Great Expectations: Connect

connectHomily at St Philip Evans, for the Second Sunday of Advent, 2016.

Once again, I’d like to invite the children preparing to make their First Holy Communion next summer to come and sit together at the front.

How many of you have brothers or sisters living at home with you?

How many of you never argue with your brothers or sisters?

How many of you argue with your brothers or sisters pretty much every day?

Being part of the Church is like being part of a really big family. There will be some people you’ll get on with really well. There’ll be other people you won’t get on with at all.

Once, at priest training college, there was a student who asked me to help him with a particular project. He wasn’t someone I naturally clicked with as a friend. But he had asked for my help, and I persevered. Slowly a real friendship grew. It is within our power to make any stranger into a friend!

St Paul talked about “tolerating” other people the way Jesus did. Often when I read the stories of Jesus, I imagine him looking at his disciples and having a face-palm moment: “Don’t you lot get the idea yet?” – but He persevered.

Sometimes we are stuck with people we don’t get on with – in school, or in our First Communion class. One of the most important things we have to learn is to be kind and helpful to people we don’t like.It’s easy to be kind to people we do like. Everybody does that! Jesus came to teach us to be kind to the people who get on our nerves!

St Therese of Lisieux was so irritated by the way one nun clicked her rosary beads, she made a firm resolution to be extra-kind to that sister so that no bitter feelings could poison that relationship. When St Therese died, the clicky nun was very surprised to read that in St Therese’s journal – from the way she’d been smiled at, she thought she was one of the saint’s favourite sisters!

Last week, I promised to talk about six words which are our Catholic family values. This week’s word is CONNECT. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that the first Christians were faithful to “meeting together”. Why? Our task is to build a community where every person is loved. Sometimes we do that by helping strangers in need. But the best way to love our neighbours is by spending time getting to know them – especially the ones we don’t naturally get on with. So we have to do more than just be kind to people when we are in school in church or in First Communion class. We must choose to spend time with other Catholics because they are Catholics. If you’re in a Catholic School, that’s easy! But the grown-ups aren’t, so I need a word with them for a moment.

Our Parish Mission theme was “Great Expectations”. I believe that God has certain expectations of us as members of His Church. I believe that God expects us to more than just attend Mass together. Imagine a family where all the members went to the cinema together, but never spoke to each other when they got home! That would be a really dysfunctional family. We can do better than that!

I would like each of you to think of one way you could have a conversation with Catholics, because they are Catholics, at least once a month. Here are some ideas:

  • Come to coffee after Mass on the second Sunday of each month.
  • Come to Alpha or Call to Question, or one of the Homegroups I will be putting in place after Christmas.
  • Have a chat with the person who is sitting next to you after Mass.
  • Join an organisation like the Union of Catholic Mothers (for women), or the Catenians or the Knights of Columba (for men).
  • Invite a member of you own family to have a faith-filled conversation. If they go to Mass somewhere else, you could even compare notes on the sermons you heard this weekend!

The prophet Isaiah had a vision of a perfect society of peace – the lion and the lamb lying down together.

St Paul wrote to the Romans with a vision of an imperfect society – one that needed toleration. We people who belong to the Church are not perfect. You might have heard the saying: “The Church is full of sinners – and there’s always room for one more!”

A preacher often has to speak about the way we behave. There are some behaviours which are not welcome in a Church community. But there must be no PEOPLE who are unwelcome in a Church community. Even the Pharisees and Sadducees were welcome in John the Baptist’s community, as long as they were willing to truly change.

My vision of a Christian society is one where we choose to meet with other Catholics on a regular basis. If we don’t do that yet, that might be a change God is asking us to make in 2017. Where, when and how we do this will be different for each one of us. But it is a choice we can all make, and review each year. Only connect!

Now, back to the children. I have a challenge for you. If you are at St Bernadette’s school, I’d like you to talk to at least one pupil from St Philip Evans school each week. And the same the other way round! By the end of the First Communion course, can you find someone who supports the same sports team, or has the same hobby as you? Be careful – I might check up after Easter!