Homily at St Teilo’s Church for the Solemnity of St David, 2017
Timothy Rees, the Anglican Bishop of Llandaf, composed a hymn in honour of St David. It included the words: “Glorious in the roll of heroes shines the name of Dewi Sant.” The icon on the front of your order of service also has that name inscribed, faintly, at the top.
Dewi Sant! As we gather this evening to honour our patron saint, we must ask what lessons that glorious name holds for us. In fact, the name Dewi is a useful reminder for us of four values he would have us hold.
D is for DETAILS. Famously, in his last Sunday sermon before he died, David said: “Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.”
“Do the little things.” Our Christian faith is a way of life, which brings love into the smallest actions. Many centuries later, St Thérèse of Lisieux would also show us the “little way” of simple kindness. We read that in David’s monasteries there was a life of hard labour – the monks did not use oxen to pull the ploughs, but did so themselves. They ate only vegetables. Nevertheless, there was something so attractive about David’s way of life that he shone out among his contemporaries and we are telling his story 1500 years later. What was that something? Surely the love with which every simple action was imbued.
E is for the English Heresy. David famously found himself in dispute with the teachings attributed to the British monk Pelagius. Are we worthy of heaven because we “do the little things”? No! But it is all too easy to get drawn into the idea that God loves us because we do good, and this is sometimes called the “English heresy“. No! God loved us while we were still sinners, and sent Jesus to die for us. St Paul understood this clearly. He wrote to the Romans that this was the case, and in the letter to the Philippians we have just heard, Paul said: “I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ.” Our Patron Saint, therefore, reminds us clearly of just how deeply God has loved us.
W is for the Waterman. In an age before water treatment plants, when people regularly drank beer or wine because they were free of bateria, David insisted on drinking only water. He probably took part in the Celtic custom of praying while standing in an icy cold river, too. Was he doing that to earn God’s friendship? No! As an opponent of the teachings of Pelagius, he would have known full well that living an ascetic life would not endear him to God more than any other person. But he might have sensed that living this way would help him grow in self-discipline, and would show solidarity with the poorest people who would come to his monastery seeking help. In this way, David is a perfect patron of our Catholic aspiration, to live simply, sustainably, and in solidarity with the poor.
I is for Inspiration. Today’s Gospel exhorts us to be salt for the earth and light for the world. Why did David ask us to be joyful and keep our faith? We are meant to inspire others. The world is a large place – we can’t be responsible for all of it. A patron saint reminds us that we are a particular people with a common heritage. (Even in the Bible, the Book of Revelation spoke of seven churches who each had their own angel.) We have a special responsibility to not only keep our faith, but to share it, in this place and nation which is our own. What will be the most powerful light to our nation? Joy!
Pope Francis understands this very well: in one sermon last year, he said: “The identification card of a Christian is joy: the joy of the Gospel, the joy of having been elected by Jesus, saved by Jesus, regenerated by Jesus.” Our current Pope can’t seem to stop talking about joy; he even wrote an Apostolic Letter called The Joy of the Gospel!
Dewi Sant confidently declared that he would “walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.” Do you share his confidence? When you die, are you sure of walking the same path as St David?
You can pay attention to the details. You can love people by doing little things. Rejoice!
Don’t fall into the English Heresy, but gaze deeply on the depths of God’s love. Even in your brokenness, Jesus loved you enough to die for you. Rejoice!
You might not be called to be a waterman, but you can live simply and tread lightly in 21st century Wales. In this way, you can build a better Wales for everyone. Rejoice.
You are called to be an inspiration to others. You can change other people’s lives for the better, by following the example of St David. Rejoice!
The last words of today’s Mass will be: Awn ymaith mewn tangnefedd i ogoneddu Duw yn ein bywydau – “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life” Our Mass does not end at the church door. Rather, you will be light to the world and salt for the earth when the name and the spirit of “Dewi Sant” shines forth in your words and actions. May the prayers of our patron saint go with you!
Dewi Sant – gweddi dros Gymru!
St David – pray for Wales!