Today is a true celebration of faith – for all of us but especially for Ceri and Jo who will be received this morning into full communion with the Catholic Church.
It is, therefore, to you Jo and Ceri that I would like to speak, but others can listen in if they want to!
I would like first to say thank you to you both. Thank you for allowing me to be part of your journey in faith. It is always a privilege to join others on this tremendous adventure in faith. To share what motivates and encourages us. So, thank you for giving me this opportunity to learn from you.
Equally thank you for being a witness to faith today. Many of your own generation and younger have already concluded that Jesus has no place in their life and so today you bear witness to the fact that only with God does life make sense. For without Him we are left in a world of fear, hurricanes, Taliban, job losses, disease. Faith in God does not protect us from difficulties, but it does give us a clear light to walk through the confusion.
Too many people who claim to be Christian simply do not know Jesus Christ. They don’t know and believe in the Gospel. They feel somehow embraced by their religious beliefs and out of step with the times. Even though they may say that they are Christian/Catholic they live their lives and make their choices as if the Gospel does not shape them. The reason for this is simple, it does not shape them because it is not real to them and has no transforming effect on their personal behaviour.
Ceri & Jo you have not come to join the Jesus Christ appreciation Society – a club, like the cycling or antiques road show. You have come to enter the body of Christ - a living relationship with Jesus himself. This will be fed by your continuing reading of his Word and participation in the sacraments.
In fact, God’s Word today gives you three clues, gifts to help you on your journey in faith:
- In the Gospel we heard ‘Be Opened’. The ears of the deaf were opened. Stay open to the surprises of God. You never thought perhaps that you would reach this point and then seek to become part of the Catholic Church. But God knew – this is part of his plan. Be Open to him in every circumstance.
- St James says: ‘be rich in faith and be heirs of the kingdom’. This faith which you profess today will take you far. Indeed, it will take you into heaven, to life eternal.
- Isaiah has the final word for you: Courage, be not afraid. There will be many occasions that you will be tempted to give up, water down, deny. Have courage – be not afraid.
Let me give you a living example of all this – a word made flesh:
On the feast of St Laurence I told the community the story of the Missionaries of Charity and 12 helpers who were murdered in the Yemen. There is a further piece of that story of horror that points to the beauty of faith.
Fr Tom Uzhannalil is a Salesian priest – volunteered to be Chaplain – he developed high blood pressure, diabetes and had to return to Bangalore. It was then discovered he had cancer of the throat.
In 2014 the Civil War in the Yemen increased and of the remaining three Catholic priests two left leaving one behind. Fr Tom knew that this elderly priest could not serve the sisters alone. He volunteered to return. Somehow, by God’s design he managed to get back to Aden.
He was the first to emerge from the chapel on the fateful morning of 4th March 2016. He met the Islamic militia and was held at gun point and had to witness the slaughter of the sisters and their Christian helpers. He was then blindfolded and with hands secured he was pushed into the boot of a car. Then held captive, blindfolded all the time for 18 months. He was not badly treated but had no way of knowing if he would be killed. He simply prayed and held on to his faith for 557 days of captivity. In a book published once he was released, he said:
“The purpose of chronicling my experiences is in no way to create an impression that I am a saint or superhero. In fact more than anyone else, I can testify that I am far from all that. But I felt strongly impelled to write of my experience under the protection and mercy of God, especially during the time that I was in captivity.”
After his release he had to have a thorough medical check. During the days he was held captive he had no medication but suffered no ill effects from the high blood pressure and diabetes. The throat cancer could no longer be detected.
Ceri & Jo, please God your faith will not be tested in this extreme manner. But know this, no matter what life will throw at you, you can have courage, you need never be afraid because the one who has open your heart to His presence, called you to inherit His kingdom will never abandon you.
So be rich in faith – never abandon Him.
Abbot Robert Igo, OSB
5 September 2021