Friday, December 24, 2010

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

Holy FamilyTake a brief look at any image or icon you have of the Holy Family. Modern or ancient, icon or painting, they all have much the same format, and they tell us all we need to know. 
Firstly they are a close knit group. The love which binds and unites them is evident. The protection and nurture which the family gives to the child is clearly portrayed. 
Next, take note of the eyes of Mary and Joseph. Sometimes they look towards us, sharing their love and worship with us. Often the eyes of Joseph are fixed on Our Lady, emphasing his acceptance of God’s will. But most often the eyes of both parents are fixed on their son, in wonder and in deep adoration of their child and God’s Son. 
And finally, look at the Christ-child - sometimes an infant, most often a child - fixed in the centre of the scene, often with arms outstretched in welcome, in invitation or in blessing. He is the focal point, the centre and purpose of the family and object of our love too. It is often as if the family is giving to us its very heart, its precious child. At the heart of this circle of love, is a most extraordinary sacrifice - a child for the salvation of the world. 

Homily for Christmas Carol Services

It's all about shepherds and angels. 

Of course it isn't at all - it's all about the birth of Jesus, the King of King and Lord of Lords, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. 

But if you want to understand this, if you want to get past the lofty phrases, the flamboyant language, the song and praise, if you want to grasp what it going on - then you have to realise that it really is about shepherds and angels. 

The shepherds - men and boys, working the night shift, watching in their fields, protecting their flocks from wolf and predator, risking their lives - they are the first to hear this good news. They are not kings or politicians. They are not wealthy or famous. They are not scholars or well educated. They are ordinary blokes. Sitting round the fire, singing songs, telling jokes, doing a hard and dangerous job, struggling to makes ends meet. They are the men on the rigs, the miners at the coal face, dockers and drivers, soldiers on night patrol in Helmand, police on dangerous streets. They are straightforward, rough and ready, not easily fooled or taken in. Salt of the earth. 

And their involvement in this wondrous tale underlines for us the poverty and simplicity of this birth. A refugee couple seeking asylum in the cattle shed. Homeless and without medical care. A child born in danger and soon to be at risk from a wicked King. 

And the angels? If the shepherds are the salt of earth, they are the glory of the heavens. They transform a simple squalid scene into a celebration of the Saviour's birth. They reveal the truth of his majesty, the greatness of his power, the extent of his impact upon human history and human lives. They bring heaven to earth, so that this ordinary birth is now proclaimed, extoled and praised all over the world. We sing today, because the angels sang on that cold and inhospitable night. 

So, in this meeting of the shepherds and the angels, the earthly and divine are joined and united. God comes down to earth - so that we might be raised up to heaven. 

Homily for Christmas Masses

Christmas is all about hospitality. 

It is about welcoming family and friends into our homes. It is about going to visit them. It is about sharing meals together. It about parties. It is also about visiting cemeteries. It is about making and renewing our connections with people. It about generosity, an open door. It is about hospitality. 


And if this is true in our lives, it is also true in our Scripture. 

We hear the tale of the young couple seeking a place to stay the night. We hear of a hospitable innkeeper. We hear of shepherds rushing and wise men trekking to visit the makeshift home. 

And we hear some striking words. In St John’s Gospel, we are told - The Word became flesh, and dwelt amongst us. And alongside that we should read words in Matthew’s Gospel too, where Joseph is told “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home”.

The command to Joseph is also a command to us. And it is a command not only to welcome the Mother, but also the Son. 

Christ comes and dwells amongst us not just to give us a cause for celebration. Our hospitality extends also to him. And for ever. 

He dwells amongst us - do we keep our doors closed, or invite him in? We have that choice - but how much greater are the blessings if we truly welcome him! Into our homes. Into our daily lives. Into our hearts. As our comfort and our hope. As our guide and our friend. As our constant companion. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Homily / Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

The Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel

People often say to me "I suppose this is your busy time of year". Could be. Though I'd rather be a priest than a postman.

Now the postman really is busy. And most of us are sending many cards and receiving many. Some of them come from people barely remembered - who were "Don and Julia"? We might need to look at the postmark to remember. And sometimes our own cards go astray, because we addresses or names wrong. And if we receive cards with slight inaccuracies in our names, then we feel as if it were meant for someone else. There's a lot in a name.

In todays Gospel two of the names of Jesus are explained to us. The first of course is the most familiar - the name Jesus itself, which is the Greek version of the name Joshua, which means "God saves" or "God will saves us". The second is perhaps less familiar but heard often in Advent - Emmanuel - "God is with us".

Putting these two names together, tells us what this time of year, and what our belief in Christ is all about. He saves us by being with us.

We might reasonably ask the question, why did God come and live amongst us as Jesus. Why did he take flesh? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die for us? Could not God have just acted, just waved his hands like a magic wand and put all sins and sufferings right.

Perhaps. But that would be rather like sending the card to the distant friend or relative who we care about a little, but, well, are not really close to. Its a simple act of courtesy, but it requires little effort.
But God does more than send a card. He comes to visit. And God does more than visit. He comes to dwell amongst us. He becomes one of us, and shares our joys and sorrows, our cares and our concerns. He takes our sins upon himself. And that is how he saves us.

And today the blessed virgin stands before us. Chosen by him to carry him and bear him into the world. She is not some postman who carries a card. She is humanity, she is us - the ones who receive this great gift, this wonderful visitor.

He is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He has come to meet us. He knocks at the door. And we must open and let him in.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent

Of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is. (Matthew 11:11)

Something extra-ordinary is about to happen, indeed it is already happening. That is the message in today’s readings. God is coming to save you, says the prophet Isaiah. The Judge is already waiting at the gates, says the apostle James in the second reading. And in this Gospel: John the Baptist is great, Jesus says, the greatest of all the prophets: yet he is just the beginning of the kingdom of God.

This a note of anticipation, of excitement, and just a little foreboding too. This is a word of eager expectation, a realisation that something extra-ordinary - literally extra-ordinary - is amongst us.

And at this time of year we know the excitement of the children, their eagerness for Christmas, the countdown to the celebration marked in calendar and candle. We know the buzz of frivolity and generosity which sparks the good will in this season of goodwill.

But often we fail to capture the real excitement, not just for presents and parties, for the the Presence of Christ in our midst. This is what the Scripture speaks of. An anticipation for the coming of he who is judge and saviour and Lord.

Of course, when St James wrote perhaps many actually thought that the coming of Christ at the end of time was very close, while now we understand Christ’s presence amongst us especially in the Church, in the sacraments, and in his people.

But that should not dull our anticipation. No, it should heighten it! He will come at the end of time: but he already amongst us now! He is here. He is with us. In the Sacrament, in our Worship, in all those who need his love - the blind, the lame, the deaf, the poor. And in them his love, and his grace are his presents and his Presence amongst us!

What wonderful gifts!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Homily / Sermon for Advent 2 (Year A)

Prepare a way for the Lord - make his paths straight. (Matthew 3:3)

An important figure, every Advent, is this strange person, John the Bapist. Like one of the prophets of the Old Testament, he adopted an unusual life style - he lived in the desert and fed off locusts and wild honey - and in stark terms he warned people of the dangers of the times. 

Prophets weren't those who predicted the future, so much - that is a misunderstanding. The prophets, rather, pointed to the signs of the times, and emphasised the old wisdom: "Actions have consequences". So if you don't want these unwelcome consequences, then change your actions. Repent, in other words. Repent - and my prophecies might not come true. 

But sometimes the prophets did something else as well. They didn't just identify bad consequences, but they also gave reason for hope as well. They pointed out that in spite of their bad or unwise actions, God still loves his people and will rescue them even from their foolishness and disobedience. 

And this is what John does. Yes he warns. But he also provides a hope. And he calls the people to be ready. Ready to welcome the new King, the Messiah, the Lord, the Christ. He presents a hope of salvation, but also a challenge to be ready to greet that hope. 

Make a straight path. - He calls the people to prepare their hearts, prepare their homes, and prepare their lives to welcome the One who comes. 

Advent is a time when we all commanded, like those people, to hear the words of  John the Baptist, and act upon them. Like him, we are called to prepare a way for the Lord. [In our case, it won't be a straight path through the desert sands, but rather through the winter's snows. ]

But it will be straight path. A true path. A joyful path. 

We have so much to do at this time of year. There are the presents, the visits and welcoming of family, the decorating of the house, meals and school performances to attend. Much joy and much enjoyment. 

And we should also prepare our hearts. Repent and make our confessions. Spend some time in prayer, reflection and reading. Ensure that the Christmas message of hospitality and generosity comes truly from the heart and not grudgingly from our duty. 

And by the example of our joyfulness and love, invite others to see the joy of Christian living and the truth of our faith. 

To come before Christ not out of habit, or custom or duty, but truly out of Love. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

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

‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Luke 23:42

I sometimes think I have a terrible memory. And is some respects I do. I get myself double booked for events and appointments. I go to the shops and come away with bags full of shopping, but not the one item I actually went for. I run upstairs, then when I get to the top I can’t remember why I went there. I carry my keys on a lanyard round my neck, but still somehow manage to lose them.

And as I get older, it seems to get worse.

But there are some things I never forget. I might forget family birthdays and mix up my children’s names, but I never forget how important they are to me. I might forget an appointment, but I do not forget how important people are to me, and what I have to thank them for. We forget details, but we never forget that people can be hurt or inconvenienced by our forgetfulness. We might forget to do - but we don’t forget that we care. We don’t forget the values which matter - we just forget to apply them.

Memory is always strengthened by caring, by compassion, by love. That is why we ask our Lady to remember us “Remember, O most loving Virgin Mary”. That is why our prayer to the Father often asks us to remember us. That is why, at every mass, we remember before God his words at the Last Supper, his sacrifice on the cross, his rising from the dead. And that is why today we hear the thief says these words “Remember me when you come into your kingdom”

Remembering, real remembering is deeper than dates and times, names and places. Remembering, the perfect calling to mind, is an act of love. How impressed we are, and how valued we feel, when someone important remembers us, something about us, perhaps even our name.

And this is why we call Christ our King. Not because he commands armies or rules nations. Not because of wealth or power.

But because he remembers us, and cherishes us, and holds each of us in his heart.

Jesus - remember me, when you come into your kingdom.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Homily for 33rd Sunday of the Year (Remembrance Sunday)

Take care not to be deceived (Luke 21:8)

We live in a very secular, non-religious world, a world which often rejects and makes fun of or rejects religion because it is not scientific - yet it is often so surprising how people latch onto, and get enthralled by all kinds of strange and weird ideas.

People read horoscopes, and use tarot cards. They may visit spiritualists or mediums. Or they buy crystals which are said to have particular properties. Or they rearrange their furniture in a particular way. Or they try yoga, or meditation, or the newest or strangest idea. They read, and believe books like the Da Vinci Code, or ideas that God was an astronaut. They believe in ghosts, and spirits, in reincarnation, previous lives, out of body experiences … it goes on and on.

In this oh so scientific world, so many people - perhaps most people - hold on to unscientific beliefs and strange ideas, which they have collected like magpies, with little thought or consideration whether the ideas fit together, or contradict one another.

And - I will allow - there may be some substance in some parts of some of these ideas. That’s how they work. They have to have some little part that rings true in order to lead people into their fantasies. Science does not have all the answers. The world is spiritual as well as physical. There are unexplained phenomena.

And there is an explanation and an answer to our deepest human longings and our most troubling questions. There is a life beyond this life. A hope of resurrection. A God who loves us. A heavenly host who surrounds him. A guardian angel who accompanies us. There is a faith which is beautiful in both its simplicity and its consistency. It makes sense. It fits together. It stands the test of time. It is taught by an authority given to us by Christ himself.

Ah - but so many overlook this, or reject it. They want novelty. They want pick and mix religion. They want to choose and select, not receive what has been given.

The trouble is that some people will believe almost anything, provided it is different, and strange.

The great writer GK Chesterton got it exactly right: “When people cease to be believe in something, then they will believe in anything”.

Keep the faith. Do not be deceived.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Homily for 32nd Sunday of the Year

They are the same as the angels, and being children of the resurrection they are sons of God. (Luke 20:34)

When we think or talk of those who have died, those who were close to us, loved ones, parents and children, friends, wives, husbands, those we love, we might often think of them as like the angels in heaven - no longer seen yet still very present. And, when we try to explain such things to children, this is often the language that we use: no longer on earth, they are with the angels.But I wonder if we ever think about what this really means. Are angels the same as the holy souls? And if not, then what?[I notice with surprise that angels seem to be more and popular and talked about. People who are not really religious may refer to angels, have pictures and jewellery of angels. I notice that on the Christmas trees nowadays you hardly ever see a fairy - which is what we had when I was a child - now they are always angels. ]But for those who have gone before us things are not quite like that. In fact, if we think they are become angels, then we are selling them short. The faithful departed, the holy souls will be much  more wonderful like that.When we say we believe in angels we are saying that we know that the created world is far more than just what we see and touch. We are saying that the creation is visible and invisible, seen and unseen, physical and spiritual. And the angels are spiritual beings created by God. We might picture them, in one way or another, but in reality they have no physical form.But we, human beings are very different. We are not and will not be angels, because we are made in the image of God. We are both spiritual and physical. We are part of earth and heaven. We are not exactly the same as the angels (the translation here is not quite right, I think) but we are partly like them, because like them we are spiritual. But when we are fully united to God, we become not angels, but something far more: Children of the Resurrection, Sons of God. That is much greater, much more wonderful than being an angel.

And this is our great hope and our great comfort. For to hope in the Resurrection means to hope in a new creation where both body and soul, physical and spiritual, are united in God’s love. When earth and heaven will be made new there will no longer be any distinction, and no veil between them. This will be no parallel world - as if the angels sit on clouds and look down on earth - but a new world, a new existence, where all are the same and yet everything is changed.It is the perfection of God’s creation: the end of disease and suffering, the end of war and conflict, the end of hatred and envy, the end of sorrow and loss. It is dwellling in Love which lasts for ever.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. (Luke 18:1)

This week, on our television screens, has played out a most extraordinary story, a most inspiring event. So often we see and hear about disasters and tragedies, scandals and cruelties, wars and conflicts. 

Yet this week has been refreshingly different. On our screens we have witnessed from Chile the amazing sight of 33 miners, who had been sealed deep underground for many weeks, being rescued and reunited with their families. It has been a moment of joy and triumph. A tremendous feat of engineering which has inspired the Chilean people to great celebrations of their patriotism. 

Here in the Potteries it is a situation we can feel for perhaps even more deeply than others. Though ours were mines for coal with now only a few marks on our landscape to remind us of them, and theirs still working mines for copper, our communities, parents and grandparents, painfully experienced the dangers of extracting minerals from deep in the earth. 

On New Years’ Day 1942 - in perhaps the most shocking of many events - this city lost 57 men and boys in an explosion at Sneyd Colliery. In 2010 we can rejoice that 33 men’s lives were saved in Chile. 

And alongside the obvious jubilation and the fervent patriotism of those saved and their families, friends and colleagues,  it was striking to notice how many fell to their knees and praised God for the answer to their prayers. Their courage - in maintaining hope and optimism despite being trapped deep underground - was striking and impressive. 

We are only too aware that often our prayers do not get answered in the way we wish. We know very well that optimism can be dashed with tragedy. But not always. Not of necessity. 

These people, thrown together by chance and circumstance,  Imprisoned deep with a long and bleak outlook ahead of them, They kept the faith. They did not lose heart. And eventually, finally, after toil and anguish, with trust in the skill of men and the unfailing love of God, they emerged triumpant from their temporary tombs, like ones risen from the dead. 

Friday, October 08, 2010

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Your faith has saved you. (Luke 17:19)


I have to confess being slightly puzzled by this miracle. What exactly are we meant to learnt from it? 


Is it perhaps about the importance of saying thank you and expressing our gratitude to God? 


Or is it rather about the faith of the outsider, the Samaritan, and the lack of faith of those who should have known better? 


Or it perhaps about the importance of faith in the miracles of Jesus?


Or is it even, perhaps about the unity of different races and ethnic groups? 


But there’s a problem with all these ideas. Though Jesus told the faithful, grateful Samaritan, “your faith has saved you”, the other 9, who showed little gratitude either to Jesus or by visiting priests, who seemed have less faith than the foreigner, who appear to turn their backs on the Samaritan, these nine are healed too. Any point we might want to draw from the story seems contradicted by this fact. 


So perhaps the message actually is this: God gives to good and bad, rich and poor, Jew and Samaritan alike. He deserves our gratitude, but gives whether he receives it or not. And so should we. It the fundamental principle of Christian charity. As Christians we do not care for others because they are good, or faithful. We do not care for other people because they too are Christians and overlook those who are not. We care because God cares, and our charity is for Christian and atheist, Mulsim and Hindu, European and Asian. We do not seek faith or conversion as the fruit of our charity - because our charity is already the fruit of God’s infinite love. 

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Homily for the 30th Sunday of the Year

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Luke 18:13)

This is a wonderful tale, which proves beyond all doubt that Jesus has a mischievous sense of humour. He pokes fun at the pompous Pharisee - several of whom would gave been amongst his congregation. This is not angry or bitter sarcasm, but a gentle poking of fun, bringing right down to solid earth those who have such a high opinion of themselves.

But the story isn't only poking fun. It is also, when we turn to the tax collector, poignant and sad. Here a wretched and despised man - usually no doubt the butt of many a joke or insult, wrestles with his own inadequacy and failure. He knows his life has gone wrong. He is aware of his sins and failings. And he comes before God, sorry and broken.

So what is the difference between these men? It is not their faith, because both are found at prayer in Temple. It is not their poverty or riches, because both would have been quite wealthy people. It is not age or education either.

No. The difference is that one knows his need of God, and the other does not. One is aware of his failings, while the other is aware only of the failings of others. One can name his sins, while the other can name only sinners.

One is full of contrition, while the other is blinded by pride.

The Pharisee believes his goodness comes from his own efforts, while the tax collector knows that it is only the grace of God which can send him home in peace.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The apostles said to the Lord "Lord, increase our faith". (Luke 17:5)

There are many occasions when Jesus rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith. At the stilling of the storm, for example, when they wake him in the boat - "O men of little faith" he says. He remarks on their lack of faith too, when, after the transfiguration unable to heal the epileptic boy - and then, the father of the boy says "I have faith, help me where faith falls short!"

There are two interesting and important points here.

Firstly, in asking this question, the apostles see one thing very clearly. For their faith to increase - well that must be an act, or gift, or rather grace of God, not something they can do simply by their own efforts. We might think that if only we believed more, prayed harder, said more rosaries or attended more masses, then we would have more faith - but no. We can stand in the way of faith, but fundamentally faith is a gift of God, not an achievement of humanity.

And secondly, the question and its answer also reveal that faith is not simply something you've got or you haven't got. It comes in degrees: you might certainly have none, but you could just as easily have a lot or a little. (To put it in very modern terms, it is analogue, not digital). Some people have more than others, and some wish they had more. And who has more or less is not really ours to judge and decide. We should never feel guilty or inadequate if others seem to have more faith or be more devout than us - and we should never ever feel superior if others seem to have less.

So what can we do? The answer is beautiful in all its simplicity. Do your duty. Perform your service of God. Do not feel inferior or superior. Just do what you know to be right. Offer him your worship and show love and compassion to all people. Love God and love your neighbour. No more and no less is required.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Homily for the 26 Sunday in Ordinary Time

If they will not listen either to Moses or the prophets, they will not convinced even if someone should rise from the dead. (Luke 16:31)

The rich man - who is not given a name, notice - wants Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers that they must change their way of life. Yet, Jesus says, there is no point - they already have all the warning they need. Why should a great miracle make a difference.

There's an important and very broad point being made here, one which we hear several times in the teaching of Jesus and elsewhere in the New Testament, and it is this: all this has been foretold, all this is plainly to be seen in the teaching of Moses and the prophets (what we Christians call 'the Old Testament'), no one should be confused or surprised.

Yet they are. Frequently, Jesus chides his disciples for their failure to understand. After the Crucifixion, the disciples on the road to Emmaus need the prophecies explained to them by the risen Christ. From the day of Pentecost onwards, Peter and other other apostles must explain in their preaching how the coming, suffering and resurrection of Jesus perfectly fulfil what was promised. And St Paul, again and again, argues and explains the old scriptures to show how they point to the new, the Christ, the one who suffered and is risen.

And the point, perhaps is this. People ask for proof. Prove God exists they say. Prove that God is love. Prove that prayer is not a waste of time. Prove that the world is created and didn't just come into existence as a sort of accident or co-incidence. Give us the evidence.

And the proof is already there. We can't show it to them - because they can already see it. We can't convince them of it - because they are already ignoring it. They see, and refuse to believe their own eyes.

The beauty of the world. The wonder of the planets and stars. The miracle of life. The compassion and generosity of humanity. The conviction and self sacrifice of the saints. Its all there. It is before them.

It is not the evidence that is lacking, but the eyes that are closed, and ears that refuse to hear.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Homily for the 25th Sunday of the Year (C)

‘You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.’ (Luke 16:13)

In the old translations, this passage was often given as 'You cannot serve both God and Mammon'. It made money, or the love of Money, perhaps I should say, sound like another God. Who is your Master? Jesus appears to say to us: which God do you choose?

And from this, it could seem that the Christian has a stark choice. Riches and wealth are bad - poverty is good. To build up businesses, to create wealth, to amass goods and possessions might seem to be wrong, motivated by greed. And individual Christians, like St Francis, and groups of Christians like those in religious congregations and communities have seen their way as a much better one, indeed perhaps even the right one.

But, as always, this isn't quite what he says - or rather, his teaching is a little more sophisticated.

The rest of this Gospel makes very clear that money, far from being shunned, should be used. It makes things happens, it opens doors. Money saved the crooked steward in this odd parable - generosity in fraud is far preferable to pure greed. Money feeds our families. Money builds and maintains our churches. Money rescues the victims of disaster. Money opens doors - and this is a good image. It is a key, it serves a purpose, but it is not the door, neither is it the reward on the other side of the door.

And it is THIS which is Jesus teaching. He does not say that the fundamental life choice is God v. Mammon ... A battle for hearts and minds. No, he places before us rather a much more basic question. What is it that you really want from life? Do you want to collect things that cannot last, or cherish the things that do? Is your balance sheet written in currency or in kindness and compassion? Do you want a large collection of keys, or just use one of them to walk through the door?

This weekend sees the beatification of a great and holy man, John Henry Newman, and in his teaching he has a particular perspective on this choice. Each one of us, he says, has a particular work to do. Each of us has been chosen by God and finds our fulfilment in his will. It is a teaching about vocation, but also, I think, a basic teaching about what it means to be human. Human happiness comes from discovering, and fulfilling God's will for us. We might search for that happiness, and even think we've found it elsewhere: in possessions, in pleasures, in indulgence. But not one these ultimately satisfy.

God's will is the door to our happiness. And a lot of the time, we are just fumbling with the keys.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Homily for the 24th Sunday of the Year


While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. (Luke 15:20)


This situation is very familiar in one way or another to many families. It speaks of faithfulness and impetuosity, of indulgence and jealousy, of affection for the wayward one, and the anger of the one who feels taken for granted. What family has not known some of these feelings and situations? 


Yet as we look at the story - especially today - we might just wonder about the mother. How did she feel about the son who took his money and wasted it all? Did she long for his return, or sympathise with her older son in his bitterness? Or did she just dutifully toil in the kitchen, cooking the fatted calf? 


We shouldn’t ask too many of these kind of questions, because if we do, we are in danger of missing the point. This all-too-human family is far more. For we are the sons, both wayward like the younger son and bitter like the elder, sinful and self-righteous. And the Father ... is of course the Father. God himself. Loving, forgiving, yearning to welcome us back to him, when we are ready. 


And the great painter Rembrandt had a deep insight when he painted the tender scene of the welcome of the prodigal, for the Father’s hands which embrace the returning son are one large muscular and rough, the other lighter, nimbler and smooth, a male hand and then a female hand, in a loving and welcome embrace. 


God is both Mother and Father, indulgent, loving and patient, ready and waiting, for our sorrow and our repentance. Longing to welcome us to the celebration of His Love.  


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Homily for the 23rd Sunday of the Year

None of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions. (Luke 14:33)


There have been many Christians, throughout the history of the Church, who have taken Jesus’ teaching here very literally. 

The first Christian community at Jerusalem, seems to have shared all things in common. St Anthony of Egypt, and the monks of the early Church, gave up their many possessions and went to live in the desert. About 1,000 year later, St Francis of Assisi embraced “Lady Poverty” and forswore the wealth of his merchant father and lived literally from hand to mouth, dressed only in the simplest of habits. And many many others, in the religious orders have given up lives of comfort to follow Christ. 

But in general most Christians do not, and did not live without possessions, and Jesus did not expect them to. He told the rich young man to give up his possessions, but not Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea who gave Jesus his tomb. The apostles appointed the first deacons to manage the finances of the Church, and even in the most difficult times the Church held property, and eventually houses and churches. Like any other organisation, the Church has needed finances to fund its activity, beautify its worship and feed its workers. 

But necessary though this all is, the Church must never lose sight of the fundamental teaching of Jesus, and the challenges he lays before us all: where does our attachment lie? What is most important to us all? 

My favourite story in this regard is told of the deacon Laurence, who was commanded by the Roman Magistrate to bring before the court all the riches of the Church (then, as now, the opponents of the Church like to think that it is very rich). He was given a deadline. The Magistrate was told that Laurence had indeed brought to the court the Church’s riches and laid them on the steps to the courthouse. The Magistrate came out of the court to see the sick, the disabled, the poor, the destitute, orphans and widows sitting on the steps. 

“Behold!” said St Laurence. “Here are the treasures of the Church!”

Friday, August 27, 2010

Homily for 22nd Sunday of the Year

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.
(Luke 14:11)
Sometimes the Gospel seems to speak to us so directly that it is shocking. Imagine my surprise when I began preparing my homily for the weekend of my eldest son’s wedding to discover that this is the Gospel - some direct advice about the seating arrangments at wedding feast. 
And like so much of Jesus’ teaching this appears immediately to present sound and sensible advice with unrealistic or impossible directions. 
On the one hand it is certainly sound advice not to assume that at any party to which we are invited that we will be the guest of honour. Take the lowest place, and we may be complimented - assume to much, and we could be greatly embarrassed. This much is wise, and is common sense. 
But the next bit is not so easy. 
“When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, ... No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”
There are very few wedding breakfasts, if any, which follow this particular advice. Here is a sure way to upset your relatives, offend your neighbours, lose your friends and worst of all outrage your in-laws. Goodness gracious, aren’t these occasions stressful enough without such a reckless policy? 
But look again. As so often in Jesus teaching an extreme example makes a telling point. Don’t invite those close to you, he says, in case they repay you - invite instead those who cannot repay. 
Jesus is challenging us to consider not our giving, but our motives for giving. Do we give to others in order to get something back, a gift, a favour, a friendship - or do we give to help those who cannot give? Is our generosity self-serving, or self-giving?
Do we think about what we will get from our act of giving, or consider what the benefit will be to the one who receives our gift? 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Homily / Sermon for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Men from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29)


Hindsight is a great thing. When we read in the Gospels of people from east and west, north and south - all over the world - coming in to the kingdom, and when we hear of the apostles being sent out to the whole world, we are reading this through the eyes of hundreds of years of Christian history - a history in which our faith spread from Palestine to Asia, Asia to Europe, Europe to Africa and the New World. We know a history of martyrs who died in Japan, Uganda and Peru. We know of Churches built almost from nothing in Fiji, Scandinavia and even in Hanley. It is a remarkable story - a remarkable set of stories. Christianity is now followed by about a quarter of the world, is known in almost every country, and Catholicism is by far its largest representative. 

But these words were spoken and written down long before all that. They were spoken when Jesus followers were quite a small group, popular amongst the people, but with an uneasy relationship with the authorities. And they were written down when Christians were already persecuted, considered either a novelty or even a perversion by the society of the time, living in small communities separated by long distances, held together by strong leaders and the many letters which travelled the roads of the Roman Empire.

And yet there was that extraordinary vision: the vision of Jesus, of a kingdom peopled by those from all over the world; the vision of the Apostles, sent out with few resources to call those people to join them; the vision of the Church, which has never ceased, boldly and in the face of opposition and persecution to proclaim the truth and call people to its communion.  

We live in society where we are encouraged to forget that vision. We encounter not persecution, but indifference and ridicule. We are not painted as a dangerous novelty, but a spent force from past ages. 

And we worry about declining numbers, a shortage of priests, the dropping off of practice of those who go by the name Catholic. 

Yet they had it much more difficult. Fewer numbers. Greater hardship. Tough times. 

Yet they had a hope, and a vision, in the Kingdom of God, the truth of the Gospel, the certainty of their hope, the reality of the future growth and prosperity of the Church. 


And they were right!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Homily for the Assumption of Our Lady

From this day forward all generations will call me blessed (Luke 1:48)


There’s something about Mary

This was a film made many years ago. It had nothing to do with the Catholic faith, nor indeed with Our Lady, but it’s a great title. There is something about Mary. 

She is mentioned only on selected occasions in the Gospels, and we know very few of her words, yet she has dominated the art, the music and the faith of the world for centuries. She has sometimes been the centre of disputes amongst Christians, but she has also been at the heart of the inspiration and devotion of so many. Catholics and Orthodox unite in calling her Mother of God. Protestant Christians recognise her importance in the Christian story. Even the Koran devotes several chapters to her. 

There’s certainly something about her. 

This week some of us have been in Lourdes, the most famous shrine of Our Lady in the world, a place where she is said to have appeared to a young girl, Bernadette, just over 150 years ago. 

About six million people make a pilgrimage there every year. Why? 

There’s something about the place. Something about the Lady. 

And what is it? 

We could put it in theological terms, and say that she has a crucial role in the story of salvation, she is the closest human person to Our Lord himself in this life and the next, she most certainly dwells with God. That, in a nutshell, is more or less what is meant by the Assumption, which we celebrate today. 

But we could also put it in a more human, personal way. Mary is always about meeting, about encounter: look at the Gospels - the Annunciation, when she is greeted by the angel; the Visitation, when she greets her cousin Elisabeth; the Crucifixion, when Jesus greets her from the Cross; the day of Pentecost, then and after, when she prays with the Apostles ... and Lourdes and elsewhere, when she greets Bernadette and others. 

Mary is special because she meets us and we meet her - in special places and in our prayers. She is one of us, she is with us, and she dwells in the heart of her Son, as he dwells in her heart. 

Through her heaven came down to earth - and with her we share the life of heaven. 

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Homily for the 18th Sunday of the Year

‘So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.’ (Luke 12:21)

There are plenty of adverts on the telly about becoming rich. If its not the lottery its a draw for some newspaper.

And for ordinary people - all of us - the thought of becoming suddenly wealthy is very attractive. Most people would give up work- for life if its really enough money - go and live in a villa in Spain, or the Caribbean, or somewhere else that is hot and where the pace of live slow. Most would want the win to remove the pressure and stress from their lives, take away the need for toil and give them years of comfort and leisure.

But the odd thing is that people who are really rich - really really rich - don’t see things in this way. Like the man in the Gospel, the really rich don’t give up work and rest back on their wealth, but want to acquire more, more than they can ever use of spend. The really rich - who let’s face it, one way or another have worked to get where they are - they are not satisfied with their wealth. It can never, ever, be enough.

And here we hit on the message of Jesus. Remember the rich young man who came to see hi? He asked “What must I do to get eternal life?” In riches and wealth and material things there is some pleasure and enjoyment, but it is never adequate.

Whatever our musings and dreamings, the question each one of us must ask ourselves is simple yet demanding: What do I really want? What is my treasure?

Is it luxury and leisure? Is it fine things, material goods?

Or is it friends and family? Honesty and loyalty? Companionship and commitment? Truth and self-respect? This life - or the next?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Homily / Sermon for the 17th Sunday of the Year (C)

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. (Luke 11:9)

So does God always answer prayer?

It is a fair question. When we are facing a difficult operation, or a worrying procedure; when a family member is undergoing tests or treatment; when there are disputes at work and someone is being bullied or treated unfairly: we might wonder.
We pray earnestly for world peace, for health and happiness; we offer masses and rosaries and novenas for our children, our grand-children; we pray for vocations, for the poor, for those who suffer from natural disasters: does God hear?
Sometimes it seems that the greedy do best, that dishonesty pays, that the good suffer. Is it really true that God hears and answers all our prayers?
There is of course a simple response to this difficult question: that God’s answers are not our answers, that his will is not our will: “Your will, not mine be done” said Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. And his answer may be Yes - of course. It may be No - this is not my will for you. It may be Not Yet - be patient. All this is certainly true, but perhaps a bit too simple
Perhaps, instead, we are making the wrong petition, or asking the wrong question.
Rather than ask - does God answer prayers, perhaps we should ask, Why do people pray in the first place?
You see, if you think God isn’t there - or it he is he can’t help - you really have to explain why so many people still pray. If prayers don’t get answered, then why do so many people still pray. And why do those who suffer most pray most - and those whose life is most comfortable, pray least?
This question we can answer.
God is not Santa Claus, to whom we send our requests. He is not one of the old deities of the Ancient World, who might be bribed by sacrifice or flattery.
Our petitions come from a much deeper need than just selfish concerns - remember that Jesus said to James and John, “Do you know what you are asking for”
Our yearning to pray comes not so much from our desire for this and that, the shopping list of prayers or petitions, but because we want to bring our whole life to him, our joys and our anxieties, or wishes for ourselves and our cares for others.
It is because we do not feel whole that we come to him for wholeness.
When we pray, we are praying with Jesus on the cross. We are joined with his suffering and his saving. And being in communion with him gives us a deeper satisfaction than the answering of any individual petition.
His love is strength and comfort and courage. His sacrifice is our hope and our salvation. In this life and the next.
That is what we really are asking for, that is what we truly seek: and he opens the door for us.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Homily for 16th Sunday of the Year

Mary has chosen the better part

Whose side do you take - Martha’s or Mary’s?
It’s hard not to sympathise with Martha.
There she is doing all the work. Serving at table, washing the dishes, brushing the floor, soaking the pans, filling the glasses - while Mary just sits there doing nothing, listening and chatting.
And the more she does, the more frustrated she gets. She bangs a few plates loudly into the sick. Pushes a door to a little more firmly than usual. Huffs and puffs with a bit more force and volume.
She is annoyed. She is furious with her ... idle ... sister. Livid.
But Jesus is right.
What is more important, chores or conversation? the worry of work, or the joy of companionship? The task list or the guest?
It’s not that the work doesn’t matter. It does. Talbe will be cleared. The floor will have to be swept. The dishes must be cleaned.
But people must always come first. Love, Devotion, Companionship, Prayer can never be second best.
We live a workaholic world where people rush from place to place, work long hours, go on time management courses rather than spend time with their families. We put the kids in front of DVD rather than spend quality time together ... if we are not careful.
No - we might sympathise with Martha - but Mary has got it right.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Homily for the 15th Sunday of the Year

Go and do the same (Luke 10:37)

Here’s the odd and interesting thing about what must be the most famous parable - perhaps even the most famous story - in the whole of Scripture.
I think when we hear the story we understand that Jesus is saying to us we should help everyone, even those we might not be disposed to like. Samaritans and Jews are, well, like Black and White, Catholics and Protestants, Israeli and Palestinian - all the Montagues and Capulets of the world. So, this parable says just the same as “Love your enemy”.
But it says a lot more. Remember, Jesus is speaking to a Jewish audience. So what does he tell them to do? To help others, even Samaritans?
Look again. He says to the Jews - “Go and do as he did”. He doesn’t tell them to help Samaritans - he tells them to imagine themselves as Samaritans.
And its the only way.
Helping those in need is good. But it can be self-serving, patronising. We feel good because we have helped those less fortunate than ourselves.
No, Jesus says. Don’t just help them. Be them. Put yourselves in their place. Imagine yourselves in their situation. See things with their eyes.
If not, however kind we are, it will always be US and THEM.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.(Luke 10:3)
Images of Christians, and especially clergy, in the media, are rarely very complimentary. We are rarely nasty people, but usually very funny ones. Remember the bumbling Vicar in Dad’s Army? Or the foolish Vicar played by Dick Emery? And Catholic priests are often portrayed as Irish - a joke in itself, of course - and often taking a bit too much pleasure in their liquid refreshment. They never say “More Tea, Vicar?” to a priest, do they?
Christians are seen to be remote from real life, unrealistic about the stresses and strains of real living, naïve and gullible - easily taken in by those who want to take advantage of them.
Perhaps it suits society to see believers in this way - harmless, but well, not really with it. Innocents. Lambs. Perhaps, most of the time, this is how persecution works ... not the violent persecution of the past, but the silent persecution of smug smiles and smirks.
But of course, things are very different. Ordinary Christians know all the pains of life that everyone else does. Family arguments and breakdown. The suffering of sickness and disability. Bereavement and loneliness. Disappointments in life, and in people. Do people really think we do not know these things?
And priests work in prisons and hospitals. They meet murderers and the terminally ill - far more often than most people ever come across these people or situations. They counsel the distressed and the anxious. They support those who struggle with life - the refugee, the accused, the deserted. They know about the routine habitually sins of daily life, and they guard the secrets of those who would otherwise hang their heads in shame.
These Lambs, these innocent Lambs, are very aware of the wolves around them. These Lambs face up to the Wolves of ridicule. Wolves of indifference.
These Lambs of God.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Homily for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who this woman is that is touching him and what a bad name she has.’ 
Luke 7:39

Twice in today’s Gospel we are told that this woman ‘has a bad name’. It’s ironic really, because we don’t actually know who she was. Traditionally she is associated with St Mary Magdalen, but in fact that seems unlikely. Mary is mentioned just after this story - no indication that we are talking about the same person.

So we know her name is bad, we just don’t know what it is.

That is the thing, of course about reputation. A person has many different characteristics, yet it is just one that they may be remembered for. This woman was someone’s daughter, someone’s sister. She was probably someone’s mother and someone’s wife. She may have been loving and caring, generous and sensitive. She might have been a victim of cruelty or bound by poverty. Who knows? How can we know? - we only know that her name, her reputation, her status was bad, and the Pharisees were appalled at the encounter between her and Jesus.
Perhaps she had done wicked things. Perhaps she was dishonest or irresponsible. Or perhaps she was just different, unconventional or rebellious.
The trouble with reputation is that it reduces a person to a word, takes away the real name for the sake of the bad name, turns a human being in all the variety of her qualities to just one adjective, one negative, bad. But this changes.
Her actions, her contrition, her penitence, and then God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, have this extraordinary effect that they restore her to her human dignity. They free her from the shackles of reputation, because of this great movement of love. Her loving worship is itself an act of healing.
By showing her love for Christ, she invites the greatest gift of love - the granting of forgiveness, and her wholeness is restored.
Her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Homily for Corpus Christi

Homily for Corpus Christi

Transubstabtion is a word that is probably widely known and even more widely not understood. I guess that most Catholics have heard the word, but would struggle to spell it, let alone explain it. Many non-Catholics too, would know it, probably as something which defines what is wrong about Catholicism, though I guess that they too would be unable to explain quite why. And I expect most would have sone sense that it relates to what the Catholic church teaches about the Mass, about the change of the bread and wine into Jesus' body and blood, but that might be as far as it goes.

Part of the difficulty is that the idea of Transubstantiation is based in a particular philosophical understanding of the world, which many would see not only to be highly complex, but also unfashionable in the philosophical world. It doesn't fit easily with most modern philosophy, so clever philosophers and theologians aren't entirely comfortable with it.

But this doesn't mean it isn't important. This doesn't mean it is not true. It is much more baby than bath water, and should not be thrown out, overlooked or forgotten.

Transubstantiation is a way of trying to explain how something extraordinary happens. It is a truth which is spoken of frequently in scripture: this is my body, this is my blood; my flesh is real food, my blood is real drink; I am the Bread of Life. It is rooted in those familiar words, "The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us". It refers to the daily miracle of the Mass, but more than that it refers to the constant connection between heaven and earth, the presence of God on our lives.

You see, Transubstantiation is not some strange Catholic oddity, but the very heart of Christianity. It is about God the creator, entering into his creation, it is about the Divine life touching our human lives, it is about Grace giving us strength and comfort, it is about Love alive in our midst.

Philosophy may be helpful, for those who need it, to explain how this happens, but for us who live in Faith, this truth is just a fact of life.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Body of Christ (Keele University Chapel)

This homily was preached at Keele University, on the occasion of their Chapel summer celebration, entitled "The Body of Christ"

The Body of Christ is a fairly obvious simile to choose for an ecumenical celebration. The idea of unity in Christ, yet diversity of role and expression of faith in him is one which has obvious appeal. And more, it suggests complimentarily and collaboration, mutuality and shared purpose. It has much to commend it.

However, Catholics are not especially satisfied with similes. We prefer metaphors. And for us, metaphors are always more than just metaphors.

The thing is metaphors are more literal than plain likenesses, more concrete than comparisons, more real, more physical, more solid than simple similes.

And this is where the second reading comes in. It is the story of a barbecue - good enough for that reason - but more, it is a story of the risen Christ. His risen body is not an image, or simile or even metaphor. His resurrection is not an illustration of life after death or the immortality of the soul. His risen body is a real body, so much so that he eats grilled fish.

One if the Fathers of the early Church put it this way: "The word became flesh, not message". Or we might phrase it slightly differently, and say that the Flesh is the Message, the Word is not written on Paper, but in a Life.

Ideas are important, theology and theorising indispensable, and debates on dogma and doctrine not to be downplayed or denied.

But the Word of God is flesh not theory, action not idea. Incarnation is the birth of a real person in a time and a place, Salvation is in the wounds and blood, sweat and tears, Redemption is in the rising of a physical body who eats grilled fish on a lake side barbecue.

When we speak of the Body of Christ, we are not using a convenient image, but we are speaking of something real, a physical reality. The apostles saw no vision, they shared no concept of eternity. They talked and ate with him. And if we are part of that Body, we share in his physical reality. We talk and eat with him.

And so the life of those who share his feast is more, far more, than the comfort of unity in diversity. It is more, far more, than mapping our groups and organisations on an image of his Body. No, it is agony and toil, it is sorrow and joy, it is work more than words.

It is a heart which beats, and bleeds with love for us, and washed in his blood, which challenges us to be His Body.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Homily for Trinity Sunday

For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved. John 3:17

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.
God loved the world so much, that he sent the Son into the world to save the world: the movement of the Trinity is about entering into the created world, about reaching to humanity. It is about involvement, action. The Trinity is about drawing human beings into the life of God, in creation, in redemption, in prayer, in sacraments.
The best description of all 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.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Homily for Pentecost - the multiplicity of tongues

This homily was written for our International mass, when the people led the worship in a wide variety of languages.

There are two occasion in Scripture when we hear people speaking in a wide variety of tongues.

The first is in Genesis, in the story of the Tower of Babel. The second is on the day of Pentecost.

In the first story the diversity of language is described as a kind of punishment for the arrogance of humanity. In the story, mankind says "look, we can do anything we like. We have the power even to build this great tower. Nothing is beyond our capability." Or, to put it another way they decided they could play God, because everything us within their grasp. It is a very familiar attitude today too. They thought they had no need of God, but the diversity of languages marks the weaknesses and limitations of humanity, especially a humanity whose only faith us in its own power.

In the second story, the first reading for today, the many tongues are not a punishment, but a blessing. They are a sign of God's creativity and also his extraordinary gifts. They nark a reaching out to the whole of humanity, abd the gift of geace which makes possible to humanity things it would otherwise br unable to do. They are a sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the evidence of the power if God's grace.

The first story is about division, distrust and suspicion. It is about human pride, and arrogance.

The story of the day of Pentecost, is rather different. It is about the grace of God, not human pride. It is about the Spirit of God calling together those who are so very different and granting them unity in diversity. It is about the love of God which embraces all people, all races, all nations and all languages. It is about the Power of God which blesses us with variety, and colour, creativity and difference.

It is about imagination and courage of humanity in response to God. It is the breath and fire of Pentecost. It is the descent of the Holy Spirit.


There are more photos of the Pentecost celebration on our Facebook page

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Homily for Pentecost

The Holy Spirit will teach you everything.

When people talk about the Holy Spirit, especially in modern times, the image we are given is of something exciting, something unpredictable. It is is true that the Spirit may well have been neglected in the past, and now those who call themselves charismatics, remind of the miracles and wonders which the Spirit can perform: speaking in tongues, the power of inspiration, the intensity of prayer and meditation. The image we have - one which comes from St Paul - is of the Spirit blowing where it wills - unpredictably surprising and challenging us.

And nothing at all wrong with that. At times we surely need imagination and a challenge.

But the unpredictable wind is not the only image which Scripture gives us. In todays Gospel we are reminded that the Spirit is also breath - the breath of God - and breath is at the same time a life force - so, very powerful - but also a regular, predictable, necessity for life. As breath it has structure and regularity. And while the wind is exciting and unpredictable, it is also abstract power. But breath - well, there no breath without a breather. Breath requires personality, more than a force, a living person.

And this is why the Spirit is a teacher. Because to learn is to grow. The word education comes from a word ‘to grow’. And teaching requires structure and content and form and knowledge. And teaching requires a school and a standard, material to teach.

Because of the Gift of Spirit, we have not only the opportunity to pray but we also have the Church and its ministers, the Sacraments and their saving graces, the faith and its teachers.

The Spirit can pass through and over every boundary, every limit, every fence and wall; and he also provides us with every true path, with every framework and all guidance. He teaches us, to protect and to guide us. And to save us.

Location:Eastwood Pl,Stoke-on-Trent,United Kingdom

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Homily for the Ascension

Homily for the Ascension

Why are you men looking into the sky? (Acts 1:11)

The trouble with the Ascension is that we think it is about the absence of Jesus - not his presence.

After all, he prepares his disciples for his departure. He tells them that soon they will not see him. He tells them that he is leaving them. The accounts in the Gospels tell us he was taken from their sight, that he disappear into the cloud, that he was carried up into heaven. In art, the Ascension is often pictured - a little oddly - by the sight of a couple of feet just visible, poking out of the bottom of a cloud. It seems that the Ascension is the end of that time of appearances and presences of Christ. Now these 40 days are concluded, he is taken away, to be seen no more.

But if we remain only with this image, this idea, we entirely miss the point. You will see me, then you won’t see me, Jesus says rather enigmatically. I will not leave you without comfort, he says. I will be with you always, even till the end of time. Where two or three are gathered together, I am in the midst of them. This is my body, this is my blood, do this to remember - recall - me.

Before the Ascension Christ was present in one place, now he is present in every place. Then he sat and eat with his disciples by the lakeside, now we receive his body and blood, the bread of life, in every country, in every city of the world. Then he walked the dusty paths of Palestine, now he strides through every land, borne by his Church. Then he dwelt in one man and one place, now he dwells in every person who has been baptised into his life. Then he healed a few of the sick, now he blesses millions of the sick through the sacrament of anointing. Then he taught the crowds in the market place, from the boat, and on the hillside, now his words are read from every Church and chapel and pulpit. Then he prayed in solitude on the Mount of Olives, now he prays in every believer. Then his body suffered for us on the cross, now we receive his risen and mystical body and blood in the Mass. Then he showed love and compassion to the weak and vulnerable, now his people bring that compassion to every community of the world, caring for the hungry and the distressed.

Now - we do not need to gaze up into the sky: he dwells with us, he lives in us, and is not absent - but among us for ever.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sermon / Homily for Easter Four (Good Shepherd Sunday)

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday - the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
It is perhaps a difficult time for vocations to the priesthood. We know that the numbers of those going forward for the priesthood are much smaller than they ever used to be. We know that the average age of priests is increasing, in some places alarmingly so. We are often told that the great woes of the Church are the fault of the clergy, of clericalism, of celibacy, of the secrecy and privilege which surrounds the priestly life. It was hardly surprising to read the other day of one American Bishop asking ‚”Why would anyone want to be a priest at present”? It might have been intended to be a rhetorical question ... though I can’t be sure.
Why would anyone want to be a priest?
Why do I want to be a priest?

[Now admittedly I am not your run of the mill priest: I am married and have not only a wife but children and grand-children. Some say this makes a priest more sympathetic or knowledgeable of people’s lives. I’m not so sure. I think celibacy has great benefits to the Church, and is an indication of the sacrifice of himself that every priest must make. If being a family man gives a certain insight - which is arguable - then celibacy gives a certain freedom, and that is certain. I would never argue against the norm of a celibate priesthood.
But actually the focus of the priestly life is elsewhere. And the joys are found everywhere. ]

So why am I priest?
Because this gives me the greatest privilege any person can ever have: to share something of people’s lives, and in doing so bringing the grace of God to them.
Every week I sit and talk with those who are bereaved and distressed. Every week I discuss the struggles of prayer and daily living with those who come to confession. Every week I am asked for advice by those in difficulty. Every week I am challenged to justify what I believe in. Every week I have the joy of sharing what I hold to be true and I try explain it. Every week I visit homes, schools, hospitals and sometimes prisons and meet the young and the old, the working and the retired, the healthy and the sick, the good and the not so good. I frequently share with a family the joy of the gift of their child, by celebrating baptism with them. And I am part of the preparations of a family as they approach the joy and excitement of their wedding. I am called out to anoint the dying and pray with them, to console their relatives, to bring some little comfort in a difficult time. I chat with young children, talk to teenagers and converse with adults. On occasion I meet the homeless, the desperate, recovering alcoholics, parents separated from their children. I sit on committees and boards and governing bodies and have the responsibility and privilege of sharing in decisions which affect people’s lives.
And most of all, I celebrate, with joy, the sacraments and especially the mass, the supreme sacrifice in which bread and wine become His body and blood, in which grace touches our lives, in which heaven touches earth.
And this is the point - the real point. Because I know there are many things I’m not so good at. I talk a bit too quick and I’m always a bit too busy. I’m late starting mass and sometimes forget appointments. It is often difficult to know what to say to those in distress, and to know how to help those in trouble. I make decisions which sometimes work out, but sometimes don’t? Sometimes people are upset, or hurt, or overlooked. I forget people’s names ... I’m sure you could add to the this.
But here is the amazing thing. When I have struggled with my words or an answer, or discussed for a long time a difficult problem someone says to me, “Thank you so much Father, I feel so much better” or “your words are really helpful” or even “I enjoyed your homily” or the words I wrote for the Sentinel or said on the radio some other extra-ordinary and unexpected words of compliment.
And I know I don’t deserve them. This is not me who has done this. I know that. This is God working within me. This is heaven touching earth. This is the operation of grace. The grace of holy orders.
This is why I am a priest.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Homily for the third Sunday in Easter

Do you love me?

The simplest questions are sometimes the hardest. Do you love me? It could be the question a wife asks a husband, or a mother a child. It could be the question for the eve of a wedding, or after decades of marriage. And it is such a heavily laden question, not because of the answer, but because of the reason for asking.
It is a question which seeks reassurance, which yearns reconciliation. Normally, love asks no questions: Love only declares itself. I love you, wife and husband, mother and child say to one another. But to turn this into a question - now that is unsettling.
And we know why Jesus asks. Why three times he asks. Not because he doubts Peter’s love. Not because he needs to be reassured. No, in this case it is not the questionner who has needs to be put at ease, but the one who is asked the question. Three times Peter denied Jesus. Three times Peter refused to acknowledge him. Three times he spurned his allegiance to him. And when the cock crowed, Peter wept. Wept for the love he had denied. Broken hearted, like any rejected lover - yet the act of rejection was his, and his alone.
This threefold declaration of Love is Peter’s penance, his forgiveness, his reconciliation. Each protest of his love is the healing of his offence. And this wounded and broken apostle is exalted to such great trust and responsibility - feed my sheep, Jesus says. The task he is given is a measure of his restoration: because only those who truly know their own weakness and frailty, only those who know their sins and show contrition, they, only they, are fully ready to receive the wonderful Gift of his Risen Love, and share that great gift, as a shepherd cares for his flock.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday / Easter Two

Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe. John 20:29

It was that very wise man, author and wit, GK Chesterton, who about 100 years ago, said “When people cease to believe in something, they will believe in anything.” They are prophetic words, because we live in a world and a society where there is no lack of belief at all - for people will believe in almost anything provided is different or novel or unusual.
People will believe in astrology and tarot, and take part in séances. They will embrace homeopathic medicine, chiropracy and acupuncture. They will tell you that God is an astronaut, that Leonardo Da Vinci was part of some historic consipiracy, that Jesus married Mary Magdalen, had a large family and retired to Spain, and that he was gay, of course. They will tell you that the earth is flat or hollow, that man never landed on the moon, that Kennedy was assassinated by Martians ... and goodness knows what else. The more shocking the idea, the more likely it is to be believed. And of course there may be some truth in some of these ideas, and perhaps occasionally some merit - but not all at the same time, surely.
Yes it’s true. We do not live in an unbelieving world, but we do live in a credulous one, and there is a very big difference between faith and credulity. It is good to have an open mind, provided it isn’t open at the bottom.
But Faith is not about fancy or novelty. It is not without foundation in fact, or in history. Thomas and the Apostles see the risen Christ not so that we can believe blindly, but so that they can be witnesses to the truth - so that we can hear the message they preached, the truth which they taught, the vision they received.
Faith’s firm foundation is the Good News, the amazing message of what really happened, and the power of Life and Love which still dwells amongst us, full of grace and truth.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Homily / Sermon for Easter Day

Homily for Easter Day

The well known children’s writer and atheist, Phillip Pullman, has a new book published this weekend. It is called “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ”. The basic idea behind the book is that Jesus was a good man, a teacher of sound morality, who lived an exemplary life and died a terrible and undeserved death. St Paul, however, created something very different, a god-like figure of worship, Christ, in whose name much cruelty and wickedness has been committed.
No doubt many people will be attracted by this idea. Don’t think it is a new or original idea. This idea that Jesus was just a good man and all the rest made up has been around for a long time. It is much the same as what Muslims believe. It was the popular subject of many books in the 19th Century. Social reformers have often seen ‘the good man Jesus’ and his sermon on the mount as an inspiration in their struggle for justice.
But there is a big flaw in the argument, a whopping great fly in the ointment, and that is our belief in the resurrection, the Christian celebration of Easter. Pullman’s ideas, and of those who hold much the same, separates the good man of history from the worship, and the miracles and the more than anything else, the resurrection.
And yet, the resurrection is a historical event. It changed history. And it is based on solid historical fact.
The first historical fact is that Jesus truly died on the cross. We are told that when the soldier put the spear in his side ‘blood and water’ came out. This proves Jesus had suffocated.
Secondly, everyone knew where Jesus’ body was placed. The women visited the tomb. They knew who the tomb belonged too. Soldiers even guarded it.
The third historical fact is that even the enemies of the first Christians agreed that the tomb was empty after his death. It would have been easy to prove he’d not risen if his body could be found. It couldn’t. It has disappeared.
And the fourth historical fact, and the fact which shows the change in history is what happened to the disciples. When Jesus was arrested and crucified his disciples fled in fear for their own lives. One of the had betrayed him. Another denied he ever knew him. Yet in three days they were transformed from fear to joy. No longer afraid that they might die, they were ready to give their lives for what they had seen. And their message has spread throughout the world ever since.
The very fact that we celebrate today not an abstract belief, but an event in history is proof beyond all prejudice that the Good Man Jesus is the Risen Christ.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Homily for Mandy Thursday

In some places the washing of feet is controversial. Some people argue that it should not be only men who are chosen, but women too - after all, don’t live in an inclusive world? To leave a group of people out goes against all sense of equality and fairness - doesn’t it?
I knew a parish which was sensitive to the washing of feet for another reason - good old English squeamishness and reserve - and instead, in that place, to save the blushes of the people and the awkwardness of the priest, all the congregation were invited to come forward to wash their hands.
This odd custom alerts us to an important point. Symbolism does matter. The actions and ceremonies of the faith are not simply quaint customs, but they have deep meaning and power.
It is not of course the disciples who wash their hands, but Pilate. And Pilate washes his own hands, rather than has them washed for him. These are not just details. They make a difference. The one is an action of service and sacrifice, the other an abdication of responsibility. Symbolic actions are more than just symbols - they action enacts what it represents.
And so with the other symbols of this night - the bread and wine at the meal, the incidentals which for the rest of history overshadow all the other items shared and consumed. Bread which brings his Body to us, Wine which bleeds into our own hearts. Not the symbols of an absent Christ - but the bearers of his love. Where charity and love are, there is God.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Homily / Sermon for Palm Sunday

Blessing on the King who comes, in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens! (Luke 19:38)

Is it wrong, I wonder, for me to say that I love Holy Week?

It seems a bit wrong - after all - it is an immensely sad time, when we recall betrayal, torture, suffering and death. The music with its minor keys takes up the sad tone. The ceremonies in their plainness and their drama are poignant and moving. It is Easter, after all, which is the time of joy … not Holy Week.

But of course, we embark on Holy Week knowing already the end of the story. We traipse the way of the cross guided by the light of the resurrection. The betrayal and agony in the Garden of Maundy Thursday would be bleak, were it not for the promise of new life revealed in the Mass. The suffering and sacrifice of Good Friday would be crushing, were it not for the laying of his body in a tomb which waits for a new dawn. And as we set the new fire on Holy Saturday - we already know that the sacrifice has burnt away sins and his light leads us on to his new life.

And today, as we hold our Palm Crosses, which at the same time represent both the cheers and jeers of the crowds, we share in this hard road which leads to his victory. It is a Holy Week not because it is sad, but it is a Holy Week because together we walk this road with Christ. And that I think is why I love Holy Week - because like life itself, it is journey which we never walk on our own.

The Gospel is about mercy and hope for those who love God from their hearts, and turn to him in truth.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Homily / Sermon for Lent 5

Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. (John 8:6)

Have you ever wondered what Jesus was writing?
Well you are not the first. From the very earliest days of the Church, preachers have asked this very question.
St. Jerome says he was writing down the sins of the accusers. St. Bede says he wrote down the 10 Commandments. St. Augustine said that he wrote on the ground indicating that the names of these men were to be written in earth, not in Heaven, where the names of the saints are written.
And in our own time, have a look round the internet and you will find preachers and commentators saying similar things.
But all of them seem to making a particular assumption - that what Jesus wrote down had some impact on the accusers. In writing their names, or the commandments, he was shaming and embarrassing them.
I’m not so sure. This is the only time in the Gospels we hear of Jesus writing. We know he could read, but perhaps he hardly ever wrote - there would be little need for him to. And why should he be writing names or words: perhaps he was doodling, reflecting, meditating - not sending a message which had been forgotten by the time the story was written.
There are other striking, conflicting elements in this story: between the gang of men who make their accusations, and the solitary woman whose sin was with some unnamed man; between the stones which these men were ready to hurl, and the dust in which Jesus wrote.
They are contrasts between the strong and the weak, the substantial and the insubstantial, the powerful and the powerless - and yet they are the same: stones become dust, man and woman sinned together, all fall short of the glory of God.
And Jesus - in calling the bluff of the hypocrites - by actions rather than words shames the accusers and saves the accused.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Homily for Lent Four (Motheriing Sunday)

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. (Luke 15:20)

On Mothering Sunday it may seem odd to us that we have a Gospel reading which so clearly speaks of family life, yet which mentions only the men, the Father and his two sons.
The situation is very familiar in one way or another to many families. It speaks of faithfulness and impetuosity, of indulgence and jealousy, of affection for the wayward one, and the anger of the one who feels taken for granted. What family has not known some of these feelings and situations?
Yet as we look at the story - especially today - we might just wonder about the mother. How did she feel about the son who took his money and wasted it all? Did she long for his return, or sympathise with her older son in his bitterness? Or did she just dutifully toil in the kitchen, cooking the fatted calf?
We shouldn’t ask too many of these kind of questions, because if we do, we are in danger of missing the point. This all-too-human family is far more. For we are the sons, both wayward like the younger son and bitter like the elder, sinful and self-righteous. And the Father ... is of course the Father. God himself. Loving, forgiving, yearning to welcome us back to him, when we are ready.
And the great painter Rembrandt had a deep insight when he painted the tender scene of the welcome of the prodigal, for the Father’s hands which embrace the returning son are one large muscular and rough, the other lighter, nimbler and smooth, a male hand and then a female hand, in a loving and welcome embrace.
God is both Mother and Father, indulgent, loving and waiting, ready and waiting, for our sorrow and our repentance. Longing to welcome us to the celebration of our forgiveness.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Homily / Sermon for Lent 3

Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. (Luke 13:4)

Why? Why?
This is the question which Jesus considers in today’s Gospel.
What about the people who were massacred while they worshipped? Why did that happen? And the people who died when the tower fell on them? Why did they have to die? And the people of Haiti, or the people of Chile? And the victims of the car accident or those afflicted by cancer: why? why?
Jesus’ answer may at first appear a little puzzling. But look again - it is filled with hope.
Firstly, he rebukes those who think these terrible events occurred because these were bad or wicked people. We might hardly think that, and the people of Jesus time clearly struggled with the idea, but still we might ask what have I/they done to deserve this? Why me?
Nothing. Of course nothing. They have done nothing wrong. No, Jesus says. This is not punishment. God does not strike them down through the wickedness of men or the whim of natural disaster. They are no worse than any of you, and possibly even better.
And there is another thing. And this is source of our joy. We must repent. We must turn again to God. And if we do there is hope, and more. Disaster and affliction and persecution make us think again. Consider your lives, live according to God’s will. Because then there is a very real hope.
While the rich and comfortable of the world might look upon such disaster and say to us “How can you believe in God?”, the people of Haiti and Chile have no such luxury. They are fervently and prayer and packing into their cracked and wounded Churches to worship this wonderful God.
The Gospel is about mercy and hope for those who love God from their hearts, and turn to him in truth.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Homily / Sermon for Lent Two

Peter said to Jesus ‘Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (Luke 9:33)

Are there any jokes in the Bible? Well, not of the kind we might be familiar with today.
But there are plenty of stories which invite us to smile at the ridiculous of the words or the actions. Jesus riding into Jerusalem as king, but on a donkey, rather than a grand horse. The idea of a camel passing through the eye of a needle, of the blind leading the blind, or of a log in the eye. They all invite amusement, if not quite hilarity.
And today’s Gospel too: ‘Let us make three tents’, Peter says, floundering for words. Three tents! Even Mark makes apologies for him ‘he didn’t know what he was saying’.
But in a way he says something very important. He wants to makes this wonderful moment last for ever. He wants to bring it down to earth, preserve it in aspic, or carbonite, like a fossil.
He wants to make a heavenly moment into an earthly reality. And in that way he is sort of missing the point. Our other readings provide the key - in the first reading Abraham is told to look to the sky to see what his descendants will be like. And in our second reading St Paul tells us that ‘our homeland is in heaven’.
We fix our eyes on earth, our hopes on this life, our hearts on material goods - yet they never really satisfy, but however good they may be finally they disappoint.
Our true home is in heaven, the moments of joy are glimpses of eternity, this life a preparation for the life to come. Now we are preparing ourselves for paradise - and in this transfiguration we see Christ beckoning us through an open door.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

‘Having exhausted all these ways of tempting him, the devil left him, to return at the appointed time.’ (Luke 4:13)

These are menacing words, don’t you think? Defeated now, the devil slinks away, but not for long. He’s off to bide his time, wait for a while, lurk in the shadows, never too far away, just looking for his opportunity.

But we live in an age where people struggle with the idea of the devil. A man in a red suit with a long curly tail? Really!

And sure enough, even religious people, especially religious people, do not believe the devil exists. We surround ourselves with such a comfortable notion of faith, a God of love, the Good Shepherd, the forgiving Father. Wickedness and evil seem so far from what our faith and our idea of God is all about, that is it just so difficult to understand how he could allow there even to be a Devil.
And this is dangerous stuff. Fighting an enemy who you don’t believe exists, is wrestling with shadows.

It was the writer CS Lewis, I think, who said that the devil’s greatest achievement was convincing people that he doesn’t exist. We must not fall into that trap.

It’s not that we need to believe that he’s red and has horns and the tail, that he lives under the earth in fire and brimstone. But if we stop believing that evil can be a power, and even have a mind and a will, if we don’t recognise that the life of faith is a struggle and that obstacles often fall in our way, if we don’t accept that when bad things happen it may not be God’s will but might in fact be ill will, if we don’t accept these - then there is no battle to be fought, no struggle to be won. We are like those without hope.

He skulks in the shadows, waits in the darkness - and we may not even realise he is there.

Lent is our time in the wilderness - our time when we confront temptation and remember that there is a power of evil. Our time for recognising Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises.
And defeating him.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Homily / Sermon for Fifth Sunday of the Year

‘He and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John’ (Luke 5:9)

This miracle story is also a parable of life. Peter, James and John are toiling in the boat, and to no avail. Try as they might, struggling as they do, nothing seems to go right. Surely, if they try harder, work longer, just cast their nets one more time they will get that catch which they need, which their hard work deserves?

That’s life. We can work hard. Be proud of our own efforts. Feel we deserve great rewards, yet it doesn’t seem to work out. The harder we try the less successful we seem. We think we only need to do just a bit more - but however many more bits we may add we do not seem to succeed.

And so, like us, dejected, the fishermen hit the shore. With a sense of failure.

And Jesus says: yes, you can do it - just cast out your nets. He challenges the fishermen to do what they have already done: and they are not so sure. We’ve tried that, they say. But he doesn’t ask for extra effort. He doesn’t ask them to try harder. He doesn’t say you’ve been doing it wrong. He just asks them to trust him. Trust harder. And when they trust him - then they are amazed. Not even a normal catch - they were ‘completely overcome’.

And so too, it can be for us. While hard graft and effort may end in frustration, great successes and achievements often take us by surprise: the great idea, the act of kindness, the work of art, the moment of vision or inspiration, the talent for music or sport or human compassion. They don’t just happen - but they seem to be so much more than the effort which we put in. We become amazed, not by what we can do - but by what God can do through us.

This is grace. The free gift of God. The nets bursting with blessings.

Not because we have tried, but because we have trusted.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Homily / Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of the Year

?I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.? (Luke 4:24)
In today?s Gospel Jesus? own people turn against him. They reject his ministry and his miracles. Not for the first - and indeed not for the last time - the response to Jesus is not love or admiration or worship, but violence and a thirst for destruction.
What is going on here?
On the face of it, it seems that is just an illustration of the old saying ?familiarity breeds contempt?. Come, on - they say - who is this great preacher and wonder-worker we?ve been hearing about? He?s no one special! He grew up with us. He went to school with us. He worked with us. He?s only the Son of Joseph!
But those very words tell us that there is something more far reaching, much deeper going on here. When we, the reader about hear about Jesus escaping death, our thoughts are turned to his death and his suffering and indeed his resurrection. And when we, the reader hear those words ?Son of Joseph? we are immediately reminded of the story just a few paragraphs earlier of the conception and birth of Christ of a virgin.
The name ?Son of Joseph? sets Jesus clearly amongst his people and his home community: but knowing that he is Son of Mary indicates far more.
First, he is greater than kith and kin, greater than blood and race, greater than family and ethnic relationships. Christ is recognised by the widow of Zarephath, and Namaan the Syrian. He comes for all people of all languages, all races, all locations. He is a human son, but as Son of God he is King of all people. Deeply rooted in the faith and scriptures and soil of his people, but in now way bound or limited by them. As St Paul says, in Christ there is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. In him there is no black or white, rich or poor, citizen or refugee.
And second, to understand Christ is not so much a matter of knowledge - of his parentage, his home, his family and his language: no, it is a matter, more than anything of faith and of love. It is not about puzzling over this Son of Joseph, whom we know, but worshipping this Son of Mary, whom we trust. To turn to Christ, is to live in love - to go beyond the questioning and jealousies of the mind, to embrace him with the heart of love. And live that love.
Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people?s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. (1 Corinthians 13)
Love - as Paul says - does not come to an end. Christ avoids the fury of the crowd, just as he will rise from the dead. Because he loves us. And we are called to live that love.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sermon / Homily for 3rd Sunday of the Year

“He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.” (Luke 3:18-19)

Today is the Sunday which falls within the week for Christian Unity. It is a day which is kept with varying degrees of enthusiasm. In some places there will be joint celebrations, acts of witness, even united services taking the place of the regular Sunday service. Indeed for some Christian communities Unity Sunday is a highlight of the year, when more people get together and worship than would normally be the case. In other places, though, it hardly features on the calendar, and passes by almost without comment.

We would be right in thinking that a lot of the steam and impetus has gone out of Christian Unity, especially for us Catholics. While we are very comfortable to welcome those from other Churches into our fold - a kind of unity we were always happy with - it seems that ‘full and visible unity’, as it is sometimes called, ‘sacramental unity’ as we might call it, is further away than ever, and to many it might seem that the only way to become closer to other Christians is to break the rules, rather than obey them.
For us Catholics, there can be no unity without the Pope, and it is his teaching which leads and inspires us. Some comments he made recently are especially helpful. (See

In a visit to the synagogue in Rome (17th January) he pointed to the great moral heritage of the Torah - what we call the Old Testament Law - which Christians and Jews share together, and challenged us all to focus not on differences of theology and belief, but a shared moral purpose.

"On this path we can walk together,” he said, “aware of the differences that exist between us, but also aware of the fact that when we succeed in uniting our hearts and our hands in response to the Lord's call, his light comes and shines on all the peoples of the world."

In other words, perhaps a bit more succinctly, he says “Never mind the unity of minds/ideas, we’ve gone perhaps as far as we can with that - let’s concentrate instead on the unity of hearts and hands”

The Unity of Hearts and Hands - I like that. The movement for Christian Unity, and indeed the understanding of other religions, has moved a long long way in the past century and especially the past 60 years. We can pray with other Christians, but share sacraments in restricted circumstances only. We do not pray with other religions, but we can respect their spiritual traditions. But to move further on is difficult and laborious and even painful, and those who think this is the most important thing to do often end up watering down their own faith and fail to respect the distinctiveness of others.

But the Unity of Hearts and Hands is different. There is so much that can be done and will be done and must be done.

In the Synagogue in Rome, the Pope gave four issues for co-operation and witness:
- to rewake in society the importance of faith
- to defend the right to life and the family
- to promote justice for the poor, women and children, strangers, the sick, the weak and the needy
- and to work for peace.

There might be other matters which we could add - but this is a tremendous starting point and a real - but also realisable challenge - to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free - it’s the same.

You see we can talk about the ‘scandal of Christian Unity’ and wonder why non-catholics don’t seem to love our Lady and why we won’t welcome them to communion, but what about together working for the relief of the people of Haiti? And combining our efforts to protect the environment? And together protecting the dignity of human life? And together opposing hatred and racism and injustice in all its forms? And together caring for the sick and the needy? And together promoting protecting family life?
To be true, the true ‘scandal of Christian Unity’ and even ‘Human Unity’ is when we human beings hate one another and hurt one another - and that is often done under the badge of religion. When religion is used as an excuse for hatred, then we have the scandal of disunity.

Ideas, Theology, Dialogue all have their place, but it is a small place. Action is much more important. Our Hands should be joined no more than briefly, because together we should be clearing the rubble and rebuilding a world - bringing good news to the poor, setting the downtrodden free, proclaiming the Lord’s year of favour.