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.