Homily at St John Lloyd for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad!

But before the marvels took place, there came a time of testing and a step of faith.

Today’s first reading and psalm remind us of a time when people looked at Israel and said – “Here is a people God has truly blessed.” God’s intent is that people look at our Catholic Church and say the same.

Last week, the pope canonized seven new saints. Behind each canonization is not only the story of a human being who suffered martyrdom or poured out a life in service of others, but also the testimony of someone who suffered from severe illness being healed through that saint’s prayer to Jesus. Earlier this month, the authorities at Lourdes announced the recognition of the 68th healing for which there is sufficient medical evidence to declare a miracle. The Catholic Church is the place where God’s healing power is at work! These testimonies point to faith – the faith to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes, the faith to call upon a candidate for sainthood, the faith that Jesus can work powerfully in today’s world, if only we can make the right connection with him.

The story of Bartimeus is a story of faith at many levels.

First, Bartimaeus had heard about Jesus. There’d be no story to tell if Bartimaeus was unaware of who Jesus was, and what he was reputed to be able to do. Jesus could have been just another noisy passer-by as far as Bart was concerned – but no. Bart believed that Jesus had the power to do something for him – and he could only know that if someone had already told him!

Next, Bartimeus takes his first step of faith. He believes that Jesus can help him, so he cries out. Being blind, he can’t make a beeline for Jesus, but he can try to attract his attention. This isn’t a popular move with the crowd! The more the crowd tells him not to reach out for what he believes in, the louder Bart shouts. “Hey! Jesus! Over here! I need you!”

Suddenly, Bart’s role changes. He’s no longer the troublesome protester  but instantly becomes Best Supporting Man – all the eyes of the crowd turn in his direction because Jesus has picked him out!

Now, another step of faith is called for. Jesus has noticed him – but isn’t going to come to him. No, says Jesus, “Come to me!”

What a mix of emotions Bart must have felt at that moment! Excitement. Fear. Adrenalin pumping. What’s going to happen next?

We are told he casts aside his cloak. A blind man abandons his cloak in the middle of a crowd! It’s the only thing he’s got to keep him warm at night. Perhaps it’s also spread out to receive the alms, the gifts of money, that compassionate travellers have quietly placed there for him. Cloak, money and security go flying and Bartimaeus shoots up like a rocket, guided by the gentle hands of the crowd. He has traded his only earthly security for an encounter with Jesus.

Now he stands before the Lord. “What do you want?” asks Jesus. The miracle isn’t going to happen without an explicit request – and it’s played out in front of an audience. The whole crowd hears Bartimaeus ask to be healed of his blindness – and Jesus obliges, with the words: “YOUR FAITH HAS SAVED YOU.” By faith, Bartimaeus cried out. By faith, Bartimaeus abandoned his cloak and came to Jesus. By faith, Bartimaeus put into words his heart’s desire to be healed. And now, by faith, Bartimaeus chooses to follow Jesus.

Two weeks ago, we heard a rich young man, someone important in the eyes of the world, being challenged to leave everything, and follow Jesus. He faltered. Today, a blind man, a worthless beggar in the eyes of his community, casts aside his security and follows Jesus on a road which will lead to Jerusalem and the Cross. St Mark wants us to hear both stories and draw our own conclusions.

But there is more that we can learn, especially as we begin this Year of Faith.

Faith comes by hearing. Someone told Bart about Jesus and his power to heal. We also must tell people about Jesus. The new saints, the miracle at Lourdes – these are stories worth telling!

Do we still believe that Jesus has power to heal? True, not every prayer is answered positively, not every sick Catholic is healed. But Bartimaeus had to ask for his healing, and at least part of the reason that we don’t see more healings in our  community is that we do not ask persistently and specifically in prayer. It is right that we have a list of names in our bidding prayers which we commend to God. But the prayer of faith is strongest when the sufferer or their close family make a pilgrimage, or call upon their priest and members of their community to come to pray alongide them, saying: “Lord, that I may see! That I may walk! That I may be cured!” – and not as a one-off, but as a persistent knock on heaven’s door.

We don’t do faith alone. True faith requires trust in God and trust in members of the community.  Bartimaeus  trusted the crowd to lead him in the right direction, and he had enough confidence in Christ to cast aside his security blanket. At the recent Paralympics, we saw how blind athletes worked with guide runners and bicycle pilots so that both could achieve medals. Blind swimmers placed huge trust in their tappers, assistants with long poles who tap them on the shoulders near the end of the pool so they can swim at full pelt until warned of the wall where they need to turn round.

Blind Bartimaeus could see something the crowd could not: he could see that Jesus was the true Messiah, the long-awaited Son of David, the One in whom he could place all his trust. Through Bartimaeus, the whole crowd learns something about who Jesus is. And in a way, Bartimaeus becomes a tapper for this crowd: though sighted, they need to be warned to slow down and turn around their lives. From their froth of excitement, they slow down to watch the spotlight fall on Bart’s encounter with Jesus. Those willing to see what is really happening notice that Bartimeus’s healing required courage and an openness to following Jesus. Bartimaeus has turned around and become Christ’s follower – will the crowd do the same?

Our Lord does not promise us a life free of suffering; he is the great high priest who has endured the same trials as ourselves. The new  saints suffered martyrdom – among them the Filipino Pedro Calungsod – or toiled among the sick – Sr Marianne Cope among lepers in Hawai’i. But we should expect answers to prayer often enough to keep on asking with the persistence of a Bartimaeus.

So let’s make the right connection! Let us pray with persistence, with expectation, and above all, with other members of our community. The more we pray, the more answered prayer we will experience, and we will have own personal reasons to proclaim: “What marvels the Lord worked for us! Indeed we were glad!”

A Letter to My God-Daughter

Homily at St John Lloyd for the Friday of the 28th Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle II

I have three godchildren, and I remember them all especially in this month of October. One of my godsons was 2 earlier this month, and another will be 6 next week. I also have a god-daughter – or perhaps that isn’t quite the right term, because I was not godparent at her infant baptism, but chosen by her to be her sponsor when she was confirmed as a teenager. Now she is married with a daughter of her own, and today is the anniversary of her confirmation. When I read today’s Mass readings, I was inspired to write a letter, which I’d like to share with you all.

Dear Annie,

Today, the anniversary of your confirmation, I would like to remind you of who you are in God’s eyes. And this reminder comes not from me, but from the Letter to the Ephesians which the Church throughout the world reads at Mass on this day.

You are one of those precious souls of whom God was thinking at the very beginning of time. Before God created the Universe, in his mind he knew each and every one of his children who would become faithful members of His Church, and you were among them.

In the fullness of time you grew up in this world, and learned the Catholic faith from your family. Through a most mysterious gift, God enabled you to receive and believe his wonderful message…

  •  the message that there is an unending life, filled with joy, beyond this life of trials and challenges on Earth;
  • the message that we are invited to be part of this life, and the door was opened when Jesus Christ died upon the Cross;
  • the message that God offers the Gift of the Holy Spirit to each of his children on earth, to make you strong in the difficulties  which life brings, and to do extraordinary acts of love, in God’s name, to those who surround you.

Live faithful to God’s commands, and on the last day you will discover both the great glory you have won for God, and the immense joy with which God shares with all those who are filled with His Spirit. I pray that even now, God may share with you a foretaste of that joy.

Annie, on the day when you were sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit, I became your sponsor, a godparent in Christ for your adult Christian life. Since then, there have been seasons of my life when I have prayed for you every day, and seasons when my remembering has been rather less regular, but I have never forgotten that out of all God’s people, you chose me to be guardian of your spiritual life.

Since we now live far apart from one another in these British Isles, it is through prayer above all that we now remain connected in Christ; but on this anniversary day I also wish to remind you of who you are, in Christ. He has chosen you; in your turn, be faithful and choose to worship and follow him each day.

May God bless you always.

Your Sponsor in Christ,


Now you who yourselves are godparents, what message do you wish to give your godchildren? And if you do not remember their patron saint’s day or the anniversary of their baptism or confirmation, who will?

The Most Dangerous Question

Homily at St John Lloyd for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

Why, O why, would he ask such a question?

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The young man stood before Jesus, and acknowledged that he had indeed kept the commandment to love his neighbour. But something in his eyes, something in the way he lingered there expectantly, asked an unspoken question – “What more must I do to please God?”

We cannot know his motives from such a short exchange. Perhaps he was bothered by the religious enthusiasts in his community. These seemed to say that God expected more. So perhaps he wanted Jesus, the great Rabbi, to reassure him that what he was doing was enough?

Or did he have an inner itch, that ache called a Vocation, which means that something in the core of his being knew he was being called deeper? Was he unconsciously willing the Rabbi to challenge him, to put into words and make indisputable that invitation to go all the way with God?

Perhaps he sought reassurance. Or maybe he yearned to be challenged. But what we do know is that the reply he received was deeply challenging. Sell everything. Give all to the poor. Follow Me. Jesus, the living Word, had judged his secret emotions and thoughts, and spoke accordingly.

On my first full day as your parish priest, I was presented with a question no less challenging. Our Parish Council was beginning to plan our Christmas Dinner. It was explained to me that it had to be on a Friday, as this was the only night on which many people would be able to come. And being on a Friday, would it be OK to set aside the Friday abstinence from meat?

How your priest chooses to answer such a question will tell you a great deal about him.

I could start by pointing out that the bishops themselves have said the failing to abstain from meat on a particular Friday wouldn’t be a sin. I could suggest that a Christmas event was a good enough reason to excuse ourselves from abstaining. The letter of the law doesn’t absolutely require us to avoid meat.

But if I only give you that response, I’ll be sending you a subtle signal that the disciplines of our Church don’t matter very much, and certainly aren’t meant to put us to any trouble.

On the other hand, I could start by saying that since it’s a parish event, it’s something we should do together as a Catholic family following Catholic rules. It’s perfectly possible to have a decent meal on a Friday evening which doesn’t involve meat. I could stamp my authority on the parish by laying down the law, as parish priest, by decreeing that we are all going to follow the rules, and that’s that.

But if I did that, I’d be insisting on something more than the Church’s law requires, and making the decision on behalf of all of us that each one of us was going to abstain. Then your abstinence would not be a freely-offered sacrifice, but an imposition from me.

And there’s another problem. Jesus told us to fast in secret. We’re not supposed to show other people that we’re fasting. Should we hide our abstaining by choosing the turkey menu?

But I don’t think “other people” includes family. It’s almost impossible to hide from your own family the fact that you’re fasting. If I give up Jaffa Cakes for Lent, Mum knows within a week – the packet in the fridge suddenly doesn’t go down! So within our parish family, we should encourage one another in our Catholic practices of fasting and abstaining – but we don’t seek to trumpet what we are doing to a non-Catholic world.

Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves: WHY do our Church leaders ask us to abstain from meat on a Friday?

It was on a Friday that Jesus died upon the Cross. This followed an epic struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. In his mind, he knew very well what His Father was asking of him. But his human will first had to say YES, a total, unconditional YES to God. “Not what I want, Father, but what you want.” Only in this way could the humanity in Jesus be totally obedient to God’s will, and only through perfect obedience could the gates of Heaven be opened for us.

We, as followers of Jesus, are invited to remember this epic struggle each Friday, by making our own choice to be obedient. It’s a small sacrifice – a sacrifice of not eating meat, but more importantly, a sacrifice of our freedom to choose. Not obedience to a direct command from God, but obedience to the Church leaders God has placed over us. Yes, it’s irritating. Yes, it does restrict our social choices – especially on a Friday night. If we choose to make the sacrifice and avoid meat, we have made a small but significant offering to God – and we have shaped our own personality away from self-will.

Why am I abstaining from meat on a Friday? Because I want to train myself to be a person who lives for God’s will, not to satisfy my own desires.

Why am I abstaining from meat on a Friday? Because on this day God saved the world by allowing his own flesh to be tortured and killed.

Why am I abstaining from meat on a Friday? Because I choose to remember that it was on a Friday that Jesus was put to death following the most important decision ever made by a human will.

But back the the question at hand – as a parish, should we abstain from meat on the Friday of our Christmas meal, a Friday which occurs in Advent, the season of patient waiting? I could have made the decision for all of us as a parish, and insisted that turkey stays off the menu. But I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do something much more terrifying! I’m going to remind you that each one of you is an adult Christian with the power to make a sacrifice out of love for God – and your sacrifice ONLY has value if it is made freely.

I suspect if we could ask Jesus directly what we should do, he wouldn’t have given us a straight answer; he’d have told a story. So here’s a true story.

A few years ago, an Archbishop and a Papal Nuncio – Vatican Ambassador – were invited to a civic dinner which happened to fall on Ash Wednesday. The Nuncio suggested that the Archbishop could exempt him from the fasting rules, since the dinner was in the Archbishop’s diocese. In return, the Nuncio could use his special authority from the Pope to exempt the Archbishop.

On the day of the meal, the Archbishop, who had put in a special request for the non-meat option, found himself served with a rather poor quality salad while all the surrounding diners were served lamb.

The Nuncio enjoyed the roast dinner.

Which of the two representatives of Christ chose the course of action more pleasing to God?

As for me, on December 14th, I’ll be having the fish.