Friday, February 25, 2011
This homily was given by Avril Ravenscroft, a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 21st February 2011;
An ancient man, whose life has been a journey of obedience to God, sends his servant on the last crucial journey, to secure the proper line of his son, Isaac, the heirs that God has promised. He puts no burden of fulfilment upon the servant, “if she will not come, you are released”. But it’s deadly serious, the oath is sealed by the touching of his genitals, where in circumcision Abraham confirmed his acceptance of God’s covenant. And he is symbolically handing over to his son his own sexual potency, via the promise of the servant.
So I wonder just how eager the servant is to shoulder this huge responsibility. Abraham’s trust in God is firm, but the servant seems uneasy, constructing tests for Rebekah that suggest at the least his anxiety to get things right. Yet his is also a journey that will involve trust, for he very clearly holds this mission before God at all times in prayer.
As the story unfolds we see that all indeed will be well, and another difficult journey begins as Rebekah takes her decisive step into an unknown destiny. We’re now nearing the end of Hilary. All the parishes that will receive us as deacons are decided, and it’s feeling close. I’d like to think of it as though the bottles of champagne are about to break over our bows, but I fear it feels more akin to the moment the ship hits the water, wavering and heaving into its new element.
I’m very aware that I’m returning to the church I left, and that though it will be different, and undoubtedly challenging, I do go back to Keith in a parish that I know. Yet for everyone the journey holds some kind of unexpectedness, probably both joyful and apprehensive. We’ll go into places that think the only good news they need is an upturn in the economy, to places where worship and faith is unexamined and sealed into Sundays, to places where community is limited to the people who are probably not going to beat you up, or to places where church is considered simply irrelevant.
We’ll go with a vision that may not be welcomed, to people who may not be anxious to hear.
In its way, the task ahead may feel as daunting as the one Abraham’s servant faced. I have a friend, vicar of a hugely complex parish who says that every morning she wakes up and thinks “I can’t do this”, and every day whatever ‘this’ entails gets done – entirely, she says, through the grace of God.
Whether we are approaching our last weeks here, or nearer the start of our formation, each of us will have gained richly from our time at this House, but of most crucial importance is that when we leave we’ll take with us the experience that we don’t attempt this ministry alone. All the exploration and study, learning and growth, has been rooted in daily, sometimes demanding, worship, each day framed in conversation with God. We are woven through with prayer.
So it is through God’s strength that we dare to start out on these journeys, and on his guidance that we shall rely; on the one who revealed in his incarnation in Christ what is possible, and what is the only life worth striving for.
Let us pray:
Father, we thank you for the challenge
of calling us to your service.
Grant us sensitivity to discern your will for us,
and wisdom to fulfill it;
compassion to walk alongside those in our care,
and patience to stick by them;
courage to meet the challenges that lie ahead,
humility and endurance in the face of opposition;
Grant that we may we grow in faith, hope and love.
May we always trust in your strength,
and never in our own adequacy.
We ask these things in the name of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
All are warmly invited to the
2011 JELLICOE SEMINAR
MGR JOHN ARMITAGE
Vicar-General, Roman Catholic Diocese of Brentwood
Parish Priest, St. Anne's Church, Custom House London
CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING
AND THE LIVING WAGE CAMPAIGN
Wed. 23rd Feb. (6th Week) 15.30~17.00
St. Stephen's House, Oxford
16 Marston Street, Oxford, OX4 1JX
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
This homily was given by Roger Butcher, a first year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 7th February 2011.
Over the next few weeks, the first year Ordinands will be looking at the Diaconate. Today’s text gives us a view of what it is to be a deacon, interpolate that with our earlier lectionary reading and it seems there is a simple analogy to be made; that all we need to be is ‘nice chaps’. But is it really that simple?
The Philippians struggled with the problem we also face every day; how to live as disciples of Jesus Christ in a hostile environment in which a large majority of our neighbours do not share out convictions. Paul’s advice was to follow his example as he followed Christ, in living in this world with very different values to guide them. “In the world, but not of it.”
In tonight’s epistle, Paul divinely inspired gives honour to Timothy the co-author expressing his own humility. Paul does not pronounce himself as an Apostle, finding authority within his title, but he refers to himself and Timothy as servants of Christ Jesus. The Greek word ‘doulos’ we heard tonight as servants of Christ, a more accurate rendering is slaves of Christ. Not only do they love our Lord whole-heartedly but also they become a slave, a much deeper metaphor than just being ‘nice chaps’. The form of a servant is just a pleasantry for a religious way of talking about it. So, what is to be said about the ‘shape of the slave’?
God initiates a human life on earth, which more and more is entirely given over into the hands of others. This is what slaves experience; their lives are given into the hands of others. It is a shocking fact and difficult language when you think of what slaves really are. The form of a servant will make us think of serving supper on Thursday, assisting in Church duties, or helping an old lady across the road, that sort of thing. The image of a slave evokes something much deeper, dare I say even threatening. The slave is a person who belongs to somebody else; they are in their hands. Paul saw Jesus for who he was, everything became about Christ and Christ became everything to Paul. There was no higher purpose for his life than being a slave of Jesus. God’s love is such that he puts himself in somebody else’s hands, there is this motif of setting apart. When Jesus captured Paul’s heart, Paul was changed he was set apart. Is it any wonder when we find ourselves in difficult situations, out of our comfort zone, that we find such abandonment from the environment we find ourselves in? This environment of setting apart is the place where we need to remind ourselves that we are slaves in the service of our Lord in body, mind and spirit. We share this with the Apostles and the Saints.
The very word ‘slave’ is a frightening one, but we must take comfort in the fact the form of God becomes a slave in his final embodiment. Becoming this slave to our Lord is to be close to God so that we may be pure of heart. That our humility is not forced, that we are not just simply ‘nice people’; or worse still, those who look over their shoulder to see if their good deed has been noticed. However, we seek this joy of pureness of heart, filled with the fruit of holiness that comes only through being a slave to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pray;
Almighty Father, who gave your only begotten Son to take upon himself the form of a servant and to be obedient even to death on a cross. Give us the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, that sharing his humility, we may come to be with him in his glory; who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Monday, February 7, 2011
Homily given by Fr Peter Anthony, the Junior Dean of the House on Epiphany 5, 6th February 2011. (Readings: Isa 58.1-9; 1 Cor 2.1-12; Mt 5.13-20)
I thought the wikileaks scandal was over, but no this week there has been a further release of American diplomatic telegrams, which I have to confess I have found compulsive reading. There was, for example, one from the American ambassador in Bangkok about the habits of the Crown Prince of Thailand. Principal amongst them is an extraordinary fondness for his pet poodle called Foo Foo. So great is the Prince’s affection for Foo Foo that he has decreed the dog be officially accorded the rank of Air Chief Marshal. And indeed the ambassador reported seeing Foo Foo, dressed in a full poodle sized uniform of an Air Chief Marshal. This all took place at a party which the Prince threw for the dog’s birthday. Foo Foo was allowed to jump on to the dining table and to lap from the water glass of several of the guests, who were unable to do anything about it, as there was nobody present with sufficient military rank to be able to order the dog off the table.
What a crazy parallel universe some people live in. Completely disconnected from reality...entirely out of touch with ordinary people. And yet: isn’t that precisely the same accusation that many make against the Church? The Church is plugged into a way of seeing the world that nobody believes in any longer. The Church is out of touch with most people’s aspirations. And sometimes, when one sees its disputes and schisms reported on the TV, it does seem the Church is not all that far being like Foo Foo the poodle. In the Church, we give each other grandiose titles, do we not, that go with splendid outfits, just like Foo Foo. We, too, have curious ritualized meals together. We too are a hierarchy where bishops, just like Foo Foo the poodle, sometimes can’t be contradicted.
But if that ever were the case, the words Jesus addresses to us in today’s gospel go right to the heart of what we need to do about that. “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot.” What does Jesus mean by describing us as salt? Whatever analogy he is drawing – he is surely saying that the presence of his disciples in the world, like salt, is crucial. The world cannot survive without salt. Salt is what gives taste and savour. It’s what gives food its bite, its reality. We need salt in our bodies for a whole range of chemical processes. Life without salt is impossible.
And so should Jesus’ disciples be to the world. They will be a sign of a crucial essence without which the world would not be the world – the love of God. The Church will be the sacrament of salvation making Christ present, and drawing others to him.
But Jesus makes it plain that it will be possible for us to prevent his presence being seen in the Church. Through our failings, our neglect, or lack of zeal, we can make the Church seem as useless or as ridiculous as Foo Foo the poodle. And the heart of what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel is that when that happens, we can so compromise the Church’s mission in the sight of the world that we become as worthless as salt which has lost its saltiness: “No longer good for anything...thrown out...trampled under foot.”
What can we do about that? I think the Lord is calling us to remember one very simple thing this morning. It is this: for the Christian community genuinely to be the Church we must somehow make a difference. The Christian vocation is not a heroic Palagian struggle to be perfect or respectable; it’s about others seeing Christ alive in us. Wherever we are, whatever the Christian community is that we’re a part of, those around us must see that Christ present in us makes a difference to the world. Be that through running a soup kitchen and thrift shop for the homeless...or hearing the confessions of grand ladies in pearls and fur. It doesn’t matter what it is. To be authentically the Church, we have somehow to make God’s love present in the context where he has placed us. Christian communities that go wrong, shrink, or become dysfunctional, have nine times out of ten, lost sight of that calling: they become self-serving, introspective and ultimately die – but usually not before they have given Christian faith a bad name.
Why should the Church make a difference in the world? Simply because God wants to make a difference in the world. That’s why he sent his Son to die and rise for us. And until he comes again, we are the ones who are privileged enough, through his Spirit, to be his Body in the world; to be nothing less than the face of Jesus to those around us.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
This homily was given by Peter Garvie, a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 31st January 2011.
The Church and sanity have often been confused in the past, and there are few instances where this is more true than in the figure of Saintt John Bosco…
It was said by many, and probably thought by more, that John Bosco must have been insane, and an attempt was made at one stage to even put him into an asylum.
But what on earth could provoke such a reaction, to a man who’s legacy is still educating thousands of disadvantaged children and who is responsible for founding the third largest religious order in the Catholic Church?
It was when visiting prisons as a seminarian that John Bosco found it difficult to take lightly his calling to live out his vocation in dedication to abandoned young people. He was moved to find a way of providing spiritual and educational nourishment for these people through the threefold method of education: reason, religion, and loving kindness. This method combined with his charismatic charm and deep devotion inevitably produced remarkably positive results. He gained the attention of many and soon had the political movers at the time sitting uneasily as he was seen to be not just a nuisance but also politically dangerous. Time and time again obstacles were deliberately put in his way to stop his work and under overwhelming adversity he persevered with all the odds stacked against him.
But look a little deeper and we can begin to see that he brought to bare the gospel in a way which is just as relevant today as it always has been.
We ought to be perplexed when the world is not challenged by the gospel. Look around us and it is quite easy to see that if the church were to take its vocation as seriously as John Bosco did his, many would suspect that we too are insane and what an astonishing compliment that might be.
Like John did, we too are discerning how to live out our vocation. We find ourselves at this time in the reassuring confines of a seminary, located in a former monastery no less, with the privilege of praying together with other Christians every single day. But lets not be under any allusions of the subtle suspicions that are awaiting us.
By agreeing to serve the church in such a public way we set ourselves up to have stones thrown at us, and that is foolish. John Bosco could quite easily be described as the clown for Christ (he was even known to juggle and dance around to engage the young people with his teachings).
Today we ask for the intercession of John Bosco, and all the saints, that we too may find what living out our vocation might look like, as we discern what God might be telling us in each of our various placements wherever they might be. What is it that might characterise the way in which we are to work with our fellow members of Christ's body, in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, to bring them to the foot of the cross and to reveal the process of the resurrection life, the love of God made visible.
And above all, we ask for the sort of perseverance that characterised John Bosco, and in doing so we can turn to our Lord for our guidance, whom this evening we have had recounted the events that led to his being delivered to be crucified. This, the greatest of all obstacles, death itself, which he overcame. May we share in that vocation, may we share in him.
Let us pray;
We praise you, Lord
for calling Saint John Bosco
to be a loving father and prudent guide of the young.
Give us his fervent zeal for souls
and enable us to live for you alone.
We make our prayer through our Lord.