Plunging in Confidence

Homily at St John Lloyd, for Trinity Sunday, Year C.

The Earth projected as a disc surrounded by an ice wall.“While my godson is growing up, I’m not going to tell him whether the earth is flat, like a disc, or round, like a ball. When he is old enough he can look at the scientific evidence and decide for himself.”

Wouldn’t that be a strange statement for a typical adult to make? Even if you didn’t know that I was a professional astronomer before becoming a priest, you’d probably be rather worried if I came out and seriously made a declaration like that.

In fact, for the record, I do believe that the world is round, like a ball. The ancient Hebrews thought of the world as a disc floating in a vast ocean, and so our poetic first reading speaks of God’s Wisdom – for which we can read the Mind of Christ – giving shape to the world by “drawing a ring on the surface of the deep”. At the end of the poem, God’s wisdom is in this world, to guide all God’s children.

There are some decisions that human parents make on behalf of their children because it’s their duty, as parents, to give their children the best options possible in an uncertain world. I was taught the Green Cross Code, the six-times-table, and the English language. If my grandmother had taught me Welsh at her knee, I could be making Welsh-language documentaries on space travel by now… but she didn’t, so here I am.

Parents decide what is best for their children. It’s their job! They do it all day, every day, from providing toast, not a bar of chocolate, for breakfast, to setting a firm bedtime which, of course, is never late enough to satisfy their offspring! But Mum and Dad know best!

And yet, when it comes to faith, parents sometimes hesitate. How many of you know a Catholic parent who has said: “I am not baptising my child now. He, or she, can make their own decision when they are older”?

The choice by Catholic parents not to baptise a child says: “Darling, we think God might be real, but we’re not sure enough that God is real to want you to be part of God’s family. If we’re right, God loves you and will want to protect and guide you. But we might be wrong about that, so we wouldn’t want to risk dedicating you to such a loving God right now!”

The decision to baptise a child says something about our confidence in God’s existence, God’s presence, and God’s love. Today, Trinity Sunday, we remember that we profess something quite remarkable: we believe in a God who is One and who is Three. That’s not easy to wrap your head around and the only reason we even begin the mental gymnastics involved is that we’re trying to make sense of what God has actually shown us through Jesus and his teaching. And we use the Name of the Trinity every time we carry out a baptism.

The original meaning of the word baptism is ‘to plunge’, and in a moment we are going to plunge this child into the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the Orthodox Churches of the East, babies are usually baptised by being plunged rapidly into water three times. Our baptisms are a little more timid – a little splash of water on the head – but make no mistake, though the child’s body is only wet in one place, the child’s soul will be fully immersed into the life of God!

Blessed John Henry, Cardinal Newman was able to write, in his famous hymn, Firmly I believe and truly, God is Three, and God is One. If we believe firmly and truly, then we are confident in God – the very word is con fide, with faith – and we can confidently plunge our children into the life of the Holy Trinity through baptism. If my godson, or this child baptised today, wished to leave the Catholic Church – or, for that matter, join the Flat Earth Society – no-one would have the right to stop them. But that would be their own mature decision to respectfully disagree with what their parents judged was in their best interests.

At this Mass, however, we have a family who have made the choice to present a child for baptism. Well done! In today’s world this calls for courage. Some of your friends might think that what you are doing today is old-fashioned or ill-informed. But here, in this congregation, you have our support.

Your task, in the years to come, is to help your child recognise the God into whose life they are being plunged today.

Some children come to faith through marvelling at the beauty of creation – you certainly get the impression that today’s psalm was written by such a child.

Some children come to faith through sheer logic. “Why am I here?” Either it is a random fluke, or someone loved me into existence – and they connect with that Someone, who is God.

Some children come to faith through the experience of being loved. They experience tenderness from those closest to them, who care for them, and see in that love the echo of a Greater Love which called the world into being.


While my godson is growing up, I am going to tell him that there is a God, at whose command the whole of the cosmos sprang into being. (If he’s interested, I can also teach him the maths which set out exactly how that happened!)

While my godson is growing up, I am going to tell him that a man called Jesus, who lived 2000 years ago, was the human face of God – and we must follow the teachings of Jesus if we want to be perfect friends of God on Earth.

While my godson is growing up, I am going to tell him God wants to fill each human being with God’s own Holy Spirit, so that God can live in us, guide us, and help us to become saints. I will tell him that when he was baptised, his family asked Jesus to look after him, and invited the Holy Spirit to live within him, to keep him safe.

If you can say, with Cardinal Newman, “firmly I believe and truly”, then give thanks to God for the gift of a firm faith. But if your own confidence is plunging, if your faith feels uncertain, then ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells within you through your own baptism, to fulfil the promise which Christ gives in today’s Gospel – to lead you to the complete truth. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. Take the first step of faith, and God will give the increase!

And now, in confident faith, let us plunge this child into the life of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Amen!

More or Less?

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the Vigil Mass of Pentecost, 2013, using the first reading from Ezekiel (the valley of dry bones)A glass, half full of water, and a large jug, brimful of water, stand on a white cloth behind which is a red cloth embroidered with the white dove of the Holy Spirit descending.

Sometimes, I think the glass is half-empty.

Sometimes, I think the glass is half-full.

Never mind the glass! Look how much water is available in the jug!

Tonight, the beginning of the celebration of Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the Church’s birthday, for it was the coming of the Holy Spirit which united the Christians into a bold community of servants of Jesus Christ. I think it’s appropriate, therefore, to look around and see what we can see.

Sometimes, I think the glass is half-empty. The bones are dry and dessicated. The whole of creation is subject to frustration. We see fewer children coming forward for the sacraments. We see our congregation shrinking, and not many younger adults getting involved in church. We wonder whether we can afford to pay the church gas bill, or carry out necessary repairs. At the national level, we’re painfully aware of the errors of judgment made by some of the leaders of our church. We are tempted to worry!

Sometimes, I think the glass is half-full. We have structures, just as Ezekiel’s dry bones managed to form themselves into structures. We have enough volunteers to run a First Holy Communion programme – just.  We have enough volunteers to run a Confirmation programme – just. We keep the essentials going. We have a few people enquiring about becoming full members of the Catholic Church. And every weekend, more than 200 people pass through the doors of St John Lloyd church to worship God. Yes, the glass is half-full. We have reason to be optimistic.

The trouble is, we keep looking at the glass.

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”

Did you get that?

Our Lord did not say it in a whisper.

Our Lord did not slip it into the middle of a sermon so we could lose focus.

Our Lord stood in the heart of Jerusalem, raised his voice, and cried out: I’ve got what you’ve been looking for… but you have to come and get it! And taking hold of this requires both faith, and courage!

When the breath of God entered Ezekiel’s dry bones, they came to life. But they needed more than life – they needed hope. So Ezekiel proclaimed to them: The Lord will give you life and re-establish you!

St Paul knew that not even the coming of God’s Spirit will make this life perfect on earth. He acknowledged that yes, we must be patient until perfection comes in heaven. But St Paul also challenges us to hope – to take hold of a firm confidence that God will prevail in the end. In another place (Ephesians 3:19-20), Paul reminds us that we can be filled with the utter fullness of God, and that God’s power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine!

So what is Jesus saying to us and our church this evening? If you believe in me, come and drink deeply of the Holy Spirit! Don’t let your imagination be limited by the way you’ve experienced church in the past, or by the prospects of decline which seem to be all around. Expect that God can do so much more in you and through you.

Now there’s a challenge!

Will you let God’s Holy Spirit use you to invite others to be part of God’s church?

Will you let God’s Holy Spirit use you to be an active member of this parish, making God’s love present in this building and in the world around us?

Will you dare to ask God’s Spirit to make his home in you anew this night, so that you can move beyond what is comfortable, and allow God to do more than you can ask or imagine in your life?

Many Catholics have done this in ages past. They have founded religious orders, raised holy families, sheltered refugees, spoken out against oppression and refused to deny their faith, even until death. We call them saints. And many Catholics do this in own age. They do this by adopting children, volunteering as part of the SVP, knocking on the doors of lapsed Catholics, taking part in pro-life demonstrations, or sharing their faith around the watercooler at work. We call them, ordinary Christians, aware of the high standard of holiness to which all God’s children are called.

If the challenge I have just thrown out excites you, yet leaves you doubting that you have the means to respond, understand what Jesus is offering. You cannot do any of these mighty works on your own. But the gifts of the Holy Spirit, entrusted to you when you were confirmed, will enable you to do all the works which God is inviting you to undertake. So in this Year of Faith, focus on what will sustain your faith in the work of the Church.

Is the glass half-empty? Yes, it is, but if we focus on that we will be tempted to despair.

Is the glass half-full? Yes it is, but if we focus on that, we will be tempted to settle for being a mediocre church.

Is Jesus offering us as much living water as we can handle?

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” So ask the Lord for living water. Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of our Church!

The Holy Spirit and Mary

A homily at St Illtyd’s, Llantwit Major, as part of the parish Pentecost Novena 2013.

In this evening’s portion from the Acts of the Apostles, we see a distinct before and after. At the start of the story, a group of disciples had not heard that there was such a thing as a “Holy Spirit”. But they experience an immediate transformation, and there is no doubt that these disciples have been filled by God’s Spirit because they are suddenly manifesting the gifts which the Holy Spirit brings. Based on this story alone, we might be tempted to say that receiving the Holy Spirit is a once-in-a-lifetime event that brings dramatic consequences. But in fact the work of the Spirit is much more subtle, and we have a perfect case study in Our Heavenly Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Our study begins on the first page of the Bible. We are told that God’s Spirit is hovering over the face of the waters on the day of Creation. Now in Latin, the word for sea is mare and its plural is maria – although Genesis was not originally written in Latin, we might wonder whether God wanted this to become a prophecy, in the Church’s official language, of the Holy Spirit hovering over Maria, mother of Jesu?

The teaching of our Church is that at the very first moment of her life, Mary was conceived immaculate. This was a great work of the Holy Spirit.

When the Archangel Gabriel appears to Mary in Nazareth, he addresses her as “Full of Grace” – already filled with all the graces God can give! The Greek word used, kecharitomene, is a deep word worthy of our meditation. And yet when Mary asks how it could be that she would conceive a child, the angel tells her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her – a new work of grace is yet to come! See the work of the Spirit pictured in light in the work of Elizabeth Wang!

The pregnant virgin sets off to meet her cousin Elizabeth; and we are told that Elizabeth too was filled with the Holy Spirit, and her child leaped in her womb. This sets the scene for Mary to offer a great hymn of praise, her Magnificat. Mary declares that her soul praises God – this means her whole being – but also that her spirit rejoices. This means the spiritual part of her, her own human spirit in union with Holy Spirit, offers praise to God!

A firstborn Son has entered the world, and so thanks must be given in the Jerusalem Temple. There, Mary finds the Holy Spirit at work in the prophet Simeon, who speaks a disturbing word: Mary and her Son will be hated. Mary will suffer in the depths of her being, poetically prophesied as a “sword piercing her soul”. And the mystery deepens: BECAUSE of her suffering, “secret thoughts will be exposed”.

Mary, how can it be that you will suffer so that secrets should come to light?

I believe that the secret thoughts intended here are the thoughts of sinners who are converted, who in coming to Christ, name and shame their sins.

Over the last 200 years, this prophecy has unfolded through God’s continuing work of revelation, for those who have ears to hear.

Our first image comes from the Rue du Bac in Paris, in 1830. Mary shows herself to St Catherine Labouré as one who PRAYS for the world. She appears with rays of grace streaming from her hands. The light in which she is bathed is the Holy Spirit working within and through her. Mary’s message is that God has given her the role of obtaining grace from heaven for all her children, but that in order to receive these heavenly gifts, we must ask. One means of asking is to wear the medal revealed here by Mary, and praying daily the prayer inscribed on it: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you!

The Medal of the Immaculate Conception, popularly known as the Miraculous Medal

Mary’s suffering is not prominent – yet on the reverse of this medal is her signature. The 12 stars point to the woman clothed with the sun, pursued by a dragon, in the Book of Revelation. The entwined M and cross recall the presence of Mary at the foot of cross in John’s Gospel. And the Heart of Mary appears alongside the Heart of Jesus – his bearing a crown of thorns, hers pierced by a sword. In this way, without undue attention, the prophecy of Simeon, and Mary’s role in the Gospel of Luke, is duly recalled.

For the first time, a private revelation has offered us the image of the suffering Heart of Mary. In Bible language, heart is the place of thinking, of pondering, of mental angst.

In St Catherine’s vision, the presence of the Heart of Mary was a minor feature; the focus of her message was on believers entrusting themselves to Mary’s prayers so they could obtain all the graces needed for spiritual maturity. But ten years later, in the same religious order, another sister was granted a revelation in which Mary’s suffering heart would take centre stage.

Front and reverse sides of the Green Scapular

In 1840, Sr Justine Bisqueyburu, in the very same chapel, experienced a vision of the Mother of God, clearly holding her own Immaculate Heart with her right hand; at its top were bright flames. Later that same year, Sr Justine saw Mary again, in the same way – but this time Mary’s left hand held out a patch of green cloth bearing an image of the same vision, and on the reverse, Mary’s heart pierced by a sword, surmounted by a gold cross and with words in the shape of an oval around the heart: Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Sr Justine understood, as part of this revelation, that Our Lady wished the scapular to be promoted widely as an instrument in the conversion of souls. In this way, heaven itself explicitly linked prayer to the suffering heart of Mary, with the work of conversion.

Statue of Our Lady of Fatima, with prominent Immaculate HeartAnd so to Fatima, the title of Our Lady which we celebrate today, recalling the place where the Mother of God first appeared on this day in 1917. At Fatima also she showed her heart – not with a sword, but with a crown of thorns representing the sins of those who mock or insult the Blessed Mother.

On July 13, Our Lady appeared with a call for the conversion of sinners – this time requesting that we add this prayer intention to our rosary by a special prayer at the end of each decade: 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.

In today’s Gospel, Our Lord warns us that the Christian life will not be free of suffering – “In the world you will find trouble.” In the same vision of 13 July 1917 , Mary taught us how to transform the sufferings which come our way into pious offerings: O Jesus, it is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The three visionary children of Fatima took Our Lady’s message to heart, and found simple, childlike ways to make these sacrifices, giving up their packed lunches or enduring the nettles and brambles of the Portuguese countryside. Soon, two of them would be taken to heaven when a great influenza epidemic swept across Europe. Sr Lucia was spared, entering a convent where in 1925 she received a further vision: an invitation, on the First Saturday of each month, to spend extra time in meditating on the mysteries of the rosary: an act of love for Mary in compensation for those who do not love her, or even deliberately insult her.

Beauraing Apparition - the Virgin with the Golden HeartHeaven’s gradual revealing of the Heart of Mary concluded in Belgium in 1933. At Beauraing, we were shown Our Lady’s heart of gold, pierced neither by sword nor thorns. Here Our Lady’s message was simple, and might be expressed in this way: Your heart can be like mine, burning with pure love, if you pray much and sacrifice yourself for sinners.

What, though, of the work of the Holy Spirit?

In 1929, Sr Lucia of Fatima received a final vision. Here she was explicitly shown the Dove representing the work and presence of the Holy Spirit, on the breast of God the Father. Together, Father, Son and Spirit offer the gift of salvation to the world. Because of the death of Jesus we receive MERCY – our sins are not to be punished – and Mary, through her Immaculate Conception, received the fullest gift of mercy imaginable.

The Last Vision of Fatima

This vision reminds us that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit wish to send us graces – the spiritual gifts which we need. The greatest grace is the gift of the Spirit himself! In this image, we see the Eucharist, flowing from the wounded side of Christ – but the light itself represents the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. Notice how Mary’s breast is filled with light, and the rays continue towards the visionary Sr Lucia kneeling before the altar. In all of the preceding visions, although we have not explicitly seen the Holy Spirit, we have seen the light which represents God’s gift of grace. Each ray of light is a grace, a gift borne on the wings of the Heavenly Dove.

Let us return, for a moment, to the Scriptures. We are given one final glimpse of Mary, in her earthly life, at the start of the Book of Acts, where she is gathered with the apostles in prayer, awaiting the day of Pentecost. Therefore we assume she was with the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, and with the Apostles, received the gift of the Holy Spirit anew.

Even Mary, full of grace, receives the Spirit in new ways at different times. Her Immaculate Conception. Her Annunciation. The inspiration which prompted her Magnificat. The Day of Pentecost. Mary is a sign to us that we do not receive the Holy Spirit once only. It is true that there may be moments in our life when the Spirit comes in a dramatic way to release something for the first time, as the disciples at Ephesus experienced. But the Spirit has many gifts, and some are bestowed in more subtle ways.

If you would approach God’s throne humbly, then do what the Blessed Mother asked of us through St Catherine Labouré: pray for the graces which God wishes to give you through the hands of Mary.

If you are feeling a little bolder, then come confidently before God and pray to have your capacity for grace increased!

Our Lady of the Taper, holding the child Jesus and a lit candleThe signs of the Holy Spirit are wind and flame. I wish to leave you with one final image – Our Lady of the Taper. You can see clearly that Mary is holding her Son – but the taper in the other hand represents the light of the Holy Spirit. More than that, a taper is the kind of candle meant for passing on a flame. See, Our Lady is offering us not only her Divine Son, but also the Holy Spirit!

Holy Mother of God, pray that we may receive, through your hands, the gifts of the Spirit which we do not even realise we need to ask for!

The Ascension Challenge

Homily at St John Lloyd, for Ascension Sunday, Year C.

Jesus ascended into heaven.

Why do you think he did that?

This rock, around which a small chapel has been built at Mount Olivet, is the traditional site from which Jesus could have ascended into Heaven.

The Risen Jesus was capable of appearing and disappearing at will. He walked through a locked door to greet the Apostles on Easter Sunday Night. He disappeared after breaking bread with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Later, he would speak to St Paul in a blinding vision.

So why did Jesus make a special arrangement with his Apostles, that they should come to a mountain and see him rise into the air, disappearing into the clouds?

It certainly drew a line under the appearances of the Risen Jesus. He wanted to do something different so his followers would know he was NOT going to be appearing to them regularly. From now on the Church was to be entrusted to his followers – not on their own, but guided by the Holy Spirit who would soon be sent to them.

This gives us challenge number one: we preach a message about a man who was God and rose from the dead – but we don’t have his living body to show as proof! Do we really believe that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven? Or in other words, do we trust the eyewitness account of the Apostles which is recorded in the Bible?

The angels who appeared told the Apostles that Jesus was coming back in the same way they had seen him go. The apostles got the wrong impression – for the first few years they believed and taught that Jesus was coming back to judge the world ‘any day now’. As time passed they realised Jesus wasn’t returning as quickly as they thought.

This gives us challenge number two: we preach a message, and profess in our Creed, that one day Jesus will come back; this world as we know it will end; the dead will be raised to life; and all people will be judged by Jesus. Do we really believe that Jesus is coming back to judge the world?

There’s something more. Jesus wanted to give his followers a visible sign that his Risen Body was going to heaven. I think this was meant to give us hope – to remind us that our destiny, as followers of Christ, is for us to become like Him. One day we shall go to heaven. One day we shall also have bodies like His. But more than that, we are called to live like Jesus here and now!

This gives us challenge number three: Jesus promised the Apostles the Holy Spirit. If we’ve been baptised, we have already received God’s Spirit, given to make us Holy, living images of Jesus. If we have received the Sacrament of Confirmation, we have received the Holy Spirit in a deeper way, meant to give us the power to do Christ-like things in the world. That is, to love as Jesus loved, to speak as Jesus spoke, to bring light into darkness, to go the extra mile in helping those in need. But like any relationship, our relationship with God’s Spirit takes work.

Just as it is not enough to say “I do!” on a wedding day without waking up each morning with a firm intention to put your husband’s, or wife’s, needs ahead of your own, so it is not enough to be confirmed without waking up each morning saying, “Come, Holy Spirit, I need you!”

But it is not always a comfortable thing to allow the Holy Spirit full access to your life.

When God’s Spirit opens your mind, you become more aware of the small yet sinful habits which you have fallen into, and the Spirit will give you no peace until you repent.

When God’s Spirit opens your eyes, you notice that your neighbour in Cardiff needs a little of your care and attention, and that your neighbour in the poorest part of the world, living on a dollar a day, needs a little of your hard-earned cash.

When God’s Spirit opens your heart, you become more aware of how deeply God loves you – but also of the words of affirmation which God might want you to speak to others.

The question is not: “Have you got the Holy Spirit?” If you have been baptised and confirmed, then yes, you have. It is only grievous and deliberate sin which can cause the Holy Spirit to flee from the heart of a Christian soul.

The question is: “Has the Holy Spirit got you?” You will know when the Spirit has got you, because you will know, deep down, you are still being challenged to become an even closer image of Jesus Christ.

This doesn’t happen on its own. Even Jesus’ own hand-picked apostles had to spend nine days praying – and we are told, praying continuously – before the Spirit could come at Pentecost. During this next week, the week leading to our annual remembrance of that Pentecost, perhaps we could at least take one minute each day to pray “Come, Holy Spirit, I need you!”

Let me finish by echoing the words of St Paul: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, send anew into your hearts the Holy Spirit. May he make you open to all the Holy Spirit wishes to do in your life. May God’s Spirit cause you to rejoice in the goodness of God and fill you with hope of a joyful reward at the end of a life spent in his service.

And have great confidence in what God can do – this promise is for you and for your children!

Preparing for Confirmation

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the Vigil of Ascension Sunday, Year C, with the enrollment of candidates for Confirmation.

Today is all about getting ready to be confirmed.

Holy Spirit as Dove on red background

In July, Archbishop George will come to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation – to pray for God’s Holy Spirit to come on you in a new and deeper way.

But before that happens, we have to get ready. The parish catechists will be working with you over the next few weeks to help you prepare.

Now that’s a bit of a pain, isn’t it!

Having to come to church for special sessions for a few weeks.

Can’t the bishop just come, pray for the Holy Spirit, and that’s that?


Even Jesus’ own hand-picked apostles had to wait and prepare for their confirmation.

How do we know? It’s in today’s readings. 40 days after he rose from the dead, Jesus appeared one last time to his apostles and he said: My Father and I are going to send you the Holy Spirit. Go into the city and wait!

Urgh! Waiting! Who likes waiting?

But the apostles had to wait.

While they waited, they daydreamed about what would happen when the Spirit came.

Some of them hoped that God’s Spirit would give them superpowers, to kick butt and chase the Romans out of Jerusalem. But Jesus had dropped plenty of hints that this wasn’t the kind of thing he had picked the apostles for.

Instead, we need to listen to St Paul’s letter to find out what the Holy Spirit does. And what St Paul tells us is that the Holy Spirit helps us understand God’s message better.

First of all, God wants you to know that you are absolutely fantastic. I don’t mean that God is always impressed with the all the stuff you do – and I won’t ask the parents and relatives here this evening if they are always impressed by the stuff you do – but even when you mess up, God is rooting for you. If you let the Holy Spirit speak deeply to your heart, you will know, just know, that God will never abandon you as long as you try to do what’s right.

Second, God wants to challenge you to do stuff like Jesus. That means that instead of looking for the most popular person so you can hang out with them, the Holy Spirit wants to open your eyes to see the person who gets left out, or the one who’s feeling glum. When you spot that person in need, go and offer your help and your friendship.

Third, God wants you to be peacemakers. If you let the Holy Spirit get hold of you, God will nudge you to be the first to stop a fight, the last to start one, and quick to say sorry once the red mist has cleared away and you know you’re in the wrong. Every time you make peace or say sorry, you grow a little in God’s eyes. You might think you’ll lose some respect from your friends – what matters is that you gain respect from God. You might not believe that right now, but that’s why God wants to put His Spirit in you – to take away the values of the world around us and write God’s values on your heart instead.

So back to the Apostles. What did they do while they were waiting for the Holy Spirit? They prayed! The Book of Acts tells us that the 11 Apostles joined with Mary the Mother of Jesus and some of the other women and men, and they prayed continuously! They spent a whole week praying! On the tenth day, the day of Pentecost, Jesus kept his promise, and the Holy Spirit came.

Well, I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is that we can’t rush your confirmation through in ten days’ time like the Apostles. The good news is that since we have a little longer, you don’t have to spend all day, every day, praying. But during this time of preparation, it is important to remember to pray. So I’m going to suggest a quick way you can pray to God every morning.

First, you need to pick up your phone. No, not the one in your pocket, the one you were born with.

Next, you need to dial the right connection. The phone is voice activated and it goes like this: “Come Holy Spirit!” You might not hear it ringing, but trust me, the connection always works.

Now, these three fingers in the middle remind are to you of the three things it’s always good to say to God. “Sorry! Thanks! Please!” So before you make the call, there are three things to think about. What do I need to say sorry to God for? What good stuff has happened that I ought to say thank you for? And what help do I – or the people I know – need from God today?

God knows what you are thinking about, so you don’t need to spend a long time putting it into words. He understands. Just remember that “Sorry! Thanks! Please!” together make a really good prayer.

When you’re done, you can hang up. This phone has a voice-activated hang-up code too, it goes like this: “Amen.” The call’s over, and you can get on with your day.

Now, a word to your sponsors and families. You have already been confirmed, so you have an even greater responsibility to pray. I would like to invite you to pray daily for each candidate. You can pray in your own words, or you could offer a Hail Mary each day, and leave the prayers in the hands of the Mother of God.

Finally, a word to each and every person here present this evening: It’s not enough to be confirmed, and allow the Archbishop to pray for God’s Spirit to make a home in you. You need to keep inviting the holy Spirit to stay with you each day of your life! If you keep asking God’s Spirit to guide you each day, you too will experience God’s glory.

Let me finish by echoing the words of St Paul: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, send anew into your hearts the Holy Spirit. May he make you open to all the Holy Spirit wishes to do in your life. May God’s Spirit cause you to rejoice in the goodness of God and fill you with hope of a joyful reward at the end of a life spent in his service.

And have great confidence in what God can do – this promise is for you and for your children!

Entering the Temple

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

One hot summer, two Christians were walking through parched farmland, when they met a farmer. He started complaining that it hadn’t rained for weeks and if they didn’t see some rain soon, his crops would be ruined.

One of the Christians challenged the farmer: “If we pray for rain and rain comes quickly, will you become a follower of Jesus Christ?” The farmer agreed that he would, whereupon she knelt on the ground and clasped her hands in prayer. But before a word could pass her lips, her companion tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Wait a minute! Would you mind if we didn’t pray until after we reach our destination? We’re not carrying any umbrellas!”

Umbrella, sun tan lotion, and prayer stool

Prayer, of course, isn’t just about asking God for things. There are prayers which express sorrow for the wrong choices we’ve made. There are prayers of thanksgiving for the good gifts which we’ve received. And best of all, there’s the kind of prayer which just praises God for being God. If we wrote down our prayers, some would be thank-you notes, but others would be love-letters! What all prayer has in common, is that it’s about us choosing to reach out and deliberately take part in a conversation with God.

I’m speaking about prayer because it helps us to understand today’s reading from the Apocalypse, or Book of Revelation, which presents us with some very mysterious images.

Today we’re given the picture of a great city, protected by walls with twelve gates. Inside the city, we find God – God the Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no Temple, no Church, no place of worship in this city. None is needed – for God Himself is there for us to speak to and enjoy.

We don’t yet live in this city. One day, when we reach heaven, we shall live with God. But right now, we’re still here on Earth. So we need to do things to help us connect with God. We need church buildings. We need the sacraments – we need the Eucharist, in which Jesus the Lamb of God is hidden in the form of bread. And we need to make a time and a place in our lives to reach out to God – to pray.

Today’s Gospel contains an extraordinary promise. “If you love me,” says Jesus, “My Father and I will come and make our home with you!” If we love someone, we choose to spend time with that person – we choose to share our innermost thoughts with that person – we give part of our very life to that person. And here Jesus makes a wonderful promise: if you show your love for me by giving time for prayer, have no doubt that my Father and I will be with you. You might not sense God’s presence. Prayer might not lead to wonderful feelings – indeed, at times, our prayer can feel very dry and tedious – but be sure of this: if you do pray, God will be with you.

How, then, can we make prayer part of our daily life? I’m guessing that most of us gathered here probably learned to pray as children: “God bless Mummy and Daddy; I’m sorry for what I’ve done wrong; bless the people I know who are ill.” But sometimes our prayer life doesn’t “grow up” as we move through life. As adults, we need to learn other, more mature, ways of praying.

For instance: We know that life isn’t perfect, that things can and do go wrong. We try to make life as comfortable as we can for our children. But as adults, we have worries about money, about relationships, about illness… things which are beyond our power to control. An adult prayer in the face of these things says: “God, give me the strength to face those things I cannot change, and when I can’t avoid suffering, I choose to unite it to Jesus, dying on the Cross.” In that way, our personal suffering can be used by Jesus to help pay the price of the world’s sin, and we become more closely united to Him. Remember, the more closely we are united to Jesus, the closer we are to being the saints that God is calling us to be.

We can also learn to confide in Jesus as one adult friend confides in another. We can, and should, use set texts like the Lord’s Prayer for our prayers – but it’s good also to speak to Jesus in our own words. Remember that He loves you, and nothing you can say to Him will shock or disappoint Him – He already knows your innermost heart. So take time to tell Jesus about what’s worrying you, and what’s delighting you; this is a truly adult prayer. Even seemingly trivial things can be a suitable conversation in prayer – for if you can tell something to your best friend on Earth, why could you not say the same thing to your True Friend in heaven? So remember not only to tell Jesus about your problems and needs, but to speak of the good things happening in your life – and then say “thank you”, for all the goodness in the created world was made by the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We should also make time for expressing our sorrow – but before we do this we must have a good idea of the kind of life God wishes us to lead. Sin comes into our life whenever we know that God is asking us to choose to do something, or choose to avoid something, but we make the wrong choice. When we recognise this, the very best thing we can do is to be honest with God immediately – “O Lord, I am sorry, I have made the wrong choice!” – and if it concerns a more serious matter, to confess it also in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Now, a word of caution. There are some ways of praying that we should avoid. The gates to God’s city are marked with the names of the Tribes of Israel and the 12 Apostles – a sign that the way to reach God is by following the teaching of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. You will find books and websites which suggest other ways of praying, ways based on religions from the East, or rooted in “New Age” spirituality. Now the Catholic Church rejects nothing good from other religions – but not everything is good. Some Eastern ways of meditating are about emptying our mind rather than trying to make a connection with God; this is not true, God-seeking, prayer. And there are many New Age books about angel-power or spiritual energy; again, these aren’t appropriate ways of praying because we profess that God alone is our Lord; we don’t need to try to make any other kind of spiritual connection. If we do choose to speak to saints or angels in our prayers, this must always be to ask them to pray to God on our behalf. I won’t say more about this from the pulpit, because it’s a very deep topic, but if it’s relevant to you, please do come and have a chat in confidence, at a suitable time.

Finally, consider one thing you might have done as a child but perhaps no longer do – do you kneel for your private prayers? Kneeling is childlike, but not childish – it reminds us of how great God is and how little we are in his presence. I know that for some of us, this is no longer physically possible; but if you can kneel, I encourage you do so so, are least for the first couple of minutes of your prayer. Scripture says: “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will raise you up.”

Remember, to fail to plan is to plan to fail. So make a plan. Decide when and where you are going to pray in the days and weeks to come. Kneel in God’s presence, if you can. Treat God with the respect which God always deserves. Prepare for the Lord your thank-you note and your love-letter. But pray with faith. If you’re going to ask God for a fine day on Bank Holiday Monday, buy the sun-tan lotion first!

Jokes adapted from texts by Ravi Zacharias and “Sermon Jokes”.

Some inspiration – and much further good advice on prayer – from Elizabeth Wang.