Saturday, November 18, 2017

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

Well done, good and faithful servant (Mt 19:22)


Sometimes we may doubt whether this parable is really for us. Do I have a talent? 

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And of course, on one level it is a fair point. Not many of us are international swimmers, X factor singers, or skilled sculptors. Oh yes, we are good at some things more than others, but is that a talent? 


Take care over the details in the story. It is money which the man gives to his servant to invest, and the currency is called ‘talents’. It might just as well have been pounds, or euros or dollars (in their thousands of course). The connection with great skill is an interesting one, but it isn’t exactly there is the original story. 

You see the story is for us. We all do have gifts, gifts from God. We have all been given something by him, a vocation, an aptitude, an ability. It may not be prizewinning, but it is no less valuable for all that. 

 

You may include being a mother, or grandmother. You could be a teacher. Or a listener. You may be good at odd jobs, DIY, and can use that gift to help family, friends and neighbours. You may have a good singing or reading voice. Or a good sense of humour. You may be good at writing letters, or understanding complex documents or ideas. Or perhaps you just know how to get the DVD recorder to work. Any or all of these may be gifts, talents, granted by God. 

 

Thank him for them. And don’t bury them. Put them to good use, and they will double, they will grow, and they will be to your credit and to the praise of God. 

This is the warning here. Do not hide your light under a bushel, but rejoice in your blessings and put them to proper and frequent use. Glorify him in using the things with which he has blessed you, for to do so is not to take pride in yourself, but is to rejoice in making repayment to the Master, from whom come such blessings.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) : Homily / Sermon

The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel. 

(Isaiah 5:7, and the response to the Psalm)

 

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For the third week we are in the vineyard. Two weeks ago we heard about the labourers in the vineyard. Last week we heard about the sons of the vineyard owner, and this week it is the tenants, and the servants, who come to the forefront of our attention.

Yet in each parable there is a constant figure in the background. We don't learn much about him, but he is vital to all three stories. He, of course, is the Vineyard owner.

The parallels are fairly obvious. The owner of the vineyard is the Father, God himself. He hires, pays, orders and owns. The vineyard is his.

And the characters in the stories are us. The workers, the sons, the servants, the rebellious tenants. At times good, at times bad, but at all times responsible to the Owner.

But what about the vineyard? It is not simply the Jewish people, or the world, or human society, or even 'the kingdom of heaven'. The Vineyard is God's Creation, his purpose, the workings of his love, his entire plan for humanity. This is truly what it meant when we say the Vineyard is the House of Israel.

And we are imperfect stewards. Sometimes rebellious. Sometimes obstinate. Yet often rewarded beyond what we deserve.

This weekend our second collection supports the work of Cafod. In supporting the work of this agency we do not only give money to rescue those in crisis, but we also support many many projects that enable people in the developing world to help themselves: to dig wells, to provide clean water, to sow crops, to build schools. In supporting Cafod we try to be good stewards of God's vineyard to enable others to be God's stewards too.

And the final reward is not material comfort, nor even the contentment from the well being of others, but the satisfaction of an invitation to the Vineyard of the Father, the Kingdom of God, the House of Israel.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) : Homily / Sermon

Which of the two did the father’s will? (Matthew 21:31)

 

This weekend we are back in the vineyard - though this time we are not with the workers, but with the owner’s family. One lad agrees to work but doesn't, while the other refused to work, yet does.

 

This is a parable which speaks eloquently of the kind of family life with which so many of us will be so familiar: the children who promise to do something, then who “forget”. And also the child who may protest and rebel, yet who does in fact do what is required. 

 

And again, Jesus surprises us a little by giving us an alternative perspective: two weeks ago, that we should forgive because we have been forgiven; last week we were told to be generous because generosity has been shown to us. And now we are presented with two people, both of whom have been disobedient and dishonest, and are asked which one is in the right. 

 

The basic message, is simple and clear: when words and deeds do not match, it is the deeds which matter. And more than that - but the one whose words are most harsh is the one who in in the right, and the one who professed his own goodness is truly in the wrong. 

 

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. 

 

So often we find it so hard to say what is truly in our hearts. We find it hard to say sorry, yet we will undertake acts to heal rifts with others. We find it hard to admit that we are in the wrong, yet we will quietly correct ourselves. Like the typical teenagers in the parable we claim that we know best, yet follow the advice we are given anyway.

 

Words are important, deeds more so. We might win an argument, yet convince no one. We can tell our children to be honest, but if they see us being dishonest, then they will learn the example, not the words. We can gather together each week and profess our faith, but if that does not make a difference to our lives, who will ever think it is something worth sharing.

 

By their fruits shall you know them, says Jesus. St Francis of Assisi said to his followers 'Preach the Gospel - use words if necessary'. Deeds speak louder than words.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A) : Homily / Sermon

“Why be envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20:16)

 

How to understand this story from the Gospels? 

On the face of it, it looks like something to do with employment rights, with politics and economics.

 

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On the one hand, we might read it and think that it about the rights of the employer, the vineyard owner, the boss. It is his business, his vineyard, his money. The workers work at his behest. He hires as he wills, and he can pay as much, or as little as he wants. The workers have no rights, and rely upon the good disposition of the man who is really in charge. It is a parable for the rich!

 

Yet on the other hand, we could read it very differently. The vineyard owner comes to an agreement with the men (they are all men, of course) as to what is a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. One denarius a day is the living wage. And those who are unable to work for a full day, should not be deprived of a living income because of this. Even if someone is unable to work, so the parable seems to indicate, their basic human dignity means that they should not be deprived of what they need to live. It is a parable for the poor! 

 

Well whether these views of society are right or wrong - and we may all have our own opinions - this is a very bad way to read the Gospel. All too often people will take Scripture as a sort of peg to hang their own opinions upon, picking the odd verse out of context, reading a text in a way in which it was never meant to be read, expounding one passage yet ignoring many others. 

 

No - this Gospel isn’t about workers rights, or employers power, about red tape or the welfare state. It is much more fundamental than that. It is clearly, very clearly, about the boundless generosity of God, and the way in which we respond to it. 

 

“Why be envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20:16)

 

It was Pope Francis, who in his wonderful letter “Gospel of Joy” wrote that too often Christians emerge from Church looking as if it was always Lent but never Easter. (It reminded me of the statement in CS Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Warderobe that in Narnia it was always Winter but never Christmas). 

It’s true: We find petition so much easier than thanksgiving, asking for something we need, rather than being grateful for something we already have. We are very aware of what we haven’t got, yet we take for granted, we don’t even notice, what we do have. We become, if we are not careful, the Church of the Half Empty Glass, always thirsting for what is missing - rather than savouring what is right before our eyes. 

 

And yet - and yet. When we see what we have, when we identify What God has given us,  When we appreciate it - then we are transformed not with envy … but with joy, for the person who is truly happy is not the one who has everything he wants, but who is grateful for everything he has

 

Last week, we were taught that the mercy which God shows to us, should be find its expression in our own readiness to forgive. And this week - a very similar point - the boundless generosity of God should be expressed in our gratitude, and because of that in our own generosity to others. 

 

For his generosity is indeed boundless. It is limitless. The sun and rain fall on the rich and poor alike. There are no favourites in his kingdom, no places of honour. No pride of place for the rich, or the cradle catholic, or the person of status. No back of the queue, for the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The blessings of his love and his forgiveness are unending. 

 

“Why be envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20:16)

 

No: his generosity should not be met with our envy but with our gratitude, and because of our gratitude, then our generosity, our happiness, our welcome too. The gladness of our gratitude does not close our hearts with envy, but opens our arms with joy.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

24th Sunday of the Year : Homily / Sermon

‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.’ (Matthew 18:21)

 

Is there any sin which cannot be forgiven? Or more to the point - is there someone who you just cannot forgive for what they have done to you or to someone you care about? It is not unusual, in families, and after the breakdown of relationships, for people to claim that there is no way that they could possibly forgive someone for what they have done. 

 

I remember many years ago at an RCIA/Journey in Faith group the parish priest was speaking about this very subject. God, he said, can and will forgive any sin, however great, if the sinner is truly sorry, truly contrite. One group member was a bit alarmed by this: “What?” He said. Do you mean that he will even forgive Hitler?” It wasn’t the question which the priest was expecting, but nonetheless he said “Yes, God can even forgive Hitler”. “Well,” the man replied to the whole group, “if I meet him in heaven, I won’t talk to him!”

 

It is a similar sort of question which Peter asks Jesus at the beginning of today’s Gospel: “How often must I forgive someone? As many as Seven times?”

 

And, not for the first time, nor even the last, Jesus replies with a story which turns our usual expectations on their heads. You see, the man in the story, the “unjust servant”, far from being unusual, or particularly wicked, is just like the rest of us. He is very good at repenting but absolutely hopeless at forgiving. 

 

We teach our children to say sorry if they have done wrong. We know that we must be genuinely contrite to receive absolution. We know that when we have done wrong we should apologise. We only find it hard to say sorry - if we do - if we find it hard to accept what we have done was wrong. But we do know that when people do bad things they must apologise. And Nowadays we even expect politicians and leaders of institutions to apologise for things done many years ago by those they now represent. 

 

And this means that we think of forgiveness only as a response not as an initiative, something that we might give or withhold, not something that we would ever want to offer. 

 

If we have been hurt our natural response might be to get our own back, to seek revenge, a form of justice, or just some nastiness that we think will make us feel a bit better. This all seems very natural. And even sensible. We see it on the world scene, especially in the way the US threatens North Korea - sow the wind, Trump says, and you will reap the whirlwind. It has a logic to it. We apply it also to our own lives, often without thinking. It just seems right. 

We taught our children not to fight - not even to hit back - because Jesus said we should turn the other cheek. Nevertheless, our oldest son got into a fight with one of his friends. When he took his to task, he said in protest “But he hit me back first!”

 

Ah well “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/revenge-is-a-dish-best-served-cold.html)  as the saying goes. 

 

But there is another saying, which more closely follows the teaching of Jesus “an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind”. (https://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/12/27/eye-for-eye-blind)

 

In fact, Jesus does not so much disagree with the “an eye for an eye”, but instead radically shifts our perspective. His focus is not upon faults, but on forgiveness - not on the sin, but upon the reconciliation - he puts the initiative not with the one who has done wrong, but on the one who has been hurt. What is most important is not contrition, but conversion

 

We see this not just in this parable, but throughout his teaching, and indeed his life. 

 

In today’s Gospel, he says We should forgive, because we have been forgiven. In Sermon on the Mount, he warns us against seeing the speck in other peoples’ eyes, but not the log in our own. As we have already noted, he tells us to “turn the other cheek”, and in the prayer which he taught us to say, we say so frequently “Forgive us our trespasses - as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And of course, from the cross, he declares in the moments of his sacrifice: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

 

No - we should think not about how and why we may refuse forgiveness, but seek instead ways we can offer it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Assumption of Our Lady : Homily / Sermon

From this day forward all generations will call me blessed (Luke 1:48)

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There’s something about Mary

 

This was a film made many years ago. It had nothing to do with the Catholic faith, nor indeed with Our Lady, but it’s a great title. There is something about Mary. 

 

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. 

There’s certainly something about her. 

 

And what is it? 

We could put it 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 heaven came down to earth - and with her we share the life of heaven.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

Courage! Do not be afraid! (Matthew 14:27)

But we are afraid! And is fear always a bad thing?

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I fear for my own safety and the safety of others. I try to take care when driving and crossing the road. I find some of the rides at Alton Towers terrifying. I am not especially keen on going to the Dentist. I’m also more than a little afraid of heights. Nothing unusual here, perhaps. In lots of ways this is only natural, and mainly a good thing. Fear keeps us safe and helps us keep others safe. When a parent fears for their child, they are protecting them, nurturing them and educating them. If we have no fear, then we are foolhardy and dangerous.

In this way fear is good.

But fear can also be a terrible handicap. Fear of danger may mean we never get anything done. Fear of authority may mean we never speak out against injustice. Fear of suffering may prevent us from undergoing essential medical care. Fear of bad news may lead us to avoid hearing any news. Fear of the danger in the world around us may mean that we never take a risk, never step out of the front door, and parents - if they are not careful - can prevent children from encountering the knocks and scrapes of life for fear that something worse may happen. We have a word for this kind of fear - it is called cowardice.

Christ calls us to be neither cowardly nor foolhardy. He commands us - remember - to be as wise as serpents, but also as innocent as doves. He calls us to trust in him, but not too much in ourselves and not too much in the empty promises of the world around us. This is what we call Courage. It is facing the trials of the world with eyes open, with an awareness of the dangers and challenges, but also a trust in his purposes and his love. In courage we may have to take risks, face suffering, let go occasionally of those in our care. In courage we must trust God - not always play safe, but neither put God to the test.

Courage is not about the thunder and lightning and clatter which we hear about in the first reading - but the gentle breeze, the quiet voice with which it ends. The trust in God who is there with us - even if we think he is fast asleep in the back of the boat.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone has found.” (Matthew 13:44)

 

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It is at this time of year that we can read of the transfers of footballers from one team to another. If you follow a particular team, it can be interesting, even exciting. If you are an impartial onlooker - or even if you are not - the figures involved, the fees paid to club and to player, not to mention the wage packets which the players will receive, are quite astounding. Can any individual really be worth so much? And the figures quoted will inevitably bring the inevitable comparisons - can a footballer really be £75 million, while the nurses who work in our hospitals cost about £25,000 a year. So, one footballer is worth 3,125 nurses. Is this really a just situation?

 

Actually it is a rather unreal comparison. It is not the man who is valued so highly. The money in these situations is about business judgments, not really about the individual, and certainly not whether he is a nice person or not.

 

However, it does raise an important question. How much do we really value people? And why is there such a discrepancy between the money which people attract and how important we might think them to be?

 

It was Oscar Wilde, who in 1892 gave us a useful definition - A cynic, he said, is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. 

 

And we live in a very cynical society. (At least in the way of that definition). We live in a society in which almost everything and everyone has a price. Money measures value, worth. It defines importance, status, happiness. 

Yet in all cases money, good, possessions are things which are hear today and gone tomorrow. They may give great comfort, but they do not last. 

 

Today’s readings tell a different story. 

In today's Old Testament reading, the new king, Solomon, asks not for long life, nor for riches, nor for victory in battle. He does not ask for worldly success, fame, adulation or celebrity. No, he asks for discernment, wisdom, the ability to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. Solomon asks for the grace to be able to judge the values, not the prices.

 

And that too is the meaning of these two little parables in the Gospel: the finder of the treasure and the finder of the pearls recognise them for what they are. Like the expert on the Antiques Road Show, they can tell the difference between an old vase and a valuable antique. 

 

Our treasure, our pearls are those sought by Solomon, wisdom, discernment, an ability to know the difference between good and evil, to seek goodness, justice and peace, to exercise mercy and compassion, to recognise the needy around us, to use the things that do not last by living the virtues which are eternal. 

 

True value is not to be found in scarcity, or celebrity, or victory, but in knowing the difference between right and wrong, between true or false; true value is found in love and loyalty, in compassion and mercy - these are things which last for ever, the treasures which are here for more than just the a day.

 

True treasures outlive passing pleasures.They neither fail nor rot away. They are a glimpse of heaven on earth - and the bricks which tile the road to the Kingdom.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

12th Sunday of the Year (A) : Homily / Sermon

Do not be afraid (Matthew 10:26)

 

Fear is in the air at the moment. There is the fear, the dreadful fear that was experienced in that terrible fire at Grenfell Tower in London. There is the subsequent fear that this disaster could be repeated and the fear that must be felt by those being evacuated from their homes. There has also been the fear that has followed terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. And also, of course, the fear that hangs in the air over the state of the economy and how the currently uncertain political situation will develop. 

 

And in this atmosphere, we hear the words of Jesus: Do not be afraid. They occur twice in today’s Gospel. Similar words occur many times and in many situations throughout the Old and New Testaments. Words of comfort. Words of reassurance. 

 

Yet do they really mean anything? And are they really words of encouragement and hope or just empty expressions in the face of disaster? Certainly people of no faith would say so. How can we realistically, honestly, say to those facing calamities as we have seen recently, they should not fear, that they should trust in God. These words might seem almost cruel. Why should the afflicted not fear? 

 

But these expressions, though understandable, are quite wrong. 

 

Fear leads to despair. It blights our lives. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we live in fear of the worst that can happen, we become frozen in in-action, shut inside our homes, never venturing out, never living our lives, stripped of our joy. 

 

And fear leads not only to despair, but also anger, and suspicion, and to hatred. In fear, people turn against those who are different, those who disagree, those who might have some connection, however small, to the cause of our fear. In fear we see only the negative, the wickedness in people. We are blinded by blood-tinted spectacles. 

 

Jesus’ words challenge us to move away from fear. Not to foolhardiness - which would be to pretend that the dangers and perils don’t exist - but rather to Courage, that virtue which knows that there are perils, and confronts them, but will not be ruled by them. 

 

Jesus is leading us not to close our minds to difficulties, but to change our hearts in hope; not to see only the wickedness and weaknesses of people, but to appreciate their immense goodness and generosity and compassion. We have seen so many examples of this: the police and firefighters who helped victims of the fire; the donations of goods, time and money, to help those who have become homeless; the imam who protected the man who would have killed his fellow muslims; the doctors nurses and health care workers who have assisted the injured and the bereaved and the distressed. 

 

Do not afraid does not mean empty blind hope, that pretends all is well when it is not, but facing the dangers, defying the disaster, confronting the wickedness, with hope - hope in God, and hope in the goodness of his people. It means living the Love of God, because, as St John says perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Pentecost : Homily / Sermon

Jesus said to them, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’ (John 20:21)

Religion is the cause of conflict in the world. People will often tell you this. 

And we shouldn’t think that when we hear about the terrible things that happened in Manchester recently, and similar, even worse, atrocities in Egypt and Kabul since then, that this is just something to do with Islam. People who are not religious often see Religion itself, to be the principal source of dissension and conflict in the world, not just now, but also in history. 

After all wasn’t Northern Ireland about Protestants and Catholics? And Bosnia was Orthodox Christians and Muslims? And were not some of the worst atrocities in history committed by (so-called) Christians against the Jews? 
(I have to say “so-called” Christians about the Nazis - because it is so painful for me to think that what they did, is somehow associated with what I believe. But they thought they were Christians. And their mission was to rid the world of Jews.)

Of course, to say that all these terrible things are down to religion is much too simple. People use religion as their badge of identity in a conflict. It doesn’t make them a good catholic or protestant or jew or whatever if they use that banner in their fight. Al-Qaeda don’t represent Muslims any more than the Provisional IRA represented catholics or the Nazis represented Lutheran protestants. 

And today there is something more that we can say. On that first Christian Pentecost people of all races, all backgrounds and all languages were gathered in the city. Huge crowds with different cultures and customs. It may have felt threatening and uncomfortable for the local people. It was a recipe for misunderstanding and conflict. An opportunity for crime and division. 

Yet the Gift of the Holy Spirit did not divide, but unite. He did not make everyone the same, but he celebrated their differences. He did not make people pretend there were no variations  between them, but he helped them praise God for the colour and variety and diversity of the crowd. 


He did not set one against another, but he brought them together in truth. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Ascension of the Lord : Homily / Sermon

Why are you men looking into the sky? (Acts 1:11)
[Words spoken by the men in white who spoke to the Apostles].

Just as the apostles gazed into the sky, with astonishment and amazement, so It is difficult for us to picture the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven.
In art, the Ascension is often pictured - a little oddly - by the sight of a couple of feet just visible, poking out of the bottom of a cloud. Sometimes, perhaps slightly better, it is shown as Jesus floating in the air - levitating in front of the apostles.
To the modern mind it is difficult to imagine, it seems like a magic trick, or like something out of Dr Who or Star Trek.

But perhaps the trouble with understanding the Ascension is that we think it is about the absence of Jesus - not his presence.

There’s good reason why we should think of it as explaining his absence. After all, he prepared his disciples for his departure. Rather enigmatically, he told them, You will see me, then you won’t see me. He told them that he was leaving them. The Gospels tell us he was taken from their sight, that he disappeared into the cloud, that he was carried up into heaven. It seems that the Ascension is the end of that time of appearances and physical presences of Christ. Now these 40 days are concluded, he is taken away, to be seen no more.

But if we remain only with this image, this idea, we entirely miss the point.
There are other things that Jesus says.
I will not leave you without comfort, he says.
I will be with you always, even till the end of time.
Where two or three are gathered together, I am in the midst of them.
This is my body, this is my blood, do this to remember - recall - me.

Before the Ascension, Christ was present in just one place, now he is present in every place.
In his earthly life, he sat and eat with his disciples by the lakeside, now we receive his body and blood, the bread of life, in every country, in every city of the world.
He walked the dusty paths of Palestine, yet now he strides through every land, borne by his Church.
He dwelt in one man and one place, yet now he dwells in every person who has been baptised into his life.
He healed a few of the sick, yet now he blesses millions of the sick through the sacrament of anointing.
He taught the crowds in the market place, from the boat, and on the hillside, yet now his words are read from every Church and chapel and pulpit.
He prayed in solitude on the Mount of Olives, yet now he prays in every believer.
In his body suffered for us on the cross, yet now we receive his risen and mystical body and blood in the Mass.
He showed love and compassion to the weak and vulnerable, yet now his people bring that compassion to every community of the world, caring for the hungry, the distressed, the victims of hatred and terrorism.

Now - we do not need to gaze up into the sky, like the apostles did: he dwells with us, he lives in us, and is not absent - but among us for ever.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Easter 6 (A) : Homily / Sermon

If you love me, you will keep my commandments
(John 14:15)

There are many words we may say without really meaning them.

We say “Sorry” just to get us out of a situation.
We say “Thank you” when we are not really grateful.
We say we love someone out of routine or habit or to get what they want.

Yet the person who is truly sorry not only says so, but shows that sorrow by their attitude, their anguish, their desire to make amends.
The person who is really grateful shows their gratitude by their generosity of spirit and their joy in receiving.
And the one who truly loves does so not routinely or selfishly, but with caring and compassion.

Words are powerful, but deeds are more so.


We may say we are sorry to God for our sins, but it is true contrition, real regret which deserves from him the fulness of forgiveness.
We may thank God in prayer and song, but it is the gratitude which comes from the heart which really fills us with joy.
And we may say that we love God as he loves us - but it is the heart that loves God in the neighbour, that truly dwells in him.

‘Keep my commandments’ does not mean follow all the rules, but open your hearts to him, be filled with his grace, receive the gifts of the Spirit, the Spirit of truth who is with us for ever.

It means that if we love him, we will love our neighbour, and love his commandments, because they are the gift we make of our lives to him.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Easter 5 : Homily / Sermon

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me. (John 14:1)

 

There’s been a little fuss in the press recently about the reporting of Stephen Fry to the authorities in Ireland, alleging that he may have broken the law against blasphemy. What he said was over two years ago, in response to a question on television. The interviewer Gay Byrne asked him what he would say to God if he were to meet him at the pearly gates. He said he would tell him that he must be a monster to allow the world to be full of suffering: the example he gave was of children suffering with bone cancer. 

 

These are hard questions, of course, and he puts them in a way which might seem hard, angry and even arrogant. No doubt, some people may be offended. 

 

But actually, it would be very mistaken for any law to make such comments illegal. Not because we call have a right to free speech - important though that it is. Not even because some people might be upset to read them - as may be the case. No - it would be mistaken because to make these words illegal, is to ignore what is written in scripture itself. 

 

Time and time again we hear voices in Scripture questioning and challenging God. 

The Hebrews cry out to God in the wilderness 

Jeremiah 12:1 Why does the way of the wicked prosper?

Why do all who are treacherous thrive?

Job 3:11 Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?

Ecclesiasticus 7:15 

I have seen everything; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evil-doing.

And Psalm 22 begins with the words “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”  - words which Jesus himself shouts out from the cross. 

 

No - where Fry is wrong, really wrong, is in supposing that comments like this are new or unusual, as if we had never heard them or thought of them before - and if we are offended by them, then we play into the hands of those who attack our faith. 

 

It is not that belief in God is undermined, or weakened by words like that. On the contrary, it is the sorrow of the world which is the reason why people believe - why we believe. 

 

Look at the lives of the martyrs, who in courage and faith are willing to surrender their lives, praying for their persecutors and submitting to death. Look at the lives of other saints, good and faithful servants of God, who give themselves in service of others and approach death not with fear but with hope and joy. And look at the words of Christ, who invites us to cast fear and doubt aside and embrace the love of God: “Do not let your hearts be troubled”, he says. “Trust in God still, and trust in me”.

 

The questions we and other raise are hard, and painful, and take us to a dark place. Yet challenges inspire faith, far more often than they destroy it. 

 

When there are atrocities or natural disasters - what do people do - well first they pray, visit churches, light candles. We may not understand why things have happened, but we seek meaning … we don’t reject it. 

 

And next, in the response to tragedy, faithful people act - to help and console the afflicted, to come to the assistance of those wounded, physically, materially and emotional. So many charities are Christian or religiously inspired and they come to those in need. 

 

And I am reminded that this Gospel reading is read so often at Funeral Masses and Funeral Services. It is a time when, as a priest, I see most clearly how people deal with grief, loss, and the reality of death. 

Faith helps at times like this. Times when we are troubled. Times when we walk through the valleys of darkness. Times when we fear. It motivates and gives hope. 

We may walk through a dark tunnel - but through the darkness we can glimpse the bright light of Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. 

 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

3rd Sunday in Eastertide : Homily / Sermon

They set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions, who said to them, ‘Yes, it is true. The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.’ (Luke 24:33-34)

 

Today’s Gospel is a story of two journeys. The first - perhaps the more familiar one - is the journey of the two disciples away from the City of Jerusalem to the small town of Emmaus. It is a journey travelled in the full light of day - but one clouded by confusion and a lack of understanding. It is only as darkness falls on the day, that a light shines into the minds of the two disciples. 

The second journey in travelled in the opposite direction, from Emmaus to Jerusalem. It is rushed, brief, travelled in the darkness of night - yet it is purposeful, immediate and direct, driven by the light of revelation, of knowledge, of rejoicing in the truth. 

This may lead us to reflect upon our lives. Everyone knows their lives are a journey, and that we will meet many turns in the road, many changes in the landscape, many obstacles in the way. There are highs and lows, times for haste and times for a slow and deliberate pace - - times which are purposeful and times which seem aimless. 

And the journey of life begins with wonder and excitement as we stride into the brightness of the day. Everything seems clear, so many options and opportunities. So much can be achieved. Almost anything is possible to those who dwell in the brightness of day. In its vitality and its youthfulness, humanity, society, has supreme confidence in its own power, its own vision, its own ability. 

And yet, this ambitious journey of life is one which advances towards an approaching sunset. The clock turns, the day darkens, and life begins to slow.  Optimism is dashed, hopes are unfulfilled, and loves are lost. The more we learn, the less we know. Whichever way we turn that is what is ahead of us - a twilight which casts long shadows, a darkness which will conclude everything. As the years advance we sense that life becomes dimmer, slower, harder to understand, until darkness covers all. 

So it seems. Yet by contrast, the Christian life is not a life walked in the light of day, but through the darkness of night. It is the journey not to Emmaus, but to Jerusalem. The Christian hope is not blind to suffering and disappointment, but it one which is borne of pain and suffering. Yes, life has its with perils. Yes, the journey is fraught with doubts and uncertainties. Yes, there are anxieties. It is a journey in which we carry the Cross. Yet it is a journey which is also guided by the light of the Easter candle, the light of the risen Christ and what we approach is not a final darkness, but an eternal dawn, a sunrise to new life, a light which conquers darkness for ever.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Divine Mercy : Homily / Sermon

Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe. John 20:29

 

It seems that we live in a society without belief. People either just don't know - or we find that faith is rejected, more and more people claim to be of "no religion", and sincerely held beliefs are frequently ridiculed. 

 

And yet, by contrast, the same people often believe in strange and fantastic things. 

 

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We have heard a lot in recent times about “Fake News (or “False News”) - stories put on to the internet which people avidly believe and consume, especially if they fit in with some prejudices or preconceived ideas, however fanciful. Facebook - where so many of these strange stories seem to dwell, have even set out a help page - “10 Ways to spot False News” https://www.facebook.com/help/188118808357379

 

Now there is nothing new about this at all - though the internet makes the spreading of false news so much easier. And it is not just false news which catches peoples imaginations, but also crazy, off-the-wall ideas.

 

People believe in astrology and tarot, and take part in séances. They will embrace unconventional medical practices, such as homeopathic medicine, chiropractics and acupuncture. They will have strong, yet imaginative ideas about religion itself, and tell you that God is an astronaut, that Leonardo Da Vinci was part of some historic conspiracy, that Jesus married Mary Magdalen, had a large family and retired to Spain, and, of course, that he was gay. They will tell you that the earth is flat or hollow, that man never landed on the moon, that Kennedy was assassinated by ... Martians ... and goodness knows what else. Some people will even believe what they read on the internet! The more shocking the idea, the more likely it is to be believed. They take some thin threads of fact and weave them into a complex and fantastical web.

 

“When people cease to believe in something, they will believe in anything,” so the writer GK Chesterton is reputed to have said. 

 

Indeed, we live in a world and a society where there is no lack of belief at all - for people will believe in almost anything provided it is different or novel or unusual, and especially if it fits in with some prejudice or other. It is good to have an open mind, provided it isn’t open at the bottom. 

 

No, we do not live in an unbelieving world, at all, but we do live in a credulous one. 

 

But Faith is not the same as credulity. It is very different from the fashions and fancies so popular today.  

 

Faith is not without foundation in fact, or in history. Far from being a fancy idea - it is a life giving power, that gives hope, and purpose and carries the message of love and forgiveness. 

The facts speak for themselves: 

The tomb was really empty. 

The disciples were really transformed from being fearful to being courageous. 

They proclaimed their story, their faith, even to the point of giving their lives for it.

 

Thomas and the Apostles see the risen Christ not so that we can believe blindly, but so that we can be witnesses to the truth - so that we can hear the message they preached, the truth which they taught, the vision they received. Faith is about our the opening of eyes, and hearts and mouths, not about the closing of them. 

 

And it is not a tale set in the past either, but a living power. 

As Jesus said in another context: “By their fruits shall you know them”. In other words, to test the ideas, look at the results of these ideas. 

Faith’s firm foundation is the Good News, the amazing message of what really happened, and the power of Life and Love which continues to dwell amongst us, full of grace and truth.

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Easter Vigil (Lamb of God) : Homily / Sermon

Easter Vigil

Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.

 

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The Lamb and Flag is a familiar name which has been given to so many pubs. There is a famous pub by that name in Oxford, for example where CS Lewis and JR Tolkien used to drink. Morse and Lewis have been spotted there as well. There is another famous Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden in London. There even used to be one here in Cannock, though not quite so famous. But have you ever wondered what the name means? 

 

The Lamb of course is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world - the Lamb sacrificed at passover, to save the Hebrews from death, Christ, the Lamb who gives his life for us in Holy Week. 

 

But the pub sign uses an ancient representation seen in Churches throughout the world, which bears an image not of a dead Lamb, but of a living one. One moving forward, one depicted - albeit awkwardly - carrying the Flag which bears the imprint of the cross. And the flag is open, flying int the rush of air, which indicates to us forward movement. 

 

This is the symbol of the resurrection, the symbol of victory. It is the sign for the refreshment of the traveller, the sustenance of the pilgrim. It is the strength and the power of the grace of God, which gives us life, which inspires us and drives us on. The cross on the flag is a reminder of the struggle, the unavoidable sorrows, the pains, betrayals and failures, which are endured before the victory. But now the living, risen, victorious Lamb, parades the cross behind him, because it is over this which he is triumphant. 

 

This is the night of the Lamb, when Christ our Passover is sacrificed, when darkness vanishes for ever!

May Christ who came back from the dead, shed his peaceful light on all mankind.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday 2017 : Homily / Sermon

Good Friday

The Lamb

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.


“See from his head, his hands, his feet”

 

The Lamb lies down

Bound, still, captured, defeated and sacrificed

Innocent … yet slain.

 

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

And bathed with light at his Transfiguration

And then crowned with thorns, 

Is now bruised, bloodied and lifeless. 

 

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

And contemplated with compassion the rich young man

And so recently wept over Jerusalem

are now cold and lifeless. 

 

The ears which heard the song of the angels

And the voice say from heaven “This is my beloved Son”

And the crowd cruelly cry “Crucify him”

now hear none of the sobs made over his body

 

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

And taught the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son

And said “I am the resurrection and the life”

now, drained of colour, smile no more.

 

The hands which stilled the storm

And blessed the children

And healed the blind, deaf and lame

now rest motionless, pierced and bloodied. 

 

The feet which climbed the mountain to pray

And walked on the water

And were washed with the tears of the penitent woman

are now twisted, maimed and mutilated. 

 

The heart which beats for love of sinners

And which longs for the peace of the world

And which beats with our hearts

beats no more. 

 

Christ our Passover Lamb is sacrificed for us. 

Sorrow and Love flow mingled down from the cross.

He is laid in the tomb. 

The Great Silence begins. 

But the story has just begun.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Palm Sunday : Homily / Sermon

Blessing on the King who comes, in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens! (Luke 19:38)

Is it wrong, I wonder, for me to say that I love Holy Week? 
It seems a bit wrong - after all - it is an immensely sad time, when we recall betrayal, torture, suffering and death. The music with its minor keys takes up the sad tone. The ceremonies in their plainness and their drama are poignant and moving. It is Easter, after all, which is the time of joy  … not Holy Week. 

But of course, we embark on Holy Week knowing already the end of the story. We traipse the way of the cross guided by the light of the resurrection. The betrayal and agony in the Garden of Maundy Thursday would be bleak, were it not for the promise of new life revealed in the Mass. The suffering and sacrifice of Good Friday would be crushing, were it not for the laying of his body in a tomb which waits for a new dawn. And as we set the new fire on Holy Saturday - we already know that the sacrifice has burnt away sins and his light leads us on to his new life. 

And today, as we hold our Palm Crosses, which at the same time represent both the cheers and jeers of the crowds, we share in this hard road which leads to his victory. It is a Holy Week not because it is sad, but it is a Holy Week because together we walk this road with Christ. And that I think is why I love Holy Week - because like life itself, it is journey which we never walk on our own. 


Saturday, March 18, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent (A) : Homily / Sermon

‘Anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.’ (John 4:)14

 

What an extraordinary Gospel reading! 

And yet this is a tremendous story. 

 

Here, away from the crowds, away from the city, away from the disciples, there is this charmingly told encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman as they both meet at the well. The Well, like the water cooler, or drinks machine, or the cafe or the pub was a place where unexpected encounters could take place. And this is certainly unexpected. The two engage in a bit of banter, and almost flirtatious conversation, which turns to matters serious and portentous. 

 

We may think that the encounters of the first century, of 2000 years ago, are far removed from the lives and concerns of the present day. Surely this far land, and this foreign people, and these unfamiliar cultures can have little bearing on modern life, with its technology, and its diversity, and its myriad lifestyles. 

Yet - while the technology of the well may be truly ancient - the situation which is revealed there is one which is very familiar to the modern day. 

 

First, this is an encounter between two people of different, indeed opposing, religious backgrounds - Jesus the Jew and the Samaritan Woman. Their faiths are related, but so much so that they disagree about fundamentals and their people have deep suspicion and indeed hatred of one another. And they engage in conversation, a conversation which does not avoid what divides them. Jesus seems to have no discomfort or difficulty in talking to the woman - yet even in our day, every is not at ease, or lacks confidence, when dealing with those of a different faith, or a different ethnic background. 

 

And Secondly, this woman is in what the Church nowadays refers as an "irregular relationship". Like so many today she has many partners. Some she married, others not. 50 years ago, if we heard this story, we would have thought the woman to be shockingly immoral - nowadays we probably know someone just like her. And Jesus sits and chats with her. And encourages her. 

 

These two aspects of the story - the dialogue with the diversity of belief in our society, and the breakdown or marriage and family life - we think of as being very modern, very challenging, very different, very new. And how does Jesus deal with it? 

 

Firstly, he does not condemn her. He doesn’t walk away, or denounce her as a sinner, or attack her faith as groundless or even demonic. He speaks to her and he listens, too. He treats her with dignity and with respect. 

 

Yet secondly, he does not condone her either. He doesn’t say about her beliefs or her lifestyle “well, that’s you choice”. He does say, or even imply, that all beliefs, all faiths are the same. He stands his ground, and makes speaks for the truth. 

 

And thirdly, he offers God’s blessing to her, openly and freely. The living water is for her as much as it is for anyone else. He does not tell her that God’s grace is refused to her because of her way of life or even her background. It is offered to all, without favour. It is not a reward for goodness - but hope for sinners. 

 

And fourthly, he sends her out to spread the word. He invites her response and she reacts with enthusiasm. She tells others about him, and they are drawn to him. She becomes a messenger for the truth, a witness for the Gospel, a herald of the Christ, a minister of grace.

 

It is a model we would do well to follow. It is precisely the approach which Pope Francis has used in facing difficult issues, and which he presented before us during the Year of Mercy: 

 

Listen and show respect. 

Surrender nothing of the truth. 

Offer everything.  

Call others to Christ. 

 

Nothing negative here. Nothing easy either.