14th/15th September 2019

posted 23 Sept 2019, 04:23 by Parish Office   [ updated 23 Sept 2019, 04:24 ]

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Home Mission Sunday (14 & 15/9/19)


So here it is – Home Mission Sunday.  Maybe it’s a bit of an awkward topic.  We know we should evangelise – did not Christ say go and teach all nations?  But we don’t always know where to start, and perhaps we’ve had a few occasions where it didn’t go well, or didn’t seem to work, so we felt a bit discouraged.  Maybe it even feels like flogging a dead horse.  Let me tell you, it’s not really that bad.  Each year, across the country, there are new people deciding to become Catholics.  In which case, shall we just say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Let’s leave the subject for now then, finish the homily, and get on with the rest of the Mass”?  No.  I’m not doing that!  As always, we turn to the Word of God for leadership and direction, and here’s what we find in today’s readings.


I was struck on Thursday by the opening line to today’s Gospel:  “The tax collectors and sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say”.  We need to turn things around so that today’s “tax collectors and sinners” are all flocking to the Church to seek the company of the Lord.  But how do we do that?


Part of the trouble with our current ways of doing things is that we assume that people already have a living faith on which we build.  So when we prepare people for their child to be baptised, or give First Holy Communion or Confirmation preparation, these programmes “work” if the children and parents are already regular Mass-goers.  But if they aren’t, then, we all know what happens next.  Fr James Mallon, who has written the book Divine Renovation, which is about how he has turned various parishes around, has used Alpha as part of the remedy for this.  Firstly though, what is Alpha?


Firstly, Alpha isn’t RCIA.  It’s not a course for those who want to become Catholics.  For one thing, the idea is that you come along, have a meal together and then take part in one of the sessions, and there’s no commitment as to whether you come back next week for part two.  So it’s geared to be non-threatening and for those who are exploring the idea of faith and the meaning of life, rather than for those who have already decided that they want to be Catholics.  So what Fr James Mallon has done with it is that he has used it together with sacramental preparation to help people to get to know Jesus and want to follow Him.  Once that happens, then you’re not fighting an uphill battle.  Whilst it hasn’t magically transformed everything in his parish, it has helped to begin to change the culture of just going through the routines and getting the baby “done”.  More people in his parish have become actively engaged parishioners, and it’s then when things begin to get more exciting.  It’s no longer just a turn-up-and-then-go-home parish.  People want to get involved and have an impact.  And it’s a parish that visitors comment on and want to come back to for more.


Another initiative is Nightfever.  This has been run in various parishes in this diocese, including in Worcester, and Solihull and Stourbridge in Birmingham.  One evening the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, often with just candlelight to create the right atmosphere, quiet music is played, and people go out in twos, armed with votive candles, to invite passers-by to come in and light a candle and say a prayer.  The idea is not to engage people in a debate like the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses; instead the idea is just simply to invite people to experience God in the church and to have an experience of prayer.  Then there are others in the church who stay there praying for the people outside, a few people to welcome the people that arrive, and a priest available to hear confessions or just be available for a chat for those that want it.  What sometimes surprises people is that it actually works – and some people go to confession after many years as well.  Here in Hanley we’re not in the middle of town, but when the funfayre gets going throughout the winter, there’s a bit more passing traffic, and that could be a time to give it a try.


Now a third thing.  Conversion doesn’t happen in the same way for everyone.  For some it is more rapid, whilst for others it takes longer.  Blessed John Henry Newman didn’t become a Catholic until he was forty-four after a long intellectual search.  Meanwhile I was told of someone else who visited a Catholic church, and decided on that basis to become a Catholic.  For some the decision takes longer, for others, shorter.  For some, gradual conversion takes place in fits and starts.  Our parish should be a place where people feel welcome to join in and explore the idea of becoming a Catholic, and not pounced on for not knowing all the rules when they first turn up.  We’re not supposed to be a “members only” club, even though certain boundaries do need to be in place.


Lastly, the first reading.  The people abandoned God and turned to a false god, and Moses interceded for the people.  Praying for those who have abandoned the Catholic faith and for those who have never been Catholics is certainly part of being a priest, but it’s also something that everyone can do.  Pope Francis has declared this coming October to be an Extraordinary Month of Mission, and with mission, prayer has to come first.  At St Theresa’s, Trent Vale, Fr Michael Glover is celebrating a triduum of Masses leading up to the feast day of St Thérèse on 1st October, in which they will be praying that the parishes of the deanery become increasingly missionary.  If you don’t know where to start with evangelisation, then attending one of the Masses might be an easy way to begin.


So there are at least a few things we can do:  first pray, possibly attend one or more of the Masses at St Theresa’s, Trent Vale, and then get involved with Alpha and/or Nightfever, as well as working on how we can become and even more welcoming parish to newcomers.  We can’t turn everything around overnight, but, as the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  We can draw more people to the church to meet Christ, just as they did two thousand years ago.  But are we willing to take the risk?