Today I want to take a moment, first of all, to thank you for your faithfulness and for your presence here at Mass. These last two years have been very difficult and I thank God for the gift of faith which you have received, which you have nurtured and from which, I know, you receive great grace and strength. I know this to be true because it is true for me too.
Now I would like to ask your assistance.
During these last two years there were times when our way of life was severely curtailed. We were in ‘lockdown’. At one time, for three months, even the doors of our churches were firmly closed. Being unable to enter the House of God and to take part fully in the celebration of the Mass was, for many, an experience of real dismay and pain.
But that is no longer the case. We are again able to fashion the way of life that we choose. The doors of our churches can stay wide open. Yet, as you know, many have not resumed the pattern of coming to church, week by week. Other activities have filled that space. For some, the thirst for being at Mass, for celebrating life-giving sacraments, has diminished.
This is where I ask for your help. I would like you to be ready to approach those whom you know, and who are not present here today, with a word of invitation for them to join us. I know this is not easy. You may well feel it is an intrusive thing to do. Also, taking the step across the threshold of the church can be daunting for someone who has been away for a long time. So I ask you to exercise great deference and kindness when approaching them, perhaps offering to accompany them on this return journey.
I make this request now not simply because fear and restrictions are eased, but because we are approaching Lent, the traditional and powerful season of our renewal in faith. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, this coming week, we respond to the Lord’s invitation to come forward and meet him afresh. He invites us to come through the doors of the church to stand before him and receive his blessing, his mark of mercy.
Lent is the time to reset our patterns so that there is time for God in our hearts and in our weekly routines. You know well that the highest form of prayer is the celebration of the Eucharist. It is here, above all other places, that the Lord wishes to fill us with his gifts, so that we, in turn, can offer those gifts to others. And then, when we give that which we have received, we bring this precious light of Christ into our world. He is the best antidote to the darkness of the pandemic, to the loneliness it has brought, to the lack of clear hope for the future, to the deep weariness and unexpressed resentment that has entered into the souls of so many.
So, please, do what you can to invite those who are missing to come with you to be part of this great family of faith at prayer. If each of you can give a word of encouragement to one other person, to one other family, then the reward will be great. Then we can journey together to Easter. There we proclaim again that Jesus alone has mastered death, that he alone is the Lord of life, that he is now among us and calling us to come to meet him here, in this House of God, in this Gate of Heaven.
I thank you again for your presence here today. I thank you for all that you will do in response to this request and I ask God’s blessing on the words that you will speak. Remember the words of St Paul that we have just heard: ‘Keep on working at the Lord’s work always, knowing that, in the Lord, you cannot be labouring in vain’ (1Cor. 15:58).
Pease continue in your prayer for peace in Ukraine. We cry out: No more war, no more violence!
And remember me in your prayers as I will remember you, the faithful people of God!
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster