During the Mass (Photo: Enrico Scambia)

To ‘live towards Christ'

The homily of Archbishop John Wilson at the mass for the anniversary of death of Fr. Giussani. Southwark Cathedral, Thursday 15 February, London.
John Wilson

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I have to make a confession to you. I still have my Christmas nativity scene set up in my office in Archbishop’s House. This is not because I am lazy – at least that is my excuse – but because life is just so busy. And a busy life is not necessarily a virtuous life, or a holy life. In fact, sometimes it can feel an exhausting life.

I do not know about you, but Christmas does not seem all that long ago. And yet yesterday, with Ash Wednesday, we started Lent. The twinkling lights, and coloured tinsel and baubles, are exchanged for the sand solitude of the desert. We are summoned to follow the Lord Jesus in deeper prayer, in deeper consciousness of how we live less for ourselves and more for him.

The stark choice which Moses put before the Israelites is set before us: here is what leads to life and here is what leads to death – it is our choice. You can follow God’s commandments or you can reject them – it is our choice. You can worship and serve false gods, fake gods, worldly and indulgent gods, or you can listen to the voice of the Lord your God, the creator of heaven and earth – it is our choice. Everything in life involves a choice. Our Lenten invitation is to choose what truly gives life, to choose to live and love in God, to live and love like Christ

You have probably heard of the Slow Food Movement which began in Italy in 1989. It promotes food grown and bought locally, prepared carefully and thoughtfully, and enjoyed without any rush or haste. It is an antidote to the fast-food reality of the high street. While everyone loves a burger, it is not only food that has become quick. The very pace of our lives is moving faster than ever. And the older we get, the faster life seems to go. In a world where everything moves at such speed, when we have come to expect instant results and immediate service, even the life of faith – even our precious relationship with God – can be subject to the demands of express delivery.

If, at the moment, your life is travelling too fast, then Lent offers you the chance to choose to slow down. Yesterday, we received ash, dust, a reminder to plant our feet firmly again in reality, on this earth which is passing. This Lent pause to create time to pray and reflect. Take time to connect what is going on around you with what is happening in our heart. As people who take discipleship seriously, this season of human and spiritual renewal must cause us to apply the brakes and to review our life in the light of the Gospel. However busy we are, we make time for important things. As one spiritual writer commented, no one ever died of hunger because they had no time to eat; and yet we can be spiritually starving, but not take time to nourish our interior life. So how are we going to make time for the Lord Jesus? In the beautiful sentiment of Fr. Giussani, we must ‘live towards Christ.’

We could describe our Lenten journey as a reorientation. It is about looking at what matters most, considering who matters most, and putting our priorities back in their proper order. How easily what is most important slips down the list. To reorient ourselves means, literally, to look again to the East – the orient – to that part of the sky where the sun rises. The significance of this wonder of nature was not lost on our Christian ancestors. The rising sun became an image of Christ bringing light and warmth out of the darkness of death and sin. For centuries we built our churches pointing towards to the East, their stained glass flooding our sanctuaries with the radiant light of each new day.

To reorientate ourselves as disciples means living towards Christ. It means living for Christ. It means living like Christ. For Fr. Giussani, it is love, together with mercy, which comes to us from God as a gift. Each of us must embody this gift by making the self-gift of ourselves, in charity, to Christ and to others. The Second Vatican Council emphasised this truth when it taught that we, human beings, the only creatures on earth which God willed for themselves, cannot fully find ourselves except through a sincere gift of ourselves. (cf. GS 24)

We find ourselves in Christ by making our lives a gift modelled on him. And here is the crunch question: how do I model my life on Christ? By handing myself over to him, taking up my cross, every day, and following him. This means learning what to hold firm and what to let go. It means learning when to say yes, and when to say no. It means not living for what expires, but living for what endures. It means being a servant and not counting the cost. All of this flows from two important truths: knowing that I am loved so much that the Son of God died on a cross for me; and knowing that I am loved so much that the Son of God was raised to life on the third day for me.

Dear friends, this Lent we want to ‘live towards Christ.’ We need to encourage each other as disciples. We need to love each other, like Christ. We need to give ourselves away so that, in Christ, we can find our true and everlasting self.