Your light will rise in the darkness.
I am delighted to join you this morning at the Chaplaincy and to celebrate this Mass with you. I want to thank Fr Matthew for inviting me this term and also during this period when Pope Francis is calling us to walk together along the Synodal Pathway. The last time I came to celebrate Mass in the Chaplaincy was February 2019.
So much has changed in the intervening seven years – some of it planned and some of it unforeseen. The coronavirus pandemic has left us all in a very different place from the end of 2019 and we are still struggling to recover from its impact and the effects of the restrictions that were in place.
The return of the congregations to our parishes has been gradual and overall it seems that about three-quarters of parishioners have made the return for Sunday Mass in the parish church. We clearly have a challenge ahead to draw families and the more vulnerable older parishioners back to church.
So I am grateful to be able to visit your Chaplaincy and to spend some time with you. It is my opportunity to pray with you, to hear and preach the Word of God in this place, to learn from your experience, to affirm all that is good in the life of the Chaplaincy – especially the ways that you have taken up the Church’s social mission, caring for those who are most in need – and to encourage your witness as disciples who are salt and light in the world.
It is also very important for me to be with the Chaplaincy team, with Fr Matthew, Alvea and Fr William, and to thank our Lord for their ministry among you. Thank you for the many ways in which you support and participate in their life and work. I am also very grateful to all the members of the Society of Jesus, who have served the Chaplaincy over the years, for their witness to Religious life and for their varied apostolates in the University and City.
At the heart of your Christian life is your own personal faith in Jesus Christ and your commitment to the mission he entrusted to the Church. Your Christian witness is an integral part of the Church’s mission. It depends for its fruitfulness on how you are disposed within and on the attitude of faith, hope and love that forms the basis for your daily living.
As you pray and celebrate the sacraments together the Holy Spirit is equipping you to witness to your faith in Christ – sometimes in places where that witness will be misunderstood or even unwelcome. You also see how faith can grow in the hearts of your friends and colleagues because of your own Christian witness.
Today’s Gospel is an encouragement to all of us to be confident witnesses to Christ and to live so that our way of life offers a pointer for others. In his teaching Our Lord uses the symbols of salt and light to reveal what he is asking of us. In his own day salt was an expensive commodity – because of its value in preserving food as well as enhancing and enriching its flavour.
Perhaps this speaks of our ability to recognise and esteem the distinctive character and gifts of the people we know – to contribute to the beauty and joyfulness of their lives – to play our part in enabling them to flourish and excel.
The image of light is perhaps more obvious – despite the light-pollution with which so many of us live in our cities. But the prophet Isaiah helps us to see how the light of Christ shows us the way out of darkness and sin. If you do away with the yoke, the clenched fist, the wicked word, if you give your bread to the hungry, and relief to the oppressed, your light will rise in the darkness, and your shadows become like noon.
If we try to live in this way our lives are enriched and our character is formed so that we become the person God sees in us already. This is part of our Lord’s radical call to discipleship – it is the pathway being offered to all those who will be completing their RCIA journey this coming Lent.
Today I thank the University Chaplaincy for encouraging you to be salt and light in your own College setting and with the townsfolk of this City. May this Sunday and the week ahead bring you many blessings.