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60 years as a friar: Martin SSF

From a sermon preached by Samuel SSF on the occasion of Martin’s diamond jubilee celebrations at St Peter’s Church,  London Docks, on 17 December 2011.

December 17th is the day in the Church’s calendar known as O Sapientia.  It refers to the first of the antiphons for the Magnificat which are said or sung in these last days before the feast of Christmas – all beginning with the cry “O”, looking for the coming of the Lord, and starting today with the cry for Wisdom: “O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end of the earth to the other mightily, and sweetly ordering all things. Come and teach us the way of prudence”.

I want to think for a few minutes about the wisdom of Martin’s vocation, the wisdom which “sweetly orders all things” and which is “the way of prudence”.  In one sense the wisdom which is spoken of in the scriptures is very down-to-earth and practical.  Wisdom teaches us to live well – to look after our bodies, to eat – not too much, to get enough sleep.  She (and she is a lady) teaches us to nurture friendship, to avoid useless conflict, to speak the truth, to respect those in authority – but not to be over-awed by them – to value the institutions of family, of community, of nation.  There’s a homeliness in some of these wisdom sayings which we are all able to recognise and enjoy – “Better a pot of lentils than a rich meal cooked without love”.

There are plenty of the signs of this sort of wisdom in the Martin whom we know and love.  He’s amazingly disciplined in his personal life, his community life and in his public life.  If Martin says that he will do something, he does it.  I don’t know of anyone who answers letters, emails, or phone messages as promptly as Martin, or anyone as discreet or as loyal to the tradition.- and all this is no unthinking routine for there’s a faithfulness and a steadfastness in that orderliness (with much fun and playfulness) which is the gift of holy wisdom.  For all of this we give thanks to God today.

But also in the scriptures there’s a deeper level or sense in which Wisdom is spoken of – and it’s often in the form of a question-: “Where is wisdom to be found?”  You can search for wisdom high and low, say the scriptures, but she’s harder to obtain than red gold.  Wisdom is not learnt by rote and cannot, in fact, be possessed or held at all – for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and those who find her find life.’

Where is wisdom to be found? That’s the question which lies at the heart of Martin’s vocation as a Franciscan friar.  The search for the wisdom which is the fear of the Lord has been central to Martin’s vocation over the past sixty years.  In fact, I would say that that search for wisdom which is the fear of the Lord is at the heart of all vocation – Franciscan, Christian and human – the seeking after God in all things and above all things, the persistent and steadfast search for God, day by day, through good times and bad, through light and darkness.  This is what the sixty years we are celebrating today are fundamentally about.

During this time he has lived through/survived the leadership of every Minister of the Society from Douglas through to the present day, six all told, and before long he’ll be experiencing another. I first met Martin when I was a sixteen year old schoolboy, when he had already been in the order for fifteen years. He has been vicar of three parishes and priest-in-charge of another. Three times he has been a school chaplain and twice the chaplain of a hospice. Chapter member, Provincial Secretary, Engagements Secretary, retreat giver, mission leader, teacher, school governor, hymn-writer – he has done all this, and remarkably he goes on; in his latter eighties he’s amazingly active, particularly here at St Peter’s. I know how much he’s valued here, but I also know how much he values being involved with the ministry of this parish, and I want to thank Fr Jones and all you who are parishioners for your generous hosting of this celebration today when we give thanks to God for sixty years of faithful vocation lived by Martin in response to the everlasting faithfulness of God.

Where is wisdom to be found?  In the world in which we find ourselves today that’s no mere academic debate, but an increasingly urgent question.  Amidst the crass stupidity which has brought about the economic and financial mess we are in; within the unthinking idiocy of the exploitation and abuse of God’s creation; as part of the utter foolishness of allowing ourselves to be consumed by consumerism; involved in the recklessness of wars which bring destruction and death; complicit in the lunacy which neglects human life and justice for the poor – for us the question of where true wisdom is to be found is a matter of life and death.  Martin made his choice to set out on that search sixty and more years ago, and he renewed his commitment to it last night before his Minister in the chapel at St Mary’s Vicarage in Plaistow.

Our search for wisdom which is the fear of the Lord brings us back to today’s gospel reading.  St Matthew’s genealogy reminds us that God in his wisdom has been searching for us through many generations – calling us, saving us, redeeming us from slavery, and, through it all, being patient with us.  God is a God who persists with us, loving us with a steadfast love – until, when the time is right he comes among us, foolishly weak and vulnerable as a newborn child.


O Emmanuel, our king and lawgiver

The hope of the nations and their saviour,

Come and save us, O Lord our God.   f


Martin SSF cutting the cake