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Last weekend many of us made it down to Auchinleck to celebrate Sunday afternoon Mass in a field.  The particular field was the site where 150 years ago the Parish of Birnieknowe was established – this is the Parish that around 50 years ago moved to the present Church in Auchinleck.  We celebrated Mass with the Bishop and a good number of present and former par9isnhioners who had come back to relive the memory of the Church where they were baptised, married and made their First Communion.  What is astounding is that, apart from the memorial stone recently placed there, there is no visible sign that there was a Church there nor a school; and, across the road, no sign at all that there were rows upon rows of miners cottages where families eeked out an existence.  As I say, it was a moving spiritual experience as we reflected on the sacrifices that were made all those years ago that we might be free in our faith.  Yet, at the same time, I could help thinking about the changing nature of the Church and society.  150 years before the Birnieknowe Church it was still a crime to be a Catholic in Scotland and 150 years after Birnieknowe there is little sign of the vibrant community that lived there.  And for ourselves, 150 years ago our own Churches – these Churches – didn’t exist, indeed there was little sign of the towns here that we recognise.  Not Galston as it is now, not New Farm, not Onthank, not Kilmarnock; and in Church terms, not St. Sophia’s, not St. Matthew’s and not Mount Carmel.

 

 

 

This all made me think about the changing nature of society and the changing nature of the Church.  What is the Church all about?  What are we called to do with the Church that we belong to?  I thought to myself “maybe we should look towards today’s Gospel for inspiration”?  In particular, I looked to the line “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.”  Did Jesus mean Peter to establish the Church, the Catholic Church such as we know it today?  A hierarchical Church with a big focus on Cardinals, Bishops and priests?  Did he mean Peter to establish a Christian Church that would spilt after several centuries and then spend a lot of its time seeking for unity?  When I heard the words “upon you, Peter, I will build my Church” I think that Christ – in that moment – was less thinking about buildings and mortar and more thinking about the “Kingdom of Heaven” and his attempt to establish a new justice, a new peace, a new love that would be above all governments and religious structures.  Above them, below them and around them.

 

 

 

To help me understand this, I focused this week on a central character in today’s Gospel: ‘Peter’.  Peter is the one who is always getting stuck in, the one who is always responding first among the apostles (like last week’s Gospel when he jumped into the water after Jesus).  However Peter was weak and sinful and yet, in spite of that, he was chosen.  The Church that Jesus was going to establish would be built less on Peter and the hierarchy and more on Christ himself as the foundation.  It was also be less about buildings (the keys given were not physical keys but keys of the heart and of the spirit) and more about God’s Kingdom and values being established in society.

 

 

 

The Church that you and I belong to now is very different from the Church of 150 years ago in the Birnieknowe.  The people then might be shocked to find that in 2017 we are talking about lay people taking Communion to the housebound or lay people leading Funeral liturgies.  The Church tat Jesus invites you today to be part of is less about buildings (although we must care about the bricks and mortar of St. Sophia’s and St. Matthew’s and Mount Carmel) and more about God’s Kingdom and values being established in society.  In the same way as the Birnie no longer exists 150 years on, our Churches – indeed our streets – may not exist in years to come …. But the Kingdom will … and that’s what we are called to build.

 

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