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.