..on this, my last weekend among you, a phrase in our 1st reading, as is so often the case, comes off the page for me, & by loving relationship, with you & for you.. “say to all faint hearts; Courage! Do not be afraid.” for the chosen people, & for you & I now, it was a call to begin a second Exodus.. God has been with us for the last 9yrs, & we have much evidence of that.. the ups & downs of first Exodus, the ups & downs of ours; & now the call to keep faith with our God, as you & I, journeying to same destination if now by different routes, step out with courage & faith.. “..look your God is coming, he is coming to save you” you & me.. us ever together.. ;Lord have mercy “..the ears of the deaf unsealed” for the times I haven’t listened as well as I should have done.. ;Christ have mercy “..the eyes of the blind shall be opened” for the times I have failed to notice one of you & your need.. ;Lord have mercy May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins & bring us to everlasting life. Amen.
..the ground zero of our future, our divine destiny, isn’t written in tealeaves, not even in Yorkshire teabags, but in Scripture, & please forgive me for a longer homily here & now as I share with you some of the story from our Good News in this parish which emerges from these readings spanning 2700yrs..your story, our faith story, no less inspirational than that of prophet Isaiah, St James & St Mark.. three readings four stories, as the Word becomes flesh & lives among us.. early on in my stewardship here, St Benedict’s PS was in crisis, & I know from personal experience how deep a crisis that was.. with tremendous help from the Diocese & Local Authority, we appointed, with special permission from the Bishop, for a term & a half, a non Catholic Head of School Janet Spittal..on her second day in post she asked if she could see our Church.. I brought her in here & she wanted to know everything.. she, with David Harrison, our Executive Head who looked after three Catholic Schools, saved us.. Janet led us on an exodus journey towards the promised land, & like Moses first time, like me now, she wasn’t able to lead us into land of milk & honey.. she Moses & me took us as far as we could, before God intervened.. she employed four rookie teachers, none of whom were Catholic, who, under her leadership began, in spite of fierce opposition from a number of parents who wanted to maintain the status quo, which would have destroyed us, began the reformation.. she nurtured staff & children..& me.. At end of that first summer term Polly Duncombe invited the school to enjoy day in grounds of Duncombe Park a wonderful moment.. a joy for me to be among our beloved young disciples, they our spiritual future be sure.. some of the opposing glum parents were there sharing the day in a holy huddle.. I noticed our young staff in middle of lawn looking somewhat besieged.. I went up to them & said “do you know there is one word in Catholicism which is rarely voiced but is kept for very special moments” they looked seriously & expectant “the word is..[& I paused]..revenge” a five sec delay & they burst into laughter.. Isaiah says “your God is coming, vengeance is coming”.. mercy not vengeance saved our School, & when Janet Spittal sadly left us, she applied for a Headship in a CofE school; they expected a Vicar to provide a spiritual reference, much to their surprise, she put me down & she got the job, a school now with a real Catholic presence in it believe me.. Emma Barrs came to us, her first Catholic headship, grew us on & sadly for us, if happily for her, she was promoted from the smallest school in Diocese to the largest, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in York; 450 children..& now Gerard Eddy our Head growing us on towards next Ofsted where we can look forward, with Benedictine realism & humility, to being graded Outstanding.. in knowledge & in faith. My final Mass in the Parish will fittingly be with St Benedict’s PS, here on Wednesday at 10.30am, when our Mass will be live-streamed to the 18 schools in our St Margaret Clitherow Catholic Academy Trust, where I will wash the feet of our Trust CEO & two children.. servant discipleship.. “do this in memory of me” please never underestimate the goodness of work & prayer which is generated in your Primary School, among staff & pupils, Catholic & supposedly non-Catholic..”if only you knew”.. “& the tongues of the dumb sing for joy”.. one of stalwarts of this parish for many years has been Clare Jennings, a legend to whom we owe deep debt of gratitude.. when our Sun morning coffee restarts those of you who are beloved newcomers, do mention Clare to some of our longstanding parishioners & you will hear her love story.. Sadly she suffered a severe stroke three years ago, & was confined to bed in her home & she lost her speech.. I would take her Holy Communion each Sun after our Mass & by gum did we have a conversation.. she spoke with her eyes her smile & very occasionally with a frown.. she now lives in a nursing home run by Grace & Compassion Sisters in Sussex, with her beloved sister Jenifer in a flat across the lawn from her “the tongues of the dumb sing for joy” “if only you knew”.. In letter of St James he tells us “a poor man comes in shabbily dressed”; before lockdown, when our Church was open each day, our two men of the road Hamish & Joel would visit us regularly, ferreting in our cartons of food donated for the Food Bank, from which they took enough & with my blessing.. one Easter our children had made a wonderful Easter garden with an empty tomb & grave cloths, & it sat in front of the altar.. one day I came into Church to find a wet patch on carpet next to Easter garden.. felt it smelled it..it was lager.. mopped it up with some anger at stain it had left..at back I found empy lager can next to Hamish’s chair.. he had come in, drunk his lager at his chair, then come forward to altar to see the garden..& to pray.. to pray.. there he spilled his lager at prayer..when was last time you risked getting so close to the altar & the Blessed Sacrament?..& after my double pneumonia in 2015 one day I met Hamish with a bicycle.. I said “what a good idea to have a bike & maybe I should get one to help me recover my fitness?”..& he unhooked his bag of all his possessions from bike & handed the bike to me “take it Fr Bede” & he meant it.. “if only you knew”.. My final gospel story, which I hope & pray may prove to be a template for an ongoing exodus journey we will continue to share together, is from email I received in May this year. “Dear Fr Bede, this email is many years overdue yet tonight of all nights I feel drawn to the wonderful & lasting memories you shared with my family. Go back 20yrs os so to your time at Brownedge St Marys Bamber Bridge. I do hope you can recall the comfort & prayers you gave to my family when my son Robert was ill on the childrens ward at Royal Preston Hospital. You came out of your way to pay us a visit, Grandma was there too with her little head-torch so as not to disturb the other children. You didn’t stay long but we all prayed for Robert & your visit was so welcome. We would always say hi at Sunday Mass, we lived round the corner at 10 St Marys Avenue. The reason for this overdue letter is to let you know how your kindness & thoughtful prayer have made such a lasting & positive effect. The support I felt has remained with me. It gave me a renewed faith & most importantly I have never felt alone raising a child with such disabilities. Robert was later found to have severe learning difficulties & various illnesses associated with a rare genetic condition. In fact I am currently in A&E with Robert but I will touch on that later. I am not best at going to Mass each week. I started to attend Mass with my youngest son Joseph to enable me to have a quality hour in Church with prayer, & it has been key to keeping my family together. I’ve met some fabulous older folk who have encouraged me to pray more. Chris & I have been married 32yrs & were blessed at adopting Joseph at 16wks old, perfect in every way & his arrival made us complete. Joseph is now 14. Your words led me to take Robert to Lourdes in 2008 whilst in France on holiday, we drove for hours just to have Robert bathed in holy water & for him to say hello to Mary & St Bernadette. I have never asked for Robert to be healed, he was & is perfect, but I felt I was supported in looking after Robert. He returned from Lourdes & with help could say the Hail Mary. Prayer has helped me so much & I want to thank you sincerely for being the individual whose kindness awoke my sense of belief in prayer. So much so we gave Robert the confirmation name Bede, & at the classes it was lovely to share with others how you inspired us. I’m just so sorry it has taken me so long to say thank you. I’m in hospital tonight; Robert has a serious ear infection & had two seizures in the week, this our third visit to A&E in six days but hopefully the team can find out what’s making him so poorly. Again the prompt to write was because again I have experienced amazing support from St Bernadette & Our Lady; the team needed an urgent CT scan, & were obviously concerned about having to sedate Robert. You know what, I prayed & believed he would stay still by himself, I do ask my little team at Lourdes for support quite a lot & I have never been let down. Robert was calm & I asked they tried him first without being anaesthetised, it worked, he is the hero at the moment with the consultants as it’s a huge relief in the current covid climate. It wasn’t good luck, it was my prayers answered yet again. I hate to say it’s a deal, but it is in a way; I promised to care for Robert & in return sought never to feel alone in the “struggle”. It is a promise I will hold for as long as I am able. You helped restore my faith in prayer & in particular in Our Lady who offers such comfort. Anyway Father, I do hope you can recall us. I’d love to hear from you & to know if possible why you chose the name Bede. It is 2.11am in A&E & Robert is sleeping hooked up to various drips. I do hope the CT scan is positive; they suspect menigitis, but I’m not alone in my prayers for Robert & would like you, if possible, to say a little prayer for him too. Take care & thank you for my gift of prayer you re-ignited.”..“if only you knew” Four stories, four sightings of Christ in ordinary people on their spiritual journeys, each different yet together, together with us, part of us, making up the Body of Christ..
“listen, my dear brothers & sisters, it was those who are poor according to the world that God chose, to be rich in faith & to be the heirs to the kingdom which he promised to those who love him.”
If only you knew, if only you realised, what an exceptional parish you are..