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.