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)