Sunday, 4 September 2016
First Sermon at West Moors, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
So, as you're aware by now, I'm Fr Dylan James, your new parish priest.
Changing parish priest can be an odd time for a parish. You, as a parish, have known for some time that you were losing your parish priest, Fr Patrick. You’ll have been thinking about the priest you've lost, you've been aware that someone you've come to know, and understand, is leaving you.
I've known Fr Patrick as a priest of the Dorset deanery for the past decade and a half, known him as a well-liked and popular priest, and I imagine that you've grown a real affection for him.
And now some stranger comes along: Me.
I've known that I'll be coming here for 4 months, and I've been thinking of this parish and praying for all of you for some time. I've been looking forward to coming here and starting here.
Even though you've probably been more aware of what you've lost in losing Fr Patrick.
I gather that this is an active parish with many things going on, and I realise that Fr Patrick has left quite a legacy here, large shoes for me to fill.
But given that it falls to me to fill those shoes, I'd like to tell you a little about myself and a little about my hopes for the parish, especially this first year.
As a priest, I'm somewhat unusual, in that I always knew that I had a priestly vocation, even as a very young child. I went off the idea in my late teenage years, thinking I'd pursue money, and pleasure, and all the things that we just heard the Lord Jesus warn us can lead us away from being His disciple.
I came back to my vocation while I was at university because of the example of some good priests who showed me how important a priest can be in someone's life.
I came back to my vocation because I realised that secularism and materialism, money and the pleasures of the body, are not the answer:
they don't satisfy the needs of the human heart.
I came back to the idea I because I realised that we all need HELP to reach the goal of happiness and fulfilment IN CHRIST, and that a priest can be a pivotal part of someone reaching that goal.
The goals of money and pleasure and comfort are what our modern society is built upon.
And yet, we all know times when those dreams turn to dust, when either material or emotional suffering strikes us, and its only if our lives are built on a more solid foundation that we can stand.
In the Gospel passage that we heard today the Lord Jesus spoke to us about what is involved in following Him, in particular, about the need to rank Him above all else if we are to follow Him. He noted the difficulty of following Him, and said that if we are to “build” that “tower” of being a disciple we need to “first sit down and work out the cost to see” if we will complete it.
I imagine that I was like many of you, in that I drifted into my following of the Lord without having a serious moment of “first” ‘counting the cost’.
But one of the things I have realised is the fact that being a disciple is not something we can do alone. We need support, we need guidance, we need teaching. And a priest can be an important part of that.
Like any new parish priest I have come to a community that already has disciples of the Lord. But, it is also my role to help you in that. Let me indicate two things I aim to do between now and Christmas, in particular.
First, I want to find out about what is particular to this parish as opposed to other parishes, what is different here. So I plan to do a lot of listening, and visiting. I want to hear from the parish what is already going on here, what is already ready strong.
And, as I said, I gather this is already an active parish.
Second, I want to engage in some things that are NOT particular to this parish, things that are being initiated in parishes elsewhere. Namely, I want to help clarify an even more explicit focus on what has been the defining theme of Pope Francis and our new Bishop Mark, namely, the new evangelisation.
The new evangelisation is all about making ‘disciples’:
on one hand, enabling parishioners to become better disciples,
and, on the other hand, making opportunities for those who haven't yet come to know Christ, come to encounter Him in His Church.
In order for me to know how to do that I going to need, again, to listen to what is already in place here.
Fr Patrick has already indicated some things that I need to do here,
things that he explicitly left for his successor to start up (knowing that they didn’t make much sense for a priest who about to retire to start, and I’m grateful that he was considerate enough to allow me this opening).
In particular, Fr Patrick indicated that I would need to launch a group to focus on the book Bishop Mark has recommended to us (Forming Intentional Disciples, by Sherry Weddel).
I intend to precede that with a series of talks on the new evangelisation more generally, and what changes it means for this parish, or any parish.
So, that recommendation from Fr Patrick will be my starting point for the main new things I’ll seek to offer between now and Christmas.
So, to sum up: as your new parish priest I come here to build on a foundation that was laid before me.
I come here to add to that foundation, in particular, to focus on how to enable us to become better disciples of the Lord
I know I'm a stranger to you now, but I'm looking forward to being here and getting to know you all over the years ahead.