Dewi Sant

Homily at St Teilo’s Church for the Solemnity of St David, 2017

d094d0b0d0b2d0b8d0b4_d0a3d18dd0bbd18cd181d0bad0b8d0b9_28d0b8d0bad0bed0bdd0b029Timothy Rees, the Anglican Bishop of Llandaf, composed a hymn in honour of St David. It included the words: “Glorious in the roll of heroes shines the name of Dewi Sant.” The icon on the front of your order of service also has that name inscribed, faintly, at the top.

Dewi Sant! As we gather this evening to honour our patron saint, we must ask what lessons that glorious name holds for us. In fact, the name Dewi is a useful reminder for us of four values he would have us hold.

D is for DETAILS. Famously, in his last Sunday sermon before he died, David said: “Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.”

“Do the little things.” Our Christian faith is a way of life, which brings love into the smallest actions. Many centuries later, St Thérèse of Lisieux would also show us the “little way” of simple kindness. We read that in David’s monasteries there was a life of hard labour – the monks did not use oxen to pull the ploughs, but did so themselves. They ate only vegetables. Nevertheless, there was something so attractive about David’s way of life that he shone out among his contemporaries and we are telling his story 1500 years later. What was that something? Surely the love with which every simple action was imbued.

E is for the English Heresy. David famously found himself in dispute with the teachings attributed to the British monk Pelagius. Are we worthy of heaven because we “do the little things”? No! But it is all too easy to get drawn into the idea that God loves us because we do good, and this is sometimes called the “English heresy“. No! God loved us while we were still sinners, and sent Jesus to die for us. St Paul understood this clearly. He wrote to the Romans that this was the case, and in the letter to the Philippians we have just heard, Paul said: “I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ.” Our Patron Saint, therefore, reminds us clearly of just how deeply God has loved us.

W is for the Waterman. In an age before water treatment plants, when people regularly drank beer or wine because they were free of bateria, David insisted on drinking only water. He probably took part in the Celtic custom of praying while standing in an icy cold river, too. Was he doing that to earn God’s friendship? No! As an opponent of the teachings of Pelagius, he would have known full well that living an ascetic life would not endear him to God more than any other person. But he might have sensed that living this way would help him grow in self-discipline, and would show solidarity with the poorest people who would come to his monastery seeking help. In this way, David is a perfect patron of our Catholic aspiration, to live simply, sustainably, and in solidarity with the poor.

I is for Inspiration. Today’s Gospel exhorts us to be salt for the earth and light for the world. Why did David ask us to be joyful and keep our faith? We are meant to inspire others. The world is a large place – we can’t be responsible for all of it. A patron saint reminds us that we are a particular people with a common heritage. (Even in the Bible, the Book of Revelation spoke of seven churches who each had their own angel.) We have a special responsibility to not only keep our faith, but to share it, in this place and nation which is our own. What will be the most powerful light to our nation? Joy!

Pope Francis understands this very well: in one sermon last year, he said: “The identification card of a Christian is joy: the joy of the Gospel, the joy of having been elected by Jesus, saved by Jesus, regenerated by Jesus.” Our current Pope can’t seem to stop talking about joy; he even wrote an Apostolic Letter called The Joy of the Gospel!

Dewi Sant confidently declared that he would “walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.” Do you share his confidence? When you die, are you sure of walking the same path as St David?

You can pay attention to the details. You can love people by doing little things. Rejoice!

Don’t fall into the English Heresy, but gaze deeply on the depths of God’s love. Even in your brokenness, Jesus loved you enough to die for you. Rejoice!

You might not be called to be a waterman, but you can live simply and tread lightly in 21st century Wales. In this way, you can build a better Wales for everyone. Rejoice.

You are called to be an inspiration to others. You can change other people’s lives for the better, by following the example of St David. Rejoice!

The last words of today’s Mass will be: Awn ymaith mewn tangnefedd i ogoneddu Duw yn ein bywydau – “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life” Our Mass does not end at the church door. Rather, you will be light to the world and salt for the earth when the name and the spirit of “Dewi Sant” shines forth in your words and actions. May the prayers of our patron saint go with you!

Dewi Sant – gweddi dros Gymru!

St David – pray for Wales!

Life After Death

Homily at St Paul’s for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

“When I awake, I shall be filled with the sight of your glory!”recon

What does happen to us when we die? Many people who have been brought back from the brink of death talk about seeing a “light at the end of the tunnel”. Some report meeting God and being told it’s not their time yet. A few people have reported a vision which seems more like Hell than like Heaven.

It’s good to keep an open mind about these reports. Science suggests good reasons why a brain starved of oxygen might experience “tunnel vision” and human imagination is quite capable of wishful thinking or self-condemnation. Even so, there are certainly some powerful stories around, not least from an Anglican vicar I know who prayed for a 19-year-old teenager killed in a motorcycle accident… the boy woke up in the morgue the next morning having had such a powerful religious experience that he joined a church and got baptised soon afterwards!

If we put our trust in what God has said through the Bible, what can we be sure of? When our church leaders put together all the relevant bits of the Bible, what we know goes like this:

  • On the day we die, our souls are judged immediately by God – or some would say that we judge ourselves in comparison to the pure love we see in God. Either way, we can go in one of three directions.
    • For those truly repentant of their sins who do not need to be greatly purified, they go straight to heaven. These are the souls we celebrated on All Saint’s Day.
    • For those who call on God’s mercy but who need significant purification, they go to Purgatory until they are ready for heaven. Those are the souls we remember on All Soul’s Day, and for whom we offer Masses.
    • For those who have not chosen God’s mercy, God allows them to be separated from his loving presence, and this we call Hell.
  • We believe that Our Lord and Our Lady already have bodies in heaven – this is why we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus and the Assumption of Blessed Mary. The rest of us live there as souls without bodies. We may be full of questions about how that works – the Sadducees in today’s Gospel certainly were, and they tried to trip up Jesus. But he insisted that heaven was real, and left the details to God. Will husbands and wives be re-united in heaven? As long as they have accepted God’s mercy, yes – but not to live as a couple in the heavenly Jerusalem. Like all the saints, they will be members of the body of Christ. They will not love their earthly spouse any less; but the love they give to Jesus and receive in return from Jesus will be immeasurably greater than we can know in even the best marriage on earth.
  • One day in the future, this world as we know it will come to an end. Will that happen through a natural disaster or by God intervening in an amazing miracle? We don’t know. But we are so certain that this will happen that every Sunday in the Creed we assert: “We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.” When this happens, God will raise every soul who has ever lived and give them a new and everlasting body – or for those who are still alive on earth when this happens, their earthly body will be transformed. This is the moment we call the Last Judgement. Those whose souls were already in Hell, or were alive at the end of the world but had not chosen God’s mercy, will be sent bodily into Hell. Everyone else will be welcomed into what the Bible calls the “new heaven and new earth”.

What Our Lord says today is an uncomfortable message if you are married, even more so if you are widowed. But… don’t panic! If you are in a second marriage, relax. There can be no jealously in heaven. You can hope to be there with both your earthly spouses, and there will be no unpleasantness.

Our Christian faith is not wishful thinking. If it were, we would believe that married couples live happily-ever-after in heaven, and the Sadduccees would have a valid point. So here is a useful check of where your faith comes from. If you believe in heaven because the alternative is too horrid to imagine, open your ears to Jesus! Believe in it because he rose from the dead. If you need to, ask him to increase your love for Him!

Today’s reading also reminds us that there is such a thing as a “fate worse than death”. When a human being is martyred, that is a tragedy for the family they leave behind, but a triumph in being faithful to God. As the familiar reading from Wisdom says, “their going seemed like a disaster, but they are at peace”. And remember that Leon Bloy once wrote, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”

Your loved ones are alive to God. The dead will rise again. Not only will you see them again, but you, and they, are destined to be given new and glorious bodies which will never perish. As for where that body goes, that’s up to the choices you make on earth. Whatever happens, we can be sure of this: “When we awake, we shall be filled with the sight of God’s glory!”

If you only knew!

CCRW-roundel

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

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

Is that a threat or a promise?

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

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

God can forgive our sins.

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

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

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

What else can God do for us?

God can love us just as we are!

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

What else can God do for us?

God can heal our bruises! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that a threat or a promise?

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

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

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

Building Believers

Homily at St Joseph’s, Guildford, for members of the Homegroups and participants in a recent Alpha course.

Readings: Acts 2:42-47 and Matthew 10:7-15.

“As you go, proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.”

Last weekend, at Sunday Mass, we heard Jesus send 72 of his followers to announce his coming in the villages he was about to visit.

Tonight, he commands his 12 apostles to announce his message as they go along, and to stay in each town as long as they were welcome.

I’ve got good news for you. You don’t have to go anywhere. You’re already where God wants you to be – the Gospel has spread from Galilee to Guildford, from Samaria to Surrey! Sometimes, especially when we are open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we will speak a life-changing word to a person we meet only once. But the most likely way we will spread the Good News of Jesus is with the people whose lives interact with ours on a daily basis.

Last Saturday night, I did something very Biblical. Jesus often ate with tax collectors. I sat down and had dinner with some bankers! It was the 25-year reunion of my undergraduate physics class. Lots of physics graduates end up working in finance. I, of course, took a slightly different route, first a PhD in astrophysics, then seminary, and now nine years working as a priest. Naturally I wore my clerical collar rather than a black tie – it’s a great conversation starter!

I was seated next to a student who’d started a year after me. She was from a Catholic family – her uncle was a priest – but she wasn’t a churchgoer. I’ll call her Shirley, though that’s not her name. We haven’t had a conversation for 20 years, and there we were, former physics students, now a banker and a Catholic priest.

Naturally, the conversation turned to religion. “But you can’t believe everything the Catholic Church teaches, surely, you’re a scientist trained to question evidence!”

“As a scientist, I know that our beliefs have to be based on evidence, and my beliefs are based on what Jesus actually said and did.”

“But you can’t believe that what’s in the Bible accurately represents Jesus, surely, people must have changed and spun it through the years?”

“We have accurate manuscripts, radio-carbon dated, to early centuries after Jesus. And I have spent time studying the different influences on the way the Bible is communicated so I can understand what is authentic!”

She wasn’t convinced. She was scandalised that I was willing to accept the written message of the Jesus-of-then, rather than my own sense of relating to the Jesus-of-now, as authoritative.

I’ll tell you something even more scandalous! Did you hear it in our reading from Acts? It didn’t say the first Christians devoted themselves to the teaching of Jesus – it said they met to listen to the teaching of the Apostles!

Jesus didn’t write a book. Our faith is not like Islam, which claims that an angel dictated God’s word directly. We believe that God lived among us, told stories, and instructed 12 chosen Apostles to pass on the message – authenticating what they did by giving them the power to heal and pass on the Holy Spirit to those who received their word!

Today, our Pope and our bishops are the successors of the apostles. From the vast store of Christian wisdom, they choose to issue documents highlighting those teachings which are most useful to our life in the 21st century. St John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis each bring their own eye to the needs of the church and the world. When I step up to the pulpit to preach, I come not with my own opinions, but with the Teaching of the Apostles.

There was a second thing that bothered Shirley at that black tie dinner – it was a comment I have also heard from many parents who have asked to have their children baptised. Surely you don’t have to go to Church to be a good person, to be a Christian?

Well, let’s look at what the first followers of Jesus did.

They were attentive to the Teaching of the Apostles. Now, in the Internet Age, you certainly don’t have to leave home to learn something, but here in Guildford, in the Homegroups, you meet to deepen your understanding of the Teaching of the Apostles. It is good, and human, to meet to discuss these things.

They met for the “breaking of bread”. I have yet to meet a parent who says “we don’t have to go to church to be a Christian” who claims to have celebrated the “breaking of bread” at home. It’s what we do in Church, the Eucharist with an ordained priest presiding.

From the writings of Justin Martyr, we know that in the early days of the Church, the Christians gathered to hear the Word of God read for as long as time allowed (don’t worry, I won’t do that tonight!) followed by a sermon. Then the minister presiding “gave thanks at considerable length” – I like to imagine a long, charismatic prayer at this point. Later, when the Roman Empire legalised the Church, they had to recruit a lot more priests quickly, and only then did Eucharistic Prayers get written down and circulated.

In the Homegroups, we don’t often meet for the breaking of bread, but it is good that we are here tonight, offering Mass to give thanks for the cycle of activity now ending and to pray for the year to come. I’d like to say a special word to those among you who are followers of Jesus, but not members of the Catholic Church.

It can seem awkward, on a night like this, that we do not invite other Christians to communion. But there is a certain integrity about that. Each of you will have your own reasons for belonging to the church you do belong to. When a Catholic minister holds up the consecrated Host and says “the body of Christ”, he or she is saying, abbreviated, “We believe that Jesus commanded the Church to ordain priests with the power to turn bread and wine into His true body and blood; we are one body in Christ because we receive Holy Communion and accept the teaching of the Apostles, given through the Bishop of Rome.” If you are tempted to ask “But why can’t I receive?” then ask yourself this: “Why am I not a Catholic?” The answer to both questions is the same. Yet we can worship together in all other aspects, sing the same songs, say the same prayers. Let us focus not on the one thing which divides us, but the many things which unite.

The early Christians were faithful “to the fellowship”. That’s another reason for coming to church. To have fellowship, we have to be together – stay-at-home Christians miss out. The very word “church” in Greek is “ekklesia” which means “the gathered community”, the “people called-out”. As a church, we are only as strong as our fellowship with one another.

It’s a sign of the strong community in the Homegroups that I am here with you 10 years after leaving Surrey. Yet in those 10 years, some of you have been in regular touch by post, and others have opened your dining tables, homes and spare rooms to me over the years. Don’t take that for granted – there are not many Catholic parishes in this country where you can find the same sense of community.

Now, community isn’t always easy. We don’t always get on with each other. But the Lord taught us to pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Now, think of the church member you get on with least well. In your mind’s eye, picture the gates of heaven. Jesus is there, standing next to that person. Jesus says: “You can come in, as long as you don’t mind spending eternity together!”

The early Christians were faithful “to the prayers”. Now, that’s one thing you CAN do at home. But the Bible affirms the power of “two or three” praying together. Asking God for help is quite intuitive. But a true Christian knows who God is, and chooses to worship.

So here we are tonight, to worship. As we look back on the cycle of activities now closing, let’s give thanks. Thanks for the teaching received. Thanks for the Masses we have attended. Thanks for the friendships made and restored in our fellowship. Thanks for those prayers which have been answered.

Let’s also pray for the future, for the new year of life which will pick up from September. Let’s pray for a deepening of our commitment to understand the Teaching of the Apostles. Let’s pray for vocations, so we will always have priests for the breaking of bread – perhaps God is calling someone here tonight to the ministry of the altar, as a priest or deacon. Let’s pray for new members in our Homegroup Fellowship, and the courage to invite people to come – to come to know Christ, to come to Alpha, to join the Homegroups. And perhaps I could ask you to pray for “Shirley” – God knows her real name – that after our conversation, she begins to understand that the Gospels are trustworthy and that she is truly invited to be part of our church, with all its human flaws.

Jesus chose 72 and send them out around Israel. Jesus chose 12 and send them to the ends of the earth. Jesus chose YOU and sends you to Surrey. “As you go, proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.”

They were faithful to the Teachings of the Apostle, to the breaking of bread, to the fellowship and the prayers. Do this, and the same Holy Spirit who worked wonders through them will most surely work through you, too!

Psst. Mercy!

Homily at The Immaculate Conception, Tredegar, for the Vigil of Saints Peter & Paul, 2016.

This is the logo for the Holy Year of Mercy, which opens Dec. 8 and runs until Nov. 20, 2016. (CNS/courtesy of Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization) Christ carries a sinner over his shoulders as a shepherd would carry a sheep.

Psst! Have you heard the gossip?

There’s a man who’s been trying to destroy the Church from the outside.

First he shouted encouragement when they stoned that deacon, Stephen.

Then he asked for permission to go to Damascus and round up all the Christians there.

They say he was utterly merciless in the way he treated them.

 

Psst! Have you heard the gossip?

There’s a man who nearly destroyed the Church from the inside.

Jesus told him he had to forgive people who sinned against him. He tried to negotiate a limit of seven times. Jesus insisted on seventy times that!

He promised he would never abandon Jesus, but the night the Lord was arrested, he denied him three times.

They say he’s going back to his old career as a fisherman.

 

Psst! Have you heard the Gospel?

That Saul the Merciless, riding on the road to Damascus, had a vision. Jesus spoke to him.

They say he’s become an Apostle, teaching people about the love and mercy of Jesus!

Jesus changed his name to Paul, the little one.

Paul travelled all over the Mediterranean, starting churches and writing letters.

Little Paul was arrested, appealed to the Emperor, and was beheaded in Rome.

 

Psst! Have you heard the Gospel?

That Simon the Fisherman, the Rock who couldn’t hold firm, had a visit. Jesus took him for a walk on the beach. Three times he asked “Do you love me?” and Simon struggled to reply.

Jesus, the great forgiver, offered him another chance. This time Peter, the Rock, would lead the 12 disciples. Next time, Peter would not turn away, but would stand up for Jesus.

Simon Peter, first Pope and Fisher of Men, was crucified upside down in Rome.

 

Psst! Have you heard the Gospel?

That there’s someone in this Church, this evening, who doesn’t believe Jesus will really forgive them for something they’ve done wrong in their life?

But Jesus says: I forgave Paul, who persecuted the members of my body. I forgave Peter, who denied me three times. They both became leaders in my church, and great saints in heaven.

What kind of sinner are you, that you deserve forgiveness less than Peter or Paul?

 

My friends, I want to apologise to you. Our church is not always good at communicating what we stand for. Often we present ourselves as the Church of “Don’t Get Into Trouble”. It’s true that part of my job, and the task of every preacher, is to stand up and talk about right and wrong, because God wants us to choose good and keep away from evil. But we are also called to be the church of “Lord, Have Mercy”. The Church isn’t for perfect people. It’s for people who mess up and need to know they can make a new start. In the Name of Jesus of Nazareth, doubt no longer but believe. The one who had mercy on Peter and mercy on Paul offers you no less mercy.

Once Paul realised that Jesus was real, there was no stopping him; and as for Peter, when Jesus looked at him and saw a man who would be willing to say sorry, ask help, and start again every time he messed up, what did he say? On this rock I will build my Church.

This Is My Body, Given Up For You

Homily for Sunday Mass (13th in Ordinary Time, Year C) for a Couples for Christ Marriage Enrichment Retreat.

“This is my body, given up for you.”

Whenever we attend Holy Mass, we hear the priest pronounce these words.

“This is my body, given up for you.”

All of us who receive Holy Communion are connected; we form the Body of Christ, which is the Church. All of us who receive Holy Communion are heirs to the promise of Jesus that doing this will secure for us eternal life. That is, when our bodies die, our souls – the very essence which makes us who we are – will be safe with Jesus in a life which has no end; and we believe that one day God will give us new and everlasting bodies.

But the God who promises us such wonders in the future also leads us through the trials of daily life in the here-and-now, where our bodies are fragile and our toil is real. We are tempted daily to put ourselves first, to give in to selfishness and self-indulgence. Our Christian message asks us to resist this, and to love one another.

There’s a Christian rap song called F.A.M.I.L.Y. – “forget about me, I love you”. Living marriage well requires a daily decision to put the needs of your spouse ahead of your own. Pope Francis has spoken to the priests and people of Rome, acknowledging how so many parents miss out on time with their children because the parent does not make it home until the child’s bedtime. In his recent letter on family life, he notes that when you choose to marry someone, you take on a whole new family. Pope Francis says this: “Your in-laws are not a threat! You are called to be generous to them – because this is also an act of love towards your husband or wife.” But the Pope also acknowledges that each household is entitled to its own privacy. Respecting your mother-in-law doesn’t mean running your house by her rules!

The Pope has no easy answers to the trials of 21st Century living, but he does offer us some directions: when grandparents can be part of the home life, this is good. When the Church community can be a place of hospitality for young people, this is excellent. Above all, Jesus promises not to leave us orphans. We must do our best to help our children to make a real connection with Jesus, so they know the great gift they have been given: The Lord of the Universe offers them a personal friendship, and says: “This is my body, given up for you.”

These words of Our Lord also have a special meaning for you, who have been called to holiness through marriage. Within the partnership of your marriage, each of you is called to say daily to your spouse, through your words and through your actions, “This is my body, given up for you.”

Part of the genius of St John Paul II was to give us a new focus for married relationships, not based on a list of ‘don’ts’ from Church teaching, but based on the idea of radical unselfishness. Jesus gave us the great commandment to “love one another,” using a Greek word for love, agape, which means self-sacrificing service. St Paul counselled the followers of Jesus to “regard others as better than yourselves”. Listen carefully to what he asks of us! He is NOT calling for us to have a negative self-image, to say “I am not as important as other people.” Rather, from a position of strength, we can say to ourselves: “I am a person of equal dignity and worth, but I am going to treat you as if your needs are more important than mine.” If both halves of a partnership do this, you will meet each other halfway. The alternative is struggling with each other to be the “greatest”, and Our Lord was most unimpressed when he found his disciples arguing over that title!

You are not alone. Our Lord understands your tiredness, your weakness, your search for meaning in toil. Eat of the Lord’s body, draw life from him, find the strength to live this life of daily sacrifice – and remember that Eucharist means “Thanksgiving”, always our appropriate response when we receive the benefits of a sacrifice.

When we eat this bread, and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.”

This mystery of our faith reminds us at Mass to be like Jesus, to lay down our lives for others. What Jesus freely gives to us, we can freely give to others.

A husband works long hours at a manual job, and returns home aching and sore. “This is my body, given up for you.”

A mother notices her stretch marks, remembers her youth, looks at her children and says inwardly: “This is my body, given up for you.”

A couple who understand what it means to live their sexual life without selfishness embrace each other on the altar of the marriage bed, and each says to the other: “This is my body, given up for you.”

Our Lord Jesus, who could have called a legion of angels to remove him from his Passion at any moment, embraces the altar of the Cross, and says: “This is my body, given up for you.”

This Eucharist, this Mass, is the Lord’s marital embrace to his beloved, his bride, his church. We are to receive his body into ourselves in the most physical way possible. We do this at the hands of a priest, who has made his own act of sacrifice; forsaking the right to marry to fully embrace the call to priesthood, the priest too says to his parish and to each congregation he serves, “This is my body, given up for you.”

It is my privilege to offer daily the Sacrifice of the Most Holy Eucharist, when I say to the gathered Church, lending my voice to the Lord, “This is my body, given up for you.” It is your privilege, in the family home, in the domestic Church, to offer the Sacrifice of Holy Matrimony. When you toil long hours for your daily bread, when you bathe your children, when you do the household chores, and yes, when you show your love to one another in the physical way which God has reserved for marriage, you, together with Christ living within you, declare to your husband, to your wife, “This is my body, given up for you.” Your marriage too will bear witness to the world as you remember His next words: “Do this in memory of me.”

 

Satan v Jesus: Dawn of Mercy

Assembly at Corpus Christi School on 17 March 2016

Is it really surprising that the most powerful man in the world should be a figure of controversy?

We as a population on this planet have been looking for a Saviour.

We are talking about a being whose very existence challenges our own sense of priority in the Universe.

… Can power be innocent? … No-one has asked what he should do – “Go home!”

On 25 March this year, people across the world will have an opportunity to witness an epic battle. Some call it “The Greatest Gladiator Match in the History of the World”. It is a conflict between darkness and light, between a dark figure who fights in shadows and the child who came from above, the Son of El.

Apparently, there’s a movie coming out the same day called “Batman v Superman” but the gladiator match I’m talking about is “Satan v Jesus”.

In the red corner, contending for eternal victory, the prince of Hell, the highest of fallen angels, the father of lies, the accuser of mankind – Satan.

In the blue corner, the carpenter from Capernaum, the Word made flesh, the Son of Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth!

The night before the big match, Satan was seen leaning upon one Judas Iscariot, causing him to reveal the whereabouts of the training camp of the other contender. Meanwhile, after a sharing simple meal with his support team, Jesus was reported to be sweating blood over whether to go through with the matchup at all.

ROUND 0

Like any modern sporting match, this one began with sledging designed to undermined the other side. The threat posed by Satan was so formidable that Jesus almost pulled out from the contest altogether. But encouraged by his promoter, Big Daddy, he found the strength to carry on.

Round 0 – and victory goes to Jesus!

ROUND 1

It’s the early hours of Friday morning and Jesus has entered the arena. Satan’s chosen tactic for this round is one of his specialities – false accusations. He’s sent in some of his team members to accuse Jesus of blasphemy, terrorism and treason. Oh-oh, the crowd’s turning ugly! They are chanting for Jesus’ blood! The referee’s looking worried. He doesn’t want to do this – but – looks like he’s got no choice – he’s pulling out the red card. Jesus has been sin-binned!

Round 1 is a victory for Satan!

ROUND 2

The next round takes us outside the City of Jerusalem, for the endurance race up Mount Calvary. Jesus is laden down with a heavy cross – he is not finding this easy. Oh! He’s fallen! Is this the end of the race? No, he’s up again, but he’s clearly struggling. The match officials are conferring with the team doctor – looks like they are bringing on a substitute! Yes, it’s Simon of Cyrene, taking on the next leg of the endurance race with the Cross of Christ. He doesn’t look happy, he wasn’t even warmed up when the coach picked him, but he’s making a good go of it! Now he’s handing it back to Jesus for the last lap. Jesus is wounded but not derailed by Satan’s efforts. This round is a draw!

ROUND 3

The final conflict takes place on the brow of the hill. Jesus is now nailed to a rough cross of wood. This is a test of mental endurance. At any time he can hit the panic button, he can shout out to Big Daddy and the rescue team will get him out of there. But no, it’s not happening. Instead, sounds like he is trying to talk… something about his mother being looked after… being thirsty… and forgiving, yes, forgiving the members of Satan’s team who aren’t making this easy for him. He’s getting weak now… very weak… he’s lost consciousness. They are calling in the team doctor… yes, it’s been confirmed. Jesus has died, yes died on Calvary. That means he won the mental endurance test but is out of the competition, it’s an overall victory for Satan!

AND NEXT…?

Now we’re going to play that sporting clip game called “What Happened Next?”. Turns out Jesus dying on the cross wasn’t the end of the drama. First he went to the realm of the dead, where everyone from Adam and Eve to John the Baptist were waiting for him. Then he burst the bonds of death and shattered the gates of Hell! Following Jesus, all the good souls made a run for heaven, and got in!

Too good to be true? Next Jesus had to come back to earth and open the way to heaven for us. So he took his mortal body and transformed it. He walked through a locked door, if you please, and showed himself to Peter and the gang. Later he ambushed Paul on the road to Damascus and persuaded him to turn his life around.

Most importantly, the review board decided to disqualify Satan for cheating and hand the final victory to Jesus.

Truly in Jesus, we are talking about a being whose very existence challenges our own sense of priority in the Universe. He plays by different rules. Jesus came to show us how to forgive our worst enemies and sacrifice ourselves for the needs of others. If we follow his way, we’ll be on his team! But it’s a demanding way. It requires a tough training regime. Some found it so challenging they told Jesus to go home to where he came from.

What happened on the first Good Friday was nothing less than the Dawn of Mercy. A new age began for the world, in which we no longer had to fear eternal punishment. God wanted to make a way for us to go to heaven. The devil will always accuse us of being unworthy. But if we are on the Lord’s team, we have one foot in heaven already!

This Good Friday, 25 March 2016, and every Good Friday, we are invited to relive this epic drama. Catholic Churches round the world present the story at 3 pm.

Satan v Jesus

The Dawn of Mercy

One showing only ’til next year.

Be there.