Thursday Night is Parish Night! (And Sunday is the Lord’s Day.)

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A Divine Mercy Sunday.A blue dove with an olive branch - the logo of St Philip Evans Parish

The Lord has risen from the grave! Alleluia!

Errm, OK. Now what?

The friends and followers of Jesus had been on an emotional rollercoaster. For many months they’d travelled with him on the road, listening to his teachings and marvelling at his miracles. They’d been plunged into darkest despair when he was crucified on Calvary; filled with unspeakable joy at the news of his rising; and now they were coming to terms with the bittersweet reality that although he had risen, his plan was not to remain with them as he had been before. He had left them with two gifts – the teaching he had given to the Apostles after his Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit, given to strengthen and comfort the believers on the Day of Pentecost. Armed only with these tools, the friends and followers of Jesus set out to do what the Master has asked of them.

We’ve just read there were four things that mattered to the first Christians. First, they wanted to hear the teaching which Jesus had given his apostles. Second, they built a strong community – our reading said ‘brotherhood’ but the Greek word behind it is not male; it is ‘koinonia’, which means a close-knit community. Third, they practiced the ‘breaking of bread’ – they celebrated Mass. Fourth, they were faithful to prayer.

How did they do this? The first Christians attended the daily Jewish prayers at the Jerusalem Temple, but they also met in their own homes to celebrate Mass. We know from historical sources that Sunday was an ordinary working day. Despite this, the Christians would remember the Lord’s rising by gathering in the morning to sing psalms and again in the evening to celebrate Eucharist. Later, these two parts were combined into a single service more like the Mass we celebrate today.

Because it was important to those first followers of Jesus to celebrate Eucharist on Sunday, it is important to us. This is why, as far as possible, we come to Mass on Sundays – we include Saturday evenings, because the Jews counted a day to begin from nightfall. This is why our Archbishop makes sure that Mass is provided in Welsh and in British Sign Language on the Lord’s day. This is why, in many parishes across South Wales, priests drive between churches to ensure that two or even three different towns can have their own Mass on Sunday. This is why, across Cardiff city, priests ensure that Masses are available on Sunday at many different hours between 8.30 in the morning and 6 o’clock in the evening. The priests and the deacons working with them do this because the first followers of Jesus knew it was a sign of our love and our faith to worship him on the Lord’s Day. In this way, we try to provide maximum flexibility so you can schedule other family committments around a Mass time that works for you.

But is Sunday Mass enough for us to do all four of the things which matter to the friends and followers of Jesus? We get a seven-minute sermon, but that’s not a lot of time to explore the teaching of the apostles. You might have a brief conversation in the car park, but is that enough to build the kind of strong community the first Christians had? Are we the kind of parish where everyone helps each other because we knew who is in genuine need? And as for prayer – there are many other forms of prayer besides Mass, so what else can deepen our inner life with God?

Today, therefore, I am launching something new for our parish which will begin in September: Thursday night is Parish Night!

We already have a short Mass at 7 o’clock on Thursday evenings. Each week, there will be something different immediately after that Mass, something that helps us do one or more of the things the first Christians knew were important.

On the first Thursday of each month, there will be an opportunity for deeper prayer. Each month will explore something different – ways of praying with the Bible, or with the rosary, or perhaps using art.

The second Thursday of each month will be parish business night. The key committees which share in the work of leading our parish will usually meet on this night – the Liturgy Planning Group, the Finance Committee, and the Group Leaders’ Forum. I also wish to re-establish a Parish Council and we will have elections later this summer for this. Although committees and councils may sound rather boring, they are crucial if our parish is to be a true community, not a dictatorship under one parish priest.

On the third Thursday of each month, there will be a different guest speaker who will allow us to think more deeply about our faith. I have already arranged for talks about the ancient Celtic saints in Wales, about the message of Divine Mercy – something the church celebrates in a special way this weekend – and for a vicar who is also a conjourer to give us his unique perspective on the Gospels.

When I first arrived here at St Philip Evans, I spoke about my hope to form a parish vision group which would look forward to the years 2020 and 2025, and work with me for long term planning. I am now ready to launch this. On the fourth Thursday of each month, from September until next July, I will be giving talks about the different things Our Lord asked his followers to do, so we build up a rounded idea of what a parish is called to be. I hope that those who wish to be part of the Vision Group will attend these talks, and then continue to meet on fourth Thursdays to work on turning the vision into reality.

Finally, if the month happens to have a fifth Thursday, this will be an opportunity for a social night. We will say more next month about how these could be organised.

So from September this year, there will be something special happening every week following Thursday evening Mass. I am sharing this with you now so we have time to prepare. Thursday nights will be a special time for us to come together in this parish to grow as a Christian community, in the same way as the first Christians in Jerusalem built up their community.

Finally, I know that many of you work in healthcare or in other jobs where you are regularly required to work on Sundays. This is also an opportunity for you! Let us make Sunday the day when we honour the Lord’s resurrection, even if we have to go to another Church for Mass. But let us make Thursday the evening when we build up our parish, grow as a close-knit community, listen to the teaching of the apostles, and gather at 7 p.m. for the breaking of bread. Thursday Night is Parish Night! Are you coming?

Do this, and remember!

Homily at St Philip Evans for Maundy Thursday, 2014.

Do this, and remember what God has done for you!Children around the table at a Passover Seder meal

Each of tonight’s readings from the Bible contains a command to “Do this, and remember.”

On Monday evening this week, Jewish communities around the world celebrated Passover. They gathered in their own homes, placed a symbolic meal on the table, a young member of the family asked, “Why are we doing this?”, and an elder told the story of how the Jewish people were able to leave Egypt because the homes marked with the blood of a Lamb were protected.

For well over three thousand years, Jewish families have done this in obedience to God’s command, which we have just read from the Book of Exodus.

Do this, and remember what God has done for you!

Each day, in Catholic Churches throughout the world, priests take bread and wine, and repeat the words of St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, as he himself passes on what he learned from those who were with Jesus at the Last Supper. When we receive Holy Communion at Mass, we not only keep the Lord’s command to “take this and eat it,” we also re-tell the story of how Jesus died as the Lamb of God, the one sacrifice which makes up for all the sins of humanity. “When we eat this bread, and drink this cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again.”

Do this, and remember what God has done for you!

During the past year, Pope Francis has given us many powerful reminders of what it means to love our neighbours. He washed the feet of a Muslim woman last Maundy Thursday. His first official visit was to a camp for asylum seekers at Lampedusa. He invited homeless men to share breakfast with him on his birthday. He has challenged all of us to be a Church for the Poor. In doing this he has made a strong statement of the same kind which Our Lord made when he washed the feet of his disciples. We are to pour our lives out in service of others, following these examples.

Do this, and remember what God has done for you!

But… we must beware of becoming complacent consumers. If we are not careful, our religious duties become things we can “get done” once a week by going to Church. We go to Sunday Mass, receive Holy Communion, put some money in the CAFOD envelope or wall-box for Bulawayo, and contribute a few tins in the Foodbank.

To be sure, these are excellent things to do! But they are the easy part of our faith.

When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, he reminded us that the true test of our faith was not what we give at the convenient times we choose, but how we help the needs of those whose paths cross ours in the most inconvenient ways. The true test of our love of neighbour is how generous we are when we stumble across the needs of others in our daily life.

The Jewish passover meal takes place in the family home, with each family member playing their part. Each Catholic home is also called to be a “domestic church,” where the great events of our faith are to be remembered as part of grace before meals and bed-time prayers. The true test of our love of God is not only that we come to Mass once a week, but that we invite God into our homes each day.

The command to “do this” is not one we can completely fulfil in Church tonight. At each Mass, the priest reminds us to “Do this in memory” of Jesus, and the Deacon sends us out to glorify the Lord with our words and actions. The Lord’s command is not carried out in its fullness until each and every worshipper lives it out daily in prayer and in works of charity. Tonight, together, we will remember the Lord washing feet, receive gifts for the Foodbank and celebrate the Eucharist. But tomorrow, and in the days to come, the responsibility is yours, to fulfil the Great Commandments to love God and love your neighbour. Each of one you will do it in your own way, but God trusts us so much that he has given the same command to each one of us:

Give thanks that Jesus has forgiven your sins and bought for you eternal life. Know that you, too, are called to be a Good Samaritan. Do this, and remember what God has done for you!

The Long Silence

Homily at St Philip Evans for Palm Sunday, Year A.Jesus on the cross against an orange and yellow sky

What we have just heard is St Matthew’s account of the most important day which ever took place in human history. What I would like to share with you now are not my own words, but those of an anonymous author imaginging the scene at end of time:

Billions of people were seated on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly, not cringing with cringing shame – but with belligerence.

“Can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?”, snapped a young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror … beatings … torture … death!”

In another group a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?” he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. “Lynched, for no crime but being black!”

In another crowd there was a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes: “Why should I suffer?” she murmured. “It wasn’t my fault.”

Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He had permitted in His world.

How lucky God was to live in Heaven, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that human beings had been forced to endure in this world? “After all, God leads a pretty sheltered life,” they said.

So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen as the person who had suffered the most. A Jew, a black man, a survivor of the Hiroshima bomb, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the vast plain, they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case.

It was rather clever. Before God could be qualified to be their judge, He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth – as a man!

But because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be sure He could not use His divine powers to help Himself:

Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted, so that none would know who is really His father. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind. Let Him try to describe what no-one has ever seen, tasted, heard, or smelled – let Him try to communicate God in human language.

Let him be betrayed by his dearest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.

At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die so there can be no doubt he died. Let Him die the most humiliating death – with common thieves. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.

As each leader announced a portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the great throng of people assembled. When the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered a word. No one moved.

For suddenly, all knew that God had already served His sentence.

The Long Silence exists in at least two versions on the web, of which this is an amalgam. One text is on an archived version of ldolphin; another version is quoted from James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 302. Image from Christians Unite ClipArt.


Resources for Mentoring Towards Confirmation

Blessed Laura Vicuna and St Dominic SavioMy February 2 post on preparing Young Disciples for Confirmation through Mentoring has attracted a lot of attention, including an article in the Catholic Herald!

I have created a new category on this blog so you can follow all posts related to Confirmation Mentoring, and will report on how this project is going from time to time. Some of the mentees had their first meetings with mentors earlier this week, and the feedback so far has been positive.

If you would like more details of how we are running it, you are welcome to a copy of our team manual – with local contact info removed from the last page.