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.