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