On 6th May, we were pleased to welcome Archbishop Bernard Longley to Wonersh to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the dedication of our Chapel. Since the chapel is dedicated to the Sacred Heart, today’s feast day (11th June) seemed like an appropriate time to share the archbishop’s homily with the wider community. We hope it will encourage you on your missionary journey as it encourages us on ours.
You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.
It’s a great joy to be with you to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the dedication of this Seminary chapel. I thank Mgr Gerald for so thoughtfully inviting me for this occasion – especially since the coronavirus pandemic restrictions mean that you are having to celebrate very much en famille.
As you may know, your Rector and I were both here as seminarians in the 1970s and the seminary community played a large part in our formation – just as it does for you today. Wherever you may be in the years ahead you will surely take with you some significant insights, which were first acquired here – insights about our Lord, about yourself and about the Church you are called to serve as priests. You will also, please God, acquire some friendships for life.
I must share with you another personal reason that I am grateful for this evening’s Mass. As with so many others, it was in this chapel that I was ordained: Bishop Thomas McMahon of Brentwood ordained me deacon in 1980 and in 1981 I was ordained priest by the then Bishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Arundel and Brighton – whose crozier it is both a pleasure and a privilege to be using today. Mgr Gerald and I are both celebrating our 40th anniversaries of priestly ordination this year (though he maintains that this is only obvious in my case!)
Today’s celebration enables us to enter more deeply into one of the mysteries of our faith as the Gospel and the two New Testament readings invite us to reflect on the vocation of the Apostles. In this reflection our own lives are once again caught up in the events of the life of Christ who Himself chose Peter and John to be His co-workers in bringing the Good News to others.
The scripture text that adorns this chapel is a constant reminder of the one Who called the Apostles and Who daily calls us. As we try to discern His calling we are strengthened by His presence among us in the outpouring of His love through the gift of the Eucharist, in the sacrifice of His life upon the Cross - and also through the apostolic witness and example of St John and St Peter.
The ardour and the energy which we recognise in the ministries of St Peter and St John flow from their experience of the Heart of Jesus – each in their own way witnessed the love that led Christ to the Cross for their salvation and for ours. Their ministries complemented each other while they also had experiences that bound them in a common bond of love. Whenever you pray in this chapel, which is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it is that same love which sets you on fire to go out as missionary disciples today.
In the Book of the Apocalypse we see through the eyes of St John, the disciple Jesus loved. Knowing that he was loved by the Lord enabled John to see with greater clarity – to look beyond the surface of things. I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. He saw with the eyes of faith and with the mind of the Church and so he saw himself differently too. We are also called to see with the eyes of the Church and in doing so we perceive ourselves differently – as Christ sees us.
In today’s Gospel we have heard the familiar account of the dialogue between Our Lord and St Peter. Peter also receives a new name from the Lord, one which not only describes something of his personality and temperament but also indicates something of the responsibility he received from Our Lord. He is to be the rock on which the Church is built – his ministry, with all its strengths and despite its flaws, provides the foundation for the Church’s life.
What is significant for both saints is that this transformation in their lives had already begun before they became aware of it. They had both learned the true identity of Jesus Christ, seeing beyond the surface of things. By the power of the Holy Spirit they were first able to see Him as Lord and to call Him the Christ before they were strong enough to receive their new mission and with it their new identity and purpose.
As Peter and John became aware of their true identity in Christ they realised more clearly that they were called to a special life of service. They began the missionary journeys that took them to different communities – following roads and crossing seas that would eventually lead one to Rome and the other to Patmos.
We are also on a missionary journey - a pilgrimage that is already leading us from this chapel and from this place which has been our home to wherever the Lord is sending us. We call upon the Sacred Heart to strengthen us for the journey that lies ahead. That will be the most fitting and abiding commemoration of the dedication of this chapel in 1896.
With these thoughts in mind we shall bring gifts of bread and wine to the altar in a few moments. We give thanks for our Catholic faith in the Eucharist which enables us to see that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, these gifts will be transformed into the real presence of the Lord, in truth His Body and Blood given for us.
As we receive these gifts we shall also be strengthened by the example and witness of St Peter and St John who needed the Eucharistic presence of Christ to sustain them in ministries that led them far from home and away from all that was familiar and dear.
Wherever the future finds us, dear friends, we shall always hear the echo of the Seminary’s hymn:
O Beate mi Ioannes,
Sic pro me ad Filium Dei,
Cum Maria preces funde,
Ut per vos sim placens Ei.
And that echo will prompt us all to be grateful for the many blessings we have each of us received here under the patronage of St John. Wherever our missionary journey may now be leading us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, may the prayers of St John and the intercession of Our Lady of the Clergy make us always pleasing to the Son of God.