Sunday, 15 October 2017

Evangelisation, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Mt 22:1-14; Isa 25:6-10
I’d like us to consider where we fit in today’s parable. The Lord Jesus just described “the kingdom of heaven” and there were a number of characters in that parable. I would like us to start by noting the “servants” of the king:
Those servants were SENT out, sent with invitations to the banquet.
I would like to point out that this role is exactly what Pope Francis and the recent popes before have said is OUR role:
You and I have been SENT out to the society we live in to invite people to the banquet of the Lord.

The “wedding banquet” is a common image in the Scriptures.
Being a “wedding”, it symbolises the love between God and His people.
Being a “banquet”, it symbolises something desirable & satisfying, something we should WANT to attend.
In particular, being “the Kingdom of Heaven”, it offers:
the fulfilment of all desires in Heaven,
the meaning and purpose of life on earth,
and the joy of being with the Lord who loves us -a joy we can know both in this world and the next, as much as we are open to it.
The “wedding banquet” invitation is an invitation to “marry” God -and there is nothing greater that one might wish for.

My point to you today, is that the Lord’s parable indicates that there are those “sent” to “invite” others.
Someone has the task of communicating that invitation.
And that someone is you and me.
The word we use of this task is “evangelisation”: making known the Good News about Jesus Christ.

Before saying anything more I want to dispel a certain image of “evangelisation”, namely, the image of the man standing on a soap box shouting out passages of the Bible to random strangers as they walk by. There is a place for this, but it’s not the primary or even most common form of evangelisation.
Such a type of evangelisation requires specialised training, but Pope Francis makes the point that actually communicating this message is a task we ALL have -evangelisation is NOT a job for specialists (EG 120-121).

The people we are to communicate this “invitation” to is everyone.
That means it is primarily to the people we meet most frequently. This, of course, is what can make it so difficult. In many ways its easier to talk about God to a stranger than to someone in our own family.
But if we love our family members more than we love the stranger then we should WANT to tell them about the Lord.

This brings me to my last and final point:
What IS evangelisation? What is the “invitation” we are communicating?
At its heart, it means telling someone about the Lord Jesus.
Evangelisation happens when someone “encounters”(c.f. Evangelii Gaudium 7) the Lord Jesus,
and someone can only meet the Lord Jesus if someone INTRODUCES them to the Lord,
and introducing someone to the Lord means TALKING to them about Him.

In a week and a half we’re going to re-launch our Parish Evangelisation Team (because it took a break over the summer). Everyone in the parish is invited to these meetings. All we do in them in go around in a circle and each share one single attempt we’ve made in the past month to talk to someone about the Lord. It’s a simple methodology to enable us all to learn from each other how to do this simple but difficult thing:
to talk to another person about God;
to invite another person to the fulfilment of all their desires, the “wedding banquet” of the Lord.
Like the servants in today’s parable, it’s an invitation we’ve all been sent to spread.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Fatima Centenary, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Isa 5:1-7; Mt 21:33-43
People often wonder if God still does anything, still works miracles, is still active in people's lives.
We read in the Bible of Him doing great things. But what does He do today?
We heard, for example, in our first reading and Gospel text of God’s care for His chosen “vineyard”. That vineyard, in the Old Testament, was His chosen people Israel. In the New Covenant, in Christ, that is the body of believers, the Church. But we sometimes hear the concern expressed: Does God still care for His Church? Is He still active today?

This week marks an important milestone that can focus us on that issue, namely, the one hundredth anniversary of Our Lady appearing to 3 shepherd children in Fatima, in the year 1917.
You may recall that Pope Francis went to Fatima earlier this year and canonised two of the visionaries, Jacinta and Francesco.
You might also recall that Pope Francis consecrated the entire world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, before the statue of our Lady of Fatima, a statue he's had specially brought to Rome from the sanctuary in Portugal. You may recall, too, that just after he was elected Pope, he had his papacy dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima by the bishop there.
Fatima is one of those many places where God has manifested His power in a mighty fashion, and here, as in similarly many occasions, here He manifested that power through the hand of our Blessed Mother & His.

In the year 1917 three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francesco, aged 10, 9, and 8, in the remote village of Fatima in Portugal claimed to have seen a vision of Our Lady. For a long time their families called them liars, the parish priest doubted them, the local mayor (in a violently anti-Catholic government) arrested them and threatened to boil them in oil unless they denied it. But on the 13th day of six consecutive months ever-increasing crowds came to see the children as they had their visions. The apparition promised that on the 13th of October, the anniversary of which is this week, a miracle would be worked in public. 70,000 people came that day, most believers, but many came to scoff, and secular journalists came to report what they presumed would be a disappointed crowd. Yet, it is those journalists who give us some of most dramatic accounts of what they all saw, 'the miracle of the sun', which is described in more detail in the parish newsletter, and even more detail at www.fatima.co.uk Some people today have tried to claim this was just a mass-hallucination, yet never in human history has there been such a well-documented miracle, and never have such a mixture of unbelievers and believers had the same "hallucination".

To me, however, the real miracle of Fatima was not the sun, or the healings of the sick and crippled, but the prophecies that Our Lady gave, prophecies of the horrors that would be unleashed on the world during the 20th Century. We think of the two world wars. But we are less likely to be aware of the 27 million Christians martyrs killed last century, more than twice the number in all the previous 19 centuries put together, whose accounts Saint John Paul II documented at the end of that century. All that human and Christian suffering was foretold in those visions at Fatima.
But, and this is the point, it was not foretold in some passive unavoidable way, but as a warning, with a remedy that, if followed, could have prevented much if not all of it. That remedy was prayer (especially daily Rosary), penance, and to entrust ourselves to her Immaculate Heart. That remedy was followed by many, and Pope John Paul II, as indicated in the parish newsletter insert, attributed his being spared in the assassination attempt of 1981, to Our Lady. Her hand guided the bullet and spared his life, he said.
And the point is this, as Cardinal Ratzinger is quoted in the newsletter saying: prayer changes the course of history.
And it can change the course of my life, and your life.

To conclude:
Is God still active today? Does He act to care for His vineyard the Church, today?
Fatima gives us a powerful example of the fact that, yes, He is.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Others before Himself, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Phil 2:1-11
I’d like us to consider one aspect of what it FELT like to MEET the Lord Jesus.
We know that the Lord made quite an impression on people as He travelled, and talked, and met people. Today, I want to reflect on an aspect of what we heard St Paul speak of in our second reading (Phil 2:1-11).

Let me start with a more general observation: When we meet someone, do we experience that person as thinking more about himself or more about YOU?
I think we’ve all had the experience of meeting someone who is so self-absorbed he doesn’t really see you. He might not be unpleasant or bad, but he’s so absorbed in something else that he fails to see your situation, fails to bring you a cup of tea, or a chair.
Or, if he does these things he’s someone done them for himself before he’s done them for you.

My point is that it was the other way around with the Lord:
When we read the Gospels we repeatedly read about someone who is focussed on the “other”, focussed on YOU, not focussed on Himself.
And when we recall that He was the Lord God almighty, its pretty amazing that He should be so focussed on us rather than on His own majesty.

To think of just two examples:
We might recall the occasion when He and His apostles were so exhausted with preaching and healing all day that He took them across the lake to a lonely place to rest awhile. But when they got there they found a whole new crowd waiting for Him. Did the Lord get exasperated and say, “Look, I just need some space right now! Leave me alone!” No, the Gospels tell us that He looked at the crowds and “felt compassion for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd”(Mk 6:34; Mt 9:36).
He thought of them before Himself.
We might also recall a similar scene when He met the Samaritan woman by the well. Again, He was tired and resting in the heat. Yet, He thought of her needs and her salvation first, and spoke to her at length and offered her the water that will forever satisfy. (Jn 4:4-26)
Again, He thought of others ahead of Himself.

In our second reading we heard St Paul telling us that this is exactly what a Christian should be doing:
Putting other people’s interests ahead of his own (Phil 2:4).
And St Paul says a Christian should do this because Christ did this.

St Paul goes on to spell out the definitive PLACE where Christ did this: on the Cross.
On the Cross, the Lord didn’t work for His own good but for OUR good.
On the Cross, the Lord put us ahead of Himself.
This is why the Cross is the definitive sign of what the Lord has done, and still does, for us.
This, ALSO, is why the Cross is the definitive sign of what we must do if we would FOLLOW Him.
If we are focussed on ourselves, and on our own needs, then we can’t truly love others.
If we are focussed on ourselves, and on our own needs, then we can’t truly be following Christ.
To love means to die to self, just as Christ died on the Cross.
This, to repeat what is said earlier this year, is why the Church calls for an image of “Christ crucified” (GIRM n.308) that is “clearly visible to the assembled congregation” (c.f. GIRM 117, 122, 306).
An image of Christ crucified shows you what the Lord does for you,
and shows you what you need to do to follow Him.

To close where I began, what did it feel like to meet the Lord Jesus?
To meet the Lord was to meet someone who was interested in you, who was focussed on you.
Just as, in His fullest expression, He was focussed on you as He died on the Cross for you.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

No sermon post this week

Our deacon is preaching

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Forgiveness is a Choice, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Mt 18:21-35; Ecc 27:30-28:7
I want to talk about forgiveness today.
Forgiveness is one of the defining characteristics of Christianity, both that we can receive forgiveness and that we must offer it.
Forgiveness, however, isn’t easy. In fact it’s precisely at those moments when it’s most important that it usually becomes most difficult to offer.
So I want to say some words about a few related things: to dispel some misconceptions about forgiveness, to indicate why we NEED to offer forgiveness, and to indicate what we need to do to offer forgiveness.

First misconception. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean saying that what they did didn’t matter, it does mean saying it’s “alright”, and it’s doesn’t mean making excuses for them.
When the Lord Jesus hung on the Cross, as the Gospels record, He offered His forgiveness to His murderers. He didn’t ignore their crime: they’re were committing the greatest evil in human history: they were rejecting and killing God. Yet, He freely chose to forgive them.

Second misconception. Forgiveness is not a feeling, rather, it is a decision.
I must choose, in my will, to forgive the person who has hurt me, long before my emotions have caught up with that. I may still feel anger, but forgiveness is a choice, not an emotion.
I must CHOOSE to forgive.

Third misconception. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.
Sometimes I must forgive my brother even though there is no realistic chance of us coming to harmony and talking to each other happily. Yet, my decision toward him but be one of forgiveness.

Fourth misconception. Forgiveness is rarely over in an instant, rather, it is often a long process involving many stages. Often I must renew my decision to forgive daily. I must, repeatedly, look at the evil that has been done to me and at the person who has done it, and say, yet again, “I choose to forgive”.

But why? If it’s so hard, WHY must I forgive?
Well, most importantly, because Jesus commands it. He commands it so emphatically that He says we will not be forgiven ourselves unless we forgive others.
We might also note the logic of this: I need forgiveness for my own sins, so I have no right to refuse it to others. If I say, “But my sins are not as big as the sins of this person against me”, well, I then seeking justice not mercy. And if justice is what I want, then justice it what I will get: condemnation, not salvation.
The Lord make this point so often that I could fill the entire length of Mass by citing the occasions.

Let me close, however, by offering a more human motive for forgiveness:
When we fail to forgive then we deny ourselves the possibility of inner healing.
Often we can see the evildoer merrily continuing on. He doesn’t seem affected. But unless I forgive I can’t let go. I cling to this event. Unless I forgive it will continue to weigh me down and afflict me.
If I forgive, however, a path to a new life is open to me.

Some significant recent books have been written on the healing power of forgiveness. I would like to commend to you one in particular, “Forgiveness is a Choice”, by Robert Enright
We have a few copies for sale in the porch.

To sum up: I forgive because Jesus commands it.
I forgive because Jesus forgave.
I forgive BECAUSE what has been done to me is evil, not pretending that it wasn’t.
I forgive even when my emotions are not with my decision of the will.
Forgiveness is a daily process, but the only path to life and healing.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Milk comes from Cows, Harvest Festival, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A



Rom 13:8-11
Today we’re keeping our Harvest Festival, something that I hope will become a regular annual event in the parish.

Some of you might recall a news report from a few years ago that reported a survey that showed that a surprisingly large number of people didn’t know where milk comes from. A lot of people seems to think milk comes from Tesco, and didn’t have any idea where Tesco got it from! In our increasingly urbanised world it’s easy to forget what happens on a farm. It’s easy to forget where things come from.
And today’s parish Harvest Festival is a valuable way of remembering where things come from.
So, for those of you who don’t know, milk comes from a cow.
But, what we really recall at a Harvest Festival is that all good things come from the good God above.

I want to make two simple points today:
The habit of giving thanks to God changes us in two ways:
It changes our relationship with God, and, it changes our relationship with our neighbour.

In our modern individualistic world we tend to have a rather selfish view of ownership.
We tend to think: this is MY money, I worked for it; this is my possession, I paid for it; no one else has a right to it.
In contrast, when we give thanks to God for our good things we trace that train of cause back further, and more honestly, and we realise that there is nothing I have than I don’t owe to God.
This changes how I feel about my ownership of things, it makes me see my ownership in a more relative sense.
It also implicitly reminds me that other people also come from the hand of the Creator; other people also have a right to the good things of Creation.
When we have this sense we are better able to live that “love” that our second reading says fulfills all the commandments (Rom 13:8-10); we are better able to see other men as our “fellow” men, not as rivals to our possessions.
A habit of giving thanks to God thus prepares us to live love of our neighbour.

Perhaps more obviously, a habit of giving thanks changes our relationship with God.
Again, this is particularly important in our modern world. We live in a culture of immense material prosperity, but in the quest for more and more things, there are two things we can forget:
(1) We can forget the God who makes all things, and by forgetting Him we forget what gives meaning and PURPOSE to all things -and a life without purpose isn’t much of a life, even if it is a life with the latest iPhone.
(2) More ironically, we can forget to enjoy the things we have: the quest to possess more and more frequently stops us pausing to appreciate and enjoy the good things we have. While I’m yearning for the iPhone 8 I forget to appreciate how amazing my iPhone 5 is.
So a habit of thanksgiving brings us joy.

In summary, today we are keeping a Harvest Festival.
This reminds us that milk comes from cows.
It reminds us, even more, that all good things come from God.
This reminds us that there is a Creator, that thus life does have purpose, and that that purpose is to be found in Him.
It remind me that my fellow man also depends on God, and that he and I are thus in mutual relationship, and that I must love him.
And finally, in giving thanks I experience joy because I pause to see the goodness of what I have.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

No sermon this week

Sunday, 27 August 2017

No sermon this week

Sunday, 20 August 2017

No sermon text this week

Our deacon is preaching this weekend

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Looking to Jesus in the Storm, 19th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A



Mt 14:22-33
I want to speak today about our need to look to the Lord when we are in difficulty.

The Gospel text we just heard is one that is powerfully symbolic of our need to look to Jesus. We heard about how the disciples were in their little fishing boat on the storm-tossed sea, and then they saw Jesus walking towards them, walking on the water. Then Peter, responding to the call of The Lord, stepped out onto the water, stepped out into the storm, and walked on the water TOWARDS Jesus.
The point I want to reflect on, however, is one that the patristic commentators note, that Peter then SANK into the water. Why did he sink? Well, the text tells us: "as soon as he felt the force of the wind he took fright, and began to sink" -he looked AWAY from Jesus and TOWARDS his problems, and he began to sink. But then looked again towards Jesus, calling "Lord, save me!", and The Lord lifted him up.
And this holds a symbolic lesson for how we too can sink: we sink in our problems in as much as we don't look towards Jesus, or, we walk on the stormy water when we keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus.

Let me briefly note how this works in three types of problems, three types of storms in my life.

First, the storms that are caused by my own mistakes. Lots of my problems are caused by my own incompetence, my own weakness, my own mistakes. I start something and then make a mess of it. Now, as long as I am just looking at myself, and looking at my problems, as long as I think it is all about MY effort, then I sink. I stare at my problems and they just seem to become bigger and bigger. But when I look to Jesus, i see something all together different, something good, and, in addition, He lifts me up with a strength that is beyond me.

Second, there are the storms caused, not by my weakness and incompetence, but by my sins. Now in these I can sink in a different manner. In my sins I can look solely to my guilt, and risk despair. When I could, and should, simply look to Jesus, tell Him I am sorry, tell Him I resolve not to sin again, and have Him forgive me.
He lifts me from the mire of my sins, and my guilt is left behind.

Third, and finally, there are those storms in my life that come from a source a simply do not know. And about these I never really understand. I can wonder why The Lord allows it, just as the apostles might have wondered why He sent them away from Him onto the sea -did He not know the storm was coming? Why did Jesus allow the storm at all? He could have calmed it, after all, He did eventually. I just don't know.
But I DO know that if I look to Jesus I can weather any storm.

So, to summarise.
Peter could walk on stormy water as long as he looked to Jesus.
But he sank when he looked away.
And you, and I, as long a WE keep our eyes on Jesus, turn to Him in prayer, turn to Him in repentance, turn to Him in the sacraments, then you and I can also walk the stormy waters of life.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Pretty or Ugly in Heaven?, Transfiguration



Today I would like you to consider what you might look like in heaven, because we will all look different.
Some of us will look better than we do now, some of us will look worse.

Today’s feast of the transfiguration gives us some indicators.
It was given as a vision to the Apostles Peter, James and John, to sustain them through the cross, by giving a glimpse of what He would look like in His glorious resurrection. He had just predicted that He would die and rise again; here He gave them a vision of glory of that future resurrection.
So, by application, let us consider what YOU will look like in the resurrection of the dead.

First, let us note that you will have a body.
The Lord Jesus rose in a body; He ascended with that body into heaven; He still has that body.
Having a body is simply part of what it means to be human.
This truth contradicts certain fashionable ‘New Age’ notions that we will all disperse into nothingness at death, or just disperse to become part of ‘the great life spirit’ of the universe.
No. You will have a body; you will remain a distinct person. United to God, but not absorbed into Him in a way that destroys your uniqueness.

Second, let us note that your future body will not be like your current body.
This difference was manifested in the Lord Jesus by His glory shining through His body.
Fulton Sheen speculates that this glory shining was our Lord’s natural state, and that it took a continuous act to suppress His glory from shining through.
The point is this: the body is proportioned to the soul; the soul is the form of the body.
The Lord’s soul was glorious, and His body was glorious.

What of MY body?
My current body will die and decay, and be no more.
At the end of time, according to Scripture, the Lord Jesus will return “to judge the living and dead”(as we say in the Creed).
With this General Judgement there will be a ‘General Resurrection’ when we will all rise with NEW bodies.
Those new bodies will be made to be fitting for our particular souls, to be proportioned to our particular souls.
When I die, by the deeds of my life, I will have made fashioned my soul to be beautiful or to be ugly, or to have a mixture of beauty and ugliness. My new body will be made to fit my soul.

The saints, in many and various visions on this topic, have described how those with souls made ugly in sin will rise at the judgment, not merely rise to condemnation, but rise with ugly bodies: bodies suitable for them, bodies that physically express what they are.

The Saints, in contrast, will rise at the judgement with beautiful bodies, bodies that physically manifest their virtues and glory.

In fact, already in this world we get a glimpse of this in the way that we can sometimes see someone’s goodness or see someone’s hatred and bitterness manifested physically in their face.

And what of me, in the final judgment?
The purifications of Purgatory might be of some help. If I am not so evil as to merit final condemnation, then the fires of Purgatory will purge away my ugliness.
But, and this is a point worthy of pondering: my eternal glory, WHETHER I am and HOW MUCH I am “beautiful”, will depend on how I live now on earth, will depend on what kind of person I will have fashioned myself to me, how I will have formed my soul.

To sum that up and come to a conclusion:
The vision of the Transfiguration showed Christ’s transfigured state to give His disciples a vision to motivate them through the difficulties of the suffering that lay ahead.
By application, the thought of our own future transfigured state, transfigured in glory or transfigured in condemnation, gives us a motivation to persevere in virtue.
What will you look like in the final resurrection?

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Poverty & Joy, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A




Mt 13:44-52; 1 Kgs 3:5-12
If you're wondering where I was last week, I was on retreat with the Dominican Sisters in the New Forest.
And I want to share with you an observation that I’ve made every time I visit nuns and monks:
They live poverty and simplicity, and yet they are the happiest people I know.
The only things they possess is the Lord Jesus, “the pearl of great price"(Mt 13:46), as we heard in today’s Gospel, and yet possessing that one thing they have everything.
When I was a teenager I can remember visiting a young woman I knew who had entered the Community of the Beatitudes, and I was very struck then by the way that every member of the community had a bedroom that had the same regulation bed and furniture, and even the very same alarm clock.
I’ve visited Poor Clares and been amazed at their ability to survive without heating.
Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity amaze me even more, by their living out of poverty in depending on holy Providence to bring them their food, often not knowing what tomorrow's meal will be.
Now, if you put ME in any one of those scenarios I fear that I would not be happy man, I would be looking back to what I used to have, I’d be thinking about what I had not:
NOT having central heating, NOT having my choice of food etc.
And yet, my repeated experience of nuns and monks is that they are the happiest people I know
-to live in Holy Poverty does not bring misery but rather brings happiness.

Nuns and monks live out in a very dramatic way what we heard Jesus speak about in today's gospel. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great price, a pearl so precious that it is worth giving everything else away in order to have that precious pearl.
A similar illustration was given to us in our first reading, when we heard the famous example of Solomon, and how the Lord appeared to him and offered him anything he might choose, and yet he didn't choose selfishly but he asked for the gift to be able to discern between good and evil.
The "pearl of great price" is of course Jesus Himself, He is, as the ancient Fathers put it, the Kingdom-in-person (Origen, c.f. Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (NY: Doubleday, 2007), p.49).

Those who have given up everything to be with the "pearl of great price" have put themselves on the path to the greatest happiness. JOY is the fruit of real LOVE, especially love of GOD. And as St Thomas Aquinas very simply explains, the more the heart cleaves the one thing the less it must cling to another, and so holy poverty enables us to love God more by detaching us from the goods of this world.
“It is abundantly clear that the human heart is more intensely attracted to one object, in proportion as it is withdrawn from a multiplicity of desires. Therefore, the more a man is freed from solicitude concerning temporal matters, the more perfectly he will be empowered to love God.” (St Thomas Aquinas, De Perf. Spirit. Vitae., ch. 6)

For ourselves, who live in the midst of the word, not in the cloister or the enclosure, how are these truths to be applied to ourselves?
Well, what we want is to be FREE to love. Holy poverty makes us free to love.
DETACHING ourselves from the goods of this world enables us to grow in that interior JOY that comes from loving the GREATEST Thing, God, rather than lots of lesser things.
The nun or monk choses holy poverty in totality. But we can at least choose it small “bit size” decisions:
In everything I possess I can strive to possess it in such a way that I am willing to LET GO of it,
to possess it in such a way that I remember that I exist in this world as a WAYFARER,
a pilgrim seeking to journey THROUGH this land to our true home of heaven (c.f. Phil 3:20-21).
And repeated acts of small self-denial, saying “no” to something desirable, is living holy poverty.

Another way of putting it is to note that it’s about priorities: My happiness in this world and my happiness in the next, depends on GOD being the FIRST priority in my life. St Augustine famously said, "You have made us for Yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You"
-our attitude to our possessions is a powerful test of what our hearts are attempting to rest in.

If the Lord appeared to you in a dream this night, and offered you a choice of anything you might desire, how many of us have recognised the "pearl of great price" sufficiently to be content to say:
You Lord, you are what I desire.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 13:24-30(short version); Wis 12:13.16-19
I'm not much of a gardener.
I like to see flowers that others have planted. I like to see bushes others have trimmed. But I don't have the patience for gardening.

I do know, however, the DISAPPOINTMENT that weeds bring.
I was looking at my back patio and wondering about the weeds:
How is it that weeds are so strong?
Where do they come from? Who put them there?

Seeing weeds is disappointing.
We hear that disappointment in today's parable, the workers ask:
Who has done this?
Who has planted the darnel weeds amidst the good seed?
This sense of disappointment is obviously what God so often feels when He looks at us:
He has planted good seed in us,
Yet, we produce lukewarmness, selfishness, a life that forgets Him.
And it would be fully understandable for God to burn the whole field down in frustration.
But, the point of the parable is that He doesn't.
He is patient.
The way a good gardener is patient.

A gardener was telling me recently that you can “over weed”:
We naturally pull up weeds when we find them amidst our flowers.
But, if you pull out too many of the weeds, too deep, you end up doing more damage than good.
A good gardener needs to know the right balance.
A good gardener needs patience.
The way that God is patient.

The parable works at many different levels.
Most simply, it shows us God's patience.
It also, as I implied, shows us His SKILL, the way a good gardener is skilful.

The parable can be applied within us or between us.
Between us, it remind us that at the end of time there will be a sorting and judging, a distinguishing between weeds and good crop, the damned and the saved.
Though God is patient, there will come a time for judgment.
Within us, however, the parable can also be applied:
There are both weeds and good crops within me.
Because God is patient with me, He lets the good have the space to grow.
I, however, need to use this opportunity
If I do my own weeding within me, repenting of my sins, then the good crops can dominate.

To sum up and repeat:
Like a good gardener, God is patient.
Like a good gardener, He is skilful.
He knows how to bring out good growth, and He wants good growth.
What we need to do is use His patience for good,
So that it will be the crop and not the weeds that grow within us.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

No Sermon this week

Our deacon is preaching this weekend

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Strong Humility, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A


Mt 11:25-30
I’m going to be brief today because we have an appeal at the end of Mass.

I want to make a simple but significant point today, to point out that humility and meekness is not about being a wimp.

We just heard the Lord Jesus tell us that we should “learn” (Mt 11: 29) from Him, and it is often noted that this is the only place in ALL of the Gospels where we hear Him tell us to "learn" directly from His example.
And the thing He tells us to learn from His example is His meekness and humility.

Now I just said that meekness and humility is not about being a wimp. And this is something we see in the Lord Jesus when we look at how He lived. He was quite capable of being strong when it was appropriate:
He rose from the dead,
He healed the sick,
He raised Lazarus,
and, perhaps more significantly, He drove the moneychangers out of the Temple -He manifested in that action a holy anger, a holy zeal, not to defend Himself but to defend His “Father's house"(Jn 2:13-18).

And yet, this Lord and Messiah, who was capable of being strong when He needed to be, was also willing and able to DEFER to the needs of others, to put others before Himself.
Allowing Himself to suffer and die for our salvation meant humbly and meekly putting others before Himself.
That took strength.
And every action that chooses to not be selfish but put others before ourselves, every such action requires strength
-a strength that we do not have of ourselves but that is we can have by calling on His grace.

Being humble and being meek requires strength on our part, and this is the example that our Saviour has left us:
“Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart"(Mt 11:29)

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Why the Crucifix?, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Mt 10:37-42
In today’s Gospel we just heard the Lord’s command that we must each “take up [our] cross”(Mt 10:38) if we would follow Him. I’d like to take this as an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the Cross for us.

As Christians, the cross is our definitive sign:
All across the world, this is this sign that distinguishes our buildings and monuments: Muslims have a crescent, Jews have a star, we have a cross.
In our prayers, all through history, we start and end our prayers by making a ‘sign of the cross’ -this practice is so old we find it written about in the 2nd century, the immediate generations after the Apostles (already written about by Tertullian).
When we are blessed, it is with the sign of the cross.
It is our definitive sign.

This said, as Christians, we believe in the Resurrection. It is the Resurrection that proves the truth of all that Jesus claimed -death could not hold Him.
Thus St Paul says that if Christ had not been raised then our faith would be in vain (1 Cor 15:14).
Nonetheless, our Christians liturgy, signs, monuments, and hymns all draw us to the Cross. Why?

One reason relates to what it shows us of God:
It is the sign of His love;
It is the sign that He is with us in our suffering;
It is the sign that He has sacrificed Himself for our sins;
It is the sign of His victory -by showing us the Cross we see, repeatedly, what He has overcome. The Cross is thus traditionally hailed as “our hope”.

Another reason is what it shows us of ourselves, and, how we are to live:
The definitive characteristic of an authentic Christian is that if we would “follow” (Mt 10:38) Him we must each “take up [our personal] cross”;
Christ crucified on the Cross shows me what it means to love others;
Christ crucified on the cross shows me that I must deny myself if I am to love others;
It is the sign that Christian living involves self-denial, as He lived self-denial;
It is the sign that I must be humble, as He was humble and put others before Himself;
It is the sign that it is only through dying that we can come to new life;
The Cross shows me how to live -following Him.

I want to bring this to an important, but controversial, practical focus for our church building. A proposal that I know will be the most unpopular charge I will propose in my time in this parish:
I would propose that we introduce a crucifix for you to see at Mass.
If you go to our neighbouring church in Wimborne, you will see a large crucifix hanging on the wall behind the altar.
If you go to our neighbours in Kinson, you will see an even larger crucifix hanging on the wall behind the altar.
But you don't have one to see in our church.
There is one I can see behind you on the back wall; there is a small one I can see here on the altar.
But the 2011 General Instruction of the Roman Missal insists on an image of “Christ crucified” (n.308) that is “clearly visible to the assembled congregation” (c.f. GIRM 117, 122, 306) -and there isn't one currently "clearly visible" for you here.
My proposal to you is that the beautiful large crucifix in the hall, that was originally above the altar when Mass was celebrated there before this church was built, my proposal is that we move that crucifix here into the church, to be on the back wall above the altar.
As you know, I am also proposing to move the tabernacle into the centre of the Church, that Christ might be at the heart of our building. I would like the definitive image of Christ, the crucifix, to also be at the heart of our building.
Sometime over the summer months I hope to get specific sketches and proposals to put to you, and to have a public meeting to discuss various aspects of this. But I want, today, to note one of the reasons for one of the changes I’m proposing:
The cross is our definitive sign as Christians;
Christ upon the Cross is our definitive image of God;
Christ upon the Cross is our definitive image of how we are to live as Christians following Him;
The crucifix is the natural visual focus in a Catholic church.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A



Mt 10:26-33; Jer 20:10-13
We just heard a promise from the Lord that relates to how we are to respond to many of the sufferings of life. He tells us, “Do not be afraid” (Mt 10:26).
More particularly, He tells us to not be afraid of those who can hurt the body but cannot hurt the soul.
There are other passages that relate to the promises He makes us sustain us even amidst the difficulties of the body, but here the focus is on the eternal, the TRULY disastrous damage, namely, whether we would lose or gain our immortal soul.
About this He tells us, “Do not be afraid”.

The deepest REASON why He promises us and tells us not to be afraid lies in the verse before the passage that we heard today. In the immediately preceding verse the Lord compares the disciple to his master, and the fate of the disciple with the fate of the master.
If something happens to the master, and the disciple models himself on the master, then same can be expected to happen to the disciple.
This, it might be said, is both good and bad news.
Bad news, because they crucified the master.
Good news, because the master’s Resurrection will be the fate of the disciple too.
They crucified the body, but not the soul.
The eternal is triumphant in heaven, and now with a new glorified risen body.

To help reflect on this promise in Matthew’s Gospel, the Church offers us today our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah. If you recall your Old Testament, Jeremiah had a tough role and a tough life. God had called him to tell the people that their capital city, Jerusalem, was about to be destroyed by the enemy and the people taken into captivity. This wasn't an popular message.
True, he also had a promise of salvation if the people would only repent and turn to the Lord. But the people weren't very interested in that. They just hated him for his message of destruction. And so, as we heard in that first reading, they plotted his destruction. “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”(Jer 20:10).
Jeremiah, however, as we heard, trusted in the Lord. And when the city was destroyed by the Babylonians and the people taken captives, Jeremiah was spared and set free.
God delivered Jeremiah.

This is a two-fold model for the disciple:
The disciple can expect persecution, just as Jeremiah was persecuted for the unpopularity of his message.
But the disciple can also rely on the Lord’s faithfulness to him, if he has been faithful to the Lord.

In its DIRECT application, this means the Lord will raise up the disciple despite the suffering that come from the disciple spreading God’s word.
In every era there is always a different aspect or set of aspects of God’s truth that is not accepted in a particular culture. And that will make the disciple hated, despised, and left suffering in the “body” -the “body” in the sense of those aspects of our life that are transient. Despite such suffering the disciple can confidently entrust his immortal soul and future to God, who will raise him up as Christ was raised.

In its INDIRECT application, this also means that the Lord will raise up His disciple in ALL of the sufferings we endure while following Him. So, when we face bodily suffering, this passage urges us to entrust ourselves to the eternal. Yes, the sufferings of the body are real, but if we endure them with love and patience, then we too will be raised up.
And, as a consequence, this should free us from worry about eternity.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. … Why, every hair on your head has been counted… if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven”(Mt 10:28-33).

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Adoring before Receiving. Corpus Christi



Today we’re going to do what might described as, “one of those weird Catholic things”. As a non-Catholic might observe and describe what we’re going to do at the end of Mass: we’re going to worship what looks like a piece of bread. As the unbeliever thinks: we’re going to take a wafer of bread, lock it up in a metal contraption, and then throw some smoke at it. And it all looks VERY odd to the unbeliever.

This is all something I do so often that I can forget what it looks like to an unbeliever. And yet, it all makes sense to me because of something else that happens at Mass: receiving Holy Communion. And I want, today, to make the point to you that the Adoring of the Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that we’re going to do today is ESSENTIAL if receiving Holy Communion is to make sense to us.
The unbeliever thinks we’re just eating wafers of bread, and he thinks that because he does not ADORE it. And, of course he doesn’t adore it because he does not recognise it for what it truly is, namely, not really an “it” at all, but a “who” -the personal Presence of the Lord Jesus Himself.

Many centuries ago the great St Augustine made a statement that is very relevant in this regard -he was quoted more recently by Pope Benedict (p.83), and Pope Pius XII before him. St Augustine said that no one should “eat that flesh [i.e. the Eucharist] without first adoring it… we sin by not adoring it”.
IF we truly believe what Jesus said, “this IS my Body”, and if we truly trust the faith that all the early Church, and the Catholic Church still today teaches on this point, then because the Eucharist IS the Lord, we must adore it. Thus the Church teaches that the Eucharist is worthy of the same worship that we offer to God Himself, because God has made the Eucharist into His very self. To use the technical term, the Eucharist is give that grade of worship, “latria”, (Pope Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei, n.56) that is reserved for God himself.

Now, this is important because, as we sadly all know, it’s very easy to approach Holy Communion forgetting what we are doing. We can be distracted by all sorts of things, receive Communion, and realise that we've got back to our pew and knelt or sat down without really thinking about what we're doing.
How do we avoid this tragedy? By doing what St Augustine said: adoring what we receive. As I've indicated in the newsletter this week, there a simple application of this that was in the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal of 2002, that was translated in 2011, and that I'm afraid to say I've failed to point out to you until today, and that visitors from other parishes can sometimes be seen to do when they’re here:
Namely, to adore before receiving by making an "act of reverence"(GIRM n.160). As some of you have pointed out to me, and as I’ve indicated in the newsletter, you sometimes see visitors from other parishes genuflect before receiving Holy Communion, genuflection being the standard act of reverence to the Eucharist (in the West). But, especially if you're infirm, you can bow, or, conversely, if you're fit you can kneel -as Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have reintroduced in Rome. But whichever you choose, the new Instruction is clear that we should ALL be making an act of reverence, to adore what we are to receive, and to thus be better ready to receive, better focused on what we are doing, better focused on the fact that it is a person, and not just a thing, that we are receiving.

Let me close with an important word about the Benediction we're closing Mass with today:
The practice of adoring what we are to receive isn't just about the moment before receiving, it extends to coming to Jesus in the Tabernacle, to how we greet Jesus in the Tabernacle when we enter Church before Mass begins, and to how we continue to reverence Him there after Mass.
Even more, the practice of adoring Him takes the form of Exposing Him for view in what is called a "monstrance", to gaze upon Him and worship Him. Though we'll only do so briefly at the end of today’s Mass, this Exposition and Adoration is often done for hours on end.
And when we carry the Blessed Sacrament in procession we not only adore Him while doing this, not only reverence Him in a particular way, we also symbolise the manner in which Jesus is with us in our whole procession of life, in our pilgrim journey to heaven -leading us there, but also with us on the way.
Then, finally, He whom we have Adored blesses us in the Benediction, a blessing direct from our Eucharistic Lord, and it is a source of a great many graces.

So, to sum up. What we’re doing today looks odd to the unbeliever, but it’s what helps us recall what it is that we believe. A small act of genuflection reminds us that Jesus is with us in life, in Church, and in Holy Communion. And adoring Jesus exposed in the monstrance helps us adore Him who we would receive.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Trinity Sunday




I want to try and tell you today that the Trinity is not just an abstract doctrine, is not just a riddle about God being three while also being one, about having three persons but one nature.
In fact, the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us something that should give us a warm COSY feeling inside.

Let me make a comparison to you:
Let us imagine what our notion of God would be like if we did not know about the Trinity,
and let’s compare that with the notion of God that is revealed to us in the Trinity.

If we want to imagine what our notion of God would be like without the Trinity it’s not difficult:
we can simply look back in history and see what reasonable men thought God was like before Christianity. In particular, we can look to the ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle and so forth.
Because even in ancient times there were men whose reasoning was clear enough that they saw that the pagans idols were fictions,
that there are not many gods but only one,
that he is not a statue but a spirit.
Reason alone, even without the benefit of the supernatural Revelation that comes to us in the Bible and through the tradition of the Church, Reason alone was able to tell those philosophers many true things about God.

For example, they knew that god was one, as I said, that He was spiritual and not material.
That He was the First Cause of all things, the Unmoved Mover who ‘moved’ the world into existence.
That He always existed and never started to exist.
That He had no limits.

But there is ONE thing that we FAIL to find in the ancient Greek philosophers, and that is the notion that God is interested in us, that He loves us.
And we also fail to find in the ancient Greeks any notion of God being RELATIONAL
–something He has to be if He is to love.

And what do we find in the doctrine of the Trinity? What do we find in the Revelation of God given to us in Jesus Christ?
We find that love and relationship are the very ESSENCE of what God is:
“God is love”(1 Jn 4:8), Scripture says.

When we say that in the one God there are three persons, we are saying that in His very being there is an eternal loving inter-relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
When the Church professes that the Son is EQUALLY God, as truly God as the Father is,
when the Church solemnly professes, as we say in the Creed, that the Son ALWAYS existed, that though He is begotten of the Father He is “ETERNALLY begotten of the Father, God from God...”,
when we say this we are saying that this loving inter-relationship of three persons is what God is.

So, while it is true that this is not an easy thing to grasp,
that it will always exceed our mere human intellect’s ability to FULLY comprehend,
it is nonetheless a doctrine that teaches us that God is love.
It is a doctrine that should give us a warm cosy feeling inside.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

'The Great Unknown' or, 'The Great Friend'? Pentecost



Today we keep the feast of Pentecost, when we recall how the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles in the Upper Room.
To a lot of us, however, the Holy Spirit can seem a little vague. As Pope Benedict put it in 2007, "There are many Christians for whom he [the Holy Spirit] remains the 'great unknown.’” This echoed a sermon of the same title by St Josemaria Escriva (in the mid-20th century).

Let me make a comparison with the other two persons of the Trinity:
If we ask, “What is Jesus like?” We can turn to the Gospels to see Him described. We see Him acting, hear Him feeling things etc
If we ask, “What is the Father like?” We can, by extension, know what He looks like too. Not because He is seen in Himself, for “No one has seen the Father” (Jn 6:46), but because He is seen in His Son Jesus Christ, who is the “image” of the Father (c.f. Col 1:15; Jn 1:18; Jn 14:9, 2 Cor 4:4).
But, if we ask, “What is the Holy Spirit like?” It would be very understandable for someone to say, He’s “the Great Unknown”!

And yet, St Josemaria also taught that, while He seems unknown to many, He is, in truth, “The Great Friend”.
How is He our “friend”? By all that He DOES for us.
Think about it this way:
We can answer the question, “What is the Holy Spirit like?” by pointing to what He does:
He CHANGES us –just as He changed the Apostles from timid men hiding in the Upper Room to BOLD men who rushed out and preached, and added three thousand to the numbers of believers that very day (Acts 2:41).
More generally, we can consider what the Holy Spirit does by saying:
He sanctifies us;
He conforms us to the image of Christ the Son (2 Cor 3:18);
He gives us the power to do what we cannot do alone.


He DOES things. Now, I need to clarify this slightly and acknowledge that all divine action is “the common work of [all] the three divine persons”, with the one divine nature having one operation. And yet, Scripture and tradition ‘appropriate’ certain particular activities to certain persons of the Trinity (Summa Theologica I q 37 a7), with “each divine person performing the common work according to his unique personal property” (CCC 258). And we can see a lot that is ‘attributed’ to the Holy Spirit:
Consider the sacraments: It is by HIS action that the sacraments are effective:
In the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest stretches out his hands over the bread and wine, a gesture CALLING down the Holy Spirit in ‘the epiclesis’, to change bread and wine into Jesus’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
Similarly, in Confession, the priest stretches out His hand as His says the words of absolution –so that by the Divine power forgiveness is effected.
The Holy Spirit DOES things!

How else does He “do”?
He is the one who apportions different gifts to the different members of Christ’s Body (c.f. 1 Cor 12:3-13 -second reading of the morning Mass);
He is the one who gives the ‘7 Gifts’ of the Holy Spirit –empowering us to do what we cannot do alone.

To conclude, a good friend seeks our good, our well-being. The Holy Spirit is “The GREAT Friend” because He seeks that ULTIMATE good for us -to make us like unto God.
And, if we would have Him be not ‘The Great Unknown” but “The Great Friend” then, very simply, we need to relate to Him, talk to Him, pray to Him, call upon Him, “Come Holy Spirit..” –a prayer to be on our lips all year!

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Away at True Survivor: No Sermon this Weekend

I'm away being chaplain at True Survivor www.truesurvivor.uk

This photo is from when I joined True Survivor in 2016. As of 2017, I'm now chaplain to True Survivor, Bishop Mark O'Toole is our patron, and Will Hince will soon be doing this full time as part of a registered charity.




Sunday, 21 May 2017

Away in the Holy Land: No Sermon this Weekend

Fr Dylan is on a parish pilgrimage in the Holy Land this weekend

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Enjoying Beer with Jesus, 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A



1 Pet 2:4-9
I want to talk to you today about 3 things: Drinking beer, enjoying chocolate, & doing these with Jesus.
I want to talk about this for 2 reasons:
First, on Easter Sunday someone came up to me puzzled. He said: “A few weeks ago you were telling us to ‘give up’ things, and that you were not eating chocolate, and that there won’t be chocolate in heaven. But now, you’re saying we should be having 50 days of feasting. I don’t understand! Which is it?”
Second, our second reading, from St Peter, said we should “offer” our very selves as “spiritual sacrifices” to Jesus. Now, many of us somehow think we can “offer it up” when we are suffering, but don’t understand how to “offer up” our rejoicing and our feasting.



Here’s the thing: There is a notion of God that somehow thinks that God is only happy when you are miserable, that a “good” Christian is someone who is miserable and sad.
This, I want to say very clearly, is a heresy, and very damaging one.
In England, it has its roots in the Protestant Reformation and Puritanism. Those of you who know your history will remember that Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas in England. Puritanism has a very confused notion of pleasure and enjoying yourself, whereas the Catholic view says this:
Nature comes from God’s hands, He made it.
It is to be enjoyed, WITH Him;
But, it is to be enjoyed in the MANNER that He has established:
Beer and chocolate, but in moderation, not in gluttony;
For His first miracle the Lord Jesus turned water into wine, He didn’t turn it into fruit juice.
The problem for us in England, even those of us who are Catholic, is that we’ve been infected with the remnants of this Puritanism: So when we enjoy things, we somehow exclude God from them.
The old TV advert, “Naughty, but nice”, was a modern incarnation of this Puritanism -if something is “nice” is must somehow be forbidden, be “naughty”.
And, the Irish among us can have a different problem: the French Jansenist heresy infected much of Ireland with a similar mind-set: pleasure is bad.

What then is the authentic Catholic position?
When we look to our roots we see that Catholics believe in times of feasting as well as times of fasting.
Both of these are done by unbelievers too: they feast, they diet.
BUT these two things, when done WITH JESUS are done very differently. And this is a CRUCIAL thing to grasp is we are not only to have God through ALL our life, but also if we are to TRULY enjoy things properly.

So, having God in my WHOLE life. How does that work?
First, When I enjoy my chocolate, when I enjoy my beer:
I think of God:
I thank God for them;
I choose to use them in the manner in which God has established, following His moral laws;

I don’t feel any guilt about them -they are from God.
This means I come to God both in good things and in bad.
To emphasise what I just said, it means that I have to use these pleasures in the MANNER that God has commanded:
Moderation, not gluttony: not too much chocolate, not too much beer.
Otherwise I spoil a good thing, and guilt then does become appropriate.
And, even more tragically, the sinner is a slave to his sin, the glutton is slave to his pleasure.
Alcohol owns the drunkard; it is the MODERATE man who is FREE to truly enjoy it. The addict, the glutton, the sinner -none of these enjoy life and enjoy the pleasures of life the way the virtuous Christian can
And the pleasures of the bedroom, these can be with God, or He can be excluded -to our detriment.

In summary: offer your very lives to God, as a spiritual sacrifice (1 Pet 2:4-9)
Offer your 40 days of fasting in Lent;
Offer your 50 days of feasting now in Eastertide -be at union with Him in all things
And give back to Him the life He has given to you.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Vocations Letter & New Evangelisation Message from Bishop

For Vocations Sunday, Bishop Mark O'Toole has issued a pastoral letter which you can read here



It refers to his new pastoral message 'Go make Disciples' which you can read here

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Footprints, 3rd Sunday of Easter



Lk 24:13-35
I want to say a few words this morning about about how The Lord accompanies us in our difficulties.

Often when we are finding life most difficult, it can be at those moments that we fail to see The Lord, fail to recognise that He is with us. When things seem tough, we feel like we're alone.
Maybe when we feel that our work, our labours, our talents, whatever we're doing -we feel like we not appreciated.
Maybe when we feel the physical pains of life -burdens that seem like they just won't go away.
Maybe when we feel cut off and alone in other ways.
Being in difficulty can be a very LONELY experience, and, ironically, it can be something that prevents us seeing the presence of the very ones who might be trying to support and accompany us.

If we think of the resurrection appearance to the two men on the road to Emmaus we see a similar pattern: their absorption in their difficulties, in "all that has been happening in Jerusalem these last few days" (Lk 24:18); about how their hopes that Jesus was the Messiah had been crushed by His arrest and crucifixion. -it seems that they were so absorbed in their pain that they didn't recognise that The Lord Himself was there by their side.
There is one other resurrection appearance when we see the same pattern, when Mary Magdalene is so caught up in her grief and weeping by the tomb that she fails to recognise The Lord Himself until He calls her by name, "Mary"(Jn 20:16).

We don't really know why they didn't recognise Him at first, it's quite unlike the other resurrection appearances in this regard, all we have is this obscure phrase, "something prevented them from recognising Him"(Lk 24:16). My own thought is that it might be linked with the all-too-common human phenomenon of being unable to recognise good things, and recognise The Lord, when we're wrapped up in our problems instead -or, at the very least, I think we can interpret it as being symbolic of this human phenomenon:

In both cases The Lord was there, the Risen Lord was there to console them, but it took some time for them to recognise Him.
Let me note further: it's not just that He was there, but He was there in His RISEN form -I.e. He was there to support and console them. And yet, despite the fact that the very reason He was there was to console them, they didn't see Him.
The point, for ourselves, is this:
We too have our problems, our pains, our experiences of isolation.
We too have these moments when it seems like the very times when we most need The Lord, it seems He isn't there.
But, for us, as for the men on the road to Emmaus, despite what we FEEL like, He is walking by our side. Even more, by grace He is within us, He is strengthening us, He is the One who is enabling us to go forward at all.
This, as I'm sure you've all heard before, is expressed in the old poem, 'Footprints', a version of which is on the sheet in the newsletter and we'll be singing later in the Mass.

But to conclude by bringing this to the Mass:
Those two men "recognised Him in the breaking of the Bread"(Lk 24:35).
We too, if we bring our problems to Jesus in the Mass, when we see Him here before us in the Eucharistic species, this is what enables us to see that this same Lord and God has been with us through everything else. Even when we feel alone, He is by our side.


____________________________

Footprints in the Sand
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,
“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”

Mary Stevenson, 1936

____________________________

Footprints Hymn
to the tune 'Londonderry Air/O Danny Boy' by Dr Robert Atkins, 2004

Upon the shore, I walked with Him at even
And I looked back upon the path we’d trod
And in the sand I traced our way at even
And I was glad I’d walked through life with God:
For side by side we’d journeyed through together
All through the world’s wide wilderness of care
And side by side we’d journeyed through to even:
Safe at His side the Lord my God had brought me here.

But in my joy I caught a strain of sadness
To give me pause when thinking of my way
For on the shore I saw He’d left me lonely
When I had most the need of Him to stay:
When I was tired He’d left me worn and wandering,
He’d left me lone when I was fighting fears,
He’d let me tread the steepest slopes in solitude
Before He came back to my side to dry my tears.

But then the Lord drew near to me in comfort
And in His tenderness He made it plain
That in the times when dread and darkness threatened
He was my shield and shelter from the pain:
For on His shoulders He was gently bearing
And on His shoulders I from harm was free:
The single trace of footprints of the Master,
The single trace of footprints shows He carried me.

So on the shore I walk with Him at even;
I face the latter days of life secure,
For if my pilgrimage reserves me sorrow
The footprints show that He is strong and sure:
If I am near the gates of heaven weary,
No longer strong enough to stride alone
The footprints show that He is there to carry me:
The footprints show the Lord my God will bear me home.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Thomas the Cynic, 2nd Sunday of Easter



Jn 20:19-31
We just heard about the man known as a "doubting Thomas", a person and label so significant that the name and phrase still lives on even in our post-Christian society.
Now, I have a theory about St Thomas that I'd like to share with you. St Thomas is often referred to as the classic skeptic, but I reckon he was actually a cynic.
The difference between a skeptic and a cynic is this:
A skeptic refuses to believe in anything,
A cynic believes in something, namely, he believes in evil, he believes in the worst about everything. If you say it's a nice sunny day, he sees the clouds coming. If you say how nice someone is, he points out his failings.
A skeptic refuses to believe in God because he doubts everything.
The cynic refuses to believe in God because he has been overwhelmed with the thought of evil instead -and this means that St Thomas has a very particular and valuable lesson for us.

My reason for saying Thomas was a cynic is this:
When the others said they had seen the Risen Lord, he didn't say, "Show me his risen body", but, like a cynic, he points to evil:
He speaks of the wounds that killed our Lord, of the experience of suffering, of what has gone wrong.

Now, Thomas wasn't always cynical. Earlier in the Gospels we see him expressing bravery, in fact, uttering one of the bravest statements in the Gospels: When Jesus set out for Jerusalem where He faced certain death, Thomas bravely said to the other apostles, "let us also go, that we may die with him"(Jn 11:16).

But by the start of today's gospel passage, this brave disciple seems to have changed dramatically, he had become cynical, and refused to believe. What had happened in between?
The Cross.
The experience of the suffering of the Cross had shattered his faith.
And suffering can destroy our faith too. We can allow an experience of evil to so overwhelm us that we no longer believe in the existence of what is good

Even though suffering is a time when we need our faith the most, to remind us that we are united to our loving Lord on the Cross, of the happiness that awaits us in heaven, of the fact that we have a loving Father who watches over us, even if we cannot see exactly how.
Just when we need our faith the most, pain can lead us to doubt these basic truths.

(pause) How does our Lord respond to the cynic's doubts?
The Lord points directly to what is worst, what is evil, and says He has triumphed over it.
In response to Thomas's doubts, our Lord showed him His wounds, showed His triumph.
The same Jesus who hung before on the Cross, also appeared to show that He had faced and overcome suffering. Thus Jesus says, "In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world"(Jn 16:33).

This is what enables us to have faith even though we live in a world where there is suffering.
Not because we deny that suffering is real.
But because we see that God has suffered with us, and for us, and even more, that He has triumphed over it, and promises US a share in His victory, if we but put our faith and trust in Him.
That's why St. John says, "this is the victory over the world: our faith"(1 Jn 5:4).

Every religion or philosophy must try to deal with the problem of suffering, but none can do so as well as Christianity. The cross and suffering are unique to Christ.
(pause) When our faith is tested by suffering, as it easily can be, when we feel like giving in to cynicism, we would do well to recall the sight of our Lord showing His triumphant wounds, a display that gives faith in Him credibility even in a world of tribulation.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Proof of the Resurrection, Easter Sunday




We’re gathered here today because of an event that happened 2000 years ago: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
As we know, there are some people who think that the Resurrection never happened. I want to say a few words this morning about why the Gospel accounts of His Resurrection are worthy of having us acknowledge them as recording facts and not recording fables.

There are 3 points to make about the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ:
First, there is the fact that His tomb was empty. As the newsletter sheet insert from Josh McDowell summarises, there are no other convincing explanations as to how His tomb became empty: it is a fact calling for an explanation.
Second, there is the fact of the existence of the Church as body of people who claim Jesus rose from the dead. That Christians claim this is a fact, but WHY do they claim it? Where did the idea come from? This is another fact calling for an explanation.
The only explanation that coherently fits these 2 facts is that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead.
The third point I wish to make concerns the credibility of thinking this, in particular, concerns the credibility of believing the witnesses.

There were, as the Gospels record, certain witnesses who claimed that they saw Jesus after He rose of the dead. Now, as we all know, not everything someone says is to be believed –we need to test the reliability of a witness. And, about that issue, I want to point out that the first Christians were no fools, they knew it was a most remarkable thing these witness were claiming; they tested the claims to see if they were true.

There are 2 points we might test about a witness: was he actually there to see the event he claims to have witnessed? And, is the manner of his recounting straightforward or is it fanciful?
As you all know, we have 4 official ‘canonical’ gospels, 4 approved records of what Our Lord did and said, and of His resurrection appearances.
You are probably less familiar with the fact that there were other texts that claimed to be records, claimed to be ‘gospels’, but the Church tested them and found them unworthy of belief.
Some were dismissed on the simple grounds that they were not recorded by people who were actually there, being written much later.
Others were dismissed because the manner and style of their accounts was fanciful, claiming that Jesus acted more like a magician doing parlour tricks than a Messiah working miracles. So the alleged ‘gospel’ of Thomas has the boy Jesus showing off in front of other boys: they made clay birds, so he made his clay bird come to life![1] Similarly, the alleged ‘gospel’ of Peter alleges a triumphal procession coming out of the tomb, with cross in the procession.[2] While the alleged ‘gospel’ of Bartholomew describes “angels, fiery chariots, and God, descended to earth”[3] as part of the resurrection.

Now, my point is this, the type of description we find in the true Gospels are very different. They are simple, undramatic, matter of fact, the sort of descriptions made by reliable witnesses who were actually there.
It is characteristic of true witnesses that they do not feel a need to embellish their accounts with fanciful details.
So, for example, as we heard in our first reading, St Peter said very simply, “we have eaten and drunk with Him after His resurrection” (Acts 10:41). And, to take another example, the angels who appeared by the tomb are simply described as men “sitting in white”(Jn 20:12) –they are not described as having fancy wings, or fiery radiance. Or, to take a final example, when Jesus showed them the wounds in His hands and His feet, He simply said, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”(Lk 24:37)
–no fake drama, or flashes of lightning.
No need for melodramatics because they were describing what was true, what they had “seen and heard” (1 Jn 1:3).

This is why we are here today. We are not here because we think people normally rise from the dead, but because we recognise the unusual nature of this unique event. An unusual event, but the only explanation that fits the facts:
The tomb WAS empty,
the early Christians DID claim He had risen,
and their testimony is reliable.
And those 3 facts give us reason to put our faith in Christ, and to believe that the many things He promised them He promises us too, including what we proclaim in the creed: “the resurrection of dead”.

Footnotes:
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infancy_Gospel_of_Thomas accessed 5/4/12
[2] An excerpt from the apocryphal Gospel of Peter:
“And in the night in which the Lord's day was drawing on, as the soldiers kept guard two by two in a watch, there was a great voice in the heaven; and they saw the heavens opened, and two men descend with a great light and approach the tomb. And the stone that was put at the door rolled of itself and made way in part; and the tomb was opened, and both the young men entered in. When therefore those soldiers saw it, they awakened the centurion and the elders, for they too were close by keeping guard. And as they declared what things they had seen, again they saw three men come forth from the tomb, and two of them supporting one, and a cross following them. And the heads of the two reached to heaven, but the head of him who was led by them overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice from the heavens, saying, You have preached to them that sleep. And a response was heard from the cross, Yes”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Peter accessed 5/4/12
[3] “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ (by Bartholomew) is not to be confused with the Questions of Bartholomew, although either text may be the missing Gospel of Bartholomew (or neither may be), a lost work from the New Testament apocrypha. Subsequently, the text describes Jesus descending into hell, and, finding Judas there, preaching to him. Jesus rescues everyone from hell, except Judas, Cain, and Herod the Great. This is followed by a flashback described by a gardener to the night when angels, fiery chariots, and God, descended to earth, and resurrected Jesus.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resurrection_of_Jesus_Christ_(by_Bartholomew) accessed 5/4/12

The Empty Tomb -Josh McDowell Summary

In the following Josh McDowell examines 5 mistaken attempts to explain-away the Empty Tomb. He concludes that the only reasonable explanation is that Jesus had risen, as the witnesses claimed. Buy his book here

1. The Wrong Tomb?
A theory propounded by Kirsopp Lake assumes that the women who reported that the body was missing had mistakenly gone to the wrong tomb. If so, then the disciples who went to check up on the women's statement must have also gone to the wrong tomb. We may be certain, however, that Jewish authorities, who asked for a Roman guard to be stationed at the tomb to prevent Jesus' body from being stolen, would not have been mistaken about the location. Nor would the Roman guards, for they were there!
If the resurrection-claim was merely because of a geographical mistake, the Jewish authorities would have lost no time in producing the body from the proper tomb, thus effectively quenching for all time any rumor resurrection.

2. Hallucinations?
Another attempted explanation claims that the appearances of Jesus after the resurrection were either illusions or hallucinations. Unsupported by the psychological principles governing the appearances of hallucinations, this theory also does not coincide with the historical situation. Again, where was the actual body, and why wasn't it produced?

3. The Swoon Theory
Popularized by Venturini several centuries ago and often quoted today, the swoon theory says that Jesus didn’t really die; he merely fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood. Everyone thought him dead, but later he was resuscitated and the disciples thought it to be a resurrection.

The skeptic David Friedrich Strauss – himself no believer in the resurrection – gave the deathblow to any thought that Jesus merely revived from a swoon: “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulcher, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening and indulgence, and who still at last yielded to his sufferings, could have given the disciples the impression that he was a Conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life, an impression which lay at the bottom of their future ministry. Such a resuscitation could only have weakened the impression which He had made upon them in life and in death, at the most could only have given it an elegiac voice, but could by no possibility have changed their sorrow into enthusiasm, have elevated their reverence into worship.”

4. The Disciples Stole the Body?
Another theory maintains that the body was stolen by the disciples while the guards slept (Matthew 28:1-15). The depression and cowardice of the disciples provide a hard-hitting argument against their suddenly becoming so brave and daring as to face a detachment of soldiers at the tomb and steal the body. They were in no mood to attempt anything like that.

J.N.D. Anderson has been dean of the faculty of law and director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of London. Commenting on the proposition that the disciples stole Christ’s body, he says: “This would run totally contrary to all we know of them: their ethical teaching, the quality of their lives, their steadfastness in suffering and persecution. Nor would it begin to explain their dramatic transformation from dejected and dispirited escapists into witnesses whom no opposition could muzzle.”
Dr. John Warwick Montgomery comments: “It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”

5. The Authorities Removed the Body?
The theory that the Jewish or Roman authorities moved Christ’s body is no more reasonable an explanation for the empty tomb than theft by the disciples. If the authorities had the body in their possession or knew where it was, why didn’t they just produce the body when the disciples began preaching the resurrection in Jerusalem? Why didn’t they recover the corpse, put it on a cart, and wheel it through the centre of Jerusalem? Such an action would certainly have destroyed Christianity.

Conclusions: The Resurrection is Factual History
Professor Thomas Arnold, for 14 years a headmaster of Rugby, author of the famous, History of Rome, and appointed to the chair of modern history at Oxford, was well acquainted with the value of evidence in determining historical facts. This great scholar said: "I have been used for many years to study the histories of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God bath given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead." Brooke Foss Westcott, an English scholar, said: "raking all the evidence together, it is not too much to say that there is no historic incident better or more variously supported than the resurrection of Christ. Nothing but the antecedent assumption that it must be false could have suggested the idea of deficiency in the proof of it."
But the most telling testimony of all must be the lives of those early Christians. We must ask ourselves: What caused them to go everywhere telling the message of the risen Christ? Had there been any visible benefits accrued to them from their efforts--prestige, wealth, increased social status or material benefits--we might logically attempt to account for their actions, for their whole-hearted and total allegiance to this "risen Christ ."
Christianity requires an historic cause. It did not exist until about A.D. 30, when it suddenly burst to life, spread like wildfire, and changed the world. What could have started this if not the resurrection, as the early Christians claimed? The Church was founded on the resurrection, and disproving it would have destroyed the whole Christian movement. However, instead of any such disproof, through the 1st century, Christians were threatened, beaten, flogged and killed because of their faith." It would have been much simpler to silence Christianity by putting forth evidence disproving the resurrection, but this could not be done.
As a reward for their efforts, however, those early Christians were beaten, stoned to death, thrown to the lions, tortured and crucified. Every conceivable method was used to stop them from talking. Yet, they laid down their lives as the ultimate proof of their complete confidence in the truth of their message.
So convincing and life changing was the resurrection, that the first Jewish disciples began meeting to worship God together on the first day of the week, the Sunday, and not the traditional Jewish Sabbath, the Saturday.

Where do you stand?
How do you evaluate this overwhelming historical evidence? On the basis of all the evidence for Christ's resurrection, and considering the fact that Jesus offers forgiveness of sin and an eternal relationship with God, who would be so foolhardy as to reject Him? Christ is alive! He is living today.
http://www.cc-vw.org/articles/resurrection.htm accessed 4/4/12