Sunday, 16 February 2014

3rd Sunday before Lent

Writing to the church in Corinth, St Paul reminds his readers then and now that the Christian faith is something different. Christianity doesn't fit neatly into the existing order of things, it does not sit comfortably with received ideas, it certainly isn't " a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age". In fact, if the rulers of this age had the slightest grasp on the wisdom that comes from God, "they would not have crucified the Lord of glory".

St Paul is quite clear here, and elsewhere, that Christian belief is on a collision course with Empire. In signing up to life in Christ, his readers place themselves outside of the mainstream, commit themselves to a way of seeing the world that is likely to make them stick out like a sore thumb, to place them in awkward positions, and to force them to challenge many features of the world around them. And this calling would be a familiar one to any of his readers - probably many of them - with a good grounding in the scriptures. It is the calling to be prophetic.

As in Paul's day, so in our own. Christians are called to not fit in! We see the world in the light of the future Kingdom, through which God in Christ establishes justice, love, and peace. Because of this we should feel restless, we should end up disagreeing with much that we hear from our politicians and newspapers, and we should often find ourselves out-of-sync with fashionable ideas. We should be difficult, marginal, and, yes, prophetic.

There are, however, dangers here. It is all too easy to take the call to not fit it as an excuse to feel affirmed in whatever unpopular idea we happen to hold. I have no doubt that the bishops who drafted the House of Bishop's response to same-sex marriage, published yesterday, felt that they were prophetically standing up for the gospel, refusing to conform to 'the wisdom of the age'. Yet I myself see nothing of the good news in their attitude towards a good number of their own people and clergy. In fact, far from setting themselves against, 'the wisdom of the world', it seems to me that elements of the Church are in danger of aligning themselves with some of the most disturbing and bigoted elements of that world. The room for self-deception once we set ourselves up as prophets is real, and is something we need to recognise.

Yet we cannot escape from the call to be prophets. For all that it brings with it temptations, the call to be a prophet is one given to each of us at our baptism and one that we cannot escape. Not only that, our world needs prophets. So let us pray that we exercise this calling wisely and with discernment.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Lighting up the world

Today's gospel reminds us that our calling, our vocation, as Christians is for the sake of other people. Being a baptised person is not all about me being alright with God, to the exclusion of other people. Instead the Church - that is, all of us - are there to be a sign of God's Kingdom to the world, a sign that makes that Kingdom a reality. In words that echo today's gospel, each newly baptised person is called to "shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father".

We are called to be like the salt, a small pinch of which can make an entire meal tasty. We are called to be like a light - the smallest candle can shed light on an entire room. Our churches might be small in comparison to the population of our city, but even so God wants to work through us, using us as salt for his earth and light for his world. The groups of people who meet Sunday by Sunday in West Hendon and Colindale for Mass are people God wants to be something like a sacrament of his love and his salvation for the people of this area, loved by God and made in his image. That is an awesome, and a wonderful, calling.

We can let our light shine by confidentally celebrating the Church's worship, by sharing our faith with others in day-to-day life, and bringing other people to Church. We can let that light shine by serving others around us, by breaking down barriers of fear and hate, and by struggling for justice in a city where divisions between rich and poor grow daily. In these, and in many other ways, we can be faithful to Jesus' call in the gospel.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Happy Candlemas!

Today we celebrate the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. We look back to Christmas - Jesus is still a baby when he's presented - and forward to the Cross - Simeon tells our Lady that a sword will pierce her heart. You can read about Jesus' presentation in Luke's gospel.

Today is often called Candlemas. At both churches we began our Masses by blessing candles and carrying them in procession, remembering the words of Simeon - Jesus is "a light to lighten the Gentiles".

A Hymn for Candlemas

Hail to the Lord who comes,
comes to his temple gate!
Not with his angel host,
not in his kingly state;
no shouts proclaim him nigh,
no crowds his coming wait;

but, borne upon the throne
of Mary's gentle breast,
watched by her duteous love,
in her fond arms at rest;
thus to his Father's house
he comes, the heav'nly Guest.

There Joseph at her side
in reverent wonder stands,
and, filled with holy joy,
old Simeon in his hands
takes up the promised Child,
the glory of all lands.

Hail to the great First-born
whose ransom-price they pay!
The Son before all worlds,
the Child of man today,
that he might ransom us
who still in bondage lay.

O Light of all the earth,
thy children wait for thee!
come to thy temples here,
that we, from sin set free,
before thy Father's face
may all presented be!