Christ the King, Year A

In 1925 Pope Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the Universal King to stress the all-embracing authority of Christ and to lead mankind to seek the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ. In a time of great misery and inequality: the Church was reminded of what the coming of Christ as Saviour and Judge meant, as well as ending the liturgical year by looking forward to Advent: the season of preparation for our Lord’s coming, in His Incarnation, and as our Judge. A season of reflection, a season of hope, and new life.

In today’s Gospel we have the last parable in Matthew which also gives us an apocalyptic vision of Our Lord’s Second Coming. The first thing to notice is that, as befits the Kingdom of God, all people will be there. This is not a Christians-only event. In the Holy Land to this day you will see herds of goats and sheep grazing together and at the end of the day they are separated by a shepherd who can tell the difference between them. Jesus does, however, give his reasons for making his judgement: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.’ To give food and drink and to make people welcome is fundamental to hospitality and is a sign of Love. Clothing the naked and visiting the sick and imprisoned is likewise showing concern for people, and their needs, showing our love to the world.

We believe that God is love and that we are called to show love ourselves in our lives. Our faith, therefore, is not simply private interior devotion, something that we do on Sundays for our benefit, and keep in a box like a Sunday hat. No!It is something we can put into practice in our lives, every day, everywhere.

Now in the parable in this morning’s Gospel the virtuous seem rather surprised and ask our lord when they did this to him. Jesus answers, ‘I tell you most solemnly, insofar as you did this to the least of the brothers of mine you did it to me.’ As St Antony, the founder of monastic tradition once said, ‘Our life and death is with our neighbour – if we win our brother we win God; if we cause our neighbour to stumble then we have sinned against Christ.’ So who are the least of Christ’s brethren? Who are the little people? Or to put it another way, who is the most important person in church? Is it Fr Neil? Or is it me? Is it a magistrate? Or a businessman? No … who are the least amongst our communities and who are the least outside them? And what are we doing to help them?

Some of the people who would have heard Jesus teaching this parable might well have thought, as Jews, that Israel were the sheep, and the gentiles were the goats, and I wonder whether we don’t all of us feel a little complacent at times. By the same token, the standards Jesus sets in this parable seem almost unattainable so we can feel that we simply cannot live up to them. So we need to be careful that we don’t just despair, that we don’t just give up, and don’t let our discipleship become one of apathy.

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, God himself, became man and lived among us. He showed humility in washing His disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, in eating and drinking with tax-collectors and prostitutes, the social outcasts of His day. He, unlike the society in which he lived, did not judge them. He loved them in order to proclaim in word and deed that the Kingdom of God was for ALL people – the people we might not like, the people we might look down our noses at, and with whom we might not wish to share our table. He gives himself to feed heal and restore them and us.

His love and humility are shown in that being condemned to death by those whom he came to save he does not cry out, he does not blame them, but instead asks, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ The Christ who reigns on the tree, and who will come again to judge the world, bears the marks in his hands, feet, and side, because they are the marks of LOVE. They remind us of God’s love for us, and when we eat and drink His Body and Blood at the Eucharist we are healed, and share in His Divine Life, so that we might become the Body of Christ, His Church. Strengthened by this Sacrament of Love we are called to live out our faith in the world around us. While we may not have lived up to the example He sets us, we can nonetheless try to do what we can. In acknowledging the Universal Kingship of Christ we recognise an authority higher than human power, higher than any monarch or dictator, and we are called to conform the world to His just and gentle rule. We are called to transform the world one soul at a time, and through acts of mercy and a life of prayer to make a difference.

We may not like the idea of judgement: it is big and scary, and most of us, if we are honest feel that we deserve to be condemned. NOw rather than just thinking about judgement as a future event, let’s think about it as a process, something going on here and now. We all live under God’s judgement. Are there things which are hellish in our lives? The problems of cliamte change and how we treat God’s world don’t exactly look great. The way in which we do business with one another, the on-going financial crisis, poverty, hunger and the existence of food-banks show us that all is not well with our country. The wars which our leaders wage against each other seem very far away from the ideal where the lion lies down together with lamb, where swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks. For all this we will be called to account, like the servants in last week’s parable of the talents.

So what are we to do? First, we are to pray to God that we might have the strength and courage to follow the example of His Son, Jesus Christ. Secondly, we are to remember that God’s love and mercy were poured out on the world at Calvary, and continue to be poured out on us who know His forgiveness. Thirdly, that we are fed and strengthened in the Eucharist so that we may be transformed to go out into the world and be active in God’s service.Finally we are to remember that whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do for Him. The people or the acts may seem insignificant to us, but not to God.

I would like to conclude this morning by asking you, what would our communities look like if we lived like this: giving food and drink to those in need; visiting those who are sick, or in prisons with or without bars – the prison of fear, loneliness, old age, depression, addiction, or abusive relationships? For such is the kingdom of God. Amen

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Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat!

Pentecost 2017

The feast of Pentecost was well-known to Jews in Jesus’ time. Fifty days after the Passover, they celebrated God’s giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai. It was an important feast as the Jews saw their whole life as tied up with the observance of God’s law. Jerusalem was full of people from all over the Mediterranean world who had come to celebrate this festival.

Although they are present in Jerusalem, the disciples have other things on their mind. Fifty days after our Lord’s death and resurrection, the disciples are carrying out Jesus’ instructions given just before his Ascension, to stay in Jerusalem and pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit. An amazing thing happens. Suddenly, men who were once afraid to leave a locked room get up and go out to tell people what God has done in his Son, Jesus Christ. They are inspired. They are on fire.  Filled with the love of God, they are able to go and share the Good News of the Kingdom.

At the Annunciation the angel Gabriel proclaims to Mary ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you’ (Lk 1:35). Jesus Christ takes flesh in the womb of his mother by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are told that the Spirit hovers over him at his Baptism, like a dove. All His life and ministry is totally connected with God the Father in the power and union of the Holy Spirit. After Jesus’ Ascension God gives the Holy Spirit to the church. This is what we celebrate today!

In the Gospel passage we have heard today Jesus twice greets the apostles with the words ‘Peace be with you’. What he offers them is not simply an absence of noise or distraction but something far more wonderful. It is something we cannot fully understand though it is something which we can experience. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have peace with God and each other. The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of love and peace. Jesus then gives the apostles a commission: ‘as the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (Jn 20:21). They are sent to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom in word and deed, laying down their lives in God’s service.

Jesus breathes on them, to empower them, that they may receive the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus tells them that whoever’s sins they forgive are forgiven. This is an extraordinary claim. But Jesus can make it because he is God. Through Him the church has become a place of healing, where we may be reconciled to God and to each other. Surely my brothers and sisters, this is is the most tremendous thing, a gift of a truly generous God.

The Jews in the Acts of the Apostles are amazed to hear the Good News in their own language, spoken by a rag-tag assortment of Galilean fisherman and other ordinary men. It is incredible. It is miraculous. And it points towards the present reality where there is not a country on this earth which has not heard the good news of Jesus Christ. But there is still work to do and it is wonderful to read that the Bible is currently being translated into 250 new languages.

Thus the work of proclamation is not finished. It is thanks to the preaching of the Good News started by the Apostles at Pentecost that we are Christians today, and that millions of people have come to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ. So, for those of us who are in Christ, who have entered the church through our Baptism, we have an important job to do. We need to tell people about Jesus.

The church is wonderful in its diversity, because we are all different, we don’t speak the same language, or have the same culture. We don’t look the same, we are not clones or robots. We are empowered through our having received the Holy Spirit at our Baptism, in our Confirmation, indeed through all the sacramental actions of the church; the outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace. This is how the Holy Spirit works, how it builds us up in love. Through the sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood, the Eucharist, we are nourished spiritually to keep doing what God wants us to do.

Paul’s words to the believers in Corinth give us a vision of how the Holy Spirit unifies the Church. When we pray ‘Thy Kingdom come’ in the Lord’s Prayer every day we are praying for the Church and the world to be filled with God’s love through the Holy Spirit. That we might be drawn ever closer together, so that we may truly be one. This is Christ’s prayer for the Church in the Garden of Gethsemane in John 17. That the church should be one, united in love and in faith. It is God’s will. We cannot ignore it. We have to do all that we can to work towards it, and it is this desire for unity in the church which has seen an initiative ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ started by The Most Rev’d Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, be taken up across the world, so that in the days from Ascension to Pentecost the church has prayed for the gift of the Holy Spirit to bring us closer together, in love and unity, to proclaim the good news, the people may come to know Jesus. It is the start of something great, where the church is renewed through the Holy Spirit, and it is something we can join in with. So let us pray:

Renew your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost.

Grant to your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of Blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen.

Come Holy Spirit, in your power and might to renew the face of the earth.

Almighty God, your ascended Son has sent us into the world to preach the good news of your kingdom: inspire us with your Spirit and fill our hearts with the fire of your love, that all who hear your Word may be drawn to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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Third Sunday of Year A [Mt 4:12–23]

If you go to S. Paul’s Cathedral in London or the Chapel of Keble College, Oxford, you can see one of the most popular and reproduced works of Religious Art in the world: Holman Hunt’s painting, The Light of the World. It shows our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ standing at a door with a lantern. The door has no handle; it needs to be opened from the inside: Jesus may be the Light of the World, but he does not force himself upon us, we have to welcome Him into our hearts and our lives. His coming into the world which we celebrate at Christmas, which was made manifest to the world at Epiphany, was not the entry of a tyrant, forcing himself upon the world, but as a vulnerable and loving baby, entirely dependent upon the love and care of others, God comes among us. His coming is foretold by the prophet Isaiah, He is the fulfilment of prophesy, he is the light of the nations, and a cause of great joy: to be a Christian, to follow Christ is it not to be filled with the joy and love which comes from God; we can be serious in our zeal, but should never be miserable: our vocation is to live out our faith, in love, and hope, and joy in our lives, to draw others to Him.

Of our many failings as followers of Christ there is nothing worse than to see strife and division amongst Christians, as S. Paul found in Corinth: it has no place in the church, it isn’t what God intended for us, it’s not how things should be. It has to be resisted: wounds have to be healed, transgressions forgiven, and unity restored. It’s part of how we live out our faith in our lives, it’s why we pray and work for Christian Unity, and why it matters for our proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom of God.

If we turn to the words of this morning’s Gospel we see Jesus saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” To repent as Christ is asking us to, as St John the Baptist proclaimed before him is to change our mind, to make a change of direction in our lives, away from sin, and to Christ, it is what we promise in our baptism and it is how we are supposed to keep living our lives. It’s hard, I know, I fail on a daily basis, and yet I keep trying, turning back to a God who loves me, who took flesh of the Virgin Mary and became incarnate for me, and for you, and all who have ever or will ever turn to Him. Ours then is God of love and mercy, a God of forgiveness who calls us to turn to him, so that we may have life and have it to the full.

We turn away from what separates us from God and each other, we turn to God in Christ, to be close to Him in Word and Sacrament, to be fed by Him, to be fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, so that we might share His divine nature, so that we might be given a foretaste of heaven, so that we may be strengthened to live out our faith in our lives, so that the world may believe – the Kingdom is close at hand, and Christ calls us, the baptised people of God, to share in the work of His kingdom. He asks that we follow Him, that we go where He goes, that we do what He does – it sounds easy enough, but it’s not, it’s something which we need to do together, and while I can endeavour to help you along the way, I cannot without your help, your prayers, your love, and your support. As Christians we are inter-dependent, we rely upon each other, we’re in it together.

In the Gospel, Jesus sees Andrew and Simon Peter and then James and John the sons of Zebedee and says ‘Follow me and I’ll make you fish for people’. He calls them to share in God’s work of saving souls. They drop everything and follow him: it’s immediate and matter of fact. Jesus goes around preaching the good news of the kingdom, and the need for humanity to repent, and to be baptised, and he heals the sick, just as he can heal the sickness in our souls. This is good news indeed.

We need to be like lights in the world, shining in the darkness, so that Christ can knock on the door of people’s hearts. We need to be like those first disciples who heard what Jesus said, who listened, and did what He told them, who were close to Jesus, so that our faith is a reality in our lives. We need to be strengthened and fed by Him who is the greatest medicine for our souls, who comes to us here, this morning,  in His Body and Blood, to heal us, to restore us and strengthen us to follow him, so that the world may believe and and 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.

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Homily for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity: 1 Peter 2:9-10

Hold me worthy , O Lord, to behold your mercy in my soul before I depart from this world; may I be aware in myself at that hour of your comfort, along with those who have gone forth from this world in good hope. Open my heart, O my God, by your grace and purify me from any association with sin. Tread out in my heart the path of repentance, my God and my Lord, my hope and my boast, my strong refuge, by whom may my eyes be illumined, and may I have understanding of your truth, Lord. Hold me worthy, Lord, to taste the joy of the gift of repentance, by which the soul is separated from co-operating with sin and the will of flesh and blood. Hold me worthy, O Lord, to taste this state, wherein lies the gift of pure prayer. O my Saviour, may I attain to this wondrous transition at which the soul abandons this visible world, and at which new stirrings arise on our entering into the spiritual world and the experience of new perceptions.

St Isaac of Nineveh

The Apostle Peter is writing to a church which is undergoing persecution on account of their faith in Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. While you could argue that this is not happening to us here, now, openly, it does nonetheless happen to our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world who are called to bear witness to Christ regardless of the cost. If anything the persecution in this country is more to do with apathy, ignorance, and our dismissal from public discourse unless we are in agreement with popular whim or sentiment: such is the tyranny of secularism, which we must, as Christians resist, as we are called to conform the world to the will of God.

We are called to be a holy nation and a chosen race, not in exclusive ethnic terms, like the people of Israel, but rather because we are one in Christ, through our common baptism, having passed through that water greater than the Red Sea, which gives freedom to all the world: we can look beyond the simplistic divisions of the world to something greater, and far more wonderful, and while we are certainly not there yet, we are all nonetheless travelling on a journey towards unity, because it is the will of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and his prayer to the Father in the garden of Gethsemane before his arrest in John 17.

Our highest allegiance then is not to the powers of this world, for we recognise a higher power, the King of Heaven and Earth, which is Christ. He makes us royal, he gives us entry into that greatest of palaces, that is heaven, through His Precious Blood which was shed to heal us and restore us, there is as the hymn puts it power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb. It is through Christ’s priesthood, a priesthood of the new covenant in His Blood, after the order of Melchisedech, that the church continues a cultic priesthood to offer continually that one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, so that the people of God may be made holy, by being fed with His Body and Blood so that our human nature may be transformed into his divine nature: Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν· ‘He became human so that we might become divine’ Athanasius De Incarnatione Dei Verbi 54.3.

We are holy, set apart for God’s service and the proclamation of His Kingdom , proclaiming the saving acts of God in Christ, and calling the world to repent, to turn away from the ways of sin and self, and to believe and trust in a God who loves us and saves us. Christ calls us out of the darkness of sin, of the world into the glorious light of His Kingdom. This is the fulfilment of the prophesy of Hosea 1:6 and 1:9 Once we were no people, now we are God’s people (cf. Hosea 1:9 Call his name lo-ammi [not my people] 1:6 Call her name lo-ruhamah [who has not received mercy]) We are God’s people, God claims us for His own, through His Son, who shows us in His life, Death, and Resurrection exactly what mercy is: A God who suffers and dies for love of us, poor sinful humanity, that we might become something better, something greater. God sees that human sinfulness is such a problem that only an outpouring of Divine Love in the sacrifice of His Son can save us.

And having received mercy, love and forgiveness in Christ, we show it in our lives so that ours is a proclamation not only of words but of deeds, so that we play an active part in the reconciliation of the world to God in Christ. Mercy, with joy and peace are the fruit of charity: our love of God and our neighbour, we love because God loved us first, and as we show mercy, we shall receive mercy, we harvest what we sow.

As St Isaac says ‘Do not hate the sinner. Become a proclaimer of God’s grace, seeing that God provides for you even though you are unworthy. Although your debt to him is very great, there is no evidence of him exacting any payment from you, whereas in return for the small ways you do manifest good intention he rewards you abundantly. Do not speak of God as ‘just’, for his justice is not in evidence in his actions towards you. How can you call God just when you read the gospel lesson concerning the hiring of the workmen in the vineyard? How can someone call God just when he comes across the story of the prodigal son who frittered away all his belongings in riotous living — yet merely in response to his contrition his father ran and fell upon his neck, and gave authority over all his possession? In these passages it is not someone else speaking about God; had this been the case, we might have had doubts about God’s goodness. No it is God’s own Son who testifies about him in this way. Where then is this ‘justice’ in God, seeing that, although we were sinners, Christ died for us? If he is so compassionate in this, we have faith that he will not change.’

We show this love first in obedience, like Our Lord’s Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, as we heard in this morning’s Gospel in her words to the servants ‘Do whatever he tells you’ If we are obedient, like Mary, then model disciple and mother of the Church, the first and greatest Christian, then we can truly be salt and light to the world, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom.

The Good News is the announcement of God’s mercy, shown to us in Christ, in Him we see what God is really like, in Him we experience love, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation. Through Him we are healed and restored, we become God’s people, and proclaim God’s Kingdom, so that humanity may come to experience God’s love and mercy, and 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 unto the ages of ages.

Lent IV – Looking to the Cross

For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.
It is far too easy nowadays to see the church in a negative way –  it’s the fashionable thing to do – as the church we’re corrupt, we’re filling people’s heads with nonsense. We can be characterised as strange, quaint, and out of touch. It suits people to see us entirely in negative terms: as opposed to certain things. We are prescriptive: we limit people’s freedom, and in failing to practice what we preach, we can be written off as hypocrites, with no right to proclaim objective truth, to offer the world a moral framework, within which to live its life; to offer the world an alternative paradigm, a new way of living and of being through which to have life, and have life in all its fullness. It’s less a valid criticism and more of an excuse for people not to bother. It’s an easy way out, which saves people from the more difficult task of living Christ-like lives of love and self-sacrifice. The church does not claim to be perfect, but rather a collection of sinners justified by the grace of God, through faith in Christ.
          The simple truth is that people like to moan and grumble – we all do, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone, but there is a fundamental difference between being dissatisfied with the way things are and longing for change, and hopefully bringing about good change, change in a god-ward direction, and the corrosive moaning rooted in selfishness, which betrays a lack of trust in God. The Israelites in the desert represent this negative moaning, they are unable or unwilling to trust God to lead them on a journey towards the Promised Land, and while they realise their mistake their poisonous moaning has disastrous consequences for them. And yet even in this they are not abandoned by God, they gaze on the bronze serpent, they look to that which prefigures the Cross, through which God heals his people, taking their sins upon himself. That’s why it appears in stained-glass windows in churches, because it points to the Cross, it’s why when talking about the Cross Jesus mentions it, so that people might understand how and why God loves them and how it might affect their lives.
St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians can state with confidence, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast(Eph 2:8-9). It’s not about what we can do, but about what God can do for us. Our relationship with God is the result of a gift, which we can receive and which can transform our lives, if we only let go, and let God…
          This morning’s gospel reminds us of the fundamental truth that God loves us – it is the heart of the Good News – the Gospel, what we preach and what we live as Christians. There are few words as comforting as ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’ (Jn 3:16-17). They may be familiar to us, they certainly should be, but we must not let our familiarity with them cloud the significance of simply stating that God loves us, does not condemn us, but saves us, in and through Jesus Christ. That’s why we are Christians, it’s why we’re here, and recognising God’s love for us will have a transforming effect upon our lives.
In the Incarnation Jesus comes among us as a poor helpless baby, laid to rest in the rough wood of an animals’ feeding trough. He is cared for through the love of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who in her love, her service, and obedience, stands as the model for all Christians to follow. She is the first Christian, the greatest, a pattern for us to imitate, of loving trust and obedience, of care and costly love, and a foreshadowing of our great mother the church, through which we are saved by grace through faith.
          Upon the rough wood of the cross, Jesus will suffer and die for us – such is the cost of human sin. His mother, Mary, stands by and watches and weeps. As the church we too should watch and weep for the wounds of human sin and division which still scar Christ’s body. We feel helpless. What can we do? We should do all that we can to live God’s life of sacrificial self giving love: living lives of light, which shine in the darkness. It isn’t easy, but if we try and do it together then all things are possible, through him who loves us.
          The salvation and eternal life which Christ offers freely to all, comes through the church, which we enter in baptism, where we are nourished in word and are sacrament, where we are nourished, given food for the journey, strengthened and taught, to live his risen life, to share in the joys of Easter.
          God cares so much about the world and its people that he takes flesh, and lives a life of love, amidst the messiness of humanity, to show us how to live lives filled with love, life in all its fullness. God in Christ comes among us not to condemn the world but to offer it a way of being, of being truly alive in Him. God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him. The spiritual needs and searching which characterise people in the world around us can be satisfied in God and in God alone, through the church. We can rejoice, and relax our Lenten discipline for a little while to give thanks for the wonderful gift of God’s love in our lives, in the church, and for the world.
          But we also need to trust God, to listen to what he says through Scripture, to be fed by him, and to live lives in accordance with his will and purpose, together, as a family, as a community of love, cared for and supported by our mother, the church. And in so doing we look to Our Lady as Mother of Our Lord and Mother of the Church, as a pattern for love and obedience, as a model for all mothers: loving and tender, putting the needs of others before self, self-giving, sacrificial, and open to both joy and pain, trusting in God.

This, as any mother can tell you, is not easy, it’s difficult, really hard, but its rewards are likewise great. So let us, as we continue our Lenten journey towards the cross, where God shows his love for us most fully and completely, giving his body to be broken and his blood be shed for us, a sacrifice which will be made present here today under the outward forms of bread and wine, to strengthen us to live the risen life of Easter, to offer the world an alternative to selfishness, to self-centredness, to the sin which continues to separate us from God, an alternative shown to us in a self-giving love of mothers, and of our mother the church. So that we may join the Angels in our song of love and praise to the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to whom..

Homily for Epiphany III Matthew 4:12-23


Epiphany III Mt 4:12-23
If you go to S. Paul’s Cathedral in London or the Chapel of Keble College, Oxford, you can see one of the most popular and reproduced works of Religious Art: Holman Hunt’s painting, The Light of the World. It shows our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ standing at a door with a lantern. The door has no handle; it needs to be opened from the inside: Jesus may be the Light of the World, but he does not force himself upon us, we have to welcome Him into our hearts and our lives. His coming into the world which we celebrate at Christmas, which was made manifest to the world at Epiphany, was not the entry of a tyrant, forcing himself upon the world, but as a vulnerable and loving baby, entirely dependent upon the love and care of others, God comes among us. His coming is foretold by the prophet Isaiah, He is the light of the nations, and a cause of great joy: to be a Christian, to follow Christ is not be filled with the joy and love which comes from God, we can be serious, but should never be miserable, our vocation is to live out our faith, in love, and hope, and joy.
There is nothing worse than to see strife and division amongst Christians, as S. Paul found in Corinth: it has no place in the church, it isn’t what God intended for us, it’s not how things should be; it has to be resisted, wounds have to be healed, transgressions forgiven. It’s part of how we live out our faith in our lives. If we turn to the words of this morning’s Gospel we see Jesus saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” To repent is to turn away from what separates us from God and each other, it is to turn to God in Christ, to be close to Him in Word and Sacrament, to be fed by Him, to be fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, so that we might share His divine nature, so that we might be given a foretaste of heaven, so that we may be strengthened to live out our faith in our lives, so that the world may believe – the Kingdom is close at hand, and Christ calls us, the baptised people of God, to share in the work of His kingdom. He asks that we follow Him, that we go where He goes, that we do what He does – it sounds easy enough, but it’s not, it’s something which we need to do together, and while I can help you to do it, I cannot without your help, your prayers, your love, and your support. As Christians we are inter-dependent, we rely upon each other.
We need to be like those first disciples who heard what Jesus said, who listened, and did what He told them, who were close to Jesus, so that our faith is a reality in our lives, strengthened and fed by Him who is the greatest medicine for our souls, who comes to us here, this morning in His Body and Blood, to heal us, to restore us and strengthen us to follow him, so that the world may believe and and 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.

Sermon for Evensong Trinity XXII

War may be either a crusade or a curse: either a token of man’s love of God, or the fruit of man’s godlessness; either a sign that men are with God, or a token that they are againsthim

Fulton Sheen Whence come Wars? 1940: 1–2

 

There is something about martial or manly language when used in Christian context which is apparently politically incorrect these days. We have hymn-books which no longer allow the faithful to sing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ instead we are supposed to sing ‘Onward Christian Pilgrims’ and other such trite nonsense because well-meaning so-called ‘liberals’ tell us that we should. Despite their best intentions the Christian life is one of constant warfare: spiritual warfare against the powers of this world, and the Prince of Lies, Satan, who though utterly defeated on the Cross still wages a campaign against the Body of Christ. Our vocation, then, is to fight, armed in the way described by St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:11–17).
        In this evening’s second lesson we see St Paul giving advice to Timothy, the Bishop of Ephesus. He addresses him as ‘my child’ not only because he is younger but also because the Church is a family, which is one in Christ – we are a family which cuts across gender, race, class, and time. Timothy is strengthened ‘by the grace that is in Christ Jesus’ it is the only source of grace, and it alone can strengthen us, the Church, and her bishops. He is encouraged to pass on to others what he has heard from St Paul in the presence of many others – the teaching office of the Church is something public, to pass on the truth and to share it with others so that they too may pass it on. It is a serious task, one which is entrusted to me, and which I am to entrust to you. We are all part of the greater whole charged with the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ by thought and word and deed. It is a serious business, and not to be taken lightly. It is of the utmost importance, so that we all may stand strong in the faith, entrusted to the Church.
        It is something which will lead us to share in suffering – our sharing the Good News will lead us to share the suffering of Christ, we are to be conformed to Him, sharing his pain, his trials, for His sake. The world is always ready to persecute the Church because the message of the Gospel seeks to transform it, to turn away from the ways of selfishness and greed and sin, to establish a kingdom of love. All around the world our brothers and sisters are persecuted for their faith, they have to practise it in secret; they risk imprisonment, torture, and death, all for their allegiance to Christ Jesus. As those who have been baptised, we are to share in Our Lord’s death and new life; we are to place our allegiance to Him before anything else. It is radical; it has the power to change the world. The world is rightly scared of the power of the Gospel – nothing, not even Satan himself, can stand against it.
        We are to approach our faith with the training and resolve of a soldier – we are to be single-minded, and not led astray by worldly things, so that we can do the will of Him who loves us, and who died for us. We are to be like athletes, competing to win a prize, playing by the rules, living out the love which we have received. We are to toil like a farmer – it is hard, back-breaking even, but we will receive our reward. It is through doing this and through thought and prayer that we can come to understand what God has in store for us.
        It is not an easy undertaking, it is not for the faint-hearted, and if we were to rely upon our own human strength then we would most surely fail – but if we rely upon the God who became human so that we might become divine, who understands our weakness, who proclaimed the Gospel of love, and healing, and forgiveness, then we can do marvellous things for the love of Him who loves us. It will be difficult; we will face opposition, from a world which would rather not be transformed into the image of God, but it is our calling. So let us stand firm, and fight the good fight, 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 Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

A thought for the day from S. Ignatius of Antioch

Constantly pray for others; for there is still hope that they may repent so as to attain God. And so, allow them to learn from you, at least by your deeds. In response to their anger show meekness; to their boasting, be humble; to their blasphemies, offer up prayers; to their wandering in error, be firmly rooted in faith; to their savage behaviour, act civilised. Do not be eager to imitate their example. Through gentleness we should be their brothers. And we should be seen to be eager to imitate the Lord. Who was mistreated more than he? Or defrauded? Or rejected? Do this so that no weed planted by the Devil may be found in you and you may abide in Jesus Christ both in the flesh and in the spirit, with all holiness and self-control.

To the Ephesians 10

Homily for the 20th Sunday of Year C


… it has been said that Christianity does not suit the modern man, therefore scrap Christianity. Now let us say, Christianity does not suit modern man, therefore let us scrap modern man
Fulton Sheen Philosophies at War, 1943: 98–99
We are more than used to seeing Christianity as a religion characterised by love: love of God and love of neighbour, which is quite right. It can be all too easy for this to be transformed into a religion of niceness, but at no point in the Sermon on the Mount does our Blessed Lord say ‘Blessed are the nice, for they will have a nice warm fuzzy feeling deep inside’. We are not called to like people but to love them. It is costly and difficult, and the religion of nice offers us syrupy sentiment in place of costly love. It plays down the cost and difficulty of living a Christian life, and offers us something superficial and worthless.
It is difficult when we read passages like this morning’s gospel. Our Lord comes not to give peace but division. Given the massive strides made in the last fifty years towards Christian unity and healing the wounds of our past and divisions, this can sound shocking or even wrong. And yet what Christ comes to bring will cause division because it forces people to make a choice – do we wish to follow the ways of the world or the Gospel? These two can never be reconciled – only in the City of God can we see the rule of love. Only by choosing Christ over the world can His love rule in our hearts and our lives. It is a difficult and a costly choice – we will face ridicule, we will be considered fools, who have chosen a hard and difficult path over the easy path of the ways of the world.
People have always rejected Christianity, ignored it, or treated it with contempt, because it is difficult and costly, it asks a lot of us, and what it offers can be easily mocked – when we proclaim it by our words and actions we have to expect to be treated like Jeremiah and thrown down a well, what we stand for is dangerous and awkward, a truth which the world does not wish to hear. It isn’t as though living the Christian life is easy – we will fail often, we will be like Jeremiah sinking in the mud – but the love and grace of God can lift us up, this can heal and restore us, and help us to continue our pilgrimage through this life and the next.
We are, as this morning’s epistle puts it, surrounded by ‘so great a cloud of witnesses’ martyrs, those who have borne witness to the faith, the saints whose life and prayers can strengthen and inspire us – they show us the path we should tread. We have to look to Jesus and to His Cross to see God’s love for us. What is shameful in the eyes of the world, we can see as glorious – true love which gives regardless of the cost, which forgives sins, which heals and restores broken sinful humanity, which gives us the hope of heaven. This is grace the free gift of God, giving Himself who shared our humanity so that we might share His divinity, strengthened by Word and Sacrament to live out our faith.
The world cannot understand this, it doesn’t make sense, it isn’t logical, it shouldn’t happen. But it does, and it calls the world to something different, something radical and world-changing, which can re-form human society in the image of God and His Love. It will be hard: the world will laugh at us and our feeble attempts to follow God. Yet, we believe in a God who loves us, and who would never laugh at us, or belittle our feeble efforts to follow Him and conform ourselves to Him. So may the fire of God’s love be kindled in our hearts and lives, that we may be ablaze for Him, aflame with love for God and neighbour, love our enemies and our friends, and lets us change the world, not just this village, or this county, but all of God’s creation, all of humanity, that they may know God’s love and that it may rule in their hearts and lives.
That is why we have come here, today, to be fed in word and sacrament, to be fed by God, to be fed with God, with His Body and Blood and His Word, so that it may nourish us and prepare us for heaven, so that it can transform our human nature and fill us with the Divine life of love and forgiveness, which we can start living out here and now and change all 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.

A thought for the day

A great burden is thrust upon all men who call themselves religious. In this fatal hour, all of their energies should be spent recalling man to his spiritual destiny …. Let those who call themselves Catholics, or Protestants, or Jews recall that the function of their religion is to intensify the spiritual life of man and not to empty the vials of bitterness into hearts, stirring up one against another. It is not to the politicians and the economists and the social reformers that we must look for the first steps in this spiritual recovery; it is to the professed religious.

Fulton J Sheen, Way to Happiness, 1954: 168-9

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday of Year C: A Sermon about Stuff


The poor in spirit are those who are so detached from wealth, from social position, and from earthly knowledge that, at the moment the Kingdom of God demands a sacrifice, they are prepared to surrender all.
Fulton J Sheen The Cross and the Beatitudes, 1937: 54
There is a profound difference in quality between the possessions that we need and use, and actually enjoy, and the accumulation of useless things that we accumulate out of vanity or greed or the desire to surpass others
Fulton J Sheen Way to Happiness, 1954: 45
The world around us tells us constantly that if you want to be happy, to be yourself fully and most really then what you need is more stuff: a new car, a mobile phone. It’s the latest model – it’s been improved, you can’t do without it! The world tells us this and we listen, we take it in and we do what it says. We all of us do this, I’ve done it myself. It says you can have what you want TODAY, we’ll even lend you the money for it and charge you an interest rate which is usurious and wrong. It will make you and your family happy, in a way that nothing else can.
Nothing could, in fact, be further from the truth. Salvation by stuff has never and will never work. It leaves us empty, craving more and more, never satisfied. Hence Our Lord’s teaching in this morning’s Gospel: ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ (Lk 12:15) Wanting more stuff is never a good idea; Our Lord tells us this and warns us against it, and we do not listen.
So He tells us a parable – there’s a man who’s got loads of stuff, he’s well-off in worldly terms, he has done well. All he’s interested in is keeping his stuff, building bigger barns into which to put stuff, so that he can sit back, and relax and take life easy.
Then he dies, quite suddenly, and learns that important lesson: you can’t take it with you when you go – you can’t put pockets in your shroud, and when you are dead then stuff doesn’t really help you. It may buy you a swankier funeral, a more expensive coffin, a more expensive hearse to transport your dead body, but basically you are dead, and even if you spend thousands of pounds having your head frozen in liquid nitrogen, you are still dead. Money and stuff can’t help you with that. It has never been able to, nor will it. So Our Lord encourages us to be rich towards God, and to turn away from the world and its vanity.
In St Paul’s letter to the Colossians, just after this morning’s second reading finishes we read this:
 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.’ (Col 3:12–17)
This is the life which stores up treasure in heaven, when we have ‘Set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth’ (Col 3:2) This is what a Christian life really looks like, when lived out in the world. This is the sort of radically different life which can and does both change and transform the world: offering it a way that is different to the way of stuff. It is the way of love and forgiveness, of knowing that as Christians that we are loved and forgiven, no matter who we are or what we’ve done. That we can be a community which lives out this radical love and forgiveness in the world to offer it a new way of being, which turns the ways and values of the world on its head. It is that radical, that revolutionary, and that revolution has to start right here and today. We are listening to Our Lord speaking to us through His Scriptures; he calls us to live this life for our own good and the glory of the God who made us, the God who loves us, and the God who saves us: to be free from the tyranny of stuff and sin, and to live for him.
This then is what the Church is meant to look like, and be, and live out in the world, like a lamp set upon a lamp stand or a city upon a hill, shining, attractive, a light amidst the darkness of this world, a radical alternative, life in all its fullness. So let’s live it, together.
That is why we have come here, today, to be fed in word and sacrament, to be fed by God, to be fed with God, with His Body and Blood and His Word, so that it may nourish us and prepare us for heaven, so that it can transform our human nature and fill us with the Divine life of love and forgiveness, which we can start living out here and now and change all 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.

A thought for the day from Mother Mary Clare SLG

We must try to understand the meaning of the age in which we are called to bear witness. We must accept the fact that this is an age in which the cloth is being unwoven. It is therefore no good trying to patch. We must, rather, set up the loom on which coming generations may weave new cloth according to the pattern God provides.

A Thought for the Day from Pope Francis (Lumen Fidei 60)

Let us turn in prayer to Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of our faith.
Mother, help our faith!
Open our ears to hear God’s word and to recognize his voice and call.
Awaken in us a desire to follow in his footsteps, to go forth from our own land and to receive his promise.
Help us to be touched by his love, that we may touch him in faith.
Help us to entrust ourselves fully to him and to believe in his love, especially at times of trial beneath the shadow of the cross, when our faith is called to mature.
Sow in our faith the joy of the Risen One. Remind us that those who believe are never alone. Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus, that he may be light for our path. And may this light of faith always increase in us, until the dawn of that undying day which is Christ himself, your Son, our Lord!

SS Peter and Paul, Apostles


We cannot choose our family, we may not like them, we may find them difficult to get along with, it is not always easy to get along with them, but we do so because of the ties of blood and kinship, because blood is thicker than water. The Church is a family rather than a society of friends, we are related to each other through our baptism: we have been clothed with Christ and share in his death and new life. Living in the Church means being part of a family where our relationship with each other flows from our relationship with Jesus Christ.
            In this morning’s Gospel Jesus asks his disciples ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ and he asks us ‘Who do you say that I am?’  It is a question which we have to answer. The world around us can provide us with any number of answers – there are those who deny that Jesus even existed, that he’s made up, a figment of an over-active religious imagination, there are those who say that he was a human being, a prophet, a charismatic healer and rabbi, misunderstood, who died, but whose resurrection is doubted. This will not do: either Jesus is exactly what he says he was, or he is a liar and a fool. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of God, who brings freedom and liberation, he is God, the God who created the world and who redeems it, by giving himself for us.
            Can we give this answer? If we do that’s not the end of the story, but only the beginning. At the end of John’s Gospel, Our Lord asks Peter, ‘Do you love me?’ he asks it three times, and each time he replies, ‘Feed my sheep’. Peter replies, ‘Lord you know everything, you know that I love you’ Our Lord knows that Peter loves him because he shows this love by feeding the sheep given to him to tend. We show our love for God by living out our faith in our lives, by bearing witness to what we believe in our hearts in what we say, and think, and do in our lives. We bear witness, we are not afraid to confess our faith in a world which demands that we compromise it, that we sacrifice to its idols.
            In the Acts of the Apostles we see King Herod persecuting certain members of the Church. We too have to expect persecution in our lives as it is what the powers of this world want to conform us to their will. They can try, but they will never win: Christ’s victory over sin, the world, and the devil, wrought upon the altar of the Cross, where he as priest and victim offers himself for us, is complete and total, its effects extend through time and space. We who are called to follow him are called to take up our own Cross daily and to bear witness to our faith and risk all for love of him who died for us. This is what being baptised means – it isn’t something ‘nice’ we do to children as the excuse for a party or substitute for a wedding – it is sharing in Christ’s death and new life, it is taking a stand against those who wish us to worship false gods: money, power, sex, the European Court of Human Rights, the High Court of Parliament, pleasure, influence.
            This is why St Peter is a firm foundation upon which to build the Church: he is not a man of power or intellect, but he trusts in Christ, he is rooted in him, he recognises and proclaims his divinity to the world, just as St Paul trusts and proclaims Christ to the world, as he says in his Letter to the Galatians, ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Gal 2:20) As Christians, Christ is our identity: we share his death and new life and proclaim his saving truth to the world.
            Our faith is precious, just like the Word of God and the Sacraments of the Church – they are precious and they nourish our body and soul, we celebrate them as God’s transforming presence among us – a gift which transforms us by God’s grace, his free gift, so that we can become like him and have eternal life in him. It is the transforming power of our faith which frightens the world: for two thousand years it has transformed the lives of countless billions of people just like you and me, like nothing else before or since. It cannot be silenced, political regimes cannot eradicate it, other faiths cannot stamp it out, thanks to the courage of those who bear witness to their faith, who live it out it in their lives. We are here today to celebrate God’s saving love, a saving love which transformed the lives of men like Peter and Paul, which transforms bread and wine into the very body and blood of Christ, so that we may feed on Him, and be transformed by Him, given a foretaste of heaven, strengthened for our earthly pilgrimage and the journey of faith, bearing witness to Him who loves us.
            There is something quite subversive about this: it stands in opposition to the power of this world, it is something which the world cannot contain or control, because it is of the Holy Spirit. So let us come to be fed by Him who died for love us, fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, to be strengthened by Him to live out our faith in our lives, to confess that Jesus Christ is God to the glory of the Father, to proclaim him to the world, so that the world too may believe and that all humanity may repent and believe in the God who loves them and saves them. Let us transform the world so that it may serve God, and Him alone, and 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.

St Paul’s Advice to a Bishop (today’s Epistle)

4 Διαμαρτύρομαι ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, τοῦ μέλλοντος κρίνειν ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς, καὶ τὴν ἐπιφάνειαν αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν βασιλείαν αὐτοῦ· 2 κήρυξον τὸν λόγον, ἐπίστηθι εὐκαίρως ἀκαίρως, ἔλεγξον, ἐπιτίμησον, παρακάλεσον, ἐν πάσῃ μακροθυμίᾳ καὶ διδαχῇ. 3 ἔσται γὰρ καιρὸς ὅτε τῆς ὑγιαινούσης διδασκαλίας οὐκ ἀνέξονται, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὰς ἰδίας ἐπιθυμίας ἑαυτοῖς ἐπισωρεύσουσιν διδασκάλους κνηθόμενοι τὴν ἀκοήν, 4 καὶ ἀπὸ μὲν τῆς ἀληθείας τὴν ἀκοὴν ἀποστρέψουσιν, ἐπὶ δὲ τοὺς μύθους ἐκτραπήσονται. 5 σὺ δὲ νῆφε ἐν πᾶσιν, κακοπάθησον, ἔργον ποίησον εὐαγγελιστοῦ, τὴν διακονίαν σου πληροφόρησον.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.

Feria V in Cena Domini – The Mass of the Lord’s Supper: Exod. 12:1-8; ICor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15

Since our Divine Lord came to die, it was fitting that there be a Memorial of his death. Since he was God, as well a man, and since he never spoke of his death without speaking of his Resurrection, should he not himself institute the precise memorial of his own death? And this is exactly what he did the night of the Last Supper….His memorial was instituted, not because he would die and be buried, but because he would live again after the Resurrection. His Memorial would be the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets; it would be one in which there would be a Lamb sacrificed to commemorate spiritual freedom; above all it would be a Memorial of a New Covenant…a Testament between God and man.
Fulton J. Sheen Life of Christ
My brothers and sisters, we have come together on this most holy night to enter into the Mystery of Our Lord’s Passion: to be with him in the Upper Room and in the garden of Gethsemane, and to prepare to celebrate his suffering and death – to behold the glory of the Lord and his love for the world he created and came to save.
          Obedient to the Old Covenant, Our Lord and his disciples prepare to celebrate the Passover: the mystery of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt to the new life in the Promised Land. While they are at table Our Lord lays aside his outer garments and takes a basin and a towel and washes the Apostles’ feet. He then says to them ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’ (Jn 13:12–16 ESV) God who created the universe and who will redeem it kneels and washes the feet of sinful humanity. This is true love in action. Only having done this can Jesus say ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’(Jn 13:34–35 ESV) What he says to his disciples he says to us here tonight. As Christians we are to love him and one another, we are to show this love in all that we say, or think, or do, so that the world may believe.
          Christ then takes bread and wine and blesses them and gives them to his disciples. Again, this would look and feel like the Passover celebration to which they were accustomed. Except that before he broke and distributed the bread he said ‘Take, Eat. This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And before the Cup was distributed he said ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ He feeds his disciples with his own body and blood to strengthen them, to show them what he is about to do for love of them and of the whole world. When, earlier in his public ministry, he has fed people he taught them in the synagogue at Capernaum ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.’ (Jn 6:52–7 ESV). ‘Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, ….  just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God’ [Dix The Shape of the Liturgy 744] Our Lord institutes the Eucharist, the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, to feed us, to nourish us, so that we may become what he is, that we may have a foretaste of heaven and the divine life of love, of the beatific vision of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Holy, Eternal and Consubstantial Trinity. It re-presents, it makes present again, here and now, the sacrifice of Calvary, where upon the Altar of the Cross, as both priest and victim, Christ sacrifices himself for the sins of the whole world. He is the Lamb of God, foreshadowed in the ram offered by Abraham and Isaac, in the bread and wine offered by Melchisedek. In the blood and water which will flow from his side we are washed and creation is renewed. Christ gives the Church the Eucharist so that his saving work may continue, so that people may be given a pledge and token of their eternal life in him.
          Christ sets apart his disciples so that they may be priests of the new covenant in his blood, so that they may continue to share in the offering of himself for their sins and those of the whole world. They are washed, and fed, and taught – prepared for the work of the Gospel: spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ and feeding his faithful with his body and blood. They are told to do this and they still do. Never have such words and actions had such a profound effect in all of human history. This is the glory of God: in transforming bread and wine into his very self for the life of the whole world – a sign of love and a pledge and foretaste of eternal life. This is love that we can touch and feel and taste – given for us so that we might have life in him.
So let us come to him, to be fed by Him, and with Him, healed and restored by Him, through the sacraments of the Church, his body, so that we may be prepared to share in his Passion and Death and to celebrate with joy the triumph of His Paschal victory, so that we and all the earth may give praise 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

Lent IV Evensong: IITim 4:1-18

Lent is a time of repentance, of turning away from sin, and back to God. As we saw in this morning’s Gospel the prodigal son leaves his dissolute ways and goes back to his father: he is contrite, truly sorry for his sins, and his father runs to meet him, embracing him before he has even had chance to say sorry. Likewise God forgives us before we ask him, but that does not mean we do not have to ask, that sin is not a serious problem. It is: it nailed Jesus to the Cross. In Jesus we see the arms of the Father embracing us his prodigal children, arms flung open, bleeding and beaten and nailed for love of us. We should meditate upon Our Lord’s Passion, his suffering and death, so that we might prepare ourselves to celebrate his Resurrection.
          Sin matters, and so does orthodoxy. Christianity is not a pick-and-mix religion: we cannot choose which bits to believe and which not to believe. What the church teaches matters: it always has and always will. It may well not make for easy or for pleasant reading, nor should it. There are those who wish to water down the message of the Gospel, to make it conform to the ways of the world, and in their easy and comfortable message do not bring life, but quite the opposite. This is not a new situation, as this evening’s second lesson makes clear. The church has always faced this problem, and will continue to in the future.
As one ordained to preach the word, I have to take this responsibility seriously and be ready to ‘reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience, and teaching’ I owe it to you, the people of God, and Him whom I serve. I recognise that I am a wretched sinner in need of God’s love and mercy, and I can only do this in the power of Him who saves us and gives us new life in him.
The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. That time is now, and the church must be vigilant: to defend the revealed truth of sacred scripture, the Bible, the word of God, and the tradition of the Church which comes to us from the apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit. It must be vigilant to defend against errors, knowing that as we live after the Resurrection we await our Lord’s Second Coming as our Judge. The time is short, and the task is not an easy one, but it is what we are called to.
As one called to feed Christ’s sheep I would be failing if the food I offered was not truly nourishing, and did not build up the body of Christ, the Church. It’s the work of a lifetime, and not a single sermon. It’s difficult and costly, being poured out like a libation, imitating the mystery we celebrate, being conformed to our crucified Saviour. Quite often it can feel like the church and the world aren’t listening or understanding orthodoxy – it’s frustrating and hard, but it must be done so that ‘the message might be fully proclaimed’ so that people may know the truth which sets them free, free from sin and the ways of the world. On a day when we celebrate the motherhood of the church: the ark of salvation which saves humanity from sin, the world and the Devil, we should likewise celebrate the Faith which she teaches, cleansed from the filth of error, and heresy. We should rejoice in the beauty and goodness of the truth, and turn away from the ugliness of sin, welcoming people so that the wounds of the Body of Christ may be healed, or as a favourite hymn puts it:
We pray thee too for wanderers from thy fold;
O bring them back, good Shepherd of the sheep,
back to the faith which saints believed of old,
back to the Church which still that faith doth keep;
soon may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.
This is what we are called to, this must be our prayer as Christians, to fulfil Our Lord and Saviour’s wish in Gethsemane that we may all be one. It’s God’s will, and we his prodigal children must come back to him, united in love and faith, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory do-minion and power, now and forever

Gŵyl Dewi Sant – S. David’s Day

Frodyr a Chwiorydd, byddwch lawen a chedwch eich ffydd a’ch cred, a gwnewch y pethau bychain a glywsoch a welsoch gennyf fi.
Brothers and Sisters, be joyful, keep your faith and creed, and do the little things that you have heard and seen me do. 
These words are the words spoken by St David on his death-bed. As such, they represent an important distillation of his life and teaching. They are as relevant now, to us here today, as they were 1400 years ago. And I would like to go through them to see how they can still speak to us. The first command that David gives the Christian community is to be cheerful, to be joyful: just as the Psalmist encourages us to be joyful in the Lord and to serve the Lord with gladness, so as Christians we should live lives which proclaim in thought and word and deed the joy and freedom which Christ came to bring, it is through our example that the world will come to believe. To be joyful is to live as an Easter people, confident in Christ’s victory over sin and death. It is not to say that life will be difficult, but that in all things we must hold fast to the source of our joy, namely Christ.

          We are to hold fast to our faith and our creed. Throughout David’s ministry he found himself combating the heretical teachings of Pelagius, who taught that it was possible for humanity to enter into a right relationship with God through their efforts. Sin was not a problem, and the saving work of Christ wrought upon the altar of the cross was diminished by this. David fought for an Orthodox understanding of the Christian faith, the teaching he opposed was popular, but it was wrong, and for the good of people and their souls he bore witness to the truth. He was not afraid to go against the prevailing opinion when the good of people’s souls was at stake. So we should be inspired by the example and witness of David to hold fast to the faith which comes to us from the apostles, the same faith which David believed and taught. This will not be easy and certainly, given the current state of the church, it will not be popular, but it will be right.
In doing the little things which people heard and saw David do, we are reminded that for most Christians, ourselves included, it is how we live out our faith in everyday life which matters. The small acts of kindness and generosity, of Christian love and service, which we often do without thinking, are the key to putting our faith into practice. Rather than worrying about the bigger picture, or the grand gesture, we can bear witness to our faith in the ordinary humdrum mundane existence of daily life. This may not sound exciting, it may not sound terribly encouraging, but it is nonetheless still true. When we reflect upon Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels, we can see whether a lot of it happens in the context of ordinary day-to-day existence. In the miracle of the Eucharist, Jesus takes the ordinary stuff of daily life, the basic foodstuffs of bread and wine, and transforms them into his body and blood so that our souls may be fed. So as we prepare to be fed once again by him let us pray that he will also take the ordinary stuff of our lives and, through his grace, transform and transfigure them for his glory. That strengthened by him, our lives may reflect that glory, joy, and love, which is the nature of the triune God that which we hope to enjoy forever in the life to come.

 

Thought for the Day

‘even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.‘ (Mt 20:28)
True Christian greatness is not measured by superiority, but by service: ‘And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant.’ (Mt 20:27) The greatest race on earth is the race that renders the most service to others in the name of God.
Fulton Sheen Love One Another (New York, 1944), 159

Septuagesima Evensong


There must always be a relationship between the gift and the recipient – there is no point in giving anyone a treasure he cannot use. A father would not give a boy with no talent for music a Stradivarius violin. Neither will God give to egocentrics those gifts and powers and energies that they never propose to put to work in the transformation of their lives and souls.
Fulton J. Sheen Lift Up Your Heart
The Liturgical Calendar can be something of pain. Thanks to the rather early date of Easter this year, while Christmas and Epiphany are very much still in our minds, and we have yet to celebrate Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady or the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, today we celebrate Septuagesima, or the fact that it is seventy days until Easter, or to put it another way, it is three weeks until we begin Lent, the period of fasting and repentance, akin to Our Lord’s forty days in the desert at the start of the proclamation of the Good News.
            It’s never to early to start to begin thinking about Lent, about fasting, prayer, repentance and good works which should characterise the whole of our lives, but especially as we prepare to celebrate Our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. It is good then that in these weeks leading up to Lent that things assume something of a more penitential character. The simple fact is that all of us as Christians could do better, and we must keep trying so to do, and most importantly that we do this together – encouraging each other, and picking each other up when we fall.
            It is heartening to remind ourselves of this fact when have only just finished the week of prayer for Christian Unity, and on World Holocaust Memorial Day. Humanity is learning that never again should genocide on such a massive scale take place, and that the wounded and divided nature of the Body of Christ, the Church, is not a good thing. In the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel, we see Our Lord praying in Gethsemane that ‘they may all be one as I and the Father are one’. There is to be a unity of will and purpose in the Church, to spread the Good News so that all may believe. The wounds of the last thousand years can no longer disfigure the Bride of Christ, and we have to do all that we can so that in the words of a well-known hymn:
For all thy Church, O Lord, we intercede;
make thou our sad divisions soon to cease;
draw us the nearer each to each, we plead,
by drawing all to thee, O Prince of Peace;
thus may we all one Bread, one Body be,
through this blest Sacrament of unity.
We are not there yet, and sometimes it can seem as far off as ever, especially when developments are considered which would have the effect of putting off the growing together in love which is Our Lord’s will. It’s sad because generally speaking the Church is quite good at doing what Jesus tells us to do, yet here in the matter of unity we seem happy to disregard Our Lord’s commands as though we know better. It is a manifestation of the sin of pride, that primal sin which causes humanity’s fall, of thinking that we know better than God what is good for us. After thousands of years we still do exactly the same thing – we are still in need of God’s love and mercy, his healing and reconciliation.
            But as Christians we are called to live lives filled with joy which comes from God, and lives characterised by faith, hope, and love. We have to trust the God who made us, and who redeemed us, and let our hearts be filled with his love, and his forgiveness, so that we can grow together and not apart. It’s God’s will after all and it will be done. It may not be in my lifetime, or that of anyone listening to or reading this, but it will come about, despite any efforts to stop it.
            Personally speaking I find that certainty quite encouraging and quite comforting – that things will be alright in the end, and that despite humanity’s best efforts to make a mess of things, through God all things are possible. So in the meanwhile, what are we to do? We are to pray, to encourage one another, and to be joyful in the Lord who giveth us the victory in Our Lord Jesus Christ. We are to be sorry for our sins, confessing them, and repenting – turning away from the ways of sin and the world to those of God, and living our new life together in him, fed by his Word and Sacraments, strong in the faith which come to us from the Apostles, eschewing all heresy and schism, in humble trust of the God who loves us and saves us, so that every tongue may confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to glory of God the Father, to whom with the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.