Sunday, 30 June 2019

Being Catholic, St Peter and St Paul

Today’s feast of St Peter and St Paul gives us a great occasion to reflect on what it means to be Catholic, to be part of the UNIVERSAL Church, to be part of something bigger than we are.

This concept of BELONGING is very counter-cultural.
Lots of people today talk about the LOSS of a sense of COMMUNITY,
and almost every single community organisation in the UK is in numerical decline.
There is a very weird contradiction here:
people talk about community, and mourn its loss,
but few seem to recognise the things we need to DO to belong:
-for example, I need to commit, to commit to something other than myself.
The modern mindset is very individualistic:
I do my OWN thing, I think my own thoughts
-and no one else can tell me what to do.
One of the problems with this, however, is that it’s a very LONELY approach to life
-just me figuring out life on my own,
which is lonely when you’re YOUNG with your whole bewildering life ahead of you,
and lonely when you’re OLD and you’re facing whatever comes next.

In contrast, to be a Catholic is the opposite of being alone
-it’s to be a part of a group with over a billion members.
And it’s the opposite of “doing your own thing”.
-to be a Catholic is to seek to do CHRIST’s thing, not my own thing -to think HIS thoughts.

The bigger reality that we belong to as Catholics stretches in two directions: space and time.
St Paul typifies the thing of “space” because he was the great missionary. Chosen by Christ in a special vision and sent to take the truth about Jesus Christ to all the gentile nations -in his own brief time he went all around the Mediterranean basin.
He symbolises the universal “Catholic” Church in that the Church has a mission to spread to every corner of the world -we tend to think that we are universal now because we are spread on every continent, but our real sense of being universal is that BELONG everywhere, we have a MISSION, a sending by Christ, to BE in every place, to bring ALL people into the unity of His Catholic Church.

The other dimension, time, is typified by St Peter, and expresses our Catholicity in a different sense.
-the modern mindset often just lives for today,
but the Catholic mindset finds meaning in our today by seeing how it links to the past and the future.
-the future, where Christ will come again in glory and take His faithful home;
-the past, where Christ came in Galilee and revealed the truth.
The Church belongs everywhere because it proclaims a set of truths that belong everywhere.
The Church belongs everywhere because it is rooted in Christ.
St Peter, the first pope, was the first entrusted with that teaching mission.

Before I conclude, let me note that the media frequently tries to point out the sins and failings of the members of the Church. Sometimes, we can feel embarrassed to be associated with such people by belong to the same Church as them, especially when its clergy.
The Church, in every age, needs to purify herself of filth, “ecclesia semper reformanda est” (said Vatican 2).
The members of the Church are human, we are sinners, but the reality that constitutes us is something more, something Divine -and THAT, not sin, is what we belong to by being Catholic.

So today, on St Peter and St Paul, let us rejoice to belong to something bigger than ourselves,
let us rejoice to belong to the Body of Christ.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

First Holy Communions -Our Daily Bread, Corpus Christi

Today is one of the most joyful of all of the days in the parish year, and for the children here making your First Holy Communion it should rank as one of the biggest days not just of this year but of your life. So I'd like, this morning, to say some words directly to the children making their First Holy Communion, and then to their parents.

So, children: today is your special day.
But it is special because it's about something other than you: it's about The Lord Jesus, and how He is going to come to you for the first time today in Holy Communion.
I want to remind you of a line from a prayer that you say all the time, a line of the Our Father:
"Give us this day our daily bread".
That prayer is about Holy Communion. What is the "daily bread"? It's Jesus, in Holy Communion -the bread that is no longer bread but has become Jesus Himself.

Jesus loves you. And He cares for you in lots of different ways, and He gives you lots of different things: the sun that shines on us, the roof over your head, the food on your tables, and so forth. And all of these things we pray for when ask, "Give us this day our daily bread".
But the oldest saints in the Church, the ones we call the 'Fathers' of the Church, they explained that this prayer refers especially to the Eucharist, to Holy Communion (and this interpretation is given in the GIRM n81)

Let me remind you what I've said about the Eucharist: that it is Jesus.
I pointed out to you that many things in life don't look like what they are.
This here, the processional cross behind me, this crucifix looks like Jesus, but it isn't Jesus.
And, I have a photo of my little nephew, and it looks like him, but it isn't him.
Well, the Eucharist is like that: it looks like one thing, but it IS something else: it looks like bread, tastes like bread, but it IS Jesus Christ: His Body, His Blood, His Soul and His Divinity -all present in Holy Communion.

So, this 'bread' is not bread, it is Jesus.
And the most important 'bread' we need is the food that satisfies not just our bodies but our souls, the heavenly food.
This is why this 'daily bread' is better called our 'bread of tomorrow' because in receiving it we receive and are strengthened by the food from heaven that will take us to heaven.
And it's because this is so important that you've been preparing for this all year and learning about this all year.

Now, parents:
You are here because you want something important for your children. You are here because you care about your children. You have brought them to be prepared during this year because you want this precious thing for your children.
Let me tell you, however, that all of that is a waste of time if it does not become a REGULAR repeated thing. Receiving Holy Communion will only be possible for your children if you are bringing them to Holy Mass each and EVERY Sunday: this is the only way they can benefit from this precious gift that they are receiving for the first time today.
I know that there are many things you want for your children, many things that compete with God and compete with Mass. But the most important gift to give your children is the food that LASTS, the food of heaven, the "bread of tomorrow" that we pray that we be permitted to receive 'today' -that Jesus has promised to give us today.

That is the great gift that those here are to receive for the first time.
So, children, be ready. Pray to Jesus. Ask Jesus to help you focus your thoughts. So that you will be ready to receive this great gift.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Medjugorje, Trinity Sunday, Year C

Rom 5:1-5
I’ve just come back from Medjugorje, where I was with some of our parishioners on pilgrimage.
It was a wonderful experience. I first went there when was 20 years old, and was first convinced of the authenticity of the visions by the abundant signs of God’s grace being out poured on people, on people CHANGING and converting their lives -it seems to me that God can choose where He pours His graces, and I don’t think He’d pour them so abundantly on the site of a forgery, so I think its genuine.
This summer Pope Francis formally approved Medjugorje as a shrine for official public pilgrimages.
As yet, however, a verdict hasn’t been passed on the visions themselves, or alleged visions -I imagine such a verdict will only be passed when the visions cease, when the event is complete, or claims to be complete. So, any words that follow are conditional on the future judgment of the church on their authenticity.

That’s said, I’d like to refer to how, according to the alleged visionaries, Our Lady speaks of unbelievers. She refers to unbelievers as “those who have not experienced the love of God”.
She speaks also of her own love for us, and says, “If you knew how much I loved you, you’d cry of joy”.
And, to EXPERIENCE this love is transforming, all-absorbing.
One of the visionaries, Mirjana, speaks of the experience of having her visions, how when she’s with Our Lady her only desire is to be with her, and even her beloved family almost “do not exist” -so all satisfying and all-absorbing is this experience of heavenly love (c.f. Mirjana Soldo, My Heart will Triumph, p.271).
If WE experienced God’s love fully, we would likewise be totally enthralled, entranced, satisfied.
“God is love”(1 Jn 4:8), so teaches the Bible, and to experience God is to experience love.

There is a particular relevance to this today, i.e. on Trinity Sunday.
The Trinity is not some irrelevant doctrine, rather, it teaches us about God, and it teaches us about ourselves.
“God is love”(1 Jn 4:8), so teaches the Bible. He is three persons in an eternity of love, loving each other, outpouring that love into each other.
The unique teaching of the Christian religion is that God isn’t just an “entity”, or force, or energy, rather, He is PERSONAL and loving
-and the doctrine of the three PERSONS of the Trinity is the heart of our understanding that God is personal, that God is loving
You and I are made in His image, you and I are (a) made to love and (b) made to experience love.
Thus, Our Lady refers to unbelievers as those who have not experienced God’s love.
And, thus our second reading, chosen for Trinity Sunday, spoke of “the love of God [being] poured into our hearts”(Rom 5:5) by our experience of the Triune God.

But HOW do we experience the love of God?
In many ways:
(1)By being loved by others -thus those how have not experienced human love can often struggle to understand that God loves them.
(2)Also, by seeing the evidence of His care and providence in the world -seeing that the world is good shows us that God is loving.
(3)More particularly, by reading of His loving work in the Bible -with this often comes the experience of recognising that we are sinners and realising what God has done in forgiving us.
But, in all these ways, and others, I think that ultimately to experience that God loves you is a GRACE, a supernatural gift, a mystical experience of some form.
-for some people, that experience comes dramatically, in precise moments,
-for some others, it’s a cumulative experience.
But, I think that for all of us, in as much as we have experienced it, we have experienced something of God HIMSELF -He who IS love.

To be a believer, a believer in Christ, a believer in the Triune God, is to “experience the love of God”.
In as much as our faith is weak, in as much as we have failed to experience that love, let us pray this day that we might ever more have “the love of God… poured into our hearts”(Rom 5:5).