Friday, 30 September 2016

Power & Service, Induction as Parish Priest of West Moors




Tonight I'd like to say some words about power and service.
During this ceremony I am going to be juridically granted power over this parish. This will be symbolised by the two things especially: (1) the Dean (as the Bishop’s representative) reading the letter of appointment from the Bishop assigning me as parish priest of West Moors (and the area included in this parish: Ferndown, Verwood, and neighbouring suburbs and villages), and, (2) the Dean handing me the keys of the parish.
The point I want to make, however, is that it might seem like a rather curious SORT of power that I am being given: a power to serve, a power to benefit others, not a power to benefit myself –all of which is part of the Christian concept of authority, but isn't how most people in our society today think about power.

The keys I will be given are reminiscent of the Keys of the Kingdom that the Lord gave to Peter (Mt 16:19) when He appointed him and his successors as head of the Church. Let me make some comparisons that hold for both Peter and me.

The power I possess as a priest EMPOWERS me to baptise others. But I don't benefit when they are baptised, rather, they benefit by it.
The power I possess as a priest empowers me to forgive sins in the sacrament of Confession. But, again, I didn't benefit when they receive forgiveness, they benefit by it.
We might say something similar about my power to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, to officiate at weddings, and so forth:
I have the keys. I have a juridically established authority that carries with it a certain type of power, power in the sense of the ability to do something that someone lacking that authority can NOT do.
Yet, this authority exists for the benefit of others. It does not exist for my benefit.

What I have said here actually holds true of ALL authority, in the Christian sense, even though we often forget it in our secular world. A king, a prime minister, a president –they all have authority, but such authority exists to serve the common good of the people they govern. The common good of any society requires the existence of such authorities.
The common good of a society requires the service of an appropriate authority.
And, authority exists for the purpose of providing such a service.
So, tonight, as we see such keys being handed over, let us remember what this symbolises.
Similarly, as we hear the letter of appointment say that I am appointed to “teach, sanctify, and govern” the people of this parish, let us recall that this is about service.

Let me conclude by noting how this notion of service will expressed at the end of Mass:
At the end of Mass I'll be making an act of consecration to Our Lady. Pope Francis, you may recall, made such a consecration when he became Pope (being parish priest of West Moors isn't quite as significant as being pope, but I hope you'll permit the comparison!).
Our Lady was a servant.
She called herself “the handmaid of the Lord”.
And there is an ancient practice of dedicating our service by committing ourselves to be her “slaves”. I'll symbolise that by a chain that will be blessed and placed around my ankle. I’ll ask that as she served, she will help me serve.
Doing this isn't part of the Church’s rite of induction, so it'll happen at the end of Mass, after the formal liturgy. But becoming such a “slave” expresses what I've been trying to say about this whole rite.

To summarise, tonight I receive authority.
This exists for your service.
I am here to serve this community. This is what authority means.
And, serving you, it is my goal, as it is every priest’s goal, that in serving you I might bring you to serve also, that we might all, one day, reign in glory with the King of Kings because we gave served while here in earth.

[The Rite of Induction used in the Plymouth Diocese isn't available on the web, but you can see a very similar model used by Southwark Archdiocese here]

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Dives and Lazarus, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C



Lk 16:19-31
This is the second Sunday in a row that we have heard the Lord Jesus speak to us about money. Last week we heard His warning, “You cannot be the slave both of God and of money”. Today, I’m going to speak about Lazarus and the Rich Man, a man tradition calls Dives ("dye-vees", Latin for ‘rich’).

First, Lazarus, the poor man begging at the gate. The parable’s focus, and sermons on it, usually focus on the Rich Man, but Lazarus himself shows us something.
Lazarus was cleared suffering –covered in ‘sores’, hungering for scraps of food.
Lazarus was clearly being wronged. He had a need and his need was being ignored by someone able to help him, someone who had a duty to help him.
Yet, he did not curse the other man, or hate him, or even complain.
He bore it patiently. And when he died, he was carried off to heaven.

Many of us will have something in our lives that makes us relate to Lazarus. Something in our lives where we feel that a clearly obvious need is being ignored by others, maybe even ignored by our family and those we live or work with.
The example of Lazarus calls us to bear it charitably, with love for the very people who ignore our needs.
Similarly, the example of Christ in His suffering calls us to do the same. To not curse others but to love and pray for them, and even to help them even while they neglect to help us.

The Rich Man, Dives, is interesting. Interesting because he didn’t do anything DIRECTLY wrong, all he did was indirect –he IGNORED Lazarus’s need.
Did the rich man take away Lazarus’s food? No.
Did he beat him? No.
Yet, by neglect, he was the cause of the other man’s suffering.
And Dives was cast into Hell, “in agony”(Lk 16:24), for eternity.

People sometimes tell priests, “I don’t do anything wrong, I’m a good person”
But, the standard by which we each need to measure ourselves by is not just what we DO but what we FAIL to do.
What do we say in the Confiteor at the start of Mass? “In what I have done and in what I have failed to do”.
And I know in my own confession (because priests also sin and priests also need to go to confession, on a frequent basis –frequent confession because I am a frequent sinner)
when I go to confession, what takes the most time is what I have failed to do.
And the account of Dives’s eternal damnation in Hellfire, if it teaches us anything, teaches us that we will be judged as severely for what we fail to do as for what we do directly.

There is another point to note also, Dives KNEW what he SHOULD do. When he pleaded with Abraham he did not claim that didn’t know what he should have done –he did not plead ignorance. He had Moses and the Prophets to warn him.
We too have had plenty of warnings. We have heard the Gospel. And Judgement will come –for some of us it will be good news, for some of us it will not.
Do I hear and not listen? Do I profess the Creed but make it meaningless in my actions?

Lazarus and Dives. For many of us there is a bit of each of them in us. So we can learn from each of them.
Learn from Dives that we must not neglect the needs of those around, and ,must not neglect the teachings we know we have heard.
And learn from Lazarus to be patient in our sufferings and not resort to hatred of the man who neglected him. We too must love –love those who fail to love us. And if we love, then, like Lazarus, we will be carried off to Heaven and eternal consolation.

--------
Dives is pronounced…
The OED says "dye-veez"
Merriam Webster says “Di·ves” http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Dives

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Changing Everything & the New Evangelisation, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, West Moors



1 Tim 2:1-8; Lk 16:10-13
Today I want to start talking to you about my vision for the parish, and, in particular, to talk to you about the changes I will be introducing. A number of people asked me, my very first Sunday, what I would be changing. There is a simple answer to this. What will I be changing? Everything, absolutely everything. If, five years from now, there is some aspect of parish life I have not changed then I will have failed.

Now, having made such a sweeping declaration I need to clarify it by indicating what I mean.
I am taking as my starting point the statement by Pope Francis that the demands of the New Evangelisation have to “transform everything”(EG 27) in parish life.
How do we greet people at the door?
What does the entrance feel like?
How complicated is the missal book? etc.
Everything needs to be evaluated in the light of the OUTSIDER.
If the New Evangelisation is to be a reality then it's not just about explicit moments when we talk to unbelievers about Christ (though we do need to enable those), it's also about all the little details too.
AND, of course, the outsider includes YOU too: if we make the outsider welcome in a way that makes the insider unwelcome then we've somehow contradicted ourselves.

Let me add, however, that this is not just about welcome.
It's also about what we COMMUNICATE to the outsider, including how we communicate by our BEHAVIOUR, including our behaviour in church at Mass.
We just heard the Lord say in the Gospel that you cannot serve both God and money (Lk 16:13).
But does our behaviour at Holy Mass,
does our very building,
does it communicate the sense that we rank God above the material things of this world?
Is there a sense of awe and wonder in our liturgy?
Does our liturgy and building convey that there is a Lord and Creator of all things, a transcendent all-powerful God, who dwells in this place and who we approach with humility, with awe, with love?
Does the way we handle the sacred vessels, and administer Holy Communion speak of the presence of God?
What about the position and reverence given to the tabernacle?
And, what about the love and joy that are visible, or not, in us in the way we approach the Lord?
All of these, and more, are also crucial issues for the New Evangelisation.
And, they are also issues that help or hinder that Gospel being imbedded in our own hearts and lives.

Why does this matter? Why should we care about the outsider? Why can't we just respect the unbeliever’s unbelief and leave him where he is?
Well, first, it matters to God. He is ‘Lord’ and ‘Creator’ of all people already. But He is only Father to those who are adopted in His Son Jesus Christ. And, as we heard in our second reading, “He wants EVERYONE to be saved and reach knowledge of the truth. For there is only ONE God, and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, Himself a man, Christ Jesus”(1 Tim 2:4-5).
The Gospel isn't just for those born Catholic, or who have already stumbled their way in: it's the truth, the relationship with our loving Father that He wishes for each and every member of the human race.
Second, it should matter to us. If we value what we have, we should want to share it. And the Faith is one of those gifts that grows by being given away.

I'm going to have to stop now. I'll be outlining a lot of what this looks like in the talk series starting Thursday nights and in the book reading book that will follow on after that. Please come. Please get involved. And please be ready to allow the priorities of the New Evangelisation to transform our parish.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

I'm a Sinner. 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C


1 Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-10; Ex 32:7-11.13-14
As I think most of us know, meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous always start by someone saying, “Hello, my name is XXX, and I’m an alcoholic”. (Now, actually, I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not teetotal like Fr Patrick, I enjoy real ale, red wine, and American bourbon. But I’m not an alcoholic.)
To return to that image, members of Alcoholics Anonymous start by declaring their weakness, their being an alcoholic. And they do this because they need to start with a declaration of the truth and a declaration of their state.
We do something similar when we come to Holy Mass: we start with an act of contrition, we start by acknowledging, “Hello, I’m Father Dylan, and I’m a sinner”.

There are two ways that we can make such an acknowledgment, a statement like, “I’m a sinner”.
One way, is to do so ALONE, looking in the mirror, looking at nothing but myself.
I see the truth. I see my ugliness, and I despair. I see my sin, and I despair.
And I despair because I look at my sin alone. I look at it seeing nothing but my inclination to sin and sin again.

There is another way, however, of looking at my sin, namely, not by looking at it alone, but by looking at Jesus.
I still see my ugliness. I still see my sin. I still see that truth.
But I see it with an even bigger truth, namely, I see my sin and myself with the LORD. And the Lord is the one who promises to save me from that sin.
And so I see my sin, but do NOT despair.

In the 12 steps program of Alcoholics Anonymous the alcoholic does not just admit his weakness, he also submits himself to a ‘higher power’, a power greater than himself.
We, as Christians, don’t just submit ourselves to some vague ‘power’ but to a person: the Lord Jesus.
And there are two reasons why that person saves us from sin:
First, because He is powerful. Yes, I am weak. Yes, I have sinned and continue to sin. But, His power is greater than human weakness, and so I call upon it.
Second, because He is merciful. Yes, He has seen my sin. Yes, He did not want me to sin. Yes, my sin saddens Him. But, He is merciful, and so He reaches out to remedy the problem rather than reject me because of it.
St Paul expressed the heart of this in our second reading with his great summary of the Gospel: “Here is saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”(1 Tim 1:15).

This said, there is a different problem that often present itself. A problem that I have often known in my own life, and the problem is this:
I may see and acknowledge my sin TODAY. But, somehow, by TOMORROW I have dressed it up differently. By tomorrow I have told myself that I am a ‘decent’ person really.
And then I become unable to move on.
Not only am I unable to move on, but I have rejected the truth of the Gospel. I reject it in practice, even though I don't reject it in theory. I reject it because I don’t admit my impatience, or my irritability, or my selfishness, or my laziness, or my critical judgments, my lust, my pride, or my gluttony, and more.
If I cannot admit these and other sins then I have refused to accept the AA starting point: my failure.

Today’s Gospel spoke to the joy that is experienced in heaven over one sinner repenting (Lk 15:1-10).
There is another joy, however, that Pope Francis repeatedly remind us of: the joy of the sinner who repents and comes home, the joy of the sinner who knows he is welcomed back, the joy of the sinner who experiences forgiveness. “How good it feels to come back to Him whenever we are lost!”(Pope Francis, EG 1,3)
Admitting I am a sinner is not a negative self-defeating thing.
Admitting I am a sinner, and bringing it to the Lord, is the path to truth, to forgiveness, and to joy.
Hello, I’m Father Dylan, and I’m a sinner.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

First Sermon at West Moors, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C



Lk 14:25-33
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.