Father Ed's Blog

A Catholic priest reflects…

Gold

To mark Epiphany season (it is not just a day within the Ordinariate) I want to reflect on the gifts of the Magi. Today- that infamous gift of Gold.

Most people can tell you Gold signifies the kingship of Christ. And the eternity of Christ, since gold does not perish. But gold, a precious metal, also encourages us to consider our giving; as individuals and congregations. We are challenged by the generosity of the magi. Is our own giving sacrificial? Do we resource parishes to flourish or merely survive?

In offering gold the magi presented what is costly to God. A powerful witness to the value of Christ and faith. And since then, wherever the best has been given to God, the same point has been made. Witness the magnificent former Catholic Cathedrals of England or the gorgeous Norman and Saxon churches our forebears once built. People still visit them because the art, architecture and beauty are a timeless hymn of praise. We see in them the beauty of holiness. The tranquility of space set aside for the Lord.

What contrast to the modern age where faith has been declining. Here, despite having lived through the wealthiest era in history, we have tended towards the construction of cheap, utilitarian and functional churches. Ugly concrete spaces in which worship brings little glory to God. The message is not of the best given to God  but of begrudging minimalism. Such places do not stand the test of time. Can you imagine future generations visiting the average 1960’s  sanctuary to marvel at the beauty of that Carpet Warehouse weave? I think not.

So the care we put into constructing and maintaining churches, each according to their means, speaks volumes. Little wonder, where faith is nominal, linen also tends to be grubby and uncared for, vestments gaudy and tired.  The servers in dirty cassock albs and trainers. The result is churches that do not inspire. The beauty of holiness is absent. And it isn’t an issue of material poverty or money being better spent on the poor, ever the excuse since Judas suggested it! For the more committed we are to God, the more we then care for the poor also. Hence, in Pembury, our charitable giving doubled after we collectively upped our giving to the church and beautified the sanctuary.

Ultimately it comes down to the value we place on our faith. And when love of the Gospel is cold two things occur. At grass roots level the (not so) faithful offer only tokens; the throwing of coppers into the plate – often less than they tip the waiter. And at the other end, within the hierarchy, loss of faith leads to scandalous misuse of  resources. Consider the running scandal surrounding the Vatican bank, or rumours of Cardinals receiving huge personal incomes despite speaking to us about a need for a church of the poor! Sadly examples are all to easy to find.

St. John Vianney lived in a hovel yet walked miles to purchase frontals for the sumptuous sanctuary he built for God. The polar opposite tends to be true of modern Christians- whose kitchens cost thousands but whose sanctuaries are run on pennies. True believers should be like the magi.  Hungering to honour God and lay not only hearts and souls before his throne- but also resources. The giving of our gold. We must together resource Christ’s mission and ensure every penny is wisely spent.  In our parish we ask for generosity ensuring lay treasurers, not only the priest, account for every penny. That is how it should be. Don’t you think?

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2 Comments

  1. David Knowles

    I agree entirely with what you say Father. One only needs to visit Malta ,where nothing is good enough for God’house or His glory,
    to understand this. Here in this country, there are many beautiful Catholic Churches built and lovingly embellished in the most deprived areas.
    My wife often tells the story of the golden sanctuary lamp in the church of her baptism paid for by the children in her school who donated their spending money. This church, in which we were married, is an almost cathedral-like Byzantine style edifice built in the late fifties and early sixties in an overspill estate north of Manchester. During the same period, on this massive council estate, this church, another Catholic Church, a junior school, a secondary school and a convent were all built and paid for.
    However this was in the days when the ‘working classes ‘ actually worked. Today this estate is the rundown and violent enclave of an underclass who cannot, or don’t want to, find employment. The once proudly maintained properties and neat gardens are now a jungle, a definite no-go area where drug abuse, gang warefare and despair have taken over.
    Sadly this estate now typifies many overspill estates in our country. Who would have thought, when these estates were being built in a new post war era, when the youthful ‘baby boomers’ were being so proudly reared out of poverty in new schools and for the most part in loving nuclear families and who became, thanks to the hard work of their parents and with the benefit of a good education, a new and upwardly mobile middle class, that a generation later all would be so different.
    The latter part of my working life was spent in a dormitory estate of mock Georgian houses attached to a medieval market town in Bedfordshire from which my wife and I made our daily commute into London. The Catholic parish in this affluent community worshipped in a prefabricated structure built by the Italian community, former prisoners of war who stayed. This was the eighties and nineties when homes were embellished and churches were dumbed down. The beautiful and splendid was reserved for the home and the fashionable phrase in ecclesiastical circles was ‘noble simplicity’.
    Most of our fellow parishioners were like us, incomers from the north, commuters with a twelve hour working day, first generation middle class, same house, same suit, same brief case. No one had any time midweek and the catholic ‘community’ met only at Sunday Mass. The church building was even less impressive after it had been ‘re-ordered’
    in the seventies. The rerodos was lined with cheap laminated boarding which had been installed to cover up the bare wall.
    I have to admit that we de-camped in order to attend mass in a nearby small town with a more normal community and a nice Victorian gothic church.
    However, I think all this goes to demonstrate the connection between the community and the church ( both building and parish community).
    It also underlines the demographic and social factors which have affected this relationship. Combine this with the upheaval following Vatican II since when the number of practising Catholics halved, then hailed again. The parish I was brought up in had four Sunday Masses at which there was standing room only. I now understand there is one Sunday Mass at which two thirds of the building is empty.
    I think perhaps what you are doing in Pembury ought to be scientifically analysed and cloned from !

  2. David Knowles

    First sentence, penultimate paragraph should say ‘halved and halved again’

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