I look back on my nearly twenty-five years as a priest and wonder where all the time has gone. Nearly eighteen of those years were spent as part of an ecumenical team of chaplains in hospital, prison or university. I would like to think that Jesus's prayer in today's Gospel has been at the heart of my chaplaincy ministry: 'May they all be one'. This continues to inspire my work in an ecumenical context.
My grandmother, now dead many years, gave thanks for the Mass in English, which enabled her to take a full part in both Sunday and Weekday Mass, rather than substitute the sorrowful mystery of the Rosary as she became older and deafer. I was always a bit of a Grandma's boy, and would accompany her to Mass when staying at her house. If I was invited to read the Epistle by the Parish Priest, Grandma would be sure to remind me to read loudly and clearly.
Like her I have often given thanks for the work of the Holy Spirit in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, above all in the Liturgy! The opportunity to worship in our own language, the restoration of the cup, so that we may indeed heed the Dominical command - Take ye and eat, Take ye and drink - at the very heart of the celebration initiated on that Holy Thursday evening. My favourite celebration of Mass is indeed the Mass of the Lord's Supper, above all a liturgy of service to each other, Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, the one and only High Priest of the once and for all sacrifice. I also rejoice in the greater freedom accorded to those who prefer to worship in the older Latin rite.
Let us hear again the bright star of the morning in today's reading from the Apocalypse: 'Then let all who are thirsty come: all who want it may have the water of life, and have it free.'
The fresh eagerness of St Stephen in the first reading from the Acts cannot fail to move us: 'Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, ....I can see heaven thrown open' he said 'and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'
This was indeed the springtime of the Church. We need to revisit this, each year to be revived by the Spirit. When our own spirits are jaded and tired-out, we need the spirit and the Bridegroom to say to us 'Come'.
This can be for all of us a time of genuine renewal in our following of the Lord Jesus, a time of reaching out once again to our fellow Christians after the manner of Christ's prayer to the Father for unity. 'May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.'
In this spirit, I welcome the general instruction of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, to our fellow Anglican Christians who might want to enter into communion with the See of Peter corporately. As with all such situations, it is not without its difficulties. The same generosity is seen in Pope Benedict's efforts in seeking to draw back into unity the Lefebvrist traditionalists.
All this resonates with the prayer for Christian Unity by Pope John XXIII at the time of the Second Vatican Council which had at its heart today's Gospel passage, 'May they all be one'.
This speaks of a variety of spirit which does not necessitate a rigid uniformity, but is appreciative of the richness and variety of rites and traditions both within the Church already, and in the variety of other Christian traditions, with whom we have much in common, despite the continuing historical and theological divisions, the hope and challenge of the future will need much patience and charity on the part of all Christians, and all men and women of goodwill.