Homily for the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
1st Reading: Job. 38: 1.8-11
Psalm: 106: 23-26. 28-31. R/ v.1
2nd Reading: 2 Cor. 5:14-17
Gospel: Mk. 4:35-41
Brothers and sisters, God is near us. God is near us no matter how much we foul up and let him down, or no matter how remote he may seem from our lives when we need him the most. The proof is in our Gospel reading today.
Evening approaches, and Jesus commands the disciples to fetch a boat, “let us cross over to the other side”. The ‘other side’ is literally the short way across the Sea of Galilee. But the deeper spiritual meaning reveals the other side to be heaven. The sea they cross is therefore understood to be the chaos that surrounds us, our life the boat. As St Augustine puts it “As a vessel on the sea is exposed to a thousand dangers – pirates, quicksands, hidden rocks, tempests – so man in this life is encompassed with perils, arising from the temptations of hell, from the occasions of sin, from the scandals or bad counsels of men, from human respect and above all from the passions of corrupt nature…” (Sermons, 51; 4th Sunday after Epiphany)
Sure enough, the storm strikes the disciples’ boat, wind and waves crashing in, swamping them and pulling them down. Yet Jesus is serenely asleep, untouched and unaffected by the violence which surrounds him. It would seem the disciples do a good thing; in their desperation they call upon the Lord to wake up and save them. Do we not do the same when times get hard, be it family, job, relationships, bereavement, money? Aren’t we most likely to be found on our knees when life gets too much to bear? Of course, and Jesus tells us to do that, knock, seek, ask. Yet in this instance he appears to have a deeper lesson for his disciples, because he rebukes them for making their request. He actually questions their faith for praying to be saved.
The lesson is this: no matter how high the waves get, nothing can overcome us if Jesus rests within. Jesus is the Lord, he has power to direct all of nature, all of history according to his will, and he does. Yet he does it in a way that is far beyond our understanding, in a way that incorporates the chaos of life brought about by the caprice of a fallen human nature that is completely free to love him or reject him. At the front of the boat, Jesus slumbers, and it may appear that way to us when life gets most difficult. In these moments, Jesus is saying “I’m not going to liberate you from real life, I’m not going to wave a hand over everything and take it away, but I will be with you. I will be with you the same way I was with Moses, the weak – willed stammerer who 5 times refused my call. I’m going to be with you like I was with David, the adulterous murderer whom I made a great Saint King. I am going to be with you like I was with Israel in exile. Together, we will get to the other side, but you must fix your heart and mind on me. Do not be afraid.”
Jesus could sleep through the waves and the storms of the sea because ultimately they had no power over him. For the Hebrew people, the sea represented death, with no place to pitch tent, to grow food or rear cattle. God was the one who kept the sea at bay, as we see in the first reading, pushing it back on the shore, setting a limit to its power. Often in our prayers we seek a cure to the ills of our life, as if God would wave a wand and take away the problem, and yet even in the face of the ultimate enemy, death, he didn’t do that. He did something far more powerful. Jesus, full of the Spirit, eyes fixed on the Father, descended into the waters of death. He died, and destroyed the power of death by the sheer force of his love. When Jesus appears to be asleep in response to our prayers, know this: he is inviting us to go deeper in the waters with him, that we may too face up the evils of life and cross over to the other side.
Homily for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
1st Reading: Ez. 17:22-24
Psalm: 91:2-3. 13-16. R/cf. v.2
2nd Reading: 2 Cor. 5:6-10
Gospel: Mk. 4:26-34
We walk by faith and not by sight
Picture the scene: a tiny woman, barely 5ft tall, stands on the border of a bloody war zone, the perilous green line, in Beirut. There is a hospital of mentally and physically disabled girls on the other side of town, and she wants to help them. To attempt to cross the town will mean almost certain death. Aid workers and politicians crowd her vision and tell her she must not go. She responds, “we will go tomorrow”. They set off, with the sound of mortar shells and gunfire heavy in their memory… they cross untouched, they reach the girls, and they attend to their needs. Such was the faith of Mother Theresa, who saw a path through darkness though eyesight showed otherwise.
We walk by faith and not by sight
We might think to ourselves when we hear this and other stories “I wish I had mother Theresa’s faith”. Of course we would, but we might shudder with terror at the price she paid for that faith. What does God say to Ananias when he sends him to baptise the newly converted St Paul? “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for my name”. And suffer Mother Theresa did. For all of her religious life, she went through the deepest darkness, receiving absolutely no consolation in prayer, no sign from heaven, no comfort. And yet, had the letters to her Spiritual Director not been released after her death, we would never have known, because in her life she radiated joy. We would never have known the darkness, how deeply buried she was. She was the mustard seed, deep down in the earth, around her life sprang up, and now millions take shelter in the branches of a religious order that spans the globe, nursing the poorest of the poor, striding where mighty men fear to tread.
We walk by faith and not by sight
The world we see around us is cruel, it is dark. There is great darkness in our lives, and there can be no person here who has not said maybe more than once “God, what are you playing at? Where is the evidence of your work in the world? Where is the evidence of you work in the Church, or in my own life?” Reason forces us to accept the world as we see it, but faith invites us to tread the invisible path through this life, so that none of its trials may destroy us. Jesus Christ is the way, and his way led to the deepest darkness. Could there ever have been a more hopeless scene than Good Friday? When we are suffering and life seems to overwhelm us, when nothing makes sense and all hope is gone, we might remember that God in Jesus Christ experienced it too. In prayer, in her deepest darkness, Mother Theresa remembered Christ hanging on the Cross, crying out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How she could identify with that prayer of complete abandonment, uttered by the very lips of God! But then followed the words which would define her whole ministry “I thirst”. From the place of darkest agony, she could identify the call of God, “win souls for me, satisfy my thirst”. And so she did.
When you can’t see the road ahead, when all avenues seem closed, when sadness, temptation and despair cloud your vision, know that God is at work in spite of it all. The most fertile ground is often the purest muck, and some of us have to be planted deep in it to grow. Trust in God, for in the trials of life we walk by faith and not by sight.
Homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Year B
1st Reading: Ex. 24:3-8
Psalm: 115: 12-13. 15-18 R/ v.13
2nd Reading: Heb. 9:11-15
Gospel: Mark. 14:12-16. 22-26
A friend of mine who works with me in the Brentwood Catholic Youth Service recently gave a presentation of Catholic devotional practices to a group of Anglican youth workers. Some were “high” Anglican, some were “low”, some were the various shades in between. Underlying the conversation was the perennial question of how one gets young people interested and involved in Church ministry. No doubt they were looking for the secret behind the increased attendance at our Youth Masses and our over-subscribed pilgrimages and events. We’d just come back from a nine-day pilgrimage across Europe, which took in Eucharistic and candlelit processions, bathing in miraculous waters, praying before the tombs of saints, handling relics and climbing sacred staircases on our knees. We were a joyful crew ranging from very old to very young – our youngest member was 6 – and what characterised the group was the different way people served each other. The old served with their wisdom and good cheer, while the young served with their bodies and enthusiasm. A beautiful interaction of prayer, friendship and service. Upon hearing about these experiences – which are so common to our work in the BCYS – one of the people in the group at this presentation said, “what’s good about you is that you’re so unapologetic in your weirdness. You tell young people as it is”. I think that is one of the best compliments a Catholic can receive in any field of ministry. In a Church where truth and beauty intertwine like newly-weds, there is no need to entertain or find a secret formula. Just expose people to the truth in all its beauty, and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.
So here is the truth for today’s solemnity of Corpus Christi. Right here, right now, you and I are standing in heaven. We are participating at this moment in an eternal sacrifice, the sacrifice of God the Son to God the Father, wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not observers, we are active participants, praying with our minds, mouths and bodies, being drawn into the divine life of the Trinity, because the Son who offers himself is a man like us. The Son who offers himself in sacrifice offers himself to us as food, so that we may receive into our bodies and souls the real body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. Now imagine just saying that outright to an stranger on the street! If we do it properly, we should expect many people to think we’re crazy, or “weird”. In that case, we do well to remember what happened to Jesus when he told his followers that unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood, they cannot have life. Most of them walked away, and those who remained were mightily confused. There is no sense explaining away a truth to make it acceptable, or believing something less than the truth because it seems unpalatable.
Imagine for one moment that the full truth of the Eucharist came home to us. I know it hasn’t struck me fully yet, because I’m still alive. St John Vianney once said “If we truly understood the Mass, we would die of joy”. Just imagine for one moment if even a shard of the light of that truth struck our hearts, we’d all be in tears as the moment of reception arrived. Imagine the power behind the words when we say “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”, we’d be trembling at our unworthiness as we approached, our sins would rest heavily on our conscience, we’d want to make a perfect confession before taking God into our bodies. Just imagine leaving the Church with the Eucharist resting within you, consumed yet consuming you… who could ever be the same again, who could keep it to themselves? Who would not be possessed with the urge to proclaim this reality from the mountain tops. Strange? Yes. Weird? Of Course. True? No doubt. Beautiful? Nothing compares.
Everything we are rests on our faith in the Eucharist. It is our greatest gift, our most precious treasure. We have something that no other religious body on earth has, God among us, really and truly, as food for our souls, bodies, hearts and minds. Do not try to work this out with your brains, just take Christ at his word when he says “this is my body”, and let your imagination take you away in contemplating this beautiful mystery. Dostoevsky once said “beauty will save the world”. It has… He has, the truth so beautiful that our minds cannot contain, overwhelms us with joy if we but surrender to it. As Christ bore the full weight of our sins on the Cross, he bestowed the full weight of his glory upon us. It is a weight we can only bear if it is shared. So go out, be “weird”, and tell the truth in all it’s beauty, that God is among us!
Homily for Ascension Sunday 2015, Year B
1st Reading: Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 46: 2-3, 6-9
2nd Reading: Eph. 4:1-13
Gospel: Mk. 16:15-20
I’m going to be away next week, so this is my Ascension and Pentecost homily rolled into one. I promise it won’t be twice as long!
Today, we celebrate the most incredible solemnity. Our Blessed Lord, who forty days ago rose from the dead by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, ascends into heaven. Let’s just recap, and then contemplate what that means. God the Son descended from heaven, his eternal dwelling place with the Father, he took on a real human body and soul, while remaining fully God. This human life took him to death, because of our sins, and he brought that humanity back to life. After the resurrection, the disciples are staring in disbelief at a man once dead who is now once more alive, and yet what they see is merely the veil over something so much more glorious. On this day, God the Son sits at the right hand of the Father, as man.
Don’t expect just to know what that means for you straight away. The followers of Jesus, having spent the last 3 years with Him, having witnessed his resurrection and now having seen him ascend to heaven in glory, still didn’t know. But what was the first thing they did? They went on retreat and prayed. For 10 days, in fear, trembling and confusion, they prayed. They turned over all the events of his life in their minds, they spoke with his Blessed Mother, who was praying with them – she must have told them about how the Holy Spirit descended upon her and how God took flesh in her womb from that moment – and then… Eureka! It finally twigged… the Holy Spirit descended upon them in tongues of fire. God the Son was once more taking flesh in those touched by the Holy Spirit. From that moment on, they could not stop proclaiming the risen Christ. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s body on earth is no longer limited by space and time, he walks everywhere someone boldly proclaims him as Lord.
Jesus tells the eleven apostles to ‘go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation’. He associates signs with believers: in his name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; lay their hands on the sick who will recover. It is easy for us to dismiss, because of the way it is expressed, but Jesus is saying that for those who believe, nothing is impossible if their lives are touched by his Spirit. If our lives are filled with his Spirit, we naturally want to go out and share what we have, because it cannot be contained. We’re like fountains pouring over, our lives are the Trinity in miniature, a bubbling cauldron of love between Father and Son which bursts forth wherever we go.
That is not just what I want for this Parish, it is how it must be if we are to call ourselves Christian. In a part of the world where all you hear about is Church survival this, Church preservation that, we talk here about growth. We grow as disciples of Christ, and Christ grows disciples in our midst. The vast majority of this parish, 98% of people you walk past as you shop in Asda, are unconverted. Remember the words of Christ in the Gospel, “He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned”. We have fertile mission territory indeed. Our Church building is not to be hiding place where we come on Sunday to receive only, it is the burning engine room of grace from which we burst forth to share Christ’s abundant love. Jesus says “freely you have received, now freely give”.
Close-knit families do not like change. Change the format of the family meal, or stop watching Eastenders (if that’s your thing), and all hell kicks loose. That is not to be the case here, because we are a growing family, and the task of each individual here is to win souls for Christ. That means we have to be constantly shifting, volunteering our time, moving out of our comfort zones for the Gospel. Everything we do has a consequence for the salvation of another, and our salvation too. We are an evangelical Church, this is an evangelical parish. We exist to praise and worship our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Sacraments we receive, we proclaim the Good News. We should never leave this celebration thinking “that’s my duty done for the week”. Jesus lives in us, we must go out and tell the world. Tell the world over coffee at the crèche, tell the world in the office, in the hospital. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, you have the opportunity to bring others closer to salvation.
I’m asking you this week especially to pray for the Holy Spirit to touch your life. Ask him to fill you, so that you may fulfill your potential – no, your destiny – and become another Christ. The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head, and we too should find no rest in a comfortable, private faith. That is not what we are about, the Royal Docks Catholics. Our faith is public, we share it with all as a free gift, so that they may know the supreme joy of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, and that our joy may be complete.
Homily for the 6th Sunday of Eastertide, Year B
1st Reading: Acts 10:25-26. 34-35. 44-48
Psalm: 97. 1-4. R/ cf. v.2
2nd Reading: 1 Jn. 4: 7-10 Gospel:
Jn. 15: 9-17.
One might think that the readings we have heard today make for fairly easy listening. We hear Peter say that God has no favourites, John commands us to love one another and Jesus does the same in the Gospel. So it’s all very loving and inclusive, this is true. But do not be deceived, we might think we know what love is, but the Gospel message of love is beyond any human power, and we need the eyes of faith to even begin to grasp it, let alone live it. What are the obstacles in our way? First and foremost, this little word ‘love’. Love is probably the most abused term in the history of language. How many lies have we been told about love? How many times have we been tricked into doing evil under the guise of love? The next time you watch a TV programme where a case is made for euthanasia, it won’t be your reason that is appealed to, it will be your emotions. They will show you one instance of a person suffering greatly then cut to a shot of a distraught relative weeping. Our feelings will have been engaged, and because we are decent people, we will be moved to think that maybe euthanasia is the loving thing to do. Think of the next time you question the morality of abortion. The ‘loving’ argument you will often hear is that we need the law because before it tens of thousands of women, victims of rape and all kinds of genuinely horrific circumstances were forced to have unsafe abortions. Now we have hundreds of thousands of abortions a year, in the name of love. These are just two extreme examples of what happens when we confuse love with sentiment. Our feelings are an essential part of who we are. God made us spirit and flesh, and he redeems us as spirit and flesh. Everything we know is mediated to us through our senses, but that doesn’t mean our feelings are the best interpreters of what is true. Any parent here can tell us that. Think of when your infant child had to go for its first injections, that look of utter shock as they stared back at you with tears in their eyes as if to say “how could you do this to me?” It hurt to watch, but true love commands that we must act against what our feelings dictate when we know something to be true and good. The truth, in this situation is that the injection was good for the child’s health, and therefore it had be given, regardless of the physical and emotional pain experienced. If feelings had alone been followed, we’d have one very ill child. You often hear the lyric in songs “it can’t be wrong, when it feels so right”. There’s a word which springs to mind which sums up this phrase, it starts with B… So what is love? God is Love. He is also the Way and the Truth. A superficial hearing of the readings and Gospel today yields the message ‘love one another’ and nothing more, but listening out for the ‘but’ and the ‘if’. Jesus tells us to remain in His love, and this can only come about if we keep his commandments. He doesn’t just say love one another, he gives us the instruction, the guideline as to what that means and how it is to be done, ‘as I have loved you’. Jesus is love, and he shows us this in how he thinks, talks and acts. We can only truly love when we abandon our way of seeing and thinking and allow Him to see, think and act in us. John in the second reading is at pains to make that point, “Love one another, since love comes from God… this is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the Sacrifice that takes our sins away”. God does not have any favourites, it is true, this is the inclusive message that means everybody can be saved; but only the one who “fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him”. If the truth of God does not run through our thoughts and dictate how we make decisions and conduct ourselves, then we have failed to love. Our lives depend on love, it is more vital to us than food and drink, but like food and drink, it is finite and limited, because so are we. Left to ourselves, we can only give of ourselves so much, and yet our desire for love can never be satisfied by anything this passing world has to offer us. In Christ Jesus, at this Mass, by the will of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit, perfect eternal love is given to us as food and drink. It isn’t a warm hug which takes our sad feelings away, it is a solid love given to us by the pain of the cross, so powerful that it breaks through our limited lives and transports us to eternity. If we are to know love, then we must receive Him, and only then can we love one another. Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B 1st Reading: Acts 9:26-31 Psalm 21:26-28. 30-32. R/ v.26 2nd Reading: 1 Jn. 3:18-24 Gospel: John. 15:1-8 I went through a very brief greenfingers phase as a boy. Seeing the apple tree outside my window, I decided that I wanted to grow my own. So I looked it up, bought with my pocket money a tray, some soil and a few apples, ate the apples, planted the seed, and watered. And then I waited… and waited… and waited. Finally a shoot sprang up. “Success”, I thought, apple tree in no time. It didn’t quite work out like that. The shoot grew a bit more, but it wasn’t fast enough for my liking. So I had a bright idea. Plants need water, right? So how about if I just take the plant out of the soil and place the root in a jar of water next to the window (because they need sun too!)?! Genius! And so it seemed, for a day or two. The shoot grew at a much faster rate, and then almost as quickly, it went an ugly yellow, withered and died. There was a lesson in there somewhere, but I missed it at the time. I tried my hand at pumpkin seeds, with similar results, and gave up. Jesus presents himself as the true vine. You don’t have to be a linguist to work out that vines produce vino – wine – by means of the lovely grapes that grow on them. Scripture speaks kindly of wine – when taken in moderation, of course. Listen to the words of Psalm 104, praising God: ‘You cause grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the heart of man.’ Wine is a symbol of joy, happiness and peace. Jesus is the purest vine, producing the choicest wine. The peace he brings is eternal, the joy is divine. He is rooted in the Father and the Father is the careful vinedresser, who cuts and prunes to ensure abundant fruit. From all ages, he remained hidden, like the seed inside the fruit, until in the fullness of time he was planted into the rich and fertile soil of the Virgin Mother’s womb. Filled with the Holy Spirit, nourished by the word, he sprang up slowly and in secret, hidden from the world. Listen to the words of Hebrews: ‘Although he was Son, Jesus learned to obey through suffering’. From the very beginning, the Father pruned him for mission, in prayer and in silent tears over thirty years, until he was ready to reveal himself to the world. We may wonder at how much Jesus achieved in such a short period of active ministry, after such a long time hidden away, but the vine needed to grow before it could branch out. Patience was needed. Branch out it did, when Jesus stretched out his arms on the cross. From his wounds, blood and water flowed onto the arid soil, and from that soil sprang up his glorified body, the Church. You and I are the fruits of a slow process of growth and a careful and painful pruning. In order to grow and to bear fruit, we too must be pruned, we too must be patient. We get our word patience from the Latin ‘Patior’, which means to suffer. Christ suffered on account of our sins, he was cut down, but his perfect love meant that his indestructible life conquered death. We the branches now have that life flowing through our souls. Nourished by the Father, flowing through Christ, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, even our darkest times or most painful moments can be transformed into everlasting joy if we remain in Jesus, if his words remain in us. Now of course, no one likes suffering – I can’t imagine Jesus had a big grin on his face in the Garden of Gethsemane. We know he didn’t – but suffering is part of life. We all know that. How often to we get angry with God when things don’t go the way we want? We pray that God may protect our family, then a family member dies. We pray for a job so we can get by, and we’re still unemployed, we pray for freedom from those who make our lives a misery, and no relief seems to come. In times like this, we can be tempted to abandon God, because he is not producing the fruit we desire at that moment. But then what are without Him? Where can life go except towards death. We become like the branch that withers, like the apple seed root which I put in the water. Removed from the source of life, we may spring up briefly, for a paltry spell of life, but it won’t last, and all that awaits us is eternal death. Rather may we follow the formula that worked: Jesus, in that same Garden of Gethsemane, begged to be spared the torture he was about to undergo. How many of us have prayed to the point of sweating blood? And yet he, who is closest to the heart of the Father, who has made him known, was not spared. He accepted the will of the Father and remained in him. The rest of the story, we know. In today’s first reading, the disciples simply cannot believe the transformation in Saul – soon to be Paul. One minute he was on his way to destroy Christians, and yet here he is before them proclaiming ‘Jesus is the Son of God’. Ananias, who first took him in at the command of the Lord, couldn’t believe it either until the Lord told him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the gentiles and kings and sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name”. St Paul suffered greatly, but he spread the seed of faith far and wide. From prison, awaiting trial as an old man, beaten and bruised, he could speak of only one thing, his joy! In good times, but especially in bad, may we remain in Jesus, so that we may bear abundant fruit, fruit that will last. Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter, Year B – Good Shepherd Sunday 1st Reading: Acts. 4:8-12 Psalm: 117:1. 8-9. 21-23. 26. 28-29. R/v.22 2nd Reading: 1 Jn. 3:1-2 Gospel: John. 10:11-18 I tried looking up how fast the universe is expanding the other day. For 13.8 Billion years since the Big Bang, the universe has been expanding at a rate of 68 kilometres per second per megaparsec. You follow? I think that’s a scientific way of saying really, really fast! From that moment, hundreds of billions of galaxies have been formed, each one containing hundreds of billions of stars. About 4.5 billion years ago, our own little star, the Sun, was born, soon followed by tiny planet Earth. Around 1 million years ago, humans arrived on the scene. So if a galaxy is a speck of dust in the universe, a star a speck of dust in a galaxy, a planet a speck of dust next to a star, then we humans are a speck of dust on a speck of dust on speck of dust, on a speck of dust. And yet, faith teaches us that we are the high point, the absolute piece-de-resistance of created material existence. It literally doesn’t get better than us. Before you start getting cocky, remember how it is that we come to know this truth. We know it because we are the only part of visible creation that has ever gone wrong. Yes, 13.8 billion years of perfection, and we come along to screw it all up. Man literally looks at the perfect law of the Creator and says to himself, “I think I can do better than that”. So what? In a universe where we are so small as to barely even exist, who really cares? God does. The Creator of everything that exists cares so much that he will take on the form of this speck of dust on speck of dust on a speck of dust on a speck of dust, and offer his very own life as a sacrifice to take away our sins, to bring us back in line with his perfect law. But it is so much more than that, because by becoming human, God has united his life to us. We are to transcend all of created reality to become true Sons and daughters of God. With that in mind, we get more of a sense of what Jesus is saying when he proclaims “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep”. No he doesn’t, not unless he’s crazy! Yes, he does, because he is God; he will not stand for even a speck of dust in his universe to fall away. It takes something as catastrophic as our sin for us to see just what drives all creation, how perfect love will animate and fill every atom that exists or ever will exist. God lays down his life for every single one of us, individually, to save us from the consequences of our sins, to heal, restore and elevate us to divine life. Listen to those words of John again in today’s second reading: “think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are” Imagine if we were able to comprehend it, it would more than simply blow our minds. On this Good Shepherd Sunday, when we pray particularly for an increase of vocations to the priesthood, I am confronted with the reality that in my hands, and by the words that come from my mouth, God in his fullness will be present under the forms of bread and wine. I will be an instrument of his merciful love, acting in the very person of Christ. Then you will come up and receive him. The God who created the universe is giving himself to you as food and drink. You and I are confronted with this dilemma, borne of the ultimate paradox: if we attempt to take in all of created reality, we’ll see that we are a very very small, inconsequential part of it – the world will keep spinning and the sun will keep rising on this speck of dust long after I’m gone – and yet, because God has taken on my flesh and bone and possesses a soul like me, everything I think, say or do has cosmic significance; I, you, every individual human being is a key player in the redemption of all creation. It is the price we pay for sin, the burden of the office placed upon our shoulders… and the absolute glory of being human. If that’s not enough to get you out of bed in the morning, I don’t know what is. Each one of us has a key role in this cosmic drama of redemption, but too many of us wander on through life never knowing what plan God may have for us. Why? We never ask. The reason we don’t ask? We’re afraid. On this Good Shepherd Sunday, I plead with you to get on your knees and pray for yourselves. No matter how set you may feel set in your life, ask God what his plan is for you. Pray for your brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, and all your friends. Name them, ask God to give them the courage to face him and say “Here I am, Lord, send me.” If our Lord has taken such care to save a speck of dust and to turn it into a god, his plan for us can be nothing less than divine. Trust Him. Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B 1st Reading: Acts. 3:13-15. 17-19 Psalm. 4:2. 4. 7. 9. R/ v.7 2nd Reading: 1 John. 2:15 In today’s Gospel, Jesus confirms in the most convincing way possible that he is truly risen from the dead. The disciples run into the room and tell their story of how they met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. You can imagine the looks of the faces of the rest of the group, shifting awkwardly as they kindly listen to the story. They probably feel a little bit sorry for them – “If only it were true… but we saw him die. You don’t bump into dead people”. Then at that moment, Jesus stands among them – he doesn’t appear, he stands. He’s not floating – and they are absolutely terrified. I don’t care how much I loved my family when they were alive, if one of them walks into this Church right now, all you’ll see is a puff of smoke where I’m standing. Of course the disciples think what they are seeing is a ghost. As far back as recorded history goes, most people have believed that life continues after the body dies in some form, but dead bodies do not come back to life. So Jesus says “touch me”. Ghost don’t have flesh and bones, but Jesus – who died and was buried and now stands among them – he does. At this point, the disciples are so full of joy that they are stunned into silence. They see it, they know it, but they can’t believe it, their minds cannot contain what is happening before them. So Jesus goes one step further. He asks them, “have you got anything to eat?” And that, my friends is the ultimate proof of the resurrection. He’s visible, he’s physical and he’s hungry. He is as real as you and me – but infinitely more because his human body has gone to heaven and back. He’s not come back to tell us that everything is okay either. Easter is a joyful time because of what Christ accomplished on our behalf – the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life – but if we wish to receive this gift of salvation, the message Jesus brings back is the very same he preached the first time round: You must repent! Repentance is the content of Peter’s very first proclamation, and he doesn’t hold back: ‘The Jesus you disowned, the Jesus you accused, the Jesus you traded for a murderer, the Jesus that you killed, has been risen from the dead, and we are his witnesses’. That must have been hard for the hearers to accept, but imagine how difficult it must have been for Peter. Three days before, he had the most spectacular fall from grace. All his show had been exposed. The faith that looked so strong and inspired so many was shown to be pathetic and weak, as he denied Jesus three times. He can accuse those who he preaches to because he had spent the last three days trapped in his own head: ‘I disowned Jesus, I traded him in for my own safety, I killed him’. Now he can say, ‘but he came back for me. His love is real, I’ve seen him, touched him, eaten with him’. The resurrection causes the disciples to rethink everything they knew about life. The resurrection has expanded their thoughts beyond what they can see, feel and taste, precisely because they can now see, feel and taste eternity. Their actions no longer accuse the innocent Jesus, they accuse themselves and so enjoy the judgment of God, which is resurrection joy. That is what they preach: “Now you must repent and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out”. The risen Lord commanded his disciples to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins in his name, to all nations. They are bold and effective because they know themselves to be repentant sinners, forgiven and redeemed. They are fearless because they know without a doubt that the price for letting go of the sinful life of this world and embracing death in love is eternal life for body and soul. As this Gospel is given to me on my first weekend as your parish priest, I cannot help but to declare it to be the motif of my preaching and of our journey together in Christ Jesus. I am a sinner, and I come to you, fellow sinners, to share the joy of the resurrection and the call to repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As we explore the depths of our weakness, of our absolute need of a Saviour, let us do so in the joy filled knowledge that the Saviour who our sins killed is risen from the dead. Alleluia! Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B 1st Reading: Is. 63:16-17; 64:1.3-8 Psalm: 79:2-3. 15-16. 18-19. R/v.4 2nd Reading: 1 Cor. 1:3-9 Gospel: Mk. 13:33-37 “What I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!” Well, staying awake certainly wasn’t a problem for shoppers early Friday morning. I’m sure many of you will have seen the scenes broadcast on the BBC – crowds of people piling into shops at 6am, trampling over one another and fighting over a stack of discounted items. Since when did the so-called ‘Black Friday’ become a thing in this country anyway? Just another opportunity for our retailers in this spoilt, possession-possessed, materialist culture. Many shoppers will have commented on how they ‘needed’ to get out shopping on Friday: “I need that TV, my son really wants it, and I can’t afford the top whack price”, “I need that extra lamp, other side of the living room is just a bit too dark”. Now I know there are exceptions, and that there may have been a few cases of genuine need which may have been met. However, I don’t remember the news reporting a scrum for discounted food. Need. Really? I was struck by this picture which was posted on Facebook on Friday. Take a look (shows picture) . Who is truly in need here? Perhaps next time we go to utter the word need in context of something we intend to buy, this image might come to mind. These children – members of the 1 billion who live below the absolute poverty line in the world today, who would have full bellies and content smiles merely feeding off the food we don’t bother to use – they know what need is. They do not want us to buy things for them, a gift at Christmas is not the latest PS4. They want what we already have, food, time, love. Or do we? We have plenty of food, and yet obesity statistics in this country would suggest that we are enslaved to it. Oh the panic when I realise that the 24 pack of Walkers Crisps might not get us through Christmas Day, that I might actually have to, y’know, walk to the shops for some more. Time: People are so busy these days. Many a discussion I have with people where I tell them that they need to come to Mass every Sunday. A common response is, “oh I try Father, but sometimes it’s just so busy.” I know, I went to Pipps Hill retail park last Sunday to buy a wire for my computer. The place was full, and I was one of the new worshippers at the Church of Spend. Love: what does it say about ourselves if we panic over acquiring products in order to satisfy the wants – not the needs – of another? When I look at this picture, I see freedom and I see slavery. We are slaves, thinking that by acquisition we can acquire the immaterial. This boy is free. He knows his need, and he asks for it. We need a Saviour, someone who can save us from our deeply sinful self-centredness, who can show us what our true need is, so that we may learn how to truly give. We enter the season of preparation for the coming of God who stripped himself of heaven, who became poor by assuming a human identity, and who lived in poverty with the poorest of the poor. He was the happiest man alive; possessing nothing, he was – and is, literally – the Lord of Creation. His joy was complete when he succeeded in giving everything of himself completely away, on the Cross. Acquiring nothing, he gave up his life, and with that act, ‘bought back’ (Redeemed) the whole of his creation. Please – and I am speaking mainly to myself – let’s not give to others what we feel we must acquire – we already have the gift, given to us when we were conceived, renewed when we took our first breath, and increasing in size every time we give it away. God gave himself to us to show us that we are a gift, and the gift is free. The lesson of divine love is simple: Give away what you have, give away what you are, give away what you know you need deep down. The return is rich indeed, and there’s enough to go round. Homily for the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica 1st Reading: Ez. 47:1-2.8-9.12 Psalm: 45:2-3.5-6.8-9 R/v.5 2nd Reading: 1 Cor.3:-11. 16-17 Gospel: Jn. 2:13-22 The poppy memorial at the Tower of London has drawn people from all around the country. Nearly 900,000 ceramic poppies fill the moat around the Tower of London, one for every British or colonial fatality during the First World War, on this, its 100th anniversary. People are moved by the sheer scale and beauty of such a display, it transports us back to a time of which we have no personal memory, but fills our imagination as the stories of our elders bring it to life. The sea of red recalls the blood that was shed, but also the bravery of those men who valued our freedom over their own lives. The red is a reminder of the brutality and futility of war, but also of the indomitability of the human spirit, that even in the darkness of death, life, hope and purpose still hold sway. In today’s first reading, Ezekiel speaks from a place of death and darkness. He was a priest of the temple in Jerusalem, the minister of the holy of holies, but now he is in exile in Babylon, with his people. The temple is out of reach, profaned by pagan conquerors; the symbol of Israelite identity, gone. But there is one temple which remains unconquered, because it lives within Ezekiel. From within, he has a vision. Facing east, towards the rising sun, water flows out of the temple, from its source, the altar of sacrifice. The flow builds into a stream which in turn becomes a powerful river, rushing through the land. At its banks, life springs up, its purity brings health, people enjoy its fruits, its leaves bring healing. This is a vision not of the physical temple, but of the fruits of the worship that took place there. Now that God’s people are dispersed, the Word of God planted in them will flow around the world and bring people to the fruitful and refreshing banquet of God’s Kingdom. The world is to become his temple. Ezekiel is taken in his vision to the bank of the river. Drawn by the beauty he sees there, he is compelled to cross over to the other side, where still more beauty resides; but he cannot, the water is too deep, the current too powerful. To cross over means death. Then the mysterious words, “do you see, Son of Man?” In the Gospel, Jesus goes up to Jerusalem, to the temple, now under Roman rule, to offer sacrifice. He witnesses people in the temple selling cattle, sheep and pigeons, and something in his heart rebels. He becomes angry and forces those people out, “stop turning my Father’s house into a market”. The temple looks busy, and if we were to judge a full place of worship by modern standards, we would say that was a success, but Jesus sees something else. Hemmed in by the walls, people unwilling to venture out, happy to go about their business undisturbed by the pagan world outside; the temple has become their tomb. This is the dilemma of the heirs of Ezekiel. Drawn to the banks by the beautiful fruits of worship, they cannot cross to the other side. The fear of death means they do not live. Jesus points to the true temple, the one prophesied by Ezekiel who will bring true life to all nations. He points to Himself. He will be the one who crosses over the waters, making a path for all who will follow. Drawn by grace, people who share in his death will enjoy his unconquerable life. The grace of the Spirit which drew them will now live within them, and through them he will draw others to the banks of the river of life, to Holy Baptism. Jesus challenged his adversaries, “destroy this sanctuary and in three days I will raise it up”. They did, and blood and water flowed from his side, the place of sacrifice, the altar of the cross. Wherever that water flows, and for whomever is plunged into its depths, new, resurrected, eternal life begins. Jesus comes to live within us, and in us is planted a zeal for the Father’s house, for heaven. Thus, the words of scripture, remembered by the disciples, are fulfilled, ‘zeal for your house will consume me’. Driven by the Spirit who acts within us, desire for communion with the source of all life brings us to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Consuming him, by eating his flesh and drinking his blood, our journey into the heart of the Blessed Trinity is complete. “Do you see, Son of man?” Over this weekend, and the next few days, England will become place of beautiful, colourful and vivid ritual. This will be done in order to bring close to our hearts and minds the price paid by our forbears to keep us free. They sacrificed their lives on the altar of the battlefield to win us a few more years of life on earth. What we do here honours their memory more than any poppy, because in this place of sacrifice, by our own beautiful and vivid ritual, we are drawn into the eternal sacrifice of perfect love which endures for all ages. So let us honour them, and place our own lives on altar of Christ’s cross; to God, the one who crushes all wars. Homily for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A 1st Reading: Is. 25:6-10 Psalm: 22:1-6 2nd Reading: Phil. 4:12-14, 19-20 Gospel: Mt. 22:1-14 On my day off last Wednesday, I went to St Paul’s Cathedral. It was the first time that I had given myself a good look inside, and I was very impressed. A perhaps too enthusiastic tour guide took us around the huge structure. The most impressive view for me was from a seat in the long choir, which separated the beautiful sanctuary – with its sunrise facing high altar, covered by a stunning baldacchino – from the nave where the worshippers would gather. Sanctuary and choir, dripping with glorious gold mosaic, were further separated by an iron gate. I imagined myself as a peasant worshipper of yesteryear, squinting through the incense smoke, the angels of heaven voiced by the choir singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”, as the priest approached the altar of sacrifice and we all as one fell to our knees. Something mysterious and otherworldly going on just over there, so far and yet so near. I know it might be hard to imagine, but the reality behind this stunning scene is exactly what happens here. We are in the midst of it right now. We are a humble communion of believers, in a little Church with simple adornments, but right now we are in the heart of heaven, where millions upon uncountable millions of Angels and Saints prostrate themselves in worship at the feet of the one who offers himself in eternal sacrifice to the Father. This is the Mass we celebrate. If we fully comprehended what is happening, if it became a reality in our lives, we would die out of love, pure love. The Mass is the wedding feast of the Son. By offering up his life for us on the cross, he consummates the marriage of his divinity to our humanity and draws us up into the life of heaven by his resurrection. We are all invited, as witnesses, participants and ultimately to have our own souls wedded to his. Who could say no? Well, listening to the Gospel today, we see that most people do. The king sends his servants to call all those who have been invited to his banquet, but they are not interested. Excuses abound, work, business, sport, leisure. I have a small sense of the king’s heartbreak when I hear some of the excuses people make for missing the greatest event in the universe on Sundays. I know them all too, after all, as a teenager particularly, I used to make them myself. However, the king does not mope around. Those who reject the invite suffer the natural consequences of every person who does not partake of the wedding feast. He goes out and broadens the invite. Anyone who is willing to share in his abundance is a welcome guest at his table. The poor and destitute are called from the streets. Their lack of nourishment means they see the banquet for what it is, an opportunity for salvation and redemption. From their lowly position, it must look so glorious. They must be so grateful and full of wonder. The table is now full, and the feast can begin, but there remains one curious figure at the wedding feast. A man, not adorned with a wedding garment. Who is he? His appearance has made him stand out, but his outward attire is merely a symbol of his inner person. He is at the feast in body, but his heart and mind are elsewhere. He is just as absent from the wedding feast as those who rejected the invite in the first place. It could be said that his rejection is even worse, like someone who comes into your house and moans about your decoration and food. His body is cast out into the wilderness, to join his heart and soul in weeping and gnashing of teeth. If we bring no more than our bodies to Mass, then we risk casting our souls into spiritual wilderness. Such an attitude may cause us to ask ourselves “what is the Mass doing for me?”. The question should however always be, “what am I doing for God?” If it is nothing, then it will be quite natural that we get nothing from the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and the result will be interior or exterior rejection of the gift. If we come to Mass, having prepared our hearts, laying ourselves low, then we can grab a glimpse, through the mist of our incomprehension, something of what God has prepared for those who love him. So please pray, before Mass, during Mass, and after Mass all through the week, that you may enter into this mystery and make it the centre of your life. The King invites you, and he waits. Say yes with your heart, mind, soul and body. Strive to give yourself completely, lay your lives down before him. When you do, you’ll see the one who has already laid his own life down for you. Homily for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A 1st Reading: Is. 5:1-7 Psalm: 79:9. 12-16. 19-20. R/Is.5:7 2nd Reading: Phil. 4:5-9 Gospel: Mt. 21:33-43 I think it is safe to say that Pope Francis is pretty popular – “bit of a lad” – as one of our young people described him. His style of papacy has delighted and dismayed in fairly equal measure, precisely because he seems to defy everyone’s expectations of how a Pope should behave. The prominent Italian atheist journalist, Eugenio Scalfari was certainly surprised, when having challenged Pope Francis to answer certain difficult questions on passages of scripture, he not only got a written reply, but a phonecall asking when they could meet up for a relaxed, informal interview. Very un-Popelike. Two interviews – and much overblown reaction – later, another surprise. This time it’s from Scalfari. The avowed 90 year old atheist wants Pope Francis to bless his family. Of course, it doesn’t mean that the old man will start coming to Church every Sunday, but something has changed. All it took was a cup of espresso and a nice chat. God does something nobody expects. To save his lost and broken creation, he takes flesh and lives among us. He shares our lot in the most intimate of ways. Three reactions in Scripture seem to predominate, as the revelation of his divinity becomes clearer: confusion, acceptance, and outrage. Confusion is basically the steady state of most of Jesus’ apostles throughout the Gospel story. They are fascinated by him, magnetised by his presence, they listen to what he has to say, but many of their subsequent actions reveal that they have missed the point of what Jesus was trying to do or say. Peter sums up the dilemma of the Apostle best when Jesus – after having told his followers that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood to achieve eternal life – asks them if they will also walk away from him, as many had. Peter shrugs his shoulders and says “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life.” There are two sets of confused people, those who walked away and those who stayed. Those who stayed preferred to believe that life had meaning. Those who walk away prefer not to ask the question any more. Acceptance is the trademark of the sinner, the one with nowhere to hide. As we heard last week, it is the prostitutes, the tax collectors and their ilk who accept Jesus readily. They show that God’s existence in our life is not something we come to simply by a rational process, but by an encounter with the Son, in all our vulnerability and weakness. When we are who we are in all honesty before God, he reveals himself for who he is. Peter found out the hard way. He could not accept the God Jesus proposed to him, as the humble suffering servant, until he himself was humbled by his sin of betrayal. Outrage is the characteristic of the powerful. It is this group towards which Jesus directs his parable in today’s Gospel. Entrusted with the care of the people of Israel, they take the power given to them for this purpose and make it their own. Such is the maddening effect of power, that it almost without fail makes us forget its source. I read an interesting article a while back that surveyed those who won huge amounts on the lottery. No sooner had they received the benefit of their outrageous luck than they were saying they deserved the money, as if they had earned it. We talk of power falling into the wrong hands, but power in any pair of hands tends to corrupt. And so the response of the chief priests and Pharisees is predictable. They are outraged that someone would presume to take power from them, take back what is his own, in a fashion different to which they wield it. They dominate and oppress, and the heir comes to exercise his power with gentleness and mercy. They kill him. We can, and do, respond to Jesus in one of these three ways. It is possible to respond in all three ways at different stages of our life, or indeed, stages of the same day. I’d put myself in the confused camp most of the time, shrugging my shoulders and saying “well, Lord, you know best.” There are those delightful moments of acceptance when the true extent of his love and mercy penetrate my darkness. There are those moments of outrage when his humility challenges my pride and I put him in the wrong. Thank God for his mercy, otherwise there would be no hope. Thank God for his justice, or we’d never know how hopeless we are without him. Jesus disarms all of us, and brings forth a choice, whether we want to choose or not; stay or walk away, show yourself or hide, surrender or kill him. He does it simply by being who He Is. Pope Francis sat with an atheist and now the atheist wants a blessing. Dare we sit with Jesus to see what he has to show us? Homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A 1st Reading: Ezek. 18:25-28 Psalm: 24:4-9. R/v.6 2nd Reading: Phil. 2:1-11 Gospel: Mt. 21:28-32 Next Sunday, the Synod on Marriage and Family Life will begin in the Vatican, and will last for 2 weeks, finishing on Sunday the 19th of October. Today, at the bidding of the Holy Father, we will pray for the Synod during our Prayers of the Faithful. To look at the headlines which have dominated the Catholic press and the secular media on the Synod, one would think that the only issue to be discussed is that concerning the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the reception of Holy Communion. Of course, the discussion is much wider ranging than this, but the western preoccupation with this single issue might give us pause to think about the conditions under which we can receive the Eucharist. Today’s Gospel can help us. In the second of the trio of vineyard parables, Jesus tells us of the Two Sons. The Father tells the first son to go and work in his vineyard, and he replies “I will not go”, but thinks better of it and decides to get to work. The second replies eagerly, “certainly sir”, but then does nothing. Jesus clearly points out that it is the son who initially said no who gets to heaven, while the son who said yes is destined for hellfire unless he changes his ways. However, to all appearances, the first son isn’t doing very well in the eyes of the world, because Jesus associates his kind with the tax collectors and prostitutes – pariahs of society – while the son who says yes is associated with life’s winners, the fat, filthy rich chief priests (I perhaps do them a disservice, but you get my point!). The problem with the chief priests is that they think they deserve the blessings of God because when the question came “will you follow me?” they replied yes. They continue to live off that initial statement, as if they were defined by it. In their minds, the good they receive, they receive by right. Jesus tells them that by thinking this way, their minds are becoming more and more poisoned. The so-called blessing they receive has in fact become a curse for them, and they don’t even know it. The choice of the tax collectors and prostitutes has produced its inevitable result. They are desolate, drifting hopelessly through life, unwanted and unloved. They think back on the original offer and – this is key – they REPENT. Like a man starving in the desert, they gobble down the gift they had once rejected, greedily, and oh so gratefully. They change their lives to receive the gift. It is the healing of repentance that enables them to receive the cure for all their spiritual ills. Now think of the gift of the Eucharist. Look to this Altar of Sacrifice, and contemplate for a moment the gift given to us. When we see what goes on, when we hear those words “this is my body, this is my blood”, do we feel worthy to receive The Lord in Holy Communion? If your answer is yes, or if it is ‘don’t know’, then please, I beg you, do not come up to receive Holy Communion. You would be eating and drinking your own condemnation. If your answer is no, then realise too that nobody is worthy to receive Him, but this admission from the heart at least begins to make you ready. We do not come to Mass to receive Holy Communion. We come to Worship, to participate in the Son’s offering of Himself to the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are drawn into this eternal mystery and offer up our lives as a spiritual offering. Holy Communion is not the reward for coming to Mass, it is the medicine of a repentant heart. Only when we have received the healing borne of repentance can we receive the cure for our sinfulness effectively. In times past, people hardly ever came up for Holy Communion, such was the sense of the majesty of the gift and the lowliness of the sinner. The Church had to impose an obligation – which came to be known as the Easter duty – to go to confession at least once a year and to receive Communion at least once a year. This was a good thing to do, to prevent people from thinking that the grace offered was untouchable, but also to remind them that one still had to be suitably prepared. We should always think and pray deeply on our readiness to receive, to ask ourselves the question, “is the state of my life opposed to the one I receive?” I suppose a good measure might be to compare the amount of times we have been to confession to the amount of times we have received Communion. The Good Son was not defined by his outward appearance, he was not defined by the work he did. He was defined by his repentance, because this unlocked the door to the blessing he received. At this Altar awaits eternal blessing. May we, by our repentance, receive the full majesty of the gift. Homily for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A 1st Reading: Is. 55:6-9 Psalm: 144: 2-3. 8-9. 17-18. R/ v.18 2nd Reading: Phil. 1:20-24.27 Gospel: Mt. 20:1-16 A couple of years ago, I was on retreat at a Benedictine monastery. At this monastery, after the evening meal, the monks go for a walk together, and if you’re a priest, you get to go with them. So I did. It was the only time of the day they would have been allowed to speak, and they sure made up for the preceding silence. One thing that came across strongly was just how happy they were. I could feel the peace emanating from them. As a busy curate in the huge Cathedral parish, I became wistful for the monastic life. It just seemed so blissful. I could handle this, I thought. 50 years of this, prayer, study, peace and quiet, then straight to heaven (I hope)! As we came back to the common room for a cup of tea, I got speaking to one of the monks who had been professed for about 30 years. He told me of the initial struggle he had upon entering the monastery. All was darkness, he felt like God had abandoned him – rising at 3am for morning prayer, labouring in the freezing cold winter, the long dark nights, the meagre food – I tried sympathise with him, reflecting that I had been through similar phases during my short time as a priest. I asked him how long it had lasted for him. “Oh, only for the first 18 years or so.” They say the grass is always greener on the other side. After that conversation, I decided that my patch was green enough. Those who arrive early in the vineyard, in today’s Gospel, are definitely suffering from ‘grass is greener’ syndrome. Slogging and sweating all day, they watch as the landowner drags in more workers right up to the 11th hour. The resentment is palpable among the early arrivals when it transpires that the landowner intends to pay everyone, even the latest arrivals, a full day’s wage. One has to admit they have a point. They were paid what was agreed, but is justice done, when they see these seeming ‘idlers’ get the same pay packet as them? The all day workers must have imagined the latecomers sitting around doing nothing and then rolling around at the last minute for an easy buck. While we might sympathise with them in their resentment, I’ll admit, one of the thoughts that would have passed through my mind if I was an early arrival would have been ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ Admit it, it’s true. Think about how you feel when someone you know has purchased at half the price something you bought the day before! There’s no yearning for justice, it’s plain jealousy. But just how green was the grass of 11th hour worker? In his parable, Jesus describes the common market practice of his day. The gap of time between the ripened grape harvest and the autumn rains in Palestine was very short, and so a landowner would visit the market place many times a day to get whatever labour he could. A day’s wage was a denarius, and labourers needed that much just to feed their families. If you were standing in the market, it meant that you needed to feed your family, so imagine how desperate the 11th hour labourers were, having stood around since 6 o’clock in the morning. What they would have given to be in the vineyard from the start of the day. Imagine the tears in the eyes of the father who thought that with at least one hour’s pay, he could perhaps feed one of his children. When we look at our own lives, at the hardships we inevitably face, be it ill health, bereavement, separation, financial worry, or whatever, we can become resentful as we look at the lives of others and imagine how good they must have it. It can sometimes seem that we put in more work for smaller gain, while others seem to have it on a plate. Jesus, as always, urges us to look beyond our surface perception, to stop looking at others and to look within ourselves. The early workers had to labour all day, but they had a guarantee: labour well and life is yours. The labour may have been tough, but it should have been tinged with sweetness at the thought of what awaited them. The gap of time between our conception and death is very short, and we don’t know when it will end. Who would not choose labour in the Lord’s vineyard on the promise of an eternal banquet? We may be gnarled and bruised by the end, but better to meet the Lord with calloused hands than to meet the devil with a manicure. We could say that St Paul was both a latecomer and an all day worker. The Lord plucked this executioner of Christians from the desert of damnation, to ‘suffer for the name.’ Paul made up for lost time, he drove himself into the ground; he was beaten, bullied, tortured, shipwrecked, imprisoned and ultimately beheaded for the Gospel. And yet, in today’s second reading, he cannot decide whether he wants to die and meet the Lord, or to live on and suffer even more for the name of Jesus. Heaven and earth have blended into one for him, because he knows the Landowner. The vineyard is St Paul’s joy, the vineyard is his salvation. So thank God that you know Him, and that he has chosen you to work in his vineyard. Labour through life joyfully, even through the misery. The work may sometimes be bitter, but the fruit is sweet, and it is ours to enjoy, forever. Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross 1st Reading: Num. 21:4-9 Psalm: 77:1-2, 34-38 2nd Reading: Phil.2:6-11 Gospel: John 3: 13-17 About 14 years ago, I went to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ While there, I remembered a friend’s birthday was coming up and that I ought to buy him a card. I found a small Church with a nice selection of cards, one of which made me chuckle. The image on the front was of Jesus handing out bread and fish which he had just miraculously multiplied to feed the 5000. The man receiving his share moans “but I don’t like fish.” Jesus raises his eyes and his thought bubble reads “there’s always one.” How often, at the prospect of discomfort or inconvenience, can we be completely oblivious to the gift we are about to receive. The Lord God encounters a similar ingratitude from his people in the wilderness. He had freed them from the clutches of Pharoah with the promise of settling in the land of milk and honey, a place where all the promises he had made could be lived. It is clear that, dazed by the promise, they hadn’t accounted for the part between departure from Egypt and arrival in the Promised Land. They walked through the wilderness. I prefer to call it real life. The wilderness was where God journeyed with his people, weaning them off the mindset of their oppressors and expanding the capacity of their hearts to receive the ultimate gift. For the gift was not merely a pleasant location on the map, The Gift was God himself, among them, within them. We might wonder why The Lord didn’t do more to prepare his people for real life. Why didn’t he tell them that it was going to be a long road to the Promised Land? Their moans in today’s first reading explain why He didn’t. Slavery meant they were accustomed to a certain standard of living. One experiences suffering when the life one would expect to live does not meet up to that expectation. The Israelites depended on the Egyptians for their livelihood, accommodation and food. It may not have been 5 star, but it was predictable, measurable. They new no better, but God put forth a better offer. They accepted his terms; in exchange for dependency on the Egyptians, they would depend on him. For the first time, as they stepped out of Egypt, they experienced freedom. Freedom gave them the capacity to choose. The capacity to choose means we face the risk of not getting what we want. Only then can we start to make comparisons between the life we would want, and the life we’re living. Freedom opens us up to suffering. One goes with the other. If we knew this from the outset, we would always choose slavery. The people of God longed for a return to slavery, to the predictable, the measurable, food served up on a plate. The fiery serpent becomes a symbol of resentment towards the Lord. They die at its bite as they turn in on themselves and recoil from him. The Lord will not let them die, but he will not let them off the hook either. The instrument of death will become the instrument of life for them. He orders Moses to fashion a bronze serpent, and those who look on it will live. What they want is killing them, so the Lord will take what they want and make it his own. He will suffer with them, he will die with them, so that the death they die will be his very own. The choice becomes clear: run away from suffering, and die. Embrace it, and you will live. And so it is that Jesus takes up the cross. From the heights of heaven, he forsakes his equality with God to become the lowest of the low. A piece of dead wood is embraced and life eternal is nailed to it. Jesus shows us what God was trying to teach his people in the desert. Real life is the Cross. It is unavoidable. The more we recoil, the more bitter we become at the hand the deck of life has handed us. Jesus is waiting for us in the suffering, he turns suffering into love. Suffering is passion. When we gaze at that cross, at the one dying, we see death conquered, because he accepted it freely out of love for us. May we gaze longingly at the life he would have for us, up on that Cross with him, because in his death we gain the only life worth living. Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 1st Reading: Ezek. 33:7-9 Psalm: 94:1-2. 6-9. R/v.8 2nd Reading: Rom. 13: 8-10 Gospel: Mt. 18:15-20 If there is any Gospel passage that should make us sit up and take a good, hard look at ourselves, it is this one. This Gospel is about fraternal correction – what to do when someone does something wrong. Good moral conduct invites a reaction, bad moral conduct provokes one. In fact, there is no behaviour that does not bring forth some sort of response. We can struggle to maintain a neutral façade, there is always something going on inside. How we manifest that reaction determines our own quality as human beings. In today’s Gospel, Jesus responds to the typical attitude we have towards those whose sin is made known to us. Our first response – the tut-tut or the shake of the head – isn’t normally towards the offender, is it? Rather, it is shared with another. The offender’s secret is out – “you’ll never guess what she’s done now.” This is the sin of detraction – the unjust damaging of another’s good name by revelation of some fault they have committed. Rarely are we aware that we have committed this sin, because there is always some pretext, some justification we create for sharing this information. We might ask ourselves the question, is there any justification whatsoever for talking about someone behind their back other than to praise them or to discuss their behaviour out of a genuine concern for them or the welfare of others? Very well, Jesus says, then go and have it out with your brother, alone. There are two key words in Jesus’ instruction. The first is ‘brother’. You must first genuinely love the person whom you are to correct, and have a sincere desire that they amend their ways for their own good, not yours. We all know what our reaction would be if someone came up to us, shouting in our face for something we’d done wrong. Even if we knew in our own minds that our conduct had been unacceptable… “well, how dare they talk to me like that!” By adopting the moral high ground, we give it to the person we sought to correct. “Getting it off my chest” and “telling them the truth about themselves” actually says more about ourselves and serves no one’s ego but our own. However, when we love someone, we instinctively go down to their level, we try to excuse and read the best intentions into even the most objectionable act. We naturally show how much it pains us to bring it up, and that we do so only because we really care. It allows the other person to feel safe, and to know that they’re not being judged as a bad person. Most importantly, it allows them to look at their own actions and judge for themselves, so that they can take ownership of their behaviour, repent and amend. The second key word Jesus uses is ‘alone’. If a person’s behaviour has caused people to react negatively and to gossip about them, they may feel excluded and lose all hope of redemption. A one to one encounter shows them that no matter what the group’s opinion is, they are still worth your time and effort and they are loved no matter what. In this way, we can become the channel of grace, which heals division and shows other Christians that there is no such thing as the lone individual in the Church. We are family. But what if that doesn’t work? What if the person stubbornly refuses to admit their wrong-doing? Two reactions are common: we either shrug our shoulders and tell ourselves we tried our best, or – and this is even worse than doing nothing at all – tell other people what we tried to do and how the person knocked us back. Jesus refutes both responses. We are to tell others, but only so as to surround the offender with even more love and compassion, to give them different angles on the consequences of their actions. It also ensures that the accuser is not acting from personal offence towards something, which may not itself be sinful. If one or two others are able to see what is wrong, it makes it more likely that the person being corrected actually did something serious and not just something that you think is wrong. What are we to do if even that doesn’t work? Jesus instructs us to report it to the community, that is, the Church. It is important to note that the “community” Jesus referred to wasn’t understood as we would have it today. It doesn’t mean running our mouth to everyone at Church on Sunday. He refers to the leadership of the community. From my own experience, I can tell you that I see only a desire for good in the eyes of a person who comes to me and asks that I “have a word” with someone they love. I know I’m the last resort, and I take it seriously. Jesus says that we must treat our brother like a tax collector or a pagan if they refuse this help. This would have meant social exclusion to most people of the time, but to the disciples of Christ, it meant that they did as he did. Jesus loved tax collectors and pagans especially. He reached out to them, ate with them in their homes and prayed for them with love. As he did, so it is our duty to do. This all sounds rather daunting, and it is. It takes great courage and prudence to know when we should speak up. It requires us to face up to our own faults honestly, to identify with the one we seek to help as a fellow sinner. It requires acknowledgement and ownership of our sins and weaknesses, so that we can speak with authenticity of the supreme benefit of knowing Christ Jesus. It requires us to at least remain silent when we hear others joining in the gossip and criticism of others. Perhaps this last requirement is the most difficult of all, for our tongue is our most powerful weapon. We can get over body blows, but the cruel word sinks deep and lingers long. In the first reading, Ezekiel is very clear that fraternal correction, properly discerned, is our duty. Success is not ours to determine, we need only provide the channel for God’s grace to break through into the life of another. To do so, we must remain open to his love and vulnerable before his mercy. If we strive to love Him above all else, it may well be that we lead the sinner back to God without ever having to open our mouths. Homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A 1st Reading: Jer. 20:7-9 Psalm: 62: 2-6. 8.9. R/v.2 2nd Reading: Rom. 12:1-2 Gospel: Mt. 16:21-27 In George Orwell’s novel, 1984, the Party rules all. Big Brother watches at every corner, through every screen. There is no such thing as a private life. Conformity to the party line is strictly enforced, such that even a smile or a frown can place a person under scrutiny. Intimacy is regulated, language is governed, love is considered to be dangerous, and food is rationed so as to keep the populace in line. There is no space for an interior life. Everything is brought to the surface. Exposed to the cold, cruel treatment of the party, it withers. Conform or die. The character I find most interesting is Parsons. He is the picture of conformity, completely won over by the party’s vision. He is very proud of his seven-year-old daughter, who snitches on people guilty of thought crime and reports them to the party. He is the model of what the party is trying to produce, a man absent of thought, character or any redeeming virtue, a cog in the machine. And yet, it is his own daughter who turns him in for the very same crime. In his sleep, he is heard to say “down with Big Brother.” From the very depths of consciousness, the voice of the true man cries out. Muffled but still alive, there is one prize that the Party can merely contain but never destroy: the human soul. We might believe that we live in a world where passion and freedom of expression are given free reign. Never in history have people had such liberty to pursue their dreams – in the western world at least. But what are those dreams, and how are to we fulfill them? If you are a regular Amazon shopper, or if you take a moment to look at the adverts, which would normally catch the corner of your eye on Facebook, notice how they seem to advertise that product you had just been thinking you might buy. Isn’t that funny? It’s like someone has been watching you, figuring you out and devising a plan to keep you from confronting the deeper you. We live in a free society, but that freedom is regulated. It’s most dangerous enemy is that voice within, that deeper you which cries out “down with big brother.” The deeper you doesn’t want products or services. It doesn’t care for comfort. The deeper you is never satisfied. It’s probably why we do our best to run away from ourselves. There is too much desire there, too much need, too much passion. Better to encase it in comfort, keep it muffled and enjoy what we can of life. The alternative is too dangerous, to listen to the voice inside and to obey it, the voice that tells you the world is not enough and will never be enough, the voice that will not let you rest until you have set it free. It is the voice of the Lord. Jeremiah falls victim to the voice and he is positively enraged, “you have seduced me, Lord, and I have let myself be seduced.” What a price he must pay for his freedom. He is the laughing stock of the people, as he presents to them the world as it is. A former slave knows what slavery looks like, and he sees an Israel enslaved by pleasure and pride. This freedom hurts him, he tries to hide, but the passion is too strong, it tires him to resist. He is free, and that is his Cross. The liberation that Jeremiah prophesied is the liberation that Christ brought in his person. Contrast him with Peter. Remember Peter from last week? From within himself, the voice of the Lord had spoken “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But now we see that the image of the Christ he had in his mind was the one he had been sold. When Jesus presents him with the picture of perfect love, Peter rebels, “no way, you must stay here and rule.” “Get behind me, Satan, because the way you think is man’s, not God’s.” Ultimately, the Christ that Peter loved was the one who was going to protect him from himself. He was going to give Peter the life of comfort, of ‘righteousness’ in the eyes of men. He is a slave to the consumerist Christ. After all, didn’t he run away at Jesus’ trial? He chose to save his ‘life’, and in the process risked losing his real life. We risk losing our real life, the life of our souls, forever, if we do not heed the voice deep within. Jesus is that voice, he is the Word that says “anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it.” And so we must take on a new mind, as St Paul pleads. This mind must not model itself on what it sees around about it with the eyes, but must search within and ask “what do you want?” The answer is frightening, because it will take you beyond the world of your own comfort and pleasure. You will lose your life, the life that ends in death. You will die, but in dying you will conquer death and be born to a life that never ends. It is within you, it cries out to you now. The blueprint is the cross and the voice is the voice of Christ. Listen, obey, and you will be free. Homily for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A 1st Reading: Is. 22:19-23 Psalm 137:1-3.6.8. R/v.8 2nd Reading: Rom. 11:33-36 Gospel: Mt. 16:13-20 Imagine I announced the following pilgrimage to you all in these terms: “This will be the experience of a life time. Surrounded by different cultures, beautiful views, glorious sunsets. You will come back filled with a deep intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus. Your life will be changed forever. That’s right, we’re going to… Ibiza!” If that sounds strange to you, try to imagine how the disciples felt when they walked with Jesus to Caesarea Philippi. This town – also known as Paneas, after the pagan God Pan – was a bustling town on the border of Northern Israel, leading into Lebanon on one side, Assyria on the other. It was a fertile region, owing to the spring that flowed there. This brought trade from many quarters, and with it, many different pagan religious affiliations. Temples to this and that god were everywhere. It was very far from the Jewish ideal of life and culture under the one true God. Yet this is where Jesus took his disciples, to ask them the question, “who do people say the Son of Man is?” I imagine this matter was rattling around in their heads for some time. They’d been with Jesus for a good while, they had heard what people were saying. Their hearts burned when he spoke, for the glory of Israel and the coming of God’s Kingdom. He spoke like John the Baptist, he did wonders like Elijah, he prophesied like Jeremiah. So their answers are no surprise. They know he is special, but they haven’t definitely made up their minds. Something doesn’t fit. Or could it be that they did know in their hearts and that they were afraid of the answer, afraid of what it might mean for them? So Jesus presses them further. “But you… who do you say I am?” He wants a definite answer, not speculation. He doesn’t ask the crowd, he asks you who you think he is. From the heart of the group, it is Simon Peter who speaks up, “You are the Christ…the Son of the living God.” Simon Peter must be terrified, the disciples too. He hasn’t just stated a truth, he has made a choice. It is a choice from which he will never be able to step back without losing his soul. Upon that confession, Jesus makes his irrevocable decision. He changes his name, no longer Simon, but Peter, the rock upon which the People of God will be built – the Church. From this point onwards, the followers of Jesus can have no illusions. There is no more “Jesus is this for me” or “Jesus is that for me.” Those who follow Jesus speak and live the confession of Peter. So it begs the question: which of us here – and I include myself – are true followers of Jesus? Who do I say Jesus is, really? Who do you say Jesus is, in truth? To answer that question, we need to look deeper than the superficialities of our Christian lives. We might go to Church every Sunday, and that is good. We might help out around the parish and in the local community. Excellent. But is my activity shot through with a deep personal love of the Lord Jesus? Do I come to Mass to encounter Jesus in Word and Sacrament? Does my heart tremble with anticipation and awe as I go up to receive him in Holy Communion? Is my one wish to know him more deeply and to share his message with others? Have I chosen Him above all others and all circumstances? Such are the questions we need to ask ourselves if we are to stop being merely members of the Church, and become followers of Jesus. To become a follower of Jesus means we have made a choice. It means we have spoken those words in our hearts, in our minds and with our lips. Or rather, these words have been spoken in our hearts by the One who placed them there – Jesus Christ – and we have accepted them. It means we strive to live our lives after the pattern of his own on earth. We love the things he loves, we think the way he thinks. We obey his word. Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight – Peter is the best example of that – it can take a whole lifetime. But that is what life is for, to find the narrow road which leads to salvation and to cling on to it with all we’ve got. Jesus wants us to be there, and he will not lose us. So be not afraid. Today, ask the question, one that came from the mouth of St Paul on the very day of his own conversion, “who are you, Lord?” Jesus alone has the power to change our question into the saving answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Homily for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A 1st Reading: Is. 56:1,6-7 Psalm 66: 2-3, 5-6,8 2nd Reading: Rom. 11:13-15, 29-32 Gospel: Mt. 15:21-28 I think the most difficult thing in life to do, the most challenging task of any day, the most excruciating agony to achieve, is prayer. That’s right, I admit it, and I pray every day In fact, if Jesus were to appear to me in a dream and say, “okay James, I’ll give you a choice: have your armpit hairs plucked out one by one every day or spend an hour in prayer with me every day”, I’d be grabbing those tweezers from his hand before he could finish the sentence… well, maybe not. I hate pain, but you get my point. Here’s the problem though. Prayer, real prayer, every day constant prayer is as vital to a true Christian life as air is to breathing. It simply cannot happen without it, because it is in the crucible of prayer that our friendship with Jesus begins, is nurtured and flourishes. That doesn’t mean to say we’re not having a good go at it. I assume that every one of us here has sat down to pray or caught a prayer while going about our business at least once in the last week. But the kind of prayer that Jesus wants from us – friendship prayer – is the kind that we have to let him draw out from us. And for those of us who have ever had to draw anything out, be it blood from a needle, cash from a machine, or truth from a politician, there is only one word – pain. The Canaanite woman, in today’s Gospel, is a good example of this journey of prayer to friendship with Jesus. Jesus, for the first and only time in his ministry, has stepped out of Israelite territory, probably to take a breather from the Pharisees. This woman is a pagan, and she comes up to him and asks for something ‘Sir, son of David, take pity on me, my daughter is tormented by a devil’. This is basically where most of us are in prayer, asking for stuff, and there’s nothing wrong with that, we should. Jesus tells us to do it on several occasions. But it’s only stage one. Jesus wants to bring her along… so he ignores her. I, for one, can relate to that experience. Stage 2, she worships. Only when the woman acknowledges her true position before Jesus does he begin to speak to her. Even then, his response seems like a rebuke, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’. In other words, ‘by what right do you ask this of me?’ He’s opening a conversation. Only when people talk do they get to know each other. Jesus is asking her to tell him about herself, what kind of stuff is she made of. Her response is revealing, it shows that she is humble and has a real trust in Jesus. She has entered stage 3. Now this is rarified air, because now there is a relationship. Only in the context of a relationship, of developing friendship, does Jesus grant our hearts truest desires. It is at this stage of their relationship that Jesus says, ‘woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted’. We’d be wrong to think the prayer worked because the woman got what she wanted. The prayer worked because it was a real authentic encounter with the living God. He had revealed his glory to her, but only by making her go through agony to get there. She had to shake off her ego and be prepared to lay herself low. When she did that, it was Jesus who laid himself low to talk to her. Face to face, friendship began. As a friend, she now became his disciple. In the end, she didn’t have to ask again. She worshipped, they spoke, and she received. And that is how prayer works. God knows us better than we know ourselves, but to receive what we truly desire from him, we have to get to know ourselves, and we only do that by laying ourselves bare before him. It might involve many long periods of nothing, it might be frustrating, agonising or just plain boring, but like a seed that grows in secret, God is making things happen. Jesus basically spent three years with his disciples teaching them how to pray. Their principle task was to spend time with him, to eat and drink with him and observe his ways. We know how difficult they found it, because even on the night before he died, they fell asleep trying to pray for one hour with him. Yet by the end of his life on earth, he called them friends. They were able to go throughout the world and speak of Jesus as if he was standing right next to them, because to them, visible or invisible, he was as real as it gets. They made Jesus real to others because they had a living relationship with him. So if you find prayer tough, good. It’s a sign that something is going right. Do not, whatever you do, give up. Worship him, talk to him, reveal your deepest desires. When you do, you’ll realise that what you want for yourself pales into insignificance in comparison with what he wants to give you.