Sunday, 27 December 2015

Holy Family

Lk 2:41-52
I want to talk today about how the Holy Family, of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, can be a role model for religious practice in your family home. And I’m aware that in many ways I am preaching to the converted -if you’re here at Sunday Mass two days after Christmas, then you probably already take your religious practice seriously. Nonetheless, looking at the Holy Family can hopefully confirm you in that practice.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 20 December 2015

4th Sunday of Advent, Year C

Lk 1:39-44
This year my Advent has been even more stressed than usual: the ever-lengthening list of tasks of Christmas presents, Christmas cards, sermons to write, prayers to compose, and so on.
Maybe your Advent has been like mine, or maybe its been delightfully calm.
Either way, we’re now in the final stretch, and the figure that the Church always puts before us this final Sunday before Christmas, the person who we are told is MOST suited to prepare us for Christmas, is His Blessed Mother, Mary.

This year, Year C, we heard the account of the Visitation, about how Our Lady went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Both were pregnant. Both had been blessed with pregnancy in unusual circumstances, and their two children (the Lord Jesus, and St John the Baptist who was to prepare the way for Him) would live lives with numerous unusual signs.

Let us think about how our Lady acted in all of this, because she is a great role model for Christmas.
In the verses before the text we heard, the Archangel Gabriel has just appeared to her and asked her to be the Mother of God.
To put it lightly, that was a pretty big task she’d been given.
A pretty big “errand” on her pre-Christmas to-do list.
Now, I don’t know about you, when I have what seems like a really important task, be it writing the Christmas sermon, or buying the bird for Christmas lunch, I get very FOCUSSED -and woe betide anyone who gets in my way!
Our Lady, however, did the opposite. Rather than focus on herself, her pregnancy, her health. She thought, instead, about her cousin Elizabeth, who she had just heard was 6 months more pregnant than she was. And so, as we heard, she “set out and went as quickly as she could to” (Lk 1:39) assist her.
She not just went, but went “as quickly as she could”.

And there were two results:
One, was the benefit for Elizabeth, of support during her birth.
The other was joy. We heard the joyful encounter between the two women in that text. We didn’t hear the verses afterwards, of Our Lady filled herself with joy, singing God’s praises in the Magnificat.
Love bears fruit in Joy.
Our Lady loved; she knew joy in her heart.
Our Lady thought of others, and she didn’t feel burdened but had the joy that comes from love.

Let us apply this to ourselves. Over the next few days most of us will have many occasions when we can choose between rushing on our SO-IMPORTANT task, barging past people in the family, trampling others in the supermarket, etc,
or, instead, we can do that same task with an AWARENESS of others around us,
a consideration for their NEEDS,
and remembering the BIG picture of the celebration of divine and human love that Christmas is about.

And if we do that, then the two results that came to Our Lady will come to us too:
Our behaviour will be of benefit to others, and to their celebration of Christmas;
And, in loving others in a way that focuses on PEOPLE to be loved,
rather than on TASKS to be achieved,
we will feel the weight of the task more LIGHTLY,
and the joy that comes with love should be ours too.

All of this can be more easily said than done! So, let’s not just turn to Our Lady as role model, let’s turn to her with our prayers. Let’s ask our heavenly Mother, who brought the Son of God into this world 2000 years ago, that her prayers will bring Him into our hearts this Christmas too.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Sunday, 13 December 2015

The Joy of Confession, 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C

Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18; Zeph 3:14-18
Today is Gaudete Sunday, a Latin word meaning ‘rejoice’. And the reason we are called upon to rejoice today is the reason we heard St. Paul refer to in our second reading: “the Lord is at hand”(Phil 4:5).
There are many things that can weigh us down in life, but the coming of the Lord is the coming of strength, of grace, of renewal, of new life –it is truly something to rejoice in.

For that coming to be EFFECTIVE in us, however, we need to be READY.
We have an analogy of this in our Gospel text: St John the Baptist was preparing the way for the Lord by calling the people to repent of their sins. And the people realised that their repentance wasn't supposed to be just a vague feeling but needed to involve something concrete. So they said to St John, “What must we do?” And he told them specific things in their lives that they needed to amend. The soldiers needed to not intimidate or extort, the tax collectors needed to take no more than the set rate, and those in plenty had to share with those who had no clothes or no food.
Specific things needed to change in their lives.

What of OUR lives? What in my life and in your life do I need to change and you need to change?
The answer to this question can only be found by WANTING to change and by careful THINKING about our individual lives. As usual, the examination of conscience inside the newsletter is offered to you as a help with that.
BUT it is only when my desire to change meets the POWER of the Lord that something real can happen. And this is something to rejoice in.

As you hopefully remember me preaching last Sunday, the Pope started the Year of Mercy this week. Mercy is the power of the Lord operative towards weakness, reaching down to us in our weakness. Concerning change, and sin, in takes the particular form of FORGIVENESS. And this happens especially in the sacrament of Confession.
Let us return to my opening point about this being Gaudate, “rejoice” Sunday.
There are people who think of Confession as something far from ‘rejoicing’. And let me acknowledge that for me too it has moments when it feels burdensome –I can be embarrassed to confess my sins, to voice them to another human being.
And yet, though it can sometimes be awkward to voice my sins to another, it is NEVER awkward to hear the sound of the priest’s voice SPEAK the words of forgiveness to me.
You, and I, we NEED to HEAR this.
And, even more, we need not so much to hear it but to receive the REALITY of the forgiveness that is imparted in this sacrament. The sacrament is an “instrument” of forgiveness. As our Faith teaches, it “CONTAINS” grace (Council of Trent, On the Sacraments, Decree 1, Canon 6; St Thomas ST III q62 a3) –it does not just declare that you are ALREADY forgiven, rather, it actually “CAUSES” grace, causes the forgiveness of your sins (Trent; St Thomas ST III q62 a1).

This is my key point to you today: though confessing may sometimes feel awkward, receiving forgiveness does not!
HEARING those words of forgiveness is a thing to “REJOICE” in for Gaudate Sunday.
As Pope Francis tells us, he himself goes to confession because he knows he needs to experience God's mercy. As he says, "How good it feels to come back to Him whenever we are lost!"(Evangelii Gaudium n.3), to know the JOY of the "encounter"(n.1) with the Lord in this way.

So, this Year of Mercy that Pope Francis is starting, it connects joy, forgiveness, and confession.
Let us rejoice that the Lord is at hand
Let us, like the people who came to St John, consider what needs changing in our lives.
And, let us experience the joy of forgiveness by returning to Him in the sacrament of Confession in this Year of Mercy.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Contraception and Natural Family Planning: Talk 5 of 'Knowing Right from Wrong' series

7.30pm Thursday Dec 10th

The 5th in my parish talk series on 'Knowing Right from Wrong'

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

Just War and Terrorism

The parish talk to our men's circle on Wednesday 9th Dec 2015 was on "Just War and Terrorism", reflecting on appropriate responses to the recent Paris attacks.

The slides of the PowerPoint talk can be viewed here

The audio can be heard below

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Blessing of the Image of the Divine Mercy

Brother and sisters, Almighty God, knowing our bodily need for things that are visible and accessible to the senses,
grants that we might erect images in His honour,
that in gazing upon them with the eyes our body
we might recall Him with the eyes of faith.
We read in the diaries of the 20th century saint, Faustina Kowalski, that through the visions The Lord granted to her,
He requested that she paint this image,
made according to the pattern He showed her (c.f. Diary, 47)
He requested that “the image be publicly honored." (Diary, 414)
And said, "I promise that the soul that shall venerate this image will not perish." (Diary, 48).
We now bless this image that it might serve, in particular, as a focus for the Year of Mercy.

Let us Pray
Lord Jesus Christ, Divine Mercy personified,
Bless and sanctify this image fashioned to reveal to us the unfathomable love You manifested in Your crucifixion and Resurrection.
May it recall to our minds
the streams of blood and water
that gushed forth from Your pierced Heart on Calvary,
the ocean of mercy You then gushed forth upon the world.
Grant to all who invoke Your mercy with this picture before their eyes,
the grace of true repentance, pardon, and peace,
shield them from every danger of soul and body.
Establish in this picture the Throne of Your mercy.
Pour out upon all who approach it with faith and trust,
the purifying, healing and sanctifying rays of grace
ever flowing from Your Heart,
gaze upon them from this image as You did from the Cross
with infinite love and compassion.
Through this image may Your Divine Mercy triumph
over all the powers and wiles of Satan the world over.
May all who venerate this image never perish.
We ask this of You who live and reign with the Father and Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.

Year of Mercy, 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year C

This Sunday, for the start of the Year of Mercy, we have a pastoral letter from our Bishop, +Mark O'Toole, which should eventually become available at the Plymouth Diocese website

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Marriage and Sex: Talk 4 of 'Knowing Right from Wrong' talk series

7.30pm Thursday Dec 3rd

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

Sunday, 29 November 2015

1st Sunday of Advent, Year C

Lk 21:25-28.34-36
Christmas is less than a month away!
For some of us, this approaching date is a matter of excitement and hope. The people I will meet, the presents, and more!
For others of us, it is an approaching deadline, a time to panic, a time to feel uneasy in the stomach. To panic about those same things: The people I will meet, the presents, and more!

It occurs to me that this is rather similar to the way that different people think about the Second Coming of Christ, about the End of Time.
For some of us, to mention this is to give a cause for hope, for anticipation. I have a friend who will frequently and eagerly tell me about the latest prophecies he has heard of on the Internet, of visions, and even of how various natural disasters seem to all fulfil private revelations.
To such people, thoughts of the Second Coming are all “GOOD news”: when the Lord returns all will be put right.

For others of us, the mention of the End of Time is a real conversation-killer.
It means that everything we are now enjoying will be ended. How will you know who would have won I’m a celebrity, get me out of here if Time ends before the end of the season?
Worse, such people think of all the BAD things that the Lord warns us will accompany the End Times, some of which we heard recounted in today’s Gospel: “on earth nations in agony… clamour of the oceans and its waves; men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world”(Lk 21:25-26) –it will all be something we will need to have, to use the Lord’s words, “the strength to survive”(Lk 21:36).
In addition, many worry they they are not prepared: the Lord warns that we need to “stay awake”(Lk 21:34) –but what if I'm not ready when He comes?

So, which approach is right? Is the Second Coming good, or a matter of fear?
Well, it is something of BOTH.
But, fundamentally, the Church starts our Advent season with thoughts of the Second Coming, not to frighten us but to give us HOPE.
Such hope, however, is only received as “good news” if we have our hearts rooted in the right things.

The Second Coming, like Christmas, can either frighten us, or delight us.
Primarily, a Christian should LOOK for the return of Christ.
If we named after Him, Christian;
if we follow Him;
and if we recognise that all that is WRONG with this world lies in how it is estranged from the Lord Jesus, the One through whom it is all made
–THEN we should YEARN for His coming with rejoicing.
I want Him to come at the End of Time, to vanquish suffering and evil, to fulfil the time when “your liberation is near at hand”(Lk 21:28).
I want Him to come at Christmas, to bring peace to all my troubled relationships,to my weariness, to my loneliness, to my problems.
I want Him to come to me in this Mass, that I might experience today a deeper grasp of the reality of all that His Coming can bring.

Let us take a moment today to ask ourselves whether we think of the Coming of the Lord with fear or with hopeful expectation.
And let us deepen and purify our hope by recalling that nothing I experience now, nothing I fear to lose, nothing can compare with “what God has ready for those who love Him”(1 Cor 2:9).

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Terror, Islam, and Christ the King, Year B

Jn 18:33-27; Dan 7:13-14; Rev 1:5-8
It's now been just over a week since the terrorist attacks in Paris.
Last Sunday we prayed for the victims, and for peace.
During this week a good number of you have asked me rather heartfelt questions, more than one of you with tears in your eyes, wanting to know what we, as Catholics, should be thinking about this. So today I'm going to make a few comments.

My first point needs to be this: Not all Muslims are terrorists. Within Islam there is an even greater divergence of opinion than is to be found among Christians: For example, some Muslims hold to the passage of the Koran that says the Jews and Christians shall be saved, “shall have their reward with the Lord”(2:62). Other Muslims, however. point to texts in the Koran that condemn Christians to Hell, the “abode of fire”(5:72) for holding that Christ is God. Similarly, when we think of the atrocities that occurred in Paris last week, and the Beirut bombings of one group of Muslims against another group of Muslims, and the attack in Kenya earlier this year that singled out Christians for execution, it is important to note that not all Muslims believe terrorist violence is appropriate.

My second point, however is that even given the divergence of opinion within Islam, Christianity and Islam believe very different things, including very different things about peace and violence. Even if you look at the Old Testament Christian Scriptures, the Christian Bible simply does not have texts that can be used to justify violence in the way that Islamic texts can be used. Those who imply that all religions are the same can only make such a claim by failing to look at what different religions teach. For example, we might look at the origins our two religions, and note that the Lord Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher; but Mohammed was warlord. The followers of Mohammed claim that his victories in battle are the sign of God’s approval. The followers of the Lord Jesus claim that His healing the sick and His rising from the dead are the signs of His Divine Power.
This said, we need to be humble enough to acknowledge that many Christians have not been true to what Christ taught, many who CLAIM to invoke the name of Jesus have abused His religion to foster, as Pope Francis put it last Sunday, "violence and hatred"(15th Nov 2015). Our religion allows war in self-defence; our religion does not allow many of atrocities that have been committed in its name.

My third point, however, is to focus this on the matter of what today’s feast of Christ the King tells us. The point is this: What sort of king is Christ?
He is a king who allows Himself to be WEAK -He reaches down to us in our weakness and shares in our state. As we heard in our Gospel text, “my kingdom is not of this world”(Jn 18:36) -He allowed Himself to be arrested, tortured and crucified. Islam finds the display of God weak and crucified on a crucifix to be blasphemy. Christ, in contrast, says that this is what shows the depth of His love: that He laid down His life for His brethren (Jn 15:13); that He allows Himself to be weak for our sake.
He is a king who SHARES His kingship with us. As we heard in our first reading, He has “made us a line of kings”(Rev 1:6). The word, “Islam”, means submission, and its followers are “slaves” of Allah. Christ, in contrast, called His followers His “friends”(Jn 15:15).
He is a king who FORGAVE from the Cross, forgave from His position of weakness, saying of His killers, “Father, forgive them…”(Lk 23:34) -and in our hearts we must be willing to forgive, even the Paris attackers.
Finally, let us not forget, I the wake of such horror, that His kingship is “ETERNAL”, it “shall never pass away”(Dan 7:14) -as we heard in our first reading. If media reports make us fear hordes flooding into our nation to attack and overwhelm us, then we must not lose hope: His kinship will never end, and those who hold true to our weak, loving, forgiving king, will share in His “eternal sovereignty”(Dan 7:14).

To sum that up: Not all Muslims are terrorists; many Muslims believe such attacks are abhorrent.
But Christianity and Islam are not the same: We worship a Christ who allows Himself to be weak, to share His Kingship, who loves, who forgives, but whose reaching down to us does not alter His power, and whose allowing Himself to die does not change the eternal nature of reign.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Praying for the Dead, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 13:24-32; Dan 12:1-3
This past year 22 practicing members of our congregation have passed away. As a community, we feel their loss in many ways: in empty seats around us, that once were filled; and most of all, obviously, by the absence of their physical presence among us. The month of November is the month of the year when the Church particularly focuses us on the dead. I want, today, to remind us of how we should face death, and what we should think about the dead, and do for them.

Our first reading and gospel text both focus us on future hope, a hope that our Catholic Faith holds for those who have died. The gospel spoke of the return of the Lord Jesus in glory at the end of time, “coming in the clouds with great power and glory… to gather His chosen”(Mk 13:26-27). The prophet Daniel similarly spoke of the end of time, “Of those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting disgrace”(Dan 12:2). These are two of many texts that remind us that when we think of the dead we should be thinking of a FUTURE for them, not just a past. In our atheistic society it is popular to have “remembrance” services to remember the dead, but a Christian holds to more that just remembrance –we also hold a future hope. And when we hold to such a future hope we grieve in a different way: grieving with hope is not the same as grieving without hope.

Let me focus this more practically and note that there are two “works of mercy” that we are called upon to offer for the dead. The first is the “corporal [bodily] work of mercy” of “burying the dead”. Our Christian religion values the body, believes that we will be resurrected to glorious bodies at the end of time, and so we honour the bodies of those who have died in our burial services. (Thus the Church calls on us to bury the ashes of those who have died if we have a cremation.)

But there is a long-term work of mercy we are called upon to offer: the “spiritual work of mercy” of “praying for the dead”.
As our first reading reminded us, some will be punished in the final judgment rather than rewarded. Our hope thus calls on us to pray that our loved ones with receive MERCY in the judgement. This is an important and on-going thing to pray for.
When I die I hope that people won't say, “Oh, he was a good priest, he doesn't need us to pray for him”. NO! If people love me I hope they will PRAY for me, rather than just presume I'll be OK. And I hope they'll CONTINUE to pray for me, the same way I continue to pray for my grandma who died nearly 20 years ago –I still love her, and still pray for her.
Such prayer does not imply distress or anxiety, but rather a simple awareness that our prayers do good for those who have died. And if we love those who have died then we should naturally want to work for their good, to pray for them.

Our prayers also do something else for the dead: they assist them in the purifications of Purgatory. Heaven is a place of perfection, and apart from a few exceptional saints, almost all of the dead must be purified in order to be ready for heaven. The prayers of the living assist with this purification. Tradition teaches that this happens in two ways: both by offering CONSOLATION to the dead while they are engaging the the difficult purifications; and, by SPEEDING this process of purification.
In praying for the dead we follow the practice of the Early Christians, and the practice of the Jews who lived at the time our Lord. As the second book of Maccabees puts it, we pray “that they might be released from their sins”(2 Macc 12:46). And, we do all of this out of our HOPE in the resurrection. As Maccabees also says, explaining WHY someone prayed for the dead, “if he had not hoped that the dead should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. But because… of the great grace laid up for them it is therefore a holy and pious thought to pray for the dead”(2 Macc 12:44-46).

So, to sum that up, let us not forget those who have died. If we love them, let us continue to do good for them: let us pray for them. Such prayer helps US by keeping our hope for them alive in their hearts. And such prayer helps THEM, that “those who lie sleeping in the dust… will awake to everlasting life”(Dan 12:2).

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Is Father Dylan a Saint?, Solemnity of All Saints

Mt 5:1-12; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Rev 7:2-4.9-14
Today we keep the feast of ‘All Saints’.
Now, as it happens, lots of people in the parish seem to think I’m a saint. People OFTEN say to me, “Father, you’re so holy”.
This, obviously, is very nice. However, what I’ve gradually realised is that this statement almost invariably is rooted in a FALSE view of what a saint is:
People, or some people, think I’m holy because they have a mistaken view of what holiness consists of.
What people ACTUALLY mean is, words to the effect of, “Father, you say Mass very precisely, with great attention, clearly aiming to talk to God. You’re reverent”.
The point I want to make to you today is that there is a difference between being reverent and being holy, being a saint. Reverence is a good thing, and important thing, a vital tool TOWARDS holiness, but holiness itself is something else.

Let me shift focus for a moment and consider I question I have put to you before:
What is the MEASURE of holiness?
If God was to line up all the people in parish, and evaluate the level of holiness of each one of us, the degree to which each one of us is or isn’t a saint, WHAT would be His measuring CRITERIA?
When I was a teenager I thought there was some complex measuring scheme: 35% humility, 12% prudence, 17% faith, 23% generosity etc.
However, when I went off to study theology, to look at truly complicated things, I learnt that God’s measuring tool is simple: LOVE (c.f. St Thomas Aquinas, ST II-II q184 a1).
The measure of merit of a good deed is the degree of love that it is, or isn’t, done with.
And, The measure of holiness of a person is the degree that love is, or isn’t, present in him.
Or, to put it another way, ‘holiness’ consists of being God-like, and “God is love”(1 Jn 4:8).
This is why the Lord Jesus says that the greatest commandment is the twofold command to LOVE God and our neighbour.

Let me add an important practical conclusion that follows from this:
love is something that EACH and every one of us here is capable of.
This means that, each and every one of us can be a saint.
Each and every person here can love in whatever state of life we are in.
Each of us can love God by praying to Him,
and of course this includes reverently attending Sunday Mass, attending the form of worship He established in His Church.
And, each of us can love our neighbour,
by living a life that is more focused on his or her needs than on mine.
There are true and false ways to love, but at root love is not complicated!
And with love comes JOY -the saints are not sad; heaven is a place of joy; and the joy in the heart of the Triune God is inseparable from the love there.

So, to conclude, is Father Dylan a saint? Is he holy?
The answer to this question lies simply in how loving I am.
It is possible for me to say Mass very precisely, but without love.
But I can also say Mass lovingly, and draw the graces from the Mass that can enable me to be stronger, and to love more fully.

Today’s feast, when we recall ALL the saints in heaven, reminds us that saints are called from every walk of life: mums, dads, bus drivers, accountants, and more.
It is love that defines a saint. It is love that measures a saint.
And the saints in heaven are saints for the simple reason that they loved, and still love, in heaven.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Autumn 2015 Talk Series: 'Knowing Right from Wrong'

A series of 7 evenings looking at different aspects of the moral life, Thursdays 7.30-8.30pm, in the parish hall

All talks will be by our parish priest, Fr Dylan James, who lectures on moral theology at Wonersh Seminary
The talk series will be preceded by a film evening on marriage

Audio and powerpoints slides of talks will be available online as the talks are given

Film: “Marriage: God’s Design for Life & Love”, from St Anthony’s Communications (43mins)
7.30pm Thursday October 22nd

(1) Post-Vatican Two Morality: What Changed? From legalism, through chaos, to virtue
7.30pm Thursday Nov 12th

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

(2) Sin and the Pursuit of Happiness
7.30pm Thursday Nov 19th

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

(3) Natural Law: How human reason can discern the truth
7.30pm Thursday Nov 26th

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

(4) Marriage and Sex
7.30pm Thursday Dec 3rd

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

(5) Contraception and Natural Family Planning
7.30pm Thursday Dec 10th

The slides of the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

(6) Environmental Ethics
7.30pm Thursday Dec 17th

The slides of the Powerpoint presentation can be viewed/downloaded here

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Ransom for Sinners, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 10:42-45; Isa 53:10-11; Heb 4:14-16
Today all our Scripture readings focus us on the death of Christ, He who died for our sins.
Our first reading gave us a short excerpt from the lengthy ‘Suffering Servant’ prophecy of Isaiah. That prophecy refers to the “man of sorrows” (Isa 53:3) who takes our trials upon Himself, who “offers His life in atonement”(Isa 53:10), and, “By His sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on Himself”(Isa 53:11).
And in the Gospel, the Lord Jesus referred to His coming death as being “a ransom for many”(Mk 10:45), or “redemption for many”, translating the Greek “lytron anti pollon”.

A “ransom” –this might seem an odd word to use, but if we ponder it, it tells us much about ourselves, and much about God.
The word “redemption” that we use in English comes from the Latin redemptio, which renders the “Hebrew kopher and Greek lytron which, in the Old Testament means generally a ransom-price”(Catholic Encyclopedia, Redemption).
What this tells us, what the Lord is telling us in saying that He is our “ransom”, is that we are in NEED of being “ransomed”. We are being held in “captivity”(CCC 407; Council of Trent), we are in “slavery to sin”(CCC 601 c.f. Jn 8:34), and a debt needs to be paid to set us free.

Theologians debate about WHO this debt must be paid to. Jesus is paying a debt, but paying it to whom?
Is it being paid to the Devil, since sin means the world is under his “domination” (CCC 407; Council of Florence (cited in and we are his “captives”? No. God is all powerful and does not NEED to pay Satan anything.
The debt God is paying, it would seem, is being paid to Himself: to His justice, to His honour.
A debt is owed, a payment must be made, and so He steps in and makes the payment to Himself.

If this debt involves the DEATH of Christ, in suffering on the Cross, then the payment must be for something COLOSSAL, namely, our sins.
Our sins against the infinite and Almighty God cause an infinite offence, a dishonour that we finite creatures cannot pay. Our sins “are punishable by death”(CCC 602 c.f. Rom 5:12, 1Cor 15:56).
The Lord did not NEED to save us by paying this debt, but it was FITTING that honour be remedied. Only an infinite person could pay an infinite debt (ST III q1 a2 ad2um), and so God came from Heaven to earth to pay this debt, a debt He essentially pays to Himself.
He didn’t NEED to pay, but it was “fitting”(Heb 7:26) that honour be satisfied, and so He did.

It is easy for us to forget all this because, as all the recent popes have repeated, we live in an era that has lost its “sense of sin”.
We live in a world where people think of themselves as independent, not as dependent on God. And we forget that actually our whole lives BELONG to HIM. He has given us everything, and yet we so frequently behave as if He was hardly there. And so, every neglect, every indifference, every lack of love, every transgression of His commandments, all racks up a debt we cannot pay.
And if we say this somehow doesn’t apply to us, that you are I are “decent” people not “sinners”, then why does the Lord repeatedly say in the Scriptures that He came to die for us? He claims that we need saving from our sins. And so, as Scripture says, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar”(1 Jn 1:10)

So, what this talk of “ransom” tells us about ourselves is: Our SINS have racked up a debt.
And, what this talk of “ransom” tells us about God is: He loves us so much that He has come to pay this debt Himself.
To close by quoting our second reading: Christ has come as our “supreme High Priest”(Heb 4:14) who sacrificed Himself so that we might approach “the throne of grace”(Heb 4:16) with “confidence”.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Divorce and Remarriage, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 10:2-16; Gen 2:18-24
For the next three weeks, bishops from across the world are gathered in Rome for a special synod devoted to the family. Marriage and the family, as we all know, are rather broken realities in our modern society. Divorce is a much more common phenomenon today than it was when our Lord spoke against it.
I’ve not spoken about this in the 8 years I’ve been here, so its about time, and I want to reaffirm a few things today:
First, that the Lord Jesus meant what he said about remarriage after divorce being adultery;
Second, that such a second marriage bars someone from receiving Holy Communion;
Third, that this is necessary in order for children to have a stable environment;
Finally, that marriage is still a good worthy of being pursued, even with the challenge that such commitment involves.

I want to start with the words in our first reading from Genesis that, “it is not good that man should be alone”(Gen 2:18). These words indicate a desire for union that is written in our nature, a yearning to not be alone that is satisfied in many things: in prayer with the Lord, in human friendship, but it finds a particular physical completion in the exclusive loving union of marriage. Thus we heard the Lord Jesus quote that phrase from Genesis about a husband and wife becoming “one body”(Mk 10:8; Gen 2:24).

All love involves giving of ourselves. We give our time, our energy, and more. Marriage is that unique self-gift where someone gives their EVERYTHING to someone, in a mutual self-gift that brings many rewards.
But, once you have given yourself to another, in totality, for life, you cannot then take back that gift. If your wife become sick, you are still married, still given to her. If she becomes poor, she is still your wife. If she is unfaithful to you, she is still your wife. If she goes off, she is still your wife.
Now it is true that sometimes there are reasons a couple have to separate, either temporarily or permanently. Often there is an innocent party left behind, with much suffering.

But even if you separate and civilly divorce, nonetheless she is still your wife in the eyes of God. As Pope Francis said last week, there is no such thing as “Catholic divorce” (plane interview, 28/9/2015).
If we look at Scripture, as quoted on the insert sheet in the newsletter, it says very clearly what a separated or civilly divorced spouse is called on to do: “remain single or else be reconciled to” your spouse (1 Cor 7:10-11).
You are not then free to give yourself to another, because you have already given yourself to your spouse –even if she no longer appreciates that gift, even if you no longer live together.
You are not then free to commit yourself to another, because you are already committed.
If you have said “till death do us part” to one woman, you cannot say that to another while she still lives.
Thus Jesus says, “The man who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery” (Mk 10:11).
Thus the Church says that a person who remarries (while their spouse is alive) commits a public act that bars them from receiving Holy Communion (Catechism 1650; 2384). Bars them until they amend this aspect of their life.

How shall I conclude? By acknowledging that this is a very hard teaching. Every walk of life has its cross to carry, but this call to “remain single (1 Cor 7:11) rather than remarry can be a heavy cross.
This said, a romantic union in marriage is not the only way to fulfil the desire spoken of in our first reading, the desire to not “be alone”.
And, faithfulness to God, faithfulness to the vows made, will bring with it strength and grace, and ultimately all faithfulness to God is rewarded, not just in heaven but in this life too.

The joys of marriage are only possible because of this hard teaching about commitment. A union that didn’t claim to be for life would be a very much lesser thing than marriage, it wouldn’t really be the “one body” union the Lord Jesus speaks of. If this lifelong commitment is abandoned then what is being abandoned is the beauty of marriage itself. And with it, a stable environment in which to raise children. And thus the Church tells us that the Lord meant what He said.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Jealousy, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Num 11:25-29; Mk 9:38-43.45.46-48
I want to speak about two things today: Jealousy and Thanksgiving.

In both our first reading and in our Gospel text we heard disciples of the Lord being jealous about supernatural gifts that were given to others. The young man ran to Moses to complain that the supernatural gift of prophecy had been given to two men who weren't in the Tent (of meeting) -the two men had been given something, and the young boy didn’t think they should have it. Similarly, in the Gospel we heard how John complained to the Lord that the gift of casting out devils had been given to someone who wasn't in their group. In both cases we can detect jealousy about what had been given to someone else.

Now, jealousy is an odd sort of thing. These days I often find myself getting jealous of young men with hair. I still have some hair, but not as much or as thick as it once was. And I find myself jealous.
So, what is jealousy? St Thomas defines jealousy as a type of SADNESS that we experience at the good of another.
I see a young man with hair, and instead of being happy for him, happy that he has hair, somehow, I feel sad instead.
St Thomas adds further that the reason for such sadness is that we somehow imagine that the reason I DON’T have something is because this other person has it. The young man not only has hair but he has an iPhone 6S –and there is a limited number of those to go around, so I somehow feel that his having it means I don't. And I feel sad.
And sometimes, as in today's Gospel, we can feel sad in jealousy because even though we DO have something we don't want others to have it TOO, we are POSSESSIVE, we think that someone else having something nice DETRACTS from my having it too. To return to that Scriptural example, John had the gift of casting out devils, but he was sad that this gift was also being shared by others -his jealousy was linked with a possessiveness about it.

Such a sadness is a silly thing, even if it's a real thing. It can consume us and stop us enjoying the goods things we have because we are focussed on the good things that OTHER people have. It's a sadness, a sadness that leaves us sad. But there is a remedy: giving thanks.

Let me note four things that happen when I give thanks:
First, my giving thanks renders back to God the thanksgiving that I OWE Him.
Second, I become happier by focussing on what’s right rather than on what might seem wrong. I shift my focus away from my sadness at others, and shift my attention to what I have myself. And in giving thanks to God for it and in remembering that I have it, and I enjoy it more. And I become happier.
Third, my thanksgiving to God for his gifts to me frees me of the possessiveness linked with jealousy, because I recall that I don’t truly possess any of these things -they are talents on loan from God.
Finally, my turning back to God reminds me of His goodness towards me. Nothing in life makes us happier than knowing that we are loved (c.f. My previous sermon quoting Paul VI, Gaudete in Domino, n.iii). And nothing reminds us that we are loved more obviously than seeing the signs of such love, and giving thanks to God focuses exactly on such signs.

To sum that up. Jealousy is a real thing, but not a good thing. It is a sadness in me when I see someone else with something good.
The remedy is to give thanks. Thanks in the morning, thanks during the day, thanks, especially, as habit at the end of the day before going to bed.
Thanks: To see the good that I HAVE, not what others have; to see it as a sign of God’s love for me; to rejoice in seeing that good, and to rejoice in knowing it as a sign that I am loved.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

No Sermon this Sunday

Today we have a pastoral letter from the Bishops of England and Wales for Home Mission Sunday

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Meeting Christ In the Cross, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 8:27-35
When Christ hung upon the Cross very few people recognised Him for WHO He truly was.
In terms of what He WAS: He was the Son of God, He was the Messiah, He was the Chosen One they were all waiting for.
But, in terms of what He LOOKED like: He was battered, bruised, bleeding, ugly.
There was one person, however, and St Mark’s Gospel makes a point of noting it, there was one person who at that very moment, in the Messiah’s weakness and ugliness, that recognised Him. St Mark notes that the centurion who stood at the foot of the Cross, who had seen Him suffer, had seen how He reacted to all that happened to Him –that centurion was moved to faith in Jesus. This pagan centurion declared, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”(Mk 15:39). It was precisely at that most UNLIKELY moment that the centurion confessed who Jesus was.

That account of the centurion is recorded for us by St Mark, and the account we heard in today's Gospel text was also from St Mark. Many commentators note a deliberate parallel St Mark gives in these two confessions. The confession we heard today by St. Peter also truly recognised Christ, with St. Peter saying, “You are the Christ”, the Son of the living God (Mk 8:29, cf Mt 16:16). St Peter’s words didn't recognise Him at the Cross, but the words of the Lord Jesus at that moment pointed St Peter towards the Cross. The Lord’s words followed St Peter’s confession of who He was by declaring that the Christ was going to suffer and be killed, and referred directly to the “cross”(Mk 8:34).

St Mark is doing this very deliberately. The confession by the centurion of who Jesus was AT THE CROSS, and, the prophecy of the Cross to St. Peter at the moment when St. Peter is recognising WHO Jesus is, this all has a profound point:
WHO Jesus is is intrinsically linked with the Cross.
You cannot recognise the TRUE Jesus without recognising that He is the One who has come to die, come to die for us. He is “the suffering servant”(Isa 53), suffering with us and for us.

There are many practical points about how this applies to us, but let me note this one:
When we meet Jesus we often don't recognise Him, and we don't recognise Him because He comes to us in the Cross.
In contrast, when something nice happens to me, when the sun shines on my day off, when someone leaves me a nice cottage pie for my lunch, when my real ale tastes good -in these and many such moments I think: God is good, God is real, and I sense that I have met Him in that moment.
Other times, however, when He meets me in the Cross, I don’t recognise Him:
Someone asks me to do something when I'm already busy, my patience is tested, and instead of experiencing this as a moment of meeting Jesus as He had His patience tried on the Cross, I fail to realise that this, too, was a moment I could have met the Lord.
Again, someone is rude or abrupt to me, my love is tested, and instead of experiencing this as a moment of meeting Jesus as He had His love tested when people said insulting and rude things to Him as He hung on the Cross, I fail to realise that this too, was a moment I could have met the Lord.
Again, when I was sick and weak after my hernia operation this summer, my inner strength was tested, and instead of experiencing this as a moment of meeting the Lord who was weak on the Cross, who offered His sufferings for others as He hung on the Cross, instead of offering up my sufferings, I fail to realise that this too was a moment I could have met the Lord.

So, let us each ask ourselves when we recognise the presence of the Lord Jesus in our lives.
Because if we know Him for who He truly is, if we know Him as the One who suffered for us and even now is with us, then we shouldn't be surprised to recognise Him in tough moments as well as easy ones. Both are “blessed” moments –but in different ways.
And St Mark’s deliberate connection of the identifying of WHO Jesus is with the CROSS should remind us that it is often on the Cross that we find Him still today.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

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

James 2:1-5; Isa 35:4-7; Mk 7:31-37
Picking up on our second reading from St James, and thinking of our parish Harvest Festival this weekend, I’d like to spend a moment today considering how we look at “the poor” and how we look at ourselves.
Now it’s a noteworthy point that very few people I meet think of themselves as rich. I meet very few people who say, “I’m rich, I’m comfortable, I don’t know what to do with all my money”.
Instead, I meet parishioners who say things like, “We’re not going to be able to repair such-and-such this year because we’ve not got the money”.
Or, even if they’ve managed to go on holiday, might say something like, “It’s been wonderful to go on a proper holiday this summer, we’ve not be able to for years” -aware that money feels tight.

Such observations are real. And they indicate a true sense of not having the funds we would like to have.
However, a harvest festival is a moment to try and step back and see the bigger picture, and realise that for almost all of us in Shaftesbury, we need to acknowledge that there are most people in the world are much poorer than we are.

In our second reading St James said, “it was those who are poor according to the world that God chose”(James 2:5). Who were those “poor”?
The Israelites in slavery in Egypt, under the harsh yoke of the Pharaohs.
The Jews starving in hunger, wandering in the desert.
The captives in Babylon, homeless and driven from their land.
And, thinking of the imagery in today’s Gospel and first reading, “the poor” were:
The blind, the deaf, the lame.

And what did God do for such “poor”?
He gave the Jews a Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.
And the Lord Jesus gave sight to the blind, and healed the sick.

But, let us note, though St James repeatedly berates the wealthy for not caring for the worldly needs of the poor, nonetheless, the REAL blessings he says God offers the poor are something else.
He says that God chose them “to be rich in FAITH and to be heirs to the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him”(James 2:5).
That kingdom, the one established in the New Covenant in Christ, is an eternal kingdom in HEAVEN.
And the poor he speaks of are rich in “faith” because they have allowed their lowliness to be something that causes them to humbly reach out to the Almighty.
In contrast the Scriptural imagery portrays the rich as self-satisfied, as proud, and as not aware that they need to reach to the Lord.

To conclude, do we think of ourselves as “poor” or as “rich”?
In comparison to much of the world, most of us need to acknowledge that we are “rich” in possessions and thus need to be generous with them.
But, before the Lord, we are “poor” and needy, and the manner in which the Lord raises up the lowly is reminder that we need to be sure we remember our poverty before Him, because it is when we do that He raises us up too.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Sunday, 23 August 2015

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Josh 24:1-2.15-18; Jn 6:60-69
The Gospel text and today’s first reading give us two of the most powerful Scriptural accounts of choosing for or against the Lord.
In the Gospel we heard how the people WALKED AWAY from the Lord Jesus. They had heard Him give His promise to feed them with His flesh in the Eucharist and they said, “this is too much, who can accept this intolerable language”. And they walked away. Walked away from the Lord, right there before them.
In the first reading we heard of Joshua, who succeeded Moses in the Old Testament. Joshua was the one who led the Jewish people into the Promised Land. And he told them that they had to choose: in this NEW land would they follow the gods of that land, the false gods of the Canaanites etc, or would they hold with the one true God, the God who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, led them through the Red Sea waters, feed them as they wandered in the desert, and finally brought them to this new land?

WHO would they choose to follow? Joshua said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (24:15)
And all “the people answered, ‘We have no intention of deserting the Lord’ ”(Josh 24:16)
The truth, however, as the years ahead would show, was that the people were repeatedly unfaithful to the Lord, constantly mixing a bit of worship of the true God with a bit of worship of the pagan gods.

When we read the Old Testament the need to be faithful to the ONE God, and to not mix it up, and to not serve false idols, is a continual refrain. It is the FIRST of the Ten Commandments that God gave them, “You shall have no false gods”. And yet it was a commandment that He had to repeat to them many times. They served false gods (1) by sacrificing to them, and also (2) they served false gods, as the Old Testament prophets protested, by serving the false idols of money, gluttony, and sexual immorality. And the Lord Jesus would later put it, “You cannot serve both God and money” –you have to choose.

The question I would have you consider today is this:
Which are the false gods you are most frequently tempted to serve in your own life?
Let me suggest two:

First, “the god of being middle class”. This god manifests himself in the pursuit of a certain lifestyle, with defining your life, and defining the success or failure of your life by whether you meet certain middle class criteria, rather than defining the success or failure of your life by whether you live the life the true God calls you to.
This might manifest itself in your concern about your house, or your car, or the school your child goes to, or the exam results your child obtains.
In this and other concerns do you think of them asking by yourself (1) whether you are achieving the middle class dream. Or, (2) do you ask yourself what God would be asking you: have you used the talents He gave you to full effect, but then been humble and content with the results that came.
The middle class god is, I suggest to you, the dominant false idol of Shaftesbury and we need to ask if it is him we serve, or the real God.

Second, a very different god, another god who is much around in this land: “the god of non-commitment”. I hear what the Bible says, what the Church says, and I just don't commit. Non-commitment is another dominant idol of our day: not hostility to the Gospel, but a refusal to engage one way or the other.
Does this God rule your life? Is that where you offer your worship?

To conclude, what are we to do if we realise we have been serving a false idol, either one of these two or another?
Well, the true God, the God who is worshipped in THIS shrine, is a God who offers us many second chances. He has manifested His authenticity in His miracles, His deeds, His gracious words in Scripture. And as often as we turn back to Him with sincere hearts, He will accept us.

So, hearing the call of Joshua, “choose this day who you will serve”, let us make the words of Joshua our words too: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (transferred from the 15th August)

Rev 11:19;12:1-6.10
For today’s feast of the Assumption (when we recall that at the end of her earthly life Our Lady was taken up into heaven, taken up body and soul), for today’s feast I’d like to focus on our first reading, which was from the book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse.
In the vision described in that reading, as we just heard, two ”signs” appeared in the heavens, two signs that characterize the Christian life.

One sign was of the “dragon”(Rev 12:3), and the battle with the dragon is a symbol of our lifelong struggle against the Devil. Now, as we all know, its not very fashionable to talk about the Devil, people often get embarrassed if a preacher refers to him as something real. What you might not know, however, is how frequently Pope Francis speaks about the devil: he mentions him almost daily in his homilies. You can Google this quite easily: “Why does Pope Francis talk about the Devil so much?”. The Pope has a very clear awareness that our daily struggles in life have the devil as their ultimate cause. As the Bible puts it, we battle not against earthly powers but spiritual ones (e.g. Eph 6:12).
In acknowledging this we confront the reality that much of life is tough, much of life is suffering, much of life is a battle. But there is a battle BEHIND the visible battles: In my temptations, in my afflictions, and so forth, who is the one who is seeking my downfall? The Devil. Satan.

Back to our first reading: There was another sign referred to as appearing in the skies: “a woman, adorned with the sun, standing on the moon, with the twelve stars on her head as a crown”(Rev 12:1). In fact, this is not just ‘another’ sign but the “great” sign.
This ‘woman” has a twofold symbolism.:
On one level she is the Church, the Bride of Christ. And, as the next verses (which we didn’t hear read) say, the dragon pursues the woman and her descendants (Rev 11:13,17). The dragon makes war against the woman, but is defeated. The woman, however, does not fight in her own defence. Rather, the Lord raises up those who fight to defend her. We didn’t hear it in the short excerpt we were given, but: St Michael and his angels fought against the dragon (Rev 11:7-9); the earth itself opened up to swallow a river sent to drown the woman(Rev 11:16); the woman was given wings to fly to safety (Rev 11:14); and, as we heard in the text, the woman was given a place of safety, “a place prepared by God”(Rev 11:6).

This woman, as I said, is a symbol of the whole Church, of all of us, but at another level, the most IMMEDIATE level, she is Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of the Lord Jesus. The Church sees this text as one of the definitive signs that Our Lady has already been taken up to heaven, as we celebrate on today’s feast of the Assumption. She has been lifted above us, as a sign of hope for us who struggle on. And yet, as Pope Francis noted in a sermon a couple years ago, she also “walks with us always”. She is in travail with us, not distant from us, “struggles with us, sustains Christians in the fight against the forces of evil”. In this context Pope Francis particularly encouraged his listeners to use the Rosary daily in our spiritual warfare. As is often noted, though she is the weak humble woman chosen by God, she has also become, by His power, the mighty powerful woman who crushes the serpent’s head, fulfilling the prophecy made to Eve at the dawn of time (Gen 3:15).

To sum that up:
Our Lady has been assumed into heaven, the woman who is the “great sign” which appeared in heaven.
As an image, she is a symbol of us, the Church.
In hope, she is the sign of the destiny that we are called to pursue.
The battle the woman waged against the dragon is an image of the Blessed Virgin’s victorious struggle against the devil.
And, finally, she is the strong woman who is our assistance in our lifelong battle against the spiritual powers of darkness. So in our daily struggles let us be sure to call upon her.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Jn 6:24-35; Eph 4:17.20-24
As most of you know, I’ve had some minor surgery recently, for a hernia. Even with a few complications, a hernia is a MINOR problem, and I don’t intend to exaggerate my suffering, but, the unpleasantness of the process was grim enough to remind me of a few lessons.
I remember lying on the hospital bed and just wanting the experience to be OVER:
wanting the pain to stop,
wanting the nausea to stop,
and I won’t give you other details, but I just wanted the symptoms to stop.
It was only later, when those symptoms subsided, that I remembered what it was to feel normal and well again.
When I was sick I’d had this yearning to not be sick, but without a clear thought of what it felt like to be normal again.

I offer that to you as an image of how we yearn for God, but don’t really appreciate what it is that we are yearning for.
We yearn for something more in life, even when we don’t quite know what more we are seeking
-just as I yearned to not be sick, even while I’d lost that clear awareness of what it felt like to be well.
Or, let me put it this way:
The SAINT who has FOUND God, realises what he was looking for
even more than the SINNER who knows he is looking for something but has forgotten what the experience of finding God is like.
I can realise that I am sick in my soul, but not quite be sure what I need to be healthy.

In our Gospel text today we heard the Lord Jesus warn the people that they were yearning for the wrong thing, “for food that cannot last”(Jn 6:27).
The people knew they were hungry, but the Lord told them that they were hungering for the wrong thing.
They were hungering for a WORLDLY fullness,
not the eternal heavenly fullness that He alone can offer.
You and I, likewise, can realise that we are hungering, can realise that we are seeking something more in life:
But are we looking for a passing, earthly, feeding?
in comfort, in pleasure, in riches, in a career?
or looking for a feeding that will satisfy us for eternity, in completion?
in a life of cheerful self-sacrifice, in holiness, in grace, in the sacraments?

To return to my analogy with my being sick:
when I was sick I didn’t know what I was seeking for in wanting to be well,
I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be well,
I couldn’t remember because I was sick
and I relied on the nurses and doctor -they got me well again.
The Lord is like the doctor.
He still knows what its like to be normal and healthy,
and He knows the food I need to eat in order to get healthy.
And what is that food?
Nothing less than Himself. HE is the “Bread of life”(Jn 6:35), He says.
If we would be satisfied with the Bread that is Him,
we must choose to NOT be satisfied with this earthly life. We must choose, as St Paul said in the second reading, “not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live”(Eph 4:17),
and instead to choose to trust the words of Him who has shown in His own resurrected glory the vision of what it means to be well again, what it will look like if we feed ourselves on Him.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Holidays, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 6:30-34
I want to say a few words about how we still need to be attentive to the needs of others, even when we’re resting, even when we’re on a holiday.

Like anyone else, I need time to rest to recover from work. As you probably know, I’ve just been on retreat and then on holiday, restoring both my soul and my body. And, with the school holidays about to begin, families all across the UK will be heading off to different places to have a vacation.
But there can be an easy mistake to fall into with such times, namely, to think that it is a sort of selfish “me-time”. And, of course, a real danger with this is that our selfishness can ruin a whole holiday, so that we return in need to another break again!

In the Gospel text we heard today how the Lord Jesus acknowledged His apostles’ need of rest: “He said to them, ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’.”(Mk 6:31).
This isn’t the only time we hear such a thing of the Lord. The Gospels often record how He Himself would often get away from the crowds early in the morning, to go to pray.

So, they needed rest.
And the Lord took them away to get some rest.
But, the people ruined the plan:
When they crossed the lake they found that “people [had seen] them going, and many could guess where”(Mk 6:33), and there was a crowd of work waiting for the Lord and the apostles when they got off the boat.
The Gospel text doesn’t tell us how the apostles reacted. I’m pretty sure they were disappointed, maybe annoyed.

The point I wish to draw your attention to, however, is how the LORD reacted:
Not annoyed, not disappointed, rather, “He had COMPASSION on them [the crowds]”(Mk 6:34).
The Lord’s outlook in life was so other-focused, so focused on the needs of OTHER people rather than Himself, that even when tired and in need of rest He STILL managed to stretch Himself even further to serve others.
This is a HARD lesson for us to learn.
But, if we can take it on board, it can help change and IMPROVE the way we rest.
If our rest has a ready WILLINGNESS to be interrupted, a willing ACCEPTANCE of still being attentive to others, then:
Firstly, we won’t have the IMPATIENCE and irritability that accompanies a selfish ME-time.
And, our rest becomes part of a more big-hearted and content approach to life.

Life’s not all about me.
And even my time of rest isn’t all about me.
So, whether we’re on holiday,
Or on a day out
Or taking a stroll through the town,
We too need to be other-focused, like the Lord, who “had compassion on the crowd” -even when they interrupted His vacation.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 6:7-13; Amos 7:12-15
At first glance, the Gospel text for today would seem to be very unrelated to the life of a normal parishioner. But I want to point out that we can make some important applications to ourselves.

In the text, the Lord appointed the Twelve and sent them out with authority over devils, and told them various things not to take with them, no bread, no coins etc.
In addition, we might note that they were not expected to be welcomed: they were given instructions on how to respond when they were rejected, namely, to shake the dust from their shoes. This has been the typical lot of many of those sent by the Lord, as we heard with the rejection of the prophet Amos in our first reading.

What does this have to do with us? What comparison can we apply to our own lives?
First, the notion of being sent.
While we might feel that we have carved out our own pathway in life, actually, the Lord has had a plan for us. Even if we have got to our present situation by sin and repeated vice the Lord nonetheless is able to works His plans even through this, through what theology calls His “permissive will” -He permits certain evils in order to draw greater good out of them, and His plan for us marks out a path, even when the path seems very crooked when viewed from our angle.
Whatever our state in life, there is a sense in which we are called to it, or to turn the angle around, sent to it.
Am I sick? Well, I can say that I am being sent to carry this with patience and love, and with offering it up for the benefit of others.
Am I in sin? The primary “devils” I am being appointed to cast out are those in my own heart. I am “sent” to this task.
And your job. In this too you are “sent”, sent to do it well, to do it for God’s glory.
Whatever our state, there is sense in which we are sent to it by the Lord.

Second, we might note that we are called to not live a life of worldliness. Pope Francs is frequently reminding us of this, as he did in his recent encyclical: that we are to live in this world in such a way as to not be overly-attached to the things of this world.
Thus the injunction to carry no coins, no bread, no haversack, has a symbolic meaning for all of us.

Third, and lastly, He supports us in the task He sends us to.
The Gospel text notes that He worked miracles supporting them as they were about their task: devils were cast out; sick people were cured.
For us, too, the Lord is working for us, supporting us in whatever He has sent us to do.
And as a final aspect of this, let us note the fact that He supported the Twelve by sending them in pairs -they were to have the support of another. And WHO is the ‘other’ that is paired with us in whatever are sent to? Surely, in its deepest sense, it is the Lord Himself, by my side.

So, to sum that up. We are each “sent” to our state in life, to live it well, to live it in love, to offer it up God’s glory. We are to live in an un-worldly manner, even as we are sent through this world heading to the next. And third, He supports us in our task, He is the ‘pair’ by my side.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

2 Cor 12:7-10
I will only speak briefly because there is an appeal at the end of Mass.

In our second reading we heard St Paul pass on the promise from the Lord that he was given:
“My grace is sufficient for you: my power is made perfect in weakness”, to which St Paul adds, “For it is when I am weak that I am strong”

This principle has been reiterated many times by Christians, and it holds not just for us as individual believers in the Lord but also for us as an organization and as a church:
In those centuries and cultures when the Church has been outwardly powerful and materially wealthy she has also been inwardly weak in her spiritual life.
Whereas, when the Church is persecuted and poor she returns with renewed vigour to the source of her REAL strength: the Lord Jesus.

At the end of Mass today, accompanying the insert sheet in your newsletter, Dominic Lavan, the chair of our parish finance committee will indicate that our parish income is far from being at a point of strength:
we are running at a structural deficit.
In some ways this is a good thing, an opportunity:
It can help us not be complacent about the parish and about the parish finances;
It can help motivate the parish finance committee to be even more careful stewards of your money
-and they have been increasingly careful in recent years.
But, it’s not a viable thing if the parish is to have a long-term future,
And so I urge you to listen carefully to Dominic’s words at the end of Mass.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Sunday, 14 June 2015

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Mk 4:26-34; 2 Cor 5:6-10
At the 9am Mass we just celebrated our First Holy Communion Mass, with ten children making their FHC this year.
As I was looking at the readings for today, and also thinking about the FHCs, a similarity occurred to me:
Our readings speak about things we don’t see, but nonetheless know to be true, know to be true because God has said so.
Holy Communion is likewise a reality we only know because God has said so.

In the Gospel we heard the Lord Jesus speak about how the Kingdom of God is like a seed that grows unseen in the soil. It is growing under the ground long before its springs forth its first shoot, long before the farmer sees it. In the same way, the Lord is at work in many things in our lives even we cannot see Him.
How do we KNOW that He is at work, and not just abandoning us?
Because He has said so.
The Lord speaks repeatedly of how He watches over us. I saw a flock of birds recently, and thought of the Lord’s words, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”(Mt 6:26)

In our second reading we heard St Paul; speak about how, in this life on earth, we live “exiled from the Lord”(2 Cor 5:6). He then adds, almost casually, a hugely important point: “we walk by faith and not by sight”(2 Cor 5:7).
To walk by faith rather than by sight means that we do not SEE where we are going. And yet, St Paul says repeatedly in this passage that we should walk “full of confidence”(2 Cor 5:6).
How can we have confidence if we do not see?
Because we have the words of the Lord, the promises of the Lord.
And these promises enable me to keep pressing onwards, trusting that He is by my side, trusting that He is guiding me, trusting that He is strengthening me.

Let me turn again to Holy Communion.
Holy Communion is definitely not something known by “sight”.
It is known by “faith”, by which is mean, known by believing the words Jesus said about it: “This is my Body, This is my Blood”.
By “sight” it looks like just bread, and tastes like just bread.
But the Lord has said otherwise, empathically.
And like the seed growing unseen, Holy Communion is not seen. But it is real, just like the unseen growing seed under ground is real.

So, to sum up today’s simple point:
God works in many unseen ways, but He works truly.
He has told us this is how He works.
And, even if He WANTED to show us how He works we would be able to grasp it because, as he Himself said, “My ways are not your ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”(Isa 55:8-9).
But thoughts He has, and ways He has, and He works even when we do not see it.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Corpus Christi

Mk 14:12-16.22-26; Ex 24:3-8; Heb 9:11-15
This evening, I’d like to consider our feast of Corpus Christi from a slightly tangential angle, by noting something that we can see in both our first reading and Gospel text, namely:
The PREPARATIONS that went into the First Mass, and before it, into the ritual of the Old Covenant.

There is a popular notion that the Last Supper, the meal at which the Lord instituted the First Mass, was a cozy family-style gathering. Such a concept focuses on the word, ‘supper’.
However, as a matter of history, this coziness is not well-founded as an image, because actually the Passover meal was not just an ordinary meal:
It had ritual and structure, with a series of 4 ritual questions and answers that governed and patterned the meal so that it became not just a meal but a remembrance of the first Passover when the Jews were rescued from Egypt.
It also had dignity, so it wouldn’t have been any common cup that the Lord used for the First Mass, but rather something like the precious metals we use in a chalice for Mass still today.

We see an indication of this in the narrative we heard read in our Gospel text. In that account we can note that:
(1) the meal was not just spontaneous, but was prepared, and the Lord sent two disciples ahead of the group to “make the preparations”(Mk 14:15);
(2) it was prepared with fine and noble things , not just common ordinary things, so the Lord referred to it being “furnished with couches”(Mk 14:15).

We might also note the comparison that it given to us in our first reading, with the ceremonial institution of the (old) Covenant, that we can similarly note, was:
(1) precisely prepared, with the commands of the Covenant laid out in writings,
(2) done with dignified material things: an altar built, and 12 standing-stones;

Now, obviously, the particulars of those two rituals are not the same as the Mass, but they point to what we also need to do in the Mass:
(1) We need to prepare;
(2) We need to use fine things, as we do with vestments, chalices of precious metals, and carefully planned ritual and prayers.
But the real preparation, and the real “fine things” that we need for this Mass and every Mass, are the “fine things” of a purified soul and attentive mind.

What is available to us is the Mass, in the sacrifice of the New Covenant of Jesus Christ, vastly supersedes the gift of the Old Covenant. As we heard St Paul say in our second reading, it is not the blood of goats or heifers but of Christ Himself that makes the New Covenant. And what we are fed with is not the passing Manna that fed the Israelites in the desert but the true “Bread of Life” that it the Lord Himself.

At the end of Mass today we’ll worship the Lord, exposed for Adoration on the altar.
We’ll then be blessed by the Lord, in the Benediction of His Eucharistic presence.
Let’s make sure that we prepare for that by (1) attentive and (2) contrite hearts, hearts open to Him, hearts aware if the greatness of the gift He gives us, the gift of Himself.