Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mary, Mother of God: Homily / Sermon

Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)


These few words, which occur on a couple of occasions in Luke's Gospel, have had a far reaching impact. They are words which struck Blessed John Henry Newman too, and he preached a famous homily on them, and they inspired him to write one of  his best known works, the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

They speak to us about the Heart of Mary, the Immaculate Heart. A phrase not used in Scripture itself, but a phrase which reveals much of what Scripture teaches. They tell us so much not only about Mary, but about our own understanding of God.

In telling us that Mary treasures and ponders these words, St Luke is telling us that she said little, but thought much. Unlike the time when the Angel visited her, she does not ask questions, she does not challenge the message given to her. That was her moment of faith, when she accepted God's will for her. Now she listens, treasures, ponders. She lets the message unfold in all its detail. She reflects and prays. She has already accepted God's will, and now, bit by bit it becomes clear to her just precisely what that means.

And that is how faith works. When we commit ourselves to faith in God, belief in his coming in the flesh, his resurrection, in the Trinity - it does not mean that we instantly and fully understand all these things. The commitment of the heart always comes ahead of the understanding of the mind. Faith leads to understanding, commitment comes before knowledge, for it is the heart that enlivens the mind.

If there are aspects of the faith we do not understand, doctrines and dogmas which puzzle and confuse us, teachings which are hard to listen to or explain, we should never feel inadequate or allow this to undermine our faith, but turn rather in prayer to this simple woman, who listened, treasured and pondered; who served her Son; and who is Mother of Faith, Immaculate Heart, Mother of God.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Carol Service Homily 2011


Apparently, the Scientists in Cern in Switzerland have now got the evidence they need to prove the existence of what is called the "Higgs boson", the basic building block of matter, and therefore everything in the universe. Journalists like to call it "The God Particle", the origin of everything.

We could therefore rewrite today's Gospel:

In the beginning was the Higgs boson:
and the Higgs boson was the God particle.
Through it all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through it.
All that came to be had life through it ...

I could go on.

If you are the kind of person who believes in science, then no doubt this is very exciting. If you are the kind of person who believes that science has all the answers and has made religious belief and religious explanations of the world unnecessary, then no doubt you feel vindicated.

Yes, it is important stuff, a sure example of the extraordinary ingenuity of humanity in formulating such theories and making such discoveries.

But let's not miss the point.

Scientific discovery is one thing. It gives explanations, causation, but it does not uncover motives and purposes.

When I changed that reading, I had to make some subtle changes. I had to get rid of the word "with", and change the "he"s to "it". I had to remove all idea of relationship, all idea of dependence, all sense of hope. I had to remove the personal and make it completely impersonal. I had to remove all sense of purpose, and substitute the mechanical. 
If science is to be an explanation of everything, then we have to do without any sense of meaning or purpose in the world. If we lay bear the mechanism, then all that is left is machinery.

The Gospel reading tells a very different tale. It tells us not how the world came to be - neither does the book of Genesis for that matter - but it tells us that the universe has purpose, the Word has meaning, and that such things as love, and loyalty, honesty and integrity, the powers that bind us together throughout our lives, the forces that confirm our deep intuition of the immortality of the soul, the values that underpin our hope in a greater and almighty power, these are much more than merely the movement of genes, but the force that gives life and light to the universe.

When we hear the words "In the beginning was the Word" - when we celebrate the Christmas story in all its beauty and charm - we are being told that life has a purpose, The Word has Meaning, and however important the Boson may be (and it is) what binds the world together is not a particle but a loving heart.


(Image from the Daily Mail - An LHC image of a Higgs boson decaying into two jets of hadrons and two electrons). 

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

Advent 3: Homily / Sermon

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison; to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord. (Isaiah 61:1-2)


What season of the Christian year is most charcteristic of the Christian life?

You see, I think that as Christians, we often think life is a sort of perpetual Lent. It is about repentance from sin, and doing without, and suffering in union with Christ. There is a certain drabness - just as the Church is undecorated so the Christian life is about sacrifice. Perhaps that's the kind of idea that we have grown up with.

But as a reflection of the Christian life it is too bleak, too negative, too much about suffering and not enough about victory, too much about sacrifice and not enough about happiness.

Or perhaps Easter is a better idea. If is a time of happiness and rejoicing. After all, through baptism we die and rise with Christ. In Communion we share in his risen life. Christ has saved us from sin, so we rejoice in the new life we share in him. This is our Easter faith. And over and over again we sing alleluia.

But is Easter typical of the Christian life? It's full of hope. It's optimistic. It's positive. But perhaps that's too much. We know all too well about our sins and imperfections and sufferings. We are Easter people - but not quite yet.

No. I think that more than any other season it is Advent which characterises the Christian life. Advent is a time of joy. Not only do we still sing Alleluia, but we also sing Rejoice! Emmanuel will come! And we echo the words of the first Christians 'Come. Lord Jesus!'. We eagerly await his coming. It is a time of joy, but in waiting we also realise that the best is yet to come. This life has its incompleteness, it's shortcomings, its imperfections.

We wait for the fulness of Christ's presence, yet we do so with a sure and clear hope. Advent is a time of rejoicing, a time of anticipation, a time of hope, a time when we know what it is to do without, because we know what is yet to come.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Advent 2: Homily / Sermon

“The time has come, and the Kingdom of God is near at hand!” (Mark 1:14)

NewImageThe most famous play of the playwright Samuel Becket is called “Waiting for Godot”. When it was published and first performed in the early 1950s it caused something of a storm. By the 1970s when I studied it for A level, it had become something of a classic.

It has no story really. In two acts, the two principal characters wait by a tree for the arrival of Godot. We never really find out who Godot is, and he never turns up. The two characters are like tramps, or clowns, and they seem very weak or pathetic. Overall, it is not an uplifting play, and then, and since, people have argued about what it means and who Godot is. Is he meant to represent God? Possibly? Is the tree the tree of life? Of the knowledge of Good and Evil? Or of the Cross?

The play is really about waiting, and hope, and what it can do to people. The pair are foolish because their waiting is pointless, and never ending. It drags down their lives so they cannot do anything else other than wait. The waiting weighs them down in boredom. It is a fascinating play, but also quite depressing.

The play is far from being a Christian play, because it seems to mock hope and ends in absurdity. Yet on the other hand it does present a mirror image of Christian hope.

If hope makes us inactive, if it stultifies our lives, if it imprisons and constricts us, then it is no hope at all. We, the Advent people, are waiting. And we know the wait can be long - “to the Lord a day can mean a thousand years”. So what is the difference?

That is simple. For them, they wait for something they hardly know, but which will change their lives in some inexplicable way in the future. For them the present is tedious, but the future will be different. For Christians it is very different. We wait for someone we do know, who has already visited us, who shares his life with us in the sacraments and the saints. And the waiting, in faith and hope, inspires us and encourages us. The time of waiting, the Advent of this life frees us from hopelessness: it gives us meaning and purpose.

Isaiah’s messenger cries from the mountains, the voice of John cries in the wilderness, and the voice of Jesus in the cities of Galilee to proclaim what is Good News, a joyful message. As St Peter says in the second reading, our waiting for the coming of the Day of God inspires us to live holy and saintly lives, filled with joy.

The problem with the men in the play is for them hope is in something which will change their lives in some vague once upon a time future, whereas for us, hope is in something that is changing our lives now.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Advent Sunday (B): Homily / Sermon

“Be on our guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come” (Mark 13:33)

The prayer of the first Christians, the final word of the Bible are about the coming of Christ: Maranatha, they prayed, Come, Lord Jesus. The first Christians would meet together on Saturday evening not for a short mass, but for a long vigil throughout the night, as they waited expectantly for the coming of Christ with dawn. Every Saturday-Sunday vigil remembered not only the resurrection of Jesus, but also looked forward to the coming of Christ at the end of time.

We have lost something of that excitement, that anticipation. December is an exciting time for us because of the pressures of preparing for Christmas, and sadly not because in Advent we are keenly looking forward to the coming of Christ.

Let us try to recover something of the wonder and awe which those first Christians had. They read scripture and prayed through the night, so that with the new day, as they shared the Eucharist, they knew that Christ was already with them in the sacrament – not yet clearly seen, maybe, not yet known by all people, perhaps,  and yet really and truly present in the Sacrament of the Altar.

So we should prepare ourselves for Christ this Advent, and renew once more our devotion to him in the Mass.

Let us renew ourselves in prayer: before we come to Mass – in quite times spent at home – on the journey to the Church – in a real sense of expectation that we will meet Christ here.

Let us also deepen our knowledge of Christ in scripture – by reading in advance the readings for Sunday Mass – by spending each day reading part of the Gospels, or of the Psalms, or using one of the many guides to the reading of Scripture which are available.

We can see Christ in the Sacrament, and truly meet him – if we prepare our hearts for this beautiful encounter.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Feast of Christ the King (C) : Homily / Sermon

"In so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me". (Matthew 25:39)

NewImageWe celebrate today the Feast of Christ our King. It is the culmination of the Church year as we celebrate Christ gathering all things to himself and ruling as Lord of all creation.

But the images presented to us in the readings speak very little of kingship directly. The word "King" appears a couple of times in the Gospel, though in fact we have are presented rather with other images of Christ, images which explain what kind of King he is.

Firstly, he is a Shepherd. We see this especially in the reading from the prophet Ezekiel and in the Psalm. These are familiar and comforting words: The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want, the Psalm says. He looks after the lost one, brings back the stray, bandages the wounded and keeps the weak strong, Ezekiel tells us. His care is especially for the weak and the wounded, the vulnerable, those who are poor, not simply in monetary terms, but those whose spirit needs lifting and sustaining, whose hearts are heavy, who reach out for the embrace of his love. He revives our drooping Spirit.

But there is another image, too. The Shepherd is also a Judge. The Shepherd may present a comforting image, but that he is also a Judge may be discomforting. He separates the sheep from the goats. He assigns the just punishment to those on his left hand. He distinguishes between the virtuous, who have carried out the works of mercy, and those who have not, and dispatches them to their fate.

When this Gospel is read, often the reading ends with the reward of the virtuous. It may be for reasons of length, but it may also be because we have a slight apprehension that our place amongst the sheep might not be as secure as we would hope. The gentle shepherd may seem a little too demanding for us.

But the message is not different, but the same. Just as we may be poor in needing his compassion to lift up our drooping spirit, so we are rich in being able to offer that compassion to others. He calls on us too to clothe the naked, visit the sick, feed the hungry, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded, make the weak strong.

This is not a fierce and painful judgment, but no more than a challenge to share what we have been given, to forgive others as we are forgiven ourselves, to show mercy to others as his mercy has been given to us, to love as we are loved.

Friday, November 11, 2011

33rd Sunday of the Year A : Homily / Sermon

‘His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have shown you can be faithful in small things, I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.” (Matthew 25)


Sometimes we may doubt whether this parable is really for us. Do I have a talent?

And of course, on one level it is a fair point. Not many of us are international swimmers, X factor singers, or skilled sculptors. Oh yes, we are good at some things more than others, but is that a talent?

Take care over the details in the story. It is money which the man gives to his servant to invest, and the currency is called ‘talents’. It might just as well have been pounds, or euros or dollars (in their thousands of course). The connection with great skill is an interesting one, but it isn’t exactly there in the original story.

You see the story is for us. We all do have gifts, gifts from God. We have all been given something by him, a vocation, an aptitude, an ability. It may not be prizewinning, but it is no less valuable for all that. 
You may include being a mother, or grandmother. You could be a teacher. Or a listener. You may be good at odd jobs, DIY, and can use that gift to help family, friends and neighbours. You may have a good singing or reading voice. Or a good sense of humour. You may be good at writing letters, or understanding complex documents or ideas. Or perhaps you just know how to get the DVD recorder to work. Any or all of these may be gifts, talents, granted by God.

Thank him for them. And don’t bury them. Put them to good use, and they will double, they will grow, and they will be to your credit and to the praise of God.

This is the warning here. Do not hide your light under a bushel, but rejoice in your blessings and put them to proper and frequent use. Glorify him in using the things with which he has blessed you, for to do so is not to take pride in yourself, but is to rejoice in making repayment to the Master, from whom come such blessings.

Friday, October 21, 2011

30th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon


A couple of years ago, the famous atheist, Professor Richard Dawkins, supported a plan to promote atheism by putting advertisements on London buses. They tried to copy some religious groups by using the kind of slogan you might find on a wayside pulpit - except one that rejected belief rather than promoted it. The adverts read: “There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

I find it fascinating, and amusing, for three good reasons.

Firstly, they said that “There's probably no God”. Ah - not certainly. They’re not quite sure…

Secondly, they said “stop worrying”. They obviously think that belief in God makes people worry. Well, the idea that God exists might worry them, but for most of us, to believe in God is far from worrying.

Thirdly, they say “enjoy your life”. They clearly believe that a religious believer does not enjoy life, but is miserable and unhappy.

Today’s Gospel presents us with the commandment to love. Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment, and he gives not one but two, though the two are really one: Love God and love your neighbour.

If we believe in God, then we must live by these commandments. But does this make us worry? Do they make us unhappy?

Quite the opposite. To know that God is love, and that we should respond to him in love is a source not of anxiety, but of great comfort, great hope, great consolation. To love God is to acknowledge the source of meaning and purpose. To love God is to embrace the truth. To love God is to glory and wonder at all that he has made.

Believing in God does make us anxious or unhappy. He encourages us in our lives. He guides us in the decisions we must take. He challenges us to love one another so that not only is my life happy but the lives of our neighbours may be happy too. He gives us comfort when we are sad. Hope when trouble confronts us. He gives us joy and blessings in our lives. He makes sense out of confusion and hope out of despair. He provides us with far more than enjoyment - he gives us happiness, the happiness of living in the Truth.

To be told “enjoy your life” might at first seem attractive, but what it really means is you are on your own, there is nothing else - no hope, no purpose - and no one else - no sacrifice, no commitment - other people are only there for what I can get out of them.

“Stop worrying. Enjoy your life.” Does not only mean that there is ‘probably no God’ but also that there is ‘probably no Love’.

We know better.

Friday, October 07, 2011

28th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon


October is not, perhaps the most obvious month for a wedding, yet this year I have three weddings, on three different Saturdays, this month. Last weekend the bride and groom were blessed with the hottest October day on record!

Yet, as I guess all of us know, planning a wedding celebration and attending to all the details can be a very exacting and very stressful task.

One such difficulty is the guest list. Who do you invite or not invite? Who do you sit next to whom? And what do you do about the people who are likely to come, but just can't be bothered to reply to the invitation?

Well, the King in the parable seems to have similar problems, and there seems go a simple message: if some of those invited can't be bothered to give the courtesy offs reply, then invite those who WILL be grateful.

But, of course, wise advice though this may be, that isn't really what the parable is about. The banquet, the Wedding Feast, is a reminder of the Eucharist, and an image of heaven, eternal life with God.

And the parable gives us a simple yet challenging message.

Firstly, God calls everyone into his Kingdom. The self-important, the self-righteous, the holier-than-thous had better beware. The rich, the wealthy, the influential, the clever, the successful - they are in danger of thinking themselves too good. The invitation is for them, but also the poor, the destitute, the weak, the uneducated, the failures of life, the sinners and the despised. They are invited too.

And there is a second point, which at first may seem to jar. It's to do with this strange detail of the man without a wedding garment. You see, while the invitation is open to everyone, this does not mean it us without conditions. Christ invites sinners, but they must be repentant sinners.

He invited all to his Wedding Feast, but accepting the invitation means accepting a faith and a way of life which changes and transforms us. In entering the Feast we become a new person - the Wedding Garment is the robe of our baptism, which symbolizes a new life in faith and trust and honesty and compassion and love. We must love as we are loved.

We must forgive as we are forgiven. We must give as we have received. As we have been invited, we must invite others.

As we enter the Feast, so we put on a wedding garment, leaving behind pettiness, and ingratitude and self-interest.

Friday, September 30, 2011

27th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon


For the third week we are in the vineyard. Two weeks ago we heard about the labourers in the vineyard. Last week we heard about the sons of the vineyard owner, and this week it is the tenants, and the servants, who come to the forefront of our attention.

Yet in each parable there is a constant figure in the background. We don't learn much about him, but he is vital to all three stories. He, of course, is the Vineyard owner.

The parallels are fairly obvious. The owner of the vineyard is the Father, God himself. He hires, pays, orders and owns. The vineyard is his.

And the characters in the stories are us. The workers, the sons, the servants, the rebellious tenants. At times good, at times bad, but at all times responsible to the Owner.

But what about the vineyard? It is not simply the Jewish people, or the world, or human society, or even 'the kingdom of heaven'. The Vineyard is God's Creation, his purpose, the workings of his love, his entire plan for humanity. This is truly what it meant when we say the Vineyard is the House of Israel.

And we are imperfect stewards. Sometimes rebellious. Sometimes obstinate. Yet often rewarded beyond what we deserve.

And the final reward is not material comfort, nor even the contentment from the well being of others, but the satisfaction of an invitation to the Vineyard of the Father, the Kingdom of God, the House of Israel.

Friday, September 23, 2011

26th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

Which of the two did the father’s will? (Matthew 21:31)

Change Graphic

This weekend we are back in the vineyard - though this time we are not with the workers, but with the owner’s family. One lad agrees to work but doesn't, while the other refused to work, yet does.

The basic message, so familiar from the life of any family, is simple and clear: when words and deeds do not match, it is the deeds which matter.

So often we find it so hard to say what is truly on our hearts. We find it hard to say sorry, yet we will undertake acts to heal rifts with others. We find it hard to admit that we are in the wrong, yet we will quietly correct ourselves. Like the typical teenagers in the parable we claim that we know best, yet follow the advice we are given anyway.

Words are important, deeds more so. We might win an argument, yet convince no one. The most persuasive argument will always be our example. We can tell our children to be honest, but if they see us being dishonest, then they will learn the example, not the words. We can gather together each week and profess our faith, but if that does not make a difference to our lives, who will ever think it is something worth sharing.

By their fruits shall you know them, says Jesus. St Francis of Assisi said to his followers 'Preach the Gospel - use words if necessary'. Deeds speak louder than words.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

25th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

Why be envious because I am generous? (Matthew 20:15)


It is sometimes said that there are two topics of conversation which should never be aired in polite company. One is politics and the other is religion. So, to bring both religion and politics together is especially dangerous. Yet this is what todays Gospel seems to do.

Here we have the labourers in the vineyard paid the same rate whether they worked all day or just for one hour.

Now the political mind looks at that story in terms of fairness and justice.

On the one hand it could be said that the parable underlines the rights of the employer, the vineyard owner, to do what he wishes with his money - to pay what he likes to whom he likes when he likes. No place for unions or regulations or a minimum wage here.

But on the other hand another political mind may disagree and say that the parable underlines the need for all to be supported, everyone to receive a basic wage, all to be given a living income whether work is available or not.

Which is right? Well both and neither. The Gospel deals with political issues, but also does far more.

Political life and questions are about fairness and justice, about rights and entitlements. They are all important in their own way. The Church supports struggles for justice, the promotion and protection of human rights – the right to a living wage and the right to own property.

But the Gospel does not stop there. The Gospel is not about rights – but about responsibilities. It is not about justice and fairness, but about love. It is about doing what is right, but also about doing more than is needed.

The Good Samaritan does not only stop to help, but he takes the wounded man to the inn. The man owed a great sum of money does not only give the debtor time to pay, but wipes out all the debt. The vineyard owner does not only find work for those seeking it – but pays them more than they are due.

The Church must challenge politicians. It must promote human life, human rights, peace and justice – but it can never be restricted to them. For God’s love is greater, more generous, than any legislator or political policy could ever be.


Friday, September 09, 2011

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily / Sermon

‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.’ (Matthew 18:21)


This week we celebrate the Victory, or the exaltation of the Cross.

It has often seemed to me a matter of great wonder that an action of such pain and suffering and brutality should have become the subject of some of the most moving artworks, and some of the most poignant music in the history of humanity.
In the first few centuries, Christians were so appalled by crucifixion that they never portrayed it in art. Yet the cross was a constant theme of prayer and reflection. St Paul talked of glorying on the cross of Christ. St John, sees the cross, the resurrection, an the ascension all as one - the raising up of Christ. In the second century, St Justin, points out how the plough, the ship's sail and even the form of the human body echo, in God's creation, the form of the cross.

And in the fourth century it was Constantine, the Emperor, who discovered that in bearing the standard of the cross he was victorious, so Christian went from being a persecuted minority faith to the religion of the empire.

Yet this Victory of the Cross is not a military victory, or a victory of numbers, or even a victory of right thinking over foolishness

The cross is sign of hope, sign of redemption, sign of victory because it welds together two interwoven truths of our faith - suffering and salvation.

And this is the great mystery of forgiveness. The overcoming of hurt and pain. The healing of hatred and division. Forgiveness which never gives up, but perseveres even seventy times seven.

The little crosses of our hurts and grievances, are but faint images of the deep shadow of His cross.

Friday, September 02, 2011

23rd Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

The evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge.


This is common sense on the face of it. When there is a dispute, a disagreement between two people, it is very difficult if not impossible to distinguish between who is right and who is wrong. It is the word of one against the other, A matter of 'he said- she said', and we are more likely to believe the one with the greater authority or position or the one who is closest to us, whether or not he or she is right or wrong.

So, of course, if there are more than two or three witnesses, then there are other eyes, other ears, and other voices to say who is and who is not right and true. But today's Gospel is about far more than settling disputes. Jesus is teaching us that our faith, our belief, our worship is not an individual matter - far from it. To be a believer means to be part of a community, to part of the Church. It means, in a deep sense to be part of the Body of Christ - and he dwells in us because we are part of his Body.

While Christ may always be near to us in our private prayers, it is when two or three or more are gathered in his name that he is most fully present. While the Spirit may guide us to right decisions in our lives, it is the Church in the person of the priest who can bind and loose, who can release us from our sins.

As the Poet John Donne wrote, no man - no person - is an island, entire of itself. All of us are connected together, most especially in the Church, and just as it is only by the word of several witnesses that we can have certainty of the truth, so it is that by the Faith of several witnesses, we receive and share and live the Truth himself.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily/Sermon

If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me. (Mt 16:24)

There's a very mistaken viewpoint which holds that religious belief is all about comfort, that prayer is about not facing up to the challenges of life, that faith is about closing our minds to what the world is really like. It is a very popular viewpoint. It affects the understanding of science, it affects attitudes to moral issues, it affects the way in which religion, and the Church is viewed in society.

And it all boils down to this - faith is false because it is about escape, denial, unreality. Listen to the radio, watch the television, and you'll hear echoes and hints of this viewpoint again and again. Religion is the main case of war, and conflict, and division in society. Religion is responsible for the spread of aids. It stifles free thinking and freedom of expression. Only those without the shackles of religion, we seem to be told, can really understand, explain and deal with the issues that face society. Religious people - in the language of the day "just don't get it".

Of course, they are very wrong. Religious groups, especially Christian groups, contribute millions to the economy through their voluntary work. Churches are the biggest voluntary groups in society. The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental organisation in the world working with the victims of Aids. It was, and still is, religious groups which found and fund schools. Hospitals and hospices too were inspired by Christian faith - which is why nurses are still called sisters. Organisations like Barnados, Oxfam, the Samaritans and Amnesty International were all founded by Christians because of their convictions.

And Why? Because at heart Christianity is not about comfort, or escape, or denial, but about service and sacrifice. It is about service in spite of struggle, in spite of suffering, in spite of conflict, in spite of danger: it is about taking up our cross, and following him.

Glorify the Lord with your life!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

22nd Sunday of the Year A: Homily / Sermon

If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me. (Mt 16:24)

There's a very mistaken viewpoint which holds that religious belief is all about comfort, that prayer is about not facing up to the challenges of life, that faith is about closing our minds to what the world is really like. It is a very popular viewpoint. It affects the understanding of science, it affects attitudes to moral issues, it affects the way in which religion, and the Church is viewed in society.

And it all boils down to this - faith is false because it is about escape, denial, unreality. Listen to the radio, watch the television, and you'll hear echoes and hints of this viewpoint again and again. Religion is the main case of war, and conflict, and division in society.  Religion is responsible for the spread of aids. It stifles free thinking and freedom of expression.  Only those without the shackles of religion, we seem to be told, can really understand, explain and deal with the issues that face society. Religious people - in the language of the day "just don't get it".

Of course, they are very wrong. Religious groups, especially Christian groups, contribute millions to the economy through their voluntary work. Churches are the biggest voluntary groups in society. The Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental organisation in the world working with the victims of Aids. It was, and still is, religious groups which found and fund schools. Hospitals and hospices too were inspired by Christian faith - which is why nurses are still called sisters. Organisations like Barnados, Oxfam, the Samaritans and Amnesty International were all founded by Christians because of their convictions.

And Why? Because at heart Christianity is not about comfort, or escape, or denial, but about service and sacrifice. It is about service in spite of struggle, in spite of suffering, in spite of conflict, in spite of danger: it is about taking up our cross, and following him.

Glorify the Lord with your life!

Friday, August 19, 2011

21st Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

You are Peter - and on this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. (Matthew 16:18)

The Great Orme, Llandudno 2010In these words, Christ conveys to us two essential truths about the Church.

Firstly, it is indeed a human institution. Peter is the Rock on which the Church is built. The Body of Christ in this world is led by a man. It is a human institution, with a human face. The Church dwells in and amongst society with its cares and anxieties, its joys and its achievements. The Church celebrates the joy of the newly weds, the life of the newly born, and prays at the bedside of the sick, consoles those who grieve, guides and reconciles those who fall on the journey of life. The priests and the bishops are the shepherds of the sheep, the Holy Father the supreme shepherd of the universal Church and all of us are called to show the love of Christ to all human beings. As humans we love. We also fail. Sometimes those sheep, those shepherds, make mistakes, serve imperfectly, fail to convey God's love - but as Christ is human, so the Church lives in humanity ... it is Peter on which the Church is built.

Yet, secondly, the gates of the underworld can never hold out against the Church. Though made up of human beings, the Church is the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Spirit, the Pilgrim People of God. The Church's only purpose is to serve God and to lead all people to heaven. And God guides and protects his Church. The Papacy, the line of the successors of Peter, is the longest continuous institution in the world. Through wars, and heresy, and schism, in spite of wickedness and greed, despite opposition and persecution and ridicule, the Church persists, not only in our hearts, but as a visible institution reaching into all parts of the world, all areas of human learning and concern. The Church is holy, not because we are holy, but because God is holy.

In the words of St Paul in today's second reading:

How rich are the depths of God   
how deep his wisdom and knowledge ...    
To him be glory for ever! (Romans 11:33)


Friday, August 12, 2011

The Assumption of Our Lady: Homily / Sermon

Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled. (Luke 1:45)

Have you ever wondered how you’ll be remembered when you’ve gone? Nowadays it is very common for the priest to speak in some detail at the funeral about the person who has died, and sometimes family members even give a little talk themselves.

But it’s not a good thing to always expect this. For one thing there is a tendency to praise the person who has died, when what we should be doing is praying for him or her. Also it is not always  easy to find something to say. There is even a gender divide: when it is a man you can say where they worked, talk about the hobbies they followed, the clubs they attended and so on. Often for a woman - especially those of a certain age - it is difficult: perhaps she didn’t work and didn’t have any hobbies and rarely went out. No great achievements, apparently : ‘She was just our Mum’.

And people often notice this about Our Lady. Scripture tells us very little about her. Mark’s Gospel tells us little more than her name. St Luke’s Gospel - which we hear today - tells us the most. She is mentioned rarely during Jesus’ ministry; at the foot of the cross she stands with the disciple John; and on the day of Pentecost, she is at prayer with the disciples. Many of the other details which have come down to us about Our Lady - that her parents were called Joachim and Anne, that her last home on earth was with St John in Ephesus, have been handed down through tradition, not scripture.

On the face of it then, Mary did little and achieved little. No real great claim to fame here, perhaps. Few accomplishment. Little to make a fuss about.

But of course we do not need long stories, many details. She is the one who is blessed because she believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled. She is full of God’s grace. She is our Mother in the Faith.

Her honour comes not so much from what she did - because what she did was so very simple - but from who she is. She lived her calling to full and at the end of her life was gathered up by her Son to share the fullness of his life.

Why do we give her such great honour? Because ‘She is just our Mum’.


Saturday, August 06, 2011

19th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

Courage! Do not be afraid! (Matthew 14:27)

But we are afraid! And is fear always a bad thing?

I fear for my own safety and the safety of others. I take care when driving and crossing the road. I find some of the rides at Alton Towers terrifying. I am not especially keen on going to the Dentist. I’m also a little afraid of heights. Surely in lots of ways this is only natural, and mainly a good thing. Fear keeps us safe and helps us keep others safe. When a parent fears for their child, they are protecting them, nurturing them and educating them. If we have no fear, then we are foolhardy and dangerous.
In this way fear is good.

But fear can also be a terrible handicap. Fear of danger may mean we never get anything done. Fear of authority may mean we never speak out against injustice. Fear of suffering may prevent us from undergoing essential medical care. Fear of bad news may lead us to avoid hearing any news. Fear of the danger in the world around us may mean that we never take a risk, never step out of the front door, and parents - if they are not careful - can prevent children from encountering the knocks and scrapes of life for fear that something worse may happen. We have a word for this kind of fear - it is called cowardice.

Christ calls us to be neither cowardly nor foolhardy. He commands us - remember - to be as wise as serpents, but also as innocent as doves. He calls us to trust in him, but not too much in ourselves and not too much in the empty promises of the world around us. This is what we call Courage. It is facing the trials of the world with eyes open, with an awareness of the dangers and challenges, but also a trust in his purposes and his love. In courage we may have to take risks, face suffering, let go occasionally of those in our care. In courage we must trust God - not always place safe, but neither put God to the test.

Courage is not about the thunder and lightening and clatter which we hear about in the first reading - but the gentle breeze, the quiet voice with which it ends. The trust in God who is there with us - even if we think we are sinking beneath the waves.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

18th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

Give them something to eat yourselves (Mt 14:16)


Tabgha mosaic of fish and loaves tb n011500 wr

Jesus challenges the disciples. Don’t send the people away to fend for themselves, he says - you can feed them!

Often we lack confidence in our own abilities. We do not think we can cope with a situation, or a crisis, or a particular difficulty. Can we cope - or should we just pass the buck? Jesus challenges us, like he challenges his disciples. Yes - you can do it!


But what can we do, and how can we do it?


Well when the disciples have go - they find that what they have is meagre - five loaves and two fishes - how can what I have possibly make any impact? As the Carol says ‘What can I give him, poor as I am’? What change can I possibly make? The little that I can do - could it make any difference?

Certainly - if we think we can achieve everything on our own then we will either become very arrogant or very disappointed. By our own efforts and abilities we can do so much, but only so much. We are human, we have our limitations and our frailties.

So it is Jesus who takes what little can give, and makes them very great. He takes our few gifts and multiplies them like the loaves. He takes the weakness of humanity and makes it strong enough to conquer even death. He helps us face our anxieties and worries, our trials and struggles. He comforts us, he strengthens us. He gives us joy and leads us to happiness.


And the small gifts that we give become the greatest gift that we can receive.


[The new translation of the mass makes this very clear. When the gifts of bread and wine are placed upon the altar, the priest will no longer say ’through your goodness we have this bread/wine to offer’ but ‘through your goodness we have received the bread/wine we offer you’. It’s a small change, but an important distinction.]


When Jesus says to the disciples ‘Give them something to eat yourselves’, the food which they give is Jesus himself, the Bread of Life. What we can do is only small if all we give is ourselves. If the gift which we offer to others is Christ, the Bread of Life, the Shepherd of the lost, the consoler of the sorrowful, the hope of those in despair - if he is the gift which we give, then we give the greatest gift, Hope, Faith, Love - the food of eternal life.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

17th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

He sells everything he owns and buys the field (Matthew 13:45)

The Staffordshire Hoard

A cynic, so the saying goes, is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

It is an important distinction.

In today's Old Testament reading, the new king, Solomon, asks not for long life, nor for riches, nor for victory in battle. He does not ask for worldly success, fame, adulation or celebrity. No, he asks for discernment, wisdom, the ability to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. Solomon asks for the grace to be able to judge the values, not prices.

And that too is the meaning of these two little parables in the Gospel: the finder of the treasure and the finder of the pearls recognise them for what they are. Like the expert on the antique road show, they can tell the difference between an old vase and valuable antique. Our treasure, our pearls are the same as those sought by Solomon, a wise king who seeks a kingdom of righteousness, a kingdom of justice and peace.

But we live in a very cynical society. (At least in the way of that definition). We live in a society in which almost everything and everyone has a price. Money measures value, worth. It defines importance, status, happiness. Almost everything, everyone has a price - almost.

But true value is not in scarcity, or celebrity, but in right and wrong, in true or false, in love and loyalty - what lasts for ever, not what is here just for a day.

Seek the pearl of great price, the treasure that lasts for ever, which can neither fail nor rot away - seek the truth that abides in Christ, and you will never be disappointed.

Friday, July 08, 2011

15th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

Some seed fell into rich soil and produced its crop. (Matthew 13:8)


Jesus often uses illustrations from nature in his teaching. We call them ‘parables’ because they draw a comparison, or a parallel from life itself.

In fact, Jesus seems to prefer parables to what we would think of as more direct teaching. We do occasionally read of him explaining his words, but most of the time he expects his listeners to work out the meaning for themselves: Listen, anyone who has ears! He shouts at the crowd - almost as if to say “Isn’t it obvious?”.

Of course, we are likely to say that Jesus draws his parables from nature because that is what his hearers were familiar with. They had seen the sower sow. They had watched the wheat grow with the tares. They had spied the shepherd search for the lost sheep.

But there is more to this teaching. Jesus does not teach from nature simply because he and his listeners lived in an agricultural society. Nature provides more than a convenient example. Nature itself bears the imprint of God, its creator - and salvation is not just our salvation, but the completion of all of God’s wonderful work.

And so the glory of nature is a reflection, a glimpse, of the eternal glory of heaven. As the psalms make so clear: The hills are girded with joy, the valleys sing God’s praise. As St Paul says, the whole creation is waiting - groaning - for its salvation.

The parables are much more than an example, they are a window into the greatness of God. We are his seed, nurtured by the living water which he gives us. We grow surrounded by thorns and threats and dangers, scorched by ridicule or complacency, choked by a society which understands little and lives even less of the faith we foster and struggle to spread.

But he who created the seed, and the soil, and the sower is also the One who keeps us safe, and leads us to salvation.

Friday, July 01, 2011

14th Sunday of the Year - Homily / Sermon

I am gentle and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29)


Gentle. Gentle.

I remember a prayer from my own childhood - or at least the start of a prayer - Gentle Jesus, meek and mild. Meek - that's a similar word - the meek shall inherit the earth.

Gentleness, meekness, humility are not very popular words or even ideas today. To the modern mind they seem to indicate weakness, a lack of self-assurance. We speak not of meekness or gentleness today, but assertiveness. People even go on courses for assertiveness training. I've never heard of anyone go on a course for training in meekness or humility, have you.

And when we think of Christ himself, perhaps the idea of his meekness or his gentleness now seems very wishy-washy, precious, and perhaps a bit sentimental. The modern mind prefers the image of Christ challenging the religious leaders of his day, turning over the tables in the temple, confronting the demons and casting them out.

But the opposite of gentleness,  humility, meekness is not assertiveness, but arrogance. Christ is gentle and humble not because he put up no resistance, but because the example he gives us is of a human being entirely aware of his subjection to God.

And when Christ lives in us we are not weak, we are not pushovers, we stand our ground or rather we stand God's ground - we are not self-assured, but God-assured. It is not our will, but his that is done.



Friday, June 24, 2011

Corpus Christi: Homily / Sermon


My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. (John  6:55)

Corpus Christi

Transubstantion is a word that is probably widely known and 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 mist would have sone sense that it relates to what the Catholic church teaches about the Mass, abs 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.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer Memorial Service


On Sunday 19th June it is the annual memorial service at Carmountside Cemetery and Crematorium here in Stoke-on-Trent. Again I have been asked to lead the service. Here is my homily.

Homily Love does not come to an end.

So many things change throughout our lives - often things we do not expect.

We move house, and sometimes town or even country. Make and break friendships. Change jobs and occupations. We see dreams come to nothing and things we never imagined would happen come to pass. We are surprised by joy and disappointed by frustrated expectations. So many things change in this life and take us unawares.

Yet there is one thing which we can say for sure. For ever person standing here and for every person who has gone before us. And that is that it will come to an end. Death is a reality for everyone of us: for those we remember today, and for us who remember them. We have felt it, like the closing of a heavy door, when in this very place we have paid our respects and made our farewells.

It is perhaps a gloomy thought. But it need not be. Because, though our earthly life may end - in the words of St Paul - Love does not. Love lasts for ever.

This might seem to some just wishful thinking and the clutching of straws, empty comfort for those who are afraid of the dark (as a famous scientist said recently). They are entitled to their points of view.

But we are here because we believe something else. Whether we are deeply religious or still puzzle about the big questions of life - we are here because we believe that death is an end, but not the end, a leave-taking but not a parting of the ways, a separation but for a time only.

For the bond of Love is just too strong, Just too great for those ceremonies of farewell that we made here to be the closing of a door so heavy that it can never open again.

Love does not come to an end.  And the love that we express today in our remembering gives us cause to hope in an even Greater Love that will roll away the store, open the door, and finally, together, gather us all.

Trinity Sunday: Homily / Sermon


The Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger rich in kindness and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6)


This weekend, as the world keeps Father’s Day, It seems odd, perhaps that the Church, which many has many feasts of Our Lord - most obviously his resurrection at Easter - and a feast of the Holy Spirit - Pentecost, which we celebrated last weekend, yet has no feast of God the Father.

And yet, to understand the Father, is to understand the Trinity, which we celebrate today.

There are people today who say it is unhelpful to refer to God as “Father”. For one thing, they argue, it is sexist, too focussed on the male gender.

And for another, it is said that many people have a negative understanding of Fatherhood - fathers are sometimes abusive, violent or just absent.

And again, sometimes people think of God being like a Victorian Father, a Dickensian Step-Father: Strict, fierce  and quick to punish. This idea is also described as the ‘God of the Old Testament’ - setting the laws and justly, but harshly punishing the offenders. It seems to be hard and mechanical view of God.

In these circumstances, how can fatherhood be a good image of God?

But the Father who presents himself to us today is none of these things. He is - in the words of the Old Testament itself: The Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger rich in kindness and faithfulness.

He is also - in the words of today’s Gospel

The one who -  ‘loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)

And as the second reading also makes clear:

Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. (1 Co 13:12)

Notice the word and the idea which is common to all three, not law, not judgment, not anger, not punishment, not even justice - but Love.

We can be misled in our ideas of Fatherhood, if we think it is just a matter of ancestry, descent, and family ties. True fatherhood is not about the bloodline, it about a bond of love.

It is not that our image of fatherhood is inadequate for understanding God - no, it is rather the opposite: that our experience of human Fatherhood will always be challenged by the perfect, glorious benevolent Fatherhood of God.

Jesus taught us to call God our Father, because God is love - love that wraps us round as his children - love that makes a family what it is truly meant to be - love that defines what a true Father is, and which challenges us to be his true children.



Thursday, June 09, 2011

Pentecost: Homily / Sermon

The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, ‘Peace be with you'. (John 20:20-21)

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Religion is the cause of conflict in the world. Well, so people often say.

After all wasn’t Northern Ireland about Protestant v Catholic? And Bosnia was Orthodox Christians v Muslims? And the conflict in Israel is about Jews v Muslims? And Cyprus is about Muslims v Orthodox again? And isn’t terrorism often driven by religion - in Ireland in the past, in the Middle East in the present?

Of course, this is all too simple. People sometimes use religion as their badge of identity in a conflict. It doesn’t make them a good catholic or protestant or jew or whatever if they use that banner in their fight. Al-Qaeda don’t represent Muslims any more than the Provisional IRA represented catholics.

And today there is something more that we can say. On that first Christian Pentecost people of all races, all backgrounds and all languages were gathered in the city. Huge crowds with different cultures and customs. It may have felt threatening and uncomfortable for the local people. It is a recipe for misunderstanding and conflict. An opportunity for crime and division.

And the Gift of the Holy Spirit did not divide, but unite. He did not make everyone the same, but he celebrated their differences. He did not make people pretend they were all the same, but he helped them praise God for the colour and variety of the crowd. He did not set one against another, but brought them together in truth.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Ascension Day: Homily

Sun sky lgWhy 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.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Easter 6 Homily / Sermon

If you love me, you will keep my commandments

There are many words we may say without really meaning them. We say “Sorry” just to get us out of a situation. We say “Thank you” when we are not really grateful. We say we love someone out of routine or habit or to get what they want.

Yet the person who is truly sorry not only says so, but shows that sorrow by their attitude, their anguish, their desire to make amends. The person who is really grateful shows their gratitude by their generosity of spirit and their joy in receiving. And the one who truly loves does so not routinely or selfishly, but with caring and compassion.

Words are powerful, but deeds are more so. We may say we are sorry to God for our sins, but it is true contrition, real regret which deserves from him the fulness of forgiveness. We may thank God in prayer and song, but it is the gratitude which comes from the heart which really fills us with joy. And we may say that we love God as he loves us - but it is the heart that loves God in the neighbour, that truly dwells in him.

‘Keep my commandments’ does not mean follow all the rules, but open your hearts to him, be filled with his grace, receive the gifts of the Spirit, the Spirit of truth who is with us for ever. It means that if we love him, we will love our neighbour, and love his commandments, because they are the gift of our life to him.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Easter 5: Homily / Sermon


Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me. (John 14:1)

Stephen Hawking 008In a recent talk, the famous physicist Stephen Hawking said that heaven ‘is just a fairy story for people afraid of the dark’.

It’s just one statement of course, which is part of a much bigger talk about a wide range of things. And it’s not a new idea or point of view - non-believers have being saying similar things for centuries.

But it has always struck me as an odd idea, and one strange for a scientist to hold, as it seems to fly in the face of evidence.

You see it is simply not true that people of faith are those who are afraid of death (that’s what he is really talking about) and that people who have no faith are not. You don’t have to be a believer to see that just isn’t the case.

Look at the lives of the martyrs, who in courage and faith are willing to surrender their lives, praying for their persecutors and submitting to death. Look at the lives of other saints, good and faithful servants of God, who give themselves in service of others and approach death not with fear but with hope and joy. And look at the words of Christ, who invites us to cast fear and doubt aside and embrace the love of God: “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, he says. “Trust in God still, and trust in me”.

And I am reminded that this Gospel reading is read so often at Funeral Masses and Funeral Services. It is a time when, as a priest, I see most clearly how people deal with grief, loss, and the reality of death. And I can tell you this, the greater the faith of the one who has died and of the people who mourn him, the more serene, the more positive, the more realistic the experience of grieving - and the weaker the grasp of faith which the bereaved have, the harder the whole experience of loss is, the greater the pain, the more acute the suffering. It is those who have faith who do not shirk from words like death - and those who struggle with faith who avoid the word, with talk about ‘passing away’ ‘moving over’ ‘going to his rest’.

And I can truly say that some of the most inspiring acts of worship I have ever been part of, have been the funerals of faithful Christians. Now none of this is to say, of course, that believers do not grieve. Of course we do. Or that we are not aware of the reality of death. Of course we are. We can face the pain of loss and the reality of death because we have a hope.

If Stephen Hawking, and those who agree with him, think it is praiseworthy and honest to remain in the dark, then that is their choice.


But its much better to come out into the light.


Monday, May 09, 2011

Easter 4 - homily / sermon

Jesus the Good Shepherd Del Parson

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10)

I am sure that we think of the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd as something very comfortable, or comforting, and almost a little sentimental. The image of Christ carrying a lamb on his shoulders, nursing the lost sheep, is a very appealing one.

But there is also something very hard about this image. No doubt the life of a shepherd was a tough and quite dangerous one. The safety of his sheep might be brought at the risk of his own safety. And the good shepherd is the one who leads down the right pathway. There is one gate to the sheepfold, though there are many who would try and deceive the sheep.

There is something very un-modern about this. We try to be tolerant. We try to live and let live. We even try to give respect to the beliefs of others. All of this is good. But it is not good if it suggests that all beliefs are the same, all paths are just as valid, all roads lead to the same goal. Belief is not just a matter of choice or preference or taste or even upbringing. Life choices are not like preferences for food, or football teams, or holiday destinations.

Some choices are right and some choices are wrong.

I am the gate.

Anyone who enters through me will be safe: 
he will go freely in and out 
and be sure of finding pasture. 
… I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.

To think of Christ the Good Shepherd is indeed comforting, and consoling - not because we are right whatever we may believe or do, but because he is the way, the truth and the path that leads to life.

Follow the way.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Easter 3 - Homily / Sermon

New Roman Missal ED

Did not our hearts burn within us as he explained the scriptures to us. (Luke 24:32)

Today's Gospel has surprisingly much about words and conversation in it. There is discussion, debate, prophecy, explanation, rebuke, exhortation and more. At a deep level it is about language and symbolism, and the encounter through these to the Risen Christ.

And there is a striking comparison made here by St Luke, which is sadly lost in this translation. Early on, Jesus rebukes the disciples for being "slow of heart"  - our translation just has "slow to understand". I think this is a pity, because at the end of the Gospel, the disciples echo Jesus's words - “did not our hearts burn within us as he explained the prophecies to us?”

It sees this would be a good point for me to preach for the first time on the new translation of the mass, because today's Gospel makes the points for us.

First, people rightly ask 'why a new translation'? Well, there are several reasons. The first is that the present translation is 40 years old, and English is a living language and has changed much in this time. A revision is long overdue. Secondly, while Latin has not changed, the Latin missal has - there are more saints,  greater variety of prayers, all which need to be brought into English.

But there is further reason. The translation we know so well was produced in something of a hurry, and took a particular approach to translation which simplified the meaning of the original.

Let me explain.

Words in different languages generally have direct translations, but the ways in which we use those words may differ. As a simple example, consider what we say when we answer the phone. In English we say “Hello” (a word which was made up for the telephone) but in Italian we would say “Pronto” - word which really means ‘Ready!’. Similarly, when we greet someone in French we would say “Bonjour” - that is “Good Day” - which sounds old fashioned and formal in English (unless you are Australian, of course). So, a word for word translation often does not work - you will know this very well if you’ve ever tried to follow the instructions for self-assembly furniture!

When the present Missal was translated, sometimes a quite flexible approach was taken to the language, and the translators worked hard to make the English immediately understandable. This meant that sometimes they lost some of the imagery and especially the Biblical references.

Here’s a couple of examples. In the Latin, when the priest says “The Lord be with you” we all reply “And with your spirit”. This phrase is used many times by St Paul in his letters. The translators asked themselves “what does this mean?” - clearly something like “with you, too” - that sounds too informal, so they settled on “And also with you” (and so lost the reference to the Spirit, and to the writings of St Paul).

Similarly, before we receive communion, in Latin we would say “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”. These remind us of the words of the Centurion (in St Luke’s Gospel 7:6) who asks Jesus to heal his servant. The translators 40 years ago removed the reference to the roof - and just said “receive you”. This was probably meant to suggest receiving a guest into our houses, but I think we have come to assume it just refers to communion. And the reference to our soul was lost too.

The new translation restores these references to Scripture and recovers a lot of the imagery and depth which is in the Latin but which was simplified away in the English. It may mean that to begin with we will find the new translation a bit cumbersome and awkward, though I am sure that will pass, and we will find it enriching and inspiring in the longer term.

But for the most important point, we need to return to today’s Gospel. The hearts which were slow to understand became also the hearts which burnt within when the words were explained to them - but it was in the breaking of bread that they recognised the risen Lord.

The meaning is very clear. The words are important, very important - but it is the heart which burns with understanding and insight, not just the mind.

And we recognise Jesus fully, in the mass, not in the words we utter, but in the sacrament which we share.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Divine Mercy / Easter 2 - homily/ sermon

Divine mercy 3

We live in a society which seems hardly to understand forgiveness, still less contrition. We have a very strong sense of blame - and guilt, but little sense of contrition and sorrow.
We see this in personal relationships, in public life, and in legal relationships. When we feel wrong is done to us, we seek someone to blame, but when we may be responsible for a wrong ... we seek someone else to blame.
And I think this approach affects, or is perhaps a symptom of the way in which people approach life.
Sorry was always a hard word to say - and nowadays it is a word we often hear demanded, but seldom see granted.
At the root it is recipe for human arrogance and pride. We see contrition as a sign of weakness - and denial as an indication of strength.
Today's Gospel, by contrast, suggests something very different. It is not about pointing the finger of blame, but about accepting the need for God’s grace. It is not about self-justification, but about confession.
It is about human frailty and weakness being healed by the risen Christ.
In the story of Thomas, it is about our lack of faith and our difficulty in believing and trusting in God.
And earlier in the Gospel, in these words about forgiveness, it is about the mercy and love offered to us by the Risen Christ through his Church.
And for our society, the problem is not that God’s mercy is not enough, but that people do not feel any need for it.
After all, if is always someone else who is to blame that person deserves not forgiveness, but punishment, vengeance.
The Risen Christ offers us not punishment, but forgiveness; not compensation, but Reconciliation; not blame, but His Mercy
And there is only one thing we need to do to receive this wonderful Gift. It is simple and in its simplicity it is wonderful. It opens the gates to Grace.
To receive this wonderful gift of the Divine Mercy, all we must do is know our need of it, and from our hearts ask for it. 
And that is precisely what modern society cannot do.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Homily / Sermon for Palm Sunday (Passion 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)

Palm Sunday

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.


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Homily / Sermon for Lent 5

Martha said to Jesus, ‘If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:1-45)

Question mark

When someone dies we often have questions, questions which nag us and even obsess us. What if I had been there? What if I had visited more often? What if someone had done, or not done, this or that. They are questions which plague us with guilt when we pose them to ourselves. They are questions which can inflame us with anger if we direct them at others, even at God.

When we lose someone close, it not unusual to direct hard questions ands tough statements to God. Why were they taken from us? Why now?

And this is what Martha does. Her words seem harsh, almost angry. Her sister echoes the same. Jesus delayed going to visit his friend Lazarus for too days. And when he got there - or so it seemed - he was too late. And the crowd said “Ha - he healed the blind man … couldn’t he have prevented this?” And Jesus wept at the loss of his friend Lazarus, and the grief of his family.

Why were you not here? Martha seems to say.

If you had been here, this would not have happened, Mary also says.

But notice. These words of Martha are not only words of rebuke. They are also words of faith. If you had been here … he would not have died … And I know that even now …

In the midst of sadness there is also hope. And the hope that surrounds Lazarus is a hope not simply for his sisters, or neighbours or even for the amazement of the crowd. It is a hope still recalled thousands of year after the event. A hope not just for this one man and those who mourn him - but for all who believe in the One  who is The Resurrection and the Life.





Friday, April 01, 2011

Homily for Lent 4

If Jesus were to stand here before us today, and we were allowed one question to ask him, I wonder what that would be? I guess for many, if not for most, it will be something very challenging, like “Why do people suffer? How can a good God allow suffering, and sickness and disability?”


It might seem strange to us that the disciples never asked him this question, so far as we know. When they say the man born blind, they asked not “Why does God allow this” but they assume it is God’s punishment “Who sinned – this man or his parents?”


The question is different – but in a way it is just the same. They – and we – want to ask the question why? Why is this man blind? Why is there sickness and disability? And so the answer to them is just as valid for us:


“He was born blind so that the works of God may be displayed in him”


In our youthful, active and technological world, we don’t see sickness and disability as a punishment for sin, but like the disciples we do see it as a kind of failure. For them it was a moral failure. For us it is a failure of care, because of accident, or because of genes or heredity. It is failure, it is a dis-ability. The ‘disabled’ we think, lack something which we – the rest of us - have.


But remember the words in the first reading: God does not see as man sees – man looks at appearances, but God looks at the heart.


Jesus answers the question by challenging our assumptions.


No – Jesus says. God does not want anyone to suffer, least of all the innocent. No – Jesus says. Sickness and disability are not any kind of punishment, not for the disabled nor their parents. No – Jesus says. This is not disability, but opportunity. In the midst of whatever problems, sickness and even pain, God’s glory can be seen.


We want to know why this has happened, but Jesus tells us not how we got here, but where we can go from here. And we know it is true. How often have seen courage in the face of adversity. How often are we impressed by those who seem to have so many difficulties! When we, and those close to us, experience sickness and disability, we encounter also love, and compassion. We meet dedication, and commitment. We discover the tenderness of others and the mercy of God. In suffering and affliction, God is certainly close to us. When the world is at its cruelest, God is at his most loving.


Though we walk through the valley of darkness no evil will we fear, for the Lord our Shepherd is with us, and comforts us.





Thursday, March 24, 2011

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent Year A

You worship what you do not know. (John 4:22)

Mount Gerizim

If there is one God, we may ask, why are there so many religions? Or, to put the question another way: are other religions false or wicked or wrong – or do all these different ways lead to the same God?

We would love there to be a clear question and answer in the words of Scripture, but it does not seem to be there. However there is a very clear teaching of the Church, even if it is not well known, and that is based very firmly on Scripture, including today's Gospel.

Firstly, there is good is almost all faiths, and those who believe in conscience, even following another faith, manifest much good. Jesus does not condemn the Samaritan women for the faith of her people. He does not condemn her faith. He does not refuse to sit and talk with her. He sees into her heart and touches her with his grace. He knows that she too worships the Father. The same God who is worshipped by the Jewish people. The One God. And indeed, Jesus says, Salvation comes from the Jews. Other faiths, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and also ways in which God is worshipped. They deserve our respect, and on occasions their followers deserve our admiration.

But this is not all. You worship what you do not know, he says to the woman. There is much good in other faiths, but they are not equal ways to God. There is only one true path, only one Messiah, one Christ. There is one person who comes as the Saviour of the World, and to truly believe is to turn to him. Other faiths may show much good. They may be preparations for the Gospel, but there is only one Gospel, one Church, one Faith, one Baptism, one Lord, who calls us all to worship him in Spirit and in Truth.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Homily / Sermon for Lent 2

Christ in gethsemane p

We are fallen people, wounded people, scarred by Original Sin. It makes temptation difficult to resist. It clouds our vision and our understanding.


We all have doubts from time to time. Something happens, a thought passes through our mind, or there is an aspect of our faith we don't quite understand. Is God really there? we ask. Does he really love us? Can we really trust and believe what the Church teaches? If a priest lets us down or we have a bad experience or even if we just hear about what happens to others it can trouble us in faith, shake our foundations. We may drift away, or feel a little less confident inside.


And of course, there are arguments, persuasions that can deal with some of our troubles. A question  can be answered. A doubt explained away. A disappointment with one priest satisfied by the kindness of another. And there is no question that we could all be better informed about the faith. Often when we are challenged, we don't have the knowledge or information to answer the one who questions, or troubles, or even ridicules us.


And the most convincing argument, the answer to all our doubts, the greatest attraction to faith will not be one argument won or lost. It will not be a book or a pamphlet. It is unlikely to be the persuasive words of a preacher heard on street corner or doorstep or television or radio.


It is the personal encounter which makes all the difference. The family member who perseveres with the faith year after year; the neighbour or friend whose kindness and compassion is so impressive; the personality, hardly known, whose life-story is compelling and challenging; all of these turn the heart and challenge us in our belief. And more than anything, the encounter with Christ himself, in worship, in prayer, in the stillness of our hearts, in the love and generosity of others. Meeting his heart makes our heart beat with greater certainty and purpose.


Not that this encounter of the heart teaches us everything, or even anything very much. Like the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration we know that it is wonderful, but we do not yet fully or understand or even quite know what to say. But the meeting with Christ touches our hearts, and turns us to him so that we may listen to him, and learn from him, and grow in the  understanding of what we believe.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Homily / Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent A

[Note: I'm not yet happy with this. The homily tries to do a bit too much, and gets a bit heavy/confused. Come back here later to see if I have tidied it up]



Why is there such a thing as evil? If God is so good, why do bad things happen?

Questions like these often trouble us, either in general, or in our reflection on the lives of others – at the hospital bedside, as we listen to the news. Why?

Lent is a journey which explores this mystery.

We are gathered here together because we believe. But it does not mean that we have all the answers.

We worship together because we share a hope: but this does not mean that we ignore the pain and suffering and imperfection of the world.

Today's readings begin to give us an answer.

Firstly, we hear the story of the first sin, the sin of Adam and Eve, the account of what is called 'the Fall'. The Church does not expect us to believe that this is some kind of historical account. It is clearly a kind of story, a legend, a myth, or parable. But the Church does expect us to believe the basic truth which this story teaches. The fundamental sin of humanity, the basic betrayal, is not to disobey an arbitrary command, a vague instruction – the sin which makes all the difference is to think that if we free ourselves from the service of God, then we  make ourselves like him. 'Eat this fruit,' the serpent says, 'and you will be like gods'.


We look at the world, and say 'If God is so good, if He made the world, why is it not perfect'. But we might also ask, why do human beings think that they have no need of God; that we can determine what is right and wrong; that we can solve all problems and answer all questions, at least given time. Man has no bounds, the serpent says, the world says. This is basic arrogance, a fundamental flaw, original sin. Not the work or creation of God, but the decision , the choice of Humanity. The imperfection of the world starts here. This is the Fall, which taints us all. This is Original Sin, which we have all been born into.


So what can we do about it? We are responsible. Human faults require human correction. But if we think we can correct our own sin, then we just add to our arrogance. Only God can create, surely. ....


The Gospel gives us the answer. The man sent from God, the Son of the Father, the Word made flesh. He comes to us, free from sin, yet like all of us, afflicted by temptation.


Temptation for us can be so difficult to resist, often impossible. We pray to be delivered from temptation, but in a world which is fallen, temptation is all around us. It cannot be avoided. It is the power the devil has, to tempt us to leave the path of goodness. Even Christ – especially Christ – the man entirely free fron sin – is afflicted by powerful temptation.


And Only humanity can finally destroy the serpent. Only God can create anew. This is the mystery of Christmas, the Incarnation. It is the mystery of the Fall and the Rising. It the promise made in baptism, received in the Eucharist, celebrated in the sacraments. It is also the mystery of this journey of Lent.



Sunday, March 06, 2011

Homily / Sermon for Ash Wednesday

When you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites (Matthew 6:16)

Ash wednesday

The message of Jesus in this Gospel is a very clear one: let your giving, your fasting and your praying be done not for show, in public, but in private for love of God. Those who practice their faith in the public eye - Jesus says - already have their reward.
How times have changed! At the time of Jesus - and up to perhaps only 30 or 40 years ago - to practice the faith in public, to be seen at prayer, going to Mass, to be observed giving large amounts to the Church, to be seen to be thoroughly observant - a ‘big catholic’ as they used to say - well that counted for something. And not just for catholics, either. The ladies in the parish churches with their big hats and disapproving looks, the insistence on the Sunday best, attendance at chapel or Sunday School were expected practices in society. Not so any more.
Now, the practice of religion might attract curiosity or ridicule. At work or school - even a catholic school - it may be very unfashionable, uncool, to practice religion.
So what does the Gospel say to us?
Well of course, Jesus isn’t saying that it is the open practice of the faith that is wrong, but the practice of the faith for the wrong reasons. The practice of our faith must never be to attract attention to ourself, to gain approval from others, to make ourselves important or respected.
We live our faith not for ourselves, but for God. We help others because it is right to help others. We pray because we need to pray. We fast, or say the rosary or go to Mass or whatever it might be because in that we draw closer to Christ so that he may grow within us.
And so if we are known for our faith, or looked upon as unusual or strange or odd: to God be the glory!