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25 years of service

June 30, 2017

The Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul

 29 June 2017

Acts 12: 1-11             2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 17-18                    Matthew 16:13-19

25 years ago my father-in-law John was ordained in Birmingham Cathedral. This year he celebrated his Silver Jubilee as a deacon with the Parish in Hall Green, Birmingham.

This is what I had to say….

 

The homily is an integral part of the Sacred Liturgy; and as a stickler for doing things right, I’m pretty sure Deacon John would not want me to be sharing anecdotes about him during the Mass. I’ll perhaps mention afterwards in the Hall some of the stories of John’s life as he travelled on his journey that in his case led him towards ordination as a deacon and then living the life of a deacon. What the newspapers might headline as “Ten things you do not know about Deacon John Stark.” I think you’ll be surprised, amused, and moved. Hopefully you’ll join us to all celebrate together after Mass.

But it must be said that it is marvellous that the Feast of St Peter and St Paul has given the Parish the opportunity to mark the Silver Jubilee of Deacon John’s ordination into the Order of Deacons. John was ordained deacon on this particular feast day in 1992, so since then it has had a special significance for him every year for the past quarter of a century.

Of course, the tradition of Saints Peter and Paul sharing their feast day together has been of special significance to the Church for over 2,000 years. From the earliest days of the Church we Christians have celebrated today to honour in concert the two Apostles who were major influences on the development of the Church in Rome – the place where Peter and Paul both preached, both ministered to the first Christians, and where they were both martyred.

Our first reading tonight was taken from that early history of the Church written by Saint Luke, the book of the Acts of the Apostles. You may be interested to hear that Saint Peter is the main character for the first FIVE chapters of the Books of Acts: it describes how Peter was an apostle to the Jews, starting his mission in Jerusalem, immediately after Jesus had ascended into heaven; and then, in Chapter EIGHT, Saint Luke moves on to focus on Saint Paul, who evangelised the gentiles across the Roman Empire.

But what is in the two chapters between the sections on Peter and Paul, chapters six and seven? Sandwiched between the stories of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, is the story of another remarkable man. Do you know who it might be? It’s Saint Stephen. Saint Stephen THE DEACON! Men like Deacon John have been an integral part of the clergy, playing a vital role as leaders of Christian communities from the very first days of the Church.

There’s a message for us all here. We all have different backgrounds, traditions and talents. God calls each one of us to serve His purposes in our own unique way. We should recognise that God prepares each one us for our own distinct part in fulfilling the Church’s mission in the world today. This is the idea of the Church being the Body of Christ – Jesus the head and then many inter-dependent other parts of the body.

In his inimitable way Deacon John shared with me his insight into tonight’s gospel. Remember how it starts? “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’

Deacon John asked me yesterday, “Do you know why Jesus was in Caesarea Philippi?” Because in those times the region and City of Caesarea Philippi was a centre of PAGAN worship. In fact in the ruins of that ancient City you can still visit a nature reserve where there is a spring that gushes from a massive rock, with niches carved into the stone that then contained statues of pagan Greek gods. Imagine the significance of Peter declaring Jesus as THE true God in such a place. The contrast couldn’t be greater. This is dramatic stuff.

In that centre of worshipping false idols, Saint Peter declares out loud in front of Jesus’ disciples what he had come to believe through a combination of his intellect, life experience, faith in God, and not least having had the privilege of being with Jesus on His earthly ministry. Peter was moved by the Holy Spirit to announce that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed One from God. It is at that point in his life that Peter accepts the heavy responsibility of being a leader of the Church. That confession of faith by no means guaranteed a life of ease, coasting towards a heavenly reward. On the contrary. No, Peter remained a weak human being who worked hard, sometimes made mistakes and had a really hard time. But through faith, through prayer and through the support of his fellow Christians, Saint Peter’s faith shone through it all.

So recognising Jesus as our Saviour is not something we can declare and then sit back and rest on our laurels. We have to walk the talk. And here in the first reading is the evidence of that truth. In it we see Peter again, but ten years later: the story of Peter’s astonishing escape from certain death in jail. After ten eventful years since being appointed the first Pope by Jesus, leading the Church, ten years later, miracles are STILL happening. They didn’t fizzle out after Jesus ascended to heaven. Through faith, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, through fervent prayer, the surprises just keep coming. Supported by his fellow Christians, Peter is persevering in his work.

25 years ago Deacon John was ordained in St Chad’s Cathedral by Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville. John did in public what St Peter did in todays Gospel. Deacon John stood up in the midst of the Church in and publicly declared his faith in Jesus and took on a leadership role in the Church. And like Saint Peter, that did not mean everything would be easy for John. There would be up and downs, hard work and challenges. People don’t always appreciate the burden people like Deacon John may be having to carry, but it’s true. And, I can tell you, Deacon John has had some remarkable escapes from an early death.

It’s lovely that Fr Paul has invited him back today to celebrate with the Parish in Birmingham, the place where he has practised his faith with his beloved Margaret and their children for nearly half a century. Saint Ambrose Barlow Parish in Hall Green is the place where Deacon John preached, ministered to his fellow Christians, and it is the place where, to quote Saint Paul in the second reading, Deacon John fought the good fight, ran the race to the finish and kept the faith.

And as a man of profound faith in God, a man of prayer, strengthened by the Holy Spirit and helped by the prayer and faith of the Christians around him, Deacon John – like Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Stephen – has seen it through.

 That is what we’re celebrating with him tonight, and through the miracle that is the Holy Mass, we celebrate it in the company of Jesus Christ Himself and with all the saints in heaven, including Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Stephen.

 

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