19th Sunday of Ordinary time

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Since I was last here, three things have happened.

First, we heard that a new Archbishop of Edinburgh has been appointed. He is Mgr Leo Cushley. I met him at least once at Pluscarden. By all accounts, he is very good, gifted and experienced man. He is a priest of the diocese of Motherwell but has worked for the Holy See for many years now, and in many different places, including Cairo, Burundi, New York, and more recently back in Rome. He will be ordained on 21 September and take up his new office then. As he himself said, he’s entering a delicate situation. As Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, he’ll also be what’s called Metropolitan of the Eastern Province of the Church in Scotland, and therefore of Aberdeen. We welcome him warmly. He will need our prayers.

While we were waiting for this appointment, there was some anxiety that I might be named. Frankly, the job would have been beyond me. But that aside, I am very happy that I have not been taken away from this church, this parish, this city, this diocese. I thank Our Lady of Aberdeen for this. This is where I am and belong, this is where the Lord has sent me. I am very happy to be able to go on serving here, serving you. So you’re left with me!

 A second thing has been the World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. As you know, 30 people went from this diocese, including Fr Tomasz and for the second half of it myself too. I know your prayers were with us.  It was an inspiring event. There is nothing quite like it. Imagine three and a half million young people at Mass with the Pope on the beautiful Copocabana beach. Imagine an all-pervading atmosphere of peace and joy, no drinking, no fighting. Imagine what it must mean for young people, especially from here, to meet young Catholics from 175 countries, including such unlikely ones as Mongolia or Iraq or Burkina Faso. It’s a kind of Pentecost two thousand years on. You realise the universality of the Church. It falls to us, I think, to ask the young people who were there about their experiences, and help them turn those into lasting commitments back at home. Every one of them felt it changed their lives. At the end, our Aberdeen pilgrims sought out the homeless and passed on to them all their surplus goods. One lad even gave up his sandals and came away barefoot!

 It was sad to come back from that and hear of the recent BBC programme about physical and sexual abuse reported to have taken place in the past at the Benedictine school at Fort Augustus. I’ll be very brief here. There’s a lot one could say about the motives and methods of that programme. There’s a lot one could say about what the Benedictines were already doing and still are to respond to these allegations. But here I just want to say what I said to the parishioners of Fort Augustus last Sunday: simply, how distressed I am / we are, that such things ever took place and such harm was ever done. May the Lord have mercy on us. ‘When a man has had a great deal given him on trust,’ says Jesus, ‘even more will be expected of him.’ Pray for us who are clergy, who have a great deal given us on trust. And let’s pray for one another, to whom the Lord goes on entrusting others. Let’s pray these offences may never occur again, that those who have been harmed may be helped to heal, and the Church’s beauty shine forth!

 And so, with all these good things and bad, ‘blessings and dangers’, let’s turn to today’s readings.

‘It was for faith that our ancestors were commended,’ said the 2nd reading. As believers, we come from a long line. That reading spoke about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. The 1st reading – which is rather obscure – is talking about the later moment of the Exodus from Egypt, and those ancestors: Moses, Aaron, Myriam and all who come out of Egypt at the time of the Passover. They were full of faith-filled expectation too. And then the Gospel picks up the baton, and Jesus says, ‘See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit’ – like the Israelites at Passover. ‘Be like men waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast, ready to open the door as soon as he comes and knocks.’ ‘You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’ It’s all the same attitude: a faith looking forward to the fulfilment of God’s promises, a faith that looks beyond the immediate to the ultimate.

‘It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.’ There’s the faith of Abraham and Sarah that, despite their age, they would have a child. There’s the faith of Moses that, despite so many factors against them, the Israelites would be freed and get a land of their own. Later, there’s the faith of Israel that, despite her infidelities and all the great political and military powers around her, the Lord would protect her as the apple of his eye. There’s the faith of the Virgin Mary when she said ‘yes’ to the angel and the extraordinary promise of a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. There’s the faith of Mary and the other women and the beloved disciple under the Cross when what they were looking at seemed the utter opposite of the Kingdom of God. There’s the faith of the Apostles who left everything to follow Christ and proclaim his Resurrection. And so it goes on, generation after generation. ‘It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.’ Here is Vatican II: ‘The Church, like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, announcing the cross and death of the Lord until he comes. But by the power of the risen Lord she is given strength to overcome, in patience and love, her sorrows and difficulties, those from within and those from without. And so she can faithfully reveal to the world, however darkly, the mystery of her Lord, until, in the consummation, it shall be manifested in full light’ (Lumen Gentium 8).

‘It was for faith our ancestors were commended.’ And it’s for faith we will be: a faith that’s not deterred or distracted by waiting, a faith that keeps our eyes open to God’s future, a faith that – like the faithful steward in the Gospel – keeps us faithful to the particular work the Lord has allotted us. This is the Year of Faith. So we can’t complain if our faith has been tested. It’s part of the plot! The believers of every generation and of every place have their own burden to carry. It isn’t easy today to be a Christian in Iraq or Pakistan or Egypt. So if it has its difficult moments here and now, in Scotland, so be it. This is how we earn our commendation. And future generations will say, They had their troubles, but look at how they carried them!

And all the time, just as life is taking us to truth, to judgment and to Christ, so he is coming towards us. The Master is on his way back from the wedding feast, the Burglar is already climbing in through the window, the Traveller is coming home. Christ is coming to us, even behind the distressing things. He’s calling us to purity of heart. He comes in word and sacrament. He comes in his Body and Blood.

For the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict prepared an Encyclical and Pope Francis completed it – Lumen Fidei. Let me end with the prayer to Mary which concludes it:

‘Mother, help our faith!
Open our eyes to hear God’s word and to recognise his voice and call.
Awaken in us a desire to follow in his footsteps, to go forth from our own land and receive his promise.
Help us to be touched by his love, that we may touch him in faith.
Help us to entrust ourselves fully to him and to believe in his love, especially at times of trial, beneath the shadow of the Cross, when our faith is called to mature.
Sow in our faith the joy of the Risen One.
Remind us that those who believe are never alone.
Teach us to see everything with the eyes of Jesus, that he may be light for our path. And may this light of faith always increase in us, until the dawn of that undying day which is Christ himself, your Son, our Lord!’ Amen.