Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Saint Cecilia

Notes from a Homily for Holy Communion on
Tuesday, 22nd of November, 2011, 9 a.m.

Feast of Saint Cecilia

for the Sisters of the Love of God
Fairacres Priory, Oxford

Luke 21:5-11

+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.


Those of you who have come to know me well might be forgiven for thinking me a touch contrary by nature. The line in the old hymn “perverse and foolish” might well have been written with me in mind. So, as someone who has only ever mastered four musical notes, only in one order, and now forgotten them all to the point that I wouldn’t recognise them in a police line-up, you can perhaps imagine that being invited to say a word on the Feast of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of musicians, was a most attractive challenge. Imagine further my dismay that you only keep the feast once every three years, forcing me to resort to reading the Gospel, which is a beastly thing to do to any preacher.

And as I read it, one phrase kept leaping out “ … everything will be destroyed”. It’s difficult enough to preach the Good News convincingly without booby-traps like that being laid on your path. “Everything will be destroyed”. But must it? We have the parable of the sower from Jesus, and how the seed must die to yield a greater harvest, and S. Paul’s longer discourse on the same theme, but must there be all this death and destruction?

Lately I have had cause to be thankful for your prayers for my father, who is home from hospital, and much restored. In the course of these anxious months we have come to exchange a four-lettered word. Not the one I never knew he knew until I was about seventeen (when he locked the car keys in the boot of the car before seven in the morning and we had to be in London by nine), but that other one, “love”, which is the heart of the Good News of God revealed in Christ. He didn’t need to be destroyed for that. Thank God.

In the last few days an interesting obituary appeared in the newspapers – I read them as proof that I am still alive, I suppose it’s a middle-aged thing – of a scientist called Normal Ramsey, who was 96, and who had designed the delivery systems that allowed the two atomic bombs to be dropped on Japan in 1945. After the clamour of war, people have spoken and written of the dread silence that follows, and none more so than the silence that followed that awful deed. But must we destroy?

You may be familiar with the prayer, or perhaps it is a sort of meditation, of John Donne, about the place we are all headed for. He says it will be marked by “no noise, nor silence, but one equal music”. Perhaps I have cheatingly brought us back to Saint Cecilia after all. If she show us the way to understand the value, the strength, the beauty, of harmony, which is surely the essence of peace, and of which Christ is the Prince, maybe, just maybe, we could fashion a world in which there would no longer be a need for everything to be destroyed? If so, that would be Good News indeed. Amen.

Richard Haggis
Littlemore, Oxford
November 2011

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