Sunday, 31 December 2017

Monday, 25 December 2017

Not like Dumbo. Christmas 2017

There are always a lot of films on TV over Christmas, and one of my favourites is on this Christmas afternoon (4.30pm on Channel 4): the classic Disney movie “Dumbo”, described in many reviews as “a heart-warming tale”.
For those of you who can’t remember, it’s about a baby elephant who wants to fly, and learns that it CAN fly if it just believes it can, and flaps its ears. Victory over the impossible by having faith.

And I note this because many people think that Christmas is like that:
A lovely heart-warming tale. But no more true than elephants being able to fly.
In fact, a recent survey showed that the majority of people in our nation, tragically, believe that Christmas is little more than a fairy tale.
My point to you today, however, is that we’re NOT gathered here just because of a STORY.

Now, this said, it’s true that even as a story, Christmas IS certainly a heart-warming tale –all the images of the Christmas accounts make up a good story:
Mary and Joseph struggling to find a place to stay, finally being welcomed into someone’s stable, with the cattle lowing.
The angels appearing to the shepherds to tell them about the new-born baby boy.
The star appearing and guiding the three wise men from the East to come and worship the little boy.
It’s natural that children should hear and understand this tale; natural that Christmas should be especially a time for children.
The Christian story has often been referred to as “The Greatest Story Ever Told” -and it is.

But we’re not gathered here tonight just because it sounds beautiful. The early Christians didn’t die for the Faith because it sounded beautiful. The Christian Faith didn’t spread throughout the Roman Empire and to this very land just because it all sounds so sweet.
We’re here because it’s TRUE.

We all know that the most inspiring stories aren’t inspiring because they are good stories, they’re inspiring because they are true. Stories about REAL heroes saving REAL people in need, and sacrifices made for others –the BEST stories are those that we know are TRUE.

The REAL reason that Christmas is The Greatest Story Ever Told is that it’s TRUE. And not only is it true, but in hearing it we recognise the elements that can show us what we’re truly looking for as human beings.
In the long prophecies of the Old Testament, we hear of how the Jews were waiting for a Messiah
–just as each of us are always longing for something more in life.
In the many miracles and signs we hear of the sort of clear and definite guidance that we all want in life –don’t we all want a star to point us in the right direction?
In the humility and weakness of the little child’s birth we hear an echo of how each of us knows that we are weak, not as strong as we would like to be.
In the struggle against the wicked King Herod, and the rejection when there is no room at the inn, we see our own struggles in life –and we hear that this child is at one with us in them.

Despite the scoffing of unbelievers, the Gospels are one of the clearest and most historical of all written records:
They record huge wonders with mild understatement -the way you record facts not fairy stories. Even Jesus’s enemies acknowledged the miracles and proofs He worked.
And His greatest miracle was to fulfil His promise to rise from the dead –He said He’d do it and He did. Not just a heart-warming tale but a work of power and wonder.

It may be that you have come here tonight thinking that Christmas is exactly like the Dumbo movie:
you like them both, but you think they are both just heart-warming tales.
If so, I urge you to think again.
Can I urge you, in particular, to come along to the Alpha course that we’ll be running here starting this January:
Take one of the free books, ‘Rediscover Jesus’ by Matthew Kelly;
Take an invite to our Alpha sessions: a free supper, a video each night, and a chance to discuss it.
There are many facts of history that can only be adequately explained by accepting who Jesus claimed to be.
There are many longings in the human heart that can only be satisfied by acknowledging the identity of the child whose birth we celebrate today:
No ordinary child, but rather, the Lord God himself come as one of us.
Not just a tale, but the truth that all creation has been longing for.
“The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light… unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given”.(Isa 9: 2; 6)

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Gaudete, 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B

Jn 1:6-8.19-28; 1 Thess 5:16-24; Isa 61:1-2.10-11
If there’s anyone here in the mood to start an argument, then, a good opening gambit would be…
To walk up to someone and say, “So, I’m all ready for Christmas, aren’t you?”

For many of us, this can be a very stressful time of year.
Christmas, is supposed to be a time of peace and goodwill among men,
But the build-up to Christmas can be very fraught.
Speaking personally, I’ve not written any Christmas cards yet, I’ve not finished buying my presents, let alone wrapping them, and as for where the turkey will come from -who knows!

This is always a stressful moment for many of us.
Yet, this is the Sunday when the Church bids the priest wear a rose vestment (not girly pink, but manly rose).
This is the Sunday that the Church calls, ‘Gaudate Sunday’ -meaning ‘rejoice’. Thus our second reading was chosen for its opening verse, “Be happy at all times” (1 Thess 5:16).
But WHY should we rejoice amidst the pre-Christmas stress?

In Advent we look ahead to the coming of the Lord.
The Lord has promised He will come.
He has told us of many things He will bring us when He comes, “He will bind up the broken hearted” (Isa 61:1).
This is the hope that Advent looks beyond, to His Coming.

Yet, half-way through Advent the Church bids us pause and remember something:
In a very real way, He is ALREADY here.
He’s not here as He will be in power and glory at the end of time.
He’s not here as fully as He could be in my heart if my heart was more thoroughly cleansed from sin.
YET, He IS already here.

Today’s Gospel gave us a powerful image of this:
It described St John the Baptist talking to the people.
The people were yearning for the coming of the Messiah.
St John the Baptist was there preparing the people by calling them to repent of their sins.
Then, in the midst of that waiting, he says to them, “There stands among you -unknown to you -the One who is coming”(Jn 1:26).
They were waiting, yet He was already there.
They were looking AHEAD, yet He was already there.

If we want to be ready for Christ to come at Christmas, then we need to recognise the ways that He is already here.
If we want to consoled and strengthened as we get ready for Christmas, then we need to recognise the ways that He is already here.

He is here when we pray to Him.
He is here when we read His Bible.
He is here in Holy Communion.
He is here on the Cross when we turn to Him in our suffering.
He is here when we are kind and loving, “to these the least of my brothers”(Mt 25:40).
He is here, already.

So, if you feel ready to have an argument with the next person who asks you if you’re ready for Christmas,
Remember the Church’s “Gaudete” message for you today:
When I’m ploughing through the crowds at Tesco,
When I’m despairing of the time it takes to write cards,
When I don’t know where my turkey will come from, remember:
Rejoice, He is already here.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Why Confession?, 2nd Sunday Advent, Year B

Mk 1:1-18; Isa 40:1-5.9-11
We’re now at the 2nd Sunday on Advent, the second week of preparing for the coming of the Lord.
Today there is one specific thing I want to talk about in terms of preparing, namely, our need to go to confession before Christmas. And I thought I’d talk about this by telling you some of the reasons why I, personally, go to confession.

The first and simplest reason why I go to confession is because I realise that there is something wrong between the Lord, and me, something that is not to do with Him, but to do with me.
And I want to put that right.
I know that even after going to Confession I fall again, and again.
But I also know that, again and again, I can be restored by the Lord, and start afresh.

A second reason relates very directly to Advent: I want the Lord to come to me more fully.
I hear the promises of the Lord, like in our first reading today, offering so much:
“Console my people, console them”(Isa 40:1)
-one of the most beautiful promises of the Old Testament.
-but I know that, so far, that consolation has only come to me in a very partial manner. I know that the Lord WANTS to come more, that His coming isn’t stopped by anything wrong with Him, its stopped by the SIN that is in me.
As a prayer at Mass this week summed it up, “our sins impede” His coming (Thursday of the first week of Advent).
Thus, in this 2nd Sunday of Advent, the Church always repeats to us the call of St John the Baptist:
“Prepare a way of the Lord, make His paths straight”(Mk 1:3).

Another reason I go to Confession is that I seek to rise above the minimum.
I sometimes hear people ask me, “How often to I HAVE to go to Confession?”
Are we only interested in what we HAVE to do? With the minimum?
Rather than with what is GOOD to do?
If a man asked, “What is the minimum I need to do in order for my wife not to leave me?”
-he clearly wouldn’t love his wife much
Yet, this can so easily be our attitude to God: the minimum.
If you seek the minimum:
Church law REQUIRES that you go to Holy Communion once a year, at Easter, and that with this that need to confess once a year.
The Church RECOMMENDS much more: monthly confession, frequent Communion.
As our last Bishop (Christopher Budd, 1998 pastoral letter) put it: It’s not enough to go to confession just at Advent and Lent, we need to go regularly.

Love does not seek the minimum.
Love seek to do MORE.
Love seeks to look within my heart and find the wrong that is the opposite of that “more".
If you look at the examination of conscience inside the newsletter you’ll see a list of the 7 deadly sins, and many others sins that flow from them. Such an examination seeks to help us rise above the minimum, seeks to helps us rise to the demands of love.

A final reason why I go to Confession:
I know that it is part of God’s plan to work THROUGH other people, through His Church, through His priests.
He said, “He who hears you hears me”(Lk 10:16), to His apostles, the first priests.
He said, “Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them”(Jn 20:23), to His apostles the first priests.
And He knows that I need to hear those words of forgiveness, “I absolve you…”, not as some words on a print page of the Bible, but by His living representative on earth: the priest.

The history of the Church is full of holier men and women than me, men and women who knew their sins and knew their need of confession, even better than I know it.
Pope Francis, like his predecessors, tell us he too goes to confession. 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.

I urge you, especially in this holy season, review your own practice in this regard.
Resolve to come to confession more frequently -times are listed on the newsletter.
And, especially, resolve to come before Christmas.
“Prepare a way of the Lord”(Mk 1:3).

The examination of conscience referred to in the sermon can be viewed at:

Sunday, 3 December 2017

1st Sunday of Advent, Year B

Mk 13:33-37; 1 Cor 1:3-9
I was talking to a friend earlier, and he causally made reference to the fact that the Lord Jesus might come again in glory at any time, that, in fact, He might be coming this afternoon. And I, quite spontaneously, said, “But I’ve got some things I need to finish first”.
This is how I’ve often heard other people refer to the Second Coming of Jesus: as something they don’t want to happen just yet. “Go away Jesus, could you come back later, maybe Tuesday? There are a lot of things I need to do first. I’ve not written any Christmas cards, I’ve barely started to think about presents, and basically I’ve just got a lot on right now.”

Now, when phrased like this, it obviously sounds silly. It is not for us to be telling God when He can or can’t come in glory.
And yet, it is with thoughts of the Second Coming that the Church starts our Advent preparations for Christmas: We are to start our preparations for the celebration of the anniversary of His birthday, of His FIRST coming, by thinking about His future SECOND Coming.
And when we do that a lot of things change their focus. Let me note three.

Firstly, when I think about the fact that Jesus might come, that time might end this afternoon, it suddenly changes what I think is really important. All my priorities shift. So, for example, I might still be aware of the Christmas cards I’ve not sent –but I’d be MORE aware of how much or how little LOVE I have put into those cards.
And I’d still realise that I hadn’t bought many presents yet, but I’d more clearly realise the extent to which this expressed (or not) a lack of love or concern for the people I wasn’t ready for.
So, my priorities would shift if I recalled that Jesus is Coming.

Secondly, I’d be less STRESSED about many of those details. I’d value those details in a different way, in some things I’d value them much MORE -because of the re-focusing on what they mean to others, and what they mean to God. But in MOST things I’d value those details in a way that was less focused on myself and my achievement and was thus less STRESSFUL.

Finally, with all of my life presented before me in the judgement, I think I’d be more aware of what I need to be GRATEFUL for. In our second reading we heard St Paul saying that he “never stop[ed] thanking God for all the graces you have received”(1 Cor 1:4) –and he moved straight from that thought to the revelation of the “last day, the day of the Lord Jesus”(1:8). Seeing things in the light of eternity is a good way to be less focused on our problems and more focused on what God has given us, what we have to be thankful for.

To sum that up: We are to start our Advent preparations for Christmas by thinking about the Second Coming in glory at the End of Time –a moment that could be any moment. Thinking about ‘the end’ helps us re-focus on what is important, and at Christmas it is precisely those ‘important’ things we need to be have before us. So, as we heard the Lord say, “Stay awake, because you do not know when the time will come”(Mk 13:33).

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Christ the King, Year A

Mt 25:31-46; Ezek 34:11-17
Today I want us to consider why we should want a king.
The past couple weeks we’ve seen the deposing of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. He was something like a king, and they didn’t want him.
Angela Merkel in Germany is currently struggling to get re-elected. Somewhat like Theresa May, she seems at risk of going from complete control to being a power of yesterday.
Earthly rulers rise and fall. They are inherently transitory.
The Lord Jesus, however, is king forever.
But why do we want a king? Especially, given that we live in a democratic age.

The image of kingship we hear in our readings this year, Year A, is both frightening as comforting.
Frightening, because the king will come to judge. How many of us feel truly comfortable being judged on the criteria the Lord listed:
Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, caring for “the least of these”.
Being judged in frightening.
But, it’s also an indication of power:
If you’re going to have a king, its good to have a king who is powerful enough to DO things.

What of comfort? The king is also portrayed as a shepherd.
This is a consistent Bible image of the Lord’s rule: He governs by shepherding.
And what does a shepherd do?
He leads the flock to water, he takes them to be fed in good pasture, he brings them to shelter in cold, and he defends them against wolves
-this is all good stuff that we need.

Let me note something else, however:
There is something the modern western mentality that is more concerned with FREEDOM than it is with food, water, and flourishing.
“No one’s going to tell ME what to do”, might be the typical attitude.
Better to starve in freedom than to be fat in slavery -who wants a king?

The point is this:
When we look to the Lord Jesus we see that this is a false opposition:
He BOTH gives us freedom, and, cares for us.
Until the final judgement, we are free to sin or free to love -we are free.
And His caring for us doesn’t oppose our freedom.
He shepherds us by teaching, sanctifying and governing.
He teaches us the truth that is His very self, so we know reality, know how to live, know fulfilment in His commandments.
He sanctifies us by His grace, by His sacraments, nourishing us by the food that is His very flesh in the Eucharist.
He governs us both through His Church and through His providence -directing the events of our life to the good, even to bring good out of evil.

So do we want a king?
The devil has no king. He reigns in Hell. He says, “I will not serve”.
The saints of God, however, see that the Kingship of Christ is a kingship that deserves our allegiance. A shepherd king.
Let us each, today, choose to serve.
Serve our neighbour, the “least of these” mentioned in the Gospel text today.
Serve our King, the shepherd. A king worth serving.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

No sermon text this week

Our deacon is preaching this weekend.

You can read and listen to an old sermon by Fr Dylan for this week here

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Catacombs & Resurrection, Remembrance Sunday, 32nd Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

1 Thess 4:13-18
Today our nation keeps Remembrance Sunday, when we remember all those who died in the great wars of the last century.
I would like to share with you, in particular, what it means for us AS CHRISTIANS, to remember the dead, and to do so by commenting on what we saw in our recent youth pilgrimage to Rome when we visited the catacombs.

In our second reading we heard St Paul speak about those who have died in Jesus. He spoke also about grieving, and he said that he didn’t want them to grieve in the way that “those who have no hope” grieve. This is an important distinction: both Christians and unbelievers both grieve, both are sad at their separation from their departed loved ones:
but the Christian grieves “with hope” -and this makes a colossal difference.
St Paul would have seen this difference between the pagans of his day and the Christians, and that difference is also something that we can see visibly manifested in the ancient catacombs of Rome.

The catacombs, as our pilgrimage group saw, were underground tunnels specifically dug to be places to bury the Christian dead. There were a great many such catacombs in Rome but the one we saw, of St Callistus, compromised 12 miles of tunnels, carefully dug in 4 levels, more than 20m deep. The catacombs were dug to be a sacred and dignified place to bury the dead, and the walls and slabs sealing the graves were decorated with many symbols that expressed what the Christians believed about life after death.

But the most basic and important symbol expressed was the reverence shown to the dead body itself. This contrasted with the rather confused and conflicting notions that the different pagans held about what happens after death.
Some, held a very physical but limited view of the afterlife, they left food and coins to be used by the dead after death, and would pour oil and food into holes in graves -thinking that the dead somehow needed such sustenance.
Others, like Plato, said the body was a thing to be escaped from in death -all that mattered was the soul. This was expressed by the practice of burning the body in cremation and scattering ashes.
Christians, however, held that the body is a good thing, and that there will be a resurrection of the body. Thus they reverenced the body in burial.
But they believed the resurrected body would be transfigured and glorified and thus did not need to be buried with trinkets, coins, food etc.
The vast catacombs thus testify to the greatness of the faith of those Christians that the body would rise again.

As a pilgrimage group we celebrated Mass in one of the underground chapels in the catacombs.
In doing that we joined in the practice of the ancient Christians who offered Mass in those chapels to pray for those who had died.
It doesn’t make sense to pray for someone who has died UNLESS you have HOPE that there is something more that lies ahead for him or her. The Bible makes in point in the 2nd book of Maccabees, where it comments on Jewish temple sacrifices that were offered for those who had died, and notes that we only pray for the dead because we believe they will rise again (2 Macc 12:44).
We today, and especially in the month of November, likewise pray for those who have died:
We pray that God will have mercy on them in the judgment;
We pray that God will comfort them as they pass through the purifications of purgatory;
And we pray that God will sped and hasten that purification for them.

To bring that to a conclusion: How do we remember the dead?
As a memory or the past? Or, as those who have a future, a resurrected future symbolised by the respect we show their bodies?
How we remember them with affect whether we grieve like pagans, or grieve like those “who have hope”.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

He Practiced what He Preached, 31st Sunday Ordinary Time Yr A

Mt 23:1-12
Today I’d like us to consider WHO it was that truly “practiced what He preached”.
The phrase, “to practice what you preach”, is one is one of those that everyone still knows today, even though they have forgotten the Jesus who first coined the phrase.
My point to you, today, however, is that the Lord Jesus truly DID practice what He preached, and I’d like us to consider just a few examples of that.

He taught that we should pray.
And the Gospels record that He prayed: waking early before His disciples and ascending the hill to pray; going to the Temple and the synagogue to pray.

He taught that we should hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt 5:6).
And He hungered for it so much that He reached down from heaven, became one of us us, and sought out the lost (Lk 19:10).

St Thomas Aquinas remarks that we see this especially upon the Cross -the Cross is the model of every virtue:

He taught that we should forgive our brother when he offends us (Mt 18:22).
And He forgave as He hung upon the Cross (Lk 23:34).

He taught that we should be meek and humble of heart (Mt 11:29).
And He humbled Himself to die upon the Cross (Phil 2:5-8).

He reaffirmed the 4th commandment to honour our mother and father (Mk 10:19).
And as He hung upon the Cross He cared for His mother by entrusting her to St John (Jn 19:26).

He taught that we should trust our Heavenly Father, who cares for the lilies of the field and the birds of the sky, and much more for us (Mt 6:26).
And as He hung upon the Cross He entrusted Himself to the Heavenly Father saying, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”(Lk 23:46).

He taught that we should turn the other cheek when we are struck (Mt 5:39), and when Annas’s soldier struck him He simply took it (Jn 18:22).

He taught that, “Greater love has no man than that He lay down his life for his friends”(Jn 15:13), and He DID lay down His life for us -even without us having proved ourselves worthy of being called His “friends”.

How might we sum up everything He did?
We might remember that the crowds said of Him, “He has done all things well”(Mk 7:37).

How might we sum up the effect of His teaching?
We might recall that the first time soldiers were sent to arrest Him they returned empty-handed, they returned to their masters and said simply, “No one has ever spoken like this man”(Jn 7:46).

Why did His teaching have such an effect on the people? Because He practiced what He preached.
And He calls on us to do the same: To preach what He preached; and, to live as He lived.

To conclude, He is thus the ultimate teacher, the ultimate “rabbi”.
And though the Church has never taken the second half of today's Gospel literally: we call our earthly teachers, “teacher”, and our earthly dads and priests, “father”, nonetheless, none deserve these titles as purely as Christ did -which is what the Lord is indicating in this text.
He practiced what He preached.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Fallen Idols & Vomitoriums, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

1 Thess 1:5-10
This week, as I think most of you know, was the parish youth pilgrimage to Rome. We saw a great many things, and on their behalf I’d like to thank you all for your generosity in subsidising it with your donations.
Today I want to to illustrate our second reading by referring to some of what we saw in Rome.

As Catholics we associate Rome with the Pope, but this wasn’t the original Rome. Ancient Rome was pagan, worshipping almost countless numbers of pagan idols.
Pagan Rome did not welcome the early Christians. Two things about Christianity threatened pagan Rome:
First, the absoluteness of Christ’s claim: there is only ONE god, not many; that He is “THE way, the truth and the life”(Jan 14:6), not just one way among many. In contrast the Romans had lots of little competing gods.
Second, the LIFESTYLE of Christians repudiated that of the Romans. The Ancient Romans lived a life of self indulgence and debauchery. The rich banqueted with vomitoriums in their halls, so they could empty their stomachs and continue to practice yet more gluttony. Sexual orgies were likewise a major part of their culture, with contraception, abortion, and leaving unwanted infants to die on the hillsides.
The Christians came with a new way of life. Early records, from the pagan Roman themselves, state that it was the lifestyle of the Christians that converted many. The Christians rescued unwanted infants left to die, fed the poor, cared for the elderly. They did not serve the idols of food, sex, or wealth, or the statues of the pages gods associated with them. As we heard St Paul refer in our second reading, “you broke with idolatry when you were converted to God and became servants of the real, living God”(1 Thess 1:9).

Such a contrast was not welcomed by the imperial powers of Rome. Nero burnt the Christians at the stake, Diocletian fed them to the lions, and this pattern continued for centuries. Our youth group saw the site of the huge Circus Maximus where most of those Christians died, the awesome spectacle of the Colosseum where many others were put to death, and saw the remains of the mighty pagan temples on the Via Sacra.
The might of Ancient Rome bore down hard on the early Church.
And yet more and more of them converted to Christ.
And the might of pagan Rome fell. Circus Maximus is just grassland now. The marble of the Colosseum and the pillars of those temples now adorn the churches of the living God.

There is a painting we saw in Rome that symbolises this change. On the ceiling of the Constantine room in the Vatican Museum is a painting that shows a pedestal that had held a mighty pagan idol. The idol is smashed and discarded on the floor, and in its place stands a humble image of Christ, Christ on the Cross. The truth that is Him, and “the sort of life”(1 Thess 1:5) He teaches us, swept aside all that went before Him AND all that has come after.

The Church is the oldest institution in human history. It has seen empires come and seen them go. Napoleon invaded Rome, and he is gone.
Stalin mocked “the divisions” of the Pope, and the Soviet Empire is likewise no more.

The Church is the Body of Christ.
The Church endures because what Christ offers is ETERNALLY significant.
Let me close by noting, however, that the clash between the idols of the world and the God shown in Christ, the humble other-worldly values shown on the Cross, that clash against the idols of self-indulgence, of food and sex and comfort, that clash is alive again in our era today.

The Church will endure because Christ promised it, “until the end of time”(Mt 28:20).
But whether you and I endure with it, whether England endures with it, is a choice we need to be a part of.
Do the words of St Paul to the Thessalonians also apply to us? “You have been converted from idolatry to serve the living God”(1 Thess 1:9).

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Render Unto God, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Mt 22:15-21
Today I’d like us all to consider a rather direct question: Do you try to fit your life around God, or, do we try to squeeze God into the spare unoccupied bits of our life?

In our modern world it can seem much more difficult to do this than it used to be. There is, quite simply, and ever-increasing sense that there is too much to do already, and where does God fit in?

The TV fills evenings that once had, naturally, more space, and thus more space for God.
Email demands replies in a way and frequency that letters did only much more slowly.
Mobile text messages also never let us stop.
Transport in cars means that there is an expectation that we travel and DO more than we would have been considered thinkable in previous generations.
Those with children find that there is an ever-increasing number of activities on offer for them.
While many of you who are retired can say how life seems more full after retirement than it did before.
There is just this sense that there is never a moment when our world isn’t already fully occupied.

So many things we feel expected to do.
So many conflicting priorities.
Where does GOD fit in that list of priorities?
Where SHOULD He fit?

Let’s try and answer that question with what the eldest among us would recognize as the first question in the Penny Catechism:
Who made you? God made you.
Who made this world and cosmos? God did.
Why did He make you? The answer to that question is NOT:
He made you so that you should rarely think of Him,
He made you so that He should be the lowest item on your priority list,
He made you so that you should plan everything else in your week and only THEN think whether you have time to pray, time for Sunday Mass, time for HIM.

The way we plan and prioritise in our lives shows what is truly important to us.
Where does something as supposedly simply as Sunday Mass get planned and prioritised?
Is it the most important and fixed part of our week?
Do we treat “the Lord’s Day” as just that -that’s how HE described it (Rev 1:10),
or, do we treat it like a day that, at best, gets Sunday Mass squeezed in so that we get on with the real priorities in our lives?

Our Catholic Faith teaches us that Sunday Mass is a non-negotiable in life.
Sunday comes only once a week.
The Mass is THE prayer Christ established, “Do THIS in memory of me…”(Lk 22:19).
It’s a serious sin to miss Mass on Sunday (CCC 2181).

What about prayer?
If God is our creator, if God is the most important thing in the universe and in our own lives, then where does our planning and prioritising put time and place for praying?

And if we don't make time for these things, how can we possibly have the spiritual clarity to see the other things we need to render unto God?

I raise these questions today because in today’s Gospel we heard the Lord say we must “Render unto God the things that are God’s”(Mt 22:21).
It’s a concept that, in our modern over-filled world, it can we easily lose sight of.

According to the Lord Jesus, the FIRST and GREATEST commandment is Mt 22:38):
“You shall love the Lord your God”(Lk 10:27)
and, not just love Him, but:
“with all your heart and strength and soul and mind”.
If someone else looked at our week, would they think that was true of us?

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Evangelisation, 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 8 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 1 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 17 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 10 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 13 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Pretty or Ugly in Heaven?, Transfiguration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 30 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 23 July 2017

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sunday, 9 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 2 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 25 June 2017

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Adoring before Receiving. Corpus Christi

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

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

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

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

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

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