Monday, August 14, 2017

The Assumption of Our Lady : Homily / Sermon

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


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?


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)



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.