Ampleforth Abbey

14 December 2017

Homily for the Solemnity of the Dedication of the Abbey Church

(Readings Isaiah 56.1, 6-7; 1 Corinthians 3.9-11, 16-17; & Luke 19.1-10)

The opening prayer of today’s Mass makes it plain that a Church is a privileged place in which we try to offer pure worship to God and He bestows the fullness of redemption upon us. It is not so much the bricks and mortar which matter, rather it is the people who gather in the shelter provided by those bricks and mortar because their actions in response to God’s inspiration is what actually makes this place holy. This simple idea is expanded for us by the readings which we have just heard.

The Gospel of the man in the sycamore tree, which is a traditional gospel passage for the dedication of a church, makes it very plain that the Church is a place for repentant sinners. The perfect have no need of churches – it is those of us who are sinners who need to encounter the living God in order that we might change. Zacchaeus illustrates the lengths to which people will go when they have suffered sufficiently to know themselves to be in need. Such a man makes his way to the place where he has heard the living God is to be found. If people make their way to churches of stone and mortar it is because they have heard or seen that the living God is to be found there.

Isaiah makes it very plain to us that the God’s message is addressed to everyone. When these searchers for God discover a church which cares for justice and acts with integrity, then they are moved to change, and they become servants of the living God.

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul asserts that within the temple made by human hands we should find the temple made by God. This is the essential difference between a monastic ruin and a living abbey: in a living abbey people find monks whose lives are modelled on the life of Christ. When men and women encounter lives built on the foundation of Christ they encounter Christ Himself – and Christ has the capacity to change people, to cause them to turn around and begin again. Let us pray that our abbey may be built of living stones aligned on Christ so that the world, our world, may come to believe in the only one who can give eternal life.