Homily for Harvest Festival 2017

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Short homily preached at the Vigil Mass on 30th September 2017 (Vigil for the Harvest Festival) at St Thomas the Martyr, Oxford. Readings: Deut 26.1-4, Gal 6.6-10, S Luke 12.13-21.

“Take heed, and beware of covetousness, for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he posseseth”

In the Name of the Father + and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Not the easiest of parables to preach on, I have to admit (especially if your brief is to be….well, brief). If we try and set this parable in context, Jesus was talking to his disciples about hypocrisy and the duty of ministers of the faith. In the middle of this, Jesus Himself gets interrupted by a man asking him to judge on an issue of division of inheritance. (It is comforting to know, as a rookie preacher, that not even Jesus Himself could keep everyone’s attention all the time….)

We have just heard Jesus giving an answer worthy of a politician, in that he doesn’t really provide a solution to the issue, however, His answer points towards something much more profound than division of inheritances, namely the state of your soul.

This evening we start the celebration of the Harvest Festival here in the parish, which will culminate with an abundance of fresh produce being auctioned off in aid of Farm Africa tomorrow, so trying to steer the focus away from the gathering of riches today might seem like a contradiction in terms.

However, if we look at what St Paul says in his letter to the Galatians: ‘let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith’ we see that both our produce action at the Smoko tomorrow and the parable Jesus told his disciples is not about avoiding earthly riches, but rather to use all our talents and assets to do the work of God.

St Ambrose writes in his On the Duties of the Clergy: “There are many kinds of generosity. Not only can we redistribute and give away food to those who need it from our own daily supply, so that they may sustain life, but we can also give advice and help to those who are ashamed to show their need openly”.

All of this goes to show that the amassing of worldly riches in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but we do have a duty as Christians to help our neighbours.

So maybe that is the spiritual fruit of the Harvest Festival – we harvest the Lord’s gifts and use them both for ourselves and to help the world – could that be the way to benefit from the abundance of things that we do possess in this day and age?

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, thank you for all the good things you continue to provide for us.

Don’t let us take your gifts for granted or abuse them.

Instead, help us to always rely on you in faith.

Use us and what you have given us for your good purposes.

In the Name of the Father + and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

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Review: The Lindchester Chronicles by Catherine Fox

Just before I left for Walsingham I treated myself to the trilogy of books known as the Lindchester Chronicles, by Catherine Fox, author and wife of the new Bishop of Sheffield. The trilogy is set in the fictional diocese of Lindchester and we meet, amongst others, the Bishop of Lindchester (Conservative Evangelical with a secret), Archdeacon Matt with his gingham clergy shirt and the former-chorister-gone-naughty-boy Freddie May. 

All three books are extremely well written, and it is very obvious that the author is someone who knows quite a bit about the Church of England. The books cover everything from meetings with the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral to the issues of homosexuality and clergy. As the books are all fairly recently written, Mrs Fox even manages to address the issues that arose after the CofE voted to allow women to the Episcopate a few years ago. The author’s descriptions of the Cathedral City of Lindchester and its surroundings are vivd enough that you can close your eyes and picture yourself standing there, looking at the Cathedral. 

As someone who, until yesterday, had a rather lengthy commute, I managed to finish all three books (you have to love the Kindle!) in less than a week, which probably says all about how much I recommend them. They are by far the best books set in a Church environment I have read since Fr Greeley’s White Smoke. 

You can buy all three books on the links below:

Acts and Omissions

Unseen Things Above

Realms of Glory

DISCLOSURE: I may be an affiliate for products that I recommend. If you purchase those items through my links I will earn a commission. 

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History goes in circles

I’m told by social media that today was the day in 2015 when the Swedish population register registered me as living in Sweden again, after 2 years in London. It is very fitting then, to have signed the forms telling the same government agency that I am once again moving to the UK. I am still struggling with realising that I actually am moving back to my beloved UK again, so I fear I have been slightly lazy when it comes to packing…

Given this laziness, I was very happy indeed today to have my sister and her boyfriend around to help me pack and carry things down into my storage room. Their help was invaluable and I think we managed to accomplish more in one day than I would for an entire week by myself.

So – one more week left at work, and 17 days until I move to Oxford. After today’s progress, I think I can dial down the stress level about the packing significantly, but it will be extremely interesting to see if I manage to do everything at work that I have set out to do before I move….

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Holiday in retrospect

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Last week I was on a much needed holiday to Walsingham and London. Walsingham is a small village in Norfolk famous for its Shrine of Our Lady. In 1061, a pious English noblewoman, Richeldis de Faverches, had an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, telling her to build a copy of the home in which the Annunciation took place. It was build, and then, during the English Reformation, destroyed in 1538. Fr Hope Patten, who was then the Parish Priest in Walsingham, restored the Shrine 400 years later in 1938 and it is today one of the most popular places for pilgrimages in the Church of England.

Worship in Walsingham is very much “high”, and there are daily Masses said, along with various other liturgies, including Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and daily Confession.  There is also the village itself, with various charity shops and pubs as well as a Roman Catholic and an Orthodox Church and a Methodist chapel. This year was my second visit, and I very much hope to come back again soon. The only downside to going is the long journey, I was on the road for 12 hours. First I had to get from my place to Arlanda, then a plane from Arlanda to Heathrow, then train Heathrow-Paddington. After that a cab from Paddington to Liverpool Street, train Liverpool Street to Norwich, bus Norwich to Fakenham followed by the final bus from Fakenham to Walsingham! Sometimes, one would require a private chauffeur… For more information – check out the Shrine’s website here.

Returning to London Sunday a week ago, the week that followed was spent in London. I managed to attend Mass in different Churches, as well as visit a few art exhibitions and museums, sadly none of the exhibitions/museums left a lasting impression. It was, however, very good to catch up with friends old and new, including my first ever visit to a proper private club (the kind with leather sofas and butlers, not the kind with scantily clad girls).

Of course, some shopping was done, but not of the usual tourist variety, instead of bags and bags from Primark I return home with, amongst others, a full set of the Divine Office (£35!!) and various devotional items. I also had to put a pack of Cocodamol in my shopping bag, due to my Otitis Externa returning – extremely painful, so this post will be slightly briefer than planned…

I’m starting to realise that I only have two weeks left of work, and four weeks until the move – 30th of August is when I, once again, become a UK resident. Very much looking forward to that….

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Fr Kerrigan vs. Fr Pilkington?

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I recently finished – all in one evening – the BBC’s six-part drama Broken (please note – link is to Wikipedia entry that contains a fair few spoilers!), in which Sean Bean plays Catholic Fr Michael Kerrigan (left), pastor in a northern parish. I very, very rarely cry at the telly, but Broken left me, literally, broken (pun very much intended). The series lets us follow Fr Kerrigan throughout a time in his ministry when many in his congregation are suffering, and his own mother is on her deathbed.

For a popular series, it actually describes the day-to-day life of a Parish Priest reasonably well, as far as I can judge with almost none of the traditional stereotypes or misconceptions. I especially likes the portrait of Fr Kerrigan, who seems to be an honest, caring and devout Parish Priest, and the portrait is refreshingly free from clichés. It is well worth watching and is (at least at the point of writing this) available on BBC iPlayer, and it is going to be released as a DVD box set some time in July (might already have happened…).

When reflecting on it yesterday, I realised that it was, in certain aspects, quite similar to the movie Priest from 1994, in which Fr Greg Pilkington (played by Linus Roache – on the right in the photo above) struggles with both his own sexuality (he’s gay and trying to stick to his vow of chastity) as well as how to handle receiving news under the Seal of Confession about a girl in the parish being sexually abused by her father. Priest is also a movie well worth seeing, even if it is slightly “sleazier” than Broken, and it wasn’t until I discovered that they were both written by the same man – Liverpudlian Jimmy McGovern that the penny dropped.

I enjoyed both Broken and Priest, and while Priest was poignant for me at the time as I was in the process of coming out of the closet, these days I do prefer Broken. The reasons for this might be worth a visit to a shrink, but I think that one of the main things that attracted me to Broken was that it at least aims to portrait (with certain exaggerations, hopefully none of my Priest friends have had that many pastoral challenges during such a short time) the day to day life of a Parish Priest, a life I am trying to see if I have a vocation to live myself.

 

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A bit of culture!

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So, yesterday evening was spent with my friend Monika in one of Stockholm’s large parks, Rålambshovsparken, where the council-funded theatre give public outdoor performances for free throughout the summer. As their Director puts it – “It’s your cultural tax rebate”….

HOWEVER – I didn’t mean to discuss politics in this post, so let’s not digress. We went to see a favourite artist of ours, Mattias Enn. He is a Swedish stage artist who has specialised in the “Old Divas”, singing quite a lot of Zarah Leander etc., as well as other cabaret artists from the first half of the 20th century. As usual, he did a superb show, with a lot of recognisable songs, mainly focussing on Stockholm in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Something that I wasn’t so fond of, however, was his female co-host, who kept on making a lot of irrelevant political points (leftist, of course), which somehow was a bit of a “party pooper”. The director also started the show with a long and rambling speak, praising the company and their founder (who, interestingly enough was an old City Head Gardener back in 1942!).

All in all, it was a very nice evening out with an old friend, as we brought wine and a packed dinner of cold cuts and potato salad, and the weather was reasonably nice all evening. When we finished with a final glass of wine at an outdoor restaurant nearby, however, it was close to 11pm and we both felt that it was time to head home to bed. Strangely, I felt a bit nauseous once I had gone to bed, probably because I rarely drink wine these days – it doesn’t agree with my stomach now that I’m old…. 😛

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Book review: Bringing in the Sheaves by Revd Richard Coles

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I just finished Bringing in the Sheaves. Wheat and Chaff from My Years as a Priest by the Revd Richard Coles. Fr Coles is the former Communard who left, as he himself puts it “pop for the pulpit” and is now both a host on the BBC and the Parish Priest of Finedon. I follow him on twitter, and actually attended a presentation of his previous book, Fathomless Riches: or how I went from Pop to Pulpit in St Paul’s Cathedral a few years ago. Fathomless Riches I very much enjoyed, so when I realised that Bringing in the Sheaves was to be found for my trusty Kindle, I couldn’t help myself.

So – what did I think about it? It’s difficult to say. Fr Coles is a good story-teller, and he has some really good stories to tell, including how he met his partner, the Revd David Coles, in Church (surprise!) and some of the more absurd encounters during his ministry was enough to make it interesting alone. He has, however, attempted to organise the content of the book around the various highlights of the religious year, which makes it a bit unstructured, and anecdotes are mixed without any direct thought about the content.

After recent controversies in the dear old CofE, it’s very encouraging to read something written by an openly gay clergyman which isn’t just moaning from first page to the last, in fact he mentions precious little about his sexual orientation, apart from mentioning things he’s doing with his partner. After having seen (too) many social media posts lately from various people who are more “on the barricades” and controversial than Fr Coles (and myself!) this was a very welcome change!

All in all, despite the somewhat irritating structure, it was a good read, and I finished it in 2 days. Well worth a buy, in my opinion.

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