10th January 2014
I’m sure that today will be remembered in the years ahead as one of the more notable days in the life and history of this parish of the Sacred Heart, Wimbledon. For 136 years the Society of Jesus has taken care of the sacramental and pastoral needs of parishioners, built up a thriving parish community, involving the laity and religious in participating fully in the life and work of this Catholic community here in Wimbledon. It had its beginning in 1877 when Edith Arendrup, a member of the Courtauld family, came to live here. And providentially, today we also commemorate the 80th anniversary of her death and pray for the repose of her soul.
In 1877 there were very few Catholics in the area, but she persuaded the Jesuit Fathers, then at Roehampton, to start a Mass centre in her house in Cottenham Park. In the late eighteen hundreds, London was beginning to expand with great rapidity into the suburbs and the surrounding countryside, and consequently the parish began to grow. So she decided to have a large church built in a prominent position on the slopes of Edge Hill, for which she, with great generosity, provided the funds to build this magnificent church. She commissioned a young architect, Frederick Walters, to design it in “the late decorated Gothic style”. The nave was opened on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, on the 17th June 1887 and over the next fourteen years the rest of the building was completed, finishing with the west front in 1901. So as we commemorate the 80th anniversary of her death today, we pray for her and thank God for her foresight and generosity in enabling this parish to have such a noble church building in which to gather the community together for the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
The church building, the bricks and stones and mortar, stands as a visible sign to the local community of the pilgrim Church on earth, the people of God who are united in worship of the one God, Father, Son and Spirit. It’s here in the church building that God’s people gather as a community of faith, members of God’s family, to give thanks to God for his love for us, to hear the word of God, to pray together and to celebrate the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. In doing that we responding to the first commandment: “You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind and strength.” We are called to express and live out the love God has for us, and our love for God, by loving our neighbour - the second great commandment. What does that mean in real and concrete terms? Well, Pope Francis spelled it out very clearly only yesterday: “The love John speaks of is not the love of soap operas! . . . it’s not like an ecstasy in one’s heart or a nice feeling . . . Jesus Himself, when He speaks of love, speaks to us about concrete things: feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and many concrete things . . . And when this concreteness is not there, you can live a Christianity of illusions.”
Anointed with the Holy Spirit at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to the blind new sight and to set the downtrodden free. That ministry of Christ to the poor, the rejected, the sick and the despised has been the very explicit theme of the Church’s liturgy this Christmastide. That ministry must always be at the heart of our own anointing. Our vocation as disciples of Christ is to model our lives on him. As we heard in the gospel this evening, in order to fulfil his ministry, Christ “ . . . would always go off to some lonely place where he would be alone and pray.” Our lives must be characterised by prayer, the praise of God and right living, fulfilling the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves, with all that that implies.
This is very much the theme being emphasised by Pope Francis. We all have a part to play in the building of the Kingdom and proclaiming joyfully the Gospel, the good news, to the society in which we live - laity, religious, deacons, priests and bishops. Under the leadership and guidance of the Jesuit Fathers over the past 136 years that is what the clergy, laity and religious has been doing, and will continue to do, please God, in the coming years, with the leadership of priests of the Archdiocese. My prayer tonight is that this community in Wimbledon, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, will continue to grow from strength to strength; that you will always welcome the stranger, the widow and the orphan; care for the sick, the poor and the elderly, console the sorrowing, guide and strengthen those who are searching for the truth, or those have simply lost their way and strayed from the right path; that each of you will give generously of your time and talents to continue build up the Body of Christ here in this parish of the Sacred Heart, taking to heart the words of Jesus: “You are the light of the world . . . the salt of the earth.”
So, before inducting your new parish priest, I want to express my deep gratitude and that of the whole Archdiocese for the wonderful ministry the Society of Jesus has fulfilled over the last 136 years in building up and developing such a vibrant and faith filled community here at the Sacred Heart. I am particularly grateful for the way you have engaged the laity of the parish, encouraging a real sense of co-responsibility amongst the priests and people, men and women. Simply to say “thank you” seems very inadequate, but, Fr. Dermot, it is heartfelt. And I also want to thank you for the help which some of the Jesuit Fathers will be giving to Mgr. Nicholas Hudson and Fr. Sam Davey, as I am not yet able to appoint another assistant priest to the Sacred Heart at present as we are getting rather short of priests in the diocese.
I also want to express my gratitude to Mgr. Nicholas Hudson for accepting the appointment as Parish priest. Mgr. Hudson, an old boy of Wimbledon College has had various appointments in the Archdiocese, and more recently was Vice-Rector and then Rector of the Venerable English College in Rome over the last thirteen years. And my thanks too to Fr. Sam Davey for accepting his appointment as Assistant priest, following his ordination to the priesthood last July.
So now we come to the formal “handover” of the parish from the
Society of Jesus to the Archdiocese, following which I shall with
great joy, induct Mgr. Nicholas as your new parish priest.