Fr Pat gave the following homily at Christmas Midnight Mass in Holy Apostles, Pimlico.
During the Second World War a group of five American soldiers got pinned down by a sniper in France. One of them was killed. His friends went to the nearby Catholic Church and knocked on the door. A young priest answered and they asked if they could have their friend buried in the cemetery which was in the church grounds.
The young priest thought and then said as he wasn't sure if the dead soldier had been baptised he could not give permission. His friends were disappointed. So instead they dug a grave just outside the fence of the Church yard and buried their friend there.
Many years later the friends who had kept in touch after the war decided to return to that place and visit the grave of their friend. They knocked on the door of the priest's house and lo and behold it was a same priest thirty years older.
They said, do you remember us?
Yes I do, he said, very well. After you buried your friend and left, that night I could not sleep. So the next morning I got up and went into the church yard and extended the fence to include your friend's grave.
Sometimes in life we have to do the same; identify our prejudices and be more inclusive of those who want to come in. Move the fence.
Christmas reminds us that God is doing this for us. His world and ours were set apart from one another; as light is from darkness. As good is from evil.
God is light and goodness. We are estranged. We are in the dark, shackled by evil. Jesus is born. The light steps into the darkness. The boundaries, the fence separating heaven from earth has been extended to include all who want to come in. No one need be left outside except those who choose to be.
We find ourselves now inside the fence.
Am I worthy to be here? Most probably not. But I did not move the fence. I could not. Like the dead soldier I lay where I was. God moved the fence seeking to include me. To welcome me.
You see there is no such thing in this world as good people and bad people. The most virtuous, the most saintly have their flaws. The most evil have tender, generous moments. As it is said, every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future. We are a mixture of light and darkness. But the nearer we grow towards the light - the more we allow the lord to get close to us, - the less darkness there will be in us.
We could not make this happen. Like that parish priest in France, God gets up in the morning and on that first Christmas sends his workman his only begotten Son, armed with the wood of a manger in the first instance and then the wood of the cross in the second instance, to move the fence.
Christmas tells us we are now included. We are part of God's family, of his beloved ones. As Scripture says: 'to all who did accept him, he gave power to become Children of God.'
All we have to do is humbly accept we are included and with love in our hearts get on our knees in gratitude as the soldiers did to that parish priest, as the shepherds and the wise men did to the baby in the manger, and then sing songs of joy as the angels did. Gloria in excelsis Deo. The fence is moved. God has taken us into his life and love.
But of course, unlike the soldier in the grave, I am not dead. He didn't know what was going on. I do. I am alive. And the surest sign I am alive is that others do not have to thank God for moving the fence to include me. I can do it myself.
So don't exclude yourself. Don't take yourself outside the fence. It cost him his life to bring you in.
Know this Jesus who is doing this for me. Be thankful to him. Enjoy the friendship he is offering you and play your part in keeping it alive..
That's why we are here tonight. It is why we got on our knees as we blessed the Crib. We are no longer aliens or strangers to God. With Jesus, now, we also are his children. Thanks be to God.
Watch a recording of the Mass here: www.churchservices.tv/pimlico/archive/recordings/8buIjtvs5y2QT9h
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