Sunday, 25 December 2016

Star Wars and Christmas 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Gaudete Sunday, 3rd Sunday Advent, Year A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 8 December 2016

40th Anniversary of Church, West Moors; Immaculate Conception

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 4 December 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 27 November 2016

1st Sunday of Advent, Year A

Mt 24:37-44; Isa 2:1-5; Ps 121; Rom 13:11-14
Every year, we start Advent, start preparing for His coming at Christmas, start by focusing on His final coming in glory at the End of Time.
Let me ask you to consider, today, what your response would be if you heard that Jesus was coming, that His Second Coming in glory was going to be today, before Sunday lunch.
Because we have have presented to us, in our Scripture readings, two rather contrasting approaches.
The first, is to run out and meet Him with joy (Isa 2:1-5; Ps 121);
The second, is the fear of judgment, which the Lord Jesus puts before us in our Gospel text (Mt 24:37-44), with the warning that we need to "stay awake" because we do not know when He is coming, and St Paul amplifies the point with a list of sins we need to put aside to "live decently as people do in the daytime"(Rom 13:13)

On one level, it might seem odd that our Christian Scriptures give us such contrasting ways of responding to Jesus' coming.
Are we to fear Him, or ,to rejoice that He is is coming?
In fact, we should do both, and both are an appropriate and necessary ways to respond to Him if we grasp the FULLNESS of Who and what He is.

Our first reading and psalm both give is the beautiful image of the people "going up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob”(Isa 2:3).
Many people today, as we all know, think that there is no god, no purpose to life. Or, if there is some god then He is isn't really knowable, and thus isn't really loveable
We, however, have the gladness of knowing Him because He has made Himself known.

And, WHAT has He made known about Himself?
Many things, of course, but principally, as Scripture says, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16), and it is as “love” that He has made Himself known.
And when we meet the God who is love, this produces joy.
Pope Francis notes this in the context of the New Evangelisation, he says that the source of ‘joy’ in the believer is twofold: ‘encountering’ Christ (Evangelii Gaudium n.1) and knowing in this encounter that we are loved (n.2, 6, 7 etc).
He notes too that this encounter, if it is genuine, and if the joy is not just some complacency, this joyful encounter sends us forth (n.20). It send us forth to tell of Him to others, but also, as our focus today at the start of Advent recalls, it sends us forth to go out and meet Him when He comes. And, we might note, that if this going to meet the Lord is authentic then, as the image in our first reading from Isaiah indicates, we should want to draw others to go up and meet and worship Him with us.

But, back to that other response, other way we might and should feel about the Lord coming in glory: fear, fear of judgement, concern that if “of two… one will be taken, the other one left”(Mt 24:41), then which ‘one’ will I be?
Well, if we have authentically grasped Who He is, then awe and “fear of the Lord” are fully appropriate -He is my friend, but He is also my lord and judge. And my awareness of this is part of what moves me to change, to repentance, to getting myself ready, to “staying awake”.
So, our collect (opening prayer) at Mass today both asked that we might be granted “the resolve to run forth to meet …Christ” and also asked we might be “worthy” through having “righteous deeds” to bring to Him.
If I have honestly faced what gives me cause for fear, then I can be ready to meet Him with joy.
And, as Pope Francis also reminds us, the mercy of God is what “restores our joy”(n.3).

To conclude, if Christ came before lunch today, would I have fear or joy?
Both are possible responses,
but the more I have grasped Who He is NOW, the more I will be ready with joy both then and now, ready for His coming.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Fortitude & Remembrance Sunday, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 21:5-19
Today our nation keeps Remembrance Sunday, when we recall those who died in the wars of the last century. We recall the horror of war, and our resolution not to repeat the evils of the past century. We recall, also, the bravery of so many who stood firm when they could have given way to evil.
Our Scripture readings today, which are not specially chosen for Remembrance Sunday, nonetheless speak to us of the virtue of fortitude –that virtue that is classically associated with the soldier.
And it's about fortitude that I'd thus like to speak about today.

I recently finished reading a book about fortitude (Gomez, Men of Brave Heart).
The book, obviously, makes repeated reference to the image of the soldier.
But what struck me most in the book is it's description of how fortitude needs to permeate EVERY Christian’s life –there is a battle that we ALL must fight, both within ourselves, with the Evil One, and with evil in general.

Unless we live the life of a couch potato, we all spend our lives STRIVING in the pursuit of ‘goods’.
We all strive for ‘goods’:
The good of passing an exam after extended study,
the good of acquiring a salary to support your family,
in fact, even the couch potato strives for a ‘good’ –just the not very spectacular good of sitting on the sofa.

Some goods are harder to acquire than others, and this is where fortitude comes in:
Fortitude is the particular virtue that gives us strength, “firmness of will” in the pursuit of “the ARDUOUS good” (Catechism n.1808; St Thomas, ST II-II q123ff), strength in the face of fear.
Classically, it is most completely seen in that firmness of will manifested in the face of death by the soldier –pursuing the arduous good of defending others.

In the Gospel today we heard the Lord Jesus speak of the “endurance”(Lk 21:19) we will need to “win your lives” in the midst of the fearful events that will accompany the End of Time.
He tells us to “not be frightened”, even while describing things that might lead to fear.
We might note that elsewhere He speaks of many other more comforting and encouraging parts of the struggle:
If it is an “arduous” good that the Christian seeks, He tells us of the perfect beatitude (c.f. Mt 5), complete happiness, that comes with this good.
If there are things to fear, He tells us that He has “overcome the world” (Jn 16:33) and that His “grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9).
But, nonetheless, His focus in this passage is on the need for that “endurance” if any of this is to be overcome.

The book on fortitude that said I read spoke, at length, about how this battle, this not giving up, this not being overcome by the “arduous” –this characterises ALL Christian existence:
The need to be strong against comfort eating in gluttony,
The need to be strong against selfishness in the need to serve others in love,
The need to be strong against temptations to impatience and irritability etc.

We see that strength typified in the soldier.
We see that strength manifested, in perfection, in Christ in the Cross, who endured all things for love of us, in pursuit of the arduous good of our salvation.
So, today, on Remembrance Sunday, when we think of the fortitude of the soldier,
let us think about how this typifies our whole Christian lives,
And let us look to the Lord’s example on the Cross to endure to the end,
and ask the Lord for the grace to endure with that endurance that will “win you your lives”.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Praying for the Dead, 32rd Sunday Ordinary Time, Year C

See an article on this topic here

2 Macc 7:1-14; Lk 20:27-38
We're now in the month of November, the month of the year when the Church in a more focused way remembers the dead. In particular, we remember to PRAY for the dead. And we pray for the dead not because we despair for them but rather because of the opposite: because of what we HOPE for them. Our first reading and gospel both remind us very clearly of what it is that we hope that the dead: the resurrection of the body.

In the gospel we heard the Lord Jesus say something about the resurrection that His hearers probably found a little unexpected: while He spoke of the resurrection of the body He nonetheless indicated that the body will not be like our bodies are at present. At present, our bodies are prone to sickness, to suffering, to all sorts of limitations -but it will not be so in Heaven. This point is elaborated on in many places elsewhere in the New Testament where it speaks of the changed transfigured glory of the resurrected body. For example, in St Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians he says that we "we shall all be changed... the dead will be raised imperishable... because our present perishable nature must put on imperishability and this mortal nature must put on immortality”(1 Cor 15: 52-53).

But it is not only our bodies that will need to change: our souls also will need to be transformed from sinful imperfection to sinless perfection. Heaven is a place of perfection, and it could hardly remain so if imperfect people were allowed into it. So, the logic of the perfection of heaven requires that we be purified before we enter it. And this purification, this purging of our sins, is what happens in the place called Purgatory.

Now, I want to make a point about change: Change is never easy. There are many things in my character now that I try to change, many little bad habits that I try to break, and many new good habits that I try to acquire, and any change is difficult. I say this to make a comparison with the change, the purgation, that we must undergo in Purgatory -that change will be even more dramatic and thus even more difficult. The traditional images used for Purgatory all speak of it in terms of fire and pain, and such images conjure up an image of the difficulty that must be involved in this change.

There are two things, however, that ease the pain of those in purgatory. First, the pain and difficulty of Purgatory is greatly eased by the fact that Purgatory is a place of great hope because those who are there know that they are already guaranteed a place in the joy of heaven, it is only a matter of time for them –by sending them to Purgatory the Judgement has spared them of Hell. Second, and this takes me back to where I began, the difficulty of those in Purgatory can be helped by the prayers of those of us who live.

So what do we pray for when we pray for the dead? We pray that God will have mercy on them in the judgement. We pray that God will speed the through their passage in Purgatory. And, we pray that God will ease and comfort them while they make their purgation. And the Tradition and countless private revelations to different saints have shown us that the prayers of the living are of great help to those who are dead, a point more definitively taught by Scripture itself which says, "It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from sins"(2 Macc 12:46).
There is an insert in this week's newsletter summarising why the Church tells us to pray for the end, and the doctrine of purgatory, see here
And I would commend three particular practices to you as prayers for the dead: have a Mass offered for those who have died (see here); pray the Rosary for those who have died -it is a prayer particularly beloved by our Blessed Mother; and say the Divine Mercy Chaplet –a prayer particularly suited for calling upon God's mercy.

To come back to where I began: Why do we pray for the dead? We pray for them because we have hope for them, hope of the glory of the resurrection. And because we have hope we pray that that hope will be realised with the aid of our prayers.
As St. Ambrose so beautifully put it in the 4th Century, "We have loved them during life; let us not abandon them in death, until we have conducted them by our prayers into the house of the Lord."

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Joy of Meeting Jesus, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 19:1-10
Today I’d like us to consider the most striking effect of meeting the Lord Jesus.
It may be that you’ve never directly considered what is the most noticeable CHANGE that can be seen in people who have met the Lord, but we just heard a clear example in that Gospel passage, and it is a theme that Pope Francis writes and speaks about frequently:
“JOY … fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus”(Evangelii Gaudium n.1).

Zacchaeus, as we just heard, welcomed the Lord “joyfully” (Lk 19:6) into his house.
We might also note Zaccaheus’s behavior before and after meeting the Lord Jesus:
Before, we can sense his eagerness:
He was “anxious”(19:3) to see Him, he “ran ahead”(19:4), and “climbed a tree”, and he disregarded the manner in which other people sought to out him off.
After, we can sense the change that meeting the Lord caused in him:
He changed his life, dramatically: he gave half his money to the poor and repaid fourfold all those he had cheated (19:8).
And the Lord declared, “today salvation has come to this house”(Lk 19:9).

Joy and Salvation -Pope Francis writes about how these two things go together.
In the Old Testament, when salvation was promised, when a Messiah was promised who would bring salvation, it was repeatedly said He would bring “joy” (Evangelii Gaudium n.4).
In the Gospels, as we heard one example today, this is exactly what happened. People met the Lord, and it brought joy to them.

Of course, this joy is not automatic:
Some people rejected or ignored the Lord. We might note that the Pharisees and Sadducees who rejected the Lord are never described as joyful.
We night note also the classic example of the rich young man: he went away “sad”(Mk 10:22) because he refused to change his life to follow the Lord.

But, for those who will choose to accept Him and follow Him and, unlike the rich young man, do what is required of those are to follow Him,
What is it about the Lord that brings joy? Let me note two things:
First, love.
We all want to be loved, and we rejoice when we experience that we are loved. The Lord Jesus was full of joy Himself because He always rejoiced in being loved by the Father, being His “Son, the Beloved”(Mk 1:11; 9:7). (c.f. Paul VI, Gaudete in Domino n.iii, my Pentecost sermon 2015). And those who met the Lord met One who loved them more fully than anyone else they had known before -so it is hardly to be wondered at that they experienced joy.
Second, salvation for the “lost”.
We just heard the Lord say that He had come to “save what was lost”(Lk 19:10).
The primary sense of this concerns being lost in sin. And the outcast sinners rejoiced because they experienced salvation for them, the “lost”, salvation in repentence and forgiveness.
There is secondary, more modern sense of “lost” and being saved, and it concerns finding meaning and purpose in life. We live in an age when many have no sense of purpose or direction or meaning, and to experience purpose when you have no purpose is to experience a reason to rejoice. And to encounter someone who sees the potential in you and gives you that purpose is as much a reason to rejoice today as it was for Zacchaeus 2000 years ago.

In summary, meeting the Lord brought “joy” to Zacchaeus as he experienced being sought out, being loved, being saved.
If we would have that same experience then we must constantly renew in ourselves what was visible in Zacchaeus: He knew Jesus offered something more, he sought Him out with energy, he repented of his sin, and “salvation came to this house”(Lk 19:9).

Sunday, 23 October 2016

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 18:9-14
I want to say a few words to help us grasp the surprise that the Lord Jesus’s listeners got in that parable.
When you and I just heard that parable in the gospel, we didn't hear it in the way that the people in ancient Palestine heard it. When they heard it, they heard the beginning without knowing the end, whereas, when WE heard it we knew the ending already, we knew that the sinner was declared righteous by Jesus because he confessed his sinfulness. That, however, would have been an ending that would have come as a total SURPRISE to the people listening to Jesus.

Picture how the telling of the parable would have gone:
The Lord's listeners would have heard the description of the Pharisee, and would have listened to everything he referred to himself as doing, and they would have been impressed:
here was a man doing all the right things. He fasted on the right days, he tithed the right amounts. Here was a man doing things right. And when he said he was not “like the rest of mankind”(Lk 18:11), he was simply stating a fact.
In contrast, there was the man he was being compared to, a tax collector
-such men are not popular today, but they were utterly despised in ancient Israel, despised as collaborators with the Roman oppressors, despised as men opposing God's Chosen People (by collected taxes from them for the Romans).
So, when the Lord says at the end of the parable that it was the tax collector who went home "at rights with God"(Lk 18:14), this would have been an ending that really SURPRISED His listeners.

Jesus was pointing out what it is that TRULY puts a person "at rights with God".
For us to try and grasp the point, try and get that 'surprise' that I said the original listeners got, let us think of the different ways that we each, habitually, tend to define what makes a 'good' person.
I have no doubt that each of us here have different criteria, different things that we look at in other people, the things that lead us to say, "Now, that's a GOOD person".
Some of us might look at someone who gives money to charity on a regular direct debit from the bank,
Or some of us might look at someone who spends a lot of time with his/her family,
Or some of us might look at someone who is hardworking and not lazy.
In each case, some of us here would define 'good' predominately in such terms.
and we would tend to think that such 'good' people are the ones who are "at rights with God".

Each of those things are good things, good deeds.
Yet, if we listen to that parable, the Lord seems to largely cast such things aside.
He is not saying, I think it’s obvious to point out, He's not saying that it's not good to give to the poor, spend time with your family, and be hard working etc.

The point is something else:
'Doing good' isn't what justifies us before God.
Rather, being HUMBLE is what justifies us before God, because it's being humble that accurately acknowledges our status before Him.
I am small, and weak, and a sinner.
And any good I 'do', I only do by His power working within me.

So, to return to where I began: the SURPRISE that the Lord's listeners got.
Of course, some may not have been surprised, they may have already remembered the Old Testament teaching about the humble being precious in the sight of God.
But it would seem that SOME had forgotten.
And if we too have forgotten, then let us take the Lord's words to heart, let us not “pride ourselves on being virtuous” (Lk 18:9) but rather let us seek to make the tax collector's prayer our own:
"God, be merciful to me, a sinner"(Lk 18:13).

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Why Pray? 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 18:1-18; Ex 17:8-13
We just heard Jesus talk about the importance of asking for things in prayer, in particular, we heard Him talk about the importance of PERSISTENTLY asking for things in prayer. People often ask the question, "Why do we need to ask God for something when Him already knows?" And people sometimes push the point further by asking, "Why must I persevere? I asked for it once, why must I ask for it again?" These are good questions, and I want to give a brief summary of some answers that have been given to those questions.

The first, and most important reason why we should ask for things even though God already knows what we need, is that He tells us to: Time and again in the Gospels, not just in the parable we heard, Jesus says "ask”(Mt 7:7). So, even if we do not understand WHY, we should do so because He has told us to -and He is wiser than we are.

In addition, we should ask for things in prayer because it is GOOD FOR US to ask for things in prayer, and it is good for us in two ways:
• it reminds us of the fact that we need Him, i.e. that we are not all-powerful ourselves, that we are small weak and fragile, and that nonetheless there is One who is not small weak and fragile and can help us in our need.
• But, prayer is good for us not only because it reminds us of our need of Him, but because prayer CHANGES US. St Augustine is probably the writer who has written most beautifully on this point, and he notes how when we pray, "thy kingdom come" our very making of the prayer begins to form that Kingdom within us. The more persistently, over the greater period of time, that we are engaged in prayer in petition, the more that prayer will change us. And, the more prayer changes us, the more prayer MAKES US READY to receive the gifts that the Divine Giver wishes to give us.

Finally, I would point out the simple truth that we should pray because God DOES answer prayer:
Our first reading from the book of Exodus records how the prayer of Moses for the people had an effect: as long as he prayed the Israelites were victorious over the Amalekites who were attacking them, when he gave up praying they began to be defeated, yet with his perseverance in prayer they crushed those who would have crushed them.
That pattern that we read again and again in the Old Testament was repeated also in the New Testament. For example, when St Peter was in prison the early Church prayed for him, and it was then that the angel was sent to rescue St Peter from the prison (Acts 12:15).
God does answer prayer:
He promised he would do so, Scripture records His frequent occasions of doing so, the experience of the Church down the centuries is that He does so, and many of us here can testify to this in our own lives too.

God tells us to pray. He tells us that He will answer our prayer. Of course, as wiser men than myself have noted that sometimes that answer is “no”, but He does answer prayer, and answer it for our good.
He is a merciful God yet He tells us to ask for mercy.
He is giving God yet He tells us to ask for gifts.
He is a supportive God yet He tells us to CALL when we need His grace.

So, why should we ask for things when God already knows what we need?
Because (1) He tells us to do so; because (2) doing so reminds us of our need of Him; because (3) praying changes us and makes us ready to receive the gifts He wishes to give us; and (4) last but not least, because He does answer prayer.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Prayer of Consecration of Parish to Our Lady

Consecration of our Parish of St Anthony of Padua, West Moors,
to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
on 8-9th October 2016 (the nearest Sunday to the feast of Our Lady of Fatima)

Shortly after being elected, Pope Francis consecrated first himself (13th May 2013) and then the Church entrusted to his care (13th Oct 2013), to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These two dates marked the anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima in 1917. In making this consecration he was responding to Our Lady’s request at Fatima and repeating consecrations made by every pope since Pius XII.
Following a similar pattern, Fr Dylan consecrated his parish appointment to Our Lady on the night of his Induction as Parish Priest and is now leading the parish itself in consecrating it to her Immaculate Heart.

The Parish Priest, alone, will pray:
O Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Queen of Heaven and Earth,
and our tender Mother,
in accordance with your ardent wish made known at Fatima,
and in union with Pope Francis’s consecration to you
of himself, his papacy, and the Church,
I consecrate to your Immaculate Heart:
and this parish entrusted to my care,
I consecrate and commit to you all the members of this parish,
beginning with the weakest ones,
the unborn, the sick, the disabled, and the elderly.
I commit to you our families, our children, our young people,
the single and the widowed.
I pray especially for dysfunctional, hurt and broken families,
for those seeking meaning in life but failing to find it.
Help the unemployed, the lonely and the desperate.
I pray for those who are away from the parish,
and are distant from the Church.
Holy Mother, by your powerful intercession,
obtain for us all the graces we need,
And call down the Holy Spirit, your spouse,
to heal and sustain us,
To lead and conform us to the image of Christ your Son.

Please join the Parish Priest in saying together:
We, the parishioners of St Anthony’s,
renew and ratify today in your hands,
O Immaculate Mother,
the vows of our Baptism.
We renounce forever Satan,
all his works,
and all his empty promises.
We give ourselves entirely to Jesus Christ,
to be more faithful to Him
than we have ever been before.
In the presence of all the heavenly hosts
we choose you this day,
for our Mother.
We deliver and consecrate to you,
our bodies and souls,
our goods, both interior and exterior,
and even the value of all our good actions,
past, present and future;
that you will dispose of them as you know best,
for the greater glory of God,
in time and in eternity.

Consecration of West Moors Parish to Our Lady

Today I'm going to lead the parish in doing something that more perfectly roots us in our baptism.
In our first reading (2Kgs 5:14-17) we heard how Naaman the leper was purified by washing in the water –that act, in the light of the New Covenant, is a type of the purification that was made of each of us in our own baptism.
In our second reading (2 Tim 2:8-13) we heard how we must die with Christ if we are to live with Him. Baptism was the definitive act by which we died to our old fallen self that we might love in the resurrected Christ.
Baptism, however, isn't a one-off piece of magic that involves no effort on our part. Rather, if it is to be effective, it is something we must re-immerse ourselves in repeatedly. One of the ways of doing this is by an act of ‘consecration’, and, in particular, by doing this to Our Lady.

So, today, I'm going to consecrate the parish to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I'm doing this today for a number of reasons: first, because it’s October, which is her month; second, because it’s a natural thing for me to be doing as your new parish priest (even though I'm sure other parish priests have done this before me, it should be done and re-done, renewed); and, third, I'm doing this following the pattern of Pope Francis who consecrated first his papacy and then re-consecrated the whole Church to Our Lady -on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, which is this week (13th October)(see here).
I’m sure many of us can recall the image of him, the very first day of his papacy, directly going to the Church of St Mary Major to lay flowers at her shrine (see here).

But what is a Marian consecration? And, How does it benefit us?

A consecration is when something is DEDICATED TO something. In a Marian consecration we dedicate ourselves to her. We offer her our lives, and all that is part of them: our hopes and fears, joys and sufferings, our good deeds, the crosses we carry –everything, we consecrate it all to her. The practice of doing this, of giving ourselves to Our Lady, is both ancient and new.
It’s new because it regained a new impetus after the call for this in the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima in 1917, and the fact that Pope Francis had this consecration made for him in Fatima on that feast day is a reminder of that. We might also think of the motto of Pope St John Paul II, “Totus Tuus” (‘All Yours’) –which meant “All Mary’s”.
But it’s also ancient. The phrase of John Paul II was a quote from Saint Louis Marie de Montfort who is particularly known for articulating of the meaning of consecrations and Marian consecrations. And we’ll be using a text adapted from him in a few minutes in our consecration.

The consecration prayer of St Louis de Montfort refers us back to an original consecration, the consecration that was made of us in our baptism. In that consecration God consecrated us to Himself. In that consecration, by the action of the Holy Spirit, we were conformed to the image of the Son, and became adopted children of the Father.
When we, ourselves, make a prayer of consecration what this does is re-new and deepen that original consecration, it expresses our choice and desire to live out that consecration.

But who is the one who can best help us be consecrated to God? Surely, the one who was herself most perfectly consecrated to God, namely, Our Lady. She was chosen before all time to be the Immaculate Mother of the Divine Son. She was chosen and consecrated in this role not just for her sake, or for God’s sake alone, but for OUR sake, that God might enter our world through her, that we might become united to Him through the union of the human and Divine that occurred within her consecrated womb.

She is the one who was given to us as OUR mother too, “behold your mother” (Jn 19:27), said Jesus as He hung on the Cross for us, and saw His loving mother there at His feet. And now, she is the loving and powerful mother who looks out for us from heaven. And when we give ourselves into her hands we give ourselves into the hands of one who loves us more than we love ourselves; one who, as the Mother of Divine Wisdom, knows best what to do with what we offer her –our deeds, our prayers, our merits; one who will most effectively direct all things to the Lord to whom she herself was so beautifully consecrated.
So, who helps us grow in our consecration to God? Well, as Pope Francis shortly before making his consecration, “Our Lady is the mother who helps Christians grow

So, in a few moments, in the conclusion of the bidding prayers, I will pray as your parish priest, consecrating the parish to her, that she will be our mother and lead us to God. And at the conclusion of that prayer I’ll invite you to join in the consecration words: renewing your baptismal consecration, making it your own, all through the hands of the one who was consecrated to God for our sake.

Consecration of our Parish of St Anthony of Padua, West Moors,
to the Immaculate Heart of Mary
on 8-9th October 2016 (the nearest Sunday to the feast of Our Lady of Fatima)

Shortly after being elected, Pope Francis consecrated first himself (13th May 2013) and then the Church entrusted to his care (13th Oct 2013), to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. These two dates marked the anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima in 1917. In making this consecration he was responding to Our Lady’s request at Fatima and repeating consecrations made by every pope since Pius XII.
Following a similar pattern, Fr Dylan consecrated his parish appointment to Our Lady on the night of his Induction as Parish Priest and is now leading the parish itself in consecrating it to her Immaculate Heart.

Fr Dylan, alone, will pray:
O Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Queen of Heaven and Earth,
and our tender Mother,
in accordance with your ardent wish made known at Fatima,
and in union with Pope Francis’s consecration to you
of himself, his papacy, and the Church,
I consecrate to your Immaculate Heart:
and this parish entrusted to my care,
I consecrate and commit to you all the members of this parish,
beginning with the weakest ones,
the unborn, the sick, the disabled, and the elderly.
I commit to you our families, our children, our young people,
the single and the widowed.
I pray especially for dysfunctional, hurt and broken families,
for those seeking meaning in life but failing to find it.
Help the unemployed, the lonely and the desperate.
I pray for those who are away from the parish,
and are distant from the Church.
Holy Mother, by your powerful intercession,
obtain for us all the graces we need,
And call down the Holy Spirit, your spouse,
to heal and sustain us,
To lead and conform us to the image of Christ your Son.

Please join Fr Dylan in saying together:
We, the parishioners of St Anthony’s,
renew and ratify today in your hands,
O Immaculate Mother,
the vows of our Baptism.
We renounce forever Satan,
all his works,
and all his empty promises.
We give ourselves entirely to Jesus Christ,
to be more faithful to Him
than we have ever been before.
In the presence of all the heavenly hosts
we choose you this day,
for our Mother.
We deliver and consecrate to you,
our bodies and souls,
our goods, both interior and exterior,
and even the value of all our good actions,
past, present and future;
that you will dispose of them as you know best,
for the greater glory of God,
in time and in eternity.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

New Evangelisation Talk Series: 'Transforming Everything'

Audio and Powerpoint slides are available below

In the Autumn of 2016 Father Dylan gave his first talk series as parish priest of West Moors. He outlined the vision that he wants to animate and transform all our parish activities. The series of sessions will look at what Pope Francis chose to make the topic of his first ‘apostolic exhortation’ to the Church, namely, ‘The New Evangelisation’. The Pope has said that it must “transform everything” in the Church: “our customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures”(EG 27). Bishop Mark O’Toole likewise chose to make this the topic of his first pastoral letter to us.

This series of evenings had a twofold aim:

(1) To look at what Pope Francis and others have said on this topic;

(2) To discuss what we need to do ourselves in order to:

(a) Change our parish to serve this goal;

(b) Make ourselves into joyous “spirit-filled evangelisers”(EV 259)

Each evening had a 30 minute presentation followed by 30 minutes for discussion

The talk series prepared for the launch of the Forming Intentional Disciples groups that met on Thursday evenings and/or Friday mornings between 10th November and 15th December.

You can see some photos here

(1) What is ‘The New Evangelisation’?, Thursday 6th Oct 7-8pm
Slides can be viewed here and audio is available here
Our first evening will look at what makes the New Evangelisation different, i.e. ‘new’. Pope John Paul II said it needs to be “new in its ardour, new in its methods and new in its expression” but what does this mean?

(2) Encountering Christ: How do people come to Faith?, Thursday 13th Oct 7-8pm
Slides can be viewed here and audio here
Pope Francis writes about how “joy… fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus”(EG 1). But how do people encounter Him? And, What are the stages people move through in coming to Faith in Him? This session will draw on Sherry Weddell's book, "Forming Intentional Disciples”.

(3) How to start the Conversation?, Thursday 20th Oct 7-8pm
Slides can be viewed here and the audio here
We often refer to our need to tell other people about our Faith and about the person of Christ in particular, but how can we go about this? Tonight we’ll look at some useful indicators from Pope Francis and others.

(4) Welcoming back the Lapsed, Thursday 3rd Nov 7-8pm
Slides can be viewed here and the audio is available here
One of the primary aims of ‘the New Evangelisation’ is to rekindle the faith of the many who have left. This evening we’ll draw on Rigney & Lanave’s book, “When They Come Home”, and look at the reasons people lapse, the reasons people return, and what we need to do ourselves to make people welcome when they do.

Four Book Recommendations, each of which were drawn from in this series of talks:

Pope Francis, "Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel)”

Sherry Weddell, "Forming Intentional Disciples"

Cardinal Arinze, “The Layperson’s Distinctive Role”

Melanie Rigney and Anna Lanave, "When They Come Home"

All these books are easily available on the internet.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Casting Mulberry Bushes, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, West Moors

Lk 17:5-19
There are many things I don’t know about you, this congregation, but there is one thing I am certain about: none of you has ever said to a mulberry tree: “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”(Lk 17:6) and had it obey you.
Now, in case that discourages you, let me point out an interesting fact that I read in St Thomas Aquinas’s commentary (the Catena Aurea, vol3, p.581) on this text, namely, that St Chrysostom notes that actually none of the 12 Apostles achieved this feat either: Even after their faith was strengthened by Christ rising from the dead, even after they worked many miracles of healing, even after their faith was strong enough to endure martyrdom –none of them cast mulberry bushes into the sea.

So why didn’t they? After all, casting mulberry bushing into the sea would be a rather nice party trick –a good way to entertain our parishioners on a boring cold rainy winter day.
And here, I think, is the very reason why: Having faith and working miracles is not about party tricks. When Jesus worked miracles they were always for some purpose, for example, He fed the 5000 when they needed food, He cured those in need of healing of body and soul, etc. The closest we have to Him doing a party trick was when His disciples saw Him walk on the stormy water –but even this seems to have had the clear purpose of manifesting Himself to them by showing that He is the Lord God with dominion over creation and calming the storm that would have sunk them.
God is not about party tricks and His 12 Apostles were not about party tricks. The reason they didn’t tell trees to cast themselves into the sea wasn’t because of a lack of faith but rather, BECAUSE they had faith, they realised that there were other works God would have them do –greater works.

So, what are the greater works that God would have US do? We have an indication of at least part of this in the words that Jesus said after the above verse. He spoke not about spectacular things but about simple service. And He noted that simple service is the kind of thing we should be willing to do and then realise that “we have done no more than our duty”(Lk 17:19).

Living a life of simple service, to my neighbour, to my family, and to God, is not an easy thing. In fact, it is something that needs me to have not only great love but great faith.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that God is not interested in the details of our lives. But, actually, God is more interested in many of the unexciting unspectacular parts of our lives than He is in some of the things that WE might find more visible. God is love (1 Jn 4:16), and, what interests Him most is those things that we do in a manner that is full of love.
And, my point is this: It takes great faith to see this. It takes great faith to realise that God is ALWAYS present, always involved, always interested in the detail.

When I am in a hurry and I push past someone else in the supermarket –God sees this.
When I have a chance to return a phone call but just get on with my own busy-ness instead –God sees this.
God sees every opportunity for me to do small loving things.
And, in the eyes of the God who is love, what makes a thing big or small is how much love or how little love it is done with.
But, to repeat myself, it takes great faith to be continually aware of this truth, to be continually be in “the presence of God”,
it takes great faith to see things as God sees them.

If we have such faith, we shall do great things, greater than casting mulberry bushes into the sea.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Power & Service, Induction as Parish Priest of West Moors

Tonight I'd like to say some words about power and service.
During this ceremony I am going to be juridically granted power over this parish. This will be symbolised by the two things especially: (1) the Dean (as the Bishop’s representative) reading the letter of appointment from the Bishop assigning me as parish priest of West Moors (and the area included in this parish: Ferndown, Verwood, and neighbouring suburbs and villages), and, (2) the Dean handing me the keys of the parish.
The point I want to make, however, is that it might seem like a rather curious SORT of power that I am being given: a power to serve, a power to benefit others, not a power to benefit myself –all of which is part of the Christian concept of authority, but isn't how most people in our society today think about power.

The keys I will be given are reminiscent of the Keys of the Kingdom that the Lord gave to Peter (Mt 16:19) when He appointed him and his successors as head of the Church. Let me make some comparisons that hold for both Peter and me.

The power I possess as a priest EMPOWERS me to baptise others. But I don't benefit when they are baptised, rather, they benefit by it.
The power I possess as a priest empowers me to forgive sins in the sacrament of Confession. But, again, I didn't benefit when they receive forgiveness, they benefit by it.
We might say something similar about my power to offer the sacrifice of the Mass, to officiate at weddings, and so forth:
I have the keys. I have a juridically established authority that carries with it a certain type of power, power in the sense of the ability to do something that someone lacking that authority can NOT do.
Yet, this authority exists for the benefit of others. It does not exist for my benefit.

What I have said here actually holds true of ALL authority, in the Christian sense, even though we often forget it in our secular world. A king, a prime minister, a president –they all have authority, but such authority exists to serve the common good of the people they govern. The common good of any society requires the existence of such authorities.
The common good of a society requires the service of an appropriate authority.
And, authority exists for the purpose of providing such a service.
So, tonight, as we see such keys being handed over, let us remember what this symbolises.
Similarly, as we hear the letter of appointment say that I am appointed to “teach, sanctify, and govern” the people of this parish, let us recall that this is about service.

Let me conclude by noting how this notion of service will expressed at the end of Mass:
At the end of Mass I'll be making an act of consecration to Our Lady. Pope Francis, you may recall, made such a consecration when he became Pope (being parish priest of West Moors isn't quite as significant as being pope, but I hope you'll permit the comparison!).
Our Lady was a servant.
She called herself “the handmaid of the Lord”.
And there is an ancient practice of dedicating our service by committing ourselves to be her “slaves”. I'll symbolise that by a chain that will be blessed and placed around my ankle. I’ll ask that as she served, she will help me serve.
Doing this isn't part of the Church’s rite of induction, so it'll happen at the end of Mass, after the formal liturgy. But becoming such a “slave” expresses what I've been trying to say about this whole rite.

To summarise, tonight I receive authority.
This exists for your service.
I am here to serve this community. This is what authority means.
And, serving you, it is my goal, as it is every priest’s goal, that in serving you I might bring you to serve also, that we might all, one day, reign in glory with the King of Kings because we gave served while here in earth.

[The Rite of Induction used in the Plymouth Diocese isn't available on the web, but you can see a very similar model used by Southwark Archdiocese here]

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Dives and Lazarus, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 16:19-31
This is the second Sunday in a row that we have heard the Lord Jesus speak to us about money. Last week we heard His warning, “You cannot be the slave both of God and of money”. Today, I’m going to speak about Lazarus and the Rich Man, a man tradition calls Dives ("dye-vees", Latin for ‘rich’).

First, Lazarus, the poor man begging at the gate. The parable’s focus, and sermons on it, usually focus on the Rich Man, but Lazarus himself shows us something.
Lazarus was cleared suffering –covered in ‘sores’, hungering for scraps of food.
Lazarus was clearly being wronged. He had a need and his need was being ignored by someone able to help him, someone who had a duty to help him.
Yet, he did not curse the other man, or hate him, or even complain.
He bore it patiently. And when he died, he was carried off to heaven.

Many of us will have something in our lives that makes us relate to Lazarus. Something in our lives where we feel that a clearly obvious need is being ignored by others, maybe even ignored by our family and those we live or work with.
The example of Lazarus calls us to bear it charitably, with love for the very people who ignore our needs.
Similarly, the example of Christ in His suffering calls us to do the same. To not curse others but to love and pray for them, and even to help them even while they neglect to help us.

The Rich Man, Dives, is interesting. Interesting because he didn’t do anything DIRECTLY wrong, all he did was indirect –he IGNORED Lazarus’s need.
Did the rich man take away Lazarus’s food? No.
Did he beat him? No.
Yet, by neglect, he was the cause of the other man’s suffering.
And Dives was cast into Hell, “in agony”(Lk 16:24), for eternity.

People sometimes tell priests, “I don’t do anything wrong, I’m a good person”
But, the standard by which we each need to measure ourselves by is not just what we DO but what we FAIL to do.
What do we say in the Confiteor at the start of Mass? “In what I have done and in what I have failed to do”.
And I know in my own confession (because priests also sin and priests also need to go to confession, on a frequent basis –frequent confession because I am a frequent sinner)
when I go to confession, what takes the most time is what I have failed to do.
And the account of Dives’s eternal damnation in Hellfire, if it teaches us anything, teaches us that we will be judged as severely for what we fail to do as for what we do directly.

There is another point to note also, Dives KNEW what he SHOULD do. When he pleaded with Abraham he did not claim that didn’t know what he should have done –he did not plead ignorance. He had Moses and the Prophets to warn him.
We too have had plenty of warnings. We have heard the Gospel. And Judgement will come –for some of us it will be good news, for some of us it will not.
Do I hear and not listen? Do I profess the Creed but make it meaningless in my actions?

Lazarus and Dives. For many of us there is a bit of each of them in us. So we can learn from each of them.
Learn from Dives that we must not neglect the needs of those around, and ,must not neglect the teachings we know we have heard.
And learn from Lazarus to be patient in our sufferings and not resort to hatred of the man who neglected him. We too must love –love those who fail to love us. And if we love, then, like Lazarus, we will be carried off to Heaven and eternal consolation.

Dives is pronounced…
The OED says "dye-veez"
Merriam Webster says “Di·ves”

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Changing Everything & the New Evangelisation, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, West Moors

1 Tim 2:1-8; Lk 16:10-13
Today I want to start talking to you about my vision for the parish, and, in particular, to talk to you about the changes I will be introducing. A number of people asked me, my very first Sunday, what I would be changing. There is a simple answer to this. What will I be changing? Everything, absolutely everything. If, five years from now, there is some aspect of parish life I have not changed then I will have failed.

Now, having made such a sweeping declaration I need to clarify it by indicating what I mean.
I am taking as my starting point the statement by Pope Francis that the demands of the New Evangelisation have to “transform everything”(EG 27) in parish life.
How do we greet people at the door?
What does the entrance feel like?
How complicated is the missal book? etc.
Everything needs to be evaluated in the light of the OUTSIDER.
If the New Evangelisation is to be a reality then it's not just about explicit moments when we talk to unbelievers about Christ (though we do need to enable those), it's also about all the little details too.
AND, of course, the outsider includes YOU too: if we make the outsider welcome in a way that makes the insider unwelcome then we've somehow contradicted ourselves.

Let me add, however, that this is not just about welcome.
It's also about what we COMMUNICATE to the outsider, including how we communicate by our BEHAVIOUR, including our behaviour in church at Mass.
We just heard the Lord say in the Gospel that you cannot serve both God and money (Lk 16:13).
But does our behaviour at Holy Mass,
does our very building,
does it communicate the sense that we rank God above the material things of this world?
Is there a sense of awe and wonder in our liturgy?
Does our liturgy and building convey that there is a Lord and Creator of all things, a transcendent all-powerful God, who dwells in this place and who we approach with humility, with awe, with love?
Does the way we handle the sacred vessels, and administer Holy Communion speak of the presence of God?
What about the position and reverence given to the tabernacle?
And, what about the love and joy that are visible, or not, in us in the way we approach the Lord?
All of these, and more, are also crucial issues for the New Evangelisation.
And, they are also issues that help or hinder that Gospel being imbedded in our own hearts and lives.

Why does this matter? Why should we care about the outsider? Why can't we just respect the unbeliever’s unbelief and leave him where he is?
Well, first, it matters to God. He is ‘Lord’ and ‘Creator’ of all people already. But He is only Father to those who are adopted in His Son Jesus Christ. And, as we heard in our second reading, “He wants EVERYONE to be saved and reach knowledge of the truth. For there is only ONE God, and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, Himself a man, Christ Jesus”(1 Tim 2:4-5).
The Gospel isn't just for those born Catholic, or who have already stumbled their way in: it's the truth, the relationship with our loving Father that He wishes for each and every member of the human race.
Second, it should matter to us. If we value what we have, we should want to share it. And the Faith is one of those gifts that grows by being given away.

I'm going to have to stop now. I'll be outlining a lot of what this looks like in the talk series starting Thursday nights and in the book reading book that will follow on after that. Please come. Please get involved. And please be ready to allow the priorities of the New Evangelisation to transform our parish.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

I'm a Sinner. 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

1 Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-10; Ex 32:7-11.13-14
As I think most of us know, meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous always start by someone saying, “Hello, my name is XXX, and I’m an alcoholic”. (Now, actually, I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not teetotal like Fr Patrick, I enjoy real ale, red wine, and American bourbon. But I’m not an alcoholic.)
To return to that image, members of Alcoholics Anonymous start by declaring their weakness, their being an alcoholic. And they do this because they need to start with a declaration of the truth and a declaration of their state.
We do something similar when we come to Holy Mass: we start with an act of contrition, we start by acknowledging, “Hello, I’m Father Dylan, and I’m a sinner”.

There are two ways that we can make such an acknowledgment, a statement like, “I’m a sinner”.
One way, is to do so ALONE, looking in the mirror, looking at nothing but myself.
I see the truth. I see my ugliness, and I despair. I see my sin, and I despair.
And I despair because I look at my sin alone. I look at it seeing nothing but my inclination to sin and sin again.

There is another way, however, of looking at my sin, namely, not by looking at it alone, but by looking at Jesus.
I still see my ugliness. I still see my sin. I still see that truth.
But I see it with an even bigger truth, namely, I see my sin and myself with the LORD. And the Lord is the one who promises to save me from that sin.
And so I see my sin, but do NOT despair.

In the 12 steps program of Alcoholics Anonymous the alcoholic does not just admit his weakness, he also submits himself to a ‘higher power’, a power greater than himself.
We, as Christians, don’t just submit ourselves to some vague ‘power’ but to a person: the Lord Jesus.
And there are two reasons why that person saves us from sin:
First, because He is powerful. Yes, I am weak. Yes, I have sinned and continue to sin. But, His power is greater than human weakness, and so I call upon it.
Second, because He is merciful. Yes, He has seen my sin. Yes, He did not want me to sin. Yes, my sin saddens Him. But, He is merciful, and so He reaches out to remedy the problem rather than reject me because of it.
St Paul expressed the heart of this in our second reading with his great summary of the Gospel: “Here is saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”(1 Tim 1:15).

This said, there is a different problem that often present itself. A problem that I have often known in my own life, and the problem is this:
I may see and acknowledge my sin TODAY. But, somehow, by TOMORROW I have dressed it up differently. By tomorrow I have told myself that I am a ‘decent’ person really.
And then I become unable to move on.
Not only am I unable to move on, but I have rejected the truth of the Gospel. I reject it in practice, even though I don't reject it in theory. I reject it because I don’t admit my impatience, or my irritability, or my selfishness, or my laziness, or my critical judgments, my lust, my pride, or my gluttony, and more.
If I cannot admit these and other sins then I have refused to accept the AA starting point: my failure.

Today’s Gospel spoke to the joy that is experienced in heaven over one sinner repenting (Lk 15:1-10).
There is another joy, however, that Pope Francis repeatedly remind us of: the joy of the sinner who repents and comes home, the joy of the sinner who knows he is welcomed back, the joy of the sinner who experiences forgiveness. “How good it feels to come back to Him whenever we are lost!”(Pope Francis, EG 1,3)
Admitting I am a sinner is not a negative self-defeating thing.
Admitting I am a sinner, and bringing it to the Lord, is the path to truth, to forgiveness, and to joy.
Hello, I’m Father Dylan, and I’m a sinner.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

First Sermon at West Moors, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Lk 14:25-33
So, as you're aware by now, I'm Fr Dylan James, your new parish priest.

Changing parish priest can be an odd time for a parish. You, as a parish, have known for some time that you were losing your parish priest, Fr Patrick. You’ll have been thinking about the priest you've lost, you've been aware that someone you've come to know, and understand, is leaving you.
I've known Fr Patrick as a priest of the Dorset deanery for the past decade and a half, known him as a well-liked and popular priest, and I imagine that you've grown a real affection for him.
And now some stranger comes along: Me.
I've known that I'll be coming here for 4 months, and I've been thinking of this parish and praying for all of you for some time. I've been looking forward to coming here and starting here.
Even though you've probably been more aware of what you've lost in losing Fr Patrick.
I gather that this is an active parish with many things going on, and I realise that Fr Patrick has left quite a legacy here, large shoes for me to fill.
But given that it falls to me to fill those shoes, I'd like to tell you a little about myself and a little about my hopes for the parish, especially this first year.

As a priest, I'm somewhat unusual, in that I always knew that I had a priestly vocation, even as a very young child. I went off the idea in my late teenage years, thinking I'd pursue money, and pleasure, and all the things that we just heard the Lord Jesus warn us can lead us away from being His disciple.
I came back to my vocation while I was at university because of the example of some good priests who showed me how important a priest can be in someone's life.
I came back to my vocation because I realised that secularism and materialism, money and the pleasures of the body, are not the answer:
they don't satisfy the needs of the human heart.
I came back to the idea I because I realised that we all need HELP to reach the goal of happiness and fulfilment IN CHRIST, and that a priest can be a pivotal part of someone reaching that goal.
The goals of money and pleasure and comfort are what our modern society is built upon.
And yet, we all know times when those dreams turn to dust, when either material or emotional suffering strikes us, and its only if our lives are built on a more solid foundation that we can stand.

In the Gospel passage that we heard today the Lord Jesus spoke to us about what is involved in following Him, in particular, about the need to rank Him above all else if we are to follow Him. He noted the difficulty of following Him, and said that if we are to “build” that “tower” of being a disciple we need to “first sit down and work out the cost to see” if we will complete it.
I imagine that I was like many of you, in that I drifted into my following of the Lord without having a serious moment of “first” ‘counting the cost’.
But one of the things I have realised is the fact that being a disciple is not something we can do alone. We need support, we need guidance, we need teaching. And a priest can be an important part of that.

Like any new parish priest I have come to a community that already has disciples of the Lord. But, it is also my role to help you in that. Let me indicate two things I aim to do between now and Christmas, in particular.
First, I want to find out about what is particular to this parish as opposed to other parishes, what is different here. So I plan to do a lot of listening, and visiting. I want to hear from the parish what is already going on here, what is already ready strong.
And, as I said, I gather this is already an active parish.
Second, I want to engage in some things that are NOT particular to this parish, things that are being initiated in parishes elsewhere. Namely, I want to help clarify an even more explicit focus on what has been the defining theme of Pope Francis and our new Bishop Mark, namely, the new evangelisation.
The new evangelisation is all about making ‘disciples’:
on one hand, enabling parishioners to become better disciples,
and, on the other hand, making opportunities for those who haven't yet come to know Christ, come to encounter Him in His Church.
In order for me to know how to do that I going to need, again, to listen to what is already in place here.
Fr Patrick has already indicated some things that I need to do here,
things that he explicitly left for his successor to start up (knowing that they didn’t make much sense for a priest who about to retire to start, and I’m grateful that he was considerate enough to allow me this opening).
In particular, Fr Patrick indicated that I would need to launch a group to focus on the book Bishop Mark has recommended to us (Forming Intentional Disciples, by Sherry Weddel).
I intend to precede that with a series of talks on the new evangelisation more generally, and what changes it means for this parish, or any parish.
So, that recommendation from Fr Patrick will be my starting point for the main new things I’ll seek to offer between now and Christmas.

So, to sum up: as your new parish priest I come here to build on a foundation that was laid before me.
I come here to add to that foundation, in particular, to focus on how to enable us to become better disciples of the Lord
I know I'm a stranger to you now, but I'm looking forward to being here and getting to know you all over the years ahead.

Friday, 2 September 2016

New Parish Priest: Fr Dylan James

Our new parish priest is Fr Dylan James. Below are a few images giving a little introduction to him. He has spent the past 9 years as parish priest of Shaftesbury, spent nearly 4 years as an assistant priest in Poole, as well as serving briefly in Exeter, Barnstaple, and Dartmouth. He has a doctorate in moral theology and has spent the past 9 years teaching (part-time) at Wonersh seminary. He'll continue to teach at Wonersh while serving in West Moors. He is an active member of the Faith Movement and youth apostolate is one of his main focuses.

At the Shaftesbury parish Blessed Sacrament procession for Corpus Christi:

With the Shaftesbury men's circle that Fr Dylan founded. This is half the group, in the pub after the last meeting (following the usual pattern) with Fr Dylan before his departure from Shaftesbury:

Carrying the cross at the ecumenical outdoor Stations of the Cross on Good Friday:

Giving a presentation:

On a 17 mile sponsored run to Salisbury Cathedral. Fr Dylan raised £5000 over two years:

Saying Mass outdoors with youth on the True Survivor course:

With the Shaftesbury youth pilgrimage to Rome:

On the annual March for Life in Washington DC, while doing further studies in the USA:

With the Shaftesbury parish pilgrimage to Glastonbury Abbey:

With candidates and catechists on an outing during the Shaftesbury Confirmation Candidates' retreat to Buckfast Abbey:

With the family at Christmas, parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephews and niece:

Being interviewed on the BBC when the last Pope was elected (everyone has 15 minutes of fame in their life, so they say!):