Friday, December 4, 2009

Advent Homily - Fr Damian Feeney

Let me tell you about Mick Bamber. He’s a former Pentecostal Preacher, who attended my last church in the evenings. He is also a retired builder who oversaw the construction of the new parish extension which was completed in my predecessor’s time. One evening, having heard this passage from Matthew, he came up to me and remarked upon the irony now to be found in this passage. Any builder would know, he said, that Jesus was not in the construction business; houses are actually built on sand these days, not simply built on rock – otherwise they become less, rather than more stable. It’s a perplexing thought for a preacher, until we realise that dwellings were constructed in a very different way from the Wimpey Homes of today.

First of all, houses were only built in summer – during a time when the clay was rock solid itself. When a builder, faced with the agony of digging through the clay to the bedrock below, paused gloomily to consider his lot, he may well have been tempted to cut corners. Although he knew he had to get through to the bedrock, he would be tempted to cut corners, and build the house quickly before the rain came. Having done so, he would wait anxiously, praying that the rains would not be quite so harsh this year.

It was a huge gamble, because (like as not) the winter rains would come, turning the rock-like clay into the consistency of sticky toffee pudding, and the walls (made themselves of clay) would do likewise, and burst, rather than relying on the bedrock to channel the water away.

So – part of building on the rock is avoiding the temptation to cut corners, recognising that there are tried and trusted methods of being faithful to the Lord, to his commandment to love, and each of them require our application and our endeavour. To dig down to the foundations sounds like (and often is) unglamorous work, but part of living within the catholic tradition means building – quite literally – upon the experiences and stories of others in the church who have taken care to dig all the way down.

Our ‘digging down’ consists in being methodical in all we do. If we don’t possess that virtue, we should work to acquire it. Part of the life of the parish priest consists in doing well the things we find unbearably tedious – indeed, we should try to cultivate a liking for them. Such an attitude is indicative of a disciple digging to find the bedrock. To be whimsical and casual about important things – to be cavalier with diaries, commitments, duties – indicates the opposite.

Do the unglamorous. Get to the bed rock. Keep at it, time and time again – then when the storms of priestly life hit you – and they will – there’s a chance you’ll hold fast

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Vestments Fair 2010

Further details from the Facebook event page here.

Peace & Justice - Fr Damian Feeney

This homily was given by Fr Damian Feeney at a Votive Mass for Peace & Justice.

I’m told by one who should know that the American Theologian Stanley Hauerwas once said that the reason he was a pacifist was because it was the only thing which stopped him from kicking the whatsits out of certain people. (I’m paraphrasing slightly. Hauerwas is a Texan, with all the colourful language that this implies). As we ponder what it might mean to be people of peace, it’s an interesting starting point. Are we, as human beings, so conditioned to violence – whether through survival instincts or for other reasons – that to live non-violently is to go against the grain of the nature of the species?

Tonight Jesus tells us – among other things – of the importance of being peacemakers: and if we are such we will be blessed, and be called children of God. It’s not something we can claim in isolation, however: alongside this we must also be poor in spirit, mourners for the state of our being, meek, hungering for righteousness to the point of being persecuted, merciful and pure in heart, if we would live as people who are truly citizens of the kingdom.

Anyone familiar with the politically incorrect film ‘Miss Congeniality’ (Sandra Bullock in an unlikely tale as an FBI Agent who must infiltrate a Beauty Contest in order to protect the other entrants from a fiendish plot) will be aware of the mantra so often trotted out on such occasions – the desire of each contestant for world peace. The Beatitudes teach us that unless we are prepared to lay everything down and labour of peace and justice to the fullest extent of our context and capability, then such words are too precious to be otherwise devalued. Not all of us can bring about world peace – but we might start with the longings of our own hearts. A couple of days after 9/11, a colleague of mine went into a thoroughly vandalised Comprehensive School in Blackburn to do an assembly. Tearing up his script, he reminded them that there was no use being shocked about 9/11 if we live lives which cause damage and violence to the places where we live and work. It’s all a question of scale and context, but the sin is fundamentally the same.
Given our own context, we are called to live as citizens of heaven here and now – to work for peace, to labour of justice. This is true whether we are engaged in the work of the United Nations, or whether we are dealing with a disagreement in this community. The standard of the Beatitudes stands before us in either case.

Finally, tonight, rejoicing in the H1N1 de-regulation which means we can once again exchange the peace with one another, we should be mindful that in this action we are not only reconciled to one another and to God, but to and with all people. If this is not so, we should leave our gift at the altar and deal with whatever stands in our path. As Gerald Schlabach puts it, this Mass is
‘…an offer of life, a promise of hospitality to strangers, a sharing of peace, a tasting of God’s generosity, a breaking that opens space for healing.’

May this sharing of this Mass open our eyes to the generous and non-violent love of God, and to the need for God’s eucharistic people to live and labour for a eucharistic peace.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Requiems for Bp Kemp & Fr Cowdrey

St Stephen's House will celebrate the lives of two of her oldest and most distinguished alumni in the coming days. Requiems will be offered for both John Cowdrey, priest, who trained at the House from 1950-2 and was on the staff from 1952-6, and for Eric Waldram Kemp, sometime Bishop of Chichester and Chairman of House Council, who was at the House from 1936-9. Details of the services are below - all are welcome to attend.

Friday 4th December at 8.00 a.m.
Mass for John Cowdrey, priest.

Friday 12th December at 12.00 p.m.
Solemn Mass with absolution at the bier for Eric Waldram Kemp, bishop.

Both will be offered in the church of St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road.

Advent Homily - Fr Damian Feeney

During Advent a homily is given at each Mass. Texts, where available, will be published here in the coming days.

Why does the Father hide things from the learned and the clever, to be revealed instead to mere children? There is a strong sense in the Kingdom that roles are being reversed. It is to the ‘mere children’ that the sacred mysteries are being entrusted, not the learned and the clever. Making sense of that in a place like Oxford is an interesting conundrum; but the fact remains that twice in this morning’s gospel Jesus alludes to role reversal. The kingdom given to mere children; the truths which kings and prophets longed to see and hear, and did not, given to the ordinary, the poor. They do not deserve these things, any more than we deserve to be the recipients of them – they, and we, are the fortunate receivers of grace, because it pleases God. And notice that all this gives Jesus pleasure in the saying – he is ‘filled with joy.’

Luke carries as one of his overwhelming concerns this business of reversal. Jesus comes to disturb our security and complacency with the supreme challenge of his Good News. Are you powerful, rich, comfortable? Then you may expect to be brought down low. Are you poor, outcast, struggling? You will be raised up, restored, honoured and made whole. These are themes we first discover in the fiery theology of the Magnificat, early on in Luke’s Gospel, but it recurs again and again as a leitmotif.

Just over a week ago, on the Sunday before Advent, we asked God to ‘stir us up’ – more specifically, to ‘stir up the wills of your faithful people. Let’s be careful what we pray for, because we might get it. God may indeed stir up our wills, that we may not only sing Magnificat but want it as well – and delight, with Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, as he sees the comfortable order turned upside down, subverted by the sacrificial love of the kingdom of God, the kingdom for which we hope and long through this great gift of Advent, and which is brought closer still in this Mass.

RIP John Cowdrey, priest

St Stephen's House mourns the loss of the Revd H E John Cowdrey DD (SSH 1950-2; Tutor 1952-6; Chaplain 1954-6; sometime member of the House Council), Fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford, 1956-91.

Jesu mercy; Mary pray.