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.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Homily for the Reception of the Body of Fr James McInerney

Homily for the Reception of the Body of Fr James McInerney

The homily for a funeral should not be a eulogy. That is to say, when we gather together to commend a soul to God, we do not do so to praise them, but rather to pray for them - to ask God for his mercy and forgiveness. We plead him to free the departed soul from purgatory, to cleanse him from him sins and to welcome him into his glorious presence. We do not come together to celebrate the achievements or praise the virtues of the one whose loss we mourn, but rather to praise Christ, whose death and resurrection makes it possible for us to dwell in God?s presence.
This is true for every soul, and for every funeral, no less that of a priest, no less that of Fr Seamus.
And yet, our prayers are more insistent, our petitions more earnest, because of our respect, our affection and our love for him.
He is a sinner standing before God?s throne of mercy, as we all are - yet who can find a bad word to say about him?
It was on Boxing Day evening that Fr Eric, the hospital chaplain, rang me to tell of Fr Seamus sudden, shocking and unexpected death. I had seem him just two days before. He chatted away about this and that in his typical bright and cheery manner. Fr Eric described as ?chirpy?, and I?ve thought several times since how appropriate a description is was of him. Positive, jovial, kind, good humoured.
He had an excellent singing voice. I?ve got a recording somewhere of him singing ?What a wonderful world? - I think he could have been a crooner. Many of us will remember him singing at his jubilee celebrations, and he needed little excuse to burst into song.
He had a bright and sometimes dry sense of humour. When he supplied for me at Hanley he always refused to take the offering and the stipend. ?You must, Father,? I said, ?at least - let me give you a gift?. ?Just do one thing for me, Peter,? he said - finally relenting as I thought - ?remember me in your will.?
And this positive attitude on life, this musical in his soul, no doubt was closely connected with his Irish heritage, which was so important to him. When St Patrick?s Day fell in Holy Week he came down to the party in the club in Hanley and asked if he could park at the Presbytery. ?That?s fine?, I said. ?But remember it?s Holy Week, Father. Don?t have a drink!? ?Peter?, he said, ?of course I won?t be drinking.? Then he added, by way of explanation, ?I?m Irish?. [Of course, he didn?t drink anyway]
In his last illness he was private, and many did not realise how ill he was. But he was not secretive and did not seem to be at all afraid. At the Deanery meeting about a month ago he was very matter of fact about the cancers which were spreading in his body. We could say he was brave, but it was rather more prosaic than that, it seemed a kind of acceptance.
He stands before God now, and we come to plead God?s mercy and forgiveness from our great love of God - who has blessed us so much in this wonderful person, this caring priest, this holy man.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Homily / Sermon for the Baptism of the Lord

Someone is coming who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals (Luke 3:16)

Taking down the decorations is always something of an anti-climax, isn?t it? Although people will say they should come down on 12th Night - no one seems to know whether that means the 5th or 6th of January, and now that we keep the feast of the Epiphany on the first Sunday in the new year that doesn?t seem very relevant anyway. Most people seem to want to take their decorations down even before new year - and probably, let?s be practical, before they go back to work.
And it?s a Job. A necessary and important Job. But a Job nonetheless. A task to be performed, but done just because it has to be done. No Joy and anticipation here.
After all - it?s all over now. That?s the end of this joyful time. Now we return to work. We are not ?laughing through the snow? now - but rather trudging through it - ?In the bleak midwinter?.
But there could not be a greater contrast in our moods with today?s Gospel and the celebration today. Perhaps it is too convenient for us to think that once the child is born and safe in his Mother?s arms that it is all over. But now - it is just begun!
Christmas and Epiphany is not an ending, but a beginning: ?one is coming who is greater than I am? John the Baptist says. Soon we remember his first miracles, the call of his disciples, the beginning of his preaching. We see what was present and worshipped in the crib unfold into a life lived for all of us - its teaching, its mystery, its sacrifice.
And there is one of the decorations which can stay with us a little longer, because it is no decoration, but a holy icon. The crib will stay for a few weeks. In the old English tradition, the crib would stay right until Candelmass, 2nd February, and no bad thing - after all the Kings have only just arrived - why should we pack them away so soon.
The crib, if you like, is the acorn of the faith - or perhaps a more biblical image is to call it the mustard seed. From something tiny and almost secret a great tree will emerge. Someone, something very great is about to emerge, the story has just begun ...