Fr Doug

  Father Doug

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Sermons:

13th Sunday Year C 2022

I try to go for a walk each day for a bit of exercise and for a bit of headspace, a time to mull things over. I walk local walks on a bit of a rota basis but a few weeks back I fancied a change and planned to use my travel pass to go up to London and walk a section of the Thames Path. So I got through the tasks that were on my desk that morning as quickly as I could. Then I checked the train timetable, so that I could get there, do the walk and get back for my next scheduled appointment. I made a sandwich and was ready to go, but there was a bit of spare time before the train so I made a coffee, sat down and picked up a magazine. Next thing, I’d missed the train so I figured I’d eat the sandwich at home and then go for the next train, but as I was doing that a phone call came in and it got a little bit involved. Now, I’d missed another train. My day continued in that vein and, surprise, surprise I ended up doing one of my usual local walks.

And that’s what happens when you lose focus or take your eye off the ball. To achieve anything you need resolve. And that’s the story of Jesus in the gospel. We might speculate how things were before he began his public ministry but from the start of the gospel he seems so intense, never easing up. In Luke’s account, he goes from one town to the next around Galilee, and does not hang about at all. Then as we just heard he resolutely took the road for Jerusalem, the road to his destiny, the road to his final showdown. For Jesus –AND for those who follow him, it was “Game on”. It would be relentless till it was all over, up in Jerusalem. No time to address the big Jewish Samaritan issue of the day. No time to rest. Foxes and birds might take a rest, but not Jesus and his followers. No time to even grieve a death of a parent, no goodbyes, no looking back, only forwards and onwards. There was urgency, commitment and resolution, for him and for them,… and for us. That’s St. Luke’s point. We can’t lose focus, we can’t take our eyes off the ball.

The children receiving Holy Communion for the first time this weekend have been working hard this year, thinking carefully about what is right and what is wrong, and therefore why it is such a great thing to receive the gift of Jesus through Holy Communion, but after this weekend they can’t take their eyes off the ball. They have to have that same resolution to continue as Jesus did – and so do their families!

But the temptations are numerous and it is only too easy to compromise our good intentions. To go to mass every week – except when we have somewhere else we must be or something else we need to do. To always tell the truth – except when a lie is easier. To be honest – except when everybody else is cheating too. To pray regularly – except when we are busy. To be generous – except when we are not feeling quite so flush with cash.

Yes, it is easy to lose focus. Jesus is telling us that we cannot be half-hearted. Losing a bit of focus the other week cost me a favoured walk in London, but losing focus as followers of Jesus can be a lot more costly. It is a tough gospel today, a bit harsh perhaps. But there is consolation in it, for we know that we are on a fabulous path, with Jesus, a way or a road that leads to glory, a road that leads to heaven, a road that has many rewards. So don’t dither, Jesus tells us. Get stuck into it! It is so worth it.

Corpus Christi C 2020

So, 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed about 5000 men – and women and children too. That’s a lot of people. But what happened then was so amazing that it was remembered very clearly by everyone there and recorded in the famous story we have heard today. They even remembered being sat down in groups, seven rows of seven, 49 or 50 people in each group. And with five loaves and two fish and the help of his disciples, Jesus fed them all, every single one, and there was still left overs.

Now, the 5 loaves and the 2 fish were crucial, because that’s the way Jesus always seems to do things. Offer him a little, and he will do a lot with it. So that’s what makes our offertory such an important part of the mass. Bread and wine are offered and brought forward in procession. So is the collection. We heard in our first reading that Abraham gave a tithe to Melchizedek, the priest of old, the priest of God. So when you put your offering in the basket on your way in to church (or recall your standing order) your action is deeper than merely paying your share to the church community. You are participating in the mass.

And in the offertory procession we should also be investing our offering of time and also of service to God. We just heard St. Paul’s account – the earliest written account – of what happened at the Last Supper but St John adds specifically that at the end of the meal Jesus got down from table and he washed his disciples’ feet. He told them to offer the same service or sacrifice to others. So that’s what we commit to do and what we should try and express as the offertory procession moves forward. The bread, the wine and the collection are accompanied by our spiritual sacrifice. We offer ourselves to God. The hymn begins: In bread we bring you Lord… It is up to us to finish that verse. What else are we putting on the table – his table?

So just as the loaves and fish formed a very humble offering among all those people, our offering of ourselves at mass may seem to form quite a humble offering  to God. But with the loaves and fish he did amazing things. Be absolutely certain then that with whatever we give of ourselves he will likewise do amazing things, just as he does with the wafers of bread and the jug of wine.

And what happens at mass should happen in daily life. Offer a little to God and watch what he can do with it. With an offering of a generous smile, God can bring joy and peace to many people. With an offering of a few kind words he can spread peace and harmony amongst many. With an offering of a small kind deed, he can feed the hungry… and so on. The point is that he relied on the gift of the loaves and fish to feed the thousands on the mountainside. He likewise relies on the bread and wine to make himself available to us in Holy Communion and he also relies on us to express his love and do his work on earth – to be the Body of Christ on earth. That’s why we should be bothered about what we offer of ourselves. With a small, humble gift from us he can do great things. Offer him little and little will be done.

On the mountainside he fed thousands using a humble offering of 5 loaves and 2 fish. Today he nourishes all of us with his life, but he relies on us to give up a little bit of our life for him to use, a little bit of our time, a little bit of our talent and a little bit of our treasure. Christ has no hands now on earth, only ours, no feet but ours. The Body and Blood of Christ that we give thanks for as we celebrate this Feast today, is the source and summit of our Faith, the start and the finish.

Trinity C 2022

I want to show you a souvenir that I brought back from one of my trips to Ghana. I saw it for sale by the side of a road we were travelling on and I was intrigued: You can see that there are three separate persons, individually carved. They are linked together and they are quite strong – they hold up a plant pot in my house. But the thing is, they are not three pieces of wood. It is one piece of wood which by ingenious carving has released as it were, the three persons. The person selling it was clearly the man who made it so I told him how good I thought it was and also that it made me think of the Holy Trinity. Now this was possibly a mistake because he then proceeded to put the price up considerably but anyway it was still worth it.

And in it, you can see many of the truths that we hold about the Trinity. Three persons in one block of wood! These three persons are strong in their relationships to each other, inseparable in fact, but there is space between them. That’s where we can fit in possibly. In the Holy Trinity each of the persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is knowable separately. Indeed we pray to each of them individually. My model is limited in many ways but mainly because they show each of the persons with a human shape whereas in the Godhead only one is human, Jesus. He is the one we most easily relate to. You don’t get to meet many creators like the Father, nor many spirits for that matter but we do know many human beings like Jesus, so  you could say that “Jesus is our man” … but he is also our God. To see Jesus is to see the Father for they are joined as one and it is to Jesus that we are joined so that through him, with him and in him we are able to take part in whatever life it is that goes on between them. But joined by whom, well the Holy Spirit of course, the Holy Spirit who breathes or inspires that life into us.

Today/this weekend, we celebrate the fact that the Holy Spirit is inspiring in 7 young people of our parish, a life of generosity. That Holy Spirit is helping them, through the sacrament of Confirmation, to appreciate their own gifts and to share them with others in such a way as to create Church. For months now they have been practicing and reflecting on ministries within the parish and hopefully, now will be able to take part in the life of the Church in a whole new way.

But taking part in the life of the Body of Christ that is the Church, is by virtue of the Holy Spirit’s action, taking part in the life of God, the life of the Trinity. The more these/those young people involve themselves in the Church the more deeply they enter the mystery of God. But that is true for every single one of us. Stay on the edge or get more deeply involved. The choice is ours but the calling is most definitely God’s.

So, the Holy Spirit joins us together in the Body of Christ and in life with the Father. It is a privilege to share in anyone’s life, but it is an extraordinary, amazing , incredible privilege to share in the life God. We give thanks to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And we congratulate our Confirmandi and their families.

Pentecost (C) 2022

Sometimes it is good to just look back and celebrate with joy and thanksgiving all that has been, all that has taken place, all that has been achieved. And that’s what we have been doing over this long weekend, isn’t it, celebrating Her Majesty’s 70 years of service as our queen. As citizens we heartily celebrate with everybody else. But as members of the Church we have another celebration this weekend, though one that is not too dissimilar in fact. We celebrate getting on for 2000 years of our Church. On this Feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the beginning or birth of the Church. We recall that the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles. They were linked together and made into the Church that we are part of today. It is the anniversary of the Church’s creation. So we recall the beginning and we also celebrate with joy and thanksgiving  these years of service that the Holy Spirit has given us down through the centuries. We celebrate the event and we celebrate with thanksgiving all that has been, all that has taken place, all that has been achieved – what it’s meant to the world and what it means today to each of us.

As to the historical event itself, St. Luke in his Acts of the Apostles offers us two images, wind and fire, to describe what happened. Of those two, I think we are more familiar with the power of the wind or the breeze. I have said before that years ago I used to enjoy a little sailing, racing small boats on the River Medway. Before the race started all the boats would be bobbing about pointing in different directions at the mercy of the river currents, going nowhere, waiting for the starter to get us underway. As soon as the hooter went we’d all hoist our sails and the breeze or the wind would fill the sails and all the boats would race off – in the same direction – largely!

That’s a picture of what happened at Pentecost. The apostles were in Jerusalem as individuals with no real direction. They were kind of bobbing around going nowhere, like our sail boats. But then the Holy Spirit blew life into them. They started to move, their sails filled with the power of the Spirit. They all began to pull in the same direction. They were united as a Church, and everything got underway. The life that was in them was of course the life of Jesus. In today’s gospel St. John pictures Jesus on Easter Day breathing that life, his life, into the apostles. The Holy Spirit would maintain Jesus’ presence with them in the Church from that moment on.

And that is where we will find Jesus today, not in the tomb of Calvary. He rose from the dead and left the tomb. But we won’t look for him in the Easter Garden either because that is a long way away and a good long way back in history. Because of the Holy Spirit we can look for him in the here and now, in the Church, in its sacraments and especially in Holy Communion.

It is a very fitting finale to our Easter Season during which we have been considering carefully what ‘rising from the dead’ means and why Jesus being risen from the dead is good news for all of us. That particular Good News is what we call our Gospel; it’s what makes us Christians.

So on this feast of Pentecost, we don’t just look back in history. We celebrate Christ’s risen presence among us today, here, right now, made possible by the gift of His Holy Spirit and we also look forward and pray for a renewal of that gift to refresh our lives. Father, we say, send forth your spirit (again), and renew the face of the earth. Spirit of the living God, we say, fall afresh on me. These prayers beg a question:                                                                                                                                                                                     What do we want to see renewed and what is it that needs freshening up in our Church and in our lives?

 

7th Sunday of Easter 2022 (C)

 

I received a lovely card recently which said “Thinking of you and praying for you”. In fact I often send such assurances of prayer myself.  It is only one part of prayer though. Prayer involves praise, thanksgiving, reflection, sorrow and much more but praying for things or people, intercessory prayer, certainly has its place. We pray for our own needs of course, but praying for others is important because it binds us together. We join ourselves to others in a loving way – wherever they are. We don’t send a card every time we say a prayer for someone. Instead, we entrust our High Priest to personally communicate this love on our behalf. Jesus is this intermediary. Even if the person we are praying for has died, Jesus expresses that love to them. The postal service doesn’t reach heaven!”. ‘I am the only Way’, Jesus told us, no one can reach into the beyond except him. Only through Him can we communicate love to those beyond the grave. And it is important for us to know that our thoughts and feelings can reach others, living or dead.

AND there are times when it’s important for us to feel the love and concern others have for us. Many of you I’m sure, can genuinely say how the prayers of others help or have helped in times of trouble – an illness, a crisis, whatever. Often, we know who is praying for us, but not always. Some years ago I had the privilege of visiting a Carthusian monastery. Each of the monks there spends most of the day, the week, the year even on their own in prayer, or rather in prayer with God. I was really shaken when by them. I like to pray and enjoy praying but seeing these men giving over their whole life to prayer was awesome. They were warriors, full of strength, of courage and of faith. Most of their prayer is for others and so some of it is for us. It’s good to know that there are people around the world praying for us. So, as they say in Star Wars, ‘Feel the Force’. Feel the power of prayer and the power of the love it expresses in your life.

How wonderful is it is too, then, to hear in today’s gospel Jesus himself  praying for us! He prays for his disciples, but he says quite specifically, ‘I pray not just for them, but also for those who through them will in time come to believe.’ Well, that’s you and me. Jesus is praying to the Father for us. He prayed at that moment and he prays for all time for us. And his prayer for us is that we all be one, completely united. And why is that? He says that it is, first of all because that’s how everyone will know that he is with us here and now. But it is also because he wants us all to be with him, where he is, in glory, for ever. Last week he spoke to us of peace and this week of unity. We copy his prayer at mass saying: Look on the faith of your church and grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. We cannot get to heaven on our own. It has to be with each other and it has to be with Him.

We recognised as we celebrated Christ’s Ascension, his mission to get us all home safely. We know that he has reached the glory of life with the Father but he is only the leading edge of the Church, the Head of the Body. His mission, is to see the complete Body across the line into the glory of eternal life with God.

He has led the way but we must follow – together. And this part of the mission, he entrusts to us. ‘Father’, he prays, ‘Help them join together in love and follow my Way home to you. May the love that you have for me that binds us in unity be in them too.’

 

6th Sunday of Easter 2022 (C)

 

Last week we had a very good annual general meeting with our parish council. We were able to look back at what’s been happening over the last year or so in the parish and as a result, look forward to what the future might hold. It is good to pause every now and then, evaluate what has occurred and try to shape the future in that light. And it is what we just heard happening in the gospel.

Jesus is preparing to conclude his earthly mission, talking about what he is leaving behind, what his legacy is and how it is to be passed on. There were no happy faces among the disciples as they faced up to Jesus’ departure,  but he tells them that they should be happy – for him because of where he is going, and happy for themselves because of the legacy he is leaving behind. So what is that legacy?

Well we have been reflecting for the last 5 weeks on what his resurrection actually means for us – and meant for them. On Thursday we will celebrate the feast of the Ascension and call to mind his passing from this world to the next – his ‘passing beyond their sight’, as St Luke puts it. And in a couple of weeks we will celebrate Pentecost which in actual fact is his legacy, the gift of His Spirit.

We heard him say that the Advocate will enable us to understand everything and remind us of his teaching. We are to experience his peace, a peace the world cannot give. It is not just an absence of war which is what we often mean by peace, but it’s the peace that everyone experienced and experiences in the presence of Christ. It is a calmness and serenity, a reassurance, a confidence, a hopefulness, a joy – in fact, everything that made and makes it good to be with him. That is his peace. It is a peace ONLY his presence can bring. Christ’s gift or legacy is his continued presence among us, made possible by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We call upon that Holy Spirit to enable us to experience Christ’s presence quite often. In the liturgy that call or invocation is usually accompanied by the laying on of hands. In mass for instance the priest prays to the Father with hands spread over the bread and wine: ‘Make holy these gifts by sending down your Spirit upon them so that they become the body & blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.’ In Baptism, in Confirmation, in Holy Orders, in Reconciliation and in the Sacrament of the Sick there is a similar invocation, through which Christ’s Spirit brings Christ to us, or to put it another way, brings us to experience the risen Christ. That is the legacy. It is a gift the world could never give. It is a gift only God can give.

The challenge is though, for us to share that peace with others, just as we promise in mass before receiving Holy Communion. We offer the Sign of Peace and in doing so we aspire to leave that peace behind in every encounter we have. So we should ask ourselves what we do leave behind. In a way that’s what we looked at last week in that meeting, as a parish, but what about us as individuals? What do we leave with people after a conversation or a game or some other encounter? Do we leave them battered and bruised, sad and gloomy or do we leave them happy and at peace, calm and refreshed? It would be good if we could leave others with the peace of the risen Christ, just as we say at the sign of peace. That really would be a great legacy.

 

5th Sunday of Easter 2022 (C)

 

We heard in the second reading today about a vision that St. John received from God in a dream, and what a vision it was! The heavenly city descended from God and a voice said: ‘You see this city? Here God lives among men. His name is God-with-them,’ or Emmanuel, the name we are familiar with. That’s what our future is to look like. But that presents us with a challenge which is for us to be able to say: ‘You see this city, this church, this parish, this family life, this marriage, this daily life? Here God can clearly be seen living among us. Our role or calling is to make God’s presence clear.

The Gospel throws down a similar challenge: “Everyone will know that you are my disciples” – or will they? How will they know? I think we have to work on this in every aspect of our lives, at the surface as well as deep down., Take a simple and arguably trivial example from parish life, our welcome to each other and particularly to visitors. Recently, I visited a church where stewards greeted me at the door but once inside I didn’t feel welcome at all. The words of greeting were not enough. I needed to feel a warmth from the congregation. Many were really not keen to see a stranger. Don’t ask me how, but we do know when people are pleased to see us and are interested in us. We know when our presence is respected, because we know when we are loved and Jesus said that’s how people will know you are my disciples, by the love you have. And this is apparent at the surface or trivial matters of life, just as it is in the deeper realities.

And Jesus does speak of these deeper aspects of love.  ‘Love one another, just as I have loved you’. He’s saying that we must love one another in the way he loves us. And we remember the way he did that at Easter. He shared life with his disciples in the fellowship of the Last Supper, insisting on serving them and even washing their feet, and soon after he sacrificed everything for them (and for us) on the cross. We’re called to love in the same generous way he loves.

Anyone looking at our lives should be able to see the way that we love others. So, does the life of our church reflect this? Does the life of our parish? What about our marriage or our family life or our single life? Is my life like that?

We’d surely answer: ‘no’ or at least ‘not enough’. And besides, it’s not always straightforward. In the ways of love, life often gets…complicated. The church’s teaching documents recognise this and seek to help and support all of us to make good, loving decisions. However, there are situations that are not straightforward. But the church is an Easter church and encourages us not just to follow what Christ taught, nor even to try to think what Christ might teach if he were here, but to ask him what to do now because he IS here. We are an Easter Church, a church of the resurrevtion!

If we ask him what to do he will show us the best Way in our circumstances. We must discern his will for us – and incidentally, recognise that this may be different from his will for someone else. If we obey our conscience, a fully informed conscience, we will always meet God’s mercy.

The Church wishes to accompany everyone on our journey to heaven. It takes us as far as it can but we have to walk the last bit, ourselves. We follow the Church’s guidance or ‘rules’ – but in the end we have to discern God’s will for our own unique situations. Which also means that we need to be respectful about what we say or think about others, how we judge, in other words! But the ministers of the church are there to help discern that Way or path.

So, ‘See this city – this Church, this parish of St. John Fisher? Here God lives among us.’ That’s how we want people to see us and encounter Jesus, risen and present among us.

4th Sunday of Easter 2022 (C)

 

This fourth Sunday of Easter is always ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ with the Gospel picking out Jesus as our good shepherd, guiding us to safe pastures, guiding us home to .. well, to heaven. We heard in the 2nd reading St. John’s vision of people from every nation, race, tribe and language – all sorts of different people, in other words, all reaching safety, never to hunger, thirst or suffer again. So there is a road home for each for us, but all sorts of roads home in fact, a different one for each of us. But we are all called to follow the shepherd home, and so today is also Vocations Sunday.  Some reaching sainthood do so through their single life, others through their married life, and others through their priesthood, but it always involves living life to the full and ‘stepping up’ to whatever is our vocation.

 

Today we are asked to respond to the shepherd, to pray that everyone else responds and particularly that those being called to the priesthood or religious life will respond. We are also asked to give our financial backing to the training of priests. When all the costs are put together it’s reckoned to take some £30,000 per year of training, so today’s is a very important retiring collection. I think it must have been cheaper back when I was training! As it happens, later this year I hope to celebrate the 40th anniversary of my ordination, and I can look back with great joy and thanksgiving for each of those years and also for those who supported my training back then. I do remember how important it was to know that there were people praying for me. In fact there was a religious congregation in which each member was tasked with praying each and every day for one student allocated to them. When I was told that there was a Holy Sister praying for me every day I felt so supported and loved and I’ve always felt that I wouldn’t have negotioated those difficult years without it.

 

But stepping up to our vocation is something we all have to do. Then we fully engage with life instead of just getting through life. Its what our stewardship campaign earlier this year was all about. We all recognise that we are called – by the shepherd – to ministry, to a form of priesthood in fact. Mine is of the ‘ordained variety’ but as John’s vision of heaven described, there are plenty of other flavours. So I think that the art of responding to vocation, to God calling us, begins with volunteering. The Confirmation Group have over the last few months been undertaking and reflecting on various ministries that they have volunteered for within the parish. We hope they each will now see more clearly that God has a plan for them. Please keep them in your prayers.

 

And of course, as each of us does respond to and follow the shepherd we give great encouragement to each other. That is part of our priesthood to each other, to our friends and to our families. It isn’t always about what we say, but it is always about what we do. ‘Preach the Gospel. Use words only if necessary’, St Francis once said. It is a priesthood and ministry that is shared with us by the Good Shepherd, himself. His job is to get everyone home safely, but he chooses to do so by asking us to help. That’s why Good Shepherd Sunday and Vocations Sunday are the same thing. Today we are all challenged to take seriously our calling to sainthood, and to seriously assisting others to sainthood.

 

And as for me, it could of course go all pear shaped tomorrow, but so far, for the last 40 years, I have loved following my calling as a priest. I wish that same grace and blessing for you all in responding to your own individual call.

Easter 2022 (C)

 

Some religious traditions don’t approve of signs and symbols in Church but is very much part of the Catholic tradition to embrace art and decoration and all manner of symbolism. Our Church today is full of it, and how spectacular it looks! I couldn’t help noticing last Sunday when our Easter garden first appeared on our sanctuary, how many children were really scrutinizing what was in it. That’s what visual signs are for. We should use it to help imagine that we are present in history in the Easter Garden of Calvary, facing an empty tomb. When the door of that tomb opened, when the stone was rolled away the door to a new future opened for all of us. Christ is risen – he has entered a new limitless future but crucially, he has offered to take us with him. He is the Way, from darkness to light from sorrow to joy, from death to life.

 

On the cross he faced the limitations of humanity:- powerlessness such as we can all experience in suffering or in violence, in discrimination or humiliation, in weakness or failure, in betrayal or defeat or even death. He experienced all such loss of freedom and he found no way out of it. Instead he found a way through it. When the stone was rolled away he showed us all the way through it.

 

And that kicks on from Good Friday when we honoured Christ’s heroic sacrifice. But Easter brings more. He is risen, not just for his own joy of being with his Father, but He’s risen for us. We are what his passion is all about. We are the object of his passion.

 

Again, look at the symbols in the church. Flowers speak of Spring and new life. The Easter candle sheds light on our world and on our lives. Statues proclaim resurrection from the dead. Baptismal waters promise that new life can be shared with all. Oils promise the gift of life in the church’s sacraments.

 

But it’s one thing to acknowledge this as truth; it’s another to get involved, to take part and knowingly enjoy his love and the life he shares with us. How does the Easter we celebrate here on the sanctuary become real in my life? To figure this out we must face the big question in the Gospel, ‘Who are you?’ Theology and theologians deal with the question, what are you, or what is your significance? Spirituality and each one of us must deal with the question, who are you? It’s personal, it’s spiritual!

 

Christ is risen for us, so we need to listen to him and to respond to him. I have said a few times this Easter that while the word for God occurs 5,800 times in the bible, the second most frequently occurring word is ‘Listen’, which occurs 5,300 times. The significance is that we each have to listen and discern. What is God telling us? His conversation with each person will be different. But it will be worth engaging in.

 

He does speak gently though. We can’t hear him when we are rushing so we need to slow down and settle in order to listen. Even if that’s only once a week on a Sunday we do then have the chance to take part in what Easter means. We might get a thought at mass – from the readings or in the sacrament. We might on reflection, and with hindsight, see that there have been messages for us lying in all our experiences or conversations during the week. God uses all sorts of people and experiences to communicate with us. But it is all there and he is always there!

 

So because of what happened at Easter he can be present in the very depths of our lives and because of the way it happened we can see that this is what he really wants. How good is that?! He wants to be present in the intimacy of every moment.  We can allow his presence to make a difference to every action we take, every word we speak, every thought we have.

 

Easter tells a wonderful story about Jesus but it also tells of wonderful things about ourselves. It is a time to celebrate.

 

 

 

5th Sunday of Lent, 2022 (C)

Today in the gospel we gain further insight into the nature of God and his love. Last week we heard Jesus telling a story about a prodigal son and we learned that like the father in the story, Jesus wishes to reach out and rescue us, provided we are humble enough to accept his love and honest enough to see our need for his forgiveness. Today we hear about his role in a critical judgement, literally a moment of life or death for the woman concerned. He is asked for his judgement as a Rabbi and as a result we get to understand more about his mercy and his love.

We are familiar with the incident and with the very tricky problem that he faced. Would he favour Jewish law which saw her as guilty of a capital offence? If he did, he would be in contravention of Roman law which did not grant such local jurisdiction. Or would he uphold Roman law? But then his judgement would hold Jewish law in contempt. It would be conceding the Jewish right to self-determination and self-respect.

So what did he do? He didn’t make a judgement about the law at all. Instead he revealed a judgement about the woman herself, and he presents it as GOD’S judgement. It is merciful and above all else it is personal. Our Saviour God reaches out to the woman and grants her life. Jesus showed that he loved her just as she was. He embraced her in her sin. And we note in passing that his acceptance of her was not conditional. There was no prescription about her future behaviour. He asked her to reform but that’s all. ‘I don’t condemn you; go away and don’t sin any more’.

Jesus expressed hopes about her future but his judgement of her past was with understanding, acceptance and forgiveness. There are things to learn there about God. He will not judge me by the worst thing I have ever done. That’s not what defines me in his eyes. That’s radically different from how it works in our world. Here we are normally judged by our worst behaviour.  Someone convicted of theft is defined as a thief for evermore. If their best action was as a devoted carer let’s say, we don’t define them as such. Maybe we should?! Maybe our judgements about people should be based on the best person they can be rather than the worst version that they have been. I am very relieved, anyway, that Jesus judges me by that criterion. He measures me by the best version of myself, not the worst. And that is tremendously liberating. To be judged by the worst version of yourself closes you down, to be judged by the best version frees you up. So in this way, his judgement is loving, merciful and personal.

His love, as it is expressed in forgiveness and reconciliation, is abundant and limitless. It showers down the whole time. The trick is to capture it and not let it just run off of us, like rain from an umbrella. Our task, especially as we approach Easter is to prepare ourselves so that we can absorb it and make use of it.

Holy Week is a fantastic opportunity to do that, and to immerse ourselves in his saving event so that it seeps into the everyday reality of our lives. Going from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday is a much more fulfilling journey when you go by way of the Last Supper on Thursday and the Cross of Calvary on Good Friday. We have so much more to gain from the graces of Easter if we are ready and prepared to receive.

God’s love for the sinner in the Gospel was abundant, personal and unconditional. He expressed a judgement about the best version of herself she could be, not the worst. He does the same for us and he communicates that to each of us, individually, above all through our joining in the mystery of his Passion, Death and Resurrection at Easter.

 

4th Sunday of Lent, 2022 (C)

So, on Mothering Sunday we have a parable about three men!  But which of the 3 characters did you identify with? The young son who wasted and squandered, who did all the wrong things until, when he was at rock bottom, returned to the safety of home. Or the father who let him go his own way but ran to meet him with joy when he returned? Or the brother who was steady, trustworthy and reliable, who did all the work but was aggrieved when his errant brother seemed to receive all the love and reward?

Well, when Jesus told the story he set the elder brother as the Scribes and Pharisees who had guided the Jewish Faith for centuries. He set the tax collectors and sinners whom he spent time with and even shared food with, as the prodigal son and he set his own Father as the father in the story. It was Jesus’ sermon about reconciliation, mercy and forgiveness. It tells of the breakdown and then healing of the relationships  between the father and both sons.

The younger son walks away from a lot, first of all from his father. By claiming his inheritance whilst his father is still alive he is treating his father as if he was dead and by going abroad he cuts off any links with the family – no phones or postal service in those days. More than that, by working on a pig farm he turns his back on his Jewish faith and culture. (Jews did not go anywhere near pigs.)

But at the lowest point in his life when he feels alone, isolated, hungry and abandoned, there is a turning point. He remembers his father’s love and mercy and is drawn back to him. When he returns, his father runs to meet him and welcomes him back as a full member of the family.

The second part of the story is about the older son and, again the forgiveness of the father. The older son is not happy with his family. He is jealous and resentful of the love shown toward his brother and he too is disrespectful of his father. One might have expected the father to correct him but instead, he gives him everything. ‘All I have is yours’, he says. Wow!

So again, who do you identify with? I think we can identify with either or both of the sons and either way experience the mercy and forgiveness of God.

If we see ourselves as the younger Prodigal son we must be humble and honest in recognising our need to turn again and seek the arms and the embrace of a loving father. If we want to be rescued we have to recognise that we are in trouble. Many years ago I was with a young nephew who got stuck climbing a tree. He was quite distressed, but I wasn’t climbing up after him. I told him to jump into my arms and with a little encouragement that is what he did. But he enjoyed being rescued so much that we had to keep repeating the exercise for a good half hour! It is good to be rescued, but to be rescued and enjoy our Saviour’s embrace we have to admit that we are in trouble or that we have troubles, and that we need God. Then with the prodigal son we can enjoy the father’s forgiveness.

Or alternatively, like the elder son, we can turn and look with amazement at the father who forgives all and who gives all. The Lord knows us, he understands us, and he forgives us. He has a place for us all and he passionately wants us to be with him. As we contemplate his passion at Easter, let’s remember who that passion is for – not for somebody else, but for each one of us.

3rd Sunday of Lent, 2022 (C)

Our first reading gave an account of a wonderful encounter between Moses and God, and I think that there is much to learn from it, especially as now in Lent, our aim is to try and encounter God more fully.

Moses was about his usual job, looking after sheep. It was, we might say ‘a normal day at the office’. But something stood out for him – a burning bush that was not being consumed by the fire. Definitely unusual! But as he stood before it, Moses was inspired by the Word of God. The first thing he understood was that he was on holy ground or in a sacred space, where God was present and so he needed to show respect, so he took off his sandals and covered his face. Having shown respect and deference for the sacred space, he was ready to hear what God might say.

I think that this holy ground, this sacred space is really important. It can and should be apparent in any encounter we have with anyone else, no matter how trivial. And the borders of someone else’s Holy Ground or sacred space are very easily transgressed. For instance, I was meeting someone recently (far away from here!) and I was respectful, or you might even say reverent, as I listened in conversation to what was an important issue to the person I was with. The dialogue became a bit clunky though, when I ventured to share a bit about events in my life. There was a definite “Huh” and I was ignored so that we could return to the only important person present. It was only a small encounter during a “normal day at the office”, but it was somehow a little hurtful.

I bet that we have all experienced such minor impoliteness, with the sacredness of the space in which we live our lives not being respected. Trouble is, we’ve given such impoliteness too, wittingly or unwittingly. Even in prayer, I often speak my Word to God without waiting to hear his Word to me! But there is something of God in everyone we encounter and there is something of God in us. If we could only find that reverence for each and every other person in the world, and God’s presence with everyone, then it would feel like we were living in God’s Kingdom – because we would be.

Back at Mt Horeb, Moses stood back – ‘Come no nearer’, he heard, ‘back off, give me a little space, a little respect, a little reverence’. Reverence is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that we pray for in the Sacrament of Confirmation. It has little to do with being able to genuflect nicely but much about acknowledging God and being able to hear what he is telling us through the lives and experiences of others – or indeed of ourselves. It is a most important gift.

So what did Moses hear?

Well first, God said that he had been listening. There’s reverence for you, coming from God. He respects what his people have been saying about their suffering and oppression, and he will take action to deal with it. He will liberate them. Then he offered a name, Jehovah or Yahweh, which means that He is the God that is, that exists here and now in relationship with us. In a way it is a name that challenges us to acknowledge, identify and respect or reverence God’s presence with us.

So when, in the Gospel today we hear Jesus telling us to get our act together, we know where to start: With the profound blessing we as humans enjoy, of being able to encounter each other and in each other encounter a touch of the divine. There is urgency in Jesus’s words but mercifully we heard him give the unproductive fig tree a reprieve for one year. But it is definitely time for us to make progress and maybe concentrate for the rest of Lent on respecting the sacred space or Holy Ground of others and of seeing it in our own lives too.

2nd Sunday of Lent, 2022 (C)

From the moment we’re born we seem to be travelling away from where we feel most comfortable, into areas where we face risk and challenge. In our first reading we hear about Abraham who had previously responded to God’s call to leave the safety and comfort of his home in Ur and take possession of the land of Canaan. It was a difficult thing to do but God had seen him through and now God was promising him as many descendants as there were stars in the sky. To date, Abraham and his wife Sara had no children but Abraham would again trust God to see his promise through. This is pretty much the narrative of the Covenant. If we try to respond to his call we can trust him to see us through.

If we jump now to the gospel we hear this being played out in the life of Jesus and also in the lives of his closest disciples. Jesus had come to realise where his calling was going to lead and he shared this with the disciples. He told them that he would have to suffer “grievously”, to be rejected by his own people and he would be killed. He warned his disciples that they could face similar fates. Nevertheless he was hopeful that he would be raised up, and that they could follow too. But clearly this was not sitting easy with him – why would it?! It was one thing to see it ahead but quite another to resolve to go through with it.

He went up the mountain to pray about it and he took Peter, James and John with him for support. In his time of prayer while he contemplated what lay ahead for him, while he stared into the abyss, as it were, he was transfigured. Moses and Elijah appeared with him and spoke of his passing – the specific Greek word used is Exodus, recalling the Jewish narrative. Just as God engineered the Exodus of the Israelites when they were in trouble, God would secure the Exodus of Jesus and anyone who would follow him through death. And where would they go? Well the journey would be to heaven, just as it had been with Elijah on his Chariot of Fire. So Jesus was affirmed and reassured by this experience, this glimpse of the beyond. But it was only a glimpse and it couldn’t be bottled or even kept in a tent, as Peter had hoped. The outcome was that Jesus was resolved to go through with it, confident that God would see him through. He had found the courage and trust he needed. And there’s the Covenant again, right there.

In our moments of crisis, God’s promise remains in place.  That moment could be:

A meeting with a specialist to be told the truth about an illness.

A visit by someone to tell us that a loved one has died.

A letter confirming the legal or financial trouble we are in.

A phone call or a meeting telling us about the end of a relationship.

A moment of reflection that brings home to us the seriousness of a commitment we’ve made. Whatever!

We cannot climb back into the safety of the womb. There are many moments of crisis where we take a deep breath, acknowledge that feeling in the pit of the stomach that makes us a little queasy, and we think about what comes next. It is okay to be frightened or completely floored but we can do what Jesus did. We can seek the support of those closest to us and we can turn to God and ask him to reassure us that he hasn’t changed his mind. He will stick with his covenant or promise and he will see us through whatever Exodus is required. Moreover, it is now personal. It is Jesus himself who will be our guide.

God has made the first move and given us a promise, a covenant. We must respond in Faith and with trust.

1st Sunday of Lent, 2022 (C)

In today’s first reading from the ancient Book of Deuteronomy, we hear Moses formally telling the family story. Nowadays there would be thousands of photos recorded on his mobile phone to illustrate it all, but even without photos a clear picture is painted. The major element in the family story is that his ancestors took refuge in Egypt but ended up being enslaved there. In their suffering they were forged into a nation – “great, mighty and strong”. They called on God and God, with great signs and wonders, led them out of Egypt into freedom in a promised land where milk and honey flow. The Jewish people are people of the Exodus, a family defined by this story which helps tell them who they are, even today. They will say that God is forever being faithful to them, hearing their prayers and leading them out of suffering and into freedom.

Now the thing is that it is part of our story as Christians as well. We can look and see God continuing to be faithful to us, hearing our prayers and leading us out of difficulty and into freedom. These days people call it “your narrative”, don’t they? We in fact recall other really important chapters in the narrative and as a result we call ourselves “The Easter People” because it was a truly defining moment when God again demonstrated his faithfulness to us as Jesus led us out of what we call the slavery of sin and death and into the freedom of eternal life with him. Easter and this Lenten time of preparation is a big deal for us. Again, we may be missing photos but we are not short of images with which to tell our story.

To do so, and to identify who we are, we have to talk about what God has done for us. That enables us to continue to see what God is doing for us. Our story is God’s story. To appreciate who I am I must appreciate who Jesus is. So as Lent gets underway, we look at Jesus facing up to challenges in his life but it is not just his life. We can recognise our lives in his story. He is telling the story of humanity, all our trials and tribulations, our story.

In today’s Gospel story, he first of all resisted turning the stone into a loaf of bread. Hungry as he was, he nevertheless accepted that he had enough, he found the strength to live with hunger and he would manage. We should recognise that we too can rise above satisfying every desire of our bodies and we can in Lent train ourselves by accepting some physical sacrifice, taking something on or giving something up.

Next Jesus refused to set aside who he really was and acknowledge a different deity. No, however tempting it might have been to walk away from his divine identity and difficult divine mission he would not do so.  Again it is easy for us to follow other leads, to live by lesser values, to follow the crowd, but to do so is to deny a big part of who we are and what we are called to. Lent is a good time to explore that part of us that can join with God, the part we call prayer.

Finally Jesus resisted the temptation to jump off a tower and let the angels rescue him. To do so would have been to deny his humanity, to not accept his human limitations. We need to look with honesty and humility at our lives too, accepting our limitations and weaknesses, but acknowledging our faults and failings. Making such a confession is an important part of Lent as well.

So that’s our story, our narrative, and we should stick to it. We are the Easter People who identify with Jesus and with our Jewish ancestors, the people of the Exodus. In telling the story, for it is the same story, we gain much insight about ourselves and we face the challenge to live our lives in a better way, closer to lives that will express and fulfil who we really are.

8th Sunday, 2022 (C)

On Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent and we prepare for Easter when we consider and celebrate the historical reality of God’s joining with his creation of humanity. God gives himself entirely to this, in Jesus – to the whole experience of being human, right through death and beyond. Easter is when we most clearly see that God’s intention is to be joined with us in life, while Lent is when we try to be open to this gift and let his presence deepen and develop in us.

So we need to open ourselves to that presence. We must be ready to encounter Him, but where is he? Well, he’s very close. The Gospel tells us that there are obvious clues. If you see an apple on a tree you deduce that the tree is an apple tree. So where you see love and kindness, then you can deduce that Christ is near. Wherever we see him we will enjoy him. Nevertheless, we do need to do a bit of work on ourselves in order to recognise his presence.

Lent is the season for each of us to first of all stand back and take a look at our lives and then to bring those lives closer to where we think Jesus is, closer to the Way that Jesus shows us is a way to everlasting happiness with Him. It is a way that joins us closer, deeper, and more intimately with Him. We need to practice looking out for Him and as we trust his presence within, we must then go on to practice revealing him to others through our love. We are offered prayer, self-discipline, and good works as three key tools to help us do this.

I remember from a young age being encouraged in Lent to exercise self-discipline by giving up sweets or something. I was also encouraged to make an effort at doing some good work or give pocket money to charity. Both good ideas, but we were not really encouraged to work on the third element, that of prayer. But I think this is the most important one of all. It is in prayer that we truly explore Christ’s presence and activity in our lives. As in any relationship this enables to know him better but it also enables us to learn more about ourselves.

I really encourage you therefore to make an extra effort in this regard during Lent. I commend the Diocesan Lenten Retreat called Saving Grace. All you have to do is sign up and you will receive by email a video presentation each Wednesday in preparation for the readings of the following Sunday. So if you sign up you will get the first email on Wednesday, and then every Wednesday through Lent. View the email at your most convenient time. On each one Archbishop John offers some thoughts, then the retreat giver provides his presentation and then a Christian witness offers an example in his or her life of what the theme has meant. Finally there is material for your further consideration, whenever you want to use it.

We will reproduce a printed form of the presentation and make it available in the foyer of the church. Also, there are zoom groups available for you to join and share reflections should you wish to do so. All the details are in the newsletter and if you have any question then please email me.

Also or alternatively, there are copies of a book called ‘Rediscover Jesus – An invitation’. It has 40 reflections – one for each day of Lent. I gave out copies several years ago but many of you are new and won’t have one so feel free to take one and spend a little time with the reflections. If you have it, dig it out and go through it again. There are usually different experiences when you repeat it.

Anyway whatever you do, do something for God’s sake, and for your own! Prayer, self-discipline or good works – or all three.

 

 

7th Sunday, 2022 (C)

There’s quite a challenge in the gospel, isn’t there? – To find ways to love those who don’t love us, (who do nothing for us), to give to anyone who asks, (not just family and friends), to forgive those who rob us and to turn the other cheek to anyone who hurts us. This is a call to which our reply might reasonably be: ‘Why should we?’ or even ‘how can we?’

Some of what Jesus says is straightforward – Yes, we recognise that we should treat others as we want to be treated. This underlies the moral teaching in most religions and in most societies. Also, we can see that there is limited merit in only being good to those who are good to us in return.

But as for the rest, it is hard to see why I should give away what is rightfully mine or give up my rights. Why should I allow anyone to get away with hurting me? On that point, Jesus isn’t asking us to be simply passive and allow people to walk all over us – that would not show self-respect, the love we have for ourselves as part of God’s creation. To turn the other cheek is actually a positive, assertive and even defiant action, but it does take love to do it, to give to others what they haven’t merited. Jesus calls us to reach the point where we can say: ‘I have a right to retaliate, to hurt you in return for the way you have hurt me but I choose not to, as an expression of my love for you.’

So that brings us back to that basic question: ‘Why should I be generous to those who are not generous to me?’ I think that if we approach this from the standpoint of stewardship that we have been looking at over recent weeks, the issue becomes clearer. We recognise that we do NOT in fact have the absolute right to everything we own and everything we are. In a spirit of humility and poverty, we see that all is gifted from God for a purpose, for us to share with others. We are God’s stewards. If we accept all that we have and all that we are, with real gratitude we will find it easier to share and we’ll find it more joyful and fulfilling to do so. Generosity will be our response. Jesus does refer to the religious or godly dimension, saying that our generosity will affect our relationship with God. We WILL receive a reward in a godly realm, as Sons of the Most High, he says. He offers the slogan: ‘Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate.’

But in any case, even without the godly or religious dimension, it is part of our human nature to want to give. I remember a small boy in Ghana in a very poor children’s home enjoying the gift of a sweet so much that he took it out of his mouth for his friends to have a lick in turn, and enjoy it with him! There is a joy in giving, just as there is a joy in loving. Our need to give is tied up with our need to love. We do surely recognise that we feel better about ourselves when we give to charity. We are not surprised then, by secular expressions of this. People talk of “random acts of kindness” and of “paying it forward”. Why else do people plant trees that won’t be enjoyed in their own lifetime? So it is a good thing to help our young people and children learn the experience of giving and how joyful it can be. They shouldn’t always be on the receiving end!

So yes, Jesus’s demand is to love – to give freely without expectation of return. Loving is truly selfless, not self-seeking. The daily good deed we spoke of last week isn’t always easy to perform. It needs us to exercise true charity, in the name of God, and in the name of humanity.

 

6th Sunday, 2022 (C)

Like many people, each morning, after checking the diary for any appointments, I normally put together a list of things I want to do. Well on Wednesday this week, I was trying to get busy with things but I reached the middle of the day and shouted in frustration at my computer screen, “It’s nearly lunchtime and I’ve got nothing done”.  Well I reflected on that and realised it wasn’t true. I’d got plenty done and do you know, I reckon that most of the time most of us do achieve a large part of what we set out to do. We are actually quite good at achieving our aims. The real issue is making sure that we set the right ones, because once we start, we just keep on going, and that’s what today’s readings are challenging us to get right.

Jeremiah said it, that if we aim for life with God, that’s where we’ll get to and we will be blessed by receiving his goodness along the way, but if we aim elsewhere we will be cursed and we will miss out on God’s goodness – we will have ‘no eyes for it’. It will pass us by. So, if we do not choose God’s way we will inevitably end up following goals that others set and they can be quite different.  ‘A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord, a curse on the one who doesn’t’, we were told.

The psalm picked up on this and our response in it was ‘Happy the one who has placed his trust in the Lord’. Next, St Paul told us to aim for things that persist beyond this life, the things of heaven, in other words, or of the Kingdom of God.

Then in the gospel Jesus himself runs with the same ideas. He tells us to target the Kingdom of God. If that’s what we aim for, then we will be happy in this world and the next. He is not offering some crude levelling up – or down! ‘If you are wealthy in this world then you’ll suffer in poverty for eternity’ No, He’s echoing the ideas we’ve just heard from Jeremiah. He’s not making promises and threats, he’s offering invitations, but also warnings so that if, for example, you are already full with what is on offer in the world, then you may not be receptive to what is on offer in the feast of the Kingdom of God. But, if you have a hunger, you may have a better appetite for it. The values and the rewards of God’s Kingdom are on offer, even now if we choose them. If we set our sights on the Kingdom of God we will be able to grasp its rewards, now and forever.

It’s as if we reach a junction on our road of life. Obviously we should avoid going down the road that has “sin and death” marked as its destination. But if we want to take the other route with “love and life” marked as its destination, we can’t just stand still and look down the road. We have to get a move on and we can’t do that without doing good things for others.  We need to find some targets therefore, realistic ones that can then be put on one of those lists of things to do, for the day. If you can say at the end of each day that you did one good thing for someone, then you should know that you are well on, down the right road. It could be something practical or it could be some kind words or it could be that you bring people to God in your prayer, but one good deed each day is doable.

Each day we should try to pray in the Our Father, “Give us this day our daily bread”, but let us then commit to giving some bread each day to someone else. Let’s put that on our list.

5th Sunday, 2022 (C)

 Stewardship week 3

 

We just heard Jesus telling Peter to sail out into deep water. ‘There you will find what you are looking for’, he says. And Peter did. What if Peter had said ‘No’ and held back? We heard Isaiah too saying ‘Here I am, send me’, and taking the plunge. And the calling is there for each of us too. Despite our fears and failings we need to risk a little in saying ‘YES’ to God. Yes to a spiritual journey with him, grounded in prayer but lived out in our community. Here in this parish community, so many people give so much but we still need more people to read, to organise things, to be special ministers, to be servers, to be choir members, to be catechists, to staff our repository and so on. We need a culture of ‘Yes, I’ll commit’. So please listen now to John Rayer and be prepared like Peter to:

‘Put out into deep water’.

 

The list of opportunities needing volunteers at SJF Bexley.    Week 3 Talk

Fr Doug has spoken to us on Stewardship. The first week emphasised that we should nurture and use the gifts that we have. The second week helped us to discern or identify the gifts that we have and how other might describe us and how we produce our best work.

I hope that last week’s exercise helped in some way and that you remember your responses or have brought the leaflet back as a reminder.

Today we want to see what tasks the parish has to enable it to develop as it could and should.

When you arrived, I hope that you picked up the form and a pen or pencil. If you are missing these please put your hand up and the stewards will provide them.

The form lists the key tasks identified as essential to the parish.

  • The first grouping- yellow heading- is of those task that relate closely to our worship of the Mass. Things such as altar serving, stewards and welcomers and Eucharistic ministers
  • The second grouping-green heading sets out the support services that are needed. Things such as safeguarding, newsletters and finances.
  • Finally there is a list of charities –blue box-that the parish or parishioners support for the good of those less fortunate than us.

Against each task you will see the gifts or talent or skill or aptitude that would be most helpful in carrying out those tasks. Hopefully last week you will have been able to identify your particular gifts. We shall be running through the tasks to help us think about each one.

We have also given an indication of the time commitment that may be necessary.

The last column is for you to tick to say that my gifts fit well and I should like to help with that task. It is appreciated that many of you are already using your gifts and doing some tasks and so do tick the box where this applies.

I think it may be useful for us to consider some general thoughts before we start. Such as:

  • Every parishioner should perhaps volunteer for at least one task.[ If ill health or other issues prevent you from doing so then we wish you well and offer our prayers to you.]
  • There are some tasks that almost every parishioner can do – for example stewarding or welcoming. A happy greeting is a great welcome and it is a good way to get to know your fellow Mass goers. Everyone here is capable.
  • You may be able to buddy with a friend and help each other with the task.
  • Do give it a try. Others will help you learn what is involved and provide guidance in the early days.
  • It is not a task that you have to do for ever. We should be able to arrange to switch between tasks to provide new energy and thought in doing a different task.
  • A lot of these tasks are shared with others by way of a rota. So it may not be every week, but once a month or less.

So, let us run quickly through the tasks, skipping quickly over those that are most familiar.

Note there are three columns of possible gifts and in most cases you only need one of those gifts to be able to do that task.

Yellow Heading

  • Reads the epistles and bidding prayers. A good clear voice to impart the message.
  • Choir member. Useful to be able to sing. Men are outnumbered at the moment. We could form a youth choir with enough youngsters.
  • You may have experience the trumpet playing at Mass on Remembrance Day and more recently the [flute?]. More are welcome.
  • Deputy Choir Leader. Most welcome to deputise for Carol as necessary..
  • Stewards and welcomers. Welcome people to Mass with service books, organise the offertory procession. Everyone here is capable.
  • Children’s Liturgy. Help our youngest to learn about their faith as they are our future.
  • Prepare vestments and sacred vessels for services.
  • Altar Servers. A great experience for those who have taken Holy Communion and some more experienced to provide guidance.
  • Learn how to make a pleasing display
  • Eucharistic Ministers. The special task of distributing communion at busy Masses or at Eucharistic services when the priest is away. Also distributing communion to those unable to get to Mass.
  • How we have missed the repository by not being open at all Masses.

And we now reach the support tasks in the Parish with the green heading

  • This is to help those groups as they prepare for the sacraments and needs a willingness and ability to share your faith.
  • This team checks that those involved with children and vulnerable adults are suitable to carry out that work. The team needs rebuilding with a new leader and maybe someone with experience of this say via a school would be willing. IT skills would be useful.
  • We have a good website but it needs constant updating and refreshing. If you have IT or writing skills that would be good.
  • Newsletter compilers to pull together the various submissions .
  • Parish Directory. This is being updated this year and best for those with IT or communication skills.
  • Particularly of interest for those with building or repairing skills or IT skills for the electronics.
  • Sacristy and the laundry needs.
  • To serve coffees after the 10:30 Mass on a rota basis
  • Straightforward skills on a rota to keep our church looking good.
  • Social Events Team. This is set up to plan events that we would like to have as parishioners. A whole mix of skills such as ticket production, posters, ticket selling, hall preparation etc.
  • This team plans and keeps track of our finance on dedicated software. It needs skills ranging from data inputting to report writing.
  • Gift Aid. This team ensures that we continue to receive tax back on gift aided payments. IT skills would be useful and administration.
  • Counting and depositing. Counting and recoding all monies received including the offertory and paying in at the bank.
  • 200 Club. It would be good to restart this as it gave everyone a chance to contribute and win and provide funds for the church. Needs setting up and administration
  • There is a spare box to enter your favourite task that we have forgotten- maybe driving or evangelisation or something else.

And finally, there are many charities that the parish and parishioners support and they would all benefit from some new helpers. The charities include   CAFOD,  AIC,  Apostleship of the Sea, Christian Unity, Developing World, Justice and Peace,  Missio,  SPUC,  SVP. Some of these are handled by just one person and it would be sensible to spread the load.

I am sorry that it has taken so long to go through the tasks but it does show all the things that the parish does need to do to run itself.

Please look at the gifts you have and try to match them with at least one task on the list.

Do remember to add your name and contact details at the bottom of the list and please do this even if you have not marked any tasks.

As you leave church just place the completed form face down in the basket provided.

And thank you once again for your attention and your gifts.

John Rayer 2022-02-02

 

4th Sunday, 2022 (C)

 Stewardship week 2

So it started off okay for Jesus, didn’t it? But there was a problem. There in their midst stood the Messiah, the Son of God, but they could only see Carpenter Joseph’s son. They just couldn’t see what was right there under their noses! How embarrassing.

But shouldn’t we be embarrassed too when we can recognise Jesus present in the mass and in the Sacraments and in scripture and yet fail to see him in our daily lives? Do we see him in the kindness of others, expressing his love for us, or in the words and wisdom of others, expressing his truth to us? Do we see him in our friends and in our colleagues? What about in our parents or in our children? Sometimes that can be just too close. Like the good folk of Nazareth we fail to see him in our own back yard.

And the easiest place of all to miss him is in ourselves, the wonderful, incredible individuals that he has made us to be. We are temples where he dwells. He has graced each and every one of us with so many of his own personal characteristics, if only we could see it. Well last week we looked at the spirituality of stewardship identifying ourselves as God’s stewards, entrusted with many gifts by him, all of which are given to us for a purpose.

We said that this week we’d begin to undertake the joyful task of naming those characteristics and thanking God for them. It is a sacred task and requires honesty and humility, and maybe the help of others close to us who may well see in us things we have hardly noticed ourselves.

So now we have a few minutes to begin the task with the help of our discernment leaflet with John Rayer here to guide us through the opening moments of this process.  (The leaflet is available on the “Stewardship” page on this website)

3rd Sunday, 2022 (C)

Stewardship Gospel of 33A Matt 25: 14-29

We have just heard the great parable of stewardship which is, I think, the key to developing our spiritual life, our personal relationship with God – the key to happiness, therefore! It shows us what our relationship with God should look like and it warns us about the danger of getting it wrong and the very serious consequences of that. We are going to give this some serious attention here in St John Fisher over the next three weeks.

In the parable, each of the servants or stewards was talented or gifted in different measure. Two of them accepted responsibility for their gifts and used them to good effect and they gave a return to the master. One steward did not take ownership of his gift or talent and so it was lost or buried. The master got no return and was unhappy about that. So if we want be like the good stewards and enjoy life in God’s kingdom we must come to terms with what God has given us. We must carefully discern what these gifts or talents are. Then we must nurture or develop them, and finally by sharing them with others we return them to God.

First then, we should reflect upon all that God has given to us, making each of us the unique person we are. To do this requires prayer and it requires humility and honesty. I am sure you have looked at this many times in life but it needs to be undertaken regularly. Next week we will offer everyone a resource for this. We can sometimes be surprised when we recognise the vast array of gifts we have. We are so used to under-stating ourselves. We have to accept, to embrace and then to humbly thank God for all the different abilities, aptitudes and other gifts that he has blessed us with. An attitude of gratitude is the starting point for any relationship with God.  We need to count these blessings and not shy away from naming them. They are the cards that God has dealt us and we must use them in the game of cards that is our life. It is a game where to end up with any unused cards in our hand is a bad error which in the parable, Jesus indicated will be penalised. So it really is important to discern all that we’ve been given. Sometimes it takes the generosity of others – a friend, a family member OR a stranger to point out or identify a gift in us. But it is vital that we do it and gratefully accept stewardship of them from God.

All that we have and all that we are, is not our own. It’s God’s. He merely entrusts us with these things, just as he entrusted the stewards in the story with their talents. So our second task is to nurture and develop them. Finally we give them back to God as we share them with others. We heard St Paul describing the variety of gifts among us and how important they all are. They may seem incomplete in any one of us but together in the one Body of Christ they are complete – unless someone holds back of course, which damages or diminishes the Body of Christ. It is wrong to hold back under the guise of being self-effacing. That is what the bad steward did! And it is very much the responsibility of the parish to ensure that there is ample opportunity to use or share your gifts.

We are called by God to be generous. All that is not given is lost. The growth in our spiritual life, our relationship with God is measured by the love we share with others and thereby give back to God. So we don’t ever hear God saying to us ‘thank you very much, you are so good to me’, rather as we’ve just heard he’s apt to say: ‘Well done good and faithful servant, you did as I asked. I am pleased with you’.

Living our relationship with God truly and accurately as stewards or servants of God is the key to life in His Kingdom both here on earth and beyond. What we’d like to hear him say is: ‘Well done, you have shown that you are faithful. Come and join in your Master’s happiness’.

2nd Sunday, 2022

In the Christmas Season Jesus was revealed to us as being true God and true Man, truly both. Today’s gospel presents us with a most memorable story to illustrate both. It was a marvellous sign, revealing his majesty, his power and so on. It showed everyone that he was a bit special – divine, in fact. But on the other hand, he only did it because his Mum told him to, and how human is that?

So, yes, this was the first of 7 signs or miracles recorded in St. John’s gospel, revealing his divinity, but also, I think, his humanity. He hesitated, he wasn’t sure he wanted to begin his public ministry at this moment. But he did so, prompted by his mother’s intervention and enabled by her faith in him.

And what a sign it was! ‘They have no wine’, Mary said. St. John wants us to hear these words as a comment on the historical times they were living in, a comment on the Jewish people. Fine wines, like feasts of food and fountains of fresh water were associated in scripture with the promised days of Messianic rule. So a shortage of wine and particularly the fact that the wine supply dried up reflected badly not just on the hosts but on the times themselves. The Jews at that time, had no light either, according to St. John, they lived in darkness, but now the light had come into the world and things were set to change. For a start, water but not even drinking water, water for washing feet, would be changed into wine, and not any ordinary wine, the very best wine. That was a spectacular sign indicating the dawning of the Messianic age. It should have been plain for all to see and to understand. All of the signs St. John recorded were to reveal Jesus as Messiah and demand of the people, a response of faith in Jesus. It should have been: ‘See the signs, judge their importance and then act in response.’

The event is the curtain raiser to Jesus’s ministry. It not only begins it but it headlines it and proclaims from the word ‘go’ what it is about. The Messiah has arrived. The Kingdom of God is now to be established.

This was also a deliberate challenge by St. John to the early Christian converts of his time: They should have faith in Jesus. They were under attack at the time, recently banned from synagogues. Being mainly converts from the Jewish faith, they felt badly cut off from their roots and a number were struggling with the Faith under such pressure. St. John was challenging them to stay strong. The people of Jesus’s own time should have read the signs and acted with firm faith but so should those early converts of St. John’s time and so, actually should we.

We can see the importance of faith. In fact Jesus produced no miracles where there was no faith. Here it was Mary’s faith that made the difference.  She knew and believed in her Son and she also inspired faith in others. ‘Trust him, do whatever he tells you’, she said. Jesus then saved the day. It remains totally appropriate for us today to rely on the faith of Mary. We of little faith ask Mary who is full of faith to intervene on our behalf. We can ask for her help always just as we can also ask for the help of any of the saints, or indeed anyone of faith that we know. It is in this spirit that we trust in the prayer of the Church, we trust in the mass in particular and many do in fact ask for mass to be said for particular intentions. The prayer of the Church is always heard, that’s what Jesus promised.

So today is a day to thank God for our faith and to commit ourselves to seeking a deeper faith. The more we get to know and trust Jesus the more we can ask of him. Then we shall see wonderful things, revealing to the world marvellous signs of God’s presence and activity in the world. 150 gallons of the best wine was just for starters!

Baptism of the Lord, 2022

There are 2 questions that are posed for me by today’s feast:  Why is the baptism of Jesus at the age of 30 or so a feast of Christmas?  And what is he doing, getting himself baptised by John?

There is a well-known story told of Fr Damian who was known as “The Leper Priest” because of his courageous ministry to people with the terrible disease of leprosy. He worked with them for several years but one Sunday he began his sermon with the words: ”We lepers”. He had caught the disease but now proudly identified with his people, fellow sufferers as they now were.

Well, Jesus accepts the baptism of John the Baptist  along with everyone else who were expressing sorrow for their sins. It is almost as if he was having a ‘Fr Damian moment’ and saying “We sinners” – almost, but not quite! He was without sin but nonetheless identified with everyone in their sin. John was a little shocked and declared “But this is the Lamb of God who actually takes sin away.” But Jesus went right down in to the water and took it all on.

Nearly all of us have been baptised but most of us were baptised as infants and therefore have no memory of it. Imagine then, if you don’t mind (!), that none of us are baptised but that today is the day for us all and we all go off to the River Cray at Bourne Place there. We’d feel awkward, I am sure, but if we saw Jesus already in the river saying that the water is lovely and calling us to get in, we would step in readily and join him there. A really small step for us, relative to the distance he will have travelled! Well this may only be an act of imagination but in actual fact it is what happened to each of us at baptism in this font or in one like it. He was there first, waiting for us to join him. If and when the dangers of Covid recede we will return to the practice of blessing ourselves with baptismal water from the little fonts at the church doors to remind ourselves of this reality. We met Jesus in Baptism.

So in a way through the Baptism of Jesus, the Christmas event has travelled a couple of thousand miles from Bethlehem and a couple of thousand years from then, to the day of our baptism. We met him not there at that time but here in our time. Jesus was born not just to Mary and Joseph, not just to Jewish people, whom the shepherds represent and not just to the peoples of the world at that time, whom the 3 kings represent. He was born as a gift, truly a present for all peoples of all times. That is why this Feast of the Baptism of Jesus is a feast of Christmas.

And what was he doing, accepting baptism from John? He was expressing his solidarity with us. He has descended from heaven to save us in our sinfulness. He took the plunge and joined us.

The decorations can come down tonight, if you haven’t taken them down already but let us keep hold of the truth they were designed to signify, that Jesus came to earth not just for a few people, for a few years but for all people for all time. “Join me” he says. “I was here first anyway.”

Second Sunday of Christmas 2022

There is a television programme called “Who Do You Think You Are?”, isn’t there, where celebrities are given knowledge about their ancestry and this usually gives them a deeper understanding of who they are now. Knowing where we have come from helps us know where we are and perhaps where we might be going. There is something of that sentiment in today’s gospel, which is repeated from the mass of Christmas Day for us to give further consideration. The Word was God in the beginning and then the Word became Flesh, or in other words, God became Man. There is something about God that is human and there is something about humanity that is divine. So way back beyond my recent ancestry, way back at the beginning of time, God effectively made a declaration about me, that He and I would be related. I am part of his history and he is part of mine. The more I think about that, the more I know of my significance. Our history is important to us.

 

A few weeks ago on a walk with some friends, I revisited a very old church, All Saints in Ulcombe near Maidstone. It is a wonderful grade 1 listed building dating back to the C12. In a later century St John Henry Newman helped out there as a priest occasionally. You get a great sense of history there, especially in the grounds where there are ancient yew trees, one of which is well over 2,300 years old and so it was growing there when Christ was born. It is a beautiful tree with branches going in all directions. You can’t help but want to climb all over it and in every way you can, be part of it, get wrapped up in it.

Again, you get a whiff of today’s gospel. God always wanted to, as it were, climb all over humanity and get wrapped in it, like I wanted to climb all over that tree. It was always, from the beginning of time, from the beginning of creation, God’s plan that this should be so. His life and our lives are entwined. How marvellous is that?! This is at the heart of what we celebrate at Christmas.

So it is good to respect all that has occurred in the past. We respectfully describe it as history and recognise that it has much to tell us about what our lives mean. It is tempting though, not to respect equally, what might happen in the future – perhaps merely to describe it as fiction. In actual fact it too can give insight into who we are and what our lives are about.

As a Christian I know that one of the most important things about me is what I will become or what I am in the process of becoming. “We are already Children of God”, St John writes, “What we are to be in the future hasn’t been completely revealed yet, but we do know that we shall be like him”, he says. In other words, as God has become man, man will become God. My future lies in living with God wrapped up in his life as he is in mine just like in that ancient and very comfortable yew tree. This is not fiction. Rather, it is ‘calling’ or ‘destiny’. Much of the significance of who I am now is in fact what I will become in the future. Maybe there should be a TV programme called “Who do you think you will be”!

All this is very good news, this is gospel. The birth of Jesus helps me understand much about God, his love, his passion, but also a great deal about my origins and my destiny. I am happy to enjoy this revelation, to bask in it and celebrate it, but I also sincerely think that there is not one person in the world who won’t benefit from knowing it. And this was the conviction of St. John and it is why he wrote this gospel. Once he had understood the importance to his own life of the Word becoming flesh, of God becoming Man, he knew that this Man had to become the message, the Flesh would become Word. The gospel begins with the Word being made Flesh but it will end with the Flesh becoming word, becoming Good news, The Gospel according to St. John.

CHRISTMAS 2021

Christmas presents are fun, aren’t they? Especially when they are disguised in wrapping paper… or not! You’ll never guess what this is. I had to giggle when I saw it hiding under someone’s Christmas tree. I borrowed it for today because it reminds me of my mother. Every few years or so, she would ask for a new handbag for Christmas, which Santa would duly deliver. Soon after, the changeover ritual would take place. She would empty the old bag out onto an apron spread across her lap. In the debris would be her purse, her front door key, a spare door key(!), various bits of make-up kit, her prayer book, her rosary, some scissors, 2 or 3 packets of polos, several loose polos and loads more. She would then select articles one by one affirming their importance and transfer them to the new handbag, until it was ready for battles ahead! I love the image. I’d like to do the same with Christmas and all that has accumulated around it – tip it all out and then only put back in place those things which are important. What would they be?

 

Well first of all Christmas is the celebration of an important birth, and yes it is worth recalling and marvelling at the story again. So, the readings, the carols, the cribs and the nativity plays all go back in. We want to remember Christ’s birth. We want to thank God for it all so the Christmas mass goes back in too. It IS a great day and we want to celebrate so back in go the crackers with their daft jokes, silly hats and worthless prizes, as do other presents too.

 

An important element of the story is the clearly expressed intention for Christ to be born into a family. This is reflected in God’s will that each of us has a place in family – in some way or other, by adoption if necessary. It is a good day for families to get together therefore and to affirm the importance of each member with a family meal. Christmas dinner goes back in. There were others – shepherds and kings who were involved in the event. Relationships beyond the family were affirmed so it is good to have looked through the address book and sent greetings to those we know and respect. Christmas cards go back in too.

 

The birth of Jesus as a human being tells us what high regard God has for humanity, how much he values each and every one of us, each and any one of us. He supports and provides for us all with a love that is without beginning or end, ever green in fact, so yes, back in go the holly and the ivy, the poinsettias, and yes, the decorated Christmas fir tree. Christ’s birth as a child in Bethlehem all those years ago is a great affirmation and celebration of all creation. In it God designed a place at its very centre for his Son. We must commit to never let this good news be forgotten, this light be dimmed. Our Christmas traditions can help guarantee this.

 

So let me return to my mother’s hand bag. Each item that was placed in the new bag would be affirmed with a phrase such as ‘I’ll need that’ or ‘now that can be very useful’, and do you know what, apart from a few stray polos and a small pile of dust nearly everything went back in, with its importance and purpose stated clearly. I think something similar about Christmas. Many of the practices and paraphernalia can go back in the mix provided we recognise what they are for and therefore don’t get any of them out of proportion. If we don’t take such care, they can all become expensive and unnecessary burdens.

 

It is Christ’s birth we are celebrating, and what that means for us and for our families so let me wish each of you and your families every blessing on this wonderful occasion, and let’s feel good about celebrating this very special day.

The 4th Sunday of Advent

We’ve looked at the advent of Jesus in several ways but now on this final Sunday of Advent we celebrate the pregnancy of Mary and her time of time of waiting, of hope, literally of expectancy! We recognise her motherhood. So,…  Advent: in majesty, in history, in mystery and now in pregnancy. We already knew that Mary and her kinswoman Elizabeth were both carrying babies at the same time and we hear today that Mary visited Elizabeth, presumably so that they both could share in each other’s joy and give support to each other.

Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, was one of the elite temple priests. Now a lot of the much despised temple tax went to the Jewish priestly tribe so Zechariah and Elizabeth would not have been short of a shekel or two. The tradition in his town of Ein Kerem holds that they had two houses, one in the village and one up in the hillside where it was cooler. Elizabeth would have been here during her pregnancy, avoiding the heat. It’s here that she would have greeted Mary, and their meeting is elaborately depicted there today. (It is also where Zechariah and Elizabeth are said to have hidden their son John during King Herod’s terrifying attack on infants born at that time.)

Mary was a teenager while Elizabeth was, we are told, ‘getting on in years’, and in her maturity and wisdom she was able to say something quite profound to Mary. ‘Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled’. And that is the wonderful thing about Mary. She did hold fast to that promise. During her pregnancy how hard must that have been? She was having to deal with extraordinary circumstances. She would of course, have had the feelings familiar to all who have been mothers: the excitement, the anticipation, but also the fear and the worry, the very personal and intimate experience of being with child, but added to that she would have been pondering as best she could, the global significance of the boy that she had agreed to give birth to.

The Holy Spirit had come upon her and brought her the gift of Jesus. Now she was preparing to give to Jesus his birth and to give to the world its redeemer. How special must she have felt? How determined was she to place any doubts behind her? But the Holy Spirit has come to us too, in baptism, and brought us the gift of Jesus. We need to be like her, keeping faith in God’s promise, placing doubts behind us, ready to share the news and make a present of Jesus to others.

And how do we do that? Well Jesus is here so what lies in our gift is to be able to identify his presence to someone else. For a start, trying to engage with him in prayer is a testimony to our belief in his existence. Coming to mass is just such a testimony. We could also pray a grace before present-opening or a grace before our meal or a prayer of thanksgiving at the arrival of any visitors. In our conversation too, we can, provided we do so with integrity, witness his activity and therefore his presence. Can I recall any of the good things that have happened to me in the year as blessings or are they all lucky breaks or great personal achievements of my own? Maybe I am too self-conscious to describe things to others as God’s blessings? A challenge perhaps. We might even be able to give that prophetic witness of spotting and identifying his presence in the lives of others!

But in whatever ways you can, do try to make a present of Jesus to others, partly indeed to simply honour Mary, who, believing in the promise made to her, and with personal courage, presented him to us. He was the best gift that Mary could give and he is the best gift any one of us can give.

The 3rd Sunday of Advent

Today we focus on our third Advent theme. We celebrated two weeks ago our hope that Christ will come again in majesty at the end of days. Last week we recognised that Jesus really and truly did come in history – His coming or his advent is not just a story, but an historical fact. This week we rejoice in our knowledge of Jesus being with us right now in mystery in so many different ways. His mysterious presence pervades our world and our lives. The Scriptures today are full of it:

‘Shout for joy, shout aloud, rejoice, exult with all your heart’ says the prophet  Zephaniah in our first reading.

‘Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One’, we responded in our psalm.

‘Be happy, always happy in the Lord because he is very near’, says St Paul to his friends in Philippi.

Finally in the gospel we hear John the Baptist announcing The Good News, which is that Jesus is here, and here for you.

This is Gaudete Sunday, a day to proclaim Emmanuel: God-is- with-us.

And that is what the gospel is about. The Good News that is announced is not about John. It is about Jesus and this is what John is at pains to point out. So, to all those who came asking questions about what they should do, John is saying that now that Jesus is here there are loads of possibilities because in Jesus there is mercy and forgiveness. There is a future. Rejoice, Gaudete!

The message John the Baptist was preaching was Christ’s radical and revolutionary gospel, the one that would get him into so much trouble. It was that every single person is loved by God. ‘There is a way to God for all of you’, he says, ‘whoever you are, whatever your occupation is, whatever you’ve done’. ‘Tax collectors’, he says, ‘here is what you must do…’ ‘Roman soldiers’, he says, ‘here’s what you must do…’ and so on.

Jesus comes and says that he is the Way to heaven, for tax collectors, for Romans, for sinners, for lepers, for everyone.

So a significant and important expression of God’s mysterious presence is clearly in his mercy. It is forgiveness that enables everybody to get to God and to get to know God. We will have the opportunity to share this mercy on Tuesday week in our service of Reconciliation. God’s mysterious presence is there in that sacrament, and indeed in all the sacraments. But his true real presence is also here in Holy Scripture and so it is truly him we are in conversation with each Sunday: He speaks to us through the first reading and we respond with a psalm before he speaks again in the next reading. We respond again with the Alleluia verse before we greet his Words in the Gospel. After a little summarising and so forth from the priest we respond once more with the Creed and with our Prayers of Intercession. That completes our Liturgy of the Word before we go on to the Eucharist.

But we celebrate his presence in many other ways too, simply by gathering as Church for a start off. Then there is the whole mission of the Church where we go beyond these hallowed walls to be the hands with which he continues to conduct his mission through the mystery of our lives. He is in us and with us and especially between us in our love for one another.

John the Baptist had heard the good news and was passing it on. He was being a witness to the gospel. Now it is our turn. We must celebrate and then give witness and expression to God’s mysterious presence in our world especially in and through our church. God in Christ comes to us and God in Christ then comes through us to others. Rejoice. Gaudete!

The 2nd Sunday of Advent

So, we enter the second week in this great season of Advent. From God’s side of things, Advent is one long celebration of the gift of Jesus to the world. But from our side, it’s a series of challenges about the different ways we receive him, welcome him, make space for him in our hearts, in our minds, in our intellect, in the ways we live our lives and the adjustments we are prepared to make.

Last week we were challenged to look forward to his returning, his Advent at the end of days, at the end of our days to take us home to heaven. If we truly accept that hope and promise, and would welcome a final journey into heaven, then it must affect the way we live our lives on earth. If I didn’t think he was going to take me to a life beyond this one, there would be a few things that I might do differently!

This week’s challenge is to accept and make a welcome for his coming, his Advent in history. If last week we thought of him coming again in majesty, then this week we recognise that he has come in history. St Luke in the gospel goes to a great deal of trouble to pin down the event to a date in history as well as anyone could do in his day: ‘In the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, when Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, when Philip was tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitus, when Lysanius was tetrarch of Abilene, during the pontificate of Annas and Caiaphas’ – well that’s the time or even the date that John the Baptist’s famous ministry kicked off with Jesus’ ministry following on after that. They were born roughly 30 years earlier and that’s what we now call ‘year zero’, B.C and A.D. And that’s important.

We’ve all seen or read many really good stories. It doesn’t matter that they are fictional, that they are not true. They are uplifting and we feel much better for seeing or hearing them. But the history of Christ’s birth isn’t like that. It is of course an uplifting story but if it were just uplifting then our faith would be merely something that makes us feel good, that gets us through a long winter, ‘the opium of the people’ as was once said. But it’s much more.

We are challenged to recall the birth of Jesus as an historical fact. It took place 2021 years ago, a couple of thousand miles away and I’ve got to affirm this fact, making space for it in my mind and dealing with all the intellectual challenges that it brings. Exactly how was Jesus born as a man? Can Jesus be both human and divine? And so on. I can’t say that it doesn’t really matter whether it’s true or not. It affects the way I live and make sense of things – in two ways, at least:

First, if God does occasionally act above the rules of science and nature, in a supernatural way, then I should look out, and listen out for such activity. It means that I can trust God with things that don’t make sense in my ordinary natural world, even or especially things such as tragedies or deaths that seem to have no earthly meaning or explanation.

And it also means that I have to contemplate why he caused such a major intervention in our world. What was so important about our world? Or perhaps rather, who was so important in our world? Me? Surely not. But maybe I should consider that this is a real possibility, that me and you and others are so important to God that this is why the event was so carefully planned and delivered. This history of our world tells us things about us.

All in all Christ’s birth in history is an absolutely crucial event for humanity, and indeed for God

 

The 1st Sunday of Advent

 

Today we begin a new year in the life of the Church as we enter the Season of Advent. For many people this means that the countdown to Christmas is on – 4 weeks to go, 4 weeks to get the shopping done! As Christians we must accept a challenge to resist being overwhelmed by such a powerful notion in our society. We should instead assert, wherever possible that Advent is a sacred season filled with Christian themes. The 4 Sundays in particular, pick out different themes, as we express with our Advent wreath. The readings at our masses will also celebrate the roles played by some wonderful characters of both the Old and New Testaments.

Advent is a time of waiting, a time of expectancy. We do of course look to the arrival or advent of Jesus at Christmas, his arrival in history, but much more besides. We also celebrate his advent in our lives, in the sacred mysteries of the sacraments, of prayer, of scripture and so on. We also anticipate his arrival or advent at the end of time, or at the end of our time on earth. We have given much attention to this theme throughout the month of November but it is the theme presented again in the readings of the mass today.

I can still remember school days where between lessons, as we waited for the next teacher to arrive, the class would appoint a lookout in the corridor so that everyone else could get busy in riot mode. Then the lookout would return and proclaim the great Advent antiphon: Watch out, he’s coming! That was when serenity and a state of preparedness would pervade the classroom. The teacher would enter a class full of attentive students sat up straight behind our desks with arms folded. In fact I have a fridge magnet that has a nice picture of Jesus on it, but also the words: ‘Look busy. The Lord’s coming’. But that’s what this first Sunday of Advent is about, getting ready to meet the Lord at the end of time. When the Lord calls “Time up” on our lives we must be at peace with him and ready to face him. There comes a time when we stop rushing around and instead wait for the Lord.

That’s why St. Paul was telling the Christians in Thessalonica, ‘We urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live: the life that God wants, as you learnt from us and as you are already living it. … be blameless in the sight of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus Christ comes with all his saints.’  He strikes a hopeful note, firstly, in that it will be Jesus himself who comes for us, but also in that we have been shown the right path. ‘Lord, make me know your ways. Lord, teach me your paths. Make me walk in your truth, and teach me, for you are God my Saviour.’ That’s what we prayed in the psalm a few minutes ago. So our faith and our Advent hope in particular should give us great comfort. But we do need to be ready and waiting.

So before then we may need to get ourselves back on track a little or perhaps seek reconciliation but we do live in a tremendous freedom from anxiety, from apprehension, from worry, knowing as we do, that we can trust the Lord to be our shepherd and guide. We will as usual, celebrate a Service of Reconciliation in the week before Christmas, so that’s a great opportunity to make a confession, receive the sacrament and be reconciled. Advent invites us to be ready not just to welcome Christ at Christmas but in every moment of our lives, in every encounter with others and of course in the hour of our death.

So Advent then, not just the time before Christmas, no more than Lent is just the time before Easter. Lent and Advent have their own reality and meaning. Get busy, the Lord is coming.

FOR OLDER SERMONS PLEASE SEE THE SERMON ARCHIVE PAGE