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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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July 2012

"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.