Don’t worry – it just religion. It won’t bother you.

Preached on 20 September 2015


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “Don’t worry, its just a religious thing. It won’t bother you.”

I’d just arrived in the village. And she said, ““Don’t worry, its just a religious thing. It won’t bother you.””

You see, I’d hired a car so that I could go a bit off the beaten track.

I must confess that I hadn’t realised quite how beaten the beaten track might be before I hired the car and had I done so I might have thought twice.

It is unusual for me to hire a car on holiday. Not something that I’d ever done before. I’d been seduced by the theory that in Malta they drive on the same side of the road as we do and that I’d know what I was doing on the road.

Several people told me when I was actually there and struggling to make sense of the roads that the Maltese don’t actually drive on the right or the left – they drive, quite sensibly, in the shade.

But anyway, I put the car into one of its forward gears (I never could work out one from another) and drove off that beaten track and up the road into the village.

And I was surprised to find that when I got there, something was clearly going on.

There were embroidered banners all along the street. And flags flying from all the buildings.

When I got to the B and B that I’d booked online I asked what was going on.

“Don’t worry,” the proprietor said. “Don’t worry, its just a religious thing. It won’t bother you.”

Anyway. I settled into my room. And at about 6 pm I heard the bells of the village begin to ring.

I was tired. I was hot. I just fancied sitting relaxing by the pool.

But the bells kept ringing.

I decided to have a wander up to the village square to see what was going on.

Pushing open the church door, I found a surprisingly big and beautifully kept church and a few older folk at the front saying some kind of litany.

I decided to stay for a bit and say some prayers quietly at the back.

Half an hour later, we had implored the intercession of very many saints whom I’d never heard of and I decided it was time to go and find some chips.

But there was once again the sound of the bells ringing and the lights seemed to come on and people were still arriving. Something seemed to be up so I sat down again.

What was up was Solemn Vespers. A procession soon arrived of 20 youngsters whom I took to be the choir, a few clergy and a couple of bishops at the back.

We then proceeded to have solemn vespers – nicely sung with lots of lovely incense. (By this stage, I was starting to realise I’d got lucky).

An hour later, solemn vespers was over and I thought that it was about time I went out and got some chips.

But people had kept arriving and yes, the bells rang again. And the central candle on the altar was lit which can only mean solemn pontifical high mass. And soon there was a procession of the boys, the clergy and now half a dozen bishops and yes, in this village in what I’d taken to be the middle of no-where, a cardinal.

And we then had an hour of glorious liturgy. With more incense and now a good choir and yes, an actual orchestra.

“Don’t worry,” she’d said. “Don’t worry, its just a religious thing. It won’t bother you.”

Anyway, the only thing bothering me at the end of all this (by now the church was packed) was my lack of chips and so I got up and went out into the square where I found a few hundred people standing on the steps of the church – members of the congregation who had not been able to get into the church. And by now all the bells in the towers of the church were ringing out into the night. (How great to be able to witness to the actual calling of bells on this Sunday when we celebrate the ringers of this cathedral).

And right in the middle of them, a life sized statue of our Lady – or as I was learning to call her, our Bambina. And at that moment the first of the marching bands arrived in the village square which was suddenly ablaze with coloured lights. And it soon became apparent that the Bambina herself was going walkabout round the village. Going walkabout for a couple of noisy joyous hours accompanied by ave Marias, marching bands, fireworks, sparklers and yes, glitter canons showering our Lady and the streets she went through with gold.

And so I learned that I’d just arrived in the village dedicated to the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary just before the day celebrated as the birthday of Herself.

And I can tell you that there’s nothing more lovely in the cool of the day than incense and chips.

And it was wonderful. But what about that notion that it was just a religious thing and wouldn’t bother me.

It seems to me that religion is in very great danger of becoming something that wouldn’t bother anyone.

But when it does, it isn’t really religion.

Because our aspiration is not simply to change people’s hearts in the privacy of their own prayers. The aspiration of the Christian faith has always been to transform society. Not only to bring about justice but to shower the streets with the gold dust of celebration.

It lies with religious people – people like us to keep the dream alive that the next celebration is just around the corner – that joy is real and is on offer to everyone in the village.

It lies with Christian people to live a faith that will bother the world with its claims of redemption, justice, freedom and fun to build a world entirely transformed from the way things already are.

It lies with us to live the gospel we’ve heard today. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes not me but the one who sent me”.

Doors Open seems to be an idea today that’s full of more meaning for us than simply opening the doors of this cathedral to those who want to look around.

Doors Open makes me want to work out how to think and pray and act about the refugee crisis. Doors Open makes me think of the gospel about welcoming the little child in the context of the children being carried to safety by parents on the run from wars we have contributed to. And Doors Open is also that mental image of the doors of thinking and ideas that we need to keep open in order to build the better tomorrow that our Lady seemed to be singing as I accompanied her through the village.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
And has filled the hungry with good things.

Let us take her song upon our own lips and live it in our own lives.

And, yes, let us bother the world. Let us bother the world into joy.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And of our Bambina.



  1. Father Ron Smith says

    Sounds just like the sort of holiday I need, dear Father – full of celebration and post-Communion Fish and Chips.

  2. etseq says

    Sorry but this just reeks of christian privilege! As a gay atheist, I am glad that you lot are no longer in power but the fact that you lust for control again, even if in the guise of harmless liberalism, is not surprising! Dream on…

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