Lent IV – Mothering Sunday

Lent is a time of preparation. We prepare to celebrate the Death and Resurrection of Jesus by forty days of praying, fasting, and almsgiving. We recognise how we fall short of how God wants us to live our lives and we try, with God’s help, to repent, to turn away from sin , and to turn back to God. It is hard work, and so it is nice to have a chance to relax our disciples and emphasise joy and celebration. Today is such a day. We recognise this by wearing rose rather than purple, a lighter, more joyful colour. We have flowers, and we rejoice in the warmth of spring. Traditionally it was a chance to go back to your mother church, the church in which you were baptised, and thus to spend time with your family. Because of this it is often conflated with Mother’s Day, a celebration which began in America, and is of an entirely secular character.

The church, however, is used to adapting, and it is good to celebrate. We all have mothers, whether they are still with us, or not. They give birth to us, and hopefully show us love. Likewise, the Church is mother to us all: we find new life in her, through our baptism, and we become part of a greater family, where we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, where we are all part of one family. This identity is in fact the most important one we have, it is how God knows us. Like any relationship it can have its problems, but it is through our common baptism that we enter the church, and come to new life in Jesus Christ. So we give thanks for our mothers, who gave us life, and for the church which gives us new life.

In our Old Testament Reading this morning we see the birth of Samuel, the prophet, who would anoint David as King of Israel. His mother, Hannah, had longed for children, and promised that any children she had would be dedicated to the service of God. He does lead the people of Israel to worship God. He is a true prophet. Just like Sarah, the mother of Isaac, Rebekah, the mother of Jacob, Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin and Samson’s mother, we see women who long for children, women who trust God.

Likewise in the Gospel we see Mary at the foot of the Cross. As she watches her Son put to death , He entrusts her to a new family, with John, the Evangelist and Beloved Disciple as her Son. We honour her as the Mother of God, and as an example of Christian love in action. She lives a life which is obedient to God, regardless of the cost. She is a model for us to follow in trusting God, just like Hannah before her. As she watches her Son die, she knows the cost of love. Such is God’s love for us, and this is what we are preparing to celebrate – God’s love for us. Our human love helps us to understand this. Mary becomes a mother to John, the Evangelist, hers is a life characterised by love and care. It is a model for how the church SHOULD be ; a place of care, of love and support – we may fail in this, but we need to remember that the God whom we serve is one of love and forgiveness, He forgives us our sins, so that we might become more like Him.

In this morning’s Epistle we hear St Paul writing to the Church at Colossae. He encourages them to live Christ-like lives, living out their faith in their lives, so that other people may know who and what we are. We do this together, as a family, a Christian community, sharing the common task of bearing witness to the faith of our baptism. It takes effort on our part: we have to try to do it, but we are not alone in our efforts. God gives us the Church, so that we can do it together. We can meet together to pray, to read the Bible, and most importantly to celebrate the Eucharist together, so that we can be faithful to Our Lord Jesus Christ, who told us to DO THIS in memory of Him, so that we can be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, fed BY Christ, and fed WITH Christ, so that We can become what He is. We can share in His life, and be transformed more and more into His likeness. This is our soul’s true food, the greatest medicine we could ever receive, the Bread of Eternal Life, and the Chalice of Everlasting Salvation. Christ dies for us, to show us what true love is, so that we can share in that love, and share that love with others. This is why we died in baptism and were raised to new life in Christ, to share in His Body and Blood, and to live that life out in the world, growing more and more into His likeness, to be prepared for Heaven where we might enjoy His love forever.

So let us come to Him, to be fed by Him, and with Him, to live lives of love, and encourage others so to do, so that all may give glory to the Father, the Son, and 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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Lent III – The Cleansing of the Temple

It is hard for us to imagine, but for Jews in Jesus’ day, the Temple was the most important building in the world. It was the religious centre of Israel, a busy place, where devout Jews and others came to pray, to be near God. In this morning’s Gospel we see Jesus in quite an uncompromising mood: this is no ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ but rather here is the righteous anger of the prophets, a sign that all is not well in the world. Sin separates us from God and each other, it isn’t how we’re supposed to be.

When Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God on Mt Sinai the first is, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.’ Could it be that the temple traders, in their desire to profit from people’s religious observance, have broken this first and most important commandment? Has their desire for making money, for profit got in the way of what the Temple is supposed to be about: namely, worshipping God? It’s become a racket, a money-making scheme to fleece pilgrims who have come from far away and who do not have the right money or the correct sacrificial animals with them. This is no way to worship God, a God who loves us, and who showed that love by delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt.

The temptation to have power, to be concerned above all else with worldly things: money, power, success, and influence, are still a huge temptation for the Church and the world. We may not mean to, but we do, and while we think of God as loving and merciful, we forget about righteous anger, and our need to repent, to turn away from our sins — the desire to control others and to be so caught up on the ways of the world that we lose sight of who and what we are, and what we are supposed to do and be. This is why we have the season of Lent to prepare ourselves, and to repent.

The Jews demand a sign, and Christ prophesies that if they destroy this temple then he will raise it up in three days: He looks to His death and resurrection to show them where true worship lies — in the person of Jesus Christ. Christians should be concerned with a relationship, our relationship with God, and with each other. Likewise Christians can all too easily forget that Jesus said, ‘I have come not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them’. The Ten Commandments are not abolished by Christ, or set aside, but rather His proclamation of the Kingdom and Repentance show us that we still need to live the Law of Moses out in our lives: to show that we honour God and live our lives accordingly. In His cleansing of the Temple, Christ looks to the Cross and to the Resurrection, He shows how God will restore our relationship. The Cross is a stumbling-block to Jews, who are obsessed with the worship of the Temple, and it is foolishness to Gentiles who cannot believe that God could display such weakness, such powerlessness. Instead the Cross, the supreme demonstration of God’s love for us, shocking and scandalous though it is, is a demonstration of the utter, complete, self-giving love of God, for the sake of you and me — miserable sinners who deserve condemnation, but who instead are offered love and mercy to heal us and restore us.

When we are confronted with this we should be shocked — that God loves us enough to do this, to suffer dreadfully and die for us, to save us from our sins, and from the punishment that is rightly ours. We do not deserve it, and that’s the point. But we are offered it in Christ so that we might become something other and greater than we are, putting away the ways of the world, of power and money, selfishness and sin, to have new life in and through Him.

‘In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.’ [J.H. Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845) Ch.1, §1 Part 7] If we are changing into Jesus Christ, then we’re on the right track. If we listen to His word in Scripture; if we talk to him in prayer and let him talk to us; if we’re fed by Him and with Him in the Eucharist, by Christ who is both priest and victim, so that we might become what He is – God. If we’re forgiven by Him, through making confession of our sins, not only do we come to understand Jesus, we become like him, we come to share in his divine nature, you, me, all of humanity ideally. We, the People of God, the new humanity, enter into the divine fullness of life, we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet — we are prepared to enter the new life of the Kingdom, and to live it.

Lent should be something of a spiritual spring clean, asking God to drive out all that should not be there, preparing for the joy of Easter, to live the Risen Life, filled with God’s grace. In our baptism we died with Christ and were raised to new life in the Spirit. Let us prepare to live that life, holding fast to Our Lord and Saviour, clinging to the teachings of his body, the Church. Let us turn away from the folly of this world, the hot air, and focus on the true and everlasting joy of heaven, which awaits us, who are bought by his blood, washed in it, fed with it. Let us proclaim it in our lives so that others may believe so that all may praise the Father, the Son and 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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Lent II Year B

In Mark’s Gospel, just before the passage we have heard Jesus asks his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ After he hears the answers Jesus asks, ‘But who do YOU say that I am?’ (Mk 8:29) Peter answers that He is the Messiah, and Jesus told them sternly not to tell anyone about this.

He asks the same question of each and every one of us this morning, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ It is worth taking a few moments to consider just what our answer would be. A very nice man? An inspiring teacher? Yes, all those things, and more; as Christians we can only echo the words of St Thomas after the Resurrection and simply say, ‘My Lord and My God!’

That’s who and what He is, and nothing less. True God, and True Man, who comes among us to proclaim that God’s Kingdom is near, and that we need to repent. We need to turn away from sin, and turn back to God, a God who loves us, and who sent His Only-Begotten Son to show us just who much He loves us.

Jesus teaches that the He must undergo great suffering, like the servant in the prophecy of Isaiah, be rejected by the Jewish  religious authorities, be killed and after three days rise again. It is quite a lot to take in. Peter, who only a few moments earlier has acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, just can’t take this. It isn’t part of the plan. It isn’t supposed to happen. Peter cannot bear the thought of Jesus suffering and dying, he loves Him. Peter just cannot understand that it needs to happen, that it is Who and What Jesus is.

Fundamentally, ours is a God who makes promises, and keeps them. He makes a promise to Abraham, and keeps it. God makes promises because He loves us. We don’t deserve to be loved because we sin, we alienate ourselves from God, and each other. But because God loves each and every one of us, then Jesus goes to die upon the Cross to demonstrate this love to the world.

Jesus says to us, that we have to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. It sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it! But like many things Jesus says it is fine in theory, but in practice it is a lot harder. For two thousand years we’ve been struggling with it, and that’s the point. It isn’t easy, I wish I could say that it was, but quite frankly it isn’t. I know that I struggle, that I’m not a good Christian, that I need to trust God more, but also I know that I am not alone in this, there are several billion Christians alive today, and countless billions through the last hundred thousand successive Sundays who have felt just like this. Rather like Peter, I don’t want Jesus to die for me, I don’t deserve to be saved, such are my many sins, that I should be cast away from God’s presence for all eternity. And yet, Jesus died for me, to save me, and for each and every one of you.

God loves us: frail, weak, sinful humanity. He gives us this time of Lent to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection. He gives us a chance to enter the desert of repentance, and, with renewed vigour, to follow Him. It really is good news. And we need to lose our lives for Christ’s sake: living out our faith in all that we say, or think or do — to follow Him, whose service is perfect freedom. We live, not for ourselves, but for the God who loves us, who died for us.

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 this morning at the altar, which we can taste and touch, which we can eat and drink, so that our lives and our souls can be transformed more and more into God’s likeness. 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.

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Ash Wednesday: Rend your hearts and not your garments

Today the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, ‘the beginning of her Lenten journey towards Easter. The entire Christian community is invited to live this period of forty days as a pilgrimage of repentance, conversion and renewal. In the Bible, the number forty is rich in symbolism. It recalls Israel’s journey in the desert: a time of expectation, purification and closeness to the Lord, but also a time of temptation and testing. It also evokes Jesus’ own sojourn in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry, a time of profound closeness to the Father in prayer, but also of confrontation with the mystery of evil. The Church’s Lenten discipline is meant to help deepen our life of faith and our imitation of Christ in his paschal mystery. In these forty days may we draw nearer to the Lord by meditating on his word and example, and conquer the desert of our spiritual aridity, selfishness and materialism. For the whole Church may this Lent be a time of grace in which God leads us, in union with the crucified and risen Lord, through the experience of the desert to the joy and hope brought by Easter.’ [1]

Fasting, repentance, prayer, and the imposition of ashes were not unknown to Jews; that is why we as Christians carry on the tradition. The advice given by the prophet Joel in today’s first reading is both wise and salutary as we enter the desert of Lent. It reminds us that, first and foremost, we are to recognise our own brokenness, our own sinfulness, our own turning away from a God of Love and Mercy. While we may recognise this, any outward sign is not good enough. There is nothing that we can do in a solely exterior fashion — ripping our clothes, placing ashes upon our foreheads, which will, in itself, make a blind bit of difference. What matters, where it really counts, is on the inside. To rend one’s heart, is to lay ourselves open, to make ourselves vulnerable, and in this openness and vulnerability, to let God do his work.

It would be all too easy when faced with today’s Gospel to argue that outward displays of fasting, piety, and penitence, are criticised, that they do not matter. But this is not what Jesus is getting at. What he criticises are deeds which are done to comply with the letter but not the spirit of the law. This mechanised approach to piety, a clinging to the external nature of religion, without any concern for its inward spiritual aspect, is where the fault lies. When things are done for show, when our piety is paraded as performance, so that the world may see how good and religious we are, then we are nothing but an empty shell, a whitened sepulchre. The reward which such people receive is likewise an empty one.

Instead, Jesus upholds the standard practice of Jewish cult, but what matters is that what is done outwardly is completely in accordance with our interior life, it is an outward manifestation of our relationship with God and with one another. So Lent is to be a time when we as Christians are to seek to be reconciled, to be in full communion with God and his church. Our outward acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving need to be done in tandem with, rather than instead of, paying attention to our interior life: otherwise our efforts are doomed to failure. The God whom we worship is one of infinite love and mercy, which will be demonstrated most fully and perfectly on Good Friday, when we see what that love means, when for our sake God made him who was without sin into sin, so that we in him might become the goodness of God. Or as St Isaac puts it ‘as a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God.’ As dreadful as we might be, as utterly undeserving of the father’s love, nonetheless, as the parable of the prodigal son shows us, there are no lengths to which God will not go. The love and mercy which flows from Jesus’ stricken side upon the cross at Calvary are still being poured out over the world, and will continue to be so until all is reconciled in him. In his commission of Peter after his resurrection, Jesus entrusts to his church the power to forgive sins, to reconcile us to one another and to God. This reconciliation is manifested by our restoration to communion with God and his Church.

It is not the most comfortable or pleasant thing to see ourselves as we really are. To stand naked in front of a full length mirror is for most of us, I suspect, not the most pleasant experience. And yet, such a self-examination is as nothing when compared with us baring our heart and soul. It is not a pleasant task, but given that God will judge us in love and mercy, having taken away our sins upon the cross, despite our apprehension we have nothing to fear. All that awaits us is the embrace of a loving father. No matter how many times we fail, how many times we would run away or reject his love, his arms, like those of his son upon the cross, remain open to embrace the world, to heal the wounds of sin and division.

If there are any of you determined to live a more Christian life, there is one resolution you need to make which is, out of all proportion, more important than the rest. Resolve to pray, to receive the sacraments, to shun besetting sins, to do good works — all excellent resolutions; but more important than any of these is the resolution to repent. The more resolutions you make, the more you will break. But it does not matter how many you break so long as you are resolute not to put off repentance when you break them, but to give yourself up to the mercy which will not despise a broken and a contrite heart. Converted or unconverted, it remains true of you that in you, that is, in your natural being, there dwells no good thing. Saints are not people who store goodness in themselves, they are just a people who do not delay to repent, and whose repentances are honourable.[2]

So then, may this Lent be for us all a time of repentance, a time for us to turn away from all which separates us from God and neighbour, a time for reconciliation, for healing and growth, that the faith which we profess may grow in our souls and be shown forth in our lives to give Glory to God the Father, to whom with God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

[1] H.H. Pope Bendict XVI Catechesis at the General Audience 22.ii.12: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-conquering-our-spiritual-desert

[2] Farrer (1976) The Brink of Mystery (ed. C. Conti), 17, quoted in Harries, R. (ed.) (1987) The One Genius: Readings through the year with Austin Farrer, London: SPCK, 60.

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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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Lent IV

Let those who think that the Church pays too much attention to Mary give heed to the fact that Our Blessed Lord Himself gave ten times as much of His life to her  as He gave to His Apostles.

Fulton Sheen, The World’s First Love, 1956: 88

As human beings we believe  that we have been created in the image of God, and thus human love should reflect something of that divine love. Most of us, though sadly not all, experience self-giving, sacrificial love from our parents, and particularly our mothers: they nourish us, care for us, comfort and love us, just as they have given birth to us: it is a wonderful thing, which should be celebrated and held up as an example.

When the Church seeks to understand and celebrate mothers she does so by considering the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He is cared for through the love of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who in her love, service, and obedience, stands as the model for all Christians to follow. She is the first Christian, and the greatest: a pattern for us to imitate, and a foreshadowing of our great mother the church, which seeks to offer the world a moral framework, within which to live its life; and to offer the world an alternative, a new way of living and of being through which to have life, and have life in all its fullness.

Mary’s is a love which will see her stand at the foot of the Cross and experience the pain of watching her Son die, for love of us. Any parent will tell you that they would do anything to save their children from hurt or harm, and yet there she stands, and is initiated into a new relationship where she becomes a mother to John, the beloved disciple, and through him, a mother of all of, the mother of the church, someone who loves, prays, and cherishes.

It is this love which St Paul expects of the church in Colossae, and which God expects of us: it describes what love looks like: it isn’t easy, it’s difficult, costly and frustrating, but through it we can grow in love, of God and each other.

The salvation and eternal life which Christ offers freely to all, comes through the church, which we enter in our baptism, where we are nourished in word and sacrament, where we given food for the journey of faith, strengthened and taught, to live his risen life, to share in the joys of Easter.

God cares so much about the world and its people that he takes flesh, and lives a life of love, amidst the messiness of humanity, to show us how to live lives filled with love, life in all its fullness. Not to condemn the world but to offer it a way of being. God has made us for himself , and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in him. The spiritual needs and searching which characterise people in the world around us, can be satisfied in God and in God alone, through the church. So we can rejoice, and relax our Lenten discipline for a little while to give thanks for the wonderful gift of God’s love in our lives, in the church, and for the world.

But we also need to trust God, to listen to what he says through Scripture, to be fed by him, and to live lives in accordance with his will and purpose, together, as a family, as a community of love, cared for and supported by our mother, the church. And in so doing we look to our Lady as mother of our Lord and mother of the church, as a pattern for love and obedience, as a model for all mothers: loving and tender, putting the needs of others before self, self-giving, sacrificial, and open to both joy and pain.

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

Homily for Lent V

During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reflects upon who and what he is and what he has come to do (Mt 5:17) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” Christ comes to fulfil the law rather than to abolish it, and to inaugurate a new covenant in his blood which will flow from Calvary. This has been pointed to in Scripture: in the first reading this morning the prophet Jeremiah looks forward to a future covenant that will bring faithless sinful Isræl back to the Lord their God. They broke the covenant, they were unfaithful, and though they were married to the Lord their God, here we see not divorce but covenant faithfulness – it’s how God is, this is God’s love in action: self-giving, sacrificial, and costly. Christ fulfils Scripture – it finds its fullness and its true meaning in and through him, the Word of God made Flesh for our sake. God in Christ restores and heals that which was broken through human sinfulness: ‘But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Isræl after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’ Ours is a God who forgives our iniquities and forgives our sins through the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood.
       Jesus Christ is our great high priest: priests offer sacrifice for sin, as on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement where once the people were sprinkled with blood each and every year, whereas under the New Covenant, the covenant of grace rather than law, Christ the mediator of the new covenant sheds his own blood as both priest and victim to reconcile us with God. He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek, whose name means King of Righteousness, the King of Salem, better known as Jerusalem, brings out bread and wine, which point to the Eucharist, he is a priest of God Most High, before the priesthood of Aaron, the Levitical priesthood, so this is the true worship of Almighty God which points to Christ and finds its fulfilment in and through Him, who suffered for our sins.
In this morning’s Gospel some Greeks go up to Philip and say ‘Sir, we want to see Jesus’. They approach a disciple with a Greek name, and though they are not Jews themselves, they try to follow the law and to worship God. They are good people with an innate sense of the religious and they have a simple request: they want to see Jesus. Nearly 2000 years later there are people who will ask exactly the same question. What can be said to them? If they come to Mass on a Sunday morning, they will meet the Lord in Word and Sacrament. But will they also see Jesus in us Christians who are the body of Christ? We too are to be His presence in the world. Everything that we say, or think, or do, can proclaim Christ and his saving love to the world. It is our duty as Christians to try at all times and in every way to model our lives upon Christ’s, and by our sharing in his passion, death, and resurrection, to form our lives so that they may reflect his glory so that the world may believe. Each and every careless word and thoughtless action speaks to the world and says that we are hypocrites, who do not practice what we preach. We are perhaps judged more harshly nowadays than at any time before – ours is a world which does not know or understand forgiveness; but we should nonetheless try with all the strength we can muster to live Christ’s life in the world.
       ‘Now the hour has come for the son of man to be glorified’ Jesus Christ is looking towards his passion and death. God shows the world the fullness of glory, the most profound expression of self-giving love in the events of his passion and death. This is why we celebrate it: week by week and year by year. We prepare ourselves during Lent to walk with Christ to Calvary and beyond. We see how much God loves us, how much God gives himself for us: totally, completely, utterly. If we serve Jesus we must follow him, and where we are he will be too. In the midst of the troubles which beset the church, Christ is with us. When we are afraid or troubled, Christ is with us, he has felt the same feelings as us, and was given the strength to carry on. When the church is written off as an irrelevance, Christ is with us.
       When secularism appears strong, we should remember our Lord’s words: ‘now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be overthrown’. The World and the Devil are overcome in Christ’s self giving love, when on the cross he pays the debt which we cannot, he offers us a new way of living a life filled with love, a love so strong as to overcome death, a love which offers us eternal life.
       So then as we continue our journey through Lent our journey to the cross and beyond to the empty tomb of Easter, let us lose our lives in love and service of him who died for us, who bore our sins, who shows us how to live most fully, to be close to God, and filled with his love. Let us encourage one another, strengthen one another, and help each other to live lives which proclaim the truth of God’s saving love. All of us through our baptism share in Christ’s death and resurrection and we should proclaim this truth to the world. This truth, this way, this life, overcomes the world, and turns its selfish values on their head. Together we can love and strengthen and encourage one another to do this together: to be Christ’s body in our love and service of one another, in our proclamation to the world that God loves all humanity and longs, like the father of the Prodigal Son, to embrace us, to welcome us back. And as we do this, growing in love and fellowship we will fulfil the will 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 III Year B


Lent can feel something like a spiritual spring clean, and that’s no bad thing. We, all of us, need opportunities for repentance, to turn away from sin, and to return to the Lord Our God. In this morning’s Gospel we see Jesus in quite an uncompromising mood: this is no ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ but rather here is the righteous anger of the prophets, a sign that all is not well in the world.
            When Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God on Mt Sinai the first is ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.’ Could it be that the temple traders in their desire to profit from people’s religious observance have broken this first commandment? The temptation to have power, to be concerned above all else with worldly things: money, power, success, and influence, are still a huge temptation for the Church and the world. We may not mean to, but we do, and while we think of God as loving and merciful, we forget about righteous anger, and our need to repent, to turn away from our sins – the desire to control others and to be so caught up on the ways of the world that we lose sight of who and what we are, and what we are supposed to do and be.
            The Jews demand a sign, and Christ prophesies that if they destroy this temple then he will raise it up in three days: he looks to his death and resurrection to show them where true worship lies – in the person of Jesus Christ. Christians should be concerned with a relationship, our relationship with God, and with each other. Likewise Christians can all too easily forget that Jesus said ‘I have come not to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them’. The Ten Commandments are not abolished by Christ, or set aside, but rather his proclamation of the Kingdom and Repentance show us that we still need to live these out in our lives, to show that we honour God and live our lives accordingly. In his cleansing of the Temple Christ looks to the Cross and to the Resurrection, a stumbling-block to Jews, obsessed with the worship of the Temple, and foolishness to Gentiles who cannot believe that God could display such weakness, such powerlessness. Instead this supreme demonstration of God’s love for us, shocking and scandalous though it is, is a demonstration of the utter, complete, self-giving love of God, for the sake of you and me – miserable sinners who deserve condemnation, but who instead are offered love and mercy to heal us and restore us.
            When we are confronted with this we should be shocked – that God loves us enough to do this, to suffer and die for us, to save us from our sins, and from the punishment that is rightly ours. We do not deserve it, that’s the point. But we are offered it in Christ so that we might become something other than we are, putting away the ways of the world, of power and money, selfishness and sin, to have new life in and through Him.
            To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often. If we are changing into Jesus Christ, then we’re on the right track. If we listen to his word in Scripture; if we talk to him in prayer and let him talk to us; if we’re fed by Him and with Him in the Eucharist, by Christ who is both priest and victim, so that we might become what He is – God; if we’re forgiven by Him, through making confession of our sins, not only do we come to understand Jesus, we become like him, we come to share in his divine nature, you, me, all of humanity ideally. We, the People of God, the new humanity, enter into the divine fullness of life, we have a foretaste of the heavenly banquet – we are prepared to enter the new life of the Kingdom, and to live it.

            Lent should be something of a spiritual spring clean, asking God to drive out all that should not be there, preparing for the joy of Easter, to live the Risen Life, filled with God’s grace. In our baptism we died with Christ and were raised to new life in the Spirit. Let us prepare to live that life, holding fast to Our Lord and Saviour, clinging to the teachings of his body, the Church. Let us turn away from the folly of this world, the hot air, and focus on the true and everlasting joy of heaven, which awaits us, who are bought by his blood, washed in it, fed with it. Let us proclaim it in our lives so that others may believe so that all may praise the Father, the Son and 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 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.
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Palm Sunday 2014

Most people rather like the idea of a Royal visit: crowds, flag-waving: a chance for a celebration, a bit of a do. Yet what we are celebrating is far more than that.
And so it begins: a week which begins with Our Lord and Saviour making a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, hailed as the Messiah, a cause for celebration and joy. It is a week which will see Him betrayed, arrested, tried and killed as a common criminal. Strangely enough, the world around us can still be just as fickle, just as quick to turn someone from hero into pariah. Lest we think that somehow we’re better, more advanced, more civilised, as though we’ve learned our lesson. The plain unvarnished truth is that we’re not. We need the annual reminder which the church gives through its liturgical year – a chance to be confronted by stark realities, and to be brought up short by them. What Christ says and does in this coming week He says to us, he does for us – to HEAL us, to RESTORE us, so that we can live His risen life here and now, as the people of God, fed by Him, fed with Him, sharing in His Death and Resurrection though our baptism, trusting in Him.

          In our pilgrimage through Lent, through our prayer, our fasting, we hope to increase our closeness to Christ, so that following Him, and meditating upon His Passion, we may be transformed by His love, following in His footsteps, entering into the mystery of God’s love poured out on the world. In the next few days we will go to the Upper Room, to have our feet washed, we watch and wait with Christ, we walk the way of the Cross, we gaze upon Christ crucified to see just how much God in Christ loves us – the lengths to which God will go to demonstrate that love, and make it a reality in our lives. Let us prepare to celebrate Easter: Our Lord’s rising from the tomb, His conquering death, so that we may have new life in Him. 

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.

Lent IV Year A


As we celebrate motherhood, the love and nurture of mothers, the selflessness and devotion for which everyone one of us has great cause to be thankful, we need to remember that Christian motherhood finds its greatest expression in the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and is rooted in the motherhood of the Church, which nurtures us in our faith, which cares for us, so that we may grow in our faith and develop into fully-grown adult Christians, regular in our prayer and our attendance Sunday by Sunday, formed evermore into the likeness of Christ, fed by Him with Word and Sacrament, nourished and nurtured by Him.
          In this morning’s Gospel we see a man in need, it is not question of his sin, or his parents’ sin, but rather of a human being in need of healing, like each and every one of us. He wants to see, while those around him, who can see display blindness. He is told to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, he obeys and is healed. The Pharisees cannot agree as to who or what Jesus is; the man can state that Jesus is a prophet, but it does not end there. The Pharisees insist on questioning the man again, he can only reply ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen.’ When he meets Jesus again, he can say regarding the Son of Man ‘tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus tells him that he is speaking to him, and he says ‘Lord I believe’ and he worshipped him.  We see a man on a journey of faith, like each and every one of us, who experiences the healing presence of God in his life, and is brought to a deeper faith in God. He is nurtured, and through his belief, his trust in God, his life is changed.
          As we continue our Lenten pilgrimage, through prayer, fasting and works of charity, we prepare ourselves and our lives to celebrate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, we should be encouraged that at its heart what we celebrate is the self-giving love of God, poured out on the world to heal us, to restore our humanity, so that we like the blind man may see, so that we may understand what God does for us, so that we may have life in all its fullness in Him. We need to have faith and trust in Him, nurtured by the Church, built up in love, fed by God, fed with God, so that we can have a foretaste of heaven, and the joy of eternal life with Christ, healed and restored by Him. This is no private matter, something we put on for an hour on Sunday morning, but rather an all-encompassing reality which has the power to change our lives and transform the entire world, a world in need of the healing love of God, to turn from the blindness of this world to the new sight of the Kingdom, a place of nurture and healing, where we can all experience the love of God, shown to us in Christ, who gave Himself for love of us, so that we might see, so that we might be fully alive, encouraged and built up in love, and sharing that love with others in everything which we say, or think, or do, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

Homily for 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

O LORD, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth: Send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee: Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen

Admittedly it is the collect for Quinquagesima (The Sunday before Lent) but it’s something to live by all year round, if we’re honest!

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

Lent IV Evensong: IITim 4:1-18

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

Homily for Tuesday in the Third Week of Lent: Mt 18:21-35


The forgiveness of God is one thing, but the proof that we want that forgiveness is the energy we expend to make amends for the wrong.
Fulton J. Sheen Thoughts for Daily Living (1955) 106–7
The need for forgiveness is something of which we are, I suspect, all too aware. The last few years have seen our politicians making fraudulent expenses claims, journalists engaging in shady, underhand and illegal practices, the church continues to be rocked by immoral behaviour which falls short of what it expects of its clergy. People are hurt and they find it very hard indeed to trust many of our public institutions. The wounds are deep, they will not be healed easily. It will take time, and effort, and energy. There needs to be the recognition of having done things wrong and a desire and heartfelt commitment to turn away from the sins of the past and to work to make things better: this is what repentance is, what it looks like in practice.
            Today’s Gospel begins with a very human question about forgiveness. In answer to Peter’s question Jesus tells him to forgive his brother not seven times but seventy-seven times. We are to forgive each other as many times as is necessary because God in Christ forgives us. God loves us even to the extent of giving His only Son to die for us, to take our sins upon Himself; to heal our wounds through the shedding of His Blood upon the Cross. God demonstrates to the world the costly nature of this forgiveness – it is not easy, it is painful, nasty, and cruel. But in the midst of this evil and cruelty God’s love and life shine through: an act of torture, sending an innocent man to His death, can become the place where our human nature is restored and we can share in the divine life of love.
            Our response to such divine compassion has to be that we, as Christians, live lives of love and forgiveness: we live it out as a sign to the world that the ways of cruelty and retribution do not achieve anything. This will not be easy, it will be difficult: impossible on our own, and still barely achievable when we do it as a community, unless we rely upon the God who loves us and forgives us, who heals and restores us. It will look like foolishness to the world, which demands retribution: there must be someone to blame, someone must pay the price.
Well, someone did, two thousand years ago in a town in the Eastern Mediterranean – a troublemaker, a prophet, who said he was the Son of God. He was not just a man, but God himself, who came to preach Good News to a world which did not want to hear him, which found it easier to kill a man who made people feel uncomfortable, who offered a radically different way of living and being. He offers the world unlimited forgiveness, not so that it can just carry on regardless, but so that it can be transformed into a community of radical love. This is not to disregard the matter of judgement: the master settles his accounts but is willing to give the servant a chance to make amends. We are the servant: we have a debt which we cannot pay. We have been forgiven, and so we are expected to do likewise. We live lives of truth and love and forgiveness to proclaim God’s marvellous love to the world and to invite it to join in. That is why every day we pray ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’ so that the ways of envy, of hatred, of retribution, are replaced with those of love and forgiveness. God does it for us, so that we can do it to others: recognising our human sin and weakness so that we can turn away from it. We are to transform the whole world and everyone in it, 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 Lent III


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
There exists a great spiritual thirst both outside the church in the world around us and in the church itself. We are like people in the desert, not just in this period of 40 days but throughout our lives. The modern world is deeply consumerist: shopping centres replace cathedrals and yet we are still thirsty, thirsty for the living water, thirsty that our needs may be satisfied. We all of us realise, deep down, that commercialism cannot save us: that what we buy doesn’t really nourish or satisfy us. There can be no commercial exchange with God; we simply have to receive his gifts. We are not worthy of them are, that’s the point: God satisfies our deepest needs and desires out of love for us, wretched miserable sinners that we are, so that enfolded in his love we might become more lovely. Only if we are watered by God can we truly bear fruit, only if we are born again by water and the spirit in baptism can we have any hope. This is what the season of Lent is for: it is a time to prepare for baptism – to share in our Lord’s death and his new life. We do this as individuals and indeed as an institution, so that the church may be born again, renewed with living water, so that it may be poured out over all the world to satisfy the thirst which commercialism cannot.
            In our second reading St Paul writes the church in Corinth to warn them to keep vigilant: the church can never be complacent. For us Lent is to be a time when we learn not to desire evil: we have to turn away from sexual immorality and idolatry. In the last couple of generations the laissez-faire attitude in the world around us has not empowered people, it is not made them happier, it has just given us a world of fornication and adultery, where people worship false gods: Reason, Consumerism, Fulfilment, Money and Power. The ways of the world will always leave humanity empty. It’s why the Gospels show Jesus living a radically different life, a life in all its fullness, which he offers to people: to turn their lives around, losing their lives to find true life in him. He suffers and dies for love of us, to heal us, and restore us, so that we may share in his life of love, nourished by his body and blood, strengthened by his word and sacraments, and to share this free gift of the world around us.
            This morning’s gospel acts as a warning to us: that we are in danger if we continue to sin. We are, however, not simply condemned but offered another chance. The gardener gives a fig tree another chance. This is grace: the free gift of God, not something which we have earned, and only through God’s grace can we hope to bear fruit. The gardener, who created man in Paradise, who will offer himself as both priest and victim upon the tree of life, to bleed and die for love of us, this gardener will meet Mary Magdalene by the empty tomb on Easter day, so that we all humanity may share his risen life.
            So let us turn away from the ways of the world, its emptiness, its false promises, its sexuality immorality, the ways of emptiness and death, to be nourished by the living water, which satisfies our deepest thirst, which makes us turn our lives around, so that we may live in him, who loves us, who heals us and who restores us. The world may not understand this, it may be scandalised by it, it will laugh at us and mock us, in the same way that it mocked our Lord on the way to Calvary and upon the cross. Let us share in his sufferings, knowing that we are loved by him who died for love of us. Let us live as a witness, to share in his work of drawing all humanity to him: so that all people may come to the living water and finds new life in 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 do-minion and power, now and forever

Gŵyl Dewi Sant – S. David’s Day

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

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

 

Thought for the Day

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

A Thought for the Day from Fulton Sheen

As a reflection upon today’s Gospel at Mass:

Clothing therefore tells the story of inner and outer worth. It is a symbol of lost innocence, a memento of former glory. There are therefore two fashions: the passing fashion of the world and the enduring fashion of the spiritual. In the final reckoning it will not matter how we are dressed on the outside; one can go into the Kingdom of Heaven in rags; but it makes an eternity of difference as to how we are dressed on the inside

Fulton J Sheen Life is Worth Living 5th series (1957), 240

A thought for the Day: Latin’s a Wonderful Thing

In John 18:38 Pontius Pilate asks (in the Vulgate)  ‘quid est veritas‘ (what is truth) and does not stay around for an answer. The answer can be stated as an anagram of the question: ‘est vir qui adest‘ (it is the man who is here). He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. May our Lenten Journey lead us to contemplate the mystery of God’s saving love on the Cross, and may we take up our crosses and follow Him.

Homily for Lent II – Listen to Him

Divinity is so profound that it can be grasped only by the extremes of simplicity and wisdom. There is something in common between the wise and the simple, and that is humility

Fulton J. Sheen, The Eternal Galilean, 21–22
In this morning’s first reading we hear the account of the covenant between God and Abraham: an agreement between the human and the divine in which a promise is made and a relationship is strengthened. The promise is fulfilled in the land of Israel and the offspring of Abraham. It shows us something of what God is and God does – God is faithful, generous, and loving towards us his children, he keeps his promises.
            As men and women it is all too easy to get caught up in questions of national identity, I for one am more than guilty of this, especially during the Six Nations Rugby Championship. We all then need to be reminded of S. Paul’s words in our second reading: ‘Our citizenship is in heaven’. It’s where we really belong, and where we gain our true identity. It is where we can have hope that he will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body – we can dare to hope to share in the fullness of the divine life of love for all eternity. It’s something which should affect our lives here and now. Just like the Christians of Philippi addressed by S. Paul, we too need to ‘stand firm thus in the Lord’: we need to stand firm against the ways of the world, against those who would re-fashion the church after the ways of the world, for we are to be in the world, but not of it – for our citizenship is in heaven, this is where we belong, and what really matters.
            If we turn to this morning’s Gospel we hear an account of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. In it we catch a glimpse of the glory of God, we see things as they really are, and for a moment Jesus’ divinity shines forth. He appears talking with Moses and Elijah, he ‘spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem’. In appearing with Moses and Elijah we see Jesus as the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. Just before going up the mountain Jesus has spoken to the disciples, telling them that he will suffer, be rejected, be killed, and raised from the dead. He tells his disciples that if they wish to follow him they have to deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow him. This then is what Lent is all about: denying ourselves and taking up our cross and following Christ. We are to prepare ourselves to follow our Lord and Saviour by imitating him and losing our life for his sake. We pray and we fast to follow his footsteps, to turn away from the things of this world and to remind ourselves that our citizenship is in heaven.
            The glory of God, prefigured by the shining white appearance of Jesus in the Transfiguration points to the moment when the world will see the glory of God displayed most fully upon the Cross, where naked and bloody, scourged, despised, and rejected, Christ is crucified as a blasphemer, an enemy of the people. God will enter into a new covenant with his people, cut in his own flesh, with a sacrifice of himself, for our sins and those of the whole world. This is the fullness of glory and the love of God for humanity. It turns our understanding of glory, and power, and kingship, on their head.
            We too can say like Peter that ‘it is good that we are here’. We come to be fed by God and with God, with word and sacrament, where the sacrifice of Calvary is made present so that we, the people of God, may be fed with his body and blood. We, here, this morning, can behold something of the glory of God in the Mass where Christ gives himself for the life of the world. This is the manna in the wilderness, the bread for the journey of the people of God in the desert of repentance.
            At the moment of Transfiguration a voice comes from a cloud saying ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’ God tells us to listen to Jesus, so that we may be like him. We are to take up our Cross, and in that to learn humility, our need for and reliance upon God and God alone, to glimpse his love and glory on the Cross and to fashion our lives after him, and live out our faith in the world, 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

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

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 Our Lord 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.
As he comes out of 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 – 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, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever

Homily for Ash Wednesday Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 ‘Rend your Hearts and not your Garments’

Today the Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, ‘the beginning of her Lenten journey towards Easter. The entire Christian community is invited to live this period of forty days as a pilgrimage of repentance, conversion and renewal. In the Bible, the number forty is rich in symbolism. It recalls Israel’s journey in the desert: a time of expectation, purification and closeness to the Lord, but also a time of temptation and testing. It also evokes Jesus’ own sojourn in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry, a time of profound closeness to the Father in prayer, but also of confrontation with the mystery of evil. The Church’s Lenten discipline is meant to help deepen our life of faith and our imitation of Christ in his paschal mystery. In these forty days may we draw nearer to the Lord by meditating on his word and example, and conquer the desert of our spiritual aridity, selfishness and materialism. For the whole Church may this Lent be a time of grace in which God leads us, in union with the crucified and risen Lord, through the experience of the desert to the joy and hope brought by Easter.’[1]

Fasting, repentance, prayer, and the imposition of ashes were not unknown to Jews; that is why we as Christians carry on the tradition.  The advice given by the prophet Joel in today’s first reading is both wise and salutary as we enter the desert of Lent. It reminds us that, first and foremost, we are to recognise our own brokenness, our own sinfulness, our own turning away from a God of Love and Mercy. While we may recognise this, any outward sign is not good enough. There is nothing that we can do in a solely exterior fashion – ripping our clothes, placing ashes upon our foreheads, which will, in itself, make a blind bit of difference. What matters, where it really counts, is on the inside. To rend one’s heart, is to lay ourselves open, to make ourselves vulnerable, and in this openness and vulnerability, to let God do his work.

        It would be all too easy when faced with today’s Gospel to argue that outward displays of fasting, piety, and penitence, are criticised, that they do notmatter. But this is not what Jesus is getting at. What he criticises are deeds which are done to comply with the letter but not the spirit of the law. This mechanised approach to piety, a clinging to the external nature of religion, without any concern for its inward spiritual aspect, is where the fault lies. When things are done for show, when our piety is paraded as performance, so that the world may see how good and religious we are, then we are nothing but an empty shell, a whitened sepulchre. The reward which such people receive is likewise an empty one.
        Instead, Jesus upholds the standard practice of Jewish cult, but what matters is that what is done outwardly is completely in accordance with our interior life, it is an outward manifestation of our relationship with God and with one another. So Lent is to be a time when we as Christians are to seek to be reconciled, to be in full communion with God and his church. Our outward acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving need to be done in tandem with, rather than instead of, paying attention to our interior life: otherwise our efforts are doomed to failure. The God whom we worship is one of infinite love and mercy, which will be demonstrated most fully and perfectly on Good Friday, when we see what that love means, when for our sake God made him who was without sin into sin, so that we in him might become the goodness of God. Or as St Isaac puts it ‘as a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God.’ As dreadful as we might be, as utterly undeserving of the father’s love, nonetheless, as the parable of the prodigal son shows us, there are no lengths to which God will not go. The love and mercy which flows from Jesus’ stricken side upon the cross at Calvary are still being poured out over the world, and will continue to be so until all is reconciled in him. In his commission of Peter after his resurrection, Jesus entrusts to his church the power to forgive sins, to reconcile us to one another and to God. This reconciliation is manifested by our restoration to communion with God and his Church.
It is not the most comfortable or pleasant thing to see ourselves as we really are. To stand naked in front of a full length mirror is for most of us, I suspect, not the most pleasant experience. And yet, such a self-examination is as nothing when compared with us baring our heart and soul. It is not a pleasant task, but given that God will judge us in love and mercy, having taken away our sins upon the cross, despite our apprehension we have nothing to fear. All that awaits us is the embrace of a loving father. No matter how many times we fail, how many times we would run away or reject his love, his arms, like those of his son upon the cross, remain open to embrace the world, to heal the wounds of sin and division.
If there are any of you determined to live a more Christian life, there is one resolution you need to make which is, out of all proportion, more important than the rest. Resolve to pray, to receive the sacraments, to shun besetting sins, to do good works – all excellent resolutions; but more important than any of these is the resolution to repent. The more resolutions you make, the more you will break. But it does not matter how many you break so long as you are resolute not to put off repentance when you break them, but to give yourself up to the mercy which will not despise a broken and a contrite heart. Converted or unconverted, it remains true of you that in you, that is, in your natural being, there dwells no good thing. Saints are not people who store goodness in themselves, they are just a people who do not delay to repent, and whose repentances are honourable.[2]
So then, may this Lent be for us all a time of repentance, a time for us to turn away from all which separates us from God and neighbour, a time for reconciliation, for healing and growth, that the faith which we profess may grow in our souls and be shown forth in our lives to give Glory to God the Father, to whom with God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever


[1]H.H. Pope Bendict XVI Catechesis at the General Audience 22.ii.12: http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-conquering-our-spiritual-desert
[2]Farrer (1976) The Brink of Mystery (ed. C. Conti), 17, quoted in Harries, R. (ed.) (1987) The One Genius: Readings through the year with Austin Farrer, London: SPCK, 60.

Homily for Shrove Tuesday : Mark 7:1-13


Even when the will is perverse – even when a creature is enthralled and captivated by one great sinful adhesion, which makes one’s days a flight from God towards lust or power – even then some few good and commendable acts contradict one’s general attitude. These isolated acts of virtue are like a clean handle on a dirty bucket; with them, God can lift a soul to his peace.
Fulton J Sheen Lift Up Your Heart

In this evening’s first reading we see God’s Creation in its perfection and its peace: ‘God saw that it was good’. Here we find all that is needed for human flourishing through staying close to Him and listening to what he says to us and doing it. We see the traditional notions of marriage and family as ordained by God, for our good, and with which we meddle at our peril, and that of the whole of society in general. We see the need for rest – it’s something ordained by God, and which the modern world with its 24/7 always on mindset seeks to erode. It’s something against which we need to fight, because it is wrong and it’s not good for us. We need to rest, to have time off, to spend it in rest and relaxation with our nearest and dearest, it helps give our lives value and worth and first and foremost it is holy, it is set apart for rest and refreshment by God – we cannot simply disregard this divine command because it’s inconvenient in the modern world. It shows us that when the world and the Church are in conflict it is the Church which truly values humanity and affords them proper dignity and respect, rather than seeing them as a commodity which is to be exploited.
          As someone who is part of the religious establishment I must admit that I always get more than a bit concerned when I am faced with Our Lord confronting the Pharisees. It is, I would suggest, a good and a healthy thing simply because it reminds me that I am never to ask the people of God to do something which I do not. It forces me to examine who and what I am, and what I say and think and do, which is never a bad thing.
          The Pharisees approach Jesus to point out that his disciples have not been following the letter of the law, and eating with unclean hands. They are, as ever, keen to point out minor outward transgressions, and are themselves unable to see the bigger spiritual picture. Our Lord is right to say to them:

 “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honours me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Mk 7:6-8

Outward conformity then just will not do; we cannot simply go through the motions and expect everything to be alright in the end. We need to honour God with our lips and with our hearts, so that what we think, what we say, and what we do are all in accord with each other: otherwise we are hypocrites and no better than the Pharisees.
          They saw the law as salvific: if you do the right thing, everything will be fine. Their mechanistic approach to religion is cold, dead and empty, and through the words of Jesus we know that it is not pleasing to God. We cannot and should not fall into the same trap as them.
          We are here tonight to take time to begin our preparations for Lent, to prepare to enter into the desert of repentance, like our Lord spending forty days in the desert before starting his public ministry. We are to give our souls and lives a spiritual spring-clean. We prepare to celebrate Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection just like those preparing for Baptism did and still do: in prayer, with fasting, with self-denial, and through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. We prepare by examining our lives and our consciences to confess our sins to God, so that he can heal and restore us. It may sound scary, but take it from me, as someone who does it regularly, it really isn’t: it’s wonderful, it’s a chance to lay down your burden and feel the embrace of a loving Father around one of his prodigal children. It’s why today is called Shrove Tuesday – people were shriven – they confessed their sins as they prepared to enter this solemn time. They faced up to the fact that they were sinners in need of God’s love and mercy, who needed to be healed and restored by him, it wasn’t something they could just do on their own. It is not easy to recognise that we are work in progress, and that we need God to be at work in us; but this is exactly what Jesus came to show us. He came to heal and restore us, to forgive us our sins, suffering and dying for us – weak, foolish sinful humanity that we are. He came to restore the image of God in us, to take us back to the perfection of Creation, to turn us from the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the obedience shown by his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the obedience which her Son lives out even to his death on the Cross for our sake, and beyond.
          So let us prepare to worship him in spirit and in truth, not just with our lips, but with hearts, minds, and souls and lives  cleansed, healed, and restored by the one perfect sacrifice for sin, who gives himself, in his word, in his Body and Blood, in the Sacraments, and the teaching of the Church, his body, filled with his Spirit, so that we may have live in all its fullness 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

 

Septuagesima Evensong


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