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.