Sunday, 15 January 2017

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

on Jn 1:29-34
At every Mass, the priest raises the consecrated host and we say, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof", and I imagine that many of us can say those words without thinking about what they mean -which would be a great shame, because they are profound words that today's gospel has much to tell us about.

What must a non-Catholic think as he hears us say those words? He might see that we are getting ready to go to Communion, and what do we say? "Lord I am ready”?" No! We say the very reverse, AND YET go and receive anyway.

And the reason we receive anyway lies in the very nature of WHO it is that we are receiving, who it is that the priest declares the host to be.
The priest says the words we heard spoken by John the Baptist, "Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world" (c.f. Jn 1:29), because the host is one and the same Jesus Christ who John identified 2000 years ago.

The phrase "The Lamb of God", might seem a bit obscure to us, but it was very significant to the Jews that John was speaking to. They knew the role that the lamb had played in their history and still played in their religion, and to call Jesus THE Lamb of God was to proclaim His saving role from sin.

When Moses and the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, it was the blood of the sacrificed lambs, posted on their doorposts, that caused the angel of death of recognise and spare them. Every year they commemorated this in the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb in the Temple (Dt 16:5-6), recalling (1) their liberation from Egypt, and (2) the covenant bond that God formed with His people, and (3) the communion this gave between God and His people. The Lamb was THE most significant Old Testament animal of sacrifice.

The Lord Jesus is the TRUE Lamb of God, because His sacrifice on the Cross is the complete and total satisfaction for our sins. This sacrifice (1) liberates us from the slavery of sin, (2) restores our union with God, the union broken by sin, and (3) this new union is completed by our receiving the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion –a pattern that was also present in the consuming of the Old Testament sacrifices.

This is what we should recall in the Mass. We, as a congregation, the say the prayer, "Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us...", and at the same time the priest BREAKS the host. This is a symbol of Christ's body being broken on the cross, of His being the eternal sacrifice for sins.
It is because HE is the one who takes our sins away that we are able to receive Him, even though we ourselves are not worthy of Him.

This said, we do need to prepare, and we do need to be ready if we are to receive Holy Communion.
If we wish to have the benefits of the forgiveness that Christ's sacrifice can give us, then we must repent of our sins.
St.Paul tells us that those who eat “the Lord's supper” unworthily are eating condemnation upon themselves (1 Cor 11:28). Following this teaching of Scripture, the new Catechism(1457) and the Law of the Church(canon 916) remind us, that if it is a serious sin in question: we must repent and go to confession before we receive Holy Communion. If our marriage state is irregular and unresolved, it must be addressed before we can be ready to receive Holy Communion.
Because we cannot acknowledge Him to be the lamb who takes our sins, if we do not also desire to have our sins taken away.

But ultimately, it is because of who He is that we are able to receive Him. Because we will never be fully worthy on our own grounds, we can never repay Him what we owe Him. We can receive Communion because of the love He has lavished on us, and His sacrifice for us, a sacrifice that can HEAL those who turn to Him,
And so we say in prayer the words once said by the centurion to the Lord Jesus, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul SHALL be healed.”(Mt 8:8)

Sunday, 8 January 2017


Mt 2:1-12
Today we recall the wise men, the “magi” who came from the East to worship the baby Jesus, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
I'd like to describe to you what most scholars considers to be the reason WHY they KNEW to come and do this. No-one else came, no other long list of foreign kings and dignitaries came. So why did THESE men come? The gospel text tells us that these men came because they saw the star (Mt 2:2). And yet, EVERYONE would have seen the star, but only these few knew what the star meant?
They knew because they had been attentive and listened to other things that the Lord had said. But what?

The two things we know about these men are that they were from “the east” (Mt 2:1) and that they are called “magi”, which doesn't mean so much ‘magicians’ as ‘wise men’ of the religion of ‘the east’: magi of the the pagan seer ‘Zoroaster’.
As we know, God had been preparing His Chosen people, the Jews, for His coming as the Messiah, for His birth.
But, God had also been preparing other people to come to recognise this Jewish Messiah, recognise Him because He was to be the saviour of ALL peoples. And, one of the ways He prepared others to recognise this Jewish Messiah as their Messiah too was in a prophecy made by the pagan seer Zoroaster. Zoroaster said, as we can read in their pagan texts,
“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.

We can note this as an example of the Christian claim: there are elements of truth in other religions, but they are only verified as true in as much as they lead to the FULLNESS of truth, lead to Him who said He was truth itself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life”(Jn 14:6).

So, these wise men came. But they only were able to do what they did because they were attentive to what had been said. If they hadn't been attentive then they would have been like everyone else and just seen a star without knowing what it meant.
We might make a comparison with the the other small group that the gospels record as having come to do homage to the baby king of the Jews: the shepherds (Lk 2:15-16). They also had heard a message, from angels. They too listened and obeyed.

And let us note something else that both the wise men and the shepherds had in common: JOY at finding Jesus (Mt 2:10-11, c.f. Lk 2:20).

Let me close by applying this to ourselves.
We, too, have heard a message from God, handed down to us in the Scriptures.
We, too, can choose to either be too busy to pay attention (like those who saw the star but didn't know what it meant),
Or, we can be attentive to the call of the Lord, come to Him, and find joy in worshipping Him.
He is the fullness of what we are yearning for. And we can find it, and find joy in it, if we are just attentive to what has been made known.
“Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ ”(Mt 2:1-2)

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Our Lady & New Beginnings. Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Today is a day of new beginnings. On one hand, today is New Year’s Day. But, for the Church, today is also a day of new beginnings because of the feast of Our Lady that we celebrate today. And this connection is not accidental.
It's rare for this feast date to fall on a Sunday, once every seven years, and so this is a rare opportunity for the whole of our normal Sunday congregation to be together to focus on the symbolism of this feast.

Today's feast of Our Lady, of her as "Mary, Mother of God", is a very ancient feast. One of those feasts that is so ancient that scholars struggle to be certain when in the early centuries it began to be celebrated. Today's feast celebrates "the part played by [Our Lady] in [the] mystery of salvation" that we celebrate at Christmas (Paul VI, Marialis Cultus). And that part was the part of being the MOTHER.

But we celebrate this feast of Our Lady today not merely because of the proximity of Christmas but because of the symbolism of the start of the New Year. Our Lady is the one who brought the One who is "new life" itself into the world, and so in celebrating her divine motherhood we celebrate her role in bringing new life not merely into the world 2000 years ago, but through her ongoing role of maternal intercession, praying for us POWERFULLY in heaven, we celebrate her ongoing role in bringing the new life of grace into our souls.

But if we wind the clock back before Christmas we can see that there is yet another reason to think of Our Lady as the one we associate with the new life -because she's the one in whom the new life of grace was FIRST manifested. The Archangel Gabriel hailed her as "full of grace" because grace was already operative in her, in a special anticipation of the merits that Christ would win (for her and for us) on the Cross. She lived a life free at every moment from sin, free from sin because the new life brought by Christ was operative in her already. And in her sinless perfection we see manifested the new beginning for redeemed humanity that WE can all hope for.
She is therefore the "new dawn", THE sign of the hope of new life that redeemed humanity can aspire to.

I want to draw this together by seeing how what was shown forth in the Mother of God can be applied to ourselves, applied to ourselves in terms of making a new beginning, especially at the start of this New Year. In three simple points:
First, as I have already indicated, Our Lady is the new beginning because she was "full of grace". This is a sign to us that whenever we seek to make a new beginning we must seek to do it not by our own strength, but by the strength that comes from the Lord, that comes from grace. And the triumph of that grace in Our Lady is a sign that grace can be powerful in us too.
Second, Our Lady shows us that if we wish to make a new beginning we need to do so by cooperating with God's PLAN for us. The Lord had a plan for her, a plan for her to be the Mother of God, a plan that led to her glory even though it also took her to suffer at the foot of the Cross. The new beginning and the new triumph that we see manifested in her were not by herself but by her cooperation in the plan the Lord had for her, “Let it be done to me according to your word"(Lk 1:38). For ourselves, that means that in all of our working and striving we need to be seeking to cooperate with His plan, we need to be seeking His Will for us. And, like Our Lady, we need to trust that He does have a plan for each one of us.
Thirdly, and finally, Our Lady shows us that cooperation with God's plan also involves ACTIVITY on our part –“letting God act” does not just mean sitting back and doing nothing. The first thing Our Lady did when the angel left her was to head out to visit and take care of her pregnant cousin Elizabeth -activity.
I mention this aspect of activity particularly today on New Year's Day. Today is a day when people across our land will be making many new resolutions, and this is a good practice for us to take part in also. Keeping special times, special seasons, and special resolutions, like New Year’s Resolutions, is a very sacramental thing, a very Catholic thing. So, if you've not made a resolution yet I'd encourage you to do so, and to do so thinking of the new beginning manifested in Our Lady.

To sum up. New Year’s Day is a day of new beginnings, and this is what we see in Our Lady, the Mother of new life, the Mother of God, the mother of us.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Star Wars and Christmas 2016

I want to say a few words about Christmas, Star Wars, and Jesus.
As most of us are aware, the new Star Wars film was released this week. And it's been wonderful trip down memory lane for me, because the very first film I can remember be taken to see as a child was Star Wars, the original. I remember queuing up for what seemed like hours –it was a great cultural and personal moment!

After that, as a child, I dreamed of going to a Jedi academy, training to be a Jedi knight, and learning all about the ways of the Force
Instead, when I grew up, I went off of seminary, and trained to become a priest.
And one of the things I learned is that being a priest is very different from being a Jedi knight.
And I learnt that God is very different from the Force.
Yes, a priest deals with light and dark, good and evil.
But the God who is revealed to us in Jesus Christ is very different from the Force.

For those of you who don't know, or don't remember:
In the Star Wars movies, “The Force” is the life, the energy pervading the whole galaxy.
And the power of the Force is used by experts in it, Jedis and Siths.
Some people think that God is like that: He’s a kind of energy out there. A vague and unknowable thing.

What, in contrast, do we recall at Christmas?
At Christmas we recall that a child was born at Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
At His birth angels appeared to shepherds and heralded His birth, and those shepherds went and worshipped the new-born king, laid in a manger (Lk 2:8-20).
A star appeared in the sky and wise men from the East came likewise did Him homage (Mt 2:1-12).
Nine months earlier the Angel Gabriel had appeared to a virgin and told her she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by man, so that the child would be “the Son of the Most High” [i.e. of God] (Lk 1:32)
And when that child grew up He worked miracles, gave signs, and taught profound wisdom.
He claimed to be the Lord God Himself, and when He was put to death for this claim He rose from the dead, manifesting that He was indeed God come down from heaven.
And He said to His disciples that He called them “friends”(Jn 15:15) -in His very self the Lord God almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, had reached down to us in our human state, taken human flesh, become one of us, and enabled us to know Him, and relate to Him, such that He calls His followers His “friends”.

Well, what of Star Wars, and Christmas?
What the birth of God as Jesus in Bethlehem shows is that:
God is not just some vague energy;
God is not something mysterious and unknown.
Rather, God is personal.
An energy cannot love you, but God loves you.
An energy cannot know you, but God knows you.
An energy cannot call you His friend, but if you will follow the Lord Jesus, then this is exactly what He will call you.

So, while I’ve been very excited this week at the release of the new film, I’m also very clear that it is fantasy not reality.
What we recall at Christmas, the birth of God as a baby 2000 years ago, reveals what God is like:
He is personal;
He loves you;
He knows you.
And He has taken visible human form in Jesus Christ so that we might know and love Him too.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Gaudete Sunday, 3rd Sunday Advent, Year A

Phil 4:4-5 (ent antiphon); Mt 11:2-11; Isa 35:1-6,10
If your preparing for Christmas is leaving you a little overwhelmed –unsought presents, unwritten Christmas cards etc,
The let me point out a small but symbolic detail in our West Moors liturgy today: the rose colour of the candle for today on our Advent wreath. Rose, not purple. Twice a year the Church's liturgy, midway through Advent and midway through Lent, calls for the purple to be interrupted by rose. Both Lent and Advent have a certain 'heaviness' about them, and that is lifted in today's liturgy. The heaviness of Lent consists of penance and ‘giving things up’. The heaviness of Advent consists in its focus on The Lord's future coming and our need to PREPARE ourselves for it.

Today's liturgy, however, shifts the focus, it reminds us of something of decisive importance, something that we need to recall WHILE we are waiting:
Even though we are looking for His future Coming in glory,
even though we are getting ready to celebrate his past coming in the flesh,
Even so, He is already among us. He comes to us each day, each moment that our hearts are open to Him. He is present with His grace, in His sacraments, in the teaching and shepherding of His Church, in the guiding hand of His Providence in our lives.

Thus our entrance antiphon said, "Rejoice in The Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, The Lord is at hand."(Phil 4:4-5).
It did not, "Rejoice, He WILL be at hand", but rather, "He IS at hand".

Among the many things that are true about Christmas, it does bring certain problems: there is an obvious irony that for many of us it can be a time of stress and preparation:
Have I finished sending my Christmas cards? Have I bought the presents? Will the presents be good enough?
For others, it can be a time of loneliness, or lost memories.
And, I think we can note, it's because Christmas is such a wonderful thing when it is right, that it can be so difficult when things about it are not right.
This is why it's important to remember what it is REALLY about, and today's "Gaudete ['Rejoice'] Sunday" can help us in this regard.

Even when we've been told something important once, even when we've seen something important once, we can easily forget it. And, in today's context, the important thing we can forget is that The Lord has already come, that The Lord is already with us.
In today’s Gospel: St. John the Baptist had already told his disciples that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, but it seems they had forgotten, or not really got the point. Because he sent them again to Jesus so that they could ask Him the question themselves: "Are you the who is to come?"(Mt 11:3)
The Lord's answer is very simple and powerful. He doesn't simply say, "Yes". Instead, He points out that He is doing all the things that it was promised the Messiah would do, as we heard promised in our first reading from Isaiah 35:1-6. The eyes of the blind were opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, the lame lept, and the dumb were given speech.

For us today, in our issues, worries, burdens, The Lord is here too. We just need to remember how, and put our faith again in His promises, to trust again in His wisdom.
Do you feel burdened? Turn to Him, for He said, "Come to me all you who are weary, for my yoke I easy and my burden light, and you will find rest for your souls"(Mt 11:28-29).
Is the Christmas planning getting to you? Turn to Him, for He said, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has worries enough of its own" (Mt 6:34) "Seek FIRST the Kingdom of God, and these other things will be added"(Mt 6:33).

So, a rose candle in the midst of Advent purple.
Lifting our mood in the midst of the burden of preparing.
Don't just look forward to His coming, don't just remember that He came once, but rejoice that He is here right now.
"Rejoice in The Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, The Lord is at hand."(Phil 4:4-5).

Thursday, 8 December 2016

40th Anniversary of Church, West Moors; Immaculate Conception

Lk 1:26-38 (RSV), Eph 1:3-6.11-12; Gen 3:9-15.20
Today we, as a parish, celebrate 40 years of our having a church to celebrate Mass in.
Some of you who have been here a long time have told me how they remember the old wooden church, that became too small to be fit for purpose.
Other have told me how they remember celebrating Mass in the hall, before the church as built -a space big enough, but not worthy enough.
Today we recall that a church was built, built to be space worthy enough for the Holy Mass. I’d like us to take a moment, therefore, to reflect on the importance of building a place for Mass, building a place to pray.

In the frantic, hectic pace of our modern world, modern architects often build ‘mutli-purpose’ spaces -so we eat, watch TV, relax, cook, all in the same extended area. I would suggest to you, however, that there is something dehumanising about this, something too rushed about this -and that this ‘multi-purpose’ approach to buidlings certainly doesn’t hold with respect to prayer.
When archaeologists dig up old cities there is something that we find in every civilisation:
There are different buildings in the city for different functions;
there are different rooms in a house for different purposes.
The gymnasium, the bathhouse, the sleeping quarters, the eating area for the family to gather etc
And, in every civilisation, there is place put apart to pray, a temple.
Archaeologists don’t ask IF there will be a temple, merely what KIND of temple it will be -it’s a basic part of our human nature to have a place set aside for the sacred, a place set aside to pray.

In the Jewish religion, our Old Testament roots, this was very emphatically laid out -God decreed what size the walls would be, of what materials etc
And, when we look at our early Christian history we see the same pattern:
Even when the Church was in hiding and persecuted in ancient Rome, the early Christians set aside houses for worship.
And, when the Christians grew and became the majority, they did this with great splendour, building massive basilicas: It wasn’t just sufficient to have a SPACE put aside, it needed to be a SUITABLE space, a DIGNIFIED space.
The Christian Church is the place where heaven touches earth.
The Christian Church is the place where man reaches out to God,
And where God comes down to man: In a way that has no parallel in any other world religion, God becomes flesh, here on the altar, under the appearance of bread.
And for such a thing to happen, we need a worthy place: a church building.
Which is why a church was built here.

The Word become flesh, here on this altar, here in this place.
Today, we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception: we celebrate the truth that Our Lady was conceived without sin, and lived without sin.
That happened in order that her womb might be a worthy dwelling place for the Word to become flesh.
The Lord prepared, from all eternity, a place to dwell. As we heard in our second reading, from Ephesians, “before the world was made, He chose us” (Eph 1:3) -and this applies especially to the womb of the Blessed Virgin, His dwelling place.
I’d suggest that this gives us a suitable image for the need to prepare a place for Him to take flesh in the Eucharist -the need for a Church.

To sum that up:
Today we celebrate having a church building.
We need, as humans, a place to pray, a place set apart from the hustle and bustle of modern noisy life.
We need a place, as Christians, that is worthy for the Word to become flesh in the Eucharist
Our Lady’s womb was the worthily-prepared place for Christ to become flesh 2000 years ago.
A church is a dedicated place for the Word to become flesh in sacraments, still today.
And that is something worthy to give thanks for.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A

Mt 3:1-12; Isa 11:1-10
What it is that moves you to repent of your sins?
Last week I pointed out two contrasting responses to the Coming of The Lord that were in our readings: joyfully going out to meet Him; and, fear of His judgement.
This week, similarly, I'd like to point out to you two contrasting motives for repenting of our sins: Fear of judgment, and, a desire to be ready for Him.

Our Gospel text opened with St John the Baptist's call to repent of our sins. Let me point out, however, the first REASON he gives why we should repent: he said,
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand"(Mt 3:2)
This kingdom of heaven is a joyous thing, and, from this angle, our motive to repent is to get ready for such a wonderful place.

St John the Baptist, however, was not all sweetness and light. Even among those who came to him to be baptised and confess their sins, even of these he gave a harsh greeting to those he felt were insincere. Note his response to the Pharisees and Sadducees: "Brood of vipers, who warned you to fly from the retribution that is coming?"(Mt 3:7). Now, we should also note that he did OFFER them repentance, but, his insisting that they produce the "fruits" of repentance might well alarm us. He accused them of complacency, of "presuming to tell [themselves] that, 'We have Abraham for our father'."(Mt 3:9)

We, as Catholics, would do well to ask ourselves how often we similarly "presume" that we're "all right" with God. You might tell yourself that you come to Mass every Sunday, tell yourself that you're the most religious person you know (because it's quite possible that few among your friends and family come to Mass). You might tell yourself that you give to charity. BUT, the Pharisees also gave their dues, and attended their services. However, this was somehow not enough, there needed to be something deeper at right with them before the Lord, even though they did not recognise their faults. And so the Baptist warned that "retribution" was coming to them, as it might well come to us, if we do not produce the "fruits" of repentance.
So, in this holy season of Advent, when we are called to get ready, we should fear the judgment if we do not recognise the sins within our hearts that we need to repent of.

But, to return to the first reason to repent of our sins, the 'happier' reason, so to speak.
Advent is time of waiting, of getting ready for His coming. And His coming will bring with it everything we are yearning for.
For the bored, God will excite and satisfy them beyond our imagining.
For the distressed, God will calm and rest their weary lives.
Yet, He will be unable to offer us any of these things unless are ready for them. A sinless perfect place, heaven, is something we will only be ready for IF we GET ready with "works of repentance".

In a week and a half we'll have our Advent penitential service with 4 priests here to hear your confessions.
Also, after each Sunday Mass all through Advent I'll be available in the confessional for confessions. And, the usual times of confessions either here, or in Wimborne, or in Kinson, are as advertised in the newsletter. In addition,
The washing of sin available to us in this sacrament is much greater than the mere symbolic cleansing offered by the Baptist in the River Jordan. So let is make the most of it.
Whether our repentance is motivated by fear of judgement, or the desire to get ready for the joy of his coming, let us use this season to prepare:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand."