Friday, 4 July 2014

Homily : 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.

Here's my homily to be preached at all Masses this weekend 6/7th July, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. 

“See, now your King comes to you, he is victorious, he is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey.” So writes the prophet Zechariah in the first reading we heard today.  Very counter-intuitive! One would expect a King to come charging along on a big strong horse, looking anything but humble, wouldn’t they?  But God’s ways are not our ways. Zechariah portrays the King, or more precisely the promised Messiah, as gentle and humble.  We know that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy on Palm Sunday when he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.

In the Gospel we hear some beautiful words from Jesus,  ‘come to me all you who are overburdened and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke, for I am gentle and humble, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’ Again we see here something counterintuitive, that a yoke could be easy and a burden light. But the way of Jesus is  not the way of the world.

Humility and gentleness are beautiful virtues but they don't seem to make much sense in a competitive world. What sort of financial system would we have if it was built on gentleness and humility? Perhaps a more just deal for the world’s poor? Perhaps an end to the vicious reform of the Welfare state and the end of child poverty in  this country? Perhaps a financial system where a living wage comes before a company bonus?

What sort of international relations might we have if they were built on gentleness and humility? Perhaps an absence of war and an end to the immoral arms trade? On Friday the Queen named a new warship, the biggest ever built, one of two new warships  at a cost of over £6bn. Yes, that’s right, two warships designed to kill and maim others. Could not £6bn have been better spent on fighting rising food poverty and homelessness? Yes, I know there are always competing priorities between defence and welfare, but what would have been the more gentle and humble choice to make?

If we were gentler and humbler in our dealings with one another we would have more peace in our hearts,  homes, our churches, schools and workplaces. Is this not what we long for? Only Jesus can give this and yet the world seems so set against it with its predominant values of celebrity, money-making and militarism.

Looking at  gentleness, there is a  belief among many that if you want to get on in life you have to be hard and tough otherwise people will walk all  over you. Therefore gentleness becomes equated with timidity, passivity, weakness. But from a Christian perspective, gentleness is not a weakness it is a strength.  Jesus was gentle. He says it of himself and it was prophesied about him by Zechariah.  

He was especially gentle towards the weak the wounded. Those who had heavy burdens to carry.  This doesn't mean he was a pushover, we know that from his robust encounters with the religious leaders of his day. In the counter- intuitive world of God, who turns human values upside down, there is nothing as strong as gentleness. I read somewhere once that, a gentle person treads lightly, listens carefully, looks tenderly,  and touches with reverence.  Well for those of us who regularly read our Bible, that’s Jesus, isn't it? And we are called to imitate him.

Looking at humility, it is unfortunately, like gentleness also misunderstood. It is seen as a weakness in our brazen and conceited world. But from a Christian perspective, humility is not a weakness. It is a strength.  Jesus was humble because he knew his true greatness and acknowledged it as coming from the Father and not from himself.

For us humility does not mean that we demean ourselves, but that we have a realistic appreciation of our strengths and where they come from, that is God our Father, the source of all virtue.

How can we grow in gentleness and humility? Well, we can yoke ourselves to another for a start and help them carry their loads. As someone who grew up in north London I don’t know much about farming, but I do know that a yoke is a beam put across the neck of an animal to enable it to  pull a load. There are also double yokes for two animals, where the load would be too much for either animal on its own. Many of us have heavy loads behind us that we drag though life. Rejection, relationship breakdown, physical and emotional suffering. The Good News is that Jesus is there with us, yoked to us to help us pull those burdens, which would be completely unbearable were it not for his help. He gives us this help through the sacraments and especially the Eucharist and through other people. He wants to heal us of the physical and emotional damage our burdens have caused. He wants that. Believe it. But he needs our faith first. He invites us to surrender to him completely, the burdens we are pulling. Surrender it all to him now. At the Offertory, send them here to the altar with the gifts of bread and wine. As the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the body and blood of Christ ask for your burdens to be transformed into the burden that Christ wants you to pull, that is, the burden of love of God and love of neighbour. To set aside our burdens as he is looking after us and take his burden upon us so that we can look after others.

Look around at your family, friends, co-workers. Are they pulling heavy loads, carrying heavy burdens? Reach out. Yoke yourself to them and help them to pull those loads. I know that many of you do this already, in the parish and outside of it. There’s  not just the  two of you yoked together, but three. You, them and Jesus.  Let’s show humility and gentleness to others this week. He who pulls our burdens expects us to do the same for others and he will be right there with us, because he has promised it. We should learn from him, because he is gentle and humble of heart.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Ascension Sunday Homily 1st June Yr A 2014

What was it that Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet? "Parting is such sweet sorrow." We’ve probably all experienced that sweet sorrow to a greater or lesser degree, either when we’ve said goodbye to a loved one as they prepare to die, or simply saying goodbye to a close friend who’s moving to another country.

The Ascension is also a parting. The end of the earthly ministry of Jesus. But not a parting of sweet sorrow, on the contrary it’s a parting that we should celebrate and be joyful about!  

The meaning of the Ascension is that Christ’s presence is no longer limited to a small group, in one place at a particular time in history. Now his presence is spread throughout creation through his body the Church. Paul gives it a theological perspective in his letter to the Ephesians, when he writes ‘God has put all things under his feet, and made him as the ruler of everything, the head of the Church; which is his body, the fullness of him who fills the whole of creation.’

This is the wonderful mystery we celebrate today. The Ascension is not about Christ’s absence, but about his presence in a different way to that which he had before his death. He is now present in our community, in our hearts and especially in the Eucharist, a Real and abiding Presence.

All of this has implications for us as individual Christians and as a parish community. Jesus  asks us to be  witnesses to his resurrection and to proclaim this Good News by what we say and do. This is the mission of the Church. Our mission. To undertake this mission requires a radical transformation at the core of our being. We cannot do this for ourselves. It is done to us in the power of the Holy Spirit at the time of our Baptism and Confirmation, the effects are that we are enabled as ‘fit for the mission’ of making disciples.

 On this Feast of the Ascension we should do a mini self-audit and ask ourselves some questions, such as, "How am I  doing in relation to my mission?" How am I doing in living the promises of my Baptism and exercising the gifts I have been given at Confirmation?"

  St. Paul encourages us to make such an examination frequently. He wrote: "Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?  (2 Cor. 13:5)

We have to admit, sadly, that some  Christians, perhaps many,  have not reached their full potential in Christ. Some Christians do not witness to the Resurrection, or proclaim the Good News of Jesus in their lifestyles and beliefs. Some Christians are full of bitterness, hatred, gossip, unforgiveness and nonacceptance of others. There is a lack of a willingness to serve in the church on a voluntary basis, especially if it disrupts lifestyles, schedules etc. Any type of demand requiring sacrifice is avoided in the interests of personal comfort. Behavior is often no different to the unbaptised or those who scoff at Christ and mock his church. They are unfit for mission.

This is because the power of the gifts of the Holy Spirit have not been unlocked and fully realised in their lives.  They are not living authentic lives in Jesus Christ.

Fundamentally this is because they have not consciously surrendered their lives to God, despite Baptism and Confirmation.

To be fit for mission we have to let our lives be directed by the Holy Spirit and not directed by ourselves. The reading we have heard today from the Acts of the Apostles speaks of a baptism in the Holy Spirit. In this sense a baptism with the Holy Spirit, whatever that looks like, is required for many Catholics, to enable them to release the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, and allow him to direct it.

Moving from a self-directed life to a Christ directed life is essential to living as an authentic Christian; so that we can be fit for mission.  Before Jesus ascended to the Father he gave the mission to make further disciples to the apostles in the 1st century  and by implication to us his disciples in the 21st century. There is no Plan  B!  We are firmly the one and only Plan he has!
So, in the coming week as we prepare for Pentecost, that mighty and dramatic descent of the Holy Spirit,  let us pray with urgency for a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit in this parish and the wider church, to unlock and release the potential of our Baptism and Confirmation. That where required we move from self—direction of our own lives to surrendering them completely to Christ,  , so that when Jesus comes back  we may be found to have gone and made disciples as he has asked us to.  

Let me conclude and sum up by reading to you a beautiful prayer by St Ignatius of Loyola, who happens to be my favorite saint. It goes like this, “Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.”

Let us surrender our lives to him who surrendered his life for us. Come Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Homily – ‘Presentation of the Lord in the Temple at Jerusalem.’ 02.02.14. Year A: 2014

I've been a bit slack posting my homilies. Here's a preview of next Sunday's. As usual, may change - especially in delivery!

Homily – ‘Presentation of the Lord in the Temple at Jerusalem.’  02.02.14. Year A 2014

Today we celebrate Mass 40 days after Christmas Day. Therefore, this Feast of the ‘Presentation of the Lord in the temple at Jerusalem,’ completes our celebrations of the birth of our Lord. He the Word made Flesh, the True Light has come into the world. Amen.

Mary, purest Mother and Virgin undefiled, goes to the temple to be “purified” in accordance with Jewish Law, accompanied by her husband Joseph. They were poor or of at least very modest means. The Jewish Law required that ideally a lamb should be offered for sacrifice, or if the mother could not afford a lamb, then a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. The irony of course is that Mary carried within her arms someone more important than a lamb, she was carrying the true lamb, the Lamb of God, who in time would sacrifice himself for us on Calvary in an act of terrifying love, and a sword would pierce Mary’s heart.

There would have been a shared sense between Mary and Joseph that they were fulfilling a ritual practice that was common to all new mothers, and probably didn't expect the events that unfolded. Can you imagine the conversation when they got home! “What was all that about Mary?” “ I don’t know Joseph, I'll have to give it some thought.”  

Waylaid by an elderly couple who seemed to spend most of their time hanging around the temple, Anna certainly did. Luke tells us that she never left the temple. Simeon, dedicated to observance of the Law, would have also spent a lot of time at the Temple. Both of them would have been respected by the Temple authorities. The Temple would have been a busy place, with people coming and going all day long about the business of official Temple administration and worship. 

Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus would have looked just like any other young couple, undertaking their religious business. Nothing to look at here folks, keep moving.  However, Holy Simeon and Anna, are to be used by God as witnesses to a moment of public encounter between God, the Jewish people and indeed the whole world. Until now only the shepherds and the wise men from the East have seen the baby Jesus. It’s been a bit of a private affair.  

Holy Simeon, whose name means, God has heard us and Anna, whose name means grace, mercy, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit are in the right place at the right time. They have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to be public witnesses and prophets to the arrival of the Messiah. Two elderly frail human beings, these are the people whom God uses, to publicly reveal himself to a nation, that has waited and prayed for a Messiah for so long. In the busyness of the Temple no one else recognises him! Only, Holy Simeon and the prophetess Anna.  He comes not in circumstances of great power, wealth and influence, surrounded by a royal entourage, like other royal babies, but in a condition of poverty,  weakness and vulnerability. He comes in a condition that would be taken full advantage of on Calvary.
Holy Simeon represents the historical expectation of Israel for a Saviour; he is the first public witness to the presence of the promised Messiah amongst the Jewish people. On the other hand Anna, being a prophetess suggests, that a new era has at the same time begun as well as the old one being fulfilled. In this new era, the living voice of God will continue to speak, but now in a far more personal and direct way, through his chosen one, Jesus, the promised Messiah. Anna is the first in a line of prophetic disciples who will speak about Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel. She is the first evangelizer for the Good News of Jesus Christ.

What can we draw for our meditation this week, from this public presentation of Jesus? God has his faithful people here, Holy Simeon and Anna, who play no extended role in the history of salvation. We’re not talking about Moses or King David type figures They have limited but significant "bit parts." Their characteristics are that they are people filled with hope regarding God’s promises; they are loyal and put God first above all things. They are prayerful people. And because of those characteristics, they are sensitive to God's voice, and available to respond to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when God prompts them.  In that respect they are good role models for us. Well worth of our prayerful meditation for the week ahead.

The Holy Spirit can speak to us and show us things that others cannot know or understand. The Holy Spirit promised Holy Simeon that he would see the Messiah before he died. But we are unlikely to hear God's voice, the Holy Spirit, unless we prepare ourselves to do so by living in God's will for us, by imitating the behaviours of Holy Simeon and Anna. That means prayer, reading our Bibles, penance, participation in the sacramental life of the church and right living. Allowing ourselves to be drawn deeper into God's amazing and fantastic friendship.

Devout people are full of praise, as were Holy Simeon and Anna. Worshipping God can be a worthy full-time occupation. Some people give their lives over to God as monks and nuns, where there primary task is scheduled prayer through the day. All the church asks of us is to attend Mass once a week. But we know in our hearts, don't we, that we want to give more of ourselves to prayer. Yes?

Jesus offers hope, light, and salvation to all people. The Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in this public presentation of Jesus. When we are really convicted by the Holy Spirit that Jesus is Lord, we have that personal relationship with him, then we will not be so shy to speak about him to others. We don’t have to proselytise and ram religion down people’s throats. But perhaps this week we could look for opportunities to speak to someone at our place of work about Jesus. We don’t even have to start the conversation. We just answer their questions, if they know we go to church on Sunday and ask why, or notice that we abstain from meat on Friday, or ask about the rosary beads or small crucifix, or pocket prayer book lying casually on our desk. Or perhaps they’ve seen something about our Catholic faith on our FaceBook page?

Holy Simeon and Anna are now long since gone and completely with the Master. The job of carrying on their work in terms of letting others publicly see the salvation that has been prepared for them,  and talking to them about the answer to their deepest needs, that is Jesus, falls to us.

Just as Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple, a very public place in Jerusalem, we need to take Jesus to the public places where we go. And just like Holy Simeon and  Anna, we are all called to be his witnesses and prophets. 


Saturday, 26 October 2013

Homily Week 30 Yr C 2013

Here's me homily to be preached this 30th Sunday of Year C 2013. I've put a link to the readings here:

Homily Wk 30 Yr c 2013

I heard of a survey undertaken amongst a group of Catholic University students which asked them, “if you were to die tonight and appear at the gates of heaven, what’s your admission ticket?”  Nearly all of them said it would be their good character and behaviour. Perhaps many of us might have said the same. I think I might have. As if in some way access to heaven is some kind of beauty contest based on how good I have been and all the good stuff I have done whilst alive. Thank God it’s not, because if it was, I know that I have very little to offer. If I am realistic, I probably deserve admission to a place that is a lot  hotter  than heaven!

The response those students made is similar to the strategy used by the Pharisee in the parable that we’ve just heard in this Sunday’s Gospel, about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Tax collectors were particularly despised by the Jewish people, as they collected taxes on behalf of the occupying Roman Empire, and consequently were considered as sinners.
As we listen to this parable today, the Pharisee strikes us as conceited.  His real problem, though, is that he, like the students, maybe some of us, is out of touch with reality.  And, by the way, being out of touch with reality is the definition of insanity.

The Reality is that we are creatures and God is the creator.  Heaven is the experience of sharing intimately in God’s inner life, participating in his immortality and friendship.   On the basis of our own merits, we have little claim to any of this, to heaven.

In fact, standing on our own merits, we have absolutely no claim whatsoever on God.  A claim is based on justice.  Justice is about receiving our due and paying what we owe.  We receive our very existence and all we need to sustain that existence from God.  Therefore we owe him everything – perfect love, perfect honor, perfect obedience, and perfect worship.  Showing up at mass  from time to time, tossing a few quid in the basket, and trying to be basically decent people, doesn’t quite cover what we owe God. There is a huge gap between us and God. 

That’s why the Father sent the Son. Through his act of perfect humility, perfect obedience and perfect love on the cross, Jesus paid the debt that the entire human race owed to God, he justified us – that is, HE put us right with God.  That’s justice.  And the justice of God is always accompanied by mercy. Mercy. Another name for God’s grace. A share in the divine life.

Consequently, we do not need to be under an illusion like the Pharisee, that we deserve salvation based on our good deeds. We might list our achievements when applying for a job, or the good things we do in the parish when applying for a school place for our kids, but in regard to our eternal salvation, it doesn’t work like that. What was it the first reading from Ecclesiasticus  said? It said ‘the Lord is a judge, who is no respecter of personages.’ Lists of our good deeds and behaviour don’t impress God. That’s why the tax collector went home at rights with God and the Pharisee didn’t. Even though he was a ‘good’ man. But that goodness was only based on how good he was at keeping the 613 commandments in the Jewish law. Many of us probably struggle with the 10 Commandments and that’s assuming we can remember them! We’ll have a test in a minute! For myself, I can remember the two that Jesus gave us, love of God and love of neighbour.

So the message clear — it’s all grace! 

 Whatever natural blessings we enjoy — health, job, family, education – are gifts.  Did we have to work at  all to attain what we have?  Usually.  But we were created out of nothing.  Our very existence and ability to work is a gift.  If we enjoy a personal, intimate relationship with God as our Father and Jesus as our brother, that’s all gift as well.  Do we have to work spiritually to do God’s will and walk in the path of good works that God has marked out for us? Of course.  But the very ability to know God’s will and love as God loves, is pure grace.
The tax collector was under no illusions: he knew that he deserved nothing but judgment alone.  So he asked for mercy.  This is the sane thing to do.  The Pharisee, under the illusion that his works made him righteous, didn’t think he needed grace, so didn’t ask. 

In fact the God he prayed to – was himself. That’s insane. He was seriously out of touch with reality.

Let me close, with a little anecdote.

In Vienna in Austria there is a church in which the former ruling family in Austria, the Hapsburgs, are buried. When royal funerals used to arrive the mourners knocked at the door of the church to be allowed in.  A porter inside would ask ‘Who is it that desires admission here?’ A guard would call out, ‘His apostolic majesty, the emperor’. The porter  would answer, ‘I don’t know him’. They would knock a second time,  and again the porter  would ask “Who is it that desires admission here?’ The funeral guard outside would announce, ‘The highest emperor’. A second time the porter would say, ‘I don’t know him’. A third time they would knock on the door  and the porter  would ask,” Who is it that desires admission here?’ The third time the answer would be, ‘A poor sinner, your brother.’
The royal family were then allowed into the church for burial, because they had admitted that their deceased, the most important person in the land, was in fact, a poor sinner in need of the mercy of God.

My friends, we are all called to make the journey from pride to humility,   to arrive at the point where we can say like the tax-collector, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Amen.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Homily Wk 27 Yr C 2013

Homily wk 27 yr c 2013

The story is told of a man who fell off a mountain cliff. Half-way down the cliff he succeeds in grabbing a branch of a tree. There he is, dangling on the branch, unable to pull himself up yet knowing that letting go of the branch he would definitely fall to his death. Suddenly the man gets an idea. He looks up to heaven and shouts, “Is anyone up there?” A voice comes from heaven, “Yes, I am here. I am the Lord. Do you believe in me?” The man shouts back, “Yes, Lord, I believe in you. I really believe. Please help me.” The Lord says, “If you really believe in me you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Have faith. Now let go of the branch.” The man thinks about it for a moment and then shouts back, “Er, is anyone else up there!?”

Many of us chuckle at the story because we can recognize ourselves in this man. We believe in God, but when the going gets tough and things do not work out as we expect, we tend to look for help elsewhere, giving up on God, rather than waiting on him in faith.  We believe  - but have little faith. And by faith I mean that complete giving over of ourselves to God – mind and heart, that what he has revealed to us in Jesus Christ, about himself as a loving God with a plan for our eternal happiness, starting here and now  in this life is true.

The apostles too, the gospels tell us, are men of little faith. They believe in Jesus and follow him, but they know their faith lacks something. So in today’s gospel, they come to Jesus and say to him, “Lord, Increase our faith!"

In the parable that follows their question, Jesus is saying that if we have mature faith we would put the will of God first in our lives at all times.  If we have faith we will not grumble and complain that we have been working for God all day long, now we are tired and it is God’s turn to attend to our needs. Rather we will forget ourselves, having faith that God will come to our aid when and how He deems right.
God’s unconditional love for us demands only one proper response from us, in return our unconditional love for  Him. The truth that today’s gospel shows us is that mature faith consists not in how much God attends to our immediate needs, but in how willing we are to serve God unconditionally, without counting the cost. Being true and faithful disciples. Let us today join the apostles and the whole Church in asking the Lord to increase our faith.

I am sure we all struggle with our faith at some time or another. When God unexpectedly intervened in my life and brought me back to the practice of the Faith after 10 years , I had many questions. Some were resolved. Some are still ongoing! Even when I was away from the Church during those years I still believed in God. The problem was that my faith in God had decreased over the years until it was as good as lost. That’s a dangerous place to be in.   
So I think that a good starting point is to recognize that faith - is a gift to us from God.  It is grace. That is, a free share in God’s divine life.  The seed of faith has been given to each of here. With this seed of faith we can do amazing things – move mulberry trees as the Gospel says! All we need to do is to accept the gift of faith and to understand it. We need to do the things that we are expected to do, the things Jesus asks us to do – love God and our neighbour as ourselves. If we work at these things, we will be increasing our faith. It is expected of us.

We are coming now to the end of the Year of Faith proclaimed by Pope Emeritus Benedict some months before he resigned. So let us think this week about how we are doing in what is expected of us. Perhaps some type of examination of conscience now, while we are here:
·       What steps have we taken in the past year to develop our faith?  
·   Have we been on retreat, if our circumstances or finances permit it?
·       Perhaps a day of recollection?  
·       Spent more and regular time in prayer every day?
·       Frequent recourse to the sacrament of reconciliation (Confession?)
·       Read our Bible more?
·       Studied our Catechism to learn more about the teachings  of our beautiful Catholic faith?
·       Kept a spiritual journal?  
·       Or spent some time with Fr Roger or myself,  to share what the Lord is doing in my life and discern what more he might want of me? 

These are some of the ordinary means through which the Lord increases our faith, if we but make time for him. Sunday Mass every Sunday without fail is important, but in a way it’s not enough. We have to actively live our faith from one Sunday to another. Faith is like a muscle.  We have to exercise it for it to grow! To get a Holy Six Pack!

To begin in these areas- of our examination of conscience-  is to plant the smallest of seeds, from which great works of faith can be accomplished. As Paul said in his letter to Timothy,  ‘you have been trusted to look after something precious; guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit.’