Christ the King

Christ the King 2014 Yr. A

Come you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage prepared for you since the foundation of the world.

When I spoke about today's celebration at our Church's Annual Meeting, I said that I wanted it to be not just a celebration to mark my 25 years as Vicar of the Parish but an occasion for all of us, to celebrate all we have shared together and all we have achieved in those 25 years— some have said why were we having it the same weekend as the Christmas Bazaar, well that was to make the point that it takes a lot of hard work to keep this place going and without that work, your work and the support of the local community, St. Augustine's wouldn't be able to carry on—so we have a right to celebrate together and to thank God for his continued blessing.

Today's celebration takes place on the Feast of Christ the King, a special favourite of mine, the first mass I ever celebrated, in 1981 was a mass of Christ the King and so was the mass I celebrated to mark my silver jubilee as a priest, very appropriate because it reminds us that the focus of today's celebration isn't me or you, but Our Lord himself. We are a priest and a people with a mission in this place, a mission to proclaim his Gospel, the good news of the Kingdom. A kingdom that is to come in its fullness at the end of time, when as the scriptures tell us, Christ will come again in glory. We don't have to wait forever however because we can all do something to bring that time nearer, our duty 'being' in the words of the 2nd Vatican council, 'to develop on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and all that is good in the society we live, What then is this kingdom? Today's liturgy tells us it is a 'kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice and peace', a kingdom which is not some dream or fantasy for the future, but a kingdom we can try to make a reality now; not just Christians but all who believe in the common good and respect the equal value and dignity of each and every person. Yes God's kingdom, though it may now only be partial and imperfect, is and can grow daily nearer towards it's completion through our human endeavour, bringing forward the day when Christ the King will return, and when he will hand that kingdom to his Father, job done!

So what, in practical terms, can we do to hasten the coming of God's kingdom?

This morning's gospel reading couldn't make it clearer,

'For I was hungry and you gave me food: I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, In prison and you came to see me,' acts of kindness, acts of justice, acts of love, for the hungry, the thirsty, for the sick and the oppressed, those literally in prison and those imprisoned by their own distress or paranoia, it is in such as these that we should look for the Christ who especially loves the poor and those in need, and indeed in them see his face , for as we hear Jesus say in this morning's gospel,

'As you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.'

Yes, it is by these acts that Our Lord will judge us when he comes again in glory and the sheep are separated from the goats.

As a parish priest today's gospel has always been an inspiration to me, especially when I feel I am losing my way a little and becoming a bit too self-obsessed, then I hear that voice calling me back, Our Lord's words a vivid reminder of why He gave me the gift of priesthood with a ministry, in the words of the first reading, 'to look out for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded, make the weak strong' and keep an eye on 'the fat and healthy' too- to be that good shepherd to everyone. The priestly office is, above all else, an office of charity, the good shepherd, In imitation of Our Lord should be concerned for the welfare of his flock, whereas the bad shepherd thinks only of himself; there too an element of sacrifice, a laying down of life. But what does that mean? St Thomas Aquinas wrote 'that no one expects a shepherd to lay down his life for an actual flock of sheep, but the salvation of a spiritual flock outweighs the physical life of their shepherd!' there being a laying down of his life, in the sense of the responsibility he carries and the love he bears towards them, being responsible and being loving, 'one is no use without the other,' he concludes.!

There have of course been times when I have failed, times when I have let someone down, times when I could have done more, but then a priest has his failings and weaknesses just like anyone else but it doesn't stop me or anyone else for that matter, keep trying—and here at St. Augustine's it means together we go on trying to proclaim in word and deed that Kingdom we say we believe in.

The mission statement of this church is 'To bring people to a personal love and knowledge of Jesus Christ through the sacramental life and daily witness of the church' - which reminds us that we fulfil our mission not just by sharing a sacramental life together, at the heart of which is the Mass, Christ himself in our midst, the bread and wine, his body and blood but also in our going out into our local community and the wider world, and putting our faith to a practical effect.

It has always been the task in anglo- catholic parishes, many of them established in the 19th century, In the poorest and most populous parts of our towns and cities, to not only minister to people's spiritual needs but to translate that need Into practical works and action. It is not by chance that our forebears built along side the church our hail and rooms, concerned not only for men and women's souls but for the whole person, looking back at all the various clubs and guilds and so many different activities that have taken place here, the church has always been at the heart of the local community. A family came to see me only last week to arrange their unde's funeral and were recalling the days of Fr. Francis, nick named 'fan light' for some unknown reason, parish priest during and just after the war, Uncle John belonged to the Sunday school and youth club, played football and cricket for the church, a member of the church cubs and scouts with Fr Francis as scout master, yes those were the days when life revolved around the church How many too amongst the elderly residents of Aldershot met their future wives and husbands at the dances in the Hall, the Iron gates put up in the church porch to discourage courting couples!

Times change of course but a little nostalgia does no harm. Looking back over my 25 years as Vicar we have tried to keep St Augustine's focused on the community it serves; the clubs and activities may have waned somewhat but then who can compete with all the choices people have when they choose how to spend their leisure time, but that hasn't stopped us in our efforts to engage with the local community, Jumble Sales and Bazaars, Italian Nights and Western nights, Bums nights and Quiz nights, Tea Dances and Coffee mornings, Teddy Bears Picnics and children's discos, Christingles and Church parades, Christmas Eve with the church packed full of excited children. Shaping and forming that community too by not only working with and supporting local charities and organisations, but working for a better community with local residents, local councillors and the local authority through the North Town Partnership.

People may not want to bother with Church, but that doesn't mean the Church shouldn't bother with them, and that Is even more the case for the Vicar, for it hasn't stopped me forming so many relationships and real friendships with so many people in the local community and the town, so many people who, as I commented recently, I have partied with, laughed with, and on occasion cried with too! Yes a parish priest is called to live in the midst of the world yet he must not become too worldly and become absorbed by worldly affairs; there must always be a looking ahead to the future and that other world God promises us.

25 years is quite a long time, many Vicars come along and change everything, not always for the better as congregations Will tell you, and then after a few years they move on before the fruits of their labour or otherwise are revealed, before what do we say 'the chickens come home to roost' I For better or worse I am still Vicar of St. Augustine's, there have been some wonderful moments over the years, the highpoints and of course there have been some low points too, those moments when I've felt like 'throwing in the towel', its then that I have to pick myself up and remember who I am here to serve rather than dwell on those little parochial dramas that aren't actually much of a big deal in the whole scheme of things ! That scheme of things that takes us back to today's celebration, the Feast of Christ the King - for the whole scheme of things is God's plan, a plan for the whole of the Universe– a plan that will come to its fulfilment when Christ his son comes again, in glory, on the last day, when the whole of creation will be at one with him, paradise regained, and he will present his kingdom to the Father and put on his kingly crown

Meanwhile he bids us, priests and people, Christian and non-Christian, good people of all faiths or none, to go on striving for a better world here and now— a world that proclaims those kingdom values, truth and life, holiness and grace, justice and peace and hastens the day when Christ takes his throne and when we hope he will say to us:‑

'Come you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.'