Ad Astra per Nuptia

Wedding homily – for Sebastian Frysol & Jennifer Cavill

Jennifer, Sebastian, you have invited your family and your friends to this place today because you wish to make a public pledge to spend the future together. You could have chosen to simply live together, or to go through a civil ceremony. But we are here in church. Jennifer, I have known you through our connection to the Catholic Church for more than 10 years. Sebastian, it has been my privilege to come to know you, through Jennifer, during the last year. Together, you have chosen certain texts for today; let me reflect back to you what you have chosen.

“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” These words challenge us to cast our minds to the heavens, and not to be constrained by worldly values. As I look to the stars, it strikes me that by getting married, you are forming your own Federation. A Federation is marked by a set of values its members agree to live by. The values of your Federation are rooted in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.

“Honour one another above yourself.” In the best adventure movies, no-one is left behind; or if someone must make the ultimate sacrifice, they do it for the team. In your Federation, the needs of the Many – or at least of the Other – outweigh the needs of the one. There will be days when each of you will need to offer your bodies – your tiredness, or your need to get your own way – for the sake of each other. This is the pledge you make today. When the adventure movie is a science fiction movie, it sometimes turns out that the ultimate sacrifice is not so final after all. I cannot offer you a resurrection machine – but I can offer you a divine promise. When two baptised Christians marry, their marriage bond is a sacrament, a promise of God’s ongoing help. The same divine power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead is on offer to you when you call to God for assistance.

“Help those in need… be kind not because people deserve it” but because God loves them. Your resources are finite, but God does expect that, as individuals and as a couple, when you come across people in need you will offer them something of your own time and resources as an act of love.

“Pray.” In one simple word, St Paul reminds you that you are called to communicate and connect with your Creator. The Bible is an epic about God’s love for us, and our invitation to return love for love. You show love to God by choosing to hold your wedding in church, by worshipping in public and in private, and by praying for one another.

“Live in harmony with one another.” Ever since the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still came out in 1951, it’s been a cliché that an explorer lands upon another planet and says “We come in peace.” Jennifer, Sebastian, although you have known each other for a long time, each of you is still an alien world not fully explored by the other, a living world which will grow and change. So whether the earth stands still, or moves, for you – come in peace, and be prepared to learn about each other anew.

Maybe you well tell each other than you love each other “to the moon and back”… as you pass the moon, you will notice that Apollo 11 bore a plaque saying “We came in peace for all mankind.” Your charge to live in harmony is not only with each other, but with those who are already members of your family, and those who will be part of your family in the years to come – “strange new worlds” for you to explore.

What might be the Prime Directive for your Federation? In the Star Trek universe, the Prime Directive is not to interfere in another culture, or in simple language, to live and let live. In my years of ministry as a priest, I have seen that some of the greatest unhappiness in families comes from unfulfilled expectations: one family member expected that another would visit a certain event, leave them some money, or take their side in an argument, without first receiving a promise that that person would do so. So I urge that in your Federation, to be part of a family is to honour and respect the choices made by other members, even when you don’t agree.

To Jennifer and Sebastian, I say this: by your vows today, you are making a strong promise to support and understand one another, and to respect the different views and actions of the families you now marry into. The Hebrew Bible contains a divine promise, that if you keep the commandment to honour your parents, you will live long and prosper. To the other guests here present, I say this: Today, some of you will become family to each other for the first time. Some of you are even meeting for the first time. Honour and respect one another, but expect nothing of each other other than what is freely offered as a gift.

Sebastian, Jennifer, you now pledge yourself to an ongoing mission, please God closer to 50 years than to 5, an enterprise which is a voyage of discovery. Together you will travel into that undiscovered country we call the future. Go boldly. And if you are ready to forge this new Federation, come forward now.

This homily was inspired equally by St Paul’s Letter to the Romans (12:1-2 & 9-18) and Star Trek: The Motion Picture – described by Jennifer as “A movie all about love, even though it never uses the word.”

Time to Serve

Homily for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B at St Philip Evans.

Have you ever known you’ve needed to be challenged beyond your comfort zone?

Great athletes know they need coaches. Without a coach to hold them to their disciplines, they might not get up so early or so often to train in the early morning, nor keep going until they’ve exceeded their personal best.

The young man in today’s Gospel knew he needed spiritual coaching. He was already a spiritual athlete, in the premier league of those who kept God’s Law. But he sensed he was called to more. Jesus threw down a challenge, to step out of his comfort zone and place his total trust in God. On this day, he wasn’t ready… and the Bible doesn’t show us what he did later, so we can only imagine whether his was a story of eternal regret or eventual surrender.

We, too, are running the race to which Christ calls us. We don’t need too much prompting to help our friends and love our families. We only need a little push, as with last weekend’s CAFOD appeal, to help people who are innocent victims of global circumstances – such as those made homeless and hungry by the Indonesian earthquake. But the challenge of following Christ does not stop there. “Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you.” Today, Christians across the UK mark Prisoners’ Sunday. 

Not all of those in British jails are guilty of any crime. Someone suspected can be jailed on remand, pending trial. More than a quarter of all prisoners do not serve time – because they are released without charge, found “Not Guilty”, or given a non-custodial sentence. We also imprison those sectioned under the Mental Health Act and foreigners whose only crime is to breach our rules about who can enter or stay in Britain.

There are, then, some innocent victims of justice. But nearly three quarters of our prison population are there because they have been found guilty of some serious criminal act. Today, Christ offers us a challenge as taxing as the one given to the young man: will you love me, hidden in those now in prison? When he painted his picture of the Last Judgment, he said, “I was a prisoner and you did – or did not – visit me. What you did to them, you did to me.”

If you’ve ever driven into Cardiff from Atlantic Wharf, you’ll have seen Cardiff Gaol right in front of you. Right now, there are about 800 prisoners in HMP Cardiff. We might be tempted to think “good riddance” – but every prisoner is a human being made in the image of God and loved by Jesus Christ. It’s only right to ask if there’s something we can do to support them.

Maybe one or two of us will be called to become prison visitors, either as part of the official monitoring process which ensures high standards, or through the Chaplaincy which supports Catholic prisoners.

If you’re the kind of person who eats out regularly in Cardiff, you could book a meal at The Clink, the prison restaraunt which trains inmates with skills which will help them get a job on release.

This year Archbishop George has asked us to support the care of prisoners financially if possible. I am conscious that with CAFOD last week and World Mission Sunday next week, this could become an expensive month, so I will not ask for a collection today, but on 3/4 November – this will support the work of the Prison Advice & Care Trust.

Finally, there is one thing we can all do: pray. I’m going to pass round a prayer leaflet with a short prayer for each day of the coming week. If you come to weekday Mass in St Philip Evans, we’ll pray it together at the end of Mass. But you can also use it at home.

I know many of us won’t be enthusiastic about praying for prisoners. Something inside us will cry out – “they brought it on themselves”. So if anyone here today has never committed a sin, feel free to sit this one out. But for those of us who can say “Christ died for me even though I was a sinner” then I, as your spiritual coach, offer you this challenge: give one minute each day this coming week to pray for prisoners, especially those in HMP Cardiff – and if, like today’s Young Man, you feel called to do more – speak to me afterwards.

For the Children

Homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B at St Paul’s.

“I’m very sorry. I shouldn’t be standing up here talking to you. There are other people much more capable. In fact, I’m not sure why they ever picked me for this job…”

Don’t worry. I haven’t gone mad. I’m just trying to give you a flavour of what’s going on in the head of a person suffering from chronic anxiety or what the psychologists call “impostor syndrome”.

Lots of famous people suffer from just these kind of feelings. TV presenter and model Alexa Chung recently told the BBC that she did. Although she’d been commissioned to write for Vogue fashion magazine, she couldn’t shake off the feeling that she was about to be “found out” as a fraud.

This week, Claire Foy – who played the young Queen Elizabeth in Netflix’s The Crown admitted to similar feelings of anxiety.

Have you ever felt underqualified for the tasks you have to take on regularly? It’s a very common reaction. Sometimes we have a false sense of Christian modesty, that we shouldn’t receive compliments at all. But Jesus said the “truth would set us free” and there are times we need to learn to accept the praise given to us.  Not long ago I met a member from a Christian community which had a rule about accepting compliments – when someone praised you, you were only allowed to give one of three answers. “Amen!” – “Praise God” – or “I receive that!”

Picture those 70 elders invited to go up the mountain with Moses. This story from the Hebrew Bible comes after Moses has spent some time alone with God in the mists atop a mountain… in fact someone on Facebook pointed out to me that Moses was the very first person to download information to a tablet from a cloud! But now the invitation comes down to the camp – the same God who has been speaking face-to-face with Moses now wants to speak directly to the elders of the people – they were to meet with God too! I wonder how many of them felt they had been wrongly picked for this privilege? But if God chose to show himself to them… that puts things in a new light. Does God make mistakes about things like that?

At first sight, the 12 apostles had no trouble accepting their exalted position. Last Sunday, we heard them arguing about who was the greatest! This week, they’re trying to stop someone who’s not a member of the inner circle from doing God’s work. But I wonder, deep down, were they motivated by pride in being the “chosen ones” – or were they, too, insecure about being chosen, and trying to keep rivals at arm’s length?

It’s very easy to find reasons to not do things for the parish we belong to.

Perhaps we feel unworthy.

Perhaps we expect a put-down from others in positions of authority.

Perhaps we’re afraid of criticism or that the work will go horribly wrong.

Or perhaps we’re afraid of being sucked in to a place where we can’t say no.

These fears are real. But God is love, and perfect love casts out all fear.

Jesus made it clear time and time again that God has high expectations of us. The steward entrusted with talents is expected to return with a profit. The “sheep” who do good receive a reward in heaven; the goats, who do nothing, are sent to eternal damnation.

He told parables about a master returning to check on the state of his vineyard, or a servant who only received a small punishment because he didn’t understand what his master expected of him. Among all the false fears we face, there is only one real fear we should cling on to – that at the end of our life we will meet God, and have to explain why we didn’t use our gifts to bless God’s people.

And what exactly does God expect us to do? Love our enemy – be willing to forgive. Love our neighbour – help the people whose needs are most obvious to us. Love God with all our heart – giving time to personal prayer and church services. But also – “Go into the world, teach them to obey everything I taught you,” says Jesus. Today he is teaching us that many volunteers are needed, and we should not be put off by the objections of others or a false sense of our own shortcomings.

Successful churches ask people to build on their strengths. Maybe at school you were told to focus on things you did badly, to get better – or at least less bad. But when we are older, we have a good sense of our true strengths and weaknesses. I’ve got news for you – whatever your strengths are, God gave them to you so you could bless the Church and help other people.

So ask yourself: What gifts have I been given? What’s stopping me from using them here?

Today, Christ warns us not to be an obstacle to children who have faith. It’s easy to blame flawed bishops and abusive priests for setting an appalling example, and yes, each church leader will one day answer to Christ for the choices they have made. But who are the greater obstacles to our young people? Prelates in faraway place they will never meet? Or those of us here today who allow doubts and fears to stop us from offering to serve our young people? If we don’t give our children the experience of church which will best help them grow in faith, what thanks can we expect from God?

In every parish, there is a great need for volunteers to work with children – First Communion, Confirmation and Children’s Liturgy of the Word. For all the reasons I’ve talked about this morning, we might be hesitant to volunteer. But if we allow our fears to defeat us before we begin, we will never become the Church God is calling us to be.

Now is the time. God can take your small offering and do great things with it. And remember – professionals built the Titanic, but Noah’s Ark was built by an amateur!

In Praise of Virgin Martyrs

“The Catholic Church thinks it’s better to be a dead virgin than a rape survivor.”

That’s how I saw the Church’s stance on Christian women martyred ‘in defense of their chastity’ summed up by a critic in newsprint a few years ago, and it came back to mind with the beatification of Anna Kolesárová earlier this month.

In 1944, a Soviet soldier tried to rape and then murdered the devout 16-year-old Slovak. Anna was a daily Massgoer who had taken over domestic chores following the death of her mother. When the soldier came looking for food and took hold of her to satisfy another appetite, she broke away from him and cried her farewell to her father before she was fatally shot. The memory of Anna’s death survived throughout the period of communist rule in Slovakia, resulting in growing public interest in the post-communist nation, culminating in this month’s beatification.

But this kind of holy role model is controversial. A Catholic critic in Commonweal asked, ‘Are we still doing this?’ Even a more sympathetic commentator on Alateia conceded the weakness of trying to tell school children that Maria Goretti was a saint because ‘she refused to let herself be raped’. A hostile Slovakian, Ria Gehrerová, questioned the implication that being murdered is preferable to being raped.

Gehrerová noted that on Anna’s grave, it is written “better death than sin”, which has also been used by the church when promoting Kolesárová’s story. But “would Kolesárová have sinned if the soldier had raped her? A spokesperson of the Slovak church said no.”

Let’s first acknowledge the blindingly obvious. Anna was sexually assaulted and killed by a violent man through no fault of her own. If the soldier had succeeded, she would not have committed any sin – any wilful, personal, choice – against purity. The only choice she was faced with, in the heat of the moment, was whether to consent, acquiesce, or resist – and her choice to resist was a reflection of who she was as a person.

‘Consent’ given under duress is never true consent, whether to an act of sexual abuse or to some other act of manipulation such as a hostage situation. Nevertheless, there are moral questions around co-operation, and the Church holds (based on the writings of St Paul) that we cannot do evil that good may come of it. No sin (wilful co-operation with evil) committed under duress can be mortal; there is likely hardly any culpability at all. But there is still a moral choice to be made between co-operating and acquiescing – that is, saying ‘no’ but not actively resisting – or indeed putting up a heroic show of resistance. And I write these words conscious that it is easy to pontificate about an abhorrent situation in which I have never found myself.

We could be distracted, at this point, by a long exploration of the goodness of virginity per se. The Book of Revelation (14:4) gives us a glimpse of a special category of saint, who died as virgins for the sake of the Lord – ‘men who have not defiled themselves with women’. There is a difficult history, from St Augustine of Hippo until righted by St John Paul II, of Christian scholars suggesting that even within marriage, the sexual act is intrinsically impure. The Vatican recently ruffled feathers by suggesting (88) that women who were not virgins could be admitted to the Order of Consecrated Virgins. This reveals the tension between the sign given by a woman pledging perfect chastity from now on against the spiritual value of always having been a virgin (the subject of heated mediaeval debates about whether Our Lady could have theoretically had children after bearing Christ). Derek Carlsen believes the Torah gives no compensation to a raped virgin because, in God’s eyes, she has not lost her virginal status. Suffice it to say that the Bible drops hints that there is some spiritual and eternal significance in always having been a virgin but there is not enough evidence to pronounce on the heavenly status of a woman who loses her virginity against her will.

Does it matter, from a spiritual point of view, if a person chooses to resist sexual assault and pays with their life, rather than acquiescing as a survival strategy? The Catholic viewpoint, of course, holds that there is an afterlife and heroic deeds do receive their reward there. So the calculus for a Catholic faced with mortal peril looks very different from the plight of an atheist who believes they face a choice between eternal annihilation or living out one earthly lifespan bearing the trauma of being a survivor.

It would not have been a sin (on her part) for Anna to have been raped. It clearly was a heroic act to resist and break away as she did. It would have been a sin to wilfully co-operate with the rapist. That seems to leave acquiescing as the ‘morally neutral’ response – which could also be interpreted as another kind of heroism, that of planning to ‘get through’ the horrible circumstances so she could continue supporting her father and brother. We might also ask whether her decision to resist, in the heat of the moment, was motivated by a Christian sense of purity – or was it the kind of reaction any young women, of any or no creed, might make given that kind of provocation?

By raising up Anna as a role model, are we proclaiming that choosing to be a living survivor is less heroic?

The history of the early church is marked by a different kind of virgin martyr – the women who decided to entrust their virginity to Christ and then faced pressure from powerful relatives to enter marriage. In today’s climate we might focus on the abuse of human dignity represented by any kind of forced marriage rather than the Christian motive of these particular women. Nevertheless, it seems right to say that those women were martyrs both for human dignity and for Christ.

There are martyrs who choose to lay down their lives for others – the purple martyrdom of a Maximilian Kolbe or Gianna Molla.

There are martyrs who are killed simply for being Christian – think of the 21 Copts murdered by ISIS, the 7 Tibherine monks or those attending Mass in Pakistan or Indonesia caught up in the blast of suicide bombers. In some cases, martyrs are put to the further test of being given an ‘out’ if they renounce their Catholic faith, but simply being in the right place at the wrong time is enough to qualify you as a ‘red martyr’.

Then there are those who are killed for standing up for their values – values endorsed by the Catholic faith but also held by many non-Christians of the utmost integrity. For example, Blessed Marcel Callo (Nazi-occupied France) and Blessed Francesco Aleu (Spanish Civil War) were martyred not for attending Christian worship but living out their Catholic values in strained times.

When Cardinal Newman was declared ‘Blessed‘ a few years ago, Radio 4 broadcast a play about Newman’s life. The playwright imagined that Newman’s guardian angel met him at the moment of his death and declared to him – ‘You are to become a saint!’

‘Oh no!’ said Newman. ‘Not a saint! I shall be sliced up like salami and made into bite-sized lessons for schoolchildren!’

There’s always a danger with a beatification, that we take the one, most dramatic fact about the person being raised up and turn it into an over-simplified lesson. Simcha Fisher has likened these moral slices to the ‘bathwater around the baby‘ who is actually a living person with love for Christ at their heart. Ultimately, the Virgin Martyrs remind us not only that Christians are called to chastity but that we are called to resist evil and confront it heroically, without compromise.

Should we teach children that Maria Goretti is a saint because she didn’t want to be raped? No. Is Maria Goretti a saint because she thoroughly resisted being raped? Yes – but that’s an incomplete answer. First, the moral goodness is not that she kept her virginity intact, but that she never even acquiesced to evil. Second, when she showed the heroism of not acquiescing but resisting – she did this in the context of a life which was already devoted to Christ and which culminated in trying to persuade her attacker not to sin, for the good of his soul. Similarly, Blessed Anna is beatified not only for the moment of her death but the manner of her life. The short, ‘teachings to children’ version might be ‘resist evil and never compromise, even if it costs your life’. The longer answer requires a commitment to living out the Catholic faith in its fullness, which finds its fruition in this moment of crisis.

“The Catholic Church thinks it ‘s better to be a dead virgin than a rape survivor?”

“Being murdered is preferable to being raped?”

When I am caught up in the violent choices made by others, I have only one choice – how to respond. The Catholic Church thinks it’s better to enter into heaven as a hero of the resistance than to remain on earth as a wounded soldier. Most societies honour their heroes precisely because they have gone ‘beyond their duty’. May not all of us, who are wounded in some way by the sins of others, honour the few who went above and beyond?

For The Planet

Homily for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B at St Philip Evans.

Oh no! Pope Francis just made a statement about caring for the environment!

That was the reaction of someone I’m connected to on Facebook. Surely saving the planet won’t get us to heaven? Why is the Pope bothering with stuff like that?

Well, my contact was right. Saving our planet won’t automatically save your soul. But we’ve only got one planet, and our well-being is interconnected. St James spells out clearly this week that if we truly have faith in God, that faith must pour forth in actions which show that we care for our neighbours. Pope Francis says, rightly (see #217), that caring for our planet is not an optional extra or a second-rate duty for us. It’s a measure of our love.

Oh no! Pope Francis just made a statement about caring for the environment!

OK, so perhaps the environment is something that popes should be talking about. But why is he talking about this now, when the Church is facing so many other problems? It’s not surprising really. For many years, the Eastern Orthodox churches have focussed on these issues around September 1st, and three years ago Pope Francis pledged the Catholic Church to mark the same date. So we should always expect the Pope to say something about green issues at this time of year.

Oh no! Pope Francis has just made a statement about the way we should care for the environment!

Oh yes! This means it’s time to take a fresh look at the way we care for our common home, Planet Earth.

I know it’s easy to become cyncial about the things we might do, and ask whether they really make a difference. Here in Cardiff, we have to put out our waste in green bags and food caddies. But we often hear rumours that our carefully separated waste ends up in landfill anyway. Is this true? The Council says that the contents of the green recycling bags are “separated and sent on to different recycling factories for paper, plastics, glass etc”. This is true, but according to the Western Mail, some of the “sending on” takes the waste to countries as far away as China and Indonesia – 11 thousand tonnes of paper waste went to China – and there some of it may not be recycled but could be dumped with other waste.

So there’s room for improvement, but our food waste is being compsted and much metal, plastic and paper waste is being recycled. Of course, the system won’t work at all unless we sort our waste properly at home. Cardiff’s current recycling and composting rate is 60 per cent – which means we’re doing better than all nine comparable cities in England and Scotland! But we can’t rest there. The council needs to recycle another 20,000 tonnes of the city’s waste by 2025 to meet an all-Wales 70% target. One big problem is that broken glass damages the machines used to separate metal, plastic and card, so we will soon get blue wheelie bins for glass. Rather than groaning at “another thing to do”, let’s embrace this as a positive act of love for humanity and the planet. And if any of us aren’t sorting our waste properly, the Council and the Pope would both like you to start doing so now!

What else can we do? On Friday I rang a few people to ask if there was just one thing they’d recommend you do to make a difference, what would it be?

Friends of the Earth replied: “That’s a wonderful question, and I’m glad you asked it today, because it’s plastic-free Friday!” Could you go one day a week without using disposable plastic – no straws, cups, cling-film or bottled water?

The Cardiff office of Christian Aid also suggested reducing plastic – or else switching to a green energy provider. Our parish is already part of a national consortium of Catholic organisations buying electricity and gas from renewable suppliers. We all have power bills to pay, and by choosing suppliers who are building turbines and solar panels, we can drive investment in the right kind of energy. Yes, I recognise that might make our bills a little more expensive – but we can also do things to save energy, and therefore save money. You can get advice on free energy-saving measures from an all-Wales organisation called Nest.

Evangelical charity Tear Fund suggested we could eat less meat. (They have other suggestions online, too.)

But the most challenging suggestion came from the local office of CAFOD. “Buy less, and use less! Don’t consume more than your fair share! Aspire not to have more, but to be more!”

Now, it’s not always easy to work out what our fair share us. But perhaps we can start by asking “how much is more than we need?” Do we need to put so much water in the kettle before we boil it? Do we buy more food that we can use before its expiry date? Can we freeze half a loaf, rather than wait for the last slices to go mouldy? And when we do need to spend money, every puchase is a vote for the kind of world we want. If we can afford the premium, can we pay extra for goods which are fairly traded or kinder on the environment?

Sometimes the right answer is not to buy something at all. If we want something with a designer label or simply for the sake of having it, have we made a good choice? Do we need the latest technology, or can we use an older model for a couple more years? Even if we’re not ready to totally give up eating meat or flying on holidays, every time we choose an alternative is a step in the right direction.

None of us can save the planet on our own – but together we can take small steps. Jesus challenges us to carry our cross every day, even though we are far from the end of our journey. We might feel daunted and ask, “Can I really make a difference?” Yes! Every positive decision matters to God and will be noticed in heaven. So make one positive decision today, and carry your green cross home.


You can make a personal green pledge at LiveLaudatoSi.org!

The Bishops of England and Wales invite you to consider Our Common Home.

Ephphatha! Be open! (Sunday edition)

Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B at St Philip Evans (Sunday morning Signed Mass, and anticipating Home Mission Sunday 2018).

“Ephphatha!”

That’s not a word you hear every day.

The Gospels are written in Greek, but Our Lord Jesus spoke Aramaic, and sometimes one of the words he spoke was so powerful, that the Gospel writers wrote down exactly what he said. The disciples who were with him on that day must have sensed God’s power flowing through him strongly at that moment – and a man who had a lifelong impediment of hearing and speech suddenly spoke and heard clearly!

And now he has a voice, what’s the first thing Jesus asks him to do?

“Don’t tell anyone about me!”

Can you imagine having experienced such a mighty miracle, knowing that everyone will want to know the story of how you found your voice, and then not being allowed to talk about it? Ouch!

But we’re told that people ignored Jesus’ request and talked about him anyway.

Any story of healing is a challenge when we experience of lack of wholeness. This week, thousands of Deaf Catholics from around the world are gathering in Lourdes for an international pilgrimage. There are well over 100 recognised miracles of healing from Lourdes – but countless thousands of pilgrims who return without the physical healing they have hoped and prayed for. If God has the power to heal, why do we experience it so rarely? Perhaps God grants miracles especially where they will help people see that a bigger issue is at stake – so this man who cannot hear or speak is a sign to us that there are people who cannot hear who Jesus us or speak of him to others.

During his life on earth, Jesus was keen not to become too famous too quickly. Otherwise he might have been arrested before he had finished his work of preaching and healing. But once he rose from the dead – and try keeping that a secret! – things changed. Before he ascended into heaven, he told his friends and followers to go into the world and spread the good news.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is completing a journey through pagan lands. The people there don’t know about the God of the Bible. Some don’t believe in any god – others believe in various Greek or Roman gods. It’s rather like Britain today, where not so many people are Christian any more. We are called to talk about Jesus in a land which knows little about him!

If you need somewhere to start, I’m going to give you two easy lines. Perhaps you can repeat them after me:

Jesus was executed but rose from the dead. (Controversial, but why did were so many of his friends willing to die for insisting this was true?)

Following Jesus will lead you to Heaven.

There’s much more that can be said – the whole Bible is a love story about God reaching out to the human race. And by healing this man who cannot hear or speak, Jesus isn’t just curing one person, he is sending us a message. “O people of the world, can you hear what God wants to say to you? Are you able to pass on his good news to others?”

“Ephphatha! Be opened!”

Open your eyes! See that Jesus is present in our world. He is there whenever Christians gather in his name, but especially when the bread and wine consecrated at Mass are present. This weekend, thousands our of brothers and sisters are gathered in Liverpool, for a great celebration of our faith in Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament. To mark this “Adoremus” festival, you are all invited to gather with Jesus on Thursday evening to pray for this parish – before Mass next Saturday, to pray for priests – and on the last Wednesday of this month, to pray for protection of human life in the womb. We also have many opportunities during the week for private prayer in our chapel. So I’d like to invite everyone who doesn’t normally visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to come for one hour some time this month – and parents and godparents, please bring your children.

Open your lips! We’re too good at keeping Our Lord’s instruction today – “Don’t tell anyone about me!” We no longer live at a time when Jesus is in mortal danger; now we live under his command to tell the world. That’s why, next month, we’re starting our Discovering Christ course. Only by coming together in church groups where we can talk about Jesus and learn more about him, can we become comfortable sharing this message which people who aren’t church people. There’ll be more about Discovering Christ at the end of today’s Mass.

Open your hearts! Do you love Jesus? Have you experienced his love for you? Have you heard his gentle voice saying that you are his beloved brother or sister, and he wants to walk with you in good times and in bad? Only those who are open to his love can share it with others, but sometimes, through fear or doubt, our hearts are closed.

“Ephphatha! Be opened!” A long time ago, God’s power flowed through Jesus and loosened the tongue of a man who could not speak. Today, God’s power will pour out upon this altar to nourish us anew with the Body of Christ. One day soon, each of us will open our ears to what Jesus is asking us to do and our lips to flow with his praise. Open your eyes. Open your ears. Open your lips! Open your hearts! Ephphatha! In Jesus name, be open!

Ephphatha! Be open!

Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B at St Philip Evans (Saturday evening Mass, with baptisms, and anticipating Home Mission Sunday 2018).

“Ephphatha!”

That’s not a word you hear every day.

The Gospels are written in Greek, but Our Lord Jesus spoke Aramaic, and sometimes one of the words he spoke was so powerful, that the Gospel writers wrote down exactly what he said. The disciples who were with him on that day must have sensed God’s power flowing through him strongly at that moment – and a man who had a lifelong impediment of hearing and speech suddenly spoke and heard clearly!

And now he has a voice, what’s the first thing Jesus asks him to do?

“Don’t tell anyone about me!”

Can you imagine having experienced such a mighty miracle, knowing that everyone will want to know the story of how you found your voice, and then not being allowed to talk about it? Ouch!

But we’re told that people ignored Jesus’ request and talked about him anyway.

During his life on earth, Jesus was keen not to become too famous too quickly. Otherwise he might have been arrested before he had finished his work of preaching and healing. But once he rose from the dead – and try keeping that a secret! – things changed. Before he ascended into heaven, he told his friends and followers to go into the world and spread the good news.

Every Christian is called to be a bearer of the good news. That’s why, as soon as these two children are baptised this evening, I will carry out the “Rite of Ephphatha”. Just as Jesus did in the Gospels, I will touch their ears and their lips, and commission them to hear God’s commands and tell the world about Jesus.

Godparents, that’s where you come in.

How many of you here this evening are godparents to at least one person?

Your highest responsibility is, by your words and example, to teach your godchildren to talk about Jesus.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is completing a journey through pagan lands. The people there don’t know about the God of the Bible. Some don’t believe in any god – others believe in various Greek or Roman gods. It’s rather like Britain today, where not so many people are Christian any more. Your godchildren are called to talk about Jesus in a land which knows little about him!

If you need somewhere to start, I’m going to give you two easy lines. Perhaps you can repeat them after me:

Jesus died to save you from Hell.

Following Jesus will lead you to Heaven.

There’s much more that can be said – the whole Bible is a love story about God reaching out to the human race. And by healing this man who cannot hear or speak, Jesus isn’t just curing one person, he is sending us a message. “O people of the world, can you hear what God wants to say to you? Are you able to pass on his good news to others?”

“Ephphatha! Be opened!”

Open your eyes! See that Jesus is present in our world. He is there whenever Christians gather in his name, but especially when the bread and wine consecrated at Mass are present. This weekend, thousands our of brothers and sisters are gathered in Liverpool, for a great celebration of our faith in Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament. To mark this “Adoremus” festival, you are all invited to gather with Jesus on Thursday evening to pray for this parish – before Mass next Saturday, to pray for priests – and on the last Wednesday of this month, to pray for protection of human life in the womb. We also have many opportunities during the week for private prayer in our chapel. So I’d like to to invite everyone who doesn’t normally visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to come for one hour some time this month – and parents and godparents, please bring your children.

Open your lips! We’re too good at keeping Our Lord’s instruction today – “Don’t tell anyone about me!” We no longer live in a time when Jesus is in mortal danger; now we live under his command to tell the world. That’s why, next month, we’re starting our Discovering Christ course. Only by coming together in church groups where we can talk about Jesus and learn more about him, can we become comfortable sharing this message which people who aren’t church people. There’ll be more about Discovering Christ at the end of today’s Mass.

Open your hearts! Do you love Jesus? Have you experienced his love for you? Have you heard his gentle voice saying that you are his beloved brother or sister, and he wants to walk with you in good times and in bad? Only those who are open to his love can share it with others, but sometimes, through fear or doubt, our hearts are closed.

“Ephphatha! Be opened!” A long time ago, God’s power flowed through Jesus and loosened the tongue of a man who could not speak. Today, God’s power will open the fountain of baptism and join two children to the Body of Christ. One day soon, each of us will open our ears to what Jesus is asking us to do and our lips to flow with his praise. Open your eyes. Open your ears. Open your lips! Open your hearts! Ephphatha! In Jesus name, be open!