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Friday, December 9, 2016
Text: Bishop Tom Burns at Aldershot Cathedral Chrism Mass
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¬†Bishop Tom Burns, head of the Forces Chaplaincy, gave the following homily at the Chrism Mass at Aldershot Cathedral last Thursday evening, CS Lewis once said that we will spend most of eternity thanking God for those prayers of ours that he didn't answer, as much as the ones he did. In the same vein, I suspect we will spend a good part of eternity thanking God for those interruptions that derailed our plans but which baptized us into life, love, meaning, and happiness in a way we could never have ourselves planned or accomplished. And the same is true about priesthood, and the Lord's call to a relative few to serve him in a special way as priests in his Church. As Isaiah said in the first reading: they are priests of the Lord and ministers of our God. This vocation to service is an interruption to the normal expectations that parents, family, teachers, and others might have for someone they know well. It is a call to uncertainty, to step out into the unknown, and to let the Lord do his work in you and through you. These elements are present at this Chrism Mass tonight, and figure in the Renewal of Vows that the clergy will make later in the Mass. All priests have to look for the hand of providence in the interruptions that God has caused in their lives. If we were to be totally in control of our own agendas, if we could simply plan and execute our lives according to our own dreams, if we could simply choose the jobs we want and the company we keep, with no unwanted derailments, then slowly but subtly, selfishness would empty out the goodness, the motivation, and the drive that God has put within us. Derailment begins for any future priest at his baptism, like St Peter's baptism on the rock when the Lord told him: Because you confessed your love for me, your life is no longer your own. Before you said this, you fastened your belt and you walked wherever you liked. Now, others will put a belt around you and take you where you would rather not go. Who among the priests here would have anticipated that they would at some time or another go as instruments of Word and Sacrament to Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Falkland Islands, or be thrown into the world of business and budgets, administration and legislation on an unprecedented scale? And how many would have said that, if they'd known in advance, that it just wouldn't be their idea of priesthood, and so they would have chosen to go away? To submit to God's call of love is to be baptized, to be confirmed in that baptism, to be ordained in that baptism: and to allow one's life to be interrupted for ever. Yet, it's a special kind of individual who can cope with interruptions. Many of us can be resentful of others breaking into our private space, demanding our resources, assuming they have a right to call on our time and energy, not just in the priesthood, but in families and in business too. C S Lewis said he was grateful for these break-ins, because they were break-throughs that keep us in touch with reality. They keep our feet on the ground and they are privileged insights into what concerns ordinary people. What might have been seen originally as an unwanted interruption can, in the end, be our real agenda. That is not to say that our lives are to be governed by mere chance and reacting to events. God also gives us skills and talents to be pro-active too, taking the lead in a number of areas. We will never shirk our responsibilities if we welcome the interruptions to our own lives, and if we initiate interruptions to the lives of others too. I know myself how often I resent interruptions, and how reticent I am to interrupt the lives of others. But both bring challenges ≠ challenges to meet and experience the Lord. Both announce the coming of the Lord into our midst. And sometimes, all of us just need to stand back and in fact do nothing, in order to allow the Lord in. For, they also serve who only stand and wait.
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