Ephphatha! Be open! (Sunday edition)

Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B at St Philip Evans (Sunday morning Signed Mass, and anticipating Home Mission Sunday 2018).

“Ephphatha!”

That’s not a word you hear every day.

The Gospels are written in Greek, but Our Lord Jesus spoke Aramaic, and sometimes one of the words he spoke was so powerful, that the Gospel writers wrote down exactly what he said. The disciples who were with him on that day must have sensed God’s power flowing through him strongly at that moment – and a man who had a lifelong impediment of hearing and speech suddenly spoke and heard clearly!

And now he has a voice, what’s the first thing Jesus asks him to do?

“Don’t tell anyone about me!”

Can you imagine having experienced such a mighty miracle, knowing that everyone will want to know the story of how you found your voice, and then not being allowed to talk about it? Ouch!

But we’re told that people ignored Jesus’ request and talked about him anyway.

Any story of healing is a challenge when we experience of lack of wholeness. This week, thousands of Deaf Catholics from around the world are gathering in Lourdes for an international pilgrimage. There are well over 100 recognised miracles of healing from Lourdes – but countless thousands of pilgrims who return without the physical healing they have hoped and prayed for. If God has the power to heal, why do we experience it so rarely? Perhaps God grants miracles especially where they will help people see that a bigger issue is at stake – so this man who cannot hear or speak is a sign to us that there are people who cannot hear who Jesus us or speak of him to others.

During his life on earth, Jesus was keen not to become too famous too quickly. Otherwise he might have been arrested before he had finished his work of preaching and healing. But once he rose from the dead – and try keeping that a secret! – things changed. Before he ascended into heaven, he told his friends and followers to go into the world and spread the good news.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is completing a journey through pagan lands. The people there don’t know about the God of the Bible. Some don’t believe in any god – others believe in various Greek or Roman gods. It’s rather like Britain today, where not so many people are Christian any more. We are called to talk about Jesus in a land which knows little about him!

If you need somewhere to start, I’m going to give you two easy lines. Perhaps you can repeat them after me:

Jesus was executed but rose from the dead. (Controversial, but why did were so many of his friends willing to die for insisting this was true?)

Following Jesus will lead you to Heaven.

There’s much more that can be said – the whole Bible is a love story about God reaching out to the human race. And by healing this man who cannot hear or speak, Jesus isn’t just curing one person, he is sending us a message. “O people of the world, can you hear what God wants to say to you? Are you able to pass on his good news to others?”

“Ephphatha! Be opened!”

Open your eyes! See that Jesus is present in our world. He is there whenever Christians gather in his name, but especially when the bread and wine consecrated at Mass are present. This weekend, thousands our of brothers and sisters are gathered in Liverpool, for a great celebration of our faith in Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament. To mark this “Adoremus” festival, you are all invited to gather with Jesus on Thursday evening to pray for this parish – before Mass next Saturday, to pray for priests – and on the last Wednesday of this month, to pray for protection of human life in the womb. We also have many opportunities during the week for private prayer in our chapel. So I’d like to invite everyone who doesn’t normally visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to come for one hour some time this month – and parents and godparents, please bring your children.

Open your lips! We’re too good at keeping Our Lord’s instruction today – “Don’t tell anyone about me!” We no longer live at a time when Jesus is in mortal danger; now we live under his command to tell the world. That’s why, next month, we’re starting our Discovering Christ course. Only by coming together in church groups where we can talk about Jesus and learn more about him, can we become comfortable sharing this message which people who aren’t church people. There’ll be more about Discovering Christ at the end of today’s Mass.

Open your hearts! Do you love Jesus? Have you experienced his love for you? Have you heard his gentle voice saying that you are his beloved brother or sister, and he wants to walk with you in good times and in bad? Only those who are open to his love can share it with others, but sometimes, through fear or doubt, our hearts are closed.

“Ephphatha! Be opened!” A long time ago, God’s power flowed through Jesus and loosened the tongue of a man who could not speak. Today, God’s power will pour out upon this altar to nourish us anew with the Body of Christ. One day soon, each of us will open our ears to what Jesus is asking us to do and our lips to flow with his praise. Open your eyes. Open your ears. Open your lips! Open your hearts! Ephphatha! In Jesus name, be open!

Ephphatha! Be open!

Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B at St Philip Evans (Saturday evening Mass, with baptisms, and anticipating Home Mission Sunday 2018).

“Ephphatha!”

That’s not a word you hear every day.

The Gospels are written in Greek, but Our Lord Jesus spoke Aramaic, and sometimes one of the words he spoke was so powerful, that the Gospel writers wrote down exactly what he said. The disciples who were with him on that day must have sensed God’s power flowing through him strongly at that moment – and a man who had a lifelong impediment of hearing and speech suddenly spoke and heard clearly!

And now he has a voice, what’s the first thing Jesus asks him to do?

“Don’t tell anyone about me!”

Can you imagine having experienced such a mighty miracle, knowing that everyone will want to know the story of how you found your voice, and then not being allowed to talk about it? Ouch!

But we’re told that people ignored Jesus’ request and talked about him anyway.

During his life on earth, Jesus was keen not to become too famous too quickly. Otherwise he might have been arrested before he had finished his work of preaching and healing. But once he rose from the dead – and try keeping that a secret! – things changed. Before he ascended into heaven, he told his friends and followers to go into the world and spread the good news.

Every Christian is called to be a bearer of the good news. That’s why, as soon as these two children are baptised this evening, I will carry out the “Rite of Ephphatha”. Just as Jesus did in the Gospels, I will touch their ears and their lips, and commission them to hear God’s commands and tell the world about Jesus.

Godparents, that’s where you come in.

How many of you here this evening are godparents to at least one person?

Your highest responsibility is, by your words and example, to teach your godchildren to talk about Jesus.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is completing a journey through pagan lands. The people there don’t know about the God of the Bible. Some don’t believe in any god – others believe in various Greek or Roman gods. It’s rather like Britain today, where not so many people are Christian any more. Your godchildren are called to talk about Jesus in a land which knows little about him!

If you need somewhere to start, I’m going to give you two easy lines. Perhaps you can repeat them after me:

Jesus died to save you from Hell.

Following Jesus will lead you to Heaven.

There’s much more that can be said – the whole Bible is a love story about God reaching out to the human race. And by healing this man who cannot hear or speak, Jesus isn’t just curing one person, he is sending us a message. “O people of the world, can you hear what God wants to say to you? Are you able to pass on his good news to others?”

“Ephphatha! Be opened!”

Open your eyes! See that Jesus is present in our world. He is there whenever Christians gather in his name, but especially when the bread and wine consecrated at Mass are present. This weekend, thousands our of brothers and sisters are gathered in Liverpool, for a great celebration of our faith in Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament. To mark this “Adoremus” festival, you are all invited to gather with Jesus on Thursday evening to pray for this parish – before Mass next Saturday, to pray for priests – and on the last Wednesday of this month, to pray for protection of human life in the womb. We also have many opportunities during the week for private prayer in our chapel. So I’d like to to invite everyone who doesn’t normally visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament to come for one hour some time this month – and parents and godparents, please bring your children.

Open your lips! We’re too good at keeping Our Lord’s instruction today – “Don’t tell anyone about me!” We no longer live in a time when Jesus is in mortal danger; now we live under his command to tell the world. That’s why, next month, we’re starting our Discovering Christ course. Only by coming together in church groups where we can talk about Jesus and learn more about him, can we become comfortable sharing this message which people who aren’t church people. There’ll be more about Discovering Christ at the end of today’s Mass.

Open your hearts! Do you love Jesus? Have you experienced his love for you? Have you heard his gentle voice saying that you are his beloved brother or sister, and he wants to walk with you in good times and in bad? Only those who are open to his love can share it with others, but sometimes, through fear or doubt, our hearts are closed.

“Ephphatha! Be opened!” A long time ago, God’s power flowed through Jesus and loosened the tongue of a man who could not speak. Today, God’s power will open the fountain of baptism and join two children to the Body of Christ. One day soon, each of us will open our ears to what Jesus is asking us to do and our lips to flow with his praise. Open your eyes. Open your ears. Open your lips! Open your hearts! Ephphatha! In Jesus name, be open!

Impure, Spoilt Religion

Homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B at St Philip Evans.

Today I’d like to start with a story. In a school run by nuns, the children were queuing up for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. One of the nuns had left a note next to the pile: “Take only ONE. God is watching.”

At the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. There was also a note here, written by one of the children. “Take all you want. God is watching the apples.”

When you heard today’s Gospel, you realised that Jesus was keeping an eye on the Pharisees – but he’s big enough to keep an eye on you, too! He caught the Pharisees in impure religion – emphasising minor things but missing the point of what God wants them to do. Jesus taught his apostles how to keep the key things at the centre, so it’s not surprising our letter today has St James writing to us about “pure, unspoiled religion.”

That got me thinking. What kind of things can spoil our “religion” today?

One trap we can fall into, is paying minute attention to ritual and traditions. After the Second Vatican Council, 50 years ago, the way we celebrate Mass was reformed. The most obvious change was allowing Mass to be said in modern languages – but even if the “new Mass” is celebrated in Latin, it’s very streamlined compared to what we had before. This was a big change – Mass as celebrated in Latin in 1950 was not very different from what would have been celebrated in 1650, and would have even looked similar to what was being celebrated in Rome a thousand years earlier. We know that the way of celebrating Mass evolved greatly in the first four centuries of Christianity, but for some Catholics, adjusting something that has been fixed by Popes for hundreds of years challenged their sense of identity. This was a big reason – though not the only reason – that groups like the Society of St Pius X broke away from the leadership of the Pope.

There’s nothing new about rules about rituals. Some rabbis estimate that the Law of Moses contained 613 laws about things Jews must or must not do – and many of these concerned rituals. Most of those laws no longer apply to us as Christians. And our bishops have not added many “religious” rules that we have to follow as Catholics. We are asked to fast for an hour before communion, to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, to abstain from meat on every Friday, to attend Mass on Sundays and on six extra Holy Days each year, to go to confession and receive communion at least once a year, and to receive the Church’s blessing when we get married. That’s closer to six laws than to six hundred!

Of course, some of us really don’t like having to accept any rules made by other human beings, even if they are church leaders, so let’s remember that all of these little rules are there to help us get better at loving Jesus. We choose to fast or abstain from meat on certain days when we say, “Lord, I thank you for dying for me.” We fast before communion in order to say, “Jesus, I am going to wait for you before I taste common food, because you are my priority”. We come to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days – unless we are sick or the conditions are unsafe – to reaffirm that Jesus is the most important priority in our lives.

But is he?

This brings us to the other trap – the trap of agreeing with Jesus rather than following him.

You often hear the passage from James summed up as “True religion is helping widows and orphans!”

This is true, but – like the message that God’s got his eye on the apples – it’s not the whole truth! Most of us have good hearts and naturally care about other people. You don’t have to have a religion to be a humanitarian – lots of people care about people! Millions of people who call themselves Christians have a religion that works like this: “I care about people. Jesus cared about people too! I agree with Jesus – so I must be a Christian. Perhaps some of us here today, who have grown up in Catholic families, are very comfortable with the caring side of the Church’s work.”

Caring about people is important. Next week we’ll hear St James say that you don’t really have a Christian faith if you aren’t motivated to help people in need. But it doesn’t work the other way round – you can be highly motivated to help people, but not be a follower of Jesus.

“True religion is helping widows and orphans!” – but keep going! James hasn’t finished yet! Pure unspoilt religion is also “keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world”. A few verses earlier, he wrote “Do what God’s Word tells you, don’t just listen to it.” So true religion is also focused on keeping the teachings of Jesus and not allowing ourselves to be influenced by the values of the world around us. Any good person will agree with Jesus when he tells us to love our neighbour. But it takes a follower of Jesus to disagree with the rest of the world!

So as we begin our new cycle of activities, here are some questions:

  • How are you doing at loving your enemies?
  • How are you doing at forgiving the person who offends you most?
  • How are you doing at praying to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit every day?
  • How are you doing at keeping the fasts and feasts of the church?

Our religion is about two things: loving God and loving our neighbour. Either on its own is not enough. Our Lord had to give us two commandments, not one, to sum up everything… and the child with the cookies would have needed a larger piece of paper:

God is watching both the apples and the cookies. Please help yourself, leave enough for other people, and share what you have with those in need. Don’t forget to thank him for the food!

 

Serving in the Court of the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

But I’d like to start with tennis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Tell Me About Jesus!

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

“Tell me about Jesus!”

How would you answer if someone asked you that question?

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

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

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

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

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

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

We, too, get a partial view of Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tell me about Jesus!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you feel about Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Parable of the Pollen

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

The Kingdom of Heaven is like this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine if we did the same thing every year?

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

A Meditation on Marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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