Saturday, December 17, 2016

Advent 4 : Homily / Sermon

The Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23)


Posting Christmas CardsDespite the rise of twitter and Skype and email and FaceTime we still send and receive Christmas Cards. I got mine from the Archbishop the other day. It has got his signature on, but it looks as if it is printed. 

Cards can convey love, and affection, respect and courtesy, though all too often we send them because we have to, and we receive some from people we barely know or might even have forgotten. Cards may be important, and still popular, but they can also be very routine, and even empty of any real feelings.

Much better than the card, of course, is the actual visit - when we go and see someone in order to exchange greetings. And instead of an address, written on an envelope, we meet face to face, and address one another by name.

In today’s Gospel we hear of a meeting - well, too meetings. The angel meets Joseph in a dream and tells him of another meeting, when the angel had met Mary, and gave her the great commission from God.

And here too, names are important. In today’s Gospel two of the names of Our Lord are set before us. Jesus - which means God saves, and Emmanuel - which means God-with-us.
And it is the names which tells us what Christ’s coming is all about. He saves us by being with us.

We might reasonably ask the question, why did God come and live amongst us as Jesus. Why did he take flesh? Why did Jesus have to suffer and die for us? Could not God have just acted, just waved his hands like a magic wand and put all sins and sufferings right?

Perhaps. But that would be doing things at a distance, almost disinterestedly, rather like sending a card with a polite greeting to someone we are not really close to. It would be an act of courtesy, but it requires little effort.

But God does more than send a card. He comes to visit. And God does more than visit. He comes to dwell amongst us. He becomes one of us, and shares our joys and sorrows, our cares and our concerns. He takes our sins upon himself. And that is how he saves us.

And today Mary and Joseph stand before us. She was chosen by God to carry Christ and bear him into the world. Joseph is included in the same mission.. They are not like some postman who carries a card, passing on a message or a greeting. They are humanity. Mary, especially, is us - the one who receives this great gift on our behalf, the one who welcomes this wonderful saving visitor.

And he is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He has come to meet us. He knocks at the door. And all we need do is open the door and let him in.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Advent 3 : Homily / Sermon

‘Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?’ (Matthew 11:3)

Kris Kringle

In the film, Miracle on 34th Street, we meet the character of Kris Kringle, a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Santa Claus. The film revolves around the question of whether the character is the real Santa Claus, and indeed, whether Santa Claus exists at all. 

The original film, made in 1947 and which featured a very young Natalie Wood, leaves that question tantalising unanswered, though leads the watcher to think carefully about the old man’s identity. Other remakes of the film, such as the much more recent 1994 version starring Richard Attenborough, try and answer the question for us. 

Here, in today’s Gospel, there is another, and not altogether dissimilar question. The followers of John the Baptist come to ask a burning question: who is this man, Jesus? Are you the one who is to come? 

They were not the first to ask the question, and certainly would not be the last. 

The question is asked when Jesus heals the paralysed man and forgives his sins: Who is he who forgives sins? It is asked by the disciples when Jesus stills the storm: Who is this that the wind and waves obey him? It is asked by Jesus himself at Caesarea Philippi: Who do people say that I am? And when he is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks Who are you looking for? 

And it is asked of him at his trial: Are you the Christ, the Son of the living God? 

And it has been asked in the centuries since: is he a great prophet, or a political revolutionary, or a religious reformer? Is he just an ordinary man? Did he even exist? Or is he King of King and Lord of Lords? Every question has been asked, and every possible question has been given. 

Even the famous atheist author, Philip Pullman, wrote about “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ”. 

So when Jesus is asked the question, how does he answer?

Well, he does not try to persuade … at least not in words. He says, [look at the evidence, he says,] “What do you see?”

Go back and tell John what you hear and see; the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor

[Or in another place, he put the whole thing much more plainly … By their fruits shall you know them. 

St Francis said something similar to his followers Preach the Gospel … use words if necessary … ]

It is by example, by acts of mercy, by the experience of his love in action that God is known 

[… As we will hear in just a few days now “The Word became flesh, and dwelt amongst us”

It is the flesh that we know who he is. In his actions that we know his love. ]

And it is through our actions, the quality of our life, our compassion, our mercy, our forgiveness, our generosity, our love that God’s own compassion, mercy, forgiveness, generosity and love is known, and experienced, and recognised in this cold and often heartless world. 

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Advent 2 : Homily / Sermon

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


Last week I mentioned a character who is familiar to us from a popular Christmas Film - well, a book really - the character of Scrooge - this week I choose another one.
His name is George Bailey … an ordinary sort of chap who lived a fairly ordinary life in a very ordinary American town from the 1930s into the 1940s. He has a loving wife and a large family and a fairly comfortable life - but he had been a young man with dreams! He had damaged lungs, after rescuing his younger brother from a freezing pool as a child, but has great ambitions - to travel the world, to see Europe - but he doesn’t even get to serve in the war, as his brother does, with great distinction, because of his disability. The problems of the Great Depression means he has to stay in the small town to maintain the family business, a small mutual bank, a Savings and Loans company, which helps provide affordable homes for the folk of the town.
And then a crisis comes, for which he can’t see a way out, and he realises that his entire life has been a failure, a disaster. None of his dreams have come to pass. He has not seen the world, or served his country, or done any of the wonderful things he had dreamt of as a young man.
This wonderful film - it’s called “It’s a Wonderful Life” - then traces how George Bailey is shown, by a very unconventional angel, what the lives of other people would have been without him: how many people would have been without homes if he had never lived, how his brother would have died, so never have become a war hero, how him Mother would have become a bitter broken woman, his wife a lonely spinster, and the wonderful house which they renovated together for their family of many children would have stood as a ruin. He realises that his life has in fact made a difference.
Well, its a lovely film, set at Christmas, complete with snow and angels. A bit sentimental indeed, but cheering none the less.
But what - you may be thinking - what on earth has George Bailey to do with today’s Gospel, and its strange and uncompromising figure, John the Baptist?

Prepare a way for the Lord - make his paths straight, he says, Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near at hand.

Well, the thing about all the prophets, John the Baptist included, is not that they predict the future, nor that they accuse us of being wicked sinners, but that they are sent to convince us that we can make a difference.

We may think that we are not important, that we make no impact, that God has not chosen us for anything in particular, that our actions have very few consequences. And yet they do!

The listening ear, the words of comfort, the loving hug, the acts of generosity and kindness - they all make a difference. And so do the occasional dishonesty, the moderate selfishness, the passing hardness of heart.

George Bailey, dare I say, came to see that God had a plan for him, and he did make a difference, an enormous difference - though his modesty was such that he had hardly noticed it. And John the Baptist tells us today that that whoever we are, whatever our age or job or condition of life, we can and do make a difference: Prepare a way for the Lord.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Advent Sunday : Homily / Sermon

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 a 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 of family breakdown. 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. 


Saturday, October 15, 2016

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily / Sermon

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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. 


I remember, many many years ago, being taught that there are four kinds of prayer, which can be remembered by the word ACTS - A is for Adoration, which is Meditation or Worship, C is for Confession, T is for Thanksgiving or Praise, and S is for Supplication or Intercession. And I was also taught that they should be done in that order - worship, adoration must come first … and asking for stuff should only come after thanksgiving. 


There are those who think the prayer of intercession is a lower, less worthy form of prayer. After all, isn’t it more than a 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. While we certainly should not be selfish in prayer, the prayer of asking, intercession, supplication is by no means a lower kind of prayer. 


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 of 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 08, 2016

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) : Bidding Prayers / Intercessions / Prayer of the Faithful

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


On the face of it, this story seems 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. 


The image is of a statue of the Emperor Julian (Julian the Apostate) which is in the Louvre in France.

Friday, September 30, 2016

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, or 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!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

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 hear 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. 


Yet 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. It’s 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.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) : Homily / Sermon

‘You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.’ (Luke 16:13)

New Polymer £5 Note

This week the Bank of England issued the first plastic banknotes - specifically a £5 note. To be more accurate, these are polymer notes, and can can be dipped in a hot cup of coffee, wiped clean, and will even survive going through the washing machine. It is said that they will last five years longer than the paper fivers … though my fivers last hardly any time at all!

But it does lead us to pause and think about this incredible thing called money.

After all isn’t it just metal and paper or polymer, or perhaps not even that? Surely, money is nothing more than numbers on screens, and characters kept in data centres, words spoken over phone lines, flitting across hyperspace? And yet people work for it, and dream of it, and will even kill for it.

But of course, it is not money in itself which they are all after, but what it can do.
It can make us rich. It can make us powerful. It can make us comfortable. It can make us happy.

But can it make us happy? Certainly, many people can be lifted out of misery and suffering by sometimes just a little money – a little to avoid hunger, a little to provide medical care, a little to provide education. And we often suppose that if we just had that lottery win or the unexpected inheritance it would lift us out the need every work again, and give us a life of comfort and luxury.

And yet, the truly rich – do they stop working? Do they stop looking for ways to get more money, more possessions, more power? Not at all, because the pursuit of material things is never ending. It is almost like an addicts compulsion. There can never be enough, because the happiness that we think wealth will bring never actually arrives. They may not suffer from the misery of poverty, they may have all the cars, clothes, gadgets and holidays the rest of us yearn for, but none of these bring true friendship, loyalty, commitment, happiness and love. The most important values and virtues, honesty, courage, reliability, generosity – none of these can be bought.

And this is why Christ says we cannot be slaves of both God and money. To seek happiness in money, power, possessions, material things, is to seek fulfilment where it can never be found. It is a pursuit of happiness which will runs into a cul-de-sac, ending in dissatisfaction, restlessness, bitterness.

To serve God is to put material concerns second and true human values first.

You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Assumption of our Lady

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.


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.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Homily / Sermon : 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

You too must stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. (Luke 12:40)


The belief that Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead is of course part of the creed which we recite every week, and even though the Church has been reciting these words for almost 2000 years, in almost every age there have been Christians who have taken passages like this very literally and proclaimed that they are about to be fulfilled. “The End of the World is Nigh” they proclaimed. 

From what we know of the first generations of Christians, it seems that many of them believed that end was about to come, very soon. It was also a common belief at other points in history - at time to time throughout the Middle Ages, in Elizabethan England, and at the start of the nineteen century. Some groups - like the Jehovah’s witnesses - base their whole faith on a conviction that the world will end soon, and there have been plenty of tiny cults and sects in ancient and modern times who have been convinced that the end is indeed very close. And this belief has not been restricted just to the religious - political and environmental activists have also shared a conviction that everything soon will come to an end in a nuclear or environmental catastrophe. 

Well, whatever the merits or craziness of any of these convictions and ideas, they are not a very intelligent understanding of the teaching of Jesus.

Jesus is not speaking about the date and time of his second coming, but rather of our readiness to meet him now. 

He is describing to us not the events of tomorrow … but rather challenging us in the way we live our lives today.

Here is the question he poses to us: are we prepared for him? Are we ready to greet him? The trouble is, much as we may say that we want to meet Christ we are never quite ready for him. 

And we are in good company. 

It was St Augustine who said "Lord, give me chastity, but not yet!" 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 the time is just right - which of course may never come - to take the Big Step. So many of us want to delay the moment, put off the day. And many of us, perhaps most of us, make compromises in our lives, do deals, stretch the truth, cut corners, and tell ourselves we’ll sort it out later. 

Yes, even if once we feared the burglar, who Jesus speaks of, in time we settle back into our routine. We speed the same shortcuts, run the same risks and chase the same 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, Truth, Commitment cannot wait for our death beds. We can’t save regret only for when we are caught out. Compassion does not only come with contrition. Saying sorry is easy, but living a caring, devoted and prayerful life requires perseverance, tenacity, practice.

When we pray “thy kingdom come” we do not mean soon,  we mean now. 

So we have no reason to fear tomorrow - but neither should we wait till then to do the will of God.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Homily / Sermon : 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Go and do the same yourself. (Luke 10:37)

Here’s the odd and interesting thing about what must be the most famous parable - perhaps even the most famous story - in the whole of Scripture. 



I think when we hear the story we understand that Jesus is saying to us we should help everyone, even those we might not be disposed to like. Samaritans and Jews are, well, like Black and White, Catholics and Protestants, Israeli and Palestinian - or, if you like Shakespeare, the Montagues and Capulets of the world, while if it is musicals which are you preference, it would the be Sharks and the Jets.

So, this parable says just the same as “Love your enemy”.

But it says a lot more. Remember, Jesus is speaking to a Jewish audience. So what does he tell them to do? To help others, even Samaritans? 

Look again. He says to the Jews - “Go and do as he did”. He doesn’t tell them to help Samaritans - he tells them to imagine themselves as Samaritans. 

And its the only way. 

Helping those in need is good. But it can be self-serving, patronising. We feel good because we have helped those less fortunate than ourselves. 

No, Jesus says. Don’t just help them. Be them. Put yourselves in their place. Imagine yourselves in their situation. See things with their eyes. 

If not, however kind we are, it will always be US and THEM.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Homily / Sermon : 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time


If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

It never ceases to surprise me that when people take the existence of evil and the experience of suffering as a reason for not believing in God.

Now I’m not referring to the person whose faith is shattered by tragedy, or who descends into depression after a series of unfortunate and dispiriting events. Loss and disappointment leave deep wounds and weigh heavily upon the spirit. It is often hard for people in such circumstances to grasp meaning or to hold on to hope.
No, what I am referring to is the sort of person, usually comfortable and self assured, who says to the believer - “how can you believe in a good God when bad things happen?” They see it as a strong argument, indeed even perhaps a proof, that God does not exist.

But so often, the reason why someone sees no point in believing God is because they think they no need of him. They are so comfortable in their lives and their approach to life, that the idea that there might be a higher power is unsettling and even inconvenient.

In fact, look around the world, watch the news, and you can see that people turn to God most not when they are comfortably off, when everything is going well, when they are free from worries. No, it is at times of anxiety, and danger when the Churches are fullest.

After atrocities like the recent shootings in Orlando, and the terrible murder of the MP Jo Cox this week, and similarly after natural disasters and atrocities, the immediate human response is to light candles, to visit places of worship, to gather together in prayer, even for people who have only the vaguest sense of faith or belief.

As people have less and less attachment to a particular church, it is noticeable that when someone has died there is little demand for a non-religious, humanist service, but more and more often for a “celebration of life” which includes some small aspects of faith, or ceremony, or religion.


In bereavement and loss there is comfort in prayer. In worrying about the future we turn our hearts to God. In distress and perplexity there is little left but to pray.
God is known best not by the comfortable, but by those in discomfort, not by the well-fed, but by the hungry, not by the rich but by the poor - poor in spirit, poor in hope, poor in circumstance.

And why? Not, I think because such people are weak, and to be pitied? Perhaps - but more likely because those who know their own weakness are those who know that there is something greater, something more powerful. Only those in need know their need of God. It is only in the experience of suffering, in the struggle against evil, that the hope of victory is known.

We sometimes put this in very simple ways: “No gain without pain‚” or, “Only those who are flat on their backs look upwards”. But it is true, only in the carrying of the cross do recognise both our weakness and our hope, our suffering and our joy, our presence and our future.

For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it.


Pictured below:
MPs light candles for Jo Cox in Parliament Square

MPs light Candles for Jo Cox

Monday, June 13, 2016

Homily / Sermon : 11th Sunday of the Year (C)

Click here to listen

‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who this woman is that is touching him and what a bad name she has.’ (Luke 7:39)

Bad reputation

Twice in today’s Gospel we are told that this woman ‘has a bad name’. It’s ironic really, because we don’t actually know who she was. Traditionally she is associated with St Mary Magdalen, but in fact that seems unlikely. Mary is mentioned just after this story - no indication that we are talking about the same person.

So we know her name is bad, we just don’t know what it is.

That is the thing, of course about reputation. A person has many different characteristics, yet it is just one that they may be remembered for. This woman was someone’s daughter, someone’s sister. She was probably someone’s mother and someone’s wife. She may have been loving and caring, generous and sensitive. She might have been a victim of cruelty or bound by poverty. Who knows? How can we know? - we only know that her name, her reputation, her status was bad, and the Pharisees were appalled at the encounter between her and Jesus.

Perhaps she had done wicked things. Perhaps she was dishonest or irresponsible. Or perhaps she was just different, unconventional or rebellious.

The trouble with reputation is that it reduces a person to a word, takes away the real name for the sake of the bad name, turns a human being in all the variety of her qualities to just one adjective, one negative, bad.

But this changes.

Her actions, her contrition, her penitence, and then God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, have this extraordinary effect that they restore her to her human dignity. They free her from the shackles of reputation, because of this great movement of love. Her loving worship is itself an act of healing.

By showing her love for Christ, she invites the greatest gift of love - the granting of forgiveness, and her wholeness is restored.

Her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love.

The Lord is my Shepherd - reflection

Reading and Reflection at the Summer Memorial Service,
Carmountside Crematorium, Stoke-on-Trent 12 June 2016

The Lord is my Shepherd (Psalm 23 AV)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Translation is the Authorised, or King James, Version. 


IMG 3854

I chose that reading because I guess it is very familiar to almost all of us. This psalm, in an Old English translation, was put into verse to make what may well be the best known hymn in the English language.

“The Lord’s my Shepherd, I shall not want

He makes me down to lie …”

You may well have chosen this hymn for the funeral service for your own loved ones - and if you didn’t, you almost certainly have heard it or sung it at the funeral for another. It is chosen for weddings, too, and on many other occasions.
You may be surprised though, to learn that it has only been sung in England relatively recently, and the story of its popularity is particularly relevant today.
It is of course taken from an ancient writing. The 23rd Psalm is Jewish poem thought to have been written by King David about 800 years before the coming of Jesus. It was translated into English about 500 years ago, and then put into a rhyming form by the Scottish Presbyterians, in the 17th Century. And there it stayed, known and sung in Scotland, but not really anywhere else.

But then, in the last century, a young girl whose family originated from Germany, who was born and grew up in England, got to know this hymn when she went to Church on her family holidays in Scotland. In the years before the war, She became close to a young man of Greek birth and also Danish background, whose family had fled political turmoil in Greece just before the war, and who had sought refuge in Britain. During the war he served in the Royal Navy, and regularly exchanged letters. Once the war was over, he asked her father for his daughter’s hand in marriage, and for her wedding service she chose this little known hymn.

That was the moment when the “Scottish Hymn” (as people came to call it) came to be known to a much wider audience - throughout the whole the United Kingdom, and indeed the world - because that wedding, on 20 November 1947, a moment of colour in the drabness of the early years after the war, was broadcast on the radio and throughout the world.

The immense popularity of this hymn today, The reason why you chose it or heard it in your Church or at a wedding or a funeral is in large part down to that young girl.

That young girl was, of course, Princess Elizabeth, she who became Queen Elizabeth II, and it is her 90th Official Birthday which is being celebrated up and down the country this weekend.

And because she chose it for her wedding, it has become loved and cherished by so many ever since.

But why did she choose it? And why did it then become so popular, so well known? No doubt for its pleasant and easy tune. No doubt for its simple, yet memorable language.

Yet there is, I think, more.

Queen Elizabeth is both a very public yet also a quite private person, and she speaks rarely about her own opinions and beliefs - yet we do know that her Christian faith is something which is very important to her. We also know that for all the material comfort and privilege she has enjoyed, she has not been spared from the anxieties of family life, nor indeed the pains of shocking bereavement and loss, all too public, all too tragic.

And these ancient words which have come to us across the centuries and through the variety of faiths and languages and cultures touched her and so many of us.

… I walk through the valley of the shadow of death ...

In loss we suffer pain, we walk through darkness.

And yet we also find comfort. Much of that is in the memories which we cherish. That is partly why we are here today.

But there is more. In the middle of our darkness we find another comfort too …

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil :
for thou art with me.

We find comfort not only in remembering, but also in sharing our sorrow with others. Coming together with others who grieve is a help in our sadness. Even in the depth of our tears, we find a sense of peace. The touch, the embrace, and the presence of others who know loss too, can give us hope.

Whatever our belief in God (or not), however strong or weak our own faith, however clear or confused our own ideas about this life and the next, those around us give us a glimpse of a hope and a comfort which is a natural accompaniment to the happiest of our memories.

Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life …

It is an intuition, a hint, a Hope, that as the goodness and mercy, the closeness and caring and compassion of those who are around us may help us through our darkest hours, our own valley of the shadow of death, so perhaps there may also be a goodness and mercy from those who have gone before us, a hope - however difficult to understand - that they are still close to us, and that we will be with them once again.

Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life …

This is the hope of which this ancient text speaks. These are the words which moved the Princess Elizabeth more than 70 years ago. These are the words which touch the hearts of so many, and which are so familiar to us today.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Homily / Sermon: 10th Sunday of the Year (C)

When The Lord saw her, he felt sorry for her. "Do not cry" he said (Luke 7)



Crying, weeping, is an expression of emotion, of grief  which we have all experienced. It is something over which, when it has hit us personally, we have little control. When we weep, we do so not because we want to, but because we must. 


There are many references to weeping in Scripture, especially in the Old Testament. They are always expressions of loss, of bereavement, the pain humanity bears in every age and in every circumstance when we have lost those we love. 


In the Gospels, though, references to weeping are few, and very striking. The first time we hear of weeping is at the terrible slaughter of the innocents, by King Herod. Later we hear of the weeping of those who mourn for the daughter of Jairus, and later still of the women of Jerusalem who weep for him as he carries the cross on the way to Calvary. 


In most these cases, like the one in today’s Gospel, Jesus asks the mourners not to weep. He tries to soothe their hearts and quiet their cries. 


But there is of course the most famous reference to weeping, the shortest verse in Scripture, and perhaps the most tender, when Jesus hears of the death of his friend, Lazarus. In St John's Gospel (11:35), we are told "Jesus wept". It is a brief statement, with no description, no detail, no elaboration. There are no lightning bolts, no thunderclaps, no voices from heaven, no wailing. Just these two words, We do not need to be told any more than just this. Jesus wept. 


And here, in today's Gospel, is another moment. This time it is Jesus speaking to the bereaved mother. And again it is a simple and plain statement. No elaboration, no explanation, no reasoning, no detail. No theological exposition, no meditation on human mortality. Its tenderness is expressed through its brevity. 


In both occasions we witness the simplicity and yet the depth of Jesus' compassion. In both cases we are about to witness a great miracle, a miracle of rising from the dead, miracles which point to the great miracle of Jesus' own victory over death. Yet the words which we begin these extraordinary events are simple, and tender and human. 


They reveal to us this great truth about our Lord. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. And he has a human heart which is united to his Divinity. A heart which is stirred by the sorrow of the bereaved, by the loss of a loved one, by the death of a friend. A heart which knows our pain and which offers us a hope. 


A heart, so full of love, that love is poured out on us all.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Easter 4 : Homily / Sermon

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday - the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.


It is a difficult time for vocations to the priesthood. We know that the numbers of those going forward for the priesthood are much smaller than they ever used to be. We know that the average age of priests is increasing, in some places alarmingly so. We are often told that the great woes of the Church are the fault of the clergy, of clericalism, of celibacy, of the secrecy and privilege which surrounds the priestly life.

”Why would anyone want to be a priest at present”? 

So why am I priest?

Because this gives me the greatest privilege any person can ever have: to share something of people’s lives, and in doing so bringing the grace of God to them.
Every week I sit and talk with those who are bereaved and distressed.
Every week I discuss the struggles of prayer and daily living with those who come to confession.
Every week I am asked for advice by those in difficulty.
Every week I am challenged to justify what I believe in.
Every week I have the joy of sharing what I hold to be true and I try explain it.
Every week I visit homes, schools, hospitals and sometimes prisons and meet the young and the old, the working and the retired, the healthy and the sick, the good and the not so good.
I frequently share with a family the joy of the gift of their child, by celebrating baptism with them. And I am part of the preparations of a family as they approach the joy and excitement of their wedding.
I am called out to anoint the dying and pray with them, to console their relatives, to bring some little comfort in a difficult time. I chat with young children, talk to teenagers and converse with adults.
On occasion I meet the homeless, the desperate, recovering alcoholics, parents separated from their children. I sit on committees and boards and governing bodies and have the responsibility and privilege of sharing in decisions which affect people’s lives.
And most of all, I celebrate, with joy, the sacraments and especially the mass, the supreme sacrifice in which bread and wine become His body and blood, in which grace touches our lives, in which heaven touches earth.
And this is the point - the real point. Because I know there are many things I’m not so good at. I talk a bit too quick and I’m always a bit too busy. I’m late starting mass and sometimes forget appointments. It is often difficult to know what to say to those in distress, and to know how to help those in trouble.
I make decisions which sometimes work out, but sometimes don’t. Sometimes people are upset, or hurt, or overlooked. I forget people’s names ... I’m sure you could add to the this.
But here is the amazing thing. When I have struggled with my words or an answer, or discussed for a long time a difficult problem someone says to me, “Thank you so much Father, I feel so much better” or “your words are really helpful” or even “I enjoyed your homily” or some other extra-ordinary and unexpected words of compliment.
And I know I don’t deserve them. This is not me who has done this. I know that. This is God working within me. This is heaven touching earth. This is the operation of grace. The grace of holy orders.
This is why I am a priest.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Easter Three (C) : Homily / Sermon

There stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. (John 1:5)



There are a number of accounts of resurrection appearances in the Gospels, and in quite a few of them it seems the disciples do not immediately recognise Jesus. Mary Magdalen does not at first recognise the risen Jesus in the Garden. Neither do the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Nor do the apostles here. They see a figure, but not the Man. 

But then they do see him. And in each case it is his actions which reveal him. For the Magdalen it is his word of tenderness. For the disciples on the road to Emmaus it is the breaking of bread. Today it is in the great haul of fish. 

Nowhere in the Gospels do we have a description of the Jesus’ appearance - short or tall, scrawny or muscular, plain or striking, we are never told. We can surmise that he was certainly not blond haired, white skinned, nor blue eyed (despite what we have often been shown), but we cannot be sure even of this. We are never told. But we do hear time and time again about his words. And about his actions. His works of Mercy. 

Our age, our society is obsessed by appearance - but Christ is made known not by how he looks, but by what he does. He heals the sick, cures the lame, feeds the needy, and shows compassion to sinners. 

And these actions always create a response - the act offered in return. Mary Magdalen and the disciples in Emmaus rush to spread the news. Peter leaps into the water. And we make Christ known, we make Christ present, by doing what he did: celebrating the sacraments, certainly, but even more by caring, loving, sharing. By assisting those who hunger and thirst, or are in acute need, by welcoming the stranger, by visiting the sick, by supporting those in trouble. 

Like the disciples, we may struggle sometimes to see Christ, grapple with faith, and are anxious over unanswered prayers - but when we get on with it, when we practice the Works of Mercy, then Christ himself is visible amongst us.


Pictured below are the volunteers for Compassion Kitchen

at Sacred Heart, Hanley on Easter Day 2016. 

IMG 3549

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Lent (C) : Homily / Sermon

Fourth Sunday of Lent (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)

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. Loving, forgiving, merciful: yearning to welcome us back to him, when we are ready.

And the great painter Rembrandt had a deep insight when he painted the tender scene of the welcome of the prodigal, for the Father’s hands which embrace the returning son are one large muscular and rough, the other lighter, nimbler and smooth, a male hand and then a female hand, in a loving and welcome embrace.

God is both Mother and Father, filled with mercy, indulgent, loving, watching and waiting, for our sorrow, for our repentance. Longing to welcome us to the celebration of our forgiveness.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Lent One : Homily / Sermon

‘Having exhausted all these ways of tempting him, the devil left him, to return at the appointed time.’ (Luke 4:13)


These are menacing words, don’t you think? Defeated now, the devil slinks away, but not for long. He’s off to bide his time, wait for a while, lurk in the shadows, never too far away, just looking for his opportunity.

But we live in an age where people struggle with the idea of the devil. A man in a red suit with a long curly tail? Really!

And sure enough, even religious people, especially religious people, do not believe the devil exists. We surround ourselves with such a comfortable notion of faith, a God of love, the Good Shepherd, the forgiving Father. Wickedness and evil seem so far from what our faith and our idea of God is all about, that is it just so difficult to understand how he could allow there even to be a Devil, even less engage in conflict with him. 

And this is dangerous stuff. Fighting an enemy who you don’t believe exists, is wrestling with shadows.

It was the writer CS Lewis, I think, who said that the devil’s greatest achievement was convincing people that he doesn’t exist. We must not fall into that trap.
It’s not that we need to believe that he’s red and has horns and the tail, that he lives under the earth in fire and brimstone. But if we stop believing that evil can be a power, and even have a mind and a will, if we don’t recognise that the life of faith is a struggle and that obstacles often fall in our way, if we don’t accept that when bad things happen it may not be God’s will but might in fact be ill will, if we don’t accept these - then there is no battle to be fought, no struggle to be won. We are like those without hope.

He skulks in the shadows, waits in the darkness - and we may not even realise he is there.

Lent is our time in the wilderness - our time when we confront temptation and remember that there is a power of evil. Our time for recognising Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises. And defeating him.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

First Sunday of Lent (Year C) : Homily / Sermon

First Sunday of Lent (Year C) : Homily / Sermon
‘Having exhausted all these ways of tempting him, the devil left him, to return at the appointed time.’ (Luke 4:13)
These are menacing words, don’t you think? Defeated now, the devil slinks away, but not for long. He’s off to bide his time, wait for a while, lurk in the shadows, never too far away, just looking for his opportunity.
But we live in an age where people struggle with the idea of the devil. A man in a red suit with a long curly tail? Really!
And sure enough, even religious people, especially religious people, do not believe the devil exists. We surround ourselves with such a comfortable notion of faith, a God of love, the Good Shepherd, the forgiving Father. Wickedness and evil seem so far from what our faith and our idea of God is all about, that is it just so difficult to understand how he could allow there even to be a Devil.
And this is dangerous stuff. Fighting an enemy who you don’t believe exists, is wrestling with shadows.
It was the writer CS Lewis, I think, who said that the devil’s greatest achievement was convincing people that he doesn’t exist. We must not fall into that trap.
It’s not that we need to believe that he’s red and has horns and the tail, that he lives under the earth in fire and brimstone. But if we stop believing that evil can be a power, and even have a mind and a will, if we don’t recognise that the life of faith is a struggle and that obstacles often fall in our way, if we don’t accept that when bad things happen it may not be God’s will but might in fact be ill will, if we don’t accept these - then there is no battle to be fought, no struggle to be won. We are like those without hope.
He skulks in the shadows, waits in the darkness - and we may not even realise he is there.
Lent is our time in the wilderness - our time when we confront temptation and remember that there is a power of evil. Our time for recognising Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises. And defeating him.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

5th Sunday of Year C : Homily / Sermon

‘He and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John’  (Luke 5:9)

This miracle story is also a parable of life. Peter, James and John are toiling in the boat, and to no avail. Try as they might, struggling as they do, nothing seems to go right. Surely, if they try harder, work longer, just cast their nets one more time they will get that catch which they need, which their hard work deserves. 

That’s life. We can work hard. Be proud of our own efforts. Feel we deserve great rewards, yet it doesn’t seem to work out. The harder we try the less successful we seem. We think we only need to  do just a bit more - but however many more bits we may add we do not seem to succeed. 

And so, like us, dejected, the fishermen hit the shore. With a sense of failure. 

And Jesus says: yes, you can do it - just cast out your nets. He challenges the fishermen to do what they have already done: and they are not so sure. 

We’ve tried that, they say. But he doesn’t ask for extra effort. He doesn’t ask them to try harder. He doesn’t say you’ve been doing it wrong. He just asks them to trust him. Trust harder. And when they trust him - then they are amazed. Not even a normal catch - they were ‘completely overcome’. 

And so too, it can be for us. While hard graft and effort may end in frustration, great successes and achievements often take us by surprise: the great idea, the act of kindness, the work of art, the moment of vision or inspiration, the talent for music or sport or human compassion. They don’t just happen - but they seem to be so much more than the effort which we put in. We become amazed, not by what we can do - but by what God can do through us. 

This is grace. The free gift of God. The nets bursting with blessings. 

Not because we have tried, but because we have trusted. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

4th Sunday of the Year (C) : Homily / Sermon

*’I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.’ * (Luke 4:24)

In today’s Gospel Jesus’ own people turn against him. They reject his ministry and his miracles. Not for the first - and indeed not for the last time - the response to Jesus is not love or admiration or worship, but violence and a thirst for destruction.

What is going on here?

On the face of it, it seems that is just an illustration of the old saying “familiarity breeds contempt”. Come, on - they say - who is this great preacher and wonder-worker we’ve been hearing about? He’s no one special! He grew up with us. He went to school with us. He worked with us. He’s only the Son of Joseph!

But those very words tell us that there is something more far reaching, much deeper going on here. When we, the reader, about hear about Jesus escaping death, our thoughts are turned to his death and his suffering and indeed his resurrection. And when we, the reader, hear those words “Son of Joseph” we are immediately reminded of the story just a few paragraphs earlier of the conception and birth of Christ of a virgin.

The name “Son of Joseph” sets Jesus clearly amongst his people and his home community: but knowing that he is Son of Mary indicates far more.

First, he is greater than kith and kin, greater than blood and race, greater than family and ethnic relationships. Christ is recognised by the widow of Zarephath, and Namaan the Syrian. He comes for all people of all languages, all races, all locations. He is a human son, but as Son of God he is King of all people. Deeply rooted in the faith and scriptures and soil of his people, but in now way bound or limited by them. As St Paul says, in Christ there is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. In him there is no black or white, rich or poor, citizen or refugee.

And second, to understand Christ is not so much a matter of knowledge - of his parentage, his home, his family and his language: no, it is a matter, more than anything of faith and of love. It is not about puzzling over this Son of Joseph, whom we know, but worshipping this Son of Mary, whom we trust. To turn to Christ, is to live in love - to go beyond the questioning and jealousies of the mind, to embrace him with the heart of love. And live that love.

*Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence, and is not resentful.

Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.* (1 Corinthians 13)

Love - as Paul says - does not come to an end. Christ avoids the fury of the crowd, just as he will rise from the dead. Because he loves us. And we are called to live that love.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) : Homily / Sermon

He sent me to bring the good news to the poor ... (Luke 4:18)



I don't whether you've ever thought about this, but "news" seems a very modern word. 


I remember when I was in Oxford an old chap telling me how he, as a child, had heard the news of the end of the First World War - they didn’t get the news on the 11th of November, via a telephone message to the house of the Squire, like in Downton Abbey - but almost a week later, via a telegraph to the local railway station. 

No hourly news bulletins, or rolling news in those days!


When we think about "news" we think about the way it is delivered to us - and all of these depend on a certain technology. Radio, (only about 100 years old) - or by the marvels of television  (little more than 50 years in our homes) or through 24 hour satellite or cable tv and through computers (about 20 years ago) and even more recently through our phones and tablets (for the last ten years or so). And even the oldest, and most familiar way in which news has been given to us, the Newspaper, has appeared only within the last two centuries. "News" is very much a feature of the modern world - events from the other side of the world - fire, floods and tsunamis, and this very week snow storms in North America - these are instantly before us. 


So perhaps its a bit of a surprise that they had "news" in the ancient world. No papers, no radio or tv or internet, no mobile phones, no iPads - how could it be? 


But let's go back to what “News" actually is. People (myself included) will often say that all the media are interested in is bad news - disasters, wars, conflict - and while there's some truth in that, we must be careful not to miss the point. We don't hear on the news about places where there is no war, or no conflict, or no disasters, not because its not bad, but because its not news. You'll never see on the Front page of the Sentinel "Nothing Happened today" - no news, is no news!


No - news is an event, a happening, a change. It is something out of the ordinary, beyond the run of the mill, which disrupts the routine. It excites our emotions, moves our hearts, stirs us with anticipation. It might make us weep, or foster hateful or lustful thoughts and feelings, but if it leaves us cold and disinterested, then it is not news. 


There has always been news, irrespective of the technology, and the story of Christ is news beyond news. 


At the birth of Christ, the angels cry Lo! Behold! and the shepherds rush from the fields to Bethlehem. Herod hears the news of the birth of the child and reacts with fear and anger. John the Baptist tells his followers - Behold the Lamb of God, and they turn to him. In today's Gospel, Jesus proclaims the news of his coming in Nazareth, and the hearers are outraged. And the apostles told the extraordinary news of his teaching and miracles, of his betrayal and his arrest, of his death and his resurrection, and people are moved to join them and follow him, or arrest and imprison them.  


This the greatest news story ever. The scoop beyond all scoops. News that moves hearts by word of mouth, by journeys and by letters, by speeches given in market places and in the courtrooms, by charity and by martyrdom. News which moves the heart and saves the soul. 


Good news!