Fill Me

Homily for Come All Who Thirst, for Members of Sion Community and Livestream Participants for Pentecost Sunday, 2020.

Today is a celebration of God’s gifts.

I’d like to tell you the story of three really significant gifts I received when I was younger. Since it’s Pentecost, you might be expecting that the three gifts might be tongues, prophecy and healing. But today, I’d like to tell you about my telescope, my microscope and my computer.

I got hooked on astronomy at the age of 7 and pestered my family for a telescope. So it was no great surprise when, a few months later, I received the gift of a 3-inch reflecting telescope. Now, making good use of a gift like this is hard work. A telescope for astronomy works best at night… and then means staying up really late in the summer or getting really cold in the winter. But, with help from Dad, I made good use of that telescope, and laid the foundations of my later career as a scientist, before switching from one heavenly calling to another.

Some time later, when I opened my Christmas presents, I was surprised to discover, among them, a microscope. Now a microscope and a telescope have some things in common – they magnify light and allow you to do scientific things. But, I’m embarrassed to recall, I was really ungrateful – “What do you expect me to do with this?” Didn’t my family understand that I was interested in stars and planets, not plants and animals? I’m afraid that gift didn’t get a lot of use.

Then, for Christmas 1982, I was perplexed to open my presents and discover something called a computer – a Sinclair ZX81 with a whopping 16 kilobytes of RAM! This time, when I asked “What am I expected do to with thus?” it wasn’t with disappointment but perplexity – I hadn’t heard of personal computers. But as my parents expected, I took to it like a duck to water and quickly learned how to program.

Three gifts. One unwanted, one desired and one unexpectedly welcome. I’m sure there were other gifts, too, things seen on television in December, unwrapped at Christmas, and placed in a cupboard, never to be played with again, by New Year’s Day. But the gifts that were both welcome and well-used were either desired for the right reasons, or discovered to be really useful.

God’s word makes it clear that we are expected to ask for the Gifts of the Holy Spirit – and the Gift of the Holy Spirit, who is himself a gift.

On a visit to Jerusalem, Jesus cried out: ‘If anyone is thirsty, come to me! Let the one who believes in me, come and drink!’ We have to go to Jesus and ask. Do you want to receive a drink of living water? Do you wish to become a spring of living water? The two invitations go together. Before addressing the crowd in Jerusalem, Jesus approached an outcast woman at a well in Samaria: he began by asking her for a drink, but soon offered living water which would become a spring in whoever drank of it.

God’s gifts come at a cost. The Day of Pentecost followed nine days of intensive prayer. If God should pour into your life a remarkable gift for blessing other people, or speaking words which touch their lives, that will make you a magnet for some and a target for others. God won’t give you that kind of gift unless you’re willing to pay the price. These gifts are given to be used, not to be left in a cupboard.

The words of St Paul which we’ve heard today come from a letter which continues by encouraging us to ‘desire the greater gifts’, especially the gift of speaking words which come from God to build up other people in their lives. In other passages too, Jesus makes it clear that if we want to receive gifts from God, we need to ask, and perhaps ask repeatedly.

Have you received a gift from God which you’ve set aside because it’s disappointed or perplexed you? Maybe today is the day to look again and ask, “God, how should I use this gift?”

Is there a gift you’d like to receive from God which you’ve given up asking for? Maybe today is the day to start asking again?

I’d like to invite you to join me in praying a traditional prayer to the Holy Spirit which is drawn from the psalm we’ve prayed today.

Come Holy Spirit,
Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.

Bonus thought for web readers: On the first page of the Bible, the Holy Spirit hovers over the face of the water. In the middle of the Bible, the prophet Jeremiah calls God a ‘fountain of living water’. The Book of Revelation concludes the Bible by reaffirming the free gift of the water of life. God has us surrounded by water!

Call Me

Homily for Come All Who Thirst, for Members of Sion Community and Livestream Participants for the Saturday before Pentecost, 2020.

St John’s Gospel was written in Greek, a language which has several different words for ‘love’ – and two different words were used in this passage. We can miss what’s going on when we rely on our English translation, so let’s hear that again, with a possible interpretation. 

Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me enough to die for me?”

Peter replied: “Yes, Lord; You know that I’m your friend.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed My lambs;” and then Jesus asked him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me enough to die for me?”

Peter replied: “Yes, Lord; You know that I’m your friend.”

Jesus said to him, “Look after My sheep.” Then Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, are you truly my friend?”

Peter was grieved that Jesus asked him this third time, “Are you truly my friend?” and replied, “Lord, You know everything; You know that I’m your friend.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”

Jesus then said to him, in his most serious tone:

‘When you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go.’

In these words he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God. After this he said, ‘Follow me.’

They say that if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. If someone is offering you a free gift, you might instinctively ask, “What’s the catch?”

This weekend is all about a free gift. The title, “Come All Who Thirst” is taken from the prophet Isaiah, who called upon people with no money to come and buy wine and milk – but to buy them for what he called “not-money”.

The story of Jesus is the story of a man who said “Follow me, and you will enjoy eternal life!” He preached the forgiveness of sins – whatever you have done wrong in your life, say sorry and you can start again! He didn’t want anything in return – except our loyalty. In other words, our entire life!

St Paul didn’t believe Jesus was a messenger from God until he had a dramatic, powerful encounter with the risen Jesus on the Road to Damascus. That was enough to cause him to reverse the entire course of his life and become a preacher for Jesus. Friends and prophets warned him not to visit Jerusalem, but he went anyway, and to no-one’s surprise, was arrested by the skeptical Jewish leaders and handed over to the Roman Governor. Paul chose to gain attention for his message by making a dramatic appeal to Caesar, the Roman Emperor. If he hadn’t, he might have been released quietly – but to find out what actually happened, tune in to tomorrow’s Mass!

St Peter, by contrast, had failed to stand up for Jesus in public once, and faced the embarrassing but tender moment we’ve just seen when Jesus restored his dignity. There’s a legend that when Peter was later living in Rome, he tried to escape from the city but met Jesus walking the other way. “Where are you going, Lord?” – “Into the city to be crucified again.” According to the legend, St Peter turned round and the Lord disappeared. Or maybe the real Peter had already learned his lesson, and didn’t run away that time.

Both Peter and Paul ultimately found the strength to stand up for Jesus. Both of them accepted the deal Jesus offered: Give me your life on earth, and I will give you heaven. Both of them tasted the living water that Jesus promised, the power of the Holy Spirit – both of them were able to let God’s power flow through them to heal the sick and raise the dead.

Giving our life to Jesus doesn’t mean we have to abandon our families or join an order of monks, nuns or missionaries. It does mean we look again at our values, we place God at the centre of our life, and put the needs of our neighbours before our own. We don’t have to wait for someone to put a belt around us – we can surrender our hands into the service of others by our own free will.

This weekend is an invitation to take a risk. Come close to Jesus. Believe that he really offers a free gift worth having. We do need help and support on our journey, but Jesus offers us his Holy Spirit who comes to bring us gifts, and courage.  I’ll be saying more about what it means to do this at this evening’s mission event. Jesus asks: Do you thirst for me? Do you thirst for a life with God which will never end? Come, All Who Thirst, and follow me!

Shape Me

Homily for Come All Who Thirst, for Members of Sion Community and Livestream Participants for the Saturday before Pentecost, 2020.

In 1476, a famous sculptor, Antonio Rossellino, was hired to make a sculpture. He was given a block of marble which another sculptor had begun to work on, but abandoned. Rossellino wasn’t impressed – “This is mediocre material!” he said, and walked away. The block sat out in the yard, exposed to the wind and rain, for a quarter of a century.

Then a young man, only 26, was hired to see what he could do with the block. He saw its flaws, but he also saw its potential. He knew he couldn’t make a perfect image – indeed, we have a letter he wrote to one of his friends saying that there would be a problem with the right shoulder because of a hole in the material. But the young man did pretty well, because his name was Michaelangelo, and that block became the statue of David – the one who killed Goliath – which is now on display in the Vatican. Is the statue perfect? No. But did it become one of the most famous pieces of work in human history? Absolutely!

God works with us to write the stories of our lives. We sometimes worry too much that we can’t give God perfect material to work with. That’s not a problem for God, who is even better than Michaelangelo at working with the materials at hand.

In yesterday’s Bible readings, we heard St Paul appeal to the Roman Emperor, Nero. Because of that, he was taken, in chains, from the Middle East to Rome. Today, we hear that he spends two years in Rome, confined to his house but with enough freedom to invite people to come and hear him speak about Jesus. Strangely, the Bible doesn’t finish Paul’s story… it breaks off at the end of today’s reading and leaves Paul under house arrest in Rome.

The Bible does finish the story of what Jesus did before ascending to heaven – but at the same time we’re advised that we don’t know everything, because that would fill ‘all the books of the world’. I wonder what St John would have said if they’d invented memory sticks back then?

There’s another book which is unfinished – the book of what Jesus did after going to heaven. In every age, Jesus continues to speak to the hearts of human beings – come you who are thirsty, and I will give you living water! But what good is it to receive water without a suitable vessel? The rain simply fell on Michaelangelo’s block and weathered it, until he was ready to shape it into its final form.

Jesus wants to shape us into people who can receive his blessings, people who come to him with hands and hearts open wide. We come to him weathered by the illnesses and misfortunes which have happened to us along the way. He asks us to forgive the people who have hurt us, take responsibility for our own bad choices, and place our trust wholly in his hands. God chooses a different path for each one of us. For St Peter and St Paul, it was losing their lives in Rome as martyrs for Jesus. For the unnamed disciple walking behind Peter in today’s Gospel, it might have been long life and happiness. We are simply asked to trust Jesus to choose the path for each one of us, and give us strength to cope. Jesus never promised us a life free from trouble on earth – but he did promise to be with us until the end of time.

I’d like to leave you with the words of a song by Ellie Goulding. As originally written, the song seems to be the words of a woman who can’t satisfy her boyfriend and is willing to become whatever he wants – that doesn’t sound like a recipe for a healthy relationship! But what if we hear the song as the words of a soul turning to the God who is greater than us, and who loves us unconditionally?

Why don’t you be the artist, and make me out of clay?

Why don’t you be the writer and decide the words I say?

‘Cause I’d rather pretend I’ll still be there at the end

Only it’s too hard to ask, won’t you try to help me?

Friends, we don’t need to pretend! God will be there for us at the end – but he is also here for us now, even while the book of our life-story is still being written. We are not perfect – but neither was Michaelangelo’s block of marble. That needn’t stop God making something utterly beautiful out of each block of marble. All we have to do is pray: God, you be my sculptor, my writer, my artist – won’t you help me?

Be Glorified

Homily to Members of Sion Community and Livestream Participants for the The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A.

What would God look like if you could see Him?

There’s a story about a little girl who was working very intently, drawing a picture.

Mum came up and said, “What’s that, darling?”

“It’s a picture of God!”

“But, darling, no-one know what God looks like!”

“They will when I’ve finished!”

There are deep mysteries in today’s Gospel. Jesus is saying that “living forever” is the same thing as knowing Him and His Father. Jesus has come to give glory to God – and Jesus himself will be glorified by being nailed to the Cross.

Now, if I ask you to imagine Jesus in glory, you might think of Christmas with angels singing Gloria, or Jesus literally glowing on the mountain of Transfiguration, or one of his appearances after he rose from the dead. But how can the Cross be a moment of glory?

I think the answer is twofold.

One is clearer in the language of the New Testament, which is Greek. The same word can mean both ‘glory’ and ‘fame’. Certainly what happened on the Cross of Calvary is famous – or shall we say notorious? – in human history.

But the other is that, in a strange way, such a moment of utter darkness is illumined by the purest light.

Around a year ago, the world was rejoicing that astronomers had taken the first ever picture of a black hole at the heart of a nearby galaxy – a golden ring encompassing a heart of darkness. Light falling into a black hole is converted from pure radiance to pure mass. So why do we see an incandescent ring? That light comes not from the black hole itself, but the death throes of the debris falling in. It is in that final agony of matter being crushed out of existence that the cry of pain becomes pure light, sending its signal across the Universe. Human history redounds with the memory of Christ’s agony upon the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Like a black hole, the Death of Jesus upon the Cross is a mystery hidden from human eyes. We do not see his descent to the realm of the dead, where the souls of all the God-fearing ancestors await with bated breath. We do not witness the moment when the Risen Christ enters once more into the realm of matter. We see only the death throes, and the ripples of what happened next, as they radiate out through space and time. The halo of light beckons us to attend to the mystery within! We are torn between turning our face from the horror and fixing our gaze upon the love it represents. “When I am lifted up [upon the Cross] I will draw all people to myself!”

There’s more. Jesus is praying particular for the people who have acknowledged that he is truly the messenger of God-the-Father. He says that he is glorified in us. But that’s a bittersweet message, for Christ’s glory is his cross.

There’s a crucifix on this altar. On weekdays, we have Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament immediately after Mass, so I need to take the crucifix out of the way. When I did this one day, I picked it up by the long shaft and found myself having a conversation with the Lord.

“Ouch!” I said. “That hurts.”

“Well what do you expect?” replied Jesus. “You’ve just squeezed your hand around a nail going through my feet, of course it hurts!”

Well, maybe his reply was just my imagination – but the message was clear.

We place the crucifix at the heart of our worship, and on the walls of our homes.

We worship a God whose answer to suffering was not to evade it but to embrace it.

We are the few – the people who have come to know the Father through Jesus. We are the Chosen. We are the people who are called to be faithful to prayer even when prayer becomes dry, dreary, and downright boring.

There are times in our lives when God asks us to surrender. There are times when prayer is nothing but dull and uninspiring. These are the times when Christ says: Trust me! Let go! Don’t worry about looking foolish, or what your friends might think of you. Let me draw you in. You may be crushed. You may be changed. You may shine with my light in ways you do not expect. Let me take your pain. Let me take your sorrows. Let me take the rubbish which pollutes your life and draw it into an abyss from which it can never return. As surely as matter falling into a black hole creates a cosmic glow, so yield to me – let me fill you with my Holy Spirit, and with the gifts I have yet to release in your life.

It’s not about us making impossibly long lists of the things we plan to do for God. We don’t have to carry out extreme penances or heap burdens upon our lives. It’s about God creating a light yoke to guide us and steady us. We will pass through trials, even ordeals, but we hold to our hope that God turns all things to the good for those who love Jesus Christ.

No-one knows what God looks like, because no-one has yet seen God – but that day will come at the end of time. You will see Him face to face, and there will be no more tears, no more sadness, no more mourning.

No-one knows what your life will look like when fully transformed by God’s light – but that day will come very soon, if you let God in.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit! As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen!

Image of the M87 Black Hole - a yellow ring thicker at the bottom surrounding a dark circle.


With You Always

Homily to Members of Sion Community and Livestream Participants for the The Solemnity of the Ascension, Year A.

The world is under threat, and our great hero has gone missing!

Where is Superman? Where is Captain Marvel? Where is the Doctor? I can think of lots of science fiction specials or superhero movies which start with an absent hero. The stakes are high, and the whole world must be rescued from danger. The threat is either that Planet Earth is to be wiped out in its entirety, or the human race totally enslaved. But a few years ago, the Doctor Who Christmas special had a novel plotline – the big threat was that everyone on earth would be not consciously enslaved, but forcibly transformed into a copy of the evil overlord known as The Master.

That got me thinking. Our True Master also wants us to be transformed into copies of himself – but not by force. Slowly, painstakingly, we are invited to be transformed into images of the True Love. We live in the time after the Ascension, which means that – as a popular quote says – “Christ has no hands, no feet on earth but yours.” We are his eyes and his voice. His invitation is to take a journey of three steps: to know him, to follow him and to proclaim him!

Now of course it’s true that when any one of us behaves in a Christ-like way, we “make Christ present”, just as a friend of my family might say “I can see your mother in you!” But I think Jesus offers us even more than that. This year in Sion Community, we’ve been using a song called Communion, a word which literally means, ‘becoming-one-with’. The lyrics declare: “No space between us. It was easy to trust. You are closer, closer than my skin.” Does Jesus really come so close to us? St Paul was so sure that Jesus lives ‘in’ believers he used that idea in his letters to the Christians in Rome, in Galatia, in Ephesus and in Colossae. This isn’t about what happens when we physically receive Holy Communion at Mass – it’s about Jesus living within us as we are members of His body.

Jesus also promised that when ‘two or three are gathered in my name, I am with you’. This is not about a physical presence – Jesus is Lord of space and time and is present to all places and all eras. Rather, it is a promise of his attentiveness. So even when we are gathered by some marvel of technology in diverse locations, we can trust His promise to be ‘with’ us – to be attentive to us.

Jesus is present in the proclamation of the Gospel. Any Christian, even alone in their house, can speak the words of Scripture aloud. We can find great reassurance in proclaiming God’s promises over our lives. But perhaps we need a special gift of faith from God to know, deeply know, that these words are true.

We’re told that when the Risen Lord appeared to the Eleven on Ascension Day, some ‘hesitated’ before worshipping him. St Paul prayed for the Christians in Ephesus that they come to full knowledge of who Jesus really is. We can take the words in Scripture which are addressed to all believers and turn them around so they are personal to us: “Jesus, you are with me always, yes, to the end of time.”

The world is under threat, and our great hero has gone missing! But even Captain Marvel or Superman can only be in one place at a time! So actually, I’m rather glad today that Jesus has left the earth and ascended to heaven – that’s fairer for all of us!

When Jesus lived among us with all the constraints of a regular human body, access to him was limited. We know that he chose Peter as leader of his followers, and they were joined by James and John at key moments. The 12 Apostles were given special access to his teachings; a wider circle of supportive women and other ‘disciples’ travelled with him, and were privy to more of what Jesus said than the ‘crowds’ who came and went; we know that 72 of them were also sent on a mission of preaching and healing. If Jesus had chosen our age to become incarnate, he would be present to more people via social media – but he’d still have someone else, probably St Paul, running his Twitter account!

We are diamonds in the rough, treasure in jars of clay. Christ does dwell within us, if we have the eyes to see. Christ does work through our words and actions, if we set aside our own selfish desires and observe his command of self-giving love. We are the solution to the world’s problems – yes, even to the pandemic – if we allow ourselves to become perfect images of Jesus Christ. Our planet is under threat, and this week the global church celebrates Laudato Si week, reminding us of what Pope Francis wrote five years ago, and that each one of us can do something to save Planet Earth from ecological destruction.

But why stop with us? Imagine if every person on our planet – if every person in your town – if every person on your street – chose to become a perfect image of Jesus Christ? Let’s not stare daydreaming into the sky waiting for the Risen Body of Jesus to return. Arise and be his body. Go to the Upper Room and ask for the power of the Holy Spirit. Then go out to your neighbours, through the closeness of social media or the distance of two metres, and make disciples of your neighbourhood. Be the change you want to see. Be the hero God is calling you to be. The world may be in trouble, but our Master has not gone missing. No, he is with you always; yes, to the end of time!

Come, Holy Spirit

Homily to Members of Sion Community and Livestream Participants for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A.

I’m going to start with a riddle, and I’m going to pause long enough to see if there’s an answer on the livestream chat. Can anyone give me the name of a year when New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day actually fell in the same year?

It’s a trick question! Yes, any year will do! Every year ends on New Year’s Eve and begins on New Year’s Day – but we live in the time in-between.

It’s the same with Pentecost. In two weeks’ time, the Church will celebrate Pentecost with a solemn Sunday liturgy. But what we’re celebrating is the coming of the Holy Spirit at the first Christian Pentecost, which took place during an existing Jewish festival 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead.

Some of our younger listeners might feel like the Samaritans in today’s first reading – you’ve been baptised, but you’re not old enough for the bishop to have come and confirmed you. Confirmation is when the bishop does what St Peter and St John did in that reading – laying hands on people and praying for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Actually, I’m going to let you into a secret. You don’t have to wait for the bishop to be filled with the Holy Spirit!

How do I know? Three ways!

First of all, sometimes in the Bible we read that the Holy Spirit came and filled someone without anyone praying for them. It happened to Our Lady when she became the Mother of Jesus. It happened to Cornelius, a Roman soldier, when Peter was preaching in his house. 

Second, when you were baptised, the priest or deacon would have blessed your head with Chrism, the holy oil of confirmation, as a sign that your body had already become a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.

Third, I know that some children who aren’t yet confirmed have sensed the Holy Spirit speaking to them. I know of a boy – well, he’s a man now – who when he was seven years old, prayed for his father’s ear to be healed, and it was! I know of children who have prayed for adults, and those adults experienced the peace of the Holy Spirit washing over them!

So when are we filled with the Holy Spirit? Is it at our baptism? Is it at our confirmation? Is it at a time when God decides to do something special through us?

We need some help working this out, so I’ve brought my ‘spirit level’ – well, actually it’s a glass jar filled with rocks. Can I get any more rocks into it? No? So is it full? Yes? Let’s see,

You might have thought it was full, but there’s plenty of room for me to pour water into it. Here we go – up to the brim! So is it full now?

Maybe not! Here’s some food colouring. Let’s add a few drops of that – a nice red for Pentecost. And the vessel fills up again!

Stones in a vase filled with red liquidThe Holy Spirit is always offering us new gifts, new experiences. There’s always more! So it’s good to keep asking!

Someone who did keep asking was Blessed Elena Guerra, an Italian religious sister. In 1885 she wrote to Pope Leo XIII and asked him encourage Catholics to pray for the Holy Spirit for nine days, leading up to Pentecost, just like the apostles did at the beginning of the Church. The Pope listened to her! in 1895 he wrote an official letter setting out a novena! That encouraged Sr Elena to write several more letters, and in 1897 the Pope wrote a solemn encyclical making clear that the novena was not a one-off but something we were encouraged to do every year between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost. It still is!

This coming Thursday is Ascension Thursday, so if you’d like to pray a Pentecost Novena this year, it starts at the end of this week! There are lots of ways of praying it, but I’d like to recommend two.

The Burning Bush Novena, by Kim Kollins, is a pattern of prayer which allows you to pray in your own way, but it suggests nine themes and some matching Bible readings for each day from this Friday until a week Saturday. Each theme is a major world issue – such as Christian Unity, the Jewish People, the Renewal of the Church and the wellbeing of society.

Or you could try another approach which has a much tighter focus on praying that people come to know, love and follow Jesus. Thy Kingdom Come covers not nine days of prayer, but eleven – it includes Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday, not just the days in-between. For the the last few years, the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion have joined forces with other Christians to promote this. Thy Kingdom Come suggests that during this time we pray specifically for five not-yet-Christians who we know personally – and yes, there’s an app for that! This year, because of our strange circumstances, the organisers are also promoting acts of charity to help our neighbours.

You don’t have to wait for next weekend, either. Every day can be Pentecost! You might have heard it said that every Mass is a Good Friday and Easter Sunday rolled into one, because every Mass makes present Jesus dying and rising. That’s true – but every Mass is also Pentecost! In the Mass prayers I not only ask the Holy Spirit to come upon the bread and wine to make them holy – watch out for the hand signals! – but also there’s a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to come upon you and make YOU holy!

It’s easy for me to talk and for you to listen. But today’s sermon is an invitation for you to do something. I know it’s not always easy to do something extra in our busy lives, so maybe this is an invitation to make a temporary change to something you’re already doing, like family prayers at mealtimes or at bedtime. If you’re listening to this at home as a family, take a moment now to talk about what you might do as a family for the Pentecost Novena. And if you’re on your own in lockdown, maybe you know someone who can join you on the phone for nine days or at least pray at the same time of day – why not send them an invitation by text message now? Remember the options – look up the Burning Bush Novena, or Thy Kingdom Come – or simply agree to pray a prayer to the Holy Spirit every night for nine nights. We might be offering something on our LiveStream on some of those nights, but to find out what you’ll need to tune in on Ascension Day. Right now, take a moment to decide what you can do at home! Go!

Alternate Ending

Perhaps you can’t even wait 10 minutes to get to that prayer. OK. We can do something right now. Maybe you’ve already been confirmed. Maybe you’ve lived through an experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit – perhaps more than once. But just like the stones and the water and the red colouring, there are many ways of being filled, and perhaps the Lord has a new filling for you right now. So let’s take a moment to be open. You might find it helps to stretch out your open palms, and close your eyes.

Come Holy Spirit… Come Holy Spirit… Come Holy Spirit… and renew the face of the earth!

A Necessary Reminder

Homily to Members of Sion Community and Livestream Participants for the Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima, 2020.

In the necessary things, unity. In the other things, liberty. In all things, charity. (Source)

Today’s first reading takes us to the heart of the key question for any disciple of Jesus – what does God expect me to do?

Some of the early Christians thought that all new followers of the Way must be circumcised – well, the men, specifically. But Paul disagreed strongly, and I can see his point – if that’s not actually required, it’s probably going to discourage quite a few men from becoming Christians!

Each alleged vision of Mary also poses a challenge for disciples. Is God truly using the Mother of Jesus to send a message from heaven? And if He is, is this message binding on all believers?

The Church is quite clear that everything we NEED to know to get to heaven had already been revealed by the time the last apostle died. Anything that God chooses to reveal after that time is an optional extra. But as disciples who love the Lord and his Blessed Mother, we would naturally take a strong interest in any request heaven might make of us!

The appearance of Our Lady at Fatima is recognised by the Church as credible and worthy of belief – but a Catholic can, in good conscience, say, “I don’t believe it was a genuine message.”

What did Our Lady ask for at Fatima? She asked that everyone should pray the rosary every day for peace in the world. She asked for the “O My Jesus” prayer to be added to each decade of the rosary. She invited anyone who wished to console her wounded Immaculate Heart to make a special devotion on the first Saturday of five consecutive months – Confession, Mass, 5 decades of the rosary and 15 minutes of meditation. And she asked that the Pope and the Bishops should consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart.

This last request has proven as controversial as the question of circumcision for St Paul. Several acts of consecration, of ‘the world’ (which implicitly includes Russia) or without all the bishops taking part, have taken place over the last few decades. Has something pleasing to God already taken place? Yes. Was the first consecration made as publicly or wholeheartedly as possible? No. Did the Fatima visionary Sr Lucia die believing an adequate act of consecration had been made? Yes. Does heaven require more? I don’t know!

One thing Our Lady made abundantly clear at Fatima was that we should pray for the conversion of souls who were in danger of going to Hell. During the 20th century, lots of theologians speculated that God was so loving, so generous, that somehow he finds a way to save every soul. I don’t think we can make that assumption based on the Gospels, where Jesus warned many people of the danger of their sins leading them to Hell. One thing I am sure of – if all souls are going to be saved from Hell, it will be because God has used us as intercessors to pray for their conversion: O My Jesus, save us from the fires of Hell; lead all souls to heaven, especially those who have most need of thy mercy.

The Message of Fatima is as controversial today as the question of circumcision was in St Paul’s day. Following the messages of Fatima is not essential for our own salvation. Heeding the call to pray for others might well assist their salvation. We are free to pray and work for the salvation of others in many different ways – and we should invite, not insist, that others should heed the requests of Our Lady of Fatima. 

In the necessary things, unity. In the other things, liberty. In all things, charity. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!

Christ our Cornerstone

Homily to Members of Sion Community and Livestream Participants for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A.

Jesus Christ is real.

A man lived and died 2000 years ago, with the name Jesus, believed by some people to be the long-awaited Messiah, or Christ.

Of this we have good evidence. If we are confident of any ancient documents which tell us about Roman Emperors, Egyptian Pharaohs, or Near Eastern civilisations, then we have better evidence for Jesus living than for pretty much anyone else.

It’s what he said that’s the problem.

I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6)

Follow Me! Believe Me! Live Me! – and your eternal life depends upon it.

Put that together with other things Jesus said – “I am the Gate” (we heard that last week), “I am the Bread of Life”, “I am the True Vine” – and we will rapidly reach the same conclusion that C. S. Lewis did in Mere Christianity:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell… [unless] this man was, and is, the Son of God.

This is what makes Jesus a stumbling block for many. The question is not whether a man called Jesus existed and did more or less the kind of things we read about in ancient texts. The question is, was he God living among human beings?

If you don’t think he was, that claim of Jesus will just sit there and annoy you, a stumbling block on the landscape. But if you think it’s true, what should you do? St Peter has an answer in today’s letter: set yourselves close to him, as your cornerstone.

Today, I was going to build a tower. I was going to start with Jesus, and then build layers upon him – our belief in him (head-knowledge), our trust in him (the way we live out our faith) and our mission to go and tell others. But the more I reflected on the Scriptures, the more I realised that is not the image they give us at all!

Jesus is the Cornerstone. What is a cornerstone? It sets the direction for all the other stones in the building. It is the first corner, and as long as the walls rest upon it, they will be straight and true. From a cornerstone flow two walls set at right angles, directions quite distinct from each other but equally necessary. That might remind us of how Jesus gave two great commandments which are both essential – love God, love neighbour. We see it in today’s reading from Acts: the Apostles have a ministry of worship and preaching, so that people may know God through the Word. But the Church also requires a ministry of practical service to the needy members of the community, and so the first deacons are elected and commissioned.

Now there are two verses in Scripture about building upwards. Our Lord spoke about a wise man who built his house on rock. And in the letter to the Ephesians we discover that we, as members of the Church, are ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone’. That, to me, suggests that we are built on these walls alongside Christ the towering cornerstone and keystone. It seems to me very appropriate that we are standing alongside Christ as his bride, and it reminds me of a beautiful quote you sometimes hear at weddings, by Bible scholar Matthew Henry:

The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.

This is our calling – to stand close to Christ, to know we are loved by him. To do the things that he did, breaking through barriers to raise up the poor and the outcast. To do even greater things – to do the work of God without being God. Sometimes that means pioneering new things. The first seven deacons had to work out from scratch how to serve the widows. Peter had to learn how to become a travelling preacher. Some of us, who are full time missionaries with Sion Community, must discern now what our mission work might look like in the year ahead.

Many of us right now are facing fears about whether we can find a job, or how our job needs to change so we can carry it out safely. A few of us are working on the front line in the health service, or sharing a home with those who are. But whatever questions we are asking, we can always ask: “Am I lined up with Jesus? How would he do this task?” We are all called to love our needy neighbour, even if we not full-time deacons. We are all asked to make Jesus known where we can, even if we are not full-time apostles.

Jesus Christ is real. When we fail to measure up, his forgiveness is real. When we need strength to measure up, his help is real. Take a moment now to ask how you are aligned to Christ the cornerstone – and draw near! He is here for you.

At the end of Mass:

Today, we have reflected on how our church is built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets. As we broadcast this Mass each Sunday, it’s helpful for us to know who is taking part – adults, teenagers, younger children? We would like to place your names on these foundations as a visible sign that you are joining us. So I’d like to ask you to send us a short message so we know who’s in our congregation. You can use the Live Chat – but that’s very public, so just give the first names of adults, and the ages, not the names, of any under-18s with you. Or you can email us with names and ages of the whole family:

I Am The Gate

Homily to members and friends of Sion Community for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2020

I am the Gate of the Sheepfold.

Baa! You don’t look like a gate!

Oh, hello Barbara. No, I’m not talking about myself, I’m talking about Jesus.

Does Jesus look like a gate?

No, when he said that he looked like a man.

So why did he say he was a gate?

Well, in those days, shepherds would sleep at the entrance to the folds where their sheep were kept. The sheep couldn’t get out because the shepherd was in the way. And if any wild animals wanted to get in, they had to get past the shepherd first. Barbara?


Can you use your imagination?

Baa! Of course I can!

Well, imagine a shepherd hears a wolf coming. He stands up in the entrance with his staff blocking the way, and he looks at the wolf and he says… well, what do you think he says?

Baad wolf?

No, Barbara, but he might say, “If you want to get to the sheep, you’ve got to go through me.”

Bu-bu-but wouldn’t the wolf attack the shepherd?

Yes – and the shepherd was attacked. Jesus our Good Shepherd was nailed to a Cross and the people thought the bad wolf had won. But Jesus had a powerful Father in heaven, who brought him back to life and gave him power to protect all the sheep.

Fr Gareth?

Yes Barbara?

Why did Jesus say that the sheep would follow the Shepherd out of the gate? If there are wolves around, isn’t it safer for them to stay inside?

Well they need to go out to find food. There’s not enough grass inside the sheepfold for them all to eat. Just like the way people right now have to stay at home, but they do have to go out to buy food.

So does Jesus want the sheep to be inside the gate or outside the gate?

Well, Barbara, that depends. Inside is a safe place for sheep that are tired and need to rest. But Jesus has work for the sheep to do outside. Other sheep might see that they are well-looked after and have a Good Shepherd, and might come and join our flock.

Bu-bu-but Fr Gareth?

Yes Barbara?

I’m confused.  First Jesus says that he’s a shepherd and the gatekeeper lets him in, then he said he’s a gate. So is he a shepherd or a gate?

Well, that is a bit confusing, yes. But for the tired sheep, the hurting sheep, the ones who have been naughty and run away, Jesus says “Come to a safe place and I will protect you.” That’s when Jesus is the gate to protect them from the wolf outside. For the strong and healthy sheep, Jesus says he’s the shepherd who will lead them to find food and water. They follow his voice and they go safely wherever they need to go.

Faaather Gareth?

Yes Barbara?

How can I hear the voice of Jesus telling me where to go?

There are lots of ways, Barabara. He speaks in the pages of the Bible. He speaks through nature – he’s given you a woolly coat so you know your job in the world is to give people wool. He speaks in your conscience, making you feel comfortable with going the right way and uncomfortable when you think of going the wrong way. He speaks through giving you a sense of peace when you are trying to decide between two good paths. But what’s most important is you have to take time to listen. And he does like to be asked. In fact, we can ask him now. Would you like that?

Yes, I would.

Then say after me: “Lord Jesus – Good Shepherd – speak to me today!” And Barbara –


What must you remember to do?


Very good. Keep listening to the Good Shepherd, and he will keep you safe.