Serving in the Court of the Lord

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Patronal Feast (moved to this weekend from 23 July) – readings specially chosen as follows:

This weekend is a great weekend! Things which have been planned, expected, and worked towards for a long time will come to pass!

By Sunday evening, we will know who has won Wimbledon!

By Sunday evening, we will know who has won the World Cup!

By Sunday evening, a number of you will be the newest members of the Catholic Church!

But I’d like to start with tennis.

There are some important spiritual lessons we can learn from tennis. Did you know that heaven is like an open tennis tournament? God invites us to serve in his courts! When we make a fault, we have the opportunity to try again! And the match starts with an important announcement. “Love All! Love All!”

On 21st July, in the year 1679, a man was playing tennis. The tennis court was in the centre of Cardiff, near St John’s Anglican Church at The Hayes. The player’s name was Philip Evans, and he was a Catholic priest – a member of the Jesuit religious order. His game was interrupted with news of something he had been expecting for a long time – but it was not happy news.

“Mr Evans,” said the jailer, “you are to be executed tomorrow. Please return to your cell in Cardiff Castle.”

“What’s the rush?” replied the priest. “Can’t I finish my game?” And indeed he did.

Why was Mr Evans going to be executed? In those days it was illegal for a Catholic priest to operate in Wales – or in England. For four years, St Philip Evans had worked in secret, celebrating Mass, baptising babies, hearing confessions. But in December 1678, he had been caught, and jailed in Cardiff Castle. He had been put on trial and found guilty of being a Catholic priest. When he was sentenced to death, the politicians decided to wait until the summer so he could be executed on a nice sunny day with a large crowd witnessing what happens to Catholic priests!

The day after that fateful tennis match, Philip Evans, together with another priest, John Lloyd, were taken to a field outside the small town of Cardiff – today we call that area Roath, where Richmond Road meets Crwys Road. There they were executed: first they were hung on a gallows, but cut down before they died; then they were drawn – their internal organs were pulled out; and finally, they were quartered – their bodies cut into four parts as a warning to other Catholics.

Why did Saints Philip Evans and John Lloyd risk such a terrible fate? They were Catholic priests. They believed that it was right to be loyal to the Catholic Faith, even though the law of England said that it was wrong.

They believed that the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, was meant to be the leader of God’s Church across the whole world. Some of you, already baptised, who want to become Catholics today, will declare that you are willing to accept the leadership of the Pope.

They believed that when a Catholic priest blesses bread and wine, it truly becomes Jesus’ own Body and Blood. We can only follow Jesus’ instruction, “Do this in memory of me”, by going to Mass celebrated by a Catholic (or Orthodox) priest. On Saturday morning I took a trip to Abergavenny, to borrow this chalice: it is from the 17th Century and may have been used* by St Philip Evans himself. If the priests who used the chalice had not worked in secret in Wales, Catholics would not have been able to follow Jesus’ instruction. Some of you will receive Holy Communion for the first time today, and you may do so from this ancient chalice!

I have a word of warning for our children who are becoming Catholics today. You will meet lots of people, including many other children, who say “I’m a Catholic” but who never go to church. For every Catholic who does go to Mass regularly, there are five more people in Wales who say “I’m a Catholic” but don’t go to church except perhaps for Christmas and Easter. Do not follow their example. If you don’t want to come and be part of Mass every weekend, please don’t become a Catholic today. It’s not too late to back out. But if you do become a Catholic, please take it as seriously as St Philip Evans did. He risked his life so people could have Mass every Sunday. When your friends invite you to parties, or you get involved in sports or dancing on weekend, please put Mass first. You can do the other things, but work around Mass. Nothing else that you could do on the weekend is worth dying for!

Parents, I’d like to thank you for supporting your children in the journey that brought them to today. In the First Reading, we heard the remarkable story of a mother who urged her children not to break God’s law, even if it cost them their lives. St Philip Evans reminds us that we need to be committed to our religion. And speaking of commitment, I’m now switching from tennis to football.

Next week the World Cup will be over. For many of those football players, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Some of their nations won’t qualify for the next World Cup. Many of the players will be too old in four years’ time. But those players won’t leave the world of football. The ones who truly love football will become officials, or coaches, like Gareth Southgate. They won’t play on the world stage again, but they’ll stay with the Beautiful Game.

Next week, children, you will no longer be part of our special group of “children preparing”. Each of you will be “one of us”. Then you will need to ask yourself the same question as everyone else who is already Catholic and has come to celebrate our Patron Saint today: “What must I do now for our Beautiful Church?”

Our other Bible Readings today remind you of what it means to be on God’s team. Jesus will be your shepherd. He died so that you could be baptised and take part in Mass. You have been chosen by him to be part of his church and filled with his Holy Spirit. And now, lest this sermon go into Extra Time, let us begin by blessing our font!

* Judging by the pictures from this website, Abergavenny have loaned me the chalice thought to have belonged to St David Lewis rather than the one which likely belonged to St Philip Evans – no matter, they died for the same cause!

Tell Me About Jesus!

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

“Tell me about Jesus!”

How would you answer if someone asked you that question?

Perhaps even more important, is where would you get your information?

Jesus went to his home town. That would be Capernaum, on the shores of Lake Galilee. If you go there today, there’s a church on stilts, shaped like a flying saucer, perched over what we believe was the house of Simon Peter. Just a stone’s throw away is the ruin of a synagogue – perhaps the very synagogue where Jesus spoke in today’s passage.

Note that it wasn’t Nazareth. The people there didn’t know the extraordinary story of the Virgin Mary’s miracle baby.

It wasn’t the pagan town of the Gerasenes, where Jesus had just cast a demon out of an afflicted man. The people hadn’t seen him do that.

It wasn’t the town Jesus was in last week, where he healed the Synagogue leader’s daughter and a bleeding woman. The people here hadn’t seen that either.

What the people of Capernaum did know was that Jesus was a local workman, and they knew his family. “Don’t we know his brothers and sisters? Who does this one think he is?”

We, too, get a partial view of Jesus.

How many of us have read the four Gospels all the way through?

How many of us have read Pope Benedict’s wonderful three-volume work on who Jesus is?

Is your Jesus a traditional “Sacred Heart” with doleful eyes and bleeding wounds?

Is your Jesus a reflection of Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ or a blue-eyed Robert Powell in Zeferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth?

Or perhaps your Jesus is a a swarthy Middle Easterner with a tangled beard, from when the BBC tried to reconstruct the “true face of Jesus” a few years ago?

If we only had today’s passage to go on, we might conclude that Jesus was from a large family with at least four brothers and two sisters. But if we also rely on information passed down orally, not written in the Bible – we call that Tradition – we conclude that Jesus was the only son of Mary, and these “brothers and sisters” were probably cousins, because the words for “brother” and “sister” were used quite loosely in those days. So if you end up in an argument with a Bible-believing Christian, relax. You can’t prove from just the Bible that Jesus was an only child, so don’t try.

“Tell me about Jesus!”

If you know your Bible well, you can tell me that He is the Lamb of God, the Bread of Life, the True Vine, the Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

If you’ve studied theology, you can tell me that he is the Second Person of the Divine Trinity, True Man and True God united in one person, yet with two wills, human and divine, in union.

Jesus humbled himself to be mocked by Pilate and then suffer death on a cross – he lowers himself so much that we have the rare word “abasement” in today’s prayers to say just how low he stooped for you.

If you know the history of private revelations, you will know He is the bearer of Sacred Heart, the Divine Mercy, and the one who bestowed stigmata on Sts Francis of Assisi and Pio of Pietrelcina.

But all of these things are rooted in the past. What if I asked you to tell me who Jesus Christ is in your life today?

Would you say he is your Lord – which means you obey his every word? Would you call him a Friend, or a Brother?

How do you feel about Jesus?

Perhaps you feel disturbed, because you know Jesus will confront the sin in your life. But do not be afraid, because he loves you so much he has already died for your sins. All he needs is your permission to pay the price for you, which you give him by making an honest confession.

Perhaps you feel concerned, because talking so directly about Jesus doesn’t feel very Catholic. Isn’t it easier to talk about being “part of the Church” and “taking Holy Communion” because these are comfortable Catholic things? But to be baptised as a member of the Church means being a cell in the Body of Jesus. And what is Holy Communion if not the very presence of the Body of Jesus? We might hide Jesus behind the language we use, but he is still there, waiting for us.

All our recent Popes, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, have challenged us to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. We’re stuck in a culture where Jesus is “he who must not be named”. We have to change the culture – unless we can talk freely about Jesus, how could anyone believe that we love Him?

Out of respect, we have tended to defer to Jesus and speak instead about “Our Lord”… but then we slide into “doing church” and losing sight of how the things we do are connected to Jesus. We need to find a middle way, a happy balance!

“Tell me about Jesus!” Tell me about the Person you will meet on the day when your earthly life comes to an end.

Will you meet him as a Judge who confronts you with your unconfessed sins?

Or will you meet a smiling Jesus who has already paid your debts and embraces you at the threshold of heaven?

If you don’t believe such a happy meeting is possible, where is your image of Jesus coming from?

I’d like you to get to know Jesus better. I’d like you to decide, today, to come to the Discovering Christ course we will run on seven Wednesdays in October and November. The clue is in the name – it’s a course about Jesus!

You don’t have to come. In fact, if you can spend one whole minute telling the person sitting next to you about who Jesus is, you don’t need to. But if you can’t, perhaps you need to Discover Christ before you can tell me about Jesus. Mark your diaries now!

The Parable of the Pollen

Homily at St Philip Evans on the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like this.

A garden was full of beautiful fruit trees. These trees bore pollen that had some amazing powers!

Wherever the pollen landed, it brought forth fruit. Even if the pollen landed on the a tree’s own sapling, or on a bush from a totally different species, it still brought forth luscious, tasty, fruit!

But the gardener had a problem. The oldest trees were dying. And the younger trees weren’t producing much fruit.

Some trees said: We don’t want to go to the effort of producing pollen. We can put out shoots and grow saplings without them. And it was true. The trees were good at producing saplings… but those saplings tended to put out runners, grew outside the garden, and the saplings bore no fruit.

Other trees said: We’re afraid to produce pollen. Once we let go of our pollen, our flowers die. What would people think of us if we didn’t look beautiful, respectable? We stand tall, showing off our lovely flowers, and we don’t want to annoy people by shedding dust all over them!

The gardener grieved. The trees had forgotten that they were fruit trees. The very reason they were in the garden was to bear fruit that would bring life to the world around. If there was no fruit, one day the garden would die!

Indeed, some trees in the garden shared his grief. They WANTED to bear fruit, but no-one was sharing pollen with them, and they didn’t feel confident to share their own because they weren’t sure how to do it… no-one was showing them good examples!

Fortunately there were some new trees in the garden, they were exotic varieties that had been transplanted from gardens that were bearing fruit. For now, they were healthy. But the gardener was worried… when they put out saplings, those saplings might say: ‘Why should we shed our pollen when the other trees in this garden don’t? They will look more beautiful than us when our flowers die!’

The gardener loved flowers very much. He was proud of his beautiful garden, and he loved standing back and looking at all the beautiful colours. But there are many kinds of beauty. Is a luscious apple or a ripe mango less beautiful than a tree in blossom? It is a different kind of beauty… but you can’t eat blossom.

The garden was not meant to be a flower garden. It was an orchard, destined to bear fruit. If it stopped bearing fruit, the town around it would starve!

The gardener realised it was time for desperate measures. He would have to teach the trees to shed pollen again. So he went to work creating bags of artificial pollen, and he went round the whole garden, and rubbed a little on each tree. “Now then!” he declared, “It is time for us to learn how to shed our pollen again. Look out for any plant you can sprinkle a little on to. It might be one of your own saplings. It might be a tree that’s been growing near you for a long time. But any bush that’s within reach, even if it looks really unpromising, if you can reach it, sprinkle a little pollen and see what happens.”

Friends, you are the trees in the garden of this parish. We are not good, in this country, at speaking openly about why church matters to us, and how Jesus invites everyone in Cardiff to come and be his follower, eating at his table. The fruit that we are meant to bear is the fruit of new and committed members of our church, living up to the six expectations I’ve spoken about so often.

On your benches are invitation cards. These are your pollen. I can’t think of any approach less threatening than saying to a family member or friend, “I’d like to show you what I do on a Sunday morning. We’re having a special Guest Day on July 1st. I’d be honoured if you’d be my guest.”

Imagine if we all invited one other person, and 100 guests actually came on July 1st?

Imagine if 10 of those guests liked what they saw and became part of the life of our church?

Imagine if we did the same thing every year?

We are brilliant at being flowers for Christ. He sees us at Mass every weekend and he smiles. He sees the effort we make to love others, and again he smiles. But remember, Jesus is looking for fruit, and when a fig tree didn’t offer him any, He cursed it!

A Meditation on Marriage

Homily at St Philip Evans on the 9th Wednesday of Year 2, with couples invited for a meal with local representatives of Marriage Encounter.

“To whom shall she be married when the dead are raised on the last day?”

A deep question, and to answer it we must understand what marriage is in God’s eyes.

The very word, ‘marriage’, has changed its meaning greatly in both civil society and among religious believers. In Great Britain today, a marriage is a legal partnership between two adults, which gives each rights over the other’s property and finances, until such time as one partner dies or a court cancels the arrangement by a decree of divorce. Whatever fine words are spoken on marriage day declaring only “death do us part”, they are not honoured by the State in practice.

In Jewish practice, for centuries before and during the time of Christ, divorce was easily available, and in many places polygamy was practiced too – indeed, many of the great heroes of the Hebrew Bible had more than one wife. So a man could have many wives, in series or at the same time, and this was not regarded as a problem – even on the day when the dead would be raised. But the Jewish law also required a man to marry his dead brother’s widow so she could be protected in society, and if she was childless, to give her children to continue his brother’s name. The Jews could imagine a man being blessed with a harem of wives on the Last Day, but not a woman with multiple husbands!

Today our culture has a different romantic ideal – finding The One. Is there one perfect partner out there, pre-selected by the Almighty as your soul-mate? Or should we simply try enough different partners until we find one better than all the previous models? In fact the truth lies somewhere in between: marriage is a vocation – it is a calling from God. And it requires work, because however suitable the partner you pick, you must still work at perfecting the relationship.

Take the story of Henry and Claire (Enrico Petrillo and Chiara Corbella). They met on a pilgrimage in 2002; each immediately intuited that the other was ‘the One’. Five months later, they shared their first kiss. Four years later they quarrelled badly and realised they could not live together peacefully; so Claire went away for a few day’s retreat. On her return home, a message from Henry demanded the return of the exercise weights he had left in her house; what he did not expect was that she would return them in person. They talked; and slowly, they began to rebuild their relationship. The following spring they broke up again, and turned to their spiritual director, an Italian priest.

Together, they began to understand that choosing marriage means giving of oneself first without asking anything of the other, the radical gift of oneself. In any close relationship, each partner will experience the ugliness of their own faults – instead of blaming their beloved for exposing their weakness, each partner must take responsibility. A relationship which is not lived with this depth is not the vocation of marriage – but merely accompanying another person until death. This vocation must realise that only God, not your beloved spouse, will be the ultimate source of your happiness and fulfilment.

Quickly, Henry and Claire understood what they needed to do, became engaged, and were married the same autumn. The path God had chosen for them was indeed a hard one. In 2009 – indeed, nine years ago to the week – Claire gave birth to their first child, a child with a terrible deformity of the skull. They had known this day was coming, and that the child would not live long after birth; their devout faith admitted no possibility of an abortion. Yet at the funeral of Mary Grace Joy (Maria Grazia Lutetia), her parents were found not in the front pew for family mourners, but seated among the choir, leading songs of praise that their firstborn had already joined the saints in heaven. The following June, they celebrated the funeral of their second child, David John (Davide Giovanni), born with a totally unrelated birth defect, with Claire leading bidding prayers for all mothers and future mothers. Six years ago this week, Claire herself lay on her deathbed. She had postponed treatment for cancer so her third child, Francesco, could be born safely; she passed into God’s hands on June 13th, after 28 years of life and four of marriage.

We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. We know that both infants, baptised in the short hours between birth and death, will be numbered among the saints on the Day of Ressurrection. We have little reason to doubt that Claire too, as one who laid down her life for the sake of others in purple martyrdom, will be there, and may soon be recognised by the Church as a saint.

Whose wife she will be on the Day of Ressurrection? She will be wife to Jesus Christ, who called and sustained her throughout her life on earth. The same Lord Jesus will be spouse to Mary Grace Joy and to David John, who will be raised fully mature on that day. The same Lord Jesus will, we hope and pray, be spouse to Henry, whose life on earth continues at this time.

On the Day of Resurrection, the love we enjoyed with any spouse will be brought to perfection; no ugliness will be left. But to that will be added a perfect love for Jesus Christ and all the brothers and sisters caught up with us. An eternity of relationships awaits us – of perfect love without jealousy! Don’t settle for a mundane vision of heaven as living with your spouse purified and renewed. God has so much more in store!

And how does God wish to prepare our souls for this eternity of love without jealousy? For many of us, our apprenticeship is called Holy Matrimony.

The first Christians understood from Christ that they were called to a radically deeper form of marriage. As followers of Christ, they were not free to marry multiple partners; they were not free to separate and marry another while their Christian spouse still lived. “God’s plan from the beginning”, Jesus quoted from Genesis, “was that a man should leave his father’s house and cleave to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” Was this because God was calling them to a pairing that would last for eternity? Not in the sense that the exclusive marriage would continue for ever in heaven. The vocation of marriage is for this earthly life, when each faithful couple is called to be an icon of Christ’s faithfulness to the church. The greater burden, indeed, falls on the Christian husband who is called to be an icon of the Sinless One; the wife is the icon of the Church, at once justified and yet composed of sinners!

The true vocation of marriage is to find one’s fulfilment in Christ, while living out our earthly call to be faithful to one person of the opposite sex, despite all their imperfections and annoying habits, and weathering all the storms which life sends in their direction. So to those of you who are married, and to those of you who support married couples in your families and in our community, I echo these words of St Paul: bear your share of hardship for the Gospel
with the strength that comes from God, who saved us and called us to a holy life, according to his own design
and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began. In this way you can join Clare and Henry on the path to heaven.

The Big Tent

Homily at St Philip Evans Church for the First Communion Masses on the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, 2018

Have you ever been to a circus? It’s very exciting – a large tent is suddenly put up in the middle of town, and everyone goes to enjoy the entertainment!

Last year, Pope Francis invited me to a circus in Rome – but I’ll tell you more about that in a minute. First there’s another big tent I’d like to tell you about.

Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, Moses was the leader of the Jewish people. God was guiding them through the desert so they had to live in tents as they moved from one place to another. They made one very big special tent which they called the tabernacle. This was where they went to say their prayers. In fact it was more than a place for prayer; they believed it was the place where God lived. They knew that, because God gave them the amazing sign of a pillar of cloud standing there in the daytime, and a pillar of fire every night. You might know a famous hymn which talks about being led by a “fiery, cloudy pillar” – that was where Moses went to hear the voice of God. Then he would come out to give the people God’s instructions.

In the first reading we heard today, God offers the people a deal! “I will look after you”, he said; and the people said “Yes, we’ll do everything you ask us to do”! Now then parents, would you believe that? Would you believe it if anyone in your family said “Yes Mam, yes Dad, I will always do as I’m told”?

Well, we’re not very good at doing what we’re told and the children of Israel weren’t very good either… but in that moment when they said yes, Moses said: “To show this is a really important bargain you’re making with God, I’m going to do something rather gruesome! I’m going to throw blood all over you!” He took a bowl of blood and threw it over the people! You wouldn’t forget a day like that, would you? Moses also said, every year, you have to have a big festival and remember that God rescued you by his power – this was called the feast of Passover. A lamb would be sacrificed and everyone in the family would have to eat part of the lamb.

This helps us make sense of what Jesus did when he celebrated the Last Supper. His friends were used to keeping the festival each year eating lamb and flatbread, but Jesus said “this is my body – eat me!” I am the new lamb you have to eat. Then he said something really gruesome: “I want you to drink my blood!” Jewish people never drank blood. It was forbidden! They had to drain all the blood out of meat before they were allowed to eat it! But Jesus meant the cup of wine in front of him. He meant: “This is going to become my blood, you can drink this and then you’ll have God’s life in you.” The very next day Jesus was killed on the cross and His actual blood did flow out.

We know the good news: Jesus rose from the dead and his friends want to tell the whole world about it. But his friends went scratching their heads and saying “What just happened? Why did Jesus want us to drink his blood?” One of his friends had a long time to think about it, and wrote what we call the “letter to the Hebrews”.  It went like this: “Remember the sacrifices Moses gave us in the old days? We had to sacrifice animals to show that we were sorry to God. Moses had a tent where God met him, a tent that just reminded us of heaven. But now Jesus has gone to God’s real tent, that’s heaven itself! He took the best possible sacrifice with him – not an animal’s blood but his own blood, when he gave himself for us. Now we can drink his blood when we come to Holy Mass, so that God’s everlasting life will be in us!”

The other word for “tent” is “tabernacle” and we have our own tent in this church: the tabernacle where the Body of Jesus lives. We don’t see a great pillar of fire coming down from heaven but we do have this lamp showing that God is living here.

Christians gathering in Rome with Pope Francis for Pentecost 2017

Now I promised earlier to tell you how Pope Francis invited me to the circus. It was called the Circus Maximus – which is a stadium in Rome. In Latin, a “circus” was a round space where people went for entertainment – not clowns and trapeze artists but chariot races and gladiators; and that’s where they took Christians to be killed in those early days when the Romans didn’t like Christians. Last summer, Pope Francis invited lots of Catholics and other Christian leaders to meet him there, to honour the martyrs who died in that place.

It reminded me that when our patron Saint, Philip Evans, was killed, that would have been a bit like a circus. A big open field on the edges of Cardiff, lots of people came to see two of those horrible Catholic priests being executed; they would have made a big show out of it.

So for you children making First Communion today, I have a question for you to think about. Would you rather visit the circus or join the circus? Today’s First Holy Communion Mass is a bit like visiting the circus. It’s a big event that creates a lot of excitement. It doesn’t come to town very often; we turn up, have a good time with our families, and go home. But Jesus isn’t just inviting you to enjoy the show. He wants you to become a member of his circus! Going to circus is fun. Joining the circus is glamorous but hard work. What you don’t see in the ring is the hours every trapeze artist spends practising their act, the time the clowns take thinking of funny gags, the time it takes to train the performing animals. But if nobody did that, there would be no circus!

Children, church won’t always give you the special attention you’ve had this year. Sometimes Mass might feel boring. But Communion is so special that St Philip Evans risked being killed so families in Cardiff could go to Mass every Sunday, and the Christians who died in Circus Maximus might have been caught going to Mass too.

Today, Jesus is inviting you to join his circle of friends who meet every week, to be fed by his body and blood. When you receive your First Communion, each of you will become a little tabernacle, with Jesus remaining present in you for a few minutes. So it’s time to join me on the altar and light your own pillar of fire, your baptism candle. Come!

Warning! Low Power!

Homily at St Philip Evans for Pentecost Sunday, Year Bbattery

On Friday morning I jumped in the shower and turned on the rechargable radio. But within 30 seconds of starting to scrub, the sound had disappeared. Because I hadn’t stopped to look at the display, I hadn’t seen the “Low Power” warning.

Have you noticed that on many smartphones, the little icon is green when you have lots of power, but turns amber and then red as your power is running out? There’s a lesson for us there. Today, I’m vested in red, the traditional colour of Pentecost in the Western Church. The red reminds us of the tongues of fire which fell upon Our Lady and the Apostles; it’s a colour associated with power. But in our age, it increasingly warns us of low power. Today, I’m looking out for red warnings of low power here in our parish community.

On the first two weekends in June, our Masses will include First Communions. If you’re a low-power Christian, you’ll decide that the disruption of having lots of guests is too much to bear, and you’ll go to Mass somewhere else. If you are a Christian filled with the power to love, you will make a personal decision to come, you will offer your seat to a guest if we are “standing room only”, and you will do whatever you can help the occasion go really well for all our children and all our guests.

On the first of July, we’ll have a special Mass where we’ll share the beauty of what we do on Sundays with people who don’t normally come to church. Who will those guests be? They will be the people you invite to come. If you are a low-power Christian, you will not want to invite anyone to come – you will be overwhelmed by objections.

  • I’m not holy enough to share my faith
  • I’m not qualified to share my faith with others.
  • I’m too scared. People will judge me.
  • I have no idea what to say. I might say the wrong thing.

If you are a Christian filled with the power to love, you will give invitation cards to your friends and members of your family, and you will encourage them to come.

My past experience tells me that many of us are in danger of being low power Christians. If I’d seen the warning signs on my radio, I could have done something about it. I could have charged it up. But we can do something even better than getting a re-charge – we can plug in to the mains!

If you tuned in to the Royal Wedding this weekend, you’ll have heard a sermon about the power of love. “There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.” Preacher* Michael Curry began by quoting words from Martin Luther King: “We must discover the redemptive power of love.” These are eminently suitable words for a wedding – but they are also words suitable for our church community at Pentecost.

What we are celebrating today is that God wanted to pour out on all members of the Church, the power to live with redeeming love – power to lift up and liberate everyone who walks through the door of this church, everyone who walks through the doors of our houses and everyone who walks through the doors of our lives. This is divine power. This is the love which transforms the world.

This sort of love has a price. It costs our time, it costs our comfort, and its costs our freedom. But God wants to help us pay the price. What is on offer to us is not merely an opportunity to “recharge our batteries”. What’s on offer is the infinite power of the Holy Spirit of God – an opportunity to plug in to the mains!

On one Jewish Feast of Pentecost, Jesus stood up in the Temple and said anyone who followed him would experience a spring of living water welling up within them.

On another Pentecost, just after Our Lord ascended into heaven, St Peter stood up and filled with the Holy Spirit preached a sermon that called 3,000 people to become followers of Christ.

That same power is available to us. In fact, God longs for us to ask for it. The Royal Preacher noted that human history is the story of how we have learned to make good use of fire – the fire of love! The fire of God’s love is not offered to us for our own comfort. The fire of God’s love is given so that we can bless others.

If you’ve been confirmed, you’ve already got a source of fire, you’re already plugged into the mains! But God still waits for you to throw the switch, to let that power flow through you. That’s why, in the Alpha course currently running, and in the Discovering Christ course we’ll be running in the autumn, there’s a retreat day devoted to the Holy Spirit, a day when you’re invited to open the floodgates to the divine fire which longs to love the world through you. St Catherine of Siena once said, “Christian, be who you are called to be and you will set the world on fire!”

Today is Pentecost. Today is our celebration of what God wants to do through you to bless others. There’s someone that God wants you to help on a First Communion Day in this church. There is someone in your life God wants you to bless with an invitation for 1st July. Power is on offer to you:

  • God’s Spirit offers you inspiration. To whom will you give the invitation?
  • God’s Spirit offers you wisdom. How will you make the invitation?
  • God’s Spirit offers you courage. How soon will you make the invitation?

Today, make three decisions.

Decide to join the “Home Team” for First Communion.

Decide to Invite A Friend for July 1st.

Decide to ask God’s Spirit to give you the power to do these things without fear.

Tonight, I’m going to plug in my radio. I’m not willing to settle for low power. Are you?

battery - green

* To give him his formal title, Archbishop Curry – but that raises the whole question of the validity of Anglican Orders. But I say this: while he’s questionably a bishop, he’s unquestionably a preacher!

Pure Gold

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 6th Sunday of Easter, Year B.

Gold dissolves in aqua regia!

One of my favourite childhood reads was the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. In one of the novels, some children are camping in the Lake District and they think they’ve discovered gold! One of the children, Richard, is a bit of a scientist and remembers reading that “gold dissolves in aqua regia” – a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid. So they mix up some of this powerful acid, drop in the shiny metal they’ve discovered, and it dissolves! Gold! … Or is it?

All that glitters is not gold… and not everything that dissolves in aqua regia is gold either. A mixture of nitric and hydrochloric acid is so powerful that it can dissolve almost anything! It turns out that what the children have actually discovered is a copper ore, and copper is a useful metal too! If the metal they had found hadn’t dissolved in aqua regia, that would have proved it wasn’t gold. But just showing it did dissolve wasn’t proof that it was.

The name aqua regia means “royal water”, because it is a liquid capable of dissolving even precious, kingly, metals. Today we will make us of another kind of royal water, the water of baptism, in which Remmi-Rae will be adopted as a daughter of the most High God and become a princess in His royal family. Now don’t worry, this royal water is not a strong acid and no-one is going to be dissolved. But this water is even more powerful than the strongest acid, because in adults it has the power to wash away sin, and in children who have not committed wilful sin, it washes away their heritage of belonging to the sinful human race, which we call ‘original sin’ or the ‘sin of our origins’.

In today’s First Reading, we are reminded of the very first time that baptism was offered to a family who was not Jewish. St Peter had a dream in which it was made clear that the gift of Baptism was not only for the children of Israel, but for the whole world. The house of Cornelius is one of five examples of “whole households” being baptised in the Bible, which is one of the reasons we baptise not only believers but children as well. But a child can only be baptised when the parents and godparents make a promise to teach and show the child how to live the Catholic faith!

What I want to say next is especially for Remmi-Rae’s parents and godparents, but also for all of you who are parents or have taken on the responsibility of becoming a godparent or sponsor to a member of the church. Do you understand your duty to teach and show the Catholic faith?

Today’s Second Reading and Gospel speak loudly: love one another! The Greek word for Christian love is agape, which means pouring out our lives in service of one another. If we do not love one another, we are not followers of Jesus. But beware! These words can lead us straight into the aqua regis trap. If we do love one another, does that prove we are Christians? No!

Are there not good Buddhists who love one another in the world?

Are there not good Muslims, who practice the Islamic value of ummah, looking out for one another?

Are there not good atheists, humanitarians, who love one another and even the most needy in our world?

Parents, godparents, you must teach your children to love one another. You must teach them always to offer forgiveness. But there is more work to do. The question is this. Just as Richard needed a chemical test that would pick out gold alone, so you must answer this: what does your family do that you wouldn’t do if you weren’t Catholic?

Do you pray together the words Jesus asked us to pray, Our Father? Later in this Mass, we will pray these words on behalf of Remmi-Rae, who is too young to make them her own.

Do you respect the teachings of the Pope in Rome, who is the centre of unity for the Church on earth? Will you teach your children and godchildren that when the Bible alone is not clear on the complicated issues we face in today’s world, the Holy Spirit guides the Pope in giving the best answers for our time?

Do you remind your children and godchildren that they are invited guests at the royal banquet of the Eucharist which is set out for them each weekend?

Do you teach your children, by word and example. to receive spiritual strength through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Holy Communion, and when the time is right, Holy Matrimony and the Anointing of the Sick? Jesus longs to connect with each one of them through prayer, and will call each child to a unique friendship with Him. Jesus has chosen each baptised child to bear fruit: the fruit of good works, the fruit of offering prayers, and the fruit of inviting many people to be baptised! And if this seems like an awesome responsibility, it is – but God’s awesome Spirit lives within each of you who are baptised and confirmed to enable you to carry it out!

Remmi-Rae has been born into a family named King. In fifth-century France, there was a Bishop Rémy who converted and baptized King Clovis.  Today, in twenty-first century Wales, this Remmi-Rae will be baptised into God’s royal family. It would be a tragedy to remember to teach her to love others and forget to teach her she is a sister of Jesus! Parents, godparents, treat her like royalty and ensure she lives in the Palace of the King, which is her local Catholic Church! So now, parents and godparents, it is time to baptise this King in royal water! Let us stand and pray.