A Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated at Oscott College yesterday for the Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Birmingham, Philip Pargeter’s Episcopal Silver Jubilee.
In his homily, the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Reverend Bernard Longley said that it would be of no surprise to learn that “Bishop Philip asked me to preach on anything I liked today – except himself.”
Archbishop Longley kept to Bishop Philip’s request, but did single out his “deeply-rooted respect for the wisdom of God.”
The Archbishop said that Bishop Philip “was a teacher at Cotton College for twenty-six years and he has been bishop for twenty-five, with five years as Administrator of St Chad’s cathedral in between. In these different circumstances he has had to call on the Holy Spirit to endow him with wisdom to make sound judgments for himself and for others. One of the fruits of that wisdom has been the ability to laugh at himself and to be charitably amused by others.”
He went onto add: “From 1996 onwards, I learnt from that wisdom during the years that I served Bishop Philip as his Secretary when he was Chairman of the Bishops’ Conference Committee for Christian Unity. (Yes – there was a time when he was my boss!) I also know that I have benefitted enormously from that wisdom during my last five years as Archbishop, in a way that I could never have foreseen when we began working together in 1996.”
The Archbishop concluded his homily in prayer that Bishop Philip’s “face may always be radiant and joyful with the light of Christ.”
Present at the Mass were staff and seminarians from St Mary’s College, Oscott, together with family and friends and Bishops Crispian Hollis, Terence Brain, John Rawsthorne, Brian Noble, Declan Lang, Peter Doyle, William Kenney, David McGough, Robert Byrne and, of course, Archbishop Bernard Longley.
It seems very fitting that we gather here at St Mary’s College to celebrate this Mass of Thanksgiving for the Silver Jubilee of Bishop Philip’s Episcopal Ordination and that we do so on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. We are here as family and personal friends, as a Seminary community who are the neighbours of Grove House and as brother priests of Bishop Philip from across his beloved Archdiocese of Birmingham. I am grateful that so many of his brother bishops have also come to support him today.
It will not surprise you to know that Bishop Philip asked me to preach on anything I liked today – except himself. It may now surprise him to learn that I intend to follow that rubric – on the whole. One of the reasons for celebrating a jubilee is that we can learn something of value to our own ministry from the experiences and accomplishments of the jubilarian. We can simply thank God for the many illuminating ways that the Holy Spirit has been at work in Bishops Philip’s ministry as a bishop for this last quarter of a century.
This morning’s ceremony of blessing and carrying our candles also has a particular resonance in the context of our jubilee celebration. The reason for our Candlemas ceremony of light lies in the event we are commemorating in the life of Christ, his presentation by Mary and Joseph in the Temple at Jerusalem. This is a good place and a good time to stop and reflect alongside our jubilarian, especially as he thanks the Lord for the gift of faith shared with him by his parents from the outset of his life. Bishop Philip’s baptism was the beginning of that life of faith – fostered by his parents – that God intended should flourish in his work as a teacher and pastor.
In the liturgy we have looked back forty days and remembered the birth of the Lord – and now we accompany him at a deeply symbolic moment in his own life which as an infant he would neither understand nor be able to recall. In his human nature our Lord had to rely on others to fill the gaps in his memory and understanding. We must suppose that our Lady, who pondered these things and treasured them in her heart, also told her son about many of the remarkable experiences that marked out his early years. We recognise the humility of God when we see how the Incarnate Word had to rely on others, just as we do, to deepen his knowledge and understanding of his own unique calling in life.
So it is with every vocation – so it was with Bishop Philip’s. We cannot discern a vocation by ourselves but we depend on the insights of others, prompting us to see the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit works in others around us, equipping them to recognise some aptitude or ability that we would otherwise be unable to sense within ourselves. On occasion we need the witnessing of our own Simeons or Annas from beyond our family circle to awaken an awareness of God’s voice calling us to some definite purpose.
Candlemas also reminds us of the Epiphany, when the wise men followed the light of the star and found Jesus, the source of wisdom in a helpless child. Our candles remind us of the light of faith that leads us – not to the stable – but to the Temple of God. Jesus himself is that Temple, the place where God lives among men and women in our world, the source of all wisdom.
I hope he will forgive me, but it is hard not to make some passing reference here to Bishop Philip’s deeply-rooted respect for the wisdom of God. He was a teacher at Cotton College for twenty-six years and he has been bishop for twenty-five, with five years as Administrator of St Chad’s cathedral in between. In these different circumstances he has had to call on the Holy Spirit to endow him with wisdom to make sound judgments for himself and for others. One of the fruits of that wisdom has been the ability to laugh at himself and to be charitably amused by others.
From 1996 onwards, I learnt from that wisdom during the years that I served Bishop Philip as his Secretary when he was Chairman of the Bishops’ Conference Committee for Christian Unity. (Yes – there was a time when he was my boss!) I also know that I have benefitted enormously from that wisdom during my last five years as Archbishop, in a way that I could never have foreseen when we began working together in 1996.
Today’s celebration invites us to show others where they can find the Lord and learn from his wisdom. That means trying to resemble Simeon in one of his most telling characteristics. St Luke’s Gospel re-iterates that the Holy Spirit was with Simeon. It says the Holy Spirit rested on him and that prompted by the Spirit he came into the Temple.
We can see that the Holy Spirit had shaped the pattern of Simeon’s life by disclosing his personal destiny: It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Encouraged by such an expectation Simeon’s view of the world was filled with longing and hope. We can also seek the Christ of the Lord and follow him by being attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. With Simeon we must try our best to listen prayerfully to the Spirit speaking within us and to look for the coming of the Lord.
Today, with Bishop Philip, we have carried our candles. But our Lord now wants us to shine from within, to be radiant with his goodness and truth every day – so that other people may see that Jesus lives in us and that we live by his light. Even at a Jubilee Mass we recognise that there is darkness in our world when people are saddened or lonely – when they are ill or suffering – when they have been hurt or disappointed – and when their lives have been threatened or disrupted by warfare or violence.
In this Mass we thank God that Bishop Philip has allowed the light of Christ to shine in so many of these dark places through his ministry as priest and bishop. We pray that his face may always be radiant and joyful with the light of Christ and that, as he reflects today on his service of others, he may also echo the words of Simeon: My eyes have seen your salvation…and the glory of your people Israel.