Homily for the 20th Sunday of Year C


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

A thought for the day

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

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

Sermon for Evensong (Trinity X)


‘Remorse  is the negative presence of God in the soul, as grace is the positive presence of God. Remorse is incomplete, for it is self-disgust divorced from God; but remorse can become sorrow, and then hope, the moment the soul turns to God for help.’
Fulton Sheen Lift up your Heart 1942: 17
“Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
We all of us sin, a lot, in what we think or say or do, or indeed do not say or think or do. If we say that we have no sin then we deceive ourselves. The simple fact is that I am a miserable sinner; I am to be pitied for the wretched way in which I do or do not do things. I am no better or worse than any of you, we’re all the same in this, and yet somehow God has called me to serve him, and to say this to you, and he calls each one of us to live out our baptism in our lives.
Possibly the hardest thing to learn is the fact that God loves us: he heals us, and restores us. Most of us if the truth be told struggle with this world-shattering truth – God loves us. We don’t feel worthy of the love, that we are good enough to be loved in the first place, or that we can do anything back.
It is, I suspect, the work of a lifetime and beyond to try and come to terms with the fact that God loves us, that he gives himself for us, that he loves us so much that he opens his arms on the Cross to embrace the world with his healing love. This is what Grace is, the free gift of a generous God, who loves not because we ARE worthy of His love, but that through His love, we may BECOME worthy of it. His grace perfects our human nature, and because we are loved and forgiven, healed and restored in Christ, we can love and forgive others; we can share in Our Lord’s work of healing and reconciliation. God takes the initiative so that we do not have to, he does what we cannot so that our nature may be transformed by him, but first it needs to be accepted, so that it can transform us, and we can then transform others, and eventually transform the whole world.
This is exactly what the Church has been doing for the last two thousand years, saving it, one soul at a time, showing the world that God loves it, and helping it to experience that love as a reality in its life, the one true reality. It all started with a young girl in Nazareth hearing the words ‘Hail, full of grace the Lord is with you’ this is how much God loves us, a God who takes a risk, and uses ordinary unsurprising people to be extraordinary, to do extraordinary things and live extraordinary lives. It is strange and surprising, and it’s not what we would expect to happen, but that’s just how God works. He can take the raw material that in earthly terms is not terribly promising and do things with it. God uses us the people of God to serve him in the Church and the World, to make us saints who may enjoy his closer presence for all eternity.
God loves us, so that we can love each other and love Him, with a love that is costly and pure and generous, a love which forgives the sins of others just as we ourselves have been forgiven. This is the love that can change the world, by transforming our human nature, perfecting it by the Grace of God, rather than abolishing it, so that we can have life in all its fullness, so that we can be prepared for a life of beatitude in Heaven in the closer presence of God.
It is this radical revolutionary love which lies at the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ, it is from this gospel love that the Church’s concern for the world, and politics, and social action flows, for these are not an end in themselves, but a means of bringing about the Kingdom of God among us in all its fullness. We are called as Christians to participate in something radical, revolutionary, and world-changing, something which scared the Roman Empire, and which has outlived it; it is by no means perfect, or the finished article – that’s the point: the Church is a work in progress called to transform the world. It will fail, it’s made up of human beings like us; the Church has been failing ever since Peter denied Our Lord three times, and it will continue to do so, as it cannot rely upon itself and its own strength, but rather upon the God who loves us, who heals us and restores us. In his strength and his truth, we may live out our faith, our hope, and our love, and through His grace transform the world that it may sing praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.

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


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

Homily for 17th Sunday of Year C: Luke 11:1-13



Prayer is helplessness casting itself on Power, infirmity leaning on Strength, misery reaching to Mercy, and a prisoner clamouring for Relief.
Fulton J Sheen Life is Worth Living, 1954: 213
‘Lord teach us to pray’ the disciples ask Jesus in this morning’s Gospel. Their words are our words, we want to know how to pray, what to say to God, how to have a conversation – one that is meaningful and has value. They ask the Lord, and he shows them what to do and what to say. 
The prayer starts with the word Father, it defines our relationship, our connection. It presupposes love, as a parent has for a child. It continues with the petition that the name of God, Our Father, may be hallowed, kept holy. It is the loving response of a child to a parent. In stressing holiness it puts God in his proper place, it ensures that things are done properly. Then the prayer looks forward, ‘your kingdom come’ it looks for the coming of God’s kingdom, which goes hand in hand with ‘your will be done’ God’s kingdom is tied up with doing God’s will, the responsibility is ours to do it. We then pray that we may be fed, that we may be nourished, that we may have bread for the journey of faith.  This feeding goes with the petition that our sins may be forgiven, in the same way that we forgive those who sin against us. The two are linked – feeding and forgiveness, and so they should be in our lives. As people who are forgiven and forgiving we pray that we may not be led into temptation, that we may continue as forgiven and forgiving people.
It is a model of what to say to God, what to ask for, and how to ask for it. It is concise and profound, it is not lengthy or wordy; it does not ramble or drone on for ages. It says what needs to be said, it defines our relationship with God and each other, it defines our spiritual life as one where we are fed and forgiven. It characterises what we are doing here today, to seek God’s forgiveness and forgive others, and to be fed by Word and Sacrament, to do God’s will and bring about God’s Kingdom, a kingdom of love and forgiveness, which looks radically different from what might be if humanity were left to its own devices – it calls us forward to something greater, something more wonderful, than we can imagine. And yet it is a reality – God forgives our sins , giving his life for us, nailing our sins to the Cross, suffering in his flesh so that we who have died with Christ in our baptism may also share His risen life, fed by Him, fed with Him, with His Body and Blood, transformed by the sacrifice of Calvary, loved redeemed and nourished, forgiven and forgiving, to transform the world so that it may be conformed to God’s will, that His name may be Holy, so that all creation may sing His praise. So that the Church, which is Christ’s body, may bring about God’s kingdom and do God’s will. 
It is a generous response to a generous and loving God, it takes people who know their need of God, and shows how those needs are satisfied at the deepest possible level. We ask God to teach us how to pray, and he shows us in a way which both defines and transforms our spiritual life and all of creation, conforming them to the will of God, helping to bring about the Kingdom of love and forgiveness which is shown to us in the person, teaching, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the giving of His Holy Spirit, to nourish us and transform us and all the world, so that it may believe and be transformed to sing God’s praise 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 Fourteenth Sunday of Year C


One of the penalties of being religious is to be mocked and ridiculed. If Our Lord submitted Himself to the ribald humour of a degenerate Tetrarch, we may be sure that we, His followers, will not escape. The more Divine a religion is, the more the world will ridicule you, for the spirit of the world is the enemy of Christ
Fulton Sheen, Characters of the Passion, 1946: 56
The people of Israel in this morning’s first reading have known much pain and desolation, exile, misery, the desecration and destruction of the Temple. Here they have a word of comfort, of healing, hope for the future. ‘As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you’ (66:13). It’s intimate, and comforting, in that it speaks of God who shows love and care for us, and who promises a future of peace. It reminds us that true peace and healing are the gift of God, and a sign of his love. It is a love shown in its fullness in the person and life of Jesus Christ; it is His suffering and death which bring us peace beyond our understanding.
            In this morning’s Gospel we see something of the early spread of the Gospel, people are sent out by Jesus to prepare the way for Him, they are to be prophets, heralds, announcing the nearness of the Kingdom of God. They are sent out ‘as lambs in the midst of wolves’ it sounds risky and vulnerable, it’s not comfortable, it doesn’t make sense, but that’s the point: only then can we be like the Lamb of God, and proclaim his message of healing and reconciliation. If we’re concerned about the shortage of labourers in the Lord’s vineyard, then we need to pray, to ask God to provide, to trust and rely upon Him, and in His strength alone. Only then are we looking at things the right way: if we trust ourselves, our strength and abilities, we will fail. If we trust in God, all things are possible. It’s a hard lesson, and in two thousand years we haven’t managed to learn it.
            The heralds of the kingdom travel light, unlike most of us: they are unencumbered by stuff, and reliant upon others to provide what they do not have. They are dependent upon the charity of others – they rely upon God and his people. They live out a faith which stresses our interconnectedness, our reliance upon those other than ourselves. It’s quite strange for us to hear, we’re used to being told that it’s all about me, what I am, what I can do, what I have. These are the values and ideas of the world; those of the kingdom are entirely different. The interesting thing is that the seventy two listen to what Jesus tells them, they obey Him, and when they return they have done what He asked them to do. Their obedience bears fruit amidst the disobedience of the world, of selfishness and sin. Here then is the pattern for ourlives, Christ calls usto follow in the footsteps of the seventy two, to fashion our lives after their example, so that we too might be heralds of the Kingdom. So that we can say with the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Galatians: ‘But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (Gal 6:14).
            Such is the power of the Cross: this instrument of humiliation and torture displays God’s glory and saving love to the world. That is why we are here today to see the continuation of that sacrifice enacted in front of our very eyes, to eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood, so that our human nature may be transformed by His Grace, fed by God, with God, strengthened to live out our faith in our lives, to walk in the light of this faith, as heralds of the Kingdom, proclaiming the Gospel of repentance, of healing and reconciliation, brought about by Christ on the Cross, so that the world may share in the new life of Easter, filled with the Holy Spirit.
It is not an easy task, or indeed a pleasant one, the world will mock us, as it mocked Him. It will tell us that we are irrelevant and turn its back on us, just us it ignored Him. Let us trust in Him, proclaiming His peace and mercy, so that the world may believe and be transformed 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.