HOMILY for the 15th Sunday per annum (B)
Last weekend I was at the National Vocations festival in Oscott College, the seminary in Birmingham. Over 300 young people were there, together with bishops, priests, and religious sisters and brothers from all over the country. But the seminary had no rooms for us, so many of us had brought tents, intending to camp out in the football pitch behind the seminary. By the Friday before the festival started I had been on the road for a week, having given a talk in Oxford, preached a mission in Dorchester, and been to meetings in Paris. And as that week went on, the weather had worsened so that when I returned from France the English media was full of news of flooding, and ominous forecasts of torrential rain in the Midlands, especially in Birmingham. And I began to worry… I worried about my camera getting wet, about not having enough cash with me, about whether the trains would run. And at the last minute, a friend messaged me, saying that he’d booked a cheap twin room in a hotel because he was afraid of the predicted storm, and he offered me the spare bed. I immediately accepted.
And so, the Lord decided to show me that weekend just how little faith I had in his Providence. Because on the way to Birmingham that Friday, he caused the sun to shine brightly over the Midlands even though Oxford had been wet and shrouded in dark clouds. And for the rest of that weekend even though it did rain heavily all around us, it hardly rained over Oscott College, so that we could hear confessions outdoors and have a torchlit Eucharistic Procession around the college grounds. In fact, the weather was remarkably good even though the Met Office app on my phone kept promising heavy rain!
So, the Lord reminded me again last weekend that I need not worry too much about my material needs, nor should I be encumbered by all kinds of unnecessary equipment. It seemed to me that the Lord was teaching me that, as St Peter Chrysologus put it, He who gives me existence and everything I have will surely also, as a good employer, give me everything I need for the task he’s given me. This, in effect, is what the Lord says to Amos when he takes him out of his livelihood and sends him into hostile territory as a prophet. And Christ says, in effect, to the Twelve: Do not worry about future provisions, and your needs; just go! Just go. All that I really need to carry with me, if God sends me out to preach and prophesy, is carried in my heart and in my person. It’s that most precious gift, that one thing necessary which I could never buy or earn, but which is freely given: it is God’s Word.
It is Jesus Christ who matters, so that for each one of us as individual Christians, our first concern is to pray that the Word has been sown in our hearts, and that the Word should be fruitful in our lives. And this fruitfulness comes from prayer, from being with the Lord. Earlier in chapter three of Mark’s Gospel, we’re told that the Twelve are chosen by the Lord, and they were chosen to “be with him, and to be sent out to preach”. And it is only now in chapter six that they’re actually sent out after they have spent time being with the Lord. As Pope Benedict says: “They must be with him in order to get to know him… The Twelve must be with him so as to be able to recognize [Christ’s] oneness with the Father, and thus become witnesses to his mystery”. For that is what a prophet or preacher of the Word is: a witness. He hands on something he holds in his heart, and which marks his whole life and person. Without this being with the Lord, and without this witnessing, one could carry tents, books, and all kinds of equipment, and it would just be extra baggage – ultimately, unnecessary. For only one thing is necessary, which is that we carry the living Word of God, Jesus, in our lives, like “treasure in earthen vessels”, as St Paul put it.
And what is true of us as individuals is true of us as a community too. Over the past years and months, there will have been much that we might have worried about in building a new chapel, and in the coming weeks there will be new things to get used to, and adjustments may have to be made as we all learn to inhabit a new space. But none of this change should affect the one necessary thing, which is that ours is a community built on Christ, the Word of God.
If we are not already a community held together in the one Faith, built up by God’s Word, and fed by the Bread of Life, then we should be worried, but not about our buildings and arrangements, but about our relationship with the Lord and one another. But, on the other hand, if we are indeed a community that, like the Twelve, has been with the Lord, and, so, know him; if we’re a community that witnesses to Christ through the love we have for one another and a zeal for justice; if, as St Paul says in the Second Reading, we are those who “have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him”; then, the one thing that matters – the living Word of God – will be carried in our hearts and persons into our new chapel.
I believe that St Albert’s is this kind of community. Yes, the community is made up of the memories we’ve made here, and also all we’ve learnt and become through being with the Lord here. But the warmth, intimacy, and beauty that we’ve experienced together in this place comes, not from the building, but from the people. And ultimately, it all comes from God as his gift, for it is he who has planted his Word among us. And because we have been with him, he now says to us, as he said to his apostles: “Do not worry… just go. Take the Word that is living in your hearts, and go!” As I learnt last weekend, despite our misgivings, the rain, and the gloomy forecasts, God just asks us to trust in his Providence, and to just go. And he will show us that he is a faithful God.
So, soon we go into our new church, and into the wider world to be witnesses of God’s Word, and to be prophets, because the way we are with one another as a community speaks of God’s justice, mercy, and love. Our new chapel is more visible, more accessible, and more spacious, which means that our community can hope to welcome and embrace more people. We go, so that St Albert’s can be more a part of the New Evangelization, and we go, trusting that everything that we need to carry out that task, our good and faithful God will provide. Let’s just go, following the Lord whose staff comforts and leads us to green pastures.