02 December 2021
As new pandemic restrictions are introduced this week, I am sure many priests may wonder what sort of Christmas we are facing.
It is difficult to describe the spiritual loneliness of a priest presiding at the Eucharist in an all-but empty church on Christmas Day and on Easter morning, recording reflections for Holy Week or school assemblies alone, or planning the choice of hymns weeks in advance for carol services that may never take place.
But then, priests ought to have the daily experience of praying the daily office alone without feeling spiritually lonely.
The Revd Dr Thomas Plant, chaplain at Rikkyo University in Tokyo and formerly chaplain at Lichfield Cathedral School, tweeted earlier this week: ‘… priestly prayer, especially the Liturgy of the Hours, is authentic priestly ministry. This conviction will help priests avoid the tendency to reduce it to a mere private devotion as if time devoted to prayer … were somehow time robbed from the ministry.’
I blog early each morning about my own morning prayers, reflections and readings. These are not private personal prayers, but part of my ministry too, and a fulfilment of the vows a priest takes at ordination. So, I have the morning habit of sharing these with parishioners through the parish Facebook page.
Often, in the middle of a busy working day in the Rectory, before taking a break for lunch, I also take time to watch the celebration of the mid-day Eucharist in the Lady Chapel of Lichfield Cathedral.
At this daily celebration, the priests habitually use the Prayer of Spiritual Communion on behalf of those who are watching but who cannot receive the Eucharist in person. This prayer, which I was made aware of in Lichfield Cathedral seven weeks ago, and which was used again at the mid-day Eucharist today, is based on the Prayer of Saint Richard of Chichester:
Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits you have given me,
for all the pains and insults you have borne for me.
Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally,
I ask you to come spiritually into my heart.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.
So, priestly ministry is never exercised on its own, and should never truly be a solitary, isolated, or lonely experience for me or any other priest.
This is the Season of Advent. Before a busy day begins, I am taking some time early this morning (2 December 2021) for prayer, reflection and reading.
Each morning in the Advent, I am reflecting in these ways:
1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during Advent;
2, the day’s Gospel reading;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
Many of the saints commemorated in Church calendars today seem to be obscure in one way or another, or are largely forgotten. However, one saint who is the fore of my mind this morning is Saint Mungo, if only because the issue of homelessness is relevant to the Gospel reading this morning for the Eucharist in the lectionary of the Church of Ireland, and because I have received a number of leaflets in the Church Times and other publications reminding of the work of the homelessness campaign and community, St Mungo’s.
St Mungo’s, now based at St Mungo’s at Thomas More Square, London, dates from 1969, when a group of volunteers decided to do something to help homeless people.
Since then, St Mungo’s has been filled with some extraordinary people, who have been homeless, who have transformed their lives and inspired many others, who have dedicated their lives and careers to ending homelessness, and who have supported and advocated for St Mungo’s for more than half a century.
Today, St Mungo’s helps thousands of people across London and the south of England. But it dates from 1969, when a group of people decided to do something to help the people they saw sleeping rough on the streets of London.
They started by going out, talking to people, offering food and what assistance they could. But why Saint Mungo?
Charles Fraser, the former Chief Executive, told The Guardian in 2009 that one of the group’s main volunteers was from Glasgow, whose patron saint is Saint Kentigern. Saint Kentigern is patron saint of the city and of wandering Celts – and is also known as Saint Mungo. The group thought ‘a Christian saint’s name would stop police hassling workers on soup runs – they thought they were reverends.’
Another account says St Mungo’s began as a splinter group from the Simon Community, founded by Anton Wallich-Clifford, due to differences on allowing drinking on the premises. The new group was offered the short lease on a house in Home Road, Wandsworth, about to be demolished, although St Mungo’s was not yet a registered charity.
Jim Horne rejected the idea the house should be called the Home Road Hostel and pressed for the name Saint Mungo’s. Being Scottish, he believed Glasgow Cathedral might be persuaded to make an ample donation if it was named after the patron saint of Glasgow.
In the years since, St Mungo’s has continued working to end homelessness and has been on the frontline of delivering services to keep people healthy, housed and hopeful.
St Mungo’s has pioneered many of the innovative services that are now part of homelessness sector practice and projects, including the first specialist project solely for people sleeping rough with a mental illness; the first specialist project solely for people sleeping rough with a history of alcohol misuse; the only specialist project solely for older people with a long history of rough sleeping and, more recently, the first Recovery College in the homelessness sector.
Each night across England, more than 4,000 people sleep rough on the streets: people in need of shelter, support and the opportunity to rebuild their lives.
Homelessness is not inevitable. Charities and organisation working in area of homelessness need the support of people like you and me to carry on their vital work into the future so homelessness can end and so that people are helped to truly fulfil their hopes and ambitions.
As for Saint Kentigern or Saint Mungo, who is revered as the founder and patron saint of the city of Glasgow, he died on 13 January 614, and so his feast day is not for another six weeks, on 13 January.
Matthew 7: 21, 24-27 (NRSVA)
[Jesus said:] 21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
24 ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’
The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (2 December 2021) invites us to pray:
We pray that the clergy of the Church may continue to be faithful servants of Christ.
Yesterday: Saint Anansus of Siena
Tomorrow: Saint Francis Xavier
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org