25th Sunday of Year B Mark 9: 30-37

Christianity is apparently ‘a religion for the weak and feeble-minded, attractive to social undesirables, the silly, the mean, the stupid, women, and children.’ (cf. Celsus quoted in Origen Contra Celsum 3:44 & 3:59) You would be forgiven if thought these were the words of Richard Dawkins, or some other New Atheist critic of Christianity. They are in fact a paraphrase of the pagan philosopher Celsus, written around ad 175. This line of argument is something Christians have had to counter for over 1800 years.

It is not true, and it relies upon the idea that the weak are somehow worse than the strong. It’s familiar from the writings of Nietzsche and others. The culture around us despises the weak. You want to be strong. Strength is good. Sadly strength is fleeting: we are not born strong, nor do we die strong. Strength comes and goes. And none of us is as strong as we think we are, or might like to be. The simple fact is that we are weak, and that’s OK. Our human weakness is not something terrible, it is simply how we are, and reminds us that we are relational beings, we exist in relationship with others, and need to rely upon the help and support of others, and primarily God. 

Jesus begins the Gospel this morning by reiterating his teaching which we heard last week. He stresses the importance of His Death and Resurrection as the culmination of His earthly ministry. The disciples are bewildered and afraid. They cannot understand or appreciate what Jesus is saying to them. They love Jesus, and have seen Him do wonderful things: heal the sick, feed the hungry, and even walk on water. They have seen scripture fulfilled, but cannot yet understand where it is all pointing: to Jesus’ Death and Resurrection. Instead they fall back on that very human desire, to form a pecking order, to know who is the greatest of the disciples.

Rather than telling the disciples off for being childish, Jesus teaches them that, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.’ (Mk 9 35 ESV) He then takes a child and says, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.’ (Mk 9 37 ESV) Children aren’t high up in the pecking order, they don’t know everything, and are dependant on their family. Jesus is proposing something of a revolution, turning human values on their head. The Incarnate Word of God will wash His disciples’ feet before the Last Supper. He embodies servant leadership, he doesn’t lord it over people. The ways of the Kingdom of God and this world are opposed to each other. True greatness will often look like weakness and servility in the world’s eyes. It doesn’t matter. What matters is living a life characterised by sacrificial self-giving love. 

As St Paul says in the opening Chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians, God’s weakness is stronger than our strength. (1Cor 1:25) It is a paradox. This paradox is made apparent on the Cross, where God shows us that sacrificial love can change the world, and heal our wounded souls and restore broken humanity. It is part of the Mystery of the Cross, the mystery of God’s love. In a moment of weakness and powerlessness, where evil and sin appear to have triumphed, this is the supreme demonstration of LOVE, an act of such generosity which has the power to reconcile humanity. It is, with Christ’s Resurrection, the centre of our faith. 

The ways of the world can be found in the first reading this morning, from the Book of Wisdom, they point forward to Christ’s suffering and death. Christ is condemned to a ‘shameful death’ so that through it God might demonstrate His LOVE to the world.

Love can only be offered. It can be accepted or rejected, and it lies at the heart of any relationship. God gives Himself to us so that we might live in Him. He gives Himself today under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that might feast on His Body and Blood, and have life in Him. He offers himself to us, so that we might share in His Death and Risen Life. Love is vulnerable, and its vulnerability is most evident on the Cross, where Christ opens his arms to embrace the world in love.

Christ’s life on earth ends as it begins: He is naked and vulnerable. God’s weakness truly is stronger than human strength because it is the only thing which can truly change the world, heal our wounded souls, and restore broken humanity. Nothing else can. Without it we are condemned to the ways of selfishness and sin, which characterise so much of the world around us. The church is not immune as it is made up of frail, sinful human beings, just like you and me. We need God to be at work in our lives, to transform us more and more into His image. Recognising our own shortcomings is the first step in a process whereby God can be at work in our lives, transforming us more and more into His likeness. We need God’s grace to be at work in us, and recognising this is a sign of humility, that we know our need of God. This is not weakness, quite the opposite. 

We know that we have a problem, which we are unable to solve on our own. In His love and mercy, God sends His only Son to be born for us, to live and die for us, and rise again for us. He gives us His Body and Blood as a pledge and token of our future hope, to heal us and restore us, so that we might become what He is. In this we share in Christ’s suffering, as to follow Christ is to follow the Way of the Cross, a hard road, but one which leads to the joy of Easter, and New Life in Christ. We are transformed through LOVE and SUFFERING, a journey which starts with child-like trust in the God who LOVES us. It starts with humility, knowing our need of God, and trust in a God who loves us, and who can transform us. 

So my brothers and sisters, let us come to Him, trusting Him to be at work in our lives, filling us with His Love, sharing His suffering, pouring out His Grace upon us. Let us stay close to Him: nourished by His Word, the Bible, and the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, where we receive a foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet, our food for the journey of faith, transforming us into His Divine likeness, strengthening us to live out our faith through acts of loving service, putting our faith into practice so that the world around us may repent of its foolish ways , and come to know and love 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. Amen. christ-children-02

Fifth Sunday of Year B, Mark 1:29-39

It can be hard for us nowadays to imagine what life was like before the National Health Service, when medical care was there for those who could afford it. If we are unwell we see someone and we are treated, and hopefully we recover. In the Ancient World it was not so. Infections and Mental Illness were not understood, people could not do anything, they needed hope, they needed healing.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has called the first disciples from their nets by the Sea of Galilee and they have gone to the Synagogue in Capernaum, where Jesus has taught on the Sabbath, and healed a man possessed by an unclean spirit. He has shown that God longs to heal humanity, to restore us, and make us whole. He leaves the synagogue and goes to Peter and Andrew’s home in Capernaum, and finds Simon Peter’s mother-in-law ill with a fever. It’s serious, and it’s life-threatening. He takes her by the hand, lifts her up, and she is immediately restored to full health: she gets up and looks after them. Mark’s account is simple and straightforward, and goes along at a tremendous breathless pace. The healing is miraculous and instantaneous. It takes your breath away. It is a powerful demonstration of the reality of God’s love for us: if we let God be at work in our lives then wonderful things are possible, but we have to trust Him. I know that I really struggle with that, and I suspect that I’m not alone in feeling that way.

Once the Sabbath was over at sundown, the people of Capernaum bring people to Him who are sick, and in need of healing, and he heals them. The Kingdom of God has become a reality in the person and actions of Jesus. And then early the next morning, before dawn Jesus goes away to pray. He finds a deserted place, a place where He can be alone with God to pray. It reminds us of the need for prayer and quiet in our own lives – we need time to be with God, to talk to Him, and to listen to what He has to say to us. We live in a world filled with noise and distraction, where social media and mobile phones vibrate and flash to get our attention to draw us in. Instead if we want to be close to God and let His power be at work in us we need to be silent and find a deserted place if only for a few minutes to let a healing encounter take place. God meets us when we are alone, when we are silent, when we are vulnerable, when we no longer rely on our own strength but hand ourselves over completely to Him. This is not an easy thing to do, but it is the only way for God to be at work in us: we need to make space for Him.

And then it is over, Simon and the other disciples find Jesus and call Him back to the people who need Him. But rather than simply staying where He is, He moves them on to the next towns, so that He may preach there, for that is why He came out. As well as healing the sick Jesus has a message to proclaim: repent and believe the Good News(Mk 1:15). He calls people to turn away from sin, to turn back to God, and to know that the Kingdom is near. The disciples can only see people’s needs, they need to understand that there is a wider context too. So Jesus preaches, He explains the Scriptures so that people can understand that prophecies are being fulfilled in Him, and He casts out demons so that people can see the Healing which the kingdom promises is a reality there and then.

Which of us can say that we don’t need Christ’s healing in our lives? I know that I do, the truth is that we all do. If we are close to Him in prayer, if we listen to Him, if we have the humility which says, ‘I need God’s help’ then we can be open to the transforming power of His Love. Here this morning, in the Eucharist, at the Altar, Christ will give Himself for us, His Body and His Blood, so that we can feed on Him, be fed by Him, and be fed with Him, so that our souls can be healed. What greater medicine could there be for us, than God’s very self? What gift more precious or more wonderful? Our soul’s true food. We eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood so that we might share His Divine life, that we might be given a foretaste of Heaven here on earth. For two thousand years, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, the Church has done THIS, to obey Christ’s command, and so that the healing work begun in Galilee might be continued here, now, among us.

Let us listen to His words. Let us be close to Him in prayer. Let us come to Him, to the One who loves us, who heals us, who gives Himself upon the Cross to die for us. To the One who rises again to give us the promise of eternal life in Him. Let us come to be healed, to the table of the Lord to be fed with Him, so that He might heal us, and restore us, so that we might have life, and life to the full in and through Him. Let us live out our faith, and proclaim Him, so that the world may believe, and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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The First Sunday of Christmas

As we approach the end of another year it is natural both to look backwards and forwards, to what has been, and what will be. Ideally we would do both in a positive fashion, grateful for what has been, and hopeful for the future. It isn’t as easy as it sounds: the world feels a worried, troubled place with the risks of war and terrorism, political instability, economic insecurity, and unpredictable weather, to name but a few. It isn’t pleasant to dwell on such matters, and it seems that there isn’t that much that you or I can do about them.

As Christians we are called to be people of joy and hope, emotions which are encapsulated in the Feast of Christmas, which we continue to celebrate for either twelve or forty days, leading up to the Epiphany or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The Church, unlike the world around us, doesn’t stop celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ for some time yet because it is so important to take some time to think about God has done for us in being born for us. The shops around us have cleared their shelves for Valentine’s Day or Easter Eggs, but we are not so hasty. The awesome truth that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God has taken flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and that the Son, Jesus Christ has been born for us, should make us pause.

God is not remote, a distant disinterested Creator. He becomes human, and is born like we are. God gets involved, and shares a human life, its joys and its pains, and its end: death. God does this for us. This is grace, an unmerited gift, something we don’t deserve, so that we might know His love. God becomes a human being so that humanity might become divine, so that we might share in the Divine life of love. God loves us, not because we deserve it, or that we have somehow earned our way to Heaven, but so that we can know Him, love Him, and serve Him, in Earth and in Heaven.

God shows his love for us in being born as one of us, sharing our humanity, so that we might share His Divinity. In Jesus Christ we can see and know who and what God is. This is the mystery of the incarnation. It is something we cannot fully understand, in this earthly life at least, but it is something we can begin to experience. We can have hope for the future, in and through Christ, however bad the world around us is. Through Him we can know something of healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness. No matter how many mistakes we make, and what ever mess we are in, it is something which God in Christ can deal with. This is not to say that God has a magic wand to wave over our problems, but rather that we see our problems in the broader context of God’s love for us, another way becomes possible, and this is where the Kingdom breaks into our lives.

Our first reading this morning sees the prophet Isaiah proclaiming the hope of the Messiah, hope for the people of Israel, which is fulfilled in the baby born in Bethlehem, Jesus, our Saviour. Isaiah trusts God to fulfil His promise, and looks to the future with hope. He sees the future in terms of a wedding – a cause of great joy. It signifies a restored relationship, something Jesus will bring about himself, on the Cross, to heal our wounds through His. This is Good News, and it fills us with joy.

The reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians reminds us that the Incarnation has changed everything. It is an event in history which happens at the right time, when people are mature enough to understand what is happening. God sends His Son, born of Mary, to redeem us, and to adopt us, to bring us into God’s family, so that we can receive our inheritance, the gift of the Holy Spirit, to fill us with God’s love. We are included, we are adopted. Rather than being disinherited, which is what we deserve, men and women are adopted through Christ. In Jewish law inheritance was about passing property from fathers to sons, Paul shows how Jesus has re-written the rules: men and women are treated equally, and brought into the inheritance of the Kingdom of God’s love. This is great news, a departure from the ways of the past, a sign of radical equality in and through Christ – salvation is God’s free gift, restoring the dignity of humanity.

In Luke’s Gospel we see shepherds who have just been told the most wonderful news: the Messiah, the Saviour is born in Bethlehem. They decide to go and see what God has told them. They make haste, they hurry, they are excited. They see Mary and Jospeh and the baby lying in a manger, a stone trough for animal feed. They see a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, just like the lambs they raise to be sacrifices in the Temple. They see One, who from his birth has been marked out to be the sacrifice on the Cross which will restore Israel, and bring about a true passover. The shepherds see something amazing and they tell people about it – it is Good News. God loves us this much. They go back to their flocks praising God for what they have seen – salvation in their midst, in the person of Jesus Christ.

Mary said “Yes’ to God to bring these things about, now she ‘ponders these things in her heart’ she reflects on what has happened. Having been obedient she turns to God in love and worship and prepares to be obedient to the law of Moses, and the covenant, the agreement which God first made with Abraham, two thousand years previously. Mary and Joseph are obedient to the Law and so their Son is circumcised on the eighth day (Luke 2:21). He receives the sublime name, Jesus, that is to say God is our Saviour.

God saves us. We hear His words in Scripture, and here in the Eucharist we are fed by God and  fed with God, with His Body and Blood, broken and shed for us, that through His death we might have life in Him. So let us come and share in God’s generous gift to us, to heal us, to restore us, and give us hope in Him.

God’s salvation, the saving of humanity, is an act of love and obedience. So as we continue to celebrate Christmas and are filled the joy of the Incarnation, let us also reflect upon the fact that Love and Obedience and Suffering go hand in hand. They are costly, and likewise, for us in our Christian lives, following Christ means embracing love, obedience, and suffering, bearing witness to the truth that God loves all of us, gave his life for us, and asks the same of us.

And so may we begin the New Year full of joy and hope, mindful of the costly Love of God. As we recall the obedience of Mary, may we like the ox and ass in the stable kneel and worship the Lord of Creation, the Word of God Incarnate. Let us be like the shepherds and share our faith with others in what we are, and do, and say. Let us fashion our lives after the example of Our Lord and Saviour, to whom with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit be ascribed, as is most just and right, all might, majesty, dominion, power and glory, now and forever…

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Jesus heals the Syro-Phoenician Woman’s daughter

The Prophecy of Isaiah is rightly called the Fifth Gospel. More than any other text in the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament, we see presented the Messianic hope, a hope fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Through his prophet God tells his people to maintain justice, to do the right thing for the right reasons, that salvation is coming, and that right soon. The promise and the hope is not just for Israel, but for anyone who joins themselves to the Lord, who love His Name, and keep His sabbath. God further declares that ‘His House shall be called a House of prayer for all peoples’ words which Jesus will use when cleanses the Temple of its money-changers. God is one who gathers the outcasts and more besides.

The Apostle Paul was born a Jew, trained in the law, a pharisee of the school of Hillel, who knows God to be faithful, but whose life’s work was to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom to Gentiles, to non-Jews, as God is merciful to all, He loves everyone, and longs to see us reconciled to Him, and each other.

This morning’s Gospel shows us a woman in need. Her daughter is seriously unwell, she’s desperate. She turns to Jesus and begs Him, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ She is respectful, and polite, but Jesus ignores her. Then the disciples urge Him to send her away, she’s a pain, she’s a Caananite, a Syro-Phoenecian, a foreigner, she’s not one of us. Jesus answers the woman, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ And up to this point Jesus’ ministry has focussed on Jews, and would seem to be exclusive to them. She comes and kneels before Jesus, she is completely dependant upon Him. All she can do is to cry out, ‘Lord, help me.’ And even then Jesus replies, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ His words sound harsh, rude and xenophobic, but for a first century Jew they were not strange at all, they were normal, they were expected of the Chosen People, who had forgotten the words of Isaiah. The woman, however, is not put off, she is persistent, and she uses Jesus’ words against Him: ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ She demonstrates complete trust in God, and her attitude is one of worship. And so ‘Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.’ In an instant it is all sorted out. Such is the power of FAITH.

Jesus Christ was never afraid to court controversy, or to challenge a religious hierarchy. Generally speaking it’s the Pharisees who tend to get both barrels so to speak. Jesus has a problem with hypocrisy: when what we say and what we do don’t match up. The Pharisees are so concerned with outward conformity to the letter of the Law of Moses that they have forgotten what the spirit is. While they stress the need for outward purity in terms of hand-washing, they need to remember that what is far worse is how what people think and say and do affects who and what they are. In their rigid outward conformity they have forgotten that at a fundamental level the Law of Moses needs affect our lives and to be lived out in them.

It is a great challenge to each and every one of us to live up to this. It is both simple and difficult, and something which we all need to do together, as a community, so that we can support each other, and help each other to live out our faith in our lives. Otherwise we are the blind leading the blind, valuing outward conformity over the conversion of the soul, more concerned with appearance than reality and making a mockery of God and religion. It is an easy trap into which we can and do fall, so let us be vigilant and encourage each other not to fall into it, and to help each other out when we do.

The healing of the daughter of the Syro-Phoenecian woman can appear to be troubling at first: the Kingdom which Jesus comes to inaugurate is meant to be a place of healing, so its initial absence is troubling. The disciples can only see the woman as a troublesome annoyance, she’s making a fuss. The reward for her faith and tenacity is God’s healing. She shows more love, more care than the people of Israel. And through her the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled. We look to her example as a forerunner in the faith and like her we pray:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

Like the woman in the Gospel we need God’s merciful love to be poured out upon us, we long for healing, and we do so through the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood. Like her we need to recognise that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David, and that while we are not worthy, nonetheless God loves us and heals us. We are healed by the wounds of Christ on the Cross at Calvary, where His Body is broken and His Blood is shed for us, for you and me.

We are fed so that we might be healed, to strengthen us to live out our faith together, not in outward conformity, keeping up appearances, for the sake of propriety, but so that we can be healed, and helped to live out our faith together. That filled with joy we might share our faith with others, so that they too may come to believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

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The Fourteenth Sunday of Year A (Mt 11:16-19, 25-30)

There really is NO pleasing some people! It is completely impossible especially as some people are only happy when they are complaining or moaning about something. No I’m not talking about present-day church meetings, PCCs or even General Synod, I am reflecting on Jesus’ words to the people of His day in this morning’s Gospel.

It is a very human reaction – not being satisfied, and merely focussing on what you think are the negative points. John the Baptist lived a simple ascetic life and is accused of being possessed  by a demon. Jesus eats and drinks with the ‘wrong sort of people’ and is accused of being a drunkard and a glutton. Both approaches certainly have their place in the Christian life: feasting and fasting are part of who and what we are and do. They are both something that Jesus did and something that we should emulate in our own lives. But when we are worried about being seen eating with tax-collectors and sinners – collaborators with the occupying power, prostitutes, people who are beyond the pale and ‘not like us’: then we know that something is seriously wrong. If the the Church acted in this way, we would know that it was in a serious mess.

It’s just like the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. People who think that they are somehow better, morally superior, don’t really think that they need God. They think that they are ok; they are doing just fine thank you very much. They certainly have little need for religion or anything too extreme. The self-righteous attitude of the Pharisees is alive and well, and all around us. Jesus, however, associates with sinners for the simple reason that they know their need for God, they are not self-righteous, just humble. They know who they need to rely on, and also where their strength comes from.

Jesus’ teaching begins with gratitude. He gives thanks to the Father, the Lord of Heaven and Earth. In the prayer He gives us He starts by recognising both who and what God is, God who is the beginning and end of all things. It is a model for our prayers and our lives as Christians. We need to be GRATEFUL people. God has hidden things from the so-called wise and intelligent, those who think that they know it all, and do not pay any attention to Jesus’ words.

Instead, Jesus has revealed the truth to children, those who are weak and foolish. Simple, trusting souls [cf. Celsus] who know their need of God. The key then is humility. And for this our primary example is the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ. God humbled himself to share our humanity, so that we might share His divinity. Through being reliant upon God, and not ourselves we can be rid of the ego, the sense of pride which says, ‘you can do it on your own’. and instead we can put our trust in someone who has been entrusted everything by the Father. In other words we are in Jesus’ hands, and can rely upon Him alone, safe in the knowledge that all will be well.

Jesus’ message is a simple one, ‘Come to me all who labour and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.’ (Mt 11:28 RSV) Jesus gives us what we long for, something which the world around cannot give us, and He gives us it for free. It is the refreshment spoken of by King David in Psalm 23:1-2 ‘The Lord is my shepherd : therefore can I lack nothing. He shall feed me in a green pasture : and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.’ This is a God who keeps his promises to us, and these commitments are fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the Word made Flesh, the fulfilment of all Holy Scripture.

He calls us to take His yoke upon ourselves.  This is an act of submission, becoming like oxen pulling a plough, and beasts of burden. This image naturally leads us to think of Jesus carrying His Cross to Calvary. Paradoxically this is our rest, the easy task, our dancing with joy, this is the Kingdom of God.

It doesn’t make sense, and it is not supposed to, because it is radically different from anything we are used to. The opposite of worldly, selfish ways. Jesus is inaugurating a gentle humble Kingdom, which shows up the violence of the world for what it is: empty and destructive, sinful and selfish, only concerned with power and domination.

The Kingdom of God, however, offers freedom from this. For those who accept it there is gentleness and joy. Yet for those who refuse it there is the judgement of God. Jesus comes to save us from sin and judgement, and both He and His cousin, John the Baptist begin their ministry with the proclamation ‘Repent, the Kingdom of God is near.’ So my brothers and sisters let us turn away from the ways of the world, the ways of sin, selfishness, and death, and find our rest in Christ. Let us take his yoke, and bear his burden, in the joyous new life of His Kingdom. Let us encourage others to do so, that they may know His love and His peace, so that the world may be filled with his love, and so that all may 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.

‘Learn of me,’ Jesus said, ‘for I am meek and humble of heart.’ Humility perfects us towards God, mildness and gentleness towards our neighbour.But be careful that mildness and humility are in your heart, for one of the great wiles of the enemy is to lead people to be content with external signs of these virtues, and to think that because their words and looks are gentle, therefore they themselves are humble and mild, whereas in fact they are otherwise. In spite of their show of gentleness and humility, they start up in wounded pride at the least insult or annoying word.

St Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life III:8

 

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The Sixth Sunday of Year A

Septuagesima is the Sunday roughly seventy days before Easter, or three weeks before the start of Lent.It reminds us that in the Church names and time are important things: they are used to divide and to mark, to draw our attention to things. Historically, the countdown to Lent is a chance to change our focus, with Candlemas our celebration of Christmas drew to a close, and we began to look to the Cross, to Our Lord and Saviour’s Passion. So we begin the countdown to our Lenten observance of prayer and fasting, we begin to get ready to prepare for the most solemn part of the Christian Year: Holy Week and Easter. It’s the Church’s equivalent of an advanced warning – we need to be on the lookout, we need to be prepared, if you like it is the spiritual equivalent of dealing with the current spate of bad weather and power cuts.

We have a choice. That’s what free will is, we are not compelled. We are not forced, we can choose what we want to do. We can follow the ways of the world, ways which will lead to spiritual death, or we can follow Christ, who came not to abolish the Law but to fulfil it, to show us the new Covenant in the Old, to show us that our is God of Love, of Healing, and of Reconciliation. And the Good news is that this loving God calls people to be in a covenant relationship with Him, a covenant cut on the Cross, bought with the Blood of His Son, which leads to the Resurrection, to New Life in and through Him.

What we do and how we do it are important things, and they matter – there are times when we make the sign of the Cross, when the names of the Trinity, the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit are mentioned, we bow our heads at the name of Jesus, and we bow or genuflect to altars and aumbries, from which we are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ to honour the God who loves us and who saves us. Many of us may receive flowers or other tokens of affection this week – they demonstrate in a physical way the feelings which we have inside. The church’s ritual is just like this – it enacts what it represents and allows us to make a physical demonstration of the faith which we have inside us. The gestures are not empty; rather they are full of meaning, and full of faith, they help us to express it and live it out in our lives.

What we say, and what we do matter. For a start being a Christian isn’t something we just do for an hour on a Sunday morning, without any connection to the other 167 hours in a week. We enter the Church through baptism, and through prayer and the sacraments, being fed with the Word of God and His Body and Blood, we can be transformed to be like the one who saves us, and who loves us. It doesn’t cost us any money, it’s free, it’s all gift – the grace of God, poured out on us, on you and me, to heal us and to restore us. You’d be a fool to turn this down, wouldn’t you?

It is free, but with it there comes a commitment: a commitment to Christ and His Church, to living our lives in a way which is recognisably Christ-like. This morning’s Gospel tells us that we need to be careful – even the words which we use and the thoughts which we have matter. They matter because they form who and what we are. To be a part of the Christian community has as its basis and starting point reconciliation: reconciliation to God and each other – we need to confess our sins, our faults, and our failings to God, and using the ministry of a priest. It isn’t something which we should leave to the secular courts, or the law of the land, because what is at stake is the state of our souls and our relationship with Christ and with His Body, the Church.

All of our life matters, even the smallest thing, even a thought or a glance. It matters because we are what we do, and what we do helps to form our moral character – we get used to it, it becomes normal and instinctive, it is how we put our faith into practice in our lives. It’s not easy, it’s difficult, and I’m certainly not standing here as a moral super-hero telling people off, but rather as a sinner redeemed by God’s love and mercy, who knows that it’s something which we cannot do alone, we need God, and we need each other – it’s a community effort, and through God’s mercy, and our prayer and support we can be built as living stones as a temple to God’s glory. We can do it together, we are doing it, but we need to keep on trying, together – living simple, transparent lives, letting our ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and our ‘No’ be ‘No’, so that the whole of our lives together proclaims the faith of our hearts, that we are set free to live the life of the Kingdom here and now, that we are prepared to keep renewing our commitment to God and each other, so that the world around us may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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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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Second Sunday of Year A ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ Jn 1:29-34

‘Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world’

Sometimes we use words a lot, even to the point of perhaps overusing them. Sorry is a good example: it is perhaps something of a national characteristic – that we as British people apologise for everything just in case. This has led some people to the point of view that familiarity breeds contempt: that the more often we say sorry, the less we mean it, our words are empty and our society debased, rude and squalid. Whereas a more charitable interpretation sees something of love, care, concern, and humility in our apologising: it is a Christian thing to do, and what we say and do affects who and what we are as people, and the more we say or do something the greater its effects upon our lives and characters – the more it can form us and the people that we are. If we genuinely say sorry to God and each other and mean it, and amend our lives accordingly it can only be a good thing.

When John the Baptist greets his cousin in this morning’s Gospel, the words he uses are both familiar and strange. We, as Christians are used to saying and hearing the phrase ‘the Lamb of God’. We are used to it at Mass, we are used to seeing it on the Signs of public houses called the Lamb and Flag, or as the badge of Preston North End Football Club.

While the image is familiar, it is worth spending a few moments to consider exactly what John is saying about Jesus. The image of a lamb brings to mind a passage in the prophet Isaiah, in the Song of the Suffering Servant, who ‘like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb’ (Isa 53:7), a prophecy that will be fulfilled in Holy Week, on Good Friday. Yet here, just after the Baptism of Our Lord in the Jordan, when the Spirit descends at the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry, before the first sign of turning water into wine at the marriage of Cana, we see in John’s description of Jesus a prophetic utterance which points forward to Jesus’ death on the Cross for the world. So then, from the very beginning, as with the gift of myrrh at Bethlehem, we see the culmination at Calvary, the beginning points to the end (and beyond). The other image of the lamb which comes to mind is that of the Passover lamb, by which the people of Israel are freed from slavery to journey to the Promised Land. Yet Jesus is the Passover Lamb who will free all of humanity from sin for all time.

In being baptised by John the Baptist, Jesus was doing something which he did not need to do, he who was without sin did not need to be cleansed from sin, but in his baptism Jesus gives us an example, for us to follow. It is a sign of humility and obedience which we as Christians are to follow: it is how we are to shape our lives, in humble obedience to the example and teaching of Christ, it’s how to be a Christian. It is also how God gives us his Holy Spirit, as a gift which we receive and use with humility.

From the beginning of His public ministry, and even from the gifts offered by the Three Wise Men, Jesus’ life and mission is to be understood in terms of the death he will suffer. It is this sacrificial, self-giving love which God pours out on his World, which streams from our Saviour’s pierced side upon the cross. This is the wood, marked with blood which saves not only the people of Israel, but the entire world. This makes our peace with God, and our peace with one another. It is this recognition of who and what Jesus really is that is capable of showing us all who and what we really are. We can live our lives truly, wholly, and fully, loved by God and loving one another.

That is why we are here today, in a church, at a celebration of Mass, so that the sacrifice of Calvary will be re-presented, made as real for us as it was on a hill outside Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago. As we approach the altar, this is what we are to receive, the Body and Blood of Christ, the self same body and blood which were nailed to the Cross for our sins and the sins of the whole world. Our hands will hold and our lips will touch him who created the entire universe. How can we not fail to be shocked by the generosity of a God who gives himself to us in such a personal way, in a way that we do not deserve? Yet, we can never deserve such a gift, that is why God takes the initiative and gives himself to us, freely and gladly – like the Father of the Prodigal Son, God rushes to meet us, to embrace us and to celebrate with us, to show his love for us. God became a human being at Christmas so that we might become divine, through our baptism and our participation at the altar, the feast of the Lamb, so that we can become what God wants us to be – his people, sharing his body and blood, strengthened for the journey in body, mind, and spirit, to become what God wants us to be – united with him and one another.

The Mass is the sacrament of unity, uniting heaven and earth through the sacrifice of Calvary, making all humanity to share the body and blood of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, feeding on him so that we may become what he is, to share eternity with him, and to live lives of faith and show this faith in our lives in everything we say, or think, or do, that the world may believe. Our faith must then have an effect upon our lives, which other people can see, it must make a difference, and it will, because of our faith and because God gives himself to strengthen us to be able to do this. So then, let us join the Wedding banquet of the Lamb and enter into the mystery of God’s self-giving love, nourished by Word and Sacrament, to grow in faith and love, and share it with others, so that they may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever.

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A thought from Henri Nouwen

All of this is simply to suggest how horrendously secular our ministerial lives tend to be. Why is this so? Why do we children of the light so easily become conspirators with the darkness? The answer is quite simple. Our identity, our sense of self , is at stake. Secularity is a way of being dependant upon the responses of our milieu. The secular or false self is the self which is fabricated, as Thomas Merton says, by social compulsions. ‘Compulsive’ is indeed the best adjective for the false self. It points to the need for ongoing and increasing affirmation. Who am I? I am the one who is liked, praised, admired, disliked, hated or despised. Whether I am a pianist, a businessman or a minister, what matters is how I am perceived by the world. If being busy is a good thing, then I must be busy. If having money is a sign of real freedom, then I must claim my money. If knowing many people proves my importance, I will have to make the necessary contacts. The compulsion manifests itself in the lurking fear of failure and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same – more work, more money, more friends.

These very compulsions are at the basis of the two main enemies of the spiritual life: anger and greed. They are the inner side of the secular life, the sour fruits of our worldly dependencies. What else is anger other than the impulsive response to the experience of being deprived? When my sense of self depends on what others say of me, anger is a quite natural reaction to a critical word. And when my sense of self depends on what I can acquire, greed flares up when my desires are frustrated. Thus greed and anger are the brother and sister of a false self fabricated by the social compulsions of the unredeemed world.

Anger in particular seems close to a professional vice in the contemporary ministry. Pastors are angry at their leaders for not leading and at their followers for not following. They are angry at those who do not come to church for not coming and angry at those who do come for coming without enthusiasm. They are angry at their families, who making them feel guilty, and angry at themselves for not being who they want to be. This is not open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.

It is not so strange that Anthony and his fellow monks considered it a spiritual disaster to accept passively the tenets and values of their society. They had come to appreciate how hard it is not only for the individual Christian but also for the church itself to escape the seductive compulsions of the world. What was their response? They escaped from the sinking ship and swam for their lives. And the place of salvation is called desert, the place of solitude.

Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, London: DLT, 1990: 14-16

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A thought for the day from Fulton Sheen

Our own fiat

It makes no difference what you do here on earth; what matters is the love with which you do it. The street cleaner who accepts in God’s name a cross arising from his state of life, such a person is the scorn of his peers; the mother who pronounces her fiat to the Divine Will as she raises a family for the kingdom of God; the afflicted in hospitals who say fiat to their cross of suffering are the uncanonised saints, for what is sanctity but fixation in goodness by abandonment to God’s Holy Will?

Seven words of Jesus and Mary

A thought for the day from Fulton Sheen

Let go of Fear

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

Lift up your Heart

St Augustine on Ps. 19:9

The Pharisee

Shall a Christian go and live apart from the world, so that he may not be tried by false brethren? Shall he who has progressed in a righteous life separate himself so that he need not suffer from anyone? Perhaps people have suffered from before he was converted. Has no one anything to put up with from you? It would surprise me – but if it is so, then you are stronger and thus able to endure other people’s failings.

Do you propose to shut out bad men from good men’s company? if that is what you say, see if you can shut out all evil thoughts from your own heart. Every day we fight with out own heart.

You say you will go apart with a few good men and admit no wicked brother to your society. How do you recognise the man you wish to exclude? Do all come to you with their hearts bare? Those who wish to come do not know themselves, they cannot be proved unless they are tried.

Nowhere in this life are we secure, except in God’s promise – only when we have attained to it, when the gates of Jerusalem are shut behind us, shall we be perfectly safe.

Beloved, mark the apostle’s words: ‘Support one another in charity.’ You forsake the world of men and separate yourself from it. Whom will you profit? Would you have got so far if no one had profited you?

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Fulton Sheen on the Signs of Our Times

These words were spoken in 1947, and are as true now as they were when they were first spoken. Fulton Sheen preached the truth which the world still does not wish to hear.

What can we do? Love God, and each other, and hold fast to our faith in this time of trial, safe in the knowledge that Christ has conquered sin, evil, and death. Let us be hopeful and confident.

S. Francis de Sales on Charity

S. Francis used to say, “I hear of nothing but perfection on every side, so far as talk goes, but I see very few people who really practise it. Everybody has his own notion of perfection. One man thinks that it lies in the cut of his clothes, another in fasting, a third in almsgiving, or in frequenting the Sacraments, in meditation, in some special gift of contemplation, or in extraordinary gifts or graces; – but they are all mistaken, as it seems to me, because they confuse the means, or the results, with the cause.

“For my part, the only perfection I know is a hearty love of God, and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. Without these there can be no real perfection. Charity is the only ‘bond of perfectness’ between Christians, the only virtue which rightly unites us to God and man. Such union is our final aim and end, and all else is mere delusion.

“No virtues, however great they may seem, are worth anything, without charity; – not even such faith as could ‘remove mountains’ or ‘understand all mysteries;’ which has ‘the gift of prophesy, or speaks with the tongue of men or angels;’ which ‘bestows all its gifts to feed the poor,’ or endures martyrdom, All is vain without charity. He who lacketh charity is dead while he liveth, and all his works, however fair to the eye, are valueless, seen from the point of eternity.

“I grant that austerity, meditation, and all such practices are admirable means whereby to advance towards perfection, so long as they are carried on in and through charity. But it will not do to seek perfection by any other means – rather in the end to which they do but lead, else we shall find ourselves halting in the midst of the race, instead of reaching the goal.”

taken from The Spirit of S. Francis de Sales Bishop and Prince of Geneva by Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Bellay. tr. H.I. Sidney Lear, London: Longmans, 1921: 1-2

Advent IV (Year C)

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

Fulton J. Sheen Lift up your Heart

The fulfilment of prophesy is the great hope of Israel in times of tribulation, it speaks of their relationship with a loving God. The prophet Micah, after the destruction of Samaria, looks back to David of the tribe of Ephraim, to look forward to the saviour who will save Israel, who will be a true shepherd to his flock, one who will bring Peace. Whereas the first David sinned by sending a man to die: Uriah the Hittite, the husband of Bathsheba, the second of David will go to his death willingly to save from their sins even those who kill him. Prophecy is fulfilled, humanity is restored, and the peace of God’s kingdom can be brought about. His coming forth is from old from ancient days. Our salvation is both the fulfilment of prophesy and the outworking of God’s love. This is what we are preparing to celebrate

In the letter to the Hebrews we see the prophecy of Psalm 40:6-8 ‘In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”’ fulfilled in Christ. The sacrifices of the old covenant are replaced in the new covenant with the sacrifice of God for humanity: sacrifice is fulfilled and completed, once and for all. It is this sacrifice, which the church, through its priests of the new covenant pleads and re-presents: the eternal offering of a sinless victim, to free humanity of its sins, to restore our relationship with God and one another. It is an act of perfect obedience: the body prepared by God for Christ will do his will and will sanctify humanity: heal us and restore us.

In this morning’s Gospel Mary does not tell Elizabeth that she is pregnant. But by the power of the Holy Spirit John the Baptist, the forerunner, the last of the prophets announces the coming of the saviour by leaping of the joy in his mother’s womb. It’s important, there’s no time to waste: Mary arose and went with haste. Time is of the essence, for us too, not for the frantic fulfilment of consumerism: last-minute presents, or enough food to satisfy even the most gluttonous, no, we have to prepare our hearts, our minds, and our lives, so that Christ may be born again in us, so that we may live his life and proclaim his truth to the world.

Through the prompting of her son and the gift of the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth can cry ‘Blesséd are you among women, and blesséd is the fruit of your womb!’ She recognises that Mary’s obedience, her humble ‘Yes’ to God undoes the sinfulness of Eve. That she who knew no sin might give birth to Him who would save us and all humanity from our sin. It is through the love and obedience of Mary that God’s love and obedience in Christ can be shown to the world, demonstrated in absolute perfection, when for love of us he opens his arms to embrace the world with the healing love of God. He will be the good Shepherd, laying down his life for his flock that we may dwell secure. We prepare to celebrate Christmas because it points us to the Cross and beyond, in showing us once and for all that God loves us, how much he does, and why he does. It is this trust and confidence in a loving God which means that Mary can sing her great song of praise, the Magnificat: a song of joy, and trust in in a God who can turn the world around. It is a song of revolution, which turns the established order of sin and human power on its head: God’s way is different, it is the way of suffering love, of self-giving, it is truly revolutionary, and it still has the power to change the world two thousand years after it was first sung with joy.

Safe in the knowledge that God loves us, that he feeds us with word and sacrament, that he heals us, let us love God and love one another, truly, deeply, with all our lives. Let us prepare the greatest gift we can, ourselves:  that this Christmas Christ may truly be born in us, that as the Sanctified People of God, we may live that goodness, that holiness, that charity, which reflects the bountiful goodness of God who gives himself to be born and to die and rise again that we might truly live and have life in all its fullness, sharing the joy and the love of God with everyone we meet, safe in the knowledge that he has the power to change the world through us. As he will come to be our judge let us live His life, proclaim his saving love and truth to a world hungry for meaning and love and thereby honour God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the consubstantial and co-eternal Trinity, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Trinity IV (Thirteenth Sunday of Year B)



Our society has got rather caught up with the cult of the individual, and while matters of healing and salvation have been seen as individual matters, they are best understood as community affairs: what affects us affects our family, our friends, and community, as we do not live in isolation, likewise Christ’s healing love is poured out on individuals who are part of a community.  Likewise the church is to be a place of healing and love, for individuals, and for the community.
Given the events of the last few days it is impossible for us not to describe our world as one in need of healing. Our human proclivity for violence seems as strong as ever, which reminds us that when things are left up to ourselves they don’t always end well.  We need some help, and that can only come from God.
       St Antony the Great once said ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we win our brother, we win God. If we cause our brother to stumble, we have sinned against Christ.’ In the words of Rowan Williams:
‘Winning the brother or sister isn’t – in the perspective of St Antony – a matter of getting them signed up to something, getting them on your side, but opening doors for them to God’s healing. If you open such doors, you ‘win’ God, because you become a place where God ‘happens’ for someone else, where God comes to life for someone in a new and life- giving way – not because you are good and wonderful but because you have allowed the wonder and goodness of God to appear (and you may have no idea how). When we shift our preoccupations, anxiety and selfishness out of the way and some space appears for God, we ourselves are brought in touch with God’s healing. And so, in winning the brother and sister, we win God.’[1]
       This morning’s Gospel is concerned with healing, that of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with a haemorrhage. They show us the power of God to heal and restore humanity, which points to the Cross which is the greatest place of healing, where Christ bears our sins: for by his wounds we are healed, we are washed in his blood, healed and restored to new life in Him. Christ who was rich, for our sake made himself poor, so that we might become rich by his poverty. Likewise he gives himself under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that we can be healed by Him. Unlike the physicians who have taken all of the woman’s money and not made her better but worse; Christ’s healing is free. The woman is afraid, but Christ does not want to single her out, but rather is conscious that someone is in need of healing, hence his words: ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’  She has faith: she believes that simply by touching his clothes, by being close to Jesus, that she can be healed. Likewise Jairus, a well-known pillar of the community, who sits at the front of the synagogue, falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him repeatedly: here is a desperate man, whose concern is not for his own station, but rather that his daughter may be made well and live. He comes to Jesus, who raises his daughter, who restores her to health and life. Jairus is humble; he knows his need of God.
       We, too, know that we need God’s healing, in our lives and in the world around us. We need to come to Jesus, so that we can be healed by Him, and restored by Him, to have life and life in all its fullness. We are given a foretaste of it here, this morning, in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, given to us so that we might be healed, body and soul, and given a foretaste of eternal life in Christ.
       Let us come to him, so that we too might be healed and restored by him, so that we might be built up in love, and our families and communities too might be healed and restored, living life in all its fullness – this is what Christ comes to bring to a world in need of healing. Let us come to him, so that we might be built up in love, so that the Kingdom may grow, so that we can invite others so share in God’s gift of his healing love, so that ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven by him, through Christ’s saving death, we may sing the praises 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.


[1]Rowan Williams Silence and Honeycakes: The wisdom of the desert , Oxford 2003: 104-5

11th Sunday of Year B


A monk was asked, ‘What is humility?’ and he said in reply, ‘Humility is a great work, and a work of God. The way of humility is to undertake bodily labour and believe yourself a sinner and make yourself subject to all.’ Then a brother said, ‘What does it mean to be subject to all?’ The monk replied, ‘To be subject to all is not to give your attention to the sins of others but always to give your attention to your own sins and pray without ceasing to God.’
There was an old man living in the desert who served God for many years and he said, ‘Lord, let me know if I have pleased you.’ He saw an angel who said to him, ‘You have not yet become like the gardener in such and such a place.’ The old man marvelled and said, ‘I will go off to the city to see both him and what he does that surpasses all my work and the toil of these years…’
            So he went to the city and asked the gardener about his way of life … When they were getting ready to eat in the evening, the old man heard people in the streets singing songs, for the cell of the gardener was in a public place. Therefore the old man said to him, ‘Brother, wanting as you do to live according to God, how do you remain in this place and not be troubled when you hear them singing these songs?’
            The man said, ‘I tell you, abba, I have never been troubled or scandalized.’ When he heard this the old man said, ‘What, then, do you think in your heart when you hear these things?’ And he replied, ‘That they are going into the Kingdom.’ When he heard this, the old man marvelled and said, ‘This is the practice which surpasses my labour of all these years.’
I rather like gardening, and I would hope that you do too: there is something wonderful about taking seeds or cuttings and placing them in compost and watching them grow. It never ceases to give me a thrill, and once they’ve grown you end up with something that you can eat, smell or look at, or even sell: it is a source of joy, of nourishment of body and soul. It is an image used by the prophet Ezekiel to look forward to a future where God’s people are sheltered, it looks to a Messianic future, to one fulfilled by the church, as the Lord plants the twig on the lofty mountain of Calvary. The Cross is the tree of life, through which we have life, and all people can rest secure.
       We in the West live in an age of anxiety, where we are all worried: what are we doing? Are we doing the right thing? Could we or should we do something different, something more? In the parable of the Kingdom with which this morning’s Gospel (Mk 4:26-34) starts, the one who scatters the seed does not know how things grow, and for all their sleeping and rising they cannot influence matters. The church founded by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and entrusted to his apostles began as a small affair, a few people in a backwater of the Roman Empire, and yet has now grown to point where there are several billion Christians on earth. Here in the west the picture may currently look rather bleak, but the global picture is far more encouraging. And even if we have been going through some bad harvests, the trick is to keep scattering the seed as they will grow in a way which can defy our expectations.
       We can like the Apostle Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians always be confident, we can put our trust in God, as we know that we cannot be disappointed, his victory is complete, so we please God by following his commandments: loving Him and loving our neighbour, motivated by the love of Christ, shown to us most fully when he suffers and dies for us, to heal us and restore us, to bear the burden of our sins – ‘he died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.’ We live for Christ – our thoughts, words, and actions proclaim the saving truth of God’s love for humanity. If we seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others, and are forgiving ourselves then we can be built up in love. If we are devout in prayer, nourished by the word of God, and by the sacrament of his Body and Blood we are built up in love, our souls are nourished and we can grow into the full stature of Christ. So let us come to Him, and be fed by Him, healed and restored by Him, living in love and encouraging others so to do, for the glory of God and the building up of His Kingdom.

Good Friday 2015


Love has three and only three intimacies: speech, vision, and touch. These three intimacies God has chosen to make his love intelligible to our poor hearts. God has spoken: he told us that he loves us: that is revelation. God has been seen: that is the incarnation. God has touched us by his grace: that is redemption. Well indeed, therefore, may he say: ‘What more could I do for my vineyard than I have done? What other proof could I give my love than to exhaust myself in the intimacies of love? What else could I do to show that my own Sacred Heart is not less generous than your own?’
          If we answer these questions aright, then we will begin to repay love with love …. then we will return speech with speech which will be our prayer; vision with vision which will be our faith; touch with touch which will be our communion.
Fulton J Sheen The Eternal Galilean
The prophets of Israel spoke the word of the Lord to the people of their day – there is a lot in the prophet Isaiah which relates directly to the exile of Israel in Babylon – but this is not the only way that such scripture can be read. As well as talking to the present, they speak to the future and tell of things to come. They like all of the Hebrew Scriptures find their fullest meaning in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. He is the fulfilment of Scripture – it finds its truest and fullest meaning in Him: the Scriptures point to something beyond themselves, to our Lord and Saviour, and it is thus understandable that there have been times when Isaiah has been called the fifth Gospel, because of his prophesies especially concerning Our Lord’s Birth, Suffering and Death.
This is not a new phenomenon; in the 8th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we see the meeting of Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch, who is reading this very passage which we have just heard – the Suffering Servant. Philip asks him if he can understand what he is reading. He replies that he cannot, unless someone shows him the way. ‘Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.’ (Acts 8:35 ESV). Isaiah’s prophesy is fulfilled in Jesus and this is the proclamation of the Church: we proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified.
We read scripture so that we can understand it, and see in its words how it discloses the truth of the Word made flesh, who suffered and died for our sake. Isaiah prophesies Our Lord’s Passion and Death, and thus it makes sense, it can be understood, and the more we come to understand, the more we come to know just how much God loves us.
       Today Christ is both priest and victim, and upon the altar of the Cross he offers himself as a sacrifice for sin, for the salvation of humanity. A new covenant is made in his blood which restores the relationship between God and humanity, we are shown in the most graphic way possible how much God loves us, and thus how much we are to love God and to love each other, with that costly self-sacrificial love embodied by Our Lord in his Passion and Death.
After scourging him the soldiers put a purple robe around our Lord, they crown him with thorns, and give him a reed for a sceptre. They think they’re being clever and funny: they’re having a laugh, mocking a man about to be executed, but this is God showing the world what true kingship is: it is not pomp, or power, the ability to have one’s own way, but the Silent Way of suffering love. It shows us what God’s glory is really like: it turns our human values on their head and inaugurates a new age, according to new values, and restores a relationship broken by human sin.
          In being raised upon the Cross, our Lord is not dying the death of a common criminal, but rather reigning in glory – the glory of God’s free love given to restore humanity, to have new life in him. His hands and feet and side are pierced, as wounds of love, to pour out God’s healing life upon the world. In his obedience to the Father’s will, he puts to an end the disobedience of humanity’s first parent. Here mankind who fell because of a tree are raised to new life in Christ through his hanging on the tree.  Christ is a willing victim, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the Silent lamb led to his slaughter, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep that have gone astray. At the time when the Passover lambs are slaughtered in the temple, upon the Altar of the Cross, Christ as both priest and victim offers himself as the true lamb to take away the sins of the whole world, offers his death so that we may have life, new life in Him.
          Death and hell, the reward of sin, have no power over us: for in dying, and being laid in a stranger’s tomb, Christ will go down to Hell, to break down its doors, to lead souls to heaven, to alter the nature of the afterlife, once and for all. Just when the devil thinks he’s won, then in his weakness and in his silence Christ overcomes the world, the flesh, and the devil. The burden of sin which separates humanity from God is carried on the wood of the Cross.
On the way to Calvary our Lord falls three times such is the way, such was the burden, so we too as Christians, despite being reconciled to God by the Cross, will fall on our road too. We will continue to sin, but also we will continue to ask God for his love and mercy. But those arms which were opened on the cross will always continue to embrace the world with God’s love.
We don’t deserve it and we haven’t earned it, that’s the point, but it is there to help us become the people God wants us to be: to be strengthened, fed, healed, and restored by him: to die to sin and be raised to new life, and to share that life and love with others, that the world might believe and be saved through him. Christ pays the debt which we cannot to reconcile humanity to his loving and merciful Father. He shows us the meaning of true love: that we might live it out in our lives, forgiving one another, bearing our own cross, and living lives of love for love of him who died for love of us.
          We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life, and our resurrection, through him we are saved and made free.

Maundy Thursday 2015

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 says to them I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.
The new commandment given to the disciples by our Lord at the Last Supper in John’s account is to love one another as he has loved us. The washing of the disciples’ feet is an act of loving service:  God who created the universe and who will redeem it kneels and washes the feet of sinful humanity. This is true love in action. . It is a gesture of humility and intimacy, which shows us how God loves us and how the events of the next few days will show us the depth of this love, a love which brings the entirety of the human race, past, present and future into a relationship with a loving God, through his sacrifice of himself upon the cross and through his bursting from the tomb
            But before this love is disclosed in our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, it is shown in loving service and humility, the Greek word for which is diakonia, which gives us our English word Deacon. All those who are ordained are set apart for the service of Almighty God and his church and we are all called to serve God and his people fashioning ourselves after the example of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. All ordained Christian ministry is rooted in the diaconate, in a ministry of loving service, after the form and pattern of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, following HIS example and living it out in our lives. This is a most wonderful and humbling task which can fill us with both joy and fear and I would humbly ask that you continue to pray for me and for all of us who serve the church in this place, since we can do nothing without you.
            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. It is loving service for our Lord to feed his disciples with his own body and blood. This the church was formed continue, offering the same sacrifice of Calvary at the altar, feeding His people with His Body and Blood, nourishing the church as a mother feeds her children, filling us with his love and grace, to transform our human nature through our sharing in the divine life of love. This is what priests and deacons are called to be, those who serve the people of God and nourish them with the word and sacrament, building up the body of Christ. We are to live exemplary lives of love, service, and prayer, which can serve as examples for the whole baptised people of God to copy and imitate in their own lives. This is a great, an awesome and wonderful task, for which we rely upon the grace of God’s and the help and support of you, the people of God in this place. It is not something which we can do on our own, relying on our own abilities or strengths, but on God. For we all, as Christians, are called to love one and to serve one another in a variety of ways. In this we follow the example of Christ, who washes our feet, who institutes the Eucharist to feed us with himself, to transform our nature by his grace and bring about the full flowering of the kingdom of God. He sets his disciples apart, consecrating them to God, for a life of prayer and service and to carry on the sacrifice of Calvary through their offering of the Eucharist of the altars of his church, to feed his people. 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 then, let us prepare for Christ to wash our feet, as the blood and water which will flow from his side tomorrow on Calvary will wash away all the sins of humanity, let us be fed with his body and blood, which tomorrow he will offer upon the altar of the cross as both priest and victim, reconciling humanity and embracing a world with his loving arms as he is nailed to the wood. And let us follow his example, in living lives of prayer and loving service, supporting one another so that the world may believe and 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. AMEN.

A Thought for the Day from St Benedict

If we do not venture to approach men who are in power, except with humility and reverence, when we wish to ask a favor, how much must we beseech the Lord God of all things with all humility and purity of devotion? And let us be assured that it is not in many words, but in the purity of heart and tears of compunction that we are heard. For this reason prayer ought to be short and pure, unless, perhaps it is lengthened by the inspiration of divine grace. At the community exercises, however, let the prayer always be short, and the sign having been given by the Superior, let all rise together.

A thought for the day from Colossians 3

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts,kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,13 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. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together inperfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 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. 17 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.

Homily for Lent I

It is all too easy to see the forty days of Lent, the season of preparation for our celebration of Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection as a time of sadness and misery. Too often it is seen in entirely negative terms: we focus on what we are giving up. Now the practice of abstaining from bodily pleasures is a good and ancient one, not in and of itself, it is not some sort of holy diet, but rather we turn away from something we enjoy so that we may focus upon something else. The other practices of Lent: prayer and almsgiving are there to focus our minds upon God and other people, so that we may enter the desert of repentance with joy, thinking of the needs of others and growing closer to the God who loves us and longs for our healing, our repentance.
     
  In this morning’s first reading we see a covenant between God and humanity, a sign of God’s love for us, and a promise of reconciliation between God and the world which underlies what Jesus does for us, it allows us to have hope, to see things in an entirely positive way, and to see behind what we do, that it is a means, a means to an end, namely our sanctification, rather than an end in itself. In our second reading from the first letter of Peter, he draws the link between Noah’s ark, which saves people through water, and baptism, which is prefigured in it. Lent is a season of preparation for baptism, so that we can die with Christ and be raised like him and with him to new life in him. For those of us who have been baptised it is good to have a chance to spend the time in Lent praying, drawing closer to the God who loves us, and living out our faith in our lives – we can all do better, especially when we try, and try together, supporting each other, so that we might grow in holiness as the people of God.
When St Antony was praying in his cell, a voice spoke to him, saying ‘Antony, you have not yet come to the measure of the tanner who is in Alexandria.’ When he heard this, the old man arose and took his stick and hurried to the city. When he had found the tanner …. he said to him, ‘Tell me about your work, for today I have left the desert and come here to see you.’
He replied, ‘I am not aware that I have done anything good. When I get up in the morning, before I sit down to work, I say that the whole of the city, small and great, will go into the Kingdom of God because of their good deeds while I will go into eternal punishment because of my evil deeds. Every evening I repeat the same words and believe them in my heart.’
When St Antony heard this he said, ‘My son, you sit in your own house and work well, and you have the peace of the Kingdom of God; but I spend all my time in solitude with no distractions, and I have not come near to the measure of such words.’
It is a very human failure, for far too often we make things far too complicated when all we need to do is to keep things simple. In the story from the Desert Fathers, which we have just heard, St Antony, the founder of monasticism, a great and a holy man, is put to shame by a man who spends his days treating animal skins. The key to it all is the tanner’s humility, his complete absence of pride, and his complete and utter trust in God – his reliance upon him alone.
In this morning’s Gospel we see the beginning of Our Lord’s public ministry – he is baptised by John in the River Jordan before immediately  going into the desert for forty days. He goes to be alone with God, to pray and to fast, to prepare himself for the public ministry of the Proclamation of the Good News, the Gospel.
During this he is tempted by the devil: he faces temptation just like every human being, but unlike us, he resists. The devil tempts him to turn stones into bread. It is understandable – he is hungry, but it is a temptation to be relevant, which the church seems to have given into completely: unless we what we are and what we do and say is relevant to people, they will ignore us.
There is the temptation to have power, symbolised by worshipping the devil. It leads to the misuse of power. The church stands condemned for the mistakes of the past, but in recognising this there is the possibility of a more humble church in the future – a church reliant upon God and not on the exercise of power.
There is the temptation to put God to the test – to be spectacular and self-seeking. Whenever we say ‘look at me’ we’re not saying ‘look at God’.
Jesus resists these temptations because he is humble, because he has faith, and because he trusts in God. It certainly isn’t easy, but it is possible. It’s far easier when we do this together, as a community, which is why Lent matters for all of us. It’s a chance to become more obedient, and through that obedience to discover true freedom in God. It’s an obedience which is made manifest on the Cross – in laying down his life Jesus can give new life to the whole world. He isn’t spectacular – he dies like a common criminal. He has no power, he does not try to be relevant, he is loving and obedient and that is good enough.
It was enough for him, and it should be for us. As Christians we have Scripture and the teaching of the Church, filled with his Spirit, to guide us. We can use this time of prayer and fasting to deepen our faith, our trust, our understanding, and our obedience, to become more like Jesus, fed by his word and sacraments – to become more humble, more loving, living lives of service of God and each other.  It leads to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ Words as true now as then, which the world still longs to hear, and which we need to live out in our lives, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever.
duccio_di_buoninsegna_040

A Thought for the Day from the Desert

The fear of the Lord is our cross. Just as someone who is crucied no longer has the power of moving or turning his limbs in any direction as he pleases, so we also ought to fasten our wishes and desires, not in accordance with what is pleasant and delightful to us now, but in accordance with the law of the Lord, where it hems us in. Being fastened to the wood of the cross means: no longer considering things present; not thinking about one’s preferences; not being disturbed by anxiety and care for the future; not being aroused by any desire to possess, nor inflamed by any pride or strife or rivalry; not grieving at present injuries, and not calling past injuries to mind; and while still breathing and in the present body, considering oneself dead to all earthly things, and sending the thoughts of one’s heart on ahead to that place where, one does not doubt, one will soon arrive
John Cassian, Institutes, Book IV ch.35

A Thought for the Day from S. Anthony the Great

The brethren came to the Abba Anthony and said to him, ‘Speak a word; how are we to be saved?’ The old man said to them, ‘You have heard the Scriptures. That should teach you how.’ But they said, ‘We want to hear it from you too, Father.’ Then the old man said to them, ‘The Gospel says,”if anyone strikes you on the one cheek, turn to him the other also.”‘ (Mt 5:39) They said, ‘We cannot do that.’ The old man said, ‘If you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck.’ ‘We cannot do that either,’ they said. So he said, ‘If you are not able to do that, do not return evil for evil,’ and they said, ‘We cannot do that either.’ Then the old man said to his disciple, ‘Prepare a little brew of corn for these invalids. If you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you? What you need is prayers.’

It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.

He also said, ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalise our brother, we have sinned against Christ.’

Advent IV Year B – Veni Emmanuel

We always make the fatal mistake of thinking that it is what we do that matters, when really what matters is what we let God do to us. God sent the angel to Mary, not to ask her to do something, but to let something be done. Since God is a better artisan than you, the more you abandon yourself to him, the happier he can make you.
Fulton J. Sheen Seven Words of Jesus & Mary
 
This morning, let me begin by asking you a question. How would you feel if one day a complete stranger turned up on your doorstep and told you something strange and unexpected? Surprised? Confused? Afraid? The fact that you are a teenage girl might well intensify these feelings. When you add to this the fact that the girl will conceive a child outside marriage something for which she could be stoned to death, according to the Law of Moses, the Gospel passage which we have just heard should strike us as odd, and unsettling – this isn’t how God is supposed to work, it isn’t supposed to be like this.
        It reminds us that biblical accounts of the interaction between God and humanity show us that ours is a God who takes risks. Mary could refuse, she could say no, and human history would be profoundly different. But instead, she says “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” It is through Mary saying yesto God, through her acceptance and obedience, that her son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, will be born.
As we come towards the end of our Advent journey, it is good to go back to where it all started, back to the account of the Annunciation to remind ourselves what we are celebrating at Christmas – the birth of a child, but not just any child, but rather Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is born not in a royal palace, but in a stable, with straw for a bed, surrounded by livestock. While this scene is familiar, it should still strike us as something strange. It confounds our expectations; it isn’t what we think God would do. The greatest news in human history is a teenage pregnancy – something shameful, disgraceful even, is how God saves us.
In this morning’s Old Testament Reading we see King David concerned that he is living in a house built of fragrant cedar wood while the ark of God stays in a tent. Yet while Israel journeyed to the Promised Land, the ark, God’s presence among His people was in a tabernacle, without a permanent home. It reminds us both of a verse in the Prologue of John’s Gospel: (Jn 1:14) ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ the word translated ‘dwelt’ actually means ‘pitched a tent’ which sees the New Covenant prefigured in the Old. God pitches his tent in the womb of a young girl, so that He might come and save us. He continues to dwell with us in tabernacles and aumbries in our churches, where His Body and Blood, under the outward forms of bread and wine, feed His pilgrim people, like manna in the desert, food for our journey of faith, so that we might become what he is, so that we might have a foretaste of heaven – this is what it is all about.
The key to it all, as St Paul reminds the Church in Rome is ‘the obedience of faith’ (Rom 16:26) – Mary listens to God, she says ‘yes’, she trusts, she has faith, and through this faith and trust our salvation is brought about.

So, as we prepare to remember the story of God’s love for humanity, may we continue to be struck by its strangeness, and in the confusion may we remember that it is brought about by Mary’s acceptance, and her trust in God. May we like Mary say yes to God, welcome him into our hearts, and show forth his love to the world. 

Advent I Year B ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come’

T
here are people who walk around in town centres wearing sandwich boards with the following message on them, ‘the end is nigh: repent and believe the gospel’. Now to many people, they appear as figures of fun, strange religious extremists, but this morning, as we begin the season of Advent, the season of preparation for our yearly Memorial of the Incarnation, I would like to begin by considering such people and their message. Their purpose is genuine, and their message is true, and we as Christians would do well to consider what they say, and how it might affect our lives.
       We, here, this morning, as Christians are living between Christ’s Resurrection and the end of the world, we are to be ready, and to spend our time considering the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. In this morning’s gospel, our Lord tells us to stay awake, to be on our guard, to be prepared, because we do not know the time when our Lord will return in glory to judge both the living and the dead.
       Jesus tells us not to be found asleep, in the sleep of sin, asleep which says ‘I’m alright’, ‘I don’t need God’. It is this sleep which affects many people, those who come to church, and the vast majority who do not. That’s not to say they don’t try and live good Christian lives. We all do, instinctively. And yet any mention of the last things tends to conjure up images of fire and damnation, hell and brimstone preachers, thumping pulpits and putting the fear of God into people. It’s the characterisation of the religious as extremists, which affects our friend with the sandwich boards, whom I mentioned earlier. And yet, they all have a point – their message is true – but I suspect that they put it across in a way which strikes people as unpalatable, and so they switch off and go to sleep.
       And yet, what they say matters, it is true that we could all do with being reminded of it. How we live our lives matters, it affects who and what we are, and the world around us. We have but one life to live on Earth, and we must try, with God’s grace, to do the best we can. We live in a world which does not care about such questions, apparently people’s lives are their own business, and we have no business calling people’s actions into question, but this will not do. Our actions affect us, our character, our lives, and the lives of people around us – our actions have consequences, which is why our lives and how we live them matter. What we do and say matters and the Church exists to call people to repentance – to change the whole of their lives and follow Christ in their thoughts, their words, and their deeds – for the Kingdom of God is close at hand.
       Lest we get too afraid, we can turn in confidence to the words of Isaiah in our first reading this morning. The profit is looking forward to the redemption of Israel, the coming of the Messiah, a new future after exile. Against a picture of human sin, and rebellion against God, there is the implicit possibility of something better. In those times when God can seem absent, there is the possibility that God has a loving parent is giving us space to reflect and repent. Isaiah is convinced both of the power and the love of God, to remake us, and restore us, to enrich us with his grace, as Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, and give us the gifts of his spirit.
       We’re not being left alone in all this. God both tells us the nature and source of the problem, and provides us with a solution. He even helps us along our way: he strengthens and encourages us, to turn our lives around, and follow him. That we be vigilant – and take care of the state of our lives and our souls, and those around us, that we are awake, rather than indulging in the self-satisfied sleep of sin.
For God asks of us – that we, this Advent, turn our own lives around, and prepareourselves to meet our Lord, at Mass, when he meets us at his altar in his body and blood, and in his words proclaimed in Scripture, we also need to look forward to meeting our Lord in the yearly remembrance of His Nativity, and in his coming in glory as our Saviour and our Judge. If we can look beyond the commercialism of a sad, cynical world, we can see that God was prepared to go to any length to meet us, to be with us and heal us. Can we not prepare ourselves, our souls and our lives to meet Him?

Living the life of the Kingdom – The parable of the Talents

Oh No! It’s a parable about money. Does it mean that the vicar is going to keep on about the Parish Share and the state of the Diocesan Finances? Well I’m sorry to disappoint you, I’m not. I just thought that I’d clear that one up right away, just to put your minds at rest, so that we can get on with the task of drawing closer to the word of God, and to be nourished and strengthened by it.
Reading Holy Scripture, the Bible, can be a strange affair: sometimes it fills us with joy, sometimes it just leaves us confused. Speaking personally, I find the parable of the talents troubling, mostly because I tend to feel rather like the slave who was given one talent and who hid it in the ground. That may well be my own sense of unworthiness informing my reading of the passage, which reminds me of the need in all things to trust in God, and for his grace to be at work in me. The judgement thankfully is not my own, but rather God’s – a loving father who runs to meet his prodigal children. This is a God we can trust, who wants to see us flourish.
No parable has been more misused than Jesus’ parable of the talents. Once a parable is abstracted from Jesus proclamation of the kingdom of God, once it is divorced from its apocalyptic context – pointing to the future, such misreading is inevitable:  speculation begins, for example, about how much talent might be or whether the Master’s observation that the money could have been put in a bank might mean that Jesus approves of taking interest. Speculative uses of the parable have even been employed to justify economic practices that are antithetical to Jesus’ clear judgement that we cannot serve both God and mammon. After all, money is a means, and not an end – which is where we and the world often go wrong.
Jesus is not using this parable to recommend that we should all work hard, make all that we can, to give all that we can. Rather, the parable is a clear judgement against those who think they deserve what they have earned as well as those who do not know how precious is the gift they have been given.
          The slaves have not earned their five, two, and one talents. They have been given those talents. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus indicated that those called to the kingdom would produce different yields. These differences should not be the basis for envy and jealousy, because our differences are gifts given in service to one another – so are the talents given to the slaves of a man going on a journey. It is not unfair that the slaves were given different amounts. Rather what is crucial is how they regarded what they had been given.
          The one who received one talent feared the giver. He did so because he assumed that the gifts that could only be lost or used up. In other words the one with one talent assumed that they were part of a zero-sum game – if someone wins, someone else must lose. Those who assume that life is a zero-sum game think that if one person receives an honour someone else is made poorer. The slave who feared losing what he had, he turned his gifts into a possession – it was a thing, and it was his thing. But by contrast, the first two slaves recognised that trying to secure the gifts that they had been given means that the gifts would be lost – so they use the gifts for the glory of God. The joy of the wedding banquet is the joy into which the Master invites the slaves who did not try to protect what they had been given is the joy that comes from learning to receive the gift without regret, without fear – simply humbly, joyfully and lovingly.
          The parable of the talents just like the parable of the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids are commentaries on the slaves who continue to work,  who continue to feed their fellow slaves, until their master returns – they are parables which teach us how to be a church of loving service. Each of these parables teaches us to wait patiently as those who have received the gift of being called a disciple of Jesus. Jesus’ disciples are not necessarily called to great things. Rather, Jesus’ disciples are called to do the work that Jesus has given us to do: our work is simple and it is learning to tell the truth and love our enemies. Such work is the joy that our Master invites us to share. It is in doing this work that we are separated – sheep from goats.
          It may sound pedestrian, or even humdrum, but living the Christian life, living the life of the Kingdom, is at a day to day level about keeping on keeping on – loving, forgiving, praying – nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ, fed by Him, and with Him, freed from the fear which is the antithesis of the Kingdom, rejoicing in the gifts which God gives us, being thankful for them, and using them for God’s glory. It is what each of us, and indeed all of us together are called to be, in this we can be built up in love, together, and invite others to enter into the joy of the Kingdom, so that they may come to believe in and serve God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed this is most right and just all Might,  Majesty, Glory, Dominion, and Power now and for ever…

A thought for the day from S. Charles Borromeo

Practise what you preach

I admit that we are all weak, but if we want help, the Lord God has given us the means to find it easily. One priest may wish to lead a good, holy life, as he knows he should. He may wish to be chaste and to reflect heavenly virtues in the way he lives. Yet he does not resolve to use suitable means, such as penance, prayer, the avoidance of evil discussions and harmful and dangerous friendships. Another priest complains that as soon as he comes into church to pray the office or to celebrate Mass, a thousand thoughts fill his mind and distract him from God. But what was he doing in the sacristy before he came out for the office or for Mass? How did he prepare? What means did he use to collect his thoughts and to remain recollected?
  Would you like me to teach you how to grow from virtue to virtue and how, if you are already recollected at prayer, you can be even more attentive next time, and so give God more pleasing worship? Listen, and I will tell you. If a tiny spark of God’s love already burns within you, do not expose it to the wind, for it may get blown out. Keep the stove tightly shut so that it will not lose its heat and grow cold. In other words, avoid distractions as well as you can. Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter.
  If teaching and preaching is your job, then study diligently and apply yourself to whatever is necessary for doing the job well. Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.
  Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourself to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without becoming forgetful of yourself.
  My brothers, you must realise that for us churchmen nothing is more necessary than meditation. We must meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: I will pray, and then I will understand. When you administer the sacraments, meditate on what you are doing. When you celebrate Mass, reflect on the sacrifice you are offering. When you pray the office, think about the words you are saying and the Lord to whom you are speaking. When you take care of your people, meditate on how the Lord’s blood that has washed them clean so that all that you do becomes a work of love.
  This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work: in meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in other men.

Living the life of the Kingdom

Our blessed Lord began His public life on the Mount of the Beatitudes, by preaching, ‘Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the earth.’ He finished His public life on the hill of Calvary by practising that meekness: ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’
Fulton J. Sheen The Cross and the Beatitudes, 1937: 3
It is probably a good thing that Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was not an advertising executive. Fundamentally He tells it like it is – there is a simplicity and a directness to Him that is not always comfortable. He does not tell us what we want to hear, but rather he tells us what we need to hear, which is often far from pleasant or comfortable. He has been teaching in the Temple, about the Kingdom of God, and how to live out the faith in our lives and now He turns to the future.
      The Temple was the single most important place on Earth for religious Jews, it was the centre of their life; it was where they came close to God. The prospect of its destruction was surely the most dreadful prospect, something not to be countenanced at all. Yet it would happen, and rather than hide behind the false hope of a pleasant image, he teaches people the plain unvarnished truth. Rather than a sugar-coated pill he gives us a bitter draught, so that we can be prepared.
      False teaching is always a possibility for the Church – people want to pervert the Gospel, to twist it for their own ends and to suit their own agenda – it is happening now, and has always happened. We need, therefore to be vigilant, to know what we believe and why, so that we can discern the true from the false, the good from the bad.
      In human terms the future looks bleak – human beings have an immense capacity for doing the wrong thing, and yet in the midst of all this we know whom we can trust, whom we can look to, where we can place our hope and our confidence. The possibility of being tortured or killed for professing faith in Jesus Christ is still very real, here and now, in the world in which we live. It’s a deeply unpleasant thought, and while none of us I suspect would like to undergo such treatment, we have to be prepared for the possibility, we have to be willing to stand up and be counted, to know that we place Christ before and above all things.
      At one level it is quite understandable, what Christ stands for, what we stand for: love, forgiveness, selflessness, are never going to be popular in a world obsessed by power. But we’re not here to win a popularity contest, but rather to bear witness to the truth of Christ, and to know that we are set free by it. The love of many may grow cold; indeed it has, so we need to be that love in the world to make Christ known and to call others into His loving embrace. Against a human nature which takes a perverse delight in selfishness and sin, in not living how God wants us to, we need to take a stand.
      Fundamentally the calling to be a saint is there for each and every one of us. We are called to be like Christ, and through our baptism to die to the ways of the world and live for him. In our baptism we are given the grace of God and His Holy Spirit, we are given all that we need to get to Heaven, because Christ loves us, and gave Himself to die for us, to take away our sins, to show us what love and forgiveness really look like, so that we can do the same.
      On our own, each one of us individually doesn’t stand much of a chance, it’s too difficult, it’s not how it is supposed to be, rather we need to live out our faith together, as a community of believers, helping each other, supporting each other, praying for and forgiving each other, being built up in love together, so that together we can truly be the people of God, forgiving each other, loving each other, and helping to make the Kingdom a reality here and now.
      We come to be nourished by Him, to be fed by the Word of God, nourished in our faith, to be fed with His Body and Blood, to be given a foretaste of heaven, fed by Him, fed with Him, to be built up in love together, strengthened and nourished to live out our common calling to sainthood, and to encourage others to join us, as this is what God wants us to do – this is life in all its fullness, following the Truth which sets us free from the ways of the world – its selfishness, its lust for power and control, its fear and anger, all those things which separate us from God and each other.

      So let us come to Him, let our lives be transformed by Him, so that we can live out our faith together, in our common calling, and encourage others so to do, so that they too may believe and give Glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.  

Homily for the 26th Sunday of Year A

In the Gospels Jesus crosses swords with religious authorities on a number of occasions – it’s quite understandable – all they want to do is nit-pick. They want to accuse him of blasphemy, and are so fixated with what they think he may be doing wrong that they completely fail to see what he is doing right. It’s a sad state of affairs, but a very human one – we can all be judgemental, and it can blind us to what’s really going on.
The Pharisees and Elders are so concerned with detail that they cannot see the wood for the trees – they fail to recognise who Jesus is and what he does. They are troubled by John the Baptist, with his message of repentance, of turning away from sin, and turning to God and having new life in Him, through the waters of baptism. Jesus can beat them at their own game and asks them a question which they cannot or will not answer.
The central part of Jesus’ teaching is the Parable of the Two Sons: one says he will and doesn’t, and the other says he won’t and does. Actions then speak louder than words, and our faith as Christians is something which needs to be put into action in our lives – we have to walk the walk, rather than simply talking the talk –it is difficult, it is challenging but equally that is the point of our faith as Christians – as people who follow Jesus and who do what he tells us.
Unlike the religious leaders, the message proclaimed first by John the Baptist and then by Our Lord is listened to and accepted by prostitutes and tax-collectors. These people were the lowest of the low – shunned by polite society for what they did, with a reputation for being greedy and sexually immoral, and yet they despite their failings know their need of God, they have the humility to recognise their need for grace and love to be poured into their hearts, and are willing to turn their lives around. They are not stubborn, hard-hearted or proud, they are humble – the kind of people in whose lives God can be at work.
The message of repentance was proclaimed by the prophets, as we see in the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel. He calls the people of Israel to repentance, to turn away from their sins and be close to God, it is the same message proclaimed by John the Baptist, it is a message which finds its fulfilment in the person, teaching, and life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the hope for which the prophets long and to which they point. God wants us to live, to have life and have it in all its fullness by being close to him, humble, repentant, and fashioning our lives after the example of His only Son.
It is the same message which the Apostle Paul preaches to the Church in Philippi – the obedience of the Son to the will of the Father, and at the heart of it all, the Cross. The greatest demonstration of God’s love for humanity, the power of God’s reconciling love at work to redeem, to heal and transform humanity. It is truly amazing that God loves us this much and that Christ flings wide His arms on the Cross to embrace the world with God’s love. We celebrate it because it is the single most important moment of human history, which can affect all time and all people. Here is the healing for which we long, the reconciliation, the restoration of humanity, and our relationship with each other and the divine.

That is why on the night before he died Jesus takes bread and wine to point to what he is about to accomplish. He tells us to do this, and so we do – we have come here this morning to be fed by word and sacrament, to be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, so that through the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary, we the people of God, can be fed by Him, and fed with Him, so that we can have new life in Him. So let us come to Him, knowing our need of God’s love and mercy, and letting it transform our lives, strengthening our faith and helping us to live out our faith in our lives, so that we can be built up as living stones, as a temple to God’s glory, with our lives proclaiming the saving truth that God loves us, that he forgives our sins, and can heal and restore us, and let us share this saving truth with others, so that they too may enter into the joy of the Lord.

Some words of St Vincent de Paul

Serving the poor is to be preferred above all things

Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances nor from the mental gifts they seem to have received. On the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor.
  Although in his passion he almost lost the appearance of a man and was considered a fool by the Gentiles and a stumbling block by the Jews, he showed them that his mission was to preach to the poor: He sent me to preach the good news to the poor. We also ought to have this same spirit and imitate Christ’s actions, that is, we must take care of the poor, console them, help them, support their cause.
  Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself. Since God surely loves the poor, he also loves those who love the poor. For when one person holds another dear, he also includes in his affection anyone who loves or serves the one he loves. That is why we hope that God will love us for the sake of the poor. So when we visit the poor and needy, we try to understand the poor and weak. We sympathise with them so fully that we can echo Paul’s words: I have become all things to all men. Therefore, we must try to be stirred by our neighbours’ worries and distress. We must beg God to pour into our hearts sentiments of pity and compassion and to fill them again and again with these dispositions.
  It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer. Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God’s works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. So when you leave prayer to serve some poor person, remember that this very service is performed for God. Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity. Since she is a noble mistress, we must do whatever she commands. With renewed devotion, then, we must serve the poor, especially outcasts and beggars. They have been given to us as our masters and patrons.

The Power of the Cross

Judgement would hold nothing but terror for us if we had no sure hope of forgiveness. And the gift of forgiveness itself is implicit in God’s and people’s love. Yet it is not enough to be granted forgiveness, we must be prepared to accept it. We must consent to be forgiven by an act of daring faith and generous hope, welcome the gift humbly, as a miracle which love alone, love human and divine, can work, and forever be grateful for its gratuity, its restoring, healing, reintegrating power. We must never confuse forgiving with forgetting, or imagine that these two things go together. Not only do they not belong together, they are mutually exclusive. To wipe out the past has little to do with constructive, imaginative, fruitful forgiveness; the only thing that must go, be erased from the past, is its venom; the bitterness, the resentment, the estrangement; but not the memory. 
How do we live as a Church? How do we live out our faith in lives in an authentic and authoritative way? These are questions which trouble us in the Church, and so they should, for they lie at the heart of what it is to be a Christian, to follow Jesus; and they help us to understand that how we live our lives affects how we proclaim the Good News, the saving truth of Jesus Christ to the world and for the world.
It goes without saying that we, as human beings sin, we say and think and do things which estrange us from each other and from God. Recognising this is part of one might like to term Spiritual Maturity – recognising that we miss the mark, and fall short of what God wants us to be. If this was all that there was then we could quite rightly wallow in a pit of misery and regret, out of which we could never climb by our own efforts.
Thankfully the solution can be found encapsulated in this morning’s Gospel: Peter asks Our Lord how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him – seven? Jesus reply, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times’ looks back to the establishment of the jubilee year in Leviticus 25:8 – ‘You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years.’ The jubilee of the Old Covenant is made real in Jesus – here is the forgiveness and the renewal for which Israel longs. It is radical, and powerful, and can transform us, and the world.
Jesus explains his message of forgiveness with the use of a parable, that of the dishonest servant: he owes a debt which he cannot pay, and begs for the chance to try. Yet, when faced with a debtor of his won, he fails to exhibit the mercy, the kindness which has been shown to him. For this he is rightly and justly punished, to show us who hear the parable that as we beg God to forgive our sins, so we need to forgive the sins of others.
It really is that simple, it is why when Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray he says ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. As Christians this is how we pray, but these cannot simply be words that we say with our lips, they need rather to be actions in our lives – we need to live out the forgiveness which we have received. Thus the Kingdom of God is a place where God’s healing love can be poured out upon the world – to restore our human nature, to heal our wounds, and to build us up in love, for our own sake, and for the sake of the Kingdom.
We see this forgiveness in Paul’s Letter to the Romans – here are people learning not to judge others, learning to live as people of love, freed from all that hinders our common life together. If we consider for a second the fact that for three centuries Christians were persecuted for their faith – they were sentenced to death for preferring Christ to the ways of the world, and yet they were not angry, but rather lived out the love and the forgiveness which they had received, it was this powerful witness which brought others to believe and follow Christ.
We have to follow their example and try to live authentic lives together, forgiving each other, and living in love – putting aside the petty rivalries, the squabbles, the slights, all the little everyday annoyances. For how can we ask God for forgiveness and not be ready, willing and able to show the same forgiveness to our brothers and sisters? We would be hypocrites: more to be pitied than blamed for failing to grasp the fact the heart of the Gospel is love, and failing to live this truth out in our lives.
That is why we celebrate the Cross of Christ – the simple fact that for love of us Jesus bore the weight of our sins upon himself, and suffered and died for us, to show that there was no length to which God would not go to demonstrate once and for all what love and forgiveness truly mean. It is our only hope, the one thing that can save us from ourselves, from that which divides, and wounds, which separates from each other and from God.

It may seem utterly ridiculous that the Gospel promises unlimited forgiveness to the penitent, but how can we learn to forgive others without first coming to terms with the fact that we are forgiven. The slate is wiped clean, but this does not mean we can sit back and say ‘I’m alright Jack’ – we cannot be complacent, instead we are humble knowing that we rely upon God for dealing with things. Sin matters, it matters so much that Christ died for it, and rose again, to show us that as the Church we are to have new life in him. The Kingdom is here, now, amongst us – it is up to us to live it, as a community of truth and reconciliation, showing that same costly love which our Lord exhibits upon the Cross, and proclaiming that same truth to the world.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh on Forgiveness

Judgement would hold nothing but terror for us if we had no sure hope of forgiveness. And the gift of forgiveness itself is implicit in God’s and people’s love. Yet it is not enough to be granted forgiveness, we must be prepared to accept it. We must consent to be forgiven by an act of daring faith and generous hope, welcome the gift humbly, as a miracle which love alone, love human and divine, can work, and forever be grateful for its gratuity, its restoring, healing, reintegrating power. We must never confuse forgiving with forgetting, or imagine that these  two things go together. Not only do they not belong together, they are mutually exclusive. To wipe out the past has little to do with constructive, imaginative, fruitful forgiveness; the only thing that must go, be erased from the past, is its venom; the bitterness, the resentment, the estrangement; but not the memory. 

A thought for the day from Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Endeavour to become humble and simple as a little child for love of the Lord, in imitation of him, and in a spirit of peace and recollection. If God finds this humility in us he will prosper his work in us himself. Persevere in being faithful to grace for the greater glory of God and for the pure love of him. All consists in loving well, and with all your heart and in all your employments, this God of all goodness. When God grants us attractions and sensible devotions let us profit by them to attach ourselves more firmly to him above all his gifts. But in times of dryness let us go on always in the same way, reminding ourselves of our poverty and also thinking that, perhaps, God wishes to prove our love for him by these salutary trials. Let us be humble, occupied in correcting our own faults, without reflecting on those of others. Let us see Jesus Christ in our neighbours, and then we shall have no difficulty in excusing them as well as helping them. Besides, we must bear with ourselves also out of charity.

Abandonment to Divine Providence 2:6

Trinity III ‘Cast your burden on the Lord’

‘There’s just no pleasing some people!’ If one wanted to sum up the opening of this morning’s Gospel then it would be hard to find better words. It is a truth as true now as it was two thousand years ago: it’s a facet of human nature, and something which God can redeem. The people of Israel have had the last of the prophets, John the Baptist, who came to them preaching repentance and the forgiveness of sins, living a simple life in the desert. His message is too hard for people, they think he’s mentally ill or possessed by an evil spirit. When Jesus comes, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, someone who clearly enjoys a party, as we see in the wedding at Cana in Galilee where he turns 180 gallons of water into the equivalent of 1100 bottles of wine, he’s a glutton and a drunkard. If you’re harsh and abstemious, it’s wrong, if you’re the life and soul of the party, that’s wrong too. The people of Israel are not searching for a golden mean, the midway between two extreme positions; they are simply unable or unwilling to accept either the difficult moral demands or the all-consuming joy of the Kingdom of God. ‘Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds’ Both John the Baptist and Our Lord bear witness to the truth of the Kingdom of God in their lives and in their deaths, and those who take no offense at Him will be blessed (Mt 11:6).
       The Kingdom of God preached by John and brought about by Jesus is not something for the wise and the intelligent – it does not require intellectual effort or knowledge. Instead it needs to be received like a child, simply, humbly and with trust. The key to it comes when we say ‘Yes’ to God, when we accept that we are loved and redeemed by Him, that His Love can save us from our sins, from pride, from intellectual arrogance, of thinking that weknow better, of being judgemental and unwilling to accept the harsh message of the prophet or the joyous celebration of the Messiah. At the heart of our faith is the mystery of the Incarnation, it’s why we celebrate Christmas, because the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. In Christ, God takes our humanity, so that He can redeem it.
       At the heart of this morning’s Gospel is the astounding statement “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-30) Christ will bear the burden of our sins, the sins of the world, of the past, the present, and the future, upon Himself on the Cross. The message of the Gospel is to lay down your burden, to rest in the Lord, to bear Christ’s yoke and learn from Him. We do so with child-like trust in the God who loves us and saves us, we do so with humility, knowing our need of God, to cast ourselves upon his love and mercy. We cannot win our way to heaven, or gain salvation through our own efforts but rather in and through Christ, through our Baptism, nourished by His Word and His Body and Blood, so that we can have life in Him.
       There is something truly refreshing about the simplicity of the message – Christ says to each and every one of us, to the whole world, lay down your burdens and find life in all its fullness in Him.

       So let us come to Him, let us be fed by Him, fed with Him, to have life in Him. Let us take His burden and follow Him, learning from Him, freed from sin, freed from the ways of the world, from hardness of heart. Let us enter into the joy of the Lord, and encourage others to do so, so that they may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit, to who whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

Easter II Year A

The Cross had asked the questions; the Resurrection had answered them…. The Cross had asked ‘Why does God permit evil and sin to nail Justice to a tree?’ The Resurrection answered: ‘That sin, having done its worst, might exhaust itself and thus be overcome by Love that is stronger than either sin or death.’
          Thus there emerges the Easter lesson that the power of evil and the chaos of the moment can be defied and conquered, for the basis of our hope is not in any construct of human power but in the power of God, who has given to the evil of this earth its one mortal wound—an open tomb, a gaping sepulchre, an empty grave.
Fulton J. Sheen Cross-Ways
This morning as we rejoice in the joy of the Risen Lord, as we are filled with joy, with hope and with love, we can reflect on what the Resurrection does: when Jesus comes and stands among the disciples he says ‘Peace be with you’ Christ’s gift to the world in His Death and Resurrection is Peace, the Peace ‘which passes all understanding’. He shows the disciples his hands and side so that they can see the wounds of love, through which God’s Mercy is poured out on the world to heal it and restore it. In this peace Christ can say to them ‘As the Father sent me, so I send you’ as the baptised people of God the Church is to be a missionary community – one sent to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world, that it may share the joy and life of the Risen Lord.
          As well as giving the Apostles the Holy Spirit, ordaining them as the first bishops of the Church, we see that the power of the Cross to bring peace to the world is also the power to absolve sins – priests and bishops can absolve the people of God in God’s name, and by God’s power – this is what the Cross achieves – reconciling us to God and each other. The Church, then, is to be a community of reconciliation, where we are forgiven and we, in turn, forgive, where we are freed from sin, its power and its effects.
          When Christ breathes on the disciples and says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ it is this gift of God’s Holy Spirit which transforms them from frightened people sat in a locked room in fear into the confident, joyous proclaimers of the Gospel, such as Peter in his sermon to the people of Jerusalem. In Peter’s sermon we see that all that Christ is and does is confirmed by Scripture – it is the fulfilment of prophesy, such as we find in Isaiah 25:6—9:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
          As the Church we know that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who gives freedom to Israel, a freedom from sin – a bringing to completion of what God started in the Exodus, in the crossing of the Red Sea – we too are free, freed by the waters of baptism, sharing in Christ’s Death and Resurrection.
          Thomas was not present with the disciples, he cannot believe in the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection unless he sees with his own eyes, and feels with his own hands – such is his grief, such is his love for Jesus. Our Lord says to him ‘Doubt no longer but believe’ which leads to his confession ‘My Lord and my God’. Blessed are we who have not seen and yet have come to believe, and through this belief we have live in Christ’s name, we have the hope of eternal life and joy with him forever.
          The disciples go from being scared and stuck in an upper room to missionaries, evangelists, spreading the Good News around the world, regardless of the cost, even of sacrificing their own lives to bear witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, and that he rose again, on this day for us, that God loves us and tells us to love Him and to love one another. It is a simple and effective message which people still want to hear – we need to tell it to them, in our thoughts, our words and our actions.
          The heart of our faith and the Gospel is forgiveness – no matter how many times we mess things up, we are forgiven. It is this reckless generosity of spirit which people find hard – to believe that they toocan be forgiven, by a loving God, and by their fellow Christians. That we can, despite our manifold shortcomings be a people of love, and forgiveness, and reconciliation. That God’s Grace will in the end not abolish our nature, but perfect it, that being fed by Christ, with Christ: so that we too may become what He is. That faced with the sad emptiness of the world, and its selfishness, its greed, we can be filled with joy, and life, and hope. That like the first apostles we too can spread the Gospel: that the world may believe.
It’s a tall order, perhaps, but one which God promises us. That is what the reality of the Resurrection is all about, it’s either nothing, in which case we are the most pitiable of deluded fools – idiots who are more to be pitied than blamed, orit is the single most important thing in the world. It should affect allof us, every part of our life, every minute of every day, allthat we do, all that we say, all that we are. This may not fit in with a reserved British mentality, we think we’re supposed to be polite and not force our views on others. But this simply will not do. We are, after all, dealing with people’s souls, their eternal salvation, it’s a serious matter. And what we offer people is entirely free, can change their lives for the better, and make life worth living.

So let us be filled with the joy of the Resurrection this Easter, let us share that joy with others, may it fill our lives and those of whom we meet with the joy and love of God, who has triumphed and who offers us all new life in Him, that all that we do, all that we are, all that we say or think may give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever.

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper


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, on this most sacred night Our Lord and Saviour did three things: He washed his disciples’ feet, he instituted the Eucharist, and inaugurated the priesthood of the New Covenant. 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.

A thought for the day from Br Roger

Assured of your salvation by the sole grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, you do not impose discipline on yourself for its own sake. Gaining mastery of yourself has no other aim than to render you more available. No pointless abstaining; keep to what God asks. Bear the burdens of others, accept the minor hurts each day brings, so as to to share concretely in the sufferings of Christ: this is our rst discipline.

from the Rule of Taizé

A thought for the day from Mother Mary Clare SLG

The only way we can know the Spirit of God is by complete humility. He does not propound theories for us to follow. Rather, he helps us in the going, in the doing, in the self-loss, in the throwing of our whole selves into following the naked Christ, ourselves naked. Then things can happen, for the Holy Spirit is power whereby we may learn to hear truth.

Homily for Lent II (John 3:1-17)

The sight of a crucifix has a continuity with Golgotha; at times its vision is embarrassing. We can keep a statue of Buddha in a room, tickle his tummy for good luck, but it is never mortifying. The crucifix somehow or other makes us feel involved. It is much more than a picture of Marie Antoinette and the death-dealing guillotine. No matter how much we thrust it away, it makes its plaguing reappearance like an unpaid bill.

Fulton J. Sheen Those Mysterious Priests1974: 101—102
Baptism is a wonderful thing, and it is why each and every one of us is here today. It is how we enter the Church, how we become part of the body of Christ, sharing in His death, and His resurrection. It is something for which people have traditionally prepared during this season of Lent, for Baptism and Confirmation at Easter, so that they can die with Christ and be raised to new life with Him. We enter into the mystery of Christ’s saving work so that we may conformed to it and transformed by it, believing and trusting in him, publically declaring our faith in Him, and praying for His Holy Spirit, so that our lives may be transformed – living for Him, living in Him, and being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ.
            To be drawn into His likeness means coming closer to His Cross and Passion: just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (Jn 3:14). Just as the serpent in the desert brought salvation to the people of Israel, so now the Cross is our only hope – the sacrifice of God for humanity, not something we can give God, but something he gives us – a free gift of infinite value. God gives it to us and to all the world for one simple reason – love, for love of us – weak, poor, sinful humanity, so that we might be more lovely, more like Him. God sends His Son into the world not to condemn it, but so that the world might be saved through Him – an unselfish act of generosity, of grace, so that we might be saved from sin and death, from ourselves, so that we can share new life in Him.
            It is that same sacrifice which we see here, which we can taste and touch, which we can eat and drink, so that our lives and our souls can be transformed to live Christ’s risen life. It is something which we treat with the uttermost reverence because it is God, given for us, because it can transform us to live as children of the Holy Spirit, freed from the shackles of this world, free to live for Him, to live as He wants us to, His new creation, of water and the Spirit. This is what the Church has done on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, in memory of Him, to make the holy people of God. To make us holy: so that everything which we say, or think, or do, may be for His praise and glory, living out the faith which we believe in our hearts, as a sign to the world that the ways of selfishness and sin are as nothing compared with the generous love of God.
            So great is this gift, that we prepare to celebrate it with this solemn season of prayer, and fasting, and abstinence, to focus our minds and our lives on the God who loves us and who saves us. We prepare our hearts and minds and lives to celebrate the mystery of our redemption, so that our lives may reflect His glory, so that we may live for Him, fed by Him, fed with Him, with our lives and souls transformed by Him. We are transformed so that we can transform the world so that it may live for Him, living life in all its fullness: living for others, living as God wants us to live. Living the selfless love which saves us and all the world, living out our faith, and encouraging others so to do, can and will conform us to Christ, so that we may be like Him, and become ever more like Him, prepared for eternal life with Him, so that we may sing the praises 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.

Lent I Year A


This morning’s Epistle from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans really hits the nail on the head – humanity is sinful, it isn’t comfortable to be reminded of this, in fact the world around us would much rather forget this fact, but Lent is a time for facing home truths, for being confronted with the truth about the human condition – we’re not as good as we think we are. If this were the whole story then I suspect that we could and indeed should feel utterly miserable and wretched. Thankfully it isn’t – our vocation as Christians is to be joyful, even when we are penitent, for the simple reason that we can have hope in Christ, that in our baptism we share in His life, death and resurrection. Paul can rejoice in the ‘abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness’ poured out by God in Christ, who on the Cross takes our sins upon Himself, who pays the debt which we cannot, who restores the relationship between us and God, and between ourselves. The Sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented here, today, so that we, the people of God can be fed by God, fed with God, healed and restored, and given a foretaste of heaven.
            As we undertake the spiritual journey of Lent we spend forty days in prayer, in penitence, and fasting, so that we may celebrate with joy Our Lord and Saviour’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. We enter the desert of repentance, turning away from sin, turning to God, to love Him, to trust Him, to ask Him to heal us and restore us. We do what we do because Christ has done it before. At the start of His public ministry, Jesus goes to pray and fast, and we follow His example. He was led by the Spirit, as God Incarnate He is God, and His life demonstrates the unity of the Trinity. He’s been fasting for forty days, he’s starving – he’s a human being, he isn’t some superhero who is immune to human feelings. He is tempted by the devil to turn the stones around Him into bread; it is the temptation to be relevant, a temptation into which our contemporary church seems all too willing to give. His reply to the devil, that man does not live by bread alone but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God, reminds us that as Christians we are fed by Word and Sacrament, nourished by God so that we may grow in faith.
            Christ is taken to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem and told to throw Himself down – it is the temptation to be spectacular, again something which the contemporary church seems rather keen on. But nothing should be done for show; we are to follow Christ simply and humbly, trusting in Him. The devil wants to put God to the test, it is an act of disobedience, contrary to the humble obedience which sees us live trusting in God, relying upon Him, formed by Him.
            Christ is tempted to turn away from God the Father, to worship a false god. He is offered much in material terms – all the world and its splendour – wealth and power – a huge temptation for humanity, and one into which many people give. The Church too has given in, and continues so to do. We have to be weak, powerless and vulnerable, so that God can be at work in us, as we humbly worship and serve Him. It may look foolish in worldly terms, but that is the point – we’re not meant to be conformed to the world, but as we seek to grow in faith, in humility, and obedience, we allow God to be at work in us – taking us and refashioning us.
            So as we undertake to follow Christ in our Lenten pilgrimage we do so in our weakness, so that we may rely upon God, and Him alone. We do so joyfully, knowing that Christ’s victory which we will celebrate at Easter is total and complete – it is justification and life for all.
Let us pray that we may receive grace to follow Christ so that we may prepare to celebrate His Death and Resurrection 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.

A thought for the day from Mother Mary Clare SLG


You are dedicated to love and reconciliation. Your life is directed to that end, and you must learn to stand at the Cross. It is a long learning, a long road, but a sure road if it is up the hill to Calvary.

It is a road on which you, by being stripped of all self, may mediate to the world the dawning knowledge of the glory that descends.

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.

Advent IV (Year A) Still Waiting


We always make the fatal mistake of thinking that it is what we do that matters, when really what matters is what we let God do to us. God sent the angel to Mary, not to ask her to do something, but to let something be done. Since God is a better artisan than you, the more you abandon yourself to him, the happier he can make you.
 Fulton Sheen Seven Words of Jesus and Mary
The world around us can get things so wrong: with all the build-up around us we might easily think that it was already Christmas Day, that the true message of Christmas was one of conspicuous consumption, and spending money. Every year it seems that the decorations go up a bit earlier, and yet here we are in church, still waiting. I don’t know about you, but I for one am not overly keen on waiting, and yet it is what the church is called to be, to live out in the world. We are to be a people who watch and wait, in joyful hope and expectation – we are to be like Mary and Joseph – people who are waiting for God. In the prophesy of Isaiah we see the hope of salvation dawning in God-with-us, Emmanuel. God’s promise is fulfilled through the patience of Mary & Joseph, and their obedience to God’s will: ‘he did what the Angel of the Lord told him to do’. It is an obedience to the Father’s will borne out through suffering, death & resurrection which characterises the mission of the Son, this is what brings about our salvation. We in obedience look for his second coming as our Saviour and our Judge, and as the Church we have an opportunity to ponder these mysteries – to stop for a while amid the business of our modern existence and reflect upon the wondrous nature of God’s love for us and all humanity: we can stop for a moment and consider both what it means and how it affects our lives.
          As the Church, the people of God, which we enter through our baptism, we are called to proclaim the Good News, to live out the story of Jesus in our lives, and we call the world to stop and to consider exactly what we are celebrating at Christmas: a free gift, of hope and salvation for all people, in a baby, born in a stable, among the poor and the marginalised.
          The world around us is quick to judge, it wants to do the right thing – it is a bit like Joseph trying to save Mary the embarrassment and the shame. Thankfully God has other ideas, because he who will be born will save his people from their sins – what wonderful news this is. Those sins which separate us from each other and from God, this falling short of what we know we could or should be – this is what Jesus saves us from. We are to take this opportunity to stop and to ponder this wondrous fact, to reflect upon what ‘God-with-us’ means to us and our lives.
          The act of love which we will experience in Our Lord’s Nativity should draw us to love God and our neighbour, to live out the love which becomes flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, which will become flesh and blood that we can touch and taste, here, this morning, to feed us, so that we might share His divine life. So let us imitate the mystery we celebrate, let us be filled with and transformed by the divine life of love, let us like Mary and Joseph wait on the Lord, and be transformed by him, to live out our faith in our lives so that the world might 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 32nd Sunday of Year C


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

Homily for the 31st Sunday of Year C


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

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.

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday of Year C

Humility is not self-contempt but the truth about ourselves coupled with a reverence for others; it is self-surrender to the highest goal.
Fulton Sheen Thoughts for Daily Living, 1955: 121
Most of us, I suspect, almost all of us don’t really like paying taxes; we know that we have to, but we’d rather not. There were taxes in Jesus’ day and tax collectors were privatised in the Roman Empire: they had to pay for the contract to collect the taxes, and recouped the cost of gaining the contract by over-charging people. They were not popular people, they were resented, they were hated, and with good reason.
          We know that in this morning’s Gospel that he’s supposed to be the villain of the piece, the Pharisee, a religious authority, is supposed to be the person to whom we look up, the example one might expect to follow. The parable, then, turns our understanding of the world on its head. The key to understanding the parable lies in Luke’s opening comment regarding those: ‘who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt’ (Lk 18:9). There is a fundamental problem with the difference between how they think of themselves and others. The Pharisee isn’t praying, he isn’t talking to God, he’s praying to himself, justifying what he thinks of himself, saying to God, ‘Look at me, am I not good?’
          But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner! (Lk 18:13). His prayer is that God will be merciful. He is so conscious of his own sin and need of God that he opens up a space in which God can be at work. It is in this space that we all need to be. We need to recognise that we need God to be at work in us, that we need to rely upon him to change us, to transform us – so that we can become the people that God wants us to be. All the prayer, all the rituals, all the externals of religion, are of no use unless they go hand in hand with an attitude which recognises that we need God, that we are sinful, and need his love and his mercy to transform us.  
          That is why, as Christians, we pray, why we come to Mass each and every week to be fed by word and sacrament, so that God’s grace and transforming love may be at work in us, transforming our nature, making us more like him. Everything that we say or think or do needs to be an outworking of our faith, so that our exterior life and our interior life are in harmony with each other – so that our lives, like St Paul’s, may proclaim the Gospel. This is what we are called to, and how we are to live. Unless we start from the point where we know our need of God and rely upon him, where we too make that space where God can be at work in us, in our souls and our lives, we are doomed to be like the self-righteous Pharisee, talking to ourselves, massaging our own egos, wallowing in selfishness and narcissism, proud and cruel.
          Is this the kind of life we really want to lead? Is this really the path of human flourishing? Or are we called to something better, something greater, something more lovely? So let us put our trust in the God who loves us and who saves us, let us know our need of him and his transforming grace to fill our lives and transform all of his creation so that the world so that it may believe and be transformed to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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