Counsel the Doubtful!

Homily at St Philip Evans, on Easter Sundaylily-960387_1280, Year C.

Imagine you were running the Cardiff half-marathon yesterday. You’ve never done it before. Your legs are chronically tired, and you’re only half-way through the course. You doubt you can make it to the finish.But there are crowds lining the route cheering you on… and you overcome your doubts. You push on… and you’ve finished your first half-marathon! Hallellujah!

If we’ve taken Lent seriously, the last six weeks have will have been something of a marathon. But now it’s Easter Day. Hallellujah! Yet at the end of this marathon, we are still left with doubts. In the gospel we’ve just read, someone is missing! We have an empty tomb and a folded linen cloth – but of Jesus himself there’s no sign.

Next Sunday, we’ll read how Jesus appeared to the group of apostles and showed himself to doubting Thomas. But for Easter Sunday, we’re left in doubt and confusion – just like the disciples on the first Easter morning. And perhaps that’s more appropriate for us. Unlike the apostles, we haven’t seen the risen Jesus. Like them, we experience a mixture of faith and doubt.

We doubt because we have intellectual questions about God – if he loves us, why is the world in such a mess?

We doubt because we have mixed feelings about God – does he really love me personally when my life is such a mess?

We doubt because we’ve heard the rumours, but we can’t see the Lord of life with our own eyes.

Yet we’re here on Easter Sunday morning because deep down, we believe. And like the crowds lining the streets yesterday, we’re here to cheer each other on.

Having faith is rather like being in love. There’s a time when lovers keep saying “I love you” through all sorts of romantic words and gestures. Then, when they have formed a family, the lovers get on with the business of sharing a life together and not often explicitly telling each other that they care – it’s understood, but not spelled out. In the same way, once we come to faith in God, God won’t always keep giving us strong signs to keep us believing.

Having faith is like being part of a family. God won’t step in to fix a broken world, just as a loving parent lets a growing teenager go out into the world and make their own mistakes. God simply asks us to honour his family values. We have to keep the faith – and it’s not easy. In fact, the whole Hebrew Bible is the story of how God’s chosen people kept breaking their promises to God despite God rescuing them from Egypt, from enemies, and from exile. The Gospels are the story of how Jesus came to say that our Heavenly Father is not angry, but will have mercy on anyone who breaks with their past sins and asks for a fresh start.

Having faith is a marathon, not a sprint. To get all the way to Heaven, Jesus asks us not to look back but to serve him more faithfully each year. We will get tired, but God promises to renew our strength.

Faith and doubt go together. It’s because we’re surrounded by doubt, that each Easter, we’re invited to renew our baptismal promises. This isn’t meant to be a mere ritual we perform because it’s Easter Sunday. In this computer age it’s all too easy to click “Yes” to the terms and conditions without thinking through what we’re doing. But what we do today needs thought. It’s meant to be a personal and deliberate choice to live our lives God’s way – your promise to me, to one another, and to God.

Promises matter. American Football Coach Bill McCartney, founder of a Christian men’s network called the Promise Keepers, once told a story about how he prepared his team for a crucial match. Each player was asked to reflect on what they were going to do. Then each player had to come, personally, and tell the coach what he intended to do on game day. At the big match, the team played better than anyone expected.* Each player kept his promise.

In a few moments, you’ll be asked to make three promises.

“I renounce Satan.” This is more than repenting of sin. To “renounce” is to say: I want nothing to do with this! I am not only sorry that I gave in to sin when I was tempted; I don’t want that sin to have any lasting hold on me. I will do everything in my power never to fall into sin again!

Don’t believe the lie that you are unforgiveable or that God doesn’t care about you. Our Father in heaven simply wants us to be set free. Will I be a victim or walk in freedom? Will I let the Enemy bully me into not being the best version of myself? Just declaring that we renounce Satan helps us overcome that fear.

Coach McCartney would ask what you’re going to do, to break any ongoing temptation and kick Satan out of your life!

“I believe in God.” To believe is more than a mental exercise of holding an idea in your head. To “believe” is literally “to put your faith in”. Like the Apostles, because we receive Holy Communion, we can declare: “We have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead.” With the Apostles, we share in the Great Commission: he ordered us to proclaim that God has appointed Jesus to judge everyone, alive or dead. All who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven.

How often will we put our trust in Christ’s command to eat his flesh and drink his blood?

How often will we tell other people that Jesus will forgive anyone who turns to him, but will pass sentence on anyone who dies without asking forgiveness?

How often will we seek mercy from Jesus by making confession? This is the Year of Mercy and next Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, many priests will be in Splott hearing confessions.

Coach McCartney would ask what you’re going to do this year, because you put your trust in Jesus, the Saviour of the world!

“I believe in the Catholic Church.” To put your faith in the Church needs a personal commitment to making this parish the very best that it can be. When most of us turn up for Church every Sunday, our parish becomes strong – we cheer each other on to the finish. When we step forward to volunteer, there will be a rich selection of church events for children and for adults. When we give generously every week, we service our parish debts and help keep our building in good order. This parish is only as strong as what we give to it week in, week out. What will your contribution be?

One more question, though not one the liturgy asks us today. “Do you believe in yourself?” The crowd is only watching you. Your coach believes in you, and wants to give you confidence you can play to win. Our Christian life is not a lonely marathon, but a team sport. If you are on the Lord’s team, you are already on the winning side. Alone you can do nothing, but together we are unstoppable.

Coach McCartney isn’t here. But your Parish Priest believes in you. During the service you will only be asked to renew your baptismal promises. But on the way out, be ready – I might ask you personally what you’re going to do for the team!

* Story taken from page 94 of Unbound by Neil Lozano.


Join the “Serve One Another” Society

Homily at St Philip Evans for Maundy Thursday, 2016.

coffee-cupWould you like it Regular, Large, Extra-Large, Skinny or Superskinny? Fries, mash, or side salad? And which dressing will you have with that?

Choice. It’s all around us. As consumers, we’re told that we can have things the way we like it, when we want it. It’s part of the self-service society we now live it. At the supermarket, we can self-scan. At the airport, we can self-check-in. Shopping on-line, we can see a bewildering array of options and choose exactly what we want. It makes things cheaper for the companies, because we are doing more of the work ourselves. But this also comes with a price. That price is a kind of loneliness and isolation – and it sells us an illusion, the illusion that we are self-sufficient.

Sooner or later, most of us will need help. If we live to a ripe old age, we might need someone to cut our nails, manage our mobility or even provide all-round nursing care. As Christians, we will need to resist the temptation to say “I can do it myself, thanks” and receive the help on offer with good grace.

But Jesus wants us to do more than that. We don’t just help each other when we can’t manage. We help each other because we are one body with many parts, and the Church works best when allow ourselves to serve one another. There’s a cost to this too – if you let someone else help you, chances are you won’t get everything just the way you like it.

When I first became a priest, I learned quickly never to say “no” to offers of help if there was any way I could make use of that help. I also learned that while I could do things my way, it’s always best to let other people do things their way. Unless some important point of Health & Safety or Safeguarding is at stake, trying to make other people do things my way is a hiding to nothing!

Simon Peter is appalled when Jesus wants to wash his feet. But if Jesus is going to do it at all, then he should wash all of Simon’s body, right? No. Jesus does things differently. He wants to wash our feet and Peter learns to accept that with good grace. The Church is not part of the self-service society; quite the contrary. Jesus invites us to become the “Serve One Another” society. And that’s going to be messy. None of us will get things just the way we like it. But none of us is in charge of the Universe, so that’s OK.

Recently, the Gold Group, our parish “family group of families“, came to me with an offer. Could they serve coffee after Sunday Mass once a month? Of course, I said yes. It’s not going to be Starbucks or Costa. You won’t have all the options from Grande thru Superskinny. But it will be a chance for us to get to know each other better. For some months now, we’ve been praying “Invite me, Lord Jesus, to know you better through the people of my parish.” From next month, he will be inviting us to do just that once a month, over a drink in the Hall. So even if it’s not a convenient time, even if it’s not your favourite drink, I invite you tonight to make a decision. Each month, stay and be part of coffee time. More than that, offer to help out, or even to start Saturday evening coffee.

We don’t do a social gathering after Mass just because we enjoy it – we do it because our parish only becomes a strong parish when we network with one another. Moses told the Israelites to come together in one house where two families were too small to eat the Passover on their own. He commanded us to “wash one another’s feet” – but what he meant was we should find ways to serve one another which make sense in our own society. If we gather together, if we serve one another, if we get to know each other better, our parish will become what Christ is calling us to be.

“Copy what I have done,” said Jesus. It didn’t come with options – in fact there is only one option, regular. How regular? Eat this and drink this communion – every Sunday. Coffee after Mass, one Sunday per month. Your priest washing feet at Mass – once per year. So let those chosen for the footwashing come forward now.

Recommended: A TED talk on the perils of too much choice.

Satan v Jesus: Dawn of Mercy

Assembly at Corpus Christi School on 17 March 2016

Is it really surprising that the most powerful man in the world should be a figure of controversy?

We as a population on this planet have been looking for a Saviour.

We are talking about a being whose very existence challenges our own sense of priority in the Universe.

… Can power be innocent? … No-one has asked what he should do – “Go home!”

On 25 March this year, people across the world will have an opportunity to witness an epic battle. Some call it “The Greatest Gladiator Match in the History of the World”. It is a conflict between darkness and light, between a dark figure who fights in shadows and the child who came from above, the Son of El.

Apparently, there’s a movie coming out the same day called “Batman v Superman” but the gladiator match I’m talking about is “Satan v Jesus”.

In the red corner, contending for eternal victory, the prince of Hell, the highest of fallen angels, the father of lies, the accuser of mankind – Satan.

In the blue corner, the carpenter from Capernaum, the Word made flesh, the Son of Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth!

The night before the big match, Satan was seen leaning upon one Judas Iscariot, causing him to reveal the whereabouts of the training camp of the other contender. Meanwhile, after a sharing simple meal with his support team, Jesus was reported to be sweating blood over whether to go through with the matchup at all.


Like any modern sporting match, this one began with sledging designed to undermined the other side. The threat posed by Satan was so formidable that Jesus almost pulled out from the contest altogether. But encouraged by his promoter, Big Daddy, he found the strength to carry on.

Round 0 – and victory goes to Jesus!


It’s the early hours of Friday morning and Jesus has entered the arena. Satan’s chosen tactic for this round is one of his specialities – false accusations. He’s sent in some of his team members to accuse Jesus of blasphemy, terrorism and treason. Oh-oh, the crowd’s turning ugly! They are chanting for Jesus’ blood! The referee’s looking worried. He doesn’t want to do this – but – looks like he’s got no choice – he’s pulling out the red card. Jesus has been sin-binned!

Round 1 is a victory for Satan!


The next round takes us outside the City of Jerusalem, for the endurance race up Mount Calvary. Jesus is laden down with a heavy cross – he is not finding this easy. Oh! He’s fallen! Is this the end of the race? No, he’s up again, but he’s clearly struggling. The match officials are conferring with the team doctor – looks like they are bringing on a substitute! Yes, it’s Simon of Cyrene, taking on the next leg of the endurance race with the Cross of Christ. He doesn’t look happy, he wasn’t even warmed up when the coach picked him, but he’s making a good go of it! Now he’s handing it back to Jesus for the last lap. Jesus is wounded but not derailed by Satan’s efforts. This round is a draw!


The final conflict takes place on the brow of the hill. Jesus is now nailed to a rough cross of wood. This is a test of mental endurance. At any time he can hit the panic button, he can shout out to Big Daddy and the rescue team will get him out of there. But no, it’s not happening. Instead, sounds like he is trying to talk… something about his mother being looked after… being thirsty… and forgiving, yes, forgiving the members of Satan’s team who aren’t making this easy for him. He’s getting weak now… very weak… he’s lost consciousness. They are calling in the team doctor… yes, it’s been confirmed. Jesus has died, yes died on Calvary. That means he won the mental endurance test but is out of the competition, it’s an overall victory for Satan!


Now we’re going to play that sporting clip game called “What Happened Next?”. Turns out Jesus dying on the cross wasn’t the end of the drama. First he went to the realm of the dead, where everyone from Adam and Eve to John the Baptist were waiting for him. Then he burst the bonds of death and shattered the gates of Hell! Following Jesus, all the good souls made a run for heaven, and got in!

Too good to be true? Next Jesus had to come back to earth and open the way to heaven for us. So he took his mortal body and transformed it. He walked through a locked door, if you please, and showed himself to Peter and the gang. Later he ambushed Paul on the road to Damascus and persuaded him to turn his life around.

Most importantly, the review board decided to disqualify Satan for cheating and hand the final victory to Jesus.

Truly in Jesus, we are talking about a being whose very existence challenges our own sense of priority in the Universe. He plays by different rules. Jesus came to show us how to forgive our worst enemies and sacrifice ourselves for the needs of others. If we follow his way, we’ll be on his team! But it’s a demanding way. It requires a tough training regime. Some found it so challenging they told Jesus to go home to where he came from.

What happened on the first Good Friday was nothing less than the Dawn of Mercy. A new age began for the world, in which we no longer had to fear eternal punishment. God wanted to make a way for us to go to heaven. The devil will always accuse us of being unworthy. But if we are on the Lord’s team, we have one foot in heaven already!

This Good Friday, 25 March 2016, and every Good Friday, we are invited to relive this epic drama. Catholic Churches round the world present the story at 3 pm.

Satan v Jesus

The Dawn of Mercy

One showing only ’til next year.

Be there.



Homily at St Philip Evans, on Palm Sunday, Year C.

“Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”


It is the most distinctive feature of our Christian faith.

Every day, we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The story of the Lord’s Passion is shot through with forgiveness.

Peter, you will deny me three times, but once you have recovered, you must strengthen your brothers.

One of the disciples cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant, but touching the man’s ear, Jesus healed him.

They crucified Jesus. He said: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”

The good thief acknowledged that he deserved punishment, and said “Jesus, remember me.” Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

The story of God’s people through the ages is also shot through with forgiveness.

St Stephen, the deacon and first martyr of the church, was stoned, and died crying: ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’

In 1679, St Philip Evans was brought to the gallows in Roath and was permitted to make a speech before he was hanged. “If I have or had any enemies in the world, which I do not know that ever I had in my life, I do heartily forgive them for anything done or said against me, and if I have offended anybody, I am heartily sorry for it and ask them forgiveness. I pray God bless and prosper the king.”

In 1902, a young Italian girl was fatally wounded by a young man who attacked her. Her parish priest brought her Holy Communion and asked whether she forgave her attacker. St Maria Goretti replied, “Yes, I forgive him and want him to be in Paradise with me.”

Blessed Miguel Pro, about to be executed by firing squadIn 1927, a Jesuit priest working in Mexico was falsely
accused of plotting against the President. Rejecting the traditional blindfold, Blessed Miguel Pro stretched his arms out in the form of a cross and facing the firing squad said, “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you. Lord, You know that I am innocent. With all my heart I forgive my enemies.”

Beyond the ranks of the Catholic Church, we could speak of the Methodist, Gordon Wilson, who forgave the IRA for the bomb which killed his daughter, Marie; we could point to the Anglican Bishop Festo Kivengere, who dared to preach forgiveness towards the homicidal dictator, Idi Amin; we could mention of the Russian mystic Seraphim of Sarov, who was brutally assaulted and left crippled for life, but refused to press charges against his attackers.

Christians forgive. If we do not forgive, we are not followers of the Crucified One.

But how can we forgive? If someone has wounded us so deeply that our only feelings towards that person are hatred and revenge, are we not entitled to say, “I cannot forgive – I will never forgive”?


Say not, “I cannot forgive”, but “I will not forgive” – because forgiveness is a choice.

Forgiveness is nothing to do with your feelings, and everything to do with your willpower.

How can you forgive your worst enemy? Here are three steps you must take.

  1. Say the words. “Heavenly Father, I forgive this person. Do not hold their sin against them.”
  2. Choose not to punish the person for what they have done. If there is any ongoing situation where you are being vindictive, stop it immediately.
  3. Show some sign of love towards the other person, if it is safe to do so.

None of these actions require you to feel warm towards your enemy. They only require an act of will. You forgive with your mind first, and eventually your heart will follow.

Perhaps this seems too much to ask. It will certainly require a great deal of emotional energy. If you cannot find it within yourself, ask God for a share of the love which flows from the wounded heart of Jesus. But if you need inspiration, if you need motivation, look to the Crucifix, and remember what we celebrate this day.

“Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”


Admonish the Sinner!

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 5th 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 admonished sinners?

It’s not easy, getting other people to change their behaviour – especially if they don’t share our viewpoint. After all, have ever tried changing your own behaviour? A diet? A fast? It’s not easy. They say that when we point the finger at others, three point back.

There’s a story about a mother who marched her son up to a monk and said “tell him to stop eating so many chocolate biscuits”.

“Come back in two weeks,” said the monk.

Two weeks later the bemused mother took her son back to visit the monk. The monk looked the boy in the eye and said: “Stop eating so many chocolate biscuits”.

The Mum was grateful, yet curious about why she had been made to wait for a fortnight. So she hung back and whispered her question to the monk.

“My dear daughter,” said the monk, “it’s only 13 days since I gave up eating too many biscuits!”

Today’s Gospel gives us a window into how Jesus corrected a sinner. First, he communicated clearly that he was not keen that she should be punished for what she had done. But second, he left her in no doubt that what she had done was wrong – “Go and sin no more!”


Over the last few years our bishops have found themselves in a very difficult position. Our politicians have moved away from Christian values on matters such as the sanctity of human life, the definition of marriage, and Sunday trading. If our Bishops do stand up for these values, they will be accused of being bigoted and not respecting the different values of other people in society. If our Bishops shrug and accept that British laws can no longer embody Christian values, they will be accused of being soft on morality. A retired Chief Rabbi recently suggested that religions should seek to wield great influence but not hold political power – perhaps our bishops are ensuring the Catholic viewpoint is heard in the public debate, even if they don’t expect Parliament to enshrine Catholic values in law.

It’s easier to correct a sinner if they are a committed Catholic and you are a supportive friend. If your starting point is knowing the other person also wants to live their life as a follower of Jesus, you can gently question their actions. Otherwise, how do we start the conversation?


The monk in my story took his time. He made sure he was living a life of integrity, so he wouldn’t be a hypocrite. It also takes time to build up trust, and without trust we won’t get anyone to change their behaviour willingly.

Sometimes we don’t have time, and the cause is urgent. One example would be the people running the “40 days for Life” campaign, praying and witnessing outside abortion clinics. They don’t have months to get to know mothers in distress, and the stakes are as high as possible – life or death.

But in most cases, if we want to embrace our calling to admonish sinners, we should take our time. We build up trust slowly. The effective conversation is one which starts “Where is Jesus in your life?” rather than “Hey! Don’t do that!”. It’s only when we can talk about God that we can tackle the tricky are of what God’s commands are.

During the next week, priests across the City of Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan will put on two penitential services each day so that you have the best possible opportunity to go to confession in Lent for the Year of Mercy. There are morning, afternoon and evening opportunities, including here at St Philip Evans on Thursday evening.

One reason we might feel reluctant to go to confession is a sense that “I haven’t done anything really wrong.” Now it’s true that the small sins of everyday life don’t have to be taken to confession. When we receive communion, God deals with our thoughtless gossip, momentary displays of anger, and failure to pray as much as we might. But it’s still good to ask not only for forgiveness, but the special grace to overcome sin which God gives through absolution. To prepare for confession, we must examine our consciences, and that’s why I’ve been working through the spiritual works of mercy this Lent.

Now we can’t achieve everything we’d like to, because there are only 24 hours in a day. Reflecting on the works of mercy is less about asking whether we should go off and do voluntary work, more about asking ourselves whether we have made the best use of the opportunities God has sent us in daily life. If bad behaviour came our way, did we bear wrongs graciously? When a friend sinned, did we speak up? Did we pray for the friends and colleagues whose sins have affected us? If we don’t know our faith well enough to pass it on effectively, have we made a plan to help ourselves learn anything? And what have we done for friends who are in distress?

“No need to remember the past” says God through Isaiah.

“I want only the perfection that comes from faith in Christ, not my own efforts,” says St Paul.

“Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus, “go away and sin no more.”

All of these await you at the confessional. Please don’t wait for me to send out personalised invitations!

Five Steps of Faith, and a Murky Mirror

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 4th Sunday of Lent, with Second Scrutiny.

Whenever adults are to be baptised Catholic at Easter, we have these readings 3 weeks before. They help us reflect on the journey of faith which brings us to baptism – or for us who were baptised as infants, to making an adult decision to continue with our faith. On Easter Night or Easter Day, we will all be invited to renew our baptismal promises. Let us not do so blindly!


Step 1. God turns up in your life. For the boy David, it was a prophet turning up for tea with a pot of anointing oil. For the blind man, it was Jesus placing mud on his eyes. When was the first time you became conscious of a person or idea which you felt was connected to God?

Step 2. You are curious enough to want to find our more. The blind man – still blind, and with mud in his eyes – was willing to follow Jesus’ instruction to go and wash in a certain pool. Some of our elect here today responded to a school newsletter inviting them to learn more about the Catholic faith. Can you remember what first made you curious about Jesus or the Catholic Church?

Step 3. Trouble comes! It might be trouble from other people who tease us about our faith or try to argue, like the Pharisees did, about the right way to do religion. Or it might be trouble from our own mind, which says “Hold on – if I follow Jesus, I might have to give up certain things I enjoy.” What, for you, is the biggest obstacle to believing and living your faith?

Step 4. You’ve survived the trouble and it helps you realise that God is getting through to you. You might not know how you know, but you know that the message of Jesus is important for your life. This makes it crucial to ask the right questions. The blind man says, “Tell me who the Son of Man is!” – in other words, tell me more about Jesus. From this year’s group preparing to be Catholic, I have faced some fascinating questions, about what the Church says about ghosts or life after death. Let me throw out a question in return – if God appeared to you and promised to give a straight answer to just one question, what would that question be?

Step 5. The blind man says “I believe!” and worships Jesus. At Easter Mass, each one of us will be asked if we believe in Jesus. To say “yes” is not just to declare we have an idea about Jesus in our heads. It is to affirm that we put our trust in him, we follow his teachings in our life, and we come to Mass on the Lord’s Day because he asked us to do this in memory of me. So with this in mind – Do you believe in the Son of Man?

We don’t get the full picture of our faith straight away. The blind man encountered Jesus but spent time with mud in his eyes. Was he healed when Our Lord put the mud on, or when it was washed away? And why did Jesus do that? Was it perhaps because we see “through a glass darkly”, God’s light reflected in the murky mirror of our human existence? Jesus comes to us through glimpses of his presence in a messy world? Very few of us get the blinding light of St Paul having a vision on the road to Damascus. The water of life is mixed with the dust of this world. Most of us live with the Lord giving us just enough nudges of his loving presence to encourage us to carry on. It’s normal to have just enough faith. Blinding visions are quite the exception!

Today’s sermon has been full of questions – questions you’ve had a moment to think about but noGeneric image of a robed prophet chance to discuss. This is why we have activities like the monthly Call to Question group, where we can go deeper into questions of faith. It’s also why I’ve been asking us in these months to pray “Invite me Lord, to know you better, through … study”. Jesus is inviting us to know him better. For those of you who have been taking part in our faith exploration groups this year, how will you deepen your knowledge next year? And this question is for all of us – is a 7 minute sermon each weekend enough to nourish our faith? Don’t we need more? And here’s my last question. What would you say if you met the blind man and he asked: “Tell me who the Son of Man is?”




Bear Wrongs Patiently!

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 4th 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 borne wrongs patiently?

We’ve just heard the very familiar story of the Prodigal Son. The young son pursued sins of the flesh, wasting his inheritance on a life of luxury which brought no lasting fulfilment. The elder brother fell into sins of the heart: jealousy and unforgiveness. But today I invite you to focus on the father in this story, and the way he loves his sons. Jesus told us this story so that we could know the heart of God-the-Father.

In all the years I’ve worked as a priest, I’ve heard a lot of stories of broken hearts and broken families. Hearts may be broken when a close friend doesn’t fulfil our hopes or expectations. Families can be broken when there’s an inheritance, and someone thinks they are not getting their fair share.

The father in this story had every right to abandon his younger son. By asking for his inheritance, that son had said, in effect, “Dad, I wish you were dead!” In a different kind of story, Dad would have said “Take your darn money and never darken this door again!” But in the story Jesus tells, the father is watching out every day, longing for his wayward son to return – watching so intently that when the son appears in the distance, the father runs to embrace him and welcome him home. Not only that, but when the elder brother is having a hissy-fit in the garden, this same father comes out and pleads with his firstborn to show some compassion. This father is a peacemaker. This father believes that unity is so important, he is willing to make big sacrifices in order to draw back to him the children he loves.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to hope for a fair outcome. It’s morally good to seek justice, especially for vulnerable people who can’t stand up for themselves. But it’s not always easy to work out a “fair” outcome is. It’s one thing to seek justice for the vulnerable, but quite another to seek to get my own way when I have a private dispute with another person. In such cases, God asks us for a special kind of triumph. Am I strong enough to say: “I choose to let you win”?

This isn’t about being a doormat who caves in because of pressure. This is about being a strong Christian who freely chooses unity above getting my own share. We talk about “justice and peace”, but sometimes the only way to peace is by taking a deep breath and accepting a solution where I come off second best. Was it fair for Jesus to bear the punishment for all the sinners of the human race? No, but he was generous enough to accept it.

It’s OK to hope that our friends will devote a lot of time and energy in our direction. But let’s not withdraw our friendship when they don’t.

It’s OK to hope for an equal slice of the pie when you are in someone’s will. But remember, it wasn’t your money in the first place, and someone might have good reason to give a larger slice to someone whose hidden needs only they know. Grown-up children who expect nothing from their parents can never be disappointed, only delighted.

It’s OK to hope for justice, but let our prayer always be: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. And when we know it’s time to accept something we cannot change, we can make our own this prayer taught by Our Lady of Fatima: O Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

St Paul understood God’s love. Paul himself had arrested Christians and approved when they were killed. But Jesus had stepped into Paul’s life and called him to become a Christian preacher. Now Paul understood the amazing love of God-the-Father, so he could write: “God was not counting our sins against us.”

St Paul dared to say that in Christ, we were called “to become the righteousness of God”. I am speaking about the spiritual works of mercy because if we practice them, we become living saints, and God does not want us to settle for anything less. Rudyard Kipling penned a poem about his vision of what it meant to be a real man. With apologies to Kipling, here is my offering about what it means to become the “righteousness of God” in this regard:

If you can dream of wealth you may inherit,

Yet smile when what you’re willed is not a bean;

If you can love when not reciprocated,

Yet not condemn your paramour as mean;

If you can hope to be best friends forever,

But not respond with wrath should friendship end,

And ask the grace of God to bear wrongs nobly –

Then you will be indeed a saint, my friend!

Crucifix in the Crypt at Beauraing

Crucifix in the Crypt at Beauraing, Belgium. Inscription translates as: If you love my Son (Jesus), then sacrifice yourselves!