Monday, 29 June 2015

Sermon from Fr Miguel's First Mass: Sunday 28th June 2015

Homily by Fr Guillermo Cavieses, Asst Curate, St Giles, Pontefract, given at All Saints Church, Elland

May I speak in the name of the living God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is a real honour and privilege to be here today, once more. For those of you who don't know me, my name is Fr Guillermo and I am the assistant curate of St Giles, Pontefract. And if you are wondering about my accent: I am from Pontefract, that is my story and I am sticking to it!

Today, is a very special day, both for you Fr Miguel and for all of us who have had the privilege to walk with you (at least part of the journey) that has taken you all the way from Spain – by way of the Jesuit Order and the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield – to this altar, here in this magnificent church of All Saints, Elland. It is a day filled with much joy, as we celebrate with our new priest as he presides at the Eucharist for the very first time. Yesterday, at your ordination, Bishop Tony, along with your fellow priests laid hands on you in an ancient ceremony. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, in the laying on of hands, you received the power to absolve, consecrate and bless. You my friend, have been changed forever. You have been set aside by the Church, for the Church – consecrated to live for the People of God and to be a priest – not just for as long as you feel like it – but forever... You are: a servant of the servants of God – and remember, dear Fr, that the diaconate remains at the heart of priestly ministry.

This sermon poses is one of those opportunities when an old, wise and experienced priest is supposed to give advice to his younger collogue...which makes me wonder why on earth you chose me!(I guess the first five people you asked couldn't make it). So be prepared to be dazzled by my vast experience of a full year in the priesthood! Now, because I have not had much more experience than you, I will simply have to rely on the experience of those ancient and wise masters of the faith that have gone before us both, and so therefore, let me share with you what Fr David once told me “there is no problem that cannot be solved with a stiff gin and another mass!”. (This may or may not be a real quote). On the other hand, St Gregory the Great had this advice for those embarking on a life of priestly service: Whosoever, then, desires to obtain priesthood, not for the pomp of elation but for doing good, let him first measure his own strength with the burden he is to undergo…and also approach it with fear, even if he thinks himself sufficient for it.  And of course none of us is sufficient for it in our own strength but only through the help of God who has called us to share in His apostolic mission and given us this wonderful gift of priesthood. And it is a gift because despite the sheer hard work, priesthood brings great joy – the wonder of presiding at the Eucharist can never be equalled. Michael Ramsey once Archbishop of Canterbury, said that: As priests we are called to be near to Jesus, with Jesus and in Jesus. To adore Him. To be still in the Presence of the Lord.

In the Sacraments – A priest is ordained to be mediator ad Deum – mediator before God. The priest mediates God’s forgiveness, his love and his presence in all aspects of our lives. Jesus said in handing on this reconciling power to His apostles: Receive the Holy Spirit – whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, whose sin you retain, they are retained. You are called to consecrate…to make holy. At the Holy Eucharist, the priest is in persona Christi – through the action of the Holy Spirit the priest has the power to make the ordinary holy so that Christ can truly be among us. It is one of the reasons why your hands where anointed with Chrism at ordination. In taking, consecrating, breaking and distributing the body of Christ, the priest acts in Christ’s name and not only in the name of the gathered congregation but of the Church universal, on earth and in heaven.

Nevertheless, as a servant of the servants of God, your are also ordained to the day-to-day experience of the church – you know: The joy of late night PCC meetings, the interminable discussions on what colour of curtains to buy, who will or will not be serving coffee two Sundays from next, and oh, don't forget the diocesan paperwork in triplicate, as well as printing and copying parish magazines, orders of service and coordinating endlessly changing rotas, oh what a joy! Not to mention leaking roofs, church reconstructions, faculty applications etc etc– but you see, dear Fr – and here is the tough part –  as a priest you are not only expected to act in persona Christi at the altar, but also amid all the mundane stuff of the daily life of your Parish, and the world. Your task is to bring holiness to all these aspects of ministry, to make them whole! Because at the end of the day, when everyone is tired and have lost the will to go on, or when disaster strikes and people loose hope, it is your job, as their priest, to remind them of the kingdom of God, that mysterious and wonderful, loving presence, that never leaves our side, which is also the reason we do all these things in his Holy Church, from pouring coffees and teas, to the sacrament of the altar; and all of it is yours to care for, Fr, you are to be a living reminder of God's love for his people.

But there is also another reason why God has called Fr Miguel to the holy order the Priesthood: The Church is in dire straights. I believe we would have to look pretty far back in our history to find a time in which the Church of God was in so much trouble. Because, when the ancient church was being persecuted (as it still is in some parts of the world) those Christians knew that they where holding on to the truth of God; and the truth tends to make people afraid, specially powerful people. So, if they scared the rulers of the Roman Empire, that meant that their message, however dangerous and rebellious, was permeated with the powerful truth of God. However, today, we face a threat that in some ways, is much more severe than oppression and persecution, and that is irrelevance and indifference

In order to illustrate this point allow me tell you a story: At the turn of the millennium, the devil was holding a council. All his minions where gathered around a table, and he challenged them by saying that they needed a new marketing strategy, a new and more aggressive plan of action for the new millennium. (Ever noticed how the devil speaks in modern banking and business language? Just saying…). One of his captains says “why don’t we just keep telling people you don't exist? You know, the best trick the devil ever pulled and so forth”. The devil looks at the captain and says “no that doesn't work any more, Hollywood ruined that with all those films and TV shows about exorcisms and possessions and stuff”. After a moment of silence, during which all the demons where scratching their heads, one of them says “I know! For this new era, let's convince everybody that the devil may or may not exists, and that the same goes for God himself, hence, in the end it really doesn't make that much difference one way or another, because it's all out for grabs, according to each individual and whatever you fancy, that way it doesn't really matter what anyone truly believes!”

Like I said before, I believe this story is a good illustration of the times we live in. However, the real issue (and what has actually landed us in all this trouble) is not just the challenge imposed upon the Church by our modern society, but rather how the Church's own leadership has chosen to react to this. Many of whom have chosen to tackle this issue by assimilating the spirit of our aggressively over commercialised times, and thus are attempting to bring business language and marketing strategies into the Church, with all the fancy graphics and 3D pie charts that come along with it. You can hear evidence of this in all this recent talk of leadership development, recruitments tools, talent management, and all that other nonsense. We are being told to think as if the Church was some kind of corporation, suffering from a low profit problem, in which you, sitting in the pews, are stockholders and we, the clergy, are the executives. These days, we even have forced mergers brought upon us for reasons that nobody understands, expect maybe some executive in York with delusions of grandeur, or some other high ranking CEO sitting somewhere down south. We seem to have forgotten that the mission of the Church is not, nor has it ever been, to be popular and “successful” in the eyes of the world,  but to be faithful before the eyes of God, no matter what.

And so, it is in times such as these that God calls people like Fr Miguel to the priesthood. You my friend, have been called to be a defender of the faith, a caretaker of our ancient heritage, who is not to be afraid of swimming against the current, nor hesitant to pay the price of speaking the truth, which as I mentioned before, tends to make a lot of high and mighty people feel uncomfortable and even threatened. To be honest though, if you look at the situation from the outside, the odds are definitely stacked against those of us who do not wish to join in the fancy market strategy talk, produce progress reports with multi coloured charts, and who do not go along with all kinds of modernist innovations, but who rather wish to maintain the ethos of the ancient Church alive, today, in our beloved Anglican Church, both here in England and worldwide. Thus, it may seem unwise to ally yourself with our cause. However, I believe that it was Fr Thomas of the Community of The Resurrection, who at Fr Miguel's welcoming mass, last year, drew a parallel with that other brave Spaniard, Don Quijote de la Mancha. Of course, looking at Fr David, Fr Philip and Fr Miguel, I am not sure who is Don Quijote and who is his faithful sidekick Sancho Panza. Nevertheless, to be perfectly honest, I think we all have to be a little quixotic in this day and age, we have to be hopeless romantics in order to keep going and dare to dream of a brighter future for our Church. And you Miguel, you are precisely that kind of person. That is why I am so honoured and proud to call you not only my friend but a brother Priest in Christ.

And so, as you preside at the altar for the first time, today – and every time you do so from now on, remember that God, creator of the Universe, Source and Lord of all life, the One who weaved you together in your mother's womb, chose you to be His priest, to bear fruit – fruit that will last. He chose you to go where He leads, to be for His people and to celebrate His Presence. He has consecrated you to a life of dedication and holiness. Remember this at the altar, but also during those tedious long hours in the middle of the night when you are rushing to finish a sermon or writing a rota; because He (point at crucifix) has called you – exactly because of who you are – laid back Spaniard, with all your sense of humour, your intelligence, your vast knowledge of Theology, and your sensitivity – He called you, Miguel, to be His priest forever...

Bishop Tony, meet the Childrens Liturgy's version of Bishop Tony

After the Ordination

Fr David, Fr Miguel, Bishop Tony, (Bishop of Wakefield), Bishop Glyn, (Bishop of Beverley)

 Best Ordination Cake Ever! Thank you, Susan Booth!

Fr Guillermo with Fr Miguel 

After the Missa Prima, Fr Philip, Fr Miguel, Fr David. Heat Exhaustion.