Homily by Right Reverend Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury at the National Vocations Festival, St. Mary’s College, Oscott, 18th June 2011.
Today Birmingham celebrates the dedication of the Cathedral Church found amid the swirling traffic and towering buildings of the City Centre. Like every Catholic church on earth whether a makeshift church in a shanty town or a vast Cathedral or this Victorian college chapel it is the place we make for the Holy Eucharist. As we declare later in this Mass: “your house is a house of prayer, and your presence makes it a place of blessing.” (Preface of the Dedication of a Church). And I would like to say to each of you that where the Holy Eucharist is found you will also find the answer to the greatest question of your life-time. Here you will find your true vocation. I know that is a big claim to make. Yet the Catholic faith makes a still greater claim that in a few moments time the bread and wine placed on this Altar after the words of consecration are spoken, “This is my Body given for you, this is my Blood poured out for you,” are no longer bread or wine but Christ our Lord Himself, truly with us now. “Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present,” as the Catechism of the Church declares (CCC1374).
Blessed John Paul II prayed in the last year of his life that you and I would never lose what he called, “eucharistic amazment,” at Mass, when we approach Holy Communion, when we spend time before this Blessed Sacrament he prayed we would always be amazed. St. John Vianney who shared my own vocation as a Parish Priest used to point to the Altar and Tabernacle of his tiny church in Ars and say: “He is here, He is here, the One who loves us so much, He is here.” The question which King Solomon had asked before the altar he built: “Will God really live with men on earth?” is answered beyond all imagining in the Eucharist. And you’ll notice in the Gospel that it is in the very moment that Simon Peter recognises who Jesus truly is, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” that he also discovers who he truly is, his own unexpected vocation, “you are Peter,” the rock on which the Church will be built.
Our Holy Father Pope Benedict speaking in London’s Hyde Park on that unforgettable day last September said: “Dear young friends: only Jesus knows what “definite service” He has in mind for you. Be open to his voice resounding in the depths of your heart: even now his heart is speaking to your heart … Ask our Lord what he has in mind for you!” And to do this he invited us to join him in meeting Christ, “present among us in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar,” in those silent moments of adoration many of us will long remember. It is, of course, no coincidence that Christians celebrate marriage, ordination, the promises of consecrated life not in a hired hotel or a distant holiday resort but before the Altar, the place of the Eucharist where we could say with St. John: “This has taught us love – that he gave up his life for us; and we too ought to give up our lives for our brethren” (I John 3:16). For that is what every Christian vocation asks of us that we are drawn into the dynamic of the loving Sacrifice of Christ made present now for us in the Mass.
I would ask you to picture with me a young man some of you will have known, kneeling on the wooden floor of a chapel, where I was able to kneel not long ago, before Jesus truly present in the Holy Eucharist. He was struggling with a question: what must I do with my life, what in the end is my life for? At this moment he had lost his parents and brother, he had lost his place at university, he was working long hours in a factory and was alone amid the dangerous streets of the city. He would later say we are only given our lives so we can one way or another give them to something great but for a year and a half he struggled with that question, that prayer which seemed to have no answer. And if we pressed the fast forward button more than sixty years on we would find that same young man now very old and very frail in his last hours with several million people coming to be with him at the end and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the world mourned his passing. Yes, he found his vocation and you will probably have realised I am speaking of Blessed John Paul II. It is not surprising that people called him “great” but the greatness he set out to find was not some sort of fame or success but the same greatness he wanted each of you to find: to give your life in the unique, unrepeatable vocation which is yours.
Reading the little book, “No Ordinary Calling,” compiled by Father Stephen Langridge, we find some extraordinary stories of men discovering the priestly vocation today, we find one man hanging upside down from a mountain and finally coming to see his vocation there, yet each story leads towards that same encounter with the real presence of the living Jesus in the Eucharist. As a youngster I had never once thought that the Priesthood was my calling until one morning my Parish Priest said to me: “you should think of becoming a priest.” He gave me what we would call today a period of discernment. Go away, he had said, think about and pray about it and you can give me your answer tomorrow morning! I wasn’t ready with my answer next morning but looking back I found that answer, the surprising and unexpected calling which was to be my own in the deepening sense of the reality of the Eucharist. In the clear, gentle light of the Eucharist I dared to ask what the Lord had in mind for me and found the courage to say, “yes.”
In his last letter to us all (Ecclesia De Eucharistia) Pope John Paul II reminded of us of a word we use every time we come to Holy Communion, a Hebrew word, “Amen,” which means, “yes.” And Amen means something more than a casual, “yes,” but has the force of, “yes, this is true,” “yes, let this be.” And Blessed John Paul reminded us there is a connection between the “yes” Mary, Our Lady first said to the angel and the “Amen” which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord. It is our own, personal “yes” spoken to the same Jesus “who becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine.” Today I would ask each of you to say that, “Amen,” that “yes” to Him and to all He has in mind for you. Amen.