The annual celebration of St. Kentigern has been taking place this weekend in Scotland. This is the sermon preached by the Rector, Fr. Dan Fitzpatrick, during Mass in the College to celebrate the patron of Glasgow.
I suspect that if you were to mention St. Mungo to most people in Glasgow these days that they are more likely to think of the locally produced beer which bears his name than the Christian missionary of the sixth century and founder of the first Church in Glasgow. This lack of awareness of St. Kentigern, to give him his proper name, reflects the simple truth that not only Glasgow, indeed Scotland as a whole is losing touch with its Christian faith that stretches back to the fourth century and the mission of St. Ninian in Galloway.
What lay behind the success of these early Christian leaders? If we look at them, then they were not the most obvious of candidates. We don’t, these days, choose leaders based on good looks or height, as Saul was chosen in the first reading of the day to be the king of Israel. Although the tradition tells us that Kentigern was from a royal house, his mother Enoch was a princess, he was born as the result of sexual violence, a very topical issue today and thus excluded from the society of his day. He was educated, more by luck than by planning, by another of the early missionaries St. Serf, before crossing the country to begin his mission on the banks of the Clyde. From these unlikely circumstances came a great leader and saint whose life and preaching converted the people of his time to the Christian faith. What can we, those called to follow his missionary activity, learn from this?
Perhaps the gospel of the day might help us in this. Today we heard the Call of Matthew and those famous two words of Jesus, “Follow me”. Two words uttered to another unlikely candidate to be an apostle and an evangelist. Two words “Follow me,” spoken as Matthew did that day what he normally did every other day, collect the taxes from the poor of his time. Two words, “Follow me,” no promise, no programme, no plan, simply the call to be a disciple and to follow the Lord, but two words that would transform Matthew’s life. Words that remind us of the open-endedness of our Christian discipleship, of our lack of control and of the unknown places where the Lord will ask us to minister. In an age when control is everything, as disciples we are called to surrender control and be led to where the Lord will lead us. In the changing circumstances of today’s world and of our own country, just like those early Christian leaders, we have no idea of the people we will minister to and circumstances in which we will be asked to exercise our priesthood. We can, however, take courage from the life of Kentigern who could never have foreseen his mission, both his success and his disappointments. His time of exile took him to Wales and tradition has it to Rome. His pilgrimage to Rome connects him with Ninian and here in the City of the Apostles, where we now study all these years after them, the famous bell of the Glasgow coat of arms is reputed to have been taken back to Scotland to sound in praise of God.
From Rome, we too will be go back to Scotland as the new generation that is asked to carry on that same mission of preaching the gospel, in a land where many no longer hear it. We do not do that alone, but do it together. Something that another incident from the tradition of Kentigern remind us of, when he met St. Columba at Kilmacolm and exchanged pastoral staffs as a sign of their joint mission. We are invited to be the next generation to follow Christ and make him known in our own land in these missionary times. Again the gospel reminds us that this mission is more than attending to those who already believe, but, like Jesus, invites us to sit with the tax collectors and sinners in taking the message to those who do not know it or who have distanced themselves from it. Our task is more that confirming the virtuous, but is addressed to the sinners of our days who need the healing and the love of Christ. Our task is to reach those who only know St. Mungo as the name of a beer and help them to know Christ that they, like the St. Mungo, may love Christ and follow him.