Archbishop of Glasgow
for the World Day for Religious 2014
1. I am glad to welcome to St Andrew’s Cathedral this morning the Religious of the Archdiocese of Glasgow – Sisters, Brothers and Priests – anticipating by one day the World Day for Religious which is customarily marked on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Today we present ourselves to the Lord as men and women consecrated to him and ever hopeful of deepening that sense of consecration for the sake of the Church and of the world.
2. When we gathered for this Mass last year, I had no inkling of what was about to happen in the Catholic Church in Scotland. Due to events which need no recalling, we were about to embark on a rather difficult year which will probably continue to have repercussions for us for some time into the future. And I just want to acknowledge that situation to you too, our Religious, who have borne along with the rest of us the sadness and distress of what happened here in Scotland. I am grateful to you for your prayers, your endurance and your commitment to the witness of your life, consecrated to God through the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity.
3. I have a sense that this last year has marked the Church in Scotland indelibly. There are signs that we are moving into a new way of being the Church which will call for everyone to follow Jesus and to be a member of his Church by a much more considered personal choice. This way of being the church may well lack the security of past times when we could count so readily on family, community and school to set the tone and to get us through. It will depend less on history and institution, and more on the grace of the Holy Spirit and on a sense of calling and mission and encounter with Jesus. We are called to announce the Good News of the love of God in Jesus Christ with a spirit of humble service, with endless compassion and with coherence of life. I suspect that we will have to live with a certain powerlessness and lack of influence. I admit that I don’t see this clearly yet, but I think it will be a time for Religious and for the witness of Religious. I hope you will be able to help us all live Christ’s calling with more freedom and authenticity.
4. Since we last gathered for the Word Day for Religious, the universal Church has also lived through momentous events. Pope Benedict XVI took the almost unheard of decision to step down from the office of Bishop of Rome and he was followed as Successor of Peter by Pope Francis. Pope Francis has emphasised greatly the missionary nature of the Christian vocation, the joy of evangelising, and the need for the Church to be on the margins of society and on the periphery of the world where the love and compassion of Jesus are most needed. And as a religious himself, a member of the Society of Jesus, he has called on Religious to wake up the world by being prophetic. He said to Religious, “What I expect of you is to give witness. I want this special witness from religious.” Sometimes people ask me what I want from Religious. Basing myself on Pope Francis, I feel I may have the start of an answer: I want Religious to witness to Jesus in a prophetic way through their own charism.
5. In the midst of unprecedented and even rampant social change, Pope Francis has also called an Extraordinary Synod on the Family which will consider really serious pastoral challenges for the Church. He has also decided that 2015 will a Year of the Consecrated Life. The whole feel of things is that the Catholic Church is moving into new and uncharted waters. This can create a heady atmosphere full of expectations, not all of them realistic. We have learned from the sometimes painful experience of the second half of the 20th century that we cannot open ourselves to true renewal by discarding the authentic tradition of the Church and cutting ourselves free of our foundational moorings, but only by allowing that sacred tradition to unfold and to reveal its ever-present newness. So I would say we may hope for new things and new initiatives and new insights, but not for crazy things! We remember that the source and the content of everything true and authentic in the Church is Jesus Christ himself, the Alpha and the Omega, the Risen One who is ever new and ever present to his Church.
6. In today’s Gospel, the birth is announced of Jesus the Incarnate Son. The figure of Mary is put before us who was chosen to be the Mother of the Saviour. She consented to God’s choice of her with generosity of heart without knowing every detail of was to happen. She opened herself to the future of God’s purposes. We call on her today to help us all follow her Son Jesus and to be open to his redemptive work which is ever new and ever life-giving.
St Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow
1st February 2014