SMC 18th November 2018
There are one or two things I really hate about being a Parish Priest. One of them is having to choose hymns! Those of you who have attended a Mass where I am the celebrant, or indeed even one I have attempted to cantor, will know that I am not a natural singer. I do believe that singing, and especially chanting those parts of the Mass which are appointed to be sung is very very important. Alison, who sings in your choir and has started worshipping with us, tells me its all to do with synaptic pathways. I don’t know about that, but what I do know is that the Church tells us that it is good and proper to sing. St Augustine is famed for saying “he who sings, prays twice”. But whether it is right and good still doesn’t remove the fact that I hate having to choose the hymns on a weekly basis.
To be honest, I do cheat a little. We don’t have an organist or for that matter an in tuned organ at St Philips, but we do have an electronic Keyboard which Fr James, my predecessor very kindly lends us and which has a fulsome supply of pre-recorded hymns on. So every week I go onto this website which has a list of appropriate hymns for the lectionary readings, and I simply cross reference what our little machine has. If they appear on both, the hymn has a very good chance of being chosen for that week’s Mass.
This week though, I was rather surprised by two of the hymn suggestions. The first was Lo He comes with clouds descending, and the other was Come thou long expected Jesus. Now, even I know that they are hymns usually sung during Advent. So what are they doing here? Why are we singing them two weeks early?
Well, I don’t want to steal by brother clergy’s thunder by speaking too much about Advent, but the reason we have these hymns is because our readings and our liturgy is starting to gear up for Advent. This is the last week of green. And so the Church wants us to start peering on the horizon and to start reflecting on what Advent is all about. Yes I am sure during Advent we may hear us priests talk more about disciplines, and preparing etc etc but in many ways, to start thinking about Advent IN Advent, is a little too late. The Church wants us to think about Advent and the consequences right now.
Advent really is when we ask God to send his son again. It is us asking for the end times. That’s great but are we really ready for the consequence of that? Are we spiritually in peak form to meet our Lord and Saviour? Are we stripped away of all that is not of God – are we stripped away from the sin? Have we detached ourselves from those virtues and behaviours which draw us away from God?
The answer quite simply is no. It’s no because however saintly we are, however good we try to rid ourselves of sin, the enemy works hard to thwart us. There will always be more to do this side of the coming of the Kingdom. A few weeks ago we
celebrated All Souls, and I explained to the folk at St Philips that, as Traditionalist Catholics, we realise that the work of being prepared for heaven continues after death. The stripping away, the refinement in the refiner’s fire still happens. At Catholics, we call this the Doctrine of purgatory. That’s what we are praying for at All Souls, that this process is quick and easy for our loved ones.
But it draws us to the reality that for some that process will be easier and less complex than others. If we have lived a life that loves the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind. If we have lived a life practising and exercising the Christian Virtues. If we have lived a life demonstrating works of mercy and charity, much of the work will be done. we will, as I said earlier, be spiritually prepared for the coming of Kingdom.
Another word for this “being prepared” is called discipleship. Christ calls each and everyone of us to walk this journey with him to live a Christian life, to live the life of Christ. As Christ called the first followers to drop their nets and follow him, he asks us now to do the same. To live the life that prepares us for eternity.
Advent then is a time for us to reflect and take stock. How is our journey of discipleship? How are we doing in demonstrating the Christian virtues? How are we with works of charity? Have we dropped our nets and followed where Christ has asked us to go?
We are into the final weeks of my being with you. Six months has come around quickly. Soon I’ll be based up the road at St Philip’s permanently. And so in what may be one of my last homilies to you, I want to ask you to use this Advent to reflect on whether Our Lord is asking you to drop your net, your security and your comfort of worshipping at St Mary’s and to follow Him, to work with Him to bring new life and vigour into your neighbouring church of St Philip’s. Use this Advent to listen to Him. Is he saying to you that the next phase of your journey, as a disciple of Christ lies at St Philip’s? Perhaps Our Lord is asking you to not leave St Mary’s fully – but maybe he is calling you to commit once or twice a month to worshipping at St Philip’s. Leaving the comfort of what we know and love isn’t easy but doing so is part of a Christian virtuous life, the virtues of courage and faith to step out into the unknown.
If the Lord isn’t calling you this Advent to continue your journey as a Disciple of His at St Philip’s, maybe he is calling you to show works of mercy and charity for your brothers and sisters up the road. At St Philips we have just enough each year to pay the Bills. The Archdeacon has already said that when the funding for my post ends in 4 years-time, they will cease to have a full-time priest. There is lots of work we can do to change that mindset. More people coming to Church is one way, but the work of Christian outreach is another. Lynn, another member of St Mary’s who has
committed to working with us on restarting children’s work; Mother and Toddler Group, concerts and other events that draws local families to St Philips. But we can’t start this until the building is watertight and the floor is safe.
If you aren’t called to be part of the worshipping community at St Philip’s, is our Lord asking you to support our work financially. To exercise the works of mercy and charity. A commitment of £5 a week – what’s that? A cup of coffee and a slice of cake in Costa? A financial commitment from every member of St Mary’s to St Philip’s would increase our disposable income to make the structural changes to allow us to organically grow the congregation.
Whether or not God is calling you to St Philip’s, use this Advent to reflect on your journey with Christ. Can you be doing more now in your discipleship can you be doing more now to prepare yourself spiritually to meet the Lord our Saviour? Can I make changes in my life to better flex those Christian muscles called the virtues, called works of charity and mercy, so that the process of refinement is much much easier? What can I do now to start stripping away those things that weren’t part of God’s design so that the process in purgatory is much easier, less complex, and much quicker.