. He shows them where to rest: “As a shepherd keeps all his flock in view . . . so shall I keep my sheep in view. I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered during the mist and the darkness . . . I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong” (Ez 34,12 Ez 34,16).
May those of us who today renew our baptismal vows, as well as those who are now to be baptized, cry out and raise our plea to our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ his Son, our Lord:
“O Shepherd of Israel, hear us . . . implore,
210 O Lord, come to our help.
God of hosts, turn again, we look down from heaven and see.
Visit this vine and protect it, the vine your right hand has planted. And we shall never forsake you again:
give us life that we may call upon your name” (Ps 80,1-2 Ps 80,14-15 Ps 80,18). Amen.
My dear brothers and sisters, as we proceed to celebrate the mysteries of our faith, we cannot forget that an armed conflict is taking place.
Brothers in Christ are fighting in a war, that imperils peace in the world.
In our prayers let us remember the victims of both sides. We pray for the dead - that they may rest in Christ - and for the wounded, and for all the afflicted families. I ask you to join me at each step of my Pastoral visit, praying for peaceful solution of the conflict, praying that the God of peace will move men’s hearts to put aside the weapons of death, and to pursue the path of fraternal dialogue.
With all our heart we turn to Jesus the Prince of Peace.
1. After the Ascension the Apostles went back to the Upper Room, where Jesus had instituted the Eucharist and where he had declared that the law of love is the first and most essential of his commandments. And there they “joined in continuous prayer, together with several women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Ac 1,14). This evening we have gathered here in a similar spiritual atmosphere. On the eve of Pentecost I am celebrating this Mass with you. Together we shall renew our baptismal promises as an offering of ourselves to our heavenly Father, joined to the sacrificial offering of Christ in the Eucharist.
Let us reflect together on the word of God. The Apostles in the Upper Room were afraid. They prayed. And we too pray, for we are beset by fears and weaknesses: “We groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free”; we too wait in patience for the Spirit to come to help us in our weakness (Cfr. Rom Rm 8,22-26).
Unfortunately not all of the Lord’s disciples are fully united in faith and charity. This is one of the reasons why I have come to Britain, and why I have made a pilgrimage today to the Cathedral of Canterbury.
But I have come above all to make a pastoral visit to the Catholic community; to visit the Church that is in England and Wales; to renew with you our shared love and enthusiasm for the Gospel of Jesus Christ; to confirm you in your faith and to share your joys and your hopes, your grieves and your anxieties.
2. As I look at this great assembly I am full of respect f or each of you. You are God’s sons and daughters; he loves you. I believe in you. I believe in all mankind. I believe in the unique dignity of every human being. I believe that each individual has a value that can never be ignored or taken away.
Yet I also know that often, too often, human dignity and human rights are not respected. Man is set against man, class against class, in useless conflicts. Immigrants, people of a different colour, religion or culture suffer discrimination and hostility. The heart of man is restless and troubled. Man conquers space but is unsure about himself; he is confused about the direction in which he is heading. It is tragic that our technological mastery is greater than our wisdom about ourselves. All this must be changed. “O Lord, the earth is full of your creatures . . . When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104,24 Ps 104,30). Let this be our plea. May we be renewed in the depths of our hearts in the power of the Holy Spirit.
3. Together we shall renew our baptismal promises. We shall reject sin, and the glamour of evil, and Satan, the father of sin and prince of darkness. We shall profess our faith in the One God, in his Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, in the coming of the Holy Spirit, in the Church, in life everlasting.
And we shall be responsible for the words we say, and be bound by an alliance with our God.
4. Brothers and sisters! In order to be faithful to this alliance we must be a people of prayer and deep spirituality. Our society needs to recover a sense of God’s loving presence, and a renewed sense of respect for his will.
Let us learn this from Mary our Mother. In England, “the Dowry of Mary”, the faithful, for centuries, have made pilgrimage to her shrine at Walsingham. Today Walsingham comes to Wembley, and the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, present here, lifts our minds to meditate on our Mother. She obeyed the will of God fearlessly and gave birth to the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Faithful at the foot of the Cross, she then waited in prayer for the Holy Spirit to descend on the infant Church. It is Mary who will teach us how to be silent, how to listen for the voice of God in the midst of a busy and noisy world. It is Mary who will help us to find time for prayer. Through the Rosary, that great Gospel prayer, she will help us to know Christ. We need to live as she did, in the presence of God, raising our minds and hearts to him in our daily activities and worries.
May your homes become schools of prayer for both parents and children. God should be the living hearth of your family life. Keep Sunday holy. Go to Mass every Sunday. At Mass the People of God gather together in unity around the altar to worship and to intercede. At Mass you exercise the great privilege of your Baptism: to praise God in union with Christ his Son; to praise God in union with his Church.
It is particularly important for you to be united with your Bishops. They are the successors of the Apostles; they are the guardians and teachers of the true faith. Love and respect them and pray for them; they have been given the task of leading you to Christ.
212 And you, my dear brothers in the ministry of the priesthood, you have a special responsibility. You must build up the Body of Christ. You have to encourage the laity in their particular vocation in society. You have to help them to “put on Christ”. You have to support them in their Christian lives and challenge them to ever greater holiness. Open for your people the treasures of the Church’s liturgy. Celebrate the Mass with understanding, with reverence and with love. Continue to teach the importance of frequent Communion. Encourage regular Confession. It is a sacrament of enduring power and importance. Develop in your parishes an atmosphere and a practice of fervent prayer and community life.
5. Brothers and sisters, to be faithful to our alliance with God we must be, not only a people that prays, but also a people that does the will of the heavenly Father.Again it is Mary who teaches us how. Through her obedience she accepted the whole of God’s plan for her life. And in doing so she achieved greatness. “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lc 1,45).
We express our real acceptance of Christ’s word by respecting the moral demands of our Christian vocation. And the fulfilment of these demands is an act of loving obedience to the person of Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word of God. If our faith is strong, the moral demands of the Christian life - although at times they are difficult to fulfil and although they always require effort and grace - will seem neither unreasonable nor impossible. Certainly, our fidelity to the Gospel will put us at odds with the spirit of the “present age”. Yes, we are in the world, indeed as disciples of Christ we are sent into the world, but we do not belong to the world (Cfr. Io Jn 17,16 Io Jn 17,18). The conflict between certain values of the world and the values of the Gospel is an inescapable part of the Church’s life, just as it is an inescapable part of the life of each one of us. And it is here that we must draw on the “patience” which Saint Paul spoke to us about in the second reading. We groan inwardly as we await our salvation, in hope and with patience (Cfr. Rom Rm 8,23-25).
6. I have often spoken of the decline of respect for the fundamental moral values that are essential to the Christian life. Indeed, moral values are essential to the life of all human beings as free agents created in the image and likeness of God, and destined to a higher creation.
The world has largely lost respect for human life from the moment of conception. It is weak in upholding the indissoluble unity of marriage. It fails to support the stability and holiness of family life.
There is a crisis of truth and responsibility in human relationship. Selfishness abounds. Sexual permissiveness and drug addiction ruin the lives of millions of human beings. International relations are fraught with tensions, often because of excessive inequalities and unjust economic, social, cultural and political structures, and because of slowness in applying the needed remedies.
Underlying all of this there is often a false concept of man and his unique dignity, and a thirst for power rather than a desire to serve.
Are we Christians to agree with such a state of affairs? Are we to call this progress? Are we to shrug our shoulders and say that nothing can be done to change all this?
My brothers and sisters, the essence of our Christian vocation consists in being “light” and “salt” for the world we live in. Let us not be afraid: “The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness” (Rm 8,26).
Keep in mind that picture of Mary and the Apostles gathered together at Pentecost in Jerusalem.
Remember that the same Holy Spirit who filled their minds and hearts also fills the whole Church today. And he brings us the loveliest and the most powerful gifts: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Ga 5,22).
Let us really accept the words of Jesus: “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink” (Jn 7,37). Then we shall receive his gift: “Out of our hearts shall flow rivers of living water . . . Now he said this about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive”. Then, in the power of the Spirit we shall become a people that prays: indeed, the Spirit himself will pray in us and for us (Cfr. Rom Rm 8,26). And we shall become a holy people.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, realize the greatness of your Christian vocation. Christ has called you out of darkness into his own wonderful light. Consider what God has done for you in Baptism, and lift up your eyes and see the final glory that awaits you.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
O Lord how manifold are all your works.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104,1 Ps 104,24 Ps 104,30). Amen.
1. The passages which Archbishop Runcie and I have just read are taken from the Gospel according to John and contain the words of our Lord Jesus Christ on the eve of his Passion. While he was at supper with his disciples, he prayed: “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (Jn 17,21).
These words are marked in a particular way by the Paschal Mystery of our Saviour, by his Passion, death and Resurrection. Though pronounced once only, they endure throughout all generations. Christ prays unceasingly for the unity of his Church, because he loves her with the same love with which he loved the apostles and disciples who were with him at the Last Supper. “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word” (Ibid. 17, 20). Christ reveals a divine perspective in which the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are present. Present also is the most profound mystery of the Church: the unity in love which exists between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit penetrates to the heart of the people whom God has chosen to be his own, and is the source of their unity.
Christ’s words resound in a special way today in this hallowed Cathedral which recalls the figure of the great missionary Saint Augustine whom Pope Gregory the Great sent forth so that through his words the sons and daughters of England might believe in Christ.
Dear brethren, all of us have become particularly sentitive to these words of the priestly prayer of Christ. The Church of our time is the Church which participates in a particular way in the prayer of Christ for unity and which seeks the ways of unity, obedient to the Spirit who speaks in the words of the Lord. We desire to be obedient, especially today, on this historic day which centuries and generations have awaited. We desire to be obedient to him whom Christ calls the Spirit of truth.
2. On the feast of Pentecost last year Catholics and Anglicans joined with Orthodox and Protestants, both in Rome and in Constantinople, in commemorating the First Council of Constantinople by professing their common faith in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life. Once again on this vigil of the great feast of Pentecost, we are gathered in prayer to implore our heavenly Father to pour out anew the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, upon his Church. For it is the Church which, in the words of that Council’s Creed, we profess to be the work par excellence of the Holy Spirit when we say “we believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”.
Today’s Gospel passages have called attention in particular to two aspects of the gift of the Holy Spirit which Jesus invoked upon his disciples: he is the Spirit of truth and the Spirit of unity. On the first Pentecost day, the Holy Spirit descended on that small band of disciples to confirm them in the truth of God’s salvation of the world through the death and Resurrection of his Son, and to unite them into the one Body of Christ, which is the Church. Thus we know that when we pray “that all may be one” as Jesus and his Father are one, it is precisely in order that “the world may believe” and by this faith be saved (Cfr. Io Jn 17,21). For our faith can be none other than the faith of Pentecost, the faith in which the Apostles were confirmed by the Spirit of truth. We believe that the Risen Lord has authority to save us from sin and the powers of darkness. We believe, too, that we are called to “become one body, one spirit in Christ” (Prex Eucharistica III).
3. In a few moments we shall renew our baptismal vows together. We intend to perform this ritual, which we share in common as Anglicans and Catholics, as a clear testimony to the one sacrament of Baptism by which we have been joined to Christ. At the same time we are humbly mindful that the faith of the Church to which we appeal is not without the marks of our separation. Together we shall renew our renunciation of sin in order to make it clear that we believe that Jesus Christ has overcome the powerful hold of Satan upon “the world” (Jn 14,17). We shall profess anew our intention to turn away from all that is evil and to turn towards God who is the author of all that is good and the source of all that is holy. As we again make our profession of faith in the triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - we find great hope in the promise of Jesus: “The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Ibid. 14, 26). Christ’s promise gives us confidence in the power of this same Holy Spirit to heal the divisions introduced into the Church in the course of the centuries since that first Pentecost day. In this way the renewal of our baptismal vows will become a pledge to do all in our power to cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit, who alone can lead us to the day when we will profess the fullness of our faith together.
4. We can be confident in adressing our prayer for unity to the Holy Spirit today, for according to Christ’s promise the Spirit, the Counsellor, will be with us for ever (Cfr. ibid.14, 16). It was with confidence that Archbishop Fisher made bold to visit Pope John XXIII at the time of the Second Vatican Council, and that Archbishops Ramsey and Coggan came to visit Pope Paul VI. It is with no less confidence that I have responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to be with you today at Canterbury.
5. My dear brothers and sisters of the Anglican Communion, “whom I love and long for” (Ph 4,1), how happy I am to be able to speak directly to you today in this great Cathedral! The building itself is an eloquent witness both to our long years of common inheritance and to the sad years of division that followed.Beneath this roof Saint Thomas Becket suffered martyrdom. Here too we recall Augustine and Dunstan and Anselm and all those monks who gave such diligent service in this church. The great events of salvation history are retold in the ancient stained glass windows above us. And we have venerated here the manuscript of the Gospels sent from Rome to Canterbury thirteen hundred years ago. Encouraged by the witness of so many who have professed their faith in Jesus Christ through the centuries - often at the cost of their own lives a sacrifice which even today is asked of not a few, as the new chapel we shall visit reminds us - I appeal to you in this holy place, all my fellow Christians, and especially the members of the Church of England and the members of the Anglican Communion throughout the world, to accept the commitment to which Archbishop Runcie and I pledge ourselves anew before you today. This commitment is that of praying and working for reconciliation and ecclesial unity according to the mind and heart of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
6. On this first visit of a Pope to Canterbury, I come to you in love - the love of Peter to whom the Lord said, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Lc 22,32). I come to you also in the love of Gregory, who sent Saint Augustine to this place to give the Lord’s flock a shepherd’s care (Cfr. 1P 5,2). Just as every minister of the Gospel must do, so today I echo the words of the Master: “I am among you as one who serves” (Lc 22,27). With me I bring to you, beloved brothers and sisters of the Anglican Communion, the hopes and the desires, the prayers and good will of all who are united with the Church of Rome, which from earliest times was said to “preside in love” (S. IGNATII ANTIOCHENI Ad Romanos, Prooem.).
7. In a few moments Archbishop Runcie will join me in reading a Common Declaration, in which we give recognition to the steps we have already taken along the path of unity, and state the plans we propose and the hopes we entertain for the next stage of our common pilgrimage. And yet these hopes and plans will come to nothing if our striving for unity is not rooted in our union with God; for Jesus said, “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (Jn 14,20-21). This love of God is poured out upon us in the person of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth and of unity. Let us open ourselves to his powerful love, as we pray that, speaking the truth in love, we may all grow up in every way into him who is the head, into our Lord Jesus Christ (Cfr. Eph Ep 4,15). May the dialogue we have begun lead us to the day of full restoration of unity in faith and love.
8. On the eve of his Passion, Jesus told his disciples: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14,15). We have felt compelled to come together here today in obedience to the great commandment: the commandment of love. We wish to embrace it in its entirety, to live by it completely, and to experience the power of this commandment in conformity with the words of the Master: “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you” (Ibid. Jn 14,16-17).
Love grows by means of truth, and truth draws near to man by means of love. Mindful of this, I lift up to the Lord this prayer: O Christ, may all that is part of today’s encounter be born of the Spirit of truth and be made fruitful through love.
Behold before us: the past and the future!
Behold before us: the desires of so many hearts!
You, who are the Lord of history and the Lord of human hearts, be with us! Christ Jesus, eternal Son of God, be with us! Amen.
My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ,
1. Peace be with you. On this great feast of Pentecost, I greet all of you who have come from so many parishes in the Province of Birmingham and beyond. I also greet our beloved brothers and sisters from other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities, whose presence bears witness to our one Baptism in Jesus Christ and to our openness to the one Holy Spirit. And so my first words to you all are: “Peace be with you”.
We are close to the city of Coventry, a city devastated by war but rebuilt in hope. The ruins of the old Cathedral and the building of the new are recognized throughout the world as a symbol of Christian reconciliation and peace. We pray at his Mass: “Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.” In this prayer we call upon God to enable us to bring about that reconciliation and peace not simply in symbol, but in reality too.
2. Our world is disfigured by war and violence. The ruins of the old Cathedral constantly remind our society of its capacity to destroy. And today that capacity is greater than ever. People are having to live under the shadow of a nuclear nightmare. Yet people everywhere long for peace.
Men and women of good will desire to make common cause in their search for a worldwide community of brotherhood and understanding. They long for justice, yes, but for justice filled with mercy. Being so close as we are to Shakespeare's birthplace we would do well to consider this: “that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation. We do pray for mercy and that same prayer doth teach all of us to render the deeds of mercy.”
What is this peace for which we long? What is this peace symbolized by the new Cathedral of Coventry? Peace is not just the absence of war. It involves mutual respect and confidence between peoples and nations. It involves collaboration and binding agreements. Like a cathedral, peace has to be constructed, patiently and with unshakeable faith.
Wherever the strong exploit the weak; wherever the rich take advantage of the poor; wherever great powers seek to dominate and to impose ideologies, there the work of making peace is undone; there the cathedral of peace is again destroyed. Today, the scale and the horror of modern warfare - whether nuclear or not - makes it totally unacceptable as a means of settling differences between nations. Was should belong to the tragic past, to history; it should find no place on humanity’s agenda for the future.
And so, this morning, I invite you to pray with me for the cause of peace. Let us pray earnestly for the Special Session of the United Nations on Disarmament which begins soon. The voices of Christians join with others in urging the leaders of the world to abandon confrontation and to turn their backs on policies which require the nations to spend vast sums of money for weapons of mass destruction. We pray this Pentecost that the Holy Spirit may inspire the leaders of the world to engage in fruitful dialogue. May the Holy Spirit lead them to adopt peaceful ways of safeguarding liberty which do not involve the threat of nuclear disaster.
216 Yet the cathedral of peace is built of many small stones. Each person has to become a stone in that beautiful edifice. Al people must deliberately and resolutely commit themselves to the pursuit of peace. Mistrust and division between nations begin in the heart of individuals. Work for peace starts when we listen to the urgent call of Christ: “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Marc. 1, 15). We must turn from domination to service; we must turn from violence to peace; we must turn from ourselves to Christ, who alone can give us a new heart, a new understanding. Each individual, at some moment in his or her life, is destined to hear this call from Christ. Each person’s response leads to death or to life. Faith in Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, will bring us into the way of peace.
3. I would now like to speak especially to the young people who are about to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Today’s Gospel has special meaning for you, for it says that Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you’, and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.’ After saying this he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (Jn 20,20-22).
Christ’s gift of the Holy Spirit is going to be poured out upon you in a particular way. You will hear the words of the Church spoken over you, calling upon the Holy Spirit to confirm your faith, to seal you in his love, to strengthen you for his service.You will then take your place among fellow-Christians throughout the world, full citizens now of the People of God. You will witness to the truth of the Gospel in the name of Jesus Christ. You will live your lives in such a way as to make holy all human life. Together with all the confirmed, you will become living stones in the cathedral of peace. Indeed you are called by God to be instruments of his peace.
4. Today you must understand that you are not alone. We are one body, one people, one Church of Christ. The sponsor who stands at your side represents for you the whole community. Together, with a great crowd of witnesses drawn from all peoples and every age, you represent Christ. You are young people who have received a mission from Christ, for he says to you today: “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”
Let me recall for a moment the memory of two great Englishmen who can inspire you today. Study the example of Saint Boniface, born at Crediton in Devon, one of your greatest fellow-countrymen and also one of the Church’s greatest missionaries. And the Holy Spirit, given to Boniface through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, strengthened his personal love for Christ and brought him to a maturity of faith. This faith radiated through his whole life. He longed to share it with others, even with those in other lands. And so, with complete trust in God and with courage and perseverance, he helped to establish the Church on the continent of Europe. You, too, must show courage and perseverance in living by the standards of the Gospel in all the circumstances of your lives.
I cannot come to the Midlands without remembering that great man of God, that pilgrim for truth, Cardinal John Henry Newman. His quest for God and for the fullness of truth - a sign of the Holy Spirit at work within him - brought him to a prayerfulness and a wisdom which still inspire us today. Indeed Cardinal Newman’s many years of seeking a fuller understanding of the faith reflect his abiding confidence in the words of Christ: “I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, that Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive since it neither sees nor knows him” (Jn 14,16-17). And so I commend to you his example of persevering faith and longing for the truth. He can help you to draw nearer to God, in whose presence he lived, and to whose service he gave himself totally. His teaching has great importance today in our search for Christian unity too, not only in this country but throughout the world. Imitate his humility and his obedience to God; pray for a wisdom like his, a wisdom that can come from God alone.
5. “Jesus breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained’.”
On that first Pentecost our Saviour gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins when he poured into their hearts the gift of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit comes to you today in the Sacrament of Confirmation, to involve you more completely in the Church’s fight against sin and in her mission of fostering holiness. He comes to dwell more fully in your hearts and to strengthen you for the struggle with evil. My dear young people, the world of today needs you, for it needs men and women who are filled with the Holy Spirit. It needs your courage and hopefulness, your faith and your perseverance. The world of tomorrow will be built by you. Today you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit so that you may work with deep faith and with abiding charity, so that you may help to bring to the world the fruits of reconciliation and peace. Strengthened by the Holy Spirit and his manifold gifts, commit yourselves wholeheartedly to the Church’s struggle against sin. Strive to be unselfish; try not to be obsessed with material things. Be active members of the People of God; be reconciled with each other and devoted to the work of justice, which will bring peace on earth.
6. “How many are your works, O Lord!” (Ps 104,24).
These words of the responsorial psalm evoke gratitude from our hearts and a hymn of praise from our lips. Indeed how many are the works of the Lord, how great are the effects of the Holy Spirit’s action in Confirmation! When this sacrament is conferred, the words of the psalm are fulfilled among us: “You send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth” (Ibid.30).
On the first day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and upon Mary and filled them with his power. Today we remember that moment and we open ourselves again to the gift of that same Holy Spirit. In that Spirit we are baptized. In that Spirit we are confirmed. In that Spirit we are called to share in the mission of Christ. In that Spirit we shall indeed become the People of Pentecost, the apostles of our time. “Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.” Amen.
S. John Paul II Homil. 205