Integrity and Praise

Homily at Nazareth House for the Vigil of St David’s Day, 2016The Cross of Saint David

Wherever Saint David’s day is kept as a Feast, the readings from Philippians and St Matthew are proclaimed, but only here in Wales do we have the reading from Isaiah. It is a unique reading – no other day in the Church’s year has that exact combination of verses. It got me wondering why this precise mixture of verses was chosen to mark the patron saint of Wales, in Wales?

The first part proclaims that the Messiah brings good news and restoration to those in trouble. As a small nation, not always sharing the good fortune of our powerful neighbours, this is consoling. The third verse says again that God will give praise in exchange for despondency. Hebrew poetry often repeats the same sentiment – and are we not a nation of poets?

The final verses, taken from a little later in Isaiah’s chapter, speak of integrity and praise. Here is another special message for us, the people of Wales. We must continue to live out two values we are known for – one a British value, the other truly Welsh.


The first value is integrity – or we might call it the British sense of fair play. Why do we patiently queue in shops and stop at red lights on deserted roads? We have a sense of doing the right thing because it’s right, not because of the consequences.

The second value is praise – and is not Wales the land of song? I’ve spent a lot of time as a science student and a trainee priest outside Wales. I’ve sung in many churches. What I lack in tunefulness I make up for in enthusiasm, and people often comment. “I’m Welsh,” I explain. And that is a good enough explanation! English-speakers everywhere have head of Welsh male voice choirs and expect Welsh men to sing! So much so that the comic duo Flanders & Swan could come up with no worse insult than the Welshman “sings far too loud, far too often, and flat!”


As Christians, there are many values we must follow, but we can only be prominent for one or two of them. One way we can continue to be good news, is reinforcing the positive values associated with our nation. So let’s do our part to continue to make Britain known as a nation which plays fair, and Wales as a land of song. Let’s renew our commitment to be people who sing God’s praises, especially when we gather to celebrate Mass in Welsh. We can be, at the same time, representatives of Wales and ambassadors of heaven. And let’s do this wholeheartedly, since:

Dim ond calon lân all ganu

Canu’r dydd a chanu’r nos.

(Only a pure heart can sing all day and all night.)

Comfort the Afflicted!

BishopOdoTrimmedHomily at St Philip Evans, on the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year C.

Do you show mercy in your daily life?

If we want to be merciful, like the Father, we must offer mercy.

If we want to make a good confession this Lent, we must face up to where we’ve failed.

Over these few weeks, we are considering the spiritual works of mercy. Today, I invite you to ask: have I comforted the afflicted?

Right now, some of your friends or family members are in distress. Our world is full of circumstances beyond our control. Disability, cancer, broken families, unemployment, depression – and depending on where your extended family lives, floods in Yorkshire, typhoons in the Philippines, or violence in the Middle East. On the principle of “do unto others what you wish others would do unto you”, it’s rather important to make use of some of your most precious asset – time – to send a bunch of flowers, make a phone call, or pop round for a cup of tea.

To “comfort” literally means to make “with-strength”. It doesn’t always mean a consoling arm round the shoulder. In the Bayeux Tapestry, one panel is labelled: “Bishop Odo comforts his men” (HIC ODO EP[ISCOPU]S BACULU[M] TENENS CONFORTAT PUEROS). The accompanying picture shows a bishop, wielding a club, warning some of his young soldiers not to flee from the battle! In the same way, we must sometimes “comfort the afflicted” by encouraging them to keep on going. God is not the author of their disasters, but the one who offers to walk with them through the valley of the shadow of death.

To comfort the afflicted, we must help them to see God is part of the solution, not part of the problem. When things go wrong in our lives, it’s natural for us to look for someone to blame. Who is the easiest target? The Almighty! If God has the power to work miracles and is supposed to love me without limit, then it must be His fault that things have gone wrong.

This isn’t an easy criticism to respond to. So I want to share with you today, an important spiritual secret, one I have learned from the school of life. If you don’t remember anything else from any other sermon you hear this year, remember the next two words I am about to share with you – a truly profound spiritual message.


Stuff happens.

There have always been diseases and natural disasters. And there always will be diseases and disasters until Christ comes again. Now I don’t want – not for one single moment – to deny the power of prayer. We don’t know how many natural disasters and terrible illnesses have been prevented or reversed because of the prayers of God’s people. But there’s no point in believing in a God who ALWAYS stops these things, because that God doesn’t exist. The only God which Jesus is willing to offer us is the God who exists alongside a world of pain and suffering – the God who saw the suffering of the Hebrew slaves, but waited until the right time to liberate them from Egypt.

Being Christians, or even churchgoers, doesn’t grant us immunity from disaster. A story often attributed to St Teresa of Avila tells of the day when her saddle broke, causing her to fall off her donkey and into a stream. Being a woman of prayer, she complained to the Almighty. God said to her: “This is how I treat all my friends.” Teresa answered, “And that’s why you have so few of them!”

Today’s Gospel shows us the one time Our Lord was confronted with this problem directly. People come to him with reports of two disasters – a collapsed tower and a massacre conducted by occupying troops. He doesn’t use these words but you can almost hear him thinking it – stuff happens. Jesus didn’t prevent a massacre or an industrial accident even when he was living his human life in Galilee. Nor can we expect him to provide a guaranteed intervention service today. Rather, he walked among his people offering forgiveness of sin, healing diseases – and carrying the consoling news that when bad stuff happens, it is not punishment for our sins or for anyone else’s.

His other words are less consoling. “Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” Is Our Lord threatening us with a collapsing roof or homicidal security forces? I don’t think so. Rather, he asks us to have an eternal perspective. We’re offered eternal happiness in a heaven free of all sickness or disaster. But to be sure of entering heaven, we must turn aside from worldly values and follow Jesus – this is the meaning of “repent”. In God’s eyes, bodily sickness and death is not the worst possible disaster. Failing to enter heaven – that’s the true tragedy.

I wrote this homily before we heard news, on Monday, that a collapsing building in Didcot had injured 4 workers, killed one, and left 3 still missing. It’s not so easy to say “stuff happens” when we’re conscious of families whose grief is current. But this is the stunning thing about how Our Lord reacted – not with words of consolation, but a challenge to live Godly lives.

What, then, should we say to a friend raging at God because of the difficulties in their life? Perhaps you can ask what they really expect God to do about it. If the cause of grief is death, gently ask whether it isn’t true that Jesus came to offer eternal life beyond death? If the source of grief is illness, have they asked for the Sacrament of the Sick? And if their problems seem self-inflicted, sensitively but surely we must offer the only comfort the Lord offered in the face of tragedy – “Repent!”

Do you show mercy in your daily life?

Today, I invite you to ask: have I comforted the afflicted?

If not, make a good confession – and then begin!

Pray for the Living and the Dead!

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year C.

Do you show mercy in your daily life?woman-praying

If we want to be merciful, like the Father, we must offer mercy.

If we want to make a good confession this Lent, we must face up to where we’ve failed.

Over these few weeks, we are considering the spiritual works of mercy. Today, I invite you to ask: have I prayed for the living and the dead?

This sounds quite straightforward. But who are the living and the dead? The Bible shows us that God doesn’t always see things the way we see them.

Our first reading takes us back to ancient days, to Abraham himself. In those days, God had not spoken to human beings about heaven, and Abraham believed that when he died, he would “live on” only in his descendants.

Jesus saw things differently. The God he called Father was the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and all people are alive to him!” Not only that, but on the mountain of transfiguration, the apostles saw Moses and Elijah, men who had lived centuries earlier, alive and speaking with Jesus!

Jesus wanted those apostles to see that in death, life is changed, not ended. We do not get reincarnated as a new person with no memory of the old. We are not dissolved into some spiritual essence which is remixed and remade. No, because each one of us is loved by God as a unique individual, we continue as persons – and we profess in our Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. This means that one day, in God’s future, we will be restored to a life which never ends, in bodies free from sickness, and reflecting the glory of God.

The Bible also speaks of a connection between death and sin. “Death came into the world through sin!” said St Paul. That makes no sense if we think of the material world – plants and animals were dying for millions of years before the first human beings lived, and only humans are capable of sinning. But perhaps a different kind of death is meant. Jesus once said “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The Bible also says “there is a sin that leads to death” – which is why in the Church we sometimes speak about “mortal sin”. By committing certain sins and not asking God’s forgiveness, we risk being raised to a new body only to be sent, with all the goats at the last judgement, to eternal separation from God, which is Hell.

Priests in an earlier generation would have readily taught you a list of mortal sins. Now the Church takes more care in the way we explain things. I could give you the same list, but I would call them “SERIOUS sins” or “grave matter“. If you commit one of these, it could be mortal, but only if you commit the sin KNOWING how serious it is, and acting in full FREEDOM – that is, without being in the grip of addiction or mental illness, or forced by other circumstances beyond your control.

The trouble with defining some sins as mortal is that we can be drawn into the trap of asking: “Was my sin really mortal or only venial? Do I really need to go to confession?” The better question is simply: “Have I committed a serious sin?” If the answer is yes, celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation and you can be utterly sure that it has been forgiven!

Today is the day in Lent when we pray in a special way for those adults who are already baptised, but will make their First Communion and be confirmed at Easter. Soon they will make their First Confession. As a community we will be praying for those who may be dead through sin to receive life through the great sacrament of mercy. We must also remember to pray all the more fervently for those who have not heard, or are resisting, the nagging voice of God who is continually inviting his children to be come to great sacraments of mercy – baptism and reconciliation.

We are all called to pray for the living and the dead. We are called to pray for those who are spiritually alive, followers of Jesus who come faithfully to Mass and dedicate some of their time and energy to raising their families, to the work of the church, and to their employment. We are called also to pray for those who are spiritually dead, who need to find new life through the sacraments. When Our Lady appeared at Fatima, she taught us that a powerful way to do this was to pray a decade of the rosary and add the following prayer: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fire of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those who are most in need of your mercy.”

There are other ways of praying too – but what is important is that we pray for others and not just ourselves.

Do you show mercy in your daily life?

Today, I invite you to ask: have I prayed for the living and the dead?

If not, make a good confession – and then begin your new life of prayer!


Homily at St Philip Evans, for Ash Wednesday 2016.

Bang! Bang! Bang!A gavel banging on its stand

How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?

This Lent, you are invited to a courtroom – a most unusual courtroom – called the Tribunal of Mercy.

In this courtroom, you are the accused.

In this courtroom, you are also the jury. And you have come to court for one simple reason – you already know you are guilty.

In this courtroom, a judge is waiting to pass sentence. But the sentence has already been served!


As Catholics, we are famous for our sense of guilt.

Sometimes we suffer from false guilt, from our failure to achieve the impossible. We may have missed Mass due to a snowstorm, or had a ‘bad thought’ to which we gave no wilful encouragement whatsoever. But if we did not have the power to do otherwise, such guilt is not a sign of culpable sin.

Sometimes we suffer from residual guilt. Perhaps we have formed our own opinion, which is not the Church’s opinion, about abortion, or contraception, or weapons of mass destruction, or involvement in unfair trade. But after we have acted, or voted, in accord with our private views, perhaps our second thoughts chip in, saying, “but what if, when I meet Our Lord, it turns out that the Catholic Church was right after all?” Hold on to that thought!

Sometimes we suffer from true guilt. We have made a choice which is not a good and godly choice. Perhaps that was a once-in-a-lifetime major event which we’ve been trying to forget about ever since. Perhaps it was the beginning of a chain of addiction, to alcohol, pornography, or some other pleasure. Or perhaps it was some petty act of jealousy or spite towards another person. Whatever it was, it quite rightly causes us to feel guilty.

The great thing about being Catholic is that we have a way of dealing with guilt. Run to the confessional, plead guilty, let the priest pass sentence. The sentence is always the same – your sins, together with all the other sins of the world, deserve death. But by freely offering himself to die on the Cross, Jesus served that sentence for us. What we are called to, instead, is true repentance.

True repentance means running to the God who loves us, no matter what sin we have committed.

True repentance means having the confidence of the prodigal son, to return to the Father’s House – and trusting that a joyful welcome awaits us.

True repentance means trusting that nothing we can do, no sin we might commit, can cause God to love us any less than than God does already – any more than a mother can stop loving her wayward child.

True repentance means rushing to the Tribunal of Mercy and saying, “Father, I messed up again.” In return, God says, “I love you! And I forgive you again!”

We do not – we cannot – earn God’s forgiveness.

God loves us. God will never reject us, whatever our actions might deserve.

This is the God who commanded Peter to forgive seventy times seven times, who sent his only Son to die so our sins could be forgiven.

This is the loving Father who declares: “Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning.”


In this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invites us to rush the the place of mercy, which is the Confessional, and do the most important thing necessary to receive the Father’s forgiveness – admit our guilt.

Now, it’s true that to make a good confession, we also require a “firm purpose of amendment”. If we have recognised that our actions are sinful, we must do what is within our power to avoid sin in future. If our sin is one of addiction, “what is within our power” may be to begin to get help, by attending a 12-step programme like Alcoholics Anonymous. If our sin is one of being drawn into pornography, “what is within our power” may be to install blocking software on our computer, or confiding in a friend to be an “accountability partner”. God delights in our efforts to overcome sin. God will give us extra help to resist temptation, if we ask for this in prayer. But God’s love for us does not depend on our efforts to resist evil. God’s love  is always there.



This is the Year of Mercy. The priests of our deanery are working together to make sure that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is widely available, on afternoons and evenings. The door of mercy is open wide at our cathedral.

Are you are suffering from guilt?

Rush to the confessional.

Plead guilty.

Be amazed at Christ’s love in dying to pay the price for your sin.

Rejoice that God’s love for you is solid and unshakeable.

Best. Lent. Ever!

Instruct the Ignorant!

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

Do you show mercy in your daily life?

If we want to be merciful, like the Father, we must offer mercy.

If we want to make a good confession this Lent, we must face up to where we’ve failed.

Over the next few weeks, we will consider the spiritual works of mercy. Today, I invite you to ask: have I instructed those who are ignorant?

Consider ignorance. There are things we don’t know we don’t know, ‘til someone shows us. I’ll always be grateful to the friend who taught me that SHIFT-F3 on my computer keyboard can flip a word into capital letters – a great time-saver! And to the seminarian who taught me to kick a football straight using the side of my foot, not the toe of my boot. I’m reminded of the story of the teenage boy who left home thinking his parents were quite ignorant, and returned from college amazed at how much they’d learned in three years!

What about religious ideas? In last weekend’s sermon, we were reminded that God has poured blessings on outsiders, so we must be ready to reach out and invite them in. But in this day and age, it can feel very uncomfortable to claim we “know the right answer” about religious things.

You might have seen the recent BBC documentary where Adrian Chiles travelled the Mediterranean, interviewing religious believers. His closing comments made his position clear: he was the kind of Catholic who felt he had a lot in common with Muslims who care about people, and with Jews who care about people, but said: “If you believe your way is the only way, your truth is the only truth – I’m sorry, I’m not on your team.”


Our Lord Jesus once said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.”

Does that mean Our Lord and Adrian Chiles aren’t on the same team?

St Paul wrote, in the words we’ve just heard, “The gospel will save you only if you keep believing exactly what I preached to you – believing anything else will not lead to anything.” He also tells us that he has taken care to make sure he is teaching what the other apostles also taught: that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures. Knowing the truth matters.

An O-ring seal compressed in a vice - it stays that way when released, if cooledLast weekend, news programmes remembered that 30 years previously, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after take-off. The reason? Safety seals in the outer casing didn’t work properly in very cold weather. The risks were known, but NASA felt pressured to keep projecting a “can-do” attitude to spaceflight. When Nobel prizewinner Richard Feynman pointed this out, he concluded: “Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

Claiming that we know the Right Answer doesn’t always make us popular. But reality always wins.

There’s a right way to kick a football. There’s a quick way to use a Word Processor. And there is most definitely a wrong way to launch a Space Shuttle, if you want to keep its passengers safe.

We can sympathise with Adrian Chiles. He doesn’t want to claim there is a Right Answer about religion, because he is anxious – “How can we ever be sure that we’re right?” What he really means is that he finds something in our Catholic faith attractive enough that he is drawn to join, but not so compelling that he’s motivated to invite others.

Faith is a kind of knowing. It’s a knowing that we know without knowing how we know.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls fisherman to be fishers-of-men, to seek souls, to win people as his friends and followers. Does he do this out of self-interest, wanting a bigger crowd than any other rabbi – or does he do it because following Jesus matters?

Simon Peter sensed that it matters. What other rabbi could show a fisherman where to make a record-breaking catch?

St Paul sensed that it matters. Hadn’t this Jesus, after dying on a Cross, showed himself to 500 disciples all at once, and then to Paul himself while journeying to Damascus to take many Christians prisoner?

It’s a spiritual work of mercy to instruct the ignorant. But to do this, we have to know the truth, and know how to pass it on tactfully. The basics are the Creeds and Dogmas of our faith. In these, we are confident – we literally “have faith”.

How can we tell the difference between the basic teachings, and other things which are just the opinions of scholars, or the way we happen to do things? This takes study. It’s a spiritual work of mercy to instruct the ignorant. If you don’t know the answer, begin with yourself. After all, for some months now, we have been praying for the Lord to invite us to know him better, through study.

Do you show mercy in your daily life?

Today, I invite you to ask: have I instructed those who are ignorant?

If not, make a good confession – and then begin with yourself!