Choosing for God

Homily at St Philip Evans on the First Sunday of Advent, Year B.four stylized heads with book, cross, praying hands and bread

The Seven Word Sermon: Make godly choices. The alternative is sin!

Today, we begin a new cycle of the Church’s year, a new beginning, a good time to get back to basics. I’d like to invite the children who will prepare to make their First Holy Communion next summer to come forward and help me with this sermon…

Children, today I would like to start at the very beginning, and that means starting with God. God is the name we give the three persons who run the universe. They were there before time and space began, they called the universe into being, and they gave us life.

The strange thing about God is that although God is three persons – we call them Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – they never disagree with each other about anything. They share one will, one set of beliefs and hopes about us. And why do they never disagree? They are wise and kind, and they always choose the very best thing they could do; they always get it right – so they always agree. They share one will.

Now the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in charge of the whole universe, but the way they run it is a bit “hands-off”. When they made us human beings, they left space for us to make choices of our own. We can choose to do the very best thing, the thing that is most helpful to other people – or we can be a bit selfish. God won’t stop us from doing that. But God does ask us to think carefully about what we do. God whispered to lots of prophets in the Old Testament; and then one of the three persons in God, the one we call the Son, became a human being, baby Jesus, born of Mary. When he grew up, he was able to speak God’s words to us. One of the things he said – we heard in today’s reading – was this. “Each one of you has a job to do. One day, God is going to check up on you to make sure you are doing it!”

But what does God want us to do? This is the hard part. Our church hasn’t done a very good job of helping us “get it”.

When your great-grandparents were small, we told them that God expected them to be “good people”. And what is a good person like? A good person never has bad thoughts! A good person always goes to Mass on Sunday. They thought that if they didn’t do all the things a good person was supposed to do, God would be angry. So if they were stuck in bed with ‘flu on Sunday, God would be angry, right? No, that would be silly! And if a naughty thought popped into their heads, even if they said straight away, “That’s a bad thought and I don’t want it.” God would be angry, right? No, that would be silly too!

By the time your parents were born, our church had a different focus. We kept telling people how loving and kind God is, that whatever we do, God will always love us and forgive us and give us another chance. I’m sure you’ve read stories from the Bible in school, like the Prodigal Son or Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, where Jesus gives people another chance. It’s all true! Sometimes we feel bad inside because we know we have done something wrong. Those are times we can turn to Jesus – he can always hear what we are thinking – and say “sorry”. But there was still a problem – our church was so busy telling us God wanted to forgive us when we got it wrong, that it didn’t give much time to teaching us how to get it right.

So now I am going to have a go. What does God want? God wants us to make good choices. God wants us to choose things the way Jesus showed us. We’ve got a special name for people who choose to do things Jesus’s way – “Disciples”! God is inviting all of you to become disciples, just like St Andrew, St Peter, St Mary Magdalen and the other friends of Jesus. To be a disciple we have to do two things. First, we have to learn what Jesus asked us to do. Second, whenever we need to make choices, we must ask, “What would Jesus want us to do?” That’s why, after Christmas, you will have a special course. We will think a bit more about what Jesus has asked us to do. Then we will help you make your first confession – so if you have made bad choices, you can say sorry to Jesus and promise to make better choices in future. And all of this is leading up to one very special thing Jesus asked us to do. He blessed bread and wine, said “this is my body, this is my blood” and asked us to eat and drink. This is why we take Holy Communion. It’s what Jesus wants us to do!

In the Second Reading we heard today, St Paul is happy because the church in Corinth had been blessed with lots of people willing to do God’s work. We have been blessed here in St Philip Evans Parish with lots of people who help to do God’s work too. And because we are beginning a new church year, I would like to bless and re-commission our parish ministers. Children, since they will be helping you to take the next step in belonging to our church community, I’d like your help doing this.

First of all, we have ministers who help us know what Jesus wants us to do because they read from God’s word, the Bible. Could I ask all our parish readers present today, to stand?

Child 1: Will you proclaim God’s word clearly, faithfully and prayerfully?

Readers: I will.

Priest: Everlasting God,

when he read in the synagogue at Nazareth,
your Son proclaimed
the good news of salvation
for which he would give up his life.
Bless these readers.
As they proclaim your words of life,
strengthen their faith
that they may read with conviction
and boldness,
and put into practice what they read.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Thank you, readers for your faithful service. Please be seated. Next, we have those who prepare our building and our worship for our weekend Mass. Please stand if you are in the Singing Group – among the church cleaners or flower arrangers – if you collect or count the weekly offering – if you work on the newsletter or handouts, in the sacristy or in the narthex – together with those who help maintain our buildings or do work of administration.

Child 2: Will you continue your work to make our gatherings for the Lord’s day the best that they can be?

Ministers: I will.

Priest: God of Glory,

your beloved Son has shown us
that true worship comes from
humble and contrite hearts.
Bless our brothers and sisters,
who have responded to the needs of our parish
and wish to commit themselves to your service.
Grant that their ministry may be fruitful
and our worship pleasing in your sight.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Thank you, each of you, for your faithful service. Please be seated. Now we have our catechists, who prepare children and adults to be baptised, confirmed and receive holy communion – please stand – together with our parish bereavement support group and our deaf pastoral group.

Child 3: Will you continue to work with those who need your assistance?

Ministers: I will.


Lord God, in your loving kindness
you sent your Son to be our shepherd and guide.
Continue to send workers into your vineyard
to sustain and direct your people.
Bless these ministers.
Let your Spirit uphold them always
as they take up their new responsibility
among the people of this parish.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Thank you, each of you, for your faithful service. Please be seated. Finally, I turn to our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, who are entrusted with carrying the Body and Blood of Jesus within and beyond our church services.

Priest: Are you resolved to undertake the office of giving the body and blood of the Lord to your brothers and sisters, and so to serve to build up the Church?

Ministers: I am.

Priest: Are you resolved to administer the holy eucharist with utmost care and reverence?

Ministers: I am.


Dear friends in Christ,
let us pray with confidence to the Father;
let us ask him to bestow his blessings
on our brothers and sisters,
chosen to be ministers of the eucharist.


Merciful Father, creator and guide of your family,
bless + our brothers and sisters.
May they faithfully give the bread of life to your people.
Strengthened by this sacrament,
may they come at last to the banquet of heaven.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

In this parish, for a number of years, we have had a custom that the ministers of Holy Communion say the name of the person receiving Holy Communion when they distribute the Body or Blood of Christ. This is a beautiful custom, because it reminds us that the Lord calls each of his beloved sheep by name – but it has one major drawback. It is not possible for every minister to know every communicant by name. This creates a distinction between “known” and “unknown” parishioners which is unfortunate, because one of our strong Christian values is the way we welcome the stranger. So today, while I thank our Extraordinary Ministers for the way they have served until now, I ask that from now on, we revert to the usual practice of the Church of simply saying “The Body of Christ – the Blood of Christ”. Communion is a personal encounter between the soul, and Our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament; the minster simply offers Christ and takes a step back.

But it would be a shame if we were no longer greeted by name in church. I would therefore like to commission every parishioner as a minister of welcome. From this day onwards, when we offer the Peace to one another at Mass, I would like us to do so by name – and unlike communion time, at that point in the Mass it is possible to ask the name of the other person if you do not already know it. Therefore, let us practice right now! Please ask the name of the people sitting closest to you, and then, by name, let us offer one another a sign of peace.


Saints of Wales

Homily at St Brigid’s for the November 2014 Day of Renewal on the feast of All Saints of Wales.Welsh bards in robes

The Seven Word Sermon: Choose to be humble, Wales needs saints!

I saw a vast crowd, too numerous to count, clothed in white robes – and in blue, and in green.

I said to the man standing near me, “Who are these wearing robes, and where did they come from?”

“Well,” said the man, in a West Wales accent, “they are the bards here at the Eisteddfod, look you, and they have come to Llanelli from Dolgellau and Aberystwyth, Caldey Island and Blaenau Ffestiniog, and all the way from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch!”

Why do we celebrate a special Feast of the Saints of Wales? Like any nation, we have our own culture – the Eisteddfod is our cultural festival. A culture is simply a common way of doing things – and the saints of our own nation teach us something relevant about being holy in the midst of our own people.

Jesus taught us the way of holiness in the Beatitudes we have just heard proclaimed. It strikes me that those Jesus calls “blessed” fall into two categories – the humble, and the victims.

The humble beatitudes are pronounced for those who are poor in spirit, gentle, merciful and pure in heart. We see these values reflected by the great Celtic saints of Wales, David and Dyfrig, Illtyd and Winifred, saints who embraced the simple and austere life of the monastery or the convent. They served others in need of hospitality and healthcare, and embraced a life of celibacy and manual labour for the good of others. We can imitate their spirit of service in the way we serve our family members, our friends, and those who live in the same community as ourselves.

The victims are those who have experienced loss, hunger and thirst, persecution and calumny. They call to mind the martyrs of Wales – not only the famous six sainted Welsh martyrs of the Reformation, but also those beatified – Bd William Davies, who ran a hidden printing-press in Llandudno; Bd Philip Powell from Brecon, arrested in Cornwall; and Bd Charles Mahoney, a secret missionary to Ireland who was shipwrecked on the North Wales coast. Together with the two martyrs of Roman times, Saints Julius and Aaron, they stand as reminders that faithful Catholics were willing to stand up for their faith in Wales despite the efforts of those who wielded power and tried to shape the culture. In fairness, it must be said that many of the ordinary folk of Wales refused to take part in the persecution. When Bd William Davies was sentenced to be executed, not one man in Anglesey would have anything to do with it! Executioners had to be called in from Chester.

Times have changed. Many of the people of Wales are now suspicious of the “old fashioned” values which our faith cherishes. The modern way is the way of total freedom. Our faith teaches us the great value of self-control. We need a new kind of saint for Wales, one who can build bridges between the values of our faith and the world around us.

Three years ago, I was in Dare Valley Country Park, celebrating Mass with a group of newly-confirmed young people. The sight of a robed priest celebrating Mass on a rock caused not a few passers-by to stop and pay attention to my sermon. I wonder what they made of it? But we are all called to be ambassadors for Christ, no less than the missionary-monks who sailed from Wales to Ireland and Normandy, or the martyrs who returned to Wales from the continent. We are not yet a vast multitude, too numerous to count. but if anyone asks who we are, St John Paul II offers an answer: “These are the saints of the new millennium. These are the people who pursue holiness, who believe prayer is important. These are the people who believe Mass is the most important thing to do on Sunday, who humbly go to confession when conscious of sin. These are the people who study God’s Word, are attentive to God’s gift of grace, and seek to share these gifts with others.”

One beatitude embraces both humility and victimhood – “Blessed are the Peacemakers”. There is a special blessing for those who have known oppression yet reach out to their enemies. The saints of 21st century Wales will be those who master the art of proclaiming what we believe, not in a way which condemns listeners who do not share our values, but in a way which is strangely appealing. Yes, the peacemakers, rooted in Christ, loving those who do not share our values, will be the saints of Wales for the 21st century. The question is, will you choose to be among them?

Something Bigger

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, 2014 – also Remembrance Sunday.

The Seven Word Sermon: Support the Outsider – their needs come first!

Today, we remember and celebrate that we are part of something bigger.The facade of the Basilica of St John Lateran

November 9 is the fixed date when the Catholic Church throughout the world celebrates the dedication of the pope’s Cathedral – the Basilica of St John Lateran. What we celebrate today is not about one Pope in particular. We celebrate that we are part of an institution which endures, that the Catholic Church crosses the centuries and spans the globe, and the world’s cathedral, the Lateran Basilica, is a solid sign of our unity. This feast comes in a season which is all about connectedness – All Saints, All Souls, the recent feasts of the Six Welsh Martyrs and of All Saints of Wales. We are the heirs of the Celtic Saints and Reformation Martyrs. We carry the heritage of missionaries to Ireland, India, and the Pacific Islands. And the seeds that we sow in our generation will in turn bear fruit in due season. We are part of something bigger.

Just two weeks ago we celebrated the dedication of our own church of St Philip Evans – and on that date I asked us to reflect on our own parish community, and how we make it stronger. We even had the same first reading, about the river of life flowing out from the temple. We’ve already reflected on how we build up the Temple which is our parish – today, I invite you to reflect on the river of life, which flows out of this place and becomes part of something bigger.

The further it goes, the wider the river gets! Love does this! The more generous we are, the more we inspire others around us to be generous, too. This is a choice, a choice we must take daily, because we have an enemy. That enemy speaks in the form of the voice within us which says: “Look after number one! Put your own needs first! Protect yourself!” But whenever we choose to be part of something smaller, we place more people on the outside, as rivals rather than friends.

In our national politics, the voice of self-protection is becoming louder and louder. It asks whether we can risk letting so many immigrants into Fortress Britain. It asks whether, as a nation in debt, we can afford to give so much of our national income for foreign aid. It asks whether we should be part of a Europe which requires regular compromises which benefit those beyond Britain’s shores.

Now, it’s not the place of the Catholic Church to single out any particular political party; and certainly, our national leaders have a duty to protect well-being of our own nation. But as followers of Jesus, we are called to vote out of love, not out of fear.

Today, we remember and celebrate that we are part of something bigger.

One hundred years ago, a war began in Europe. It was called the war to end all wars; but sadly, this name proved untrue. This weekend we remember those who gave their lives so that we could live in Britain without fear of invasion. After their sacrifice, we learned that it was not only loving, but even in our own self-interest, to look out for the well-being of the nations whose borders are close to our own. The news in recent years has repeatedly told of Germany paying eye-watering sums to support our weaker European neighbours and protect them from economic collapse. We are also a relatively prosperous nation, even in hard times – it’s only fair that we should ask what our contribution ought to be. I have no easy answers, but I know that the right answer for Christians is never to look after ourselves without doing as much as we reasonably can for others. Ultimately, the peace of our continent depends on this.

Today, we remember and celebrate that we are part of something bigger.

Big systems risk becoming faceless. Politicians are right to ask questions about corruption in E.U. institutions. Pope Francis has made it a priority to root out financial mismanagement at the Vatican. Today’s Gospel recalled the dramatic act that our Lord himself performed to call attention to something corrupt in the Jewish Temple of his day. Some of us work in large corporations where we might be aware of underhand practices. If your conscience is bothered by something you have experienced at work, talk to someone – a union representative, an independent hotline or even one of the clergy! There may be a way to express your concern without putting your job on the line. You are called to be Christ in your workplace; what does Jesus wish to do, through you?

Today, we remember and celebrate that we are part of something bigger.

On sale after Mass today, we have olivewood craft products from the Holy Land. Christians in Palestine are living in very difficult conditions. Together with other Palestinians they live with the constant uncertainty of whether their home might be bulldozed by Israeli security forces, or the water supply cut off for days or even weeks. This means that the ordinary costs of everyday living are inflated by the need to rebuild property, or bring in bottled water. The Christmas story begins with a mother and a carpenter in the Holy Land. You could make a carpenter in the Holy Land part of the story of your Christmas this year. Jesus opposed trading in a holy place because the inflated prices oppressed the poor; we celebrate this trading because the proceeds go to those whose need is great. It’s another way we can choose to be part of something bigger.

Today, I’ve covered some big themes which point us in many different directions. Through the decisions we make in the workplace, at the ballot box, and with our spending money, we are constantly engaging with issues much bigger than ourselves. But we’re not powerless. Jesus stood up one day and said “This isn’t right” and we are still telling the story 2000 years later.

Today, we remember and celebrate that we are part of something bigger. What does that mean for you?