Sunday, 28 December 2014

Pastoral Letter on the Holy Family

This weekend there is a pastoral letter from our Bishop, +Mark O'Toole of Plymouth, which should be available at the Diocesan website at some time

Thursday, 25 December 2014


For my Christmas homily this year I'd like to drawn your attention (drawing on Benedict XVI, The Infancy Narratives, p.69) to two of the figures in our nativity set, in the Christmas crib here. Because the statues in the traditional Christmas crib are not random, rather, they are full of great meaning –meaning that lets you and me see various things about what Christmas is all about.
The two statues I want to mention are probably the two figures you'd think, at first glance, are the least important. The ox and the ass, which for those of you who don't know your farm animals, is basically a cow and a donkey.
These two figures are in every nativity set. But, let me note a curious detail: the Gospels them don't mention them. The Gospel says that the baby Jesus was “laid in a manger” (Ml 2:7) because there was “no room in the inn” (Lk 2:7) and so He was born in a stable. But the Gospels don't tell us which animals were in that stable. A manger would have been full of soft hay, for the animals to eat, and the Christian tradition has obviously imagined what sort of animals would have been there. And the choice of an ox and an ass is not random –it symbolises something.

On one level, the fact that ANY animals are pictured with the baby Jesus is deeply significant: it tells us what this child is all about. This child is the Lord God Almighty entering His creation. It is about the restoration and union of that damaged creation with its Creator. The baby Jesus started His human existence in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, but He existed before her, He existed before all His creation. Thus Scripture calls Him, the eternal Son, “the first-born of all creation”(Col 1:15).

We all experience the fact that we live in a broken and suffering world. Thus the importance of the promise of the Old Testament that a child would be born who would bring about the RESTORATION of His creation. The prophecy of Isaiah thus pictures a child leading harmony between the lion and the lamb, the wolf and the goat, with the child able to put His hand into the snake’s lair (Isa 11). Another prophecy pictures the Lord being recognised between two living creatures (Hab 3:2) while Isaiah himself refers to the “ox” and the “ass” knowing “it's master’s crib”(Isa 1:3).
As Scripture says elsewhere, all creation is yearning for this revelation with groaning and “eager longing”(Rom 8:19). And so the statue of the ox and ass here in our crib set symbolise this.

But there is another symbolism too. A symbolism that relates to humanity. Because pious tradition has identified the ox and the ass as symbolising both the Jew and the Gentile coming to same one Lord God. It is not just one human race, or just one type of animal, that Jesus has been born for, but for ALL of us –for you and for me.

Let me offer one final piece of symbolism. St Augustine notes that the manger is what the ox and the ass EAT from, where they get their hay. The fact that the baby Jesus was laid in the manger is symbol of Him coming to be the new food, “the Bread of Life”(Jn 6:35) as He would later say of Himself.
He has come among us, He has been born as one of us, that He might feed us. All of humanity has a SPIRITUAL hunger, a longing for more than this world’s material order. Today many fill our stomachs with turkey, and our trees may have a multitude of worldly possessions under them as presents. But there is more to us that such things.

We are made for love. Made to love, and made to be loved. And to be loved in the most solid and dependable manner by the Creator God come among us. And He HAS come and been born and been laid in the manger.

What the ox and the ass in the manger set signify is the fulfilment of such a need. We long for the Creator to come and enter His creation, to teach us, to heal us, to feed us, to love us. The animals, the ox and ass, symbolises that all creation has come to recognise and be at peace with the Creator born as one of us. “Today a saviour has been born to us, Christ the Lord”(Lk 2:11).

Sunday, 21 December 2014

4th Sunday of Advent, Year B

Lk 1:26-28; 2 Sam 7:1-5,8-11,16
We’re now in the final few days before Christmas, and this Sunday’s readings are given to us by the Church to be our final preparation for Christmas. And, as every year, the Church aids our final focus by turning us towards Our Lady. The Blessed Virgin was the one who first welcomed the baby Jesus into her heart and into her womb, and if we turn to her she can help us do the same for us this Christmas.
There are a great many things things we can learn by imitating Our Lady, a great many things we can gain by turning to her powerful and motherly intercession on our behalf. But this year let me point to just one, one thing that we too can do, can imitate, to prepare for Christmas.
And that thing is believing what God has promised. Because He has promised a great many things, including things that hold for us especially at Christmas.

There are two obvious things we can see in today's readings, two ways she trusted in God’s promises. The most obvious is the manner in which she responded to what the Archangel Gabriel asked of her. She said yes. She trusted that this highly unusual thing that the angel was saying would come true. She had just been told that she was to conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. This had never happened before in human history, and never since. And yet, she trusted what God said through the angel.
And when she proceeded to go visit her cousin Elizabeth (which we didn't hear read today), Elizabeth praised her for this very thing: for trusting what God had promised her, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord”(Lk 2:45).
And we too need to trust what God has promised for us.

The second, less obvious, thing she trusted in was a promise of God from of OLD. The message from the Archangel Gabriel referred to a much older promise, a promise not made to Our Lady but to King David, a thousand years beforehand. We heard that promise re-read to us today as our first reading, in which God told King David that He would raise up a “House” for him(2 Sam 7:13), meaning that his descendants as a line of kings would continue, and that a great king would arise. Our Lady, as a faithful trusting Jew, trusted and hoped in this promise. She knew that the Scriptures showed countless occasions when the Lord kept His promises, and she expected Him to keep this one too. And so when the angel said that she was to have a child who would be this descendent of David, a new definitive king to fulfil the ancient promise that there would be a king,
when she heard this promise to her personally it made sense to her in the light this ancient promise of old.

Where does this leave us, today? We too have promises that were made of old in the Scriptures.
We can choose to ignore those promises, maybe ignore them because they are old and to people in a far away land.
Or, we can choose to listen to those promises, just as Our Lady trusted in promises that were old and ancient and made a thousand years before her.

And what promises are those, for us, at Christmas?
Let me note just two:.
1) The promise that His “grace is sufficient for you”(2 Cor 12:9), as He was sufficient for St Paul in His trials, and His grace is sufficient even to sustain me amidst the busy hectic pace of Christmas.
2) The promise that He still comes to the lowly and humble of heart (c.f. Lk 2:50), as Our Lady joyfully proclaimed in her ‘Magnificat’. If I am lowly and humble, if I put other people before myself at Christmas, think of their needs and preferences before my own, then the Lord will come to me at Christmas.

So to sum up.
Our Lady trusted in God’s ancient promises in the Scripture, and so was ready to hear and trust the message from the angel, and her faith was rewarded by God coming to her.
If we trust in those many promises of old, if we are trust in His strength, if we are humble and lowly before others in their preferences, then He will reward and come to us this holy season too.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B

Jn 1:6-8,19-28; 1 Thess 5:16-24
If you were given the opportunity to stand before the European Parliament and tell them what you thought was wrong the modern world, and, more particularly, what you thought was wrong with Europe, what would you say?
Two weeks ago Pope Francis addressed the European Parliament and told them what he thought. (You can read a summary here). Many people were surprised at what he said. I, too, was rather surprised when I read his diagnosis.

As we all know, Pope Francis has spoken much about poverty. He has also spoken a lot about evangelisation. However, when he spoke to parliament the issue he focussed on was LONELINESS. He said that Europeans have forgotten that they are “beings in relationship”, instead, they think of themselves as primarily being individuals. And, unsurprisingly, we have created a society of isolated, lonely, individuals. And he attributed the neglect of the poor, the neglect of the elderly, etc, to all be symptoms of this more general social problem.

We are all lonely. And a great many people have sensed the truth of his words, because you can be lonely when you're alone, but you can also be lonely in a marriage, and lonely in a house full of people. You can be lonely in a crowd.

Pope Francis attributes this to something even deeper, namely, to the fact that modern Europe has forgotten God. We have forgotten the One who is our Father, the one in whose image we are all made, and so it is hardly surprising that we have forgotten the deep identity that binds us all together as a family, that makes us –“beings in relationship” (as he put it). We ARE “beings in relationship”, we ARE all made by the same one Lord, but we live in a world that does not SEE it.

On a different note, in the Gospel today we heard about something else that was not seen, was not recognised, namely, John the Baptist told the people that there stood among them, “unknown to” them (Jn 1:26), the One they were waiting for. The Church gives us this text today to give us a reason to “rejoice” as our entrance antiphon and second reading put it (1 Thess 5:16): rejoice because, even while we wait for His Christmas coming, He is already present among us.
Holy Mother Church knows that the preparations for Christmas can be an ordeal in themselves; she knows that we need to be reminded of a reason to “rejoice” –and the reason we are given today is that He who we long for is already with us.

Let me draw this to a conclusion by tying those two thoughts together:
I can live the final couple weeks before Christmas in a lonely isolated state, even if I am in the midst of people, full of nothing but pre-Christmas busy-ness. Or, I can recall the presence of the Lord. I can recall that every Christmas card is being written to a person made in His image. I can recall that every present bought is for a person that God wants to relate to as their Father. I can remind myself that every person I am tempted to PUSH and shove past in a queue is actually someone who is called to be part of the same spiritual family that I claim to belong to.
And if I do that, then I will have less of that sense of loneliness that the Pope speaks of, and I will cause less of that loneliness in others, and I will “rejoice” in the presence of the One who “stands among you, unknown to you” (Jn 1:26).

Sunday, 7 December 2014

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B

2 Pet 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8
Last Sunday somebody picked me up on something I said in my sermon. If you remember, I was preaching about the fact that the Second Coming, the end of time, could come at any moment. And I said that if Jesus came back this afternoon it would make me realise how many of my priorities are all wrong.
Well, this person asked, wouldn’t I be aware of my SINS if the end of time and the Final JUDGEMENT were to arrive this afternoon? Wouldn’t I be asking myself when I’d last been to CONFESSION and whether that confession had been ADEQUATE enough, or whether it had only been half-hearted?
Well, I said, that would be a different sermon. In fact, today’s sermon.

As I said last week, the Church starts our preparations for Christmas by reminding us of the Second Coming. So, as we heard again in our second reading today, St Peter warned that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief” in the night (2 Pet 3: 10, c.f. 1 Thess 5:2; Mt 24:43). There will be a judgement. And so St Peter warns us to “live holy and saintly lives” (2 Pet 3:11) “while you wait”(2 Pet 3:14).

In a related theme, today’s Gospel text has the call of St John the Baptist to “prepare a way for the Lord”(Mk 1:3). That call was issued to prepare for Jesus coming as the Messiah 2000 years ago; and it is re-issued to us today to help prepare us for Christmas –when Jesus can come again into our hearts.
At the end of time He will come whether we want Him to or not –come as Judge.
But now, and at Christmas, when He seeks to come as our loving Saviour, He will ONLY truly come IF our hearts are READY for Him.
And our hearts prepare for Him the same way St John the Baptist said back then: REPENT –turn from your sins, as we do especially in the sacrament of Confession.

But, it seems to me, there is an irony, a difficultly, in seeking to prepare for Christmas by turning from our sins. And the problem I see is this: a great many of us get so caught up in worldly busy-ness before Christmas that we are even LESS able to pause and see our sins than we normally are. As the saints down the ages have frequently warned us, worldliness clouds the intellect, it stops us seeing clearly.

So how do I clear my intellect? How do I remove the fog of worldliness?
One important way is to recall that all these worldly things will not last. As we heard St Peter say, at the Second Coming the sky will roar, the elements will catch fire, and the earth will burn up (1 Pet 3:10) –and all our worldly Christmas purchases will burn up with it.
My possessions, including by Christmas ones, will be burnt up and be gone.
My bodily beauty, such as it is, will all be burnt up and be gone.
The only possession that I will have left is whatever love is, or is not, in my heart and soul.
That, and my sins. My sins will be with me -the sins I have not repented of, the sins I have not confessed to have them wiped away, those sins will cling to me as I face the judgement.

We are not reminded of this just to frighten us. We are reminded of this because it is true. And, in particular, we are reminded of this TODAY because it is essential if we are to enter into Christmas with a heart centred on God, a heart full of love and not a heart full of possessions and turkey.

Let me bring this to a very practical conclusion: Go to confession before Christmas. We are frequently recommended to go at least once a month. We should especially go before Christmas and Easter. Next Saturday morning there will be a visiting priest here for confessions. The Monday after that we will have 5 priests here in the evening for confessions. There will be Polish confessions here the Sunday before Christmas before the Polish Mass. These dates are in the newsletter -note them in your diary. And, before that, think of the burning fire on that terrible Day. Think of what will and will not endure in your life.

Because if we focus on what endures (love endures (1 Cor 13:1)) we will also focus on what is most important for making the Christmas festival true and happy. Let us “Prepare a way for the Lord”(Mk 1:3).

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Christ the King, Year A

Mt 25:31-46; Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17.
Today we keep the feast of Christ the King. I've been pondering this week that being a "king" is a rather old-fashioned concept. And I've been thinking that Shaftesbury is a rather old fashioned kind of place, and we probably have a much higher percentage of monarchists here that there are in other parts of the country.
But, and this is my point today, what KIND of king do we picture Jesus to be? Because His kingship isn't just a cosy nice traditional piece of symbolism. I want to make three brief points: how His kingship is modern, how it is old fashioned, and why it is so vitally important that we think of Him as 'king' at all.

First, His kingship is 'modern'. And by this I mean that He respects our freedom. He lets us do what we choose. He is not a tyrant. So on one level, He is like a modern king in a democratic state.

Second, however, He is also old fashioned. Although He leaves us free to choose whether or not to follow Him, He will also judge us for our behaviour -judge us on how we have USED that freedom. Both our first reading and our Gospel text described Him as judging and separating the sheep from the goats.
Let me specify this further and note that He will judge us according to HIS standards rather than according to our own. In the Gospel description of the judgment, both those who were praised and those who were condemned were told that they had not seen the truth in their actions. So, those who had failed to feed the hungry hadn't realised that they were failing to feed Christ, but The Lord didn't say, "That's alright, I realise you didn't realise it was me you were neglecting". And the Lord didn't say, "That's alright, I realise that you followed your own principles, and that's what counts". No, He condemned them. He condemned them because what they did was wrong. He condemned them because they should have known.
When Christ comes He will judge by His standards, not by ours.

Finally, why is it good for us that He should be king?
It's good because we NEED to have someone in charge in life.
As we know, most of our contemporaries live as if there was no greater purpose in life, as if there was no one watching over us, as if there was no one caring and guiding us.
In contrast, to acknowledge that Christ is King is realise that there IS someone in charge. Someone in charge of the universe;
someone in charge of directing, in Providence, the events of life -even through suffering;
Someone in charge of my life and what happens to me.
And this is a great realisation. It means I am not alone. It means I am not just left to my own devices and my own strength or weakness.

HOWEVER it brings with it a practical conclusion. If I am to acknowledge that He is King then I need to submit myself to Him as His subject. And this is a very old fashioned, non-democratic thing.
But if I am to benefit from what His Kingship brings then I must commit myself to being His subject. I must accept what He teaches, strive to live His commands, call on His mercy when I fall, and rely on His strength amidst the trials of life.

So, to sum that up. Having a "king" may seem the kind of cosy nice traditional thing that we in Shaftesbury "go for". But with Jesus it means something very specific. He is a modern king in that He leaves us to be free. He is an old fashioned king in that He will judge us for how we use or misuse our freedom. And it is GOOD that He is our King, that He is in charge, because He is the loving shepherd of all who choose to be His subjects.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Purgatory, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

See GoogleDrive sheet on Purgatory and another on Indulgences

I want to speak about an important way to love, a way that, sadly, many people seem to have forgotten about today, namely, the need to love those who have died by praying for them.
Now, I'm not saying that people don't care about the dead any more. But it does seem that people have lost sense of part of what is INVOLVED in love for them, namely, praying for people who have died. One of the 'seven spiritual works of mercy' is to pray for the dead.
So, let me point out the three things that the dead need our prays for.

First, they need our prayers for MERCY in the JUDGEMENT.
When I die I will stand before the judgement seat of God. It will be decided whether I will be sent to Hell or Heaven.
Part of problem today is that we tend not to really believe in Hell any more, so that we just gloss over the words we heard the Lord Jesus say, as He said many times, of this place where "there will be weeping and grinding of teeth" (Mt 25:30) for all eternity. Likewise, our modern world is so unwilling to face death that we avoid texts like the one we just heard from St Paul referring to our end coming like a “thief in the night”(1 Thess 5:1-16).
We tend, instead, to picture a comfortable middle-class Western lifestyle that will continue past death with no awkward realities like ‘judgement’ getting in the way.
But the simple truth is that I will die. And I will be judged.
And it is the prayers of the living that will assist me in receiving mercy in that judgment. This is what the Jews of our Lord's own time believed (2 Macc 12:42-45). This what the early Christians believed, so we find St Paul praying for a dead man called Onesiphorus that "the Lord will grant him mercy"(2 Tim 1:18).

Second, after the particular judgement, if I am to go to heaven I will still almost certainly need to be PURIFIED of my sins, to be ready for the perfection of Heaven. This purification happens in the place that the Church calls 'Purgatory'. It involves CHANGING us, and like any change it is difficult and painful. The classical image for this is of FIRE, as St. Peter puts it, being purified in fire as gold is purified in fire (1 Pet 1:7) –the impurities burned away. Thus the new Catechism quotes St Gregory referring to this "purifying fire"(CCC 1031). Many of the saints have seen visions of this, the earliest recorded being to St Perpetua, who was shown a vision of her brother in this place of "gloominess", "thirst", and "pain", and yet she was also shown how her prayers brought comfort to him in that refining fire -like water in a desert.
So, our prayers for the dead bring them COMFORT in their time of purgation.

Thirdly and finally, the souls in Purgatory need our assistance to SPEED them through this process, to SHORTEN their time there. Thus we read in the book of Maccabees that sacrifices were offered in the Temple for the dead "that they might be released from their sins"(2 Macc 12:42-45). Because if I am there I will not get out until the temporal debt has been paid for my sins.

And because our loved ones are now outside the same 'time reference' as ourselves we should CONTINUE to pray -thus I still pray for my Grandma who died two decades ago, even though that was long ago and even though she was a lovely woman. I pray for her because I still love her, and I expect all my prayers to be counted on her behalf.

Finally, HOW should we pray? Which prayers should we offer? There are some suggestions indicated in the Purgatory newsletter insert sheet (and a previous year's sheet on indulgences), but I think the important thing is that we should prayer REGULARLY, even if it is only Hail Marys and Our Fathers.

So, there are three things that the prayers of the living assist the dead in:
Mercy in the judgment; comfort in the purging fire; and in a shortening of the time in that fire.
To failure to offer this assistance is to fail to love.
But to be faithful in offering this assistance is to show both our love and our belief and hope in the resurrection of the dead.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Remembrance Sunday & Dedication of Lateran Basilica

A couple weeks ago I went up to London and, like some of you, I went to see the poppies outside the Tower of London. For those of you who don't know, it's a special temporary memorial of 888,246 ceramic poppies -one for every British military casualty in the First World War, for the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI.
I mention this because today is Remembrance Sunday. But in the Church today we commemorate another sort of memorial: the Catholic Church’s central church monument: the Lateran Basilica in Rome.
I want to say a few words about both of these things. Because it’s sometime asked: Why build memorials and monuments? Why remember the dead?

The Lateran Basilica in Rome is the Pope’s Cathedral. It is dedicated to the St John, but also houses parts of bodies of the martyrs St Peter and St Paul. But it is a monument not just to them as individuals but to all that they signify. They signify loyalty to Christ as a value above all else, they signify that the Church is a body and unity that transcends all others, that the Church is built on them in ROME –the glue that holds the Church today. They signify that unity which transcends us as mere isolated individuals –for we are not just individuals we are part of a greater whole that has its meaning in Christ.
And the Lateran Basilica is built to remind us lest we forget that our communion comes through our Apostolic roots, lest we forget, forget who died, why they died, and what we are a part of by our union with them.

The many war memorials in our country are dedicated to those who have died.
In honouring them we remember a great many things.
For many, we recall their bravery and self-sacrifice.
For many, we also recall that they died in a great cause: that we free today, that we live under the rule of law not dictatorship today, because of those willing to die.
And we also honour the dead simply as a reminder of the HORROR of the wars they died in -we remember them so that we might be reminded to avoiding repeating such horror in the future.
And let me note this point:
We remember them because if we forget them we become something less ourselves, that England would be diminished if she forgot those who had died.
War memorials may be monuments erected TO the dead, but they are also erected FOR us the living –lest we forget.

In our second reading, St Paul spoke of the people of the church being “God’s building... YOU are that temple”(1Cor3:17). The TRUE monument that is erected to the dead, whether the dead of the wars, or the dead of martyrdom, The TRUE monument erected to them must be the lives of those who live afterwards –and we are called to live WELL by recalling what went before –lest we forget.

There are some people today who speak and think as if they were not just free but individuals that somehow existed ISOLATED from the history that preceded them, removed from the culture and society that surrounds them.
But we are NOT isolated individuals, we are PART of something that has preceded us and remembering the dead is not just an act of gratitude to those who risked their lives defending their country –it is also an act remembering WHAT we are part of: (1) what we do not wish repeated from the past, and, (2) the values we must learn from the past –lest we forget.

When we honour the dead martyrs Peter and Paul at the Lateran Basilica in Rome;
When we honour the dead martyr St Edward in this church;
When we honour the dead of the wars we remember –lest we forget, and by forgetting become something less than their deaths call us to be.
They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
at the going down of the sun, and at the rising
we will remember them

Sunday, 26 October 2014

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Ex 22:20-26; Mt 22:34-40
"Love your neighbour as yourself" -in that phrase we just heard, Scripture repeatedly tells us, in that phrase is the summation of the whole Law (Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10) and the Prophets too (Mt 22:40).
Today, however, I'd like to consider one of the reasons WHY we should love our neighbour, namely, to focus on the reason given in our first reading today.
That reason, in my opinion, is one that we should be able to easily grasp as penetrating at an EMOTIONAL level. In this text we are minded of how my neighbour is LIKE myself -and when I see this I can grasp why it makes sense to love him "AS myself"(Mt 22:39). But to grasp this I frequently need to be reminded of our own experience of need, of my own experience of needing to having someone love ME.

Our first reading, from Exodus, contained the command to care for the stranger, the widow, and the orphan.
This command is repeated again and again in the Old Testament Scriptures. This is part of what the Lord formed His Chosen People to care about. His Chosen People were to not be like other cultures and societies:
Whereas other cultures cast off the weak and powerless, they were to care for them.
Whereas other cultures saw the old and frail as "past it", as having already served their purpose, and fit to just be left to die, in contrast, the Jews were formed to think differently, to care for them.
And whereas our own culture today seeks to abort the disabled in the womb, and calls to euthanise them when new-born, and when they are old to make them feel that their life is not worth living, the Chosen People of God, who we Christians are called to fulfil, are supposed to CARE for those most in need -to recognise their innate dignity, a dignity they have simply by being human.

But HOW are we to recognise that innate dignity in the weak and needy? How are we not to look at the diseased and wounded and not just shy away?
Let us note the reason given in Exodus 22:20: "You must not molest the stranger or oppress him, [WHY? BECAUSE] for you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt"
The Lord called on His chosen people to think back to their own experience, their own experience of need, and to thus see how the stranger was LIKE THEM -and thus care for the stranger as yourself.
And, when we look at the record of Salvation History in the pages of the Scriptures we find that God dealt with His people in such a way as to teach them this lesson again and again. He REPEATEDLY laid them low, repeatedly made them weak and destitute, IN ORDER that they might, on one level, know their need of God, but also, so that they might learn the experience that enabled them to live out what we called them to:
To care for the weak. To care for the stranger, the widow, and the orphan.

So He caused them to be slaves in Egypt;
He led them in the Wilderness for 40 years until they knew their weakness;
Then, after they lived in the Promised Land but lived forgetful of Him, a life that neglected the calls of the Prophets and oppressed the poor and needy, He then led them into captivity in Babylon.
And, what we see running through all this, and in the details too, is His making a people who knew weakness and need so that they might UNDERSTAND at the level of EXPERIENCE the need to care for others when they are weak and in need.

So, let us pause a moment today and reflect on our own experience, on our own times of being weak and needy.
And, as the Lord had compassion, "feeling-with" (Mt 14:14) us in our weakness (cf my sermon earlier this summer text and audio)
let us also "feel-with" those in need,
and so care for the needy,
For each of us have been poor and needy in our own experiences of "Egypt".

Sunday, 19 October 2014

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 22:15-21; Isa 45:1,4-6
I’m going to say a few words today about the best way to polish your shoes, and to use this as an example of how we can ‘render unto God’ while doing some of the things that at first glance seem to be all about ‘rendering unto caesar’. And I’ve been thinking about shoe polish because since Thursday I’ve been seeing Fr Neville’s shoes, and they are polished to an AMAZING degree!

In that Gospel text we heard the Lord Jesus say, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's"(Mt 22:21). Let me note something: the Lord introduced the matter of our duties to God in response to a question that was apparently nothing to do with God, a question that asked about mere human realities: They asked Him about tax and Caesar, He replied by telling them to render GOD what is His due.
So this might be like you asking a simple human question about whether to watch Eastenders or Strictly tonight, and Jesus answering by saying, “Either. But YOU remember to say your night prayers”. Or, you might be asking one of those long and prolonged parental discussions: “Should young Jimmy join scouts or the rugby club?” Only to hear the answer: “YOU remember to put God FIRST in your priorities, and render God His due by keeping the Lord's Day holy by getting Jimmy to Sunday Mass each and EVERY Sunday.”
(And this week's newsletter insert sheet gives 4 explicitly religious duties we need to 'render unto God.)
So, when we are over-immersed in our human concerns the Lord cuts across them by pointing us to our duties to God.

Let me point even deeper, however, and note that it can be precisely IN the world of Caesar, the realm of human activities, that we can find God and render Him His due. As St Teresa of Avila (whose feast day was this past week) famously said, about working in the kitchen, we must find God “amidst the pots and pans”.

Let us return to the example of Fr Neville polishing his shoes. How can he find God while doing such a small mundane thing?
First, by doing the task well in itself. We live in God’s creation. He wants His creation treated with dignity and care. He wants the material realities He has made to be perfected and done well. This is the first and basic thing: polish the shoes well.
Second, that natural reality can be “supernaturalised”, as St Josemaria used to say. We can not only do the task well but OFFER it to God. Offering an activity to God transforms it:
it acknowledges that the things of creation come from God, and not just from ourselves;
it implicitly calls on God’s grace to help us do those things well, and with His help;
it becomes something I can offer as a sacrifice for others to prayer for them -so I can offer the drudgery and boredom of a task to Him.
and, by changing the act on the inside it also changes it on the outside. It becomes not a selfish ‘me’ thing, but a ‘love’ thing.
Its because this ‘offering’ can change so much that the spiritual tradition of the Church has put such emphasis on the value of making a ‘morning offering’ prayer such as the one on the reverse side of the insert sheet in your newsletter this week.

If that is how Fr Neville polishes his shoes, then not only are the shoes a wonder to behold (which they are!), but the act of polishing them become a place where he meets God.
and similarly: your washing the dishes, your cleaning the floor, your job of work, and also, the pleasures and enjoyments of life -all offered to God, all places where we can meet Him.

And if we do that, then we will not just no longer have the Lord need to cut across our queries about how to do our human matters by reminding us of our duties to God, but rather, we can find IN those human realities the place where we BOTH ‘render unto Caesar’ AND ‘render unto God.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 22:1-14; Isa 25:6-10
This Saturday we've just had a wedding here in Shaftesbury, of Angela and James. I've been preparing them for this for some months, which has been a great pleasure, and this Saturday afternoon was finally the big day!
Like every wedding, this one has had its moments of tension in getting the preparations all prepared. I remember a wedding I was at over a decade ago where the bride burst into tears at the night before: Why? Because the flowers were the wrong shade of pink(!). I have observed over the years that the preparations for a wedding can be VERY stressful.
However, and this is a point I wish to stress, I have also observed that on the day itself, it seems almost impossible for things to go wrong. Why? Because all you REALLY need, all that REALLY makes it joyful, all that makes it a SUCCESS is: the presence of the person you love.

Our gospel reading today uses such a symbol of a wedding banquet to describe heaven, to describe what we have been called to. And this gospel text does so by drawing on the many Old Testament texts, like our first reading from the prophet Isaiah, that describe the future banquet that God has prepared for His people.
Those preparations, in history, in pages of the Old Testament, in the workings of the Church of the New Testament striving to our ultimate fulfilment in heaven,
those preparations have been long and arduous -even more so that those of Angela and James, even more so that the poor bride whose flowers were the wrong shade of pink.
But those preparations have been aimed at a wedding in the same sense, namely, a union whose joy is defined by it being a union of LOVE, a union that is JOYFUL because we are WITH the ONE we love.

Like most parables, the one we just heard in the Gospel has many levels.
On one level, Christ chose the image of a wedding banquet to indicate the great JOY that the Messianic banquet of heaven will contain.
In a different sort of symbolism, however, I might notice the number of different places in which this parable is writing about ME (and you).
I am one of those who has turned up lacking the wedding garment of good deeds, and so I deserve to be thrown out.
Conversely, I can also see myself as one of those called and allowed to enter to replace those who failed to turn up -dragged in from the highways and byways despite my initial unworthiness.

Either way, I have been invited to the wedding feast, the wedding feast for the marriage of "the son".
But who is "the Son" marrying?
At its deepest level, "the Son" in the parable is Jesus, and the one He is marrying, His bride, is the Church.
And then, at a specific level, this means I can say that He is marrying ME -that all this fuss is about ME. All the wedding banquet is for ME! Because He loves me.
I have been invited to a wedding banquet only to discover that the one getting married is ME!
Of course, this is also where the mixing of metaphors in parables can get confusing. I am a man, so the symbolism of me "marrying" Jesus only works on some levels -Christians, after all, are opposed to same-sex marriage!

But at its simplest level, this is the point:
God has called you and me to heaven, a place so wondrous that He uses the joyful image of a wedding banquet to describe it.
And, like any wedding banquet, what REALLY makes it joyful, is that it is a thing of LOVE.
He loves me. He died for me. He gives me His forgiveness and grace. And what He is yearning for is that you and I should yearn to love Him too, in this, the wedding banquet of the Lamb.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Bishop Kieran Conry's Resignation, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Isa 5:1-7; Ps 79:9,12-16,18-20; Mt 21:33-43
Many of you, I know, have been pondering the shock resignation of Bishop Kieran Conry last week, and I'd like to address some of the issues that people have indicated it has raised for them, because I think you have a right to more than just an awkward silence from the pulpit when there are headlines like this.

First, some of you have referred to a profound DISAPPOINTMENT on reading about this behaviour from a bishop. And I'd like to acknowledge that I too am saddened and disappointed. Contrary to the impression that the media sometimes create, the Catholic clergy are not some "boys club" where we think this is OK for us, both not OK for others. We too are saddened.

Second, on a more general level, There is a sadness about the general MESS that we can sometimes feel that the Church is in these days. Sometimes it can feel like it's one headline after another. Yes, the media does have an anti-Catholic bias. Yes, they do attack us more than they attack others. But it is also true that they have a right to expect a higher standard from the Church.
And when we look at this mess we can find ourselves asking, "Why does God allow it? Why does God not strike all the sinners and purify His Church?"

That's a good question. And an old question. Our first reading and the Gospel this week both give us images of this with the vineyard that fails to produce its fruit. We, the Church, are that vineyard. And often we fail to produce the fruit God asks of us.
But how many of us would be left here if God reduced the Church to only the choicest fruit, purified the Church till only the super-saints remained?
The truth is that part of God's mercy is that He allows us all to remain together, the weeds with the wheat (c.f. Mt 13:24-30, a different parable). He gives us time to change.
Yes, as that Gospel parable also indicated, He does demand fruit BE produced, and He does threaten to take that special "vineyard" status away if we don't produce fruit. But at this moment in time He is leaving the ripe and the sour grapes together -waiting, so that we sour grapes might have time to ripen to sweetness.

And that brings me to my final point, namely, one of hope. Hope that, despite the failings in the Church, holiness and saintliness is still more properly attributed to her than the crud and sin we are currently having paraded before us.
The Church does produce ripe, sweet, choice grapes, and it is proper to her to do so: she has a supernatural power within her that enables us to do what we cannot do alone:
To keep the promises we have made;
To be faithful to marriage;
To live the beauty and dignity of the life that Christ teaches us.
Yes, we can see examples of those who fail, and of those who struggle.
But we can also see examples of those who succeed.

To sum that up: If you're disappointed, I am disappointed too.
If you see a mess, I see it too.
But we should also remember to be cautious in judging others -let us not assume that we ourselves are ripe rather than sour grapes.
And to be wary of being so aware of the crud on the ground that we fail to see to see the light in the heavens that we are called to.
You don't come here because of me, and you don't come here because of this bishop or that bishop. We come here because of the Lord's call. And let us be grateful that we HAVE been called into this vineyard. "The vineyard of the Lord is House of Israel"(Ps 79:9), and we have been granted to be grafted into that house. Let us pray, and strive, to bear fruit ourselves.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Holy Name, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

The IHS Christogram pictured below is a monogram of the Holy Name, derived from the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, which is often also taken as an abbreviation of: Iesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus Saviour of Humanity

In our second reading we just heard three references to the significance of the "name" of Jesus (Phil 2:1-11). To us here in this parish that should mean something, because our parish is dedicated to 'The Most Holy Name'.
People in the town tend to refer to us simply as "St Edward's", but our full name is "The Most Holy Name and St Edward, King and Martyr", and this designation is one we are very fortunate to have, indicating the name of God Himself.

Names are things that we hold dear to us. Recently I noticed my mother getting my name wrong and calling me by my young nephew's name -annoying! Even worse was when she called my nephew by MY name -all the more galling because she only seemed to do it when he was misbehaving!
I don't like it because getting my name right is about relating to me as ME, not just as a random person. But with respect to God, and HIS name, I think there is an even greater significance for us today:

For us living in the 21st Century there it is the commonly, but mistakenly, held opinion of the people of our day that it is not possible to know God. They say, "maybe there is a god, and maybe not, but even if there is a god you certainly can't know him". In contrast, we claim, as Catholics, that it IS possible to know God - to know Him because He has revealed Himself to us, and a pivotal sign of this fact is that He has revealed His name: "Jesus".

Sacred Scripture holds that the name of God is of great significance. In the Old Testament the ineffable name of God was first revealed as YHWH [which has no vowels, but is sometimes written in English as 'Yahweh'], “I am who am” (Ex 3:14). Out of reverence for the holy name it was never pronounced. Instead of pronouncing this name, the Jews said, “Adonai”, i.e. “The Lord”. Today, still, in the Catholic liturgy we never say the word YHWH but our Bible translations instead say ‘The Lord’. This unpronounceable aspect of the Divine Name indicates something about the Divine: He is beyond our ability to grasp, He can only be known at all because He REVEALED Himself to us.

And, in the FULLNESS of time, in the New Testament, God FULLY revealed Himself In HiS Son.
We might note further that the New Testament name by which God chose to fully reveal Himself, ‘Jesus’, is a name that incorporated the Old Testament name: 'Jesus' is a name that means ‘YHWH is salvation’. This meaning of ‘Saviour’ (indicated in Mt 1:21 and Lk 2:21) indicates what Jesus is TO US: the one who can save us from all that troubles us, from evil, from suffering, from sin. The name also signifies that there is no-one else who can save us, only Him, because only He is God. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “All who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32).

To bring this to a conclusion: you might think that a name isn't very important. After all, in the play Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare famously claimed that it was not: “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo and Juliet - Act II Sc 2). However, the significance that Scripture attaches to the name of God indicates that we need to differ with Shakespeare. The fact is, that if you don't know the name of a rose it might still smell as sweet, but the that you didn't know it's name would indicate that you didn't really know much about it. More relevantly, thinking of persons, if Romeo did not know the name of Juliet it would indicate that he did not really know her, and he could not love her without knowing her. It would be meaningless to speak of loving someone if we did not know them well enough to know their name.
Why is this relevant? Well, because we know the name of God. He is the one "who is" and is the one who "saves". And we know it because He has told us His name when He told us about Himself. And knowing Him we can love Him, love Him who first loved us.
And all of that is encapsulated in the precious title of our church: "The Most Holy Name", Jesus.

See also the page on our parish website:

Sunday, 21 September 2014

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Phil 1:20-24;27
Most of us are a little wary of death, and many of us get easily worried about it, while others can only cope with it by refusing to admit that a time will come when death will catch up with them.
And, if I'm honest, I'm rather in the category of those who don't really feel ready to die -some day, but not now -please!
That's why I am always struck by the passage we just heard from St Paul's letter to the Philippians, where he speaks with such amazing indifference about whether he lives or dies. For their sake, he is willing to keep living. For himself, he is ready to die -confident that the life he has lived is such that he will be with the Lord.

This question: Am I WILLING to die today! Am I READY to die today?
This question is a powerful focus, not so much on dying as on LIVING.
Let me illustrate the point this way: Many of the saints have written books to prepare you for death, called "A Preparation for Death". And if you buy one of those books you will almost certainly be surprised. Because they are books not about dying but about how to LIVE: if you live well, you will die prepared for death.

Back to St Paul. His attitude to life should make us think of our own attitude to life.
WHY did he want to keep living?
So he can catch the next episode of Coronation Street? So he can enjoy a quality bottle of red wine?  So he can experience some aspect of human existence that he has not yet experienced? 
No. Such thoughts were very far from St. Paul.
He wished to keep living "for your sake" so that he can keep "doing work that is having good results".
This is very far from spending his days yearning and focussing on being able to sit down and put his feet up in front of the TV!

He closes that little passage by telling us to avoid "anything in [our] lives that is unworthy of the Gospel of Christ".
A life "worthy of Christ" is, surely, a life lived as His was:
Thinking OF other people, not just thinking of myself.
Doing things FOR other people, not just checking off my own errand lists.

Let me conclude by turning our focus to death in a different way.
Today's gospel parable indicates that The Lord is willing to have us turn back to Him, willing to accept us, even if we only turn back to Him just before we die. This simple and pivotal truth of our Faith tells us much about the goodness of God.
The question you and I must constantly address to ourselves, however, is whether we are making use of this opportunity being offered by the Lord: the call to come back, no matter how long we've already put it off.

So, to sum that up:
St. Paul was indifferent to whether he died or lived. And he was ready to die precisely because he lived a good life, a life "for others". Let us examine ourselves today before the Lord and ask how much we do the same. And not put off the change we need to make.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Exultation of the Holy Cross

Num 21:4-9
Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, of the triumph of the Cross of Christ. There are a great many truths we can rejoice in on this day (even if it might seem odd to rejoice in such a bad thing as the DEATH of Jesus), but the thing I wish to focus on this year is how it serves as a model for how God brings good out of bad.

Our Faith teaches us, as a certain and foundational truth revealed in Sacred Scripture, that God created the world perfect: without sin and without suffering. Our experience of life is so marked by these two intertwined realities that we find it hard to imagine existence without them, yet, Scripture attests that God made the cosmos without them, and that these two things entered creation together: sin, and with that disruption to the fabric of the cosmos, suffering.
The point is this, however: that God did not abandon His Fallen creation. Rather, He fashioned the remedy out of the problem.

An image of this was described in our first reading, with the serpent on the staff:
The serpents' bite brought death,
Then, God had Moses fashion an image of a serpent and mount it on a staff, lifted it up, and all who gazed upon it were saved.

Similarly, the death of Christ on the Cross, the putting-to-death of God-made-flesh, this rejection of God was the ultimate expression of all of humanity's rejection of God, the rejection that brings death to the world.
Yet, the death of Christ was “according to the plan and foreknowledge of God”(Acts 2:23), to be the means of our salvation.
So that when we fall in sin we might look upon Him who was 'lifted up', turn to Him and be saved.
God fashioned the solution out of the problem.

And so it is repeatedly in my life.
When I sin, or fail, or suffer: out of this problem my solution is fashioned.
For example, I have some grand scheme, and it fails. But then, in my weakness I let myself be humble, I turn to Him who is 'lifted up', and my weakness brings me to His strength.
More particularly, when fail in those particular 'failings' that are sins: again, my weakness forces me to turn to His strength: to His mercy, His forgiveness. I turn to Him who is 'lifted up', and my sin, ironically, brings me to His grace and virtue.
And my sufferings too, not just the moral ones but the physical ones:
Sometimes they come with such timing that they prevent my sins;
Sometimes they come on such occasions that they make me humble;
And ALWAYS they come in such a way that I can bring them to Christ, I can look to Him 'lifted up' -and find, in Him, something better that what I have lost in my suffering.

So, today, as we celebrate the triumph of the Holy Cross, let us recall how God brings great things out of evil, how He fashions the solution out of the problems we create, and in whatever situation we find ourselves, let us turn to Him 'lifted up' upon the Cross.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Harvest Festival, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Rom 13:8-10; Ezekiel 33:7-9
Today we keep our annual harvest festival, when we give thanks to God for the good things He gives us, and we bring symbols of the first-fruits of the harvest here to church.

This year, for our harvest thoughts, I'd like to draw our attention to a teaching from Pope Francis about how we MIS-USE the harvest, how we WASTE food -words that he particularly addresses to us in the rich affluent West.
As you are hopefully aware, Pope Francis has repeatedly condemned what he refers to as our "throw-away" culture (Message for World Food Day, 16th October 2013), noting the way that in the West we dispose of things very freely:
“This scrap culture has also made us insensitive to waste, including food waste, which is even more reprehensible when in every part of the world, unfortunately, many people and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Once our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food. [but] Consumerism has led us to become accustomed to the superfluous and the daily waste of food, which we are sometimes no longer able to value correctly, as its value goes far beyond mere economic parameters. Note well, though, that the food we throw away is as if we had stolen it from the table of the poor or the hungry!" (Pope Francis, World Environment Day, 5th June 2013)

Pope Francis is saying this, in part, because he is from Latin America, because he has lived amidst poverty levels that most of us can't really comprehend. And it seems to be God's gift to the Church at this moment in time that those of us in the West are being harangued by this non-Western pope.
But, he is also saying this in continuity with others popes and as part of the duty of every pope to live out what we heard in our first reading, from Ezekiel. About how the shepherd of the people is to be a guard against evil, a "sentry" denouncing wickedness -in the hope that the wicked man might turn from his evil ways and live.

So, How are we to respond to what the Pope is saying?
Well, part of the antidote to living a "throw away" lifestyle is to instead buy things with the intention of GIVING many things away. So it's suitable that we accompany our harvest thanksgiving by giving to others, as we do each year. This year our collection will go to support those suffering in Gaza. Pope Francis has been saying a lot over the summer to draw our attention to the suffering of those in Gaza and Iraq, and especially to draw the attention of the world to the plight of Christians per se in those countries -who have suffered particular neglect, and we have a particular duty to remember them, for they are our brothers and sisters in the Faith.
We had a collection for Iraq a few weeks ago, and so today's will be for Gaza, and there are envelopes for that on your pews.
In doing this we are, at least in part, living out what we heard St. Paul speak about in our second reading, about how love fulfils every one of the commands.

But to close by returning, more directly, to the Pope's point about "wasting" food. I know, for myself, that it seems that the moment when the food is "wasted" is when I have done the BUYING, when I have bought more than I actually need -once it is home in the fridge it's too late: STUFFING myself in gluttony to avoid it rotting just adds one sin to another, it is to miss the point -I had bought more than was appropriate.
The way to avoid this, Pope Francis is saying, is to "value correctly" the food to begin with: to value it not merely economically but with respect to the poor, with respect to other humans. And, most fundamentally, to value it with respect to God -the source of all good things. The antidote to the "throw away" culture is to treasure and value things more because I see them all as coming form His hand. And so, giving thanks as we do today, is an important way to combat within ourselves the "throw away" culture the Pope is talking about.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

St Edward the Martyr: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Jer 20:7-9; Mt 16:21-27
Today, I’d like to speak to you about the danger of being a good person: it may get you hated; it may get you killed.
I speak of this in the light of three things:
First, our first reading, from Jeremiah, which recalled how doing the Lord’s work had brought “insult [and] derision” (Jer 20:8) for him. Jeremiah was a good man, one of greatest of the prophets, but the Lord had given him a tough task: He lived at a time when the people were being unusually unfaithful to the Lord’s commands, and doom, destruction, and exile in captivity were about to descend on them as punishment for their sins. And he had job of warning them, while there was still time. But it was not a happy message, “I have to howl and proclaim: ‘Violence and ruin!’”(Jer 20:8). And instead of welcoming his message the people stoned an imprisoned him. And we sometimes face a similar reaction when we need to tell people things that they need pointing out to them: if they are stealing at work, or living with someone they shouldn’t be, or neglecting to care for their children etc.
Second, our gospel text, in which the Lord prophesied His approaching crucifixion and taught His disciples that ANYONE who wishes to be His follower has to recognise that it involves “taking up the cross”(c.f. Mt 16:24). And, among the most immediate aspects of that Cross is what other people do to us precisely BECAUSE we are following the Lord, because we are being good.

Thirdly, in light of St Edward. As you know, our parish pilgrimage was this Wednesday, and we went to the site outside Corfe Castle where our parish patron, St Edward, was martyred. He was killed, martyred. Why? Because he was a good person.
Now, its important for me to emphasise this point because people sometimes say to me: Why do we call St Edward a ‘martyr’, he was killed by his step-mother, so how does that make him a martyr?
[St Edward, you hopefully recall, was the boy king of Wessex: he became king in 975AD at the age of 13, and was murdered by his step-mother when he was 16 –she gave him a cup of poisoned wine and then stabbed him, which is why he is pictured holding those two symbols of his martyrdom (cup and dagger) in the statue of him here in our church.]
But WHY did she kill him, and why did those plotting with her want him dead?
We can see the answer to that question by looking at the reaction of the people to his death:

When St Edward was killed, the people of his day might of reacted in many ways. They might have said, “Well, that’s one more rich selfish king dead.”
But instead, they hailed him as a ‘martyr’ –a word that means a ‘witness’ to Christ. Historically, some martyrs died for refusing to worship the pagan Roman emperors, others died for attending the Mass, but a great many were killed because of the GOODNESS of their lives –and so the Christian tradition uses the title ‘martyr’ for those who were killed out hatred for a good life.
As we know, people respond to goodness in different ways: Many people respond to good people by being edified by their goodness, inspired by it. But it is also possible to look at a good man and feel angry, spiteful, vengeful. To cover up our own sin by hating someone who does NOT sin. As Scripture puts it, “The wicked man plots against the virtuous and grinds his teeth at him”(Ps 37:12). And to be hated and killed by the wicked on account of your goodness is one of ways of being a ‘witness’ a ‘martyr’ for Christ.

And, to return to the reaction of the people of his day when he, St Edward, was killed –and I think the people of his day knew his context and the motives behind his killing better than we can claim to know them today –they could see two clear motives behind his death:
(1) The people of his day recognised that he was killed by EVIL people who hated him for his saintly life.
(2) Further, politically, they recognised that he was killed by people who hated the fact that he stood with the Church and for the Church despite the many political manoeuvrings of his day against the Church.

To conclude, What does this mean for us? It means that we, too, need to be willing to suffer for being good –just as St Edward did, just as the Lord Jesus did: They crucified Jesus, and He taught that following Him likewise bring the cross. But there are two things it also brings: (1) in this life, the strength, joy, and consolation of having the Lord with us because we are being with Him, and, (2) in the next life, the fulfilment of the promise we heard Him make, that “He will reward each one according to his behaviour”(Mt 16:27)

Sunday, 24 August 2014

No Sermon: Back next Sunday!

There is a pastoral letter from the Bishop this Sunday, available via the Diocesan website. Back to normal next weekend.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Sunday, 3 August 2014

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Rom 8:35.37-39; Mt 14:13-21; Isa 55:1-3
I'd like to say a few words today about how we can know that God cares about us in our problems, how we can know that He wants to respond to our needs.
Maybe your problems are small, just in need of a holiday rest, or maybe your problems are big. Regardless, God cares. God looks down from heaven, He sees you, He knows you, and He cares.

Let me start by referring to our second reading, where we heard St Paul recounting how, in his various trials, and the difficulties of those he was writing to, that "Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ"(Rom 8:35), and he made a further point that I want to elaborate on: He referred to the "love of God made VISIBLE in Christ Jesus"(Rom 8:39) -this is the point, something has been made VISIBLE in Jesus, something that shows that God cares.
Let me make a contrast:
The Ancient Greek philosophers of Athens taught about what God was like, about His essence, about how He was not a material body like us, about how He didn't suffer or have limitations, and how He didn't FEEL things like emotions.
The God of the Hebrews likewise had manifested Himself as being utterly transcendent, being beyond human capacity to comprehend, "my thoughts are above your thoughts" (Isa 55:8) was a repeated refrain. He revealed many things by what He DID; His actions SPOKE about what He was concerned about -but as to what He might be like in His very ESSEENCE, in that respect He remained largely unknown.

That changed in Jesus Christ: In the incarnation, God Himself, in the second person of the Trinity, took human flesh. And in that taking of flesh He showed what God was like.

When God took flesh, when He lived in our human nature, which of our vast range of possible human emotions was He seen to experience and manifest? Because the emotions He experienced, the manner in which He emotionally reacted to things and to people, this shows us what God is like. And our gospel text for today gives us one of a number of examples in the Gospels which refer explicitly to His inner life, referring to His emotions.

The Gospel we heard today described the emotion He felt on seeing the hungry and needy crowd: It said that "He felt COMPASSION for them"(Mt 14:14). And this is a word that is used repeatedly in the Gospels when the texts refer to the emotion or passion He experienced in seeing people in need.
Sadly, although our Mass translation texts sometimes translate the word as ‘compassion’ (e.g. Lk 10:25-37, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C), the text today rather weakly translates the word as “pity”: the Greek word is actually splangchnizomai from the Greek word splangchna for bowels or entrails, which indicates that the Lord Jesus felt all churned-up inside, in His guts. He didn't see the crowds in need and then coldly and INDIFFERENTLY help them, no, He FELT, and felt-with them -that is what 'compassion' means, to be with-passion, to feel-with someone.
Jesus feels-with us in our needs.
He was hungry in the desert, He was thirsty and in pain on the cross, He was sad and wept when Lazarus died -any emotion or trial YOU are going through HE feels with you. He has taken our human nature and has compassion, 'feeling-with' us.

AND, before I conclude: He not only FEELS with us, He DOES things to remedy our problems.
So, we can say with certainty, that whatever your need is, He is DOING something about it. He is reaching out to assist you, assist you in a way that He knows even better than you do
Today's text from Isaiah and our Gospel text both speak of The Lord FEEDING the people when they were hungry. And this is but own of many examples of Scripture showing us that The Lord is a powerful God, an active God -He sees and responds to our need.

So, to return to my opening question: how do we know that God cares?
Because He is not unknown. He has manifested Himself. He has taken flesh and has compassion, is feeling-with us in our troubles.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

1 Kgs 3:5.7-12
As many of you are aware, I've been on holiday, and before that I was on my annual retreat. And when on retreat, as usual, I spent days of in silence, prayer, and self-examination before the Lord. This year my particular petition, the thing I was asking of the Lord in a specific manner, was that I might grow in love for my parishioners, love in the form of compassion.
Now, that might seem a pretty obvious thing for me to ask for, 'love' being the most important of all the things I could ask God for -after all, charity is hailed as the “Queen of the virtues”.
And yet, what did we just hear King Solomon ask for when he was told whatever petition he requested wold be granted? He didn't ask for love, instead he asked for wisdom.
So, if I was as wise as Solomon, shouldn't I have asked for wisdom not love?

Let me throw you another thought: There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Seven gifts given to us that we might be perfected -but not one one them is charity! Four of them concern the intellect (counsel, understanding, knowledge, wisdom) and this is what Solomon was asking for: Wisdom.

So, Solomon didn't ask for love, he asked for wisdom. Why is wisdom so important?
Well, let me note that love has a ‘form’, a ‘structure’ if it is to be TRUE love, and wisdom gives us that form. The Holy Spirits gifts form this within us to ENABLE us to love, even if love itself isn't one of the seven gifts.

As many of you can remember, the 1960s refrain was, "All you need is love".
And a lot of unwise behaviour has been followed from the 1960s onwards (and before) becuSe of an unthinking understanding of what 'love' is.
Love is not just a feeling, a sentiment, there is true and false love.
To give a child everything it wants, because you want it to be satisfied, this is not true love.
To lecture a child continually all day long, because you want the child to learn, this is not true love.
True love has a balance, a ‘structure’ -as I just said.

Let’s come back to Solomon, and consider WHY he wanted to be wise: he didn't want wisdom as thing in itself, so he could sit in a lotus position, feel smug about him knowledge, and be by himself. No, he wanted wisdom IN ORDER THAT he might govern the people well.
Wisdom is ordered to something else. In his case, ordered to good action in government.
In general, wisdom is ordered to that right action that blossoms in love. If it is true wisdom, it will lead to true love. And if wisdom is lacking, there will not be true love -just a well-intentioned but misguided sentiment.
And, on a point of detail, the four intellectual gifts of the Holy Spirit concern different types of 'knowing' with respect to theoretical and practical things, with respect to earthly and heavenly realities.

To bring this to a practical focus: What does this mean for ourselves?
I doubt that there is anyone here who doesn't realise that they need to love.
We need on one level to have God's inner help to strengthen us to give ourselves in love
-and so inner strength, 'fortitude' is one of those first three gifts of the Holy Spirit that help us to do this in different ways.
But, what today's reading from Solomon should remind us is that, if we are to love, we don't just need the inner strength from God to do so, but we need to PRAY to Him for the inner wisdom to know true and false love, the wise and the unwise ways to be affectionate to our neighbour.
As the prayer of Solomon in the book of Wisdom prays, "Lord, give me the wisdom that sits by your throne"(Wis 9:4)

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Wedding, Emily Pollard and Daniel Coughlan, Audio

Sunday, 13 July 2014

No Sermon: Pastoral letter

There is no sermon text this week because we have a pastoral letter from the Bishop, the text of which should be available on the Plymouth Diocesan website

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Letter from Bishop on Assisted Suicide, Audio

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Sabbath Rest, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 11:25-30; Zechariah 9:9-10
I want to say a few words today about rest, and about why we find it in Jesus.

The words of The Lord Jesus that we just heard just now are among the most popular bible quotes, popular because pretty much all of striving humanity experiences itself as "labour[ing] and heavy laden" and in need of "rest for your souls"(Mt 11:28;29). And so this Bible verse frequently produces a pious sigh within us. Yes, I know He forgives me, that He loves me, yet, the promise that He will give me "rest" is a promise that touches me.

We need rest at every level of our being. We need rest for the body: and so we sleep, and we know it when we suffer the lack of sleep. We need rest for the mind and spirit: and so people go on holiday for a change of scenery, to refresh our mental outlook. And, similarly, we know it when we are not able to go on a holiday of some form.
But there is an even deeper level within us that needs rest: our soul.

But why is JESUS the one us gives rest? First, by our imitation of Him: and this is why His call to rest and His call to imitate His humble heart are linked.
If you think about the opposite of humility, namely pride, to be all puffed up and proud is exhausting. To be stubborn, to refuse to admit our mistakes, to assert ourselves: these and all the other manifestations of pride are EXHAUSTING! In contrast, when we can bring ourselves to be small, to put others first, to yield our preferences to others, not clinging to ourselves: these and the other acts of humility bring peace and rest to the soul.
And so Jesus links rest with the eternal call to come to Him and imitate His meek and humble heart.

There is an even deeper reason, however, why true rest can only be found in Jesus, why He, ABOVE ALL OTHERS, is the one who issues this call to come to Him for rest:

I was reading a couple months ago a lengthy commentary from a Jewish rabbi on the words of Jesus (C.f. Citations of Rabbi Neusner in Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol 1, esp. pp.106-112), and he was noting many things in the words of Jesus that you and I might miss, because we don't hear them the way that a First Century Jew would have heard them.
The rabbi notes that the words we just heard from Jesus precede His actions and teaching about the Sabbath. You will recall that Jesus did many things that the rabbis said were forbidden on the Sabbath, and you recall that Jesus said that He Himself was "The Lord of the Sabbath"(Mt 12:8). This goes to the heart of my topic of 'rest': the Sabbath of old was the day of rest, Jesus says that He is The "Lord" of this Day, and He says that HE is the one who gives rest: we must come to HIM if we would find rest.
All this holds because Jesus was not just a teacher or a prophet or a wise man, but because He was and is GOD Himself, God come among us.
To be with Him, therefore, is to be with the source of deepest rest.

The Sabbath of the new covenant is thus the day of The Lord Jesus: the day of His resurrection, Sunday. It is thus observed differently to the old Sabbath: it is still a day of rest, to refrain from work, to refrain from business and shopping etc, but it does not have the prescriptions of the Old Law specifying the length of a Sabbath walk etc: And, it is still a day of worship, to attend the Mass each and every Sunday, performing the act of worship that Christ our Sabbath gave us, rather than the worship of the old covenant -of blood sacrifices and so forth.

To conclude: Rest has been, and remains, one of our most basic needs: rest for the body, rest for the mind, rest for the soul. We suffer when we do not rest. And our spirit yearns, even when we try to deny it, when we do not seek our deepest rest in The Lord of Sabbath Himself:
"Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"(Mt 11:28).


The following texts from the Catechism were printed in the parish newsletter:

Sunday - Fulfillment of the Sabbath
A day for rest
A day for family
A day for worship
A day to refrain from work, business, shopping, and other servile activities

2175 In Christ's Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man's eternal rest in God.

2176 The celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public, and regular worship "as a sign of his universal beneficence to all."(St Thomas Aquinas, ST II-II q122 a4)

2180 The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass"(Canon law 1247). "The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day."(canon law 1248.1)

2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor (canon 1245). Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.

2185 On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.

2186 ...Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week. Sunday is a time for reflection, silence, cultivation of the mind, and meditation which furthers the growth of the Christian interior life.

2187 Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort. Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord's Day. Traditional activities (sport, restaurants, etc.), and social necessities (public services, etc.), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure.

2188 ... If a country's legislation or other reasons require work on Sunday, the day should nevertheless be lived as the day of our deliverance which lets us share in this "festal gathering," this "assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven."(Hebrew 12:22-23)

2189 "Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Deut 5:12). "The seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord" (Ex 31:15).

2190 The sabbath, which represented the completion of the first creation, has been replaced by Sunday which recalls the new creation inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ.

2191 The Church celebrates the day of Christ's Resurrection on the "eighth day," Sunday, which is rightly called the Lord's Day (cf SC 106).

2192 "Sunday . . . is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church" (canon 1246 # 1). "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass" (canon 1247).

2193 "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound . . . to abstain from those labours and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord's Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body" (canon 1247).

2194 The institution of Sunday helps all "to be allowed sufficient rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives" (GS 67 # 3).

2195 Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord's Day.