Bishop John reflects on 40 years of priesthood at Jubilee MassTuesday 18th July 2023
Hundreds of people gathered at Salford Cathedral last weekend to celebrate Bishop John’s Ruby Jubilee.
Priests, parishioners, and friends came together on Sunday 16th July for the final Mass at the cathedral before it temporarily closes as part of its ambitious restoration project.
As Bishop John led the Mass celebrating his 40 years of sacred priesthood, he took time to reflect on his journey so far, particularly his move to Salford almost a decade ago.
Speaking in his homily, he said: “For those among you who may have been here on 8th December 2014 at my installation as bishop of this diocese, you will have received a small card with the usual request: ‘Please pray for John Arnold, installed as bishop.’ And on the other side, a simple prayer of seven words: ‘Stay with us, Lord, on our journey.’
“And I’ve been delighted with the number of remarks, letters, cards, and comments I’ve had over the years about how much those seven words mean to people: they speak volumes.”
Bishop John went on to talk more about this simple prayer and what these few words can teach us about discipleship in the 21st-century.
He said: “Just take that first word: ‘stay’. That implies that we have Jesus with us already. It’s not that we’re asking Him to come from a long way off, or that it’s the first time we want to be in contact with Him; we’re asking Him to stay.
“And then there’s those two words: ‘us’ and ‘our’, that show that we work together, not as individuals, in our faith. We are, as St Paul tells us, just as a human body that is made up different parts that make up one body, so it is with Christ. We’re in this together and we need to understand that sense of collaboration, and that’s what’s really behind the question of the Synod in these days: that learning to listen together, to walk prayerfully so that the Holy Spirit may guide us and show us all that God is asking of us.
“And then there’s that word ‘journey’, which I think is so important because it allows us to be growing and changing; we are interpreting Gospel values for the needs of our world today.”
Bishop John went on to relay his own journey, from his childhood aspiration to follow in his father’s footsteps and take up a career in the legal sector, to eventually discerning his vocation to priestly life.
In his homily, we learned more about Bishop John’s various roles during his ministry, including Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster and Titular Bishop of Lindisfarne – before bringing us back to his installation as Bishop of Salford in 2014.
Reflecting once again on this moment, Bishop John said: “I remember standing here on the day of my installation saying, ‘I know I will make mistakes, and I ask you to positively point these out to me – in charity.”
He continued: “In these last years, I think it’s been very important to me to recognise that it’s our best intentions along the way that fulfil our vocation.”
Bishop John ended his homily by sharing a prayer by 20th-century mystic, Thomas Merton, reminding us that whatever journey our lives take us on, we are called to respond with trust, faith, and a joyful desire to do God’s will.
He said: “I’d like to end with a prayer which has become very important to me. It’s a simple prayer but it is important:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.””