Looking for Jesus

Homily at Our Lady, Queen of Peace (Llanelli) for the Epiphany of the Lord, 2019.

The Wise Men were looking for Jesus. It took some doing, but they found him, and they honoured him.

The future St Paul wasn’t looking for Jesus – but Jesus found Saul of Tarsus and turned him into an apostle.

Herod was looking for Jesus, but only to destroy him. He didn’t succeed.

When Jesus was 12, his earthly parents went looking for him. They found him debating with scholars in the Temple.

When I was 11, I wasn’t looking for Jesus. I was growing up perfectly happily and accepting scientific explanations of why and how the world around me had come to exist. But then, in a time of sadness, I said the first serious prayer of my lifetime and discovered that Jesus was there for me.

Later, after hearing lots of sermons, I became puzzled. So many preachers talked about people having a ‘God-shaped hole’ and a kind of dissatisfaction in their life which went away when they met Jesus and invited him in. But that didn’t match my own experience. Once I’d gotten over my grandmother’s death, things could have gone back to my previous happy existence. But now I had discovered Jesus was really there, and that discovery was going to change the entire course of my life.

Just a few years ago, I was in Manchester and popped into a weekday Mass where a priest said something profound. The Gospel that day declared the the Kingdom of Heaven was like a fine pearl that a merchant went and bought – or like a treasure that someone stumbled over in a field. Some of us, said the preacher, know we’re looking for something of immense value, and recognise Jesus as the answer when we find him. But others, like the person walking in the field, are going through life quite happily when they trip over the treasure which is Jesus and recognise his value. Eureka! At last, here was a priest who understood my journey. Not all of us suffer from a God-shaped hole. But all of us can receive the Gift of Jesus when we find him!

Now, the Gift of Jesus is not a convenient, comfortable gift. Yes, it brings satisfaction – of seeing the value of who Jesus is, if not how he answers the deep questions some of us have been asking. But when we receive this Gift, it comes at a cost!

For the Wise Men, the cost was a long and difficult journey, an awkward encounter with Herod, and the riches which they left at the manger.

For the Blessed Mother, the cost was giving birth far from home, exile in Egypt, the stress of her Son lost in the Temple, the worry caused by Jesus in his days of preaching, and the pain of Calvary.

For Saul of Tarsus, the cost was a temporary loss of his vision, a humble admission that he had been wrong to reject Jesus as God-made-man, numerous beatings and stonings in the cities where he preached, a shipwreck, and his execution in Rome.

For me, the cost was turning away from the first plan I had made for my life, of a career as a research scientist, and retraining for another seven years to become a priest; and then the cost of priesthood, where a man sacrifices the chance to have a social life at weekends and evenings so that others can feed on the Word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ.

The prophet Isaiah encouraged God’s people not to look at the difficulty and darkness which surrounded them, but to look up, and see the light of God leading them on. Are you wise enough to look for Christ leading you? When you see him, you too will grow radiant, your heart “throbbing and full”!

Wise Catholics look not at the darkness around them, but at their guiding star – and that star is Christ himself. Today is all about gifts; perhaps it is a good day to ask Christ to renew the gifts of confirmation, which include the courage and fortitude we need for our journey through life.

The question is, have you found Jesus? If you are in pain, anxious, searching, have you said a prayer asking Jesus for what you need? If you’re not in any special need, do you recognise the value of this Holy Child whose birth we celebrated at Christmas? Have you allowed this child to make inconvenient demands of you? Can you rejoice, with St Paul, that you have shared in a message from God about who you are and what God wants you to inherit?

St Peter, in his second letter, encouraged us to think about God’s message ‘until the morning star rises in your hearts.’ This year, 2020, is one which our Bishops have dedicated to the ‘God who speaks’. If to you, the message of Jesus doesn’t feel like a pearl of great price or a buried treasure, then maybe this is a good year to take a fresh look at the Bible, and maybe read one of the Gospels from beginning to end.

Was Jesus really God’s Son?

Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

Did Jesus real heal sick people and cast out demons?

Did Jesus mean it when he told us we must eat his body and drink his blood if we wanted to enter eternal life?

Are you looking for Jesus? I believe that if you lift up your eyes and seek the answers to these questions, as Isaiah prophesied, your hearts will grow ‘throbbing and full’ and Jesus himself will become your heartthrob.

Have you found Jesus? Good. But don’t leave him in the pages of the Bible or locked in the tabernacle here in Church. Take him home with you and share him with your friends.

When the wise men set out on their journey, there were many foolish voices trying to persuade them against it.

Some of the foolish voices suggested that the journey wasn’t worth taking at all.

The wise men knew that this King deserved their personal attention. Will you be wise enough to give him yours?

Peace to All People of Good Will

Homily for The Solemnity of the Nativity, 2018 at St Philip Evans 

“Glory to God in the Highest! And on earth peace, peace to people of goodwill.”

One hundred years ago, for the first time in five brutal years, Cardiff woke up to a Christmas at peace.

For us today, herald angels singing and refrains of “Gloria in excelsis!” are part of the magic and music that give us that “Christmas feeling”. It’s easy to ignore the little line, “peace to people of goodwill”, as one of the familiar phrases we expect to hear in this season.

But imagine those who gathered to celebrate Christmas in 1918, just weeks after the armistice which ended the First World War. Around every dinner table, families would have remembered absent members, and friends, who had laid down their lives. Their great relief that much of the world was at peace would have been mixed with deep questions – “was it worth the cost?” And around many tables, those who faced mortal peril, both those who fought and those whose homelands were invaded, would have been most profoundly aware that they were no longer at war. Peace had returned. This Christmas in Indonesia, many families will have similar mixed emotions as they think of survivors and victims of last week’s tsunami. And yet the rhythm of the year echoes what happened on that unique day when angels spoke into human history:

“Glory to God in the Highest! And on earth peace, peace to people of goodwill.”

But what did the angels mean in their song? That God was pleased with the human race in its entirety, and therefore sent us Jesus? Or did they mean that God was sending a gift of peace to be received by those of us who are people of goodwill, while the rest of the world faces God’s anger?

The Bible contains beautiful words. Jesus himself said that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” And that’s the key. When we ask whether God is punishing us or protecting us, we should look not only at this life we live on earth, but eternal life – the life the angels are already living. God sent Baby Jesus so, as a man dying on the Cross, he would open the door to heaven for anyone willing to follow him through it. Jesus didn’t encourage us to think of disasters, natural or man-made, as signs of God’s punishment; rather, he spoke of God’s anger coming on souls in the afterlife who had harmed children, ignored people in need, or refused to forgive their enemies.

So I say again: “Glory to God in the Highest! And on earth peace, peace to people of goodwill.”

In these Christmas words, we hear ourselves being challenged. Are we truly people of good will?

God’s rewards and wrath are reserved for us in heaven; here on Earth, God has left the responsibility for war and peace with us. He sent Christ, the Prince of Peace, to encourage us to live at peace with one another, and to pour his gift of peace into the heart of anyone who asks. And we can ask! We can pray for God to give us the good will to make peace with all people.

Christmas is a time of year which offers us special opportunities. Family members who might not be together for the rest of the year will be gathered together around one table. Perhaps this means that you will be forced to spend time with a relative or friend you don’t get on with – perhaps even someone who has broken a promise to you, publicly embarrassed you, or harmed you in some other way. This may feel like a threat, but it’s actually an opportunity. As human beings, our natural reaction is to ask “Who started it?” and seek an apology. But that’s not God’s way. No, the question God asks is “Who is willing to end it?” The will to make peace is a good will.

“Glory to God in the Highest! And on earth peace, peace to people of goodwill.”

Are you looking in the manger for a God who stops earthquakes, tsunamis, and man’s inhumanity to man? You will seek in vain.

But are you looking for a God who is as vulnerable as a baby in a manger, who offers us the strength to be meek? You are looking in the right place.

The Prince of Peace came not to spare us from disasters, but to lead us through them on the royal road of forgiveness and generosity.

If you are looking for peace in your life, come to the silence of this Church; come and kneel before this crib. Ask God to fill your heart with the power to will what is good for others. It is through the goodwill in your heart that Cardiff can wake up to a Christmas at peace.

I have in my prayer-book a little card from the peacemaking organisation called Pax Christi, and I’d like to leave you with the prayer which is written on it – it’s by the late leader of the Taizé community in France, Brother Roger. It says this:

O Risen Christ,Icon of Jacob and Esau embracing and other Bible scenes of peacemaking
You breathe your Holy Spirit on us
and you tell us: ‘Peace be yours’.
Opening ourselves to your peace –
letting it penetrate the harsh and
rocky ground of our hearts –
means preparing ourselves to be
bearers of reconciliation
wherever you may place us.
But you know that at times
we are at a loss.
So come and lead us
to wait in silence,
to let a ray of hope shine forth
in our world.

“Glory to God in the Highest! And on earth peace, peace to people of goodwill.”

And may the blessing of the Prince of Peace fill your hearts with joy. A Blessed Christmas to you all.

The phrasing of “on earth peace, peace to people of goodwill” is from Christopher Walker’s New Celtic Liturgy, which is the Mass setting being used at my Christmas Masses.

The End of the World (St Philip Evans Parish)

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent, Year C at St Philip Evans 

“When will these things come to pass?”

That was the natural question on the lips of Jesus’ followers when they heard these terrible predictions, and it’s a natural question for us to ask, too.

We can predict, reasonably well, when some disasterous things will take place. In fact, the word “dis-aster” literally means “bad star” and we know that one day, our nearest star, the Sun, will go bad. In about five thousand million years, it will run out of nuclear fuel and swell up, scorching planet Earth to a cinder, or perhaps even engulfing it entirely!

Five billion years is a long way away. But don’t relax yet! Some of the latest results from mapping the 300,000 stars nearest our Sun tell us that in just one and one-third million years, a passing star will cause thousands of comets to rain down upon planet Earth and perhaps cause other disruption in our solar system.

Cosmic disasters might be too far in the future to trouble our children’s children, but by the year 2080, it’s forecast that more than a million homes in the UK might be at risk of flooding, and our coastal roads and railway lines could be badly affected too. I talked about the environment a few weeks ago so I won’t go into detail again, but we can all do our bit by reducing the amount of energy we consume.

There’s another disasterous date to put on your calendar. 2036. That’s a mathematical prediction of when the number of people worshipping in this church will fall to zero, based on changing congregation numbers since 2009. The number of First Communions would fall to zero in 2030. Zero baptisms by 2024!

Now, these numbers are crude. It’s not always the right things to fit a straight light to a graph to make predictions. But what is clear is that the numbers for our parish are falling – of baptisms, of communions, and of people attending Mass. And that’s typical of most parishes. But Jesus didn’t call the church to shrink. He called us to go out and make disciples!

We live in an uncertain time. I was hoping that Archbishop George would have named my successor by now. We are all wondering whether there will be another priest ready to lead this parish in January. But whether you have another priest straight away or not, we all have a task, the work Jesus left to all his followers – making disciples of all nations. A priest can’t do it all on his own, anyway. So who in this congregation is actively asking, “What can we do to make our congregation grow? How do we help people who might leave, to stay? How can we ask new people to join?”

I’ve got good news for you. Some Catholic Churches are growing! The Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, grew its Mass attendance from 1500 to 4000 in a few years! The Church of St Benedict in Nova Scotia raised its level of parishioner engagement from 7% to 40% in a few years! And there’s more good news! If you have succeeded in really engaging parishioners you don’t have to appeal for money or volunteers – engaged Catholics want to give, and give generously!

Avoiding disaster may need us to make some painful decisions. If the way we currently run our church is causing us to shrink or at least stay static, carrying on doing what we’re doing isn’t likely to make us grow. Maybe to be more effective we should be pooling our resources with other parishes. For now, this parish is able to pay its own way: we have cleared our debt. But we have barely enough people to fill the volunteer roles we need to keep everything running.

The Archbishop has already asked the parishes from Whitchurch thru Llanedeyrn to co-operate in what we call the Northern Arc… one natural next step is to ask whether St Philip Evans is big enough to survive and grow as an independent parish. And if the answer is “yes” right now, would it still be “yes” if most of our Indian parishioners were offered a Syro-Malabar service every weekend? Can we still run all the things an independent parish needs to run? They say turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, but it’s chickens who don’t make painful changes to secure the best possible future. The day might come when difficult questions have to be asked about Mass times or even merging with other parishes.

Even so, I’m not expecting change in the next year or two. The Archbishop says it is important that this parish has a priest to welcome new residents moving into all the new housing in this area. Perhaps we’re not at the point where we need to think about a merger. Perhaps there are enough resources in this community to be able to invest in things that will make this congregation grow. So which of you are actively asking “What makes successful parishes grow? When can we learn from thriving Catholic parishes?”

Next summer, all the priests and deacons in Cardiff will attend a three-day conference with an American lay woman, Sherry Weddell, who had a brilliant idea. She studied the stories of dozens of converts who started out as non-Catholics and ended up as very active Catholics. What do they all have in common? Sherry found out, and if we understand how non-Catholics become active Catholics, we can become very effective at inviting more non-Catholics to do the same!

All across the diocese, parishes are now being asked to run 6-week-long reading groups to study Sherry’s book, which is called Forming Intentional Disciplesto try out some of the ideas, and send delegates on June 15th to a day when they can share their experiences and receive coaching from Sherry herself. That could happen here, if a few of you choose to start a study group and work on encouraging parish growth. You don’t need to wait for a new priest to organise that!

“When will these things come to pass?” the disciples asked the Lord. “No-one knows the day or hour except the Father”, Jesus replied, speaking of the end of the world. But as for when studying and investing in the future of this parish will take place – that’s up to you!

For the Poor!

Homily for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B at St Philip Evans – World Day of the Poor


We can listen with our ears. But we can also listen with our hearts, and we can listen with our eyes.

I’d like to invite you to use your eyes to listen to this prayer.

I wonder what thoughts and feelings that stirred up in you?

Perhaps there are people we don’t really want to accept in our lives, and that makes us feel uncomfortable. They are too demanding, too uncomfortable.

Perhaps we are jarred by the line which addresses God as “Mother”. To be sure, Jesus reserved the name “Father” for God and the best way to understand God, is as the best possible Father. But God is beyond gender, and uncomfortable words teach us something. Rembrandt painted the father of the prodigal son with one motherly hand, and even Jesus compared himself to a brooding mother hen!

The world around us seems full of injustice. The news in recent years has been full of stories of migrants from poor countries reaching rich nations, or dying in the attempt. In our own nation, too, there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Just this week, a UN inspector has criticised Britain for not doing enough to address poverty, and the Government’s plans for Universal Credit, which started as a good idea to reward work, have suffered from both cuts in funding and practical difficulties in making the system work well for vulnerable citizens.

In the face of such injustice, our hearts cry out: “Why doesn’t God do something?”

Strangely, today’s readings are partly about God not doing something. If you listen carefully to the Books of Daniel and the Apocalypse, you will hear that God will allow a time of distress to come upon the world before God’s faithful people are rescued. Even so, the saints in heaven, who have faced torture and persecution because of their faithfulness to God, are the ones loudest in singing God’s praises!

Crystal McVea was a woman who had every reason to hate God. She was abused as a child, and although she turned to God for help, and chose to be baptised at the age of nine, her suffering did not end. The emotional wounds of what she had been through continued to scar her teenage years. Later, her six-year-old son suffered severe brain damage because of a traffic accident. Aged 33, Crystal herself was taken into hospital with pancreatitis – and during treatment she was clinically dead for nine minutes.

Now, I’m always cautious about claims of “near death experiences” as proof of anything about God or heaven, but Crystal’s story is truly remarkable. You would have expected her to blame God or ask all the obvious “why” questions. That’s what she expected of herself. But that’s not what happened. As soon as she became aware of the loving presence she identified as “God”, her instinctive reaction was to fall down and worship. The expected questions, “Why didn’t you love me? Why did you let this happen?” melted away, and only one question remained: “Why didn’t I do more for You?” Her life was changed and her love for God was immeasurably deepened!

We are faced with two brutal facts. One is that there is suffering in this world. The other is that we claim “God is love”. So either we are wrong about God, or somehow, that perfect love exists alongside our broken world. Although Jesus worked a few miracles which helped people immediately, his mission was to teach us to give generously. Miracles may happen in answer to prayer, but God is not going to fix all the world’s problems from above. Rather, God has entrusted that work to us.

Listen! Pope Francis has designated today as the World Day of the Poor. His aspiration is that every parish should put on a meal this weekend where we can sit down at table with members of our local community who could never return the favour. We are not yet organised enough as a parish to do this, but today we will acknowledge what we can do. We do collect gifts of food for the foodbank – today you can bring them up personally as part of our collection. We do collect clothes for asylum seekers and refugees living in Cardiff – a bag of such clothes will form part of our collection today. We do have a small “Listening Group”, whose role is to listen to the needs of the local community – first from the volunteers who get involved, but later by going out into the community to meet people. Could you be one of our listeners?

Today’s Letter to the Hebrews starts with an image of the Jewish priests offering daily animal sacrifices, but explains this is no longer needed because Jesus died for all of us. Even so, as Christians, we are called to make a daily sacrifice. Not one of animals, but one of our own time, treasure and talent. The needs of the poor call us to make a daily gift of ourselves to the people we meet. And in our procession of gifts today, our worship of God is entwined with our gifts for the poor. The two cannot be separated. Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI once said that “love for the poor is liturgy”.

God will do something about it. He will do something in you and through you. Elaine, who leads our Listening Group, has asked that we should say this prayer together which reminds us of our own responsibility. So let’s pray it, and listen!

Christ has no body but mine,
No hands, no feet on earth but mine.
Mine are the eyes with which he looks,
Compassion on this world.
Mine are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Mine are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Mine are the hands, mine are the feet.
Mine are the eyes, mine is his body,
Christ has no body now but mine,
No hands, no feet on earth but mine,
Mine are the eyes with which he looks
With compassion on this world.

Christ has no body on earth but mine.

The words of the prayer above are derived from a text often attributed to St Teresa of Avila but in fact more likely to be the work of Mark Pearse and Sarah Elizabeth Rowntree. They must be understood poetically; Christ is of course present in the Blessed Sacrament on earth, but in this form he does not physically go out to minister to the poor.

Acknowledgement: I first read the story of Crystal McVea in Imagine Heaven.

Certain Joy

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C (Rejoicing Sunday) at St Philip Evans.

“There is no need to worry,” says St Paul in today’s letter.

That’s easy for him to say! In fact there’s lots we can worry about, and we worry above all when we are faced with uncertainty. So what causes uncertainty?

Sometimes, we choose to test ourselves by going on an adventure. That’s different. We deliberately push ourselves out of our comfort zone to stretch ourselves. We have the comfort of knowing we can turn round and come home whether we succeed or fail in reaching our goal. But when we speak of ‘uncertainty’ it’s because it’s our very life ‘at home’ which is threatened.

We face uncertainty when we try to live beyond our resources. For a time, we manage, but then we hit the limit. It might be a credit card limit. It might be a question of reapplying for our job when our employer is downsizing. It might be a person with failing health who knows they must enter a care home. In these cases, our instinct is to fight against the inevitable.

Have you ever faced a situation where you have to work harder and harder to keep all the plates spinning, all the balls in the air, and deep down you just KNOW you can’t keep this up for much longer? Our human nature clings to what is familiar and doesn’t want the indignity of saying “I can’t…” If we only we had the courage to say “I need to downsize, I need to let go,” we could find ourselves living in the relative certainty of living within our means. But how hard that is in practice!

We face a time of uncertainty in the Catholic Church, because we are living beyond our means… and for this, we need a quick history lesson. A hundred years ago, there were roughly two million Catholics and 4,000 priests in England and Wales. That’s one priest for every 500 Catholics. Between 1930 and 1940, lots of young men offered themselves for the priesthood. So by the end of the Second World War, there was one extra priest for every four already serving a population. Bishops had more priests that they had parishes available, and most of them wanted to be parish priests. So when cities like Cardiff grew outwards in the 1950s and 60s, bishops decided to build lots of new churches for them.

But was this hike in the number of priests a blip or the new normal state of affairs? We know now that it was a blip. By the 70s we were back down to one priest for every 500 Catholics. Today, in England and Wales, there’s one Catholic priest for every 750 Catholics. By building lots of churches in cities like ours, we’ve accidentally created a pattern too big to sustain, and that’s why we’re living with uncertainty.

How, then, can we trade in uncertainty for security? Certainly, we can pray for lots of vocations to the priesthood. Indeed, that’s one of the few things Jesus explicitly told us to pray for – that God would send labourers to the harvest. But considering the time it takes for a young man to apply, be selected and complete his training, any fruits of today’s prayers wouldn’t be seen until nearly 2030. Today, too, most Catholics have smaller families. Do we have the courage to say to Catholic parents: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your son, your ONLY son, discovered he was called to be a priest?”

Every parish longs to have the undivided attention of its own parish priest, but because we built so many small parishes in the 60s and 70s, that can’t happen for the foreseeable future.

So what can bring us certainty?

One answer is to ask, “How do we run this church with only part-time attention from a priest? What structures and leadership do we need to make that work well?”

Another possible answer is to say, “We’re too small to be a church on our own, we ought to be part of something bigger.”

These are not comfortable answers. But they are realistic answers. Maybe in one or two places, a sick or elderly priest who can’t manage more might be given care of a small parish, but that can’t work everywhere. The only way to re-establish certainty is to ask for no more than our fair share of the number of priests available, or to become part of a parish so large it merits having its own priest.

Sometimes I hear naive Catholics saying: “We don’t have to downsize! God will provide!”

But in fact God has provided. In Wales and England combined, we are rich with priests! In the Philippines, there is one priest for every 8,000 Catholics. In the USA, there is one priest for every 2000 Catholics. Here in the UK, we are blessed indeed to have one priest for every 750 Catholics but we have abused such riches by building very small parishes… and that in turn means we, like all small parishes, only have a small pool of talent to call on for Children’s Liturgy, church maintenance, catechesis, care of the poor and all those other things Christ calls us to do together.

John the Baptist went out into the wilderness, and challenged people to change. To the tax collectors and the soldiers, he said, ‘Don’t take more than your fair share.’

Change is never easy, but we can choose to change when we recognise that we are changing to something which is just and fair.

Be certain that God loves you.

Be certain that God has blessed our country richly with more than our fair share of priests to serve us.

Be certain that our fair share in St Philip Evans is less than one whole priest to ourselves.

There is no need to worry. Pray to God for priests. Pray to God for this parish to have its fair share of the available priests. And pray for your heart to be content if what you enjoy in the future is smaller than what you have enjoyed in the past. This rose vestment is a sign of the purple pain of waiting blended with the white glory of God’s full blessings. So rejoice: your future is rosy!

There’s good evidence that the number of vocations falls when families are smaller in this 2011 research paper.

I’ve written elsewhere about the history of Catholic statistics in England & Wales.


For the Love of God!

Homily for the 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B at St Philip Evans 

Have you ever fallen in love?

When I was an undergraduate, there was a student who stole my heart. One day (these were the days before mobile phones), I went to her room, and there was a note on the door – “I am in the Library – come and rescue me!” So I hastened to the Library and declared “Rescue is at hand!” – only to be glared at and shushed by the dozen readers close enough to hear my enthusiastic whisper!

When you’re in love, you’ll do all sorts of things for your beloved. Needless to say, I didn’t marry the young lady in question – she married someone else, but we still keep in touch to this day.

Some of you not only fell in love, but did get married. That means you have done a very strange thing. You have stood up in public, and a minister has asked you whether you have ‘resolved to love’ your spouse. A few minutes later you addressed your spouse and said ‘I take you to love and to cherish’.

What kind of ‘love’ is being promised here? Clearly it’s not the kind that propels you to do great deeds whatever the consequences. We know from experience that a few years into a relationship, those strong feelings of passion die down to something less ardent. But while we can’t conjure up strong feelings, we CAN make a decision of the will to communicate to the most significant person in our life that we still care about them. When the Bible uses the word we read as ‘love’ it is using the Hebrew word ‘hesed’ or the Greek ‘agapé’, words that are hard to translate with their full meaning. Imagine a person going to the same lengths to help a stranger as if that person were their own son or daughter – that’s hesed! Imagine the committment made by a volunteer who goes halfway round the world to treat the wounded in a war-zone – that’s agapé!

Now, please take a moment to think of the kindest things you have ever done to help people in need… OK? Now what if you didn’t believe in God? Would you still have done those kind things? Yes? Would a good person do things like that even if they didn’t know there was a God who loved them? Yes? The kind of things you are thinking of are examples of the Second Great Commandment: love your neighbour as yourself.

That’s great… but that means we’ve only covered the second most important thing Jesus asked us to do. And if you only ever remember one thing I preach from the five years I’ve been with you, remember what I ask next: Which things do you do in your life because you believe in God, things that wouldn’t make sense if God didn’t exist? It’s the answers to that question which show how you are fulfilling the First Great Commandment, to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

Some of us will understand what the Jesuit Gerard Hughes meant when he described a child visiting ‘Good Old Uncle George’. This Uncle lives in a formidable mansion, is bearded, gruff and threatening. Uncle George says ‘I want to see you here every week, and if you don’t come, let me just show you what will happen to you!’ He takes you to the basement, opens a door, and down below you see demons torturing souls in Hell! He then takes you upstairs so Mum and Dad can take you home. Mum leans over us and says, ‘Don’t you love Uncle George with all your heart and soul, mind and strength?’ And you tell the biggest life of your life, ‘Yes, I do,’ because to say anything else would be to join the queue at the furnace. Who could love a God like Uncle George?

Doing religious things out of fear for God is not wrong, but it’s not love. The catch is, you can’t obey the command to love God until you’ve first fallen in love with God. The command is like the promise a husband or wife makes to keep on expressing love even when the passion has died down – we can only joyfully accept the command to love God when it’s an echo of passion we’ve already felt for Him! Once you have fallen in love with God, you will want to come to Mass, pray at home, keep Sundays special and give generously to the work of the church.

Jesus was asked to give us a rule for life. The Hebrew Bible contained 613 commandments; Moses famously gave 10 commandments. Jesus knew we couldn’t all take on board long lists of rules, so he made it as simple as possible – but even he couldn’t boil it down to just one. Like the Cross itself, our rule of Christian living has two dimensions – the horizontal, love of neighbour, reaching out into the world around us; and the vertical, stretching from earth to heaven, reaching out to the Father who dwells in heaven above. Jesus can only command us to love His Father if we have already seen the love, beauty and goodness of the Father reflected in Christ. The command is not to kiss a loathesome Uncle George, but to rekindle the passion of the first moment when we knew the depths of the Father’s love for us.

Have you ever fallen in love? If it’s with the person you’re married to, rejoice – and remember to tell them how much you love them tonight. If it’s with God, rejoice – it will be easy for you to fulfil Christ’s command! But if you haven’t yet fallen in love with God, let me offer you a simple prayer to say tonight: “Jesus, show me the Father.” And if you want to see the Father, find him reflected in the face of Jesus. I pray you will fall in love very soon.

You can also read Revd Lucy Winkett’s reflections on Uncle George.

Time to Serve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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