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?