Fr Doug

  Father Doug

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Sermons:

2nd Sunday of Advent, YearA 2022

 

Last Sunday, amongst other things, we picked up on the first of the four Advent themes and we faced the important Christian notion that Christ will one day return to take us home and that we should therefore find a way to look forward to that event or eventuality, to not fear death but be full of hope about it, and therefore live lives that match that hope. It is a challenging thought and none of us will long for it like say, a child longs for Christmas Day! But the point is that we should be ready and should be awake to it. Christ will come again.

This week’s theme is again, about being awake to Christ’s arrival, but specifically in the context of the history of our world. We heard Isaiah prophesying about the advent of a messiah. He was speaking near enough 740 years before Christ did arrive. The fact is that there was always a place in history for the Son of God to be born into this world, to take his place in the midst of mankind. From the moment of creation, it was inevitable. The whole of the Old Testament can be seen as the preparation for that cosmic event. It would be an event that would affect the entire history of the human race and give it a meaning and purpose that everyone could grasp. It would be great news, a real gospel, the greatest event in earth’s history. Creation had always cried out for its Creator to fully reveal himself and in Christ that is what would happen.

But there had to be a final effort. So… some 30 years after the Christ was born it all kicked off: ‘In due course – those words jump out of the page at me – in due course, John the Baptist appeared’. His role was to call for the final preparations to be made. ‘Get ready’ was his call. Everyone was to wake up and leave behind anything that would hold them back from embracing Christ when he came. They were to repent and be alert to their opportunity. And we’re told, people responded in great numbers. Crowds from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole Jordan district made their way to him and they were baptised. Pharisees and Sadducees were among them. They all heard him telling them to be ready for what was about to happen.

In the following three years the Son of God engaged with his people. He expressed the divine in humanity, he revealed God to his people. And that engagement became a sort of marriage, a holy communion with his people in which we can all now participate, most especially in mass. The world would never be the same again. An extraordinary event had occurred in history. A most wonderful thing had happened.

We need to recognise that what John the Baptist said to his contemporaries applies to us well. We should wake up. We should reorientate our lives so that we can reach forward to embrace the marvellous life with God that is promised. The Sacrament of Reconciliation can help us. It is on offer here on Saturdays and in a reconciliation service on the Tuesday before Christmas.

We know all too well how easy it is to miss the advent or the arrival of the Son of God in the midst of all the commercialism. It requires us to pause and reflect a little. And more. We owe it to the world to call on everyone to wake up to the Advent of Christ, or if not the whole world, how about taking the risk with a few of our friends or family? At least let’s take advice from Pope Francis and reflect enough on this gospel to find joy at what happened all those years ago, and again as he says, if you find joy, if you find cheer, then don’t forget to tell your face about it!!

1st Sunday of Advent, Year A, 2022

In these days of Advent we are invited to reflect on the arrival of Christ in majesty, in history, in mystery, and of course in the final week, in Mary. There is a looking forward, a looking back, and a looking around us, to see where Christ will be, has been and is now. Be awake, Jesus says in the gospel.

Since last Sunday I have been in Rome reflecting on this with 45 other jubilarians from around the country, priests celebrating 40, 50 or 60 years of priesthood, so forgive me today for mainly looking back to remember with gratitude Christ’s activity in my life over these past 40 years, and to thank so many people, who have revealed it to me.

On the 27th of November 1982, I was ordained priest in my home parish of St Columba in Selsdon. Many people helped me to reach that day, I am grateful to them all.                       A few weeks later I joined the parish of St Elphege in Wallington where I had to get used to being a priest, acting as a priest and even looking like one, which may have been a challenge to some as I appeared as a German Fraulein, a fictional Australian Cardinal, a musical entertainer, one of the flying pickets (a pop group back then), one of the three little maids from school, and even a circular saw, in various productions for which thatparish was renowned. It was a great fun place to begin as a priest and I’m so grateful for all that I received there.

I also enjoyed working with young people there so I was sent for training in order to become the youth officer for the diocese. I worked with a brilliant team, and we undertook work around the diocese that I will always be proud of. Many of us in that team still meet as a prayer group, helping each other to see what God is up to in our lives.

After that I was placed in the newly-opened Christ the King sixth form college as chaplain. With the Principal and an excellent staff team, I enjoyed trying to help those young people recognise God’s presence.

Next I joined the parish of Rainham as parish priest, on the day that Princess Diana died. It was a distressing time for the whole country, and no less for a young man with learning difficulties, Martin. As he put it, Father Bliss gone, this new Father Doug here, Princess Diana dead… and my cat’s not very well either. Well, we got passed it. I felt a deep sense of belonging there and a conviction that God was addressing me through those parishioners. We did all sorts of things there including some wonderful pilgrimages.

On next, to the parish of Holy Cross in Catford which already had wonderful things going on so it was a privilege to share in its further development, enabling more participation in its marvellous communion and mission. A parish-wide exploration of the spirituality of stewardship was a highlight and gained us international recognition and awards, in fact. Pilgrimages too, provided moments and insights to treasure and enrich us in so many ways.

And so to the parish of Saint John Fisher in Bexley where my arrival was followed by the arrival of COVID and lockdown. Difficult days, but they did offer us the opportunity to bond together, to reflect, to refresh, and even to refine much in our lives. Challenged to think about what is important in life, we have moved to a sharper focus on our relationships with God. This is now at the heart of our mission.

But there has been so much else along the way. In particular, a mission in the Leprosy Rehabilitation Centre in Ghana has been an inspiration, with a mutual sharing of gifts bringing so much growth. I was also honoured by being made a chief there. Nana Paa Kwasi Obeng the 1st, is my title.

But like me, you will all be able to identify individuals near to us and dear to us who give us so much and enable us to be who we are, and to do what we do, who enabled in other words that face of Jesus Christ to be made present in the world, and to be witnessed in all of our lives. This is a central theme of Advent and it is what this jubilee weekend is all about for me so I am grateful to you all. I thank you deeply.

 

34th Sunday, Year C, 2022

 

For the first time in my lifetime, we have an English King! When her majesty Queen Elizabeth died and Charles came to the throne, we were prompted to reflect a little on what a monarch is or does for us, what the queen had done in her lifetime, and what we hoped King Charles might do. We will all have reached different conclusions but the most important thing I saw was the dedicated and generous service that the queen had provided over so many years. So, when we reflect today on Christ as our King, I am pleased to see that this quality of Christ reflected in her reign. We hope that Charles too, will turn out to be a Servant King, just as Christ is, and his mother was – well Servant Queen, I suppose. But Charles’s coronation will look a little different to that of Christ.

So where else should we look for an understanding of Christ as our King, our Servant King? Well, the Jewish people had expectations of a Messianic King, one who would come with power and majesty. He would be even greater than their heroic ancestor, King David who was remembered as a shepherd who looked after his people, but who was also a great leader that united his people. And he was also a warrior who, having slain the giant Goliath, led his people to great conquests and ultimately to capture the mighty fortress city of Jerusalem. So that’s what messiahs are supposed to look like, and Jesus did fulfil all that but not in the way they expected.

Indeed, relatively few people identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the true Son of David, the true king of the Jews. And our gospel today seems to illustrate this perfectly. The all-powerful, all-conquering king would not be found hanging from a cross in apparent defeat. Yes, some people did stay to watch, to try and make sense of it, but not many really got it. The leaders cheered, the soldiers mocked. But He did say in his trial: ‘My Kingdom is not of this kind.’ One of those who was crucified with him clearly did not understand and echoed a temptation Jesus had suffered back in his 40 days in the wilderness. He asked him to call down a miracle: ‘Save yourself and us too’. But another did understand. He saw Jesus accepting the pain, the suffering, and the apparent defeat but still saw him as king. ‘Remember me when you come into your Kingdom’. To which Jesus replied: ‘Yes today you will be with me in paradise’. What faith that man had.

But it does remind me of a little story I heard earlier this week about a teacher asking her class ‘How many of you would like to go to heaven. All hands but one went up, so the teacher asked this child: ‘Don’t you want to go heaven?’ ‘O yes, Miss,’ was the reply, ‘but I thought you meant today!’ So yes, we’d like there to be a place for us in God’s kingdom, but as the child said, we are not keen to leave this earth behind just yet. There is a sense that his kingdom is somewhere beyond and yet it is also here and now in this life: ‘Thy kingdom come on earth, as in heaven’, we pray.

This is because being in God’s kingdom is being in a relationship with him, both now AND forever. So, we are aware of what that kingdom is like, what its values are – gospel values as we call them, because Jesus taught us all about them, and how we should live our lives on earth by such values. The kingdom is, as the preface of our today’s mass says, an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a Kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.

And the best thing about it is that there is a place for us all. Jesus is that all-conquering King who can lead ALL people to the heavenly Jerusalem, not just the 12 tribes of Israel, but everyone. He is that shepherd who guides us all the way. He is that warrior who fights and crushes the powers of evil. He is Christ, Our King.

 

32nd Sunday, yearC 2022, Parish Remembrance

In a couple of minutes, we’ll be remembering in prayer those parishioners whose funerals we’ve celebrated in the parish during this past year. Each will have a candle lit for them as part of our prayer and as a symbol of our hopes. There are 13 of them. Each of them will have been known by at least some of you. So, all of us should pray for all of them. We will also pray for others we have known and loved, those who have died in other places and in other years. Many of their names are held in our November Book of Remembrance. This book will be brought onto our sanctuary at every Sunday mass during the month. Please feel free to add names to it after mass today.

On Tuesday, the Feast of all Saints or All Hallows, we celebrated our faith in many people who are with God in paradise, and we celebrated our belief that each and every one of us is called to be there too. Our soul, the person that each of us is, is immortal. Our bodies will have been buried or cremated and either way been gently recycled by Mother Nature. This shouldn’t worry us. After all, the actual physical atoms that make up my body presently weren’t there a while back nor will they be soon. They are continually being renewed. Our physical bodies may cease to be, but the souls, the persons that we are, will not cease to be. We cannot be recycled. We live forever in resurrection.

So, just as our life is sacred, so is our death. Each of our deaths will be precious moments, grace-filled because Jesus will be right there by our side, taking us by the hand and leading us into whatever eternal life with God is. The candles that we will light in a few moments will pick out those 13 special moments of those parishioners’ deaths – and others besides, I’m sure! Hopefully they may help us to be in or at that moment and express our love in the prayer that Jesus, our High Priest, can bring to each of those souls. It is only Jesus who can communicate our love to those beyond the grave.

Each time we join in the mass we are joined to Jesus in his journey through death to new life and being joined to him we are joined to all those he carries with him, the whole communion of saints. In the mass, we touch that timeless, precious, sacred moment. What a privilege that is. And that is why it is so appropriate to pray at mass for those who have died. From wherever and from whenever we do so, our love reaches them at that very moment, that precious moment of death. Our prayer helps them in their journey through death and our prayer also seeks their intercession before God. Time limits us, but it doesn’t limit them.

The cemetery, the grave, the memorial garden, whatever it might be, marks the border. It is a very secure border between heaven and earth. But Jesus is right there providing a Way, a conduit, a passage to life beyond. ‘Follow me through here’, he says. As the gate between the two he is the ‘go to’ person and as we thank the Father for giving his Son this role we should respond by seeking him out and gaining his friendship.

So, we are all remembering those who have gone, people we knew and loved. Jesus said to trust in him and believe in him and if we can do that, we can still trust and believe in the persons we have lost. Jesus himself came to lead them to their heavenly home. None of us knows what that is like but we do know that they will remain the individuals God created them to be, knowable, loveable and also able to love. May they, each of them, through the faith we have in them give us consolation and may they, each of them, rest with God in peace.

Amen.

31st Sunday, Year C 2022

I expect many of you saw on the television, as I did, the welcome that Rishi Sunak received from his fellow Conservative MPs upon his election by them, as our Prime Minister. They all stood on the front steps of their building, facing the cameras applauding as he passed through them giving embraces and hugs to many, but not to all! I couldn’t help noticing that there were a few that he walked straight past even as they had their arms out ready for a hug to congratulate him. They continued to smile and make the best of it, but I can only imagine how awkward they felt and indeed how disappointed they must have been not to have been noticed as others had been. Not being noticed by someone important is a sad and diminishing experience for anyone. And that’s where today’s gospel story begins, with a man seemingly not tall enough to feel that he would be noticed, Zacchaeus, the tax collector.

Like some child, he climbed a tree, which would have drawn scorn from the crowds, but he wanted to see Jesus and he wanted Jesus to see him. We sometimes feel so unimportant that Jesus couldn’t possibly notice us, but the truth is, he does. And he says to us what he said to Zacchaeus: I want to be with you. We don’t have to climb trees for this to happen. We can’t help having busy lives no more than Zacchaeus could help being short, but we do need to press ‘pause’ on our day sometimes and recognise, in faith, that Jesus is noticing us, gazing at us in fact. It would be good if everyone in the world knew that they are noticed and are of real interest to God.

Now Zacchaeus was a tax collector, despised by his fellow Jews for being a collaborator with the occupying Roman regime. Also, it was Roman practise to allow tax collectors to charge more than was due, to supplement their income, so tax collectors were regarded as moral outcasts, unclean even. And yet Jesus dined with them. So He is telling us today that there is nothing that we can think, say or do that would stop him wanting to be with us. He came to call sinners.

The important question then, is about the response to God’s love and concern. Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus, then pledged to share his wealth with the poor, and make amends for any dishonesty on his part. We call that repentance. He didn’t just put right what he’d done wrong, the amendment, but he showed how sorry he was by handing over even more, a penance, we might say, proof of his change of heart. He saw what was right, and now had reason to do what was right and he was saved.

What about our response to Jesus, when he tells us that he really wants to be with us? We are worth his gift of life to us, not just in visiting us but in dying for us. If that doesn’t produce a response, maybe we haven’t heard him properly. We are, and I am, WORTH IT. And our response should be one of repentance, turning more and more of our life over to him. He was sent to heal the contrite.

So the event recalled in today’s gospel provides a picture of the salvation that Jesus brings to mankind and a picture too, of the Church’s sacrament of reconciliation. It involves a response to God’s love, expressed to us in Jesus. We turn away from ways that are lacking in love, we express our sorrow – our contrition, we demonstrate a true purpose of amendment by undertaking penance and finally we accept those loving words from Jesus, his absolution:

“Today salvation has come to this house”, as Jesus said to Zacchaeus, or the words that the priest says in the sacrament:

“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

 

30th Sunday, year C, 2022

 

It amuses me that in our translation of the gospel we hear Jesus saying that the Pharisee said his prayer to himself, not to God. But the Pharisee isn’t the only idiot I know! I have been troubled with an issue recently, and not really making any progress with it in prayer. As it happens, I saw my spiritual director this week and brought the matter up. He suggested that I would make better progress when I stopped praying to myself about it and instead, had a conversation with God. And, … he was right.

But that’s not what the gospel is about today. Jesus’ little story saw the Pharisee judging the tax collector and the rest of mankind into the bargain. In doing so he placed himself above the tax collector and above all mankind. Jesus often attacked this attitude and said that it is only God who can make such judgements about people. Our role in judgement is limited to considering actions and motives.

But, it is hard not to be judgemental sometimes. When you hear about the attacks on citizens in Ukraine, it is hard not to judge the perpetrators as being evil. The suffering of those people is beyond belief! Bombing non-combatants is a blasphemous, evil pursuit. But it is God who will judge the Russian aggressors, whether or not the world gets a chance to make them face their crimes and pass judgement on these actions.

Jesus is critical of the Pharisee for placing himself as judge, almost literally above all mankind and looking down on the tax collector and on the rest of humankind. The wrongdoing of the tax collector was not in dispute. He himself admits to being a sinner in his prayer, and he goes home at rights with God. He and God were in communion, but the Pharisee was not. The Pharisee did not see the tax collector as another human being, one who had simply gone astray. He couldn’t do; he was too far above him looking down on him.

There’s a phrase we use: ‘Level with me’. It has something to do with telling the truth but also with communicating one to one. God became man so that he could level with us, each of us – you, me and the odd tax collector. The Pharisee placed himself above and beyond us all. And if Jesus had included himself in the story, then the Pharisee would be above Jesus too. Jesus gets serious about this ‘judgement’ business.

We need to be careful therefore to stay on the level with everyone and never place ourselves above anyone whatever they do – or can’t do, perhaps. Have you heard anyone, or especially yourself saying:

I’m not listening to you, you are foreign!

I’m not listening to you, you are only a child

I’m not listening to you, you are just a woman

I’m not listening to you, you are only a lay person

I’m not listening to you, you are new here, you are an outsider

I’m not listening to you, you’re an Arsenal supporter – well …?

but I’m not listening to you, you are you follow the wrong Faith 

I’m not listening to you, you vote for the wrong party

I’m not listening to you, you are disabled

I’m not listening to you, you are just uneducated

I’m not listening to you, you are unrefined

I’m not listening to you, what have you have ever done with your life?

I’m not listening to you … well who else?

It’s a bit of a giveaway, betraying that taking of a superior, arrogant, judgemental position.  The fact is, we mustn’t do it; we won’t be right with God if we do.

 

29th Sunday, Year C, 2022

Some of you who took part in the on-line diocesan retreat for Lent earlier this year may remember one of the contributors, a senior nurse referring to the occasion remembered in our first reading from the Book of Exodus. Moses sent Joshua and an army to fight an enemy while he stood on top of a hill with his arms held high in prayer. They were doing very well in the battle but when his arms grew weary and sagged the advantage went the other way. The problem was solved when 2 helpers stood either side of him holding up his arms, supporting him in prayer. Victory was theirs, due to the support in prayer.

Well the nurse said that she felt like she was in the position of Moses as  she worked night and day in the Covid wards of her hospital, desperately trying to keep people alive. In her exhaustion she said she could only keep battling while she felt others beside her holding up her arms, supporting her in prayer, just like with Moses. Many were very moved when subsequently she told us how important our prayer was to her in those dark days. And that’s the point. Our prayers are expressions of our love and of our deep desire. We offer them, trusting that Jesus, our High Priest will carry that love forward and express it elsewhere in the communion of mankind. He bears our sins, but he also bears our love.

He is King of All.

In the gospel Jesus tells the parable of the judge and the widow to emphasise the truth about, we are told, ‘our need to pray continually and never lose heart’. So yes, we should keep praying for Ukraine and for Russia and yes, we should keep praying for all those who are in any need. We don’t know how God will use these simple expressions of love to help others, but we can trust that he will.

Very often, of course, he reflects them back to us and inspire us to put our money where our mouth is. Many can recite the prayer of St. Teresa on the matter: “Christ has no body now, but yours. No hands, no feet on earth, but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ looks compassion into the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which Christ blesses the world.” Other times the reflection is on the consistency of our lives. If we genuinely pray for peace in church and go home or go to work and perpetrate violence or discord among others, then we need to pause and let the prayer touch our own lives.

Often, we pray for our own needs, hoping God will do what we ask him to do – or do I mean tell him to do? The prayers of Jesus help us out here, I think. For instance, he prayed for himself in the Garden of Gethsemane asking that during his time of temptation and agony he would stay strong in Faith: ‘Take this cup of suffering away from me but let not my will but yours be done’. And that’s difficult, isn’t it, when we pray for something important in our life, but God doesn’t seem to answer or even hear our prayer. It can lead us to doubt and even give up. There are no neat answers to this. But with faith and trust we can at least say that while we may not doubt that God will do the best for us, we wonder how painful the best will turn out to be. Jesus did not come to take away suffering from our lives but fill it with his presence. His presence in our sorrows will help us live through them with hope. And hope is the key to all prayer. It goes with telling God that we trust him to use our prayers the way he thinks best.

And do you know, I’d rather place my hope and my trust in God’s solutions than in my own.

 

27th Sunday, Year C, 2022

We have just shared a little set-piece dialogue. Having read the gospel I held it up and said to you that this is the gospel of the Lord. And you responded with a prayer: “Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ”. In other words, I said that this is good news from God and you thanked and praised Jesus because what you’ve heard is a good gift. So, what’s so good about it?

Well, a simple story: I remember being invited to a religious event in a family home. I wasn’t there long before I sensed a little bit of unease. This was broken when one of the youngest children, unself-consciously said: “Father Doug, how come you didn’t take off your shoes? Everybody else has?” And I was the only one with shoes on, so I promptly kicked them off. A simple thing, but I was pleased to know how to better respect their traditions and therefore to be able to grow more deeply in our friendship. It’s a good thing to know what’s expected of you and where you stand.

This was in fact a very big deal for the Jews. At the heart of their faith was their love and gratitude for the law – and also for the prophets. They valued the law because it set out what God expected of them, what their relationship with him was truly about. This they believed, gave them great strength. With God on their side, they were invincible, and the prophets were forever calling the nation back to living by this law. And it’s good for us to know where we stand with God and what he wants of us, in other words to know what our lives are about, what we are for. And that is good news, it’s really gospel. Today’s bit of the gospel is particularly instructive about this.

It tells us that we’re wasting our time if we think that doing what’s right and avoiding what’s wrong is going to earn God’s gratitude and reward. We will not impress God. Everything we have and everything we are, is his gift. He gives us the dignity of taking responsibility for all this as stewards, and he expects us to return it to him by sharing it with others. He’s not going to bow down and express his gratitude to us, no more than the master in Jesus’s story today would say “thank you” to his paid servants.

As it happens, Friday is CaFOD’s Family Fast Day and we are asked to make some sacrifice so as to be able to make a contribution to the work of helping those around the world who need help, especially in addressing poverty. Now we should be doing this, not because it will impress God, but because it’s what we are supposed to do with the resources that God has entrusted to us. It’s what we do out of gratitude to God. It’s a privilege to help. It’s not for God to say “thank you”. At best he might say “thank you for thanking me” – or more likely, “well done, faithful servant”.

God invests in us. What we don’t use for the good of others is a loss to God, a poor return on his investment. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that we have a right to all our gifts and that we can invest a little of it in God, the Bank of heaven, if you like. That’s the Pelagian heresy of old! No, it’s the wrong way round. We are the holders of God’s gift. All that we do not pass on, is a loss.

So we know how to conduct our relationship with God, in a productive way. We know that we should give out of gratitude and not count the cost; we need to be happy to help. This is our calling and what will help us to grow and develop as the fully human, fully alive beings that God wants us to be. This is the good news, our gospel.

Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

25th Sunday, Year C, 2022

 

Last week, if you remember, we looked at Christian stewardship which sees everything that we have and that we are as a gift from God. We are merely stewards of it all. We speak of the stewardship of time, of talent and of treasure. We accept these gifts with gratitude, we nurture and develop them and then we share them in justice with others as a way of paying them back to God.

We’ve looked at the stewardship of treasure and of talent previously. We focus now on the stewardship of our time and particularly the time we spend with God in prayer. “Spend” is the operative word, since as followers of Christ it is our responsibility to offer a deliberate response to Him, to purposefully budget and spend the gifts he has given us.

In that regard, the words of Queen Elizabeth when she became queen have resonated this week. She promised to spend what life God granted her, “whether it would be short or long” in service of country. She was quite deliberate in the way she spent her life.

We may be used to taking care in spending money. We do budgets and we keep accounts. Jesus says in the Gospel today that we are right to be careful in how we spend our gifts and so we should consider how we spend our time, that “most genuine of riches”. You may have accepted the challenge last week, to monitor your spending of time, and particularly how much time you spent in prayer – of any sort.

Well, in a light hearted way we have designed a time sheet, which you collected on the way in, for you to add it all up. Christine Crump is the Chairperson of our parish spirituality committee and she is going to look at this with you now and also look ahead to our programme of Ways Into Prayer before presenting the gospel challenge to consider increasing your prayertime budget.

24th Sunday Year C 2022 

Stewardship of Time

St. Luke didn’t know Queen Elizabeth was going to die this week so instead he speaks of the joy of reconciliation, how wonderful it is when something or someone lost is subsequently found. We hear that God celebrates every time a soul is saved. But in the telling of the story of the prodigal son another truth is revealed. That son, when at rock bottom, decides to do a deal with his father. “I now know I’ve done wrong, I’m an idiot, but let me back and I will work as a paid servant.” He rehearses this offer on his journey home but only gets half way through saying it before his loving father initiates the celebration. There is to be no deal. The reconciliation is a free gift. The boy cannot earn it. And this is the nature of the relationship God has with all of us. His love is free. Our first reaction should therefore be gratitude, an attitude of gratitude.

Everything that we have and that we are is a gift of God. We are merely stewards of it all. In Christian stewardship we traditionally speak of the stewardship of time, of talent and of treasure. We accept these gifts with gratitude, we nurture and develop them and then we share them in justice with others as a way of paying them back to God.

In this parish a few years ago we ran a campaign on the stewardship of treasure and many parishioners stepped up their financial support to charitable works and to the parish and all that we undertake. Earlier this year we ran a campaign on the stewardship of our gifts and talents and many again stepped up to share their gifts and experience for the benefit of all. So now we are focussing on the gift of time.

We are pressed for time. We fret about today, tomorrow, yesterday. We try to make time, save time, budget time. We waste time, kill time, pass time. We find time, lose time, time after time, time and again. We have the time of our lives. Oftentimes we don’t have the time of day. We start things in good time and finish them, sometimes in no time.

Time is a special gift that God fills our life with, and we need to be as careful about how we spend time as we are about how we spend money. There are many good ways of spending our time in ways pleasing to God. We can give it to others in so many ways. It takes time to share any of our gifts but we are only focussing this time on the time we give – or spend – in prayer.

So how do we spend this limited resource of our time at the moment? In one day there are 24 hours or 1440 minutes and in a week there are 7days or 168 hours or a little over 10,000 minutes. I invite you to give an account to yourself of how you spend time in a week, a time sheet if you like. Last week a friend whom I used to sit next to in school died and that shock reminded me just how precious that gift of time really is. So I did the sum for myself. In an average day (if such a thing exists!) I reckon I spend 7 hours in bed, perhaps 2 hours buying, preparing and eating food, let’s say 8 hours undertaking my tasks as parish priest here and perhaps 2 hours relaxing. That adds up to 20 hours. In the remaining 4 hours I am lucky in that I do get several hours in prayer time of one sort another, including my walk. Most don’t have that luxury, I know.

But do your own sums and see how many minutes get set aside for God in the morning or evening, in reading or attending mass or in devotions. You may be able to work it out for a day or average it out over a week. An hour here on a Sunday is a pretty good start after all. But you might be surprised with what you find if you keep an account during the week to come. Next weekend we will be giving out a time sheet to summarise your findings regarding prayer time and we will invite you to pledge a little more of your time back to God specifically in prayer.

The thing about prayer though is that it is a personal thing. We all can pray in our own way. It is always said that we should pray as we can and not as we can’t. Nevertheless different disciplines have been nurtured over the centuries and we are running a programme in the weeks to come to give everyone a chance to look at them but more about that programme of Ways into Prayer next week.

So this week be grateful for God’s gift of time and try to keep some kind of record of how you spend it, and in particular how much of it you spend with God. Next week we will give you the chance to formally record your prayer time and then to commit yourself, if you wish, to increase the budget.

23rd Sunday, Year C, 2022

It’s been a great summer of sport, hasn’t it? In athletics, the World Championships, the Europeans and especially the ‘friendly’ Commonwealth Games, but most memorably perhaps, the Euro ‘22 women’s football. Lots to enjoy, lots to admire. I’ve particularly enjoyed all the back stories, what it’s taken for these athletes to get to where they are. Most, or nearly all of them have made big sacrifices. And that’s the point! In my youth I can remember that great football stars like Jimmy Greeves and Bobby Moore used to meet up in a pub before a game and enjoy sausage and chips and a couple of pints of beer. Well, as we just heard, ‘onlookers would laugh at’ that level of commitment now. Managers would ask: ‘Which is more important, playing in my team or meeting for a pub lunch? You must think it through and take it seriously.’

And that’s what Jesus says in the gospel. We have to take the business of being human seriously. We have to grow up in terms of commitment. He talked about going to war, saying that even there you have to size it up and make wise decisions – and building towers too. But crucially it’s the same with living a good life worthy of a place in his kingdom. He went as far as asking: ‘Which is more important, if it were to come to it, a relationship with someone in your family or a place in the Kingdom?’ He meant that we might have to give even family members second place – on occasion. (He’d have been a great sports team manager!)

At the time, he was with an appreciative crowd up in Galilee who thought he was on a triumphal victory parade to Jerusalem. They thought it’d be plain sailing and an overwhelming success and they wanted a piece of that! So he was correcting them, saying that it would be no picnic. He and they would have to make a mature commitment to the Way of the Cross. The same is spoken to us. If we want to follow him all the way, through Jerusalem, all the way to his kingdom then we have to be aware of what we are doing and be ready to bear the consequences, setting aside anything or anyone that would hinder us. It doesn’t mean that we will have to sacrifice everything and everyone but we must be prepared to give up anything or anyone. That’s what it can mean to take up the cross and follow him as his disciple.

Now that demands a long term commitment, and daily decisions. He says we need to have thought all this through. We should have an informed conscience so that we can act every day and in every moment of the day with a moral compass. We need to be as informed about our religion as we are about our politics or our hobby or whatever. We do In fact, read the bible over a three year cycle in the Sunday mass and a two year cycle in daily mass. There are many publications or apps available to help us make more sense of it. (It is difficult to read the bible without such guidance.) We should also try to keep abreast of the wider teachings of the Church through appropriate media. It is lame to say that we are unaware of the ethical problems of our day because we didn’t do R.E. at school or it didn’t crop up in a sermon! What is it Jesus said? ‘Here is a person onlookers would make fun of!’

So we need to be ready and waiting to challenge any inappropriate conversation, opinion or action, whatever the cost. It is too easy to allow someone’s character to be torn apart in their absence. To not object is to be complicit. It is too easy to leave to others the need to sort out the injustices that surround us. To do so is to be complicit. And the same with everything else. We need to ready and waiting all day long.

There is a cost to this way of thinking and behaving though, and it is called THE CROSS!

 

22nd Sunday Year C 2022

Meals have always been an important part of Jewish life. And so have the rules and regulations that surround the meal. This is often a good thing but sometimes, not so much! And this is the context of the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees in today’s gospel.

There were specific regulations about places at table. We might scoff at the trouble that couples have sorting out who sits where at a wedding, but in Judaism this was an everyday issue. There was always a designated place of honour – a good thing surely to be able to honour and respect people. In such ways the meal table is more than a feeding station. It can be an experience of friendship where values are expressed and shared. But no one should be presumptuous and the parable that Jesus told about humility at table was well known.

But Jesus was using this issue about table manners to challenge the Pharisees about their attitude to religion as well. They tried to control access to God and challenging this, was as we know, a big part of Jesus’s mission. He claimed that God loves and desires every single person. So he tells the Pharisees to be a bit more humble, and certainly not assume that they were in front of the queue to enter the Kingdom. And of course neither should we, as Christians.

Jesus commends humility in all things. He behaved with absolute humility himself, reverencing and respecting the holiness and worth of everyone. Humility arises from honesty and accuracy of vision. If we recognise our worth as beings, created by God, then we will not exalt ourselves. If we see our worth or value in other terms such as power, wealth or status then we have made a mistake and subsequently, we are likely to suffer with pride or perhaps be insufferable with pride.

Jesus then goes on to attack the Pharisees for another bad practice regarding meals. The table was a good place to express unity with others but could also lead to elitism. The only people worthy of eating with Pharisees were… well, other Pharisees. There was an arrogant judgement on others. Jesus had a different approach. He would share a table with absolutely anyone. In this way he showed love and respect for all. A dinner invitation was a form of gift and Jesus was teaching that it is important to be truly charitable or loving in sharing this – or any gift. Just inviting people who will invite you back is not generous. So, do we give our gift of friendship or fellowship only to those who are already close to us? Do we only do someone a favour if we can expect one back?

And would we only love someone if they love us back? Christian marriage for instance, is more than just a contract for mutual benefit. It is a covenant of unconditional love. If the other person is not as generous as you are, that doesn’t matter. You do it anyway. This covenant was first expressed between God and Abraham. Abraham might not always have been faithful but God was, and the Old Testament is witness to that. We see the same in the New Testament, that witnesses this faithfulness in Christ. If we can’t play our part to the full, it doesn’t matter, God still loves us. We should try to copy this in our dealings with others. We should be doing things for others with no expectation of return.

So, we need to see that all we have and all we are is God’s gift. This is the key to humility and humility is the key to a relationship with God. In that relationship we can then respond to God’s unconditional love for us by expressing that love in our relationships with others – as best we can, at least.

A last word on humility: Never trust someone who tells you that humility is one of the very greatest of their gifts!

21st Sunday, year C 2022

During my holiday earlier this month I spent a few days walking on the South Downs Way and on one of the days I walked Harting Downs (not far from Petersfield). Now I don’t like to complain but Harting Downs was in my view a bit of a fraud, because it seemed to me that there were a lot more ups than there were downs! At least that’s what my aching limbs told me at the end of the day. But by then there were all those voices from my teachers at school in my head proclaiming: ‘If it doesn’t hurt you’re just not trying hard enough.’ The culture of my schooling was definitely, ‘no pain, no gain’ Well, by that reckoning I must have been gaining alot on Harting Downs.

The Letter to the Hebrews seems to share this approach, adapting it though, into a radical spiritual attitude to life. It actually suggests that we should feel honoured when difficulties and sufferings come our way because, we are told, that means God is taking us seriously as his children, trying to improve us. ‘Suffering is part of your training’ it says. Challenges, difficulties, pain and suffering are all part of the process whereby we are made stronger, fitter pilgrims, fit that is, for the journey that leads to the Kingdom of God.

We need to be clear though. God does not cause our pains and sorrows but he is always ready to use them, to redeem them, if we as his children will entrust them to him. This is, after all, what he did with his Son at Easter. He did not cause his Son’s sufferings and death but he did allow it to happen. Look though what he did with all of that when Jesus entrusted it to him. Jesus rose to new life and did so in such a way as to be able to share that life with all of us.

So the path for the Christian Pilgrim involves first of all the acceptance of any sorrows, sufferings, pains or problems that life presents to us – accepting our cross, in other words. Then, we can offer them up to God, trusting that he will use them to strengthen us and make us spiritually fit. This is what we mean by redemption and it enables us to exercise more freely on the Christian path. We are able to share more love and give with greater generosity and joy. For this is what we need to be doing in order to aim for that narrow door spoken of in the Gospel today. It is a door that is open to all people – from north, south, east and west, but we have to be determined to make our way to it.

The same message has a wider application in society. No parent punishes a child just to get even. That eye for eye, tooth for tooth stuff only leads to blind people who can’t eat. Punishment from a loving parent is designed to improve the child. We are told that it will then ‘bear fruit in peace and goodness’. So likewise, punishment of a criminal by a loving society should do the same for the miscreant. It should not be about retribution but about redemption.

So yes, the Letter to the Hebrews is radical and controversial. It suggests that if your life is completely comfortable then you are not trying hard enough, that there is more that you could be giving or doing. We need to move out of our comfort zones and take up our cross to follow Jesus, whether that means accepting difficulties and sorrows already presented to us or taking up the Gospel challenge to give more of ourselves to others.

We just need to get fit.

The Assumption Year C 2022

 

Today’s Feast exists mainly to honour Mary, but as with all feasts of Mary, the celebration speaks to us as the Church as well.

So we honour first od all, Mary’s discipleship, her response to God’s call and we honour her Faith, in which her response was made. Her response and her Faith should inspire us all. She received the words of the angel with faith and accepted the calling to be the mother of God. In today’s gospel we hear of her visiting Elizabeth, who was Zechariah’s wife and since he was a priest of the temple, they lived on the outskirts of Jerusalem in a town called Ein Kerim.

The two pregnant women congratulated each other and gave thanks to God. Some of Elizabeth’s words are now part of the Hail Mary. Mary prayed the ancient canticle of Hannah, a prayer Hannah prayed in thanksgiving for the gift of her son Samuel. We recall it as the Magnificat, and in it there is praise given to God for all the marvels he has accomplished – especially for those who are lowly and who yet have great faith in God, who really trust in him. We make that same prayer our own as we thank God for the good things in our lives.

Mary really did trust in God – had to! There was little alternative when she found herself pregnant in such extraordinary circumstances. She was to be a mother to the Son of God. We hear subsequently of her trust through the flight to Egypt and in the ultimate return, not to Bethlehem, Joseph’s town, but to the relative anonymity of the town way up north, called Nazareth.

With deep faith and immense trust she and her husband raised Jesus and after she led him into his ministry, she followed him, travelling with him… … all the way to Calvary, where at the foot of the cross she still did not lose faith in him. She encountered him once more, now risen from the dead, in the upper room along with the apostles and then along with many others, she received the Holy Spirit who enabled them all to share their gospel with the world. We in the Church are the heirs. We owe her lots.

The early Church celebrated her “going to sleep”, her death or “dormition”, as it was called and there is a great basilica of her Dormition in Jerusalem, but no relics were ever attributed to her and the early Church held that her body was not left to decay. Instead, her body was thought to have been assumed into heaven. She is numbered among the saints and honoured as their queen.

So Mary is a model of discipleship for us all, accepting humbly her call and following it wherever it would lead. It was a faith-filled response leading to a faith – full life. Where her discipleship led her, we hope ours will lead us. She has reached heaven before us to be with God. Where she has gone we hope to follow. Prayers to God through this highly honoured woman have long been our accepted practice.

She was and remains a marvellous gift to us.

19th Sunday year C 2022

 

I think today’s gospel has much to say about friendship. In the few days off that I’ve just enjoyed, I had the opportunity to make contact with a number of friends and to appreciate just what a gift each friend really is. A friend is someone who is there for you when you want them to be, and whom you are there for, when they want you to be. Sometimes these times are the same and it is easy. Sometimes though, the call of friendship is less convenient, less mutual and a good deal more challenging, but that’s where our love grows. We learn how to do this, first from our parents. Parents have to be there for their child at all times. A baby in particular may need feeding in the first, the last or any watch of the day! A parent shows us how to be always ready. This is a key part of how to be a good human being, and yes, it is a challenge to become that best version of ourselves that we can.

To be ready at any time to be a friend actually means to be ready all the time, to be a friend. Each and every friendship is, I think, sacred – sacramental really. It’s a sign of God’s presence in our lives all the time. In friendship, just as in marriage and family life, God calls out to us. So in friendship with others we also grow in our friendship with Jesus. That gives added importance to friendship, and by association to all relationships, all encounters. We have to be awake to this, ready to ‘open the door as soon as the master comes’, as Jesus says. This can be any place, anytime, anywhere –‘an hour we do not expect’, even. He particularly wants us to be ready to recognise him in anyone who is in need. We talk of seeing the face of Christ in others, but we might more usually reckon on hearing his voice, retrospectively, when we reflect, maybe at the end of a day, on all the encounters of the day. We hear his call and assuming that it’s not too late, resolve to do something about it the following day. The examination of the day is a very effective way to engage with God.

So there is this challenge to be always ready to meet God. It is the proper disciple’s response to his love for us and to his outlook towards us. After all, he is always ready for us, always there for us. He tells us that, on the day of our baptism. He says: ‘know that I am with you always, yes to very end of time.’ There will never be a time when he is not there for us. There is no such thing as a real absence, only a real presence of God. And it is unconditional. That is what he reinforces Sunday after Sunday in and through Holy Communion.

It is God then, who initiates this relationship of Faith and it is for us to respond as well as we can. The letter to the Hebrews that we just heard pointed out how Abraham lived a life that was a faith-filled response to God. It was a covenant whereby God and Abraham believed in each other and it became the basis of all mankind’s relationship with God, an unconditional relationship of love.  We call Abraham our Father in Faith.

As we are all going to say in a moment or two, ‘we believe in the Son of God who was incarnate of Mary and became a man’, and has ever since, been present with us through the Holy Spirit whom he gave to us. He looks out for us and he challenges us to look out for him, which is to have an outlook focussed on him. Any time, any place, anywhere.

18th Sunday year C 2022

Our minds are full of concerns about our country’s financial crisis. We face rapidly increasing food prices and spiralling fuel prices that affect our bills for heating and powering our homes and for our motoring. We have inflation running at rates not seen in decades. We may have deep concerns about this – not just for ourselves or our own families but for others who may not be able to deal with it at all. So right now any investments and savings we may have seem to reflect a blessing and a wisdom, and yet… in the parable that Jesus tells, the man who built new barns for future security, seems to be heavily criticised. So let us look a little more closely.

A man in the crowd had asked Jesus to settle a financial dispute. It was fairly normal to ask a teacher or rabbi to pass judgement in civil matters, but Jesus avoided that and instead, took the opportunity to tell the man not to allow himself to be held back by vices such as greed, but to ensure that his ultimate priority was reaching God’s kingdom. Nothing should get in the way of this. Then he tells his story about the man building new grain barns. The man isn’t criticised for building them. He is criticised for thinking that this is all he had to do because he had all the grain he needed. No, having the grain, or the wealth if you like, wasn’t the problem. Relying on wealth and success is the problem. There is more to life. In fact, the grain store could be an advantage BUT only if it is used to share God’s love and abundance with others. All that we have, all that we think we have earned (by market values – obviously!) or even justly inherited from others has only been entrusted to our care by God. He will ask us what we have done with it. A follower of Christ must think, plan and invest beyond death, right into the life of resurrection. It is only good stewardship.

And that does change how we deal with everything else in this life. But we live among people who do not see or even try to see beyond death and it is therefore not surprising that the values of society are not identical to our own. Christian values are often counter-cultural. You can hear the preacher from Ecclesiates in our first reading saying to our society ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’. In other words the real value of anything we have, any grain we store up, only lies in what we do with it.

But wealth is not our only treasure. If you heard that the world is going to end next year how would you spend your remaining time? Go on a world cruise perhaps? I think I’d be in a rush to spend more of my available time with God and with those I love. I would be keen to share whatever gifts I have with others and I’d be especially keen to shell out whatever savings I’ve got. I don’t want to get caught with trumps in my hand when the game is up. I would in other words be very aware of all that I have received from God, all the grain in my barn.

But we don’t need to imagine, because our own private world often collapses, doesn’t it? A serious illness or the death of a loved one soon bring us up short and causes us to re-evaluate our lives. Or maybe we have already heeded today’s gospel and we do live our lives slightly differently from those around us, in the context of a promised long-term future with God. Let’s be sure to invest in that future, one we share with God by first sharing our lives with our community, our society and our world.

17th Sunday year C 2022

“Teach us to pray”, they said. Jesus gave them words that we still use today, the ‘Our Father’, a wonderful prayer, gathering us, as it does, as one family with Jesus as our brother. We join with him in speaking to the Father trusting that He will hear the requests we respectfully make as his sons and daughters, Children of God. That first line of the prayer: Our Father, very nearly expresses everything we know about who God is and who we are, and it speaks of the relationship between us. That’s what the Gospel is all about – what the whole bible is about. Other religions offer many titles for God, some of which are arguably more respectful, but none of which could be more intimate. It might be seen as presumptuous to call God our father, except that the prayer was given to us by Jesus himself. Which is why in its introduction in mass we sometimes say: At the Saviour’s command… we dare to say.

So the Our Father is the perfect prayer but there are other prayers. Even on this occasion Jesus goes on to emphasise the importance of intercessory prayer, at some length in fact: ask and receive, seek and find, knock and enter. Again, such prayer expresses truths about God, about us and about the relationship between us. God is all powerful, able to provide. We are dependent, standing in need. We trust and believe in him and he loves us enough to care. So while human parents might encourage their children to not be asking for things all the time, not to nag, Jesus advises differently in our relationship with the Father.

And there are many other ways to pray. The important thing is to pray as you can and not as you can’t. We need to find a practice of prayer that works in our own relationship with God, taking into account the demands of our own life. But just as a variety of experiences enriches an ordinary relationship, so a variety of prayer experiences enriches our relationship with God.

Weekly mass attendance gives us the chance to converse with and to encounter God. But our private prayer life is important too. In that inner life where we speak with God, our relationship grows in a personal and individual way. Through the Church there are opportunities for days of recollection. And there are so many resources provided these days on the mobile phone or computer, ‘Pray as you go’ and many others. A good way to pray is to use scripture, engaging our imagination or our reflective powers in meditation, in contemplation and so on. But other activities can be spiritual too. Walking can be prayerful if we spend the walk mulling over some issue or piece of scripture with God. Ironing is a time that many pray – though ironing’s not for me! But the key is to make it regular, daily if possible, even if it’s just to say ‘Good morning’ and ‘Goodnight’. Such prayer is an act of Faith in God’s presence in the morning and at night.

The important thing is that we do pray, that we do speak with God. It’s what makes a religion different from a philosophy or a theory. Any thinker or philosopher may come to believe in a god who made the universe. After all it’s the most likely theory as to why we are here. But that theory or philosophy becomes a religion when we pray or praise God. And as Christians we claim a personal relationship with God, through Jesus who was born as one of us and who after rising from the dead remains joined to us, for all time. So we converse and we commune with our God.

Anyway there are lots of ways into prayer and there is a note in the newsletter referring you to a programme of Ways Into Prayer that we will be running in the autumn. Monday evenings or lunchtimes. Give it a try.

16th Sunday year C 2022

 So, who are you, Martha or Mary? Possibly a bit of both? Years ago there was a parish near to my own where there were 2 assistant priests. There aren’t many parishes with more than one priest anymore, though as I mentioned in last week’s newsletter the current plan is for a retired priest to move into accommodation in the presbytery in September. But anyway in the parish I was talking about, the parishioners were a bit mischievous and called one curate Fr Martha and the other one Fr Mary. Fr Martha was always very busy in the parish getting things done, while Fr Mary was just charming and would talk at length with any and every one who wanted to chat. Actually they were a very good team. The parish needed and valued them both.

And the real Martha and Mary were a good team. There’d be no dinner without Martha but Jesus would have been sitting in silence were it not for Mary. We need to find both of them in ourselves. It really won’t do for us to be only one or the other. There needs to be in our lives a balance of the busy self that gets things done and the reflective self that devotes time to relationships. But when we leave our inner Martha and Mary to slug it out, it is usually Martha that wins. That is why Jesus chooses to emphasise the importance of Mary – ‘she has chosen the better part’, he says. The important thing to notice is that Mary has chosen to spend her time as she does, deliberately so. We must be strong in disciplining ourselves to keep the busy Martha in check and deliberately choose to devote time to relationships. It is a stewardship issue. We need to be in control of it.

One of the jobs I do for the diocese is to help prepare couples for marriage. And we do address the issue of how busy young people do need to manage their married life. In fact couples these days spend on average only 10 to 15 minutes per day in good quality time with each other, and that’s not enough. We challenge them to commit more time to the relationship, more time to being Mary. We do nearly always have some choice in this and in today’s Gospel Jesus is instructing us to spend time in relationships and in particular time with him.

Our culture has always provided a rest day, a Sabbath day or Sunday and society used to cherish and protect it much more than it does now, arguably. We have reason to insist that it is an important time to devote to relationships. It is a day to spend with family or in other appropriate social gatherings. It is also a day to spend some time, as we are doing by being here today, on our relationship with God. Indeed it is sometimes called the Lord’s Day, so it is even good to spend a little further time beyond mass, sitting quietly in the presence of God, in our sacred space, talking over our day or our week.

And it isn’t just the week that has such a rhythm. So does the year. And now in the summer holiday time while it easy to be as busy as ever, we might choose to put a little extra work into all our relationships, including the one with God. We are going to be looking more carefully at this in September when we address the stewardship of time but there is no harm making some resolutions in the meantime, about how we spend the time of each day and of each week. Cos whatever else happens, Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better part and it is not to be taken from her.

 

15th Sunday  Year C 2022

Today is Sea Sunday. Today we offer our support to the Apostleship of the Sea, those who on our behalf, help those working at sea far away from friends and family and from their religious communities too. Those in the Apostleship of the Sea act as the Good Samaritans to sea-farers in a variety of ways – spiritual support as well as practical support, so it’s good for us in turn to support them with prayer and with finances too.

I used to know a man who in his younger years travelled the world, not as a tourist but as a sea-farer. He worked his passage. He’d approach a captain in port and offer to work on board to gain passage to wherever the boat was going. It worked well and he earned his passage or journey all round the world. He was proud to say that he earned every nautical mile of that journey.

But the journey to heaven is not like that, you can’t earn it, you can’t work your passage. It remains a gift or a grace from God. But it has always been tempting to think that we can get there by our own efforts and that was what was on the lawyer’s mind when he asked Jesus his question. The lawyer did think that you can earn your passage to heaven, and that led him into further error. Having agreed with Jesus that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, with all your strength and mind and your neighbour as yourself, he tried to establish the minimum he needed to do. Who is my neighbour, after all? How far do you have to go beyond immediate family? Does it include friends, or even your local community or perhaps even your national community? The lawyer was keen to establish just who he could exclude, who he didn’t have to include as his neighbour.

And in his reply, Jesus told what is probably the most famous parable in the Gospel, the story of the Good Samaritan. He illustrated through his story that a loving neighbourly attitude should carry you to anyone in need. Anyone can give you the opportunity to do something good. But we can be like the priest or the Levite in the story or indeed the lawyer in reality, and look for reasons not to engage with those in need. The key phrase is that the Samaritan was moved with compassion. His response to the situation was through love and concern, not an attempt to earn his passage to heaven.

That’s the point of Jesus’s story; we see that our needy neighbour could be just across the road as he was in the parable.  We are often wary of anyone seeking to exploit our compassion. So many worthy causes come before us. It sometimes seems easier to ignore them all. But if we feel compassion and do nothing about it we will become hardened and diminished as human beings, so I think that from a young age we should learn to engage, to some of them at least, with some measured gesture.

So the question isn’t who doesn’t qualify as my neighbour, but who could be my neighbour today, or rather who could I be a neighbour to? Could it be someone I know and who I could reach out to in care or maybe in forgiveness or even in simple friendship? Could it be someone or some group I only really know by name, through the media perhaps, but who I could forgive or simply pray for – Someone I really can’t stand or some criminal or anyone that I have so far excluded from my definition of ‘neighbour’?

Compassion, that’s what Jesus asks for. That’s not something we have to bring on board. It is already there. Compassion is something we need to stop holding back on and let loose and express, so that we grow as human beings, full of love and living our lives to the full.

 

 

14th Sunday year C 2022

 

“Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals.” My goodness, that sounds like the luggage restrictions on a Ryan Air flight! But as Jesus sent his disciples out he really did want them to travel light. He did not want them to travel with baggage and he meant that in the way we do these ways when we talk about someone having a lot of personal baggage, personal issues, personal agendas.

He was deliberate in sending out 72 disciples on the mission because 72 was the number of different countries in the world as they knew it. The mission was to the whole world in other words. And it remains a mission to the whole world that we are now responsible for. As a parish we do on occasion support different parts of that mission around the world but there is another sense that we carry the mission to the whole world. Because when we walk out the doors of the church following that all important instruction or dismissal: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”, we go to many different places of work, of study, of rest and of play, all sorts of social gatherings, all sorts of relationships with so many different families and friends, and it is into all this that we are called to carry Christ’s mission.

And the mission he gave the 72 and which he gives to us is to let people know about Christ’s presence or immanence, to bring them healing and to bring them peace. We let people know that Christ is with us and with them, and we achieve that through the quality of our encounters. That’s why his instructions are so important. Have no personal baggage, he says. Let the message be simple and pure. Let every encounter we have convey that each person is precious to God and loved by God. He didn’t want the message confused or distorted. In those days an obvious temptation would be to suggest that the Messiah would free them from the rule of the Roman Empire, for instance. There are obvious distortions in our age too, but the main thing is to indicate in our attitude and behaviour that the presence of God is with them. Tell them the kingdom of God is close to them, Jesus would say – but not by telling them that it is in you! Point out God’s presence in their lives, not your own! Leave that particular haversack behind.

We need to be careful only to respect them, to value them, to enjoy them, to love them – all for their own sake and not for our own. We need in other words to be humble in presenting ourselves as merely empty vessels bearing a special gift. There must be no suspicion as to our motivation. (We must have no baggage.) So with a spirit of poverty we can seek to enrich the other person in a relationship, we can place them above ourselves, be impressed by them rather than try to impress them, and so on. If we reach out and see and identify the goodness that is in them, the presence of Christ that is in them, then they will see it too, and that, then, is ‘job done’. That is the pure mission that goes out these doors with us every Sunday. We must leave seeking our own gain or influence or admiration behind. It distracts and detracts from the mission. It is unwanted baggage.

St. Francis understood this and famously disposed of all his baggage, including every stitch of the clothing he was wearing. And this is where his famous prayer comes from:

Grant that I may never seek so much to be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

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