Positive Energy

Homily at St Philip Evans, for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time(The Sunday following the World Day of Care for Creation – resources from the Vatican, CAFOD, Season of Creation and the global Catholic Climate Movement.)

“It is hard enough to work out what is on earth; who then can discover what is in the heavens?”A wind turbine

Please Lord, I can!

As many of you know, I spent four years studying what is in the heavens, pursuing research in astrophysics at Cardiff University. We live in an amazing age! During the last month we’ve started receiving images from the latest spaceprobe to arrive at Jupiter and discovered that the next-nearest star to our Sun, Proxima Centauri, has a planet orbiting it in a zone which makes liquid water possible!

We also understand Planet Earth better than we’ve ever done before. We don’t have all the answers – right now many scientists are puzzling over whether microbeads in our shower gel are harmful to creatures in the sea – but we do know enough to be worried about humanity’s impact on our planet.

The earth is getting warmer, ice is melting at our poles, and that has consequences for people who live on islands and coastlands. Crops won’t grow in the same places, in the same way, that they would a generation ago. Do we fully understand the way everything in our environment interacts? No. But do we understand enough to be worried? Yes.

Last year, in his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis said that “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.”

Now, I could give a whole lecture on what’s in the Pope’s document, and another on what we can do to help our planet, but our time is short, so I am going to pick just one issue today: Energy.

Almost all the energy we use on Planet Earth comes from sunshine. Coal, oil and natural gas come from plant material, plants which captured sunshine over hundreds of thousands of years, but which we are burning up in decades. When we burn our “fossil fuels”, this produces carbon dioxide, which is a major cause of global warming.

The sun also heats our atmosphere, causing wind, which causes waves; and it evaporates water, which falls as rain, enabling rivers to drive waterwheels. The gravity of the sun and moon cause tides to ebb and flow twice a day. We can even use solar panels to catch the sun’s energy directly. But sunshine, tides, wind and waves aren’t always there when we need them. There are ways of storing large amounts of energy for later, but these aren’t cheap because they need big-scale engineering. At Dinorwig, the “electric mountain” in North Wales, water is pumped from a low lake to a higher one whenever there is surplus electricity to be stored.

Why should we care? The decisions we make today about energy affect our children, and our children’s children. Today’s psalm reminds us that God sees human life come and go, generation after generation. In the Gospel, Our Lord reminds us that we should always take stock of our resources before starting a project. We also need to think about the humans who will inherit this earth long after we awake to the bright morning of heaven. Will we leave them enough oil to make plastic and medicines, or will we have burned it all in our cars and power stations?

CAFOD have reminded us often in recent years that we should “live simply, sustainably, and in solidarity with the poor”. None of us can solve the problem of climate change on our own, but if every person on earth chose to make one small change each, seven billion small changes add up to one huge change for the better!

So what can we do? The good news is that some things we can do won’t cost us money, only time and a little effort – in fact, saving energy equals saving money! Over the last couple of years, you’ll have seen the houses around St Philip Evans Church covered in scaffolding. Local flats were offered external wall insulation – and we advertised the offer in our parish newsletter. One of the first things I did on moving into St Philip Evans Presbytery was to arrange for cavity wall insulation to be pumped into the walls of the house, and for thicker insulating rolls to be laid in the loft – and I didn’t have to pay a penny for it! You can find lots of ideas to help you online from the Energy-Saving Trust.

For those of us who can afford to do so, we can use our money to help drive change. “Green energy” does cost a little more, because of the need to pick up the slack when the sun doesn’t shine. But the more people who insist on having green energy, the more the power companies will invest in the technology. Yes, this means that our landscape will change. When I drive to visit my parents in Llanelli, I see more and more wind turbines being installed along the Neath-Port Talbot coastline. I don’t welcome the blot on the landscape, but I know it’s part of the price we pay for our energy-hungry lifestyle. Earlier this year, 16 Catholic Dioceses in England and Wales agreed to come together to buy 100% green energy, and by belonging to this large consortium, our parish now runs on green energy at an affordable price. If you are willing to pay a little more for your power bills, you can switch to a 100% renewable provider, too; and if you have some money to invest in making long term savings, you could even consider installing solar panels.

The way we buy our energy is a moral issue. The choices we make affect our neighbours in space and in time – those who live at risk of rising sea levels, and our future generations of consumers. Our Lord today challenges you to give up all your possessions! I’m only challenging you to save energy and buy greener energy. As crosses go, this is quite an easy one to carry!


If you only knew!


Homily given at Sunday Mass at the Weekend Conference run by the National Service Committee for Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Wales. 

“If you only you knew what God could do…”

Is that a threat or a promise?

Given the readings we’ve just heard from Scripture, we might not be too keen to find out what God can do. The Gospel has just warned us that we must enter by the narrow gate, because the easy way leads to destruction. Before that, the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that God disciplines his children. The first reading was a little more optimistic, reminding us that God will gather in “outsiders” – but if you’re an “insider” there’s little comfort for you in the Gospel!

As we pray together at this year’s conference, I sense that we’re feeling more vulnerable than usual. We’re conscious of all the uncertainties yet to be resolved around Britain’s ongoing relationship with Europe. We have a sense of the church being under attack, following the slaughter of a Catholic priest in France. We’re praying for more personal concerns, which might never make the news headlines but matter greatly in our families and in our communities. So in the midst of all our pain and confusion, what can God do for us?

God can forgive our sins.

It’s easy to hear the lesson from Hebrews and mishear the message as “God wants to punish us”. In fact, God seems slow to punish throughout the Bible. Even in the beginning, Adam and Eve were told that they would “certainly die” if they ate the forbidden fruit; but since the story has Adam live for another 900 years, death took its time coming. Ezekiel warned the wicked that they would die because of their sins – but if they repented they would live. God allows time for repentance rather than enacting punishment. Our faith assures us that on the Cross, Jesus accepted the price of all our sins, so that no Christian needs to be punished by God for anything.

What Hebrews actually says is that God can discipline us. “Discipline” comes from the same root as “disciple”, and reminds us that God wants to train us to be more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit does this by stirring up our conscience to recognise when our choices have not been in line with God’s will. God disciplines us through the gift of guilt.

Yes, guilt is a truly wonderful gift! If it succeeds in causing us to repent, we can receive total forgiveness of all our sins! Because this is the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis wants us to celebrate the open door of God’s mercy in a special way, making a pilgrimage to a Door of Mercy if we haven’t done so already.

What else can God do for us?

God can love us just as we are!

Yesterday we were reminded that Jesus “stands at the door and knocks”, but if we’re ashamed of our untidy lives, we fear to let him in. During the last fortnight, I’ve been on holiday, and I’ve visited several friends whose houses were in the midst of DIY or are home to small children. These houses were far from spick-and-span, but did that matter? No! I enjoyed spending time with my friends, and had they said “don’t come, the house is too messy”, I would have had a lonely holiday and they would have missed out on a happy visit. Our pride can be the greatest obstacle to experiencing what God can do for us. The same Jesus who spent time with tax collectors and prostitutes is not ashamed to spend time with you. It’s not for nothing that we have a song called Come As You Are.

What else can God do for us?

God can heal our bruises! 

Many of us carry wounds from our attempts to love others or to work for the church. Sometimes these wounds are self-inflicted, because we’ve had unreasonable hopes or set up impossibly high standards for ourselves. Other times, we’ve been hurt by our church leaders, by our friends, or by our family members. We may feel betrayed, rejected, or ignored. Sometimes that’s because other people really have treated us badly, or accused us falsely. At other times, it’s because we see other people through our own prejudices.

We keep falling into a well-known trap. We expect other people to meet our needs, and call on God to fix the flaws in our own character. But God only offers us insight and strength for us to choose to change our own character, and asks us to use our own resources to meet the needs of other people. It’s not easy for any of us to change a long-established pattern in our own behaviour, yet we pray hard for God to change the heart of a stubborn relative or, dare I say it, a parish priest who doesn’t jump to support charismatic prayer. Above all, we’re called to forgive everyone, whether we think they deserve it or not. That includes forgiving ourselves, for not being perfect, and forgiving God – not for doing anything wrong, but for graciously refusing to fit into our limited ideas of what God should do for us.

There’s an old saying that when we point the finger at someone, three fingers point back at us. So think of any relationship in your life which currently feels like a trial. Now ask yourself: “What’s my own contribution to making this relationship difficult?” What could you do differently to conduct that relationship with kindness, respect, and Christian love? Remember that we do not offer these things because the other person has earned them, but because Christ lives hidden inside every human person, however awkward.

On Friday evening, Steve, our new NSC Chair, had a sense in prayer of someone’s arms being upheld. That might remind us of Moses, being supported by Joshua and Caleb when he could no longer hold his arms aloft by his own strength. But it also points us towards the instruction in this letter to the Hebrews. When the Lord helps us see that our behaviour has not been great, we are not to throw ourselves a “pity party”. Rather, we must make a decision, a personal decision, to “hold up our limp arms, steady our trembling knees and smooth out the path we tread” – then each one of us shall receive God’s promise that what was injured will grow into health.

So enter by the narrow door. It’s a small door, and there’s no room for the baggage you’re carrying. There’s no room to carry a grudge against anyone else. There’s no room to carry your dreams for how you wish other people to treat you. There’s no room for the patterns of behaviour you know God is nagging you to leave behind. There’s not even room for the false god you’d like to carry with you – the god who would guarantee perfect health and freedom from difficulties for you and your loved ones. There’s only room to squeeze through to the presence of the true God, who allows you to be tested, though not more than you can bear.

If only you knew what you could do for God! Then you would rush to do what God asks. Each one of you is offering God something unique and irreplaceable, the gift of the love that God can bring into the world when you choose to become the very best version of yourself. The woman of Samaria hastened to tell the people of the village that she had met the Messiah. When Jesus frees you of your burdens, you too will rush to tell your friends and family of your new-found freedom in Christ. You may not even have to use words!

“If you only you knew what God could do…”

Is that a threat or a promise?

It’s a promise! It’s a promise that God will discipline us, that is teach us awareness of our own need to change for the better, so that we can leave behind whatever clings to us and enter through the narrow gate. So don’t be afraid. It is because God loves you too much to leave you as you are, that he invites you to this journey of transformation. As St Catherine of Siena said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!”

Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News!

Acknowledgement: Many of the ideas in this sermon come from reviewing the Freedom in Christ Discipleship Course.