Certain Death

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A.

Three times in my life, I’ve narrowly avoided being caught in a terrorist attack.

When I was an undergraduate, the IRA planted a bomb in the Reject Shop in Oxford. That afternoon, I was in a college building which was back-to-back with that shop.

When the 7/7 bombs went off on public transport in London in 2005, I was visiting a friend in Canterbury. But the previous day, I had been on a tube train, at the same time and place where one of those bombs exploded.

At 2 pm a week last Wednesday, I was just leaving Westminster Abbey. I could so easily have headed for Westminster tube station, but the friend I was with suggested we take a bus to Victoria instead. The first I knew of that afternoon’s terrible events was when I was safely on a train out of Paddington.

Once, I was driving along the M4 just outside Cardiff when a driver pulled out right in front of me, forcing me to swerve into the fast lane. My car fishtailed wildly before settling down – fortunately I didn’t hit the crash barrier or any other traffic, but it was quite a fright.

Each of those moments is one where I can rightly say, “but for the grace of God, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Sometimes, the worst does happen. On Tuesday, the BBC showed a personal reflection by the footballer, Rio Ferdinand. His wife died just 10 weeks after being diagnosed with a terminal cancer, and now Rio has to be “Mum” as well as “Dad” to his children.

Lent forces us to face up to the dark side of life. In recent weeks we’ve been challenged to tackle those faults we are only too aware of, and face up to the hidden faults we don’t want to admit. Now we must confront the ultimate challenge: we’re all going to die. That’s why it’s so significant that Our Lord didn’t stop Lazarus from dying.

Jesus could have healed Lazarus by a word, even at a distance, as soon as the messengers came to him.

Jesus could have set out for Bethany immediately, and might have arrived in time to prevent him dying.

But no, Our Lord tarried for two days in the wilderness stating that this sickness “would not end in death”. St John says that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead as a sign for us. God’s plan is that we pass through death and enter into eternal life. St Paul also acknowledges this, speaking about our mortal bodies.

Knowing that we’re going to die forces us to ask important questions. Knowing that it’s possible for any one of us to be taken by a swift disease or a sudden accident means that we shouldn’t wait until we’re retired to face up to them.

First question – Have you made a funeral plan?

If you live without a partner, it’s a great kindness to your family to leave clear instructions about what you want. Do you have ideas about music or Bible readings? Is it important to you that your funeral is a Requiem Mass? It often happens these days that when grown-up children are not practicing Catholics, they choose not to have a Mass for their parent. It’s not essential to have a Mass at your funeral – Masses can be offered at other times – but if you have Catholic friends who will mourn your passing, why wouldn’t you choose a Mass for them to pray at? And suggesting the music is very helpful when your family are not churchgoers. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help to plan your funeral while you are still healthy – Deacon Steve or myself, or a member of our parish bereavement group, would be happy to advise you.

Second question – Have you made a will?

Wills are important. It’s only be making a will that you can ensure that your property is used in the way you wish after your death. You don’t need to use a lawyer to write your will, but it’s probably a good idea to do so if there is a house or land involved. The cheapest way to access a lawyer is to wait until November and find one who is part of the WillAid initiative – instead of paying a legal fee, you make a donation to one of nine nominated charities. There are two Catholic charities in the mix – the Scottish and Irish countparts of CAFOD.

Third question – if you are living with a partner, Are you married?

Marriage is important. Marriage is the way that two people register their relationship with the Government. Being married protects your rights to your partner’s pension, property and possessions. There is no such thing as a “common-law marriage”. Just because two people of similar age live in the same house, this proves nothing. They could be lodgers, lovers, or limbering up to leave. How does the Government know that the relationship is one where you want your partner to inherit everything you own? Simple – you register it. And registering a family relationship is what we traditionally call marriage. This is one of the reasons why our Church says it is so important to be married before starting a family. Why would you want your partner and children to be left without that legal protection if the worst did happen suddenly?

I don’t have time to speak today about the spiritual side of bereavement. I would simply point you to St Martha, who had every right to be furious with Jesus for allowing her to live through the death of her brother. Yet Martha puts her trust the Lord, knowing he will raise her brother to everlasting life at the end of time. At Easter, we will celebrate the amazing news that eternal life awaits us following bodily death.

They say only two things are certain in life: death, and taxes. Most of us will never be anywhere a terrorist attack, so let’s resist the temptation to give worry and energy to something that probably won’t happen to us. Instead, let’s do something positive about something that certainly will happen. By making a funeral plan, we can prepare well for death – and by getting married and making a will, we can even do something about the taxes!


Further reading:

The art of dying well – Catholic pastoral care of the dying.

The Government’s view – speech by Iain Duncan Smith MP.

A Sunday Times article – warning, some crude language!

Great Expectations: Invest

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A.

Consider the humble img_1161bucket.

Have you ever tried to draw water from a well?

Just letting the bucket down on a single rope might not work so well… the bucket floats on the water!

So what can you do?

You can use a heavy weight to sink the bucket. But who wants to be burdened by that weight all the time?

You can TIP the bucket so it falls over and fills from the side.

Or you can use a special bucket designed to let a little water in at the bottom. If you draw it out quickly, you will keep most of the water!


Today, Jesus is thirsty. He meets a woman at a well and asks her for a drink. He has no bucket – but his plan is to offer her the living water that only He can give.

How do we open ourselves to receive that living water?

Like the weighted bucket, we may be sinking into desperation when we turn to Christ. In Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programmes, the participants come to a point of despair. They realise that the power to change is not within themselves. They must turn to some “Higher Power”. There are many Christian stories of people who made a new connection with God when they were at their most broken. The Bible tells us: “Seek the Lord and you WILL find Him – if you seek with ALL your heart!”

Like the tipped-over bucket, we can choose to humble ourselves. If we know who Jesus really is, we will bow down our hearts and ask for his help. Scripture says: “Humble yourself in the eyes of the Lord, and he will raise you up.”

Like the bucket with a valve in the bottom, once we receive something of the living water, we will be thirsty for more. The increased weight allows the bucket to sink deeper. Once we’ve had a taste of the Lord’s love, we will be motivated to pray harder and longer, and the Lord can increase our capacity to receive. St Paul must have experienced this; he wrote of how God’s love can be poured into our hearts.

The woman at the well provided the Lord with two things to fill – a bucket for water, and a soul for faith, hope and love. The Lord filled her gradually. She starts the conversation by addressing him as a hated “Jew”. Then a more respectful “Sir”. If we read on, Jesus is acknowledged as a prophet, and eventually Messiah. The more she sinks into the living water, the more able she is to receive who Jesus truly is; eventually the conversation moves from matters of fetching water, to questions of the right way to worship.


A bucket is also a classic sign of holding a collection. As the current tax year draws to a close, it’s appropriate that I say something about money. Indeed, the money we give to the Church is one very practical way in which we worship God – with our wallets! To “worship” is to declare God “worthy”, which means “worth it”. I’ve placed the two banners on the sanctuary reminding us to “invest” and to “worship” because they are so closely connected.

We, the people of this parish, are responsible for keeping our parish running. Each year, it costs us roughly £15k to keep our building warm, safe and in good repair. It costs another £15k to have a priest – that’s not just money in my pocket, that includes my travel and other expenses as well. And it costs a further £12k to adminster the parish – printing, phone, internet and office staff. Let’s not forget that we are also paying off our debt, if we aim to pay off £10k per year, that all adds up to £52k per year or £1000 per week.

Now, a thousand pounds per week might sound like a lot of money, but the good news is that about 300 people worship here each weekend. Some of us are children, but if 250 adults are here each weekend, that’s about £4 per person per week. That’s the bare minimum we can pay into our parish if we want to look after our building and keep a priest.

There are lots of ways we can contribute. We can set up a standing order from our bank, or we can give cash every week. If we pay tax, we can ask the Government to Gift Aid our contribution. We can also choose to sponsor the costs of particular church expenses. At the end of today’s Mass, our finance team will talk about Gift Aid. Next week, we will launch this year’s Sponsorship Appeal.

Remember, the Lord is asking us to meet his needs out of the gifts he has already given us. Today’s psalm is an invitation to give praise to God, who has provided for our basic needs, rather than giving in to the temptation to grumble – that’s what the Israelites did at Massah and Meribah in the desert. If our income has gone down in the past year, it is quite proper for us to give less to the church than we used to. But if we can afford to give a little more, let’s do that. Imagine what our Church could do if we had  the resources to invest in our community as well as keeping our building and our priest in working order?

I’m not going to tell you we’re sinking and desperate for money – we’re managing. Just.

I’m not going to bow down and beg you for money, but I am simply telling you what we need.

I am, however, showing you what we can do with a little more money. We have living water to share with the community we live in. You see at the outside of the church that we now have signs and banners. The is the first step of asking our local community to come in and drink from the living water. Imagine what more we could do with the funds to go out into the community and connect with people!

Jesus saw a woman with a bucket, and asked her for a drink. She was cautious, but he won her trust, and her life was changed. Today, you see a priest with a bucket, a priest who wants to share living water with the people around us. What will you put in my bucket?