Something to ponder in Advent

“If you have never before prayed [with] Mary, do so now. Can you not see that if Christ himself willed to be physically formed in her for nine months and then spiritually formed by her for thirty years, it is to her that we must go to learn how to have Christ formed in us?”

Fulton Sheen, Seven Words of Jesus and Mary,Garden City NY 1953

Homily for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King (Yr C)


The death of Our Lord on the Cross reveals that we are meant to be perpetually dissatisfied here below. If earth were meant to be a Paradise, then He Who made it would never have taken leave of it on Good Friday. The commending of the Spirit to the Father was at the same time the refusal to commend it to earth. The completion or fulfilment of life is in heaven, not on earth.
Fulton Sheen, Victory over Vice,1939: 99
Today the Church celebrates the last Sunday before Advent as the Solemnity of Christ the King, before we start Advent, the season of preparation for our yearly remembrance of Our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem; we stop to ponder his majesty, his kingship, and what this means for us and for the world. As someone of the House of David, it is good to start by looking back. Just as the Lord said to David ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel’ (2Sam 5:2) this also looks forward to Christ the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. In him we see true kingship, and true sacrifice.
          In this morning’s epistle, St Paul praises his Lord and Saviour as ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.’ (Col. 1: 15–20). It places Christ before and above everything, it sets the scene for our worship of him.
          Jesus Christ shows the world his kingship when he reigns on the Cross. It bears the title ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’ but those who are standing by cannot understand – if he is the Messiah, who saved others, why isn’t he saving himself? His kingship is not marked by self-interest, he rules for the sake of others, or as St Paul puts it ‘making peace by the blood of his cross’. Thankfully in Luke’s Gospel the penitent thief can say to him ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ (Lk 23:42). He recognises Jesus’ kingly power, he acknowledges it, and puts himself under it. We need to be like him. We need to acknowledge him as our Lord and King; we need to recognise who he is and what he does. We need to, the whole world needs to, acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.
          Jesus’ kingship is not the ruthless exercise of power by a dictator; it is rather shown by sacrificial self-giving love, to reconcile God to all things. It is costly, and his body still bears the wounds of love, transfigured, and glorious, so that we can have confidence in whom we worship. As he gives himself for us on the Cross, he gives himself to us under the forms of bread and wine; he feeds us with himself, so that our nature may transformed, and given a foretaste of heaven. So let us worship Him, let us adore him, let us acknowledge his universal kingship, the Lord and Redeemer of all. What looks like defeat is God’s triumph, it opens the gates of heaven, it inaugurates God’s kingdom of peace and love, into which all may enter. So let us enter, and encourage others to do so, enter into the joy of the Lord, that they may believe and to sing 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 All Saints of the Order of St Benedict

There are two things that we need to know about all the Saints of the Order of St Benedict: that there are lots of them, and that they’re all on our side – they’re praying for us. When we consider the saints, especially in large numbers there can be something decidedly off-putting about it: we’re filled with a sense of our own inadequacy, that we’re not good enough, that we’re not up to the task – sainthood isn’t for us.

And so I would like to begin by spending a few moments considering the portion of the Rule which is appointed to be read today, from the second half of Chapter 35 – it concerns those appointed to serve at table for the week. It is quite mundane and practical: they are to eat early, before they serve the brethren so that they do not grumble and it isn’t too hard for them. Before they begin or finish their week of service they are to give thanks to God. It is this reliance upon God which undergirds all that they do from start to finish which provides us with an important spiritual lesson: in knowing upon whom we can rely we can be truly thankful, we can be built up in love, with generous, thankful hearts.

That is why in the Prologue to the Rule our Holy Father St Benedict expresses his aim as follows: Constituenda est ergo nobis Dominici schola servitii – we have, therefore to establish a school of the Lord’s service. It is a school: somewhere where things can be both taught and practised, it is a place to learn to serve God and others. To love and to serve God and our neighbour is we are all called to by virtue of our baptism; it is how we live out our faith in our lives. This then is the path to heaven, for saints are sinners who, through God’s love and grace, keep trying, who stay close to Him.

So, as we keep trying, we can do so in the knowledge that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:39). That’s what the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection achieve: a relationship of such depth, such love, which has such power to heal and transform our human nature. For all things are possible with God (Mk 10:27) this is why the first word of the Prologue is Ausculta ‘Listen’ we listen so that we might learn; in listening we focus our attention on what really matters so that we can sit lightly to the things of this world, all the superficial stuff that the world tells us is important or valuable, so that we might discard it and concentrate on what really matters. Our listening informs what we are, what we do, and what we shall be.

So as we sing the praises of those who have followed in the footsteps of St Benedict,  let us imitate them,  in the Lord’s service, strengthened by Word and Sacrament – fed by God, fed with God, so that our nature may be transformed,  so that through prayer and service we may honour the God who created us, who redeemed us, and who sustains us, so that we may live out our faith so that the world may believe and 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.

Homily for the 32nd Sunday of Year C


God does not love us because we are lovely or loveable; His love exists not on account of our character, but on account of His. Our highest experience is responsive, not initiative. And it is only because we are loved by Him that we are loveable.
Fulton Sheen, Rejoice, 1984: 9
At this time of year our thoughts turn quite naturally to things eternal. We have prayed for the repose of the souls of the faithful departed, and remember those who gave their lives in the past century. As Christians we know that our earthly life is not all that there is. This morning’s first reading is, despite its rather gruesome subject matter, one which contains hope – the hope of eternal life, the promise of a loving God, in whose image we are made.
          This hope is part of our faith, which is to be lived out in love: costly, and self-giving. This is our calling as Christians. This is what St Paul is encouraging the church in Northern Greece to live out. As a result of this we are called to prayer and the spread of the Gospel, that the message of God’s love and forgiveness, of healing and wholeness in the message and person of Jesus Christ. Through his giving of himself on the Cross we can have hope; hope that this world is not all that there is, that our destiny is something greater, something richer. The Sadducees can only ask a question to try and support their denial of life after death. Christ can only start from the reality of eternal life with God. It is acknowledged by Moses, it is the heritage of Israel, and thus for the Church as the new Israel.
          This is why we as the Church pray for the living and the dead; it is why we are fed by Word and Sacrament – nourished by God and with God, given a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, to prepare us for an eternity with God. Such is the comfort which God gives us, such is the grace poured into our hearts. Such a great gift should provoke in us something of a response – a fashioning of our lives after the self-giving love which is the heart of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In this we can truly become what we were created for. We can realise that Love increases the more it is given, freely, not counting the cost, in the faith and hope that this life is not all that there is – that we are called to live out love in our lives. To live it out so that world may be filled with love, that it may believe, freed to sing 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 31st Sunday of Year C


Humility is not self-contempt but the truth about ourselves coupled with a reverence for others; it is self-surrender to the highest goal.
Fulton Sheen Thoughts for Daily Living, 1955: 121
Last week the Gospel presented us with two people, a Pharisee and a tax-collector: one was a religious expert, a pillar of society, the other someone hated and despised. And yet, on the inside they were completely different – one was self-righteous, arrogant and full of himself, the other knew his need of God’s love and mercy. They show us what not to be and what we should be, and this week we see another one.
          Zacchaeus is a chief tax collector; he is someone who was hated, who has got rich by over-charging people. He starts off just being curious – he wants to see what all the fuss is about, he wants to see Jesus. He can’t see over the crowds so he climbs up a sycamore tree. When Jesus sees him, he tells him to come down quickly as Our Lord has to stay at his house today. He hurries down and welcomes Jesus with joy, he’s glad to see Him, to welcome Jesus into his house.
          The crowd are a bit miffed – they say, ‘Ooh … look at Him, what’s he going to that man’s house for?’ They just can’t see beyond outward appearances, they judge him – they just see a sinner, they don’t see someone who wants to see Jesus and love Him. The simple presence of Jesus has a transformative effect on Zacchaeus, he gives away half of his property to the poor and promises to repay those whom he has defrauded and to give them compensation. The Son of Man has come to seek out and save the lost – to show people that there is another way. This is the love of God in action – this is what happens on the Cross – God shows us the transforming power of His love, love shown to the un-loveable, so that they might become lovely.
          It is an idea which can be found in scripture – this morning’s first reading shows us that God is loving and merciful, and that God’s love and mercy can have an effect on our lives, if we trust in Him, if we invite Him in, so that his transforming love can be at work in our lives, and ‘may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (1Thess 1:1112) It is through God’s grace, an undeserved gift, that people like Zacchaeus can be transformed, transformed by God and for God, and what was true for him is true for us, here, today.
          That is why, as Christians, we pray, why we come to Mass each and every week to be fed by word and sacrament, so that God’s grace and transforming love may be at work in us, transforming our nature, making us more like Him. Everything that we say or think or do in our lives needs to be an outworking of our faith, so that our exterior life and our interior life are in harmony with each other – so that our lives, like St Paul’s, may proclaim the Gospel. This is what we are called to, and how we are to live. Unless we start from the point where we know our need of God and rely upon him, where we too make that space where God can be at work in us, in our souls and our lives, we are doomed.
          Is this the kind of life we really want to lead? Is this really the path of human flourishing? Or are we called to something better, something greater, something more lovely? So let us put our trust in the God who loves us and who saves us, let us know our need of him and his transforming grace to fill our lives and transform all of his creation so that the world so that it may believe and be transformed to sing 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.