Love One Another! (And how!)

Homily at Christ the King on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C.

“Love one another, as I have loved you!”

What could be more basic for us as followers of Jesus, than to love?

Now, there are many ways of showing love. Parents set rules for their children to protect them – but the children certainly don’t feel loved when told it’s bedtime or that they can’t stay out after 9 o’clock. Love motivates us to do difficult work to feed our families, to change dirty nappies – or even to volunteer for the work of the church!

To be sure, love can go wrong. I once shared a house with a man who had a bad temper. We weren’t getting along very well, so I decided to make a peace-offering. He loved eating melon for breakfast, so when he went away for a week’s holiday, I made sure there was fresh melon in the fridge for his return. This did not have the desired effect. My gift was rewarded with a small explosion of anger – “That’s not the sort of melon I like, but now I have to eat it!” Truly, no good deed goes unpunished!

But do I regret what I did? Not at all. At the end of time, when all things will be made clear, he will understand that my gesture was meant as a peace offering and an act of love – and I will finally understand the pressures he was under at the time.

Showing love is always risky. Yes, we make ourselves vulnerable to rejection. Yes, we must guard ourselves against doing more than is appropriate in a particular relationship where our passions run high. But plainly and simply, Our Lord commanded us to love one another. The Greek word He used, agape, especially includes pouring out our strength for the good of others, seeking no return. If we give food to the Foodbank or send a donation to Ecuador, we have shown the highest form of love. But only within our closest relationships can we touch the heart of another in a way which brings lasting joy. Our motives will always be mixed – even Pope Benedict XVI commented that it was impossible to totally separate selfless agape from our own desires to love and be loved – but that’s OK, because it’s human.

Now, I’d like to offer you a few moments to reflect on loving and being loved. So please make yourself comfortable. Place your feet flat on the floor. Rest your hands. If it helps, close your eyes.

I’m going to invite you to call to mind five happy memories – different kinds, so I’ll guide you to each one. Take a few moments to remember what happened, who was there, and how you felt.

Here we go. Can you remember:

  1. A time when you were given a present which was very meaningful?
  2. A time when someone helped you with a task?
  3. A time when you enjoyed just being with someone whose company is pleasant?
  4. A time when someone said a kind word that left in you in no doubt that you were appreciated?
  5. A time when someone touched you in a loving way that made you happy?

All of these five things are ways that we can show another person that we love them. But for most of us, one or two of those ways stand out more strongly. Which of the five memories came to you most quickly? Which one was the strongest?

The one or two ways that work best for you are your dominant “love languages”.

Love isn’t only about feelings. But we all need to experience love. So one way of fulfilling what Jesus asks of us today is this: Let’s choose to be really good at communicating to the special people in our lives that we do love them.

The thing is, other people don’t always have the same “love language” as we do. When we’re busy, we fall into the trap of using the love language that works for us, to show affection to the other person. But if we really care about someone, we could take the time to learn what their love-language is. Even though we might find it uncomfortable, we can use that language to communicate with them.

If you’re married, you’ve promised to love that person for a lifetime. It’s OK to ask your spouse what communicates your love best. You might be surprised to learn that it isn’t what you’ve always assumed it was.

In other relationships, it’s not always comfortable to ask a direct question, but you could try to see what the other person does to show love most often. Chances are, that’s their love language. Try doing the same back to them and see what happens!

“Do unto others as you want others to do to you,” said the Lord. Would you like someone to learn how to appreciate you better? Then you must be a learner, too!


May Feelings

Reflection for the May edition of the Catholic People Cardiff Diocesan Newspaper.

For the first thousand years of Christianity, not a single Catholic prayed the Hail Mary, let alone a rosary. The prayer simply hadn’t been composed, at least as we know it today. But we do know that from the earliest times, Christians asked the Mother of God to pray for them. The most ancient surviving text comes from the 3rd Century, and says: “Beneath your compassion, we take refuge, O Mother of God: do not despise our petitions in time of trouble: but rescue us from dangers, only pure, only blessed one.”

As the Christian Faith became well established across Europe, monasteries were established everywhere – the Cistercians were a particularly strong presence in medieval Wales. Lay brothers, who had never learned to read, could not join in with reading the 150 Psalms. Instead they offered the Lord’s Prayer 150 times, using a string of beads to keep count. By the 12th Century, it had become common to pray the Hail Mary on the beads, and we know that English hermits had a rule breaking the prayers into five groups of 10. Lay men and women adopted the practice too.

At that time, the Hail Mary simply consisted of the words of the Angel Gabriel – “Hail Mary, full of grace…” and the words of St Elizabeth – “Blessed are you among women…”. By the end of the 15th Century, it had become customary to add: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

Legend has it that Our Lady appeared to St Dominic and taught him the rosary, but the first written claim of this appeared 250 years after St Dominic lived. What we are more sure of is that, in Lourdes in 1858, Our Lady was carrying a rosary when she appeared to St Bernadette, and at Fatima in 1917, she asked that many people pray the rosary daily for the intention of peace in the world.

In 2008 a young Spanish film producer, Belomásan (Santiago Requejo) decided to promote the rosary. He asked 50 of his friends – all young adults – to state a reason why they prayed the rosary and filmed them saying so. This video went viral, so the following year he produced another with the fifty young people in T-shirts proclaiming “I Pray the Rosary!” coming together. Each year since he has released an annual May video, each with a different focus – praying for the world, remembering the Pope, praying for priests, asking forgiveness – and by the time this newspaper goes to press, “May Feelings 9” will likely be revealed to the world. You can see these on YouTube by searching for “May Feelings”. More recently he established a social network to share prayer requests:

Anyone can be a Catholic in good standing and never pray a Hail Mary. It’s not part of the official Missal, though in the UK we do have a custom of including it in the bidding prayers at Mass. There are things we do because God commanded us to do so – praying the Our Father and celebrating Mass. But the best acts of love flow from the human heart as a freely given offering. Praying a Hail Mary or a rosary is such a gift of love. We don’t have to – but we can. So call your mother – she’d love to hear from you!

Talk About Jesus!

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year C.

How many of your children still attend Mass?

How many of their children still attend Mass?The front cover of the book "Do You Love Me?" with a red sky and a fishing boat on a shore

Don’t answer the question aloud – but I know this is a great source of pain for many of us who have tried to raise children as Catholics. Perhaps it leaves us doubting ourselves.

Yet… reflect on this. Never, in any of the Gospels, do any of the disciples manage to catch a fish without help!*

If they are fishing at sea, they have to put the nets where Jesus shows them.

If they are catering on land, they rely on a small boy offering up his fish supper.

Today, Jesus is grilling some fish already!

Who did Jesus choose to be his “fishers of men”? Only the most incompetent fishermen in all of Galilee!

So if any of us doubt that we are the right people to be passing on the Catholic faith, think again. We can do it – but we have to follow the Lord’s instructions.

There was a time when it was good enough for us to simply show our children and our friends how to be Catholic. We did what Catholics do: we went to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, we abstained from meat on Fridays, we got involved in devotions and parish clubs. We relied on peer pressure and respect for the authority of the church, so that other people did the same things with us.

That doesn’t work any more. From the 1960s in Britain, and from the 90s in Ireland, we lost that intangible sense of Church being something we had to do as part of life. Some of you have come to Cardiff from nations and cultures which still hold that respect for the Catholic faith. For now, your children share your passion for church – but they will soon be pulled away by the Godless culture which is 21st century Britain. It won’t be enough to show them how to live as Catholics – you will need to motivate them to be followers of Jesus and members of the Catholic Church.

So, start with yourself. What motivates you to live as a Catholic? For some us, the answer is a sense of belonging. This is our church building – the people who gather here are our friends. That’s a good start – but Jesus asks us to go deeper. Why do we say prayers, listen to readings from the Bible, and celebrate Holy Communion? Is it because it’s what our friends do? Is it because it’s what our priests had told us to do? Or is it because we believe in Jesus and are doing what He has invited us to do?

If we come from a Catholic family, and we look back far enough, we’ll discover that one of our ancestors became Catholic because someone talked about Jesus, and passed on his invitation. Perhaps it was St Thomas the Apostle in Kerala. Perhaps it was St Patrick in Ireland, or one of the first missionaries to the Philippines. After all, if no-one had talked about religion, your family would never have become a Catholic family.

Talking about Jesus isn’t easy. In fact, many of us learned at our mother’s knee that we should “never talk about religion or politics” because this isn’t done in polite company. Certainly, talking about religion the wrong way leads to heated arguments. The Jewish leaders in today’s reading warned Peter and the other apostles not to talk about Jesus. Did they stop? Of course not! They travelled far and wide preaching and teaching, and most of them died for what they believed and taught.

We are all called to be “fishers of men” – that is, to invite men and women to be followers of Jesus and members of our Church. There’s a right way and wrong way to do this. The wrong way is to start by trying to persuade other people that our religion is right. There’s certainly a place for Catholic Voices to defend our beliefs on the media, but that rarely persuades a skeptic or an open-minded person to become a Catholic. Instead, let’s explore the right way to talk about faith – and we can use this with our children, our grandchildren, our work colleagues and our friends. We need to do two things – tell our own story, and ask the right questions.

No-one can fault us for sharing our own story. If someone asks you this week what you did on the weekend, you can say, “I went to church, and heard a thought-provoking sermon”. If, and only if, that person asks what the sermon was about, tell them! Within your own family, do you tell your children and grandchildren about those days where you sense God being close to you when you say your prayers? That’s not boasting – it’s helping the next generation have a realistic understanding of what it’s like to have a connection with God.

Then we can ask questions. “Do you think about spiritual things?” “Do you think there’s anyone in charge of the Universe?” “Have you ever thought of visiting church?” According to a recent survey, there are three million people in Britain who would go to church if only one of their friends invited them!

Remember, a failure is only someone who hasn’t succeeded yet. Jesus told his incompetent fishermen to put out the nets on the other side for a catch, and their haul was massive! So even if you feel you have failed to persuade your family or your friends of the goodness of the Catholic Faith, Jesus is asking you to have another go, but to do it differently. Put out your nets for a catch!


* This observation was made by Raymond Brown in his commentary on John’s Gospel.