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Thursday, December 8, 2016
Text: Canon Pat Browne at Our Lady of the Assumption & St Gregory's
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¬†Canon Browne gave the following homily yesterday, the 5th Sunday of Easter, for the Mass for London's LGBT community at Our Lady of the Assumption & St. Gregory, Warwick Street, Soho. Yesterday one of my parishioners died. He became house-bound some time ago and our parish sister, Sr Louise, and myself called on a regular basis. A few days before he died, he phoned and asked me to come round. When I got there. He asked the nurse who was with him to leave us and not let anyone in for 15 minutes because he said: " I have things I want to talk about with this man". When she'd gone he shuffled himself into a better position in the bed, looked me in the eye and said: " You know I'm dying?" "I do" I said. Well you want you to give me everything I now. Throw the lot at me" It was a refreshing way to be asked for what people call the Last Rites. And so I heard his confession, anointed him, gave him Holy Communion and then we prayed and thanked God for his family who were around him, for his wife who had died a few years before, for the District and Macmillan and Carers who had enabled him to be able to stay in his own home to die, and for his friends ≠ 2 in particular who had been his drinking companions and confidants over the years. When we had finished he said "I miss getting round to the church on a Sunday morning but I want you to tell the people round there, not to be afraid of dying. Face it. Look it in the eye. That is what I'm doing. There is nothing to be afraid of". You know it is a blessed Grace-filled time." Well I couldn't believe my ears! Not because I didn't believe what he said. I do. But because of the words he was using. Grace- filled! Blessed. These were not the usual words or part of the day to day vocabulary of a man who had been more at home in conversation over the counter of a pub in Pimlico than over the altar rails of the Pimlico Parish Church. But these words described what he was experiencing now. And there was a confidence that the promise given in today's gospel was for him. There are many rooms in my Father's house I am going now to prepare a place for you and after I have gone and prepared you a place I shall return and take you with me He was now looking for Christ to keep this promise to him. His focus had changed. And now I could see before me someone who was doing what St Paul asked all of us to do when he said Be alive with a life that looks towards God The man before me had discovered what true religion is all about. He was looking towards God not away from Him, not ignoring Him, but looking to Him. Our religion is not an intellectual system, a collection of dogmas, or a moralism. It is instead, an encounter, a love story, an event. That's what Pope Benedict once said about it, and has been saying all this week in the US. The idea of faith as a love story ≠ Gods' love for his people and our love for Christ the human face of God ≠ is what Benedict wants us to understand. It is very interesting after all they said about him when he was first elected ≠ that he would be a heartless 'Rotweiller', a disciplinarian with no personality, an enforcer ≠ it is very interesting that his first Papal encyclical to the whole Church and the world was not about how bad we all are, how sinful the world is, but rather, his subject was the simple divinity of human love, including the sanctity of erotic love. Never had a pope written like this before. This emphasis on the centrality of love to the human condition is so refreshing to hear again. It is something many of us have to discover or rediscover if we have got too tangled up and have complicated what is very simple "God loves me ≠ and I will try to love Him in return and be good to others too." Today in the first reading we find ourselves in the company of the 12 apostles. The church is growing. The number of believers is many and the apostles are being pulled here and there with many demands on them. The Gospel is being preached but some orphans and widows are being neglected. This is not good enough if we say we have love. And so the apostles set aside and ordain seven men ≠ these are the first permanent deacons ≠ and their task is to look after the needs of the widows and orphans, the poor. The demands of love must be met. That is what the Church is for. My friend died surrounded by love ≠ the love of his children and grandchildren, of his friends and of the parish sister and myself. He had a need to be helped to face his death with confidence and those who loved him fulfilled that need. Once again the demands of love are met and the Church is operating at her best. My friend got to the heart of the matter before he died. And was capable of a gentle honesty about himself before God and because he felt loved ≠ God's love in the human love around him - this love cast out all fear. If we too rediscover that religion is about God's unconditional love for us, it will transform the way we see life and the way we live it and as it has done for my friend when he was dying, it will cast out all fear when it is our turn to die.
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