Thursday, December 31, 2009

Homily / Sermon for the Epiphany

‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ the wise men asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’  (Matthew 2:2)

In today’s Gospel we are given a very great contrast between two kinds of kings: King Herod, and his advisors; and the Wise Men who travel into the Holy Land.

How do they understand the ancient prophecies about the birth of this child? How can they understand the work which he is sent to do? What role will he have amongst them, and what duty will they owe to him?

Now the interesting thing is that both Herod and  the Wise Men largely agree: this child is destined to be someone who Is greater than they are, someone to whom they should give homage, someone whom they must worship.

But there the similarity ends. And the difference between them comes not because of their belief in the prophecies but because of their outlook on life.

For Herod the King sees only politics and power, allegiances and hierarchies, armies and battles, wealth and influence. A great king, a greater King, must fit in this model. He can only be a threat. And he can only be dealt with by force, when he is at his weakest.

But the wise men, even if we think of them as Kings, are outsiders; they are seekers not after power but after truth, not fighters of battles, but enquirers for meaning and purpose, they seek not wealth or influence, but hope. They seek not for their own benefit, but for the good of all mankind.

And human beings today are not so different. Do we - like Herod- search for wealth and comfort and personal glory and position? Or are we - like the wise men - more concerned with truth and hope and the good of all mankind?  

How do they understand the ancient prophecies about the birth of this child? How can they understand the work which he is sent to do? What role will he have amongst them, and what duty will they owe to him?

Now the interesting thing is that both Herod and the Wise Men largely agree: this child is destined to be soneone who Is greater than they are, someone to whom they should give homage, someone whom they must worship.

But there the similarity ends. And the difference between them comes not because of their belief in the prophecies but because of their outlook on life.

For Herod the King sees only politics and power, allegiancies and hierarchies, armies and battles, wealth and influence. A great king, a greater King, must fit in this model. He can only be a threat. And he can only be dealt with by force, when he is at his weakest.

But the wise men, even if we think of them as Kings, are outsiders; they are seekers not after power but after truth, not fighters of battles, but enquirers for meaning and purpose, they seek not wealth or influence, but hope. They seek not for their own benefit, but for the good of all mankind.

And human beings today are not so different. Do we - like Herod- search for wealth and comfort and personal glory and position? Or are we - like the wise men - more concerned with truth and hope and the good of all mankind?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Homily Sermon for Holy Family

My child, why have you done this to us? (Luke 2:48)

They say that Christmas is a family time - and indeed we make it so. There are family reunions a-plenty. There are family parties and get togethers. Christmas Dinner, more than any other perhaps is a family occasion. Even families who rarely sit at table, rarely prepare the same food at the same time for all members, even these families try at least to do turkey and trimmings and Christmas pud.

But the image of the happy family gathered round the Christmas table is a fragile one. Many families are not united. Often family members do not speak, or it they do they may flare up into an argument. Some family wounds run so deep the different members have forgotten what the original cause for the argument was. Many do not know the closeness of a family because of separation and bereavement, and their experience may be of solitude and loneliness. And even if all appears good on the surface, there are few families which do not experience stress and strain and tensions, especially in this ‘joyous season’?

Does this mean our families are failures. Far from it!

Take great consolation in today’s Gospel. Here we hear of a family trying to do the right thing, yet falling into anxiety and confusion. The child Jesus - remarkable and devout - becomes separated from his distraught and uncomprehending parents. It would be easy to say that Mary and Joseph failed to understand their child. Some might turn the tables and try to point to Our Lord himself, as if he were to blame, as if he were at fault. (Even though Luke, who tells us this story, certainly did not believe Jesus had ever sinned).

Oh no: in families it is too easy to hand out blame. It is very simple to separate family members as perpetrators and victims. But it is also very easy to encounter trials and troubles for which no one may actually be to blame.
And this is the point. Families need not fail - but they must always struggle. No family is perfect - every family is loved by God. A family that never has an argument is a family that never communicates; a family that never grapples with problems is a family that never engages with life. But a family that confronts its challenges is a family which welcomes God’s grace.

The Holy Family knew confusion and anxiety. It encounters loneliness and separation. It will soon also know suffering and death. And so do our own families. And the Holy Family will make them whole - not because we stumble, but because God will lift us up.

Homily / Sermon for Christmas

I will be preaching this homily - slightly adapted, at each of the masses for Christmas Day (vigil, night and day).

Have you ever really looked at the Christmas Tree?

In every house, in every town and every city it can be seen. It is drawn on cards and is on display in show windows. In the middle of a cold and barren winter, it stands tall and strong and unfailingly green. While other trees are lost of leaves, while plants recede into the ground, while buds hide and wait below frost and snow, and the land lies dull as if dead or dying, the evergreen Christmas tree is a symbol of hope, a promise of new life, a harbinger of victory of life over death.

And what of the decorations on the tree - the baubles, glimmering and sparkling, catching the light as they move gently in their place. They claim our attention, so perfectly formed, like small worlds, yet so frail, so needful of our care. They remind us of the wonderful universe created by God, full of colour and beauty, yet so fragile - held in place by the strand of God’s love. This the universe which Christ came to save.

And the lights flash in their places, small candles which punctuate the shadows. Only pinpricks in the darkness now - but they represent a much greater Light. They remind us that child whose birth we celebrate is the Light of the World, who has come to cast away the darkness of the night, and light the way for us to the place where darkness vanishes for ever.

And at the top of the tree we often find an angel - a messenger from heaven, who proclaims the coming of the Saviour to the lowly Virgin and who reminds us of all the heavenly host who surprise the shepherds and sing the glory of the one who is born.

And with the angel - or even without the angel - there is usually a star. Bold, dominant and commanding the scene. A reminder of another star. And another place. A star which points to heaven - and marks a place on earth. A star which says that this humble place is where heaven touches the earth, where divine and human meet, where God dwells with men, where the word becomes flesh.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Carol Service 2009

Our Carol Service took place on 20th December amid cold weather, snow and black ice. The congregation was depleted almost by half ... so I chose to preach about SNOW.

The Word became flesh, and dwelt amongst us. (John 1:14)

What is it about snow?
Yes we complain about the cold and the incovenience, the slow traffic and the black ice. For a couple of days each year schools close, roads lock and routes are blocked as we cope with the seasonal snowfall. But we love it!
As children we loved the snowmen and the snowballs. We seized the opportunity, the brief opportunity to build with snow and coal and carrots, and to fight and freeze our temporary enemies. And as adults we admire the magical dusting which having miraculously descended from the sky gives a silver moonlit shimmer to the night-time trees and in daylight dazzles our sight.
Oh yes we complain about the cold and the incovenience, the slow traffic and the black ice. Yet we buy Christmas cards with snow-laden branches and red-breasted robins, we admire landscapes swept in white, and familiar buildings transformed into beauty by ice-sugar dusting of snow.
And what is it? What is it? Nothing but water, water which we find everywhere, water we drink, water we wash with, water that feeds our crops and cleans our cars.
Yet here is the magic and the wonder. Water, which is the foundation of life, Water, which is all around, Water which is never far from our finger tips, is hard to grasp. It runs through our fingers and tumbles off our roofs. It is sucked into drains and evaporates into the air.
Yet when it snows, the precious resource suddenly - yet briefly - is made solid. For a moment we can touch it, mould it, grab it, throw it. We can build with it. It makes ordinary scenes beautiful and beautiful scenes stunning: and yet it was always there.
In the words of St John we just heard, we are told ‘The Word because flesh’: the Word, through whom all things were made; the Word, who was there from the very beginning, the Word always there yet never quite visible or within our grasp, that Word becomes solid, He is seen in all his reality, He  comes to live amongst u
That is what we celebrate - the coming to earth of the maker of the earth, the dwelling amongst us of the one who was always amongst us. The crystallising of truth in a human being.
And we beheld his glory: not the glory of a King, not the glory or riches, but the glory of a truth which was always present, the making visible of a love which we always knew.
Come, let us adore him!
Christ the Lord!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Homily / Sermon for Advent 4

As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41)

Visiting relatives and friends is an important part of the observance of Christmas, isn’t it. Of course we can send cards - and we do, in great quantity and at extraordinary cost. We can write and receive letters - including those dreadful show-offy circular letters that some people seem to go in for. We can also, of course, send emails, texts and make phone calls - second best, perhaps, but better than nothing.

But nothing quite replaces the visit.

We may sometimes find it a chore to be visited or to visit, but often too it is a great joy. To see how much the children have grown. To catch up with news - sad and glad. To remark how much someone is ‘looking well’ (put weight on) or looks exactly the same (has aged) or must take care of themselves (looks ill). No remotely transmitted message, however necessary and however kindly meant can replace the personal contact. And sometimes - let’s not forget - what is a chore for one party may be a joy for the other.

Todays Gospel is about a Christmas visit (well sort of). And it is an encounter which St Luke narrates to us with this beautiful detail - that the presence of Christ within His mother touched both his Elizabeth and her unborn child with joy. And it is the greeting of Mother which brings that presence of Son.

When we are visited or visit we make similar encounters. We bring Christ to others and we meet him in others. We are blessed through what may seem a simple duty. Christ will be born amongst us, if we make him present through our greetings, our compassion and our love.


For Bidding Prayers, click here

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Homily for Memorial Service at Carmountside Cemetery 13th December 2009

There's a lot about heaven in the Christmas story.

There are angels everywhere. Bringing messages, singing, announcing. And the child who is born, he himself comes down to earth from heaven.

It is a time when the invisible becomes visible. When love, and kindness and generosity are celebrated. When what is often so far away from our lives, for a time is very close.

Christmas is a time when heaven touches the earth.

And though it seems so hard that we are parted from our loved ones at this joyous time of year, what we do today is part of this.

Today, as we remember our loved ones, we reach out over our grief and lasting sorrow to embrace those we love. Our hope can overcome our pain. The rift of death that separates us from them is crossed by our memories, our gratitude, and most of all by our love.

Today earth touches heaven.

Heaven is not far away. The singing of the angels, the heavenly host, reminds us of that. Heaven is not far away, but very very close. Our loved ones are too are not far away. We may not see them, but every time you hear that story of the angels singing, remember this: heaven is very very close. And our loved ones are here with us today.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Homily / Sermon for Advent 3

All the people asked John, "What must we do?" (Luke 3:10)

What is the best way of preparing for Christmas? It's a reasonable question.

Of course many people prepare for Christmas by beginning the celebrations early. Their trees are in their houses decked with lights and decorations. The round of Christmas dinners and parties is well underway. Carols and other seasonal songs are to heard in homes and pubs and shops. And of course there is the shopping …

But others of course frown upon this frivolity. It is yet advent, and the parties and the decorations and especially the carols must wait. No trees till Christmas Eve, please! This is a time for reflection and prayer, let the feasting follow the fast. The trouble is, this attitude makes us look like latter day scrooges to the unbelieving world, and scrooges about the vestige of Christian culture which still makes an impact on our increasingly secular culture.

"Master, what must we do?" our situation is very different, but the question is the same. Should we go along with the world, or refuse to be part of it?

John's answer is a wise answer. Don't be a glutton or a Scrooge. Act justly and with honesty. Be generous. Protect and do not exploit the weak and those in need. Give with joy.

This is a time when it is very easy to think only of our own wants and pleasure, but just as easy to give from full and joyous hearts to others: to the sick and the lonely, to the homeless poor, to the refugee and the seeker after asylum, to those who are abused and neglected.

John's answer is profound because it is so simple. Just do what you do and do it honesy and well. Just do what you already know to be right. Just do it.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Homily / Sermon for Advent 2

A voice cries in the wilderness (Luke 3:4)

We have a clock in the sacristy which is always exactly correct. It is regulated by a radio signal which is broadcast from Rugby. When the battery goes flat you put in a new battery and the fingers spin round till they get to the right time. When the hour changes the clock immediately corrects itself. We always know exactly what the time is.

In the ancient world it was not so easy. Time was much more general and vague, depending upon the the phases of the sun and the moon. There was no universal system of dating.

So the beginning of today’s Gospel is not just a list of kings and rulers, a collection of obscure and difficult-to-pronounce names. The only way of giving dates at this time was to relate to the years of a king or governor’s rule, and the more officials you could name, the more accurate your date.

In other words, Luke is taking his time to make a very important point: here you are witnessing a very precise, a very definite moment in history. It is not ‘once upon a time’ but ‘precisely at this time’. We know that this happened, we know where it happened and we know when it happened.

Luke is telling us that John the Baptist appeared and began his preaching at a definite point in time, a carefully chosen moment in history, a moment in history which will change history itself. It is what the prophets called ‘the fullness of time’, a time when the maker of time enters into time itself.

It is almost as if we see the curtain drawn back and the great drama begin; it is as if the bell chimes and we all stand to pay heed. Nothing will ever be the same again. Everything starts here. From this time forward we set dates not by the reigns of governors, tetrarchs and pontiffs, but by the Birth of the King of Kings.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Homily for Advent Sunday

Stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand. (Luke 21)

We think of Advent, perhaps, as a kind of mini-Lent: purple, no flowers, no Gloria. And in a way that is true, like Lent it is a time of preparation for Christmas. A good time to go to confession. A very good time (though perhaps a difficult time) for a quiet day, a retreat, for some spiritual reading.

But in other respects Advent is very different from Lent. In Lent we still sing 'alleluia'. We 'rejoice, rejoice' that Emmanuel is coming. It is a time of excitement and eager expectation - not just for the wide eyed children aching for Christmas morning - but for all God's creation as we yearn for the coming of the King.

While all around us may be bad news, war, disaster, tragedy, Christ commands us to hope not fear, to trust not doubt, to rejoice not grieve: "Stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand."

We learn from the New Testament that one of the prayers of the first Christians was "Maranatha" "Come, Lord Jesus!". May it be our prayer, too.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Homily / Sermon for the feast of Christ the King (34th Sunday of the Year)

Homily for the feast of Christ the King.

"So you are a king, then?" (John 18:37)

Jesus seems hesitant in answering this question, and throughout the Gospels we find Jesus shrinking from any claim to be a king. When they call him a King or Son of David, he tells them to be quiet. When Peter proclaims him to be the Messiah he tells him to keep it quiet. When James and John ask to sit by his side in the kingdom, he warns them to expect not glory, but suffering. Time and time again, when the disciples speak excitedly about his coming kingdom, he reduces their expectations, warns them of consequences, orders them to keep silence.

And perhaps our first explanation is that Jesus, if we call him a king at all, is a king of hearts and minds, not clubs and weapons. His kingdom is not of this world. He has no army, no armoury, no territory, no generals. He is weak and vulnerable, or so it seems. He is gentle, meek, mild: the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, not the general who sends them like lambs for the slaughter.

But there is more to say. This king is not weak - he is powerful, immensely powerful. And his kingdom is not only a kingdom within the heart or soul. He healed the sick, he made the lame walk, he even raised some from death. Yes he suffered and died, but with great nobility he stood dumb before his accusers and in great victory he defeated even death itself. He rightly prevents the disciples for proclaiming that he is King, because is far more than a King, he is the Eternal Word of God, through whom all things were made, who for us, for our salvation, came down from heaven, and who will come again to judge the living and the dead.

So why did he hesitate to call himself a King? Not because he did not have the power of an earthly king, but because no earthly king has the power of the Son of God. 

For bidding prayers, click here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13:26)

When we hear these stories about the final conflict at the end of the world, I think as Catholics we may well feel a little uncomfortable. Just as we may struggle with stories about the creation, so the stories about the end of the world trouble our rational and scientific minds. They remind us of the extreme evangelicals, or the Jehovah’s witness who warn us - and have been warning us for centuries - that the end of the world is just around the corner. And so, just as we might keep a diplomatic silence about Adam and Eve, so we rarely mention the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds with great power. Death and bereavement is enough for any of us, I guess. The idea that all will be destroyed is just too much.

But if we take such an attitude we miss out on something very important, and not something terrible, or confusing, or difficult to grasp - but something wonderful and marvellous.
These stories found throughout the Gospels, in the prophecies of the Old Testament and especially the book of Revelation, and if we ignore them we lose an important dimension of our faith.
These stories and make prophecies make two things clear above all.

Firstly, that the spiritual life is a conflict with evil all around us. Sometimes it is the hard and wicked power of evil, of cruelty and deceit. But very often, much more often, it is a cold evil. Boredom, distraction, lethargy. It is the feeling that every idea is much the same, every belief just as valid. The cold and dull conviction, Pontius Pilate, that there is no truth, and of course ... no hope. And to embrace the truth means to be prepared for ridicule, and hardship and some conflict, not only without, but also within. It may mean struggle in prayer, not being understood by family members, being ridiculed at work or school.

And secondly, the stories make another thing clear: that there will be a victory. These sorrows and hardships and persecutions. This lack of vision or clouded understanding is for a time only. Our lives our short, but eternity is very long. At the last, Michael will rise up and defeat the powers of evil, and Christ will come on the clouds of heaven to institute a new heaven and a new earth.

And this victory is the heart of our faith. We often think that the great hope is just that reunited with our loved ones we will share eternal life with God. That is true, but too small, too narrow, too limited. Eternal life is this: a new heaven and a new earth and the final victory of Truth and Love over coldness and hositility.  

In 1994 Pope John Paul II said these words:

"May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: 'Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power' (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world."'

Here is the prayer of St Michael.

Holy Michael, Archangel,
defend us in the day of battle.
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Power of God -
thrust down to hell, Satan and all wicked spirits,
who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

They have all put in money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed. (Mark 12:44)

Even in Jerusalem - so it seems - even there in the temple - the religious authorities asked for money and complained about how little the people give. Nothing has changed very much, has it?

So how much should we give?

Now there’s a question. Should it be ‘as much as is needed’? Or ‘as much as we can afford’? Should it be what we have left over - or should what we give be our first thought rather than our last? Should it be ten per cent - a true tithe - as the Bible appears to suggest and as some Christian groups tell us. Should we give the change which is left in our pockets, or the same coin or note which we have been giving for the past however so many years?

The answer which Jesus gives us is at first most reassuring, then - once we reflect - impossibly challenging.

At first he seems to say, it’s all right to give a little, if a little is all you can afford. And those are welcome words. But look again. Jesus’s words are not meant to provide comfort - they are meant to disturb.

‘They have all put in money they had over’, Jesus says, ‘but she from the little she had has put in everything she possessed.’

Give everything, and nothing, he says. Do not give what you can afford, or what you have calculated, for your giving is a measure of your commitment and your love. Do not give from your wealth - as that would just be vanity, but give all your wealth. Do not give from the heart, but give the heart itself. Limits to giving are limits to love.

And at this time of year we remember especially those who have made the ultimate and absolute gift. As in November we recall all those who have passed from this life to the next, this weekend we recall those whose passing itself has been an act of service and sacrifice. We deplore the need for war, we shrink from its horror, and we honour those who gave their lives in the service of others. Theirs was a gift without limit. Our gratitude should match the extent of their gift.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Homily / Sermon for All Saints Day

Homily for All Saints Day

What would make you really happy? Now there is a good question. How would you answer it? How would your children answer it?

For the young, and sometimes not so young, happiness is often about what we own, or can afford. It is about pleasure and enjoyment. It is about comfort and choice. It is about freedom.

As we get older, happiness often resides in our wishes for others. It is about the well being of our children. Happiness is in the healing of family rifts. It is about our aspirations for those who will outlive us.

Jesus presents us with a rather shocking idea of happiness. Happy are those who mourn, who are poor, who are persecuted. Happiness, in other words, is not about our own comfort, or even the comfort of others. Happiness is not about what is easy, but about what is hard, not about what is comfortable, but about what is true.

Is this really the same word? Can Jesus really be telling us how to be happy?

Yes. It is, and he is. Because any idea of happiness which is based on our own needs, our own comfort, our pleasure or enjoyment, will be short lived and temporary. The search for pleasure will never be satisfied, because it always yearns for more.

Happiness lies not in desiring what we haven't got - that is called covetousness - but in rejoicing in what we already have: that is called sanctity.

The saints are happy in sorrow or hardship because they were not searching for a passing pleasure, or enjoyment, but instead found a true happinesss in what was already around them.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 30th Sunday of the Year

Son of David, have pity on me. (Mark 10:50)

It is one of those idle speculations people often make - if you had to do without a particular sense, which one would it be? If the question means which sense do you value the most, then I suppose it has some interest. If the question leads us to realise how valuable our senses are, then I suppose it is a really worthwhile question, because I know that while I would hate to lose the enjoyment of music and speech which deafness would bring, I would just as much feel bereft if I could not read or watch television or just get about with ease. If a question like this makes us admire all the more those who cope with the limitation or are a loss of speech or hearing (rather than just pity them) them all the better.

And of course people sometimes say that if you lose one sense, the others become stronger, or more acute. I’m not convinced by that argument. People use the more and so take more notice of them, but I’m not sure whether they are actually better - you may disagree.

But what I do think is this: that we would be very foolish to underestimate or patronise those who do have disability of one kind of another. People used to assume that the deaf were also stupid. People still ask the person pushing the wheelchair about the passenger, rather than speaking to him or directly.

The crowd underestimated poor old blind Bartimaeus. A blind beggar, because that was the only way to live. To be pitied, for sure, but not to be respected. Don’t shout out blind man. Don’t make a scene, poor beggar. But blind Bartimaeus is bold, because although he cannot see Jesus with his eyes, with his heart he makes an act of faith.
Your faith has saved you, Jesus says. While those around may be inquisitive to see what this man looks like, the blind man, unable to see him loudly worships him - much to the embarrassment of those who think they can see.


For Bidding Prayers, click here

Friday, October 16, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 29th Sunday of the Year

The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised (Mark 10:39)

It’s pretty clear in this Gospel reading that Jesus is making it very clear to his apostles that following him will not lead to earthly glory and power and riches. Oh no, though they do not understand it yet, they will have to suffer what he will suffer. And sure enough, as tradition tells us, almost all the apostles were indeed martyrs for their belief in Christ.

But here’s a strange thing. Look at the language Jesus uses: you must drink the cup that I drink and be baptised with the same baptism. It seems odd language. Not you must suffer as I will suffer - but by sharing in the baptism and the eucharist you will not receive power and comfort, but suffering and sacrifice.

How often do we think of the sacraments in this way? Rarely I guess. People see receiving communion as a routine way of taking part in the mass, and we think of baptism as a necessity and a right, not a commitment. People often approach the Church seeking baptism for a good family celebration, or as a matter of course, or even to make sure of a place in a good school. Catholics who never come to mass expect their children to be baptised just as they were, to make their first holy communion and confirmation just as they did - and perhaps we should be thankful.

But how often do we, do they, understand baptism, or the receiving of communion, to be the embracing of a way of life, united with Christ, which is the surrender of one’s self, commitment, and sacrifice?


For Bidding Prayers, click here

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 26th Sunday of the Year (27 Sep 2009)

Anyone who is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:40)

On the face of it, this could seem to be a very puzzling statement by Jesus - especially alongside other things he said. In other places we read that the gate is narrow, the first last and the last first, not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. We hear of the likely disappointment of those who lay up treasure on earth. Of the rich man who goes to Hell while the poor man Lazarus goes to heaven. It may seem that the road to eternal life is hard and tough and narrow … and those who are not Christians, not baptised, outside the faith, outside the Church or even inside but do not live faithful lives, simple do not make it .. They are not ‘with us’.

But actually, the more we think about it, the clearer the message becomes. The invitation is generous, but the challenge tremendous  … and it is not we who judge, but God.

When Christ speaks of the challenges of the life of faith, he is speaking to me, to each one of us individually. I am the one who should tear my own eye out - so to speak- if it causes me to sin. I am the one who is responsible for myself, my own acts, my life of faith. I am the one who must follow the commandments, keep the law of God, love my neighbour, be honest in all my dealings, not harbour grudges.

And when Christ speaks of the wide open doors of the kingdom, the welcome to those of good will, of other faiths and none, to those who ‘are not against us’, he is not speaking about me, but about my neighbours who I must love and not judge, who I must forgive and not resent, who I must cherish and not fear.

It might seem to be another paradox: it is, and that is the logic of love.


For Bidding Prayers, click here

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Homily / Sermon for the 25th Sunday of the Year

‘If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.’ (Mark 9:35)

Jesus often deals in paradox. A paradox is a saying, an expression which seems to contradict itself: the first shall be last and the last shall be first; if anyone wants to be first, he must be servant of all; anyone who welcomes me, does not welcome me, but the one who sent me, if you give then you will receive … and so on. And if his words seems self-contradictory, his life even more so: the cross of execution becomes the tree of victory, weakness becomes strength, humility becomes power.

Jesus truly turns the world upside down. And it is not because he speaks in riddles - though many still think so - nor is it because his message is obscure or irrelevant - though there are many who make such claims.

No. Jesus speaks in paradoxes because it is the paradoxes which are true.

The person who hates, or bears a greivance, is never happy but is eaten by bitterness.
The person who is consumed by greed can never be satisfied.
The one who seeks wealth, will always want to possess more.
If you want to be truly happy - you will find that by making others happy.
If you wish to be successful - then you must be ready to learn from others.
If you wish to be liked - then you must show care and concern for those around you.
To seek all these things you seek not them in themselves, but in others.
Not by taking, but by giving.

And if you wish to receive love - then it must not be your expectation - but your constant gift.

Love can never be selfish, because love is - by definition - the giving away of the self: and God is love.


For Bidding Prayers, go to

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 23rd Sunday of the Year

Jesus said: Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And the man’s ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly. (Mark 7:34)

Often, when people try to explain the miracles of Jesus they point to the symbolic aspects of the story. And indeed it is true they often have a broader meaning than the original story.

The story comes after disputes between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, when it becomes clear that they are deaf to the truth of the Gospel. In the rite of baptism, there is a ceremony, rarely used in England and Wales, when the priest touches the ear and mouth of the baby and says ‘Ephphatha’, be opened. It is a prayer that the newly baptised may hear the Gospel and speak it. So - some say - this is a symbolic story not a miraculous hearing.

But such interpretations miss the point. This story is not less than a miracle, it is more than a miracle. It is not only symbolic, but more than this.

The story makes clear to us again that body and soul, heart, mind and daily life, are all one. Physical healing is not a symbol of salvation, but it is salvation.

Why are the gifts of hearing and speech so important to human beings? They are gifts, like all gifts, which can be used or abused, but we need them. And those who do not have them, still find ways of receving communication and communicating themselves, because to seek, to hear and to live the truth is part of what it means to be human. We can survive without speech and hearing - but to thrive we must communicate.

Let us pray that our ears may be opened to the truth, and that we may speak it clearly.


For Bidding Prayers (Intercessions) click here

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Homily for 22nd sunday of the Year

This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless (Mark 7:6-7)

Many years ago, when I first became attracted to the Catholic faith, I remember being told, “It’s not all about bells and smells, you know”.

It is a criticism often made, and especially pointed at Catholicism, and even directed by some Catholics at other Catholics. The faith is not at all about how many candles you have on the altar, how much incense you use, whether mass is celebrated in Latin or not, how colourful and valuable the vestments are and so on. The beauty of the liturgy, the splendour of the music, and even the language used can become gods in themselves. If they do, then we fall into Jesus’ condemnation - lip service, worthless worship.

But of course, it is not just the old mass or the high mass which can go this way. The number of choruses sung, the quality of the sound system or video projector, the number of guitars or flutes, the height of the hands raised in worship - all these can become over important too.

The person who claims that elaborate and beautiful worship falls under the condemnation of this Gospel is missing the point. The question about what is the right way of worship is just not the same question as whether that worship is lip-service or not.

Worship becomes worthless, Jesus tells us, when the heart is not in it - or rather, when the heart is not in God himself. It is empty when the focus is on human desires, not divine purposes. And the measure of true worship is not the quality of the ceremony, impressive and inspiring though that may be, but the song sung by the charity, the mercy and the love of those whose worship is their lives.

For bidding prayers, visit

Friday, August 21, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 21st Sunday of the Year

‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ (John 6:60)

Some people love a good argument and others don’t. Some find it exciting and exhilarating. Others feel uncomfortable at the conflict generated. ‘Why can’t we all get on?’ they would say. ‘Why can’t we just agree to differ? Live and let live?’

But part of the problem is that we are in danger of losing the distinction between an argument and a row. You see a row is just a shouting match, when one person tries to overpower and defeat the other. It is a battle between two opposing forces, in which the stronger (or louder) may prevail. The thing about a row is that everyone is speaking, but no one is listening.

Actually an argument is very different. An argument is a reasoned series of points, propositions, which lead to a conclusion. When two people argue, they listen to one another, pick through the strengths and weaknesses of the points made, and try to come to a conclusion, a result, some kind of agreement.
And the difference between the two is that the row is about the struggle for power, while the argument is about the search for truth. If you are struggling for power, there is no need to listen, because your aim is to defeat the other side, to overcome, to be victorious.

In today’s Gospel, the followers who left Jesus did so because they heard his words but did not listen to them. They became set against him. We see here the seeds of the conflict that will lead to his arrest, his suffering, his death.

Truth always challenges, often offends. It may be comforting, but it can also be uncomfortable. It encounters rejection and conflict. And there is a great temptation to play down the hard words, the intolerable language - to agree to differ, to live and let live - but Truth can never be silent, because Truth which is hidden is buried in the dark.

Argument is better than Conflict - but to avoid conflict may be to strangle the Truth.


For Bidding Prayers (Intercessions) click here

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Homily / Sermon for the Assumption of Our Lady

Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled. (Luke 1:45)

Have you ever wondered how you’ll be remembered when you’ve gone? Nowadays it is very common for the priest to speak in some detail at the funeral about the person who has died, and sometimes family members even give a little talk themselves.

But it’s not a good thing to always expect this. For one thing there is a tendency to praise the person who has died, when what we should be doing is praying for him or her. Also it is not always  easy to find something to say. There is even a gender divide: when it is a man you can say where they worked, talk about the hobbies they followed, the clubs they attended and so on. Often for a woman - especially those of a certain age - it is difficult: perhaps she didn’t work and didn’t have any hobbies and rarely went out. No great achievements, apparently : ‘She was just our Mum’.

And people often notice this about Our Lady. Scripture tells us very little about her. Mark’s Gospel tells us little more than her name. St Luke’s Gospel - which we hear today - tells us the most. She is mentioned rarely during Jesus’ ministry; at the foot of the cross she stands with the disciple John; and on the day of Pentecost, she is at prayer with the disciples. Many of the other details which have come down to us about Our Lady - that her parents were called Joachim and Anne, that her last home on earth was with St John in Ephesus, have been handed down through tradition, not scripture.

On the face of it then, Mary did little and achieved little. No real great claim to fame here, perhaps. Few accomplishment. Little to make a fuss about.

But of course we do not need long stories, many details. She is the one who is blessed because she believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled. She is full of God’s grace. She is our Mother in the Faith. Her honour comes not so much from what she did - because what she did was so very simple - but from who she is. She lived her calling to full and at the end of her life was gathered up by her Son to share the fullness of his life.

Why do we give her such great honour? Because ‘She is just our Mum’.


For appropriate Bidding Prayers, click here

Friday, August 07, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that a man may eat it and not die.

Food is big business. Our supermarkets sell food of amazing variety, some of which has been flown in from all parts of the world. Television programmes showcase cooks and recipes. Books and magazines give recipes, advice and wonderful photos of culinary creations. Restaurants and take aways provide meals and snacks to suit every possible taste and level of hunger. There is even a huge business surrounding advice, support groups and products to enable people to eat less and lose weight - weight that they have put on from enjoying food in the first place.

And this is true even in the midst of a financial hardship.

Yet in our affluent society, we tend to lose sight of the most basic fact: that we eat to live, we need food for survival. Without food we will wither, weaken, and die. Food is our fuel and our energy. Well nourished human beings grow and flourish.

Our daily bread is a necessity for life.

Yet notice this - this necessity, this survival is never quite enough for us. We embelish it, decorate it, celebrate it. We could live, survive, on astronaut’s food, tablets, pills, vitamins, but we don’t unless it is a medical necessity. We could live, survive in solitary confinement. But we don’t - unless we are forced to. We want much more - we need more.

The way in which we treat food is itself a proof to us of what we are and what we are called to be. We do not live on bread alone, because we give meaning and purpose to the basic things we do. We do not simply reproduce, but we love. We do not simply communicate, but we converse. We do not simply learn in order to work, but we learn to grow. When we read, we don’t do so just to follow directions, but to think and reflect and to pray. We don’t just look at pictures, but we admire art. All the basic things we do, things we need to do to survive, point us beyond our survival to the celebration of beauty and joy and love. They point us to truth. They lead us to heaven. They point us to God, to Christ, the bread of life come down from heaven.

They instruct us that there is more than just physical survival: there is a bread which we can eat which leads to eternal life.


For Bidding Prayers, click here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Work for the food that endures to eternal life (John 6:27)

Often, in our minds, we separate out the spiritual and the physical

On the one hand, we may think of the spirit as something very distinct from our physical existence. In this idea we hunger or suffer in the body but the spirit is free from need and free from pain, it is just pure thought, pure personality, free from the chains of physical life.

And the reverse of this particular coin is that the physical world is complete in itself. It gives us the idea that science can answer every question and solve every problem. The physical world - so it seems - has no more need of the spirit than the spirit has need of the physical.

These are very commonly held ideas. They are wrong.

When Jesus explains the spirit he always makes it very solid, very physical. It isthe food which endures for ever. It is the satisfying of hunger and the quenching of thirst. It is the bread which comes down from heaven.

It is the spirit which fills the physical with life and truth and purpose, and eternity.
Spirit and matter, soul and body are not two separate things best kept apart. They are one:  created by God, redeemed by him in Christ, the Word made flesh, the bread of heaven.

Lord, give us that bread always! (John 6:34)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

What is that between so many?

There are those who are uncomfortable about the miracles in the Gospels and try and explain them away. Perhaps there is some natural explanation, they say. Perhaps the walking on the water was a trick of the light. Perhaps the stilling of the storm was co-incidence. Perhaps the feeding of the 5000 was not supernatural at all, but an extraordinary act of sharing by the crowd, so that all were fed.

Mm. Perhaps. But perhaps those who try and explain these things away entirely miss the point. Their scepticism makes the account - and Jesus - too ordinary, too banal. Let me try and explain.

There is another occasion when Jesus is asked to perform a miracle with bread. Only on that occasion he refused. It was when he was tempted by the devil in the desert. Now why perform the miracle now, and not then?

Well there are many reasons, but one is certainly this. He refuses to turn a stone to bread to create a spectacle - but he willingly makes little bread into much bread to feed the crowd.

Jesus takes what we give him and makes more, much more of it. A little love is multiplied into great love. A little sorrow for our sins becomes an overflowing forgiveness. Our small talents and abilities become great with his help. Our simple prayers are joined to his all embracing will. Drops of olive oil convey his healing power. A little water is made the gateway to eternal life. Our gifts of bread and wine become his Body and Blood.

Christ takes our little offerings and makes them great. God does not destroy nature, but expands it and enhances it and glorifies it. As St Thomas Aquinas says “Grace perfects nature”. The stone is not destroyed but the loaves and fish are much multiplied.

It is like the words of the Christmas carol: “What can I give him, poor that I am, if I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. What can I give him? Give my heart.”

A small offering: a great reward.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Homily for the Funeral of a Priest

As Dean (Vicar Forane) it is my responsibility to oversea the funeral arrangements for Diocesan priests who serve in our deanery. Fortunately such occurrences are not frequent, and as the priests are usually retired, the arrangements are already clearly set out. On the day of the funeral, one of the bishops of the Diocese usually celebrates the mass and preaches, but it is the dean's responsibility to preside and predach at the Mass the evening before the funeral when the body is received into Church. The homily at this mass is brief, and includes few references to the life of the priest himself (which will be very fully recalled the next day). What follows was originally written for the mass for the reception of the body  of Canon Francis Grady at St Gregory's Church, Longton on 20th July 2009


Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever (John 6:51)

A priest is a minister of the resurrection. Everything a priest does is about the resurrection.

We perhaps don’t always think about it in this way, but it is profoundly true. We are taught of course that the priest stands before us in persona Christi in the person or in the place of Christ. And it of course the Risen Christ who the priest presents to us.

The stole which hangs over his shoulders (and which is now draped on his coffin) indicates that he is clothed with the risen Christ, in order to bring him to others. When he wears that stole and celebrates the sacraments, the grace which comes from his anointed hands is the grace which comes from the resurrection.
In the sacrament of reconciliation he gives absolution ‘through the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ’. In the sacrament of the sick, the healing power of Christ’s resurrection soothes, heals and comforts.
In Baptism (represented by the cross on the coffin) he enables us to die with Christ so that we may share his risen life.
And most of all, when the priest lifts the chalice and paten (which also rest on the coffin) we behold and adore the the living bread, the food of eternal life.

And in his pastoral care, his daily work, the priest carries the risen Christ to his people. Sometimes in deed, in taking communion to the sick. Sometimes in word, in his teaching and preaching. And always in person, as the one who bears the presence of the risen Lord to his people.

And now the priest, this priest, meets the reality of what he has always lived, as the grace of the resurrection, so abundant in his life, now becomes his reality and the reward in death. What he has lived, what Christ has given us through him, now he becomes.

May Christ, the living bread, who gave his life for the world, raise him up on the last day.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 16th Sunday of the Year

You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while. (Mark 6:31)

Ask any priest - when does the phone ring and when is there a knock at the door? Just at that moment when he has sat down for a meal, or curled up in the armchair to read or for a brief snooze.

It can be a difficult and demanding life. A priest lives over the shop: everyone knows where to find him. While the Doctor or the Counsellor or the teacher can clock off and go home, people can call at any hour the day or night on the priest. His address and his phone number are never confidential, they are always public. It can be a life surrounded by people, and yet also a very lonely life, in a very large house with his microwave meals.

And of course there are priests who struggle, priests who fall sick, priests who become frustrated or dejected or angry. As a bishop once said to me ‘Most people go to Church in spite of the priest, not because of him’. Some priests are popular, but no one can please everyone. Some priests think there are only two ways of doing something: ‘My Way, and the Wrong Way’, while others lack confidence even in their own obvious abilities. It all comes down to this - priests are human, we are sinners, earthen vessels, flawed and imperfect.

And yet, they are chosen. In this Year of Priests, do not be disappointed that so many are imperfect, but praise God that he takes his unworthy servants and makes them his presence in the world, the bearers of his grace.

Like the crowd in the Gospel, who seek Christ and the apostles, who are like sheep without a shepherd, God’s people have a great need, for the teaching of the faith and the gifts of grace which come through the sacraments. Pray for Your Priest. Pray for all priests. Pray for more priests.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 15th Sunday of the Year

So they set off to preach repentance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.

Jesus sent the Twelve out to preach the Good News, the Good News of the Gospel. And that Good News is a call to repentance.

This not what we think of usually as Good News. Good news is the surprise lottery win, the announcement of a birth or a marriage, being given the all clear, the result of the match, the winning of the prize, the success in examinations or a job interview. And in all these, notice, for all our efforts beforehand, Good News is something that happens to us, it is gift, it is grace.

Yet here, in this Gospel the message is one of repentance, contrition, sorrow for sins. It is something we have to do, and something which is painful - to admit our own fault, to confess our sins, to acknowledge our failures, our impatience, our dishonesty, our unkindnesses and cruelties. It might be necessary - but how can this be a message to preach. How can this be Gospel? How can this be Good News?

Well it can - it is - of course it is - because what the Twelve are sent out to preach with such urgency is not the wickedness of the world, but greatest of God’s mercy. They move from house to house and place to place rapidly, wasting no time with those who do not want to here because they are there not to condemn but to give the offer of a Great Gift, the Gift of Forgiveness which is freely given by God to everyone who embraces it, and this gift heals minds and hearts, casts out anxiety and soothes infirmity.

And all we need to do to receive this great gift of God - is to acknowledge that we need it.


For Bidding Prayers for this Sunday, click here.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

One of the most amazing, and as it happens funniest things I heard said about Michael Jackson in this past week was said by his father. ‘If only,’ he said, ‘he’d been recognised in his lifetime.’ Somehow I don’t think Michael Jackson is one of those people who will only be appreciated by posterity. He got quite enough fame - and infamy - while he was alive.

But fame is a very fickle thing. Great figures of history - as we reckon them - were not necessarily great in their own time. Shakespeare was one playwright amongst many. Van Gogh died in poverty. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was unknown in his lifetime. The poetry of Wilfrid Owen too was mostly published after his death. Many popular musicians have gained great fame, greater fame after their deaths than in their lives.

And it works the other way too. There are composers, authors, political figures who were giant while they were alive, but who are now barely remembered.

And of course, even in life that is true of the famous. Those who knew famous people before they were famous are often able to say how unremarkable they were. Ordinary. Unassuming.

In today’s Gospel it is something of this which Jesus experiences. “A prophet is only despised in his own country” he remarks.  His own people lacked faith. They knew him a little too well. He was no one great, they said, no one extraordinary. What on earth is all this we have heard about him? He is one of us. The carpenter. The son of Mary. One of us.

And of course, without realising it they hit the nail on the head. He is one of us. He works with us. He lives with us. He shares our sorrows and our joys. He is part of our families, part of our lives.

And we may lack faith not - like the people of Nazareth - if we cannot see beyond his ordinariness - but if we fail to realise that he is so close. Too often we live our lives fully in ignorance that he is near to us, alongside us. We live, and make choices, express our frustration and our hopes hardly aware that we are never alone. Yet God shares and touches and embraces our lives. The one who made everything, who made us, is one of us. He is with us.


Click here for Bidding Prayers

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Homily / Sermon for 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Master, do you not care?

(12th Sunday in Year B and Sunday after Sacred Heart)

This is not an uncommon prayer, is it? Why does God let this happen? We may often ask.

And it is not a new prayer. No doubt when Mark wrote the Gospel and gave this expression to the disciples fears, he was also echoing a prayer of the persecuted Christians of his own time. And it goes back further. This is the prayer of the prophet Jeremiah and the book of Job in the Old Testament. We hear words like this also in the Psalms. And throughout the ages too, Christians have said the same ‘Why, Lord? Why?’

And even if we question God, notice - this is still a prayer. And here is a strange and remarkable truth. People pray, even unbelieving people pray, when the going gets tough, when the chips are down. People pray when they in danger. People pray when they lose faith - not in God - but in their own ability to get them out of trouble.

It is a strange but true fact, that many people only look upwards when they are flat on their backs. Knowing their own weakness and powerlessness, we start to ask help from the Divine.

To some it may seem hopeless or ironic. But perhaps it is also a realisation of truth.

We believe in a God whose clearest and fullest expression is one who not only stilled the storm, but even more importantly who suffered and died for us. Our God is one who shared our lives and who knows not only physical pain, but also the pain of desolation and sorrow as his followers deserted him. Christ, the Son of God, Word made flesh, is also the one who said ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me’?

He is a God who loves us, and love embraces joy and sorrow, plenty and poverty, sickness and health, fortune and adversity. Love is what we need more than anything when things are difficult. And this is no abstract idea, because this is what we mean when we speak of his Sacred Heart.

it is a heart which beats for us, a heart which suffers with us, a heart which bleeds for us.

'Master, do you not care?' We know that he cares, because he stands with us, he embraces and comforts us. He loves us

Memorial Service at Carmountside Cemetery (21st June 2009)

Tomorrow (Sunday June 21st) I am speaking at the annual memorial service at Carmountside Cemetery in Stoke-on-Trent. The service is broadly Christian, in that we are having Christian hymns and a Christian minister (me) to lead it, but in other respects is non-confessional, even non-religious in the way that an area with a long and firm tradition of non-conformity thinks is 'ordinary'. There will certainly be those there (many of them) who never go to any forms of worship, and probably that last time they heard a hymn or said a prayer was at the funeral of the loved one they are coming to remember.
This year the service is being held out of doors (an act of faith in itself), so I thought some reflection on the beauty of creation would not be inappropriate. I am going to read St Francis' Canticle of the Sun (slightly adapted ... keen eyed readers will notice how and may not approve) and then try to draw out a message of hope and comfort (with a little very gentle evangelisation). So - here goes.

Reading: Canticle of Brother Sun

All praise be yours, my Lord,
    through all you have made,
    and first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day;
    and through whom you give us light.
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor;
    Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
All Praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon
    and the stars; in the heavens you have made them,
    bright, and precious, and fair.
All praise be yours, my Lord,
    through Brothers wind and air, and fair and stormy,
    all the weather's moods,
    by which you cherish all that you have made.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
    so useful, humble, precious and pure.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
    through whom you brighten up the night.
    How beautiful is he, how cheerful!
    Full of power and strength.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through our Sister
    Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us,
    and produces various fruits with colored flowers
    and herbs.
All praise be yours, my Lord,
    through those who forgive for love of you;
    through those who endure sickness and trial.
Happy are those who endure in peace,
    By You, Most High, they will be crowned.
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death,
    From whose embrace no mortal can escape.
    Happy those she finds doing your will!
Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks
    And serve him with great humility.


We are surrounded by beauty. Gardens which are well kept and well tended, with many shades of green and brown, occasionally shot with flashes of colour in flowers and blossoms. Trees and branches which shade and shape the landscape. The butterfly garden. The doves in their dovecots. And the weather ...

When we remember our loved ones, we often refer to the glories of the natural world. We think of them as stars in the heavens. We remember them with plants and flowers. The places where we say goodbye, where we remember them, where we lay them to rest are gardens, places of grass and stone and trees.

Saint Francis, famous for his love of animals, also, as we have heard, had a great love of the natural world - sun, moon, wind, fire, stars, water, flowers. They were so special to him that he called them his Brothers and Sisters. All of them led him to rejoice in their beauty and God’s many blessings.

And some of those words may seem a little shocking to us, but they speak of a deep truth. ‘Sister Death’, he says. She too is part of the natural world.

When we lose someone we love we may feel so torn, so lost, so bereft. Our heart aches and our eyes burn. Part of ourselves has gone. But the wonders of the world around us and the knowledge that our loss is part of life itself is also a great hope.

In death we see life and hope. The shoots of growth. The colours of the earth. Wind and Rain, Sun and Heat give us not a remembrance of the past, but the promise of a future. The cemetery is a place of life and growth and beauty. For the believer the world around us is a real sign of hope in life beyond this life. Whatever you believe or hold to be true, or however much you struggle to understand, be uplifted by all the bright and beautiful glories of creation which surround us.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Homily / Sermon for Corpus Christi

They say familiarity breeds contempt. I don’t believe it. I think familiarity breeds indifference and complacency.

Many would say that this has become true of the Mass. It us so familiar, and receiving communion is so routine for  us, that we have ceased to appreciate its true value.

Whenever we meet for worship we have mass. Many of the old devotions said publicly, holy hours, rosaries, novenas, benediction, have almost withered away (and when we do celebrate them very few attend). And receiving holy communion is so common now that people feel that if they go to mass they must receive communion, as if it is a right, not a privilege. And in mny places, if a priest is not available for mass - even on a weekday - people feel the only way to worship together is in a communion service - not by celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours, or saying the rosary.

We take the Mass so much for granted, and communion too, that we prepare badly for it or hardly at all. Those who have missed mass for weeks or even years, routinely come for communion the next time they appear, whether or not they have been reconciled with the Church. Those who have committed serious sin, even if they are very aware of it, do not think it prevents them from taking communion. People talk not just before and after Mass, but very often before and after receiving communion. That magical moment which was our First Holy Communion has long past, and Mass becomes - so very often - just something that we do.

How we can change this. It might be said that it is the familiarity itself which is the problem, but I am not so sure. Making the Mass less accessible and communion less easy may seem an easy answer for some, but it is easier to say than to do, and we face the danger of making ourselves superior or self-righteous.

No. the challenge for us is not to become less familiar with the Mass, but rather to become far less complacent. The challenge is not to take it for granted, but always to appreciate it, love it, live it. We need, each one of us, to make the Mass truly what the Church calls it, ‘the source and summit (the beginning and the end, the purpose and the aim) of the Christian life’.

The family does not breed contempt or even indifference to our parents, children and siblings, and neither should familiarity. It is in the family that we first learn to love, and in which we grow. The family breeds all of us and all we know, and familiarity is nothing other than to grow in a family. Familiarity breeds love.

In the Mass we meet the self-giving love of God. In the Mass we are given the overflowing grace of Christ. In the Mass heaven meets earth.

It is something with which we should be very familiar  - and something which should never cease to amaze us.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Homily / Sermon for Trinity Sunday

There’s a slightly irreverent line in the song American Pie by Don MacLean: ‘The three men I admire the most, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, they were leaving for the coast, the day the music died.’

Well its not blasphemous, though it is a bit irreverent and it is certainly wrong. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are not ‘three men’ not even ‘three people’, though we do say they are three persons and we often tend to think of them as if they were different individuals.

You know sometimes we might have the idea that the Father is the God of the Old Testament, Jesus God in the New and the Spirit lives in the Church - wrong. Sometimes we might think that the Father did the creation of the world, the Son redeemed the world and its the Spirit who is about today. Children, when they write prayers, often speak about ‘God and Jesus’, as if they are two different people. When the Trinity is taught, the images used often emphasise the differences between the Three - such as ice, water and steam - or one person having three different jobs. All wrong - well at least, not good enough.

And the problem with these kinds of ideas is that they seem to suggest that when one person of the Trinity acts, he acts on his own. And this confuses us. We ask silly questions like ‘When Jesus was on earth who was looking after heaven?’ and ‘Was there a Holy Spirit before Pentecost?’ And we might also wonder why only three - why not four - or seven or nine - after all, God has so many things to do, why not.

The truth of our Faith is rather different.

The Church teaches that God is one Nature, in three persons, and while the language may be complicated, it makes two very important points.

First, no one person of the Trinity acts alone. When one acts, all act together, because God is one. At the creation, the Father spoke his Divine Word and created through the power of the Spirit. The Father breathed his Spirit into Man to make him in his own image. The Spirit spoke God’s word through the prophets. The Angel visited Mary with the message of the Father so that she conceived the Word by the power of the Spirit. St John tells us ‘the Word (with God from the beginning) became flesh and dwelt amongst us’. At his Baptism, the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove as the Father speaks from heaven. At his Crucifixion, the Son says ‘Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit’. And when the Son ascends to the Father he sends the Spirit, the Advocate, the Paraclete, to lead us into all truth. We pray to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit. At Mass, we pray to the Father that he send the Spirit on the bread and wine that they become the body and blood of his Son. Again and again and again it is Father, Son and Spirit who move together, who operate together.

And notice that in all these examples I give, and in many others, the movement of the Trinity is about entering into the created world, about reaching to humanity. It is about involvement, action. It what is called Grace. The Trinity is about drawing human beings into the life of God, in creation, in redemption, in prayer, in sacraments. The best description of this Grace is of course love - because love always involves another, and God is love because he lives love in himself, and extends his loving hand, his loving word, his loving Spirit, to embrace all humanity.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Homily for Ascension Day

Go out to the whole world - proclaim the Good News!

(First Draft - to be updated)

As I think a lot of you know, I am a great fan of technology. It’s not just the gadgets I like, but its what they can do. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks while I walk the dog. I don’t buy a newspaper, but I read the news on my phone or my computer. !’m on facebook, my space, friendfeed, plurk, ping and meebo (or is it beebo?) I use email rather than postage stamps. I tap appointments onto the screen which I carry in my pocket. I’ve made podcasts. I put together websites. I write a blog. I use twitter. (In fact on twitter I have the second most followers of any clergyman of any form of Christianity in the whole of England!)

Does this make me a better person? Not really.
Does all my technology make me efficient and reliable? Oops, not necessarily.
So is it just a hobby and all a waste of time?

Well, of course not.

It’s not that everybody has to use email or surf the web, any more, I suppose, than everyone ought to drive a car or have a telephone. And its not that all these gadgets and gizmos will be here for years to come. Some may last, others will fade away like the quill, the comptometer, the abacus, the telegram and the K-tel Egg Slicer, and live only in the corridors of museums.

The point of course is not the gadgets, the technology, however interesting or annoying they may or may not be. What is important is what we do with them.

These are all ways of communication. (And today is a day of prayer for the Church's work in the social media). And just as the first Christians used the methods of their own day - standing at the street corners and in the market places, speaking before Kings and rulers, sending letters along the roads of the Roman Empire, travelling by horse by mule by foot - so in our own way we do the same today, by email, by website, by video and by audio, by blog and by twitter, because we are called to spread the word, to teach the faith, to proclaim the Gospel.

It is a divine command, and whatever the means, the methods or the technology we are sent to do it: proclaim the Good News!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Homily / Sermon for Easter Six

Love one another, as I have loved you

Love is a word widely used, and widely abused. It refers to a rush of emotion. A stirring of urges. A blinding of reason and a driving passion. Love is powerful, and it is dangerous. It can drive people to madness, or murder. It inspires jealousy. It too often leads to heartache and tears.

Well, so you would think from watching popular dramas, or reading literature. So you would think from reading inside the newspaper where the more interesting human stories are told.

But of course, this is not the love which Jesus speaks of.

Why not? Well it is not because Christian love is unrealistic or idealised. Quite the opposite: it is the idealised, one-sided kind of love which leads to pain and anguish.

The love of God is real, realistic, because it is not one-sided, or deluded, but because it is mutual, it is shared - love one another as I have loved you. It is not the obsession or infatuation of one person for another, but a sharing of lives, of commitment. It is giving and receiving. It is not about choosing, but about being chosen. This is the love that bears fruit - because this is the love that will last.

And in this month of May, we celebrate the one who loved Christ into the world, and in the world. The one who loved him before the world ever knew him. The one who fed him and nursed him and hugged him and gave him up, to embrace him again in his death and resurrection. We celebrate she who in loving him, loves us too, and cares for us, and prays for us as our Mother.

When we sing our praises of Mary, we sing the praises of the Love that chose her, to go out and bear fruit, the fruit of her womb, fruit that lasts for eternity.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Homily / Sermon for Easter Five

I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty.

We used to have a vine. When we lived in Oxford - in very built up Cowley, not far from the University Press and the Car Factory - our house was bordered by an old stone wall, which clearly used to be part of a farm. And by the wall - probably long after the farm was ‘regenerated’ (as we now say) - some imaginative soul had planted a vine. And the vine had grown up the wall, and across the wall, and had wrapped itself over the wall, hugged the round top like fingers extending their grip. From a root which could hardly be seen it has hugged the wall and extended in all directions. And we got grapes. In a warm summer you could just about eat them, though usually they were a little bitter. More often, one of the parishioners collected them to make wine. I don’t know if she put them in a Vat and trod on them - and sadly I never got to taste the wine.

Then one stormy spring, in very strong winds, the wine was swept off the wall, thrown over back onto the edge of our driveway, and lay rather forlorn on the ground. Try as we might it was too big and too extensive just to lift back over the wall. It didn’t die, but that summer at least it was a sad reminder of its former glory, and bore no fruit.

And Jesus compares himself, and us, in his Church, to a vine.

Like a vine the Church draws life from a single root, and that is Christ. Separated from the vine, the branches die: drawing life from him, they thrive. We may think that we can go our own way, pick and choose what we believe and how we live, but separated from Christ we will certainly not thrive.

Like the vine the Church has spread in many different directions. Strong and vibrant in some places, thin and sparse in others. Some strong branches may bear little fruit, while newer and flimsier ones are more abundant. The vine sometimes veers off in unexpected directions. It is not always neat - but it is always connected to the root.

Like the vine the Church bears a fruit. Not always easily palatable at first taste, but with tending and understanding, it makes a very fine wine. And the wine, the fermented fruit, brings life from the tree. 

And like the vine the Church needs tending. Life comes from Christ, but fruitfulness comes from our co-operation with him. A vine which is not cared for will wither. It may survive, but it may not be fruitful. A vine that is tended, and nourished and cared for will produce good fruit and excellent wine. So too the Church needs our commitment, our love, our obedience and our service - and if we do not give it, while it may not die, we may find it hard to draw life from it when we really need it.

Homily / Sermon for Easter Five

I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty.

We used to have a vine. When we lived in Oxford - in very built up Cowley, not far from the University Press and the Car Factory - our house was bordered by an old stone wall, which clearly used to be part of a farm. And by the wall - probably long after the farm was ‘regenerated’ (as we now say) - some imaginative soul had planted a vine. And the vine had grown up the wall, and across the wall, and had wrapped itself over the wall, hugged the round top like fingers extending their grip. From a root which could hardly be seen it has hugged the wall and extended in all directions. And we got grapes. In a warm summer you could just about eat them, though usually they were a little bitter. More often, one of the parishioners collected them to make wine. I don’t know if she put them in a Vat and trod on them - and sadly I never got to taste the wine.

Then one stormy spring, in very strong winds, the wine was swept off the wall, thrown over back onto the edge of our driveway, and lay rather forlorn on the ground. Try as we might it was too big and too extensive just to lift back over the wall. It didn’t die, but that summer at least it was a sad reminder of its former glory, and bore no fruit.

And Jesus compares himself, and us, in his Church, to a vine.

Like a vine the Church draws life from a single root, and that is Christ. Separated from the vine, the branches die: drawing life from him, they thrive. We may think that we can go our own way, pick and choose what we believe and how we live, but separated from Christ we will certainly not thrive.

Like the vine the Church has spread in many different directions. Strong and vibrant in some places, thin and sparse in others. Some strong branches may bear little fruit, while newer and flimsier ones are more abundant. The vine sometimes veers off in unexpected directions. It is not always neat - but it is always connected to the root.

Like the vine the Church bears a fruit. Not always easily palatable at first taste, but with tending and understanding, it makes a very fine wine. And the wine, the fermented fruit, brings life from the tree. 

And like the vine the Church needs tending. Life comes from Christ, but fruitfulness comes from our co-operation with him. A vine which is not cared for will wither. It may survive, but it may not be fruitful. A vine that is tended, and nourished and cared for will produce good fruit and excellent wine. So too the Church needs our commitment, our love, our obedience and our service - and if we do not give it, while it may not die, we may find it hard to draw life from it when we really need it.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Homily for Easter Four / Sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday (Vocations)

The Good Shepherd

If you pay peanuts, as they say, you get monkeys.

It is a cynical view, but one with a lot of truth in it. If you are employed by someone else, then you expect a proper reward. When the situation is not so good, then commitment falls considerably. When you work for someone else, you may take pride in your work, but fundamentally, at the end of the day you can walk away.

On the other hand, if it is your own business, your own idea, your own vision, you are highly motivated. You want it to succeed. You work long hours. You will even work for peanuts. Your commitment is entirely different.

In this parable, Jesus hits on this very point. You could say it is the parable of self-employment, or the small business. But it is also the parable of vocation.

Because there are times when in a job our commitment is not like that of the hired man. When we are doing something which gives us a sense of vision and purpose, When we are caring for others, When we are sharing our skills or our knowledge: in all these situations we may work outside hours, for little or no pay, because we are committed to what we do. It is no longer a job given by someone else, but a job owned by us. And it is owned by us because it is an answer to the call of God within in. It fulfils us not so much because we have chosen it, but because it has chosen us.

And this is what Vocation is all about.

A job may be given to us by another human being, but a vocation is given us by God. And the trouble is we follow our own desires and needs, rather than listening to God.

Today on what we call Good Shepherd Sunday, we pray for Vocations to the Priesthood and the Religious Life. We pray that our hearts may be open to the voice of God, and that men and women may respond to God’s call to service. Pray for vocations. Pray for priests. Pray that men and women may hear the voice of God, and respond to it.


Bidding Prayers for this day can be found here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Homily / Sermon for Easter Three

A ghost has no flesh and bones as you can see I have.

This is a remarkable and interesting story. Let me tell you why.

There are lots of stories that speak of ghosts and spirits, of the dead who live and are still present. From Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol to Harry Potter to television programmes to films and books there are so many stories that speak of the dead who come back to visit the living. Some stories are frightening - for adults - others are funny and intended for children.

Even so, in most of these stories, a ghost is not a good thing. They are shady and often malevolent. They are up to little good. Sometimes they seek vengeance. They can sometimes be seen, but mostly they are cut off, isolated from the physical world in some way. They are like a bad, musty smell. They are found particularly in darkness, in the old house with creaking floorboards, in distant spine tinglng screams.

Yet, these ideas, so familiar to us, may make it difficult to understand what is meant by Jesus’s rising from the dead, and what our own life after death might be like.

The Gospel makes it very clear that these ideas are far from reality.

Here, in this account, the Risen Jesus sits and eats with his friends. He talks with them and teaches them. This is no vision. They can see him and touch him. They can see the wounds which led to his death, but he is now alive again and meets with them.

This is no Ghost. He lives not in darkness, but in the light. And the risen life of Jesus is a physical life, with a real body and a presence which can touch and be touched.

And when we, through baptism, live now his risen life we live to value and cherish the world God has made, and the bodies he has given us. Here, in this world, we can already experience the life to come.

And when we try to understand life beyond this life, we know that finally it will be a physical life, when our souls are given new bodies,  in a new heaven and a new earth and we live for ever in his Presence.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Homily for Easter Two / Low Sunday / Divine Mercy Sunday

Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.

We associate the sacrament of reconciliation, confession, penance, especially with Lent, don’t we? Lent is the time, surely for us to creep to confession, queue in the church, sneak into the dark box for a few minutes of awkwardness, the mention of a few routine sins and a lot of what-I-cannot-now-remembers. It’s an important duty, but an uncomfortable one.

But today’s Gospel reminds us of something that we should always have known, that the forgiveness of sins is first and foremost an Easter blessing. Before the resurrection, it is Christ who dispenses the forgiveness of God - here in this Gospel as we are clearly told - gives this wonderful gift to the Church.

So when we fall from grace, when we say the harsh word, omit the important duty, are thoughtless or greedy or dishonest or unloving, and when we acknowledge our guilt and our failings, the Church can free us from our sins in the power of Christ. This is what is meant by salvation and redemption. This is what is meant by the victory of the cross and the power of the resurrection.

Yet too often - like Thomas - we think we know better. We hide or excuse our sins. We shrink from recognising our need of God. We hesitate in approaching the Church, and if we are reluctant in this way, we remain in the narrowness of vision, and the hardness of hard and the coldness of faith which sin brings.

Rejoice and praise God. Raise your hearts. Utter with Thomas, My Lord and My God - because through his resurrection, Christ has given the Church the power to release us from our sins.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Homily for the Easter Vigil

Very early in the morning on the first day of the week they went to the tomb, just as the sun was rising.

There are two small but important details held in these brief words in the Gospel for this mass. Firstly, the women came to the tomb ‘just as the sun was rising’. When they arrived Jesus had already risen from the dead - so the resurrection took place not at dawn, as people sometimes like to think, but in the darkness. That’s the first little detail. The second is this: it was the first day of the week. Notice that the Gospel does not give the name of the day - for good reason, because generally speaking days of the week didn’t have names either for the Jews or the Roman - it is just the first day.

Each of these little details tells us much.

Firstly, the resurrection occurs not in the emerging light of day, but it breaks into the fleeing darkness of night. This is important. This is why we light our Easter candle, why we sing ‘Christ our Light’ ‘Lumen Christi’ - the light is not the first light of the sun, but the light of the Son himself which overcomes the darkness. We share a faith which celebrates victory over darkness, triumph over suffering, the defeat of Satan and the utter vanquishing of death. Christ overthrows the strongholds of night before ever the arrival of the expected dawn.

Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever!

And secondly, this day, this wonderful day, is not the last day of a hard week, but the first day of a glorious life. How sad it is that people seem to have forgotten that the day we call Sunday is actually the first, not the last day of the week - look at your diaries and calendars at home to see what I mean. Don't confuse Sunday with the Jewish day of rest, even though it has some features in common. In Genesis it is this first day on which God begins his creation by separating light from darkness; in the New Testament it is the day in which God begins his new creation with the defeat of darkness.  Sunday is not for us the day of rest after the work of creation, but it is the day of resurrection, the celebration of the new creation.

May Christ, the Morning Star, who came back from the dead, shed his peaceful light on all mankind.

Homily (Sermon) for Good Friday

Who are you looking for? 

Three times this question comes at the beginning of today’s passion. Three times, Jesus asks ‘Who are you looking for?’

The question calls to mind the basis human quest for meaning, for purpose, for truth. The philosophers search for meaning. The teenager questions the truths which have been passed on to him. The sick and the bereaved often ask the question ‘why’ or ‘what if’? Scientists seek the origins of life and the beginning of the universe. Even the atheist - especially the atheist - searches for truth, and believes, with a fervour, that he has found it.

Human beings seek truth. The Catechism tells us that every person has a yearning for God - though everyone might not see it in this way. St Augustine put it even more poetically: “Our hearts are restless, till they find their rest in you”.

At the beginning of the baptism service, the priests asks the parents “What do you ask of God’s Church for your child?” Usually they answer simply, “baptism”, but they may answer “Hope”, “Love”, “Eternal Life”, “Salvation”.

The trouble is, all humans ask the question, but many come up with different answers.

Some of those answers, as Jesus said to the Rich Young Man, are not far from the Kingdom of God. In this liturgy, for example, we pray for the Jewish people who of all peoples are bound in a covenant with God and of all those who do not yet embrace Christ, are closest to his Kingdom. There are others we pray for too, who do not believe, yet who - as we will say ‘might find [Christ] by sincerely following all that is right’. One theologian described these good people outside our faith as ‘anonymous Christians’.

But there are those whose answers are far far away from the Kingdom.

‘Who are you looking for?” Jesus asks - and the answer which comes back “Jesus of Nazareth” sounds like the correct one, the true one. Here is all truth, all love. Here is the perfect man, like us in all things but sin. Here is the Son of God, the Word made flesh. But they come not to worship like the Wise Men of old, but rather, like Herod in the same tale - to destroy the Truth - because they fear it.

And in his actions, Jesus shows us what the Truth really is, what the Meaning of Life really is, what the Purpose of all things really is. Not a set of ideas - though they are important; Not a scientific explanation - though that may have its part; Not an easy simple answer, expressed in a few words - though words do matter.

No, what He shows us is that Truth is a Person, the giving of Life to gain Life, a Sacrifice, an Act of Love.

Homily / Sermon/ Poem for Good Friday

The eyes which looked from the manger into his mother’s loving gaze
The eyes which looked with compassion on the rich young man
The eyes which wept over Jerusalem
are now cold and lifeless.

The ears which heard the song of the angels
The ears which heard the voice say from heaven “This is my beloved Son”
The ears which heard the crowd cry out “Crucify him”
now hear none of the sobs made over his body

The lips which said to the paralysed man “your sins are forgiven you”
The lips which told the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son
The lips which said “I am the resurrection and the life”
now, drained of colour, smile and speak no more

The hands which stilled the storm
The hands which blessed the children
The hands which healed the blind, deaf and lame
now rest motionless, pierced and bloodied.

The feet which climbed the mountain to pray
The feet which walked on the water
The feet which were washed with the tears of the penitent woman
are now twisted, maimed and mutilated.

The heart which beat for love of sinners
The heart which longs for the peace of the world
The heart which beats with our hearts
beats no more.

Christ has died. He is laid in the tomb. The Great Silence begins.

But the story has just begun.