Homily and Narrative at St Philip Evans, on the Solemnity of St Philip Evans, being kept on the weekend of 18/19 July, 2015.
At the Introductory Rites (Please be seated.)
In the year 1675, a Welsh Jesuit was ordained in Belgium and sent back to Wales. Philip Evans SJ served the hidden Catholics of South Wales until July 22nd, 1679, when he was executed in Cardiff for the simple crime of being a Catholic priest.
Exactly 300 years after his ordination, and five years after he was canonized as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, a new parish was named in his honour. The first houses in Llanedeyrn were occupied in 1968, and in 1975 this part of Cardiff was named as a distinct Catholic parish, the parish of St Philip Evans. As Cardiff has expanded, Pentwyn and Pontprennau have also become populated parts of our parish.
This weekend, just before 22nd July, we celebrate both our Patron Saint, and our identity as a parish. The name of our Patron Saint gives a sense of identity to our whole community, just as our own given name gives us identity within the community. Since a parish is composed of the living stones which are its people, I invite you now, at the start of this Mass, to take one of the labels at the end of your bench and write your own name so that you may be known clearly by those around you.
… Now during this Mass, in a special way, we must pray for our own parish and for each individual member. I would like you to turn to one of the people sitting near you and ask them, by name, if there is any special intention they would like you to pray for during this Mass. [Acknowledgements to Revd James Mallon for this idea.]
The Lord said to Abram – leave your familiar surroundings and set out to fulfil the vision I have for you. You will receive many blessings if you walk in my ways.
Abram took a step into the unknown, trusting in God. He knew that God would fill in the details if he stayed faithful to that part of the vision he had already received.
We also need to know God’s vision for us if we are to step forward confidently into the future. For that reason, since last September, we have had monthly “vision group” meetings in the parish. Last month that resulted in putting together a formal Vision Statement. You will find it on the front of today’s Order of Service.
The parish of St Philip Evans is a welcoming Catholic community, empowered by the Holy Spirit, worshipping and serving God. We meet as a spiritual family to deepen our faith and our knowledge of one another. Within our parish area, we care for those in need and spread the message of Christ.
A Vision Statement is not a statement of where we already are, but of where we know we are called to be.
Our vision is to be a welcoming community. On my very first weekend with you, I made a strong statement that we must become a church community where all people are welcome. Over the past year I have asked Jonathan to work to set up a formal welcome team in the parish, a responsibility now taken on by Cathy Davies, Linda and Christiana – but we are all responsible for welcoming those who choose to worship here. Knowing each other’s names is part of that.
Our vision is to worship God. St Paul said in today’s Letter that we must sing and give thanks to God-our-Father. We do this first and foremost at our weekend Mass, but also through other acts of worship. During the past year our church has become a hub for prayer: Adoration every weekday during school terms, and the rosary and a pro-life prayer vigil most Wednesday evenings. Just last Friday we had a powerful Taizé prayer vigil to pray for some special intentions, led by a family from within our parish. I am truly grateful for the work of those who have made our church a powerhouse of prayer.
Our vision is to serve God, meeting to deepen our faith. This is the next step we must take on our spiritual journey. How will we do this? In November 2016, we will hold a Parish Mission, with the help of the Sion Community. We will gather each day, invited to know God better through our hearts and through our minds. We will spend the next year preparing for this mission, including a new Parish Census in the spring. I will say more about this in the autumn.
Our vision is to deepen our knowledge of one another. St Paul declared that “we are called together as parts of one body”. Our parish is as strong, or as weak, as our relationships with one another. The spiritual part of that relationship is forged when we all receive Holy Communion together, but there is also a human dimension – we must also take time to get to know one another precisely because we are members of one church community. If we do not do this, our community will be weak and we will be unable to support one another as Christians should. Some of us belong to organisations such as the Union of Catholic Mothers, the Gold Group, Couples for Christ or Jesus Youth, where we can get to know a few other people really well.
But if you don’t belong to any such group – when during the week do you meet with other members of this parish because they are members of your church? This is why it is so important that a few times each year we come together for events such as the St Philip Evans Barbecue, the International Mass – and if you haven’t already marked your diary, Sunday 25 October is when the Archbishop will celebrate Mass for the 30th anniversary of this church building, followed by a parish lunch. Don’t come to these events because you like barbecues or lunches – come because it is a gathering of your family, your church family, and you are wanted, invited, and expected.
Our vision is to care for those in need and spread the message of Christ. Today’s Gospel challenges us to take up our cross daily, and not to be ashamed of witnessing to Christ. Last weekend I spoke about how we must help others to come to know Jesus and enter into a deep and personal relationship with Him. But to do this, we must first know Him well ourselves. To care for those in need among us, we must pull together as a community – but this first requires a strong community where we support one another. To care for others in an organised way, and to make Christ known, are essential parts of our vision – but they are not steps we are ready to focus on yet. First we must do the groundwork.
On your Order of Service, you will see that there is not only a Vision Statement, but a Mission Statement dated 2015-2018. I believe that the most important work we must do as a parish over the next three years is the work of becoming a stronger community and knowing Christ and his teaching better. So this is my challenge to you: during the next year, what will you do to deepen your knowledge of Christ? During the next year, what will you do to deepen your relationship with some of the other members of this parish?
350 years ago, when St Philip Evans was preparing to become a priest for Wales, the adversaries we faced were clear. Catholics were forbidden from hearing Mass – which was excellent motivation to defy the Government and come together to celebrate Mass, however extreme the circumstances. Today, our adversaries are much more subtle. We face the busyness of work and family life, surrounded by friends and even family members who don’t understand why we take the time to be involved in church. Our struggle is not with an external oppressor, but our with own unwillingness to give God and His family first place in our lives.
The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country and your family for the land that I will show you.” I say to you: “Set aside the other calls upon your time. Give God first place by choosing to deepen your knowledge of Him. Bear with one another, put on the love and peace of Christ, for you are called to come together as one body.”
We face an uncertain future, not least with relations with our neighbouring parishes. But today I am speaking of the life of the Catholic community in Llanedeyrn, Pentwyn and Pontprennau, which will continue to meet here in St Philip Evans Church. We must catch the vision which is God’s vision for this congregation, and I believe that if we set out in this direction, we will be blessed no less than Abram was blessed. St Philip Evans – pray for us!
Sign of Peace
Some months ago, I asked you to offer one another the Sign of Peace by name. I do ask that we continue this custom.
I have shared the draft Vision Statement with you today not because it is a final statement, but so you can understand what it means and what it may demand of us. I will be asking the Parish Council to formally adopt it at the end of September – between now and then, please consider it, pray about it, and if you wish to suggest any amendments, please make them known to Elaine Payne, Vince Saunders, or myself.