Facing the Future

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

[Before the Gospel is proclaimed, everyone present will be asked to remain standing at the end.]

Dear Friends, today we celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the Dedication of this Church, and I have asked you to remain standing because I would like to show you the future! What does the future of our parish look like?

First of all, if you are a visitor among us, and this is not the church where you usually worship, please be seated.

Secondly, if for any reason you do not expect to be attending this church most Sundays by this time next year, please be seated.

I wish to show you the future, and we must plan for the long term. I hope that many of us will live long lives of service continuing to contribute to the parish, but for now I would like everyone aged over 75…70…65 to sit down.

Finally, I want to address our brothers and sisters from India, who belong to the Syro-Malabar branch of the Catholic Church. I don’t know what provision your bishop will make in the coming years, but let’s imagine that a priest is sent to Cardiff to celebrate your liturgy, the Holy Qurbana, every Sunday. If you would choose to go to that rather than come here every Sunday, please sit down.

Those of you still standing, have a good look at each other. The future of our parish is in your hands. There is no-one else who can make our parish thrive when our older brothers and sisters find that declining health prevents them giving the wonderful gifts they offer us right now. You too, please be seated – but be attentive!

Give to God what belongs to God.

This was Our Lord’s answer to a trick question designed to catch him out. But it’s a good question. What does belong to God? What are we expected to give Him?

When the Lord invites you to the wedding banquet, will you come? And will you be wearing a wedding garment?

When the Lord looks for fruit in his vineyard, will have have grown any?

When the Lord asks you to work in his vineyard, will you go?

Over the last four Sundays, St Luke has repeatedly told us that God has work for us to do. That work includes the care we give to our families, our work colleagues and the local community – but in particular it applies to our work for this parish community. Today we celebrate the Dedication of the Church. We are the living stones of which our church is built. How dedicated are we?

The fact that we have a church building here in Llanedeyrn makes a statement. It says that we, the Catholics of this parish, takes responsibility for what belongs to God in Llanedeyrn, Pentwyn, Pontprennau and St Edeyrn’s Village. We are not St Brigid’s with St Paul’s. Our brothers and sisters there are responsible for Cyncoed and Llanishen. One question I always have to keep in mind as your Pastor is to ask whether we are still large enough as a community to do God’s work without needing to merge with our neighbours. Let’s assume, for the moment, that we are large enough. What challenges will the future bring?

I’d like to share with you some numbers.

Every year, the parents of about 70 children ask that they should receive First Communion here. Most of those families do not attend Mass regularly. Maybe 10 of those families are not even Catholic. How can we welcome them and encourage them to be active members of our parish family?

Every year, the parents of about 30 infants ask that these children should be baptised here. How can we welcome these and encourage them, too, to be active members of our parish family?

In January, after the Parish Mission, we launched our “Connect & Explore” Groups. About 25 of us came to try them out. Last month, we launched our new season… but only about 10 of us are still coming. That means that almost all of us, more than 300 souls, are not choosing to strengthen our community bonds and deepen our faith through the programme on offer. When we offer coffee and tea after Mass on the second Sunday of each month, maybe fifteen of us stay – but 150 souls leave without joining in. This is not a recipe for a healthy parish.

I know there are good reasons why some of us cannot take part. Maybe some of us work shifts which change from week to week. I have tried to address this by making sure that Connect & Explore runs in three different slots. Maybe some of us don’t like to drink tea or coffee – well, tell our caterers what we should be providing.

Those of you who were the last parishioners standing, you are from many nations, languages and cultures. I know that it takes extra effort to mix when you have to speak a language which is not your mother tongue, or share food which is not your natural palate. But consider this – what happens when a marriage takes place across such boundaries? Let me tell you about Graeme, who is Scottish. He married my friend Alina, who is Polish. Before the wedding, and again regularly afterwards, he went with Alina to visit her family in Poland. Graeme doesn’t speak Polish. Alina’s parents don’t speak much English. But this relationship matters. Alina’s family had become Graeme’s in-laws. So although it wasn’t easy, and still isn’t, Graeme continues to visit Poland, eat their food at their table, and do his best to communicate.

We are the bride of Christ. We celebrate today that in this parish, we are one spiritual family, bound together by our common baptism. But every time we refuse the invitation to spend time with one another, our actions are saying “You are not my family” – and the body of Christ is broken once again.

Now, how are we to respond to these many requests for baptism and first communion from families who do not often attend weekend worship? The law of the church (Canon 843) states: “Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, [who] are properly disposed…Pastors of souls and other members of the Christian faithful… have the duty to take care that those who seek the sacraments are prepared to receive them…”

Did you notice that? It’s not only my job as parish priest to help them become ready. It is also your job. You’ve heard the saying that “it takes a village to raise a child”? Well, “it takes a parish to make a Catholic”.

Last year, more than 60 children made their first communion in this parish. I’d like any children who made their First Communion in the last 3 years to stand up. [Affirm the children who do.] Is it OK that most of our children are missing now?

Last year, we baptised more than 30 children in this parish. How many of those babies are here right now? I do recognise that it’s difficult for parents to manage small children at Mass – indeed there’s no obligation to bring children under First Communion age to Mass – and I have good news: now that we have launched our parish Toddler Mass, more than 100 people came last Saturday. But that still doesn’t represent all the babies we have baptised. Is it OK that many of our families are missing now?

It’s not OK. So what are we going to do about it?

I want to share with you now the vision that Deacon Steve and myself have for the future.

Next Autumn, September 2018, we will launch something we’re calling the “Parish Connection Programme”. This will be a short course, over several evenings and perhaps a day retreat, that reminds us why we do the things we do as Catholics, why Our Lord Jesus is at the centre of faith, and what it means to be a member of this parish. This programme, or PCP, will be the gateway to receiving Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation in this parish. Do you want your baby baptised? Do the PCP. Do you want to become a Catholic? Do the PCP. Do you want your child to receive First Communion? In order to give your child appropriate parental example and support, do the PCP. What exactly we put into the PCP will be developed over the next few months with our Parish Leadership Group. But next year I will ask all of us to take part in a PCP so it becomes part of the shared history of our parish. I want us to come together from our different languages and cultures and do this together. And those of you who were the last ones standing, I am looking to you in particular to learn to run our Parish Connection Programme.

We will need to run lots of PCPs. Next autumn, a few pioneers will take part and iron out teething troubles. In spring 2019, the graduates of the first courses will run more of them so we can all take part. This will be the way to help our parish grow and become strong. We may need to put some of our other parish actitivies on hold for a few months to make space for this.

We CAN do this.

We NEED to do this.

If we face this with the wrong attitude, giving to God the work that belongs to God, it will become as tedious as paying taxes.

If we do it with the right attitude, we will meet the challenge in the same was as the Thessalonian Christians St Paul addressed his words to: “When we brought the Good News to you, it came to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction. You have shown your faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope.”

We know what we need to do. This week we’ve been comparing notes with other pioneering parishes across the UK, and we know we’re taking the right steps. But we have to work together. We have one year to get ready for this new way of being parish, where all take part in the Parish Connection Programme, so we in turn can offer it to our missing brothers and sisters.

We can do this.

We WILL do this.

Who is ready to stand up and give to God what belongs to God?

 

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!

 

Keep Calm, and Follow Jesus

Homily at St Philip Evans, for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

kc1We live in uncertain times. By a small majority, the UK voted to leave the European Union, but no-one quite knows how that’s going to work out.

America has just elected Donald Trump as its president and that too will lead to a time of change.

On this weekend of Remembrance, we recall that 100 years ago, Britain was at war with Germany and her allies. That war was won, but more conflict followed. Sixty years ago, during the Second World War, British civil servants had to prepare for the worst. What if Britain suffered a heavy Nazi bombardment? A series of advisory posters was prepared, but never used. Now, with the safety of half a century between us and the danger, those posters have seen the light of day, and been reproduced on everything from T-shirts to mugs. The words of wisdom? “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

We human beings are good at worrying. Have you noticed how most of the things we give energy to worrying about, never actually happen?

Each of today’s readings is an invitation, in its own way, to keep calm and follow Jesus.

The prophet Malachi speaks of a Day of Judgment coming as a burning fire – but for those who love God, it will be a healing light.

St Paul warned the busybodies in Thessalonica not to get over-excited about what other Christian believers were doing but, well, to keep calm and carry on!

In Jesus’ own time, in the face of a changing world, the Lord said: “Do not be frightened. Your endurance will win you your lives.”

It’s not only the Bible which urges us to avoid worry and fear. The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy offered similar advice in an even more pithy form: the words “Don’t Panic!” – written in big friendly letters on the front cover.

How, then, can we keep calm and follow Jesus? Another word for a follower is a “disciple”, which comes from the Latin word for “learner”. How do we “sit at the feet of Jesus” to understand his teachings better?

During our Parish Mission, we had daily opportunities to explore our faith. Each morning, a different member of the Mission Team shared the story of how they came to faith. On the evenings of the Celebration Week, through the spoken word and through movement, we were given a deeper teaching than we have time for in the homily at Sunday Mass.

It’s unusual to have a whole week of such events in our parish, and that won’t happen again for a generation. But it’s normal for a community of Christians to take time once a week, once a fortnight, or at least once a month, to explore more deeply what the Bible says or what our Church teaches. The Mission was called “Great Expectations”. God expects, and your Parish Priest expects, that each one of us will take time at least once a month to explore our faith and to connect with other members of our community beyond the limited social contact we have by attending Mass.

One way of exploring faith is through an Alpha Course. We’re going to run an Alpha weekly on Tuesday evenings from early January. If you’d like to find out more about that, and especially if you are willing to help with the practical side, there’s a meeting in the Small Hall this Tuesday evening.

Not everyone is able to make the time for a weekly commitment, so as well as Alpha, we will soon begin running “Connect & Explore” groups. When will these run? Mornings, afternoons or evenings? Weekly, monthly, fortnightly? That depends on you. I have some survey forms for everyone willing to get involved. Some of you already filled them in earlier this week, but the altar servers will bring them now to anyone who needs one.

There’s a story about a saint, perhaps it was Saint Francis, who was busy sweeping the floor of his churchyard, when a rumour spread around the town that Jesus was going to come back in one hour. Some of the villagers rushed to confession. Others went to make peace with their enemies. Still others sank to their knees to spend the last hour of their lives in deep prayer. But Saint Francis? He just carried on sweeping the floor, comfortable in the knowledge that he was already living his life in the way the Lord expected.

This weekend we remember those who gave their tomorrow for our today, and we offer prayers for their souls.

But let’s also remember the One who laid down his life for us and invited us to follow him. In an uncertain world, the very best thing we can do is stay close to Jesus. We do that through prayer, through serving Him in the poor – and by gathering to explore his teachings. As long as our life is in balance on that score, we have nothing to fear. In short, let’s remember that our Heavenly Father has sent his Beloved Son and asked us to listen to him. Let’s “Keep Calm, and Follow Jesus.”