Homily for Candlemas 2017

Not all that long ago it was not uncommon to hear of the Churching of Women, sometimes called Thanksgiving after childbirth, as it was after all a dangerous business. We are not quite so used to ideas of ritual purity inherent in the Thanksgiving for a woman after Childbirth, or her re-admission into society after a period of confinement, but the Law of Moses required that forty days after giving birth the mother was purified in a mikveh, a ritual bath and that her son, as a first-born male was presented to the Lord. This week the Church celebrates the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and commonly called Candlemas, that they may burn as lights which proclaim Christ, the true Light, the light to lighten the Gentiles.

This then is the fulfilment of the prophesy spoken by Malachi, which also looks to our purification in and through the death of Christ and his atoning sacrifice of himself, which will be be re-presented her, made present so that we can share in it, so that we can be healed and restored by the very Body and Blood of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it: ‘Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.’ It’s hard to see how it could be any clearer.

The Holy Family go to the Temple to give thanks to God and to comply with the Law, just as they had in circumcising their baby on the eighth day: and in so doing they demonstrate obedience, they listen to what God says and do it – as such they are a model for all Christian families to follow – we need to be like them, listening to what God tells us and doing it, regardless of the cost.

When they go to the Temple the Holy Family encounter Simeon, a man of faith and holiness, devoted to God, and looking for the consolation of Israel, he knows that he will not die until he sees the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, and the Saviour of the World. As he takes the child Jesus in his arms he prays: ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people; To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.’

The promise made to him by, revealed through His Holy Spirit has been fulfilled in the six-week-old infant in his arms, and he can prepare to meet his God happy in the knowledge that Salvation has dawned in this little child. As Christ was made manifest to the Gentiles at Epiphany, so now His saving message is proclaimed, so that the world may know that its salvation has come in the person of Jesus Christ. Simeon speaks to Our Lord’s Mother of her Son’s future, and the pain she will endure. Before he dies Simeon is looking to the Cross, the means by which our salvation is wrought, the Cross at which Mary will stand to see humanity freed from its sin through the love and mercy of God, through grace, the free gift of God in Christ. So as Candlemas concludes our Celebration of Christmas, of the mystery of the Incarnation, so to it points to that which gives it its true meaning: the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It prepares for the coming season of Lent by changing our focus and attention from Jesus’ birth to His death.

That is why we are here this morning, to be fed by Christ, to be fed with Christ, truly present in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity – God whom we can touch and taste. A God who shares His Divine Life with us, so that we can be transformed by Him, built up as living stones as a temple to His Glory, given a foretaste of Heaven here on Earth. This is our soul’s true food, the bread for the journey of faith, a re-presentation of the sacrifice which sets us free to live for Him, to live with Him, through Him and in Him.

The significance of what is happening is not just recognised by Simeon, but also by Anna, a holy woman, a woman of prayer, a woman who is close to God – she to recognises what God is doing in Christ, and she proclaims it, so that God’s redemption of His people may be known. Let us be like her, and let all of our lives, everything which we say, or think, or do, proclaim the saving truth of God’s love to the world. And finally the Holy Family go back to Nazareth, and Jesus begins to grow up, in the favour of God, obedient to God and His parents — in the Gospel we see all of human life: birth, death, work, normality hallowed by the God who loves us, who gives His Son for us.

Let us burn, like the candles which God has blessed, let our faith be active to give light and warmth to the world, so that it may feel that love and warmth, and come to 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.

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Christmas 2015

 

Αὐτὸς γὰρ ἐνηνθρώπησεν, ἵνα ἡμεῖς θεοποιηθῶμεν· ‘He became human so that we might become divine

Athanasius De Incarnatione Dei Verbi 54.3

 

Love tends to become like the one loved; in fact, it even wishes to become one with the one loved. God loved unworthy man. He willed to become one, and that was the Incarnation.

Fulton Sheen The Divine Romance New York 1930: 70

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We have come here tonight to celebrate something which defies our understanding and expectations. The simple fact that the God who created all that is took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was born for us in Bethlehem as the Messiah, the Anointed of God, who would save us from our sins, should still feel strange and odd. It simply doesn’t make sense, nor indeed should it. In human terms, Mary should have been stoned to death for extra-marital infidelity, and some thirty three years later her son is executed as a blasphemer, a rabble-rouser, a trouble maker, in an awkward backwater of the Roman Empire, having gathered round himself a small group of misfits and undesirables appealing to the baser elements of society. There is nothing respectable here, just the rantings of religious extremists.

And yet here we are, some two thousand years later, celebrating the birth of a child who changed human history and human nature, because we do not judge things solely by human standards. We come together so that we may ponder the mystery of God’s love for us, a God who heals our wounds, who restores broken humanity, who offers us a fresh start, who can see beyond our failures and shortcomings, and who becomes a human being so that humanity might become divine, so that we may share in the divine life of love, both here on earth and in heaven.

If that isn’t a cause for celebration, I honestly don’t know what is. We are so familiar with the story of Christmas that I wonder whether we, myself included, really take the time to ponder, to marvel at the mystery which unfolded two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. God, who made all that is, comes among us, taking flesh in the womb of a young girl through the power of His Holy Spirit, so that in His Son we might see and experience God and His love for us.

God comes among us not in power or splendour but as a weak, vulnerable child, depending on others for love, and food, and warmth, laid in an animal’s feeding trough, insulated from the cold hard stone by straw – beginning his life as he will end it placed in a stranger’s tomb.

Throughout his life all that Christ says and does shows us how much God loves us. The Word becomes flesh, and enters the world, he dwells among us, a wondrous mystery which provokes us to worship, to kneel with the shepherds and to adore the God who comes among us, who shares our human life so that we might share His divine life, not because we asked for it, not because we deserve it, we haven’t worked for it, or earned it, rather it is the free gift of a loving and merciful God, this then is the glory of God – being born in simple poverty, surrounded by outcasts, on the margins of society, to call humanity to a new way of being together, where the old order is cast aside, turning the world upside down and offering us the possibility of living in a radically different way, a way of peace and love and joy, not one of power. Heaven comes to earth, born in the womb of a Virgin, so that we might behold the glory of God in a new-born child. So that we might experience the love and truth of God.

The word is made flesh so that prophesy might be fulfilled, so that the hope of salvation might be dawn, so that a people who have languished long in darkness might behold the glory of God where heaven and earth meet, in a stable in Bethlehem, where men and angels may sing together ‘Alleluia, Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace to people of goodwill’ The worship of heaven is joined with earth on this most holy night, that in the quiet and stillness all the earth might be filled with the praises of Almighty God, who stoops to save humanity in the birth of His Son.

The Son who lives and dies and rises again for us will be here tonight under the outward forms of bread and wine so that the heavenly banquet may nourish our souls. He gives Himself so that we might share His Divinity, that God’s love can transform our human nature, having redeemed it in His Nativity. So let us come to sing his praises, and be nourished with His Body and Blood and experience here on earth the joy of Heaven and the closeness and the love of God, let it fill our souls with joy, and let us live lives which recognise the wondrous thing which happens tonight, that it may be a reality in our lives, that we may may proclaim in word and deed the reality of the Word made flesh, so that others may be drawn to kneel and worship like the shepherds, like the Holy Family of Mary and Joseph, and come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

Homily for the Epiphany


What Christ did in his own human nature in Galilee, he is doing today … in every city and hamlet of the world where souls are vivified by his Spirit. He is still being born in other Bethlehems of the world, still coming into his own and his own receiving him not, still instructing the learned doctors of the law and answering their questions, still labouring at a carpenter’s bench, still ‘[going] about doing good’ (see Acts 10:34–43), still preaching, governing, sanctifying, climbing other Calvaries, and entering into the glory of his Father.
Fulton J. Sheen In the Fullness of Time
The Manifestation of Our Lord to the Gentiles, which the church celebrates today, is a deepening of the splendour of the Incarnation – the mystery is made manifest. With the arrival of the Wise Men from the East, the entire World is told that God is with us. Gentiles are made co-heirs, ‘members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’. The Good news is for everybody.
          The promise is made through the words of the prophet Isaiah in this morning’s first reading. The light which is shown by the star which the Wise Men follow is the Light of the World: the true light, which gives light to all. Kings and the nations come to its brightness, they come to worship God made man; they come to pay their homage to the Saviour born among them. They come with camels, bringing gold and frankincense to worship their king and their God. They come to a stable in Bethlehem, to kneel before a manger where animals feed, and not to a royal palace, not to a throne. This is what true kingship is, true love, true glory: that of God and not of humanity.
          Herod is afraid, he fears for his own position; he worries about power, and commits infanticide to make sure of it. This very human response should stand as a warning to those who wish to follow the ways of the world. Herod clings to power; God becomes a vulnerable baby, totally dependent on others. Herod can only bring death; whereas Christ comes to bring life and life in all its fullness. Herod says he wants to worship, but it is the Wise Men who kneel before God incarnate and worship Him. They offer gold to honour a king, frankincense to worship God, and myrrh which speaks of His death. At the moment when Christ is made manifest to the world we are to look to the Cross, where the love of God will be shown must fully, and to the tomb in which his body will be laid, which will be empty.
          Likewise as we celebrate the Epiphany we also look forward to Our Lord’s Baptism in the River Jordan and his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. He who is without sin shows humanity how to be freed from sin and to have new life in Him. In turning water into wine we see that the kingdom of God is a place of generous love, a place of joy, and of life in all its fullness.
It is a sign of the banquet where Christ feeds the faithful with the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, where God, who came to share our human nature, gives himself to us so that we might share His Divine nature, a treasure far greater and more valuable than gold, or frankincense, or myrrh – a treasure which can transform our souls and our lives, which can transform the entire world.
          So let us be filled with joy and love, may we live lives of joy, and love, and service of God and one another, which proclaim in word and deed the love of God to the world, that it may believe: 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.

The Holy Family


The Church celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, not as an excuse for the saccharin-sweet pictures of babies and family much loved by advertising executives, and secular descriptions of Christmas and the family in general. We celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as the paradigm of human life and love. The union of husband, wife, and child is the basis of human life, human society, and the church. It brings both rights and responsibilities – it shows us how to live and how to flourish. It is rooted in love – it is costly, it requires sacrifice. As parents and children we know this all too well. The loving care and nurture we see embodied in the Holy Family reminds us of our duty to live out the same in our lives, so that we may truly flourish as human beings made in the image of God through walking in His ways.
This morning’s Old Testament Reading reminds us of the need to respect and care for our parents, to do for them what they did for us. Such gentleness and care is at the heart of our faith insofar as it allows us to live out in our lives something of the love and care shown to us by God in Christ, the love and care shown to Him by his own mother and father – the care for Him, His safety and well-being which define the relationship of love. As opposed to the fear of Herod who can only see the coming of the Christ-child as a threat to his own earthy power, in Joseph we see a father who is protective, who puts his family’s needs before his own. This generous self-giving love lies at the heart of our faith: it is shown in every part of Our Lord’s life: from the Annunciation, in his Birth, His life, His proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom, in His healing of the sick, His forgiveness of sins, in His Passion, His Death and Resurrection.  It is central to S. Paul’s understanding of how Christians should live together: in love – letting everything we say or think or do be rooted in that genuine, costly, self-giving love which comes from God.
          This love lies at the heart of our faith, of our understanding of the human family, and how we seek to live out our faith in our lives, fashioning human society as one rooted in generous love. It makes us as the Church, a family, all equal, loved and redeemed by God, a family which we enter through our baptism, where we are clothed with Christ, where God enters a new covenant with humanity, a new covenant in the body and blood of His Son, which is given to us in Communion, so that we feast in the Banquet of the Kingdom, where humanity is given a foretaste of heaven, where we come to share in the divine life of love shown to the world in Christ Jesus Our Lord and Saviour. So let us live out this love in Our lives, may all that we think, or say, or do, proclaim the love shown to us in Christ and the Holy Family, for our good, and that of the world, that it may see and believe 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.

Christmas Midnight Mass 2013


We consider Christmas as the encounter, the great encounter, the historical encounter, the decisive encounter, between God and mankind. He who has faith knows this truly; let him rejoice.
Pope Paul VI, speech, Dec. 23, 1965

 

The people of Israel longed for salvation: they hoped that God would deliver them as he had from Egypt and Babylon – he had done so in the past, he would do so in the future, but in a way which they could neither expect nor fully understand. The prophesy of Isaiah speaks of light shining in darkness – a time of hope, of new beginnings, of comfort amidst tribulation. It is a light which will shine with the coming of Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, a light which the darkness cannot overcome. His coming brings joy and peace, the promise is fulfilled. The promise is fulfilled and yet humanity clings to greed, and lust and selfishness.
The world can seem deaf to the message which was proclaimed over two thousand years ago – there was no room in the inn, no comfort or luxury; but in a stable, surrounded by animals, by shepherds, poor, hungry, shunned by ‘polite’ society, God comes to earth, he meets humanity not in a blaze of glory and triumph, but as a vulnerable baby, who needs a mother to feed him, who needs other to provide him with warmth and security. The Word of God, through which everything was created, lies silent and helpless. Here we see real love – open, vulnerable, all gift, holding back nothing, but risking all to come among us, to heal our wounds, to save us, to show us how to live.
All the tinsel, and excess, all the consumerism, and even the ignorance and unbelief of the modern world cannot cover up the sheer wonder of this night. 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]
The Son gives us a life in which to live, and gives us himself to us in bread and wine so that we might share his divine life, so as the shepherds hurried to meet him, let us too long for that divine encounter, let us long to be fed by him, fed with him, so that we can share his life, life in all its fullness. It is not something for us in purely spiritual terms, but rather to form our lives: who we are and what we say and do.
When the Holy Family came to Bethlehem there was no room for them. As we celebrate the birth of Our Saviour we have to ask ourselves: Have we made room for Himin our lives? Have we really? If we haven’t, then no fine words can make up for it. We have to let our hearts and our lives be the stable in which the Christ child can be born. We have to see him in the outcast, in the stranger, in the people which the world shuns, and we have to welcome them, and in welcoming them to welcome Him. This is how we live out His love in our lives. This is the meaning of Christmas – this is the love which can transform the world, it is radical and costly. It terrified the might of the Roman Empire, and showed human power that it was as nothing compared to Divine Love. Soul by individual soul, for the past two thousand years, the world has been changed by living out the love shown to the world in this little vulnerable child. So let us receive the greatest gift which has ever been given and share it with others, living it out in our lives, regardless of the cost, so that the world may believe 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.

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.