Outside the Box

Homily to members and friends of Sion Community on the 5th Sunday of Lent (Year A) 2020



I’m boxed in!

I can’t move!

I can’t see!

And it STINKS in here!

Oh… hang on… the last thing I remember is feeling really unwell. I thought I was dying at home in bed. So, where am I?

Sounds a bit echoey in here.

Feels like cold stone underneath me.

Are these… bandages? Am I a mummy?

It’s a tomb! They’ve locked me in!

Help! Help! Can anyone hear me?

Hmm… I’m on my own. So let’s see what I’ve got. 10 fingers! 10 toes! No temperature – oh, I feel fine! I’m not dying! In fact, I’m not even ill!

I’m so glad I’m alive. There’s so much I want to do! So many things I want to say to the people I care about! I never learned to play the harp! I never learned to speak Greek! Now I can do it all! But first I have to get out of this tomb!

Oh – what’s happening? I can hear grunting! I can see some light! But there’s this wretched cloth over my face!

Is that? Can it be? Yes – I hear a voice I’d recognise anywhere! Jesus! I’m here!

“Come Out?” You want me to come out? I’m tied up like a mummy – you want me to hop out like I’m in a sack race? This is going to be so embarrassing! They’ll never stop talking about it! But Jesus! I’m coming! I’m alive!

Well, I wonder what Lazarus did when he went home? We know from the Bible that a week later he hosted a banquet with Jesus as guest of honour. There are legends that he later became a bishop in Cyprus or the South of France. But apart from that we don’t know – we can only guess.

I think it’s a pretty good guess that he grew closer to his sisters Mary and Martha. They knew that every day they spent together was a gift, and they would have made the most of it.

I think it’s a pretty good guess that they would give thanks to Jesus through prayer – and after the Last Supper, they would have known about Mass as the best way to give thanks to God.

I think it’s a pretty good guess that Lazarus would have valued the gift of life and maybe tried something new, something he’d been putting off in the busyness of life up until his fatal sickness.

Well, right now, we all get to be Lazarus. What’s happening in the world around us is a bit scary, and it means we are all ‘in the tomb’, bound up, boxed up, restricted. But that doesn’t mean we have to be afraid. We can listen to the voice of Jesus saying ‘take off the bindings! Take off the cloth covering the eyes!’ We don’t have to be boxed up by what’s happening in the world right now, just like we don’t have to be boxed up by what other people think of us.

We won’t be able to go out and meet up with other people for a few weeks, so we need to think about what we can do on our own. What gifts, what talents have I got that I’ve never had a chance to work on? Can I paint or draw? Is there a musical instrument at home I’d like to learn to play? Rather than playing games in my computer, could I learn how to code? Did you know that a young man who was a website designer is on the road to sainthood? You can look up the story of Carlo Acutis who died of cancer aged 15 – last month the Vatican decided that he can be declared ‘Blessed’, the last step before being named a saint!

We will be spending a lot of time with our families over the next few weeks – the people we share a house with, and the relatives we keep in touch with by phone. How do we keep our conversations fresh? Well, maybe there’s something you can learn from another family member. Perhaps your Mum can teach you how to bake a cake. Maybe your Dad can kick footballs at you until you’re ready to face Liverpool in a penalty shootout! Or this might be the perfect time to ask your grandparents to tell stories of how the world used to be when they were young. None of us will have our grandparents and great-aunts and uncles around forever, and it’s so easy to use a smartphone to record a conversation… later, that will be a precious memory for us.

Mary, the sister of Lazarus, famously spent time listening to Jesus, and poured precious ointment over his feet. Martha, despite her busyness, found enough time to listen to Jesus to know that he was “the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.” We can all take time at home to listen to God’s word. There are some fantastic resources online (God Who Speaks, CAFOD, Blessed Sacrament Shrine) – and if you’re following this homily on Facebook and you know a good website or resource to help families pray, please type it into the comment box! So many church organisations are making their material free-to-view for the next few months. You could run a home-study course using the free videos being made available by Sycamore, or run Youth Alpha. You can also see, for free, the 90-minute film on the life of the Virgin Mary, Full of Grace.

Is your home a Bethany? Have you prepared a place for Jesus to be with you? Maybe you already have a prayer corner in your bedroom or family room – if not, why not make one? You can put your screen in your holy place when you are following online prayers. Like Mary anointing Jesus, if you have holy things that need cleaning or repairing, this is the perfect time.

I’m going to pause now for two minutes. This is to give you time to talk about what holy things you can do at home. When will you pray together each day? And if you’re watching this alone – use the power of the Internet to connect with someone. If you’re following this sermon live on Facebook (sorry, the livestream is only for members and friends of Sion Community) and you are living alone during this crisis, just type into the comment box “I’m with Lazarus” and maybe someone else on the feed can connect with you so you can arrange to pray together daily by the power of the Internet!

Friends, there’s a lot of sickness around at the moment. Let’s remember that Jesus said, ‘This sickness will end not in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.’ I’m sure Mary and Martha were anxious because Jesus didn’t come sooner. Jesus had a good reason for waiting for Lazarus to die, even though it was hard for his friends and followers – and deep down, Martha knew that there was a life beyond this life so her brother was in God’s hands. Whatever happens in the world, however tough things get, Lazarus is a sign for us that there is a life beyond this life, and that, although God doesn’t spare us from all suffering, Jesus will be there for us in the end. So come Lord Jesus, unbind us, release us, and give us life!

Let it be done according to your will.

Homily to members and friends of Sion Community on the Solemnity of the Annunciation 2020

“Let it be done to me according to thy will.”

These are dangerous words – powerful words.

With these words, a brave woman puts aside her own will and desires, and yields to another.

We have just lived through the era of “#MeToo” – five million women have stood up and said that things have been done to them against their will. This is a powerful sign of lust and sin being present in the world. Sin is always the responsibility of the sinner, but also of a society which tolerates that which must not be tolerated.

In the age of “#MeToo”, Our Blessed Mother stands apart as ‘That One’ – the name given to her by St Bernadette, Aquerò in her local dialect. She is the one who was always pure, yet accepted suffering for the salvation of others. She risked death in her becoming an unmarried mother, hardship in her exile in Egypt, and heartbreak at the foot of the Cross. Her voice cries out ‘Do whatever He tells you’ and she gives the example of perfect surrender to the will of God.

“Let it be done to me according to thy will.”

Saints through the ages have followed her example and given their ‘fiat’. Saints Francesco and Jacinta, the child visionaries of Fatima, accepted her invitation to suffer for the salvation of souls. They died in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-20. St Maximilian Kolbe accepted the red crown of martyrdom and offered his life for a Jewish prisoner. St Gianna Molla gave her life to secure her unborn daughter. Fr Giuseppe Berardelli died in an Italian hospital last weekend – parishioners brought a ventilator to the hospital but he insisted it be given to a younger patient also suffering from the coronavirus.

A virus.

What is a virus? My memory stirred with the knowledge that it comes from the Latin word for poison. Before we understood genetics, scientists were aware that there was some harmful ‘substance’ which passed from patient to patient. They gave it this name, which in Latin can mean poison, slime, or – snake venom! This particular kind of virus is a package of genetic material covered with a knobbly surface, like a spiky crown. A coronavirus is literally a poisoned crown, a crown of venom. A virus is also like a seed, in that it plants itself in a body and reproduces itself – the seed of the serpent.

In God’s plan, there are no coincidences. Scripture itself has something to say about the seed of the serpent. When the serpent tempts Eve and she eats of the forbidden fruit, she is cursed yet given a promise:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.’

Some ancient manuscripts of Genesis read that she will crush the serpent. It seems to be part of God’s providence that this edit was made. We are familiar with art showing our Blessed Mother standing upon the head of a snake, imagery found in the Miraculous Medal. Our second reading makes it clear that her One Offspring, Jesus Christ, atoned for the sins of the world by perfectly submitting to God’s will. But Mary stands also for the Church, for all God’s faithful children, who as the living Body of Christ play their part in the battle against evil, against the seed of the serpent.

Many Catholics in England have heeded the call of our bishops to entrust themselves, for the first time, or as a rededication, to be tools in the hands of Mary. After following the pathway of ’33 Days to Morning Glory’, today is dedication day. Such an act of personal entrustment is not to be undertaken lightly. As we have seen, two of the Fatima visionaries died early deaths in an epidemic, offering their lives in atonement for others – but Lucia lived into her 90s as a witness. St Bernadette of Lourdes was given a promise to be made happy ‘not in this world but in the next’. The essential message of Fatima is about offering our prayers and fasting in reparation for sins against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

“Let it be done to me according to thy will.”

To make an act of entrustment to Mary is to give her permission to use you for ‘whatever it takes’.

Whatever it takes to make reparation for a society where lust, pornography and sexual harassment has become routine.

Whatever it takes to make reparation for a society which has not observed the Lord’s Day as a day of rest, despite the warning given by Our Lady at La Salette.

Whatever it takes to make reparation for a society which fills the airwaves with curses and blasphemies, using the Holy Name of Jesus as a casual expletive in the name of authentic entertainment.

‘Whatever it takes’ has no limits. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will find ways to fund Britain through the current crisis ‘whatever it takes’. The recent Avengers Endgame movie had heroes do ‘whatever it takes’ to reverse the erasure of half of humanity. Mary, with the aid of those entrusting themselves totally to her, will do ‘whatever it takes’ to overcome sin in the world.

Some of us may choose to dedicate or rededicate ourselves to Mary today. On Sunday our bishops will make a communal expression of our dedication as a nation. All of us can invoke her protection.

We have read today how King Ahaz is given permission to ask God for a sign! On this day, let us dare to do the same. O Mary, unite your prayers to ours! Beg for a sign of God’s healing power, of protection for your children and for the world!

The words on the Miraculous Medal were never more appropriate, for now above all we must have recourse to Mary. But I would share with you today the most ancient invocation to Mary – the Sub Tuum Praesidium, found a piece of parchment in Egypt. Egypt was Mary’s adopted home for a time – and England was where she revealed her will for a copy of her holy house to be constructed in Walsingham.

Here in Coventry where we take refuge in Mary’s home, the Ark of the New Covenant, and united in prayer with our extended family across the world, let us invoke her protection once again:

We fly to thy protection, O holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions in our needs, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin.

Rejoicing on the Sabbath

Homily to members and friends of Sion Community on the 4th Sunday of Lent (Year A) 2020Laetare Sunday

Why is Jesus spitting on us?

Let’s face it, most of us have had not had a good week.

We are followers of Jesus, we trust in his power to protect us – and yet, with the rest of the UK, and the rest of the world, we are caught up in a global crisis which will last for many weeks, if not months.

The world’s in a mess.

Now I know that’s a cliché – preachers always say the world is in a mess, and the answer is always Jesus. But today, can we all agree that the world really is in a mess? Can I get an Amen?

If you were a skeptic, you might well start doubting the existence of God right now. Like the Pharisees considering how Jesus healed the blind man, you would be asking, “Is this really the kind of thing God does?” Their problem wasn’t the healing – it was the suggestion that God’s power could have worked a miracle on the sabbath day!

We’re not skeptics. We are people who place our firm trust in Jesus Christ. But we too will have questions on a day like today – and if we want answers, we must look to Jesus himself. What does he say today?

The night will soon be here when no one can work.

And again:

It is for judgement that I have come into this world, so that those without sight may see and those with sight turn blind.

Friends, there has never been a time like today, when we can truly say a night is at hand, a night when no-one can work. True, essential services continue, but our way of life, if not our work, is on hold. So what does Jesus want us to see right now?

I see three things which are significant.

First, our Governments have done what they have had to do, in order to protect the lives of elderly people and sick people. Some commentators have pointed out that we are saving the lives of “those who would die soon anyway”. This is largely true – although Covid-19 can sometimes cause complications in younger, healthy individuals – so we can say that our politicians have taken the most massive pro-life action in human history. Our leaders are not willing to sit back and watch our grandparents die a few months or years before their time. On this Mother’s Day, let’s recognise that what is being done is to protect our mothers’ mothers – and our fathers’ fathers.

Second, despite the massive cost of taking these steps, money is being found to shelter the homeless. Hotel rooms are being made available to those who have no choice but to sleep on the streets. Isn’t it strange that in normal times there were no funds available to do that, but now there are?

Third, God is working on the Sabbath, the day of enforced rest. Our Western societies have disregarded the idea of a day of rest, and allowed Sunday to become a day for commerce – but at the same time, they have allowed technology to give some people a permanent sabbath. I am just old enough to remember the days when a petrol-pump attendant filled up your vehicle. Now, computers allow us to self-checkout at the supermarket, taking jobs away from human beings. I have to admit that I have been guilty, on busy days, of choosing the fast self-checkout, because I can, while wishing that as a society we hadn’t provided that option.

When the current emergency has passed, and the world has to rebalance its shattered economy, I hope we will look at the way we’ve used our resources at this time and ask ourselves how we should provide for the elderly, for the homeless, and how we protect a communal day of rest. We might also ask how we should ensure that technology is only used where it doesn’t take away a job opportunity for someone, even if that slows the pace of life a little.

But those are questions for a happier day in the future. Jesus also counselled us to only worry about today, because things will be different tomorrow. That is always true, but even more so today when we are receiving daily updates from our Governments about what we must do and what help we can receive. We really only can plan for one day at a time, so let’s stop worrying about whether our plans for weeks or months ahead can take place, and just focus on the next 24 hours.

There are lots of prayer requests circulating by email and social media right now, invitations to pray this prayer at that time as an act of solidarity. As a pastor, I want to give you permission to ignore all these requests, without guilt. They are invitations. They are suggestions. Please feel no pressure. Yes, we must all pray, each in our own way, at our own time. Our obligation, as Catholics, is to mark each Sunday and each Holy Day with a time of prayer in our own homes when we cannot attend Holy Mass. That is our only obligation to prayer. Thanks to the technology available, we can be part of a streamed Mass and make a spiritual communion when we cannot receive the Body of Christ physically. Beyond that, we are each free to pray in our own way. If someone claims that this prophet or that visionary has asked us to say certain payers, move in peace, not pressure, and look for confirmation online before forwarding any such message.

There is one prayer invitation I do want to pass on, because this one comes from all the Christian leaders in England, including Cardinal Nichols and the Archbishop of Canterbury, together with church leaders from Wales and Scotland. It’s an invitation just for today, 22 March 2020, the National Day of Prayer and Action in response to this global pandemic.

At 7pm this Sunday, light a candle in the windows of your homes as a visible symbol of the light of life, Jesus Christ, our source and hope in prayer.

Our leaders go on to remind us to look after our neighbours, and remain in contact with them and support them in their needs, at an appropriate physical distance.

Is what has happened at this time a punishment from God? I don’t know the answer to that. Sometimes, bad stuff just happens because that’s the way the world works. Jesus said that the blind man wasn’t blind because of any fault of his own, or his parents – but that it was part of God’s plan. The Bible does tell us that God ‘does nothing’ without revealing it to his prophets, so if this is a punishment, God will speak through someone with a recognised prophetic gift at an appropriate time. What I do know is that God turns all things to good for those who love his Son, so as with any disaster in our lives, we can be sure of two things: God has permitted this, and God will bring good out of it.

Every Sunday in Lent, the Morning Prayer of the Catholic Church proclaims the words of Nehemiah:

This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not be mournful, do not weep. For this day is sacred to our Lord. Do not be sad: the joy of the Lord is your stronghold.

Today, out of all the Sundays in Lent, is marked out as Laetare Sunday – Rejoicing Sunday – a moment to pause and rejoice in the midst of our fasting. We are people of hope, called to be children of the light. The Lord is our shepherd, and even though we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, let us fear no evil. The Lord has permitted this trial to come upon our global community, and the Lord will bring good out of it in due season.

Why is Jesus spitting on us? To open our blind eyes – to pause, to rest, to keep this Sabbath. So today, let us rejoice, and as for the next day – let’s not worry about that until tomorrow.

Discipleship Masterclass

Homily to Members of Sion Community on the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A.

Today, meet Saint Photina, a great martyr revered in the Eastern Churches as one regarded as ‘Equal to the Apostles’! There are many legends about how she herself spread the Gospel ‘with great boldness’ in Carthage and Rome, and how her sons became great preachers and martyrs in their own right.

As with so many of the people we meet briefly in the New Testament, we wonder what happened to them after their encounter with Christ. The Orthodox Churches have many wonderful stories, but how much is rooted in truth, and how much is wishful thinking?

The good news is that St Photina – the name given by tradition to the Samaritan woman at the well – offers us a wonderful witness to evangelisation even by her short appearance in the Gospel, for her conversation with Our Lord Jesus offers us a masterclass in how to make disciples!
As missionaries in Sion Community, some of us visit parishes or schools for a short time. This gives us an opportunity to plant seeds for others to reap, while we reap what others have already sown.

Sometimes, we can work over a longer period members of our Community and with people who keep returning to our regular events. Then we have a real opportunity to draw someone much deeper into relationship with Christ. But how can we do this effectively?

When you look at the stories of many people who have become committed Christians – as Doug Schaupp has done for evangelical Christians and Sherry Weddell for Catholics – you will see that all the stories have something in common. Each person who ends up as a highly committed Christian seems to pass through the same five steps, or thresholds. If we can see which threshold a person needs to pass through next, and point them in the right direction, we can expect to see fruit!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus meets a woman who is not even Jewish – yet in a short space of time she is encouraging all her friends to ‘come and see’ this amazing person who has transformed her life. Would you be surprised to learn that Jesus, the master Evangelist, leads her through precisely the steps identified by Doug Schaupp and Sherry Weddell?

Illustrate process of evangelisation

The first threshold is TRUST. Without forming a trusting relationship, we have little hope of sharing the Gospel with anyone.

‘Give me a drink.’

Jesus wins this woman’s trust by being humble enough to ask her for a drink of water. In the society of that time, he towered over her on three counts: He was a Jew, he was a man, and he was a righteous rabbi in the presence of someone behaving as a loose woman – for who else would draw water in the heat of the noonday sun? But he enters into her world and grants her dignity, affirming that she has the power to do something to help even a Jewish rabbi.

The second threshold is one of passive CURIOSITY. Now that Jesus has entered a conversation, he drops in a fascinating but perplexing piece of information:

‘God would have given you living water.’

This is not a demand for the woman to change her behaviour – rather, it’s a statement about God. The woman doesn’t have to pursue this information – but she does! She even acknowledges that Jesus is not one of ‘them’ (a Jew) but one of us (a common heir of ‘our father Jacob’.) The mission is afoot! She is interested! Yet at this stage she is behaving as a ‘consumer’ – she is not looking for God, but only the benefit that God can offer. Who wouldn’t want their own source of water in a hot, dry, Middle Eastern climate?

The third threshold requires OPENNESS to change. The woman wants to take the message of Jesus seriously – she asks how she can receive the living water – but she is aware of problems in her life which could get in the way. She is living outside marriage. We don’t know if it’s her fault that she’s moved on from so many marriages or whether she has been a victim of mistreatment by men, but either way, she knows her current relationship lacks the public commitment which brings God’s blessing on a sexual partnership.

How does Jesus deals with this? Does he tell her how to live her life? No. Does he condemn her lifestyle? No. Does he create an opening for her to speak about her lifestyle? Yes!

‘Go and call your husband.’

In this way, the woman is given permission to voice her doubts, and discovers that the door to God’s blessing is not closed in her face.

At the fourth threshold, Photina – now we can call her this, because the light is entering her life – begins SEEKING. She recognises that Jesus is a prophet – he is one who can speak to her with God’s authority. She starts asking questions about how she can have a better relationship with God.

Should I worship on this mountain or in Jerusalem?

In reply, Jesus points her to a different kind of worship – but affirms she can be part of it!

Photina now recognises that Jesus is more than just a prophet – he is the Messiah, the Christ, the long-awaited messenger chosen and sent by God. But she does’t just recognise this, she becomes an evangelist herself! She goes to the people of her village, with whom she already has some kind of trust, and starts stirring up curiosity in them.

Could this man be the Messiah?

By asking the question, we understand that in her heart, Photina has already said ‘Yes, he is!’. In Doug Schaupp’s language, she has become a follower. In Sherry Weddell’s preferred term, she has ‘dropped her nets’ and become an INTENTIONAL DISCIPLE. Pope Francis would certainly recognise her as a missionary disciple.

The Christian life does not end with becoming an intentional disciple; indeed, this is just the beginning of an extraordinary adventure. In some of her teaching conferences, Sherry Weddell speaks of later growth in the spiritual life. A disciple will want to use his or her gifts to serve others, exercising some MINISTRY within or beyond the confines of the Christian community.

It is clear that Photina has at least a ministry of preaching and enthusing others, for in a short time all the inhabitants of her village are able to say:

We no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.

They, too, have become intentional disciples!

The Gospel passage ends here, and it leaves us with so many questions. What happened to the people of the village? What happened to the woman herself? All disciples are called to use their gifts to minister and share the Gospel in the place where they are. Some have freedom to reshape their life to express that ministry – embracing a life-changing VOCATION.

Did Photina travel beyond her village as a missionary ‘equal to the apostles’?

Did she marry the man who was not her husband?

Did she embrace a life of celibacy for the sake of the Lord? Some Bible scholars think that the conversation with Jesus reflects the ceremony by which a future husband and wife became betrothed; others are less sure.

Did she travel to Carthage and to Rome, eventually dying a martyr’s death in the presence of Emperor Nero himself?

We will not know the answers to these questions until we meet her in heaven. But her enduring vocation is to teach us the art of making disciples, an art she quickly learns from her Messiah.

When we go on mission, and when we meet friends with whom we have an ongoing relationship, let us follow her example. Let us plant seeds for the curious to cultivate. Let us open the door when obstacles are obvious. Let us use cautious questions even when our hearts are crying out with joy. For if I tell you that I have found the Messiahyou might be happy for me, or you might dismiss me as a fool. But if I ask you whether you think Jesus might be the one who longs to pour life-giving water into your soul, then you will at least begin to think about the question!

As a missionary disciple, what question will you put next?

Famous in Heaven

Homily at St Dunstan’s, Woking, Day of Renewal – Saturday 7 March 2020

We believe in God.

Very familiar words… we say them every Sunday in the creed.

But believing is not just something we do in our heads, like Alice’s White Queen believing six impossible things before breakfast. To truly believe means to put our trust in something.

There’s an Indiana Jones movie where Indy has to be guided by ancient riddles. The texts decree that he can only survive by being penitent, walking in God’s footsteps and taking a leap of faith. He can’t see all the dangers ahead, but kneels down where he is told to be penitent – and deadly arrows sail harmlessly over his head. When he is told he must walk in God’s footsteps, he finds a safe path by picking out the Name of God from random letters on the floor. And at the end, it’s only by jumping into a seemingly bottomless chasm that he finds the hidden bridge which enables him to complete his quest – he literally took a leap of faith. At each stage of the journey, he has to entrust his life to the things he believes. 

Today the church celebrates two martyrs, Saints Felicity and Perpetua – a serving girl and a noble lady. They were believers in the Roman Empire, 200 years after the birth of Jesus, when it was still illegal to follow the Lord. Perpetua famously said to her unbelieving father: “Neither can I call myself anything else than what I am, a Christian.” They were two of the most famous early martyrs – indeed, if you look online you can find the writings of St Perpetua from her time in prison – and their names are two of the women written into the First Eucharistic Prayer. 

For those two saints, as indeed for many martyrs, being faithful to God meant answering the question “Are you a follower of Jesus?” when a positive answer meant death. For other saints, being faithful to God meant choosing to lay down their lives for others – most famously, St Maximilian Kolbe trading his life for a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz. Many more saints did not die for Christ but lived for Christ: they are examples of what it means to love one’s neighbour with self-sacrificing love. Most religions in the world teach some version of “treat others you would like to be treated”. Our faith goes much deeper – we are called to love our enemies, work for the good of those who have no possibility of repaying us, and offer forgiveness without waiting for an apology.

How do we know this? We have the Living Word and the Written Word of God.

Our Living Word is Jesus Christ. In the coming weeks we will hear once again the Great Story of how he lived out his message of non-violence and forgiveness when he was taken prisoner; how he healed the ear of the one of the servants who came to support his capture; and how he restored St Peter to leadership following three acts of weakness and betrayal.

Our Written Word is the Bible, a rich collection. In the Gospels, we hear what the Living Word said and did among us. In the Letters of the New Testament, we hear the thoughts of the Apostles on what it means to live as followers of Jesus. When we read the Old Testament, we are reaching back to a time when God had only revealed part of his plan, and did so in hidden and veiled ways through prophets and through the events of history.

We are blessed to be people of the New Testament – blessed but also challenged, because we know what the Living Word asks of us. Just in the short portion of St Matthew’s writing we’ve heard today, there are many challenges. We can use these as an examination of conscience, and if we find ourselves lacking, we can take the opportunity to come to confession this afternoon. But remember – a good confession requires a ‘firm purpose of amendment’. Often, when I hear confessions, I ask the penitent: “What are you going to do differently in future?” Always be ready to answer that question!

When did you last pray for God to bless one of your enemies?

When did you last do a good deed or extend the hand of friendship to a person who is in no position to return the favour?

Is there anyone in your life you do not wish to forgive? Today is a good day to repent of unforgiveness – for later in this very Mass you will pray in the words of Jesus: “Father, insofar as there is someone in my life I don’t want to forgive, please do not forgive my sins either!” Maybe that’s not how we say the Lord’s Prayer – but that’s what it means!

Following Jesus is not easy. For the martyrs, it meant being ready to die a painful bodily death. For us, it means measuring ourselves against God’s word. God calls us to do something difficult – but we are not alone! The word “believe” shares its origins with the word “beloved”. Because we’re loved by another person, we can place our trust in that person to be there for us – we can believe in our beloved. We can place our faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be there for us, because on Easter Sunday morning, we learned that the Father raised Jesus from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. We know that he is truly in Heaven sitting at the right of the Father. We only know that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven because of the testimony of those first Christians, who paid with their lives for insisting that the news was true.

Saints Perpetua and Felicity were faithful witnesses to that love by the way they died. We can be faithful witnesses by the way we live – but only if we choose to live God’s way. So today I invite you to make a decision – don’t be a Catholic In Name Only. Don’t be a Sunday Catholic who turns up to pray for one hour a week and fails to think about God for the other 167? If you want to be famous in heaven, spend your time on earth seeking God’s will – and you will know the happiness that only God can give.