Our Lady is a modern church set in the expanding residential maze of Lillington. Modern in the sense that it was designed and built in the early 1960s - like me, although its outward appearance suggests it has been much better looked after.
In a previous life - when both the church and I were less than half our current age - I used to work at the Youth Centre next door in a sort of modern campus shared with the library. Both other buildings have survived I’m pleased to see and I’m thrilled on entering the church to find it’s every bit the unexpected gem it was on the one occasion I came here before, for a wedding sometime in the 1990s. It is a fabulous space. A central altar area ringed by very open plan pews with chapels and focal points, including Stations of the Cross, outside that. The whole space is tall, elegant, unified and lit by beautiful walls of spectacular coloured glass. It puts me in mind of Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral; smaller, obviously, but with the same impressive celebration of light, space and colour.
Today is a good day to be here to view Our Lady. The bright low sun of a glorious spring morning is setting the colours ablaze and giving the entire church a real glow.
There’s a fine turnout for Mass and even the ranks of the musicians are good. A choir, seated with the rest of the congregation rather than separately, sings to the accompaniment of piano, guitar, bass, violin and flute. The music itself is modern, for the most part, and very well performed.
It’s always nice to leave any musical encounter with the tune still playing in your head, although the final Bread of Heaven coming only a week after Wales - and their highly choral supporters - celebrated winning the Six Nations meant a few people would have had to swallow a bit of sporting pride for the sake of doing the right thing.
Three Sundays into Lent and ‘doing the right thing’ is the thrust of this morning’s sermon from Father Noel. And more than just doing what is right, it’s about getting on with it and doing the right thing now. Many of us, Father Noel says, understand deep down what is required of us but spend too long waiting to be told when to do it. Last week’s terrible events in New Zealand are remembered in this morning’s prayers and, to my mind at least, there is an important connection.
The aftermath of the Christchurch shootings has brought condemnation from many of the role of social media in allowing harrowing footage filmed by the killer to be shared round the world rapidly and comprehensively. Facebook in particular has been in the dock as it became evident that nine million copies had had to be taken down. Surely, the clamouring demands, social media can and should do more to keep these things from being spread; it should be for whoever is in charge of these huge organisations to take the lead and act.
For me though, to point the finger at social media is, in no small part, to miss the point. Each and every one of those nine million people finding that footage coming into their account on their computer or phone had a moral decision to make. And it’s a decision they have to make alone for themselves. That’s what a moral decision is.
Expecting someone else, whether that be family, community, school, government or God, to make that decision for you is not what moral responsibility is about. A few more people choosing to make now the time when they dust down the moral compass and act individually to make society a better place, might make Lent a whole lot more than a well-meaning gesture or a would-be diet.