The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Those who dislike any devotion to Mary are those who deny His Divinity or who find fault with Our Lord because of what He says.
These words of the Venerable and Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen remind us of an important truth when we consider the Blessed Virgin Mary: she is always pointing to God – it’s all about God and not about Mary. But, I hear you cry, we have come here to celebrate the Solemn Feast of Mary, Mother of God, surely it’s all got to be about her? Well I am sorry to disappoint you, but it isn’t.
          People who dislike Marian devotion, because it’s ‘a bit too ‘igh for ‘em’ or ‘it detracts from Jesus’, have got things wrong, and generally they err with how they understand one or all of the three Persons of the Trinity. For the last 1,582 years the Church has referred to Our Lady as the Mother of God, not the Mother of Christ, the Mother of Jesus, or some poor Jewish girl raped by a Roman soldier. The Mother of God, the Theotokosor God-bearer is her title which we celebrate today. The words we use matter. It matters that Mary bears in her womb the Word of God Incarnate, True God and True Man, for our salvation.
          We celebrate the wonderful truth that God shows his love for us in being born, in being a vulnerable child who needs a mother’s love and tender care. Mary is obedient and says ‘Yes’ to God – she is the model Christian, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, who as she stands at the foot of the Cross becomes our Mother too.
          At the Wedding in Cana she tells the servants ‘Do whatever he tells you’ she urges people to be obedient, to be close to God. She lives a life of faith: treasuring things and ‘pondering them in her heart’ so that we can be adopted children of God, and share in her Son’s gift of new life to the world. We honour her, because she points us to her Son. We rejoice that her obedience brings about the possibility of salvation in her Son. We love her because we love her Son, our God and Lord, Jesus Christ. If we honour him, how can we not honour she who bore him in her womb for our sake? If we believe that He is the Incarnate Word eternally begotten of the Father, and that they are con-substantial and co-eternal, true God and true man in two natures without confusion, change, division or separation, it surely follows that His Mother is the Mother of God. We rejoice that in her, the New Eve, the Ark of the new Covenant, the Tabernacle of the Most High, the possibility of new life in her Son has come about.
So, today, let us pause to ponder the love of God shown to us in Mary, let us be fed by word and sacrament, the Body of Christ, which became incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, let us treasure him, and let us respond by loving and trusting God, by living lives of service, of God and of one another, and proclaiming the Good News in Jesus Christ, so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for the Holy Family (Year C)

Sanctification does not depend on our geography or on our work or circumstances. Some people imagine that if they were in another place, or married to a different spouse, or had a different job, or had more money, they could do God’s work so much better. The truth is that it makes no difference where they are; it all depends on whether what they are doing is God’s will and done for love of him
Fulton J. Sheen Lift up your Heart
Christmas is a time for families, is a phrase with which I am sure we are all familiar. It comes as something of a shock to see that in a recent survey only 68% of British children live with both parents at the age of 14, with a quarter of children living in single-parent families. This is something about which we should be concerned for the simple reason that families matter, especially where the Church is concerned. It is not surprising that the Church sees the family as the domestic church, where parents and children should pray together and the Christian Faith should be taught – it should be a place where faith, hope, and love may abound.
          In our broken and fallen world we recognise that our human efforts may fall short of all that is expected of us, and as Christians we are not to judge others, as ours is to be a community of love, and forgiveness, and mutual support. We must nonetheless strive to do all that we can to see that something ordained by God – the lifelong union of a man and a woman for the procreation and education of children – given for human flourishing, is something that can be cherished, supported, strengthened and lived out, as a witness to the world, so that it may believe.
          In this morning’s Gospel we see the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – the example for Christian families of what to be and how to live. Mary & Joseph show love and concern for their absent child, they search for him. Jesus’ response may seem troubling at first; it doesn’t look like the response of a dutiful child. It does, however, point out the important truth that our first duty as children is not towards our parents, but to God – to love him and serve him. But as Our Lord ‘went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them’ he shows that he is obedient both to God andhis parents – his obedience show us how to live a Christian life after his example. His mother ‘treasured up all these things in her heart’ as she comes to see and understand what is going on – the family grows in love towards God and each other and becomes a place of human flourishing and an example to the world of how to live the life of faith. Mary and Joseph find Jesus after three days – a period of time which looks forward to His Death and Resurrection – even here and now as a young man, his life points towards its goal: the Cross and the Empty Tomb which gives life to all creation in Him, through Him and with Him.
          God gives us life in Christ so that we may live it and may flourish, where we can truly be what God wants us to be, and so that strengthened by Word and Sacraments we may become what he is. In the First Letter of John we see our relationship with God in terms of a family – the Father loves us and we are His children, not just called such, but through the new birth of our baptism this is what we are. The world does not recognise this, just as it did not recognise our Lord, or indeed follow him. The world may just want to see us in worldly terms or have us conform to worldly values, but we cannot allow this to happen – we are called to conform the world to the will of God, to show it how it may truly flourish and find its true meaning and value. The world will no doubt hate us for doing this, but this should not dissuade us from trying, and indeed succeeding, as we are one in Christ, who has overcome the world.
So let us live lives of faith, hope, and love, after the example of the Holy Family, and aided by their prayers, so that the world might believe and all creation resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the consubstantial and co-eternal Trinity, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for Christmas Jn 1:1-14 ‘And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us’

Christ’s coming into the world was not like that of a sightseer to a strange city, but rather like that of an artist visiting his own studio or an author paging the books he himself has written, for in becoming incarnate, the divine Word was tabernacling himself in his own creation.
Fulton J. Sheen In the Fullness of Time
It is a strange time to be a Christian. We live in a world where scepticism abounds, where trust is in short supply, and where the yearly celebration of Our Lord and Saviour’s Nativity has become an excuse for consumerist excess. In the midst of all the madness and froth of our modern existence, I’d like to take a few minutes to explore the profound mystery which we celebrate tonight.
            In a stable attached to an inn, in a backwater town in the far corner of the Roman Empire, a woman gives birth to a son. It is a birth which has been foretold by the prophets: salvation will come from Bethlehem, the town of David, and from the line of David. Unlike the first David, who sends a man (Uriah the Hittite, the husband of Bathsheba) to die, so that he may sin, the second David will gladly die to save all humanity from its sins, even those who kill him. The ruler and shepherd of Israel will reign in glory hanging from a tree like a common criminal. The first people to come and worship him are shepherds, ritually impure men, outcasts from Jewish society. It is a life that begins and ends on the margins, among those whom the world despises and casts aside. This doesn’t look much like how the world understands glory, indeed it doesn’t look much like how the world understands God, and that is, I suspect, the point. If we try and understand what we are celebrating in purely worldly terms then we will go horribly wrong.
            As he ponders the mystery of Our Lord’s Incarnation, St John begins at the beginning, taking us back to the beginning of Creation so that we may discern the loving purposes of God, in the midst and messiness of human history. It ends with the last of the prophets, John the Baptist, the forerunner who even in his mother’s womb leaps for joy to announce the coming of the Saviour of the World. He bears witness in his life that all might believe: he sets us the example of how to live a Christian life – we are in all things and at all times to bear witness to Christ, the Saviour of the World. It may cost us dear – imprisonment, torture and even death, but throughout the entire world and for all of the last two thousand years Christians have done just this, to bear witness to the truth regardless of the cost, so that the WORLD may believe. The world knew him not, and still fails to know him, to recognise him, but their failure does not mean that we should lessen our efforts; rather we should proclaim the saving truth of God’s love all the more and live lives which embody that truth and make it real and visible to the world, which make it credible, trustworthy, and attractive.
            To those who received him he gave power to become children of God – through faith we enter into a relationship with the God who creates, who redeems and who loves. It isn’t about giving our assent to philosophical propositions – the salvation of humanity is not about logic, but love.
            And the Word became esh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth. The Word becomes flesh – God becomes a human being in the womb of a virgin, ‘the invasion of time by eternity’. God tabernacles among us and the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, becomes the Ark of the New Covenant for the New Israel, the People of God.
God does not give us explanations; we do not comprehend the world, and we are not going to. It is and it remains for us a confused mystery of bright and dark. God does not give us explanations; he gives up a Son. Such is the spirit of the angel’s message to the shepherds: “Peace upon earth, good will to men … and this shall be the sign unto you: ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.” A Son is better than an explanation. The explanation of our death leaves us no less dead than we were; but a Son gives us a life, in which to live.’ [Austin Farrer Said or Sung pp. 27, 28]
God gives us a life to live – with Him and each other, a relationship through which we may grow, fed by His Word and Sacraments, so that His grace may perfect our nature and that we may live that divine life of love poured out on the world in His Son and the Holy Spirit, so that the world might believe and all creation resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, the consubstantial and coeternal Trinity, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for Advent IV Year C : ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

God does not love us because we are loveable of and by ourselves, but because he has put his own love into us. He does not even wait for us to love; his own love perfects us. Letting it do this with no resistance, no holding back for fear of what our egotism must give up, is the one way to the peace that the world can neither give nor take away
Fulton J. Sheen Lift up your Heart

The prophet Micah, after the destruction of Samaria, looks back to David of the tribe of Ephraim, to look forward to the saviour who will save Israel, who will be a true shepherd to his flock, who will bring Peace. Whereas the first David sinned by sending a man to die, Uriah the Hittite, the husband of Bathsheba, the second of David will go to his death willingly to save from their sins even those who kill him. Prophecy is fulfilled, humanity is restored, and the peace of God’s kingdom can be brought about. His coming forth is from old from ancient days. Our salvation is the fulfilment of prophesy and the outworking of God’s love.
 In the letter to the Hebrews we see the prophecy of Psalm 40:6-8 fulfilled in Christ. The sacrifices of the old covenant are replaced in the new covenant with the sacrifice of God for humanity: sacrifice is fulfilled and completed, once and for all. It is this sacrifice, which the church, through its priests of the new covenant pleads and re-presents: the eternal offering of a sinless victim, to free humanity of its sins, to restore our relationship with God and one another. It is an act of perfect obedience: the body prepared by God for Christ will do his will and will sanctify humanity, heal us and restore us.
In this morning’s Gospel Mary does not tell Elizabeth that she is pregnant. But by the power of the Holy Spirit John the Baptist, the forerunner, the last of the prophets announces the coming of the saviour by leaping of the joy in his mother’s womb. It’s important, there’s no time to waste: Mary arose and went with haste. Time is of the essence, not for the frantic fulfilment of consumerism: last-minute presents, or enough food to satisfy even the most gluttonous, no, we have to prepare our hearts, our minds, and our lives, so that Christ may be born again in us, so that we may live his life and proclaim his truth to the world.
Through the prompting of her son and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth can cry ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’ She recognises that Mary’s obedience, her humble ‘Yes’ to God undoes the sinfulness of Eve. That she who knew no sin might give birth to Him who would save us and all humanity from our sin. It is through the love and obedience of Mary that God’s love and obedience in Christ can be shown to the world, demonstrated in absolute perfection, when for love of us he opens his arms to embrace the world with the healing love of God. He will be the good Shepherd, laying down his life for his flock that we may dwell secure. We prepare to celebrate Christmas because it points us to the Cross and beyond, in showing us once and for all that God loves us. 
Safe in the knowledge that God loves us, that he feeds us with word and sacrament, that he heals us, let us love God and love one another, truly, deeply, with all our lives. Let us prepare the greatest gift we can, ourselves:  that Christ may truly be born in us, that as the Sanctified People of God, we may live that goodness, that holiness, that charity, which reflects the bountiful goodness of God who gives himself to be born and to die and rise again that we might truly live and have life in all its fullness, sharing the joy and the love of God with everyone we meet. As he will come to be our judge let us live His life proclaim his saving love and truth to a world hungry for meaning and love and thereby honour God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the consubstantial and co-eternal Trinity, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for Advent III Year C: And the crowds asked him ‘What then shall we do?’

It is easy to find the truth; it is hard to face it, and harder still to follow it …. The only people who ever arrive at a knowledge of God are those who, when the door is opened, accept that truth and shoulder the responsibilities it brings. It requires more courage than brains to learn to know God: God is the most obvious fact of human experience, accepting him is one of the most arduous Fulton J. Sheen Lift up your Heart

John the Baptist has been preaching a baptism of repentance, a turning away from sin towards the arms of a loving God. He has been stark and uncompromising and the people to whom he has been preaching find themselves in an awkward situation. Some 2000 years later we find ourselves asking very much the same question, ‘What then shall we do?’ The world, the state, the church all seem to be in a mess. The peace which the Messiah came to bring it seems as elusive as ever, whereas the human capacity to create misery in the most dreadful ways makes us realise that we still have some considerable distance to travel. One possible answer is the need for repentance: to change our hearts and minds and to follow Christ.
                Our readings this morning speak of the kingdom of God, the God who is in our midst, a mighty one who will save us; he will rejoice over us with gladness; he will quieten us by his love. In all our sadness and sin, we look forward to our yearly remembrance of our Lord’s incarnation. We prepare our hearts, our minds, and our lives, to go to Bethlehem, to see God come into the world naked, vulnerable, and homeless. We prepare to meet him as he will come again, as our saviour and our judge, daunting though this may be, in the knowledge and trust that he saves us, that by his wounds on the cross we are healed.
                We are to rejoice, strange though it might seem, just like the people of Israel in captivity, since the Lord God is our strength and our song and has become our salvation. We draw living water, the water of baptism, which saves us. In the midst of our sorrow we are to place all I hope and trust in God who loves us, and who saves us.
                We are to rejoice, because as S. Paul reminds the Galatians joy is a fruit of the spirit. As the people who have received the spirit in the sacrament of baptism, of confirmation, or indeed of holy order, our joy in the Lord should set our hearts on fire, with love for him and each other; we shouldn’t worry about anything, but instead we should trust in God: the God whose peace surpasses all understanding.
                We are to share this joy with others, to share the good news of Jesus Christ to all people, and not just in our words but our deeds. If we share what we have, if we are generous, if we work for justice and are clothed with humility, showing our joy in mutual love, God’s kingdom will be advanced. We, here, now, know that Jesus will come and will judge us by the standard of love which he set for us to follow. Let us trust God and share that trust in prayer, that his will may be done, and that he may quieten us with his love.
                The world around us is full of pain and anguish, and the only way for it to be healed is in Christ, who was bruised for our transgressions and wounded for our iniquities. He still bears those wounds as the wounds of love. As he flung out his arms on the cross, so he longs to embrace the world and fill it with his peace and love. He will not force us; he is no tyrant in the sky. It is the world which must turn to him in love and in trust, and turn away from sin. Our task is always only all things to be joyful in the Lord, and to live out our faith to help the world turn to him.
It isn’t an easy thing to do, and after 2000 years of trying we may seem as far away as when John proclaimed the coming of God’s kingdom    .  We can just give up, or we can try, and keep trying, no matter how many times we fail, secure in the knowledge that God loves us and forgives us, and that we are to do the same to each other. That in this and all things we may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Perfect love casts out fear

Many people nowadays want God, but on their terms, not his. They insist that their wishes to determine the kind of religion that is true, rather than letting God revealed his truth to them. So their dissatisfaction continues and grows. But God finds us lovable, even in our rebellion against him.
God does not love us because we are lovable of and by ourselves, but because he has put his own life into us. He does not even wait for us to love; his own love affects us. Letting it to do this, with no resistance, no holding back for fear of what our egotism must give up, it’s the one way to the peace of the world can neither give nor take away.
The Ven. Abp Fulton J. Sheen Lift up your heart,  taken from  Advent Meditations with Fulton J. Sheen, Liguori Publications: Liguori MO, 2007

Let Christ be formed in you

As God was  physically formed in Mary, so he wills to be spiritually formed in you. If you knew he was seeing through your eyes, you would see everyone as a child of God. If you knew that he worked through your hands, they would bless all the day through …. If you knew that he wants to use your mind, your will, your fingers, and your heart, how differently you would be. If half the world did this there would be no war!

The Ven. Abp Fulton J. Sheen How to find Christmas Peace,  taken from  Advent Meditations with Fulton J. Sheen, Liuori Publications: Liguori MO, 2007