Father Tom Davis has been instituted and licensed to the Parish Church of St Matthew's,Douglas on Monday 23 October 2017.
He is pictured with the Bishop of Beverley, the Rt Revd Glyn Webster and Bishop Peter.
Bishop Peter preached at the service and his sermon can be read in full below...
Sermon for the Institution and Licensing of Fr Tom Davis
as Priest-in-Charge of St Matthew’s, North Quay: Monday 23 October 2017
Fr Tom’s favourite city is Rome, as you will have read in our Order of Service, and so I thought that we might make a short visit there this evening: a brief tour, perhaps, of a couple of its churches, and pausing for a few minutes in front of a stupendous work of art. Does that sound like a plan? Good! I’m not sure that we’ll have time for a bowl of pasta and a glass of Sangiovese, but, knowing the hospitality for which this parish is known, I suspect something similar may be coming to us later in any case! But before we go, I reiterate my welcome from the beginning of the service, and I also extend some thanks: a welcome to Fr Tom’s friends, to visiting clergy from ‘across’, to our visitors this evening from various parts of the Island, to our Lieutenant Governor and our Mayor, and of course to my colleague the Bishop of Beverley; a welcome and a ‘thank you’ to colleagues representing respectively the Additional Curates Society and the Ring Trust, both of which organisations have generously given in support of this post; and a ‘thank you’ to Fr Robert and the other clergy who have maintained the liturgical cycle and the daily mass over the past eight months, to the congregation who have pulled hard and remained faithful, and especially to the Churchwardens who have managed the interregnum. Bless you, bless you, and bless you again. None of us knows what our legacy will be, if the Lord even gives it to us at all to influence the lives of our fellow human beings, but your legacy has been to maintain the devout and deeply impressive witness of this holy place, and God will bless you for your faithfulness, as we all do this day.
None of us knows what our legacy will be, if the Lord even gives it to us at all to influence the lives of our fellow human beings, but perhaps a legacy that I was able to leave in my final years in the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department was to increase devotion to your patron saint, to St Matthew, who looks at me from the great west window in the likeness of my saintly predecessor Bishop Wilson! Once a year or so, I would take a group of colleagues for a week’s retreat in Rome, after they had returned from an operational deployment: partly to thank them for having spent six months away from home living in the desert, and partly to re-connect them with the deeper spiritual sustenance of faith. We stayed in a house which belongs to the Vatican but is actually across the river, right in the centre of the city, between the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona, if you are familiar with Rome, and situated equidistant between two particular churches.
The first, into which we would go on the morning after arrival, is the Basilica of St Augustine: Sant’ Agostino. This contains the tomb, not of Augustine himself, but of his mother Saint Monica, the wonderful woman who prayed constantly for her son, who rejoiced at his conversion from Manichaeism to Christianity, and the account of whose death we read in Book IX of the Confessions, in one of the most beautiful and moving passages of all of Augustine’s writing. He tells how, as her death approached, he and his brother were concerned about the very question of where she should best be buried. Monica looked at them and said that it does not matter at all, and she gave to Christian posterity the words which we should all take to heart for our own loving remembrance: ‘All I ask of you is that, wherever you may be, you remember me at the altar of the Lord’.
Coming out of the Basilica of Saint Augustine, you turn left and then right, and very shortly (and perhaps unsurprisingly) you come to another church. This is the French Church in Rome, called San Luigi dei Francesi, with a French cultural centre next door. In the north-east corner of the Church is the Contarelli Chapel. And in the Contarelli Chapel, hidden in the darkness until you put a euro in the box to switch the light on, is a painting entitled ‘The Calling of St Matthew.’ This is the painting which I would set before my colleagues as the essence of Christian vocation.
It is by the artist known as Caravaggio, that exponent of the post-Renaissance heightened realism of the late 16th Century and the Counter-Reformation. It is huge: larger than ten feet square. There are two other paintings of the life of Matthew by the same artist in the same church, but it is this one, ‘The Calling’, in Italian ‘La Vocazione’, which is pre-eminent. If you are not familiar with it, you might like to seek it out later, but, for now, I hope my description might suffice.
It depicts the scriptural verse of St Matthew 9: 9: ‘Jesus saw a man named Matthew at his seat in the custom-house, and said to him “Follow me”, and Matthew rose and followed Him’. We see Matthew sitting at a table with four others. The Lord enters, accompanied by Simon Peter, and points at Matthew. A beam of light enters the room and illuminates the group sitting at the table, absorbed as they are in the murkiness of money and the vanities of the world. But this is not a calling to anything easy: the bare-footed Lord and the apostle are wearing very everyday clothes, and this is a call to ministry among the poor. The Lord’s feet are already pointed outwards, for there will be no hesitating, no turning back. Nor is there any question of resisting the call. Its authority is absolute. And in a gesture that the artist’s public would certainly have recognised, the arm of the Lord is at exactly the angle of the reaching arm of God the Father as he awakes Adam into life in Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We recall that Caravaggio’s Christian name was also Michelangelo, and perhaps he was making the point that what his illustrious namesake had done ninety years earlier, so he also could do. But the real point is that as God the Father awakened Adam into life, so now God the Son is awakening Matthew from the stupor into which his drudgery has taken him. The Lord’s hand, by contrast, is at the angle of Adam’s hand as he is awoken in that same scene, reminding us of Christ as ‘the second Adam’, the re-created humanity that can show forth the likeness of God.
God calls us, and we cannot turn back. God calls us into the world outside, the world of people’s real lives, which is to be illuminated by the light of God. Parishes like this one have always been characterised by their desire to bring spiritual beauty to the poorest corners of human life, and that vocation to care and service and holiness is what God sets before you as a parish, you as Fr Tom, indeed all of us, at this particular moment. The barefooted Christ calls us to serve the people of this parish, bringing his light into the challenging routine and circumstance of their lives. We cannot tarry, for there is no time to lose. The task is urgent. It will require all that we have. Like Matthew, we are to rise and follow Christ, to proclaim His Gospel through serving His people, and, in the offering of the mass, to remember them at the altar of the Lord.
There is one other extraordinary aspect of this painting, which, I believe, holds the real key to its meaning. Astonishingly, it is not actually certain which of the people at the table is Matthew! One of the figures is making a pointing gesture, but the perspective is ambiguous: it could be ‘Do you mean me, Lord?’, or it might be pointing down the table to say ‘Do you really mean him?’ The truth is that for none of these people will life be the same again. Matthew, whichever figure it may be, has been called to be an apostle, and subsequently an evangelist, but all of them have had an encounter with the living God. The living God has entered their space and transformed it with His light. They have all been drawn into the wonder and the mystery.
The wonder and the mystery … that is where we have to leave it for now. But the Calling of St Matthew is the template for the Calling of St Matthew’s, for the task of this Church and this Parish and this faithful congregation in enacting the wonder and the mystery of the living God for the people among whom you live. Fr Tom is entrusted with leading and enabling you in this task. Pray for him. Pray for your neighbours, the people of this parish. Pray for Bishop Glyn. Pray for us all, for this Island Nation and this Diocese, that as we serve God’s people and bring them to the altar of the Lord, indeed the living God may enter our space and transform it with His light.
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