A Gift Beyond Common Sense

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:Host
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

In these words we hear St Thomas Aquinas meditating on the mystery which lies at the heart of our Catholic Faith: the holy Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Our Lord Jesus took bread and wine, and declared “This is my body, this is my blood. Do this in memory of me.” Today, in John’s Gospel, he insists that he himself is the Bread of Life. Over the next three Sundays, we will hear Our Lord become more and more insistent that he really means what he says.

“Did you fail to hear properly what Jesus taught?” asks our Second Reading. “Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution.”

These words of Jesus force each one of us into a battle between faith and common sense.

Common sense looks at a communion wafer and sees nothing but a disc of baked flour. Certainly we can bless, break and share the wafer and tell the story of what Jesus did so many years ago. No miracle is needed for us to simply speak and remember.

Faith hears the words of Jesus. This is the same Jesus who fed 5000 people with a few loaves, calmed a storm, walked on water, raised Lazarus from the dead and himself appeared risen on the third day after being nailed to a Cross. This is the Jesus who took the bread and said “This is my body.” The power of God at work in Jesus is quite capable of making these words come true.

What do we know for certain?

The wafer does not change its shape, smell, texture or taste when it is consecrated by a priest. If we were to send a portion off to the local food science labs, they would tell us that it is nothing but baked wheat.

Jesus said “This is my body.” For this reason, when any Catholic minister gives communion, the words spoken are: “The body of Christ.”

Who are we to say that it is not his body? From the earliest days of the church, we have held on to this truth: “It looks the same but what it really is has changed.” So what our Church has taught since the beginning is that the consecrated elements are no longer bread and wine, but the body and blood of Christ. What we eat is NOT bread, but Jesus. What we drink is NOT wine, but Jesus.

Surely that goes against common sense?

Perhaps… but common sense does not always lead us to the truth.

Common sense says that freely-moving objects slow down. But Isaac Newton saw beyond common sense, realising that in empty space things go at a constant speed, and came up with his famous Laws of Motion, on which classical physics is founded.

Common sense says that something goes faster if you throw it forward from a moving vehicle. But Albert Einstein saw beyond common sense, realising that light moves at a fixed speed, and came up with his famous Theory of Relativity, on which modern physics is founded.

Common sense says that something that looks and tastes like bread must be bread. But we are called to see beyond common sense, realising that Jesus has declared this to be His own body, and trusting His word over the evidence of our senses. This indeed needs a “spiritual revolution” in our minds. If you can bring yourself to reject common sense, you too will be as stupid as Newton or Einstein.

Because we believe that what was bread has become Jesus, we show great honour to the Blessed Sacrament, by bowing our knee on entering and leaving this place of worship, and by keeping a living flame burning at all times.

Because we believe that what was bread has become Jesus, we have the great privilege of being able to pay a visit to Our Lord in any chapel where the Body of Christ is kept. Of course we can pray anywhere at all, and God hears us; but if we choose to go specially to a place where the Body of Christ is kept, we give God greater honour, and at the same time we make an act of faith that Jesus is truly present. We express this faith in a more public way by placing the Body of Jesus on the altar exposed for worship, or by holding a procession with the Blessed Sacrament in a public place.

In today’s Gospel, the crowds went to look for Jesus. What about you? Perhaps in these summer months, you may have a little more free time than is usual? Why not choose to visit a church or chapel where you can honour the Body of Jesus with a short visit? Is it not the most natural thing in the world to visit someone we love? If we don’t sense Our Lord’s love coming to us in return, that makes our act of love even greater, as if we were visiting a resting friend in hospital or gazing lovingly at our own child sleeping. Like the Israelites of old, we are exiles; when we reach heaven we will see Jesus perfectly. For now, approaching the Blessed Sacrament is the closest we can come.

Even if you find it difficult to overcome your common sense, make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament anyway – and accompany it with the prayer of the disciples, “Lord, I believe – help my unbelief!” Pray for God to grant you a spiritual revolution in your mind, and surrender your need to understand how it works. I don’t understand how it works. I simply know that the Lord of the Universe once said “This is my Body” and it was so, just as the Lord said, “Let there be light,” and all that is came into being.

The work that God expects us to do, is to believe in His messenger, the Christ. Each week in the parish we pray “Lord, use me as you will.” If we have doubts about the Eucharist, it is His will that we work on those doubts so we can believe in Jesus.

It was by faith, not by common sense, that I became a Catholic. “Do this,” said Jesus. The many Protestant Churches did it but said it wasn’t really his Body and Blood. Jesus said it was. “Take and eat it.” So I became a Catholic. Now, as a priest, I “do this” so that you can do that.

When I first became a Catholic, I was not familiar with the hymn written by St Thomas Aquinas. But in retrospect, I am happy to make it my own:

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.


Further reading:

A fuller list of Early Christian Teachings

From a book on St Thomas Aquinas

Wikipedia on Transubstantiation (the church’s technical term for “What it is changes, even though it appears to stay the same.”)


Summer holiday?

Homily at Christ the King for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

“The Lord is my Shepherd!” What a beautiful, comforting sentiment. At least, until you think more closely about what it means. Then, it becomes a challenge!

Our picture of a shepherd might come from memories of One Man and His Dog on the BBC – the shepherd whistling and shouting to a dog who nips at the hooves of the sheep and rounds them up into a pen. Middle Eastern shepherds worked rather differently – the sheep would recognise their shepherd’s voice and he would lead them out, calling them by name.

Without a shepherd, sheep can do what they like, go wherever they like – and stray into danger. With a shepherd, the sheep are safe – but their freedom is limited, too. They are no longer free to go wherever they wish – the shepherd will lead them away from danger and towards safe pastures. The kings, priests and prophets of ancient Israel were called to ensure that their people only worshipped the God of Abraham and avoided pagan religions – but they weren’t always faithful to that mission. How does God react? I’m not sure if it’s a threat or a promise, but Jeremiah says, look out – God is coming in person to sort things out!

God does come to us, in the person of Jesus. Just like the rest of us, God-made-flesh gets tired after a long day and needs some space to chillax with his friends. But there’s no rest for Jesus on this day – the crowds have found him, and he accepts that with good grace. When he sees this flock of people who have turned out in the hope of receiving a healing or witnessing a miracle, he sets out to lead them to a place where they might not want to go. Yes, he heals those in the crowd who are sick. But he challenges them, too. He speaks about God’s Kingdom – he asks them if they are willing to be faithful followers of God. They already know the Jewish Law, with its command to love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. But will they embrace it?

We hear these words from Scripture as the schools prepare to break up, and Britain moves into the holiday season. For a few weeks we might be free of the constraints of our employment or studies. And the way we choose to use our freedom is an excellent test of how truly the Lord has become our shepherd.  For while in the rest of the year, we must juggle our religious commitments with work and family, when on holiday we have a chance to re-prioritise. In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites his disciples to go aside to a quiet place, to rest and enjoy the silence. Have you planned to have a holiday crammed full of activities, or will you make space for silence?generic image of a backpaack

Sadly, this year, “rest” and “holiday” are two words which don’t sit together as easily as they should. After last month’s shootings in Tunisia, many of us are thinking carefully about our holiday plans. Some holidaymakers have made a point of returning to Tunisia or other resorts in Islamic countries, as a sign of solidarity with the innocent locals, or to demonstrate that they will not be cowed by terrorists. Even if you are thinking twice about your holiday plans, remember that statistically, you have a much greater chance of being involved in a traffic accident than being caught up in an at of terrorism, in the air or on the ground.

If you are travelling abroad, I offer you these words of comfort, from Jeremiah: God loves and cares for his flock even when scattered among many countries! Our Second Reading reminded us that Jesus has broken down barriers, making all his followers one family. Whichever country you go to, your spiritual family will be there already. Are you planning to meet with them? Will you make time to visit a church, even if your travel plans make it impossible  to be there for Sunday Mass? If the country has ancient Christian heritage sites, will you visit them?

The way we use our vacation time, when we have more freedom to choose priorities for ourselves, will reveal much about our true faith. Any dismay we might feel at the thought of making God part of our holiday plans, shows us how unwilling we are to yield our lives to God. The Lord is not your trip advisor, asking you to consider His recommendations and adopt 7 out of 10 commandments. The Lord is your shepherd, inviting you to follow him on the only path which leads to eternal life. The decision to follow is one that each one of us must make when we hear the voice of the shepherd: to follow to safety, or to stray in peril.

So consider it! Try something different this year – take God on holiday with you! There’s no need to be sheepish – just let God be your shepherd, and relax.

Adapted from a previous sermon.

The Future’s Bright. The Future’s Evans!

Homily and Narrative at St Philip Evans, on the Solemnity of St Philip Evans, being kept on the weekend of 18/19 July, 2015.

At the Introductory Rites (Please be seated.)

In the year 1675, a Welsh Jesuit was ordained in Belgium and sent back to Wales. Philip Evans SJ served the hidden Catholics of South Wales until July 22nd, 1679, when he was executed in Cardiff for the simple crime of being a Catholic priest.

Exactly 300 years after his ordination, and five years after he was canonized as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, a new parish was named in his honour. The first houses in Llanedeyrn were occupied in 1968, and in 1975 this part of Cardiff was named as a distinct Catholic parish, the parish of St Philip Evans. As Cardiff has expanded, Pentwyn and Pontprennau have also become populated parts of our parish.

This weekend, just before 22nd July, we celebrate both our Patron Saint, and our identity as a parish. The name of our Patron Saint gives a sense of identity to our whole community, just as our own given name gives us identity within the community. Since a parish is composed of the living stones which are its people, I invite you now, at the start of this Mass, to take one of the labels at the end of your bench and write your own name so that you may be known clearly by those around you.

… Now during this Mass, in a special way, we must pray for our own parish and for each individual member. I would like you to turn to one of the people sitting near you and ask them, by name, if there is any special intention they would like you to pray for during this Mass. [Acknowledgements to Revd James Mallon for this idea.]

Readings: Genesis 12:1-4a  ::  Colossians 3:12-17  ::  Luke 9:23-26


The Lord said to Abram – leave your familiar surroundings and set out to fulfil the vision I have for you. You will receive many blessings if you walk in my ways.

Abram took a step into the unknown, trusting in God. He knew that God would fill in the details if he stayed faithful to that part of the vision he had already received.

We also need to know God’s vision for us if we are to step forward confidently into the future. For that reason, since last September, we have had monthly “vision group” meetings in the parish. Last month that resulted in putting together a formal Vision Statement. You will find it on the front of today’s Order of Service.

The parish of St Philip Evans is a welcoming Catholic community, empowered by the Holy Spirit, worshipping and serving God. We meet as a spiritual family to deepen our faith and our knowledge of one another. Within our parish area, we care for those in need and spread the message of Christ.

A Vision Statement is not a statement of where we already are, but of where we know we are called to be.

Our vision is to be a welcoming community. On my very first weekend with you, I made a strong statement that we must become a church community where all people are welcome. Over the past year I have asked Jonathan to work to set up a formal welcome team in the parish, a responsibility now taken on by Cathy Davies, Linda and Christiana – but we are all responsible for welcoming those who choose to worship here. Knowing each other’s names is part of that.

Our vision is to worship God. St Paul said in today’s Letter that we must sing and give thanks to God-our-Father. We do this first and foremost at our weekend Mass, but also through other acts of worship. During the past year our church has become a hub for prayer: Adoration every weekday during school terms, and the rosary and a pro-life prayer vigil most Wednesday evenings. Just last Friday we had a powerful Taizé prayer vigil to pray for some special intentions, led by a family from within our parish. I am truly grateful for the work of those who have made our church a powerhouse of prayer.

Congregation at a typical Sunday Mass at St Philip Evans Church

Our vision is to serve God, meeting to deepen our faith. This is the next step we must take on our spiritual journey. How will we do this? In November 2016, we will hold a Parish Mission, with the help of the Sion Community. We will gather each day, invited to know God better through our hearts and through our minds. We will spend the next year preparing for this mission, including a new Parish Census in the spring. I will say more about this in the autumn.

Our vision is to deepen our knowledge of one another. St Paul declared that “we are called together as parts of one body”. Our parish is as strong, or as weak, as our relationships with one another. The spiritual part of that relationship is forged when we all receive Holy Communion together, but there is also a human dimension – we must also take time to get to know one another precisely because we are members of one church community. If we do not do this, our community will be weak and we will be unable to support one another as Christians should. Some of us belong to organisations such as the Union of Catholic Mothers, the Gold Group, Couples for Christ or Jesus Youth, where we can get to know a few other people really well.

But if you don’t belong to any such group – when during the week do you meet with other members of this parish because they are members of your church? This is why it is so important that a few times each year we come together for events such as the St Philip Evans Barbecue, the International Mass – and if you haven’t already marked your diary, Sunday 25 October is when the Archbishop will celebrate Mass for the 30th anniversary of this church building, followed by a parish lunch. Don’t come to these events because you like barbecues or lunches – come because it is a gathering of your family, your church family, and you are wanted, invited, and expected.

Our vision is to care for those in need and spread the message of Christ. Today’s Gospel challenges us to take up our cross daily, and not to be ashamed of witnessing to Christ. Last weekend I spoke about how we must help others to come to know Jesus and enter into a deep and personal relationship with Him. But to do this, we must first know Him well ourselves. To care for those in need among us, we must pull together as a community – but this first requires a strong community where we support one another. To care for others in an organised way, and to make Christ known, are essential parts of our vision – but they are not steps we are ready to focus on yet. First we must do the groundwork.

On your Order of Service, you will see that there is not only a Vision Statement, but a Mission Statement dated 2015-2018. I believe that the most important work we must do as a parish over the next three years is the work of becoming a stronger community and knowing Christ and his teaching better. So this is my challenge to you: during the next year, what will you do to deepen your knowledge of Christ? During the next year, what will you do to deepen your relationship with some of the other members of this parish?

350 years ago, when St Philip Evans was preparing to become a priest for Wales, the adversaries we faced were clear. Catholics were forbidden from hearing Mass – which was excellent motivation to defy the Government and come together to celebrate Mass, however extreme the circumstances. Today, our adversaries are much more subtle. We face the busyness of work and family life, surrounded by friends and even family members who don’t understand why we take the time to be involved in church. Our struggle is not with an external oppressor, but our with own unwillingness to give God and His family first place in our lives.

The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country and your family for the land that I will show you.” I say to you: “Set aside the other calls upon your time. Give God first place by choosing to deepen your knowledge of Him. Bear with one another, put on the love and peace of Christ, for you are called to come together as one body.”

We face an uncertain future, not least with relations with our neighbouring parishes. But today I am speaking of the life of the Catholic community in Llanedeyrn, Pentwyn and Pontprennau, which will continue to meet here in St Philip Evans Church. We must catch the vision which is God’s vision for this congregation, and I believe that if we set out in this direction, we will be blessed no less than Abram was blessed. St Philip Evans – pray for us!

Sign of Peace

Some months ago, I asked you to offer one another the Sign of Peace by name. I do ask that we continue this custom.

Final Notices

I have shared the draft Vision Statement with you today not because it is a final statement, but so you can understand what it means and what it may demand of us. I will be asking the Parish Council to formally adopt it at the end of September – between now and then, please consider it, pray about it, and if you wish to suggest any amendments, please make them known to Elaine Payne, Vince Saunders, or myself.

Have you met my friend?

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.

“You really ought to meet Helena!* The two of you would get on really well!”

It was around the second year of my time in seminary that a longstanding friend made an unexpected comment. I was working towards the Catholic priesthood, with its lifelong commitment to celibacy, so I was a bit perplexed at the thought of this friend, a committed Catholic herself, playing matchmaker. Making “a new lady friend I would get on really well with” wasn’t high on my priority list at the time.

But a few months later, when we were all at the same social function,  my friend did introduce me to Helena. And she was right! We did get on really well, and from that grew a deep and cherished friendship which has endured to this day.

The twelve disciples were given a mission similar to that of my old friend. She wanted to introduce me to Helena. The twelve had to introduce a nation to Jesus. They were sent not only to preach and heal, but to prepare the towns to meet Jesus when he came.

Our faith, our Christian faith, is in a person, the person called Jesus. We are not followers of a Book or a Law. True, we read of Jesus in a Book, a Book of the Gospels. True, Jesus gave us a Law, that we must love God, and love one another. But these things are not primary. The great and extraordinary message which we celebrate as Christians is that God visited us on earth at a moment of human history; Jesus, God-made-flesh, is our teacher, saviour and friend.Generic image of a robed prophet

The twelve disciples were allowed to take a staff, a pair of sandals, and the clothes they were standing up in. Nothing else – except the authority of Jesus. They were not without resources – but they had to learn to trust in God, not in money or their own ingenuity. The sign that Jesus was with them, unseen, was that they were able to work miracles, healing the sick and casting out demons.

My old friend knew me well, and she knew Helena. She knew the two of us would get on well, and she persevered until we did meet. I am very glad, now, that she did, but until I met Helena, I didn’t know why she was working so hard to get us together. And  just the same thing happens when we want to introduce one of our own friends to Jesus. When we talk about our faith, we will meet disinterest and perhaps hostility, until the time is right – and then something will happen, which will let us connect our friend to Jesus when they’ve had a glimpse of his power, or they cry out in pain or in need. Then, they will discover Jesus, and a beautiful friendship will begin.

We must be persistent in the work of introducing our friends to Jesus, because, “a personal relationship with Christ [is the] key to complete fulfilment”.

Hang on minute – a personal relationship with Jesus? Doesn’t that sound like a strange, Protestant idea?

I was quoting someone when I said that “a personal relationship with Christ” is the “key to complete fulfilment”.

Was it Billy Graham? No.

Was it the Archbishop of Canterbury? No.

In fact, I was quoting from Pope Benedict XVI, in a speech he made in 2011 to the Bishops of the Philippines. Why?

Pope Benedict hoped that “each Catholic will grasp in his or her innermost depths the life-transforming fact that God exists, that he loves us, and that in Christ he answers the deepest questions of our lives.”

This is a message the Catholic Church has kept quiet about for too long. When I meet young Catholic parents who want their babies baptised, they understand that we must “love one another” but when I ask them about God, many of them don’t understand that God is a person who loves them. When I say the word “God”, all they hear is “church stuff”. That’s why, this weekend, Catholic leaders from across England and Wales gathered to discuss how we can become more missionary as a church – how we can introduce our nation to Jesus, and through Jesus, to the One whom He called Father.

St Paul has no doubt about who Jesus and His Father are. I encourage you to re-read today’s Second Reading and make it your own song of praise to God. In a few words it reminds us that God-the-Father loves us just as we are, God doesn’t want us to be punished for any wrong deeds we’ve done, and that Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, enables our sins to be forgiven and ourselves to be adopted as children in God’s family.

Maybe you’re reluctant to meet God. Are you worried that God will blame you for the wrong deeds that you have done? But God sent his Son, Jesus, to forgive your sins.

Are you worried that you will be ashamed about who you are in God’s presence? But God loves you just as you are and wants you to be part of His family.

Do you blame God for some tragedy which has afflicted your family? Unless you can forgive God for not managing the Universe in the way you’d prefer, you’ll never be able to know that love and peace which God longs to give you.

Have you met my friend, Jesus? Have you met His Father, the God who loves you?

If these words sound like hollow ideas, then allow me to make an introduction. When you approach the altar for Holy Communion at this Mass, ask Jesus to show you His Father, and reveal to you his love. I know that you, Jesus and His Father are going to get on really well together. I hope you meet each other real soon!

* Not her real name, to protect her privacy.