Do You Believe in Adoption?

Homily to members of the Sion Community 19th March 2019.

Do you believe in adoption?

Today, we celebrate St Joseph, the man who adopted Jesus, Son of Mary, as if he were his own flesh and blood.

It might seem curious to have our first reading, which promises that the line of King David will endure for ever. We know, in fact, that by the time we get to David’s grandson, the northern kingdom of Israel has broken away, leaving David’s heirs to rule over Jerusalem and Judah. Then came the deportation to Babylon, and there were no more kings in Israel. Both Matthew and Luke go to great pains to show us the family line leading from David to Joseph… and yet Joseph is not the blood-father of Jesus. All of this only matters if you believe in adoption.

Jesus becomes the ‘heir’ of David precisely because he is adopted by Joseph into the line of David. This might seem quite a weak link… but in fact, if you don’t believe in adoption, you can’t be a Christian. What happens in baptism? We become adopted into God’s family, and so become co-heirs with Christ, deserving to share in eternal life. This in turn makes all of us brothers and sisters.

One of the animal instincts we have, as human beings, is to preserve our own flesh and blood. Bloody battles have been fought – and the Anglican Church split from the Catholic Church! – so a man can ensure that his own son sits upon a throne. It takes the gift of grace we call divine love to rise above that, to welcome as family someone who is not your family.

In St Joseph’s day, a woman risked death by conceiving a child while unmarried. St Joseph risked great shame by sticking with Mary. Some scholars think that the reason Jesus was born at an inn, even though Nazareth was Joseph’s home town, was that his own family disowned him for sticking with Mary, for being faithful to God’s plan. We, too, may face hostility for being faithful to Christ, and this is why supporting each other as community is so crucial. We are called to live as brothers and sisters to one another, with ties stronger than blood.

I believe in adoption. I am a son of Abraham, even though I am not Jewish. I am a son of God, even though I’m no angel. I am a brother of Jesus, and a child of Mary, because they have invited me into their family, with a love that will never be revoked. I am your brother too… so let us love one another inspired by St Joseph. Adoptive father of Jesus: Pray for us!

Church History

Church History Teaching by Gareth Leyshon for Sion Formation, 27 Feb – 1 March 2019

All website links and contents are accurate as of 1 March 2019

All teaching slides in PowerPointX format:

All teaching slides in PDF format:

BBC Documentary on Byzantium – only available online until mid-March 2019


“First Apology” of St Justin Martyr c. AD 150

Chapters 66 & 67

The “Didache” or “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” possibly written around 65 – 80 A.D


Didascalia Apostolorum, or the Catholic Teaching of the Twelve Apostles and Holy Disciples of Our Saviour – early 200s          


Letter of St Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans, approx. AD 107

              Paragraphs 6-8

Anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer) from the Apostolic Tradition, probably AD 200-300

Anaphora (Eucharistic Prayer) of Addi & Mari, probably in this form AD 200-300

Animation of a Roman Basilica

The Gift of Jubilation by Terry Donahue  (Analysis of St Augustine on Jubilation)

The Sinfulness of the Conjugal Act in the Thought of Augustine of Hippo by Gareth Leyshon

St. Dominic

Dominican Charism

Saint Francis of Assisi

St Francis (CFR perspective)

A concise history of the Franciscans in Britain

Who are the Carmelites?   

A Brief History of The Carmelites

15 minute film about the Mediaeval Inquistion

The Diet of Worms


The Original “Protestants”

Tour of a Gothic Cathedral – short video

Summary of Mgr Ronald Knox’s Enthusiasm by Francis J. Ripley

Homiletic & Pastoral Review Feb 1951 pages 400-409

Litany of Repentance by the Catholic Church on the Day of Pardon in the Great Jubilee Year 2000

What’s the Use of a Human Being?

Homily to members of the Sion Community 19th February 2019.

200 years ago, scientists were beginning to understand how to manipulate electricity. In the UK, Michael Faraday – the famous inaugurator of the Christmas Lectures – performed laboratory experiments; in America, the future president Benjamin Franklin developed the habit of flying kites in thunderstorms to see what the lightning would do. It is said that both of them were asked, on occasion, “What use is it?’ Faraday is rumoured to have replied “It’s as much use as a newborn baby!” More pragmatically, in the United States, when a politician asked after the use of this new-fangled electricity, Franklin said: “One day, Sir, you may tax it!”

Like so many good stories, this one is not exactly true, but it has grains of truth in it. The famous quote is actually from Faraday speaking about a newly discovered gas, which these days we call chlorine:

As an answer to those who are in the habit of saying to every new fact, “ What is its use ?” Dr. Franklin says to such, “What is the use of an infant?” The answer of the experimentalist would be, “It appeared to have no use, it was in its infantine and useless state; but having grown up to maturity, witness its powers, and see what endeavours to make it useful have done.”

This story helps us to understand the mind of a scientist. For the last 200 years, the Western world has definitely taken a scientific point of view concerning the world around us. Scientists don’t usually ask about the “purpose” of the things that they study. They may very well ask “How can we use it?” – but take humans out of the picture, and purpose is absent. Even those natural artefacts that seem to have a purpose can be explained in other ways. For example, a dry riverbed might seem to have the “purpose” of bringing water to the sea but equally we can say it is the natural consequence of water flow. When it rains, gravity causes water to find the lowest channel and carves out that channel as it goes along.

Even a crocodile bird, which cleans the teeth of crocodiles without getting eaten, might seem to serve a useful purpose but is just an example of how evolution by natural selection works. Natural systems rub against each other until they find ways of meshing together. It’s in the crocodile’s interest not to harm the bird because it benefits the creature’s dental health. Over generations, crocodiles eventually develop the instinct to leave the birds alone because there’s a mutual benefit there. The DNA blueprints for the two creatures have shaped each other.

We human beings, of course, are wired to look for purpose in the world. If you’re walking through the jungle and you see a vine lying on the ground, it’s a good idea for you to suspect that somebody fashioned it into a trap. Archaeologists, of course, looking at artefacts made by human beings, quite rightly ask for what purpose they were made. But that branch of science is the exception; in physics and chemistry and biology, it’s just not part of the way scientist thinks to ask about the purpose of an atom or an element or a living creature. Rather, the scientist ask: What properties does this have? What rules does it obey? And once we have an understanding, then: What can we do with it?

In today’s reading from Genesis, notice something that it’s easy to skip over. God says the world will be flooded because he is angry with human beings, who have not behaved in the upstanding way God demanded; but it seems God is also angry with plants and the animals and the whole of creation. Now these things cannot act morally! What have they done to incur God’s wrath? The underlying idea here is that the whole of the natural world exists for a very definite purpose, and that purpose as human beings. Without human beings loving and serving God, the whole of nature loses its raison d’être.

If Genesis is not a scientific account of how the world came to be, but is part of God’s word telling us something important, what is the message for us to take away? I think were meant to read that God has a purpose for the world – that God has a purpose for human beings. The old catechism put it very simply. Why did God make me? To love him and serve him and be happy with him in this world and the next. When Benedict XVI became Pope he made a clear statement:

We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. that every human being is loved by God and therefore ‘necessary’.

In yesterday’s Office of Readings, we had the famous passage from St Paul who says your body is not your own; your body belongs to the Lord. This was set to rap, to great effect, by the Franciscan friar Stan Fortuna! Check it out! This song is called The Zipper Zone and the message is clear. We are to use our bodies to serve the Lord!

This is a totally different perspective from our scientific world. Our scientific mindset says there is no intrinsic purpose to the human body, and we can treat our bodies in any way we like. The clear message of God’s Word is that our body is a gift given to us by God, and we are expected to use that gift to achieve God’s holy purposes.

The resources of this world, too, are given to us so that we can help one another. The two great commands are to love God and love our neighbour. Jesus above all taught us how to give of ourselves. If we take a utilitarian view of the world around us, we start asking which human beings are worth helping, especially where resources are limited. If we understand our true purpose then we look at things in a very different way!

I’d like to give the last word to St Thérèse of Lisieux. She was thwarted in her ambition to travel to a far country and become a missionary sister, but she realised that you could still support the missions by prayer. “I’ve discovered my purpose,” she exclaimed. “My purpose is to be in love in the heart of my mother, the church!”

The Gifts We’ve Been Given

Homily to the Members of Sion Community when the community gathered for the first time after Christmas (8 January 2019)

Look at the gifts we have been given!

This week, from Epiphany to the Baptism of the Lord, is a week to behold! – To behold, that is, the gifts we have been given.

In our liturgies this week, Mother Church holds together mysteries which show us who Jesus really is. Look at the gift of the child in the manger! Look at the gifts brought from the East, which tell us who he really is! Look at the power of God at work in Jesus, turning water into wine and multiplying loaves! These are called ‘theophanies’, showings of God’s presence and power.

In the Eastern churches, part of their liturgy is that just before the people come to Holy Communion, a minister will declare ‘God’s holy gift for God’s holy people’. So yes, today let’s look at the gifts we have been given! The gift of the Christ-child; the gift of Holy Communion; and not least, the holy gift of one another!

Today is our Community Christmas Day, when we will exchange gifts. Perhaps gift-giving loses some of its power when it is organised, or ‘expected’. A Christmas or birthday gift might lack the emotional impact of an unexpected gift given by a friend ‘just because’. But love is an act of our will, and even when we give gifts at an expected time or in an organised way, let’s not take for granted that the gift has been given. A wilful expression of generosity is always an act of love; and because of the way we organise our Christmas gift-giving, each individual gift is an expression of our love for all the members of our community.

Look at the gifts we have been given! Not least, our community, which is our gift of ourselves to one another. St John says, ‘let us love one another’, and that is part of our commitment in community; if our community means anything, it means an organised way of loving one another, as well as loving a world which needs to hear the Gospel anew. Today is also, in a way, our community ‘New Year’s Day’ as we begin again the work of mission. It is a day for new year resolutions. It is a day for making peace, and a fresh start, with any member with whom we need to build a bridge. Don’t put off until tomorrow a word of reconciliation which can be spoken today.

Look at the gifts we have been given! Not least the spiritual gifts and natural talents God has entrusted to each one of us. Jesus challenged the Apostles: ‘Give the people something to eat yourselves!’ This year, God will challenge us to give of ourselves, perhaps drawing out latent gifts or pushing us beyond our comfort zone. This is what love does – it goes beyond for God’s sake, and by going beyond it broadens our tent pegs so we can gain more ground for God. So this year, as an act of love, give of yourself. Have confidence in what you have to offer. Even if it is a small as two sardines, God can bless and multiply your offering, with astonishing results. But we must give of ourselves! Why not try volunteering for something new this week? As for me, this week I’ll be cooking a meal for 30 people for the first time!

Look at the gifts we have been given! We return to the greatest of all gifts, the gift of the infant Messiah. Our psalmist has declared that ‘All nations will fall prostrate’ before God. We do this, physically, on Christmas Day, by pausing and keeling at the words ‘was made man’. Since this is our Community Christmas, I am going to invite us to do the same thing today. If you wish to prostrate yourself rather than keeling, feel free to do so.

Look at the gifts we have been given! Before our Creed, let’s take a few moments in silence to decide how to respond to so much love!

In the Mud!

Thursday Homily to full-time Members of Sion Community at the December Retreat (St Lucy’s Day)

“The Kingdom of Heaven has been subjected to violence, and the violent are taking it by storm.”

It’s not obvious what this passage means, so I went to look it up in a Bible commentary. You know you’re in trouble when the only thing the Commentary says is ‘lots of scholars have discussed this verse’!

But I like a challenge, so let’s explore it.

One way of interpreting this ‘violence’ is that the followers of John the Baptist and Jesus were facing physical opposition from the Pharisees, or the Sadducees, or the Romans. In the previous verses in Matthew, Jesus sent the Twelve Apostles on a mission to proclaim the Kingdom, warning that they will be put on trial and forced to make a public declaration of whether they believe in this controversial Christ. Certainly there’s a chance of violence against disciples; we celebrate today one Christian woman whose name was handed down to us for her steadfastness when persecuted because of her commitment to follow Christ as a believer and as a virgin. But we believe that the saints ultimately triumph precisely by their martyrdom. So does it make sense to say that those expressing violence against God’s witnesses can take the Kingdom of the sovereign God by storm? No so much.

The Greek words of this passage could also be translated: “The Kingdom of heaven is being invaded; energetic souls are forcing their way in!”

Jesus is speaking about the time from the start of John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness – a season when first John, and then Jesus with his disciples, have been proclaiming ‘Turn away from sin! God’s Kingdom is close to you!”

In Luke’s Gospel, we find an almost identical passage about John the Baptist. There’s only one difference: where Matthew puts this odd verse about violence, Luke comments that sinners and tax collectors were converting, but the Pharisees were not.

The next thing today’s text from Matthew tells us, is that Jesus rebukes the listeners who haven’t responded to his call or John’s, likening them to children who won’t sing when musicians play a lament or a song of celebration. So could it be that Jesus means to contrast this lazy, unresponsive, crowd with the energetic souls who not only made the trip to John in the wilderness but committed themselves to change their way of life? Those souls did violence to their old way of life and thereby forced themselves into the Kingdom of Heaven – perhaps as one squeezes through a narrow gate or the eye of a needle? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to be part of the Kingdom of God? … Are you willing to lose your dignity and get down there in the mud?

I hope we can number ourselves among the ‘invaders’ who know we have already set foot in the Kingdom. But we are also evangelists – can can we encourage more souls to become invaders? Or just as an army carries its cooks, medics and porters into newly taken territory, are there souls we can carry with us into Kingdom of God?

Last night, one of our members shared her sense that we are being called to play a new game, prompted by the way the running track behind our building had been replaced by a playing field. I quipped that I hoped our game would be rugby, not football, because a successful team scores ‘conversions’. That wasn’t an idle quip – God can speak to us through the language of puns and I believe there’s something to learn here.

Yesterday I too went for a walk on that field, and I looked down and saw the prints of many rugby boots. I knew God was showing me something important, but I didn’t know what it was until that thought was shared yesterday.

Some of us might not know the rules of rugby, but I do, and for three reasons.

First, I’m Welsh.

Second, I grew up a mile from Stradey Park and from home I could hear the roar of the crowd whenever Llanelli Scarlets scored.

Third, I was a large child, so at school I was put in the scrum. That’s where eight bulky players from each side lock shoulders and shove hard to get the ball! That, of course, was enough to put me off rugby for life!

But what are the spiritual lessons of rugby for us?

A rugby squad has to work as a team to get the ball across the line. Different players have different roles. There are warriors – we call them the pack – who fight for the ball in the scrum or by tackling opposition players – physically trying to take the ball from them. It’s a violent game!

There’s a small player whose job is to bend down and place the ball when play restarts – that’s called the ‘scrum half’ – and who might be well-placed to pass the ball out again.

There are the runners whose job is to get the ball across the line – that’s called a try.

And there are kicking specialists, who score extra points by booting the ball between the goalposts – that’s called a conversion. Really!

Our goal is conversion – conversion to Christ.

Suppose the ball represents a soul who we want to evangelise.

Some of us are called to spiritual warfare or the work of apologetics, to protect such souls from an Enemy who wants them to travel in the wrong direction.

Some of us are good at making connections with people, having those conversations which build up faith and allow us to share faith.

Some of us are good at discipling people, which is journeying with someone ‘across the line’ where they make a commitment.

Ultimately the sign of a good conversion is we can let someone loose and they travel in the right direction on their own. Goal!

As individuals we may feel that we’re too small to achieve anything. But Isaiah says God is calling to his ’tiny worm’ and ‘puny mite’. A rugby squad needs its hooker. That puny player may not look impressive alongside the tall runners and squat pack members, but that tiny teammate is an essential part of a winning squad.

“The Kingdom of heaven is being invaded; energetic souls are forcing their way in!”

There’s one more thing about rugby – to be a top flight player you have to throw away your dignity. The hooker has to get down on the ground to snatch the ball and ends up where? In the mud! The pack members pull the opposition players down to the ground to steal the ball and end up where? In the mud! To score points, the runners have to get the ball on to the ground beyond the try-line, while still touching it. If they are being chased, they may have to lunge forward and throw themselves over the line. They end up where? In the mud!

So whether you’re a commando in the Lord’s army or a player in his rugby squad, you have a choice: victory or dignity. You can’t have both.

Both my home town and my home nation wear red when they enter battle with other rugby teams. There’s some scientific evidence that teams who wear red are more likely to win than those sporting any other colour – though it seems to work better in football. Red is the colour of victory over combat. Red is the colour which honours martyrs. Most of our martyrs suffered indignities before they died; they knew the colour of mud before the colour of blood. St Lucy and St John the Baptist – pray for us!