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.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

World Book Day and the Temptation of Christ : The First Sunday of Lent : Homily / Sermon

Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:1)

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In the past week we had World Book Day. Children all over the country went to school dressed as a character from a book. Lots of Harry Potters, and Where’s Wallys out there, as well as not a few Red Riding Hoods and Cinderellas. And there were even two children who were dressed as pages 89 & 165 of the Argos Catalogue. 

The point of course is to encourage reading, and an enthusiasm for books. We might read books as paperbacks, hardbacks, audiobooks or on kindles, but they are books all the same. They inspire us, enlighten us, enthuse us and excite us. You can adapt them them into films or on the radio or in TV serials, but even so, there is nothing quite like a book. 

The best books of all tell stories that we can identify with. When we curl up with a book it is because we feel ourselves part of the story. These are Stories with goodies and baddies, heroes and villains, with joys and tears. They are Stories which introduces to characters who in some way we feel a connection with. When things go wrong for them, we feel for them. When they fall on hard times, when they are ill-treated or treated unjustly, we feel angry and distressed with them. When they encounter peril and danger, we fear with them, and when they win through in the end, we rejoice with them. 

So many books and stories follow this same pattern - a good start, a dramatic fall, an anxious struggle, and at last, a joyful resolution. Think about it, children’s tales, adult romances, science fiction epics, detective mysteries, all follow a similar pattern, from Harry Potter to Agatha Christie, we travel through the lows and highs of the despicable sins and exemplary virtues of human beings. 

Today's readings introduce too into that kind of story, a narrative, a Drama which unfolds for us the mystery of human existence, and opens for us the loving mercy of God. 

It is a tale in two parts. 

Part One is todays Old Testament reading, from the book of Genesis. 
Here we hear the story of the creation of a wonderful paradise, a beautiful garden, and then the original sin which spoils it all. This story contains a deep truth, but not the truth of history or science, but the truth of God’s generosity, and of the selfishness of human nature.  All is made good - yet everything goes wrong. 

The fundamental sin of humanity, the basic betrayal, the sin which makes all the difference, is found in the illusion that if we turn our backs on God’s goodness, then we can make ourselves like him. 'Eat this fruit,' the serpent says, 'and you will be like gods'. 
Human beings think that we can decide for ourselves what is right and wrong; that we can solve all problems and answer all questions. Man has no bounds, the serpent says, the world says. Humanity can raise itself to the same level and power as God.
Lets get this straight. Sin and Evil is not something which God has done, or created. No - it is the decision, the choice of Humanity. The First Sin is facing the most basic temptation, and giving into it  The imperfection of the world starts here. This is the Fall, which taints us all. This is Original Sin, which we have all been born into.
What was so good, becomes spoiled and tainted, through selfishness and arrogance. 
The curtain descends in the darkness. The End of Part One. 


Part Two
And then, the Gospel opens a new Act in this Drama, a new scene in this story, a new chapter in the book. The New Testament is the Sequel, which will tie up the loose ends left by Adam and Eve and provide the ultimate conclusion. 

Here we meet the new Adam. The one who comes to confront the serpent, to look evil deep in the eye, to resist temptation on behalf of those who are overcome by it all the time. 

It was after all, temptation which was the Theatre of the Fall of humanity, and the Invention of Evil, and now Temptation begins the tale which will lead us through the struggles and sacrifices of Lent, through the apparent calamities of Holy Week to the extraordinary conclusion at Easter. 

Let the drama begin. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12)

 

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It is said that when new employees begin work at Cadbury’s in Bourneville, they are allowed to eat as much chocolate as they like. The point is, of course, that once they have done that for a few days, the will never want to do it again. 

 

True or not, this practice makes an important point - the things we enjoy, the things we really like doing, the things that we think will make us feel really happy work, but for a short a time only. Sooner or later we get fed up with them (literally). 

 

Simple pleasures, which might seem fine in moderation, when consumed to excess, and can cause many problems. They no longer satisfy, and even become destructive. As we grow we discover that pleasure is not the same as happiness.

 

This understanding helps us make sense of Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel. When we here these words, we are likely to feel troubled and confused. 

Happy are those who mourn? 

Happy are those who are persecuted?

Happy are those who hunger and thirst? - Even if, in the cause of right, this hardly sounds pleasurable, enjoyable, does it? 

 

But of course, happiness and pleasure are not the same, though we might often confuse them. 

 

St Augustine explains it like this: 

All human beings want to be happy. And the search for happiness is a  kind of restlessness, it is a search for fulfilment.  We think we can find it in things, pleasures, but while they might give temporary happiness, they cannot be fulfilling, because they do not last. 

St Augustine explains that our yearning for happiness is in fact a yearning for that which does last for ever. And when our basic needs are filled by love, by hope, by faith, by God, which last for ever, then we are no longer restless.  Finding God, living with God, is true happiness.

 

And here, in the today’s Gospel, the Beatitudes, Jesus teaches us that this happiness is not a vague hope of life in heaven, but a really possibility now. He tells us:

Happiness is not found in wealth, or in things : happy are the poor in spirit. 

Happiness is not found in pride, or power: happy are the gentle, the meek

Happiness is not found only when things go well for us: happy are those who mourn

Happiness comes through healing broken hearts and the wounds of division:  Happy are the peacemakers

Happiness comes through overcoming injustice and evil: Happy are those who hunger and thirst for what is right

Happiness comes through compassion, mercy and love: Happy are the merciful

 

These are practical, principles of action for this life, which we have already seen most clearly in the life of Jesus himself:

 

As Pope Francis tells us: 

The Beatitudes are the path that God indicates as an answer to the desire of happiness inherent in man … 

The Beatitudes are Jesus' portrait, his way of life, and they are the way of true happiness, which we also can live with the grace that Jesus gives us.”

Saturday, January 14, 2017

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time : Homily / Sermon

Behold the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)

 

Dieric Bouts, Ecce Agnus Dei

We perhaps shouldn’t be too surprised that Sheep and Lambs feature so frequently in Scripture and particularly in the teaching of Jesus. 

 

Already in the Old Testament we hear of the ram which is caught in the thicket and which is sacrificed in the place of Isaac. It is the blood of the lamb which is smeared on the lintels of the houses of the Hebrews so that they are protected from the Angel of Death, and are able to escape from slavery in Egypt. We hear the prophet Ezekiel compare God and his people to the sheep and a shepherd. 

 

And in the New Testament, especially in the Gospels, references to sheep and lambs abound. The Shepherds are keeping watch over the sheep when Jesus is born. Jesus tells the parable of the shepherd who took great risks to rescue the lost sheep. The crowds who come to hear Jesus are described as being “like sheep without a shepherd”.

 

It is only natural, perhaps that we have all these examples, and more, because, after all, this was a land and a culture which was sustained by farming and the keeping of livestock. Just as Scriptures mentions vines and vineyards, sowing seeds and gather grain, so we would expect to sheep and shepherds to be frequent images and examples. 

 

But there is more to it than just this. The shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks by night, because the ewes were lambing. As the Lambs were being born, so Jesus himself was born. Years later, while other Lambs were being sacrificed in the temple for the Passover, Jesus was being sacrificed on the cross. St Paul tells us that “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us”. And in today’s Gospel - from St John, a Gospel which has no story of shepherds and mangers and angels and kings - after 28 verses of preparation and anticipation, Jesus makes his very first appearance, and the Baptist proclaims instantly “Behold, the Lamb of God”. Into this Gospel too, the Lamb is born. 

 

Why a lamb? Well, because a lamb is newly born, and innocent, and pure. Because it is the blood of the Lamb which saves the people from slavery, from injustice, from captivity. Because lambs were destined for sacrifice. As Christ is destined for sacrifice. 

 

And so we are reminded of this time and time again during the Mass. Christ is “Lord God, Lamb of God, son of Father”. He is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, and then, just as he comes to dwell amongst us, just as he is born again on the altar, just before we  receive his life into ours, we are told: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, behold him him who takes away the sins of the world!”