Call Your Mother (One Hour a Week)

Homily at St Andrew’s, Tenterden, for The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 2022.

Do you remember those BT telephone adverts where Maureen Lipman played a Jewish mother? In the most famous one, she was delighted her grandson had got an “ology” – that made him a scientist! In another advert, she was griping to the world in general that her son never got round to picking up the phone and calling her… until, one day, he did; and then she griped that he never visited!

When we hear reports of the Blessed Virgin Mary appearing in various places around the world, we might be tempted to think that she’s also the kind of Jewish mother who will never be satisfied. At Lourdes, it’s “Please come here on pilgrimage.” At Fatima, it’s “Please pray the rosary every day!” Why does our Blessed Mother need all this attention?

Today’s celebration is about who Mary really is. At the end of her earthly life, Mary’s body was taken up into heaven. Her body was the Ark of the New Covenant, the vessel in which God’s presence had entered our world. It was right and fitting that this holy Ark be taken up into God’s heavenly Temple.

This means that Mary is now, what each one of us shall be in the future – if only we stay faithful to God. We too can become part of the new heaven and new earth which God has prepared for the end of time. (The Bible speaks of this as “perishable nature… putting on imperishability”.) Blessed Mary has no insecurities, no “need to be needed”. She already enjoys the nearness of God, who is love, and she can no longer be tempted to sin or self-doubt. She prays for us; and her Immaculate Heart grieves when she sees broken families on earth.

Our Lady cares deeply about the unity of families, and she invites families to pray together. In one of the lesser known places where she spoke – to a Hungarian woman called Elizabeth Kindelmann – she called for family prayer. She asked that families should gather for an hour on Thursdays or Fridays and spend an hour praying together. That hour could begin with a time of reading from the Bible. It could include the Rosary. It might include a visit to church, if there’s a church open nearby.

This is not a rule. This is not a demand. It’s an invitation, from a mother who loves you and wishes you to spend time with her. It was on a Thursday night that the Lord’s closest disciples failed to spend an hour keeping him company in prayer. It was on a Friday that most of the apostles ran away from the foot of the Cross. Surely we can do better than that!

What if you live alone, or you’re the only believer in your family? This is where your parish is meant to become your family. Maybe there’s someone else here at Mass today you could connect with, and once a week, especially on a Thursday or Friday, spend an hour praying together. You could visit each other at home, or connect using the phone or online.

Our prayers matter. Blessed Mary, assumed into heaven, has been sent back to earth to encourage us and to warn us in equal measure.

Just over 100 years ago, she appeared in Fatima. The three visionary children were shown the suffering of souls in Hell, and asked to pray and make sacrifices so that people still alive would be converted, repent of their sins, and be able to go to heaven. One of the ways of praying for this was to add a prayer to each decade of the Rosary: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need of your mercy.”

If Mary invites us to pray the rosary daily, it is not because she needs the affirmation. It’s not because the gates of heaven would be closed to us, people who follow Jesus, if we didn’t do so; rather, it is because she’s inviting us to become part of her network of prayer. She holds before God all the children which Our Lord placed under her care, with his dying breath upon the Cross. Praying to save souls is our privilege; and when we do reach the gates of heaven, we will experience great joy for each and every rosary, every family prayer meeting,  and every invocation of Our Lady, which we uttered during this earthly life.

I doubt that they make adverts in heaven, but I can just imagine Our Blessed Mother standing in the courtroom of heaven, speaking with Our Lord and the angels about her children on Earth. Of this I am sure; that she will not be complaining about the children who aren’t calling her, but she will be pointing out all those who have faithfully gathered, in homes and churches to pray their rosaries, and invoked her prayers. I can almost hear her words: “For their sake, My Son, send your angels to protect the Earth, so that hearts may be converted and peace may be restored. Let the flame of your love which burns in my heart spread out and fill the whole world.”

To be a child of Mary, to be someone who invokes her prayers, is a great privilege which God offers to members of His family. Mary keeps inviting us to join in this task; it must be important. So not for guilt, not for obligation, but as an act of pure love: Call your mother! All she wants is an hour a week with you. She’s waiting to hear from you!

The Flame of Love

I first came across the “Flame of Love” devotion some years ago, at the back of a random church on some rather inelegantly typed duplicator paper. At the time, I dismissed it as one of many alleged private apparitions. But it was recently drawn to my attention again, and through the wonders of the Internet I find that it is a devotion with full church backing from the local ecclesiastical authority in Hungary. It is rooted in the spiritual experiences of Elizabeth Kindelmann – orphaned by the age of 13, widowed at 33 and called to a life of suffering by Jesus for the salvation of souls. Elizabeth kept a spiritual diary between 1962 and 1966 recounting various inner locutions from Our Lord and Our Lady.

Much of the diary recounts Elizabeth’s own personal calling to fast and offer other sufferings and humiliations. Our Lord asked her to do this for the salvation of souls, and for the rapid deliverance of souls, especially those of priests, from purgatory. He asked her to spread the devotion for the same purpose, and also to restore the unity of families.

As in many such cases of private revelation, the Lord instructed Elizabeth to obey her confessor above what she believed she heard directly from Himself. She experienced a roller-coaster ride with terrible doubts from Satan and glorious ecstasies with the Lord, in equal measure. But a significant part of the locutions concerned a devotion to be spread throughout the world, which I will describe below.

The revelations took place during the work of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) and both Our Lord (25 Oct 1964) and Our Lady (early 1965) spoke positively about the Council’s work and fruits. The Flame of Love devotion will not, then, be favoured by those who believe the Catholic Church lost its way at the Council!

On 27 March 1963, “the Lord said that the Spirit of Pentecost will flood the earth with his power and a great miracle will gain the attention of all humanity”. On 15 May 1965 the Lord again promised “the repeated coming of the Holy Spirit”. The Pentecostal movement, which had already begun to touch Episcopalian and Lutheran churches since 1960, spread through the Catholic Church from 1967. Could this – with many millions of people experiencing baptism in the Holy Spirit and the outpouring of extraordinary charisms – be the prophesied miracle?

Suffering

Elizabeth was called, through her conversations with the Lord, to be a victim soul. This call is not for everyone – the Lord made this clear to her:

A newspaper fell into my hands. After I read a few words, the Lord spoke, “I reserve you totally for myself. Do you prefer this reading that distracts you? Do I not give you all that you need? I do not demand this strict sacrifice from others, but you are my beloved. Even one instant away from me is too much. My love does not rest.”

30 Aug 1964, Diary of Elizabeth Kindleman – emphasis added by blogger

Nevertheless, others who do not have the same spiritual dialogue with Christ are also called to suffer:

My daughter was sick, and I thought of going to the doctor. The Lord said, “Do not go anywhere. It will be better if your daughter is not cured.” I grew depressed because she has a husband and a child. Jesus told me why: “Your daughter always has temptations. By a long sickness, I will fill her with abundant graces and her soul will be purified.”

February 1963, undated

Some Christians who teach on healing ministry claim it is never God’s will for a person to suffer on earth, and we should always pray in the expectation that immediate healing is available. This is not consistent with the words of Jesus here. (Bear in mind that these locutions have been approved as “not inconsistent with Catholic teaching” but that doesn’t mean that all questions are settled. Catholic teaching allows room for the conclusion that there is a vocation to be a victim soul, and for the alternate view that God wills to heal all on earth as it is in heaven. But if the latter is true, than Kindelmann could not have been hearing Jesus authentically, at least on these occasions.)

Teachings

These four teachings were given on 11 July 1975:
(1) Our Lady spoke: “Many are blinded by material things. They cannot come closer to God because material goods are a wall. Even well intentioned souls only make sacrifices from time to time. Blinded by earthly goods and desires, they cannot receive special graces. They do not follow God’s inspirations and do not want to believe that God will lead them.

(2) Our Lord spoke: “People make donations, but they want their name listed. This remembrance is for their own glory. Give your donations anonymously, and the heavenly Father will reward you.”

(3) The Flame of Love prepares our souls for the Lord’s inspirations. If we depend on the Flame of Love, the Lord will enlighten our intellect and show us the most perfect will of God.

(4) The heavenly Father says that in the measure that we love God, the world will be freed from sin. We are responsible for one another, for our family, and our nation. Feel responsible for the fate of all humanity. Our Lady said, “All will see the results of their labours on behalf of the Flame of Love.”

General Devotions

Make the sign of the Cross five times, each sign honouring one of the Five Wounds of Christ in turn. This devotion can be practiced on waking, before sleeping, during the day, and to open and close a time of family prayer.

Parishes should form communities of prayer; people should bless one another with the sign of the Cross.

Spend time in night vigils; such prayer is powerful to save dying souls from damnation.

Anyone in a state of grace who attends Mass without obligation will “blind Satan” during Mass.

Anyone who fasts for a deceased priest will free that priest’s soul from purgatory on the eighth day after death.

The Hail Mary should be prayed with an extra phrase:

Hail Mary,
full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
spread the effect of grace of thy Flame of Love over all of humanity,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

October 1962, request from Our Lady

Three modified Hail Marys will free a soul from Purgatory – and one, in November, will free 10 souls.

Elizabeth was also taught a new prayer, the Unity Prayer:

May our feet journey together.
May our hands gather in unity.
May our hearts beat in unison.
May our souls be in harmony.
May our thoughts be as one.
May our ears listen to the silence together.
May our glances profoundly penetrate each other.
May our lips pray together to gain mercy from the Eternal Father.

Weekly Devotions

Early in 1962, Our Lord proposed, through Elizabeth, a weekly pattern of devotions (no instructions were given for Sundays).

Monday – to fast on bread and water, at least until 6 pm, to obtain the promise that many souls will be liberated from purgatory each time that week when the one fasting receives Holy Communion (or if the one fasting is a priest, celebrates Mass). Medicine can be taken, but the food used should be bland. The one fasting should offer five decades of the rosary for Holy Souls (it is unclear if this is a substitute for attending Mass, or in addition). A night vigil is recommended – it’s unclear whether this is neccessary for the grace. The person who offers this fast will be liberated from purgatory 8 days after death.

Tuesday – make spiritual communions for each member of the family. Offer each person, one by one, to the Blessed Mother. Offer night prayer for them.

Wednesday – make a Night Vigil for the intention of vocations to the priesthood.

Thursday and/or Friday – Families should make a Holy Hour. This need not be Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament – begin this hour with a spiritual reading followed by the Rosary or other prayers in an atmosphere of recollection and fervor. Begin and end with the fivefold sign of the Cross. One day of fasting by a member of such a family is sufficient to free a deceased member from purgatory. Family prayer will also save souls from eternal damnation.

Friday – recall the Lord’s Passion throughout the day, and especially from noon until 3 pm, if possible.

Saturday – venerate the Blessed Mother. Seek for priests in agony the grace of a holy death, and offer the night vigil for this intention.

Analysis

Private revelations are a challenge to every believer. They are, by definition, not essential for our salvation. On the other hand, if heaven is choosing to communicate with earth in a given age, we should sit up and take note. I’ve reflected before on how it would be impractical to try to embrace every possible devotion proposed by the gamut of approved and plausible private revelations; each one is an invitation to a loving response, and we must discern how and when we can engage.

That said, if we believe that Our Lord and Our Lady have spoken to many mystics through the ages, with messages intended for a wider audience, we do well to see if there is any pattern which invites us to a consistent response. I note the following links between Kindelmann’s diary and other private revelations:

  • The “Flame of Love” devotion is about passing on the love of Mary’s heart for the salvation of souls and the healing of families. A similar promise was attached to the Green Scapular bearing an image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary aflame, revealed in 1840.
  • There are explicit links with Fatima (1917). The very first time she spoke to Elizabeth (13 April 1962), Our Lady expressed her regret that so few people had embraced the First Saturdays as an act of reparation. Fatima also requested an addition to a popular Marian devotion, adding the “Fatima Prayer” for the salvation of souls to each decade of the Rosary.
  • The Rosa Mystica apparitions of 1947 and 1966 (not fully approved by the Church yet, but recognised as an official shrine) began with a sign of Mary’s sorrow for priests and religious who fall into sin, and continued with a call for the faithful to practice reparation (penance on behalf of others as well as penitence for their own sins). The reparation was not explicitly linked to clerical sin, but presumably includes it and is consonant with Kindelmann’s call to pray for priests in purgatory.
  • In the “Fourth Teaching” of 11 July 1975, the Father told Elizabeth that “We are responsible for one another, for our family, and our nation.” Responsibility for the nation was apparent in numerous Marian messages. Our Lady’s messages to Belgian mystic Berthe Petit resulted in both Belgium and England being consecrated to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1916, with powerful results in the context of World War I. Similarly, Fatima included a focus on Portugal (through the 1916 apparition of the Angel of Portugal), and the Virgin appeared in L’Île-Bouchard in 1947 to call children to pray for France in the aftermath of World War II.
  • At Medjugorje (not fully approved by the Church yet, but recognised as an official shrine), the locutionist Jelena Vasilj received a prayer of consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in 1983. This included the words:” May the flame of your heart, O Mary, descend upon all peoples,” and concluded with the words “converted through the flame of Your Heart”.
  • Medjugorje also established a pattern of prayer with bread-and-water fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays (for peace in the world) and an invitation to a time of prayer on Thursday evenings reading anew the “Do Not Worry” passage from Matthew’s Gospel (6:24-34). The style of fast, though not the timing, echoes Kindelmann’s Monday fast; the Thursday night prayer, in families or prayer groups, echoes the invitation of the Flame of Love.

All of these connections build up into a consistent pattern: heaven is inviting the faithful to offer prayers of reparation for sin in general and fallen clergy in particular, along with prayers for the salvation of each member of the human race. Passing on the love of Mary’s heart – through Jelena’s prayer, the Green Scapular or the Flame of Love prayers – is a gift for the healing of families. There is also a call for people to pray especially for their own nation, entrusting it to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary.

There is a noticeably strong emphasis on prayer for priests in the devotions entrusted to Elizabeth Kindelmann. Wednesday focuses on prayer for vocations, Saturday includes the intention of priests in their death agony, and in some contexts, the Monday fast seems to be dedicated for priests in purgatory. Why so much prayer for priests? They (we) are a target for the Enemy, and by embracing celibacy have no family of their own to pray for them. Only the Rosa Mystica messages have a similar emphasis on prayer for priests. So of your charity, please pray for the significant priests in your life, living on earth or in eternity!

When God Comes Calling

Homily for parishioners from Maldon and Burnham at their Holy Spirit Weekend at the Sion Community on the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

What would you do if God came to visit you?

Three mysterious figures visited Abraham under the Oak of Mamre. It wasn’t unusual, in those days, to have to welcome unexpected guests. After all, there was no telephone, no postal service – so when guests arrived, you stopped what you are doing, and welcomed them.

At least, Abraham did. For Sarah and the servants, the visit meant work. Someone had to kill the fatted calf, bake the loaves and prepare the meal. But Sarah too received a reward, for the mysterious guests prophesied that the barren woman who baked the bread would next year, herself, have a bun in the oven.

Who exactly was it, who visited Abraham? The passage opens by declaring that the Lord Himself visited Abraham. But the visit happens in the form of three men. Is this God flanked by two angels? Or is it God, hundreds of years before Jesus became incarnate, giving Abraham a hint that God is truly three persons sharing one nature?

The artist Rublev was inspired to write an icon of three angels visiting Abraham – but angels representing the three persons of the Trinity. Here is a modern re-creation following Rublev’s design. On the left, the angel with both hands on the thin staff of authority represents the Father. In the centre, the one representing Christ holds his hand in the symbol of the incarnation, two fingers showing that Christ is at the same time fully God and fully human. Both Christ and the Holy Spirit, at the right, look to the Father in whom they have their origin. Abraham’s house and the Oak of Mamre are visible in the background – but we are at the open side of the table, invited into fellowship with them, even to share a meal.

When Christ first visited the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary of Bethany, Mary, like Abraham, stopped to pay attention to her divine guest. Martha, like Sarah, busied herself with preparing a meal. If we only had today’s Gospel, we might be tempted to reach the conclusion that it’s more important to listen to Jesus than to serve him. But the truth is more subtle. Martha is chided not because of her busyness, but because she tried to call Mary away from spending time with Jesus. Was it wrong for Martha to serve? No – she was welcoming Jesus and in this way she honoured the presence of God. But we have different gifts, we respond to God in different ways, and that’s OK. Not everyone has to be like me, pray like me, or relate to God like me. Not every prayer book will suit me, because different people pray in different ways – and that’s OK too.

But remember, the Martha we meet today is Saint Martha. The next time we meet her in the Bible, her beloved Lazarus is dead – and has been laid in the tomb for four days by the time Jesus arrives to sympathise. Mary is too overcome with tears to welcome Jesus. It is Martha who makes the stunning declaration “I know my brother will rise again”. Not all Jews believed in life after death, but Martha’s faith is unshakeable – and as her reward, she witnesses a raising from death there and then! In her busyness, she was not too busy to catch sight of who Jesus truly is.

Each one of us is invited to welcome God into our lives. Indeed, we are invited to have not one relationship with God, but three, because God is three persons. On this weekend, we have been focussing on the Holy Spirit, who wants to live within us and be poured out through us. Catholic scholars sometimes wonder if it’s possible to receive “more” of the Holy Spirit when new gifts are released in us – or whether we are only experiencing the uncorking of something which was laid down within us in our baptism or confirmation. We don’t need to worry about the details; what matters is to give permission to the Holy Spirit: Use me! Flow through me! Transform the world!

We are invited into relationship with Jesus. We are adopted into God’s family, which makes Jesus our big brother. But as members of the Church, which is the bride of Christ, Jesus is our bridegroom. This is why every Mass is a “wedding banquet of the Lamb of God”, Jesus the bridegroom blesses us, the bride, with his body. Jesus the head reaffirms that each one of us is a cherished member of his body.

We are invited into relationship with God Our Father. Jesus taught us – and this would have been too daring for the Jews of his time – to address God as “Father in Heaven”. By telling parables like the prodigal Son, he helps us understand that our Father is not angry, but is full of mercy and compassion. Sometimes we need healing from poor experiences of earthly parents before we can joyfully respond to this.

What would you do if God came to visit you? Stop and listen? Bow down and worship? Prepare a meal? They are all good. Just don’t expect anyone else to relate to God in quite the same way that God relates to you.

We don’t have to wait for God to come to visit us. Heaven is only a prayer away, and we can visit God whenever we wish. Once we have known the touch of the Holy Spirit, we are free to ask for the prayer language of tongues to flow within us. We may sense God’s closeness as a tangible presence – or our prayer life may run across a dry spell, even one lasting for years – but what matters is that we place the Father, Son and Spirit at the centre of our lives. Some of us are contemplatives, called like Abraham and Mary to stop and listen. Others are called to holy action, like Sarah and Martha – but still with one ear on the Lord. If prayer is already part of your daily life, I pray that this weekend will help you take one step deeper. And if it isn’t – I encourage you to make a little time for God either first thing in the morning, or as soon as you get home from the duties of the day. God won’t insist, but remember – it was Mary who chose the better part, and you can, too.

Angels and Demons

Last Sunday, St Paul listed some of the categories of angels, and in the previous Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” So what do we actually know about angels?

Not a lot.

As Christians, we trust the revelation found in the Bible. As Catholic Christians we trust the teaching of the Catholic Church. Beyond that, all is speculation. Some of it is speculation we may piously believe, but we don’t have solid grounds to insist that it must be true.

The Hebrew Bible speaks of “angels” in various passages and also gives specific labels to two kinds. Isaiah has a vision of winged seraphs (or seraphim – Hebrew words become plurals by adding -im). Cherubim appear three times: set at the gates of Eden after Adam and Eve were expelled; as the winged creatures adorning the divine design of the Ark of the Covenant; and in the vision of the prophet Ezekiel.

St Paul (or a writer in his tradition) offers us two lists of various kinds of angelic being: Eph 1:21 mentions “principalities, powers, virtues and dominions”. Col 1:16 adds “thrones” in its list of four but doesn’t mention “virtues” from the Ephesians list. I Thess 4:15, and also Jude, mention Archangels (which could be translated as “chief” angels). If we allow that “Angels” are also a specific kind, and not just the generic name, that gives us nine distinct names for kinds of spirit creatures.

And that’s it. That’s all Scripture gives us to go on. We can make some assumption based on the names used by Ephesians and Colossians, but that’s all they can be: assumptions. We can assert on the basis of the Bible that there are nine “choirs of angels” but when St Thomas Aquinas grouped them into three distinct groups of three, this was nothing more than theolgical speculation.

Three Archangels are named in the Bible: Michael (in Daniel & Revelation), Gabriel (Daniel again, and in Luke) and Raphael (in Tobit). We are neither commanded, nor invited, to ask to know the name of any other angel. That doesn’t stop an angel choosing to speak to us unbidden to reveal their name or function – but for a strong warning about why we should not ask, read this cautionary tale from Kristina Cooper, originally published in the September 2002 edition of Goodnews magazine. Any claim that saying a certain prayer will guarantee you to learn your angel’s name is a serious lapse into superstition.

The Catholic Church acknowledges that angels, beings of pure spirit, exist, and that they were created by God “before” everything else (this could mean before the material universe, of which the flow of time, as we know it, is a physical property). The angels have intelligence and free will; many of them fell from grace. Jesus spoke clearly in Luke 10:18 about Satan’s fall from heaven, and Rev 12:7-9 indicates that both “Satan and his angels” fell. The belief that a third of all the angels turned away from God is speculation based on the Dragon in Revelation casting a third of all the stars to heaven. This could be a poetic way of saying a third of all angels fell, but other interpretations are possible.

The prince of the fallen angels is variously referred to as “the old serpent“, as Lucifer (the light bringer, in Isaiah), the Devil (diabolos meaning Accuser or Slanderer in Greek), and as Satan (the Enemy or Adversary) in Job. Malevolent spirits in general are mentioned by the Bible as demons (some translations: devils); as “unclean spirits” or as “evil spirits”. Some cause specific afflictions: Scripture mentions spirits of deception (I Tim 4:1); weakness (Lk 13:11); speechlessness (Mk 9:17); and divination (Acts 16:16).

Beyond this, all is speculation. The devil is the “father of lies” so any reports of juicy details from the utterings of people undergoing exorcism may or may not be true, and cannot be taken as proof of anything. Do prayerfully ask your Guardian Angel for help and protection, but don’t expect your angel to communicate with you. Do make use of the Prayer to St Michael. Above all, don’t be afraid of evil spirits, but rejoice that your name is written in heaven! If you are baptised, Jesus has given you “power to tread underfoot the whole strength of the enemy.”

The Road to Jericho

Homily at the FaithLift Day at Sion Community for Evangelism, 10 July 2022

A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho.

You only need to hear these words to know what’s coming next: The Good Samaritan helps where the religious professionals wouldn’t, and teaches us to overcome racial prejudice. I’m sure we all know that Christ calls us to help those in need regardless of creed or colour, But that doesn’t exhaust today’s Gospel by any means!

A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho.

What is the deeper meaning of this? We know what Jerusalem represents – the Holy City, heaven on earth, the dwelling place of God. But what about Jericho?

Jericho is close to the Dead Sea, which lies in a deep basin hundreds of metres below the level of the world’s oceans. In fact this part of the Holy Land is the lowest-lying exposed territory on the surface of the earth! This gives Jericho, in today’s world as much as in Bible times, a fair claim to be the deepest city on the face of the earth. How low can you go? Jericho!

Does this mean that Jericho is meant to represent the depths of Hell? I don’t think so – because Jericho plays a positive role in the Bible. It’s the first city to be conquered by the Israelites under Joshua, when the children of Israel blew their trumpets and the walls came tumbling down! In that sense it’s not a bad place, but it is a beginning place for people who are called on the journey of holiness.

A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Why was the man in today’s Gospel leaving the heavenly city and heading to the depths of Jericho? We are not told. Why were the priest and the levite, bound to Temple service in Jeruslaem, also taking this road? We are not told; perhaps they had family there. We cannot always dwell in the heights of heaven, just as we cannot spend Monday to Friday worshipping the way we can on a Sunday, but when we venture out, let us be aware of the dangers which surround us. The traveller faced the danger of being attacked by others. The priest and the levite faced the no-less-real danger of being turned away from true love by their inner values and fears.

A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Enter the Good Samaritan. We do not know the purpose of his journey, but we know it was a temporary outing. He planned to return to Jerusalem, for he promises to pay any extra charges for the traveller’s recovery on his way back. This hated foreigner now dwelt in the heavenly city, setting out into the depths of the world with a noble heart. Did he go as an aid-worker seeking those in distress? Or as a busy businessman who stopped for the greater business of compassion? It does not matter. His heart was turned to heaven whichever way his feet walked on earth. A heart of compassion will be known by its fruit.

A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Ten years ago, that man was me. I was on a pilgrimage through the Holy Land, and our coach took the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. In fact, we stopped in Jericho for lunch!

The restaraunt was called the “Temptation Centre”. This is not only because it was filled with good things to eat, but also because the road to Jericho passes the mountain where it is believed that Jesus went to be tempted by Satan after his baptism. The Road to Jericho is indeed the road to temptation, because it is the road of daily life, the road where all of us are tested.

The priest and the levite are tested about their religious values, and they fail. It is good to have a sense of religious duty, but not where that harms others.

The Samaritan is tested about his willingness to help a Jew. He passes the test. We too may be tested to cross bridges of culture, colour or character. May God give us the grace to pass such a test!

We are tested in another way, too. “Who is my neighbour?” asked the religious scholar. Jesus replies with this story, and says “The neighbour is the one whose needs you see while going about your business.” His answer is not only about overcoming racism, important though that is. His answer is that anyone whose needs you see, is your concern. Now, some of us may be called, as a lifestyle, to seek out people with certain needs and help them. But that’s a different sermon, about discerning the best way to use our gifts in God’s service. Today is about the needs of people that we do see in our daily life, regardless of how ill-equipped we are to do something about it.

Who is my neighbour? It’s the annoying colleague who needs help with the most trivial tasks at work. It’s the sick relative who needs us to do their shopping or clean their kitchen yet again. It’s the person on the street we can pass by on the other side – or make time to stop and have a conversation.

A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho.

That man was Jesus of Nazareth! He came from the heights of heaven to the lowest city on earth. It was in Jericho that he healed two blind men. It was in Jericho that he called Zachheus down from the sycamore tree to begin a life of integrity. Today’s second reading rejoices in Jesus as the “firstborn of all creation”. All of creation, from the depths of Jericho to the heights of Jerusalem, was made through Jesus and is loved by Jesus. He made peace between heaven and earth by being raised up on the Cross in Jerusalem – but not before bringing God’s message of healiing and forgiveness to the depth of Jericho.

A man, a woman, is going from Jerusalem to Jericho. That pilgrim is you.

Have you failed to love your neighbour? Jesus offers you the same forgiveness as he gave to Zaccheus.

Have you nothing to give your neighbour? Peter and John had nothing for the beggar they once met, but when they blessed him in the name of Jesus, he walked!

Are you ready to meet your neighbour? The same Jesus who descended to the deepest Jericho dwells in the depths of your heart, and he is longing to love them, through you.

What should we do for the young people?

Gather any group of Catholics together to look at the problems in their parish and inevitably, one of the top priorities, if not the top priority, will be, “We must do something for the young people!”

So what could we do for the young people? And more importantly, what evidence is there than one approach or another would actually work?

Here are four things we could do…

  • Demonstrate that they are loved and their needs are important?
  • Foster a sense of identity, so that if the young person is asked “What’s your religion?” they continue to say “I’m a Catholic” or at least “I’m a Christian”?
  • Ensure the young person continues to attend church as they pass through adolescence and gain their independence?
  • Guide them to become followers of Jesus?

A church which has the resources – the physical infrastructure and talented people – might choose to bless its young people with sports or social activities, or some kind of youth club. Doing this in itself will not foster faith in young people, but will demonstrate the integrity of the church community as a group of people serious about serving others. Remember the Supermarket Café principle: if your supermarket serves excellent coffee and cake, will that encourage people to become shop workers and store managers, or only to keep visiting the café to buy coffee and cake?

Affiliation (a ready reply to the question “What religion do you belong to?”) and attendance at worship, are relatively easy statistics to track using surveys. There is a strong debate taking place about whether it’s common for modern young people to “believe without belonging”. Some researchers, such as Grace Davie, argue that it’s now culturally acceptable to assert that you identify with a religion without any sense of obligation to take part in its public rituals. Others, such as Voas & Crockett, argue that in practice patterns of attendance closely track patterns of self-reported affiliation. In any case, for our purposes I will assume that it’s not particularly useful to get young people to simply say “I’m a Catholic” if that doesn’t have a practical consequence for their lifestyle.

Labels are, in any case, woefully inadequate. Sherry Weddell, author of Forming Intentional Disciples, warns that we should “never accept a label in place of a story”. Every believer’s story is unique – but it’s empirically true that virtually all committed Christians have passed through recognisable thresholds on their personal journey (as established by Everts & Schaupp).

Many who attend Church have only passed through the early thresholds of coming to trust the Church and being passively curious about the message of Jesus; Weddell’s experience suggests that “the communal spiritual norm of an average American parish … is usually somewhere between trust and curiosity” with the majority of Mass attenders passive in their faith. Those who actually take up the core mission of the church have experienced a deeper conversion. They are willing to take Jesus seriously and ask questions about what it means to follow him until, like the apostles of old, they “drop their nets” and make an intentional decision to follow Jesus. Patterns of Catholic practice rooted in such a decision will have much deeper roots than in people who merely attend church; but the consistent experience of pastoral leaders across the English-speaking world is that only around 5% of parishioners are intentional disciples (Forming Intentional Disciples, pages 151 and 185 – Weddell has confirmed to me that in this context “parishioners” means visible Catholics who have some engagement with the parish rather than those merely baptised and living within parish bounds.)

So in the light of this, what do you and your church want to do for your young people?

If your aim is to simply ensure young people are more likely to continue attending Mass, there are some research findings which will help you. The strongest influence on whether children continue to worship is the example given by their parents. If both parents attend worship regularly, 46% of their children will continue to do. Church work with children is hard – every leader has to be DBS-cleared and minimum ratios have to be kept. A church with limited resources might choose to invest in things which help both parents to worship, rather than work directly with children – work with parents is not constrained by the same Safeguarding restrictions. The famous story of the Church of the Nativity in Timonium shows how a consistent focus on supporting parents can have remarkable results – by re-focussing on the question of how to make their existing provision more attractive to Dads in their 30s and 40s, the parish almost tripled its Mass attendance!

One activity which has been proven to influence young people to become future churchgoers is Messy Church. The concept is that an all-age event including prayer, meaningful craft activities and shared food takes place at least once a month. Such an activity can also be a useful bridge for unchurched families to connect with the parish before taking the further step of trying Sunday Mass.

Now, it takes disciples to make disciples. If you understand, from your own personal experience, the importance of making that commitment to Jesus in your heart, you’ll want to bring young people to that same place. If you’ve not had this experience, you probably view your parish more as a group of people united by a common experience – Sunday Mass is the thing you do which defines you as a group, and what matters to you is the building where you’ve had meaningful family experiences and the people who have been part of your journey. So I’d invite you to pause and ask why your church does the things it does… and whether you believe Jesus is someone who is alive in heaven right now?

If we’re in agreement that what we really want to do with our young people is to bring them to a place of becoming committed followers of Jesus – people whose Catholic practice flows from relationship with Him – the best starting point is to become aware of the thresholds of discipleship, and the things we can do to encourage others to pass through them. There is no “silver bullet” project or programme which can achieve this; I would recommend a close reading of Forming Intentional Disciples, followed by discussion of what could happen in your parish to help children, young people and adults through each of the thresholds of conversion.

This might mean making some radical decisions which would be very different for the life of your parish.

Suppose there were neither a First Communion class nor a First Communion Mass in your parish? Instead, parents would take responsibility for preparing their own child, and could bring a “ready” child to the parish’s regular confession slot and then choose the most appropriate Mass at which that child would take Holy Communion for the first time. Some parishes are already rethinking their First Communion practices, as revealed in this seminar from Divine Renovation.

Suppose Confirmation were not a sacrament dispensed after a six-week course, but a solemn moment within a wider programme of being mentored for several years in the art of Christian living? This could be achieved through a long course such as Transformed in Christ, or even better enrolling the young person in a discipleship scheme such as theASCENT. Divine Renovation also offers a seminar on rethinking Confirmation.

For many years, the Church has been guilty of blurring the distinction between evangelisation and catechesis. Evangelisation is the task of presenting Jesus as our living Lord. Young people can be pointed to Jesus, but until they make a personal choice to take him seriously, any faith they have is rudimentary. Courses such as Youth Alpha, Discovering Christ and Sycamore can help make that connection. It is only once the young person becomes hungry to learn more about Christ and his teaching that true Catechesis can begin. No child should be enrolled on a catechetical course because of the child’s school class or age group. True catechesis should answer the questions that the child has started to ask.

So what should we do for the young people? We should make them into disciples of Jesus, by treating each one as an individual. This requires a radical cultural shift from the way we’ve done things in the past. The starting point may well be one of drawing the parents within your parish on their own journey towards intentional discipleship; this will bear fruit in their own children and in the pool of faith-filled volunteers ultimately available to the parish as disciple-makers. If you only have resources to do one new thing, run an evangelistic course for the adults. If you have the resources to do two things, also run something like Messy Church once a month. The rest can wait until you have doubled your pool of disciples!

Messy Church in a Catholic Context

“Messy Church” is worth talking about because it’s been shown to bear fruit in an Anglican context.

In 2004, the report Mission Shaped Church provoked the Church of England to experiment with a number of different ways of offering “church” to people who didn’t regularly attend traditional churches: cell groups, congregations based around common interest groups, church plants, congregations meeting in cafés… it gave rise to a formal movement of ‘Fresh Expressions’ within and beyond the Anglican communion.

A decade later, researcher John Walker critically examined a sample of congregations in the Canterbury Diocese and published the results. He did not find that Fresh Expressions congregations were more likely than outward-looking traditional congregations to reach ‘unchurched people’ but he did find evidence that Fresh Expressions congregations were more effective at attracting children aged under 16, and were especially effective at doing so when they employed a ‘Messy Church’ approach. Congregations running Messy Church were 60% more effective at growing their children’s attendance than other congregations using traditional methods to reach children. Walker also found that such an experience of religious community as a child was a strong predictor of whether that same child, as a young adult, would attend a place of worship. This corroborates findings in 2013 (page 69) that Messy Church has a significant impact on behaviour, belonging and beliefs fundamental to conversion.

Messy Church is not a Children’s Liturgy, nor is it a Sunday School. By its own description, Messy Church is “a form of church for children and adults that involves creativity, celebration and hospitality, primarily for people who don’t already belong to another form of church.” Children and adults come together for a gathering which includes a creative activity exploring a message from the Bible, a short moment of interactive worship, and a shared meal. Messy Church’s promoters assert that this is not an addition to church – for the families who take part, it is church.

Chapter 12 of Walker’s book specifically investigated Messy Church. He noted that in an effective session, there would be a single theme – craft activities were not offered merely for the sake of “occupying” the children but because they focussed on a particular Biblical message. For the most part, learning was about “open discovery” not closed answers to pre-set questions. Despite Messy Church’s self-proclaimation that it was “church” in and of itself, Walker found that in practice, it existed as a typically monthly midweek activity alongside more conventional forms of Sunday worship and formed a bridge into Sunday worship rather than becoming a self-sustaining expression of Church in its own right.

The developer of Messy Church, Lucy Moore, took some of her inspiration from the Montessori method of education. This has been used in a Catholic context to develop the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) and by evangelical Christians to develop Godly Play, which in turn has influenced many Catholic dioceses. Implementing CGS in a Catholic parish is a significant undertaking – equipping an Atrium (CGS Room) with all the resources needed, and training a CGS leader. CGS offers different age-appropriate activities for children to engage with faith at their own pace. But CGS is not itself an all-age activity. Running a monthly “Messy Church” activity could be within the capabilities of many parishes which could not hope to establish CGS. Further, Walker’s finding that fruitful examples of Messy Church exist alongside Sunday worship is easier to integrate with the Catholic obligation to Sunday Mass than the proposal that Messy Church should be an alternative primary expression of church.

Based on the evidence presented above, Catholic parishes would do well to implement a “Messy Church” activity at least monthly, ensuring that the core principles are honoured:

  • Each session should have a clear focus from Scripture or Catholic teaching which shapes the craft activities;
  • As far as possible,leaders should pose open questions (What if…? I wonder…?);
  • There should be provision for all ages – toddlers and teenagers too, even if working out something to meet their needs is harder;
  • There should be an element of worship which is interactive (things for participants to say and to do);
  • The session should include an opportunity for families to eat and socialise together.

Dads Matter. But Mums Matter More – Marginally!

Is targeting Dads the key to retaining young people as members of Church?

Some remarkable claims can be found online, such as this:

“When a child is the first to attend Church, 3% of the families follow. When a wife / mum is the first to attend church, 17% of the families follow. When a dad / husband is the first to attend church, 93% of the families follow.”

The reference for this is page 111 of The Promise Keeper At Work, a book published in 1996 and updated three years later. Ali Campbell (Bad Stats for Evangelism, 18 April 2013) tried to track down the source of the data but concluded there was no research behind them; the Barna Group specifically denied being the source.

A different source summarised by Robbie Low (The Truth About Men & Church, Touchstone, June 2003) suggests that there’s a 33-44% chance of retaining children as regular worshippers if the Dad is regular at church. Low has confirmed to me (private communication) that his source was UK Christian Handbook Religioustrends 3, 2002/2003, Christian Research, edited by Peter Brierley; Page 1.6, Religion in Switzerland.

Low summarises the findings as follows:

If both father and mother attend regularly, 33% of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41% percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3% percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59% percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2% of children will become regular worshippers, and 37% will attend irregularly. Over 60% of their children will be lost completely to the church.

Any work with statistics requires a sanity test. Is it really likely that there is such a huge difference in impact between Dad’s religious practice and Mum’s? If so, if such a strong effect is generally true (and not due to some unusual feature of Swiss life in that generation) it should play out strongly in other studies.

The world of religious statistics is a complex domain. It is difficult to be sure that we are comparing things fairly. Some things are easier to measure, such as attendance at a place of worship. Surveys can reveal what a person will “identify” as when asked their religion. Culture changes from decade to decade, and from nation to nation; how relevant are Swiss statistics on life in the 1990s to the future of young British people in the 2020s?

The authors of the 2019 British Social Attitude Survey Report (p21) note that modern Britons tend to be less religious than their parents (Voas and Chaves, 2016). Two nonreligious parents successfully transmit their lack of religion. Voas and Crockett, 2005, used the British Household Panel Survey data from 1991 to 2000 to measure the chances of parents transmitting both religious attendance and affiliation (self-reported) to 1500 children for whom data was available concerning both parents. In the summary below we use “religion” to mean both “Christian denomination” and “non-Christian religion”.

Transmitting Affiliation

First we’ll note how affiliation is considered – this is the answer given by the parent or offspring when asked “What religion do you consider yourself to belong to?” In all cases, between 7% and 9% of children chose a religion which was that of neither parent. Some of the percentages stated below were read off a chart (Figure 3 in the article), rather than explicitly tabulated (the numbers given explicitly did not separate mothers and fathers) so the stated numbers may be off by 1 percentage point.

  • When two parents follow different religions, in Britain this is almost always a case of two Christians who are both “more committed than average” to their own tradition. In this case, about 28% of their children will follow Mum’s religion, and 20% will follow Dad’s.
  • When both parents identify as the same religion, there’s a 46% chance their child will declare an affiliation to that religion. There’s also a 46% chance the child will identify as “no religion”.
  • When a religious Mum is married to a “no religion” Dad, 24% of the children will keep identifying as Mum’s religion.
  • When a religious Dad is married to a “no religion” Mum, 22% of the children will keep identifying as Dad’s religion.

Transmitting Attendance

The same study also compared patterns of attendance by parents and by children old enough to choose – and found the pattern closely tracked the pattern for affiliation:

  • When two parents attend worship at least monthly, there’s a 46% chance their child will.
  • When one parent attends worship at least monthly, there’s a 23% the child will.
  • When neither parent attends worship regularly, there’s a 3% chance of religious attendance by the child.

Since the survey also noted that consistently 7%-9% of children choose a religion which is not that of either parent, the last figure suggests that more than half the children who choose a new religion don’t consider regular attendance important, if that wasn’t modelled by their parents.

Implications

The paper by Voas & Crockett found that in 90s Britain, there was a 46% chance of transmitting both a pattern of religious attendance and a sense of religious affiliation from two parents to their child, and this was precisely halved when one parent professed no religion. Almost all the participants in the study would have been Christians of various traditions, rather than members of other faiths. If there is any distinct influence of a Mum’s faith over a Dad’s faith, it’s that a Mum is marginally more likely than a Dad to transmit a sense of religious affiliation, when the other parent has no faith. But this is only a difference of two percentage points – which might be close to the margin of error in such a study. There’s a more significant 8-point difference when Mum and Dad follow different Christian traditions, with Mum being more likely than Dad to win the child to her tradition. But the survey data doesn’t reveal additional factors such as whether the child went to church with Mum or with Dad in their youth!

These findings pass the sanity test – Mum and Dad have broadly similar levels of influence and there are no stark discrepancies to have to explain. So it is likely that if the Swiss findings were not the result of a sampling anomaly, they would have been due to factors peculiar to the place or time which do not generalise. We can safely conclude that at least for passing on the Christian faith in 1990s Britain, Dads matter. But Mums matter more – marginally!

If our aim is to promote attendance at worship by young people, we can safely conclude that both parents giving a strong example is a poweful influence – and that efforts to help parents to be more faithful to church attendance will bear fruit in their children. The work of making disciples is, of course, much more than merely perusading adults or children to attend worship on Sunday – but that’s a topic for another article.

Less is More

Homily at the Sion Community D WEEKEND on Corpus Christi Sunday.

Less is more.

What are five loaves and fishes among so many? Enough to feed 5000 people!

Today’s first reading is very short. It says Melchizedek, King of the City of Peace, blessed Abram with Bread and Wine. The Bible tells us nothing else about Melchizedek. But this short reading hides great mysteries!

If you look in the Book of Genesis to see the story around it, Abram is in conflict with the King of Sodom. Abram’s nephew, Lot, was living in the city of Sodom when its King rebelled against the regional emperor. The imperial troops captured the food supplies of Sodom and took Lot prisoner.

Abram wasn’t having that. He rallied his supporters and rescued Lot – and the food supplies. The King of Sodom came along and said “Give me the people – you can keep the food.” But Abram gave back the food, not the people. Abram wouldn’t take food from a rebellious king – and he wouldn’t give people into the hands of a rebellious king. And that’s when this mysterious king of peace comes to bless Abram with bread and wine – and Abram gives the king of peace a tenth of everything!

Friends, we live in a world divided between the King of Peace and the King of Rebellion. The King of Rebellion offers us pleasures like food because he wants to capture people. The King of Peace offers us his own body and blood as a sign of his love, and asks for the free gift of ourselves.

We might feel ashamed of what we have to offer the King of Peace. Who am I, that the highest King would welcome me? I was lost, but He brought me in – he has ransomed me!

We don’t hear it in today’s Gospel, but in St John’s version of the same story, the five loaves and two wish come from one small boy who is there. The Apostle Andrew is rather embarrassed by this paltry gift. “What’s that among so many?” Jesus is not embarassed! Five loaves and two fish are quite enough for him to feed all the people there that day.

During this D Weekend, our young people have been reflecting on the Israelites’ journey through the desert. God provided them with manna from heaven. We read in Exodus:

The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it …, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed.

Exodus 16:17-18

Do you ever feel ashamed to come before God in your littleness? The God who loves you is not ashamed of who you are. He is not ashamed of what little you are able to bring. Everything you have is already his gift to you. This is why Jesus takes bread from a boy with loaves to offer, rather than calling down manna from heaven. He starts with what we bring. It’s why he turns water into wine, rather than raining down wine from heaven. He starts with what we bring. And it’s why he tells his Apostles today not go and buy more food from elewhere – what they have already is enough. Less is more. Those who gathered much did not have too much, and those who gathered little did not have too little.

Now, what about the fish? Jesus multiples not only loaves but also fishes. We don’t receive fish as Holy Communion. But when we receive Holy Communion, what we receive is the Body of Christ. The Blessed Sacrament is the Body of Christ – but we, members of the Church, are also the Body of Christ. Fish in the Gospels always represent the new followers of Jesus – he called us to fish for people. Jesus is always looking for new members to be added to his body. We might feel that we are not ready to invite others to meet Jesus – we aren’t strong enough, sorted out enough, good enough. But less is more. We are the ONLY people Jesus has to invite our friends to be part of his body. We are enough, because He is enough.

Today, we celebrate the amazing gift which is the Body and Blood of Christ. Yes, we are celebrating the Blessed Sacrament and remembering that Jesus wants to feed us with the bread of heaven every Sunday, and more often if we can get to weekday Mass. But we are also celebrating that we are the Body of Christ, and in our littleness we are just what Jesus needs and loves.

Some of our D Weekenders might join theASCENT. Some might ask for a mentor. Some might form their own support group. ALL of you have exactly what you need, to do what Jesus is asking of you in the days and weeks to come. But you will be tempted not to try. The King of Rebellion will invite you to choose what is more comfortable, or to give in to your sense of being too little. Don’t listen to him. Less is More. You have what you need, and the King of Peace will bring whatever else is needed to bless you. So doubt no longer but believe. Draw close to the Eucharistic banquet today, eat and be satisfied. You are enough for Jesus.

Coming Together As One

Homily for the closing Mass of the Parish Mission to Sacred Heart & St Oswald’s, Peterborough, on the 7th Sunday of Eastertide.

“Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.”

Jesus prayed for his followers to be completely united! But in a broken world marked by friendly rivalries as well as toxic jealousies, how can such a thing be possible?

In the Catholic Church, we have one leader for the whole world – Pope Francis. We believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Pope – working through the various departments of the Vatican – to teach the message of Jesus to the world today; this is why the Bride, representing the Church, speaks with the Holy Spirit in our second reading.

We need a Pope because we can ask new questions which wouldn’t have made sense when Jesus was alive – questions about human embryos or nuclear weapons. Sometimes the Church offers a clear answer: threatening to kill innocent human beings is never moral, so weapons of mass destruction or any decision to discard embryos are never an option for followers of Jesus. Other times the Church leaves us free to discern our own personal calling: so one Catholic might choose to be a pacifist and anti-war campaigner, while another becomes a soldier or a military chaplain; both are permissible for Catholics in good conscience. Sometimes the Pope even says things are unclear and cannot be put into writing with the clarity we might hope for!

It’s the job of the Pope to give universal guidance about what is permitted or forbidden for all Christians. It’s the job of a parish priest to make practical decisions about what happens in the local church. In any Christian community, there will be limited resources and more good ideas than can be put into practice at the same time. So every parish priest, after listening to ideas from his people has the right to say – YES, we will do this, WAIT, we can’t do that yet but maybe next year, and NO, that’s not appropriate here.

What do we do when we don’t like his decision?

When I was at seminary, someone said, “With your bishop, you can have every word except the last.”

The same applies when you are a parishioner. If you think your priest has made a poor decision, go to him privately and say so. BUT – in public, back whatever decision he makes. You don’t have to agree that his decision is the best one; you only have to say, “This is what our leader has asked us to do, let’s get behind it.”

I once heard about a Christian organisation where the deputy leader coveted the leader’s position, and did everything he could to undermine him. A visiting pastor came along and told the two men to stand back to back. He spoke to the deputy and said, “Sir, the Lord is commissioning you to watch your brother’s back.” The leader was delighted, because he received this as a blessing of unity. The deputy was moved to tears. He knew that God could see the jealousy in his heart. When the deputy was able to speak privately to the visiting pastor, he confessed his jealousy and asked God’s help to be a good support to the leader.

St Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian Church, knew that he was called to stand up for Jesus even when the people around him ridiculed his faith. He received his reward in heaven. He knew exactly why he had to do what he did – he was a follower of Jesus, who rose from the dead.

Do we know why we do the things we do for this parish? It’s easy to take our eyes of Jesus and look at what makes us comfortable – this is the familiar way we do things – or even our own position – “this is my job and I’m not sharing it with anyone else”! But Jesus calls us to wash away our sins and be like him in every regard – sacrificing oneself for the needs of others. A healthy parish shares the work that needs to be done with every member who possesses the right gifts. A healthy parish gets behind its parish priest, gives him the benefit of the doubt, and comes together as one. A healthy parish is a sign to the world that Jesus is alive and changes lives today.

Throughout the last week, we have gathered for mission events in this parish under the title Coming Together that we are One. Our one-ness, our unity, comes from our decision to accept the teaching of Rome and the leadership of our Parish Priest. It also comes from our choice to come together each Sunday to receive Holy Communion. When Jesus said “do this in memory of me”, it was an instruction to come together to celebrate the Eucharist. Sometimes we cannot leave our homes, but when we join a livestream we are stronger than when we pray at different times. When it is possible for people to come together, we are even stronger! When we gather for Mass we hear God’s word and receive the Bread of Life, but we also have a chance to offer our own gifts and talents to make this community strong, and to spend time getting to know one another. If we do not know one another, we cannot love one another!

Last weekend, you may have heard the letter from our bishops inviting all Catholics to return to the habit of attending Mass in person every Sunday, now that the danger of covid is receding. There is always a temptation to skip a Sunday, but when we give in to that temptation, two things happen. The first is that we dishonour God – because if we make a free choice to miss Mass when it’s possible to come, we’re telling Jesus that he is not the most important thing in our life this week. The second thing is that this parish becomes weaker, because any parish is only as strong as the combined gifts of all its members – that is, the members who come and contribute.

If there’s something in your heart which could get in the way of the health of this parish, if there’s anything that tempts you not to “come together” each Sunday, give it to Jesus. Give it right now, in a moment of prayer! And with God’s help, you will succeed in coming together that we are one and the world – or at least Peterborough – will believe!