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