Sunday 5 February 2012

Busy, busy...

Almost like being a Vicar again; Fr Gerry, our Priest in Southbourne, has been poorly (they think it is 'flu) so this has been a long day. We set off at 8.40 from home for the 9.30 Mass at Our Lady Queen of Peace. A quick cup of coffee after Mass with our Ordinariate gang, then it was the second house; a pretty full one at that, for the 11am Parish Mass. I'd only heard yesterday that I was to celebrate and preach at this so I rewrote my intended sermon last evening in the hope that it might make sense to the regular congregation.

Then two of the Ordinariate had invited us home for a bring and share lunch. Great food, great company. A power snooze after that and it was off again for Solemn Evensong and Benediction at 4pm. We were home around 5.30. Tomorrow, the Queen's Accession, is also the second anniversary of my passing the statutory retirement age for Catholic Priests. Somehow, today did not quite feel like retirement. For lack of time to write anything else I append my sermon from this morning - it's all right, you don't have to read it.

'I have made myself the slave of everyone' [I Corinthians ix.22]

Recently a letter was discovered from a former slave to the man who had been his master. It has caused quite a stir in America, where the descendants of slaves remember what their forbears suffered.

The master had offered to employ his former slave: this is part of the very dignified and temperate reply: “Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can …. I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children … go to school and are learning well. .. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores.”

It is hard to recall how recently slavery ended in the USA: even in our own country, it is relatively recent history. And in some places it continues, this notion that one person can own another. St Paul lived in a society where slavery was not just common; without it the Roman Empire could not have survived. When Rome went to war, as it often did, slaves were part of the proceeds, the Victor’s perks. So knowing as he did what it was like, it’s amazing to find Paul saying “I have made myself the slave of everyone”.

In other places you can read how he stood on his dignity. He was arrested in Jerusalem and charged with starting a riot, and they were about to torture him with whips, but Paul said “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman Citizen, and uncondemned?” At which they hastily backed off, untied him and suddenly became very civil towards him.

But then, that is just what we should expect from him, it is what he was writing about in today’s Epistle – he will do anything to get a hearing for the Gospel. If it meant behaving like the meanest servant, he will do it; if it meant throwing his weight about, telling the Jews that he trained under Gamaliel a leading Pharisee scholar, or telling an upstart Roman official that unlike him he Paul is a freeborn Roman Citizen, then he will do it. Look at the Acts of the Apostles, and his letters to the Churches. There is nothing Paul will not do for the sake of the Gospel. “To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law; to the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, in order to save some at any cost.

I think it is something of that same spirit which guided the Holy Father when he instituted his brilliant idea for enabling former Anglicans to come into the Church as Groups, not just as individuals. So often the Church sends out the wrong signals – “we are right, everyone else is wrong” it seems to say. It was just amazing that Pope Benedict spoke of the gifts which Anglicans might bring into the Church. He was not specific about it, he just spoke of the Anglican Patrimony. That readiness to accept whatever was best in our tradition meant a great deal to many of us.
You might think we should have got over our excitement; after all, some of us have now been Catholics for a year or so. But the fact is, the novelty has not warn off; and we see our former colleagues desperately trying to save what they can of catholic tradition in the Church of England ..... We must pray for them in this difficult time; but we must also prepare to welcome some, perhaps many, who very soon now will see that their much loved church has changed beyond recognition. They might also see that the best of what they knew and loved can be found in the Catholic Church, and that they can leave a lost cause and join people who appreciate and value them.

You can imagine it is not easy, trying to preserve and develop the best of our traditions while at the same time being totally and entirely Catholics. This Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace has done a great deal to help us. It is very encouraging that today, when he is unwell, Fr Gerry was prepared to ask me to stand in at one of his Masses. We all pray for a speedy recovery for him.

One of the elements of our Anglican heritage which we are trying to preserve is a tradition of singing; not just hymns, but also psalms and canticles. This afternoon we will be joined by some singers from a local Anglican Church who will help us celebrate solemn Evensong and Benediction.

We are aiming to do this once every couple of months, hoping that other Anglican might join us occasionally – and also that some long-time Catholics might like to come and support us. You see, we too are trying in our small way to copy St Paul, and the Holy Father, in using every means to win others into the Church. That, after all, is not just part of our Anglican Patrimony; it is a part of being a Catholic Christian – that for the sake of the Gospel we might by all means save some.