Diocesan Day of Recollection for Youth, St Mary’s Church, Middlewich, Cheshire, 3rd December 2011.
Today some of you may have had difficulty finding Middlewich. As a new bishop it’s a regular experience to drive straight past the church I’m searching for because at the vital moment I’m looking in the wrong direction! Today I want to speak to you about how we are called to “make our way to Him” at the start of each new week of our lives, the first day, the day of the Lord. And how we can be distracted and diverted from finding Him because we are looking in the wrong direction!
For a generation before you so often failed to pass on those directions, the fullness of our Catholic faith which in Isaiah’s words at every crucial turn of our lives tells us, “this is the way, follow it!” And Sunday has often become the end of a “weekend” rather than the beginning which the Lord’s Day becomes for everyone who finds their way to Him. “The Lord’s day, the day of the Resurrection, the day of Christians, is our day,” St. Jerome declared more than fifteen hundred years ago, when on every seventh day (CCC 1166) the whole Church comes together to celebrate the Eucharist as the centre of our lives. And what we heard in the Gospel happens today as those scattered are gathered, what sick in us is healed, what has died within us is raised to life and we find “the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.” Yes, on the wettest, winter morning as the first generation of Christians put it and YouCat records their voices, “we cannot live without Sunday.”
As the women and the Apostles had made their way in the first light of Easter Sunday morning to that meeting with the Lord so we are called on the first day of the week to meet the same Lord truly present with us now in the Eucharist. As Blessed John Paul II wrote in his last message for World Youth Day, “the same Redeemer is present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. In the stable of Bethlehem he allowed Himself to be worshipped under the humble outward appearances of a new born baby by Mary, by Joseph, by the shepherds; in the consecrated Host we adore Him sacramentally present …” (Message for 20th World Youth Day). Our coming to Him and His coming to us is for real so that every Sunday becomes in this way Easter, Christmas, Christ’s Mass for us. In Blessed John Paul’s striking phrase, “as it was there, so it is here.” For the bread and wine we will place on this Altar after the words of consecration are spoken, His words “This is my Body, This is my Blood,” are no longer bread or wine but Christ our Lord Himself given for us. And once we know and recognise this we would never fail to find our way here at the beginning of every new week of our lives. So “Youth 2000” in every youth day and prayer festival points us towards this great discovery of who Jesus is and that He present with us now in the Holy Eucharist. For you will sometimes hear people say, “what would Jesus have done, what would Jesus have said,” as if He were some distant figure of history whose words and actions we can now only guess at. In the reality of the Eucharist, in the reality of this Mass we hear what He says to us, what He now does for us.
And so what I want to say to you today echoes what Pope Benedict said at World Youth Day in Cologne, “do not be deterred from taking part in Sunday Mass, and help others to discover it too … Let us pledge ourselves to do this – it is worth the effort!” (Marienfeld 21st August 2005). For never since the days of persecution have so many obstacles been put in front of a generation to prevent you finding your way to Him. And it isn’t so much Sunday working, Sunday shopping, social lives which block out Saturday nights and Sunday mornings but losing sight of Jesus Himself which eclipses Sunday, not knowing where He is found which leaves it empty. It isn’t the incidentals of music or style which draws or deters you from finding your way to Him. Those things may help or hinder us but they’re not why we’re ever here. We are here because we know in the words of St. John Vianney that “He is here, the One who loves us so much He is here.” May we find our way to Him where we know He will always be found.