Great Expectations: Invite

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

“Great things! I’m expecting great things of you, Mr Leyshon!”

When I was at school, my headmaster left me in no doubt of his high expectations of me. He said so often, in Welsh tones that brooked no argument. He could see that I had the potential to do well, and didn’t want me to fall short.

Jesus looks at us with the same skilled eye of a teacher who wants his class to do well, and his message is the same. “Great things! I’m expecting great things of you, people of St Philip Evans!”

If you read any of the Gospels, it’s clear that Jesus sets a challenge for the people willing to follow him. In the parable of the Talents, he challenges us to make a profit. He commended a poor widow who gave her last two coins for God’s service. In his picture of the last judgment, the “sheep” who helped poor people are admitted to a heavenly reward. And now, last week and again this week, Jesus has told us stories about wheat growing in the fields. Last week he said a person who understands God’s word can produce a harvest of thirty, sixty or a hundredfold. This week he says that we are to be harvested like wheat, even though there are weeds – or darnel – growing among us.

Why does anyone grow wheat? There are only two things you can do with it: you can plant the grain to grow more wheat, or you can grind the grains to make flour. The fruit, the harvest, that Jesus is looking for is disciples  people willing to listen to his teaching and follow it. First we must make ourselves into disciples; then we must encourage other people to hear and follow Jesus also. This makes us wheat which bears fruit.

But wheat is also ground and made into flour. There’s a hymn by Bernadette Farrell which says “may we who eat be bread for others…” – if we live as followers of Jesus, there will be times we are wearied by doing things to help people who will not, or cannot, give us anything in return. We become, like him, bread broken for others. So the harvest Christ is looking for is twofold – our good works, and our encouraging other people to become followers of Jesus.

We ourselves can be easily discouraged. It’s not easy to be wheat, ground, and bread, broken, for others. And it’s not always easy to live out our Catholic faith to the full. There are weeds around us. There are people who take from our parish but give little back. They want weddings and funerals, Baptisms and First Communions but don’t become part of the larger life of our community. Perhaps some of you come here regularly for Mass, but don’t volunteer for any activities in the parish, even during the Mass you attend. When that happens, we become a weak parish. But when we all contribute something, we become strong.

People of St Philip Evans, I am expecting great things of you. A harvest is coming! At the end of your life, to each one of you, Jesus will ask: what fruit have you to show? Who else has become an active member of the church because of you? How well have you done in passing on faith to your children? If that doesn’t seem to be working, what did you do to learn better ways to pass on your faith?

Is it possible for us to bear fruit 100-fold? Yes! Less than 1% of the population of Wales goes to Mass. So it is possible for us to bear fruit 100-fold, if we get all our friends and neighbours involved! But let’s remember that coming to church is not an end in itself – it is a one of the things we do because Jesus asks us to take his Body and Blood and support one another as members of His Body. Our job is to make disciples, to help people want to be followers of Jesus. And we need to start with ourselves, so that we can lead by example.invite

What do followers of Jesus do? They do exactly the kind of things the six banners around our church suggest. Followers of Jesus worship him, by attending Mass and making time for prayer. They volunteer to help the poor and needy, and to make the church community work. They explore what Jesus has taught them and connect with one another to keep the community strong. They invest their own wealth in the community, and invite other people to come and join in.

At this time of year, we may be looking forward to our summer holidays, but we are also beginning to think of the new cycle of life which will begin in September. Here is my challenge to you. All of you have in front of you a leaflet, which suggests different ways you can worship, volunteer, connect, explore, invest and invite. What have you already done this year? Can you take one more step, under at least one of those headings, next year? If you are visiting us from another parish, you can apply this same challenge to the way you support your own church.

I’m inviting you to write your name on the piece of paper, to own it… and to choose at least one thing you are not already doing, to pledge that from September, you will do it. I’m not asking you to hand in the paper – this is between you and God. Don’t let the weeds take away your energy or deter you from growing to be as fruitful as God wants you to be. God holds you responsible for bearing fruit even among the weeds. Jesus, who died for you, is always willing to walk with you, to strengthen you on this journey. Maybe family circumstances mean you even have to drop a big thing next year, but you can still choose something small yet significant. So make your choice – but remember, the Lord and I are expecting great things of you, people of God! Choose wisely!

The Fault in Our Stars

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Hazel and Gus lie on grass, their faces touching, with the caption Today’s sermon is inspired by a movie – it’s called The Fault in Our Stars. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s a love story about a boy and a girl, who meet in a support group for cancer survivors. Being a love story, it’s not much of a spoiler if I tell you that Hazel and Gus fall in love. Nor would it surprise you to learn that they end up making love together.

I enjoyed the movie, but one thing left me downcast. I walked out of the cinema knowing that if one more thing had been added to the plot, it would have been a truly heartwarming movie I would have gladly awarded five stars. What was missing? Imagine that Hazel and Gus had called in a chaplain to celebrate a bedside marriage, followed by a discreetly filmed love scene. Then it would have been a beautiful love story we could celebrate without reservation… but it’s a sign of our times is that the climax is simply that they climb into bed together.

“Put an end to the misdeeds of body!” St Paul, in today’s Second Reading, calls us to a high standard of integrity. He is echoing the teachings of Our Lord himself, who warned us many times against giving in to lust. This is a message we don’t hear often – indeed, it’s one I don’t often preach about myself – but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Today, I want to remind us all of the standards to which we are called – that making love belongs in marriage alone.

We need to be reminded of this message, because the world we live in keeps pulling us away from it. There are very few movies or television series today where characters insist on being married before jumping into bed together. A story about divorce always bears the sadness of a broken relationship, and adultery always means a promise has been broken – but perhaps we also see these on screen so often they begin to feel normal.

Our stars of television, stage and screen do not set us a great example away from the camera, either. We look to famous people to inspire us, but under the intense pressure of the media’s gaze and a wealthy lifestyle, half of all celebrity couples divorce before they have been together for 15 years – that’s twice the divorce rate of the rest of the population. Drew Barrymore, Eminem, and Britney Spears didn’t even make it to their first wedding anniversaries. Perhaps we should be thankful that we are not cursed with such fame or such wealth!

The truth is, that even in today’s world, marriage is important. Couples who get married before they start living together or having children are most likely to have a stable relationship. Couples already living together who eventually get married also have some advantage over those who never make their relationship official – this is based on solid research on couples in the UK by a think tank called the Marriage Foundation. Getting married doesn’t need to be expensive – we don’t have to follow the trend for ever-more-lavish parties – and I’ve even heard of churches who pull together to put on a reception so that poor members who feel they can’t afford a wedding can tie the knot.

I know I am preaching to the converted because most if not all of you at Mass today who are in stable relationships are already married – though perhaps I should remind you that if a Catholic gets married without the church’s blessing, your civil marriage is not recognised by the Church. If that applies to you, don’t panic – come and see me so I can arrange a blessing for you.

The reason I’m talking about this today is that we have a major task on our hands – we must correct the fault in our stars. When our stars of stage and screen set a poor example on or off-stage, we must not remain silent. We have a duty to remind our children and our wider families that as God’s children, we are held to a higher standard. In today’s world, this attitude might be seen as naive. But doesn’t Jesus today bless those who are child-like and dismiss those who try to be “adult”? Let’s hold on to our childish romances, then, where a handsome prince sweeps up his virgin queen and celebrates a royal wedding! The Bible itself uses the same romance to speak of God’s love for Zion, symbol of ancient Israel and the Church herself.

Parents, I’m challenging you today to talk to your children about the kind of relationships they see portrayed in movies and on television. We can’t hide from the world we live in – we have to respond to it. Don’t stop older children watching what other people are watching, but ask hard questions. What are the consequences of free relationships? When do relationships become oppressive power games? You might find it helpful to check out the movie reviews commissioned by the United States Bishops, readily available online, which pick out the morals highs and lows.

If we try to ban our older children from watching everyday material, we’ll eventually fail. But what we can do is to recommend positive examples for them to watch or read alongside the more worldly fare. I’ve asked friends who are parents to four children to share with me the books and movies they would recommend, and you’ll find their list in this week’s newsletter (and at the bottom of this page).

The issue is this: we live in a world where our celebrities portrays as “normal” and even “good” kinds of relationships which are against God’s Law. We are temped to compromise our values, but on this matter, we must put an end to the misdeeds of the body. We are called to promote the childlike innocence of Christians, not the serpentine wisdom of the world around us. So do not adjust your sex! There is a fault in our stars!


Some book links from my friends:

There is a link on this website to the booklist we discussed and there is also a podcast worth listening to. It is called Season 10 RAR Bonus episode (some of the best books by living authors)

Clink on the link for bookishness, go to book lists

Episode 48, age appropriateness

 

Film recommendations

Here is a list of films that have been released in the last 5 years and I consider to be of high quality, have something positive to contribute to the culture and are not (at the very least significantly) saying anything contrary to our faith.

 

Up to age 14

(U or PG films, nothing to cause problems content-wise)

  • The Jungle Book
  • The BFG
  • Moana
  • Inside Out
  • The Lego Movie
  • Boxtrolls
  • Big Hero 6
  • Paddington

Age 14+

(these are all rated 12 (or less), but I think are better suited to 14+ as there will often be some swearing, violence, intensity and/or sexual references which I wouldn’t consider suitable to younger children, however it very much depends on the child. Sometimes for me it’s not just about specific content but what the film is about and what age will best appreciate the story)

  • Marvel Avengers films: series of 15 (and rising) interconnected films starting with Iron Man (2008) and most recently Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017). The stories are overall very positive, good vs evil, protecting the innocent, doing the right thing, friendship, loyalty etc. lots of action, jokes and a cleverly unfolding larger narrative. All have mild bad language and some have intense scenes and occasional sexual reference. Not to be confused with the other Marvel franchise, the X-Men which although 12 rated has more violence and overall lower quality
  • Star Wars films: Everyone knows these! The most recent ones are 12 rated but are mild, with no bad language or sex references, rating for intensity only
  • Arrival (2016): Brilliant sci-fi about an alien arrival with a pro-life undercurrent, intense scenes of bereavement and occasional bad language
  • A Monster Calls (2016): Powerful film about a boy coping with the imminent death of his mother. There is a lot of fantasy adventure in-between and the film emphasises the wonder of life and how trials can bring family together
  • The Hunger Games (4 films 2012-2015): Slightly controversial as at the end of the first film the characters seem to choose suicide as a valid option (although it doesn’t actually happen) but I don’t believe the film endorses this choice, and while there is some intense action and violence, the films have a strong lead character who stands up to tyranny and dictatorship and the series ends on a positive pro-family note
  • Suffragette (2016): Fictional drama about the suffragette movement, very strong message about the value of all individuals and fighting for what is right. Some mild bad language and an ongoing subplot about an abusive relationship
  • The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings films: Fabulous imaginings of Tolkien’s world. Hobbit films not as good as LOTR but still high quality. No bad language or sex references but many intense / frightening scenes
  • Edge of Tomorrow (2014): Action packed sci fi / alien invasion film about a cowardly soldier who is forced to face death many times and learn how to defeat earth’s enemy
  • Ender’s Game (2013): Low key but well-made sci fi about a boy being trained to lead a mission against an alien invasion, more intellectual than action orientated with some interesting ideas about who our enemies are
  • Saving Mr Banks (2013): Story of the making of Mary Poppins, great characters and lots of laughs, as well as positive emotional journey for the main character. Only rated PG but the backstory of an alcoholic father is a bit intense for youngsters
  • Gravity (2013): Stunning sci fi about a woman stranded in space, strong message of the value of life. Some bad language and intensity
  • Captain Phillips (2013): Gripping and moving true story about a cargo ship overtaken by pirates. Mild bad language and many intense / emotional scenes
  • All is Lost (2013): A sailor is stranded out at sea and tries to survive. Celebration of the resourcefulness and resilience of man. One incidence of strong language.
  • The Impossible (2012): Based on the true story of a family hit by the 2004 Tsunami in Thailand. Very emotionally powerful and positive about what family means. Very intense in the Tsunami scenes with some gruesome images.
  • Lincoln (2012): Story of Abraham Lincoln’s struggle to end slavery. Celebration of idealism and value of the individual. Brief strong language and war violence.
  • Les Miserables (2012): Musical of Victor Hugo’s novel. Very strong affirmation of the value of people, full of rousing songs, emotional uplift and positive Catholic characters. Some bleak situations, sexual references and revolutionary violence.

First Communion

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A.

Children, this is a very special weekend, one I hope you will remember for the rest of your life. It is special for two reasons. First, because it is the weekend when you will make your First Holy Communion. But secondly – and you might have seen this in the news already – because it is the weekend Pope Francis declared two children to be saints.

Those children were Francisco, aged 8, and Jacinta, aged 7, when 100 years ago this weekend they saw the Virgin Mary for the first time. She appeared five more times to them that year. But this wasn’t the first time something amazing happened to them. The previous year, they had three visions of an angel – and the third time, the angel gave them Holy Communion – it was their First Holy Communion, given to them from Heaven!Grey statue of an angel holding a Host and Chalice

The angel explained that there were lots of people in the world who didn’t believe in Jesus or were even rude to Jesus, and this makes God very sad. There are many people who don’t treat each other with respect and kindness too, and this also offends Jesus, because Jesus lives, hidden, in every human being – including those we are rude to. But there is something we can do to make up for this.

When we come into the presence of Jesus’ body and blood – and remember, every Catholic Church has a tabernacle where we keep Jesus’ body – we can say a special prayer. We can say: “Jesus, I love you, and I am so sorry for the people who ignore you or are rude to you.”

But wouldn’t it be so much better if the people who were rude to Jesus, or don’t care about Him, started caring and loving Him? The angel asked the children to pray for this to happen – we call this conversion. The angel taught them another prayer: “Heavenly Father! Jesus is holy, remember how much he loves us! You kept our Mother Mary free of all sin, remember how much she loves us! Because of their love, convert many souls to love Jesus and Mary in return!”

Then, when the angel gave the children Holy Communion, he said: “Eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, who is so hurt by seeing how ungrateful people are. Say prayers to make up for them and show your love for God.”

Jacinta and Francisco took the angel’s message seriously. They looked for ways they could help other people, and when they gave away some of their time, or the things they owned, to help someone else, they said “Jesus, it is for love of you and Mary, so you can convert sinners.” But they didn’t live for very long.

In those days, we hadn’t invented the medicines we have today, and there was a terrible outbreak of ‘flu across Europe. By the year 1920, three years after Our Lady had appeared, both of the children had died. And yet, although neither of them lived long enough to become teenagers, this weekend Pope Francis has declared that they lived such holy lives we can call them saints. This means you are not too young to live as saints, too! But to be saints you must keep remembering to tell Jesus that you love him.

Now, a word to the grown-ups here today. Many of you have come to support these First Communion children – thank you for being with us. Maybe this story sounds very far-fetched to you. Even for Catholics, many of us will be thinking “Can it really be true that an angel appeared from heaven and gave Communion to these children? Can things like that really happen?”

During the last 200 years, there have been many claims that the Virgin Mary has appeared from Heaven. The Catholic Church has investigated these and found 15 of the cases to be worthy of belief. In those places, many people have experienced their prayers being answered in powerful ways; some have claimed miraculous healings. Lourdes and Fatima are the most famous places, but there are others. Even so, no Catholic is required to believe that these things really happened – it’s just that the Pope or the local Bishops think there’s really good evidence that the claims are true.

There is one thing all Catholics ARE required to believe, though. It’s that on Easter Sunday, two days after being nailed to a Cross, Jesus Christ walked through a locked door, without opening it, and showed himself to his friends. If that’s true, it makes the meal Jesus celebrated the night before he died, the Last Supper, the most significant dinner ever eaten on Earth. If it’s true, then the God of the Universe is inviting each of these children here today – and inviting all of you, too – to be fed by him every weekend in your nearest Catholic Church.

Receiving communion is a holy gift – this is why our children have to prepare by making their First Confession. This is why we don’t offer every guest Holy Communion; to receive God’s gift of love we must first sort out our lifestyle, and make sure we are trying to live the way Jesus asked us. That includes being in obedience to the Pope, which is why we don’t offer communion to Christians from Protestant churches – and also includes being married if we are in a partnership. Why are we so protective of Holy Communion? It’s because even when it comes at the hands of priest rather than an angel, we still believe it is God’s gift from Heaven. But if something in your heart is stirred by what you have heard today, maybe God is inviting you to become a Catholic – for 100 years now, those who believe in the message of Fatima have been praying for you!

So children, I’m going to stop preaching now so we can move to our prayers and ask Jesus to become present on this altar. But because of what the Pope has done this weekend, we can make a little bit of history. We can do something we’ve never done in St Philip Evans Church before this weekend. There’s a Catholic rule that says when someone is declared ‘Blessed’ you can only ask for their help in a public church service in their own country, but once they are declared to be a ‘Saint’, you can call upon them at Mass in any church in the world. So on this weekend of firsts, join me in our responses:

St Jacinta – pray for us!
St Francisco – pray for us!
Our Lady of Fatima – pray for us!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Walking Away

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year A.

Are you ready to walk away from Jesus?

Those two disciples on the road to Emmaus were downcast and had low expectations.

Jesus was dead.

Hope was dead.

Their faith was shattered. It was time to go home. It was time to walk away.

When he celebrated the Last Supper, Jesus warned his friends that they would fall away from him. “No Lord, I will never deny you!” said Peter. But before 24 hours had passed, he had denied Jesus three times and walked away from the Cross. It’s easy to be like Peter – “Lord, even if everyone else walks away, I will never abandon you.” But solemnly, I say to  you here today, that before the month of May is out, some of you will walk away from Jesus.

In the coming month, we will celebrate five First Communion Masses. That means lots of guests will join us for Sunday Mass. It might mean those services take us out of our comfort zone. Some of our guests won’t be used to church at all and might do things we find awkward – eating, drinking, not respecting silences – God forbid, someone might actually sit in the place you normally sit! Some latecomers might find that it is standing room only.

Last year we adopted a Parish MISSION STATEMENT. It says: The parish of St Philip Evans is a welcoming Catholic community… we care for those in need and spread the message of Christ.

This coming month, it’s time for us to put this statement into practice. To be a “welcoming Catholic community” we have to turn up with good will and make our guests very welcome. In order to spread the message of Christ, we must first love and welcome people who don’t yet know him.

In past months I have talked about some very general expectations. Now I have a very specific one to share with you. As your parish priest, if St Philip Evans is the church you normally come to for Mass, I expect you to be here for the First Communion weekends. If you are in good health, I expect you to stand so guests can sit. If you can help with something practical – welcoming, taking the collection – we will need extra helpers. Resist the temptation to say “It’s going to be packed, I am going somewhere else.” Jesus is coming to visit this parish! He is coming hidden in our guests, people who may not even know they are made in his image. But the way we welcome any guest is the way we welcome Christ himself. Resist the temptation to walk away from Jesus.

There is another temptation we must beware of. Parents, many of you will be tempted not to bother coming to Mass once your children have made their First Communion.

I ask you: do you believe that the Sacred Host, the wafer that your children will soon receive, is truly the Body of Jesus who died on the cross, rose from the dead, and is the One who will judge the human race at the end of time?

I know what many of you are thinking right now. “You don’t have to go to church to be a good person.”

You are correct! There are millions of good people in the world who care for others and never go near a church during their life! But that’s the answer to the wrong question.

Do you have to go to church to be a God person?

Do you have to come to Holy Communion to be a friend of Jesus?

It’s not always easy to understand what God wants. How long had Cleopas and his companion been listening to Jesus preach before they got that personal tuition on the road to Emmaus? But then their eyes were opened when Jesus broke bread! Then they knew that the greatest news in human history was true!

I wish I could spend a day with each First Communion family, to talk about the questions you have about God, and what Jesus wants to offer you personally. I wish I had time to do for each one of you what Jesus did for Cleopas and his friend. With them, Jesus didn’t preach, he just asked “tell me about this Jesus, you had so much hope in, what was his message?” He started where they were at, and drew them deeper into his love.

By the end of their walk, those two disciples understood the message. God sent Jesus as a baby. When he grew up he worked miracles. He rose from the dead to give us FAITH (the knowledge that God is real) and HOPE (the knowledge that Heaven is open and waiting for the friends of Jesus). Those two disciples had hoped for an earthly kingdom. Only now did they realise that they were called to Heaven. Only when Jesus broke the bread, did their hearts understand who was with them!

I can’t give you what Jesus gave them. I can’t make your hearts burn within you when you hear the gospel or a great sermon. I can’t open your eyes during the breaking of bread today, so that you know beyond doubt that Jesus is here. I can’t make you so excited about Jesus that you run seven miles in the dark to go to a place where Mass was celebrated. But Jesus can.

Who gets into heaven? The friends of Jesus get into heaven. Good people who never knew him on earth can make friends with Jesus at the gate of heaven. But what about us? Jesus wants to make us his friends on earth.

Parents, I know that by the end of June, many of you will have walked away from Jesus. You will have enjoyed your child’s First Communion and you will want your weekend back to do other things. Jesus loves you. As long as you live on earth he will be ready to forgive you for walking away and will welcome you back when you are ready to come back to Church. But don’t leave it until the day you meet him as a Judge at the gates of heaven.

Better still, don’t walk away at all. God’s people, who know that Jesus wants to feed us every Sunday in Holy Communion, don’t walk away from Mass. We need you in this parish of St Philip Evans – with you worshipping with us every week, we are stronger.

So I say to you again: This coming month, we will all be tempted to walk away from Jesus. Let’s resist that temptation. Let’s put our faith in Jesus and encourage one another. It is time to make this parish our home. Let’s walk to heaven together.

 

 

 

 

Believe, Beloved (Morning Edition)

Homily at St Philip Evans for Easter Day 2017 – Second Reading from I Corinthians.

“Get rid of the yeast of evil and wickedness, having only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

There’s been a lot of talk about sincerity and truth lately. Like yeast, fake news generates a lot of hot air. Indeed, only last week, Facebook published some guidelines to help us tell whether a news story is true or false. Three of them are helpful to us not only on the Internet, but for life in general.

  • Can we trust the person sharing the news?
  • Does the news include good evidence that it’s true, and few warning signs that it might be false?
  • Is anyone else independently reporting the same news?

We’ve just heard a claim that Jesus has risen from the dead – his tomb is empty, the stone has been rolled away and Mary Magdalen has had a conversation with him!

The news was written by a man called Matthew, a tax collector who became a follower of Jesus – and one of the friends who ran away when he was crucified.

Is anyone else reporting the same news? Yes, Peter saw the Risen Jesus too! We have just heard an account of him speaking to Cornelius – a Roman soldier – about how many people met Jesus after he rose from the dead!

We do find that the accounts given by all these people don’t match up exactly. But that shouldn’t worry us too much. When eyewitnesses agree 100% about what they claim they have seen, that’s often a sign they have colluded to make up a story. Real witness make mistakes about details!

There’s another way of testing the evidence, too. If Jesus is really alive, he should be touching people’s lives even today.

On Good Friday, I saw a post on Facebook about a woman called Natalie. 10 months ago she suffered a brain injury which had life-changing consequences: vertigo, intolerance of light and an inability to read. After coming forward for prayer she was completely healed! Two days later she was still suffering no symptoms at all!

Good news or fake news? Let’s apply the tests.

Do I trust the person sharing the news? I do, because I know him personally. His name is Andrew Fava and he belongs to a Catholic community, Cor et Lumen Christi, with a particular gift for praying for healing.

How good is the evidence? The post included a picture of Andrew alongside a beaming Natalie. I know that this community is careful not to make premature claims about healing – waiting two days to see if the effects are lasting is a good practice.

Is anyone else reporting the same news? Not specifically about Natalie, but about Jesus’ power to heal – certainly! At Lourdes, and when saints are canonized, the Catholic Church has a formal process to investigate miracles and establish that the claims are credible.

Still not convinced? You can check out the evidence yourself! Members of the Cor et Lumen Christi community will be running a healing mission here in Cardiff in September.

After listening to Peter’s testimony, the Roman soldier Cornelius chose to be baptised. He accepted Peter’s message that “all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name”. In a few moments, I will take the Easter water, blessed last night, and sprinkle all of us with it. Before you receive the water, I will ask you to renew your baptismal promises. But as promises go, these ones sound strange. I will ask, three times, “Do you believe?” and you will answer “I do!” What kind of promise is this?

To believe simply means “to put your trust in”. What I am asking about is not the ideas in your head, but the choices in your life. Do you trust in God the Father, who created heaven and earth? Do you trust in Jesus, who rose from the dead and has opened for you the path to heaven? Do you trust in the Holy Spirit, to live in you and produce a fountain of living water? Do you trust in the Catholic Church, to teach the truth about God and about right living?

When you leave Mass today, you will be handed three invitations. One is for a free showing of a movie this Friday. Another is to come to the Celebrate conference in a fortnight’s time. The third is to a special confession service in Splott next Sunday – Divine Mercy Sunday. Nearly one hundred years ago, the Risen Jesus appeared many times to a Polish nun, Sr Fautina Kowalska, and asked that the Sunday after Easter be kept as a special celebration of his mercy. Jesus promised special blessings to anyone who goes to confession on that day and who venerates the Divine Mercy Image. What is that image? It is Jesus with rays representing baptism and Holy Communion flowing from his breast, and an inscription: “Jesus, I trust in you!”

Often, good news is only a beginning. It contains great hope, but the promise takes time to come about.

So they have discovered a wonder-drug with potential to beat some killer disease? Fantastic! But it will be years before the safety tests are complete and we can benefit from it.

So the reviewer is raving about the best film ever – but that’s no good to me if I can’t get to the cinema to watch it.

This morning we celebrate that Jesus really rose from the dead, and heaven is for real – though we do not yet live in the Promised Land. Mary Magdalen was given a glimpse but had to tell the disciples that they would later “see Jesus in Galilee”.

Jesus said he was the gate for the sheep through which we must enter, the true vine to which we must stay connected, the bread of life we must eat to enter heaven.

How can we tell if this is true news? If it is true that Jesus has overcome death and is alive right now, he can make good on his promise! He can touch your life, brighten your darkness, quicken your heart and stir your soul!

The word “believe” shares its origins with the word “beloved”. Because we’re loved by another person, we can place our trust in that person to be there for us – we can believe in our beloved. We can place our faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be there for us, because on Easter Sunday morning, we learned that the Father raised Jesus from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. We know that he is truly in Heaven sitting at the right of the Father. We only know that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven because of the testimony of those first Christians, who paid with their lives for insisting that the news was true.

Christ is Risen.

Heaven is open for business.

Jesus can even heal people today!

That’s not fake news – it’s good news! Alleluia!

Believe, Beloved

Homily at St Philip Evans at the Easter Vigil 2017 – readings from Exodus, Baruch and Ezekiel.

Tonight is all about trust. Who do you trust?

Do you trust what you read on the Internet?

Last week, Facebook published some guidelines to help us tell whether a news story is true or false. Three of them are helpful to us not only on the Internet, but for life in general.

  • Can we trust the person sharing the news?
  • Does the news include good evidence that it’s true, and few warning signs that it might be false?
  • Is anyone else independently reporting the same news?

We’ve just heard a claim that Jesus has risen from the dead – his tomb is empty, the stone has been rolled away and Mary Magdalen has had a conversation with him!

The news was written by a man called Matthew, a tax collector who became a follower of Jesus – and one of the friends who ran away when he was crucified.

Is anyone else reporting the same news? Yes, Mark, Luke and John, who wrote Gospels. Peter, who wrote letters. And Paul, who wasn’t there at the time but met the Risen Jesus later!

We do find that the accounts given by all these people don’t match up exactly. But that shouldn’t worry us too much. When eyewitnesses agree 100% about what they claim they have seen, that’s often a sign they have colluded to make up a story. Real witness make mistakes about details!

There’s another way of testing the evidence, too. If Jesus is really alive, he should be touching people’s lives even today.

Yesterday, I saw a post on Facebook about a woman called Natalie. 10 months ago she suffered a brain injury which had life-changing consequences: vertigo, intolerance of light and an inability to read. After coming forward for prayer she was completely healed! Two days later she was still suffering no symptoms at all!

Good news or fake news? Let’s apply the tests.

Do I trust the person sharing the news? I do, because I know him personally. His name is Andrew Fava and he belongs to a Catholic community, Cor et Lumen Christi, with a particular gift for praying for healing.

How good is the evidence? The post included a picture of Andrew alongside a beaming Natalie. I know that this community is careful not to make premature claims about healing – waiting two days to see if the effects are lasting is a good practice.

Is anyone else reporting the same news? Not specifically about Natalie, but about Jesus’ power to heal – certainly! At Lourdes, and when saints are canonized, the Catholic Church has a formal process to investigate miracles and establish that the claims are credible.

Still not convinced? You can check out the evidence yourself! Members of the Cor et Lumen Christi community will be running a healing mission here in Cardiff in September.

What other claims must we examine tonight? Our first reading claimed that God’s Chosen People crossed a sea with dry feet, but their enemies were drowned. Our second reading claimed that God is offering us a drink from the fountain of wisdom, granting life and peace for ever. Our third reading claimed that God wishes to gather a new people to himself and cleanse them from sin.

What are we celebrating tonight? In a word, Jesus. It was Jesus who was baptised and asked us to follow his example, so that we might escape everlasting death by passing through water. It was Jesus who promised to give us living water which would well up within each one of us. It was Jesus who sent his apostles to baptise all nations so that a new community of God’s friends may be formed, and their sins be forgiven.

In a few moments, I will bless Easter water and sprinkle all of us with it. Before you receive the water, I will ask you to renew your baptismal promises. But as promises go, these ones sound strange. I will ask, three times, “Do you believe?” and you will answer “I do!” What kind of promise is this?

To believe simply means “to put your trust in”. What I am asking about is not the ideas in your head, but the choices in your life. Do you trust in God the Father, who created heaven and earth? Do you trust in Jesus, who rose from the dead and has opened for you the path to heaven? Do you trust in the Holy Spirit, to live in you and produce a fountain of living water? Do you trust in the Catholic Church, to teach the truth about God and about right living?

I would dare to go one step further, and ask tonight whether you trust in my leadership of this parish. Lent is over, and we have restored our six banners of the “expectations” I have preached about in recent months. I put it to you that if you trust the teachings of Jesus and the Catholic Church, you will choose to worship, connect, explore, volunteer, invest, and invite others to be part of what we are doing here.

When you leave Mass tonight, you will be handed three invitations. One is for a free showing of a movie this Friday. Another is to come to the Celebrate conference in a fortnight’s time. The third is to a special confession service in Splott next Sunday – Divine Mercy Sunday. Nearly one hundred years ago, the Risen Jesus appeared many times to a Polish nun, Sr Fautina Kowalska, and asked that the Sunday after Easter be kept as a special celebration of his mercy. Jesus promised special blessings to anyone who goes to confession on that day and who venerates the Divine Mercy Image. What is that image? It is Jesus with rays representing baptism and Holy Communion flowing from his breast, and an inscription: “Jesus, I trust in you!”

Often, good news is only a beginning. It contains great hope, but the promise takes time to come about.

So they have discovered a wonder-drug with potential to beat some killer disease? Fantastic! But it will be years before the safety tests are complete and we can benefit from it.

So the reviewer is raving about the best film ever – but that’s no good to me if I can’t get to the cinema to watch it.

Tonight we celebrate that Jesus really rose from the dead, and heaven is for real – though we do not yet live in the Promised Land. Mary Magdalen was given a glimpse but had to tell the disciples that they would later “see Jesus in Galilee”.

Jesus said he was the gate for the sheep through which we must enter, the true vine to which we must stay connected, the bread of life we must eat to enter heaven.

How can we tell if this is true news? If it is true that Jesus has overcome death and is alive right now, he can make good on his promise! He can touch your life, brighten your darkness, quicken your heart and stir your soul!

The word “believe” shares its origins with the word “beloved”. Because we’re loved by another person, we can place our trust in that person to be there for us – we can believe in our beloved. We can place our faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be there for us, because on Easter Sunday morning, we learned that the Father raised Jesus from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. We know that he is truly in Heaven sitting at the right of the Father. We only know that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven because of the testimony of those first Christians, who paid with their lives for insisting that the news was true.

Christ is Risen.

Heaven is open for business.

Jesus can even heal people today!

That’s not fake news – it’s good news! Alleluia!

A Night With a Difference

Homily at St Philip Evans for Maundy Thursday, 2017.

“Why is this night different from all others?”

Earlier this week, Jewish families around the world gathered to celebrate the Passover together. The youngest child able to speak would ask that question, and the father of the household would answer by telling the story of the first Passover, the story we heard part of in our First Reading.

The Jewish household would remember how, when they were slaves in Egypt, they were commanded to slaughter the first Passover lamb, and place its blood on their doorposts. Then they were to roast the lamb and eat it. Only those who had eaten of the lamb and marked their homes with its blood were protected when the Angel of Death passed over Egypt that night.

“Why is this night different from all others?”

We gather as a Christian community to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, remembering how Jesus and his disciples gathered to celebrate a Passover meal. If you had lived in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, you would have witnessed thousands of families bringing their lambs to the Temple that day, to be slaughtered. It is said that the lambs would be hung, to bleed out, on a crossbar, and then skewered from head to tail to be roasted… the skewered lambs would look very much as if they had been fixed to a cross. (See this example.)

We are not told whether Jesus and the disciples had a roasted lamb at their table – the Bible only speaks of bread and wine. But lamb was present – Jesus himself, declared by John the Baptist to be the Lamb of God. That night, as St Paul reminded the Corinthians, he would take the cup of wine, and declare it to be his blood, which was to be shed for many. The following day, not a wooden doorpost, but a wooden cross, would be stained by the blood of this Lamb. Upon that Cross, the Firstborn Son of God would fall victim to the plague of death.

In the Jewish religion, it was strictly forbidden to drink blood, for blood represented life. Even for the first Christians, when they considered what Jewish laws new Christians should have to keep, abstaining from blood was one of the four laws they retained. Yet the Lord Jesus commanded us to drink his blood, in the form of wine.

Only those who ate the Passover lamb – save perhaps infants too young in the household marked by blood – would be protected from the plague of death. Just after feeding 5000 people with loaves multiplied abundantly, Jesus said “if you do not eat my body and drink my blood, you do not have life within me”. So although we are forbidden to drink the life of any mere creature, we are commanded to drink the blood of Our Divine Lord; we, mere humans, to drink the life of heaven and consume the bread of angels.

“Why is this night different from all others?”

We’re going to do something in this parish tonight we haven’t done before.

Tonight, we are going to bless wooden crosses which from now on will be worn by the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion on duty at Mass. We’re doing this for a very practical reason – if a minister on duty is delayed and arrives late, that person can see on arriving if a substitute has taken the last cross and relieve them of it. But when we decided to give our ministers some insignia, we chose a very particular source for these crosses. This wood is tainted – it is stained by sin. It comes from wooden moulds used to make concrete blocks – blocks which form a wall separating communities from one another in the Holy Land. Some of the local people rescue this wood and carve crosses from it, trying to bring some good from a work of division. In this way, material used in the construction of an oppressive barrier is being employed by local craft workers to create a symbol of the triumph of life over death and of love over injustice. This wood is both shameful and redeemed.

A wooden cross with a Celtic-style ring around the joining of the barsThese insignia are in the form of a circle on a cross. We might think of it as a Celtic Cross. But since our ministers give us the Body of Christ in the form of a small round wafer, the circle might also remind us of Christ’s Body, hung on the Cross for our salvation – just as those ancient lambs were mounted on cruciform spits to be roasted for the Passover meal.

“Why is this night different from all others?”

After the death of the Firstborn, Pharaoh King of Egypt sent the Jews out on their journey into the wilderness. God would provide for them, in the wilderness, manna from heaven, honey-sweet bread which was a foretaste of the Promised Land.

Perhaps the world we live in today feels like a wilderness. Acts of terrorism and conflicts between nations are never far away. The manna from heaven was God’s promise that he would provide for his people as they journeyed towards their Promised Land.

This is our security. Will we go to heaven because of the good works that we have done? No. We who are followers of Jesus will go to heaven because we have the life of God within us; we have feasted on the Bread of Life and drunk the Cup of Salvation.

Tonight Jesus challenges us all to perform good works which make this life a little more like Heaven. But he also points us to those two days in history when wood was stained with blood so that God’s people would be saved from Death – that first Passover, when the firstborn sons of Israel were spared, and Good Friday, when our debts were paid and the price of our sin paid by the precious blood of the Lamb of God. Eat the flesh of this Passover Lamb. Drink the Blood of the Saviour who died for you. Rejoice, for when you hear the words, “The Body of Christ”, “The Blood of Christ”, hear God’s tender voice: “This is how much I love you.”

Much of tonight’s homily is based on Brant Pitre’s book The Jewish Roots of the Eucharistas was the teaching about the shewbread in my Christmas Sermon.