Saturday, January 29, 2011

Homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Blessed are those who mourn (Matthew 5 )

At the beginning of last week I went to a most wonderful celebration. One of the most inspiring and uplifting masses I had ever attended. It was a moment of great joy and celebration. The Church was full - over 200 people perhaps more than 300 gathered on a cold and wet Monday morning. There were two bishops and about 60 priests. The singing lifted the roof. The homily raised our hearts (one of the best homilies I have ever heard). And I do not think I exaggerate at all when I say no one left that Church who was not encouraged and heartened by that celebration.

So what was it - an ordination? a wedding? the consecration of a new Church? the celebration of an anniversary of some kind?

No. It was a funeral. And a funeral with a particularly tragic dimension. Of a young priest - in his early 40s - a priest whose best friend at seminary had died of cancer - a priest who contracted a degenerative brain condition just a couple of years after his ordination and who had gradually over four years declined and withdrawn much to the distress of his parents and his friends.

But despite this cruel tragedy, and this wasted potential, this funeral mass was uplifting and filled with hope. Oh yes, of course there were tears. And moments of great poignancy. No one supposed that this was not a tragic and sad loss.

But we all knew that this was not all. That this pain that was felt - real pain, real sorrow, real loss - was taken up in hope, in a certainty that the life that Fr John Bentley had lived, in the offering of his own life he had made, was indeed a preparation for this day - as surely all our lives are a preparation for our day of departure.

It is not that all those at the funeral were suffering from some mass delusion that John had not in fact died. Oh yes, we knew that only too well. And we knew what death is - and more importantly, we understand what Life is - because that, after all, is the very point.

If we do not understand what it means to live, we will never comprehend what it means to die.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. (Matthew 3:2)

I think, as I look back over the years and see the ways in which society has changed, I am struck by a very great shift in the way people understood faith and especially Christian belief.
It’s not so much about how many people believe, or go to Church. It’s not about churches closing, the decline of practice and the rise of extreme and also non-Christian beliefs.
It is this: people - and that probably includes us - tend to see religion now more as a matter of comfort and culture, rather than as about conversion and salvation.
Let me explain.
I first became aware of this about 25 years ago when I was a part-time prison chaplain, when the role of the chaplain was moved from ranking alongside the governor, to being someone who worked in a department for ‘inmate services’. Religion was now no longer about reform and repentance, it was instead about supporting and comforting those in distress. It was not about challenging behaviour anymore, but about caring for those in trouble. It was no longer about values, but became a support service, like education, or dentistry.
And we see it nowadays in the hospitals too. The sick have a right to ask for their chaplain to visit them - but the chaplain has no right to seek out those who have not asked … or who didn’t realise they had to ask.
And this attitude infects our relationships with other Christians and other faiths and those of none. “That’s your opinion” people are likely to say. You have a right to practice your faith … but no right to persuade others that they should follow it too. It leads to some of the ludicrous examples we come across from time to time - like in Canada where Catholic nursery schools are now allowed to have Christmas Cribs and Nativity Plays, because they are a cultural expression - but they are not allowed to explain what they mean or represent. And it leads also to an idea that when we talk about God’s love, and God’s love for everyone, it is taken to mean that God blesses us wherever, whenever and whatever we do.
Now, of course, faith is about comfort. And it is welcome, I am sure, that we nowadays concentrate more on praising God than being paralysed by the fear of offending him. And people should be protected, especially when most vulnerable, from harassment and emotional pressure. It is certainly good that different faiths and none can enjoy mutual respect and not fear persecution.
But it is a very sorry day when we forget that the first instruction of Jesus to those who followed him was “Repent”, and the second instruction was that they should be fishers of men. It is regrettable when we suppose God’s love for the sinner means that he does not want the sinner to change. It is unfortunate when we speak only of heaven, but never of purgatory and still less of hell. It is sad when the message of the Gospel is stripped of its challenge, and faith which is always a source of comfort, never becomes anything more.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord

(This homily is even shorter that usual! This is because we have a Mission Appeal this weekend)



‘It is I who need baptism from you’ John said (Matthew 3:14)

We need to be baptised. It is the wiping away of our original sin, and - if we need it - our actual sins too. It restores us to our lost innocence. It is our union with him in the Church. Baptism is our entry into eternal life.

Christ needs none of this. He is free from sin. He is fully at one with God. So why does he do it?

Not for himself - but for us. Not because he needs it, but because we need it. He is born for us, lives for us, dies and rises for us. And he is baptised, so that through baptism we may become one with him.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Homily for the Epiphany

The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. (Matthew 2:11)

There are those who regret that we are celebrating Epiphany this weekend, rather than on 6th January. And I have some sympathy with this point of view. After all, whatever happened to the twelve days of Christmas, and twelfth night itself? And when should we take the decorations down? And aren’t we making it all too easy for people?

But on the other hand, what a wonderful way this is to begin the calendar year - what a tremendous feast to celebrate all together at the weekend, rather than with a relative few on a weekday.
Here we have the visit of the Magi, the Kings, to the newborn child’s first earthly home. It is obvious that this is the feast when we should bless our own homes.
Here is a day when these strange travellers recognised the presence of God in the human home - “and falling to their knees they did him homage”.
Last weekend we recognised the importance of the Family - this weekend it is the Home. And just as every group of Christians needs a place to worship, so every family needs a home. We even recognise this as a basic human right.
Home is where we learn. Home is where we love. Home is where we pray.
Too often we consign faith to the Church building, and the practice of faith to the clergy and those who assist them. But Faith begins and thrives at home. If our prayer at home is weak, if our expression of faith at home is half-hearted, if our moral values at home are ambiguous, then do not expect any better anywhere else.
The Home where God blesses and inspires us. The Home is where the Faith is first taught to us, and the Home is where our faith is lived.

God bless our homes!