Last Friday, I celebrated the annual Mass for Schools in the Cathedral. We have 75 schools across the Diocese and the Mass was attended by representative teachers and students from many of them, near and far. It was the Memorial of St. Bernadine of Siena and here is the homily I preached.
Let me tell you a quick story. It’s a true story, about an Italian priest, a Franciscan friar, called Bernadine. He lived a long time ago in the early 1400s. Bernadine was a great preacher. He travelled up and own Italy and was so popular that huge crowds came out to listen to him, sometimes as many as 30,000 people. I’ve been doing some research: 30,000 people is bigger than many a football stadium. E.g. Fratton Park, Portsmouth 20,000; Bournemouth 11,000, the Madejski Stadium Reading 24,000. Old Trafford – no we won’t go there… But 30,000 is a huge crowd. Bernadine was a brilliant preacher. He invented the use of logos. He was the first person to use a logo, which is why he’s the patron saint of advertisers. I’m sure some of you know what this logo means – yes, no entry. What about this logo: M? Bernadine, when he preached, held up this one: IHS. IHS are the first three letters in Greek of the Name of Jesus and in church you often see now IHS on vestments, on covers, on books. Bernadine kept saying Jesus should be the centre of everything. Jesus should be the centre of our faith. Jesus should be the centre of our life. St. Paul said that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow. Bernadine said, the name of Jesus is so holy that whenever we hear it we should bow our head in reverence: like when we say the Hail Mary (full of grace, the Lord is with thee; Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus). It was a very simple message: that we make Jesus the centre of our life, that we shew deep love for Him and that we bow our head at His Holy Name.
Now hold on to this, because we have just heard Jesus say in the Gospel: You are my friends. I call you friends. In fact, He says: You did not choose me; no, I chose you. Jesus was speaking here to His Apostles and they found Him to be the greatest Friend of all time. He was Someone Who loved them personally and passionately, Someone they could speak to about whatever they wanted, Someone who was great fun, Someone they could discuss things with. Jesus was the greatest Friend they ever had. They knew exactly what He meant when He said Love one another as I have loved you. Jesus wanted them to be as much friends with each other as He was with them. He had such a deep friendship with them, He even said: no-one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. That’s what He did, though when He said this He hadn’t yet died on the Cross. But when He did die, they understood instantly what He meant.
Let me go back to St. Bernadine. It’s his feastday today. The reason He was so successful was because He taught everyone a simple yet profound message: that Jesus wants us to be His Friend. Jesus, God the Son made man, invites us to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him. He invites us to listen to His Words, to respond to Him with our hearts and to enjoy that same friendship with Him that when on earth He shared with the Apostles. Indeed, He loves us so much that when He laid down His life on the Cross, He had you and me personally in His mind. That’s how much He loves us. So thank you for coming to this Mass today. When you leave, remember this: that Jesus invites us to be His Friend, that He wants us to get to know Him, to be with us in our daily life, to help us in sickness, suffering and sadness, and one day to be with Him forever in heaven. So let’s build up in our lives a friendship with him. Let’s find some time every day for prayer. Let’s love reading the Gospels. Let’s receive Him every week in Holy Communion. Let’s meet Him every month in Confession. And let’s do our best to love one another, just as He has loved us, especially caring for the poor and needy. If we can do this, we will change the world.