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.