Sunday, 20 January 2019

The Epiphany of Cana, 2nd Sun Ordinary time, Year C

Jn 2:1-11
Today I’d like us to consider what God is like, to consider what God has SHOWN Himself to be like, and, in particular, what He has shown Himself to like as He relates to YOU.
It is the unique “arrogance” of the Christian religion is that we claim to know God Himself. We make this claim, not on the basis of what we have figured out ourselves, rather, we make this claim on the basis of what God has said and shown in Jesus Christ, we make this claim because we accept Jesus Christ.
The Lord Jesus has manifested, shown, what God is like.

Today, in our reading, we close a threefold epiphany, a series of three Sundays of epiphanies.
There is a great hymn, which sadly were not singing this year, “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”, which recounts this threefold epiphany.
The word ‘epiphany’ means a manifesting, a showing.
We had the epiphany to the wise men who came from the east.
What did this manifest? It manifested that God’s plan included all the nations.
His plan was particular, in a single nation, the Jews -this is where and how He showed, manifested Himself.
But His plan reached out from that particularity to call all the nations, to call non-Jews like ourselves.

Then, last week, we had the epiphany at the baptism of the Lord Jesus.
At the Baptism the voice from heaven and manifested, “You are my Son”.
As I said last week, that showed God’s plan for us to become adopted children, to become “sons in the Son”, by becoming united to His only Son, Jesus.

Finally, today, there is another epiphany, at the wedding feast of Cana.
What did the Lord reveal in this miracle? Two things.
First, very basically, that He is a God of power.
He is not simply a source of wisdom, not just teacher of how to live, rather, it showed that He is active, He DOES things, as He DID something in that first miracle He worked at Cana.

There is, however, a deeper symbolism in this miracle, that our first reading points us towards:
Marriage as symbol of how God relates to us, of how God relates to YOU.
From before all time, God chose you.
From before all time, He called you and wanted you.
And the image He uses for how He desires you is MARRIAGE.
All religions across history have marriage.
But only the Jewish-Christian religion has this epiphany that marriage is a symbol of how God desires you and wants you, and wants YOU to want HIM.

This is an amazing thought.
How does God want you? How much does God want you? The way a bridegroom yearns for His bride.
And the relationship He wants us to return to Him is the love of a bride for her bridegroom.

This image is so important in the Bible that it occurs again and again in the Old Testament, and in the New.
The Jewish people, God’s CHOSEN people, were chosen by Him as a bridegroom chooses a bride.
But they were repeatedly unfaithful to Him.
They repeatedly sinned against Him, followed false gods, mixed a bit of true religion with a bit of worldliness, as we can try and try and mix worldliness with our following of Christ.
But the pattern of the Old Testament is that God was a faithful husband even when Israel was an unfaithful wife. He stuck with her, He allowed her to comeback, and come back, and come back.
And HE does the same for you and me.
We, like the wise men who came from the east, have been grafted into the Chosen people.
We, have this beautiful marriage image of how God has revealed Himself:
He loves you, He yearns for you, as a bridegroom for His bride.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Baptism & Reception into Full Communion, Baptism of the Lord

Today is wonderful day for the parish, with two adults becoming Catholic: Ian Wheeler is being baptised and Marjorie Isaacs is being Confirmed and received into Full Communion.
They’ve both been preparing for a year, because it’s a major step.
It a useful moment for each of US to think about what this all means, and today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a good moment.

Why was the Lord Jesus baptised?
He didn’t have any sins, so He didn’t need to have His sins washed away.
And He didn’t need any of the other things that baptism gives.
So WHY was He baptised?
For us.
So that WE might have a way of being UNITED to Him.
When we are baptised, we join to HIM who was baptised.Our baptism is about being united to Him.

St Paul puts it this way:
The “old man”, Adam, must die in us, in order that the “new man”, Christ, might live in us (Rom 6:4-5; 1 Cor 15:22).
So when we are baptised we descend into the tomb with Christ, that we might rise from the tomb with Him.
St John thus calls it a new birth, saying we must be “born again”(Jn 3:5), by baptism.

The Lord Jesus wanted us to be united to Him, and so He established the sacrament, the ritual, of baptism, so that by adoption, we might share in what He possesses by nature.
When the Lord Jesus came out of the water a voice spoke from heaven and said, “You are by Son, the Beloved”.
By baptism, we also become adopted children of our heavenly Father.
When the Lord Jesus came up out of the water the Holy Spirit visibly descended on Him in the form of a dove.
By baptism, we receive gift of that same Spirit.
Water washed the body of the Lord Jesus.
By our baptism, the Original Sin we inherit from Adam is washed away,
and, if we are adults, our personal sins are washed away too.

Baptism, however, is not the END of our union with Christ, rather it is the beginning.
The FULNESS of the Holy Spirit is given in another sacrament, Confirmation.
The RENEWAL of baptismal forgiveness of sins is restored each time we go to the sacrament of Confession.
Marjorie was baptised as an Anglican, years ago.
Today, Marjorie comes to the fullness of what she received in her baptism, a twofold fullness:
On one hand, the fulness of the Holy Spirit, in Confirmation.
On the other hand, the fulness of Communion with the universal Church, the Catholic Church.
What she already had as an Anglican was real, but it lacked the FULNESS she will receive today.
Baptism makes us adopted children of our heavenly Father.
Baptism thus makes us part of the “family” of God, which is His Church.
Today, by being received into that Full Communion she gets the fulness of her baptism.
For Ian, He receives all of this today.
For him, the process is different, in that he now must rise to cooperate with all those graces.

What of all of us?
Today is a moment to remember the grace of our own baptism and confirmation, to recall the greatness of being part of the universal Church, God’s family.
And today is a moment, too, to recommit ourselves to our own baptism, to daily die and rise with Christ.

Sunday, 6 January 2019


Mt 2:1-12
Today we keep the feast of the Epiphany, when we recall the ‘wise men’ who came from ‘the east’(Mt 2:1). Today, I’d like us to focus on the wise men themselves, and see what their behaviour might teach us.

First, let us consider WHAT they came to do.
As we heard them say to King Herod, “we have come to do Him homage”(Mt 2:2).
WE, in contrast, come from a culture when before we do anything we habitually are taught to consider,
“What’s in it for me? How will I benefit?”
They, in contrast, came from a culture where it was natural to give honour, “homage”, to others.
They WANTED to do this.
They would have no expectation of benefit to themselves -it was foreign king, in a foreign land -but they felt it was right to honour Him, and so they came.

Second, let us consider WHY they came.
Again, the text told us, “we saw his star as it rose”(Mt 2:2).
Let me point something out to you:
millions of people would have seen that same star, but only these three men knew what it meant, only these three men came.
Why did THEY know?
They knew because they were attentive: they were looking, they were listening.
They were looking at the stars.
They were listening and reading the SCRIPTURES.
As I’ve noted in previous sermons on the Epiphany, they were from “the east” (Mt 2:1), they were called “magi”, meaning ‘wise men’ of the religion of ‘the east’: magi of the pagan seer ‘Zoroaster’. And they were attentive to his prophecy that,
“A VIRGIN will conceive and bear a son, and a STAR will appear blazing at midday to signalise the occurrence… When you behold the star follow it… Adore the mysterious child, offering him gifts with profound humility” (the magi Zoroaster).
And so, they saw the star, they brought gifts, and they did homage.

Third, let us consider WHO they listened to. I said they were attentive, I said that it was only because they were attentive that they knew what the star meant. But WHO were they attentive to?
Who ruled Palestine? The Romans.
Yet, the Magi didn’t go to the Romans, they went to the JEWISH authorities. Tales of the expectation of a JEWISH Messiah had spread through the region and the east, they thus came to see, as they said, “the infant king of the JEWS”(Mt 2:2).
And even though Herod was a wicked king, he was a JEWISH king, and so he was able to refer them to the JEWISH Scriptures and the prophecy that he would be born in Bethlehem (Mt 2:5-6).
They listened to the right people, and they thus came to the right place.

Finally, let me note their experience towards the end of this narrative: “they were filled with delight”(Mt 2:10).
Joy, as I have repeatedly noted before and will note again, joy is a typical fruit that we see produced in people who meet the Lord.
BUT not everyone experiences joy:
The Pharisees and Sadducees were filled with envy, and so just hated Him;
Pilate was too busy with his own concerns, and was just perplexed;
but to those open to Him, to those who repent of their sins in the wonder of encountering the-Lord-made-flesh, to those He brings joy.

To conclude, what do the lives of these ‘wise men’ have to teach us?
First, the need to be focused on giving, not receiving.
In particular, giving honour to God, and not asking whether we benefit from it, or whether it is easy
-it wasn’t easy for these men to travel over a thousand miles by camel.
Second, the need to listen to the right people.
If we are to understand God speaking in the events our lives, then we need to read the BIBLE regularly, and listen to God’s Church
-just as the wise men could understand the star because of their attentiveness to the right things.
Finally, the fact that meeting the Lord will bring us joy.
We should not serve God just because it benefits us,
BUT it does benefit us, and this gives us yet another reason to love Him.
All this is what we see in the lives of the ‘wise men’ who came from ‘the east’.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Family Religious Practice, Feast of the Holy Family

Lk 2:41-52
I want to talk today about how the Holy Family, of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, can be a role model for religious practice in the family home. I’m aware that many in West Moors have grandchildren rather than just children, but hopefully you feel these are points we all need to ponder. And I’m aware, also, that in many ways I am preaching to the converted -if you’re here at Sunday Mass just a few days after Christmas, then you probably already take your religious practice seriously. Nonetheless, looking at the Holy Family can hopefully confirm you in that practice.

Let me start by pointing out a detail in the Gospel text we heard: “When he was 12 years old, they went up for the feast as usual”(Lk 2:42). The point I want to highlight is the “as usual” -they, as a family, had a REGULAR religious practice of going up to the Temple in Jerusalem for the Passover.
In our own families, as we all know, children pick up most of what they learn from their parents by osmosis -just absorbing what their parents do, and becoming like their parents in lots of little habits and manners.
This is why it’s really important that we have RELIGIOUS influences in the home.

Let me return to the Gospel text on another point: The boy Jesus makes it clear that being “busy with my Father’s affairs” (Lk 2:49) means that GOD is His REAL Father.
Now, for Jesus, this was true in a unique way.
But there is another sense in which it is true of the children in your home too. They belong to God even more than they belong to you. They are loved by God even more than they are loved by you.
Our heavenly Father entrusts the raising of His spiritual children to their physical parents. He wants you to raise them in such a way that you introduce them to HIM, their SPIRITUAL Father.
In our first reading while we didn’t get the whole story to hear the background, Hannah gave her child to God. She did this because she recognised that her child came from God, and so she offers him back. Something of that same attitude needs to be in every mother and in every father.

So, HOW do you introduce your child to God, his spiritual father?
You need to talk to your child ABOUT God, and teach your child about God.
You need to teach your child how to pray, how to talk TO God, just as you no doubt introduced your child to his grandparents and so forth.
And, returning to the image of the Holy Family having the regular family tradition of going up to the Temple for the Passover, we need to have little traditions in our families that imbed God into our lives.

What traditions can this include?
Most basically, the practice of attending Mass each and every Sunday. How does your child learn that God is a fixture and not just some disposable commodity? By the priority that you give to worshiping Him on HIS day, the Lord’s Day, Sunday. I’m very fortunate that when I was growing up I always experienced that Sunday Mass was a priority that was unquestioned. When we planned our weekend, we planned when Sunday Mass would be. When we travelled, we found out where the Catholic church would be, and what times it had Mass. And when my parents planned which out-of-school activities I would do, making those activities revolve around Mass, rather than the other way around -this taught me lessons even before I ever realised it.
Another simple practice is night prayers as a family. I’ve enclosed a sheet with some example prayers in the newsletter (click here). But there are many simple prayers a family can learn to say together at the foot of the bed. Learning to thank God at the end of the day. Learning to apologize to Him for the sins of the day. Asking Him for what I will need the next day.

To sum that up: the Holy Family had customs, family practices, that built God into their family life.
Our families, likewise, need to have customs, little traditions, things we regularly do, so that a child grows up having his or her physical parents introducing him or her to God the HEAVENLY Father.
Lets think today what those practices are in our own homes, and what more they could be.
And be thankful for what we ourselves experienced over life, for good or ill, that led us to be here today with God the Father.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Who is the Baby?, Christmas

We gather here today to recall and celebrate what Christmas is truly about.
I would like, very simply, to focus ourselves on the question of WHO the baby in the manger was, and why it should matter to us.

The baby’s birth was heralded by angels, shepherds came and worshiped, and a star guided wise men from the east to find Him.
These are not normal things to happen when a baby is born.
This was not an ordinary baby.
When He grew up, He would work miracles:
He would heal the sick and raise the dead;
He would walk on water and calm the storms.
He would, teach so powerfully that crowds of thousands would flock to hear Him.

This baby was born for a purpose.
Let me note three aspects of His purpose, three aspects of WHO the baby is:

First, He was born to be your friend.
There is a loneliness in the human heart that seeks to be satisfied.
There is a loneliness in the human heart that even the turkey and feasting of today can’t ignore.
This child was born for you, born to be your friend,
Born to be your companion in both your difficulties and your joys.
He was born in rejection, in a stable because there was no room in the inn.
So, when you feel dejected, He can be the friend who know your trails.
He brought, repeatedly, “joy”(Lk 2:10 e.g. Lk 19:6) to those who met Him.
So, when you feel joys, He can be the one you share those with.
He was born to be your friend.

But, more than this, His is not a friendship of equals: He was also born to be your king.
Let us note what the angels said at His birth:
The angels emphasised that He was born in Bethlehem, “the town of David”(Lk 2:11), a descendent of David, “of David’s House and line”(Lk 2:4).
David was the greatest king of the Old Testament, the greatest king of God’s chosen people.
This was baby was descended from him, thus, this baby was born to be king.
This baby was born to be YOUR King.

Friend, king, but more still: He was and is GOD:
The Lord and Creator of the cosmos sought to reach down and enter His Creation.
The Lord and Creator of the cosmos made us, made humans as the pinnacle of His work, and had a plan to unite us to Himself:
to unite us to Himself by becoming one of us, by taking flesh as a baby in Bethlehem.

A final point: All this calls for a response from us.
If He has come to be your friend,
then He calls for you to offer Him friendship.
If He has come to be your King,
then He expects you to render Him the service due to a King.
If He has given Himself to you, as God entering our world,
then it is clear that we must give ourselves to Him.
The shepherds gave a lamb; the kings gave gold, frankincense and myrrh,
As the carol sings, we must give our hearts.

Who is the baby? Your friend, your King, your God.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Joy-borne-of-hope, 3rd Sunday of Advent, Yr C

Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18
This Christmas, as soon as the last person leaves after the 10am Mass, I’ll be driving home for Christmas. And there are certain moments in the journey when I get a little sense of excitement at the closeness of being home -I’m not there YET, but I somehow sense and anticipate the outcome, even before it arrives:
when I see the town SIGN saying, “Torquay. Welcome to the English Riviera”;
when I get to the SEAfront and the road takes me along beach promenade.
I’ve not yet got home, I’ve not yet greeted my family, and yet, I am somehow anticipating that outcome and some of the joy of that outcome fills me already.

I offer that to you today as an image of the joy that should fill us today, on Gaudete Sunday, this 3rd Sunday of Advent.
Christmas has not come yet,
Christ has not come yet,
And nonetheless, the Church bids us rejoice at His coming -in anticipation.

There is a joy borne of love, when we possess the beloved -in union with them.
There is a different joy that is borne of HOPE, when we do not yet possess, but are confident that we WILL possess. And our advent joy is this joy-borne-of-hope.

Today is ‘Gaudete’ Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent. This word means ‘rejoice’ and it comes from the Scripture verse we heard in our second reading (Year C):
‘Rejoice in the Lord, always, and again I say, ‘rejoice’!... the Lord is at hand’(Phil 4:4).
There are many things people rejoice in at Christmas, good things:
Family, presents, food -but none of these are ‘the Lord’.
Let us think for a moment about why it is THE LORD that we should rejoice in.

Let us start with the most basic truth of human existence:
We are all SEEKING something, we are all seeking happiness.
Humans disagree about where they will find happiness, and disagree about what happiness looks like, but they all want it. No one wants to be miserable. (St Augustine, Confessions, Bk 3, Ch 2)
If happiness is real, then it is only something truly incredible that can cause it
-our desire is so great,
our yearning is so persistent,
that only something incredible can satisfy it.
Only God, Himself.

We want justice in the world, and we can’t achieve it.
We want love in the world, and there’s not enough of it to go around.
But now, half-way through Advent, we can recall the promise of the One whose coming can bring this,
and MORE.

He has fulfilled His promises in the past,
let us rejoice in the confidence that He will fulfil His promises for the future.
He is “very near”(Phil 4:5).

A final brief point: Let us get ourselves ready.
When the people wanted to be ready for the coming of the Messiah, they asked St John the Baptist, “What must we do?”(Lk 3:10), as our Gospel text opened.
If WE have joy in our heart, not yet the joy of possession, but the joy-borne-of-hope,
then let us ask ourselves “what must we do?” to make ready a place for the Lord in our hearts this Christmas.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Confession, 2nd Sunday of Advent

Lk 3:1-6
I was shopping in Wilko this week and the woman at the cash register smiled, looked at my food and presents, and said, ‘Christmas is such a special time’.
Indeed, this is a ‘special’ time.
But, as Christians, we know that many of those around us have forgotten what makes it ‘special’:
the coming of the Lord Jesus.
Like most of you, I find that the build up to Christmas can easily distract me from what Christmas is about:
The stress, the shopping, and more.
How can I focus on the RIGHT things?
How can I prepare, in my heart, for Christ to COME?

Our Advent readings, over the 4 weeks, give us different tools, but today’s is on what it is WITHIN me that stops the Lord coming:
My sins.
That not an EASY message, but it’s a very BIBLICAL one, and a crucial one
We heard in our gospel about how St John the Baptist prepared for the first coming of Jesus Christ, prepared by crying out in the wilderness, "prepare a way that the Lord"(Lk 3:4), and the way he called people to prepare the way for the Lord was by REPENTING of their sins.

If I want the Lord to come to me this Christmas, then I need to create SPACE in my heart for Him.
The thing that fills my heart, the things that stop there being space for Him, are my sins.
Let me note two things: I need to see, and, I need a cleaning agent.

Wilko sells reading glasses, and I’m reaching that age when I sense that I can’t read properly without them.
The text can be right in front of me, and I can’t really see it any more.
But the biggest sight problem I have is seeing my sins, being HONEST about my sins.
I feel grumpy and tired, and I blame other people, rather than looking into my own heart.
I find myself complaining about my problems, when I should see that I need to listen to others.
I need to SEE my sins.
And the most powerful tool for this is regular confession.
Going to regular confession, and the regular examination of conscience that goes with this, this is a most POWERFUL tool to enable me to see my sins, to enable me to see what is stopping the Lord coming.
There is an examination of conscience sheet inside the newsletter this week, take it and prepare.
We have 4 priests coming soon for hear your Advent confessions, 18th Dec, but what we each need is to be going to confession REGULARLY if we are to see our sins
-if we are to have the ‘reading glasses for the soul’.

Wilko also sell cleaning agents: limescale remover, washing up liquid, and more.
But the biggest cleaning I need is in my soul, of the dirt of my sins.
And the Lord established a mechanism for this: the sacrament of Confession.
As Jesus said to the Apostles, His first priests: “Those whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them, those whose sins you shall retain they are retained” (Jn 20:23).
If the Lord is to come this Christmas, I need to not just SEE my sins, but bring them to the divine cleaning agent: Confession.
I can’t forgive myself, only God can do that.
I can’t heal myself, only God can do that.

The thing that makes Christmas ‘special’ is not for sale in Wilko.
The thing that prepares me for Christmas is not for sale in Wilko.
The greatest gift that prepares me for the coming of the Lord is His forgiveness, available in Confession, a great tool for regular use, but especially in this season.