This homily is directed to parishioners in Largs, Fairlie and Sklemorlie!
I want to appeal to your sense of holy defiance. Covid has had us pinned down, restricted and constricted since March. In both parishes, it has deprived many of the spiritual lifeline of Holy Communion and Reconciliation. It has scuttered our Sunday and weekday Masses, stolen the consolation and support which come from the Mass, interrupted our social contacts at and through Mass. It put the proper celebration of Holy Week and Easter out of reach, it disappointed and saddened our children in both parishes who were due to receive First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion. It put the halt on several baptisms and two weddings. It blocked the way, to parishioners who died from having a decent Requiem Mass and funeral, depriving their families too of the consolation and reassurance that come from that. It has embargoed the work of our two Parish Pastoral Councils and Parish Finance Councils. It pulled the plug on our second Parish Festival in Largs in September. In Largs, too, it silenced our splendid choir and organists. In both parishes, it interrupted promising discussion and prayer initiatives that were taking place. It also banished the various groups within and outside the parish from using our parish hall in Largs. It is too early to say what the long-term covid damage will be to our parish communities in terms of spiritual, physical and mental health.
I give this litany of things not to be defeatist but to stir us up to say, “enough!”, to make us resolve and be defiant in ways which defeat the virus while we still observe fully what has to be observed to ensure safety for everyone. I don’t think I’m a voice crying in the wilderness, at least I hope not, when I encourage and even challenge you and myself to keep preparing the way of the Lord. That is, don’t let Covid steal the Lord from you, too, or curtail your desire and longing for his Presence and Love. In the words of Isaiah, let us rather be consoled by Him, let Him continue to speak to our hearts and inspire us to agape, to a self-sacrificing love which no virus can hinder. I encourage you to be creative and can-do so that we can push back even in small ways against the deadening paralysis with which covid has afflicted us.
As one way of focusing that holy defiance, I appeal to you with all the strength of my own heart to do what you can to come to Mass at Christmas. I don’t mean those who are ill or are unable or as yet unwilling to return to Mass because of Covid. I mean rather those who can come if you really want to come. I have planned four Masses in Largs in the hope that we can have at least 120 people and at most 200 people present across the day to celebrate Christmas. I know most would prefer the Vigil Mass at 7.30pm, but as you know we can only have the same number then as is possible just now, that is, 31 spaces with a maximum of 50 people. I am sure that some will want the 10am as a first choice and many others as a second choice. But please also come to the 8am and 12 Noon Masses I am offering.
If you were going on a holiday abroad, you wouldn’t think twice about getting up even at 4am to get your plane. If you could make extra money working an early shift, that alarm would be turned up to full volume. Christmas day is, yes, a holiday, but it’s only that because it is the solemn feast of the birth of our Creator and Redeemer. If we are going to defy covid to reclaim our religious and spiritual feasts, let’s also defy the mentality that separates Christmas from Christ. Without Christ and without the Mass, there is of course no real Christ-Mass. Family get-togethers and meals, and opening presents and singing carols around the tree are all good things, but far better and best is to gather as God’s family around the tree of the Cross and share the meal of the Eucharist. Don’t let human traditions replace this supreme value of your Catholic life, the Mass. There is the campaign to keep Christ is Christmas. Let there also be the campaign to keep Mass in Christmas.
But Mass is live-streamed, I hear you object, so I can watch it later. Yes, you can. But you won’t be there, you won’t be with Christ and his people as He speaks to you in his Word and feeds you with the Eucharist, the very reason he was born in Bethlehem in the first place. If you can’t get a place because they are all taken, and given that you have honestly made the effort to try, then the live-stream is what will have to do. But at least try and watch it at the time it is happening, for then your spiritual participation in it is more authentic. And change out of your pyjamas and put the coffee mug down. Get dressed in your Christmas best for him. Think how much Jesus has done for you. Is a little effort on our part on Christmas day really so much to ask?
As far as the 12 noon Mass is concerned, yes it’s in the middle of the day, yes it means that cooking the Christmas dinner may have to be planned differently or eaten later, yes it means for those so inclined that that first drink will have to wait. But, again, is it so much to ask when there is no comparison whatsoever between these things and the spiritual benefits of the food and drink of the Eucharist? Can’t the turkey take second place?
Please, I invite you to indulge in a little discomfort for the sake of Christ-Mass. Draw on your own agape, self-sacrificing love, to respond to Christ’s agape in becoming man so that you can become divine. Be counter-cultural in organizing your Christmas day around Christ and the Mass, the greatest gift of his love that he has left us. Even if all places are taken when you keep trying to call the booking number, still organise your Christmas around the Mass. It may be bothersome, inconvenient, irksome to your tastes and likes, but it will bring a deep satisfaction and peace if you nonetheless do it for Jesus’ sake. Beat Covid. Shun a Christless Christmas. Abhor a Massless Christmas! Let’s do it!