Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Memorial Service 8th December 2013

Homily preached at Carmountside Cemetery Chapel 8th December 2013

The homily was preceded by the reading of the Gospel according to St Matthew (2:1-4, 9b-11)



I was a King once. It was a long time ago. Probably when I was in the infants.

Now this was definitely the best role to have. You came onto the stage last - so your entrance was noticed, and you could probably even manage a wave to your Mum as you walked on. You didn’t have to sit or stand on the stage all the way through, and risk being told off for fidgeting. You didn’t have the embarrassment of being an animal, or wearing a tea towel on your head, or worst of all, if you were chosen to be Joseph, have to sit awkwardly next to a girl all the way through. You got to wear the best clothes. And you carried a fine present.
And you had a nice, straightforward line to say.
I bring gold - I bring frankincense (no I didn’t get it wrong and say “Frankenstein”!) - I bring myrrh.

Just like the Kings, we too bring gifts, give gifts, and receive gifts in this season. Some like Gold, are costly and precious. Others, like frankincense, are sweet smelling, perfumes and chocolates.

But myrrh is different. It is not lush. It not associated with celebration and festivity. Myrrh is the oil, the perfume for the soothing of the sick, the comforting of the anxious, and of the preparation of those at the end of life. It speaks of patience and pain, sadness and sorrow, bereavement and loss.

What an odd gift to bring to this child! But is it? In the midst of life we are in death. In the midst of festivity we are in sorrow. As all around are celebrating, all of us who mourn a loved one feel sadness, and emptiness, for those we love are no longer here.

We might feel awkward to be sorrowing at Christmas. We might hide our tears from others for fear of embarrassing them or ourselves.

But this gift of the wise men tells us that we may grieve, that we must remember, that they are always with us, and that even in moments of joy, we never fail to miss those who are no longer beside us at our celebrations, but who will never be absent from our hearts.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Advent 2 : Homily / Sermon

Prepare a way for the Lord - make his paths straight. (Matthew 3:3)

Mandela hero 2x

An important figure, every Advent, is this strange person, John the Baptist. He comes before us looking like, and clearly intending to operator like one of the prophets of the Old Testament. He adopts an unusual life style - living in the desert and feeding off locusts and wild honey - and in stark terms he warns people of the dangers, the signs of the times.
Prophets weren't those who predicted the future, so much - that is a misunderstanding.

The prophets, rather, pointed to the signs of the times, and emphasised the old wisdom: "Actions have consequences". So if you don't want these unwelcome consequences, then change your actions. Repent, in other words. Repent - and my prophecies might not come true.

If you want to understand how the prophets operate, and how they convey their message, you could do worse to make a comparison with Nelson Mandela, the towering world figure of the second half of the 20th Century, who died just a few days ago. He called people to consider the rightness of their actions. He spoke out again injustice. He challenged the status quo even to accepting his own loss of liberty.

There are difference to be sure - but the outspoken, charismatic, love him or hate him figure that Mandela was and became, is not so far from the prophets, not different, in key respects to Mandela, and Martin Luther King, and Ghandi, and others like them.

But prophets are not only critics - and here we can see another connection with Mandela too. Sometimes the prophets did more than speak negatively, than criticising and condemning. They provided a vision, a dream, and a hope. They pointed out that change need not lead to a situation in which everyone loses but one in which everyone can gain. They pointed out that in spite of their bad or unwise actions, God still loves his people and will rescue them even from their foolishness and disobedience.

And this is what John does. Yes he warns. But he also provides a hope. And he calls the people to be ready. Ready to welcome the new King, the Messiah, the Lord, the Christ. He presents a hope of salvation, but also a challenge to be ready to greet that hope.
Make a straight path. - He calls the people to prepare their hearts, prepare their homes, and prepare their lives to welcome the One who comes.
Advent is a time when we are all commanded, like those people, to hear the words of John the Baptist, and act upon them. Like him, we are called to prepare a way for the Lord. But it will be straight path. A true path. A joyful path.
We have so much to do at this time of year. There are the presents, the visits and welcoming of family, the decorating oAnd we should also prepare our hearts. Repent and make our confessions. Spend some time in prayer, reflection and reading. Ensure that the Christmas message of hospitality and generosity comes truly from the heart and not grudgingly from our duty.
And by the example of our joyfulness and love, invite others to see the joy of Christian living and the truth of our faith.
To come before Christ not out of habit, or custom or duty, but truly out of Love.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Advent Sunday (A) : Homily / Sermon

Advent Sunday

As it was in Noah’s day, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 24:37)


As I get older I become more sympathetic to Scrooge. Its not just because I’m becoming a grumpy old man - though that is perfectly possible - but it’s because, perhaps, in just la little way, his take on Christmas is a bit more realistic than those around him.

In Dicken’s wonderful story Scrooge is a bitter and disappointed man, indeed, who has little sympathy with the people around him. But he is more complicated than that. He dislikes, really dislikes the jollity, the false jollity - the “humbug” as he calls it - of the Christmas carollers and partiers. Life, he knows, is harder, more disappointing, than this temporary festivity can imagine.

Of course, things change and he comes to see things very differently, but I wonder whether his first bitterness is not so unreasonable, nor indeed, unusual.

The jollity of the season - and here to the modern mind, perhaps, Scrooge makes his biggest mistake - is often about forcing an empty indulgence upon people in order to make money (something which Scrooge approved of!) And the greetings, the music and the festivities can often mask pain and anxiety and unhappiness which is only under the surface. On the other hand Scrooge’s sense of loss and bitterness is plain for all to see.

This season, this month, can be for many a dark time. The lights and the music stand in contrast against short, cold and damp days when without them our moods might match. It is a terribly hard time for those in financial difficulties. A sad time for those feeling the pain of loss and bereavement. Christmas, as many experience it, is short lived and superficial, that’s exactly what is meant by Scrooges’s word “Humbug”.

So thank God for Advent! It is not a time for celebration - yet. It is not a time for jollity which thinly papers over the cracks of hardship or stress. It is about waiting. And Hope. In the darkness. Our readings make it very clear that this is a time which is not ignorant of calamity, or disaster, or pain or loss - but in Advent we stand, as it were gazing into a dark tunnel with a pinprick of light guiding us to its end.

Advent is hard to keep. It is much easier to feign jollity than to wait in hope. But remember what changed Scrooge. He was not in fact changed by the carol singers, or the party goers, or the merriment of all around him - but by the fearful vision of a future without hope, the consequences of his lack of human concern. He changes not just for the one day, or for the season, but for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

Jesus told his disciples a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. (Luke 18:1)

Don’t think for a moment that in this parable Jesus is telling us that God is like an unjust judge. No - of course not. He is not teaching us about God, but about prayer.


There are those who think the prayer of intercession is a lower, less worthy form of prayer. After all, isn’t it a little bit selfish - always asking God for something? And isn’t also a bit risky - putting God (and for that matter our own faith) to the test? If we ask Him for something, there is the danger we might be disappointed - better, surely to play safe and avoid asking. Isn’t it much better to praise God in prayer, to thank God in prayer, to meditate upon God, or the mysteries of the faith in prayer? These might seem more noble, more inspiring, and after all, less likely to prove disappointing.

But those who think, write and teach that way are making a big mistake, I dare to say. Prayer is about asking. The very word “prayer” means “asking”. The word “bead” of which the rosary (and other things) is made comes from the word “bid” and refers to the work of asking God for something in prayer. And even those with only the slightest mustard seeded sized faith can be moved to prayer out of need. The knowledge of God, the stirring of faith, very often begins with the yearning of prayer.

No one should play safe in prayer, or to be afraid to ask of something in prayer. God knows what is in our hearts even before we say it, so prayer should be risky, bold, courageous, because life is risky, faith requires courage, and our hope is in things yet unseen.

In the confessional, people often admit to being distracted in prayer, of failing to meditate on the mysteries of the rosary, or losing track of the beads, or finding themselves at mass thinking of anything but the readings or prayers or - heaven forfend - the homily.

But often, these “distractions” should be prayers, because they are our lives, our concerns - small or great they matter to us - and if they matter to us, they matter to God.

Of course, the prayer of meditation is a good thing - if you can do it. And the prayer of thanksgiving should always emerge from our knowledge that our prayers are heard by God. And the prayer of praise, while it might not be the first reason to pray, always underlies our prayer, because the very asking of prayer comes from the idea of God’s goodness and greatness.

But the prayer of petition, of asking for our needs, is the heart and soul prayer, because in bringing our needs before God we are inviting him into our lives, we are laying before him our needs, we are sharing with him our hopes. If we have worries, they must be carried to God in prayer, because worries are just prayers we have kept to ourselves and not shared with him. If we have fears, we should bring them into the light of God’s love that he may lead us out of the darkness. If we have troubles, we must take them to Christ in prayer, that he may shoulder our burdens as we carry his cross.

In prayer, Christ joins us in our lives. He sits at our table as we eat, by our sides as we travel, in our homes as we rest. He holds our hands in our labours, hugs us in our joys, and dries our tears in our sadness.

All we need to do is pray. All we need to do is ask. And never give up on Him. For he never gives up on us.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon


Your faith has saved you. (Luke 17:19)

On the face of it, this story sevens to have a very clear message, one perhaps as applicable to children as to adults - “Remember to say thank you!”

But when we dig a bit deeper, it might seem more complicated.

In addition to this obvious message, we might be struck also by a second point - the example of the faith and gratitude of the one who is an outsider, the Samaritan, and the corresponding lack of faith and gratitude of those who should have known better Here is another possible message. 

Or thirdly, at the end of the story, we might find another point, when we hear these words: "Your faith has saved you". So, perhaps the story is told to us to impress upon us the importance of faith in the miracles of Jesus?

And fourthly, given that we have a contrast here between the Jews and Samaritans, as in so many other places, perhaps we being led to reflect upon unity and equality of different races, creeds and ethnic groups?

But there’s a problem with all four of these ideas and interpretations.

Though Jesus told the faithful, grateful Samaritan, “your faith has saved you”, the other 9, were healed too. They showed little gratitude (the first point), and seem have less faith than the foreigner (second and third points), and appear to turn their backs on the Samaritan (fourth point). Yet these nine are healed too. Any point we might want to draw from the story seems to be contradicted, overruled by this fact.

Yet Perhaps there is another point which is being made, or which we can draw. Let me illustrate this with a little story from history.


In the 4th Century there was an emperor called Julian. He was a fascinating figure. He was born into the imperial family and brought up a Christian (this was long after Roman persecution if Christians had ended). As an adult He left the Church, and returned again to the old Roman religion. When he became Emperor, made it his purpose to revitalise and restore the worship of the Roman gods. He saw how successful The Church was, and tried to reform paganism in its image. He did not ban Christianity, or persecute Christians, - on the contrary, he declared that there should be freedom of religion - but he tried to make paganism as attractive as the Church itself.

He set up an organisation and structure rather like parishes and Diocese, Bishops and Archbishops.

And more than anything else he set up a social welfare system, to help those in need - because he believed that the success of the Church over the old religion, of Christianity over Paganism, was precisely because the Church didn't just help its own people but came to the assistance of anyone in need.
“These impious Galileans,” he said, “not only feed their own poor, but ours also; … they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes.”

It was a fascinating venture. It was the first attempt probably to set up a state run welfare system, though ultimately it failed.

He'd missed the point of course, Christians don't help others, even non Christians, because that is the way to get converts, like children are attracted with cakes, but because this is the way in which they follow Christ, who gave himself for all.
Charity is not a tool for conversion - that would be cynical, and as Julian found, bound to fail - but our Charity succeeds because it is our freely given response to the love of God.

So the message we can draw from today's Gospel actually is this: God gives to good and bad, rich and poor, Jew and Samaritan alike. He deserves our gratitude, but gives whether he receives it or not. And so should we. This is the fundamental principle of Christian charity. It is the principle that drives Cafod, which inspires the Food Bank. As Christians we do not care for others because they are good, or faithful. We do not care for other people because they too are Christians. We care because Christ cares, and our charity is for Christian and atheist, Muslim and Hindu, European and Asian, Grateful and Ungrateful, Saint and Sinner, Good and Bad alike.

We do not seek faith or conversion in response to our charity - because our charity is already the response to God’s infinite love.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

The apostles said to the Lord "Lord, increase our faith". (Luke 17:5)



Today's Gospel looks as though it's in two parts, with two differing messages. Firstly, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. In the second part, he speaks about the importance of being a good and faithful servant. On first reading they might appear disconnected. 


But are they? 


Faith, not surprisingly, is a frequent theme in Jesus' teaching. He often rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith. At the stilling of the storm, for example, when they wake him in the boat - "O men of little faith" he says. He remarks on their lack of faith too, when, after the transfiguration unable to heal the epileptic boy - and then, the father of the boy says, "I have faith, help me where faith falls short!"


In hearing such teaching, we, like those in the story, might feel rather inadequate. How can we ever have enough faith? What can we do to be more faithful? 


But here, we have words of great encouragement. 


Firstly, the apostles see one thing very clearly.  "Lord, increase our faith", they say. For their faith to increase - well that must be an act, or gift, or rather grace of God, not something they can do simply by their own efforts. We might think that if only we believed more, prayed harder, said more rosaries or attended more masses, then we would have more faith - but no. We can stand in the way of faith, but fundamentally faith is a gift of God, not an achievement of humanity. 


Secondly, we should not worry about faith, as if it could be measured, weighed, valued. We, like the apostles, might feel we have little faith, but - Jesus says, even the tiniest amount of faith, faith as tiny as the mustard seed, can achieve extra-ordinary things. "You've got only a little faith?" Jesus seems to say, "You'll be amazed what it can do!  


And thirdly, and this is where the two parts of today's Gospel are joined together - living in faith is not about being impressive, or important, super holy. How do we live and keep the faith? The answer is beautiful in all its simplicity. It doesn't require great knowledge or understanding or extra-ordinarily impressive holiness. Just this - Be a good and faithful servant. Do your duty. Perform your service of God. Do not feel inferior or superior. Just do what you know to be right. Offer him your worship and show love and compassion to all people. Love God and love your neighbour. No more and no less is required. 


"We are merely servants, we have done no more than our duty" the Gospel says. This is sanctity. This is holiness. This is faith!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

If they will not listen either to Moses or the prophets, they will not convinced even if someone should rise from the dead. (Luke 16:31)



The rich man - who is not given a name, notice - wants Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers that they must change their way of life. Yet, Jesus says, there is no point - they already have all the warning they need. Why should a great miracle make a difference? 

There's an important and very broad point being made here, one which we here several times in the teaching of Jesus and elsewhere in the New Testament, and it is this: all this has been foretold, all this is plainly to be seen in the teaching of Moses and the prophets (what we Christians call 'the Old Testament'), no one should be confused or surprised. 

Yet they are. Frequently, Jesus chides his disciples for their failure to understand. After the Crucifixion, the disciples on the road to Emmaus need the prophecies explained to them by the risen Christ. From the day of Pentecost onwards, Peter and other other apostles must explain in their preaching how the coming, suffering and resurrection of Jesus perfectly fulfil what was promised. And St Paul, again and again, argues and explains the old scriptures to show how they point to the new, the Christ, the one who suffered and is risen. 

And the point, perhaps is this. People ask for proof. Prove God exists they say. Prove that God is love. Prove that prayer is not a waste of time. Prove that the world is created and didn't just come into existence as a sort of accident or co-incidence. Give us the evidence. 

And the proof is already there. We can't show it to them - because they can already see it. We can't convince them of it - because they are already ignoring it. They see, and refuse to believe their own eyes. 

The beauty of the world. The wonder of the planets and stars. The miracle of life. The compassion and generosity of humanity. The conviction and self sacrifice of the saints. Its all there. It is before them. 

It is not the evidence that is lacking, but the eyes that are closed, and ears that refuse to hear.

Friday, September 06, 2013

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

None of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions. (Luke 14:33)


There have been many Christians, throughout the history of the Church, who have taken Jesus’ teaching here very literally.

The first Christian community at Jerusalem, seems to have shared all things in common. St Anthony of Egypt, and the monks of the early Church, gave up their many possessions and went to live in the desert. About 1,000 year later, St Francis of Assisi embraced “Lady Poverty” and forswore the wealth of his merchant father and lived literally from hand to mouth, dressed only in the simplest of habits. And many many others, in the religious orders have given up lives of comfort to follow Christ.

But in general most Christians do not, and did not live without possessions, and Jesus did not expect them to. He told the rich young man to give up his possessions, but not Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea who gave Jesus his tomb. The apostles appointed the first deacons to manage the finances of the Church, and even in the most difficult times the Church held property, and eventually houses and churches. Like any other organisation, the Church has needed finances to fund its activity, beautify its worship and feed its workers.

But necessary though this all is, the Church must never lose sight of the fundamental teaching of Jesus, and the challenges he lays before us all: where does our attachment lie? What is most important to us all?

My favourite story in this regard is told of the deacon Laurence, who was commanded by the Roman Magistrate to bring before the court all the riches of the Church (then, as now, the opponents of the Church like to think that it is very rich). He was given a deadline. The Magistrate was told that Laurence had indeed brought to the court the Church’s riches and laid them on the steps to the courthouse. The Magistrate came out of the court to see the sick, the disabled, the poor, the destitute, orphans and widows sitting on the steps.

“Behold!” said St Laurence. “Here are the treasures of the Church!”

Friday, August 30, 2013

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, 
and the man who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11)


Jesus’ teaching often seems to offer simple, practical advice which is then laced with unrealistic or impossible directions. 

On the one hand it is certainly sound not to assume that at any party to which we are invited that we will be the guest of honour. Take the lowest place, and we may be complimented - assume too much, and we could be greatly embarrassed. This much is wise, and is common sense. 

But the next bit is not so easy. 

“When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, ... No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”

There are very few wedding breakfasts, if any, which follow this particular advice. Here is a sure way to upset your relatives, offend your neighbours, lose your friends and worst of all outrage your in-laws. 

But look again. Jesus gives an extreme example to make a telling point. Don’t invite those close to you, he says, in case they repay you - invite instead those who cannot repay.  

Jesus is challenging us to consider not our giving, but our motives for giving. Do we give to others in order to get something back, a gift, a favour, a friendship - or do we give to help those who cannot give? Is our generosity self-serving, or self-giving?

Do we think about what we will get from our act of giving, or consider what the benefit will be to the one who receives our gift? 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

21st Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

Men from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29)


Hindsight is a great thing. When we read in the Gospels of people from east and west, north and south - all over the world - coming in to the kingdom, and when we hear of the apostles being sent out to the whole world, we are reading this through the eyes of hundreds of years of Christian history - a history in which our faith spread from Palestine to Asia, Asia to Europe, Europe to Africa and the New World. We know a history of martyrs who died in Japan, Uganda and Peru. We know of Churches built almost from nothing in Fiji, Scandinavia and even in Hanley. It is a remarkable story - a remarkable set of stories. Christianity is now followed by about a quarter of the world, is known in almost every country, and Catholicism is by far its largest representative.

But these words were spoken and written down long before all that. They were spoken when Jesus followers were quite a small group, popular amongst the people, but with an uneasy relationship with the authorities. And they were written down when Christians were already persecuted, considered either a novelty or even a perversion by the society of the time, living in small communities separated by long distances, held together by strong leaders and the many letters which travelled the roads of the Roman Empire.

And yet there was that extraordinary vision: the vision of Jesus, of a kingdom peopled by those from all over the world; the vision of the Apostles, sent out with few resources to call those people to join them; the vision of the Church, which has never ceased, boldly and in the face of opposition and persecution to proclaim the truth and call people to its communion.

We live in society where we are encouraged to forget that vision. We encounter not persecution, but indifference and ridicule. We are not painted as a dangerous novelty, but a spent force from past ages.

And we worry about declining numbers, a shortage of priests, the dropping off of practice of those who go by the name Catholic.

Yet they had it much more difficult. Fewer numbers. Greater hardship. Tough times.

Yet they had a hope, and a vision, in the Kingdom of God, the truth of the Gospel, the certainty of their hope, the reality of the future growth and prosperity of the Church.

And they were right!

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Assumption of Our Lady : Homily / Sermon

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



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 who 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 prophet Jeremiah too, 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.


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.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit. (Luke 12:35)



Jesus certainly has a way with words, and in his teaching he uses examples, makes comparisons with life, which are sometimes shocking. 


He compares the faithful Christian to a fraudulent steward; he compares God listening to our prayers, to the bad tempered neighbour reluctant to stir from sleep, and here he says that the coming of the Son of Man, the return of Jesus at the end of time, will be like the visit of an unexpected burglar. 


If you’ve even been burgled, you might have some idea of what he means. Though it is usually a case of closing the stable door when the horse has bolted, once someone has entered your house and stolen from you, you become very aware that it could happen again, that the visitors may return, and though they probably won’t, you fear them and try to be ready for them. 


True. But why does Jesus use this image? 


It is unfortunate, I think, that Christians who have tried to take passages like this seriously, have often concentrated on the wrong thing. They have focussed on the day and the time when Jesus will return: the end is nigh, they have proclaimed at street corners, from sandwich boards and sometimes on our doorsteps, because of course there is little point talking about the day and the time of Jesus’ return unless it is very soon. 


But the point of all these passages is not the date and the time for the second coming of Christ but of our readiness to meet him. 


Here is the question: are we prepared for him? Are we ready to greet him? The trouble is, much as we want to meet Christ we are never quite ready for him. It was St Augustine who said "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet!" We want to delay the moment, put off the day. The great Roman Emperor Constantine, the one who took Christianity from an illegal practice to the official religion, was baptised only on his deathbed. Others too, wait till moments of safety or the quietness of a kind of retirement to take the Big Step. And many of us, perhaps most of us, make compromises in our lives, or tell ourselves we’ll sort it out later. 


Yes, the fear of the burglar passes as we settle back into our routine. We cut corners again and take chances. 


But for Christ we must always be vigilant - not because he might catch us out, but because it is right to be ready now. Honesty cannot wait for our death beds. Compassion is does not only come with contrition. Saying sorry is easy, but living a caring, devoted and prayerful life requires something more. 


Tomorrow will be good - but do not wait till then to live with God.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) : Homily / Sermon

‘So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.’ (Luke 12:21)



There are plenty of adverts on the telly about becoming rich. If its not the lottery, its some other cash prize or draw that can make us unimaginably rich. 


And for ordinary people - all of us - the thought of becoming suddenly wealthy is very attractive. Like the rich man in the second half of the parable: Most people would give up work- for life if its really enough money - go and live in a villa in Spain, or the Caribbean, or somewhere else that is hot and where the pace of live slow. Most would want the win to remove the pressure and stress from their lives, take away the need for toil and give them years of comfort and leisure. 


But the odd thing is that people who are really rich - really really rich - don’t see things in this way. Like the man at the beginning of the Gospel, the really rich don’t give up work and rest back on their wealth, but want to acquire more, more than they can ever use of spend. The really rich - who let’s face it, one way or another have worked to get where they are - they are not satisfied with their wealth. It can never, ever, be enough. 


And here we hit on the message of Jesus. Remember the rich young man who came to see him? He asked “What must I do to get eternal life?” In riches and wealth and material things there is some pleasure and enjoyment, but it is never adequate. 


Whatever our musings and dreamings, the question each one of us must ask ourselves is simple yet demanding: What do I really want? 


What is my treasure? 


Is it luxury and leisure? Is it fine things, material goods? Is it ever increasing wealth and possession? 


Or is it friends and family? Honesty and loyalty? Companionship and commitment? Truth and self-respect? Love and Devotion? 


This life - or the next?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Fifth Sunday of Lent / Lent 5 (C ) : Homily / Sermon

Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. (John 8:6)

Writing in sand

Have you ever wondered what Jesus was writing?

Well you are not the first. From the very earliest days of the Church, preachers have asked this very question.

St. Jerome says he was writing down the sins of the accusers. St. Bede says he wrote down the 10 Commandments. St. Augustine said that he wrote on the ground indicating that the names of these men were to be written in earth, not in Heaven, where the names of the saints are written.

And in our own time, have a look round the internet and you will find preachers and commentators saying similar things.

But all of them seem to making a particular assumption - that what Jesus wrote down had some impact on the accusers. In writing their names, or the commandments, he was shaming and embarrassing them.

I’m not so sure. This is the only time in the Gospels we hear of Jesus writing. We know he could read, but perhaps he hardly ever wrote - there would be little need for him to. And why should he be writing names or words: perhaps he was doodling, reflecting, meditating - not sending a message which had been forgotten by the time the story was written.

There are other striking, conflicting elements in this story: between the gang of men who make their accusations, and the solitary woman whose sin was with some unnamed man; between the stones which these men were ready to hurl, and the dust in which Jesus wrote.

They are contrasts between the strong and the weak, the substantial and the insubstantial, the powerful and the powerless - and yet they are the same: stones become dust, man and woman sinned together, all fall short of the glory of God.

And Jesus - in calling the bluff of the hypocrites - by actions rather than words shames the accusers and saves the accused.


The image is from Preschools4All

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Lent 4 (C) : Homily / Sermon

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. (Luke 15:20)

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On Mothering Sunday it may seem odd to us that we have a Gospel reading which so clearly speaks of family life, yet which mentions only the men, the Father and his two sons.

The situation is very familiar in one way or another to many families. It speaks of faithfulness and impetuosity, of indulgence and jealousy, of affection for the wayward one, and the anger of the one who feels taken for granted. What family has not known some of these feelings and situations?

Yet as we look at the story - especially today - we might just wonder about the mother. How did she feel about the son who took his money and wasted it all? Did she long for his return, or sympathise with her older son in his bitterness? Or did she just dutifully toil in the kitchen, cooking the fatted calf?

We shouldn’t ask too many of these kind of questions, because if we do, we are in danger of missing the point. This all-too-human family is far more. For we are the sons, both wayward like the younger son and bitter like the elder, sinful and self-righteous. And the Father ... is of course the Father. God himself. With all the good qualities we might associate with mothers and fathers: Judging, Guiding, Loving, forgiving, yearning to welcome us back to him, watching that he might spy us from afar, beginning the long road back. And ready to celebrate our return.

Not only do we keep Mothering Sunday this weekend, but in the coming week, beginning on Tuesday, the Cardinals in Rome will be choosing our new Holy Father. There is much speculation, much opinionating, much expectation, and much hope.

More than all else, of course it must be a time of prayer.

And it is also a good moment to remind ourself what makes the Pope not just Holy, but also a Holy Father. Like the Father in the Gospel, He will look upon us while we are still a long way off, and guide us home. He will bring forgiveness, and celebration. He will be our teacher, and guide. He will show to us the Father's love, within the family of God's people.

He will remind us, that God is both Mother and Father, judging yet forgiving, encouraging, yet indulging, loving and waiting, ready for our sorrow and our repentance which is at the heart of this season of Lent. And Leading us, together, in the one Body of Christ, to the celebration of the Victory of Easter.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Lent 3 (C) : Homily / Sermon

Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. (Luke 13:4)


This Gospel has a very modern feel to it. It sounds as if Jesus has just been watching the news. Or listening to it.

The headlines: "Massacre during evening Sacrifices - Pilate warns that anti-Roman agitation will not be tolerated." "Tower falls on workers at Siloam - many feared dead". It is not so very far from what we hear today. Holidaymakers killed or injured in Egypt - victims of suicide bombings in Baghdad.

And then - just as now - people want to know why. Why did God allow this to happen? The question is put in a different way in Jesus time, but its basically the same question. They asked whether these were bad people. We are often confronted with the challenge "How can you believe in a good God if such things take place?"

In this year of Faith we do well to consider these hard questions. They are ones which are often thrown at us - almost as if they were proof of the non-existence of God. How can we reply? Do Jesus' words in this Gospel help us at all.

At first it may see that they do not. Jesus’ answer may at first appear a little puzzling, for they answer a question which is a little different from the one we ask. But look again - what Jesus says does say is helpful, and it is filled with hope.

Firstly, he rebukes those who think these terrible events occurred because these were bad or wicked people. The worshippers, the tower builders, the holidaymakers, are no different than the rest of us. God doesn't act like this. We might be outraged by the idea, and the people of Jesus time clearly struggled with it, but still we might ask what have I/they done to deserve this? Why me?

Nothing. Of course nothing. They have done nothing wrong - no more than anyone else. No, Jesus says. This is not punishment. God does not strike them down through the wickedness of men or the whim of natural disaster. They are no worse than any of you, and possibly even better.

And there is another thing. And this is source of our joy. Jesus says that all is not lost. God offers hope, rescue, salvation. We must repent. We must turn again to God. We must realise that we are not the masters of our own destiny. And if we do there is hope, and more. Disaster and affliction and persecution make us think again. Consider your lives, Jesus says, live according to God’s will. Because then there is a very real hope.

While the rich and comfortable of the world might look upon such disasters and attrocities and say to us “How can you believe in God?”, the people who are afflicted by such events have no such luxury. They light their candles, lay their flowers, say their prayers. They are ferventhe in the midst of ther sorrow to worship this wonderful God.

No, the Gospel is not about punishiment. And God is still the God of love. The Good News is about mercy and hope for those who love God from their hearts, and turn to him in truth.