Ampleforth Abbey

14 December 2017

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Homily preached by Fr Kevin Hayden OSB at Conventual Mass on the 7th July 2013, the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Fr Kevin works with the Hospitality team in giving retreats, and serves as acting chaplain to St Bede's house.

Right at the very beginning of the Bible, in the book of Genesis, it tells us the two most fundamental truths about what it means to be human: that we are made in the image of God, that in some very fundamental but mysterious way we are like God, and secondly that it is not good for us to be alone. And those two truths are connected.

The first thing Jesus did when he began his ministry was to gather a group of people around him. And that group itself grew. Today he sends out seventy-two of them ahead of him, to visit the places he himself will visit. What’s particularly significant is that, while he sent them out without many of the things we would consider absolutely essential – without haversack, without sandals, without money - he didn’t send them out alone; he sent them out two by two. That to him was what was really essential.

 The same instinct drew the early Christians to come together and to form communities, to share their lives and their possessions. And people were attracted to them because of the way they were with each other, because of the quality of the life they shared together. People would say, as Tertullian tells us: “See how these Christians love one another.”

Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God is not just within us, it is also among us, it is in our midst. That the kingdom of God is something that happens between people. Whenever people treat each other with love and care and generosity something wonderful happens. Unexpectedly they discover something new, something unexpected. They find joy and peace. And they discover Christ among them. “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

During this past week what is called the “Friendship holiday” took place here at Ampleforth. Students from this school shared five days, 24/7, with visiting students from a school for those with special needs.

From beginning to end they were hugely impressive – the way they cared for those visiting students so generously, with such enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, generosity, gentleness and fun. At the end of the week it was wonderful to hear them sharing with such obvious fondness the unique gifts they had learned to appreciate in each of the visitors, and of how their time together had enriched them and changed them as people. Like those disciples arriving back excited to Jesus after their journey, these students too had been on a journey and had discovered something wonderful, something I think that will stay with them for the rest of their lives – they had discovered joy in serving others, they had touched and tasted something of the kingdom of God. They had found out for themselves that when we gather in Christ’s name he is indeed among us.

There is a hymn called the Servant Song. One verse goes as follows: We are pilgrims on a journey, we are travellers on the road, we are here to help each other, walk the mile and share the load.

This is our vocation, this is part of what Jesus was telling us when he got down on his hands and needs to serve his disciples on the night before he died for us.

Someone once said, “we are awaiting a revelation of God about which we know little, except its place, and its place is community.”

In the gospel Jesus says: “The Kingdom of God is very near to you.” Today, may the experience of those students remind us that it is indeed very near to us, it is as close to us as our neighbour.