..in this extraordinary time, & with both Pope Francis & the Abbot President of the Cistercian Order [reformed Benedictines] opening gospel stories of encouragement in the time of the pandemic, each shared with you last weekend in our Outreach, with me mentioning the piece “we were made for these times” with its language of journey across the seas, an extract from a series of homilies I have shared in Our Lady & St Benedict’s in Autumn 2019 & Spring 2020 before the lockdown, some extracts of which will be shared in Outreach for the next few weeks as a reminder & encouragement.. this week from Christmas Midnight Mass 2019..which, in these times now of ensuring our closest if, up to now most distant, neighbour is fed, shares a wonderful invitation from one of our flock “we were wondering if there is someone who could use a Christmas dinner..we have a spare seat at our table..” Christmas & now virus hospitality at its best..& in present circumstances, the meal cooked blessed broken/shared & taken to them in isolation.. “..on normal a weekend in our 2 local Churches, Gilling & here, we muster a congregation of perhaps 110 people; at Christmas this rises to over 500 & that includes you..a blessing to have each of you here..perhaps most of you here feel a sense of being an outsider, a migrant..well be glad as you find yourselves, find yourselves, in real company, in very good company, alongside a boy a mole a fox & a horse..& alongside 2 migrants now grown to 3 migrants; Mary Joseph & a 24min old baby..& a motley crew of our fellow outsiders labelled shepherds..& perhaps that is why we come to this manger tonight, beloved insiders &outsiders, different on our journey into gradually encountering God in small precious ways..as in email of last wk “Dear Fr Bede; we were wondering if there is someone who could use a Christmas dinner, who might otherwise be alone; we have a spare seat at our table.”a breath of fresh air, the warmth breath of Holy Spirit who breathed on Mary 9 months ago giving her the courage & grace to say “yes” to invitation to an encounter, & through her, & eventually through her Son, an invitation to you & I to sit at this table & share a Christmas meal of a lifetime..so different in attitude to the gruff innkeepers of Bethlehem & of some in our faith & village community..in Tony Jordans epic BBC production of 2010 Jesus of Nazareth we see an exhausted ashamed Joseph arriving in Bethlehem pulling donkey; on it his despised ex-wife heavily pregnant..once an insider but no longer, now disowned shameful she was taken by an angry & reluctant Joseph after a plea from her once proud father, begging him to take her with him, & to leave her, if need be, to her own devices in Bethlehem, to save her from being stoned to death by outraged squeaky clean insiders of Nazareth..they arrive down teeming streets at his cousins house & he knocks; she opens door, her face lights up in utter joy with a hug of a lifetime & then over his shoulder she sees Mary..her face changes, curls up her lip & says coldly “but not with her!”..”no room at the inn” ..& the boy, full of questions, becomes the fox silent & wary because, like Joseph, he’s been hurt by life..& story moves on & into a stable where Mary writhes in agony crying to Joseph for help, he runs out into bustling main street in panic..he now the one to plead, but no one wants to know.. a town of insiders, going about their business & afraid of kick-back of responding to a plea for the spare seat at their table..eventually one passer-by responds, a prostitute, a fellow outsider; she comes into stable & goes into action, comforting Mary, ordering Joseph to wise up & get cracking..as boy in book whispered “I realised why we are here” “for cake?” asked the mole “to love” said the boy “& to be loved” said the horse..& at that moment, the star arrives & stops above the stable, above this Church..the light beams into the half light & a crescendo of screams from Mary coincides with the ingress of light from star, as a still hesitant Joseph timidly creeps forward..he takes her hand, as the two become one again one body “to have & to hold from this day forward..” a grip to die for & Jesus is born..the light of the world the Son of God..the greatest story ever told & lived by 4 outsiders, soon to be visited by a motley crew of fellow outsiders shepherds..& news eventually taken to the squeaky clean insiders, who thought they were coming for an annual Christmas Mass with a warm story..unaware until now why it is news of great great joy..finally heard & understood & life changing..who perhaps came as a mole, greedy for cake..spiritual food & will leave this meal like the boy, full of questions I’ve never really had the courage to ask before, or as from now on, like the horse, the gentlest of insiders or outsiders..or like the fox, finding my voice as a real follower of Jesus, less silent & less wary because I can finally see a way out from the hurt & wounds I have carried all these years..”we love you all the more”..& I leave you with the mole, who deserves to have the last word on this remarkable night of story & truth..“I think everybody is just trying to get home” said the mole..home to this manger, where you will always belong..home to your home where innkeepers & shepherds from this night forward are given parity of esteem..it is the one & only saving qualification for gaining entry to our eventual home in heaven..we arrive together.. & with your DNA & mine on the straw.. [Christmas Midnight Mass Lk 2;1-14]
..in these special moments, it is good to revisit our extraordinary School, St Benedict’s RC Primary School, as it works & prays on from Good towards Outstanding. They are back at work & at prayer, home-learning, using two packages, Tapestry & Seesaw. Each word evokes spirituality, as you read it with your divine spectacles on; “tapestry” reminds me of those of you I visit who crochet..the needlework is done from behind, from the reverse of the material, the eye of the weaver seeing only the confused threads & knots randomly peppered across the woven cloth..work & prayer behind the scene, diligent patient & lovingly sewn, with only the weaver imagining what may emerge eventually..& then the moment of revelation, when the work of art is turned, the working reverse side face down & the frontspiece emerges into sight, to see to savour & to celebrate..crochet & prayerfulness at its finest, & it goes on in our School believe me, a tapestry “a School of the Lord’s Service “ as St Benedict calls his monastery, & we award too & deservedly to our School ..I share with you one of many precious sacred moments I have experienced with our young disciples there in recent weeks..it came on our All Saints Mass, anticipated on 24 Oct 2019 as we were on half term on the day itself.
Our gospel story we have just heard fits beautifully after my journey into Mrs Coe’s class yesterday morning..she had invited me in to listen to some work Yr5&6 have been doing recently..& like in gospel I took nothing with me, no bread no haversack no sandals no prayer book to read a prayer from..I just went in as “me” a bit like it will be when we go to Heaven & Jesus gives us a hug some cake & a smile that says “I can’t love you one jot more if I tried”..Mrs Coe’s class had recently been putting together some questions ready to interview each other for becoming a follower of Jesus..in pairs they had compiled whole range of questions which they then put to two others being interviewed for becoming a follower of Jesus..their questions were fantastic & they fit so so well for the feast of All Saints as followers of Jesus..& we are all followers of Jesus..& gradually becoming, day by day, Saints..we are “saints-in-the-making”..the questions were really good...I want you to think now you are being interviewed by them.. “why do you want to be a follower of Jesus?..& their answers?.. to spread the word of God is the most important thing in the world committing myself to God & Jesus all my life go out into the city & spread it ..& via social media praying & pouring over the bible vocally & practically would you like to do it ? “yes!” “what responsibilities might you already have in your life?” can be trusted to look after other people [proven by care of my own family] to live up to God’s standard ..humble patient gentle kind “why do you want this job? I want God to forgive me for the bad things..make me an ever better person..some people only want the job to see how God lives.. “how would you help a new Christian feel welcome? will you keep this job seriously? what makes you a good person? ..if you really want this job tell us !” ..& then Daisy & Ellie interviewed me for maybe 20mins..in front of the class & Mrs Coe & Mrs Lally..wonderfully challenging questions which really made me think.. “what makes you a good person? What makes you a prime candidate? Do you pray everyday? If you saw a person on the floor crying what would you do? do you believe that you will be loyal enough? what sacrifices will you make for this job? are you really ready? what makes you a nice & caring person? do you put all the others in front of you? how many sins has God forgiven? do you believe you are loyal? will you help us to grow in faith, & build up the body of Jesus Christ ? wow! I was well & truly examined..& they told me at the end I had got the job! ..such a joyful hour in “a School of the Lords Service” where young followers of Jesus are being encouraged inspired to become real followers of Jesus..saints-in-the-makig ..we are deeply blessed to have such an outstanding School..of boys girls moles foxes & horses....& I think the mole deserves to have the last word on our feast of All Saints.. “I think everyone is just trying to get home “ said the mole..home to heaven.. [ All Saints ; SBPS 24 Oct 2019 Mk 6;7-13 ]
Remember please, & share news of, our Church food initiative, set up by Rev Catherine Reid & myself with great help from Deb & Ray in the Village Shop; those in need can go in & quietly ask for a bag of food essentials, which Deb will prepare & then deliver to the persons doorstep; our two Churches [increasingly one Church] will source funds to meet the cost. It has begun gently & well, so please let it be known. Middlesbrough Food Bank remains open & in desperate need of help, now offered direct to them by cash transfer, or by cash in an envelope please, posted at St Benedict’s House. Please keep all of these intentions & many more in your prayers. With my love & prayers. Keep safe. Fr Bede