Home Mission Sunday

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year BHome Mission Sunday.p15hms

Today is Home Mission Sunday, and we’ve received a letter sent from all the Bishops of England and Wales together. You can read the full text in the parish newsletter, but I’m going to pass on our bishops’ message in my own words.

Each one of us who is Catholic shares in the duty of making Our Lord Jesus known to the people around us, inviting them to hear His Good News and join our church. We call this ‘evangelisation’, and when done in our local community, that makes it our ‘home mission’. We’re called to deepen our own faith, so that we can share it with others, sensitively and confidently. 

Pope Francis shows us that the true heart of faith is hugely attractive. He shows us how to let our faith be seen. He does this by making clear the great mercy of God, the mercy that he has received and that he shows to all. The mercy of God is God’s love in action, reaching out to every person, to each one of us in our weakness. Mercy is God’s tender embrace in lifting us up and inviting us to start again.

In the Psalm of our Mass today, we proclaimed God’s mercy with the words: “The Lord upholds my life.” Mercy appears all the more clearly when, recognising our own sinfulness, we rely totally and joyfully on the goodness of God. When Pope Francis was asked to describe himself he said, simply, “I am a sinner.” As we understand the depth of God’s never-failing mercy towards us, then we are freed to offer the same mercy to those around us. In doing so we show forth the best of our faith.

How can we proclaim God’s mercy to the people around us? We have a wonderful opportunity in the coming Jubilee Year of Mercy, established by Pope Francis, beginning this December. He asks us to “go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God!” Together let us Proclaim God’s Mercy. The readings we have heard today speak of the tests and trials of everyday life, the weariness we can feel, the conflicts we face, whether within our own hearts or from those around us. St James invites us to respond to every situation as peacemakers. That’s easier said than done! But then he tells us that our way forward is through prayer, asking the Lord for all that we need to get through the day, and to let his love be seen.

The Gospel Reading from St Mark puts it very simply. When we live our lives with trust in God as a child trusts his parents, then we will be free of so many burdens. And then our faith will be transparent, evident to others, and attractive. Then we will be proclaiming the Gospel for others to see and hear. The key, then, to showing our faith in the way we live, is to be ready to live constantly in the presence of God, knowing that God never takes his eyes off us. God gazes upon us not to catch us out, but because he loves us so much. Are we aware of that loving gaze which is upon us, and of the mercy and encouragement that flows our way? If so, we will be well able to look on others in the same way.

This trust in God and love for others is our starting point for evangelisation. From this beginning, there are many things we need to do. We must speak openly about our faith. We must show our love in concrete actions towards those most in need. We must have a loving care for those who have been hurt by life – and a special care for anyone who has been hurt within the Church, for these wounds make it particularly difficult for a person to return to the sacraments.

In many different ways – through friendship, through prayer, through conversation – we seek to reach other human beings, so that they sense in us God’s presence and loving invitation to them. Our efforts need not be complicated or heroic. As Our Blessed Lady reminds us, through our humble efforts the Lord can do great things!

Finally, our bishops want to thank each and every one of us for the witness that we already give. Our presence at Mass today is a good example. By coming to Mass we not only give due worship to God but also publicly proclaim our faith to everyone who knows of our commitment and routine. Our bishops thank us for our daily efforts in family living, the patterns of family life that we work hard to sustain. And family life is important, because for each child, the family is the first and best school of faith, of prayer and of virtuous living.

What does this mean for us here in St Philip Evans? This weekend we are asked to make a financial contribution to the Bishops’ Home Mission Fund, so there will be a retiring collection. But more practically, what can we do? It seems to me, as your parish priest, that not many of us feel confident enough to pass on the Good News of Jesus to other people. So our focus for the next three years in this parish will be on deepening and strengthening our own faith. This coming Monday, our monthly Call to Question group begins a new course, The Giftlooking at how the Holy Spirit helps us to do this. There are still places available at next month’s diocesan Proclaim’15 conference, and I will be happy to pay the costs for any parishioner who wishes to attend. In the coming months, we will begin to put in place other activities where adults and whole families can go to learn more about the message of Jesus received by our Church. This time next year we will have a Parish Mission. And most pressing at the moment, we have not yet got Children’s Liturgy up and running.

It’s vital that we provide the best possible experience of church for our children at every Sunday Mass. Our first group of volunteers are currently being DBS-checked, but nothing can be launched until they are fully checked and trained. Already, some volunteers have dropped out. We need some of you to replace them, so we can build up a healthy team where no one person is left having to share too much of the load. If we don’t pass on our faith to our children, our church will die. And only we who come to weekend Mass here are in a position to work with our children. So this responsibility is on us – and my share of the responsibility is making sure that the training we need is available. If you don’t feel ready, today, to share your faith with our children – what are you going to do about it?

Resources from the National Proclaim’15 Event in Birmingham are available online.

 

I Believe in the Catholic Church – the one I’m not walking away from!

Homily at St John Lloyd, for Easter, 2013

Mhairi Spence, Team GB Pentathlete

Do you remember Mhairi Spence? She was one of the Team GB pentathletes at the London 2012 Olympics. Like many of the British competitors, she was tipped for a gold medal – indeed, the last possible gold of the games, because the Pentathlon finished just before the Closing Ceremony. So on August 12 last year, Mhairi Spence stepped out. By lunchtime, following the fencing and swimming rounds, she was in ninth place and feeling confident – next came the show-jumping, which was her strongest event.

Then it all went horribly wrong.

In the Pentathlon, horses are assigned to competitors at random, and the one assigned to Miss Spence was not having a good day. Horse and rider simply didn’t click with each other, and soon Spence held the dismal tally of four downed fences and 104 penalty points. Things went from bad to worse in the final combined running-and-shooting event. Golden hope Spence finished at 21st place, a forgotten footnote of British Olympic history.

Imagine being an Olympic failure in those months when the UK was basking in Olympic Glory. Each television report and newspaper article reminded Spence that she was not one of the Team GB medalists. So she ran away – to Australia, where she could be a nobody. Asked what she did for a living, she said she worked as a hairdresser, or for the post office. And for a while, she was able to leave her broken dreams behind.

Easter Day begins for each one of us in the same low place as Mhairi Spence. Hope shattered in one cruel moment, followed by an aftermath of despair. The Apostles, excepting only the one beloved by Jesus, ran away from the foot of the Cross. On Sunday morning, two disciples from Emmaus would begin a forlorn walk towards their home, with nothing but their reminiscences for company.

But in the coldest of winters, we might yet see signs of spring.

Spence found herself on a sailing trip with other tourists, when one said to her: “Did you hear the rumour? They said there was an Olympic Athelete on the island we’ve just sailed from!” A few weeks later, in a conversation with a temporary room-mate, she was forced to admit her true identity. The room-mate “couldn’t get over it, … sharing a room with someone who had competed in London!” Where we see brokenness, others see something of great value. And this can also be true of the way we view our own church.

At this Easter Mass, we will be invited soon to renew our baptismal promises. As promises go, they don’t really sound like promises. I am going to ask you if you believe in God the Father, in Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit and in the Catholic Church. Surely “believing” something is something to do with ideas we hold in our heads?

Year of Faith Logo – Welsh & English

This year, the worldwide church is keeping a Year of Faith. And the word “faith” is the key. We are not just declaring that we believe in certain things as an intellectual exercise. We are declaring that we put our faith in God-the-Father, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit and in the Catholic Church. And that requires action.

If we put our faith in God, we must keep all Ten Commandments, including the one about keeping each sabbath as a Holy Day. If we put our faith in Jesus, we will obey his command to “do this in memory of me”, by participating in Mass. If we put our faith in the Holy Spirit, we will keep asking the Spirit to live within us, to nudge us to be God’s hands, feet and voice in the world around us.

By declaring we “believe” in the Catholic Church, we are also promising to continue placing our faith in our church. This is a very dangerous thing to do – because our church is composed entirely of fallible human beings! They say you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family – and a parish is the family we share under the One Father, who is God.

Sooner or later in church communities, things go wrong. People have arguments. A word or action causes offence. And sometimes we don’t deal with that in the mature way God asks of us. It’s not uncommon for those who feel offended by something at church to move to another parish, or stop coming altogether. Let’s recognize this danger, and renew our commitment to this parish because it is God’s parish, not because of individual personalities or style.

When we renew our promise, today, to put our faith in the Catholic Church, we are pledging to make our parish the best that it can be. We are pledging that if something upsets us, we won’t walk away, but we will deal with the issue. Within a Christian community, if we disagree with another person – even a member of the clergy or parish group leader – we ought to be able to have a civil conversation. Often enough it will clear up a simple misunderstanding; sometimes we can agree to differ about the way a decision could have gone.

Sometimes a priest, deacon, or lay leader will have been having a bad day and will be only too happy to apologise as soon as attention is drawn to the hurt which has been caused. When her horse had a bad day, Mhairi Spence could only regret its behaviour. But when we have a disagreement, we have the power not only to regret, but also to reconcile. It is part of the commitment we renew today, to believe that within this community, we can reconcile with one another. A parish where people walk away is no advert for the Gospel. A parish where people love each other enough to work through their problems is a sign of hope for the world.

Mhairi Spence did run away, to the ends of the earth – but it was there that she realised that she’d made the wrong decision. Running away would neither make her happy, nor quench the desire for Olympic gold which still blazed in her heart. So she came back. Running away is never the answer – in life, in sport, or in God’s church. But Jesus came to remind us that when we run, the Good Shepherd runs after us, and the Forgiving Father opens wide his arms awaiting our return. Whenever this happens in the life of a church, the dying and rising of Christ is lived out all over again.

Jesus Christ, whose death on Friday brought fear and despair to us all, is risen and lives beyond the reach of death for ever. He invites us to become not a parish of brokenness, but a community of reconciliation.

Just last week, Mhairi Spence was competing in the Pentathlon World Cup in Rio de Janiero. She’s not yet back in the medals, but she is in the competition.

In a few moments, we’ll renew the vows of our baptism, promising to live as members of the Catholic Church – committing ourselves to this parish and to making it work in the best way possible. This is also a competition – it is one we have to re-enter each Easter, and the Lord has rich prizes for all who run the race to its conclusion. Are you in?

Everyday Treachery

Homily at St John Lloyd, for Tuesday of Holy Week

“One of you is going to betray me.”

Jesus, at table with those he loved, in the company of the Twelve He had personally chosen, makes a shocking statement. And yet it echoes the experience of the Christian Church and of Christian Families throughout the ages.

Just as Jesus chooses human beings, with all their imperfections, weaknesses and vulnerability to temptation, so the Church from age to age, and every human family, is composed of fallible human beings. And among those beautiful, precious, beloved people are those whom we know are more likely to let us down. The one with a drink problem. The one who gambles. The one who cannot bear to be thought lacking, so makes countless promises which cannot be kept.

In the Church, we have experienced treachery in the form of priests abusing their power over children and vulnerable adults; through the mis-handling of money; through the understandable slowness of leaders to address the wrongdoing of their underlings.

In many families there is a child who will walk away from the family home with the impetuosity of youth, only to return like the prodigal son when there are no other options left.

Sometimes betrayal comes as a bolt from the blue, but often enough, we see it coming. We are all too aware of the weaknesses of those we love. We hope for the best but expect trouble… yet because we are people who love, we still dare to hope. Love is always patient, always endures, and bears no record of wrong.

Simon Peter cannot follow Jesus into betrayal there and then, but Jesus says he will follow later. Each one of us follows Jesus down the bridlepath of betrayal when we dare to love someone whose vulnerability is clear. Each one of us follows Jesus on the royal road of forgiveness when we welcome back those who have betrayed us, with the embrace of love.

True forgiveness means we offer our friendship and affection willingly and freely to a contrite traitor – not once, but seventy times seven. As for trust, this takes longer to restore, as Simon Peter would discover in a difficult conversation with the Risen Christ.

To which of your loved ones, today, can you say in your heart: “One of you is going to betray me?” Choose to love without limit – choose to love as Christ did – and in your life also, you will live the Christian life of treachery and forgiveness – in your life also, God will be glorified!

Every present has a past – and a future!

Homily at St John Lloyd with pupils from St John Lloyd School, for the First Sunday of Advent, Year C

Gift-wrapped box

(After holding up a gift-wrapped box…)

Why do we wrap up our Christmas presents?

Every present has a past – when we look at our wrapped-up presents we should remember that someone chose it and wrapped it for us, as an act of love.

Every present has a future – they are wrapped up now because a day will come when it is the right time to open it and enjoy the gift it contains.

In today’s readings, God says – I am GOING to keep my promise. We remember that in the past God gave us gifts, including the gift of Jesus living among us. We trust that in the future God will bring us all to a day of joy when all of God’s promises will be fulfilled. But right now we live in-between.

God is not a straight-away God. Advent is about learning to wait. The present is there! It’s a promise. But it’s wrapped up – we have to wait until the right time.

So in Advent we live in the present – and this wrapped-up present reminds us that we have already been loved and will experience future joy.

A wise person once said: yesterday’s history. Tomorrow’s a mytery. Today is a gift… that’s why it’s called the Present!