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