Saturday, December 27, 2008

Holy Family

Christmas is really for Children. So people say. And certainly our celebrations seem to say that - Santa Claus, the sales of toys, the children’s faces on Christmas morning … it’s all about children - and in our religious celebrations too - the crib, the Nativity play, the story of the birth of a child - that’s all about children too. And today - when we remember the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we see as the centre of that family the Christ-Child, the Son of God himself.

Yes, that is at the heart of what Christmas is all about. But today’s Gospel reminds us that family is not just about children, not only our families, but also the holy family. In today’s Gospel we meet two elderly and holy people: Simeon and Anna. Old. Faithful. Devoted to prayer and full of wisdom.

Christmas is not just about children - it is about the elderly too. When I think back to my childhood Christmasses I can see my two grandmothers and my widowed Uncle Norman sat round the family table sharing in our Christmas dinner. Sitting in front of the telly during the afternoon snoring loudly while the Queen spoke about the Commonwealth. One of my earliest memories must be of my Great-Grandad sitting on my chocolate which I’d put on the settee and it melting to the back of his trousers. That was, I think, Christmas Day 1961.

Christmas is about old people too. Earlier this week I visited a number of our elderly parishioners who are in nursing homes or sheltered accommodation, taking communion, praying, having a chat. The variety, amongst the people and the homes is great. Most have some form of ill-health or disability. There is some sadness in their situation, and some anxiety for their relatives, perhaps. But there is also great joy, a few laughs, and many smiling faces. I’ll not forget the sheer joy of one or our parishioners, aged 92, as she joined in the waltz and the fox-trot with the young people from a dancing school who were visiting the sheltered accommodation where she now lives.

Sadly, we live in a society which values youth well above age. Our society thinks, perhaps we think, that the elderly live in the past. Sometimes, perhaps often, elderly people themselves feel useless because they cannot do what they used to do. We value action above thought. Activity above reflection. Activism above prayer. And yet thought and reflection and prayer are the beginning of wisdom, and a lot of activity for activity’s sake becomes what Shakespeare called ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’.

Look again at the Gospel. Simeon and Anna rejoice because in the wisdom of their years they can see what the future holds better than the young people of their own day. They rejoice because they know the future offers not doom but salvation, and the difficulties it may hold are not to be feared because they will bring great rewards.

Only the wisdom of years can see the flimsiness of the present and have a realistic vision of the future.

Let us pray that we may all reach the years of Simeon and Anna, and share their wisdom and their vision.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent 4

“Nothing is impossible to God” - “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let what you have said be done to me”

We have to keep these two sayings - of the angel, and of Mary - close together. They explain so much and tell us so much.

And at the other extreme, we live in a world which far from believing Nothing is impossible to God, believes that nothing is impossible to man. All diseases can be cured, we believe, it is just a matter of time. Perhaps it is. Scientific and technological advance is without limit. We can clone human beings - if we wish. We may experiment with the basic stuff of like. And the only moral law that exists is the law of choice, nothing is impossible to man.

Yet this is not what the Angel says to Mary. And it might seem to us that the Angels is saying that because nothing is impossible to God - or supposed to be - that human beings play little part. We may misunderstand miracle stories in the Gospels, or we may pray as if it were the case, that God just speaks from the clouds, drops events, or thunderbolts out of heaven. We may struggle to understand - if nothing is impossible - why so much seems imperfect, why good things are left undone. Why does God allow this to happen, we might say. Or, similarly, why doesn’t God change things?

Yet God doesn’t act in quite this way. Look at the miracle stories - time and time again Jesus says “Your faith has healed you”. When God calls Isaiah, the prophet responds “Here I am Lord”. When he dwelt amongst us he didn’t parachute down, unexpectedly out of the sky, but he was born of a virgin, a woman who was not used, but who gave her consent and obedience and her love. Remember the time when Jesus visited his home town and the Gospel tells us “He could do few miracles there, because they were hard of heart”, they lacked faith in him. God gives grace - but we must make it work - we can refuse his love.

The Gospel teaches us that indeed nothing is impossible - but only if human beings act in accordance with God’s will. We can create or destroy. We can use the gifts and talents which God has given us, or we can waste them. No artist, or skilled sportsman, or great actor, or poet made those talents for themselves - but through their efforts they apply them magnificently. This is what we call God’s grace. A gift that  brings heaven to earth - for nothing is impossible to God.

Homily for the Annual Carol Service

A light that shines in the dark (John 1:5)

Earlier this year I celebrated a milestone birthday. I won’t say which one … but though I’m a way off the state pension yet, life began again for me quite a few years ago. And I now think, yes, I am getting old.

But as we all know, especially at this time of year, the only difference between a man and a boy is how expensive are his toys, and I am pleased to say that I got an expensive but wonderful toy for my birthday - a Camera!

Now when you get into photography in a way that is a bit more serious than just snapping at family occasions, you start to look at things a bit differently. A building, a tree, a sky takes on a different aspect. You start to notice things you might have taken for granted. You see patterns and echoes. You notice expressions. You identify relationships between objects. You begin to open your eyes - open your eyes and see what was always there, but which you hardly noticed.

And you realise the importance of light. An underexposed photo is dark and without distinction. With the wrong light detail is lost, definition is poor. Flash can be harsh - and show us more than we want. What we think we see with our eyes might not be what we get in the picture, if we get the Light just a little wrong.

So when we call Jesus the Light of the World, we are not just using a pretty symbol. When we decorate the Church with candles we are not just trying to create atmosphere. Light can overpower darkness, but darknesss can never overpower light. Light reveals beauty and truth. Light shows every detail, but can also forgive imperfection and flaw. Light can uncover reality, and can display the charm and the grace and the splendour which might otherwise be hidden.

In the book of Genesis, in the story of creation, we are told that one of God’s first acts is to separate Light and Darkness. In this Gospel we have just heard that Light, the true light, the light that enlightens all people, comes to live amongst us.

He is the Light who leads us through the shadowy path of life, who shows us our sins and our failings, but who also brings hope in our darkness.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Advent Three

Advent Three

What season of the Christian year is most charcteristic of the Christian life?

You see, I think that as Christians, we often think life is a sort of perpetual Lent. It is about repentance from sin, and doing without, and suffering in union with Christ. There is a certain drabness - just as the Church is undecorated so the Christian life is about sacrifice. Perhaps that's the kind of idea that we have grown up with.
But as a reflection of the Christian life it is too bleak, too negative, too much about suffering and not enough about victory, too much about sacrifice and not enough about happiness.

Or perhaps Easter is a better idea. If is a time of happiness and rejoicing. After all, through baptism we die and rise with Christ. In Communion we share in his risen life. Christ has saved us from sin, so we rejoice in the new life we share in him. This is our Easter faith. And over and over again we sing alleluia. But is Easter typical of the Christian life? It's full of hope. It's optimistic. It's positive. But perhaps that'see too much. We know all too well about our sins and imperfections and sufferings. We are Easter people - but not quite yet.

No. I think that more than any other season it is Advent which characterises the Christian life. Advent is a time of joy. Not only do we still sing Alleluia, but we also sing Rejoice! Emmanuel will come! And we echo the words of the first Christians 'Come. Lord Jesus!'. We eagerly await his coming. It is a time of joy, but in waiting we also realise that the best is yet to come. This life has its incompleteness, it's shortcomings, its imperfections. We wait for ulness of Christ's presence, yet we do sop with a sure and clear hope. Advent is a time of rejoicing, a time of anticipation, a time of hope, a time when we know what it is to do without, because we know what is
yet to come.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Advent 2 The Time has come!

“The time has come, and the Kingdom of God is near at hand!” (Mark 1:14)

The most famous play of the playwright Samuel Becket is called “Waiting for Godot”. When it was published and first performed in the early 1950s it caused something of a storm. By the 1970s when I studied it for A level, it had become something of a classic.

It has no story really. In two acts, the two principal characters wait by a tree for the arrival of Godot. We never really find out who Godot is, and he never turns up. The two characters are like tramps, or clowns, and they seem very weak or pathetic. Overall, it is not an uplifting play, and then, and since, people have argued about what it means and who Godot is. Is he meant to represent God? Possibly? Is the tree the tree of life? Of the knowledge of Good and Evil? Or of the Cross?

The play is really about waiting, and hope, and what it can do to people. The pair are foolish because their waiting is pointless, and never ending. It drags down their lives so they cannot do anything else other than wait. The waiting weighs them down in boredom. It is a fascinating play, but also quite depressing.

The play is far from being a Christian play, because it seems to mock hope and ends in absurdity. Yet on the other hand it does present a mirror image of Christian hope.

If hope makes us inactive, if it stultifies our lives, if it imprisons and constricts us, then it is no hope at all. We, the Advent people, are waiting. And we know the wait can be long - “to the Lord a day can mean a thousand years”. So what is the difference?

That is simple. For them, they wait for something they hardly know, but which will change their lives in some inexplicable way in the future. For them the present is tedious, but the future will be difference. For Christians it is very different. We wait for someone we do know, who has already visited us, who shares his life with us in the sacraments and the saints. And the waiting, in faith and hope, inspires us and encourages us. The time of waiting, the Advent of this life frees us from hopelessness: it gives us meaning and purpose.

Isaiah’s messenger cries from the mountains, the voice of John cries in the wilderness, and the voice of Jesus in the cities of Galilee to proclaim what is Good News, a joyful message. As St Peter says in the second reading, our waiting for the coming of the Day of God inspires us to live holy and saintly lives, filled with joy.

The problem with the men in the play is for them hope is in something which will change their lives in some vague once upon a time future, whereas for us, hope is in something that is changing our lives now.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Advent Sunday

“Be on our guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come”(Mark 13:33)

We are now well into the time of Eager Expectation. Whatever the financial crises and difficulties, I am sure people will be determined to have a good Christmas. And the children will be writing their lists and singing their songs and writing their letters to Santa for that Wii or DS or whatever toy or whatever item it may be. For some, the excitement of it all can be prove to be just too much, and we know that this time of year can be a time of great family stress and upset and anguish. How many times do you hear someone say in the queue in Tesco or ToysRus “I don’t know why we do it”

Eager expectation!

Of course this is far away from the eager expectation we hear about in the Gospel.

The prayer of the first Christians, the final word of the Bible are about eager expectation - the expectation of the the coming of Christ: Maranatha, they prayed, Come, Lord Jesus. The first Christians would meet together on a Saturday not for a short mass, but for a long vigil throughout the night, as they waited expectantly for the coming of Christ when they celebrated Mass at dawn. Every Saturday-Sunday vigil remembered not only the resurrection of Jesus, but also looked forward to the coming of Christ at the end of time.

We have lost something of that excitement, that anticipation. December is an exciting time for us because of the pressures of preparing for Christmas, and sadly not because in Advent we are keenly looking forward to the coming of Christ.

So - tough though it may certainly be, let us try to recover something of the wonder and awe which those first Christians had. They read scripture and prayed through the night, so that with the new day, as they shared the Eucharist, they knew that Christ was already with them in the sacrament – not yet clearly seen, maybe, not yet known by all people, perhaps,  and yet really and truly present in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Let us prepare ourselves for Christ this Advent.
Let us renew ourselves in prayer: before we come to Mass – in quite times spent at home – on the journey to the Church – in a real sense of expectation that we will meet Christ here.

Let us also deepen our knowledge of Christ in scripture – by reading in advance the readings for Sunday Mass – by spending each day reading part of the Gospels, or of the Psalms, or using one of the many guides to the reading of Scripture which are available.

Let us take time to recapture the true wonder of this season. Let us recover the joy and eager expectation so that we can see Christ in the Sacrament, and truly meet him – by preparing our hearts for this beautiful encounter.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

33rd Sunday of the Year: The Parable of the Talents

The Parable of the Talents

Sometimes we may doubt whether this parable is really for us. Do I have a talent?

And of course, on one level it is a fair point. Not many of us are international swimmers, X factor singers, or skilled sculptors. Oh yes, we are good at some things more than others, but is that a talent?

Take care over the details in the story. It is money which the man gives to his servant to invest, and the currency is called ‘talents’. It might just as well have been pounds, or euros or dollars (in their thousands of course). The connection with great skill is an interesting one, but it isn’t exactly there is the original story.

You see the story is for us. We all do have gifts, gifts from God. We have all been given something by him, a vocation, an aptitude, an ability. It may not be prizewinning, but it is no less valuable for all that.

Yours may include being a mother, or grandmother. You could be a teacher. Or a listener. You may be good at odd jobs, DIY, and can use that gift to help family, friends and neighbours. You may have a good singing or reading voice. Or a good sense of humour. You may be good at writing letters, or understanding complex documents or ideas. Or perhaps you just know how to get the DVD recorder to work. Any or all of these may be gifts, talents, granted by God.

Thank him for them. And don’t bury them. Put them to good use, and they will double, they will grow, and they will be to your credit and to the praise of God.

This is the warning here. Do not hide your light under a bushel, but rejoice in your blessings and put them to proper and frequent use. Glorify him in using the things with which he has blessed you, for to do so is not to take pride in yourself, but is to rejoice in making repayment to the Master, from whom come such blessings.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica | Remembrance Sunday

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will rebuild it

These words are words of defiance.
I will stand my ground, Jesus says, against those who oppose me, against those who deny me, against those who attack me. They are words of courage and conviction and of service. Do what you will, Jesus says, I will not flinch or succumb or surrender.
When we stand for the truth, we echo these words. When we speak out against injustice, Christ stands alongside us. And as we remember those who have given their lives in the service of their country, we remember those whose sacrifice has been total and complete.

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will rebuild it

These words are also words of hope.
Whatever destruction you may wreak against me, Jesus says, however much pain or anguish you may inflict, I have the promise of something much greater, a new life, a new heaven and a new earth. The Christian hope looks beyond death to resurrection. Christ brings that hope - and as we remember those who have died - in particular in the service of their country and in time of war, we share a hope in life beyond life.

Destroy this temple, and in three days I will rebuild it

These words are also words of prophecy.
Christ is the temple, the true centre of all our worship. Today we thank God for the Lateran basilica, the Cathedral Church of Rome and Mother Church of the whole world. We thank God not for bricks and mortar so much, but for what they represent and convey, the presence of Christ among us. And as we remember the valiant dead, we do not honour war and suffering, nor even their sacrifice and our country, but we honour Christ, the true temple, who we meet in our Churches, in our monuments, our ceremonies, our poppies and all those physical things which call to mind our dead.

He is our life, and hope. He brings peace from hatred, good from ill. He carries our sufferings on his shoulders, makes and rebuilds us in his image. He loves us and saves us. To him be glory for ever.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

All Saints Day

Happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:2)

When we hear this Gospel we may be surprised - “Happy are those who mourn”? - “Happy are those who are persecuted”? - “Happy are the poor”? Really? Surely not?

The trouble is, we live in a world and a society that barely knows the difference between happiness and pleasure, between joy and enjoyment, between choice and vocation, between selfishness and blessedness.

You remember that last week I mentioned the atheist slogan on the London buses which ended “Enjoy your life”. I guess that for many people nowadays, if you were to ask them what is their aim in life, then they would say just that - “Enjoy my life”

But this is deeply selfish. Not “Do good”. No idea of love. No service of others. No commitment. Just enjoy your life, because you are the only one who matters.

The trouble is, life often isn’t enjoyable. We struggle to achieve our goals. We work hard for little reward. We are disappointed in relationships, beset by illness or tragedy. The command to “enjoy your life”, provides no hope or comfort.

Did the saints set out to enjoy their lives? St Therese, who died in her early twenties? St Maria Goretti, murdered at the age of 12? St Bernadette, who suffered ill health for all her short life? St Peter, who betrayed his Lord and was executed for his belief? St Maximilian Kolbe, and St Teresa Benedicta who died in the Nazi death camps? Did they enjoy life?

But were they unhappy? Ah - they embraced their various vocations no doubt with fear and trepidation, they knew the reality of their pain, but also the truth of Gospel and the certainty of the hope which they shared. They inspire us because despite everything they happily made sacrifices for a greater hope, not enjoyment or pleasure, but the joy and happiness of the blessedness of God.

The Christian vocation, which is for us all, is a pursuit of happiness, not enjoyment. Along this path there may well be moments of sorrow and mourning, of striving for what is right and good, of opposition and conflict, the challenge to both purity and mercy. The vocation of every Christian is not an easy road, not one of convenience, not one without difficulty. To be a Christian is to be called, not to pick and choose.
But it is a vocation which leads, through commitment, and love, and sacrifice to true blessedness, true happiness. We are all called to be saints. As John Paul II said “Do not be afraid to be saints”!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Induction of Fr Robert Taylerson, October 31st St Teresa, Trent Vale

When we hear this Gospel we are often surprised - “Happy are those who mourn”? - “Happy are those who are persecuted”? - “Happy are the poor”? Really? Surely not?

The trouble is, we live in a world and a society that barely knows the difference between happiness and pleasure, between joy and enjoyment, between choice and vocation, between selfishness and blessedness.

In London - you may have heard - there is heavily funded campaign to put advertisements for atheism on the side of buses. The motto which they are using runs like this: “God probably doesn’t exist. Don’t worry. Enjoy your life.”

Well, putting aside their lack of certainty in their own convictions, and the assumption that belief gives anxiety rather than comfort, I am struck by this commandment to Enjoy your life. They obviously not only think that all believers are miserable (while only a few of us are), but they also believe that if we just cast off belief then we can enjoy our life. At first it might seem attractive, but notice, it is a deeply selfish statement. No love. No service of others. No commitment. Just enjoy your life, because you are the only one who matters.

The trouble is, life often isn’t enjoyable. We struggle to achieve our goals. We work hard for little reward. We are disappointed in relationships, beset by illness or tragedy. The command to “enjoy your life”, provides no hope or comfort.

Did the saints set out to enjoy their lives? St Therese, who died in her early twenties? St Maria Goretti, murdered at the age of 12? St Bernadette, who suffered ill health for all her short life? St Peter, who betrayed his Lord and was executed for his belief? St Maximilian Kolbe, and St Teresa Benedicta who died in the Nazi death camps? Did they enjoy life?

But were they unhappy? Ah - they embraced their various vocations no doubt with fear and trepidation, they knew the reality of their pain, but also the truth of Gospel and the certainty of the hope which they shared. They inspire us because despite everything they happily made sacrifices for a greater hope, not enjoyment or pleasure, but the joy and happiness of the blessedness of God.

It is very appropriate that Fr Robert begins his ministry on the weekend of All Saints, and with the prayers and readings of the feast.

It reminds us that the Christian vocation, which he shares with each of you is a pursuit of happiness. Along the path there may well be moments of sorrow and mourning, of striving for what is right and good, of opposition and conflict, the challenge to both purity and mercy. The vocation of every Christian is not an easy road, not one of convenience, not one without difficulty. To be a Christian is to be called, not to pick and choose.

But it is a vocation which leads, through commitment, and love, and sacrifice to true blessedness, true happiness. This is the road which Fr Robert walks with you and you with him. You are all called to be saints. As John Paul II said “Do not be afraid to be saints”!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

30th Sunday of the Year (A) 26th October 2008

The famous atheist, Professor Richard Dawkins, is behind a plan of the Humanist Association to promote atheism by putting advertisements on London buses. The adverts read:
“God probably doesn’t exist. Stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

I find it fascinating, for three reasons.

Firstly, they say that “God probably doesn’t exist”. Ah - not certainly. They’re not quite sure…

Secondly, they say “stop worrying”. They obviously think that belief in God makes people worry. Well the idea that God exists might worry them, but for most of us to believe in God is far from worrying.

Thirdly, they say “enjoy your life”. They clearly believe that a religious believer does not enjoy life, but is miserable and unhappy.

Today’s Gospel presents us with the commandment to love. Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment, and he gives not one but two, though the two are really one: Love God and love your neighbour.

If we believe in God, then we must live by these commandments. But does this make us worry? Do they make us unhappy?

Quite the opposite. To know that God is love, and that we should respond to him in love is a source not of anxiety, but of great comfort, great hope, great consolation. To love God is to acknowledge the source of meaning and purpose. To love God is to embrace the truth. To love God is to glory and wonder at all that he has made.

Believing in God does make us anxious or unhappy. He encourages us in our lives. He guides us in the decisions we must take. He challenges us to love one another so that not only is my life happy but the lives of our neighbours may be happy too. He gives us comfort when we are sad. Hope when trouble confronts us. He gives us joy and blessings in our lives. He makes sense out of confusion and hope out of despair. He provides us with far more than enjoyment - he gives us happiness, the happiness of living in the Truth.

To be told “enjoy your life” might at first seem attractive, but what it really means is you are on your own, there is nothing else - no hope, no purpose - and no one else - no sacrifice, no commitment - other people are only there for what I can get out of them. “Stop worrying. Enjoy your life.” Does not only mean that there is ‘probably no God’ but also that there is ‘probably no Love’.

We know better.

Monday, October 13, 2008

29th Sunday of the Year

Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.

Sometimes people - especially young people - say that they are not
interested in politics. Of course there are aspects of politics which
may only ever interest a small number of people - opinion polls, voter
trends, swings - all the statistics which make politics more like a
sport than anything else. Obama or McCain? Brown or Cameron? Stoke or
Vale? What's the difference, and unless you are a supporter, why care?

And of course, there are many who say we should never mix religion and
politics. They feel politics is a public matter and religion a private
matter, so religious people have no right to impose their opinions on

Well, what does the Church teach? Give to Caesar what belongs to
Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. It is not for the Church to
meddle in the nitty gritty of political debate. It is not for the
Church to say whether the banks should be nationalized or whether we
should enter the Euro or whether Stoke on Trent should have an elected
mayor or not.

But it is for Church to speak out on clearly moral issues, not
necessarily saying how things should be done or not done, but saying
why. It is for the Church to speak out about the welfare of the poor,
the protection of the unborn, the human rights of migrants, the
necessity of resposibility and honesty in the financial markets. Give
to God what is God's.

If Britain, so far as I know, the Church has never felt it necessary
to take it's responsibility so far as to propose any one particular
party. We may be relieved that this is so, but of course it puts an
even greater responsibilty on us. We will ask ourselves, which is the
most competent, but we must also ask is the most moral, has the
concerns of the weakest most closely to heart?

Fr Peter Weatherby

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

28th Sunday of the Year

In our family we are having the joy of two weddings this year. One daughter married at the end of June, the second married on Christmas Day. And wolithout boring you with the details of the arrangements. I am sure you will not be surprised to learn that these events of great joy are not without their frustrations.

One such difficulty, as many of you will know, is the guest list. Who do you invite or not invite? Who do you sit next to whom? And what do you do about the people who are likely to come, but just can't be bothered to reply to the invitation?

Well, the King in the parable seems to have similar problems, and there seems go a simple message: if some of those invited can't be bothered to give the courtesy offs reply, then invite those who WILL be grateful.

But, of course, wise advice though this may be, that isn't really what the parable is about. The banquet, the Wedding Feast, is a reminder of the Eucharist, and an image of heaven, eternal life with God.

And the parable gives us a simple yet challenging message.

Firstly, God calls everyone into his Kingdom. The self-important, the self-righteous, the holier-than-thous had better beware. The rich, the wealthy, the influential, the clever, the successful - they are in danger of thinking themselves too good. The invitation is for them, but also the poor, the destitute, the weak, the uneducated, the failures of life, the sinners and the despised. They are invited too.

And there is a second point, which at first may seem to jar. It's to do with this strange detail of the man without a wedding garment. You see, while the invitation is open to everyone, this does not mean it us without conditions. Christ invites sinners, but they must be repentant sinners. He invited all to his Wedding Feast, but accepting the invitation means accepting a faith and a way of life which changes and transforms us. In entering the Feast we become a new person - the Wedding Garment is the robe of our baptism, which symbolizes a new life in faith and trust and honesty and compassion and love. We must love as we are loved. We must forgive as we are forgiven. We must give as we have received. As we have been invited, we must invite others.

As we enter the Feast, so we put on a wedding garment, leaving behind pettiness, and ingratitude and self-interest.

Friday, October 03, 2008

27th Sunday of the Yest

For the third week we are in the vineyard. Two weeks ago we heard about the labourers in the vineyard. Last week we heard about the sons of the vineyard owner, and this week it is the tenants, and the servants, who come to the forefront of our attention.

Yet in each parable there is a constant figure in the background. We don't learn much about him, but he is vital to all three stories. He, of course, is the Vineyard owner.

The parallels are fairly obvious. The owner of the vineyard is the Father, God himself. He hires, pays, orders and owns. The vineyard is his.

And the characters in the stories are us. The workers, the sons, the servants, the rebellious tenants. At times good, at times bad, but at all times responsible to the Owner.

But what about the vineyard? It is not simply the Jewish people, or the world, or human society, or even 'the kingdom of heaven'. The Vineyard is God's Creation, his purpose, the workings of his love, his entire plan for humanity. This is truly what it meant when we say the Vineyard is the House of Israel.

And we are imperfect stewards. Sometimes rebellious. Sometimes obstinate. Yet often rewarded beyond what we deserve.

This weekend our second collection supports the work of Cafod. In supporting the work of this agency we do not only give money to rescue those in crisis, but we also support many many projects that enable people in the developing world to help themselves: to dig wells, to provide clean water, to sow crops, to build schools. In supporting Cafod we try to be good stewards of God's vineyard to enable others to be God's stewards too.

And the final reward is not material comfort, nor even the contentment from the well being of others, but the sstisfaction of an invitation to the Vineyard of the Father, the Kingdom of God, the House of Israel.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

26th Sunday of the Year

This weekend we are back in the vineyard - though this time we are not with the workers, but with the owners family. One lad agrees to work but doesn't, while the other refused to work, yet does.

The basic message, so familiar from the life of any family, is simple and clear: when words and deeds do not match, it is the deeds which matter.

So often we find it so hard to say what is truly on our hearts. We find it hard to say sorry, yet we will undertake acts to heal rifts with others. We find it hard to admit that we are in the wrong, yet we will quietly correct ourselves. Like the typical teenagers in the parable we claim that we know best, yet follow the advice we are given anyway.

Words are important, deeds more so. We might win an argument, yet convince no one. The most persuasive argument will always be our example. We can tell our children to be honest, but if they see us being dishonest, then they will learn the example, not the words. We can gather together each week and profess our faith, but if that does not make a difference to our lives, who will ever think it is something worth sharing.

By their fruits shall you know them, says Jesus. St Francis of Assisi said to his followers 'Preach the Gospel - use words if necessary'. Deeds speak louder than words.

-- Post From My iPhone

Saturday, September 20, 2008

25th Sunday of the Year

It is sometimes said that there are two topics of conversation which should never be aired in polite company. One is politics and the other is religion. So, to bring both religion and politics together is especially dangerous.

Some recent research, published in the newspapers underlies this. While most people believe that everyone has a right to believe what they wish and practise whatever faith they wish, this is all best kept to themselves, and in particular religious leaders should not 'meddle' in politics.

Yet they do. In America, where Church and State are separated by the Constitution, there is much discussion of the influence of the 'religious right', and whether Catholics can support politicians who vote in favour of abortion.

I don't want to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of policies, and the Church in England and Wales, while often speaking on political issues has never - so far as I can remember - supported one party against another.

So let's look at principles, because that is what today's Gospel helps us to do.

I gave always been struck by what CS Lewis wrote about this. He was asked whether a truly Christian society would be left wing or right wing, socialist or conservative, and he answered that he believed there would be something to both please and annoy both sides. In terms of family life, individual morality and so on, the Christin society would look quite conservative, promoting marriage, children, families, the sanctity of human life. Conservative values. On the other hand, in terms of social policy, economics, education, health care, the Chtleistian society would look quite socialist, providing generously for the weakest in society, and taxing the richest to provide equal education, health services for all. And so when the Christian votes be or she needs to put both considerations in the balance.

And so to the Gospel.

Here we have the labourers in the vineyard paid the same rate whether they worked all day or just for one hour. Now the political mind looks at that story in terms of fairness and justice. On the one hand it could be said that the parable undelines the rights of the employer, the vineyard owner, to do what he wishes with his money - to pay what he likes to whom he likes when he likes. No place for unions or regulations of a minimum wage here. But on the other hand another political mind may disagree and say that the parable underlines the need for all to be supported, everyone to receive a basic wage, all to be given a living income whether work is available or not.

Which is right? Well both and neither. The Gospel deals with political issues, but also does far more.

Political life and questions are about fairness and justice, about rights and entitlements. They are all important in their own way. The Church supports struggles for justice, the promotion and protection of human rights – the right to a living wage and the right to own property.

But the Gospel is about more – far more. The Gospel is not about rights – but about responsibilities. It is not about justice and fairness, but about love. It is about doing what is right, but also about doing more than is needed.

The Good Samaritan does not only stop to help, but he takes the wounded man to the inn. The man owed a great sum of money does not only give the debtor time to pay, but wipes out all the debt. The vineyard owner does not only find work for those seeking it – but pays them more than they are due.

The Church must challenge politicians. It must promote human life, human rights, peace and justice – but it can never be restricted to them. For God’s love is greater, more generous, than any legislator or political policy could ever be.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Holy Cross Day

This weekend we celebrate the Victory, or the exaltation of the Cross.

It has often seemed to me a matter of great wonder that an action of such pain and suffering and brutality should have become the subject of some of the most moving artworks, and some of the most poignant music in the history of humanity.

In the first few centuries, Christians were so appalled by crucifixion that they never portrayed it in art. Yet the cross was a constant theme of prayer and reflection. St Paul talked of glorying on the cross of Christ. St John, in today's Gospel, clearly sees the cross, the resurrection, anf the ascension all as one - the raising up of Christ. In the second century, St Justin, points out how the plough, the ship's sail and even the form of the human body echo, in God's creation, the form of the cross.

And so for us the cross is sign of hope, sign of refemption, sign of victory because it welds together two interwoven truths of our faith - suffering and salvation.

We are saved through his suffering, and when we suffer, he suffers with us.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

23rd Sunday of the Year

The evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any

These words of Jesus, taken from the Old Testament Law, are plain common sense. When there is a dispute, a disagreement between two people, it is very difficult if not impossible to distinguish who is right and who is wrong. If there are more than two or three witnesses, then there are other eyes, other ears, and other voices to say who is and who is not right and true.

But today's Gospel is about far more than settling disputes. Jesus is teaching us that our faith, our belief, our worship is not an individual matter - far from it. To be a believer means to be part of a community, even more than that, a communion, to be part of the Church. It means, in a deep sense to be part of the Body of Christ - and he dwells in us because we are part of his Body.

While Christ may always be near to us in our private prayers, it is when two or three or more are gathered in his name that he is most fully present. While the Spirit may guide us to right decisions in our lives, it is the Church in the person of the priest who can bind and loose, who can release us from our sins.

As the Poet John Donne wrote, "no man" - no person - "is an island, entire of itself". All of us are connected together, most especially in the Church, and just as it is only by the word of several witnesses that we can have certainty of the truth, so it is that by the Faith of several witnesses, we receive and share and live the Truth himself.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Twenty-first Sunday of the Year

You are Peter - and on this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.

In these words, Christ conveys to us two essential truths about the Church.

Firstly, it is indeed a human institution. Peter is the Rock on which the Church is built. The Body of Christ in this world is led by a man. It is a human institution, with a human face. The Church dwells in and amongst society with its cares and anxieties, its joys and its achievements. The Church celebrates the joy of the newly weds, the life of the newly born, and prays at the bedside of the sick, consoles those who grieve, guides and reconciles those who fall on the journey of life. The priests and the bishops are the shepherds of the sheep, the Holy Father the supreme shepherd of the universal Church and all of us are called to show the love of Christ to all human beings. As humans we love. We also fail. Sometimes those sheep, those shepherds, make mistakes, serve imperfectly, fail to convey God's love - but as Christ is human, so the Church lives in humanity ... it is Peter on which the Church is built.

Yet, secondly, the gates of the underworld can never hold out against the Church. Though made up of human beings, the Church is the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Spirit, the Pilgrim People of God. The Church's only purpose is to serve God and to lead all people to heaven. And God guides and protects his Church. The Papacy, the line of the successors of Peter, is the longest continuous institution in the world. Through wars, and heresy, and schism, in spite of wickedness and greed, despite opposition and persecution and ridicule, the Church persists, not only in our hearts, but as a visible institution reaching into all parts of the world, all areas of human learning and concern. The Church reliably, unfailingly, teaches us God's truth. The Church is holy, not because we are holy, but because God is holy.

In the words of St Paul in today's second reading:

How rich are the depths of God
how deep his wisdom and knowledge ...
To him be glory for ever!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

19th Sunday of the Year

Courage! Do not be afraid!

But we are afraid! And is fear always a bad thing?

I am fear for my own safety and the safety of others. I take care when driving and crossing the road. I find some of the rides at Alton Towers terrifying. I am not especially keen on going to the Dentist. I’m also a little afraid of heights. Surely in lots of ways this is only natural, and mainly a good thing. Fear keeps us safe and helps us keep others safe. When a parent fears for their child, they are protecting them, nurturing them and educating them. If we have no fear, then we are foolhardy and dangerous.

In this way fear is good.

But fear can also be a terrible handicap. Fear of danger may mean we never get anything done. Fear of authority may mean we never speak out against injustice. Fear of suffering may prevent us from undergoing essential medical care. Fear of bad news may lead us to avoid hearing any news. Fear of the danger in the world around us may mean that we never take a risk, never step out of the front door, and parents - if they are not careful - can prevent children from encountering the knocks and scrapes of life for fear that something worse may happen. We have a word for this kind of fear - it is called cowardice.

Christ calls us to be neither cowardly nor foolhardy. He commands us - remember - to be as wise as serpents, but also as innocent as doves. He calls us to trust in him, but not too much in ourselves and not too much in the empty promises of the world around us. This is what we call Courage. It is facing the trials of the world with eyes open, with an awareness of the dangers and challenges, but also a trust in his purposes and his love. In courage we may have to take risks, face suffering, let go occasionally of those in our care. In courage we must trust God - not always place safe, but neither put God to the test.

Courage is not about the thunder and lightening and clatter which we hear about in the first reading - but the gentle breeze, the quiet voice with which it ends. The trust in God who is there with us - even if we think he is fast asleep in the back of the boat.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

18th Sunday of the Year

Give them something to eat yourselves

Jesus challenges the disciples. Don’t send the people away to fend for themselves, he says - you can feed them!

Often we lack confidence in our own abilities. We do not think we can cope with a situation, or a crisis, or a particular difficulty. Can we cope - or should we just pass the buck? Jesus challenges us, like he challenges his disciples. Yes - you can do it!

But what can we do, and how can we do it?

Well when the disciples have go - they find that what they have is meagre - five loaves and two fishes - how can what I have possibly make any impact? As the Carol says ‘What can I give him, poor as I am’? What change can I possibly make? The little that I can do - could it make any difference?

Certainly - if we think we can achieve everything on our own then we will either become very arrogant or very disappointed. By our own efforts and abilities we can do so much, but only so much. We are human, we have our limitations and our frailties.

So it is Jesus who takes what little can give, and makes them very great. He takes our few gifts and multiplies them like the loaves. He takes the weakness of humanity and makes it strong enough to conquer even death. He helps us face our anxieties and worries, our trials and struggles. He comforts us, he strengthens us. He gives us joy and leads us to happiness.

And the small gifts that we give become the greatest gift that we can receive.

When Jesus says to the disciples ‘Give them something to eat yourselves’, the food which they give is Jesus himself, the Bread of Life. What we can do is only small if all we give is ourselves. If the gift which we offer to others is Christ, the Bread of Life, the Shepherd of the lost, the consoler of the sorrowful, the hope of those in despair - if he is the gift which we give, then we give the greatest gift, Hope, Faith, Love - the food of eternal life.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

17th Sunday of the Year

A cynic, so the saying goes is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

It is an important distinction.

In today's Old Testament reading, the new king, Solomon, asks not for long life, nor for riches, nor for victory in battle. He does not ask for worldly success, fame, adulation or celebrity. No, he asks for discernment, wisdom, the ability to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. Solomon asks for the grace to be able to judge the values, not prices.

And that too is the meaning of these two little parables in the Gospel: the finder of the treasure and the finder of the pearls recognise them for what they are. Like the experpt on the antique road show, they can tell the difference between an old vase and valuable antique. Our treasure, our pearls are the same as those sought by Solomon, a wise king who seeks a kingdom of righteousness, a kingdom of justice and peace.

But we live in a very cynical society. (At least in the way of that definition). We live in a society in which almost everything and everyone has a price. Money measures value, worth. It defines importance, status, happiness. Almost everything, everyone has a price - almost.

But true value is not in scarcity, or celebrity, but in right and wrong, in true or false, in love and loyalty - what lasts for ever, not what is here just for a day.

Seek the pearly of great price, the treasure that lasts for ever, which can neither fail nor rot away - seek the truth that abides in Christ, and you will never be disappointed.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

16th Sunday of the Year

Throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth

If we do not take care, we are likely to miss the point of the parables in today's Gospel.

Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth? It conjurs images of mediaeval portrayals of hell, Dante's inferno, hell fire sermons so popular once and so rare now. A misreading of the Gospel may lead us to understand faith to be based on fear and heaven to be a place where we go only to escape the terrors of hell.

Well, I don't doubt for a moment that Hell is very terrible and certainly to be avoided. I am not convinced that fear is always a bad thing. If fear in life prevents me from sticking my fingers in an electric socket I am sure that fear should also to deter me from serious sin.

But be that as it may, that is not the point of these three parables - the parable of the darnel (weeds), the mustard seed and the yeast. All images taken from daily life of the time, they speak very appropriately to our daily life, because they confront one question so important for us: how can be a Church in a society which shares little of our values, little of our concerns.

We live in a field surrounded by darnel, by weeds, by distractions, immorality, greed, indifference, cruelty. It is hard to live a Christian life in such an environment. This is how it is. An enemy has done this, and we must grow till the harvest comes.

Like the mustard seed, the tiniest of seeds, the Church may seem so small, the truth so neglected. We realise that far more people do not practice a faith than do, that many do not understand the basics of what we believe, that many find faith strange, or amusing or even objectionable. Yet this small seed grows into a bush which spreads everywhere and in which so many come and live and rest and gain comfort.

And like the yeast, we are mixed throughout the dough of society. Not separately, but thoroughly kneeded into families and workplaces and schools and communities. And we are called to leaven the lump, to raise the bread, to breathe fresh air into the dough and give it is life and its purpose. We are called, weak though we may often feel, to bring God to those who hardly know him.

These parables are not messages of punishment or of suffering or of fear. They are not warnings of Hell - they are challenges to us never to lose heart, never to fear, but to spread the word and place our trust in God.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

15th Sunday of the Year

14th Sunday of the Year

I am gentle and humble of heart

Gentle. Gentle.

I remember a prayer from my own childhood - or at least the start of a prayer - Gentle Jesus, meek and mild. Meek - that's a similar word - the meek shall inherit the earth.

Gentleness, meekness, humility are not very popular words or even ideas today. To the modern mind they seem to indicate weakness, a lack of self-assurance. We speak not of meekness or gentleness today, but assertiveness. People even go on courses for assertiveness training. I've never heard of anyone go on a course for training in meekness or humility, have you.

And when we think of Christ himself, perhaps the idea of his meekness or his gentleness now seems very wishy-washy, precious, and perhaps a bit sentimental. The modern mind prefers the image of Christ challenging the religious leaders of his day, turning over the tables in the temple, confronting the demons and casting them out.

But the opposite of gentleness, humility, meekness is not assertiveness, but arrogance. Christ is gentle and humble not because he put up no resistance, but because the example he gives us is of a human being entirely aware of his subjection to God.

And when Christ lives in us we are not weak, we are not pushovers, we stand our ground or rather we stand God's ground - we are not self-assured, but God-assured. It is not our will, but his that is done.

The truly humble and gentle and meek person is the one who knows his need of God, who can see the image of God dwelling in those around him, and who gives his own life to carry the Cross with his Lord.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

St Peter & St Paul

This weekend with this feast begins the Year of St Paul. Pope Benedict has designated the next year as a time of reflection on and thanksgiving for the life and teaching of this saint.

In some ways, perhaps he is neglected. On this feast day we often concentrate more on St Peter. We probably know more about St Francis or St Teresa or St Bernadette than we do about Paul.

And yet his story is amazing. He was well educated in the scriptures, a respected young teacher and zealous rabbi. As a young man he was fiercly opposed to the Christan church. He was chiefly responsible for the execution of St Stephen, and then set off for Damascus to persecute Christians there.

And on the way something extraordinary happened. He was blinded, Christ spoke to him, and he was completely transformed. His story is told in the Acts if the Apostles. He preached the Gospel, travelled widely, and founded many churches. He wrote many letters of deep theology, profound
teaching, both poetic and practical. And finally he was imprisoned, taken to Rome nc finally executed there. Most of the books in the New Testament were written by him and much of the teaching of the Church was first formalised bg him. After Christ himself, he could be rightly described a founder of the Christian faith.

We have much to learn from him this coming year.

St Paul, pray for us.

Friday, June 20, 2008

12th Sunday of the Year

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul

One tv series I really enjoy is 24. It is exciting, cliffhanging and thrilling. At times there are spectacular effects and some great technology. It is also, of course quite unrealistic, as in 24 hours, the hero Jack Bauer, travels great distances, saves the world several times, thwarts many villains, in 24 hours, over 24 episodes. And though I enjoy it, it also worries me, because for Jack the end really does justify the means, and murder, deceit and torture are all in frequent use.

It worries me that the programme portrays violence in such an approving way. But it also troubles me to think not could I use such violence, but could I bear it? Good people, saints and prisoners of conscience, have endured emotional and physical torture in an attempt to break them down. They have suffered pain and great distress in holding to what they believe to be true and protecting others from the tyrant and the torturer.

And Christ, who knew he was going to suffer, says to those who he knows will bear his suffering, “Do not be afraid”. What the torturer is really tryingt to do is not break the body - but destroy the soul. The pain of the body need not touch the soul. The strength of spirit can overcome and sustain us through physical trials.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones” we used to chant as children, “but words will never hurt me.” Of course words do hurt us, and perhaps they hurt us even more than the physical pain, because the words damage our dignity, our self-esteem, our loves, our loyalties and our beliefs.

The real enemy is not the torturer, but the tempter. Not the one who inflicts pain, but the one who entices us with pleasure. Not the one who shows his hatred, but the one who seems to reassure and befriend and lead us away from what we know to be true and good.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

11th Sunday of the Year.

The harvest is rich but the labourers are few.

When we hear these words from today's Gospel we are likely to
concentrate on the second part of the sentence.

We bemoan the shortage of priests. We pray for an increase of
vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. The Church puts a
lot of resources and effort into encouraging and fostering and
supporting vocations. And this is all very good.

But we have less confidence about the first part of this sentence: the
harvest is rich. Not only do we not give it much thought, we probably
wonder whether it is true. There seems to be less and less interest in
the practice of the faith. The church, Christian viewpoints and ideas
are pushed to the edge of society. Even those who call themselves
Catholics do not seem to feel it important to come to mass or live
according to the teachings of the Church. Not much to harvest here.

But look again. People have never been more interested in the
supernatural, in strange firms of spirituality, in horoscopes and
fortune telling, in weird and wonderful beliefs and ideas. And people
still ask the most basic questions - what is the meaning of life? Why
do people suffer? What happens when we die? Why is there evil in the
world? However intelligent or ingenious human beings may be, these
questions do not go away.

There is a rich harvest. And we have the answer. We have a true, not
fanciful spirituality. We have a historical, not a fantastical faith.
We have solid evidence for what we believe. Real answers to the
questions of life. A challenging and fulfilling moral code, based on
love and happiness, and a real hope for life beyond this life.

The harvest is rich. Really rich.

And we have the tools for the harvest.

And each one of us is a labourer in the field.

Fr Peter Weatherby

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I did not come to call the virtuous but sinners

One of the problems with discussion in modern society - so people say - is that no one has time for developed and reasoned argument. It is all shouting and slogans and what they call “sound bites”, snippets of phrases which are supposed to convince. Life is more complicated than that, we protest, and complicated issues cannot be simply dealt with in simple catchy phrases.

And indeed this is true. People prefer to rant than to reason. We want to win the argument, rather than explore the issues. It is much for fun to speak out than it is to listen. Even the word ‘argument’ for most people means not a reasoned discussion, but a shouting match.

Yet on the other hand, the short phrases, the mottos and slogans do often speak of something much deeper and well founded in reason and truth. Like the tip of an iceberg, or the grin of the Cheshire Cat, the promise far more than their few words.

And Jesus was the Master of the sound-bite. “He who has ears, let him hear” he said. “It is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle …” he said. “The strain the gnat and swallow the camel,” he said. “Leave the dead to bury the dead”, “Turn the other cheek”, “Take the plank out of your own eye …”, “You are the salt of the earth” … we could go on and one.

And in today’s Gospel there are three more:
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I came not to call the virtuous, but sinners.

Three sayings, one message. A few words, yet a profound teaching. And it is a pointed one.
Christ came to call sinners. Not the virtuous - they already have their reward, as he said on another occasion. If we are sure of our own righteousness, our own goodness, then we have no need of Christ. If we are convinced that we have done nothing wrong, that it is always someone else’s fault, that we have no need to go to confession, then faith in Him is entirely unnecessary. If were unable to recognise any need for forgiveness, then we have nothing to be saved from, and nothing to be saved for.
This is the most true atheism - not a lack of understanding, or an inability to be convinced of God’s existence - but a self-assurance, indeed arrogance, that we have no need of God’s love.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ninth Sunday of the Year A

The Wise Man built his house upon the Rock

Jesus' parables are often a challenge to me. He speaks from the experience of people around him, so they are often about agriculture - like the parable of the sower - or occasionally from his own profession - the building trade.

I’m afraid I am a very poor gardener - not in the sense that I can’t get things to grow - but they all grow too fast and too many of them in the wrong places. It’s shameful really as it was my grandfather’s profession and as a little boy I spent many happy hours helping him in his greenhouses.
And then when it comes to DIY … well, I can change a light bulb, and I am safest as far as possible away from any other practical project.

So how can I approach the parables? Well thankfully you do not need to be skilled in either area to understand them. No technical terms, notice, in this story about the houses, but they do have both a practical and a spiritual sense.

The practical meaning is pretty obvious to all. The quickest way to achieve something is not necessarily the best. The house built on sand was built much more quickly and more easily. It would have looked just as good - perhaps even better - than the house on rock. But it had a fatal flaw.

And there is also a spiritual meaning. Faith is a hard road. It may not make life easier. There are those who seem to have more fun, less anxiety, are richer, healthier. Those who follow the faith may struggle forcing foundations into the rock. It may take time to see results. There may be hardship, sorrow, crises of conscience along the way. Faith does not rescue us from suffering, but it does give us a hope. The house on sand is beautiful till the storms come. The storms batter the house on rock too, but it has the foundations to stand firm.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Why say it all again? I said it all here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Corpus Christi

Yesterday I took part in a wonderful mass. It was the Year 11 leavers’ mass at St Margaret Ward. 

Well to be sure, not everything about it would have pleased everyone. The teenagers were a little excited. At one point they applauded a singer during the mass. There was a reading from outside Scripture before the Gospel. The ‘psalm’ wasn’t really a psalm at all. If you are a purist you might have been offended. 

But there was a wonderful atmosphere. The pupils and staff had put much work and effort into the celebration. The music was played and sung by pupils. And when there needed to be silence in the Mass, there was. 

Now I know that many of these children are not at Mass every Sunday. That many do not practice the faith that is the foundation of the school’s life. I know too that they were there as much to celebrate friendship as anything else. 

Yet on this occasion, when they were celebrating five years of school life coming to an end, in great excitement, anticipation and sadness, the natural way to to this was the Mass. And they sung - they really sung - and they joined in the responses - and they listened and even politely laughed at the homily. 

To celebrate life, we Catholics celebrate Mass. It is the most natural thing to do. And even amid the imperfections of our Church life, and our worries about the observance of the faith, this is something which these children knew. For it is in the Mass that earth joins with heaven. The ordinary things of life, bread and wine, joys and sorrows, thanksgiving and tears, hope and dreams are filled with the glory of the divine. That is what we celebrate at Corpus Christi - earth joined to heaven. 

O saving victim, opening wide, the gate of heaven to earth below!

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I'll be honest, I've often struggled with the Trinity. Not because I didn't believe it or accept it - I've always seen the logic in saying that there can only be one God, so if we believe in Jesus as Divine and also in the Spirit, then the Trinity - three persons but one God, makes sense. But it was always for me a kind of theoretical meaning. It was a belief, a teaching, a dogma, not something that really moved me.

And then I heard an explanation that clicked with me and started to make a difference not to my belief, but to my prayer. It is an old explanation, but somehow now it just clicked. It goes like this. God is Love, so St John says. He doesn't say God loves, but he says God is love. Now the thing about love is that it is not just a feeling, or an idea, but an action. For there to be love there needs to a lover and a beloved, as well as the power of love itself.

And suddenly the Trinity starts to make real sense. God is Love because God is community, three in one, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   

And love cannot be selfish. To love is to give. And God’s love, real love is so powerful that it overflows into his creation.

God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son.  And because God is love he gives himself to us. The love we know in this world is just a pale reflection of that wonderful love of God. That is what the Trinity is all about.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Religion is the cause of conflict in the world. People will often tell you this. 

After all wasn’t Northern Ireland about Protestant v Catholic? And Bosnia was Orthodox Christians v Muslims? And the conflict in Israel is about Jews v Muslims? And Cyprus is about Muslims v Orthodox again? And isn’t terrorism often driven by religion - in Ireland in the past, in the Middle East in the present?

Of course, this is all too simple. People sometimes use religion as their badge of identity in a conflict. It doesn’t make them a good catholic or protestant or jew or whatever if they use that banner in their fight. Al-Qaeda don’t represent Muslims any more than the Provisional IRA represented catholics. 

And today there is something more that we can say. On that first Christian Pentecost people of all races, all backgrounds and all languages were gathered in the city. Huge crowds with different cultures and customs. It may have felt threatening and uncomfortable for the local people. It is a recipe for misunderstanding and conflict. An opportunity for crime and division. 

And the Gift of the Holy Spirit did not divide, but unite. He did not make everyone the same, but he celebrated their differences. He did not make people pretend they were all the same, but he helped them praise God for the colour and variety of the crowd. He did not set one against another, but brought them together in truth.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Easter Six

Easter Six

If you love me, you will keep my commandments

There are many words we may say without really meaning them. We say “Sorry” just to get us out of a situation. We say “Thank you” when we are not really grateful. We say we love someone out of routine or habit or to get what they want. 

Yet the person who is truly sorry not only says so, but shows that sorrow by their attitude, their anguish, their desire to make amends. The person who is really grateful shows their gratitude by their generosity of spirit and their joy in receiving. And the one who truly loves does so not routinely or selfishly, but with caring and compassion. 

Words are powerful, but deeds are more so. We may say we are sorry to God for our sins, but it is true contrition, real regret which deserves from him the fulness of forgiveness. We may thank God in prayer and song, but it is the gratitude which comes from the heart which really fills us with joy. And we may say that we love God as he loves us - but it is the heart that loves God in the neighbour, that truly dwells in him. 

‘Keep my commandments’ does not mean follow all the rules, but open your hearts to him, be filled with his grace, receive the gifts of the Spirit, the Spirit of truth who is with us for ever. It means that if we love him, we will love our neighbour, and love his commandments, because they are the gift of our life to him. 

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Easter Four - The Good Shepherd

Easter Four - The Good Shepherd
I am sure that we think of the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd as something very comfortable, or comforting, and almost a little sentimental. The image of Christ carrying a lamb on his shoulders, nursing the lost sheep, is a very appealing one. 

But there is also something very hard about this image. No doubt the life of a shepherd was a tough and quite dangerous one. The safety of his sheep might be brought at the risk of his own safety. And the good shepherd is the one who leads down the right pathway. There is one gate to the sheepfold, though there are many who would try and deceive the sheep. 

There is something very un-modern about this. We try to be tolerant. We try to live and let live. We even try to give respect to the beliefs of others. All of this is good. But it is not good if it suggests that all beliefs are the same, all paths are just as valid, all roads lead to the same goal. Belief is not just a matter of choice or preference or taste or even upbringing. Life choices are not like preferences for food, or football teams, or holiday destinations. 

Some choices are right and some choices are wrong. 

I am the gate. - Christ says - 

Anyone who enters through me will be safe: 

he will go freely in and out 

and be sure of finding pasture. 

… I have come 

so that they may have life and have it to the full.

To think of Christ the Good Shepherd is indeed comforting, and consoling - because he is the way, the truth and the path that leads to life. Follow the way.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Easter Three - the Road to Emmaus and the Road to Jerusalem

Easter Three

The Road to Emmaus - the Road to Jerusalem

Today's Gospel is a story of two journeys. The first - perhaps the more prominent one - is the journey of the two disciples away from the City of Jerusalem to the small town of Emmaus. It is a journey travelled in the full light of day - but one clouded by confusion and a lack of understanding. It is only as darkness falls on the day, that a light shines into the minds of the two. 

The second journey is travelled in the opposite direction, from Emmaus to Jerusalem. It is travelled in the darkness of night - yet it is purposeful, immediate and direct, driven by the light of revelation, of knowledge, of rejoicing in the truth. 

This may lead us to reflect upon our lives. Everyone knows our lives are a journey, and that we will meet many turns in the road, many changes in the landscape, many obstacles in the way. 

But for most people the journey of life is a journey walked in the brightnesss of day. All is clear, all is living, everything can be understood. Anything can be achieved. Almost anything is possible to those who dwell in the brightness of day. Humanity has surpreme confidence in its own power, its own vision. And yet, the journey of life is one which advances towards an approaching sunset. Whichever way we turn that is what is ahead of us - a darkness which will conclude everything. As the years advance they believe life becomes dimmer, less vibrant, less clear, until darkness covers all. 

On the contrary, the Christian life is not a life walked in the light of day, but through the darkness of night. It is the journey not to Emmaus, but to Jerusalem. Yes with perils, yes with doubts and uncertainties, yes with anxieties. Yet it is a journey guided by the light of Christ and what we approach is not a final darkness, but an eternal dawn, a sunrise to new life, a light which conquers all darkness for ever. 

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Feast of the Epiphany (6th January 2008)

The new year begins with the feast of the Epiphany.

Everyone knows that the day celebrated the coming of the wise men, the kings, the magi, to the child Jesus. It is the celebration of a long and hard journey, which ends with the revelation of truth himself.

When the magi arrive they find an ordinary house and an ordinary family, and the house is blessed by their arrival, and their worship, and their gifts: the splendour of gold, the luxury of frankincense and the tenderness of myrrh. 

But of course that ordinary house is actually blessed not by the visitors, but by the one they visit. The blessibg is received not by the the host, but by the guests. The real gifts are received not by the family, but by those who givers. The Truth is revealed not to those who receive the message, but to those who carry it.

In a way this visit of the wise men is a model of all human worship of God. The host receives us into his presence, yet it we who receive the host. We bring gifts to offer to him - yet we are the ones who receive the gifts of his grace. We praise and bless him, yet we are the ones who receive his blessing.

At the end of mass today there will be the traditional blessing of chalk which we shall use do bless our houses. The name ‘January’ refers to the old roman god ‘Janus’ who stands at the door of year looking forward and back. The number of the year indicates a prayer for God’s blessing as this year begins. The letters C M B refer to the three travellers who visited the holy house – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar – but also are the initials of the latin words “Christus mansionem benedicat.” “May Christ bless the house.” 

May Christ bless our houses, our homes, our families, and our lives.