British Cardinal´s Sermon at Royal Residence

Cormac Murphy-O´Connor´s Historic Visit

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LONDON, JAN. 15, 2002 ( Here is the text of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O´Connor´s sermon delivered at Sandringham, the royal country residence, on Sunday. Queen Elizabeth II last heard a cardinal preach (Cardinal Basil Hume) at vespers in 1995 on the occasion of the centenary of Westminster Cathedral.

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First of all, I wish to express my very grateful thanks for the invitation to preach to you today. When I am asked to preach I normally choose as a theme something that arises from one of the readings. The second reading that has been given to me is that extraordinary episode at the beginning of the public life of Jesus, namely the Marriage Feast at Cana (John 2:1-11).

It is an interesting point that the principal guest on this occasion was not Jesus Himself but His Mother, and the Gospel says that Jesus was also there as well as His apostles (cf.vv.1-2). I have a feeling that the apostles were kind of gatecrashers for this simple village wedding — which may have been the reason why the wine ran out fairly early!

I want to speak to you today about a few insights of the Mother of Jesus which encompass something very fundamental in Christian life. It does not matter whether you are Anglican, Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Free Church, there are two attitudes of Mary that unite all Christians.

The first is when she accepted the will of God to become the mother of His Son when she said to the angel, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Your word” (Luke 1:38). The second is reflected in the words found in today´s Gospel when she said to the wine waiter, “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn. 2:5). Although Mary lived in an age totally different from our own, it seems to me that she too was confronted in her own way with what we are confronted today, namely how we are each to live a virtuous life in a world that challenges all our Christian values. Today´s world has been called a ´post-modern world´ — a world where there are no objective moral values, and no moral laws. People make up their own truths and their own values and there is no clarity as to the way that people should live.

Yes, Mary lived in different times. She was a simple Jewish girl who accepted the invitation to be the Mother of Jesus. She gave birth to Him in Bethlehem, was a refugee in Egypt, lost Him at the temple, watched His public career from the sidelines and endured with Him His suffering on the cross and His desertion by all of His followers. But the memory of what she had said to the angel, and its relationship to our faith in Jesus, seems to me to be absolutely fundamental: “Be it done to me according to Your word.” In other words, what is the will of God for you and for me in our lives? We do not know what will happen in the future. We have experienced, and will experience, uncertainty. There is confusion and there is always the unexpected.

In my own life I remember many occasions when I was surprised — sometimes by joy, sometimes by sorrow, or confusion and doubt. This is a common experience. What Mary tells us is that we should accept God´s will. It does not matter whether you are in high office or low office. A vocation is unique to each person; we are all part of God´s creation and, extraordinary as it may seem, each one of us has a part to play. In God´s plan for the world, He chooses us to accomplish His destiny. This is true wherever we are and whoever we are. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a gift.

´Wherever we are´ reminds me of a story about four Polish tailors. They all lived in the same street. Times were bad and so one of the tailors decided to advertise. He put up a sign in his shop window saying ´Here is the best tailor in town´. The second tailor came along, saw this and so he put up a sign in his window saying, ´Here is the best tailor in all Poland.´ The third tailor came along and he looked at the first two. In his window he put up the words, ´Here is the best tailor in the whole wide world.´ The fourth tailor came along and he looked in the window of the first, he looked at the second, he looked at the third. He then thought, “I know what I will put up” and he put up in his window, ´Here is the best tailor in the street´! Wherever we are, in whatever condition and in whatever place, is where God wants us to be, where God wills us to be, and it is there in that place that we accomplish in our lives the will of God for us, our destiny, our part in His plan for humankind.

But it also matters ´whoever we are´ because each one of us is unique before God and of a unique importance. We are told that God calls each one of us by name (cf. Is. 43:1). When God calls you and me, He tells us only enough for you and me to say ´yes´, only enough as it were for us to put ourselves in His hands and murmur, “Let it be done to me according to Your word.” It is not always easy. If our living is to be genuinely Christian then this means we must put our trust and hope in Jesus Christ. It does not matter if the floods come and the winds blow and beat upon the house, it will not fall. We have built our house on the rock that is Christ. If we do what He tells us, if we follow Him and listen to His voice and follow His way, then we will experience that peace that only God can give, the peace that, as Jesus said, no-one can take away from you (cf. Jn. 14:27). In the midst of sin, of doubt, sorrow and death we must still be confident because in doing what Jesus tells us we know that we will echo the promise of eternal life in the resurrection which He promised us.

I have spoken a lot about the will of God which for us Christians means doing whatever Jesus tells us. I feel today in preaching in this church and under these circumstances that this is not just an isolated event. The Holy Spirit of God in all of the Christian churches over recent years has been impelling us to a greater unity, a greater communion together. Ecumenism is a long road, but a very, very fruitful one. The fact that as Christians we are united in this endeavour is of the greatest significance today. “Do whatever He tells you”. And Jesus tells us to be united. “May they all be one,” He prayed “as You are in Me, Father, and I in You so that the world may believe” (cf. Jn. 17:21). It is the work of the Holy Spirit that has prompted the conditions within which it is my privilege to be preaching here today.

Ecumenism is like a road with no exit. There is no going back. We are on a journey that we know will be fulfilled by the promptings and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in that unity which is Christ´s will. Of that I am quite sure.

The two phrases on which my sermon hinges today — “Be it done to me according to Your will” and “Do whatever He tells us” — are true not only for us individually. They are always true for the community of Christ´s people which we call the Church. If we listen and try to do the will of God in our own lives, and if we do what Jesus teaches us, then we have good reasons to hope that Christian unity will eventually come about. We should not be disheartened even if sometimes we think that progress is slow. I remember as a young boy when things were at a very low ebb in the Second World War. From the sitting room in my home in Reading I listened to a speech given by Winston Churchill. During it he quoted from a poem and I think it is the first bit of poetry I ever remembered. It was taken from a poem by Arthur Clough (1819-1861) called ´Say not the struggle nought availeth´. I always remembered the third verse:

For while the tired waves vainly breaking
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back, through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.*

The creeks and inlets in our own time are Christians coming together but the silent flood is the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is God´s work and this is His will, not merely our own e

I hope you will forgive me if, before I conclude, I add a personal note. This is the beginning of the Golden Jubilee Year of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. The Queen has reigned for these fifty years with enormous dignity, dedication and faithfulness. My prayer today and through the year is that the gifts of the Holy Spirit will be given to her ever more abundantly.

So, we can be hopeful today and confident as we face the future. God is with us as we accept His will in our own lives and strive as best we can to do whatever He tells us.

H.E. Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O´Connor
Archbishop of Westminster


* Composition date: 1849. First published under the title “The Struggle” in an American art journal, The Crayon, August 1855. The poem appeared without a title in the 1862 volume, and again, with the title “Say Not the Struggle Nought Availeth,” in The Poems and Prose Remains of Arthur Hugh Clough, 1869.

[text released by Westminster Archdiocese]

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