Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hilary Term 2010

Homily given by the Vice-Principal, Fr Damian Feeney, at the first Solemn Mass of the Hilary Term. You can read more of Fr Feeney's writings on his personal blog here.

Welcome back.

That said, I’m somewhat relieved to see you all here; I did fear, in my darker moments during the Vacation, that there might be gaps in the chapel seating. You see, it’s Hilary Term, and we’re all going to be really depressed, because that’s what happens....or at least, that’s what a number of you told me last term. Actually, when you did tell me, you already looked and sounded fed up, so I wonder how things can get worse. Yes, it’s the middle term of the year: some of you are so near, and yet so far, with regard to your ordination, for others there is still some distance to travel; and it seems to us that there is much to endure. And so, in the manner of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, I give you Reasons to be Cheerful, some of which are contained in tonight’s gospel.

Jesus’ first words to us are words of invitation and immediacy: the time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is now. Yes, now, at the beginning of depressing old Hilary Term, because for us, now is all there is. Now is the time when we are called to act, called to respond to the invitation to grace and divine life. And so – Reasons to be Cheerful, part one: The Kingdom which we used to think of as being far off and in the distance has, in Jesus Christ, come among us. Tonight, you and I can live as citizens of heaven, because that is the way of Jesus. Our dwelling upon this Kingdom, and our participation in it, is a joyful business. As Alexander Schemann memorably put it:

The Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom – not because she possesses divinely instituted acts called ‘sacraments’, but because first of all she is the possibility given to man[kind] to see in and through this world the ‘world to come’, ; to see and to ‘live’ it in Christ.
Not only that, but this reason to be cheerful finds special focus in the journey of Jesus Christ: and in this Hilary Term, we will set ourselves to follow Christ through the essential moments of his journey, to the point where faith is stripped bare on the stark canvas of Calvary, and gloriously re-born at the empty tomb on Easter morning. Our faith celebrates and becomes one with the narrative of Christ by which we, and the world, are saved. Whatever our apprehensions about this term, we have this journey to make: a journey which draws us closer to the Mystery of the Godhead, and which should therefore pre-occupy us in prayer, study, and in every aspect of our community life. And so, Reasons to be Cheerful, Part Two: in the grand narrative of existence, we draw closer, through God’s grace, to the life which He longs to give us, the life which now we merely reflect in small measure.

Jesus calls individuals to particular roles in this divine life. And so the beginning of this term is a good time to reflect not only on the Kingdom, but on the fact and privilege of the personal call we have received, calls which are echoes of those of Simon and Andrew, calls every bit as real. Because the truth is that there is no greater calling for a human being than this. The enormity both of what God asks, and what God seek to enable in you, through Baptism, formation and ordination, are impossible to comprehend. So: Reasons to be cheerful, Part Three: You and I are called to special places of service and activity through the strength of God’s love, operating in the deepest possible way within ourselves. We cannot always articulate in words what that means, or will mean for us, but we believe it to be so. The Second Vatican Council tries to articulate it thus:

Priests…..have a special obligation because they were consecrated afresh to God when they were ordained. They have been fashioned as living instruments of Christ the eternal priest to continue on earth the wonderful work of salvation whereby the whole human race was made whole by his divine power.

However near – or far – your ordination seems to you, there is a great work of this fashioning to be done this term. There is invariably much in our life together – and in the church and world beyond – which may cause us to think of taking our foot off this particular accelerator, and distract us from our tasks – but remember why you are here. Devote yourself this term to responding to this call which you have heard. Seek to pray the Offices with more recollection, enter the drama and mystery of the Mass more deeply, attend to the personal prayer of Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving and Intercession with greater discipline. Attend to your reading and your studies as diligently as you can. Examine your conscience thoroughly and with humility. Encourage and love one another in your praying and working. Do all these things, and you will be attending, with devotion and gratitude, to the call of God which has brought you here in the first place.

Moods are transient; but the call of God is eternal, calling us beyond our small day to day concerns to the joyful business of His Kingdom, His glory, His life. Allow yourself this term to set mind and heart on God, and upon his plans for you. Remember why you are here, and who, by His grace, you are called to become; and that He can accomplish in you far more than you can either ask, or imagine – let that be the source of your joy.