Worship? Follow? Avoid?

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year CWorld Day of Prayer for Vocations

23 years ago last Sunday, I became a Catholic. It was a significant step – but not the biggest decision I have made in my relationship with God. It was part of a journey – I’d wanted to become a Catholic for several years, attended Mass for a year-and-a-half, attended RCIA for 6 months, and made my First Confession the previous week. 14 April 1990 was the day when I made my First Communion and was Confirmed – and then the journey continued.

6 years ago next month, I was ordained as a Catholic Priest. It was a significant step – but not the biggest decision I have made in my relationship with God. It came only after 7 years of study in seminary and of training in pastoral placements. As another new priest once said to me, on ordination day, it’s as if a tap is turned around – instead of having a lot of stuff poured into you, you immediately have to start pouring out to others.

39 years ago, I was baptised, in an Anglican church. It was a significant step – but since I was only 9 months old at the time, it doesn’t count as any kind of decision in my relationship with God.

What, then WAS the biggest decision I have made in my relationship with God?

20 years ago, I said YES.

Yes to what?

Yes to everything.

If you use a computer, think of those dangerous moments where the computer asks you if it can move 289 files to the trashcan and you either have to check them all individually, or do the risky thing and click “Yes to everything!”

If you have ever written out a blank cheque, lent your car-keys to a teenager, or done a house-swap leaving near strangers with the run of your family home for a week, you’ll know the kind of thing I mean.

It’s that kind of open-ended commitment where you hope everything is going to turn out OK, but there’s that nagging doubt in the back of your mind…

In August, 1993, I was on a Youth Retreat being run by Youth 2000, the same group – though now run by different young people – which is coming to St David’s Sixth Form College next weekend. I was also two years into my undergraduate degree and beginning to wonder what to do next.

I was young.

I was male.

I was single.

I was Catholic.


What about the priesthood?



Definitely not!

The thing is, although I knew I was saying no, I didn’t know WHY I was saying no. What was I afraid of?

I think, looking back, I was afraid that Jesus was going to ask me to do something I probably wouldn’t like. I’d have to do it, because he was God. And once I said yes, I was going to be miserable for the rest of my life.

During that retreat, one of the speakers invited us to take a silent hour in the afternoon, so I found myself a secluded spot on a riverbank and began to ponder.

I believed that Jesus, as God, was the smartest being in existence.

I believed that Jesus, as God, was the most loving being in existence, and couldn’t possibly want anything for me that would be bad for me.

I called Jesus, Lord. If I really meant that he was my Lord, that would mean I was saying I wanted him to be the person in charge of my life.

So… if Jesus is smarter than me, if Jesus will never choose anything which is not in my best interests, and if the Bible encourages me to call Jesus, “Lord”, I was faced with only one inexorable, inescapable, and incontrovertible conclusion: YES to everything.

So I prayed. And my prayer went something like this: “Jesus, I believe you are who the Bible says you are. I believe you love me and have my best interests at heart. From today onwards I will go where you ask me to go, do what you ask me to do. Whatever you ask – if you make it clear what you want, I will do it – even if it is the “priest thing”.

Well, back then it wasn’t the “priest thing”. I ended up in working in Nottingham on a gap year and then at Cardiff University for my PhD. But in 1997, the Lord showed me that it was time for the “priest thing” and here I am today, as your parish priest at St John Lloyd.

No two priests lead a parish in the same way. Each priest brings different gifts to the task. Some have a listening ear and are brilliant at binding up the broken-hearted. Others are community organisers, mobilising the masses to build parish halls and run grand social events. And me? My gift to you is that I am excited about making disciples, helping people to understand the teaching of Jesus, to follow him in their daily lives, and worship Him in their prayer lives. You will understand that a man who once stood in God’s presence and said “YES to everything!” might get a bit excited about this.

One or two of you here today will have made the same journey quite consciously and said to God, “Yes to everything”.

Quite a few of you have made this journey without realising it, and your heart has already said “Yes to everything” without putting it into quite those words.

But there will be those among us who are still afraid of what Jesus might ask of us, who say to God, “Yes, but only to the bits I feel comfortable with”. I was there once – for three years after becoming a Catholic, until I realised what God was really asking.

Listen to the words of Jesus:

‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life.’

The Good Shepherd offers each one of us the security of eternal life, but this comes with a condition: we must listen to the voice of Jesus, and we must follow.

It is always a struggle to say Yes to God. There is a special struggle in the hearts of those who are being called to ordained ministry and to the religious life, and I would like to invite you now to join me in praying a prayer, using the words of Blessed John Paul II, for those young people who are caught up in this struggle at this time:

Lord, Jesus, Christ, Good Shepherd of our souls, you who know your sheep and know how to reach the human heart.

Stir the hearts of those young people who would follow you, but who cannot overcome doubts and fears, and who in the end follow other voices and other paths which lead nowhere.

You who are the Word of the Father, the Word which enlightens and sustains hearts, conquer with your Spirit the resistance and delays of indecisive hearts; arouse in those whom you call the courage of love’s answer: “Here I am, send me!”

Behold the Lamb!

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year C

White marble statues: a lamb standing on an altar, and in sequence to the left: St John with an open book, Our Lady with hands raised in prayer, and St Joseph with his head bowed.

The apparition site at Knock

An image! Of a Lamb, surrounded by angels!

One August evening in the year 1879, 15 people in the village of Knock, Ireland, saw a remarkable sight. On the east wall of their local chapel, appeared an image of the Lamb of God standing on an altar, accompanied by St Joseph, Our Lady, and St John. In due course, the church authorities interrogated the 15 witnesses and decided their testimony was credible – Knock remains the only vision to have been authenticated by church authorities in the Celtic nations.

Not a word was spoken by any of the figures who appeared in this vision. If we would understand the message of Knock, we must understand the meaning of the scene presented to us.

On an altar, stands the Lamb of God. Jesus appears as a Lamb because he is meek, and allows himself to be led to the Cross like a lamb to the slaughter. Jesus appears as a Lamb because he is a sacrifice who protects us from the power of death, just as the Jewish people of old sacrificed a lamb and marked their homes with its blood so the Angel of Death would pass over their homes without doing harm. Jesus appears as a Lamb because he was declared by John the Baptist to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Each of the figures accompanying the Lamb of God has something to teach us.

As we read from left to right, we first see St Joseph with his head bowed in prayer. He reminds us that when we enter God’s House, when we enter this church of St John Lloyd, or any Catholic church where the Blessed Sacrament is kept, we come into a holy place, a place which it is right and proper that we should treat with respect. From time to time we should ask ourselves if we are always respectful of our church as a holy place. We may wish to speak a word of welcome or an urgent message to a friend we see within these four walls – but if doing so disturbs the prayer of even one person who is silently honouring the Lamb of God, we do better to take our conversation outside.

Our next instruction comes from Our Blessed Lady, who has her hands raised in prayer – an image which complements the vision we have just heard described in the pages of the Bible. In today’s Second Reading, the angels and saints attending the Lamb’s throne cry out that the Lamb is worthy of “praise, honour, glory and power, for ever and ever”, and then they bow down in worship. Our Lady of Knock stands in God’s presence with her hands raised in praise.

And we – we also give honour to the Lamb as we stand and kneel for the different movements of the Mass. We sing the Gloria and the Holy Holy at our Sunday Mass because we are joining, on Earth, what is constantly happening in heaven – the angels are singing praise to Jesus, the Lamb who was slain for us. The very words of  the Gloria and the Holy Holy are taken from the songs of angels as recorded in the pages of the Bible. We sing these songs on earth as a preparation for Heaven – because in heaven, we will sing an endless song of praise to Jesus and to His Father, the One who sits upon the Throne.

Before Mass, we gather in silent honour of the Lamb. During Mass we lift up our hands, our hearts and our voices to sing God’s praises. At the end of Mass, we are sent out with a message. We are to go and proclaim the Good News of Jesus to the world around us, and this is the lesson of St John with his open book.

Over the centuries, many thousands of Christians have risked life and limb for the privilege of speaking about Jesus to others. In today’s first reading, we have heard how the Apostles were flogged – that is, they were whipped – by the Jewish leaders who did not welcome the message of Jesus. In more recent centuries, St Paul Miki of Japan, St Andrew Kim Tae-gon of Korea,  and St Augustine Zhao Rong of China, head the lists of dozens of martyrs who were executed for preaching the message of Jesus in the Far East. In the Muslim world, scholars debate whether the Qu’ran requires the death penalty for those who turn away from Islam to follow the Christian faith, and some Islamic states have persecuted former Muslims who turn to Christianity.

What about us? We are free to practice our faith and to encourage others to consider the message of Jesus. In our nation-state, this is our right. As followers of Jesus, this is our duty. And therefore I wish to remind you of two very easy ways to speak about the message of Jesus which I mentioned to you before Easter.

In two weeks’ time, there is a weekend retreat in Cardiff designed especially for young people aged 16 to 25. I know that many of us here, today, have children or grandchildren who have stopped attending Mass. How can we encourage them to re-connect with God? At events like this weekend run by Youth 2000, the music and talks are led by young people; it’s far easier for a young person looking for faith to identify with another young person who has already found it, than with someone of an older generation. It’s very difficult to communicate faith to a teenager or young adult, but it is very easy to ask them whether they are willing to spend a weekend with other young people – an adventure, no less, staying up half the night if they wish, camping out indoors.

So I invite you to pause for a moment, and ponder:

  • Do you know any young person aged between 16 and 25?
  • Have you yet invited them to come to this retreat?
  • If not, what is stopping you?

If the problem is money, have a quiet word with me after Mass and there may be funds to allow you to offer a young person a sponsored place.

The Bible tells us that on the Day of Judgment, the martyrs will be first in the queue, and Jesus will be beaming at each one of them and congratulating them for laying down their lives for Him. I think that not far behind will be those, from our culture, who plucked up the courage to speak to a young person and invite them to this retreat. It doesn’t matter whether or not they accept this invitation – Jesus will be delighted that we made the effort to offer it. But at the very end of the queue will be those to be greeted by the sorrowful face of Jesus. I would not like to see the look in His eyes which says: “You did not love me enough even to pass on an invitation leaflet to one of my children.” It will be similar to the look which greeted the Apostles the first time they saw Jesus after running away from the Cross. But the Apostles were given another opportunity to speak about Jesus and give their lives for him. They were given another chance – and you, you still have two weeks to pass on the invitation – it’s in the parish newsletter – to any young people you know.

In three weeks’ time, there is another Catholic event in Cardiff, and it’s one open to all of us – you can take your children and grandchildren, too! It’s an opportunity to hear the message of Jesus in a way we don’t normally get the chance to experience. It’s one I strongly recommend to you. We can make lots of good excuses for not attending a God-centred weekend. If we have to work that weekend, we can’t go. But if we have children, we can take them, and if we can’t afford it, then again, have a word with me after Mass. If we, the Catholic community, don’t support these events, they will stop running – and it would be a great shame not to have a resource like this available anywhere in Wales.

Jesus once said to his listeners: “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’” It’s easy to make excuses – but the message of Knock invites us, the Celtic people, to put the Lamb of God at the centre of our lives. Let us not be the generation of whom Jesus says: “I put on two weekends for you, but you did not come and you did not invite your children.” Let us be the generation who receive what is on offer, and pass on the invitation to our children. Yes, it’s something different to what we are used to. But perhaps the Lord is asking us to let down our nets on the other side, to see what we can catch!