Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Eighteenth Sunday of the Year: 2016

I must leave it to the man who will come after me.  

I had hoped that somehow or other the readings for this Sunday would be relevant to my last Sunday at St. Francis. Be careful what you hope for. The readings are acutely relevant to the occasion but the fit is hardly flattering and easy.

The rich landowner in today's Gospel parable is simply concerned to make the most of the exceptional harvest for his own comfort. He is totally self-centered. 'I' and 'me' form his refrain. He does not consider anyone else, nor reflect that death, whenever it comes, will deprive him of his wealth and pass it to others.

The temptation for the priest at least is to imagine that he is the most important element in the life of a parish. The temptation for the parish is to encourage the priest in this massive illusion. This is especially so after the priest is gone. Fr. Rogers is someone for whom I have given thanks again and again but I also suspect that many things which are attributed to him he could not possibly have said or done. There is no authority like the authority of the absent. Perhaps I flatter myself that anyone would ever insist “Fr. Allen used to say” but my advice is to ignore these imperfect memories.  Better to say Fr. Allen had quite a temper. That is one thing said about Padre which is indisputably true. But you all loved him and me anyway.

The long and short of it is I have been loved despite my obvious inadequacies. This, Fr. Rogers, did teach you. “Love is like bread: You have to make it fresh everyday” read the little sign on Padre’s desk. Love, daily and no matter what.

'The Preacher' of Ecclesiastes, in the first reading, regards it as a 'great injustice' that the fruits of his own toil and strain should go to someone who has not labored for it. He is not glad that someone can inherit his riches. He certainly believes in God; but his God is incomprehensible in such a way that he dispenses pleasure and pain seemingly at random. In common with the people of his time the Preacher is unconvinced about an after-life. “I must leave it to the man who will come after me; and who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?”

Another temptation for priest and parish.  For me more than a temptation. Will my legacy survive? Will some fool come along and tear it all down? But I am the fool. What I think I have done is probably at best transitory and passing. What good I do not know is what God has done. There is life after Fr. Allen as much as I and some of you may think there is not. So T.S. Eloit:

Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless

St Paul in the Epistle points us to that wisdom under the baptismal images of putting off and putting on.  Primitively the catechumens changed clothes when they were baptized. , They put off the old man and put on the new. St. Paul says “put to death what is earthly in you”. This involves the obvious sorts of sins: impurity, evil desire, coveting . But it also involves putting off more familiar sins: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk. The whole idea of living out your life in a parish church is that you will be constantly experiencing these sins in yourself and others and so have endless opportunities to murder them, which is what the Greek text actually says.

And having put to death these to put on Christ.  St. Paul gives us another list to show  what this means: “holiness, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive”.  “And be thankful”. Priest and people are always having to kill all which is not consistent with being raised with Christ. That is what I most thankful for in my time at St. Francis so many chances to die and be raised.

Dick Beadle was fond of saying to the children of the parish “have you finished educating your parents yet?” Certainly you all have been busy educating me these last twenty-three years, much more so than I educating you. And you will be busy in the future educating Fr. Matkin. Father has asked me to get together with him and show him the ropes, which I am happy to do. He did not mean tell him how to cense the altar; he knows that already. But  what I will tell him is that these folks are serious about living out their faith, however many times they fail to do so and they know what a priest is and they will foolishly and recklessly love you.

I must leave it to the man who comes after me.

And to all of you.

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