St Pius X Church, Narborough - Roman Catholic Diocese of Nottingham
 
 
 
 
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Homily 16
 
 
29 July 2012  
 
 
On Saturday morning as I was getting up I heard on the radio an advert for broadband. If you contract with this particular company there will never be an occasion when you will find you’ve used up your allocation – no matter how many films and music files you download, or photos, data, texts – you will never breach the limit because there is no limit. I remember some months ago there was a furore because adverts of this sort seemed to be misleading – the providers were saying you had unlimited access, or ‘all you could eat’, but the contract did specify a limit, and the ‘unlimited access’ was only avaiable up to the limit. That doesn’t sound unlimited to me, but it seems that the Advertising Standards Agency had approved these adverts. So I did wonder whether the same was true of the one I heard yesterday morning. As is often the case, the advert did end with someone speaking so quickly that I couldn’t hear what was said – so there must at least have been some ‘terms and conditions apply’!
 
What a contrast we have with the passage from St. John’s Gospel which we have heard today. A multitude of people followed Our Lord, impressed by the signs he gave by healing people. We might think that such generosity would be quite enough for the time being, but Our Lord sets about feeding them as well – and offering far more than is needed, so that, at the end, twelve baskests full of the scraps are collected after the people have eaten all they wanted.
 
Unfortunately, although the people were quick to accept Our Lord’s generosity, it seems that they were much slower in understanding what he was teaching them. They had already seen some miracles, but they had not connected up the healing in their bodies with their need for spiritual healing as well – the response to God’s offer of a better relationship, through the One whom he had sent to them. They accepted Jesus as a wonderworker, but they had not (on the whole) got much further than that, to accept him as Lord and Saviour. At the end of this passage, when the people have been fed all that they could want – and without them asking for it – we hear that they acclaimed him as the prophet sent into the world by God, which sounds as though they are on the right track. But prophets were not usually comfortable people to have around – they tended to question and criticize what the people were doing, and call them to repentance. The multitude appear to think that Jesus was the sort of prophet whom you could have as your own possession – to do what you wanted, and when you wanted it – and that he could be their earthly ruler, which he was certainly not going to accept. So we hear that, as a result of his generous actions, they were about to take him by force and make him king: and with such a terrific piece of misunderstanding by this great crowd of people, Our Lord’s response was to escape back to the hills by himself. 
 
How good are we at understanding Our Lord, and how good are we at responding to him? If we think carefully about the Gospel which we have heard, we might be struck by the way that he told his disciples to collect up the remaining pieces ‘so that nothing gets wasted’. It is unlikely that the people as a whole thought about this at all: for them, Our Lord was a wonderworker who could feed them at any time without them even having to work for it. In that case, why any talk of waste? Surely he could just work the miracle again? But for Our Lord himself, the pieces left over are part of the gift of God, and who would want to waste what God has given?
 
Do we waste what God has given to us? Do we take our faith so much for granted that it doesn’t really matter that much if it isn’t all that strong? We confess our belief in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that Jesus is Our Lord and Saviour, who leads us to the Resurrection and eternal life, and no doubt we do try to lead good lives and look after our families and be kind to our neighbours. Do we run the risk of assuming that that will be enough? How strong is our relationship to our loving God?
 
Among the most important gifts we have received from God are our fellow men and women. Later in St. John’s Gospel we hear Our Lord praying in thanksgiving for those that his heavenly Father had given him, those to whom he had proclaimed God’s word, and he prays that they may be united as intimately as Our Lord himself is in union with his heavenly Father. So just as he instructed his disciples to gather together the pieces of bread and fish, gifts from God, so that nothing should be lost, so also he has gathered together his followers, acknowledging them also as gifts from God, and they also must not be lost.
 
How careful are we with the God’s gifts to us of our fellow christians, members of our community? Do we take them for granted to some extent? Do we take for granted that the community will always remain intact, and that there will always be a place of worship where the followers of the Lord can gather together to praise him and glorify him? Do we take for granted that there always will be a leader for our worship, a leader for our gathering, a leader to ensure that all God’s gifts are preserved and that nothing goes to waste? Do we take for granted that, when we are unable any longer to join the community in person, there will be those who are willing and able to come to us and to ensure that we are still honoured as fellow christians and as members of the communion?
 
Bishop Malcolm takes very seriously his responsibilities to those God has given to him, which is why he is consulting so widely at the moment with ‘You Are Living Stones’. He does ask us to join him in this process, so that he will preserve and care for God’s gifts,and thatnothing will be wasted of allthat God has given to this diocese. So please do reflect on allthe issues that Ihave been raising for these past two months.
 
What do we need the priest for?
What do we want the priest to be doing for us?
How do we wish to look after our priest?
What do we do for our priest?
How would this parish maintain itself as a Christian communion
          without a resident parish priest?
          if we had to relocate elsewhere?
 
 
Bishop Malcolm asks us all to reflect on such questions, and to pool our thoughts so that he can discharge his responsibility to make appropriate and wise decisions for the whole diocese.
 
Father Ken O’Riordan, who was a good friend of mine, and who died ten days ago, always invited the congregation to spend a few minutes talking about what he had said in his homilies, and reflecting on the passages from Scripture which they had heard. I’ve never yet had the confidence tofollow his advice. Butnow I’m wondering whether that would help us all to reflect and to make our reflections known to Bishop Malcolm. 
 
 
 
Homily 15
 
22 July 2012
 
 
Up in my study there is a ‘Wanted’ poster which someone gave to me a few years ago. “Do you know this man? He is 40 years old, tall, slim, athletic, and handsome. He has the vigour of a 25-year old and the wisdom of a 60-year old. He preaches for exactly ten minutes, frequently condemns sin and social evils, but never upsets anyone. He works from 6am to 11pm, is always available, and spends at least two hours a day in prayer. He earns no money but gives lots of it to the poor. He is a man of patience, gentleness,and kindness, but is also strong, vigorous, and decisive. He gives himself completely to others, but never gets too close to anyone. He spends his entire day visiting parishioners, comforting the sick and bereaved, and working in schools, but he is always at home when anyone phones or calls. He is a man of deep spirituality and wide learning, is down-to-earth and practical, a capable administrator, and a wise counsellor”.
 
It then says that if your priest doesn’t quite match up, you should send him back to the bishop and ask for another one. The right one must be out there somewhere.
 
The people of Our Lord’s time had the grace of the presence among them of Our Lord himself as their teacher, healer, leader, and his closest disciples as his helpers. But it seems that their expectations were such that even our Lord’s disciples couldn’t match up to them. There were so many people coming and going that they didn’t have time even to eat. It reminds me of a colleague of mine, who was curate at Small Heath in Birmingham about 30 years ago: the priests were trying to eat lunch; simultaneously all three doorbells rang, and someone tapped on the window.
 
So what do we require of our priests? I would like your views on that, so please do write in or use the parish website to let me know your thoughts. But here I my thoughts.
 
People need the priest at important events in their lives – particularly weddings, baptisms, and funerals. But the reason people need a priest on these occasions isn’t the same. At weddings and baptisms the priest is needed because people wish to experience God in their lives at these important times – to feel God’s blessing (approval perhaps?) for what they are doing, and to ask for God’s continued help for the future – married life, or the life of the child. If we are looking for the presence of a human person on such occasions,  and the promise of that person’s presence throughout married life or the life of the baby, we would be talking about the need for friendship; and this is what we look for on such occasions from God – and we usually call that sustained friendship which God offers us on such occasions ‘grace’.
 
The priest is needed at funerals for a different reason. At funerals the priest is to assure the people of the enduring value of the life of the person who has died; and to do so in the context of that person as a child of God; and to pray for eternal life – enduring value in God’s sight. So this connects up with our need for the priest at many other times of trouble – illness, for example – when the purpose is to bring meaning into our lives, a meaning which is provided by God, for it cannot be provided by anyone else. Just as there is a name for God’s friendship, so also we have a word to describe this meaning in our lives for which we are looking to God to provide in times of trouble: we call it ‘salvation’. And this reminds us that we need the priest to assure us of God’s friendship (grace) and this enduring meaning to our lives (salvation) even though we are sinners and we know we do not deserve any of it: the grace of forgiveness from God, without which we could not hope for salvation.
 
In order that we can know where to look for God’s friendship, and how to access the forgiveness which God always offers, we also need the priest to instruct us in God’s ways, to preach God’s word. This is also a matter of reassurance for us: to know that God has a plan, and that plan does include us. This reassurance extends to the knowledge that, no matter how bad things appear to be, God does know what God is doing. This reassurance is vitally important for us, because without it there would be many times when we would be unable to understand what is happening in the world, to find meaning in our lives. When we know that God is with us, despite appearances, when we know that God does have a plan, though nobody else seems to know what they are doing, then it gives us the courage to try things ourselves – to be creative, because in our activities we can feel the presence of God. Again we have a name for this: we call it ‘hope’.
 
We also need the priest for stability. Our world is changing. Much of this change is out of our control. Most of the time we probably only have a hazy understanding of all that is going on. We’ve heard that scientists claim to have discovered the Higgs boson, but most of us don’t really know what it is all about. More important for us, is that the world is changing in that those we know and loved are becoming older and die. We rely on the fact that certain persons always come up with the goods – but then they are unable to do so, because of illness, or they move away. We all need stability, and we look to the priest to provide that for us as well – the stability of knowing that we are still under the care of the unchanging God, who always loves and cares for his people, whose love is steadfast and everlasting, and will never fail us. A sign of that stability is that the Church continues to be, and the priest is here with us. We have a name for this too – we call it ‘faith’.
 
We need the priest for faith and hope, for grace and salvation. We need the priest for more than this, but that is a good start, I think. What is important now is that you tell me your views on what we need the priest for, and your views on what that requires from Bishop Malcolm. Please do think about it, and write down your comments and let me have them in the box in Church or through the presbytery door, or on the parish website.
 
What do we need the priest for?
What do we want the priest to be doing for us?
How do we wish to look after our priest?
What do we do for our priest?
How would this parish maintain itself as a Christian communion
          without a resident parish priest?
          if we had to relocate elsewhere?
 
Bishop Malcolm asks us all to reflect on such questions, and to pool our thoughts so that he can discharge his responsibility to make appropriate and wise decisions for the whole diocese.
 
 
 
 
 
Homily 14
 
8 July 2012
 
About ten years ago two clergymen who had been students when I was a student – though they were both older than me and both ordained priest before me – addressed our annual diocesan conference for priests. They had both attained positions of eminence – Monsignor Rod Strange was Rector of the Beda College in Rome, and Bishop Crispin Hollis was Bishop of Portsmouth – posts that they both still hold today. I needed some convincing that they would be the right choices for speakers – I knew them as fellow students! But they came and they both performed excellently, and were very inspiring for the priests and deacons of the diocese who came to hear them.
 
So why was I unsure that they would be the right ones to ask? Bishop Hollis, in his second talk to us, put his finger on it: he thanked us all for inviting him, and for listening and taking what he had to say seriously – because, he said, when he talks to the priests of his own diocese, the response he gets is much less gratifying – they know him too well, and they can’t accept that he has much to offer to them. I think that Our Lord runs up against a similar problem in returning tohis home town: they know him too well, and they won’t listen to him, as they might listen to someone from another place – particularly someone from somewhere more glamorous (Jerusalem perhaps?), or who had more of a pedigree (not just the carpenter’s son).
 
Another surprise for me came towards the end of the Conference, when I went to each of them to ask how much they wanted to be paid for doing us this service – writing two talks each, attending a conference, being willing to engage in discussion with the priests and deacons of the diocese. Both of them said they didn’t expect anything – it would be nice if we could cover their travel costs. People in secular employment of a similar grade would probably have expected at least £500 plus travel. In this way also they were following the path of Our Lord, who came free of charge to the people with the gifts of the Word of God, healing, and salvation. I did wonder (and have often wondered since) whether our present commercial instincts mean that we don’t value people who give their time and their efforts free of charge. Would people pay more attention to what I say if I took more from the parish for my keep? I hope not!
 
So there are difficulties for all of us in attempting to take seriously Bishop Malcolm’s requests for us to help him plan for the future. He has been our Bishop for eleven and a half years, and  we are perhaps too used to him now. I’ve been parish priest here for fourteen years, and perhaps you are all even more used to me! But it is very important for us all to keep in mind the experience of our Lord in returning to his home town. We are told that He could work few miracles there because of their lack of faith – even Our Lord could not do the will of his Father if the people were not willing to co-operate, to trust him and his vision, and to accept what he had to offer.
 
So it is important that we accept our Bishop’s invitation to reflect with him about the way we will be the Church of the future. We do so knowing that he is the person chrged with ensuring that the mission of the Church – to preach God’s Word, to proclaim the truth of the Catholic faith, to celebrate mass and the sacraments and ensure that they are worthily celebrated throughout the diocese, to care for those who are ill, poor, and in trouble, and to gather together the faithful of Christ into the one communion. But we also know that he is himself a man of integrity and compassion. He does not want to remove any priest from a parish – he knows the time will come when he has to do so, but it will always be a regret for him. He certainly does not want to close any place of worship – and if he has to do so, then that would be even more a matter of great regret. He has made it clear that he does not intend to move me from here this year (unless there are disasters of course, over which he has no control); and if it does become necessary for us to relocate, he would wish us to remain a community and to find ways in which we could still come together to worship God and to celebrate the sacraments and to listen to God’s holy Word and to socialize as the body of Christ. Sohe has made it clear that if, due to circumstances beyond our control, a parish does have to lose its own buildings (or some of them), the proceeds will remain the property of that community for them to use for their own benefit, always, of course, in consultation with Bishop Malcolm himself and his advisors. Bishop malcolm is certainly not into asset-stripping!
 
I am grateful to those of you who have responded to these requests for feedback earlier this year, and for those few who have responded in the past week or so. I would ask all of you to keep reflecting on these important questions, so that, if the time should come when there is no resident priest here (or we have to share our resident priest with another parish), or even we have to relocate, we have a basis on which we can start tomake the necessary decisions abouthow to maintain ourselves as a christian communion, the body of Christ in this place.
 
 
Shall I take part in the course for catechists?
Shall I come to the safeguarding training?
Shall I form or join a prayer group – whether in Church or at home?
Shall I help in some way in Church, to assist in the celebrations of Mass at weekends, for the greater glory of God?
Could I visit someone who is ill, elderly, or housebound?
Could I join the SVP, or consider becoming a eucharistic minister?
Could I work for justice and peace, or for CAFOD, or in some way help those in the world much less fortunate than we are?
How would this parish maintain itself as a christian communion
          without a resident parish priest?
          if we had to relocate elsewhere?
 
 
Bishop Malcolm asks us all to reflect on such questions, and to pool our thoughts so that he can discharge his responsibility to make appropriate and wise decisions for the whole diocese.
 
 
 
 
 
Homily 13   
 
24  June 2012
 
 
Many years ago, I heard part of a talk given by Bishop David Shepherd, Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, who had been an international cricketer (and captained England on a couple of occasions). So it was not a surprise that when he looked for an example of what he was saying he turned to cricket. He referred to Mike Brearley, who was then captain of England’s cricket team, who was known for his careful field placings – moving fine leg a little closer and a little squarer, moving cover point a little further out and a little finer; and when he had finished placing the field exactly as he wanted, he always looked up at the sun, as though he was moving the sun a little finer or a little squarer. And Bishop Shepherd commented that we would perhaps all like to be able to make the sun do as we wanted – and I suppose after the last couple of months, if we could even make the sun shine for some time each day we might be very pleased. But, he said, God has not given us that amount of power; instead, God calls on us to make best use of the powers and talents that he has given us. If we were able to do so much more, then perhaps we would be less responsible with what God has already given to us; and perhaps our limitations will help us to recognise the ways in which we have been wasteful.
 
With that in mind, when we recall the words of the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading, we may be struck by the fact that he starts off by giving orders to the islands, just as Mike Brearley might have seemed to give orders to the sun. But then we notice that, while God has given Isaiah great power to do his will, the prophet himself seems to think that he has been a failure. God says – you are my servant, in whom I shall be glorified; whereas the prophet thought – I have toiled in vain, and exhausted myself for nothing.
 
So how is it that the prophet’s understanding of his work, of all that he has been able to accomplish in God’s sight, has been so much at variance with God’s own understanding? I think that part of the trouble, for the prophet, is that he was expecting to do too much all at once: he was looking for immediate results, or at least that matters would be very significantly better after a few years of work. But God doesn’t look for the quick fix: God’s timespan, unsurprisingly, is eternal, and so what to us might seem an appreciable amount of time (the fourteen years that I have been in this parish, for example), to God is just the blink of an eye.
 
But towards the end of the passage from the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard today, there is another explanation. God and Isaiah have rather different ideas of success. So Isaiah’s field of view is the nation of Israel, and his idea of success is ensuring that the nation is settled in the land, has sufficient food and drink and shelter, is well governed according to God’s laws, worships God in his Temple, and is safe from attacks from other nations. God’s objectives for Isaiah, however, are rather grander: “It is not enough for you to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel; I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
 
So I wonder what our ideas of success might be for ourselves as a christian communion. Bishop Ellis, who was Bishop 50 years ago when I first came to the Nottingham Diocese, had very clear ideas of success: building schools – which he considered was more important than building churches. Young parishes would usually have goals, in terms of the money needed to be raised to build a Church for themselves, and success would be first of all when the Church was built and they moved in to their place of worship, and then when the had paid for it. We had to do some fundraising in this parish a few years ago to pay for the extension of the Parish Hall and painting and refurbishing the Church – and again we could congratulate ourselves when the loan was paid off a year ago. Missionary Orders of priests often take it as a mark of their success when young men from the region where they have been working join the Order and are ordained priests; and perhaps that could be an idea for parishes in our own diocese – to mark success by having an ordination to the priesthood, or at least to the diaconate, in the parish.
 
But that is all rather inward-looking – equivalent, perhaps, to Isaiah’s aim to ‘restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back the survivors of Israel’. Does God, perhaps, have a different set of objectives for us, which are more to do with the Church in this parish being ‘a light to the nations, so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth’?  And if this is what God is calling us to achieve in this parish, and in this Diocese, how are we going to plan for the future so that this will become our objective too?
 
Last week I raised a few questions which perhaps relate both to this community as the Catholic community in this area, and to the mission of the Church as a whole, to be a light to the nations and to bring salvation to the poor. Perhaps these same questions could be a focus for reflections this week as well.
 
 
Shall I take part in the course for catechists?
Shall I come to the safeguarding training?
Shall I form or join a prayer group – whether in Church or at home?
Shall I help in some way in Church, to assist in the celebrations of Mass at weekends, for the greater glory of God?
Could I visit someone who is ill, elderly, or housebound?
Could I join the SVP, or consider becoming a eucharistic minister?
Could I work for justice and peace, or for CAFOD, or in some way help those in the world much less fortunate than we are?
How would this parish maintain itself as a christian communion
            without a resident parish priest?
            if we had to relocate elsewhere?
 
 
Bishop Malcolm asks us all to reflect on such questions, and to pool our thoughts so that he can discharge his responsibility to make appropriate and wise decisions for the whole diocese.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Homily 12   
 
17  June 2012
 
 
I heard recently of a survey into food, which produced the rather surprising results that a significant  number of people think that bacon comes from cows, and an even larger number of people were quite unaware of how you get raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, and so on. It reminds me of the April 1 episode of Horizon, about forty years ago or so, which was based on the idea that spaghetti grew on trees.  
 
There are a lot of things that we take on trust – and in many cases we really have no choice. Most of us have only the haziest of ideas about how the microwave works, for instance, but we still use them quite regularly; and the same probably goes for flat screen TVs. We know that they will go wrong from time to time – but it still catches us out when they do. I know I felt quite aggrieved when the element on the cooker burned out last year, and would probably have similar feelings if the washing machine broke down (it is 14 years old!).  
 
So just as the farmer in Our Lord’s time would sow the seed and then wait for it to come to harvest, in accordance with the ways of the world which God has made, so also we do many things every day with hardly a thought about how our actions produce their results.  
 
And this, Our Lord tells us, is what the kingdom of God is like. It is something of which we are part, but which follows its own rules – the rules that God has given – regardless of whether we are committed to it or not. If we are committed, all well and good: we can sow the seed of the kingdom (the seed provided by our heavenly Father), we might till the soil, or pull out weeds, or help matters along in whatever ways God has gifted us to be able to do; and when the harvest is ready there will be worked commissioned by God to gather the harvest of the Kingdom of God – eternal life and happiness with God. But if we are not committed, the seed will still be sown, and the work will still be done, and the harvest will still ripen. God calls us all to work for the kingdom of truth, peace, life, love, and if we hear his call then our own work will form a part of the eternal kingdom; but if we refuse, that will not frustrate God’s plans; it merely means that our work will not be part of their fulfilment.  
 
A great deal of hard work has gone into building the kingdom of God in this part of Leicestershire, and we have had a part to play in that building. Those who have gone before us – the people who used to worship at the Old Bakery on Church Lane, those who used to worship in the room over the pub – sowed the seed of faith and worship; those who came after them – who were instrumental in raising money, providing the land, supporting the original Church building, ensuring that the young people were raised in faith and practice – tilled the soil and irrigated it; and in recent years we have continued their good work, with the Parish Hall extension, tending to our communion as the body of Christ, and continuing to show a welcome to others, and to look after our young people and our elderly people, those who are healthy and those who are not – all in continuing preparation for the time of the harvest. We look forward to being part of God’s kingdom, when perhaps we will find that what we thought of as just a mustard seed compared with the work that others have done, was counted by God as important and perhaps has grown into a large tree in God’s garden.  
 
But underpinning it all is still faith. Faith that God has some better thing planned for us even than our experiences of life and love and faith in this world. And part of that faith is the knowledge that all things in this world have their time, and there may be a time when all that we have built in our parish must give way to something different. I’m sure we would feel very aggrieved if it was to happen in our lifetime: just as I felt aggrieved when the new central heating boiler refused to work because it had got too cold and the outlet had frozen!  
 
But I think that we owe it to future generations to put in lasting foundations, just as our forebears worked to erect the foundations of this parish. We may not know what will be built on our foundations, any more than they did; but we trust in the power and the love of God just as they did. So what must we ensure that we put inplace? St. Paul is very clear: the foundation is Christ himself and the apostles; building on anything else will not last. And the way that we build must be in faith in God, and in love of God and of his people. Those are the tools of the trade. And we must use all the talents that God has given to us in this work: our intelligence, our imagination, our sensitivity, our appreciation of God’s gifts.  
 
So as a christian communion we must make sure that we share our faith with others – the younger members of our communion, and those outside who may wish to become members. This means that we must make sure that we have among us those who are willing to hand on our christian faith and who are properly trained to do so. So there is a catechists’ course starting this autumn at St. Patrick’s, for existing catechists and forthose who might wish to become catechists at some time in the future, and there is shortly to be some training in child protection matters in this parish. We must make sure that there are those among us who take care to visit the sick and the lonely and the elderly and the housebound, and keep them within our worshipping communion; and we must make sure that the group of people who have been doing such great work in the past is regularly augmented by new members willing to carry on this good work into the future. We must make sure that we are always alive to the needs of peoples who are not members of our communion, particularly those who are starving, without shelter, or in fear of unjust imprisonment. We must, as a christian communion, consider the ways that we worship God, formally in Church, and informally – and perhaps this means that we should look to new forms of prayer life in the parish to supplement the prayers and the liturgy that we already have. And in all of this we must remain open to the possibility that there may have to be changes to our established routine: we may well be unable to have regular Mass every weekday; we may have to make do with only two Sunday Masses (and perhaps even with only one); we may have to make do without a resident priest; we may even have to consider life as a parish communion based elsewhere than here in our Church. We have to be open to these possibilities, because they are less important than our shared faith, our celebrations of Mass and the sacraments, our prayers individually and together, and the way that we show our love for God and for one another.  
 
So perhaps this week we need to reflect on some more questions for the future: Shall I take part in the course for catechists? Shall I come to the safeguarding training? Shall I form or join a prayer group – whether in Church or at home? Shall I help in some way in Church, to assist in the celebrations of Mass at weekends, for the greater glory of God? Could I visit someone who is ill, elderly, or housebound? Could I join the SVP, or consider becoming a eucharistic minister? Could I work for justice and peace, or for CAFOD, or in some way help those in the world much less fortunate than we are? How would this parish maintain itself as a christian communion             without a resident parish priest?             if we had to relocate elsewhere?  Bishop Malcolm asks us all to reflect on such questions, and to pool our thoughts so that he can discharge his responsibility to make appropriate and wise decisions for the whole diocese.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Homily 11   
 
10 June 2012
 
It is an important part of our culture, and I think an important aspect of human life
and human relationships, that we do like to celebrate our memories of others, and important stages in our own lives, by eating and drinking together. I’m sure we don’t have to – we could think of other ways of celebrating – but I did find it very enjoyable to be able to invite a number of people to come together for a meal to celebrate my 40 anniversary of priesthood (although I must remember in future that the Hall can only really take 100 people sitting down to a meal: 118 was just a bit too crowded!).
 
So it is not really surprising that when Our Lord came to the last few days of his life on this earth, he wanted to eat a special meal with his closest disciples and followers. It was the time of the Passover, when all good Jewish people would be eating a celebratory meal in memory of their deliverance from slavery by the hand of God. So Our Lord could make this a special meal in two senses: it could be the Passover feast, but with the extra dimension of deliverance from slavery to sin by the hand of God in Jesus’ death; and it could be Our Lord’s own way of celebrating with those who had helped him in his life’s work, and who would continue that work into the future.
 
So what are we really doing, when we celebrate a meal together, commemorating some special event – whether it is a birthday or an anniversary, or a ‘thank you’ to somebody or some group of people who have made an important contribution, to the success of a venture, for example; or even when we eat together more regularly, as the priests of this area like to do on a Sunday, if we are able to do so.
 
First of all, we are sharing in God’s good gifts. We are only alive by God’s gifts; he has made the world and all that is in it; and in this world we need many things – including food and drink. So we depend on the earth and its fullness for our life and health, and the world also depends on us, to use it wisely and not to deplete its resources so that the world becomes derelict and can no longer support life. This in turn reminds us of the many ways in which we depend on other people, and they depend on us: there are the people who sowed the seed, who tilled the soil, who harvested, who processed the raw materials, who tended the animals, who sold the food in the shops, who bought it, who prepared it, who cooked it, and so on. So eating and drinking can be a reminder to us not only of our dependency on God, but of our fellowship with our fellow men and women, who also depend on us in many ways just as we depend on them.
 
Then we are sharing God’s good gifts with one another. I was asked whether the parish could afford the celebration meal for my anniversary. That wasn’t a concern, because I paid for the food, and friends made particular contributions to the overall cost, so that nobody need feel unable to join in the celebration because they couldn’t afford it. The parish did also make its contribution (heating and lighting; and my cassock) to make it as far as possible a joyful and memorable celebration to which everyone could be invited. So in a meal together, there is a sense in which we can overcome barriers between us – barriers which may be imposed by finances, for example – and remember once again our fellowship.
 
And we should also thank God for our celebrations. So we should start with a blessing, and end with a thanksgiving; and traditionally in our blessings andin our thanksgivings we are also aware of those who are not with us – praying, for example, for those who are absent, those who are ill, and in particular for those who have died. Our fellowship must extend to the whole human family, as a recognition that we are all sons and daughters of the same Lord and God.
 
So we can say that in a celebratory meal, we are attending to our human relationships: with God, with one another, with the world we inhabit, and with ourselves – for our own personal health and growth and integrity is an important part of all our human relationships. It is perhaps best to say that, in any properly celebratory meal, we are celebrating each and every one of these different relationships. A joyful celebration will leave us better in health and in mood, with enhanced friendships, a greater sense of communion with our fellow men and women, a better appreciation of the world’s resources and our need to use them wisely, and a heightened awareness of the presence of God in our lives.
 
Of course, we don’t always achieve all of this in our celebrations: for whatever reason, we may not eat or drink wisely, we may have an argument which leaves us feeling ‘down’, and we may forget about God and his goodness. But if all goes well – then a celebratory meal should be good for us in every way.
 
The early Christians valued their table fellowship very highly; and when it went wrong (the Corinthians forgot that everyone was equal in the sight of God, and so, as we hear from St. Paul, some were going hungry while others were getting drunk) it was a serious issue which had to be rectified. The same is true for us: when we celebrate the supper of the Lord, we also need to remember every aspect of our relationships with others, so that we do celebrate worthily and grow in grace and favour with God and our fellow men and women.
 
This is something that each one of us needs to address from time to time, and I think it is also something that we probably need to consider when we go to confession. But it is also something that as a community we need to think about: how, as the fellowship of christians, as the body of Christ, do we ensure that we forge healthy relationships in celebrating the Lord’s supper? One way in which we do this is by making sure that others are not left out of our celebration. For example, do we ensure that we bring other people to Mass with us, if they cannot travel on their own? In this respect, of course, our extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion do wonderful work, taking Holy Communion (and the Word of God) to those who are ill, elderly, housebound, and keeping them in communion with God and with ourselves. But is there more that we could and should be doing, as a eucharistic communion, to welcome others into our fellowship and to ensure that those who wish to celebrate with us are able to do so?
 
We should also think about other eucharistic communities nearby: do we consider the needs of neighbouring parishes, for example, in our reflections on Bishop Malcolm’s document ‘You Are Living Stones’? Do we think of the needs of the rest of our Diocese, and ask ourselves how we can best ensure that, together, all these eucharistic communities will be maintained and served in decades to come, even if there are fewer priests to celebrate Mass? As we listen to God’s Word, profess our faith in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and as we prepare to receive our Lord in Holy Communion, celebrating our table fellowship with him and with our fellow men and women, we must pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that together with our Bishop, ourpriests and our deacons, we may plan appropriately for the future, so that the table fellowship of the Lord will be maintained and enhanced, and we may flourish as the communion of Christ.
 
 
 
 
Homily 10  
 
3 June 2012
Trinity Sunday
 
 
When I was growing up, Alec Bedser’s international career was just coming to an end; but he and his twin brother Eric were stalwarts of the Surrey cricket team for a year or two longer. Neither brother married, and they lived together in the same house until Eric’s death in 2006. Alec died four years later.  
 
They were ‘identical twins’, and even later in life, those who did not know them well would have difficulty inidentifying which was which. But much more disconcerting, apparently, was their tendency to complete each other’s sentences, so that it seemed that you could never be quite sure which one you were talking to.  
 
For most human beings, however, true love is not shown by the two people becoming carbon copies of each other, but remaining distinct persons, and yet being totally committed to the other’s welfare. For one person to take over the other would be domination, and domination is stifling; whereas true human love is encouraging. A couple fully in love would wish each one to grow to their full potential, and know with complete certainty that this very fulfilment would be better for both partners. So Kahlil Gibran had this advice for those who are married: Sing and dance together, and be joyous, but let each of you be alone, as the strings of the lute are alone, though they quiver with the same music. Stand together, but not too near together; for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak and the cypress do not grow in each other’s shadow.  
 
True love is creative: we could think of the vast numbers of poems, songs, ballads, paintings, sculptures, architectural works, which have been produced as monuments to love. Muchmore important, however, is the way that the love between two human beings is to be found in creating children, works of love who can be loved by the parents and can grow to love the parents in turn. So true human love produces a communion of persons, each remaining different from the others, but united nonetheless in this wonderful fellowship of family love.  
 
We don’t have perfect families, of course; but our own expereinces of family life nevertheless show us the reality of love in action, and awaken in us the possibilities of even greater and more perfect love. Perhaps it is because we are all prone to mistakes, to sin, and, of course, we are all mortal, that this imperfect family love becomes even more important for us. We recall that when the samaritans asked Our Lord about marriage, he said that there is no marrying in heaven because there is no death! So if we were each perfect, would we need others who are different from us? Is it only because we are not perfect, that we need others to love, and we need to be loved by others, and together we need to be creative in love, so that there will be something good lasting beyond ourselves? But that hardly seems to be right; if we were perfect, we would not love ourselves – for such narcissistic love is unhealthy; and yet – could anything be perfect, without love? Surely love is such an important emotion and act of the will that the world would always be poorer without it.  
 
So could God be perfect without love? The difference, of course, is that God does not need something other than God to be complete. So even before creation, God is love; but real healthy love must always be focussed on another. So within God there must be another: there is one God, but within that one God there must in some way be two, who are equal to each other, but distinct as the lover and the beloved. And then again, this love must be creative: so the love of the lover for the beloved, and the love of the beloved for the lover, must provide a third within God, equal to the other two, but distinct. And so we celebrate the Feast of the Blessed Trinity: that within the one God there are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the Father who loves the Son; the Son who is loved by the Father; that the Holy Spirit, who is produced by the love of the Father and the Son, so that the Father and the Son are united in love for the Holy Spirit.  
 
This was the case before time began; before creation. And we know that the universe exists only by the will of God, who created it by his Word and by his Spirit: so the lover, the beloved, and the Spirit who is loved by them both, are all involved in creating the universe, and ourselves as part of it. But just as any loving creation within our universe will show the abilities of its maker, so also our Universe must contain within itself the imprint of the love between the three Divine Persons. And this love can be shown in our human families, and in the Church.  
 
So our reflections on the Church in our diocese, and in our own parish, which we have been undertaking over the past few weeks, must continue within this atmosphere of love: for without love, we will have missed out an essential ingredient. Our communion must be a loving communion, or it cannot be christian. This christian love will have two aspects: love of God, and love of our neighbour, the two greatest laws which between them contain the wholeof the Law and the Prophets, as Our Lord told the lawyer. But because the love of our christian communion must be a share in the love of God, we can see that there must be two movements in christian love: for just as the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, so we must love one another within our christian communion. As Tertullian said in his Apology: See how these christians love one another.  
 
But also, just as the Father and the Son share in their love for the Holy Spirit, so also any good christian communion must love those who are not members. Our love cannot be inward-looking, or it will not be healthy; it will run the risk of degenerating into narcissism. Bishop Malcolm used to say (and perhaps still does say) that it is organizations such as CAFOD, which ensure that we do look outside ourselves and come to the aid of others, which keep our communities christian.  
 
So perhaps we have no another dimension to add to our reflections. With the number of active priests likely to decline over the next ten to twenty years, how will our diocese, and our own parish (even if there is no longer a resident priest) continue to show in practical ways our christian love for others? How will we put structures into place to make sure that our christian love for others is not left to a few individuals, who do great work, but who certainly cannot be expected to last for ever?  
 
In this parish I am very grateful to those who have shown such christian love for others for many years. Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul; Eucharistic Ministers; those who have been parish representatives for CAFOD or for Justice and Peace; and no doubt other groupings of people as well. But how are we to make sure that this will continue? The ministry of charity is part (and perhaps the most important part) of the ministry of the deacon. Do we need a deacon in this parish? Deacons can be married or single; and they will have their own secular employment (until retirement). But they are also ordained ministers of the Church, and on behalf of the community they are ministers of the love of God. It takes time – perhaps five years or so – for a community to put forward a candidate for the diaconate, for his to be accepted as such by the Bishop, and for him to be trained. There are about 40 deacons working at present in our diocese. It is certainly worth while asking whether we should also have a deacon in this parish. Do you think we should look into this possibility? And if so, how should we go about deciding whether we really do want to present a candidate to Bishop Malcolm?  
 
This is just one possibility: there will be other ways forward. If we do believe that God is Three Persons, One eternal God, and if we do believe, as St. John tells us, that God is love, then we must take very seriously our duty to be a loving communion in Jesus Christ.
 
 
 
 
Homily 9
 
 
27 May 2012
Pentecost Sunday
 
 
 
As many of you will know, Father Frank Daly, Parish Priest of St. Peter’s, Hinckley, has refused to pay a parking ticket issued to him for parking an ambulance for the disabled, with the disabled sign displayed, in a loading bay on Good Friday. He has repeatedly said that he will go to jail rather than pay the fine, and has asked Leicestershire County Council to exercise discretion and common sense.
 
 
Why has Father Frank taken this stand over a parking ticket? There is certainly a matter of principle involved: it should be possible to enable disabled people to take part in an ecumenical Church service on a Good Friday. But I think we can see a more fundamental issue involved here: I would say that Father Frank feels called by the Holy Spirit to take this stand, and that in doing so he is witnessing to Christ, not only to his passion and death (since the incident occurred on Good Friday) but more generally to a christian way of life. Certainly, if someone who was involved – whether traffic wardens, County Council officers, or members of the adjudication panel which might be convened, or even the Magistrates if the matter gets that far – was to act in a Christian manner, then the problem would undoubtedly be resolved. That might still happen – but I have to say that I am not holding my breath over it.
 
Our Lord tells the disciples in today’s Gospel reading that when the Spirit of Truth comes from our heavenly Father it will be to witness to Christ, and the disciples themselves will be witnesses to him. He doesn’t say how they are to be witnesses – there are very many different ways in which the disciples were his witnesses, and there mare also many ways in which we may witness to Our Lord in our own time. But some of these ways could well bring us into conflict with the customs and practices of the people of our time, and some ways of witnessing could even bring us into conflict with the law, as Father Frank has found.
 
If we are truly led by the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul tells us, we need not fear the law. We might be fined or imprisoned, as the St. Paul and the other apostles were, but we can be glad in the knowledge that we are following in the footsteps of Christ. For the Holy Spirit brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control – and although these may indeed fall foul of the law of the land, they cannot be in conflict with the law of God.
 
But it is not just that each of us as an individual follower of Our Lord is called to be his witness; the whole group of believers were inspired by the Holy Spirit in the first reading, and they were witnesses to the whole world. So what sort of witness do we wish the diocese to give in our part of England in the 21 century? What role do we think the diocese should play in ensuring that the Christian message – the message of the gospel – is heard throughout the world?
 
The disciples of Our Lord, as we know, proclaimed that he was Lord and Saviour, Risen from the dead, and that in him we could all look forward to eternal life. This is the kernel of the teaching of the Church. So it is really a question of how we feel the Diocese could and should proclaim the teaching of Christ – the teaching of the Catholic Church – so that the message will be heard clearly. How should the diocese offer to us all the chance to know and understand the teachings of Our Lord better? How should the Diocese be proclaiming the Gospel message of Christ to our young people? How should the Diocese be ensuring that the teaching of the Church is heard in the public arena, and that others, members of other christian communities, of other faiths, and of no faith at all, start to take notice of what the Church has to say? What is most important about the teaching of the Church which should be proclaimed most clearly and insistently? Who should the message be most aimed at?
 
Then there is another set of questions which we need to think about. Who is to proclaim the message? Can it just be left to the Bishop? Or to the Bishop and the priests and deacons? What can lay people do to proclaim the Gospel message of Christ? How can lay people be better formed in the teaching of the Church so that they can be confident in their witness? What can the Diocese do to help and support lay people in their witness?
 
These are all important questions, which all people in the Diocese do need to consider. Bishop Malcolm must make his decisions about the future of the Diocese, and he will want to know that he has the people of the Diocese withhim when he does so.
 
 
 
 
Homily 8 
 
13 May 2012 
 
 
 
 
Under the psudonym ‘Neil Boyd’, many years ago, Peter de Rosa wrote books about an Irish parish priest in London – Father Duddleswell – which were also used as a sitcom on ITV under the title ‘Bless me Father’. When things were going well for him, Father Duddleswell was apt to declare that God was an Irishman; but if matters were going very badly, and he thought that the fates were against him, he would say that God must be an Englishman.
 
I suppoe, when we think about it, we do tend to think of God as being in some way ‘just like us’. As we know, the figure we put on the crucifix usually has a fairer skin than Our Lord himself   probably had in first century Palestine.
 
So we do tend to try, inv arious ways, to bring God into our own culture, our own history – and there is nothing wrong with that; but at the same time perhaps we tend to think that God is not part of the culture of other peoples, part of their history – and that would certainly be a grave mistake. As Peter says in the first reading today: ‘The truth I have now come to realise is that God does not have favourites.’ This must have been a very difficult conclusion for Peter to come to: he grew up believing that the Jewish people were God’s chosen people, God’s favourites – and now he had to admit that God has no favourites! Elsewhere in the New Testament we hear of St. Paul coming to the same concluson – and it must have been just as hard for him as well. So now Peter realises that ‘Anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him’.
 
This is the love of God, that St. John talks about in the second reading and in the gospel. God loves all his people, and if we love God, if we are sure that God loves us, then we must love one another and be in communion with one another. God does not have favourites, so the Church cannot have favourites either.
 
Of course, we all know that there are people we get on with better than others; and there are those who, no matter how hard we try, we always seem to be at loggerheads with. This is human nature. But as followers of Our Lord Jesus, we are expected to put such problems behind us: it doesn’t mean that we get on with certainpeople any better, but it does mean that we can accept them as part of the same communion fellowship, and treat them as people whom God loves, and who are responding, in their own ways, to god’s call.
 
I think this is one of the good reasons why we have the ‘exchange of the sign of peace’ at Mass. It is a time to acknowledge that, despite the differences which we undoubtedly do have between us, we know that these are insignificant compared with the love of God shown to us in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, who calls us all into his fellowship, to live with his life, to be his body on this earth, to do his will, and to come to salvation and eternal life in him.
 
The fact that God does not have favourites is also a reminder to us of the need that we all have to recognise the needs of other christian communities throughout the world. We cannot be christians and live in our own ‘coccoon’, without a care for our fellow christians in other parts of the world. How do we see the future of our own community in relation to other communities, and what role do eachof us think that we might play in these future relationships? We might think of ecumenical relationships in our own region, county, and diocese: do we pray for unity among christians? Do we work with other christian communities in our own parish? Do we even take part in such annual events as walks of christian witness on Good Friday, or the major event which is now held every year in Leicester City on Good Friday? In regard to christians in other countries, we might ask ourselves whether we contribute at all to the missionary work of the church, or to the aid agencies. Many do contribute, for example by means of the Missio ‘Red Boxes’ or by means of other contacts which have been made oer the years with missionary groups; others ensure that they do contribute to the collections which are held at least once a year for missionary endeavours (usually after a Mission Appeal); and we all do our bit, at least twice a year, to support CAFOD and other such agencies. But perhaps we still need to ask ourselves whether this is sufficient: do we really show our care for others, as we should for other members of the one Body of Christ.
 
Do we show our care for those who are disadvantaged or marginalised in other ways – for those who suffer from prejudice, for example, because of their colour, race, gender, upbringing, or for any other reason at all?
 
As we reflect on such questions, we undersatnd that the Holy Spirit is drawing us to reflect on a more fundamental question: what do we see as the future of the Church in our parish, and how do we see our own part in the future parish community of St. Pius X? Do we see it as all-embracing, welcoming, united, caring for others – as Our Lord calls us to be? And if we do see the future in that way, what are we going to do practically to be part of such a future?