A different kind of hero

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2012 – Vocations Sunday

Hollywood loves a hero. Whether the inspiration comes from a true-life story or straight from the imagination of an author, the big-screen treatment paints large the trials which the hero, or heroine, must face in order to achieve their calling – whether that be to save the planet Earth, rescue their family, or obtain justice for a righteous cause.

Sometimes the epic story is a tragedy – think of Kirk Douglas in Spartacus, or Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, or Leonardo di Caprio in Titanic. In these stories, we are invited to weep as the hero pays the ultimate price for staying true to their cause, or saving their loved one.

More often the hero puts their life on the line, but at the very last minute rescue arrives courtesy of an unexpected twist in the plot. Thanks to a gifted scriptwriter, everyone is happy: the hero lives to enjoy his triumph, the audience breathes a sigh of relief, and the studio gets to cash in on a lucrative sequel. Captain America lands an enemy World War II plane in icy waters, so he can be thawed out for a 2012 blockbuster. Frodo Baggins’ final struggle to cast off the One Ring is resolved when Gollum snatches the ring and falls to his doom. Harry Potter risks death but triumphs in his final battle with Voldemort. Or in Zulu, valiant Welsh soldiers realise their enemies have stopped fighting and are singing not to frighten them, but to do them honour.

The Good Shepherd is an altogether different kind of hero. Jesus Christ is neither the tragic hero whose life ends with a noble sacrifice, nor a champion rescued by forces beyond his control. Listen to what he says: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” It is precisely because Our Lord keeps nothing back but yields his whole life on the Cross, that he fulfils the mission assigned to him by his Father. And this teaches us a profound lesson: if we are to become the saints which God is calling us to be, we also must lay down our lives in order to pass through the trials and  sacrifices which will make us perfect.

The Gospel teaches us this lesson again and again in different images: the grain of wheat which dies to bear fruit in abundance; the talent which must be invested in a risky venture to please the master; or the plain teaching that only the one who loses his life for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, can save it. This is true of the epic saints, but it is also played out in smaller dramas of our daily Christian life. The little sacrifices are the keys which unlock our deepest potential, and prepare us for the greater challenges which test our willingness to pursue God’s will.

You might fall in love, but realise the one you have fallen for is not the one you can marry. Perhaps, in God’s plan, you are called to enjoy a life-long friendship with that person; but first, you must walk the painful path of sacrificing all possibility of this relationship being more than that. Then, and only then, can the relationship flourish as the life-giving friendship it is meant to be.

Or perhaps a member of your family has expressed the thought that they might be considering the priesthood or the convent life. Your natural reaction might be a desire to shield them from the hardship involved in embracing a life of total dedication, service to others, and renunciation of the material goods which our society uses to value people. This fear is natural – but listen again to the words of the Lord! “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” Perhaps your loved one can only become fulfilled in life because they lay aside these things.

To choose to marry – to choose to have children – to volunteer for a good cause – to enter a seminary or a religious order: all of these are choices which require you to lay down your life for others.  I was helped to make the final decision to enter seminary by a Franciscan priest, who said something like this:

Don’t be afraid that God is going to ask you to make a choice which will break you. If this is your vocation, then doing what you are called to do is the one thing that will eventually make you happy. Faithfulness to God does require sacrifices, but God isn’t going to ask you to spend a lifetime of misery serving him, wishing you were something else. You know that something is your vocation because the final ‘you’ will not be an alien being, but the perfection of who you are, even if it’s a struggle to get there.

Without the Cross, Jesus would not have become the pierced Messiah who could show his glorious wounds to doubting Thomas. By passing to life through death, Jesus teaches us the only way to Christian fulfillment. To take hold of the full life God has in store for us, we must make sacrifices. On this special Sunday we are called to pray that many more people will find the courage to say yes to the particular sacrifice which is embracing priesthood or religious life; and with our prayers, we may need to also seek the courage to allow our loved ones to make that journey, even though we see the hardships which lie ahead.

Yes, if you are to become the saints which God is calling you to be, you will be asked to lay down your lives. In family life or in religious life, to some degree you must lay down your comforts and your worldly ambitions. This is heroism which Hollywood cannot match. The journey will not be easy, but the ending will be amazing – because in God, we have the greatest director of all!

Acknowledgement: the choice of iconic heroes was guided by conversations with the Chaplaincy team at the University of Glamorgan, the weekday congregation of St Dyfrig’s, and contributors to the Society of St Gregory webforum.

The litmus test of love

Today is the feast-day of St Gianna Molla, and as usual, I gave her a mention in the daily Mass (alongside St Peter Chanel and Blessed Jozef Cebula)

Why does this saint, who is not even part of the Universal Calendar, keep striking me as so important for our age?

Gianna Beretta Molla was an Italian GP (doctor), who had given birth to three children and was pregnant with her fourth. During that pregnancy she was faced with a life-threatening condition which could be treated in one of two ways. The first surgical procedure would almost certainly save her life but would result in the loss of her unborn child. The second was more risky for her, but unlikely to harm the child. She chose the second option, lived long enough to give birth to her child, Gianna Emanuela, but died soon afterwards of medical complications.

There is a very natural human reaction to this story, based on a pragmatic understanding of love, which shouts: “What a mistake! A family of children had to grow up without a mother!”

Indeed, Dr Gianna would have been well aware of the risks, and could have chosen the other surgical option with integrity as a Catholic. This not one of those cases where the absolute morals of the church come into play – the first surgical procedure would not have intended to harm the unborn child, it simply offered inevitable side-effects. It is not one of those stories where enemies of the church can crow about celibate bishops telling women what to do with their bodies (a misunderstanding of course: they really mean that God’s shepherds are telling God’s people the challenging demands of God’s law in a particular difficult circumstance). St Gianna had the freedom to choose, and she valued the life of her unborn child above her own.

There is a deeper, Christian response to her choice which goes like this: “How amazing! A woman who totally embraced the teaching of Jesus, that the greatest love is to lay down your life for another. Not for a person who is deserving on their own merits, but for the least of the least. This is the perfect love which allows a Christian to totally reflect the love of Christ.”

The teaching of Jesus is starkly uncomplicated. The greatest value is laying down your life so that a tiny child can live. So the story of St Gianna is a litmus test: if your gut reaction is “How amazing,” you have an inner understanding of the depths of Christian love. If Gianna’s choice still strikes you as a mistake, then ask the Lord for the grace to understand what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus.

You are Catholics – but are you courtiers of the King?

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for the Third Sunday of Easter, 2012

You are Catholics, and it is the God of St Peter, the God of St Dyfrig and St David, the God of the Six Welsh Martyrs, who has given us the gift of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who dwells in this Church in the Blessed Sacrament.

It is you who have the power to insult Jesus or to pay him honour. It is you who can ignore his Holy Presence, or bow down in reverence. It is you who can hold held idle conversations in this church and disturb others who are sincerely trying to pray, or treat this House of God as a place of quiet reverence. It is you who are responsible for teaching your children to come into this church, to kneel down and to pray.

In recent weeks, you will have noticed an invitation in the bulletin, just before the opening hymn, to keep prayerful silence in the main body of the Church, and again at the end of Mass. This morning I wish to thank you for honouring this, but I ask you not to let this good practice slip. In our wider Catholic community, many lack confidence that the God of the Universe truly dwells in this tabernacle. Many of us have been seduced by the idea that respect for God is not an important value in twenty-first century living. Some of us have been deceived by the lie that as long as we act with love towards our neighbour, we are already doing all that is needed to express love for God.

I am preaching this message to you, my children, for the same reason that St John the Beloved wrote to his children: to stop you sinning. Anyone who says “I know Jesus”, but who does not bow the knee on entering this church, is a liar. But if anyone remembers this day that we are truly in God’s House, and decides from now on to treat the Blessed Sacrament with the prayerful silence which His presence deserves, God’s love will come to perfection in you.

If anyone should sin – said St John – we have an advocate with the Father: Jesus Christ, who takes our sins away.

The friends of Jesus – the same friends who abandoned him when he was dying on a Cross – were gathered in a room when Jesus appeared to them. How many of them could have held their heads up high, knowing they had treated their Lord and Master with love and respect? None, save Our Blessed Mother and St John: the great crucifix which hangs in this church reminds us that they alone stayed faithful at the foot of the Cross.

Crucifix by Penanne Crabbe

Wooden crucifix hanging over the main altar of St Dyfrig's Church, Treforest

So the faithless friends of Jesus hang their heads in fear and shame when he appears to them as risen flesh. But what is the first word on his lips? “Peace be with you!” He has not come to condemn them, but to offer them hope and life! His message? Although you have been faithless, you will now be my witnesses to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem.

As the Lord explained his situation to his disciples, so it is my duty to explain our situation to you. There are many Christian congregations in Pontypridd, and I have a great love for our brothers and sisters in Castle Square, in Bethel, in the Anglican parishes and in the other chapels. You know very well that I have worked long and hard in co-operation with these other Christian communities.

But there is only one tabernacle in Pontypridd where the very Body of Jesus can be found, and it is here, at the heart of St Dyfrig’s Church. Here, uniquely in the whole of our town, a person can kneel before the Real Presence of Jesus Our Saviour. Our calling, as Catholics, is to be witnesses of this – but before we can declare this to the world, we must declare it to one another. We do this by choosing to worship Jesus by a bow of the knee, by keeping the time before Mass begins as a time of prayer, and by helping one another to keep an atmosphere of prayer before, during and following our gatherings for worship.

The tabernacle at St Dyfrig's Church, Treforest

The tabernacle at St Dyfrig's Church, Treforest

I recognise that we also need to build the bonds of affection which make us a church community. This can be done in the body of the church by a simple smile or affectionate glance. If a conversation is necessary, then by a gesture or the briefest word invite the other person to join you in the narthex, sacristy, or side chapel. And I understand that children will be noisy and are not easily trained to prayer. So I say to parents: Persevere! Never tire of kneeling with your child and whispering to them: Who will we pray for today? What should we give thanks for in this Mass? Look, there is the house where Jesus lives! Let us tell him how much we love him!

You may also wonder why I should be speaking of sin and conversion in this joyful Easter season. It is simple! Lent is given to us to call us away from sin. Easter is given to us that we may be challenged to become the saints which God longs for us to be. Suppose you had a choice of two doctors. If one says “I can relieve some of your sickness”, and the other says “I can make you totally well”, which will you choose? But you will guess that the total cure needs more intensive treatment and a fitness regime. In the same way, as the doctor of your souls, I cannot rest at dissuading you from careless wrongdoing; I am duty-bound to call you to be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect!

So I invite each one of you to ask yourself how frequently, how faithfully, and how firmly you have remembered to keep the body of this church as a Holy Place, and to the extent that you have failed to do so, recognise – that as people called to honour Jesus as your Lord and Master – you are sinners. Admit it. But you are no worse sinners than the apostles and disciples of Jesus who became the founding saints of the Church. You too can become saints!

To have failed to show love and worship for Jesus in this way is not a mortal sin, unless it were motivated by a thought-through hatred for the Lord. But it is a sin which strikes at the heart of our friendship with Jesus, and for that reason alone, you may wish to bring it to confession, so that you may hear the voice of Jesus saying “Peace be with you!” And although you have been faithless, you will now be His witnesses – able to tell of his presence in this Church and of his tender forgiveness to those who once failed to love him – witnesses to all the nations, beginning in Pontypridd.

The Image of God’s Mercy

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for the Second Sunday of Easter, 2012, which is Divine Mercy Sunday

A homily for children. The delivery at each Mass depended on what the children spot in the image…

Have you ever actually seen Jesus? I haven’t. I know he’s there, and sometimes in prayer I have a sense of what he is trying to say to me. But I’ve never seen him visibly standing before me.

St Thomas wasn’t with the other 10 apostles when they saw Jesus. “I won’t believe unless I can see him and put my finger in the wounds,” he declared. And we’ve just heard how, 8 days later, Jesus did appear to St Thomas and let him do exactly that.

Someone else who actually saw Jesus was a Polish nun called St Faustina Kowalska. She asked an artist to paint an image so other people could see what she saw, and we have a painting of Jesus here in church today. So I am asking you, children, to tell me what you can see.

Light – Jesus is in golden robes with light glowing from his whole body. This is a sign that He is full of God’s power.

Darkness – Jesus is standing on a dark floor and the background is also dark. The picture reminds us that when we feel alone or in trouble, Jesus will be there for us.

A white ray – we do not see His heart, but a white/blue/pale ray is coming from it. Jesus explained to St Faustina that this was the water of baptism by which we are made clean from everything we’ve done wrong.

A red ray – Jesus said this was the Blood we receive in Holy Communion, which gives life to our souls.

His lips – Perhaps Jesus is saying to us, like He said to Thomas, “Peace be with you!” Or perhaps he is breathing on us, reminding us how he breathed on the Apostles and said “Receive the Holy Spirit!”

St John’s reading today said that there were three witnesses: the Spirit, the water, and the blood. The two rays and the unseen Holy Spirit from the lips of Jesus are those same witnesses.

Words – The words “Jesus I Trust In You” are at the bottom of the image. It’s a prayer that each of us is invited to pray.

A hand raised in blessing – Jesus promised to bless each place where this image of Him as “Divine Mercy” was displayed.

Why did Jesus want us to think about his mercy on this special day, the Sunday after Easter? He wants us to be with him at the end of our lives. But what will happen when we get to the gates of heaven? If we have been to confession about anything wrong we’ve done on earth, we know we will be allowed in, but first we might have to remember everything we had to be forgiven for. Jesus might say: “Come in! You are welcome – because I have forgiven this, and that, and the other…” – and we have to endure a painful catalogue of memories before we can step through the gate. (This is one way of understanding Purgatory.)

 But Christ, and the Church, have promised that anyone who prays special prayers on Divine Mercy Sunday – an Our Father, a Creed, an act of trust in the Merciful Jesus and a prayer for the Pope’s intention – and who receives communion on that day and makes confession (on the day or within a week or so either way) will receive the special grace, that all sins up to that moment will have been completely forgotten and not even mentioned at the gates of heaven. We will be able to enter immediately with joy, as if we had been newly baptised. This is the special gift which Jesus offers his church on this day, the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday.

Jesus, I trust in you!

Where’s Jesus?

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for Easter Monday, 2012

Where’s Jesus?

Yesterday, we celebrated not the Resurrection, but the discovery of an empty tomb and a whisper of hope.

St Mark’s Gospel, which we chose to read on Easter Morning as well as at the Vigil, broke off not with a meeting with the Risen Christ, but a surprising encounter with an angel. The women are told: Go, tell his disciples to travel to Galilee; there  they will meet with the Lord.

Today, St Matthew fills in what happened next: the faithful women meet Jesus, very much alive, as they obey the angelic command and go on their way. But the message for the disciples is the same – they must go to Galilee.

In St Luke and St John, which we will read later this week, we will discover that the Lord shows himself to the disciples, gathered in a room in Jerusalem that very night. But not before the women have reached them with their incredible news.

The Acts of the Apostles and the letters of St Paul reveal further appearances. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “For what I received I passed on to you… that Christ… appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me.”

The Lord does not show himself to everyone; we have to rely on the testimony of a few witnesses chosen by the Lord. We will be opposed by counter-stories: at the very beginning, the guards were instructed to begin a cover-up. But we notice that the women only see the Risen Lord when they have taken a step of faith and begun the journey to tell the disciples. We might guess that the apostles who see Jesus in Jerusalem on Sunday night had already agreed to set out on the journey to Galilee. The 500 of whom Paul speaks had already agreed to gather because they believed in him. We, too, are called to step out in faith before the Lord will give us a deeper experience… we may not see a vision of the Risen Lord, but the Lord will give us just enough reason to believe, in order to take the next step. The question is, are you willing to take it?

 

Our Father: The Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are Yours, Now and Forever!

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for Easter Morning, 2012

Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End. All time belongs to him and all the ages: To him be glory and power through every age and for ever. Amen!

Last night, we used these words to begin our solemn Easter Vigil, marking this great Easter Candle as a visible sign of Christ among us. We have proclaimed that all time belongs to Christ, and so I ask you now to recall with me the recent history of our own nation.

There was a time when Britain was a Christian Kingdom. Most of you can remember it.

Divorce was not easy to come by.

The shops were closed on Sundays.

Human life was protected.

One by one, the values of Christ’s Kingdom, written into British law, have been overturned.

In 1967, abortion was made legal throughout Great Britain.

In 1969, the Divorce Reform Act was passed, with its implicit message that marriage need only be a temporary lifestyle choice.

In 1994, Sunday trading was permitted to large stores and supermarkets.

In 2004, people of the same sex were able to claim equivalent rights to married couples by forming a civil partnership.

Within a human lifetime, the fundamental assumptions of Britain’s lawmakers have changed. Our heritage was that Britain’s law should be based on God’s law. Now, our politicians see that in our nation there are people with many different faiths and beliefs, and so they say: let people be freed to do whatever they wish, as long as they don’t harm others.

Because of this new freedom, much has changed, and Britain hears a new message.

Abortion clinics are free to advertise in print, and at the end of this month will be able to do so on radio and television. More and more documentaries are made about seriously ill people who would choose to end their own lives if only they had a legal way of doing so. Britain hears the message: “Human life is only valuable if it is a wanted life.”

Alternative relationships are not only tolerated, but celebrated. Primetime television soaps and drama series now present same-sex relationships as positive and life-enriching. Britain hears the message: “Anyone who doesn’t think same-sex intimacy is a very good thing, is someone to be shunned as a bigot.”

We are gathered here this Easter morning because we are seeking the Risen Christ. We are God’s people. Our Kingdom is not of this world, and we march to the beat of a different drum. We dare to say: Human life is valuable because it is made in God’s image. We dare to say: alternative lifestyle choices may be tolerated, and must not be persecuted, but should not be celebrated, because God calls us to live by his standards, not ours. We dare to say: Our King is Risen, and Alleluia! is our song.

The Bishops of England and Wales have a gift for you this morning. As I speak, the servers will come among you with a small card which you might keep in your purse or wallet. This card is a reminder of six things that we are called to do as Catholic followers of Jesus. Earlier this week, at the Good Friday Liturgy, I spoke of the importance of forgiving others. On Thursday evening, we recalled the command to love our neighbour. We must keep close to Christ, through regular prayer and also through the sacraments. Finally, we are challenged to share our faith with other people, and to use the gifts we have been given. Whatever talents or abilities we have, they are gifts from God; they are granted to us for a reason. That reason is that we may serve others, inside and outside our church community, and the Prayer of Cardinal Newman, on the other side of the card, invites us to meditate on this calling.

There is one small glimmer of hope, shining on the beach as the tide of British Law ebbs from the safe shore of Christ to the ocean of personal freedom. It is this: In principle, our national law now celebrates the right of believers to practice and make visible their faith.

We are, in principle, free to do all the things which are printed on the faith card. But to make what is permitted into a reality requires courage, the courage to live out our faith in public and without shame. In past decades, it was not necessary for us to be vocal about our values, because the structure of our society already embedded them. Now, if we do not speak up as believers, our values will be lost in the clamour of those rightly proclaiming racial equality, demanding reasonable adjustments for disability, and those sincerely but misguidedly celebrating same-sex relationships as a simple extension of marriage.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we declare to God: “Yours is the Kingdom! Yours is the Power! Yours is the Glory!” How, then, are we to live on this earth as subjects of a heavenly King?

If a few Christians say: “I don’t want to work on Sunday,” British society will say: “Don’t be awkward.”

If a few hundred thousand Christians say: “I don’t want to work on Sunday,” British society will say: “Of course, we believe in accommodating all reasonable beliefs.”

If a few Christians wear a cross to work on their lapel or around their neck, British society will say: “You don’t need to do that.”

If a few hundred thousand Christians wear a cross to work on their lapel or around their neck, British society will say: “Of course, we must adjust our dress code to accommodate discrete signs of faith.”

British Law now says: “Your faith is only important if you make a claim for it”, and Pope Benedict recognised this with some alarm on his visit to Britain in 2010, stating his “concern at the … marginalisation of religion, particularly … Christianity, … taking place … even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance”. You may have heard on yesterday’s news, reports of Cardinal O’Brien of Scotland calling on each and every Christian to “wear proudly a symbol of the cross of Christ on their garments each and every day of their lives”.

My dear friends in Christ, we are blessed this morning to have a child among us who is to be baptised, and we will also pray for four more children who will baptised, at noon, as members of our community of faith. As Sebastian Biddulph grows up, will he find that Britain is a place where society, if not the law, welcomes his Catholic faith? Together with his parents and godparents, we share the responsibility of keeping our nation a place where he can be free to practice their new faith – free not only because the law allows freedom in principle, but because together, we create a climate where we exercise our freedom in practice. The more we assert our religious identity, the easier it will be for us, and for children growing into our community, to continue to occupy that space. But to claim that space, we must act now, before the tide flows out any further.

In a few moments, Sebastian’s parents and godparents, and each one of us here present, will make our baptismal committment, that “I believe in the Catholic Church.” How will you show by your future actions that you believe in the Catholic Church?

If you are invited to a workplace meal or buffet on a Friday, will you point out that Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays?

If you are asked to work weekend shifts, will you point out that attending Mass is something that needs to be accommodated?

If you do not already wear a cross, or another Christian symbol, will you consider the Cardinal’s call to do so?

It may seem very un-British to make a fuss about such things, but the old Britain is passing away. In the new Britain, Sebastian’s Britain, faith will either be claimed or be squeezed out. As individuals, asserting our faith is a lonely calling. But if we decide, as a community, that we will do these things, then we will, in time, create a space where Britain once again celebrates these values. And we do this based on an empty tomb, a whisper of hope, and our belief that we belong to a Kingdom which has not yet come in its fullness.

As we stand with the holy women at the tomb, saddened by what has been lost, and not yet witnessing the Return of the King, let us claim the territory for his return and so declare that this age also belongs to Christ. Let us do it for Sebastian. Let us do it for the children who will be baptised later today. And let us do it out of love for Jesus Christ! With him, let us pray to the Father, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ: For the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are Yours, Now and Forever! AMEN!

Our Father: The Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are Yours, Now and Forever!

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for The Easter Vigil, 2012

Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End. All time belongs to him and all the ages: To him be glory and power through every age and for ever. Amen!

With these words we began our solemn Easter Vigil, marking this great Easter Candle as a visible sign of Christ among us. In the readings which have been proclaimed, we have recalled the history of God’s Actions and God’s People, from the Beginning until the wonderful morning when the women at the tomb discovered that Jesus is not dead.

We have proclaimed that all time belongs to Christ, and having recalled the history of the children of Israel, I ask you now also to recall with me the recent history of our own nation.

There was a time when Britain was a Christian Kingdom. Most of you can remember it.

Divorce was not easy to come by.

The shops were closed on Sundays.

Human life was protected.

One by one, the values of Christ’s Kingdom, written into British law, have been overturned.

In 1967, abortion was made legal throughout Great Britain.

In 1969, the Divorce Reform Act was passed, with its implicit message that marriage need only be a temporary lifestyle choice.

In 1994, Sunday trading was permitted to large stores and supermarkets.

In 2004, people of the same sex were able to claim equivalent rights to married couples by forming a civil partnership.

Within a human lifetime, the fundamental assumptions of Britain’s lawmakers have changed. Our heritage was that Britain’s law should be based on God’s law. Now, our politicians see that in our nation there are people with many different faiths and beliefs, and so they say: let people be freed to do whatever they wish, as long as they don’t harm others.

Because of this new freedom, much has changed, and Britain hears a new message.

Abortion clinics are free to advertise in print, and at the end of this month will be able to do so on radio and television. More and more documentaries are made about seriously ill people who would choose to end their own lives if only they had a legal way of doing so. Britain hears the message: “Human life is only valuable if it is a wanted life.”

Alternative relationships are not only tolerated, but celebrated. Primetime television soaps and drama series now present same-sex relationships, as they have long presented casual sexual relationships, as positive and life-enriching. Anyone who dares to suggest that they should not be celebrated in the same way as traditional marriage is denounced with one of the most damning of modern condemnations: Homophobe! Britain hears the message: “Anyone who doesn’t think same-sexual relationships are a very good thing, is to be shunned as a bigot.”

We are gathered here tonight to keep vigil and listen to God’s message. We are God’s people. Our Kingdom is not of this world, and we march to the beat of a different drum. We dare to say: Human life is valuable because it is made in God’s image. We dare to say: alternative lifestyle choices may be tolerated, and must not be persecuted, but should not be celebrated, because God calls us to live by his standards, not ours. We dare to say: Our King is Risen, and Alleluia! is our song.

The Bishops of England and Wales have a gift for you this evening. As I speak, the servers will come among you with a small card which you might keep in your purse or wallet. This card is a reminder of six things that we are called to do as Catholic followers of Jesus. Yesterday, at the Good Friday Liturgy, I spoke of the importance of forgiving others. On Thursday evening, we recalled the command to love our neighbour. We must keep close to Christ, through regular prayer and also through the sacraments. Finally, we are challenged to share our faith with other people, and to use the gifts we have been given. Whatever talents or abilities we have, they are gifts from God; they are granted to us for a reason. That reason is that we may serve others, inside and outside our church community, and the Prayer of Cardinal Newman, on the other side of the card, invites us to meditate on this calling.

There is one small glimmer of hope, shining on the beach as the tide of British Law ebbs from the safe shore of Christ to the ocean of personal freedom. It is this: In principle, our national law now celebrates the right of believers to practice and make visible their faith.

We are, in principle, free to do all the things which are printed on the faith card. But to make what is permitted into a reality requires courage, the courage to live out our faith in public and without shame. In past decades, it was not necessary for us to be vocal about our values, because the structure of our society already embedded them. Now, if we do not speak up as believers, our values will be lost in the clamour of those rightly proclaiming racial equality, demanding reasonable adjustments for disability, and those sincerely but misguidedly celebrating same-sex relationships as a simple extension of marriage.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we declare to God: “Yours is the Kingdom! Yours is the Power! Yours is the Glory!” How, then, are we to live on this earth as subjects of a heavenly King?

If a few Christians say: “I don’t want to work on Sunday,” British society will say: “Don’t be awkward.”

If a few hundred thousand Christians say: “I don’t want to work on Sunday,” British society will say: “Of course, we believe in accommodating all reasonable beliefs.”

If a few Christians wear a cross to work on their lapel or around their neck, British society will say: “You don’t need to do that.”

If a few hundred thousand Christians wear a cross to work on their lapel or around their neck, British society will say: “Of course, we must adjust our dress code to accommodate discrete signs of faith.”

British Law now says: “Your faith is only important if you make a claim for it”, and Pope Benedict recognised this with alarm on his visit to Britain in 2010, stating the need to voice his “concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance”. You may have heard on today’s news, reports that Cardinal O’Brien of Scotland is calling on each and every Christian to “wear proudly a symbol of the cross of Christ on their garments each and every day of their lives”.

My dear friends in Christ, we are blessed this night to have two men among us who will be baptised as members of our community of faith. Together, we share the responsibility of keeping our nation a place where each one of them can be free to practice their new faith – free not only because the law allows freedom in principle, but because together, we create a climate where we exercise our freedom in practice. The more we assert our religious identity, the easier it will be for us, and for new members of our community, to continue to occupy that space. But to claim that space, we must act now, before the tide flows out any further.

In a few moments, first our new members, and then each one of us, will make our baptismal committment, that “I believe in the Catholic Church.” How will you show by your future actions that you believe in the Catholic Church?

If you are invited to a workplace meal or buffet on a Friday, will you point out that Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays?

If you are asked to work weekend shifts, will you point out that attending Mass is something that needs to be accommodated?

If you do not already wear a cross, or another Christian symbol, will you consider the Cardinal’s call to do so?

It may seem very un-British to make a fuss about such things, but the old Britain is passing away. In the new Britain, faith will either be claimed or be squeezed out. As individuals, asserting our faith is a lonely calling. But if we decide, as a community, that we will do these things, then we will, in time, create a space where Britain once again celebrates these values. And we do this based on an empty tomb, a whisper of hope, and our belief that we belong to a Kingdom which has not yet come in its fullness. As we stand with the holy women at the tomb, saddened by what has been lost, and not yet witnessing the Return of the King, let us claim the territory for his return and so declare that this age also belongs to Christ. With him, let us pray to the Father, as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ: For the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory are Yours, Now and Forever! AMEN!