Deaneries for Growth and Mission!

For the foreseeable future, the Catholic Church in England and Wales faces a double decline: in the number of priests available and in the number of active lay members. By global standards, we enjoy a high number of priests for every Catholic: according to current data (May 2017) we have 1.18 priests for every thousand Catholics, which ranks us 24th out of the 157 territories tabulated.

This doesn’t seem so bad, but we have a structural problem. The 1960s and 70s were marked by a surge in the number of men coming forward for the priesthood and a period of urban expansion in many British cities. (On the same statistical table we have 1.82 priests per parish, ranking us 88th in the world, but the statistics hide the ratio of “able” to “non-working” priests) The same period was also marked by the post-Vatican-II relaxations which allowed Sunday Mass on a Saturday evening, and only an hour’s fast before communion, making Sunday evening Masses viable.

We now find ourselves in a position where we have built an unsustainable network of small parishes with many Sunday* Masses. As the number of priests falls back to a more typical historical level, we cannot sustain all of these Masses (nor indeed the current pattern of daily Masses). Each scheduled Sunday Mass in a given location has its own “regulars”, not all of whom will transfer to another Mass if that slot is removed or merged. When a Mass venue is closed, even more regulars are likely to be lost. Many Catholics have a strong emotional attachment to the building they see as their “family church” and only a weak attachment to “the mission of the church” as a whole, so closing a building can have devastating consequences.

As the number of worshipping Catholics falls, coupled with demographic trends that mean more women are in employment, elderly people work to a greater age, and grandparents face increasing pressure to assist with child care, the volunteer force of lay people able to sustain parish activity is also being squeezed. Since each parish seeks to maintain a basic minimum level of service for the sacraments – baptism of infants, first communion, confirmation, adult instruction, care of the sick and housebound – the dwindling pool of volunteers will face increasing pressure to deliver these services at the expense of other tasks which are intrinsically important but more likely to be viewed as “optional” – adult religious education, evangelistic activities, dialogue with members of other faiths, and work with poor and needy members of the community.

In some places, team ministry has been tried. Anecdotal evidence suggests this only works effectively when a group of priests voluntarily comes together and embraces a deep level of co-operation; most diocesan priests work in a highly individualistic way. The promise of obedience is lived out mainly when the bishop gives a priest a new assignment, not in day-to-day matters; and without spare manpower, a bishop has few strategies with which to sanction an uncooperative priest. Few parishes have the benefit of a curate, so in most parishes one priest is responsible for everything. Cover priests are not easy to find, so priests may have difficulty taking their allowed holidays of one month per year, and without resident help, many priests may also struggle to preserve a meaningful day off.

Permanent deacons can assist with the load of baptisms, weddings and funerals, but problems can occur when a new parish priest moves into a parish with a deacon and for some reason fails to establish a good working relationship with that deacon. This may be due to personality clashes, or a lack of openness on the priest’s part to the ministry of deacons.

When one priest alone is responsible for a parish, carrying all the sick calls and funerals, this inevitably limits that priest’s capacity to be strategic and to offer more to the parish than the basics. Priests may also have diocesan responsibilities which further eat into their time. The famous Revd James Mallon, whose parish in Halifax, Canada, is a beacon of good parish ministry, is on record as saying he was only able to be strategic because he had an associate pastor carrying the load of funerals and sick visiting.

Bishops face structural problems of how to manage their dioceses with dwindling resources. One approach is to spread the priests as thinly as possible, with every priest carrying a full load of Sunday Masses, usually in several different locations, sometimes responsible for two or three canonical parishes. This strains still further the ability of the priest to be strategic. The other approach is to impose radical closures of buildings and parishes; this relieves the pressure on priests but demoralises the people.

Buildings themselves also cause difficulties. The Church exists, in theory, to spread the Gospel and enable people to become effective disciples of Christ. In practice, many Catholics have a strong sense of “belonging” to an institution and will work hard to preserve cherished buildings and Mass arrangements. When mergers take place, what happens when a parish in debt is merged with one with a huge surplus? Should the assets of St Peter’s be used to pay the parish debt of St Paul’s, or does that offend a sense of natural justice? We are also not good at making hard decisions about buildings in the face of declining parish revenue, meaning a higher and higher proportion of income ends up being used to sustain property.

Is there a kind of solution we haven’t tried yet? Perhaps there is…

Imagine that a diocese were totally restructured in the following way. I will refer to the new structures as Mparishes and Mdeaneries. The M stands for “mission”, and allows us to distinguish the Mparishes of the new structure from the pre-existing parishes which would make way for them.

Any workable strategy must be based on the following principles:

1. We cannot sustain every existing Sunday Mass, which is a distinct congregation meeting at a particular place and time. Fewer priests means this is physically impossible.

2. We probably can plan for every existing church and Mass centre to retain one Sunday Mass. In a given diocese this will depend on the projected number of priests, and the current number of venues, but in many local circumstances will be doable.

3. Each venue shall have ONLY one Sunday Mass, unless the bishop recognises a genuine need for more than one. But each venue must explore all possible ways of fitting everyone into a single Sunday celebration, e.g. by using a video relay into its hall or hiring a larger building on Sundays. Gathering everyone together at ONE Mass is not only a way of using a priest’s time more efficiently, but also of unifying the local Catholic population and making the most efficient use of volunteers.

4. Each venue shall have a designated parish priest. Team ministry experiments show that other arrangements are generally unpopular and ineffective.

5. In order to ensure that missionary priorities are not lost under the burden of parish management, a significant number of diocesan priests will be appointed Deans and will not be assigned to parishes, but to the missionary development of their deaneries.

What would happen in practice when we apply these principles?

Three or four existing parishes will be gathered into one Mparish, sharing a parish priest. While there may be a short term need to allow the distinct parishes to retain their canonical identities, and independent bank accounts, the aim will be that the Mparish becomes the canonical parish in due course. There is a working presumption that activities (e.g. first communion course, social events) are to be held jointly between parishes insofar as the geography allows this. Priests should not duplicate administrative structures more than necessary. However, each worshipping assembly may need its own liturgy planning group.

Five or six Mparishes are constituted as an Mdeanery. A senior priest is appointed as dean, and key to this strategy is that the dean is NOT a parish priest of any of the parishes, but has faculties to act in all of them.

The Dean’s inalienable responsibilities are:

  • Welfare of the clergy – sharing a meal with each cleric in the deanery individually at least once a month
  • Liaison with the bishop – meeting the bishop corporately or individually once or twice each month
  • Co-ordination of weekday Mass times, at least in urban areas, to ensure the widest choice during the whole day
  • Co-ordinating clergy holidays and himself covering Sunday Masses when one of the other priests is away
  • Covering for each other priest on one weekday in turn, so each priest can have a day off free of all public duties
  • Possibly Baptism Preparation, and baptism for families not actively worshipping in any church

The Dean is also responsible for the following, unless it seems appropriate to delegate them to another priest in the deanery:

  • Chaplain to Secondary Schools and other institutions spanning several parishes in the deanery
  • Adult Religious Education and evangelistic outreach (Alpha or similar events)
  • Retreats for extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion
  • The Confirmation programme across the whole deanery
  • Arrangements for Christmas Vigil Masses and Easter Morning Masses using the biggest possible venues, even borrowed ones

By giving these duties to the Dean, the parish priests experience the same kind of relief that might come of having a curate; and it ensures that important ministries which cannot be the highest priority in individual parishes are nevertheless prioritised.

When the restructure takes place, each permanent deacon can choose to be associated with a particular Mparish priest or to be at the direct service of the Dean, allowing a workaround for personality clashes.

The Dean can choose to be “in residence” with one of the parish priests or live independently in another presbytery; this will depend on the dean’s personal relationship with the available priests.

There will be a deanery bank account, funded by fees paid by each parish for the Dean’s supply work.

New Mass times must be chosen in such a way that in case of necessity, the Mdeanery can cover all its services with two priests absent (since for half the year at least the Dean will be covering for one priest’s planned absence). This means that in a group of a Dean plus five priests there can be at most 12 Masses on Sunday itself, and 8 on Saturday evening, in such a way that the priests can do 2 each on Saturday evening and 3 each on the Sunday. Each of the five Mparishes has either one Saturday evening Mass and three on Sunday, or two Saturday evening Masses with only two on Sunday. When all priests are at work, the Dean can assist with a couple of Sunday Masses for each parish in turn, prioritising situations where a parish priest would otherwise have to develop two different sermons for a given weekend (e.g. where one Mass includes some sacrament of initiation).

The second key to this strategy is that each church building has its own internal account with the diocesan finance office. Already, in English law, a parish is “owned” by the trustees of the diocese, though canon law protects the right of each parish to manage its own assets. When a parish merger takes place, buildings from a parish in debt accrue an internal debt to the diocese; parishes with a healthy bank account have part of that balance lodged against each building. All major expenses relating to that building (insurance, major repairs, safety inspections, interest on building loans etc.) are paid directly by the diocese from that account. In return, each Mparish pays a “rent” to the diocese each year to use each of its buildings. This creates an “internal market” which can force parishes to look at whether using its existing buildings is the most affordable method; each building will have designated “amber flag” and “red flag” percentages of parish income. When the proportion reaches “amber” the parish has two years to find a cheaper way of celebrating Mass. When it reaches red, the diocese denies permission to use the building, forcing use of a cheaper, if less fitting, venue. This stick is coupled with the carrot of promoting a missionary ethos which sees the purpose of the church to make disciples, not maintain buildings.

Choosing to adopt this new structure of Mparishes and Mdeaneries offers a third option falling between the radical closure of parishes and the usual tensions of parish mergers. It seeks to avoid the cessation of worship in any given locations, though may require use of a non-traditional space for worship (overflow or hired large hall) in that location. It will force most of the diocesan priests to spread themselves even thinner than if some of their number did not become Mdeans but at the same time offers significant relief from the pressures of being priest across several parishes, with guaranteed cover for holidays, weekly days off, and support for local ministry. I offer this to the Church as a possible solution which, to my knowledge, has not been tried.

* A “Sunday Mass” in this context includes any Mass from 4 pm onward on a Saturday evening celebrated with the intent of letting worshippers fulfil their Sunday obligation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Expectations: Peacemaking

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 31st Anniversary of the Dedication of the Church and the start of the parish Sion Community Mission – 22 & 23 October 2016. great-expectations-logo

At the start of Mass: Our Church was solemnly dedicated by Archbishop Ward on 25 October 1985. Today, on the nearest weekend, we celebrate another year of the life of our parish community, but we also mark a new beginning, as we enter our Parish Mission. Previously, on this Dedication festival, I have asked you to make a point of exchanging the sign of peace by name. This year, not only for today but throughout our Mission, I am inviting you to take one more step. On the pews in front of you are pens and name badges. I invite you to write your name on a badge and wear it not only today, but whenever you come to a church event throughout the next two weeks of our Parish Mission.

Now please turn to greet, by name, the people in front of, and behind you.

Normally, we would call to mind our sins at this moment. I’m going to hold that back until the middle of Mass today – so let us enter into our celebration with a great song of praise, the Gloria!

Homily: This church is full of sin!

Look! There is the confessional! Every week, sinners come and leave their sins at the feet of a priest.

Look! Here is our altar, dedicated 31 years ago. Whenever we gather around this altar to celebrate Mass, we begin with a moment to “call to mind our sins”. The Lord forgives all our little sins, and we leave them here.

Look! Above us, the great Crucifix, the sign of Christ taking on his shoulders all the sins of the world! When we celebrate Mass, Calvary becomes present on this altar, making present not only our personal sins, but all the sins of the human race!

Look! Gathered here, a throng of people! I don’t know what sins you are conscious of in your heart, but you do – and God does, too.

Yes, my dear brothers and sisters, we must acknowledge a terrible truth: our Church is a magnet for sin.

But I have good news. God can do something about it!

Why do we have a solemn celebration for the Anniversary of the Dedication of a Church? It’s a natural, human thing to want to mark another year of our being here with a celebration, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s another reason, too. In the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish people were commanded to keep an annual commemoration of the Dedication of their Temple – the solemn observance of Yom Kippur. Our First Reading today was an extract from the instructions given for that day.

Yom Kippur was the one day in the year when the High Priest was commanded to enter the Holy of Holies, the inner chamber of the Temple. First, the High Priest offers a sacrifice for HIS OWN SIN – it’s a bull. (You may be pleased to know that I myself went to confession on Friday; you may also be relieved to learn that no livestock were injured on my behalf!)

Next, the High Priest makes an offering to take away the sin of all the people of Israel – it’s a goat. But what happened to the other goat? If I had included a longer reading from Leviticus, we would have heard how the priest was to speak all the sins of the people over the head of that goat, and it would then be driven out into the wilderness. It was the original scapegoat. That’s where the term comes from!

Today, we mark the Dedication of our own Temple, this Church of St Philip Evans. It’s also the beginning of our first ever Parish Mission. It struck me that today ought to be for us a new beginning. God doesn’t want us to be tied down by sins and problems from the past. We haven’t had a perfect history as a parish. Before I became your parish priest, the life of this parish was marked by some very serious disagreements. As human beings, our natural reaction is to ask “Who started  it?” and seek an apology. But that’s not God’s way. No, the question God asks is “Who is willing to end it?” – in today’s Gospel we heard these words:

“If you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first.”

This matters! In fact, it matters so much that St Paul wrote that “anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be behaving unworthily towards the body and blood of the Lord.” The Communion that we receive at Mass is only a Holy Communion when we have made peace with all the members of our community.

Making the first move for peace might seem unfair. What Our Lord did on the Cross was not fair – it was the greatest act of generosity in the history of the human race. He took on himself all our sins. We are asked to imitate him in a very small way, making peace without the satisfaction of an apology.

Often enough there’s no possibility of an apology. We are human beings from different cultures, different nations, and different ways of thinking. Two people can approach the same situation, or even hear the very same words spoken, and interpret things in very different ways. Each person has their own integrity, and might do what they believe to be right – and still conflict comes, because our perspective is so different. This is why God doesn’t ask “Who started it?” but only “Who will make peace?”

Let me begin with myself. At seminary, we’re taught to become aware of our own character faults and weaknesses. I know that I have strong gifts for organising things, but I’m not always sensitive to other people’s feelings. It’s quite possible that at times I have been insensitive and not even realised the hurt I’ve caused. If I have hurt anyone in the three years I have been here by things I have said, done, or failed to do, I ask your forgiveness.

Then, on behalf of all the clergy. All priests and deacons are human beings, capable of having bad days and being tempted. To anyone who has ever been offended by the words, actions or inactions of any minister, I apologise in the name of the Church.

Finally, on behalf of Mother Church herself. Sometimes we feel let down by what the Church has done as an institution, or its failure to be the kind of Church we hoped it would be. But whenever we are part of something bigger, things won’t always go the way that we wish for, and this calls for great patience on our part. Will you forgive the Catholic Church for not being perfect on earth?

The Book of Leviticus lists many kinds of sacrifice that could be made in the Jewish Temple. Some were for the cleansing of individual people. Some were for the whole community. Some were even for the cleansing of the land. God waits for us to ask, before He uses His divine power to free us from the consequences of sin. So today, let us ask! If we are involved in any conflict, great or small, with people inside or outside this parish, let’s decide, right now, to make the first move for peace.

I’m going to celebrate, now, the same rite of blessing and sprinkling holy water which we keep at the Easter Vigil. One of the questions I will ask is whether you believe in “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins”. When I come among you sprinkling Holy Water, this will be a prayer for cleansing of the parish, that God will free us from all the spiritual effects of all the sins confessed in this church in the past, and all the spiritual baggage from conflicts which we, as members of the body of Christ, have been part of. If you are ready to make peace, if you are ready to receive this new beginning of spiritual cleansing, I invite you to receive the gift of Holy Water with open palms.

After the sprinkling rite:

There’s one loose end from our First Reading. What about the two rams, one for the priest, one for the people? These were “holocaust offerings”, every part was to be offered in sacrifice to God, holding nothing back. God had great expectations of the people of Israel – they were to be totally dedicated to God, trusting God for everything, giving God the very best of what they owned.

In a moment, we’ll do what we do every week – we will take a collection. Let’s remember that what we give in money is an act of worship, an offering to God. But also, while the collection goes on, I am going to pass around this clipboard. We want to give God an offering of prayer while members of our Mission Team are visiting people at home this week. Could you sign up for half-an-hour of prayer one day this week? If you can, please book your slot – and the clipboard will be brought up with our other gifts as part of our offering to God.

Built of Living Stones

Homily at St Philip Evans on the weekend of 25/26 October 2014 – the 29th Anniversary of the Dedication of the Church.A grey stone altar

Readings: Ezekiel 47:1,2,8,9,12Ephesians 2:19-22; Luke 6:46-49

29 years ago exactly, this altar which you see laid bare before you was consecrated by the Archbishop of Cardiff. This Church of St Philip Evans was founded on solid rock, and each year we are invited to celebrate the anniversary.

This matters, because this altar defines who we are. We are the community of people who gather on the Lord’s day here in Llanedeyrn, to do what Jesus commanded us to do. We are not the people who gather regularly in Cyncoed, or Llanrumney; with the noble exception of any guests who happen to be with us this weekend, we are the people who gather here, who make this church, this altar, the hub of our community of faith.

Every healthy parish is built on rock; the unseen rock of Christ, and the visible rock of its altar. If we build on both of these rocks, we will build a strong parish, capable of withstanding anything life throws at us. But we must understand what it means to build on both foundations.

We build on Christ when we pay attention to his teaching, and make it part of our lifestyle. The foolish person builds on the values of the world around us; the wise person looks deeply into what Christ taught. Last weekend, the BBC was loudly proclaiming that Pope Francis was ‘defeated’ by other bishops at the Synod in Rome. This tells you more about the BBC than about Pope Francis! The BBC was quick to report that the Pope’s final speech included a warning that religious leaders can fall into the trap of ‘hostile rigidity’, following the letter of the law rather than seeing beyond to the spirit. Strangely, the BBC failed to mention two other warnings given by the Pope, which concerned the temptations to please people and look for quick fixes rather than staying rooted in the challenging teachings we receive from God.

I will not comment further on the Synod now, because what has happened in Rome this month will be completed by a further Synod next autumn, in the light of a year of reflection. I simply highlight this as an example of the foolishness of the BBC. The reporters focussed on their worldly hope for change in the church. They failed to see that church leaders were sincerely trying to work out how to find the right balance, one which finds the right way between the law given to us by God and the compassion of Christ.

The letter to the Ephesians declares that we are being built into a house, aligned on Jesus, one holy temple. Indeed, our parish will be strong if we build one community around this altar set in Llanedeyrn. But there is more than one way to build our temple of living stones!

A row of vertical bricks with the names of parish activities on them

It is very easy to build a parish out of separate groups which each do their own thing. So I am going to place on this altar, bricks representing some of the different groups and activities which take place in our parish. If I place each brick standing on its own, we do not build a strong structure. If I give the foundations a shake, some of these are going to fall over!

To make a building stronger, we must overlap the bricks so they support each other. Indeed, we do have overlap in our parish. Young people from Jesus Youth are working with our confirmandi. By having members of the Deaf Pastoral group and the Music Group together in our liturgy planning group, we build better liturgy. By bringing all our groups together in a termly Group Leaders’ Forum, we plan more effectively. But a parish is built up not only of groups, but of each individual member.

Two weeks ago, you were invited to stay behind after Mass for a short conversation, over a cuppa. Ideally, it would have been a conversation with someone you didn’t know. Now, I recognise that it’s not always easy to speak to someone you don’t know, but we tried to make it as easy as possible. You have something important in common – the experience of living in Cardiff and worshipping here at St Philip Evans. We even gave you the questions, so there was no awkwardness of deciding how to start the conversation. Some of you stayed, and I am grateful for your feedback slips. But many of you didn’t, or couldn’t.

From now until next summer, we will invite you to have similar conversations once a month. I appreciate that there will be times when you can’t stay – due to work, transport or other factors beyond your control. But I know that some of us will simply be tempted to opt out for other reasons – because it feels uncomfortable, or because you don’t see the point. I say to you today: the strength or weakness of our parish depends on you! To build a strong parish, each brick must bond with the others. A good wall has an overlap for every brick, so each component is in touch with as many others as possible. I am inviting you to these monthly conversations not only to develop the ‘vision’ of our parish, but also to strengthen our community. If you have the courage to speak to unknown parishioners, if you make the sacrifice of adjusting your Sunday routine so you can stay for that extra 20 minutes, you will be a living stone building a secure future for St Philip Evans. If you choose to be a stone which stands alone, you will help us build a weak church which cannot sustain what is to come.

If we are wise, we will build on Christ. When he gave today’s teaching, it was just after he challenged the crowd to forgive their enemies, and practice generosity without limit. He told us to take the speck out of our own eye before we criticise anyone else. So we must start with ourselves. We can choose – to be a living stone supporting our church, or an unconnected brick which only sees a wall excluding it!

And why, you may ask, do we wish to build a strong church? A famous Anglican bishop, with the wonderful name of William Temple, once said that the church is the only society in the world which exists for the benefit of its non-members. If we work together, we can change each other’s lives for the better; we can change Llanedeyrn, Pentwyn and Pontprennau for the better; and, in a small way, we can even make the wider world a better place. Living water will flow from this temple, and bring life to the world around it. We are to bring life to the world – as the psalm says, ‘the waters of a river bring joy to God’s city’. But we cannot do this as individuals. We can only do it by listening deeply to Christ and learning to trust one another.

This time next year, our Archbishop will join us to celebrate Mass for our church’s 30th anniversary. I wonder what account I will give him of our parish life? Will I tell him that I challenged the members of this parish to build strong relationships with one another, but they chose not to do so? Or will some of you be standing at this microphone with wonderful stories of the new or deepened relationships which will have grown, telling of the ways our parish has blessed the local community because we had the courage to build a church of living stones?

Here I am, Lord, a stone called to be a member of your church. Shape me anew, place me where I will do most good, and secure me on Christ. Here I am, Lord – use me as you will!

Sire, what are your orders?

Homily at St Philip Evans, for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year C – National Youth Sunday.

Sire, what are your orders?

If you watch movies regularly, you’ll be familiar with the kind of plot where the hero has just become the leader of a nation. Perhaps he has slain the villainous tyrant in a climactic battle. Or perhaps the President has been assassinated and the hero finds himself next in the line of succession. Either way, Hollywood underlines the hero’s new status by sending in someone to ask: “Sire – or sir – what are your orders?”

We can imagine something similar happening in the days of King David. David had been the successful commander of Saul’s army. But now both King Saul and the heir-apparent, Jonathan, have been slain. Rather than turn to Saul’s wider family, the people acclaim David as King. Surely some court official would have soon stepped forward to ask: “Sire, what are your orders?”

At first sight, the story of Jesus dying on the Cross seems very different from the triumph of King David. If Jesus had spoken but one word of command, a legion of angels would have lifted him off the Cross and raised him high above the waiting crowds. But Our Lord Jesus was not there to do battle with the Roman Army or the Jewish leaders. His battle was with Death itself, and to meet Death he first had to die. Jesus faced Death and overpowered our final enemy!

This too is a story which is told often enough. This weekend the BBC is marking 50 years of Doctor Who: the Doctor has sacrificed his life for others on numerous occasions but has the power to keep coming back. For J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter was the boy who lived, magically protected by a mother’s love from what should have been a fatal curse. Those are fascinating stories – but they are only stories. Ours is the Greatest Story Ever Told!

Ours is no mere fiction, but a story which climaxes on a day in human history when the Risen Jesus appeared to his disciples. They bow down and worship him. By their actions, they ask: “Sire, what are your orders?” – and Jesus gives clear instructions. “Go and make disciples of all nations. Baptise them and teach them to follow everything I have taught you. Trust that I will be with you always, even to the ends of the earth.” Leaving us with those words, Christ Our King went to sit on his throne, which is in heaven.

As soon as the new ruler has been acclaimed by the people, Hollywood likes to show us the last faithful servant of the old regime. Perhaps it was the henchman to the old tyrant, or the special adviser to the last president. This bit keeps us guessing, because you never know how the old retainer will react.

Will she leap forward and attack the new ruler, only to be slain in a final skirmish?

Will she jump through a window and run away? Cue a scene in the middle of the final credits where some comical fate awaits her in her life of exile!

Or will she bow the knee to the new ruler and become a faithful servanJesus on mountain top with disciples, surrounded by words: When the Holy Spirit Comes, You shall be my witnessest of the hero-king?

Once we understand who Jesus truly is, each one of us faces the same decision as that old retainer. For each of us, there was a time when we liked to make our decisions about our life, guided by the things we thought were important – sport stars, fashion idols, the tastes of our romantic partners…

But when we reach the point of knowing that Christ wants to be our King, we will find that his values are different from ours.

There are the decrees that the King issues for everyone. We must make peace with our enemies. We must go the extra mile to serve those in need. We must keep our promises. We must attend the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day to remember how he offered up his life for us. We must confess our sins when we fail.

Those laws are for everyone. But because the King knows each of his servants, there are special tasks he may have for us personally. We know this in the part of Christ’s Kingdom which is St Philip Evans Parish, because we have a longstanding custom here: in our Mass each weekend we pray: “Here I am Lord, use me as you will.”

If we are serious about praying those words in church, there are other words each one of us must pray when we get home: “Sire, what are your orders?”

Have you asked Jesus, in your personal prayers, what he would like you to do in your family life, in your workplace, and in this parish? For instance, in this parish, I have invited members of the congregation to form part of a Vision Group. Have you asked Christ Our King whether he would like you to volunteer for that? At the present time, we do not have catechists in this parish to work with parents presenting children for baptism, or to run children’s liturgy during Mass. Have you asked Christ Your King if it his is will for you to volunteer for any of these things?

Deep down, you may already have a sense of what Christ is asking of you. You can argue, or you can run away, but the only happy ending to the story will take place when you bend the knee and say, in your heart, “Lord Jesus, what are you asking of me? I choose you as my King. Sire, what are your orders?”

Then, and only then, can we truly pray every weekend: “Here I am Lord, use me as you will.” Only then can we truly pray, as Jesus taught us: “Thy will be done, thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”