Everyday Saints

Fra Angelico's The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and MartyrsHomily at St Philip Evans, for The 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

“Don’t you realise that God wants you to become a saint?”

Think about that for a moment. It’s a comment I often throw into a conversation. I know what the answer is likely to be: “Oh no! Not me! I could never be a saint.”

I think that most of us have decided that there are three kinds of people in this world.

First, there are saints: – great heroes of generosity like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta; women and men of deep prayer, like St Therese of Lisieux; and martyrs, like St Philip Evans – or the 81 men, women and children killed when a bomb exploded in a church in Pakistan last Sunday.

Then there are ordinary Catholics, people like you and me, who don’t do heroic deeds but get on with ordinary daily life.

And there are rotters like the filthy rich scumbag who never fed the beggar at his gates and got what he deserved when he died.

Think again! If saints go to heaven, and rotters go to hell, where do ordinary Catholics go?

In the story Jesus told, Lazarus, the beggar, went to heaven. Jesus doesn’t say that Lazarus did any remarkable kind deeds. His life was mostly suffering and misery. But God, who blesses the poor and lowly, takes him into heaven. That can mean only one thing: Lazarus is a saint.

When Blessed John Paul II addressed crowds of millions of young people, he frequently said to them: “Do not be afraid to be saints of the new millennium.” What did he mean by this? He spelled it out in these terms:


Listen to God’s Word.

Draw strength from God through Holy Communion and by receiving absolution by confessing your sins to a priest.

Show that human life is valuable from conception until natural death by your words and actions.

Serve your brothers and sisters – that is, look after the needs of the other members of your church community.

Forgive others.

Where you see injustice in the world around you, do something about it.

Make peace with others.

Know what the Catholic faith teaches, and live it out consistently.

When Pope Benedict XVI visited Britain and spoke to young people three years ago, he also invite them to become saints, saying “We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone…  Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts. Not only does God love us with a depth and an intensity that we can scarcely begin to comprehend, but he invites us to respond to that love.”

Once we come to know God’s love, he added, “You begin to feel compassion for people in difficulties and you are eager to do something to help them. You want to come to the aid of the poor and the hungry, you want to comfort the sorrowful, you want to be kind and generous. And once these things begin to matter to you, you are well on the way to becoming saints.”

St Paul gave similar advice to Timothy in today’s second reading. “Be saintly”, he said, showing faith, love, patience, and gentleness. He called it “fighting the good fight”. There is a battle raging within us – a battle which we lose whenever we put our selfish needs first. It is a battle which we win whenever we choose God’s will and treat others with generosity and undeserved forgiveness.

We can support each other in the battle. We can encourage each other in good deeds. We can pray for each other. Did you notice what I prayed for all of you in today’s opening prayer? “Make those who hasten to attain your promises, heirs to heaven.” In other words I was praying for those of you present who choose to respond to God’s will quickly, to be blessed by going to heaven.

In this parish, for some years, you have prayed: “Lord, use me as you will.” But have you taken the next step? Have you sat down in private and prayed: “Lord, show me what your will is for me?” Have you tried to find the answer through reviewing the gifts and opportunities which God has given you? The Popes were speaking to young people. We may not be so young – and that makes the need to respond to God’s call all the more urgent!

Do not wait for a bolt from the blue. Jesus tells us that no-one will be raised from the dead to give a warning just to this rich man’s corrupt family. The only thing we have to prompt us is what we know already – that Jesus did rise from the dead and he left us this parable as a warning.

There are indeed three categories of people, but it works like this:

There are rotters, who do not heed God’s command – either from the voice of preachers, or from the voice of conscience bothering them within. Such persons are in real danger of spending eternity in Hell.

There are extraordinary saints, who are called to do rare things like founding religious orders, becoming Popes, or making missionary journeys to dangerous lands. Few of us will be called to these heights.

And there are everyday saints, who secure their place in heaven by – as St David once said – “being faithful in the little things”. So today I make an earnest recommendation to you: Become a saint. Be an extraordinary saint, or be an everyday saint, but either way, become a saint. Pray every day, love your neighbours and your enemies, live out your Catholic faith. After all, there’s only one alternative to becoming a saint, in the end, and I promise you this – you won’t like it!

A note to regular readers

Dear Readers,

For the last year and a half, I have been posting my Sunday homilies to appear after I have celebrated the last Sunday Mass at which they are preached – I have not wanted to spoil the surprise of hearing something for the first time, which could have made the homilies less effective if my parishioners read them in advance of coming to Mass.

But I have now moved to a parish where the 11 am Sunday Mass is the designated Mass for the Deaf in Cardiff City. It will be useful for the sign-language interpreters to have sight of the homily before delivery, and those attending Mass may wish to follow along via a printed copy or an electronic device. Therefore, with immediate effect, the homilies will be posted a few days before the Sunday. Other homilists reading this blog will therefore be able – with my blessing – to borrow any good ideas for the coming Sunday!

This blog is exclusively my own work – on some Sundays there will be no sermon here because the parish deacon will be preaching. I don’t think he blogs at the moment.

If you have read this far, thank you – and please pray for me as I grow in my ministry as a Catholic Preacher.

Yours, in Christ,

Revd Gareth Leyshon.

Bring the Lost to Christ and His Church

The altar of St Philip Evans Church, dressed for EasterHomily at St Philip Evans, for The 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

“Go and find those who are lost, and bring them home.”

This parish is your spiritual home, and today, I begin to make it my home.

I’m delighted to begin my time as your parish priest with this Gospel.

What we’ve just heard proclaimed are parables of the Kingdom. That means, it is God speaking to us about the way he wants his friends on earth to live. In God’s Kingdom, we look for those who have lost their way, and bring them home. This isn’t negotiable. This Christian Community – in common with every Catholic parish – is called to reach out to those who have lost contact with Christ and His Church, and assure them that their home is HERE.

Those who are lost are welcome here.

Those who speak Welsh are welcome here.

Those who speak English are welcome here.

Those who use sign language are welcome here.

Those who are not Catholic are welcome here.

Those who struggle with their personal relationships, are welcome here.

Those who welcome others are welcome here.

In today’s second reading, from a letter to St Timothy, we hear St Paul reflecting on how he had once been an enemy of the Church. Now he is a member of the Christian community and a friend to the apostles. Only a community willing to embrace an enemy can achieve this! I wonder how many people back then said “We can’t have Paul – he is a spy, he will betray us!” But Christian good sense prevailed. Those early Christians were true to their calling to transform enemies into their friends.

Today, Home Mission Sunday, the whole Catholic Church across Wales and England is reflecting on how we help the lost and lapsed to find their place at home among us. As my first act of leadership, I declare that we, together, priest, deacon, and people, have a mission: we are to work together to bring the lost sheep of Christ back into the sheepfold of St Philip Evans Parish.

We are to reach the lost.

We are to reach those who once came to Mass, but stopped going.

We are to reach those who feel disappointed by this parish.

We are to reach those who feel disappointed by the Catholic Church as a whole.

And remember – disappointment does not mean the same as blame. We can be disappointed when others let us down – but we can also be disappointed when our own expectations are too high.

When we do reach the lost, what will we do with them?

We will invite them to join with us, to grow and learn as followers and worshippers of Jesus.

We are the Catholic people who serve Llanederyn, Pentwyn and Pontprennau, and those members of the wider community who choose to worship here.

As Catholics, we believe that Jesus did not leave us to work out his teachings alone, but set leaders over his church and promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them through the ages. We believe that this promise means that the Pope, in Rome, is guided by God when he teaches us about God, and about the behaviour which God expects of us.

That doesn’t mean that we have to believe that the Pope, or priests in general, are given any special protection from making unwise practical decisions. As a parish priest, I’ve made a few poor ones myself. The Lord allows us to learn by reflecting on our mistakes – but for the sake of unity in the Church, God asks us to give our leaders the benefit of the doubt as far as possible.

Today, I take up the role of being your new parish priest. I’m not going to use this sermon to introduce myself or tell my full life story – there would be too much to tell. Rather, I am inviting you to come a week Thursday, September 26th, either at 2 pm or after 7 pm Mass, when I’ll give you the story of how I became a Catholic, a doctor of astrophysics, how God led me to be a priest, and some of the more unusual things I’ve done in the course of my ministry. But I am very conscious that I am new to you and you are new to me – it’s going to take a little time for us to get to know each other.

Two things I would like to share with you today: First, that I am the kind of priest who asks questions and consults when possible, but makes executive decisions when necessary. There will be times when it is possible for me to consult widely before I make decisions. I’ll try to do that as much as possible. But there will also be times when an urgent decision is needed, or pressure of time means I can’t consult as widely as I like, and I’d be shirking my responsibility if I didn’t act there and then.

Second, I am not Tony Hodges. I’m not the kind of priest who is going to rush to make changes for the sake of proclaiming “I’m in charge” but some things will be immediately different simply because I am a different person with different gifts. Please give me a chance! When someone new comes along, one or two of us might be tempted to try a different parish, or give church a rest. Please resist that temptation! How can I learn the St Philip Evans way from you, if you are not here to teach me?

Because I need to learn from you, too, I am inviting us to spend a few hours together on the afternoon of Sunday 29th September. We can bring some lunch to share, I will say a little about the different kinds of things we need to do, to be the kind of Church God invites us to be, and then I will give the floor to leaders of the various parish groups so you can show me the ways in which St Philip Evans already carries out the work of Christ.

I know I have much to learn from all of you, but I know we have the same starting point in common. We are the Catholic Church which serves Llanederyn, Pentwyn and Pontprennau, and members of the wider community who choose to worship here. Here, the Eucharist is celebrated by a priest who has received from the successors of the apostles, the power to require bread and wine to become the true Body and Blood of Christ. Here, the message of Jesus, shaped by the successors of Peter, is taught to give life to the world.

You see, I’m excited about being a Catholic. 23 years ago I became a Catholic and made my first communion. About 18 years ago I started going to daily Mass because I knew in my heart that Jesus was calling me to draw closer to Him. I’m looking forward to that wonderful day at the end of my life when I will meet Jesus and hear him say “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Isn’t that a bit presumptuous? Not as long as I follow the Lord’s commands, which are made clear by the Bible and the Church. When I do fail, as long as I make a good confession and try my hardest to avoid falling back into the same behaviour, I need have no fear about meeting God. If God has particular tasks in my life that I am to do, it’s his job to make that clear to me – not mine to agonise about whether I am doing the right thing. Right now, God has made it clear, through Archbishop George, that I am to be the Parish Priest of St Philip Evans, and here I am.

When Benedict XVI became Pope, in his first homily he said: “Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” I echo those words today – each member of this parish is loved by God, and is needed in order for this parish to be all that God is inviting us to be.

At the end of the today’s Gospel stories, there’s a party. There’s a celebration that the lost sheep and the lost coin are back in their rightful place. But then what happens? If coins and sheep had human feelings, the found one, now just “one of the crowd” might realise they are no longer the special one. The 99 sheep or 9 coins, meanwhile, might feel jealous of the fuss that was made of the lost one in the first place. Within each of us, an anxious voice pipes up: “Do I matter to God?”

Jesus tells these stories so that we know YES, we do matter. Sometimes our needs are greater and God becomes more present to us. But in everyday living, we must remember that we are precious to God at all times. When we need to renew our confidence, we need only say: “The Good Shepherd loves me, and he knows my name.”

The Good Shepherd is Jesus. I stand here on his behalf, but it’s not possible for one man, one priest, to spend quality time with everyone who worships here, and the hundreds of children and parents associated with our schools. I will prioritise spending time with current and future leaders in our community; helping you, who are leaders among us, to support the whole community. This is a shared work – it’s not about building my kingdom, or your kingdom, but building Christ’s Kingdom here at St Philip Evans.

Often enough I have said “we Catholics”. I’m aware that some of us here today might not be Catholic, or might be Catholics who do not come to Holy Communion. If you are here to support a family member or friend who is Catholic, thank you for your commitment. If you are choosing to worship here even though you do not receive Holy Communion, thank you for your faithfulness. If at any time you wish to have a conversation about your situation, my door and my ears are open. And if you have been thinking for a long time about becoming Catholic and wonder how to take the next step, perhaps the RCIA group beginning after Mass this Thursday evening is the right place to explore that. I sometimes meet people who think “The Catholic Church wouldn’t want me to be a member.” You know what? They are always wrong! We’ll take anyone!

In today’s First Reading, we see Moses praying for the Israelites who have not kept God’s law. Moses loves them and wants them restored to friendship with God. Dear members of St Philip Evans, please keep in your prayers those who God will restore to our community, together with those God is inviting to become Catholics for the first time.

Please work with me to help our lapsed and lost re-take their places in this community, by praying for them, by welcoming them, and by being ready to live in peace with all who make their spiritual home here. Please work with me also to re-discover the joy of our Catholic faith, to discover that the teaching of our Church is life-giving even when it is challenging – and for this we may need a deeper appreciation of the difference between church teaching, which will always draw us closer to God, and the way the institutional church has operated in practice, which sometimes needs our forgiveness. Leaders within our community, please work with me and support those you lead with the same prayers and presence with which I will support you.

Last year, when I was sent to St John Lloyd, the Archbishop said it could be a short-term move. This year, he has made appointments as part of a long-term strategy for the city and the whole diocese. I am looking forward to being your parish priest at St Philip Evans for years to come. Much as I will try to learn the “St Philip Evans way”, I am bound to do things slightly differently, because I am a different person. So I ask you to give me a chance.

I’m told there’s a tradition in this parish that when the priest asks the congregation a question, they feel free to answer. So I am going to give it a go.

Will you work with me to help lost Catholics find their way home?

Would you like to discover a new excitement and security about being members of Christ’s Catholic Church?

I will respect the positions of responsibility already entrusted to members of this community. In return, will you bear with me as a I learn how to be your new parish priest?

We are a community loved by God, who has a different purpose for each one of us, and has given us all the gifts and skills we need to do things as individuals and as a parish. Together, let’s be God’s church in this place, at this time. Amen!

Orkney Science Festival Sermon 2013: Seeking The Truth

Sermon given at St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, on the occasion of the 2013 Orkney International Science Festival. Readings: Genesis 8:4-13 and an extract from the works of Isaac Asimov.

We’ve just heard a report of a scientific experiment read straight from the pages of the Bible. Noah is, in fact, the Bible’s first recorded research scientist!

We know Noah was a scientist because – we are told – he does three things characteristic of a research scientist.

First, he adjust the details of his experiment one step at a time. He tries sending out a raven – then a dove.

Second, he repeats his experiment. At least, he can’t repeat the raven experiment because it hasn’t come back, but he can repeat the dove. In trial 1, it returns quickly. In trial 2, it returns with an olive branch. In trial 3 it corroborates the raven experiment by failing to return. In this way, Noah knows the water is drying up.

Third, Noah uses a complicated experimental set-up to test what a non-scientist would have approached by a more crude method – for instance, looking through one of the ark’s portholes!

Seriously, it really is part of the story of Noah that he wants to find out about the state of the world around him, so he does an experiment. In this he is unlike the ancient Greek philosophers, who theorized about how the world worked without doing experiments to test their understanding. Noah’s story stands as part of a wider message in Genesis about our planet being entrusted to the care of humankind; but if we are to be good stewards, we must first understand our world and how it works. This is implicit in the charge to care for the Earth given to the first human beings in Genesis chapter 1, and it’s made explicit here in Noah’s story.

The work of science is to summarise our understanding of the way the world works using words and mathematics. We call these summaries, “theories”. And let’s be clear – “theory” is not a woolly word. There’s a theory which states that an aircraft wing will hold the weight of the aeroplane in the air as long as the angle is correct and the plane flies fast enough. I entrusted my life to that theory when I flew to Kirkwall on Thursday, and will do so again next week.

The words of Isaac Asimov which I just read out remind us that theories tend to be refined over time, becoming better and better descriptions of the way the Universe actually works. All theories are provisional – but many are good enough to allow us to build computers or aim space rockets accurately even while we are fine tuning them to the n’th decimal place. And it’s part of the nature of science that sometimes, we use theories even though we know they must contain a serious flaw.

As an example, let’s take two superb theories from the world of science. Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity is an excellent description of how gravity works for exceptionally heavy objects, such as galaxies and black holes. Quantum Theory is an equally well proven description of the behaviour of the tiniest objects imaginable; without it we wouldn’t be able to design the microchips which make our 21st century technology work.

Now, one aspect of Quantum Theory, the famous Uncertainty Principle, says that we can’t pin down the location of any object to an exact pinpoint in space. But what would happen if you had something that was both massive and tiny – a mini-black hole? Relativity says that NOTHING can escape. Quantum Theory says that nothing can be confined in such a small point. They can’t both be right – yet both General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are superb theories that no physicist would dream of abandoning. The correct solution must involve a small tweak to at least one theory – and perhaps both. At least one of the theories is both superb, and flawed!

Let’s step back for a moment and see what the philosophers have to say about the practice of doing science.

One of the amazing things about the Universe we live in is that, by and large, we are able to talk about it using theories which are very good descriptions of how the world actually works. This gives the philosophers headaches for lots of reasons. Specialists in how-we-know-things (or epistemology) will give us reasons to doubt that thinking beings can actually connect their thoughts with the material world. Philosophers of language will give us equally grave reasons to doubt that language can accurately represent the physical world. And specialists in mathematical philosophy can prove to us, using something called Gödel’s theorem, that any mathematical language necessarily contains statements which are self-contradictory. Further, most theories are about how causes lead to effects, but as the great Scottish philosopher, David Hume, noted, we can’t use scientific reasoning to prove that causes always lead to effects, because that would be a circular argument!

Given that, according to the philosophers, we can’t prove the world exists, we can’t guarantee that language can represent it, we can’t establish that causes always give rise to effects, and mathematics always risks being inconsistent, we could be tempted to abandon the pursuit of science and go home now. Instead, I think we should all be impressed at the fact that, undaunted by all these philosophical perils, scientists, engineers, mathematicians and the medical profession do a remarkable job of uncovering new knowledge and applying it to make our world, by and large, a better place.

It’s at this point I must remember that I haven’t mentioned God, the Christian faith, or religion of any kind yet.

It so happens that I am a Christian. It so happens that I’m a Roman Catholic. My own personal journey to faith was neither positively nor negatively impacted by my childhood interest in astronomy, but began with a sense of God’s presence when I was 11 years old; an empirical testing-out of that God in a way that satisfied me that my prayers got answered often enough that Someone was listening to them; and a decision at the age of 16 that what I read in the New Testament matched enough of the teachings of the Roman Church that I would make my home there.

Yes, of course the philosophers can come up with all sorts of reasons why I should doubt the existence of God. But the philosophers haven’t yet persuaded me that putting my faith in science is pointless, so I’m not going to rush to let them to dissuade me from believing in God, either.

In St John’s Gospel, Jesus said “I am the Truth” and in another place, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. I believe that whenever we find a way to express a truth in a way which is slightly less wrong than before, we move closer to God.

It doesn’t disturb me that Quantum Theory and General Relativity are mutually incompatible theories. I have faith that as the Quest for Truth continues, some scientists will prove to be smart enough to work out what’s not quite right and to fix it.

If it should happen that something I believe as a Christian isn’t compatible with the place where the evidence leads me as a scientist, that isn’t going to disturb me unduly either. Intellectual honesty requires me not to put my head in the sand, but to say “Hmmm – something doesn’t add up here.” Something has to give. It might be my religious understanding. It might be that the science isn’t quite right. But as long as there can only be one Truth about how the universe actually works, I have nothing to fear. All of the twists, turns and cul-de-sacs on the road of improving my understanding will lead me from what I know today, to the best possible description of the Truth – Truth about God and Truth about the material universe.

One further thought. Noah is not only depicted as the first climate scientist – he is also the first biochemist. Noah was chosen to survive the Flood because he was a morally upstanding man; Genesis goes on to tell us that he was also the first person to ‘plant a vineyard’ and so deliberately ferment wine into alcohol. This is as good a reminder as any that basic research and development is morally neutral: new information and new technologies can be used for good or for ill. The story of Noah ends with God’s promise not to flood the world again. Now the power to cause mass destruction is in the hands of human beings. As we recall how the dove returned with the olive branch, let us be mindful of those world leaders who must decide how to use technology in the Middle East in these troubled times.

Whether we are here today as Christians gathered for worship or as Science Festival Supporters respectfully attending a religious ceremony, let us celebrate the Quest for Truth. Let us not be afraid of apparent contradictions but patiently work out the details. Let us not be disturbed by skeptical philosophers, who can attack the basis of scientific knowledge as effectively as they can question religious faith. But if we are people of prayer, let us pray for those who work in science as they deal with the everyday frustrations of equipment failure, budget cuts, and the supreme act of humility which every scientist must be prepared for when the evidence from their experiments begins to indicate that their personal, cherished, theory is not the way the Universe actually works. Let us pray for those who must apply scientific knowledge and manage technology so that it brings true benefits to the human race. Let us pray that the dove of peace is again seen in the Middle East. Let us be women and men of Peace and Truth in all that we do as scientists, as believers, and as human beings.

The take home message for today is this: Both within science, and on the interface between science and faith, it is perfectly respectable for one person to hold positions which seem incompatible – as long as you are honest about the reasons which led you to each position, and you remain open to developing your position in the journey towards Truth. In the best traditions of Noah, let us continue the conversation two-by-two – if not over a glass of wine, then at least with a cup of tea or coffee at the end of this service. I will leave you with a paraphrase of the English Catholic author, G. K. Chesterton: the point of having an open mind is to be able to close it on something solid!

Codicil for the web:

Personally, I believe that the opening chapters of Genesis are meant to be read as poetry about the love which God has for God’s creation. The story of Noah can teach us something about the need to explore the natural world whether or not Noah was a historical person. Those of us gathered here to worship today will hold different views about whether or not there was a world-wide flood within the last ten thousand years, and whether “world-wide” in the Bible would mean the whole globe, or merely the world known to the human scribes responsible for compiling Genesis.

I merely suggest that, with integrity, we can agree to differ on the right reading of Genesis in the same way as scientists, with complete integrity, can hold incompatible views on how Quantum Theory might be reconciled with General Relativity. The weight of scientific evidence suggests there wasn’t a planet-wide flood, relegating the story of Noah to parable rather than history.

Humble Yourself in the eyes of the Lord, and He Will Raise You Up

Homily at St John Lloyd, for The 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

Episode 4 of 4 in our series, The Challenges of Following Jesus.The word Rejected, as a faded red stamp

Have you ever had the experience of Not Being Picked for something you really wanted to be involved in? I have.

At school, I was the tubby kid who was always the last pick for any sports team. I didn’t mind that – I didn’t particularly want to be running around the field anyway. But when the school set up a School Council, and I wasn’t picked for that, it smarted. So I kindly but firmly pointed out that it wasn’t fair for one person to represent the whole Sixth Form – there should be reps for upper and lower sixth. The staff agreed! They opened up an extra position, for which I was eligible. And guess what? I was Not Picked again!

Later, when I was completing my degree at Oxford University, I started applying for PhD places at prestigious universities. I applied to stay at Oxford – Rejected. I tried Cambridge – Rejected. Imperial College London? Rejected. Cardiff? “Nothing available this year, but please try next year.”

For the first time in my life, I was without options. All the doors I had pushed at were closed. I suffered the deepest sense of rejection I had ever experienced in my life. Then, most unexpectedly, an opening came up to work for the Church in Nottingham for a year, and after that gap year, I was able to come to Cardiff for my PhD. Now, with hindsight, I can see God’s hand at work in all of those closed and opened doors, but at the time it was very painful.

When we experience rejection, we leap to the conclusion that God doesn’t care about us. That’s a mistake! God cares a lot, but in this fallen world God allows situations to take place where we experience temporary rejection. Even God’s own son, Jesus Christ, was rejected by his own people before rising into everlasting glory.

What is God saying to us today? We are the “Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven.” God has no grandchildren – we are all equally, by our baptism, sons and daughters of the living God! The Word goes on to say that we have “been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect”. That doesn’t sound like much of a rejection to me!

God does not reject us – but if we have unrealistic expectations, we will certainly experience rejection. This is why Jesus is so keen to immunize us against rejection with the teaching He gives today.

“Always take the lowest place,” he tells us. First, notice that WE ARE INVITED. Jesus is not saying we shouldn’t come to the banquet. We are invited, and we are expected. It is the right place for us!  If we come without expecting or demanding honours or special treatment, we cannot be disappointed. But if our expectations are too high, we will be humbled.

Friends in Christ, I know that you who worship regularly in St John Lloyd are about to enter a challenging period of weeks. For two months, there will be no resident priest here. Then there will be a new priest to get used to. You will be tempted with proud thoughts:

“Why was OUR parish chosen to be without a priest for two months? Why was Pastor Gareth sent here for such a short time if he wasn’t going to be able to stay? We deserve better!” If you allow those thoughts to get the better of you, then you will experience a rejection which is not God’s plan for you. But if you were to say to yourself: “We are a small parish. The Archbishop could have easily merged us or left us without a priest. We know resources are limited, and whatever we are given is a gift,”, then in our hearts we will have taken the lowest place, and will receive a blessing from Christ.

I want to invite you, here and now, this evening, to make a commitment. Because there will be different priests for the next two months, the style of worship will vary from week to week. Then you will need to get used to your new parish priest. You may feel tempted to go to Mass somewhere else. That might be good for you – but it wouldn’t be good for this parish and it wouldn’t be good for your new parish priest. Therefore, I ask you: if you regularly come to this Saturday evening Mass, or if you come one of the Masses at St John Lloyd every weekend, will you make a humble committment tonight to keep coming here for the next four months, however bumpy things feel?

Will you support each other through the time of change? Will you give your new priest a chance?

Finally, a word to those of you whose hearts have been wounded by rejection. The only person who can heal that wound is called Jesus. I must leave you for a new assignment, but Jesus will never leave this parish, and he, the Good Shepherd, will never abandon even one of you, who are his sheep. There are many ways Jesus comes to us. When we receive Holy Communion, he enters us in the form of the Blessed Sacrament. But he can also touch our hearts and minds in prayer.

Therefore I have one final parting gift for you.

I invite you to close your eyes and open your hands in front of you.

In this moment of prayer, I ask Jesus Our Lord to speak to each one of you, in the depths of your heart. You are not a mistake. Your being here is not an accident. You are loved by God and saved by Jesus.

Whatever rejection you may have experienced from other human beings, however it might have seemed like God himself had forgotten you, he was with you. I ask Jesus to come to you  now and touch your hearts.

Come, Holy Spirit!