29th Sunday of Year B: Mark 10:35-45

One day the Pope Gregory the Great decided to teach his brother Bishop, John the Faster of Constantinople, a lesson. John had just been granted the title ‘Ecumenical Patriarch’ by the Emperor of Byzantium, it sounds grand and it was. It makes a claim to be patriarch of the entire inhabited world. So Gregory adopted the title ‘servus servorum Dei — Servant of the Servants of God’ [John the Deacon (PL, LXXV, 87)]. It derives from a Hebrew superlative: God of Gods, Heaven of Heavens, Holy of Holies, Song of Songs, Vanity of Vanities. So it means the most servile, the lowest of the low, the servant of all. It is used of Canaan in Genesis 9:25 when he is cursed by Noah, and also it refers to this morning’s Gospel. It was a way of reminding his brother in Christ that service, not power or titles, lies at the heart of who we are as Christians.

This morning’s gospel reminds us that Christian leadership is not about lording it over people, but being like Christ. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a bishop, a priest, a deacon, or simply a baptised Christian; we all have to live up to the same standard: Jesus Christ, who served us, and call us to the service of others. 

It is a big ask, I grant you, we will all of us fall short, and fail to hit the mark. But we are to try, and keep trying, and we can have confidence that, ‘although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him’. The author of the letter to the Hebrews encourages to do this, and to hold fast to our confession: we can be sure about both WHO Jesus is, and WHAT he does. He is truly God and man, tempted but without sin, He loves us and makes peace by the blood of the Cross. He gives his life for us, out of Love.

The Cross is at the centre of all this, through the mystery of the Atonement, we can ‘have confidence to draw near to the throne of grace and receive help in time of need’. It is a mystery, not something to be explained, but something both to be experienced and lived out. It is a mystery which we will enter this morning, when Christ, as priest and victim offers himself for us, and we receive Him under the outward forms of bread and wine. It is a mystery prefigured in the prophets, especially Isaiah, which the Church reads in a Christological way, as pointing to, and finding fulfilment in Jesus Christ. In Acts Chapter 8 when Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch he is reading the passage we have heard this morning and he cannot understand it, or what it means, so Philip tells him about Jesus, and how Isaiah’s prophesy is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus, and he is baptised. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus’ death, which shows us that God loves us, that he inspires the prophets to give comfort and chastisement to God’s people, so that they may love Him and serve Him.

In worldly terms Jesus looks like a failure: he is deserted, denied, and dies the death of a common criminal. But we are NOT to judge by the standards of this world: ‘it shall not be so among you’. We are not being counter-cultural just to be rebellious, to swim against the tide. Instead we are being faithful to Christ, we are holding fast to our confession, because it is TRUE, because it comes from him who is the WAY, who is the TRUTH, and the LIFE, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, whp loves us, and died for us.

In the verses which precede this morning’s Gospel, Our Lord has foretold his suffering and death for the third time in Mark’s account. He knows the cost, he knows what will happen: ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’. Jesus does it willingly, gladly, for love of us. It is a love made manifest in His birth, life and death. A love made manifest in the grace and mercy of God who creates and redeems the world, and who comes among us not as a king but as a servant. This changes us, and changes the world, it turns it around, and it asks us to do the same.

In the person of James and John we see what it is to be a Christian, to live a Christian life: it is to be conformed to Christ. They start by getting it wrong, then they learn what it is all about. It is to be open to the possibility of suffering and to accept it. In worldly terms it looks like a failure, but in bearing witness to our faith we show how that we too are able to drink the cup offered to us. We are able to become an example which people want to imitate and follow because WE point them to Christ, the restorer of all relationships, the healer of the world, who offers life in all its fullness. It is the most terrific news. People may not want to hear it, but they need to hear it. They prefer to ‘lord it over’ others and to go after the false gods of worldly power, money, and success: things which are empty, things which are of no value or worth compared to the love of God in Christ Jesus, the greatest free gift to humanity.

In Christ all human existence, all life, all death, and all suffering find both meaning and value. This truth is unsettling, it is deeply uncomfortable, and yet it is deeply liberating. In living out the truth in our lives we live a service which is perfect freedom. In conforming ourselves to Christ we find meaning and identity. So let us lay down our lives that we may live fully and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.

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Good Friday

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

Prophets have a job to do. They tell people things, usually uncomfortable home truths. It isn’t a popular job, and generally speaking prophets are not treated well. A number of them end up being killed. There is a tradition that Isaiah was sawn in half on the orders of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah. Amos was tortured and killed, Habbakuk and Jeremiah were stoned. And John the Baptist was beheaded to satisfy the whim of Salome. Telling the truth is a risky business. When we proclaim the truth of our faith to the world around us we are met with contempt and unbelief.

The prophets look towards a future, with an anointed leader, a Messiah, the Christ. They point towards Jesus, and they like all of the Hebrew Scriptures find their fullest meaning in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh. Christ is the fulfilment of Scripture – it finds its truest and fullest meaning in Him, and Him alone. The Scriptures point to something beyond themselves, to our Lord and Saviour, and it is thus understandable that tIsaiah 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 of the Suffering Servant is fulfilled in Jesus and this is the proclamation of the Church: we proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified. The proclamation remains the same, as the church continues to understand Isaiah, and all the Old Testament as pointing to Christ.

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, in the Songs of the Suffering Servant, prophesies Our Lord’s Passion and Death. 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, and how that tale of love is told through history.

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 it inaugurates a new age, according to new values, and restores a relationship broken by human sin.

In dying on the Cross, our Lord is in fact reigning in glory — the glory of God’s free love given to restore humanity, to have new life in him. Jesus dies the death of an enemy of the state, but THIS IS GOD’S GLORY – to die in such a way, naked and vulnerable, shunned, and humiliated. This is GLORY, while the same people who a few days ago welcomed him as the Messiah, now mock and jeer and His life slips away. This is the Glory of God’s love for us, a love which will do anything to heal us, to reconcile us, to bring us back.

Jesus’ hands and feet and side are pierced and his head wears a crown of thorns, 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, which are 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, upon the shoulders of the One who loves us.

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, that’s what grace is, unmerited kindness, reckless generosity. 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.

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Sermon for Evensong of the First Sunday after Easter

An old man said, ‘Joseph of Arimathea took the body of Jesus and placed it in a clean garment within a new tomb, which signifies a new humanity. Therefore let each one strive attentively not to sin so that they do not mistreat the God who dwells within themselves and drive him away from their soul.’
It is a good thing that we have time at Easter to take in and make sense of what we have commemorated: Our Lord’s Passion, Death, & Resurrection. They are linked and form part of a larger whole of the history which stretches back through the Incarnation, of the Word made flesh for our sake, to the Creation of the World.
 In the 8th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we see the meeting of Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch, who is reading the very passage which we have just heard  as our first lesson this evening– 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, it, like the rest of Scripture points to Christ and finds its true meaning in Him, 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.
Thus for Paul in the Letter to the Romanshe needs to show them how Abraham, the father of our faith is rewarded by God not through his observance of the Law, as the Pharisees would argue,  but rather by the obedience of his faith in God which can lead to his righteousness.
As Christians we believe that we are saved by grace through faith – by grace, by the unmerited free gift of God who gives his own Son to be born, to suffer and die and to rise again for us, so that we might have life in Him, through our faith, through believing in the God who does this.  We can put our trust in a God who loves us, who dies this for us, to heal us and restore us, and thus we can have new life and eternal life in Him. It is unmerited: we do not deserve it, but it is a free gift rather than a reward, something earned.
In Christ the promise made to Abraham comes true in that through the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ to the whole world Abraham can become the father of many nations, the word for the non-Jewish peoples of the world – he becomes a spiritual parent to Christians because of Abraham’s faith in God, he trusts God, even to the point of being ready to sacrifice his only son, which itself points to Christ, who as the Lamb of God who takes  away the sins  of the world is a type of the lamb caught in the thicket at Bethel. Abraham trusts in God, puts his faith in Him, and is rewarded for that faith. We put our faith in Him, and are fed by Him, fed with Him, so that we may share in his Divine life, strengthened and nourished by God, so that his grace may perfect our nature.
Thus we are to follow Abraham’s example and put our faith in the God who loves us and saves us by His Son, who suffered and died and rose again for our sake. It’s all about faith: faith in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for us, who was delivered up for our sins and raised for our justification, this is what we believe, we have to be like Philip and share it with others, so that they too may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom ….

            

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.

Sermon for Evensong (2nd Sunday after Epiphany)

Our two lessons this evening provide us with contrasting pictures of people in their relationship with God and each other, understood in sexual terms. Now it is an accusation often levelled at the Church that it is all we are concerned with, though that is in fact far from the case, and whereas the Victorians pretended that sex did not exist, modern humanity especially since the 1960s has acted as though nothing else does.
       In our first lesson the Prophet Isaiah is looking forward to a future when Israel, having returned to God and been purified, is understood as a land wedded to God. It looks forward to a Messianic future, one which we as Christians see as brought to fulfilment in Jesus Christ, who is the righteousness and the salvation of Israel, who gives himself for love of us, that we may be pure and holy and through Him. The image of married love and intimacy is profound: it speaks of mutual love and generosity, it is what God wills for our human flourishing, it is the place for children to be born and brought up, in love.
       Whereas the Church in Corinth is in a really bad way: as well as taking each other to court, Christians would appear to be behaving in a way which falls short of Christian morality. They appear to have understood freedom from the law as though it were freedom from any law: extreme antinomianism – that anything goes; that they can just do as they please. This is, however, not the case. How we live our lives, and what we do with our bodies matters. For those of us who have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit, we are called to be in Christ, clothed with him, and living a new life, conformed to him and not to the ways of the world.
       There are some in the Church in Corinth who have been arguing that all things are lawful, to which Paul has to counter that while something may be lawful, it may not be advantageous, as Christians like others in the ancient world would generally subscribe to an idea of virtue ethics, put simply ‘you are what you do’ or in greater depth, our actions help form our moral character – we become what we do habitually, and thus the more we do the right thing, the more we are disposed to do such things, and thus to progress in virtue.
       While they claim the freedom from being made subject to anyone, they would appear to be subject to base appetites, to lust and gluttony, neither of which help in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Thus the proper place for sexual activity remains holy matrimony, where a man and woman are joined; they become one flesh, in a life-long exclusive union where children may be born.
       Christians are to love their bodies, as ours is not a spiritual religion, which despises the flesh, but which rather wishes to see it used for the glory of God and for our mutual flourishing. We receive the Holy Spirit and the grace of God, and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity in our baptism, where we are regenerate, born anew in Christ, we are not our own in that we now live for God, and we glorify him in our bodies by how we live our lives.

       The messianic hope expressed in this evening’s first lesson finds its fulfilment in Christ and in the Church which is his body, we were bought at a price, not thirty pieces of silver, but life of God’s only-begotten Son, who suffered and died for us, for you and for me, and for the sins of the whole world, past, present, and future. How else can we begin to try and repay such love and such generosity than by living the life that God wills for our human flourishing – gentle, generous, and exhibiting the same costly love which Christ showed to us.  This glorifies God and shows due respect to the wonders of creation and salvation, it helps to form our moral character and to live out true faith and charity in our lives, supporting one another, praying for each other, forgiving one another when we fail, and being built up in love, as living stones, a temple to God’s glory. And by living out our faith in our lives we will proclaim the truth and the freedom of the Gospel – others will come and see and enter into the joy of the Lord 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.

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.

Advent I (Year A)


Let Christ Be Formed in You
 As God was physically formed in Mary, so he wills to be spiritually formed in you. If you knew he was seeing through your eyes, you would see in everyone a child of God. If you knew that he worked through your hands, they would bless all the day through.… If you knew that he wants to use your mind, your will, your fingers, and your heart, how different you would be. If half the world did this, there would be no war!
Fulton Sheen How to find Christmas Peace
It is the easiest thing in the world to forget that Christianity is, at its very core, a radical and revolutionary faith. We are charged with nothing less than the complete transformation of the world: conforming the world to the will of God. We can, and indeed should, look around us and see that things are not utterly terrible; but equally we must be careful not to kid ourselves that everything is just fine. We have to start with the expectation that the world is called to know God and to serve him, that the world will come to the mountain of the Lord and his temple, so that he may teach us his ways, not ours, and so that we may walk in his paths, and not those of our own devising. We are called to the way of peace and love, real, genuine, costly love. The vision in Isaiah’s prophesy is of a future where humanity grows into a peace which comes from God, where instead of the ways of the world, humanity, obedient to his proclamation, grows up, and lives according to the divine vision of human flourishing.
        It is a matter of urgency, something which should occupy the Church: we are called to be people of the light and not the darkness. We are not to live riotously, in drunkenness, in fornication and sexual immorality, but instead to have put on Christ – through baptism, through being close to him in word and sacrament, fed by him, nourished by him, strengthened by him, and formed into his likeness, prepared to be with him. This is truly radical in the eyes of the world, it represents a complete turning away from the ways of selfishness, sin and self-indulgence, which people are now told is all that matters.
        That is why in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus starts with the story of Noah – as a warning to people that simply carrying on regardless, as if nothing is happening or going to happen simply will not do – this careless existence cannot lead to life, and life in all its fullness. It is an urgent matter, we need to be prepared. As a church we have a double preparation in Advent – to prepare for our yearly celebration of Our Lord’s Incarnation, and to prepare for his second coming, when as King of the Universe he will come as Our Saviour and Our Judge. We need to be prepared both physically and spiritually, we do need to look around us in order to try and work out when something is going to happen: what we need to do is to live so that we are prepared at any time. We need to prepare our hearts, our souls, our minds, all of our life, we need to live and act, to think and speak like the people of God, fully alive in him, having turned away from the ways of the world, to live fully in him, we are to live this way, and invite others so to do, so that the Kingdom of God’s peace and love may truly be found here in earth, where humanity is truly valued, where violence, death, murder, and immorality are no more. God wants us to live like this so that we can be truly alive in him, grown up, not childish slaves to sinful passions, but rather walking in the light of the Lord, clothed with Christ and ready to greet him when he comes again, so that he may find us and all the world both ready and doing his will. We know that he will come, we do not know when, but this cannot lead us to say, ‘Oh it doesn’t really matter, he’s not coming yet, we’re all ok’ or  ‘I’m sure that God’s fine with …’ or ‘We don’t need to bother with that any more’. For these are all symptoms of an attitude which doesn’t take God at his word, which doesn’t take him seriously, which doesn’t truly value his word to us, and does not want humanity to be fully alive in him, which prefers darkness to light, which is not for God, but against him – turned in on itself, presenting itself as modern and forward-thinking, but instead it is a manifestation of the oldest trick in the book, one of turning away from God.
        The time is short, the time is now, it really matters; we need to come to the Lord, learn his ways and walk in his paths, living decently, living vigilantly, preferring nothing to Christ, and inviting all the world to come to the fullness of life in him. This is how we celebrate his coming at Christmas and as Our Saviour and Judge, by following him, fed by him, restored and healed by him, and sharing his church’s message with all the world, so that it too may believe 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.

Trinity XI Evensong


To be worthy of the name Christian, then, means that we, too, must thirst for the spread of the Divine Love; and if we do not thirst, then we shall never be invited to sit down at the banquet of Life.


Fulton Sheen The Rainbow of Sorrow, 1938: 70

Living a Christian life can never be said to be easy, or without its surprises. To put it simply it makes demands of us: that we live out our faith in our lives, that we put what we believe into practice so that it affects the world around us. It is not easy, as Mother Mary Clare slg puts it:


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.
The essence of the good news of the Gospel is that we are new creatures. In the Transfiguration we see the meaning of the new creation in the light of the Holy Spirit, the perfection of man which cannot be held by death but goes through death to the victory of union with God. God draws us not merely into the dark cloud, but into the tremendous stillness of the height of Calvary and through Calvary to the dawn of the new day.



Thus we can see how divine glory is deeper and more profound than human glory, it aims not at glorifying itself but rather in sharing that glory with others, as a sign of the generous self-giving love which speaks of God’s nature. It is this love which comforts us in our affliction and strengthens us to endure patiently all that this world may throw at us.
Thus we can say with confidence the words of the prophet Isaiah from this evening’s first lesson: ‘“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.’ (Isa 12:2–3). Just like the vision of messianic peace with which Chapter 11 starts, where the wolf lies down with the lamb, here the prophet looks forward to the peaceful reign of the Kingdom of God. That hope is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, and we, his body, the Church are called to live this out in the world, for great in our midst is the Holy One of Israel. In the feast of the Transfiguration which the Church celebrated on Tuesday we see a glimpse of God’s glory and greatness, the hope to which we are called. It is a glory which is shown to the world most fully in His death on the Cross, which stands as a signal for the peoples, a contradiction which is the antithesis of human glory, which rises from the tomb at Easter – ‘on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again’ (2Cor 1:10) ‘for all the promises of God find their Yes in Him’ (2Cor 1:20).

This is the source of our confidence as Christians – the victory of Christ over death, sin, and the world. We cannot be shaken in this, it is complete and total. It is why we share the good news with others, why we live out our faith in our lives, as a sign of this victory and of the love of God which has been poured into our hearts. What the world sees as terrible cruelty, the slaughter of an innocent man as Christians we can see as the greatest and most pure expression of God’s love, the love which saves and redeems us and all humanity. It is recognising the fact that God loves us, and that his love can transform us, through His Grace, and give us the promise of heaven and sharing His Divine Life – that our human nature may be perfected through His Love. This is what Christ comes to bring, the reason why we celebrate the Incarnation where God takes our flesh to redeem it, the God who gives us His flesh so that we may have life in Him. This simple truth has shattered the world for nearly two thousand years, it has overpowered human empires, totalitarian regimes cannot expunge it, the modern world may turn its back on it, but it is the only lasting cure for spiritual hunger, this supernatural food, this pledge of immortality. This free gift which demands that we share it, and give our lives in His service; this is the greatest consolation for which we could ever ask or receive. So, fed by it, may its divine love transform our human nature, and may we share the gift with others that they may believe and transform the world that it may sing 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 of the First Sunday after Easter: Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Luke 23:13–35


Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread
The Disciples on the Road to Emmaus are astounded when the man to whom they are talking does not know what has been going on: ‘Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ He asks them so that they may tell him. They ‘hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel’, they have been told of the Empty Tomb, but do not yet believe. They need Jesus to explain the Scriptures to them in order to show them that what happened had been foretold in the Law and the Prophets.
        In this evening’s first lesson from the Prophet Isaiah we have the greatest of the prophesies of Our Lord’s Passion and Death. It is read on Good Friday because it shows us how what happened was clearly foretold. In Acts 8, when the apostle Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch, he is reading this passage. When he is asked if he understands what he is reading he replies ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ Philip shows him how verses 7 & 8 of Isaiah 53 point to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
The Ethiopian needs Philip, the disciples need Jesus, and we need the Church to show us how scripture is to be read: it’s meaning is not necessarily plain and while anyone could read Scripture in any way in which they chose, the Church has never said that all interpretations are ok, or that any one is as good as another. Instead, the proper interpretation of Scripture is rightly the teaching office of the Church, through the Apostolic Tradition: to unfold the mystery of Christ, to proclaim Him, and to save souls.
The Church reads the Old Testament christologically, because it points to Christ, it finds its fulfillment and its fullest and truest meaning in him, who is the Way and the Truth. As Our Lord says, ‘Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ In other words through Our Lord’s suffering, and death, and resurrection we behold God’s glory, the glory of the divine life of love, poured out on the world to heal it and to save it. We see both what God is and how he loves us, to the extent of giving his only Son to die for us, to heal the wound of sin, to restore our humanity, and so that we may share eternal life with him.
As a foretaste of this heavenly joy he takes bread and blesses it and gives it to them. Christ, who as both priest and victim offered himself upon the altar of the Cross, as a willing, spotless pure and sinless victim, now feeds his people with himself so that they may share his risen life – so that they may be given a foretaste of the heavenly glory and the divine life of love. That is why we day by day and week by week we too come to be fed by him, so that we too may share, having first heard the Scriptures explained to us.
We see here in this evening’s second lesson how and why the Church looks and feels like it does, why it understands Scripture in the way that it does, how errors may come about, and how the Church guards against these by deciding what is authentic in terms of Scripture and Tradition. Almost two thousand years after these events took place there is something fresh and current about what we have heard read to us this evening, it doesn’t feel odd, or strange, or backward or outdated, but simply part of how the Church is. It is good that after two thousand years the message has not changed; it shows us that it is authentic: that it is of God, and not of the world.
So let us be like the disciples at Emmaus with warmed hearts, fed by our Lord with word and sacrament, sharing his Easter Joy and his victory over sin and the world and sharing his peace and joy with the world, so that it may believe and give praise to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Good Friday

The green tree was Christ himself; the dry tree the world. He was the green tree of life transplanted from Eden; the dry tree was Jerusalem first, and then the unconverted world. If the Romans so treated him who was innocent, how would they treat the Truth that is in his Church; in an uneasy conscience perhaps he beckoned you to his confessional; in a passing prayer he called you to greater prayerfulness….You accepted the truth, you confessed your sins, you perfected your spiritual life, and lo! in those moments when you thought you were losing everything, you found everything; when you thought you were going into your grave, you were walking in the newness of life….The antiphon of the Empty Tomb was striking on the chords of your heart. It was not you who died; it was sin. It was not Christ who died it was death.
Fulton J. Sheen The Eternal Galilean
So much of the action of this week has taken place so that Scripture may be fulfilled. What God told the people of Israel through his prophets comes about in His Son’s death. It shows us in the clearest possible way that what we see in the prophetic descriptions is true.
          If the truth be told, the suffering, the rejection, torture, and death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, is beyond our understanding. We stand silent before the Cross, unable to take the cruelty, the horror and the profound beauty of it. It is a mystery, the mystery of God’s love: an act of loving service, the power of silent love overcoming a world of political scheming, deception, self-interest and sin. The chief priests and elders can only think of a threat to earthly power; they fail to see that here, now, is the salvation for which they long. That God’s own son should come from heaven and die to save a sinner like you or me is extraordinary. We are shown today in the clearest possible terms how much God loves us: that there is no length to which he will not go to save us, to embrace us his prodigal children. The chief priests and elders think that they’re ridding themselves of an heretic, a potential troublemaker, a fool who claims to be the son of God and King of Israel. When Pilate asks “Quid est Veritas – What is Truth?” he does not wait for an answer, or understand that the source of all truth, the word of God incarnate, is stood in front of him: ‘est vir qui adest – it is the man who is present, who is standing in front of him’. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of the whole world.
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 thisis 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, 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.

Wednesday in Holy Week Isa 50:4–9; Mt 26:14–25

Our Lord described himself as having a baptism wherewith he was to be baptized. John gave him the baptism of water, but the Roman soldiers have him his baptism of blood. After opening his sacred flesh with violent stripes, they now put on him a purple robe which adhered to his bleeding body. Then they plaited a crown of thorns which they placed on his head. They mocked him and put a rod in his hand after beating him on the head. Then they knelt down before him in feigned adoration.
Fulton J. Sheen Life of Christ
In today’s first reading we hear ‘I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.’ (Isa 50:6 ESV) The suffering servant’s treatment points forward to Our Lord’s mistreatment at the hands of Roman soldiers and the crowd on his way to Calvary. It is brutal and unpleasant, even more so when we consider that He had preached and lived God’s love and healing and forgiveness. We see God incarnate mocked and physically abused by those he came to save. Nowadays the Church, certainly in this land, faces less scorn, hatred, and violence than elsewhere, but far more indifference, which is worse in many ways. People have grown cold to the message of love, and prefer to ignore it, safely cosseted in a cocoon of materialism, obsessed with self – spiritually empty and miserable.
          In the Gospel we see Judas is still concerned with material things, having criticised the reckless generosity of Mary’s anointing Jesus’ feet, he now goes to the chief priests and asks them ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ (Mt 26:15 ESV). These are words for the church: we still have modern-day Judases willing to betray our Lord, his Gospel and his Church for the sake of ambition and advancement. Perhaps a pointy hat is today’s thirty pieces of silver, and too many in the church follow Judas in preferring the ways of the world to those of God. But we must follow Our Lord’s example and love them. This is after all what we are preparing to celebrate: the fact that the love of God can be ignored and rejected but never overcome – in Christ the victory of the Cross is complete and absolute, it restores our relationship with God and each other and allows us to live in a community of love, close to God, fed by him, with him, healed and restored by him, prepared for and given the hope of heaven where we may enjoy eternity in the presence of the Trinity.
          In Christ we see a life lived not for self, not to acquire wealth, or status, or power, but lived for others – to share with them the love of God, to heal and restore them – offering them an alternative to the ways of the world with its selfishness, its greed, the desire for power and domination. Instead, he offers humble service and power shown in weakness – this is the power of God to transform the world. This is what the Church is called to follow and live out in the world – a life of self-giving, sacrificial love – this is what we are called to in our baptism, that we may embody and live out the faith which we profess to help transform the world. We need to be reminded of it, day by day and year by year because the Church has to remain true to her calling to help share the love of God with the world around us, so that it may believe and be transformed after the likeness of our crucified and risen Saviour. After nearly two thousand years we have not got there yet, but we still press on, changing the world one soul at a time, confident in the victory and the saving love of him who died and rose again for us.
 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 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

Tuesday in Holy Week Isa 49:1–9; Jn 13:21–38

Every unhappy soul in the world has a cross embedded in it. The cross was never meant to be on the inside, but only on the outside. When the Israelites were bitten by the serpents, and the poison seeped within, Moses planted a brazen serpent on a stick and all who looked on it were healed…. So the Son of Man came in the likeness of man, but was without sin, and all who look upon him on his cross are saved. In like manner, the inner cross disappears when one catches a vision of the great outer Cross on Calvary.
Fulton J. Sheen Peace of Soul
The last twelve months have seen plenty of glory in the media and the world around us: we’ve had triumphs in the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, even Swansea City have won a cup! There has been much in human endeavour to celebrate, but when we turn to today’s Gospel we hear Our Lord speaking: ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and glorify him at once.’ These words are spoken by Our Lord just after Judas has left to go and betray him. It’s a pretty funny idea of glory, certainly compared to how the world understands glory. As the servant spoken of by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading, his mouth is like a sharp sword, he is made a polished arrow, with a sharpness that can cut through the indifference and ignorance of the world. He is the light of the nations, a light which the darkness cannot overcome, which shines so that God’s salvation may reach to the end of the earth. The Church has its part to play in helping this to come about, but the work is Christ’s: he is the way, the truth, and the life.
The glory of which Christ speaks is that of his Passion and Death. Unlike the bronze serpent which cured the Israelites, Jesus will be lifted up to save all humanity, to restore their relationship with God and each other, to give them eternal life. Worldly glory, like the shouts of joy on Palm Sunday, is a passing thing. True glory, the glory of God, who is the source of all glory, is something quite different. In the Prologue to John’s Gospel, read on Christmas day, we hear ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ (Jn 1:14 ESV) We behold God’s glory in Christ not just in his Incarnation, but most fully in his Passion, and Death, and Resurrection.
Today’s gospel has Our Lord at Supper with his disciples. He gives the morsel to Judas: a sign of honour, a sign of love which defies our understanding. It ends with a sign that to follow Jesus is to carry our own cross and go to Calvary. It’s quite stark, quite uncompromising, and quite true. The Church is called to imitate the mystery which it celebrates: it is costly and difficult. To follow Christ means to go to the Cross, because only here can we see the depth of God’s love for us.
Here we see love: true, unconstrained, given regardless of the cost. Only through such free love can the wounds of the world be healed: this is the balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul. This is true glory: the glory of God’s reconciling and healing love poured out on the world as it flows like blood and water from his stricken side. 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 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

Homily for Palm Sunday 2013

If anyone asks you why you are untying it [the ass the disciples were sent to find], this must be your answer, ‘The Lord has need of it’ (Lk 19:31). Perhaps no greater paradox was ever written than this – on the one hand the sovereignty of the Lord, and on the other hand his ‘need’. His combination of Divinity and dependence, of possession and poverty was a consequence of the Word becoming flesh. Truly, he who was rich became poor for our sakes, that we might become rich. Our Lord borrowed a boat from a fisherman from which to preach; he borrowed barley loaves and fishes from a boy to feed a multitude; he borrowed a grave from which he would rise; and now he borrows an ass on which to enter Jerusalem. Sometimes God preempts and requisitions the things of man, as if to remind him that everything is a gift from him.
Fulton J. Sheen Life of Christ
Pomp and ceremony seem to have been at the top of the agenda of late: in a week which saw the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis and the Installation of Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, this is hardly surprising. As triumphant entries go, the one we see in the Gospel this morning is a bit strange: generally speaking, we are used to kings riding on horses, looking like powerful military leaders. Here we see something different, something which defies our expectations and which stops us seeing things in purely human terms.
          There are people who would ask, why all this fuss? Would Jesus have wanted it, would he want us to be carry on with it? If it were something which would not want us to do he would have said so. He did it because it was important, because it fulfilled prophesy and because liturgy is an important thing in and of itself: it marks out various things as special and helps us understand both who and what we are and what we do – it forms both habit and indeed our moral character.
          The crowd cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mt 21:9 ESV) They cry out for God to save them, and that is exactly what he will do in a few days time, upon the Cross. This is a God who keeps his promises and defies our expectations. The crowd are expecting a king of the Davidic line, which would be seen as a challenge to the ruling elite, the status quo, but in Christ God gives Israel a King of the line of David forever. Those with power are threatened by him: he is awkward, an inconvenience. Jesus does not want their power, as he has come to be and do something completely different: what is taken as a political coup is a renewal of religion, the fulfilment of prophesy, and a new hope for Israel.  
In riding into Jerusalem Jesus is fulfilling the prophesies of Zechariah (9:9) and Isaiah (62:11).  The King of Israel comes riding on a donkey: a humble beast of burden, which carried his Mother to Bethlehem for his birth. It is an act of humble leadership which fulfils what was foreseen by the prophets. It shows us that Jesus Christ is truly the one who fulfils the hopes of Israel. The Hebrew Scriptures look forward to the deliverance of Israel, which is enacted in front of their very eyes.
Today and in the coming week we will see what God’s Love and Glory are really like: it is not what people expect, it is power shown in humility, strength in weakness. As we continue our Lenten journey in the triumph of this day and looking towards the Cross and beyond to the new life of Easter, let us trust in the Lord, let us be like him, and may he transform our hearts, our minds and our lives, so that they may have live and life in all its fullness. We are fed by the word of God and by the sacrament of His Body and Blood to be strengthened, to share in His divine life, to fit us for Heaven, and to transform all of creation that it may resound his praise and share in his life of the Resurrection, washed in His Blood and the saving waters of Baptism: forgiven and forgiving so that all that we say, or think, or do, all that we are may be for 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 Fifth Sunday of Year C


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
Fulton J Sheen Seven Words of Jesus and Mary

I have to admit that the one thing I cannot stand watching is a horror movie. I probably have an over-active imagination, or get too drawn into the action, and certainly don’t like feeling scared. As humans we aren’t keen on being afraid: we feel powerless, we’re not in control.
            In this morning’s first reading the prophet Isaiah has an experience of God’s presence in the Temple in Jerusalem. He does not describe his emotional state, other than what he says speaks of human unworthiness in the divine presence. When he is confronted by the majesty of God, the singing of angels, the smoke of incense, all he can say is ‘Woe is me. For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips’ Isaiah is aware of human sinfulness and the gulf between himself and God. Yet his guilt is taken away, and his sin atoned for – the prophet who will tell of the Messiah, who will save humanity, is prepared for this by God, he is set apart. When God asks ‘Whom shall I send, who will go for me?’ Isaiah can respond ‘Here I am, send me’ It’s quite a journey in a few verses.
            Likewise St Paul, ‘the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle because [he] persecuted the church of God’ is living proof of the redemptive power of God’s love at work in the world. He preaches Christ crucified and resurrected, to show us that Christ died for us, and that we can have new life in him. God can (and does) take and use surprising people to show us that we are loved.
            In the Gospel, Jesus begins by using a fisherman’s boat, so that the large crowd at the lakeside can see and hear him. When he has finished teaching he tells Simon Peter to ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch’. Peter cannot see the point – they’ve not caught anything in the entire night, he’s tired, he doesn’t see the point. And yet he is obedient, he does what Jesus asks him – and they catch so many fish that their boats almost sink under the weight of them, a catch which points forward to another miraculous catch of fish after Jesus’ resurrection (in Jn 21:1–11), it is a sign of the Church, a miraculous number of people given new life in Christ.
            Peter’s response is telling: he falls at Jesus’ knees and says ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ it is an authentic human response to the presence and generosity of God – he recognises his own unworthiness and his reliance upon God. Peter is not worthy of his calling, but because he knows he isn’t that’s where God can be at work. The next thing Jesus says to him is ‘Do not be afraid’ – in Christ we do not need to be afraid of anything, if we trust in him, and let his love be at work in us.
            Once they reach the land the disciples leave everything and follow him, they display metanoia: they change their heart, their mind and their life – the response of a sinner to the love of God. It can be all too easy to see such passages as we have this morning as solely of interest to those of a calling to the priesthood. That’s understandable, but it’s also deeply wrong. It applies to each and every one of us, here, and all over the world. As Christians we are all to kneel in the place of Peter, to recognise our reliance upon and trust in God, and be prepared to be ‘fishers of men’. The calling of the disciples is the calling of the entire baptised people of God: a calling not to be afraid, but to respond to the God who loves us and saves us, a calling to live out in our lives by word and deed the saving truths of God, so that the world may believe. So that it 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

The Epiphany of the Lord: Come let us worship



What Christ did in his own human nature in Galilee, he is doing today … in every city and hamlet of the world where souls are vivified by his Spirit. He is still being born in other Bethlehems of the world, still coming into his own and his own receiving him not, still instructing the learned doctors of the law and answering their questions, still labouring at a carpenter’s bench, still ‘[going] about doing good’ (see Acts 10:34–43), still preaching, governing, sanctifying, climbing other Calvaries, and entering into the glory of his Father.

Fulton J. Sheen In the Fullness of Time
The Manifestation of Our Lord to the Gentiles, which the church celebrates today, is a deepening of the splendour of the Incarnation. With the arrival of the Wise Men from the East, the World is told that God is with us. Gentiles are made co-heirs, ‘members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’.

          The promise is made through the words of the prophet Isaiah in this morning’s first reading. The light which is shown by the star which the Wise Men follow is the Light of the World, the true light. Kings and the nations come to its brightness, they come to worship God made man; they come to pay their homage to the Saviour born among them. They come with camels and bringing gold and frankincense to worship their king and their God. They come to a stable in Bethlehem, to kneel before a manger where animals feed, and not to a royal palace, not to a throne. This is what true kingship is, true love, that of God and not of humanity.

          Herod is afraid, he fears for his own position; he worries about power, and commits infanticide to make sure of it. This very human response should stand as a warning to those who wish to follow the ways of the world. Herod clings to power; God becomes a vulnerable baby, dependant on others. Herod can only bring death; Christ comes to bring life and life in all its fullness. Herod says he wants to worship, but it is the Wise Men who kneel before God incarnate and worship Him. They offer gold to honour a king, frankincense to worship God, and myrrh which speaks of His death. At the moment when Christ is made manifest to the world we are to look to the Cross, where the love of God will be shown must fully, and to the tomb in which his body will be laid, which will be empty.

          Likewise as we celebrate the Epiphany we also look forward to Our Lord’s Baptism in the River Jordan and his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. He who is without sin shows humanity how to be freed from sin and to have new life in Him. In turning water into wine we see that the kingdom of God is a place of generous love, a place of joy, and of life in all its fullness.

          So let us be filled with joy and love, may we live lives of joy, and love, and service of God and one another, which proclaim in word and deed the love of God to the world, that it may believe: so that all creation may resound with the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for Wednesday in Holy Week: Isaiah 50:4-9, Mt 26:14-25

I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.
THE Passion of our Lord is a popular subject in religious art. In particular, a tradition grew up which was popular in medieval Europe: that of portraying Christ as the Man of Sorrows: wounded hurt and tortured – a way of showing us how our sins have wounded him. One detail in particular is striking: Jesus’ beard is pulled by his persecutors. In some meditations on the passion his hair and beard are completely pulled out so that he looks as if he had been shorn like a sheep, are a reference to Verse 7 in chapter 53 of the prophesy of Isaiah: ‘like a lamb that is led to the slaughterhouse, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers never opening its mouth’, which will be read as the first reading on Good Friday. In this, the third of the four servant songs, we see more of the insults and torture which our Lord will receive as he goes to his death, bearing our sins and the sins of the whole world. The scourgings and mockery of His Passion are prefigured in Scripture: just like the prophets of the old, so Israel now will mistreat, despise, and ignore its Messiah. Despite being in the presence of the God of love and mercy, who brings healing and reconciliation, we will see humanity’s inability to accept God’s invitation to be loved and healed, to turn away from pride in loving humility, to trust God to be at work in us. It is, at one level, Judas Iscariot’s inability to see himself as loved and forgiven by God which drives him to despair and suicide.
And yet, in his actions, he presents a very human figure. We can, all of us, to see something of Judas in ourselves: we each of us deny our Lord and betray Him with our thoughts, words and actions; we languish in sins which we think cannot be forgiven. We wallow in self-pity, which is itself a form of pride, that primal human sin, while our Lord is silent, patient, and loving. While we turn away from him, he never turns away from us.
For 2000 years, the church, as the body of Christ has suffered in the same way at the hands of those who pervert the message of the gospel, who mistreat its members and to abuse the sacred bond of trust. For these and all our own sins we should be truly sorry and firmly resolve not to sin in the future. As we continue our journey with the Lord, to Calvary and beyond, we should all of us take the opportunity of the next few days to reflect upon our Lenten journey, to deepen our self-examination, to nail our sins, and those of all the Human Race to the Cross on Good Friday, and rise to new life with Christ at Easter.
Just as God so loved the world that he completely handed over his son for its sake, so too the one whom God has loved will want to save himself only in conjunction with those who have been created with him, and he will not reject this share of penitential suffering that has been given him for the sake of the whole he will do so in Christian hope, the hope for the salvation of all humanity which is permitted to Christians alone. Thus, the church is strictly enjoined to pray for all humanity and as a result of which to see her prayer in this respect is meaningful and effective; it is good and it is acceptable in the sight of God our saviour, who desires all humanity to be saved…, for there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself over as a ransom for all, who, raised up on the cross, will draw all humanity to himself because he has received their power over all flesh in order to be a saviour of all humanity in order to take away the sins of all; for the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all humanity, which is why the church looks to the advantage of all humanity in order that they may be saved. This is why Paul can say that the balance between sin and grace, fear and hope, damnation and redemption, and Adam and Christ has been tilted in favour of grace, and indeed so much so that (in relation to redemption) the mountain of sin stands before inconceivable superabundance of redemption: not only have all been doomed to the first and second death in Adam, while all have been freed from death in Christ, but the sins of all, which assault to the innocent one and culminate in God’s murder, have brought an inexhaustible wealth of absolution down upon all. Thus: God has consigned all humanity to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all. AMEN.