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.

Children of God

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 4th Sunday of Easter, Year B Vocation Sunday

A true Christian lays down his – or her – life in the service of others.

Many of us do this as parents. Once children come along, any caring parent is committed to dozens, nay, hundreds of sleepless or disturbed nights, and endless worry, which doesn’t stop when your offspring embark on teenage adventures or leave home. The bank of Mum & Dad – or the parental taxi service – are the way many parents lavish their love on their children. It’s normal. It’s natural. In fact, we are wired to go to extreme lengths for the sake of our children – and to worry about them ceaselessly!

What’s more remarkable is that some of us go to similar extremes for the sake of members of our church family.

Blessed_Marie-Anne_BlondinTake Blessed Marie-Anne Blondin. She lived 200 years ago in Canada – at a time when there was a church rule that parishes couldn’t run mixed-sex schools. Parishes usually couldn’t afford to run two schools! But she lobbied for the rule to be lifted and eventually formed a congregation of religious women to teach in mixed-sex schools. She was extremely successful – until a manipulative priest moved in, wrested control from her, and eventually had her forbidden from being re-elected as Mother Superior.

Sr Marie could have fought – but she chose not to. Her congregation had already grown and flourished, and she had a strong sense of God guiding her through the harsh decisions now being imposed upon her. First she was moved away to be headmistress at a distant school; then she was recalled to the Motherhouse, where she was kept to domestic chores, mostly in the laundry and ironing room. She wrote: “As for me, my Lord, I bless Divine Providence a thousand times for the maternal care she shows me in making me walk the way of tribulations and crosses”. To a novice who asked her one day why she, the Foundress, was kept aside in such lowly work, she simply replied with kindness: “The deeper a tree sinks its roots into the soil, the greater are its chances of growing and producing fruit”.

Prevented from being called “Mother” by those in authority, Mother Marie-Anne did not jealously hold on to her title of Foundress; rather she chose annihilation, just like Jesus, “her crucified Love”, so that her Community might live. However, she didn’t renounce her mission of spiritual mother of her Community. She offered herself to God for the sins which were committed in the Community” and she daily prayed to Saint Anne for her spiritual daughters. Like any prophet charged with a mission of salvation, Mother Marie-Anne lived persecution by forgiving without restriction, convinced that “there is more happiness in forgiving than in revenge”.

The story I have just shared with you is not that of a weakling, but that of a powerful woman strong enough to sacrifice herself in imitation of Christ. She sensed when God was calling her to stand up in the face of bishops and challenge the status quo; she also sensed when God was calling her to an act of great humility.

The Church needs women like Sr Marie-Anne, women who see the new needs of the church in the present age and dedicate their whole life to working for it, choosing to deploy the weapons of humility and boldness as appropriate.

The Church also needs priests who are men after God’s own heart. We need men who can do better than the bishops and priests Blessed Marie-Anne encountered.

Where do these priests and sisters come from? They come from among us.

Parents, are you praying that any of your children or godchildren should receive a calling? I know this can feel like a threat. You do not want your children to suffer hardship or make the sacrifices which priesthood or religious life demands. So I will offer you some advice to put your minds at rest. It is the realisation I came to when I stopped saying “no” to God.

Do you believe that Jesus is wiser than you are? He is the Great Teacher, the Lord of the Universe. Can you trust that he knows better than you do what will be best for each of your children?

Do you believe that Jesus loves each one of your children more than you could ever imagine? He laid down his life on the Cross for each one of them, after all! And surely if he loves them so much, he will not choose anything that causes needless harm to them!

Do you want Jesus to be Lord of your life, and that of your children? It is very easy to live with Jesus as your spiritual advisor. He makes suggestions; you make decisions. If you only do what Jesus suggests when you like His ideas, he is not your Lord. But if you give up your power of veto and allow him to make all the decisions, then you have climbed into the passenger seat and given him the wheel.

The beautiful second reading today speaks of our status as God’s children – and promises that we will be “like him”. The challenge to parents is that if you cling to your own children, you are really hoping they will be “like you” – it’s only when you allow them to be God’s children that you give them permission to be “like God”!

So pray with me, if you dare, the following prayer. Please ONLY repeat each line after me if you are comfortable saying it:

Dear Jesus, I give you each one of my children – my grandchildren – my godchildren.

Thank you for loving them, for dying on the Cross so each one of them could enter heaven.

Thank you for allowing each one to be adopted into God’s family.

Now I entrust each child to God.

Heavenly Father, call each child to that path in life which is truly best.

Lord Jesus Christ, I trust in you.

Jesus, I trust in you.

The Colour of Martyrdom

Homily at St Philip Evans for Maundy Thursday, 2018.

What colour of martyr will you be?

This may seem a strange question, but tonight is a celebration of martyrdom.

That word, martyr, may be an uncomfortable word. Often we hear it in the news in connection with a terrorist who has carried out some atrocity, killing innocent victims and themselves in the process. But the word has a long history.

In Greek, a martyr is simply a witness. A martyr is a person who makes it clear what they believe. Any Christians who publicly acknowledged that they were followers of Jesus were ‘martyrs’. In the earliest centuries of Christendom, such believers were persecuted, and if captured could suffer ‘red martyrdom’: their blood would be spilt, by the sword, by a wild beast, or by crucifixion. From Saints Stephen and John the Baptist, to Blessed Oscar Romero and the 21 Coptic Christians killed by Isis, every age has mourned and celebrated its red martyrs. But these are not the only kind.

Last Saturday, a terrorist took some shoppers hostage in a small town in southern France. He released most, but kept one woman to bargain with – until a policeman, Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, stepped forward and offered to take her place. Officer Beltrame, who grew up with no particular faith, had become a Catholic in 2010 and went to Mass regularly. Now he showed the depth of his love by freely offering himself – an act for which he paid with his life. Pope Francis has called this a “generous and heroic act”.

Last summer, the pope declared that the Catholic Church will recognise a new category of saint – one who ‘offers their life for others’. Heroic acts like those of Lt. Col. Beltrame and St Maxmilian Kolbe, who gave their life to set another person free, and of Chiara Petrillo and St Gianna Molla, who risked their life to save their unborn children, are royal acts, made of one’s own free will, embracing the high standard set when Our Lord himself said that ‘greater love has no-one than the one who lays down their life for a friend’. We might call this a ‘purple martyrdom’, since purple is the colour both of royalty and of sorrow.

Few of us will have the opportunity to be purple martyrs, but all of us can aspire to another kind of martyrdom – that of living a life of daily service. In the early church, they spoke of ‘white martyrs’ who were monks or hermits, abandoning all their worldly comforts to follow Christ in a radical way. We are not all called to the extreme form of this, but we are all called to a kind of ‘grey martyrdom’, where we put ourselves out to love our neighbour in the context of our daily life. “Wash one another’s feet,” said Our Lord to his apostles. So must we.

Today, I would like to give a special word of thanks to volunteers from our community who have faithfully taken Holy Communion to the sick and housebound members of this parish. Liz, David and Carol have asked to step down after many years of service. Without them, Holy Communion would have been a rare treat, rather than a weekly gift, for the precious souls they visited regularly. Tonight we will commission new extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, recently trained to minister in church. My question to our new and serving ministers who assist at Mass is this: which of you will volunteer to replace Carol, David & Liz in this ministry of visiting, which is one form of grey martyrdom?

And now we are to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. What kind of martyr was Our Lord?

He was surely a white martyr, because he poured out his life in service of all who came seeking his healing touch and heavenly teaching.

He was surely a red martyr, because on the night we celebrate tonight, he was taken by force and sentenced to death.

But he was also a purple martyr. In his divinity, he had the power to call upon a legion of angels to rescue him. In his humanity, he had found strength not to flee from the garden but to tarry there in the expectation of capture. As the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, he had royally conspired with His Father and the Holy Spirit to agree that he should take frail human flesh, in order to become a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

For this reason, the opening prayer of tonight’s Mass declares that “He handed himself over”. Yes, he was betrayed by Judas and seized by the Temple Guards; but no less than Lt. Col. Beltrame, he chose to become a hostage for our sins. It is from that word ‘hostage’ we get our word ‘host’; and just as the Israelites of old had to eat of the passover lamb to be spared the curse of death, so we must eat of the Lamb of God to enter with Christ into eternal life. St Thomas Aquinas knew this, and wrote a hymn in praise of Our Saving Victim – “O Salutaris Hostia“.

O saving Victim, opening wide
The gate of heaven to man below,
Our foes press on from every side,
Thine aid supply, Thy strength bestow.

Our Lord does indeed strengthen us. He aids us to be his witnesses, his martyrs, in this world. Purple or red? White or grey? What colour of martyr will you choose to be?

Oil Stocks and Ribbons

At this evening’s Mass, we will receive the holy oils blessed by Archbishop George at yesterday’s Chrism Mass. Today the Sacred Chrism will be brought up marked with a red ribbon, a reminder that when we are confirmed we pledge to be “a witness to Christ in the Church and in the world“. It’s not likely, in 21st Century Wales, that we will be targeted for what we believe – but it’s not impossible. Our own patron, Saint Philip Evans, knew this was a very likely fate for a Catholic priest in his day, and he became a red martyr. Every confirmed Christian has declared before God that if He should choose us for the unexpected gift of red martyrdom, we will gratefully accept it.

Today the Oil of the Sick will be dressed with purple ribbon. The anointing of the sick asks God for a special “re-confirmation” giving us strength to bear a particular sickness gracefully. But the purple ribbon will also remind us of our bittersweet and royal calling to be ready to accept death in the service of others.

Today the Oil of Catechumens will be dressed with white ribbon. Everyone who is baptised must learn the basic Christian skill of laying down one’s life for others; and if we do not reach the dizzy heights of doing so as a hermit, nun or monk, we can at least aspire to the hidden fame of serving our neighbour in unseen ways, the grey martydom.

 


Acknowledgement: With gratitude to Revd Dr Giles Fraser – partly inspired by the linked Radio 4 Thought for the Day.

Footnote: Ancient sources speak of both white martyrdom and green (or blue) martyrdom. The terms are used inconsistently. The earliest references have white martyrs as the true aescestics who abandon comforts for the monastic or eremitical life, while the green martyrs don’t go to that extreme, practicing penances in the context of their worldly life. Later usage sometimes switches these with the green martyrs as the hermits in the (green) countryside.