St Pius X Church, Narborough - Roman Catholic Diocese of Nottingham
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Day For Life Homily
One Priest Two Parishes - Living the reality of "You Are Living Stones"
"You Are Living Stones" - an ongoing parish conversation
"You Are Living Stones" - an ongoing parish conversation
"You Are Living Stones" - an ongoing parish conversation

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Day For Life Homily

We have heard the story of the merchant who finds a pearl of great price – and it is so important to him that he sells everything else to buy that pearl. What, I wonder, would we consider to be of such importance that we would sell everything else for it – if anything at all?
 
All my possessions for  So it sounds as though that would have been true for her.
 
Life is certainly important for Our Lord. He tells us (according to St. John’s gospel) that he came so that we might have life – and have it to the full. He does not want the death of anyone, but that all would live – and live to the greatest degree possible.
 
What does it mean – to live life to the full? What would Jesus have meant by that? Reading and listening about Our Lord’s life, we could say that he set great store on communication with other people; prayer (communication with God); fellowship with his friends and companions. We could also add the importance of the stewardship of creation – of all of God’s gifts to us; and that implies a hope that in a full life we would work for good in the world, leave a good effect on it, and in particular work for good for other people.
 
I think we could say the same: we would all aim to do good in the world and good to other people: the world and all the people in it are God’s good creation, and are God’s gift to all of us. In the past few decades environmental concerns and ecology have assumed a far greater importance in the minds of people generally than was the case in previous times – and this must be for the good. It reminds us that the world, vast though it is, is not infinite, and that it does not belong to us, for us to treat as we wish. For Christians, the task of being stewards of God’s creation merely makes these issues even greater in importance. Within this overall care for creation, we have a particular care for our fellow human beings, sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, brothers and sisters of Our Lord Jesus and therefore our brothers and sisters as well.
 
Respect for human life – which we celebrate today in our annual ‘Day for Life’ – is already shown in our parish communities in many ways. In Lutterworth the ‘Mary’s meals’ initiative, caring for young people in other countries who otherwise could not receive an education; in Narborough the SVP, visiting people who are housebound, or poor, or in need for some other reason; in both parishes, others who are involved in ‘outreach’, and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion already in place or about to be trained, to offer their services to the community, particularly to those who cannot attend our community worship.
 
Recently, as we all know, this respect for life is under challenge from those who promote ‘assisted dying’. Care for the elderly, for the ill, for the disabled, for the infirm, for the dying, should always be a special concern for Christians. But how are we best to show this care? Medical and surgical expertise has improved greatly in the past century. The life expectancy of men and women these days is far higher than it was a hundred years ago. This fact – undoubtedly a matter of praise for those who have pioneered these developments and those who continue to do so – also brings with it new problems and difficulties. These same developments enable people to be kept alive when their quality of life (however that could be assessed) has become very low. Is it necessary to use these medical techniques regardless of the distress that we might be causing to the patients themwelves, and to those who love them?
 
I am sure that respect for life is not to be measured in terms of length of days alone. For we believe in eternal life, we believe in the resurrection of the dead; as St. Paul says, it would be better to die and be with Christ, but he is glad to remain alive because that is what Christ wants, so that he can do the Lord’s work.
 
So respect for human life implies that we do our best to enable those who are nearing the end of their physical lives in this world to have as good quality of life as possible, and to die with as much human dignity as possible. This means, for example, that painkilling drugs and other means of palliative care should be used, even when that might mean that physical life ends more quickly; it means that we focus our care on the living person, living life still to the full, so far as possible, rather than on the length of the person’s life measured in weeks or days (or even hours or minutes).
 
Jesus says that he came that we might all have life, and live to the full; and care for those who are elderly or disabled or infirm must focus on the full life of each human person as human. Perhaps that means that, when people start talking about assisted dying, we should remind them of the importance of assisted living instead.

One Priest Two Parishes - Living the reality of "You Are Living Stones"

Homily 29 September 2013
 
Rev Monisgnor John Hadley VF
 
Parishes of St Pius X, Narborough & Our Lady of Victories, Lutterworth
 
 
 
Today’s first reading, from the prophet Amos, didn’t really seem to have much to say tome at all. I certainly don’t lie on an ivory bed, and don’t think I'd particularly want to; don’t spend much time sprawling on divans; don’t dine on lambs from the flock (occasionally perhaps, but no more), and certainly not on fattened veal; I can’t recall ever bawling to the sound of the harp, and I’ve never invented a new musical instrument; my days of drinking wine by the bowlful are most definitely over, and I’ve never used the finest oil, or any other cosmetics for that matter - not even aftershave. So I might be tempted to think that I’m doing OK.
 
 
But then I might look again at today’s second reading, and see what advice St. Paul has for Timothy, and that would be more uncomfortable reading. As a priest, I am supposed to be a man dedicated to God; but can I say that I am saintly and religious, filled with faith and love, patient and gentle? I might have a shot at the faith and love, but patience certainly is not my strong point (and never has been);gentleness perhaps sometimes, but I am certainly in the back row when it comes to being saintly and religious. I’ve never really been at the front when it comes to fighting the good fight. And as for doing everything with no faults or failures, who would I be kidding? I might reflect that Timothy was a bishop, and I’m just a lowly priest, but I don’t think that St. Paul would let me off so easily.
 
 
Put the two readings together, though, and perhaps there is a clear message for us all. St. Paul did not expect Timothy to have achieved perfection in being saintly and religious, in faith and love, in patience and gentleness, or in fighting the good fight. He expected him to have those as the goal, and to rely, not on his own efforts or merits, but on those of Jesus Christ to achieve that goal -Jesus Christ, who has already spoken up as a witness before Pontius Pilate, and who will in due time be finally revealed to us as Our Lord and Saviour. He is the one who has achieved all that we cannot achieve; he is the one who will make good our shortages in faith and love, in patience and gentleness; he is the one who has already fought and won the good fight; and in him, our faults and failures find total and complete forgiveness and reparation. What may come between us and our reliance on Jesus Christ are the ways in which we have perhaps become to comfortable, too accustomed to our present way of life, too attached to what we are used to, concentrating too much on what we can do for God, instead of what God has done for us.
 
 
So what is it that makes us too comfortable, so that we no longer rely on Jesus Christ as we ought? As we thank God for the harvest this weekend, we certainly understand the great trials and hardships that so many people suffer in our world - the starving people in famine-stricken countries, the people caught up in the civil war in Syria, those injured or bereaved in the attack in Kenya, or in the fire at the factory in Bangladesh, those who are unjustly imprisoned. We have much to thank God for, and using some of God’s gifts to us to come to the relief of the poor in our own neighbourhood this weekend, or in other countries in the Family Fast Day on Friday and the CAFOD collection next weekend, is an important way in which we are shaken out of our comfort zone and reminded of all that God has done for us.
 
 
This weekend, we are all being shaken out of our comfort zone in another way. We have become used to certain times for weekend Mass in our parishes. I don’t know how long Mass has been celebrated at 9 and 10.30 on a Sunday morning in Narborough, or at 10.15 on Sunday morning in Lutterworth - at least twenty years I would think, and perhaps even forty or fifty. But there is much more to it than just the change of weekend Mass arrangements. For nearly four months I have been trying to look after both parishes. The parish of Lutterworth are now bereaved, with the death of their long-standing and much loved parish priest. The parish of Narborough are also bereaved, in that I now have two parishes to think of instead of just the one, resulting in the ‘loss’ of one morning Mass. The process will not be aided by the fact that I take my annual week’s holiday in October, which was booked well before we knew what was going to happen, and that Bishop Malcolm has given me study-leave in November to write my thesis. All these previous arrangements mean that I will be absent from the parishes for a few weekends in the next two months during our time of transition. So it is a difficult period of adjustment for all members of both parishes.
 
 
We know that bereavement is a process which takes time, and which cannot be cut short. The emotions of anger, relief, sadness, guilt, and so on, keep coming and going throughout the time of grieving, and we all have to recognise and accept these changing emotions, which we don’t like much, and we also need to recognise and accept them when others express them in ways that we perhaps don’t like. Some will say that they will leave the parish and others may not speak tome ever again - it is just a normal part of grieving, and we all have to do it. The important thing to remember is that in our grief, we remain reconciled to God in hope, in faith, and in charity.
 
 
As fellow Christians, as St. Paul reminds us, we shouldn’t grieve ‘like the other people who have no hope’, because we look forward to life being fulfilled in Christ. So what we should do as believers is to encourage one another as we come to terms with our loss, and try to help one another to find ways of embracing life in our communities, open to more good things which God has in store for those who love him and trust in him. We cannot pretend that we haven’t suffered loss - we all have suffered loss, in various ways; but with the help of God we look forward in hope to good things which we can enjoy in the future, good things which we perhaps had not looked for, had not expected, had not planned, but come to us as gifts from God and may be all the more enjoyable because they were unexpected and unplanned.
 
 
From this weekend, the new Mass time of 9.30am in Narborough, and the new Mass time of 11am in Lutterworth will mean that, in a sense, there will be a ‘new congregation’ where we are starting from scratch. Retaining a practice from 10.30am Mass may not be recognised as fair by those from 9am and vice versa. So in effect, this process calls for starting right at the beginning. We will need to go out of our way to get to know one another again, take the opportunity to meet and to talk to those we have not met before or have not met often, ensure that provision for our young people is not compromised, and work at forming community. We cannot expect this process to go smoothly. There will be periods of time when there will be misunderstandings, when people may feel aggrieved, and when sadness and anger surface again.  There will be ways in which we all find that we continually have to adapt. In the process of ‘forming’ new community we might ask: do we want to have singing or not? Some will want to sing, others won’t. What arrangements can be made in regard to Holy Communion from the chalice at all weekend Masses? Some will wish to embrace such a change, others will not. We will have to keep an eye on the time to ensure that we are not attempting the impossible. Whatever we try, we have to accept that we might get it wrong, and have to try something different.  Above all, none of us can expect to have everything our own way. We will all have to make compromises, just as we have to do in every family or group. Think of the number of times the apostles got it wrong! Then think of the ways in which we have to live and let live among our own family, among our friends, among our neighbours, among our workmates, and so on.  During the month of November, we will (as always) remember those who have died and pray for them. During Advent we will also arrange a “Mass of Healing” and thanksgiving in each parish, in which we can all recognise and accept the loss we all feel, pray for God’s healing, and above all pray for God’s guidance as we look forward to the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Saviour, rising to new life as the Catholic communities in Narborough and Lutterworth, on our journey to new and eternal life with God.
 

"You Are Living Stones" - an ongoing parish conversation

One of the stranger stories asociated with C B Fry (who died in 1956) was that he had been invited to become the King of Albania, though he had no Albanian ancestry nor even any Albanian connections. Whether this story is true or not is debatable: there are certainly some stories about him which are true – he held the long jump world record for a time, and he was an advisor to the Indian delegation at the League of Nations; but other stories must rate as ‘doubtful’, such as that he could jump from a standing start onto the mantelpiece and balance there. My cat can do that – but it must be very unlikely for a human being!
 
But the story of his being invited to become King of Albania leads me to ask why any nation would wish to look to a total outsider for salvation. There could be reasons for doing so – nobody from their own community had shown sufficient ability, for instance, or perhaps there was too much fighting between different groups, so that it became necessary to look to someone who had no history of siding with any one of the groups. It was for similar reasons (among others, no doubt) that Robert Willson, a priest of the diocese of Nottingham, in the mid-19 century was appointed Bishop of Hobart, Tasmania – he had no connection with the two groups of priests working there, neither of which would trust or work with the other.
 
But there is a downside to being the saviour from outside the community: as soon as he (or she) made any unpopular decisions, or even once the community thought they could make good on their own again, the comments would start – what does he (or she) know about life here? Who right does he (or she) have to tell us what to do? So it seems as though the leader in this situation can’t win: an outsider is needed, and yet there will come a time when the outsider is no longer acceptable. 
 
So the Jews, who complain at the start of the passage we have heard today from St. John’s Gospel, are set on a leader and saviour from outside. He is to be sent from God, and must be more capable or more powerful than anyone from their own community. So someone who is too close to home, whose family they know, will not do. He is no better than we are – what can he possibly know that we don’t? What can he possibly do, that we have not tried already?
 
The matter is made worse by the fact that he is claiming to speak the words of God. He quotes from Holy Scripture, and claims to be able to interpret it. He even goes so far as to claim some special relationship between God and himself: that God has sent him to them, that he has seen God (and is the only one to have done so), and that God is the one who will draw people to belief in him (or not draw them), and that it is through Jesus that people may attain eternal life – which surely can only come (for those who believe) as the gift of God himself.
 
But the message that Our Lord has for the Jews is more subtle than they realise. He is saying to them that he is an outsider: he is from God, and not from any human power; but he has not come to them as and outsider: for the ‘bread that has come downfrom heaven’ has become a human being, a Jew, precisely one of themselves. So Our Lord is at one and the same time a complete and total outsider, and a person so close to them that they know his mother and father. When theyneed the wisdom, the power, of God, then they have that and more in Jesus; and when they need a ffriend, neighbour, companion, they have that and more in Jesus. He is at once the most distant from them – as God is higher than any creature, so the Word of God is higher than any human word or thought or power; and at the same time he is the closest to them – not only a fellow human being, but a Jew, a neighbour, one who has lived and worked among them.
 
What does he want of them? He wants them to be open to the Word of God – as he says, it is written in the prophets that they will all be taught by God – and to learn from God’s Word and come to believe; and through believing they will receive the bread of life, who is Jesus himself, and through this receive eternal life.
 
We also are called to accept the bread of life; we also are called to eternal life through believing in him. Whereas the Jews whom he was arguing with in today’s Gospel were called to relate to him in his bodily appearance, we are called to relate to Jesus, Lord and Saviour, in and through the Church. It is here thatwe receive the bread of life in Holy Communion; it is here that we become the body of Christ, the communion of the Church; it is here that we listen to God’s Word and are fed and encouraged to live with God’s life and (by the power and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit) to follow his ways. This is the reason why the Church is important for us – not the buildings, or the individual persons (however eminent they may be), but the communion of the body of Christ, our fellow believers.
 
So perhaps today we should commit ourselves again to listening to the Word of God, to receiving the body of Christ, to living by the power of the Holy Spirit. As we renew our commitment, perhaps we need to ask ourselves what we will do in the future which is different from what we have been doing in the past.
 
Father Ken O’Riordan, who was a good friend of mine, and who died a few weeks 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 to follow his advice. But now I’m wondering whether that would help us all to reflect and to make our reflections known to Bishop Malcolm. 
 
The questions for reflection I have been asking for a few weeks now:
 
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 that nothing will be wasted of all that God has given to this diocese. So please do reflect on all the issues that I have 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.
 
 
 
 
 

"You Are Living Stones" - an ongoing parish conversation

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. 
 

"You Are Living Stones" - an ongoing parish conversation

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.
 

What is a deacon?

What is a Deacon?
 
 
I am delighted to welcome Deacon Kevin O'Connor who will be assisting me at Mass regularly from this weekend, Sunday 15 July at 9am and 7pm while still keeping his commitment  to assist at Mass in Lutterworth at 10.15am.  I am very grateful to Deacon Kevin who will be looking after weddings, baptisms, and funerals along with the pastoral oversight involved when he is able. 
 
Some of you have already asked me: What is a Deacon, and what does he do? So as part of our welcome to Deacon Kevin, I thought I should write down my thoughts.
 
From the earliest times in the Church, deacons and priests were considered to be assistants to the Bishop, to help him to carry out his duties for the Christian faithful. The duties of a priest were largely to lead communities who were outside the cities where the bishops lived; so the priest would preach the Word of God, celebrate Mass and the sacraments, and look after the people on behalf of the Bishop, who could only visit them occasionally. The duties of the deacon were to assist the bishop or the priest in three areas: charity, liturgy, and the gospel.
 
In regard to charity, it was the role of the deacon to collect donations to be distributed to the poor and the needy. It was very important that the deacon should not only distribute these worldy goods to those in need, but also should dispense kindness, compassion, and dedication to the poor and the afflicted. Deacons were to ensure that the hungry and thehomeless were given hospitality – food and shelter – and to do so as the bishop’s eyes and ears, mouth, heart and soul.
 
In regard to the liturgy, the deacon was often entrusted with preparing candidates for baptism, and took part in the celebration of baptism. He would often keep contact with those who were baptized to assist them in becoming a full part of the Christian community. He would assist the bishop (or the priest) in celebrating Mass, preparing the altar, and taking Holy Communion to the housebound, especially to those who were dying.
 
In regard to the gospel, the deacon was usually charged with instructing the people, and he would proclaim the gospel and preach. Bishops were often accompanied by their deacons when they attended the early Councils of the Church, and Pope Leo the Great was represented at one Synod by Deacon Hilary. In modern times, the deacon carries the book of the gospels into the celebration of Mass, proclaims the gospel, and may preach at Mass.
 
The deacon’s role later grew to include administration on behalf of the bishop. The Pope used to be assisted by seven deacons, who between them administered the Diocese of Rome. The idea is maintained in the Church of England, where the principal assistants to the Bishop are called ‘Archdeacons’.
 
The purpose of all the sacraments, including the sacrament of Holy Orders (bishop, priest, deacon),  is to build up the Church, the body of Christ, and to carry out the Church’s mission. Reflecting on this, Bishop Malcolm says that we can look at it in terms of two movements: there is a movement into the Church, building up the community; and there is a movement out, taking the Gospel message to the world. We can see that in the life of Our Lord. He calls disciples to him, and from them he chose twelve to be his apostles; these disciples were foremd into his own community. Then he sent them out into the world, as we hear in today’s Gospel (15 July 2012: Mark 6: 7-13). To be the Church,it is necessary to have both movements. If we only have the movement inwards – building up the community, looking to our own life and our own needs – then we can scarcely be called ‘Christian’, since our Lord himself came to preach salvation to all, and to die for all people. But if we do not have this movment in, there will not be any Christian community to go out to the world, to be a witness to christ, to proclaim the Good News of salvation.
 
Bishops, priest, and deacons are ordained to lead the community, to ensure that both of these movements are properly maintained and are in a good relationship, that neither dominates the other. The purpose of their sacramental Ordination is for the good of the Church, to ensure proper leadership, and to ensure that the Christian community is maintained appropriately as the body of Christ, and that the mission of the Church is maintained, lively and effective. But this leadership, as Our Lord himself makes very clear, is always to be a service, for Our Lord himself came ‘not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’.
 
The Bishop is entrusted with gathering the whole Christian community in the Diocese; for ensuring that the Word of God is proclaimed fully and clearly, that the sacraments are celebrated worthily, that the people are cared for, especially those who are ill, poor, in trouble, and that the People of God is a People of prayer. He cannot do all of this by himself! So during the Ordination of a priest, the bishop prays to God to grant him helpers ‘for we are weak and our need is greater’. Priests and deacons are to help the Bishop in his role as leader of the community.
 
The priest’s role is principally to gather the community together. The priest proclaims the Word of God, preaches the gospel, teaches the faithful, celebrates Mass and the other sacraments, looks after the faithful people, welcomes new members. It is the priest who leads the community in looking after the community property, safeguarding the patrimony of the parish, ensuring that the needs of the people are heard and addressed. 
 
The deacon’s role is principally to send the community out to do the Lord’s work. This can be seen in the celebration of Mass, when the priest and the deacon are together. The priest stands in the middle, gathers the community, presides at the altar, consecrates the holy food and drink, the Body and Blood of Our Lord and Saviour. But at the end of Mass, after the priest has given God’s blessing to the people, it is the deacon who
sends them out of the Church building. The deacon sends the people out from the sacred space called the Church into the world, to show to the world that all spaces are holy. It is the deacon who proclaims the Gospel, and then send out the people of God to proclaim the Gospel of Christ by the way that theylive and work among all the other people in our world. It is the deacon who sends out the Body of Christ, formed by the sacred food and drink, with the task of showing to the world that all food and drink is holy, God-given. It is the deacon who, during the celebration of the Mass, invites the people of God to offer to one another the sign of peace; and then sends out the people to bring the peace of Christ – the peace that the world cannot give – into our world of conflict and strife.
 
If there is no deacon, then the priest has to try to do both – to gather the people together and to send them out. Because the priest spends most (all?) of his time in and around the Church, worrying about the community, he may well fail to address properly the needs of the community to be more missionary and outward-looking. If we have a deacon, then both movements – inward and outward – will have their own appropriate leadership.
 
So we welcome Deacon Kevin today, and we look forward to him becoming part of our parish life, and encouraging us in the mission of the Church. One of the things which I hope Kevin will do is to inspire our community to consider whether there is someone among us who is called to be trained and ordained as a deacon, to attend as a minister of the gospel, prayer, and charity to the mission of the Church at St. Pius X, Narborough. 
 

"You Are Living Stones" - an ongoing parish conversation

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.
 

"You Are Living Stones" - an ongoing parish conversation

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.
 

"You Are Living Stones" - an ongoing parish conversation

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.
 

"You Are Living Stones" - an ongoing parish conversation

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 thathardly 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.