Saturday, December 26, 2015

Homily / Sermon: Holy Family

His mother stored up all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:51)

Take a brief look at any image, icon or statue you have of the Holy Family. From the Christmas Crib itself, to any icon or painting, modern or ancient, they all have much the same format.

Almost all of these images have a basic heart shape. The two adult figures larger, to either side of the central figure of Jesus.

They are a close knit group. The love which binds and unites them is evident. The protection and nurture which the family gives to the child is clearly portrayed. Three hearts which beat as one, bound to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Now, Take note of the eyes of Mary and Joseph. The aspect of the eyes portrays the disposition of the Hearts. Sometimes they look towards us, sharing their love and worship with us. Often the eyes of Joseph are fixed on Our Lady, emphasing his acceptance of God’s will. But most often the eyes of both parents are fixed on their son, in wonder and in deep adoration of their child and God’s Son.

And lastly, look at the Christ-child - sometimes an infant (as in the crib), but most often a child - cradled in the centre of the scene, often with arms outstretched in welcome, in invitation or in blessing. He is the focal point, the centre and purpose of the family and object of our love too. This family does not look in upon itself, but outwards, to us. The family is giving to us its very heart, its offspring, its precious child.

So here, in this harmony of hearts, this image of love, is a most extraordinary sacrifice - a child for the salvation of the world.

Friday, November 13, 2015

33rd Sunday of the Year (B) : Homily / Sermon

They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13:26)


When we hear these stories about the final conflict at the end of the world, I think as Catholics we may well feel a little uncomfortable. Just as we may struggle with stories about the creation, so the stories about the end of the world trouble our rational and scientific minds. They remind us of the extreme evangelicals, or the Jehovah’s witnesses who warn us - and have been warning us for centuries - that the end of the world is just around the corner. And so, just as we might keep a diplomatic silence about Adam and Eve, so we rarely mention the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds with great power. Death and bereavement is enough for any of us, I guess. The idea that all will be destroyed is just too much.

But if we take such an attitude we miss out on something very important, and not something terrible, or confusing, or difficult to grasp - but something wonderful and marvellous.

These stories are found throughout the Gospels, in the prophecies of the Old Testament and especially the book of Revelation, and if we ignore them we lose an important dimension of our faith.

These stories and prophecies make two things clear above all.

Firstly, that the spiritual life is a conflict with evil all around us. Sometimes it is the hard and wicked power of evil, of cruelty and deceit. Occasionally it is the demonic action upon people’s lives and spirits. Our image of evil may frequently be of fire, and of heat. But very often, perhaps most often, it is a cold evil. Boredom, distraction, lethargy. It is the feeling that every idea is much the same, every belief just as valid. The numbing, dull conviction, as in the words Pontius Pilate, that there is no truth, and therefore ... no hope. And to embrace the truth means to be prepared for ridicule, and hardship and conflict, not only without, but also within. It may mean struggle in prayer, not being understood by family members, being ridiculed at work or school.

And secondly, the stories make another thing clear: that there will be a victory. These sorrows and hardships and persecutions, this lack of vision or clouded understanding, this stony hard heartedness is for a time only. Our lives are short, but eternity is very long. At the last, Michael will rise up and defeat the powers of evil, and Christ will come on the clouds of heaven to institute a new heaven and a new earth.

And this victory is the heart of our faith. We often think that the great hope is just that we will be reunited with our loved ones we will share eternal life with God. That is true, but too small, too narrow, too limited. Eternal life is this: a new heaven and a new earth, and the final victory of Truth and Love over coldness and hostility.

Pope John Paul II said these words:
"May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: 'Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power' (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world."'

Here is the prayer of St Michael. It is an old, and perhaps neglected prayer. We do well to use it:

Holy Michael, Archangel,
defend us in the day of battle.
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Power of God -
thrust down to hell, Satan and all wicked spirits,
who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.

Monday, October 19, 2015

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) : Homily / Sermon

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

If you had to do without a particular sense, which one would it be?

It is a silly and pointless question, in a way, but it may have some purpose.

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 those who cope with the limitations of a disability (rather than just pity them) then all the better.

And of course people believe that if you lose one sense, the others become stronger, or more acute. There’s some doubt whether that very common belief is actually true. People who lose the use of one sense have to use the other senses more and so take more notice of them, but - from what I have read, at least, it seems that there is very little evidence that the common belief, that the other senses become more acute, is actually true.

But whether you believe this or not, it would very foolish to underestimate or patronise those who do have a disability of one kind of another. People used to assume that the deaf were also unintelligent. And the word “dumb” meant both “unable to speak” and “stupid”, as if one were the same as the other. And when someone is confined to a wheelchair, people often talk directly to the person pushing the chair, rather than the one sitting in it - as if being unable to walk also affected your ability to understand and answer simple questions.

You can see this kind of attitude in today’s Gospel. The crowd underestimated poor old blind Bartimaeus. A blind beggar, because that was the only way he could to live. To be pitied, for sure, but not to be respected. To be given the odd coin, or a scrap to eat, perhaps, but not to be listened to, not to be accorded an opinion. 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, Jesus, looks like, the blind man, unable to see his face, nevertheless loudly worships him - much to the embarrassment of those who think they can see - but who in fact, though they barely realise it, are truly blind.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

A guest homily this week!

Poor Deacon Tony. He spent time, effort, and prayer for inspiration, only to discover just a few days before the weekend that the Bishops of England and Wales have issued a Pastoral Letter for this coming weekend. 

I am pleased to host his homily on this website. 



Our second reading today is taken from the letter of St James.
It is an extract from the only letter to Christian people he wrote.
I personally like the letter from St James, they are easy to understand and have a practical approach to many of today’s problems.

If you read it you will see how full of common sense it is, and how true it is today as it was when it was first written; probably about fifty years or so after the first Good Friday.
James seems to have that ability of getting straight to the point and is able to explain it in words that anyone can understand.

Just look again at the beginning of our second reading. James tells us"Wherever you find jealousy and ambition you will find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done."

Now I am sure no one can argue against that, "Wherever you find jealousy and ambition you will find disharmony”

In the previous verse he adds the word 'selfish' to ambition.
Ambition by itself is a good thing — we all have ambitions and the desire to get on and do well — but if that ambition is only motivated by what we can get out of it for ourselves, with no thought for others then it becomes wrong, and results only in a lack of harmony and all kinds of other evils.

Today he is talking about our relationships with others; not just about our relationships with our family and friends but with everyone, both at home and across the world.

Today our world is so much smaller.
As the news over the past few weeks, of Syria and Afghanistan has shown the world is getting smaller and smaller. News that not too many years ago would take weeks or even months to reach us is now instant. It is on our TV screens as it happens across the world. Today we see the refugee crisis day by day, minute by minute and it all adds up to our worries, our discontent and the ambitions for ourselves, our family and for our country.

Sometimes our worries and concerns may manifests into a deep felt concern for others or on the other hand manifest into prejudice or may be just pure selfish ambition.
We see the refugees fleeing from Syria and Afghanistan, fleeing from their homes and countries destroyed by war and terrorism. All they want is a new life in the west and safety for themselves and for their families.

I’m sure that people, both adults and children, sick and the elderly who are prepared to walk, yes walk from Syria through Serbia and on to Austria and Germany are NOT economic migrants, they are fighting for their lives and for their families. Now that that route is closed they are walking through Croatia to the West.

For us here in the West it’s all we can do to walk to the car to get wherever we want.

Yes we do have concerns and ambitions for our country and for our children, but we shouldn’t make these issues just selfish concerns. We can only hope that if we were in the same position as the refugees, someone or some country would hold out a hand of friendship and be there to help us.

As individuals we are powerless and must rely on World Leaders to come up with a solution and quickly for each country and especially for the refugees who are fleeing for their lives and their futures when all many are finding is Police lines, pepper spray and water cannon.

Everything in our lives today depends on the way one nation gets on with the next, and the way one each person here gets on with his or her neighbour.

James gives us a few guidelines — they apply to me as a deacon, to a doctor, a teacher, a father and mother, a brother and sister. It is up to us to take note of them and then try to apply them when the occasion arises.

The first thing, as James tells us at the end of the reading today is - We have to pray properly and not pray for our own selfish needs.

We have to pray that we will not get fanatical or prejudiced, that our prayers and concerns are both for the refugees and for our own good. That we will guard against unbalanced ambitions instead of a reasoned conviction.

The refugee crisis is causing arguments across the world, in our own countries, in our own communities and probably in our own families and so James advices us; try and not to be bitter. Many discussions end with tempers lost and tears shed. Ideas are talked through sensibly and quietly and finish up in a shouting match. In an argument don’t think of those holding opposite views as enemies but rather as friends to be persuaded.

James warns about having selfish ambitious that we cannot satisfy.

To finish I want to pray a prayer that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote for her sisters,
and really for us, to help us understand what really we need to be concerned with in life:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centred. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

22nd Sunday of the Year (B) : 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)


What is worship really all about? 

It is a sad fact that while worship can often inspire us, it at just as much infuriate us. 

Pope Francis, in his letter “The Joy of the Gospel” made it very clear that worship can sometimes become an obstacle to faith as much a window into it. 

“There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter,” he says. Lives, and worship which may be earnest, but is also dour, bland and uninspiring. 

The long and dreary sermons. The awkwardness of the priest. Familiar hymns with unfamiliar tunes. And familiar tunes with unfamiliar words. The new translation. Latin. The lack of Latin. Modern music and clapping. Traditional music and starchiness. Talking in Church. And people who tut when you greet a friend. 

I could easily go on. 

And there are those, of course, who are very concerned  that things must be done correctly. According to the Churches rules. Without variation. 

It can lead to the accusation that the Catholic Church  is just like the Pharisees who Jesus attacks in the Gospel. 

And of course the accusers might be right.  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. 

The test of our worship is the meaningfulness of the words. 

Will we forgive those who trespass against us? Are we truly sorry for our sins? Will we leave Church to glorify the Lord with our lives? 

Worship becomes worthless, Jesus tells us, when the heart is not in it - or rather, when the heart is not in God himself. Our words become 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.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) : Homily / Sermon

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

NewImageSome people love a good argument and others don’t. Some find it exciting and exhilarating. 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.

In John's Gospel, these words follow Jesus' teaching about the mass, about eating his body and blood. But they might just as well refer to any of his teaching. The point is that some of his listeners, many of his listeners, find this teaching hard, and difficult, and unacceptable.

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 even hostility. 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 - in the famous words of Churchill “Jaw Jaw is always better than War War” - but to avoid conflict may be to strangle the Truth.

Friday, August 14, 2015

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! There is also 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 us as one of these small and insignificant 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. There is not much more in St Matthew. St John’s Gospel includes the accounts of some important events - most notably the turning of the water in wine at Cana in Galilee, and as she stands at the foot of the cross. But it is St Luke’s Gospel - which we hear today - and the beginning of the Acts of Apostles - which Luke also wrote - which tell 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 accomplishments. 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 the 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. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

19th Sunday of the Year (B) : Homily / Sermon

This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that a man may eat it and not die. (John 6:50)

Contraband cheese, bulldozed in Russia

Food is more than just food.

Food is politics.
I was reading just this morning of massive destructions of contraband food being shown on Russian television. Since their action in Ukraine, the governments of Europe and elsewhere have put sanctions against Russia. It has led to great shortages of foodstuffs in Russia, and so created a lucrative black market - and so to make a great show of the resilience and power of the Russian state, despite the hardships being ensured by the people, smuggled foodstuffs are being publicly destroyed. It is unpopular and impractical. 285,000 people in Russia have signed a petition in protest. But this is politics. Food is politics. And politics is more important than hunger. 

Food is also 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 embellish 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.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

18th Sunday of the Year (B) : Homily / Sermon

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

Do you believe in mind over matter?

Spoon Bending - an example of mind over matter?

It is certainly true that the mind can have great power over the body. (It’s not just a matter of spoon bending - which may well be a conjurer's illusion). There are those who can will themselves to walk barefoot over hot coals, apparently without pain or injury. Under hypnosis people can be encouraged to do things they would never normally be able to achieve. And there is much evidence that when sick people are given placebos - tablets that they believe to have medicinal content, but which have none - they may nevertheless recover just as if they have been given the real drug. It is not just a matter of will-power and determination, the mind is even more powerful than that.

And so people sometimes suppose that the mind, or the “spirit” as we might say, is always greater, more powerful, more real than matter, body, physical reality. They suggest that if you just pull yourself together, or meditate, or pray hard enough, then all your troubles and even illnesses will go away … And (following this absurd point of view) … If your troubles continue, then your determination, commitment, resolve and indeed faith must have failed in some way. Isn’t it said “faith can move mountains”? If so - this idea goes - I only have to pray hard enough and all my wishes will be be fulfilled. And if they aren’t - then hasn’t my faith has failed …

Well. The mind is powerful. And prayer can help us achieve very much.

But no one is all mind, no one just body, both are part of one another - and we know only too well that if we are ill, then it affects both mind and body. Toothache makes us bad tempered - not even the greatest saint can get away from that.
So we need to be careful. This false division, between mind and body, can affect how we think of our spiritual life.

It is a common mistake, that both religious and non-religious people make, to separate out the spiritual and the physical.

On the one hand, religious people 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. Don’t be concerned about suffering on earth - so this viewpoint supposes - your reward will be great in heaven.

And the reverse of this particular coin is that the physical world is complete in itself. It has no need of “spirit”, or a “next” life. This view gives us the idea that science can answer every question and solve every problem. The physical world - so it seems - can answer its own questions without - as the atheists put it - resorting to our “imaginary friends”.
These are very commonly held ideas. And though they lead to opposite points of view, fundamentally they share the same assumptions. And they are both wrong.

When Jesus explains the spirit he always describes it in very solid, very physical terms. 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. Without the spirit, matter has no purpose, no meaning. It is something to be used. Something to be discarded. Something of no value. With the Spirit, matter becomes something we can use in a right or a wrong way. And how we use the physical world, nature, is a moral issue - as Pope Francis has made very clear. The beauty of nature, the diversity of species, the resources of the planet are as much moral issues as compassion and social justice. 

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)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

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

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

Loaves and Fishes logo02

How should we understand the miracle stories in the Gospels? To be sure, we can assert that if we are able to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Word made flesh, then this is such a big and all encompassing matter to believe, that any stories of miracles are quite small in comparison.

Well, true as this may well be, it seems all too easy for many.
And there are those, good and believing people, who remain 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 are missing the point. They try to make the miracles stories into some moral insight about humanity. They are explained as human actions, human misunderstandings, human gullibility. And in reducing the stories they make them unremarkable, hardly worth telling. Their difficulties lead them to make the account - and Jesus - too ordinary, too banal.

We can see this when we consider today’s Gospel in the light of others. For 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?

We might suppose that the obvious reason is that Jesus refuses to turn a stone to bread to create a spectacle - but he willingly makes a little bread into much bread to feed the crowd.

But there is perhaps a much more important reason why he feeds the 5,000, but does not give in to the temptation in the wilderness. That is because the Devils tempts Jesus to Destroy - Destroy the Stone to conjure up the bread - while the miracle which Jesus willingly performs does not destroy nature, but multiplies it.

And this is always true. And this is what miracles are.

Jesus takes what we give him and makes more, much more. 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 just 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.

Monday, July 20, 2015

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) : Homily / Sermon

As Jesus stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. (Mark 6:34)

Holiday written in the sand!

So, in today’s Gospel, Jesus and the Apostles go on holiday!
Just like the school children and the teachers and so many others, they set off for a bit of a break.

Last week, in the Gospel we heard about the urgent, almost frantic mission which Jesus gave to his apostles, to go out two by two, to preach to all who would listen, to move rapidly from place to place shaking the dust off their feet as they went. And now, the mission successfully completed, it is time to go off to a quiet place for a bit of relaxation. ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while,’ Jesus says (Mark 6:31). Their mission had been a bit too successful, and they were pressed by the crowds, and just had to get away.

Except, of course, it all goes wrong. The crowd guess where they are going, and get there before them. And the work continues …

Of course, it won’t be the first holiday, the first break, to be disrupted or broken into. I don’t doubt there are many here who have had a long or short break disrupted by a family crisis, or unexpected visitors or a sudden need to attend to an urgent matter from work.

And nowadays, with the mobile phone, it is almost impossible to get away. Many years ago there used to be appeals on the radio: “Here is an urgent appeal for John Smith, last known to be holidaying in Norfolk, to contact the nearest police station, for important information …” Nowadays of course, you’d just get a text …

This kind of disruption is a particular risk for the priest, just as it was for the apostles. We live “over the shop” and are easy to find.

I remember once walking on the beach at Southport in Lancashire. Now if you know that lovely resort you will know that the beach is extensive, and you need to walk miles to reach the sea. It was a midweek break and I walk arm in arm with my wife, not a person in sight, then a voice, a child’s voice I think, rang out “Fr Peter!” I looked in every direction - but could see no one!

Of course, for many caring professionals, unlike priests, it IS possible to switch off from responsibilities, and have the calls diverted to someone else. The Doctor, the Lawyer, the Social Worker, (perhaps even the police officer!) can take a break, safe in the knowledge that someone else is looking after their caseload, and the urgent calls are forwarded elsewhere. The priest, however, is a bit different. Any priest can administer the sacraments, but parishioners often don’t want any priest, but their priest. And even when the priest is away he may be recognised, or be called upon to defend the faith in some way, or … like Jesus and the apostles in the Gospel, realise that there are people in need who are like sheep without a shepherd … it is impossible for a priest, a good priest, someone called by God to this caring ministry, just to walk away.

But of course - priests are not unique in this. Do not compare the priest to the Doctor, Lawyer, Social Worker, the “caring professional”. Compare the priest rather to the Mother, the Father, the Son or Daughter, the Brother or Sister, because … to misquote the story of the brothers Cain and Abel … I am my brother’s keeper. Family ties, can and do overrule holidays, and our own quiet time. … 

No - this is not a Gospel that teaches us about the caring professions, about high professional standards, at all. It is a Gospel which is about compassion, about mercy, about generosity, about love, love of our neighbour, even love of those who do not love us. It is about humanity, and about Christianity in which all are our brothers and sisters. Despite the words in todays readings about the Shepherds, this Gospel is not even about priesthood … But it is about what it means to be Church. About the mutual caring for one another, about valuing and nurturing every member of Christ’s flock.

And so, it is about Baptism. The Baptism we, all Christians share in Christ. Already a children of God through our humanity, we became one of the redeemed through baptism, one of his precious flock, a member of his family. We are joined together in the Unity of the Church, and also in its mission of compassion and love. Like the Apostles, following the example of Christ himself, we are called to care, beyond the responsibility of the moment, as a duty throughout life. May we always be blessed by God, and strengthened by his Grace to live out our responsibilities, as brothers and sisters in Christ.


At St Catherine’s, Birmingham at Sunday Mass 19 July 2015. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

15th Sunday of the Year (B) : Homily / Sermon

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out … so they set off to preach repentance. (Mark 6:7,13)

Food bank

There’s been a lot of bad news in the press in the past few days. There always is, of course. Bad News always seems to be more interesting that Good News. But the past few weeks have been exceptional. There has been the terrible terrorist attack in Tunisia, and now the flying home of all British people who remain there. There has been the ongoing saga of the financial problems of Greece, and the extra-ordinary difficulties they are encountering by the closure of the banks and the shortages of medicines and other essential items. And this week there has been the considerable anxiety caused by the proposed changes in the budget and the pressure this will put especially on working families on low income. There will certainly be more need of, and more recourse to the food banks and other forms of assistance. Bad news all round.

So what would we think of as being “Good News”?

Well, we could think of many examples. Good news is the surprise lottery win, the announcement of a birth or a forthcoming marriage, being given the all clear, England winning the Ashes, (though not - this year at least, Wimbledon), getting the grades for a university place or success in a job interview. In many cases, these are the deserved results of our own efforts, yet in all of them Good News is also a pleasant surprise, a blessing, something that happens to us, it is gift, it is grace.

Today, we hear, Jesus sends out the Twelve in pairs to preach the Gospel. The Good News. [The word “Gospel” is a very old English word meaning “God’s word”, or “Good News”. It translates the Greek word ευανγελιον, “Good Message”, - from which we get the English “evangelist”, the name for the writer of the Gospels]

Yet what sort of Good News is this? To be sure, the Apostles come to give comfort and healing to the sick. Yet here, in this Gospel, the message is a hard one - one of repentance, contrition, sorrow for sins. It is not unremitting joy, at least not at first. It challenges us - 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, not the darkness of man’s inhumanity to man, not financial crisis or hardship - but greatness 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, a Gift which is freely given by God to everyone who embraces it, and this gift heals minds and hearts, casts out anxiety and soothes infirmity.

It is a Gift that is easily refused, yet easy to accept. Because all we need to do to receive this great gift of God, the Gift of Forgiveness, the Gift of Healing, the Gift of Peace - is to accept that we need to be forgiven, we need to be healed, we need to welcome into our troubled hearts this promise of Peace.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) : Homily / Sermon

“A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house” (Mark 6:4)

Eva Cassidy, who died in 1996, and because world famous some 4 years later

Fame is a fickle thing. It comes and goes. It damns but rarely blesses. So called “reality” TV shows make celebrities of people who have really done nothing apart from appeared on such programmes.
Fame celebrates not achievement, or merit, or even notoriety, but simply fame itself. And it recedes, like a great wave, even more quickly than it arrived.

Fame can lead to both adulation and rejection. As we hear in today’s Gospel, when Jesus returns to his home town, his fame works against him.

Yet fame has always been much a matter of chance - capricious, volatile and variable. Great figures of history - as we reckon them - were not necessarily great in their own time. Shakespeare was one playwright amongst many. Van Gogh died in poverty. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was unknown in his lifetime. The war poetry of Wilfrid Owen too, was mostly published after his death. The singer Eva Cassidy, who died in 1996, became an international star about 4 years later and had 3 numbers ones from recordings not released in her lifetime. Many other popular musicians performers have gained great fame, greater fame after their deaths than in their lives.

And it works the other way too. There are composers, authors, political figures who were giant while they were alive, but who are now barely remembered. And I guess, if we dig deep we may remember some of these, who are now hardly noted. There is even a website - - dedicated to forgotten celebrities. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated since 2003 - which probably says it all!

And of course, even in life, in the present moment, the line between celebrity and anonymity is very thin. Those who knew famous people before they were famous are often able to say how unremarkable they were. Ordinary. Unassuming.

In today’s Gospel it is something of this which Jesus experiences. “A prophet is only despised in his own country” he remarks. His own people lacked faith. They knew him a little too well. He was no one great, they said, no one extraordinary. What on earth is all this we have heard about him? He is one of us. The carpenter. The son of Mary. One of us.

And of course, without realising it they hit the nail on the head. He is one of us. He was born amongst us. He lives with us. He works with us. He shares our sorrows and our joys. He carries our sins and our sufferings. He celebrates alongside us. He turns our water into wine, and our mourning into hope. He is part of our families, part of our lives.

The Ordinariness of Christ, and his relative insignificance in his own time, is precisely the most important thing about him.

This is expressed so well in this famous passage

One solitary life ...

He was born in an obscure village 
The child of a peasant woman 
He grew up in another obscure village 
Where he worked in a carpenter’s shop 
Until he was thirty 
He never wrote a book 
He never held an office 
He never went to college 
He never visited a big city 
He never travelled more than two hundred miles 
From the place where he was born 
He did none of the things 
Usually associated with greatness 
He had no credentials but himself 
He was only thirty three 
His friends ran away 
One of them denied him 
He was turned over to his enemies 
And went through the mockery of a trial 
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves 
While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing 
The only property he had on earth 
When he was dead 
He was laid in a borrowed grave 
Through the pity of a friend
Twenty centuries have come and gone.
All the armies that have ever marched 
All the navies that have ever sailed 
All the parliaments that have ever sat 
All the kings that ever reigned put together 
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth 
As powerfully as that one solitary life 

God shares and touches and embraces our lives. The one who made everything, who made us, is one of us. He is with us.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

St Peter and St Paul : Homily / Sermon (2015)

Ss Peter & Paul - depicted as friends.

Peter: ‘You are the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the living God.’ (Matthew 16)

Paul: I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7)


We keep today the Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul. It is counted by the Church as so important a day that it pushes out the normal Sunday. And Peter and Paul are the only Saints - with the exception of Our Lady and St John the Baptist - whose day can take the place of the normal Sunday. And their individual Saints’ days do not have this privilege: only the day in which they are celebrated together. 


Morecambe and Wise

I guess we can all think of many pairings of people in many different walks of life, who seem more important and indeed greater, when they are together than when they are apart. 

Rattling off some of the names from the world of entertainment may bring back happy memories. 

Do you remember Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Morecambe and Wise (the greatest!), Mike and Bernie Winters, Fry and Laurie, Smith and Jones, and more recently Ant and Dec … 

And not just comedians, but musicians - Simon and Garfunkel, Lennon and McCartney … 

Or performers - Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers … 

Or fictional characters - Randall and Hopkirk, Cagney and Lacey, Starsky and Hutch

And in sport - Clough and Taylor, Hudson and Greenhoff … 

And there are some in public life too … Blair and Brown, perhaps even Cameron and Osborne … 

And of course, best of all … Batman and Robin, and … Tom and Jerry


Some of them, as they would say in show business “made it on their own” - but others, probably most, relied upon their partner, their foil - good cop, bad cop - straight man, funny man - each relied on the other. Great they may have been on their own .. But together they excelled. 


And in Peter and Paul, so it may seem, the Church has its own Double Act. 

Certainly they had important things in common - both were Jews, both ended their lives as martyrs in Rome, both were towering figures for the very first Christians, both stand head and shoulders above other figures in the New Testament, especially in the first book of history of the Church, the Acts of the Apostles. Both were known by a Hebrew and a Greek name - Peter was also known as Simon, Paul also known as Saul. The two names show they both spanned the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds. 

Simon’s Greek name, Peter, was given by Christ himself: he is the Rock on which the Church is built. He is its centre. Its source of authority. Its home and its foundation. He is our leader in the faith, chosen by Christ for this vital role. 

Paul’s Greek name reminds us that he was the missionary. The convert sent out to convert others. He is the fearless preacher of the Gospel: he brought the call of Christ to the nations and he became the teacher of the world. 

Paul was a great writer and a great traveller. While Peter features frequently in the Gospels, and tradition tells us that he was a major source for the Gospel of Mark, he seems to have written very little himself - but Paul wrote most of the books and letters of what we know as the New Testament. He was the greatest missionary of the faith in the first generation of Christianity, and also its greatest teacher and thinker. 

The one was a man of stability and leadership, the other a thinker and activist. 

They certainly provided complimentary skills and expertise (as people would say nowadays) and indicate to us, even today, different aspects of the work of the Church - both of its ordained ministers and religious, and also of its ordinary members: stability and authority  alongside teaching and mission. 

A double act? Perhaps - except Peter and Paul never seem to have worked together … and when they did meet it does not seem that they saw eye to eye. There are hints in the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters, that the atmosphere between them could be highly charged. 

We remember them together not because they were close in life, not because they shared a deep friendship, nor even a creative working relationship, but because both provided vital and complimentary drive and leadership for the Church in New Testament times; both were unshakeable in their faith in Christ and in his Resurrection from the Dead; both were resolute in their preaching of the Gospel and both were united, finally, in their martyrdom for the Faith. 

Saints Peter and Paul - pray for us!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

11th Sunday of the Year (B) : Bidding Prayers / Intercessions / Prayer of the Faithful

What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? (Mark 4: 30)


Mustard seed

Jesus preaches often, frequently about the Kingdom of God. In fact most of his parables begin with the words “The Kingdom of God is like …”.  Yet despite this, preachers and scholars have debated and argued about just what he meant by “The Kingdom of God”. 


Does it perhaps relate simply to the Church - the Church on earth - when it lives as it should. After all, he did appoint 12 apostles, 12 being the number of the tribes of the Kingdom of Israel. And St Peter did speak of the Church as a “royal priesthood, a holy nation”. Is the Kingdom of God more or less the Church on earth. Pope, Bishops and of course the people? 


But on the other hand, is he rather talking about Heaven, - not the way things are or should be now, but our ultimate destiny at the end of time? Well, He does talk about the wheat being gathered into the Kingdom and the tares cast in the fire, and we do have the magnificent account of the final judgment, when the King separates the people as the Shepherd separates the sheep and the goats?


And let’s be clear, this isn’t just a debate for university professors and Biblical studies specialists. At heart this is a matter of how we understand the role of Faith in our world. It has an effect on the way we understand the Church, and Society, and Politics and issues of justice. If the Church is God’s kingdom on earth then it says a great deal about the power and authority of the Church, and her role, her duty in political life. But if the Kingdom is only in heaven, in the next life, then it might suggest that the faith is entirely spiritual, and imply that Christians should leave the murky world around them, and let the politicians just get on with it. 


As always, it is best to go back to what Jesus actually says, and teaches. 


There is a clue to the answer in the prayer Jesus taught us all to say: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” 


In today’s Gospel, he says, the Kingdom is like crops which apparently grow all on their own - and like a tiny seed which amazing becomes a large and extensive plant. Today he tells us that God’s Kingdom is about the workings of his Grace: God involved in the world almost secretly, God’s kingdom growing and - we could say infusing or even infiltrating the world - with a power and a pervasiveness which takes us by surprise. 

The Kingdom is indeed from Heaven (God’s Kingdom, not Humanity’s Kingdom) yet through God’s action it is working, and growing, and appearing on earth. 

The Kingdom is in the world, yet not of the world. 

It is the Church on earth - yet much more than the Church on earth. 

It is the power of God, transforming creation, society, the world. The Kingdom brings love and forgiveness and peace, as Our Lady herself sang when she visited her cousin Elizabeth, it is “casting the mighty from their thrones, and exalting the humble and meek”. 


The Kingdom will never fit the easy simple models we would like to impose upon it - because God always challenges us. “The Kingdom of God” is amongst you, Jesus said - yet he warned us that it will be the way in which we treat others, the poor, the needy and the outcast, forgive those who have hurt us, pray for those who persecute us, that will determine whether we are counted amongst the sheep or the goats.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Pentecost : Homily / Sermon

If you love me you will keep my commandments … the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything. (John 14:15, 26)

The Death and Resurrection of Jesus - as I guess we all know - happened when Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims who were in the city for the great celebration of the Passover. The crowds gather to cheer Jesus into the city, on what we now call Palm Sunday. Pilgrims were buying and trading in the temple when he turned over the tables. They gathered there to listen to him preach. The Last Supper was a Passover Meal, and St John points out that Jesus sacrifice on the Cross coincided with the slaughter of Lambs in the temple for the Great Feast. When we celebrate Easter in the Mass of the vigil we recall the passover itself and the escape of the Hebrews through the Red Sea, which the Church sees as a foreshadowing of Baptism, our own share in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Indeed this great candle, which stands in pride of place, is the Paschal candle - the Candle of the Pascha, the Passover.

And now seven weeks later, on the 50th day after the Passover, the Jewish people celebrate another festival, the feast of Shavuot. Again the city of Jerusalem is full of pilgrims, pilgrims from all over the known world, the Roman empire. People of many home languages.
Parthians, Medes and Elamites; people from Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya round Cyrene; as well as visitors from Rome – Jews and proselytes alike – Cretans and Arabs. (Acts 2:9-11)

The name Shavuot literally means “Weeks”, “The Feast of Weeks”, though in Greek it was named not after the seven weeks, but the 50 days, Pentecost. It was a festival of the Harvest, the thanksgiving for the Gifts of God, and came to be also for the Jews the day when God’s greatest gift to them was given, the gift of the Law, given to Moses on Mount Sinai.


Our Christian feasts are rooted in these Jewish celebrations, and this year Jews and Christians are celebrating these connected feasts at about the same time. For us Christians, these festivals have been transformed by Christ - his Passover from death to eternal life, and his greatest Gift, the Gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Remembering this connection, this origin, reminds us of what we shares with the chosen people, and also how Christ has fulfilled and transformed their heritage. For the Jews the Great Gift it the Law, set out in the five books of Law in what we call the Old Testament, and subject to centuries of interpretation: for us it is the Holy Spirit, who transforms our hearts, sustains us through the sacramentsm, and establishes, sustains and protects the Church.

The two feasts, the two Pentecosts may seem to us to present a clear contrast, between a document of Law, and a motive power in our hearts. But we must be careful. Both feasts, both Gifts, are beyond ourselves and remind us that God requires our submission our obedience and our love. Service of him is to accept and adopt his will. To follow his Law, to be guided by his Spirit. In neither case does the Gift make us our own source of authority and truth, but rather reminds us that we must follow him, for only in this way can we be led into all truth.

It is not that the Gift of the Spirit enables us to overrule the Law with our own whims, wishes and wilfulness - but by the Gift of the Spirit, God writes the Law into our hearts. And we must read his will, accept the authority of his Word and his Church. And follow him. And serve him. And call others to the same truth.


Friday, April 03, 2015

Good Friday

William Adolphe Bouguereau 1825 1905 Pieta 1876Christ has died.


The head which was was nursed at his mother’s breast, 

The head which was suffused with light at his Transfiguration

The head which was crowned with thorns, 

is bruised, bloodied and lifeless now.


The eyes which looked from the manger into his mother’s loving gaze

The eyes which looked with compassion on the rich young man

The eyes which wept over Jerusalem

are now cold and empty.


The ears which heard the song of the angels

The ears which heard the voice say from heaven “This is my beloved Son”

The ears which heard the crowd cry out “Crucify him”

now hear none of the sobs made over his body


The lips which said to the paralysed man “your sins are forgiven you”

The lips which told the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son

The lips which said “I am the resurrection and the life”

now, drained of colour, smile and speak no longer.


The hands which stilled the storm

The hands which blessed the children

The hands which healed the blind, deaf and lame

now rest motionless, pierced and lacerated.


The feet which climbed the mountain to pray

The feet which walked on the water

The feet which were washed with the tears of the penitent woman

are now twisted, maimed and mutilated.


The heart which beat for love of sinners

The heart which longs for the peace of the world

The heart which beats with our hearts

beats no more.


Christ has died. 

He is laid in the tomb. 

The Great Silence begins. 

But the story has just begun.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fifth Sunday of Lent : Homily / Sermon

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

Did you see the eclipse yesterday? Well of course, you shouldn’t have looked at it directly … But at least for us, Unlike most of the country, we did have sight of the sun through the clouds. 

It was brief, and perhaps not so very different from an overcast day, but the time when the moon moved over the face of the sun here led to an eerie light, unlike anything we normally see. 

An eclipse is one of those events and features of nature that is now well understood and so well documented, and yet still takes us by surprise and makes us amazed. Perhaps, unlike the ancients, we do not see it as an omen of bad fortune, but are nevertheless surprised and awed by it - however predictable it may be. 

The dimming and relighting of the sun in a way mirrors what is happening in this very season of Lent. It is time in which we are aware of an approaching darkness as Jesus draws to Jerusalem, and we are await the predicted doom. 

Yet is is also a time when we move, bit by bit, from the darkness of winter to the brightness of spring. 

As we entered January, and the season of festivities is set behind us winter becomes a dour and dark, a cold and cheerless time. The hours of daylight are short, and overcast and gloomy. The trees stand bare and lifeless. And the mood of the earth is one that we too might share. February, when it comes is a miserable time. No wonder it is then when Ash Wednesday usually falls. 

And then March arrives, and moves towards April. Still cold, and often windy, though 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, like the Sun remerging from its eclipse. Sunlight, warmth, colour, and the freshness of the spring breezes enlivens us again.

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, no light without shadow. 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 07, 2015

Lent 3 (Year B)

Jesus “was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body.” (John 2:21)

What happened in today’s Gospel is remarkable and not a little shocking.

It is a little shocking to us, perhaps, because Jesus appears to be angry - he seems to lose his temper. Surely, we suppose, it is wrong to be angry, wrong to lose our tempers. Isn’t Gentle Jesus supposed to be Meak and Mild? And free from sin? Yet one of the many sins we may feel called to confess in this time of Lent, surely is anger.

Of course, we might rationalise a little - he doesn’t lose his temper. He isn’t even really angry - this is enthusiasm, or zeal, or what we might call righteous anger, because he is protesting against something which is wrong and unjust - trading in the temple, exploiting the poor …

Yet it is even more shocking than that. Even if Jesus is right to complain about the traders in temple, it seems an extreme act. After all, they were only providing the things that were need to perform the rituals and sacrifices (not so very different from selling Bibles or Rosaries). And while he may be speaking about the Temple being a place of prayer, turning over tables and shouting protests seems an odd way to do so. A bit like talking loudly at the back of the Church about how awful it is that people show so little respect nowadays. His actions cause great offence to the religious leaders of the time.

Yet, we might argue that this was little more than a symbolic act, rather than a real act of disruption. The Temple was vast, and its courts exensive. The market took place in the outer court. And It had its own police force, the Temple guards. So a bit of a protest in one part might be hardly noticed in another. No, we could argue, Jesus is making a point - but not defiling the sanctuary.

Yet perhaps the most shocking detail, is not what Jesus does, but what he says.

We need to understand that for the Jewish people of time, and to an extent still today, the Temple mount and the Temple itself is not just the central place of worship, but the only place where the fulness of worship can take place. Only here, in the sanctuary, could the sacrifices be performed. Here, to this very day, the Jews gather at the “Weeping Wall” - the only wall which remains from the old temple - to lament the sufferings of their people. The Synagogue became a place of prayer, and study and preaching, but the Temple was the only place where the fullness of Jewish worship and sacrifices, (described in great detail in what we call the Old Testament), could take place, and once that was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, these liturgies, rites and cermonies passed into history.

So, When Jesus speaks about the destruction and the rebuilding of the Temple, Jesus takes the extraordinary step of sweeping away the temple itself. This is surely, for the Jews, is a great blasphemy, much worse than a protest or a little dsiruption. It is clear from the Gospel stories this sets in train the campaign to remove Jesus, the plot which leads us to Holy Week and Easter.

Suddenly, in a phrase, just a few words, and words which perplexed all his listeners, words which even his followers would remember but not understand until much later, he tells us that the God is present not in the Old Temple, but in the very Body of Christ himself. No longer is worship to be in Temple which had been built by Herod the Great, no longer is God present only in the sanctuary which had been established on mount Zion by King David, now God is fully and truly present in a human being, in God become man, in the person of Jesus Christ.

And so we are taken in an instant from the temple mount to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane and to the Empty Tomb. Here, Christ points us already towards Maundy Thursday, the gift of his Body and Blood, Good Friday, the sacrifice of his body on the Cross, and Easter Day, the rising of his Body to eternal life on the Third Day - the risen body which becomes the true sanctuary, the object of worship.

God is no longer only in the temple, or only to be found in any other building - rather it is in the Body which is his Church, and the sacrament of his Body, and in the community which gathers together, in the Church understood as poeple not as Archetecture, where God dwells amongst us, and where we meet him, in the risen Christ.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Lent 3 : Bidding Prayers / Intercessions / Prayer of the Faithful

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Priest: Let us turn to God, our Father in heaven, for the needs of the Church and of the world:

Reader: For Pope Francis; clergy and religious; and for the whole Church. May we work together in our calling to be faithful witnesses, and so draw all we meet to experience the love and power of the Gospel.
Lord in your mercy

For vocations to the priesthood, permanent diaconate and religious life. May the Holy Spirit guide the hearts and minds of those called by the Lord and give them courage to commit their lives unstintingly to the service of others. Lord in your mercy

For the sick, the elderly and those who are housebound, especially for the people of Sierra Leone; those who have died from, or are affected by Ebola; those now orphaned; and for all doctors, nurses, carers and aid-workers. May they know the comforting love and the healing power of Christ. Lord in your mercy.

For all who have departed this life, that Christ, the light of the world, may draw them to new life and fullness of redemption in the heavenly kingdom. Lord in your mercy

We ask Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, for her intercession, as we pray: Hail Mary…

We pause in silent reflection with our personal intentions.

Priest: Father, hear the prayers of your people, and grant us the strength and courage to be faithful to the mission you have called us to live. We make these and all our prayers through Jesus Christ, your Son, Our Lord. Amen

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Second Sunday of Lent : Homily / Sermon

‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ (Mark 9:7) It can sometimes be very difficult to know how to understand Scripture. On the one hand we may come across those who tell us that the Catholic Church is false and corrupt, because it puts itself above the Bible, the word of God - which they say is “inerrant” (infallible) truth. And on the other hand there are those who have no faith at all and who claim that stories from Scripture such as that in our first reading, the (so-called) Sacrifice of Isaac, are hideous and cruel and show that the Bible has no relevance to the world today. The Catholic Church has always steered a middle course, guided by the central beliefs of our faith, by the our traditions and by sound learning and reason. Scripture, the Church teaches, is the very source of our understanding of God and of his showing of himself to us. Most importantly of all, it is Scripture which presents to us with the Word of God - not ink on paper, but the Living Word, who became flesh and dwelt amongst us. So all Scripture must be understood as pointing to Christ and illuminating him, and no verse or story in scripture can be understood alone, apart from the rest, and apart from Christ. Our very mass makes this clear - all other readings lead up to the Gospel, so while we sit for them, we stand to hear Gospel. And todays readings are a perfect of example or how we must read Scripture - in the light of Christ, in communion with the Church. Take this story in the Old Testament. On the face of it, on its own, this is indeed an 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 God pull back hold Abraham’s hand. Is this the sort of thing God does? Well, we would find it hard to say yes. But when we read this story in the light of Christ, and particularly in the light of the Gospel, our eyes are opened.
The Gospel reading also tells us about a mountain, a Father, a Son, a Sacrifice, and a Lamb. And this time the Father is God himself. On the first mountain faith is clear, but the will of God is not. God rescues, and gifts a promise from a sorry situation. And 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, a willing 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, who takes our sins upon himself. The Gospel is shadowed by the Old Story. The Old Story hints at the Gospel. And all becomes clear in Christ. The Gospel makes clear, in showing us a glimpse of Glory before Christ heads on the road to Jerusalmen where he will give himself in Sacrifice for us all, that the Divine 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 Divine Word lives for ever, not in pen and paper, but in body and blood, in the lives of his people, in the faith of the Church. * ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ (Mark 9:7)*

Sunday, February 08, 2015

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

In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there. (Mark 1:35)


Saturday mornings for me, as a child, always seem to have included Junior Choice on the radio. It was I think originally called Children’s Favourites, and on the Light Programme which then, in the late 60s became Radio 1 and Radio 2.

It was a request show, and in the days before the Hit Parade (that’s what the charts were called in those days) had much impact on children, so the same songs were played week after week after week.

I remember Bernard Cribbins singing about Diggin' an' 'Ole; and there was Puff the Magic Dragon; “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah”; “Three Wheels on my Wagon” … and a song which oddly came back into my mind as I was preparing this homily - Terry Scott, singing about "My Bruvver".

Who put salt in the sugar bowl? Who put fireworks in the coal?
Who put a real live toad-in-the-'ole? My brother!
Who put jam in mother's shoe? Who made real caterpillar stew?
Who locked Grandad in the loo?... My brother!
My brother said it wasn't he, who put shampoo in Grandma's tea
My brother said that it was me – my brother's rotten.

What on made me think of this song?
Well - it was these words.

`e don't think my mum knows `ow to brings us up right... I
don't think so either.
You know, every night when we're wide awake, she makes us go to bed.
And then in the morning when we're fast asleep, she makes us get up.

Funny how some words fix in your mind. And as we grow up, the only thing that really changes is its now not our Mum's who do this to us, but we force our ourselves.

It s like the story about the son, comfortably cosy in bed who is woken by his mum

Wake up! She says. It’s time to go the Mass!
I don’t want to go to Mass! says the boy.
Why not? asks the mother.
I’ll give you three reasons, says the boy.
Firstly, it’s boring.
Secondly, I’m old enough to make up my own mind, and
Thirdly, nobody likes me there anyway.

Well you’ve got to go, says the Mother.
Firstly, it’s half past ten.
Secondly, it’s Sunday
And thirdly - you’re the Parish Priest.

Well, these are not modern sentiments only. Two and a half thousand years earlier. Job said much the same, in our first reading:

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.

We've all been there I guess. If you are working - it's that Monday morning feeling ... And that yearning for Friday afternoon for the rest of the week. Or, if you are not working it is that glancing at the clock or the watch and being convinced that it must have stopped.

Today’s Gospel presents us with something else, though - 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.

The time is flying by ... it sounds a bit like some of my daily routine ... No two days the same ...
He Never stops.

So which are you - the one who moves relentlessly 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 misled or be made to feel guilty by our readings today.

Being busy may sometimes be necessary, but isn't a good or virtuous thing just in itself. 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. Work without recreation is mere drudgery; Activity without reflection is just busy-ness; Productivity without prayer is empty.

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. And we must always remember that prayer is not another activity, to be somehow prised into the day, an extra job or chore to be carried.

It should not be bolted on to our lives, but built in to them.

It is the refuge from the rush of life. It is the reminder of our responsibilities, rather than just a listing of our tasks. It is the powerhouse, the fuel, the motivation, which gives us our purpose and our focus. It is the Grace, from which all our action flows.

A Junior Choice playlist can be found on the BBC Website: