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.