Friday, October 26, 2012

30th Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon


Son of David, have pity on me. (Mark 10:50)

It is one of those idle speculations people often make - if you had to do without a particular sense, which one would it be? If the question means which sense do you value the most, then I suppose it has some interest. If the question leads us to realise how valuable our senses are, then I suppose it is a really worthwhile question, because I know that while I would hate to lose the enjoyment of music and speech which deafness would bring, I would just as much feel bereft if I could not read or watch television or just get about with ease. If a question like this makes us admire all the more those who cope with the limitation or are a loss of speech or hearing (rather than just pity them) them all the better. 

And of course people sometimes say that if you lose one sense, the others become stronger, or more acute. I’m not convinced by that argument. People use the more and so take more notice of them, but I’m not sure whether they are actually better - you may disagree.

But what I do think is this: that we would be very foolish to underestimate or patronise those who do have disability of one kind of another. People used to assume that the deaf were also stupid. People still ask the person pushing the wheelchair about the passenger, rather than speaking to him or directly.

The crowd underestimated poor old blind Bartimaeus. A blind beggar, because that was the only way to live. To be pitied, for sure, but not to be respected. Don’t shout out blind man. Don’t make a scene, poor beggar. But blind Bartimaeus is bold, because although he cannot see Jesus with his eyes, with his heart he makes an act of faith.

Your faith has saved you, Jesus says. While those around may be inquisitive to see what this man looks like, the blind man, unable to see him loudly worships him - much to the embarrassment of those who think they can see.

Monday, October 15, 2012

29th Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised (Mark 10:39)


It’s pretty obvious in this Gospel reading that Jesus is making it very clear to his apostles that following him will not lead to earthly glory and power and riches. Oh no, though they do not understand it yet, they will have to suffer what he will suffer. And sure enough, as tradition tells us, almost all the apostles were indeed martyrs for their belief in Christ.

But here’s a strange thing. Look at the language Jesus uses: you must drink the cup that I drink and be baptised with the same baptism. It seems odd language. Not you must suffer as I will suffer - but by sharing in the baptism and the eucharist you will not receive power and comfort, but suffering and sacrifice.

How often do we think of the sacraments in this way? Rarely I guess. People see receiving communion as a routine way of taking part in the mass, and we think of baptism as a necessity and a right, not a commitment. People often approach the Church seeking baptism for a good family celebration, or as a matter of course, or even to make sure of a place in a good school. Catholics who never come to mass expect their children to be baptised just as they were, to make their first holy communion and confirmation just as they did - and perhaps we should be thankful.

But how often do we, do they, understand baptism, or the receiving of communion, to be the embracing of a way of life, united with Christ, which is the surrender of one’s self, commitment, and sacrifice?


Picture: Mark Chagall The Sacrifice of Isaac

Friday, September 28, 2012

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

Anyone who is not against us is for us. (Mark 9:40)


On the face of it, this could seem to be a very puzzling statement by Jesus - especially alongside other things he said. In other places we read that the gate is narrow, the first last and the last first, not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. We hear of the likely disappointment of those who lay up treasure on earth. Of the rich man who goes to Hell while the poor man Lazarus goes to heaven. It may seem that the road to eternal life is hard and tough and narrow … and those who are not Christians, not baptised, outside the faith, outside the Church or even inside but do not live faithful lives, simple do not make it .. They are not ‘with us’.

But actually, the more we think about it, the clearer the message becomes. The invitation is generous, but the challenge tremendous … and it is not we who judge, but God.

When Christ speaks of the challenges of the life of faith, he is speaking to me, to each one of us individually. I am the one who should tear my own eye out - so to speak- if it causes me to sin. I am the one who is responsible for myself, my own acts, my life of faith. I am the one who must follow the commandments, keep the law of God, love my neighbour, be honest in all my dealings, not harbour grudges.

And when Christ speaks of the wide open doors of the kingdom, the welcome to those of good will, of other faiths and none, to those who ‘are not against us’, he is not speaking about me, but about my neighbours who I must love and not judge, who I must forgive and not resent, who I must cherish and not fear.

It might seem to be another paradox: it is, and that is the logic of love.

Friday, September 07, 2012

23rd Sunday : Homily / Sermon

Jesus said: Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And the man’s ears were opened, and the ligament of his tongue was loosened and he spoke clearly. (Mark 7:34)


In the rite of baptism, there is a ceremony, rarely used in England and Wales, when the priest touches the ear and mouth of the baby and says ‘Ephphatha’, be opened. It is a prayer that the newly baptised may hear the Gospel and speak it.

The story in which we find these words comes after disputes between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, when it becomes clear that they are deaf to the truth of the Gospel.

This story is a miracle, and it is more than a miracle. In effect, this miracle is a prophetic act, an acted parable. It is symbolic, and more than symbolic.

Hearing and speech are mechanisms of the human body, which may often flourish, but can sometimes be impaired. Hearing can decline, and fail. Speech may be difficult or even absent. And we know that there is technology, there are medical procedures and training, which can bring great improvement and even cure. Hearing aids, surgery, speech therapy each in different ways can overcome many of the weaknesses of the human body.

And this, in part is what Jesus does by this miracle. He fixes the broken or faulty machinery of the human body. But he does much more.

The body is much more than a machine. Speech and hearing are much more than mechanical functions. We can make a lot of noise, yet signify nothing. We can hear what is said to us, yet take no heed. Hearing and speaking are gifts, like all gifts, which can be used or abused.

In fact, it is not the power of hearing or speech which we need to survive, but the ability, the possibility, to communicate. Those whose faculties cannot be repaired still find ways, through signing and other methods, to communicate. We can survive without speech and hearing - but to thrive we must communicate.

And it is THIS which is what Jesus is about. He is not some kind of divine mechanic, wandering through first century Palestine undertaking repairs. Every miracle has a meaning. Every action is a form of teaching. Every healing carries a message. They all point to some truth. To THE Truth.

And when, today, Jesus calls the ears to be opened he is not only speaking of their functional operation, but their meaning and purpose. It s about listening to his word. It is about speaking what is right. This is not about mechanical medicine, but the pursuit of truth, and mercy, and love.

Let us pray that our ears may be opened to the truth, and that we may speak it with confudence and courage.

Friday, August 31, 2012

22nd Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless (Mark 7:6-7)


This is a criticism often made, and especially pointed at Catholicism, and even sometimes directed by Catholics at other Catholics. The faith is not at all about how many candles you have on the altar, how much incense you use, whether mass is celebrated in Latin or not, how colourful and valuable the vestments are and so on. The beauty of the liturgy, the splendour of the music, and even the language used can become gods in themselves. If they do, then we fall into Jesus’ condemnation - lip service, worthless worship.

But of course, it is not just the old mass or the high mass which can go this way. The number of choruses sung, the quality of the sound system or video projector, the number of guitars or flutes, the height of the hands raised in worship - all these can become over important too.

The person who claims that elaborate and beautiful worship falls under the condemnation of this Gospel is missing the point. The question about what is the right way of worship is just not the same question as whether that worship is lip-service or not.

Worship becomes worthless, Jesus tells us, when the heart is not in it - or rather, when the heart is not in God himself. It is empty when the focus is on human desires, not divine purposes. And the measure of true worship is not the quality of the ceremony, impressive and inspiring though that may be, but the song sung by the charity, the mercy and the love of those whose worship is their lives.


Image Source - via @holysmoke

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

21st Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ (John 6:60)


Some people love a good argument and others don’t. Some find it exciting and exhilerating. Others feel uncomfortable at the conflict generated. ‘Why can’t we all get on?’ they would say. ‘Why can’t we just agree to differ? Live and let live?’

But part of the problem is that we are in danger of losing the distinction between an argument and a row. You see a row is just a shouting match, when one person tries to overpower and defeat the other. It is a battle between two opposing forces, in which the stronger (or louder) may prevail. The thing about a row is that everyone is speaking, but no one is listening.

Actually an argument is very different. An argument is a reasoned series of points, propositions, which lead to a conclusion. When two people argue, they listen to one another, pick through the strengths and weaknesses of the points made, and try to come to a conclusion, a result, some kind of agreement.

And the difference between the two is that the row is about the struggle for power, while the argument is about the search for truth. If you are struggling for power, there is no need to listen, because your aim is to defeat the other side, to overcome, to be victorious.

In today’s Gospel, the followers who left Jesus did so because they heard his words but did not listen to them. They became set against him. We see here the seeds of the conflict that will lead to his arrest, his suffering, his death.

Truth always challenges, often offends. It may be comforting, but it can also be uncomfortable. It encounters rejection and conflict. And there is a great temptation to play down the hard words, the intolerable language - to agree to differ, to live and let live - but Truth can never be silent, because Truth which is hidden is buried in the dark.

Argument is better than Conflict - but to avoid conflict may be to strangle the Truth.


Image source

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

20th Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever. (John 6:58)


Holy days of obligation are now few and far between - with the exception of Sunday that is. As I'm sure you know, in this country there are now only four which may fall on weekdays, and these are St Peter and St Paul (June 29th), the Assumption (August 15th), All Saints' Day (November 1st), and of course Christmas Day. Even the first three occur on weekdays only about half the time - because if their dates fall on a Saturday or a Monday then they are transferred to the Sunday.

Holy Days can be an especial challenge when we are on holiday - two of the four fall in the summer, and of course if we are not in England and Wales we might find what is a holy day at home is not where we are, or even more confusing we could be completely unaware that a day of obligation is taking place in our holiday location while we are sat by the pool.

Now, no doubt many Catholics today sit light to this particular precept of the Church, especially when it affects weekday obligations, and also, sad to say, the Sunday obligation too. It is not just the obligation of course, other important holy days ansd holy seasons such as holy week, Easter and Christmas are becoming times not for worship with the parish community, but occasions for family holidays, perhaps by force of circumstance but often also by choice.

To many of us, no doubt, the requirement to love our neighbour as ourself, to treat others with respect, to be honest and generous - these seem far more important values to guide our conduct at home and on holiday than whether or not we manage to get to Church.

Yet just because one value is more important than another doesn't make the lesser of no importance at all. And many Catholics, not just younger ones, still see it important when going on holiday to find out where the Church is and what time mass is offered.

It is worth reflecting why we have the Obligation, and what it is for.

First, why have an obligation at all?
The Church, through the Bishops, teaches us what we need to do in order to practice the faith. It is as if we ask "What do we need to do to be a practicing Catholic, a faithful member of the Church and a follower of Christ". It is like the Young Man who came to Jesus and said "What must I do to have eternal life?" In addition to the commandments, the Church gives us six simple rules - or precepts - the Mass Obligation is one of these.
In setting before us the obligation the Church is saying to us "This is what you need to do, the basic minimum, to practice the Faith". In other words - if you want to be a Catholic, if you want to be counted a follower of Christ, then this is one of the basic requirements of membership.

Secondly, lets be clear, the obligation is not to go to Church. Neither is it an obligation to receive communion. It is an obligation to hear mass, to be present at the celebration of Mass, on Sundays and other given days, if it is possible for us to do so. (The obligation is to do what is possible, never what is not possible).

Thirdly, and here is the nub, the obligation answers that fundamental question - what must I do to have eternal life? Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever, Jesus says.
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you, he tells us. ... He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him ... whoever eats me will draw life from me, he explains.
We can say prayers, and read the Scriptures at home, on a bus or a plane, of course, and sometimes we may have to. We can receive communion in our homes or in hospital, and at some times in our lives that may be necesssary. But none of these are substitutes for the Mass, which the Church calls "the source and summit of the Christian life". At Mass we come together with other Christians, normally gather in a Church or Chapel, and celebrate this most holy sacrament, the bread of life, the blood of salvation, the food for the journey of life.

If we wish to live as the Body of Christ, then we must share in that Body, drink that Blood, live that life, and live for ever.

The Assumption of Our Lady : Homily / Sermon

He has looked upon his lowly handmaid (Luke 1:48)


Time and Time again in scripture we read a small insignificant people who make an enormous impact. There is David, who defeats goliath! We are the story of Gideon it defeats the Midianites with just a small band of people. there is Elijah, the only prophet of the Lord left, who nevertheless overcomes the many prophets of Baal. The profit Jeremiah 2, risks his own safety and loses his liberty, by speaking out against the king and his counsellors.

And Mary, too, is placed before uses one of these small and insgnificant people who has such an important place in God's plan. 


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.

And we can say more - because Mary's story does not end with her entry into heaven - it begins here. 

Though she is mentioned only on selected occasions in the Gospels, and we know very few of her words, yet she has dominated the art, the music and the faith of the world for centuries. She has sometimes been the centre of disputes amongst Christians, but she has also been at the heart of the inspiration and devotion of so many. Catholics and Orthodox unite in calling her Mother of God. Protestant Christians recognise her importance in the Christian story. Even the Koran devotes several chapters to her. 

We could summarise all this  in theological terms, and say that she has a crucial role in the story of salvation, she is the closest human person to Our Lord himself in this life and the next, she most certainly dwells with God. That, in a nutshell, is more or less what is meant by the Assumption, which we celebrate today. 

But we could also put it in a more human, personal way. Mary is always about meeting, about encounter: look at the Gospels - the Annunciation, when she is greeted by the angel; the Visitation, when she greets her cousin Elisabeth; the Crucifixion, when Jesus greets her from the Cross; the day of Pentecost, then and after, when she prays with the Apostles ... and Lourdes and elsewhere, when she greets Bernadette and others. 

Mary is special because she meets us and we meet her - in special places and in our prayers. She is one of us, she is with us, and she dwells in the heart of her Son, as he dwells in her heart. 

Through her, the lowly handmaid,  heaven came down to earth - and with her we share the life of heaven. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

19th Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that a man may eat it and not die.


Food is big business. Our supermarkets sell food of amazing variety, some of which has been flown in from all parts of the world. Television programmes showcase cooks and recipes. Books and magazines give recipes, advice and wonderful photos of culinary creations. Restaurants and take aways provide meals and snacks to suit every possible taste and level of hunger. There is even a huge business surrounding advice, support groups and products to enable people to eat less and lose weight - weight that they have put on from enjoying food in the first place.

And this is true even in the midst of a financial hardship.

Yet in our affluent society, we tend to lose sight of the most basic fact: that we eat to live, we need food for survival. Without food we will wither, weaken, and die. Food is our fuel and our energy. Well nourished human beings grow and flourish.

Our daily bread is a necessity for life.

Yet notice this - this necessity, this survival is never quite enough for us. We embelish it, decorate it, celebrate it. We could live, survive, on astronaut’s food, tablets, pills, vitamins, but we don’t unless it is a medical necessity. We could live, survive in solitary confinement. But we don’t - unless we are forced to. We want much more - we need more.

The way in which we treat food is itself a proof to us of what we are and what we are called to be. We do not live on bread alone, because we give meaning and purpose to the basic things we do. We do not simply reproduce, but we love. We do not simply communicate, but we converse. We do not simply learn in order to work, but we learn to grow. When we read, we don’t do so just to follow directions, but to think and reflect and to pray. We don’t just look at pictures, but we admire art. All the basic things we do, things we need to do to survive, point us beyond our survival to the celebration of beauty and joy and love. They point us to truth. They lead us to heaven. They point us to God, to Christ, the bread of life come down from heaven.

They instruct us that there is more than just physical survival: there is a bread which we can eat which leads to eternal life.


Photo from

18th Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

Work for the food that endures to eternal life (John 6:27)

NewImageAnd we have also heard voices discuss the importance of sport not just for the very best, or for the purposes of patriotism, but for the human development itself. Sport for all, we hear, because it is all part of our development as human beings.We are currently in the middle of a celebration the human body and the extraordinary possibilities of its achievements. We have watched − and will continue to watch - people swim faster than we can walk and cycle as fast as we might drive. And we have heard debates about the strengths and weakness of British sport, and the education which promotes the developments of world champions.

I’m not sure what your experience was of school PE. For me it was very mixed. I was good at Rugby (big, heavy) but detested swimming (I couldn’t, still can’t) and cross country running (nothing worse).

Yet there is something very important here. Education is not just about the intellectual. Education means “growth” and we grow not just in our minds but in our bodies too. Of course, some people are more practical, others more intellectual. Some excel at both, many are more inclined to one other the other. But no one is all mind, no one just body, both are essential - and we know only too well that if we are ill, then it affects both mind and body.

But this false division, between mind and body, can affect how we think of our spiritual life as well.

Often, in our minds, we separate out the spiritual and the physical

On the one hand, we may think of the spirit as something very distinct from our physical existence. In this idea we hunger or suffer in the body but the spirit is free from need and free from pain, it is just pure thought, pure personality, free from the chains of physical life.

And the reverse of this particular coin is that the physical world is complete in itself. It gives us the idea that science can answer every question and solve every problem. The physical world - so it seems - has no more need of the spirit than the spirit has need of the physical.

These are very commonly held ideas. They are wrong.

When Jesus explains the spirit he always makes it very solid, very physical. It is the food which endures for ever. It is the satisfying of hunger and the quenching of thirst. It is the bread which comes down from heaven.

It is the spirit which fills the physical with life and truth and purpose, and eternity.

Spirit and matter, soul and body are not two separate things best kept apart. They are one: created by God, redeemed by him in Christ, the Word made flesh, the bread of heaven.

Lord, give us that bread always!(John 6:34)


Photo: The Olympic flame is lit during the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Summer Games at the Olympic Stadium in London, Saturday, July 28, 2012. (AP Photo/John Stillwell, Pool) Source: AP

Saturday, July 28, 2012

17th Sunday of the Year (B) : Homily / Sermon

What is that between so many? (John 6:9)

NewImageThere are those who are uncomfortable about the miracles in the Gospels and try and explain them away. Perhaps there is some natural explanation, they say. Perhaps the walking on the water was a trick of the light. Perhaps the stilling of the storm was co-incidence. Perhaps the feeding of the 5000 was not supernatural at all, but an extraordinary act of sharing by the crowd, so that all were fed.

Mm. Perhaps. But perhaps those who try and explain these things away entirely miss the point. Their scepticism makes the account - and Jesus - too ordinary, too banal. Let me try and explain.

There is another occasion when Jesus is asked to perform a miracle with bread. Only on that occasion he refused. It was when he was tempted by the devil in the desert. Now why perform the miracle now, and not then?

Well there are many reasons, but one is certainly this. He refuses to turn a stone to bread to create a spectacle - but he willing makes little bread into much bread to feed the crowd.

Jesus takes what we give him and makes more, much more of it. A little love is multiplied into great love. A little sorrow for our sins becomes an overflowing forgiveness. Our small talents and abilities become great with his help. Our simple prayers are joined to his all embracing will. Drops of olive oil convey his healing power. A little water is made the gateway to eternal life. Our gifts of bread and wine become his Body and Blood.

Christ takes our little offerings and makes them great. God does not destroy nature, but expands it and enhances it and glorifies it. As St Thomas Aquinas says “Grace perfects nature”. The stone is not destroyed but the loaves and fish are much multiplied.

It is like the words of the Christmas carol:

“What can I give him, poor that I am, if I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part. What can I give him? Give my heart.”

A small offering: a great reward.


Friday, July 13, 2012

15th Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

So they set off to preach repentance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.


Jesus sent the Twelve out to preach the Good News, the Good News of the Gospel. And that Good News is a call to repentance.

This not what we think of usually as Good News. Good news is the surprise lottery win, the announcement of a birth or a marriage, being given the all clear, the result of the match, the winning of the prize, the success in examinations or a job interview. And in all these, notice, for all our efforts beforehand, Good News is something that happens to us, it is gift, it is grace.

Yet here, in this Gospel the message is one of repentance, contrition, sorrow for sins. It is something we have to do, and something which is painful - to admit our own fault, to confess our sins, to acknowledge our failures, our impatience, our dishonesty, our unkindnesses and cruelties. It might be necessary - but how can this be a message to preach. How can this be Gospel? How can this be Good News?

Well it can - it is - of course it is - because what the Twelve are sent out to preach with such urgency is not the wickedness of the world, but greatest of God’s mercy. They move from house to house and place to place rapidly, wasting no time with those who do not want to here because they are there not to condemn but to give the offer of a Great Gift, the Gift of Forgiveness which is freely given by God to everyone who embraces it, and this gift heals minds and hearts, casts out anxiety and soothes infirmity.

And all we need to do to receive this great gift of God - is to acknowledge that we need it.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Trinity Sunday: Homily / Sermon


I have always been interested in science. It's funny, because I've never studied it, at least not since my O levels.

I suppose the problem with studying something is that you have to persevere through the things you don't like as well as the things you do.

It was the origins of things that grabbed me. Not chemicals, nor biology, but the intricacy of the atom.

Protons, neutrons and electrons: the way in which the same building blocks make up so many different materials. I thought learning the periodic able was very dull - but the reality behind it was fascinating. And I've tried to keep up, but it now so very hard: positrons, quarks, dark matter and anti-matter, string theory, the Higgs boson ... So far as i can grasp it, it's amazing, but I don't claim to know enough to even begin to explain it!

And another thing that intrigues me is the universe itself - the sheer size of it, astronomy, the stars and the planets, space dust and meteorites, and the possibility of space travel. I was a child when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, and I grew up a great fan of star trek - "Space, the final frontier". My granddad's generation had loved the Western - but for me it was SciFi.

And there's an interesting connection, because these vast planets, stars, moons, spread over million miles of space seem so very like the atoms and electrons.

Now I realise the scientist will say that the atom doesn't really look like that. It's just the way the text books portray them to make it easier for us to understand. But that isn't really the point.

The point is really this. At these too levels of reality. The incredibly tiny, and the unimaginably massive, everything is connected. Everything is related to everything else. Gravity unites planets with stars and moons with planets. Electrons are bound to atoms, and atoms are combinations of protons and neutrons. Stars lies in galaxies and atoms combine to make substances and chemicals. Water is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen, and the tides are moved by the moon.

Everything is related to everything else. Even people. Especially people. "No man is an island", the Poet John Donne wrote, and for that matter no island is an island either, as least not in that sense.

And this is all because God who Created all these things is himself relationship. He is one, yet three. His creation reflects his glory, the glory of a relationship, Father, Son, and Spirit - a relationship which gives itself eternally, which expands and spreads through his creation, yet without ever reducing itself, without ever diminishing.

He is bound together by the strongest bonds, yet He gives himself with infinite generosity. We call him Trinity.

And the force that unites him and which he shares with us, the force that enfolds him and which embraces us, we call Love.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Ascension Day: Homily / Sermon

Go out to the whole world! Proclaim the Good News! (Mark 16:16)


Nowadays, when someone witnesses an extraordinary event, the question which is always asked, after enquiring what actually happened, is "and how did you feel?" It seems in our day we are obsessed not only by knowing what took place, but also finding out how it touched people, what their emotional response was, how they felt.

The Ascesion is certainly an extraordinary event. So how did the disciples feel? It must have been a mixed bag of emotions. Sadness, distress even, that the close presence of Jesus they had known these past 40 days is to come to an end. Apprehension also, perhaps, that they now will need to make their way without his inspiration and leadership. Fear, no doubt, that they too might have to suffer persecution and hatred. Bewilderment, at what had taken place, struggling to sense of it all.

And in the midst of this turmoil of emotions, a clear message breaks through from the Lord himself. Not really words of comfort or reassurance - more words of inspiration and challenge: Go out to the whole world! Proclaim the Good News!

This is not a time for sorrow or fear, he is saying. Not even a time for joy and celebration. It is a time for action.

This is not a time to fear for the faith, but a time to spread it.
This is not a time to cower or hide to avoid persecution or ridicule, but a time to hold our heads high!
This is not a time to puzzle over what it all means, but to proclaim the truth with confidence.

It was true then. And it is true now.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Easter 6: Homily / Sermon

Love one another, as I have loved you (John 15:12)


Love is a word widely used, and widely abused. It refers to a rush of emotion. A stirring of urges. A blinding of reason and a driving passion. Love is powerful, and it is dangerous. It can drive people to madness, or murder. It inspires jealousy. It too often leads to heartache and tears.

Well, so you would think from watching popular dramas, or reading literature. So you would think from reading inside the newspaper where the more interesting human stories are told.

But of course, this is not the love which Jesus speaks of.

Why not? Well it is not because Christian love is unrealistic or idealised. Quite the opposite: it is the idealised, one-sided kind of love which leads to pain and anguish.

The love of God is real, realistic, because it is not one-sided, or deluded, but because it is mutual, it is shared - love one another as I have loved you. It is not the obsession or infatuation of one person for another, but a sharing of lives, of commitment. It is giving and receiving. It is not about choosing, but about being chosen. This is the love that bears fruit - because this is the love that will last.

And in this month of May, we celebrate the one who loved Christ into the world, and in the world. The one who loved him before the world ever knew him. The one who fed him and nursed him and hugged him and gave him up, to embrace him again in his death and resurrection. We celebrate she who in loving him, loves us too, and cares for us, and prays for us as our Mother.

When we sing our praises of Mary, we sing the praises of the Love that chose her, to go out and bear fruit, the fruit of her womb, fruit that lasts for eternity.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Easter 5: Homily / Sermon

I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty. (John 15:5)


We used to have a vine. When we lived in Oxford - in very built up Cowley, not far from the University Press and the Car Factory - our house was bordered by an old stone wall, which clearly used to be part of a farm. And by the wall - probably long after the farm was ‘regenerated’ (as we now say) - some imaginative soul had planted a vine. And the vine had grown up the wall, and across the wall, and had wrapped itself over the wall, hugged the round top like fingers extending their grip. From a root which could hardly be seen it has hugged the wall and extended in all directions. And we got grapes. In a warm summer you could just about eat them, though usually they were a little bitter. More often, one of the parishioners collected them to make wine. I don’t know if she put them in a Vat and trod on them - and sadly I never got to taste the wine.

Then one stormy spring, in very strong winds, the wine was swept off the wall, thrown over back onto the edge of our driveway, and lay rather forlorn on the ground. Try as we might it was too big and too extensive just to lift back over the wall. It didn’t die, but that summer at least it was a sad reminder of its former glory, and bore no fruit.

And Jesus compares himself, and us, in his Church, to a vine.

Like a vine the Church draws life from a single root, and that is Christ. Separated from the vine, the branches die: drawing life from him, they thrive. We may think that we can go our own way, pick and choose what we believe and how we live, but separated from Christ we will certainly not thrive.

Like the vine the Church has spread in many different directions. Strong and vibrant in some places, thin and sparse in others. Some strong branches may bear little fruit, while newer and flimsier ones are more abundant. The vine sometimes veers off in unexpected directions. It is not always neat - but it is always connected to the root.

Like the vine the Church bears a fruit. Not always easily palatable at first taste, but with tending and understanding, it makes a very fine wine. And the wine, the fermented fruit, brings life from the tree.

And like the vine the Church needs tending. Life comes from Christ, but fruitfulness comes from our co-operation with him. A vine which is not cared for will wither. It may survive, but it may not be fruitful. A vine that is tended, and nourished and cared for will produce good fruit and excellent wine. So too the Church needs our commitment, our love, our obedience and our service - and if we do not give it, while it may not die, we may find it hard to draw life from it when we really need it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Easter 4: Homily / Sermon (The Good Shepherd)


The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and the sheep do not belong to him, abandons the sheep and runs away as soon as he sees a wolf coming. (John 10:12)

If you pay peanuts, as they say, you get monkeys.

It is a cynical view, but one with a lot of truth in it. If you are employed by someone else, then you expect a proper reward. When the situation is not so good, then commitment falls considerably. When you work for someone else, you may take pride in your work, but fundamentally, at the end of the day you can walk away.

On the other hand, if it is your own business, your own idea, your own vision, you are highly motivated. You want it to succeed. You work long hours. You will even work for peanuts. Your commitment is entirely different.

In this parable, Jesus hits on this very point. You could say it is the parable of self-employment, or the small business. But it is also the parable of vocation.

Because there are times when in a job our commitment is not like that of the hired man. When we are doing something which gives us a sense of vision and purpose, When we are caring for others, When we are sharing our skills or our knowledge: in all these situations we may work outside hours, for little or no pay, because we are committed to what we do. It is no longer a job given by someone else, but a job owned by us. And it is owned by us because it is an answer to the call of God within in. It fulfils us not so much because we have chosen it, but because it has chosen us.

And this is what Vocation is all about.

A job may be given to us by another human being, but a vocation is given us by God. And the trouble is we follow our own desires and needs, rather than listening to God.

Today on what we call Good Shepherd Sunday, we pray for Vocations to the Priesthood and the Religious Life. We pray that our hearts may be open to the voice of God, and that men and women may respond to God’s call to service. Pray for vocations. Pray for priests. Pray that men and women may hear the voice of God, and respond to it

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Easter 2 (Divine Mercy) : Homily / Sermon

Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. (John 20:23)

NewImageToday is Divine Mercy Sunday. This name was given to the Sunday after Easter by Pope John Paul II.

You may be familiar with the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which has become increasingly popular. This day stands at the end of a novena to the Divine Mercy and one of the practices on this day is the practice of individual sacramental confession.

We associate the sacrament of reconciliation, confession, penance, especially with Lent, don’t we? Lent is the time, surely for us to creep to confession, queue in the church, sneak into the dark box for a few minutes of awkwardness, the mention of a few routine sins and a lot of what-I-cannot-now-remembers. It’s an important duty, but an uncomfortable one.

But today’s Gospel reminds us of something that we should always have known, that the forgiveness of sins is first and foremost an Easter blessing. Before the resurrection, it is Christ who dispenses the forgiveness of God - here in this Gospel as we are clearly told - gives this wonderful gift to the Church.

So when we fall from grace, when we say the harsh word, omit the important duty, are thoughtless or greedy or dishonest or unloving, and when we acknowledge our guilt and our failings, the Church can free us from our sins in the power of Christ. This is what is meant by salvation and redemption. This is what is meant by the victory of the cross and the power of the resurrection.

Yet too often - like Thomas - we think we know better. We hide or excuse our sins. We shrink from recognising our need of God. We hesitate in approaching the Church, and if we are reluctant in this way, we remain in the narrowness of vision, and the hardness of hard and the coldness of faith which sin brings.

Rejoice and praise God. Raise your hearts. Utter with Thomas, My Lord and My God - because through his resurrection, Christ has given the Church the power to release us from our sins.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Easter Vigil: Homily / Sermon


About 1,630 years ago a woman from Spain or possibly France went on holiday to the holy land. She was a Christian, and she went to Jerusalem to witness the famous ceremonies of the week before Easter. Her diary, travelogue, is said to be the oldest signficant written work by a European woman. It is also the first account we have of the ceremonies of Holy Week.

Egeria describes the procession of palms on the Sunday before Easter, a Mass to celebrate the Last Supper on the Thursday before Easter, a ceremony of veneration of a wooden cross on the Friday before Easter Day. She describes them in enthusiastic detail as great novelties, remarkable, unknown, amongst her readers at home. She describes elaborate and detailed ceremonies, the like of which those at home would never have seen. It is thought by historians of such things that her writing did much to spread and establish ceremonies which are now very familiar to us and which are the basis of holy week all over the world.

And then she comes to the Easter Vigil, the most colourful, the most dramatic, the most elaborate of all the ceremonies. Her description here is all the more remarkable - "and on Easter night", she says, "they do exactly the same as us". Little detail. Bare description. "They do just the same as we do". [these are not literal quotations!]

For Egeria, the Holy Week ceremonies were worth writing home about.They were so different, so unusual, so dramatic. But the Vigil was the same everywhere.

This travelogue tells us something we might have worked out for ourselves. The Vigil is so different. The other days, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in a sense dramatise the story of the passion. They take us into the footsteps of Jesus. They place us amongst the crowd. We voice the words and carry out the actions of those days. They are drama.

Yet in this vigil there is no drama, at least not in that sense. We do not gather round a tomb. We do not roll away a stone. We do not converse with angels, not even in a theatrical manner.

We gather in the dark. We listen to Old Testament prophecies, about creation, about salvation through water of the Red Sea, about the water which will be poured over us and give us a new heart and a new spirit. Our symbols are a candle and water, neither of which feature - at least not directly - in any story of the Resurrection.

In this night we do not recreate a story. In this night we do commemorate an event, but we celebrate our salvation which is represented by our Baptism which is our own dying and rising with Christ.

And in doing this we are doing something far more ancient than the retelling of the story, something more fundamental than reliving history.

We are not stepping back into history, but striding forward to eternity.

This is not drama, this is spectacle, this is mystery, this is sacrament.


[This picture is found in one or two places implying it is a portrait of Egeria, though I can't find the source. I think it is very unlikely to be from her time]

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lent 5: Homily / Sermon

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single grain. (John 12:24)

IMG 3275

There is something so remarkable, I think, at the way Easter falls at this time of year, when we move from the darkness of winter to the brightness of spring.

Because let’s face it, once the brief beauty of the snow has passed, winter is a dour and dark and cheerless time. It is cold and wet. The hours of daylight are short, and there are many days which are overcast and gloomy. The trees stand bare and lifeless. And the mood of the earth is one that we too might share. February is a miserable time.

And then March moves into April. Still cold, and often windy, the sun may shine. In the midst of showers there is bright sunlight. Shoots emerge from the ground. Leaves form on the trees, and the grayscale around us becomes punctuated with colour: a little green, the yellow of daffodils, the pinks of early blossoms.

As, during Lent, we do without this or that, the loss of colour and warmth which has been forced upon us begins to draw back. Sunlight, warmth, colour, and the freshness of the spring breezes. 
Here in nature - even in the nature of our lit streets and our centrally heated homes - here in nature is a vivid parable of the mystery of our faith.

Drabness gives way to colour, darkness recedes in the sunlight, sorrow surrenders to joy and death gives way to life.

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single grain, but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.

There is no gain without pain. We must travel through darkness to light, through sacrifice to reward. We must give in order to receive. We must surrender our lives in order to gain them.

In this final fortnight of Lent - what used to be called Passiontide - this is the overwhelming message, written into creation itself, fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Christ and shared in our own lives: it is death which leads to fulness of life, and as we share in His death, so He gives us His life.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lent 4: Homily / Sermon

‘Men have shown they prefer darkness to the light … but the man who lives by the truth come out into the light.’ (John 3:21)


We have heard in the news this week that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams is to retire later this year. The news took me back to a couple of years ago when Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor announced his retirement as Archbishop of Westminster.

He spoke about belief and said that those who denied the existence of the spiritual were actually giving only a partial view of what it means to be human. In other words, the atheist does not put humanity at the centre, but actually reduces humanity by denying our spiritual dimension. It’s not a new idea at all and it’s been stated by many others, including the Holy Father, but it struck a chord as explaining why the Church so often seems to find itself in conflict with society - over marriage, over Church schools, over abortion and euthanasia, over testing on embryos,  - all of these modern ideas deny the spiritual dimension of humanity, and by doing this they make us less than human, more like animals.

Now then, is taken up in today’s Gospel.

To deny the existence of God, and even more to act as if God does not exist, as if there is no spiritual dimension to human existence, is to live in darkness. It is a denial of the truth, a refusal or an inability to see what is there.

Sometimes there is a wilful blindness to the heritage of faith or the spiritual dimension of life, like a sort of rewriting of history. Thousands of years of society and understanding of marriage and family are swept away. We see it in many other, more trivial ways: for example there is a fashion not to use AD and BC when identifying dates, but CE and BCE instead - but the numbers, the point of origin (the coming of Christ) remains the same, but deliberately hidden.

And when people deny the spiritual dimension of human life then all kinds of terrible consequences may follow. If we are not made in the image of God, than what is that makes us all equal? What then prevents us from claiming that some are superior to others, some have fewer rights than others, some have a greater worth or quality of life than others - whether that be by race, or age, or infirmity? Of course you do not have to be a believer to recognise the basic human dignity of all, but isn’t it odd that so many have no difficulty in asserting the equality of black and white, but not of born and unborn, of healthy and sick?

“God sent his Son into the world” - the Gospel tells us - “not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved”. And he, the light of the world, gives us a way of seeing the full dignity of the human being, and the falsity of those who would keep humanity in darkness.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lent 3: Homily / Sermon

Zeal for your house will devour me. (John 2:17)


Here’s a good quiz for the family. Give each person a piece of paper, and ask them to write down the Ten Commandments. See who can get all ten. I bet some of them put down ‘Love your neighbour’ which isn’t one of then. And I also bet that few of them put down about covetting - and might not even know what the word means (it means jealously wanting to have what others have, sort of keeping up with the Jones’. In many ways our society is built on covetousness).

Now, we can deplore the fact that few know the ten commandments off by heart, and still less understand them, and yes, there is a point to be made, but the reciting of words is not quite the same as living them. It’s not that the words aren’t important, of course they are, but far more important than to know the words by heart is to live them from the heart.

It is one thing to know it is wrong to tell a lie - it is quite another to be outraged by the temptation to  benefit from a convenient untruth.

It is one thing to know it is wrong to steal - but it is another to turn our backs on the odd scam or bargain from a questionable source.

It is one thing to know that we should keep each Sunday by going to mass - yet another to rejoice in the celebration of our faith.

Sometimes when people hear today’s Gospel - of Jesus clearly angry, overturning the money changers’ tables and driving them out of the temple - people ask if this could be right? But Jesus’ apparent anger is a zeal for truth, a thirst for honest dealing and a yearning for a faith that comes from the heart - not words only, but words that are expressed in deeds.


Friday, March 02, 2012

Lent 2: Homily / Sermon

‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ (Mark 9:7)

The Sacrifice of Isaac - Caravaggio

Last week it was Noah’s Ark, and this week the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. Or not so much the sacrifice, but the attempted sacrifice. The Old Testament can certainly challenge our understanding!

On the face of it, this is a horrific story. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, and Abraham, out of blind faith, almost carries out the order. Only at the last minute does he hold his hand. Is this the sort of thing God does? Well, we would find it hard to say yes.

But then we must look at two stories together.

The Gospel reading tells us of another mountain. And another Son. And this time the Father is God himself. On the first mountain faith is clear, but the will of God is not. On the second mountain the voice of God speaks clearly and his Glory is revealed.

In the first reading Abraham is blessed not because of the action he did not carry out, but because of his utter devotion to God. In the ancient world, even more than today, family was everything. The clan, kith and kin, the succession, this was at the heart of the fabric of society.

Abraham realised that faith in God is greater even than this.

And in the Gospel we hear that the sacrifice is not the sacrifice of an unwilling son, but the gift of God himself, in the Son. Just as in the Old Testament, God replaces the brutality of human sacrifice with the sacrifice of a Ram, so in Christ it is the Lamb of God the takes our sins upon himself.

Sacrifice is, at the end of it all, not about violence, but about love. It is not about taking a life, but about giving life. It is not about blind faith, but about the hope of resurrection, the resurrection of the One clearly seen in all his glory.


[The image is "The Sacrifice of Isaac" by Caravaggio (1603)]

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lent One : Homily / Sermon


You may expect a homily to focus on the story which is the subject of the Gospel and always features on the first Sunday in Lent - the Temptation of Jesus. But I want to take our reflection elsewhere, to the first reading, not the Gospel.

The first reading at Mass is chosen not at random, but to provide a sort of reflection or anticipation of the Gospel

And this weekend begin with the story of the covenant of God with Noah, and a reminder of the sign of the covenant - the rainbow. How can we understand this story, and what on earth has it got to do with Lent? With the temptation of Christ?

Some people will look at this story and try to find the historical evidence to support it, and some of that is intriguing: in many cultures there are stories of great floods, and some archeologists have even tried to find evidence of the Ark, and the mountain on which it landed.

At the other extreme, there are those who reject the story out of hand. It is just a tale from primitive people, they say, to explain the rainbow, and a way to explain the presence of some beauty in the midst of much danger. Such people would also point out that the destruction of men, women and children alike, cities and civilisations, is very unworthy of a God of love.

For the Church though, neither of these paths are satisfactory. Neither explains why this reading sits alongside the story of the Temptation of Christ in the desert. The search for historical detail will tell us little of use, and the complete rejection of the story fails to take it seriously at all. Even if one view or the other is true, neither tells us what the story actually means.
No, from ancient times, Christian writers have pointed out that it is the symbolism of the story which gives its underlying message.

It is a wonderful story with which to begin Lent, and it casts light both upon the life of Christ, and our living through this holy season.

Here we have an account of sin and salvation, of destruction and compassion, of faith and hope. Here is a tale which speak of water, and a boat which rides on the water - danger and the rescue from danger. Again and again in scripture, water is a symbol both of the threats of evil and the overcoming of it by God. We hear echoes of the salvation of nations through the waters of the Red Sea, the stilling of the storm by Jesus, and the walking on the water. There are reminders of death and resurrection. We are reminded of the journey of baptism through water, and of the promise of eternal life.

And the 40 days on the boat are the 40 days of Christ in the wilderness and they are our 40 days of Lent. The water is an image of sin, forgiveness and resurrection. It is disaster and it is hope.

And it reminds us that Lent is a time of jouneying from sin, a time of patient hope, a time of promise, a time of trial, and a time for redemption.


[Image source:]

Friday, February 17, 2012

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily / Sermon

We have never seen anything like this! (Mark 2:12)

NewImageThis week, Lent begins. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, when we start our Lenten fast and preparation for Easter.

And Tuesday … Tuesday is what people nowadays call ‘pancake day’. 
In many countries, that day is Mardi Gras - or ‘Fat Tuesday’, a day when all the rich food left in the pantry is cooked up and enjoyed. Even the name Mardi Gras has come to mean a party, a celebration, a time of enjoyment and excess.

In English, we have a rather different name. Not one that refers to partying or celebration, but rather to something much more serious and rather dour. We call it Shrove Tuesday, the day when we are shriven, absolved of our sins by making our confession to a priest.

The English, O the English: we don’t go a-partying like the Europeans, but we glumly traipse to confession, encouraged only by a pancake and some lemon juice.

Actually, this has long ceased to be our custom, and while we are likely to go confession at any time during Lent, we are unlikely to go on Shrove Tuesday.

But I wonder, is the forgiveness of sins so different from the celebrations of the Mardi Gras? We may look upon confession, in a dark box to a stern priest, to be far away from the party, but in today’s Gospel when the man had his sins forgiven - the paralysed man no less - he stood up for joy, held his head high, and walked before the crowd.

No doubt there was also a spring his step. Perhaps he tried a little jig. And the astonished crowd praised God.

What better celebration could there be?

Enjoy your pancakes. Go to confession. And celebrate the freedom and forgiveness you receive.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

6th Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. (Mark 1:41)

NewImageWhat is the most amazing thing about this story?

That Jesus healed the man? That he sent him to the priests? That Jesus told him to keep it secret? Or that the man took little notice of this and great crowds came after Jesus?

Is the most notable detail that the man doesn’t seem to be sure whether Jesus would want to heal him? Or that Jesus seems to heal him because he felt sorry for this man, as if he might not feel sorry for others?

I don’t think so. None of these. I think the most interesting detail is in the words ‘Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.’

We can say that we care for those in need. We can express compassion for the homeless, or drug abusers. We can say that all are equal in the eyes of God, and profess that we are not racist, that we do not look down on others. We  care about those who have terminal illnesses. We express sympathy for the severely disabled and the mentally handicapped. We are moved by compassion for those who have nothing.

But. But. But we keep our distance. We might express our concern, but we keep our distance.

Yet before he heals him, Jesus touches him. Before he sends him away Jesus extends his hand on the untouchable person, the one who was meant to keep his distance from others, the one who had been cast out of society for fear that his infection might spread.

Jesus touches the man. He takes a risk. He is not satisfied with kind words, but turns his words into action.

He stretched out his hand and touched him.

Monday, January 30, 2012

5th Sunday of the Year (B) : Homily / Sermon

Let us go elsewhere, … so that I can preach there too, because that is why I came. (Mark 1:37-38)


Today’s Gospel presents us with a day in the life of Our Lord - afternoon in the synagogue, then to Simon Peter’s House - in the evening receiving the sick - in the morning moving on to preach and heal somewhere else. He’s a workaholic!

To understand the Gospel, the Church often gives us an insight in the first reading, from the Old Testament. Here is the book of Job, we also hear about a day in the life:

Is not man’s life on earth nothing more than pressed service
…Lying in bed I wonder, ‘When will it be day?’
Risen I think, ‘How slowly evening comes!’
Restlessly I fret till twilight falls.

So which are you - the workaholic, relentlessly moving from task to task, need to need, place to place? Or the person who peers carefully through the curtains, praying for another ‘snow day’?

And it needn’t change so much if you don’t have to go to work anymore - after all, some of us get up in the morning eager to embrace the day … while others hide under the sheets, avoiding the day for as long as possible.

Now let’s not be mistaken by our readings today. Some people are so active that they never stop and think. Some are so busy that they forget the needs of the people around them, especially family and friends.

That is not the example of Jesus. Jesus is a man of action, but he is also a man of prayer. He embraces the crowds, but also goes off to a lonely place to pray. Preaching without prayer is empty, Activity without reflection is just busy-ness, as Shakespeare puts it: like ‘a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing’.

We don’t have to be busy, manic activists to please God. We do not need to wear ourselves into the ground to please him. But we must always remember that prayer is not another activity, but the powerhouse, the fuel, the motivation, which gives us our purpose and our focus, and from which all our action flows.

Friday, January 27, 2012

4th Sunday of the Year: Homily / Sermon

He gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him! (Mark 1:27)


I think mental illness has always scared people. How many horror stories there are about insane murderers and killers. In years gone by the insane were locked away, and their shrieks and cries in the Bethlehem hospital in London even led to the coining of the word ‘Bedlam’. Even in our own, so enlightened days, there is some shame in mental illness and fear of those who are schizophrenic or bipolar, or just, as people would say ‘nutters’.

And yet, we are told, mental illness is extremely common. Most people, at some time in their lives, suffer from Stress, or irrational anxiety, or depression. Many people at the end their lives suffer from mild or acute dementia. And most of us, probably all us, know someone who had a more severe mental illness.

Nowadays we treat all but the most severe in the community - or we say we do. There is no Bedlam Hospital today. Unlike the Victorians who it away, for us Community care is everything.

It was the same in Jesus’ day. Mental illness was poorly understood. They thought these were demons, unclean spirits, possessions. But in doing this they recognised that the person is not the illness. They feared the illness, but loved the person who was afflicted. They were all someone’s son, or daughter, husband or wife. They didn’t tell the mentally ill that they should pull themselves together. All too often we do that. And lock the mentally ill away not in hospitals, but in prisons. Let us not suppose that we are so very much better than they were.

And Jesus, when he meets these people, he heals them. He speaks sharply to the illness, but treats the afflicted with compassion. He does not avoid them, or shuns them, but he stand before them, with confidence, with authority.

This is a new teaching because it brings hope to those who were losing hope. It proclaims healing to those who did not known they could be healed. Jesus casts out fear, because he teaches that true healing is not just of body, but is of body and soul. He comes to save all who dwell in darkness, of pain, of sin, of suffering.

This is the miracle. A real miracle. A healing that takes us out of the blind alleys of human fear and misunderstanding. Here is a teaching that is new.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

3rd Sunday of the Year B : Homily / Sermon

‘Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.’ (Mark 1:17)


Today's Gospel presents us with a simple story - the call of the disciples Peter and Andrew, and James and John. Two sets of brothers. Four manual labourers, four workmen. Four people who were no doubt skilled at their work, but probably otherwise uneducated. And as we know from elsewhere, they were direct, straightforward, and sometimes hotheaded men.

And Jesus invites them not to fame or riches. He promises not worldly status or even an easy life. He does even invite them to join a cosy community isolated from the troubles of them world.

He calls them to leave the work they know, and embark upon something they can hardly begin to understand. The only hint or inkling they can have is that in calling these two pairs of brothers, he is saying, come and do what I do, come and call others to follow - be fishers of men, callers of humanity, gatherers of peoples.

And so - at the very start, at the first assembling of his followers, Jesus is preparing for a time when they must take the lead. He is assembling those who must follow him in order to gather others. He is already anticipating a time when they must do this without his immediate presence - at least not present in the way he was on that day by the lake.

He is assembling a community, a Church, to continue his work of preaching, teaching, comforting and calling. A Church that is set to grow because its purpose is to drag others into its nets, to call others into its fellowship, to proclaim and message of hope and welcome humanity into God's love.

At the moment of the call of the very first of the apostles, he is preparing them already for his death and resurrection.

(January 21, 2012)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Second Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’ They answered, ‘Rabbi,’ – which means Teacher –’where do you live?’ ‘Come and see’ he replied; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him the rest of that day. (John 1:38-39)


Jesus, where do you live?

It might seem to us an odd question. Why would that matter? And yet, where we live is very important to us. Home sweet home, we say, and There’s no place like home. A home is more than a house or a flat or a few rooms in building.

Home is where the heart is, we also say, and it is the heart that turns bricks and mortar into a place of safety, of comfort, of peace. It is a refuge from the troubles of the world, a place where we gather hope and strength. And our home says much about the sort of people we are, what we care about, what matters to us.

So where does Jesus live? And why does it matter?

At his birth he was homeless - or was he? Matthew tells us that he was born in a stable because there was no place in the Inn. In St Luke’s Gospel we read Jesus’ words ‘The birds of the air have nests and the foxes have holes, but Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

Yet John tells us that ‘The Word became flesh, and dwelt amongst us’. He made his home amongst us. His home. The world is his home. It is here where his heart his. These are the people he loves. He lives not in some remote or far away place, but right in our midst. He is with us. And like the disciples, he calls us too.

(The picture was drawn by Erika Aoyama on November 16, 2002. Source:


Friday, January 06, 2012

The Epiphany : Homily / Sermon

Chalk for the blessing of the home

This is January. The name ‘January’ refers to the old roman god ‘Janus’ who stands at the door of year looking forward and back. It is a time when we reflect on the past year and look forward to the coming year. 
We are now well established in the new year. Most people, and many of the schools, have been back to work for the past week. Newpapers and television, generally thin for news at this time, have been reflecting on the year ahead. In dark long days it is hardly surprising that there is a lot of pessimism about.

And as the new year gets underway we celebrate also with the feast of the Epiphany. Better to reflect on this, than the gloomy predictions of the news media.

Everyone knows that the day celebrates the coming of the wise men, the kings, the magi, to the child Jesus. It is the celebration of a long and hard journey, which ends with the revelation of Truth himself.
When the magi arrive they find an ordinary house and an ordinary family - not so different from ours - and the house is blessed by their arrival, and their worship, and their gifts: the splendour of gold for a king, the luxury of frankincense for worship and the tenderness of myrrh for burial. The gifts express both hope and anxiety for the future.

And - now here’s the strange thing - that ordinary house is actually blessed not by the visitors, but by the one they visit. The blessing is received not by the the host, but by the guests. The real gifts are received not by the family, but by those who give. The Truth is revealed not to those who receive the message, but to those who carry it.

In a way this visit of the wise men is a model of all human worship of God, and indeed a model of what it means to have faith. We praise and bless him, yet we are the ones who receive his blessing. We bring gifts to offer to him - yet we are the ones who receive the gifts of his grace. The host receives us into his presence, yet it is we who receive the host.

At the end of mass today there will be the traditional blessing of chalk which we shall use to bless our houses. The number of the year indicates a prayer for God’s blessing as this year begins. The letters C M B refer to the three travellers who visited the holy house – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar – but also are the initials of the latin words “Christus mansionem benedicat.” “May Christ bless the house.”

As we enter a new year let us bring all our hopes and anxieties to him. In a way these are our gifts - Gold for hope, Myrrh for our worries, Frankincense for our prayer. We cannot forsee or predict what will happen. But we can bring our hopes and concerns before him, and he will give us strength.

May Christ bless our houses, our homes, our families, and our lives, now and for ever.