Believe, Beloved

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

Tonight is all about trust. Who do you trust?

Do you trust what you read on the Internet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ is Risen.

Heaven is open for business.

Jesus can even heal people today!

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

A Night With a Difference

Homily at St Philip Evans for Maundy Thursday, 2017.

“Why is this night different from all others?”

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

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

“Why is this night different from all others?”

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

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

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

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

“Why is this night different from all others?”

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

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

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

“Why is this night different from all others?”

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

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

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

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

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

Certain Death

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A.

Three times in my life, I’ve narrowly avoided being caught in a terrorist attack.

When I was an undergraduate, the IRA planted a bomb in the Reject Shop in Oxford. That afternoon, I was in a college building which was back-to-back with that shop.

When the 7/7 bombs went off on public transport in London in 2005, I was visiting a friend in Canterbury. But the previous day, I had been on a tube train, at the same time and place where one of those bombs exploded.

At 2 pm a week last Wednesday, I was just leaving Westminster Abbey. I could so easily have headed for Westminster tube station, but the friend I was with suggested we take a bus to Victoria instead. The first I knew of that afternoon’s terrible events was when I was safely on a train out of Paddington.

Once, I was driving along the M4 just outside Cardiff when a driver pulled out right in front of me, forcing me to swerve into the fast lane. My car fishtailed wildly before settling down – fortunately I didn’t hit the crash barrier or any other traffic, but it was quite a fright.

Each of those moments is one where I can rightly say, “but for the grace of God, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Sometimes, the worst does happen. On Tuesday, the BBC showed a personal reflection by the footballer, Rio Ferdinand. His wife died just 10 weeks after being diagnosed with a terminal cancer, and now Rio has to be “Mum” as well as “Dad” to his children.

Lent forces us to face up to the dark side of life. In recent weeks we’ve been challenged to tackle those faults we are only too aware of, and face up to the hidden faults we don’t want to admit. Now we must confront the ultimate challenge: we’re all going to die. That’s why it’s so significant that Our Lord didn’t stop Lazarus from dying.

Jesus could have healed Lazarus by a word, even at a distance, as soon as the messengers came to him.

Jesus could have set out for Bethany immediately, and might have arrived in time to prevent him dying.

But no, Our Lord tarried for two days in the wilderness stating that this sickness “would not end in death”. St John says that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead as a sign for us. God’s plan is that we pass through death and enter into eternal life. St Paul also acknowledges this, speaking about our mortal bodies.

Knowing that we’re going to die forces us to ask important questions. Knowing that it’s possible for any one of us to be taken by a swift disease or a sudden accident means that we shouldn’t wait until we’re retired to face up to them.

First question – Have you made a funeral plan?

If you live without a partner, it’s a great kindness to your family to leave clear instructions about what you want. Do you have ideas about music or Bible readings? Is it important to you that your funeral is a Requiem Mass? It often happens these days that when grown-up children are not practicing Catholics, they choose not to have a Mass for their parent. It’s not essential to have a Mass at your funeral – Masses can be offered at other times – but if you have Catholic friends who will mourn your passing, why wouldn’t you choose a Mass for them to pray at? And suggesting the music is very helpful when your family are not churchgoers. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help to plan your funeral while you are still healthy – Deacon Steve or myself, or a member of our parish bereavement group, would be happy to advise you.

Second question – Have you made a will?

Wills are important. It’s only be making a will that you can ensure that your property is used in the way you wish after your death. You don’t need to use a lawyer to write your will, but it’s probably a good idea to do so if there is a house or land involved. The cheapest way to access a lawyer is to wait until November and find one who is part of the WillAid initiative – instead of paying a legal fee, you make a donation to one of nine nominated charities. There are two Catholic charities in the mix – the Scottish and Irish countparts of CAFOD.

Third question – if you are living with a partner, Are you married?

Marriage is important. Marriage is the way that two people register their relationship with the Government. Being married protects your rights to your partner’s pension, property and possessions. There is no such thing as a “common-law marriage”. Just because two people of similar age live in the same house, this proves nothing. They could be lodgers, lovers, or limbering up to leave. How does the Government know that the relationship is one where you want your partner to inherit everything you own? Simple – you register it. And registering a family relationship is what we traditionally call marriage. This is one of the reasons why our Church says it is so important to be married before starting a family. Why would you want your partner and children to be left without that legal protection if the worst did happen suddenly?

I don’t have time to speak today about the spiritual side of bereavement. I would simply point you to St Martha, who had every right to be furious with Jesus for allowing her to live through the death of her brother. Yet Martha puts her trust the Lord, knowing he will raise her brother to everlasting life at the end of time. At Easter, we will celebrate the amazing news that eternal life awaits us following bodily death.

They say only two things are certain in life: death, and taxes. Most of us will never be anywhere a terrorist attack, so let’s resist the temptation to give worry and energy to something that probably won’t happen to us. Instead, let’s do something positive about something that certainly will happen. By making a funeral plan, we can prepare well for death – and by getting married and making a will, we can even do something about the taxes!


Further reading:

The art of dying well – Catholic pastoral care of the dying.

Planning Your Catholic Funeral – from the Pastoral Care Project.

The Government’s view – speech by Iain Duncan Smith MP.

A Sunday Times article – warning, some crude language!

Great Expectations: Invest

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A.

Consider the humble img_1161bucket.

Have you ever tried to draw water from a well?

Just letting the bucket down on a single rope might not work so well… the bucket floats on the water!

So what can you do?

You can use a heavy weight to sink the bucket. But who wants to be burdened by that weight all the time?

You can TIP the bucket so it falls over and fills from the side.

Or you can use a special bucket designed to let a little water in at the bottom. If you draw it out quickly, you will keep most of the water!


Today, Jesus is thirsty. He meets a woman at a well and asks her for a drink. He has no bucket – but his plan is to offer her the living water that only He can give.

How do we open ourselves to receive that living water?

Like the weighted bucket, we may be sinking into desperation when we turn to Christ. In Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programmes, the participants come to a point of despair. They realise that the power to change is not within themselves. They must turn to some “Higher Power”. There are many Christian stories of people who made a new connection with God when they were at their most broken. The Bible tells us: “Seek the Lord and you WILL find Him – if you seek with ALL your heart!”

Like the tipped-over bucket, we can choose to humble ourselves. If we know who Jesus really is, we will bow down our hearts and ask for his help. Scripture says: “Humble yourself in the eyes of the Lord, and he will raise you up.”

Like the bucket with a valve in the bottom, once we receive something of the living water, we will be thirsty for more. The increased weight allows the bucket to sink deeper. Once we’ve had a taste of the Lord’s love, we will be motivated to pray harder and longer, and the Lord can increase our capacity to receive. St Paul must have experienced this; he wrote of how God’s love can be poured into our hearts.

The woman at the well provided the Lord with two things to fill – a bucket for water, and a soul for faith, hope and love. The Lord filled her gradually. She starts the conversation by addressing him as a hated “Jew”. Then a more respectful “Sir”. If we read on, Jesus is acknowledged as a prophet, and eventually Messiah. The more she sinks into the living water, the more able she is to receive who Jesus truly is; eventually the conversation moves from matters of fetching water, to questions of the right way to worship.


A bucket is also a classic sign of holding a collection. As the current tax year draws to a close, it’s appropriate that I say something about money. Indeed, the money we give to the Church is one very practical way in which we worship God – with our wallets! To “worship” is to declare God “worthy”, which means “worth it”. I’ve placed the two banners on the sanctuary reminding us to “invest” and to “worship” because they are so closely connected.

We, the people of this parish, are responsible for keeping our parish running. Each year, it costs us roughly £15k to keep our building warm, safe and in good repair. It costs another £15k to have a priest – that’s not just money in my pocket, that includes my travel and other expenses as well. And it costs a further £12k to adminster the parish – printing, phone, internet and office staff. Let’s not forget that we are also paying off our debt, if we aim to pay off £10k per year, that all adds up to £52k per year or £1000 per week.

Now, a thousand pounds per week might sound like a lot of money, but the good news is that about 300 people worship here each weekend. Some of us are children, but if 250 adults are here each weekend, that’s about £4 per person per week. That’s the bare minimum we can pay into our parish if we want to look after our building and keep a priest.

There are lots of ways we can contribute. We can set up a standing order from our bank, or we can give cash every week. If we pay tax, we can ask the Government to Gift Aid our contribution. We can also choose to sponsor the costs of particular church expenses. At the end of today’s Mass, our finance team will talk about Gift Aid. Next week, we will launch this year’s Sponsorship Appeal.

Remember, the Lord is asking us to meet his needs out of the gifts he has already given us. Today’s psalm is an invitation to give praise to God, who has provided for our basic needs, rather than giving in to the temptation to grumble – that’s what the Israelites did at Massah and Meribah in the desert. If our income has gone down in the past year, it is quite proper for us to give less to the church than we used to. But if we can afford to give a little more, let’s do that. Imagine what our Church could do if we had  the resources to invest in our community as well as keeping our building and our priest in working order?

I’m not going to tell you we’re sinking and desperate for money – we’re managing. Just.

I’m not going to bow down and beg you for money, but I am simply telling you what we need.

I am, however, showing you what we can do with a little more money. We have living water to share with the community we live in. You see at the outside of the church that we now have signs and banners. The is the first step of asking our local community to come in and drink from the living water. Imagine what more we could do with the funds to go out into the community and connect with people!

Jesus saw a woman with a bucket, and asked her for a drink. She was cautious, but he won her trust, and her life was changed. Today, you see a priest with a bucket, a priest who wants to share living water with the people around us. What will you put in my bucket?

Dewi Sant

Homily at St Teilo’s Church for the Solemnity of St David, 2017

d094d0b0d0b2d0b8d0b4_d0a3d18dd0bbd18cd181d0bad0b8d0b9_28d0b8d0bad0bed0bdd0b029Timothy Rees, the Anglican Bishop of Llandaf, composed a hymn in honour of St David. It included the words: “Glorious in the roll of heroes shines the name of Dewi Sant.” The icon on the front of your order of service also has that name inscribed, faintly, at the top.

Dewi Sant! As we gather this evening to honour our patron saint, we must ask what lessons that glorious name holds for us. In fact, the name Dewi is a useful reminder for us of four values he would have us hold.

D is for DETAILS. Famously, in his last Sunday sermon before he died, David said: “Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.”

“Do the little things.” Our Christian faith is a way of life, which brings love into the smallest actions. Many centuries later, St Thérèse of Lisieux would also show us the “little way” of simple kindness. We read that in David’s monasteries there was a life of hard labour – the monks did not use oxen to pull the ploughs, but did so themselves. They ate only vegetables. Nevertheless, there was something so attractive about David’s way of life that he shone out among his contemporaries and we are telling his story 1500 years later. What was that something? Surely the love with which every simple action was imbued.

E is for the English Heresy. David famously found himself in dispute with the teachings attributed to the British monk Pelagius. Are we worthy of heaven because we “do the little things”? No! But it is all too easy to get drawn into the idea that God loves us because we do good, and this is sometimes called the “English heresy“. No! God loved us while we were still sinners, and sent Jesus to die for us. St Paul understood this clearly. He wrote to the Romans that this was the case, and in the letter to the Philippians we have just heard, Paul said: “I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ.” Our Patron Saint, therefore, reminds us clearly of just how deeply God has loved us.

W is for the Waterman. In an age before water treatment plants, when people regularly drank beer or wine because they were free of bateria, David insisted on drinking only water. He probably took part in the Celtic custom of praying while standing in an icy cold river, too. Was he doing that to earn God’s friendship? No! As an opponent of the teachings of Pelagius, he would have known full well that living an ascetic life would not endear him to God more than any other person. But he might have sensed that living this way would help him grow in self-discipline, and would show solidarity with the poorest people who would come to his monastery seeking help. In this way, David is a perfect patron of our Catholic aspiration, to live simply, sustainably, and in solidarity with the poor.

I is for Inspiration. Today’s Gospel exhorts us to be salt for the earth and light for the world. Why did David ask us to be joyful and keep our faith? We are meant to inspire others. The world is a large place – we can’t be responsible for all of it. A patron saint reminds us that we are a particular people with a common heritage. (Even in the Bible, the Book of Revelation spoke of seven churches who each had their own angel.) We have a special responsibility to not only keep our faith, but to share it, in this place and nation which is our own. What will be the most powerful light to our nation? Joy!

Pope Francis understands this very well: in one sermon last year, he said: “The identification card of a Christian is joy: the joy of the Gospel, the joy of having been elected by Jesus, saved by Jesus, regenerated by Jesus.” Our current Pope can’t seem to stop talking about joy; he even wrote an Apostolic Letter called The Joy of the Gospel!

Dewi Sant confidently declared that he would “walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.” Do you share his confidence? When you die, are you sure of walking the same path as St David?

You can pay attention to the details. You can love people by doing little things. Rejoice!

Don’t fall into the English Heresy, but gaze deeply on the depths of God’s love. Even in your brokenness, Jesus loved you enough to die for you. Rejoice!

You might not be called to be a waterman, but you can live simply and tread lightly in 21st century Wales. In this way, you can build a better Wales for everyone. Rejoice.

You are called to be an inspiration to others. You can change other people’s lives for the better, by following the example of St David. Rejoice!

The last words of today’s Mass will be: Awn ymaith mewn tangnefedd i ogoneddu Duw yn ein bywydau – “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life” Our Mass does not end at the church door. Rather, you will be light to the world and salt for the earth when the name and the spirit of “Dewi Sant” shines forth in your words and actions. May the prayers of our patron saint go with you!

Dewi Sant – gweddi dros Gymru!

St David – pray for Wales!

Hidden Figures, Hidden Faults

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 1st Sunday of Lent, Year A.

How can we know right from wrong?adam-eve-serpent-colour

Our Lord was tempted by the Devil, who even tried to trick Him by quoting Bible verses. But Jesus knew what was truly right, and resisted.

We’re unlikely to have a face-to-face encounter with Satan. “But the serpent was the most subtle of all the creatures God had made.” What the Devil began, the World continues. Just as the serpent questioned whether God had forbidden eating the fruit, so the world around us today questions whether our Catholic values are the right ones.

Before Lent began, I preached about the challenge to tackle those temptations we know we have but don’t want to face up to. Today I want to talk about something different – about our hidden faults. There are things that we don’t recognise as sins because we don’t know the Church’s teaching well enough – or because we aren’t willing to recognise the Church’s teaching as correct.

I went to see a film last week. Hidden Figures is set in the USA at the time when there was still segregation between black and white people. It tells the story of the African-American women mathematicians who helped NASA win the space race. There’s a memorable scene between Dorothy, the black woman who organises her team, and Vivian, the white manager who isn’t helping Dorothy secure a promotion to supervisor. “I have nothing against y’all,” says Vivian. “I know,” says Dorothy, “I know you probably believe that.” It’s a classic example of how a person can be blind to injustice because they have become so used to the culture around them.

When the world around us agrees with our Catholic values, that’s a mixed blessing. If we agree that a particular action is sinful, society quickly declares it shameful. This deters people from committing the sin, but also tempts the rest of us not to show mercy and compassion to those who couldn’t resist. One sad example is in this week’s news reports from the time in Ireland’s history when it was so shameful to be an unmarried mother, that the mothers and their babies were hidden away in special homes.

On the other hand, when society disagrees that something should be shameful, the church finds itself having to encourage us to swim the other way against the tide of people’s opinions.

The thing is, it’s not up to us to make the rules – that’s the point of the story of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It doesn’t make a lot of sense if you say the Eden story is about knowledge. After all, if Adam and Eve didn’t know the difference between right and wrong, how could they avoid sinning? But St John Paul II gave us a deeper way of reading the story. He explained it’s not about knowing the difference, but about who gets to decide what’s right or wrong. We human beings sometimes want to say that something is OK when God’s already said that it’s not OK.

For those of us who have responsibility as employers or managers, this Lent might be an opportunity to look at how we treat our staff. Do we treat our employees in the way we would want to be treated in their place? Maybe you’ve never stopped to see it from that point of view before, but that’s what the gospel requires. This is the heart of what is known as Catholic Social Teaching – which brings the call to “love one another” into the workplace and to wider society.

There’s a lot of talk about migrants at the moment. We might worry whether some immigrants might be terrorists, or be concerned whether there are enough jobs for British people. But it’s not OK for us, as followers of Jesus, to withhold good will from strangers, even when many politicians are voicing views about immigration.

On sexual matters, too, public views have changed. That old serpent whispers into our society that marriage is really about saving up for the big party. That’s not what we believe, as Catholics. What’s really important in Christian marriage is that a man and a woman make a public promise to each other, to God and to us that they will stay together through thick and thin. If your values are truly Catholic, you will get married in church before you start a family, even if you can’t afford the wedding of your dreams. By doing that, you prove that God is more important than money, or what your friends think of you. If you think it’s OK to start a family before you’re married, you’ve fallen for the subtle voice of the serpent, which can take something beautiful – love! – and put it in the wrong place. He failed when he tried to tempt Jesus to jump off the Temple’s pinnacle. The time for Jesus to ascend from the Earth only came after he vowed himself to his bride, the Church, at the altar of the Cross.

Sometimes society changes for the better. Hidden Figures showed a time when racial segregation was slowly being overcome, and we can celebrate that. But society often changes to say that things are OK when they go against God’s law. We can’t always change the world, but we can always encourage one another to resist the world’s temptations. While the world celebrates hidden figures, this Lent is a time for us to find our hidden faults.

How can we know right from wrong? It’s time for us to go deeper, and ask how God’s Law asks us to behave, in areas we haven’t thought of before or where the world has made us blind. Let’s behave as the saints that God is calling us to be. Let’s change – and let’s BE the good news!

The Enemy Within

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

“Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you.”

Today’s Gospel reminds us of something Jesus said, something which makes our Christian faith stand out from other religions. We’re asked – no, we are commanded – to be passionately committed to doing good for our opponents.

I could probably end this sermon right now, because I’ve said all that needs to be said. Except… what happens when you are your own worst enemy?

Usually when I preach, I try and say something for everyone. But there are times I share a message which won’t apply to everyone, but will be really important for those who need to hear it. Today is one of those times.

Do you find yourself really difficult to live with? Do you find it hard to love yourself? Do you doubt that you are a fundamentally good person, even if you do things you regret sometimes?

One in every ten people here today will suffer from clinical depression at some time of life. Maybe you’ve already experienced this, or are being afflicted by it right now. Loosely speaking, the sign of being clinically depressed is that you feel sad, hopeless and lose interest in things you used to enjoy – and these feelings continue for a period lasting more than a few days.

If you find yourself in this situation, there’s no shame in getting help from your doctor. Often your doctor will recommend some kind of “talking therapy”, but sometimes the treatment will include antidepressant medicine. There’s no reason to feel ashamed of that, either. If you were an insulin-dependent diabetic, you wouldn’t hesitate to take that injection to restore the right chemical balance. If your doctor prescribes antidepressants, that’s doing just the same kind of job, restoring a temporary imbalance in those body chemicals which affect your mood.

Many of us will never be clinically depressed, but will go through low periods in our life where we struggle with a poor self-image. This week, our parish Connect & Explore groups watched a video where a Catholic mother, Giovanna Payne, spoke about a kind of prayer which lifted her spirits during difficult seasons in her life. Some of us, too, might find it a useful exercise to use the kind of prayers which remind us who we are in Christ: we are loved beyond imagining by a God who died to know us. We can also find many affirming passages in the Bible we can repeat to ourselves in daily prayer: I am God’s workmanship (Eph 2:10); I am a new creature in Christ (2 Cor 5:17); I am raised up with Christ and seated in heavenly places (Eph 2:6; Col 2:12). Or we might take comfort in the traditional Acts of Faith, Hope and Charity in many traditional Catholic prayer books, such as this Act of Hope:

O Lord God,
I hope by your grace for the pardon
of all my sins
and after life here to gain eternal happiness
because you have promised it
who are infinitely powerful, faithful, kind,
and merciful.
In this hope I intend to live and die.
Amen.

As I said at the start of this sermon, what I’ve just shared won’t apply to everyone. But if you find that these kind of prayers are useful to give yourself daily reassurance, then use them as often as you need to!pubenemy

Even if our own feelings don’t drag us down, sooner or later, our bad habits will. We’re less then two weeks from the start of Lent, and to begin Lent well, we need to spend a few days focussing on what we might “give up”. So it’s time to acknowledge that bad habit you’ve been trying so hard not to notice these last few months. Maybe it’s something your husband or wife has been gently nagging you about. Maybe it’s something that makes your children uncomfortable. Whatever it is, you know what it is, because you don’t want to tackle it. You’ve been pushing it to the back of your consciousness. It’s not a big thing – but it’s your thing, and you don’t want to let go.

Jesus said: “CHANGE! And believe the good news.”

I’ve got good news for you. This Lent you can choose to tackle that little thing you’ve been trying to avoid. Be bold! Throw off your chains! Don’t give the Devil his satisfaction!

The Bible today invites us to “correct our brother” when he sins against us. But Jesus also told us to take the log out of our own eye before taking the speck out of anyone else’s. Lent gives us permission to correct our own faults.

So I’d like to invite you to spend the days between now and Ash Wednesday examining your own life, and deciding what your Lenten discipline will be. It might be giving up something – or returning to a diet you’ve let slip. It might be giving up smoking or drinking, whether just for Lent or for good. It might be taking on an extra daily round of prayer, or a weekly stint volunteering in a social project. But pay attention to that small thing you really don’t want to tackle. It’s probably the most important one of the lot.

“Love your enemies. Do good to those who persecute you.” In that one part of your life where you know, deep down, you are your own worst enemy, show a little love. Even if you don’t feel lovable, be kind to yourself. After all, God loves you – loves you enough to die for you – and God doesn’t make mistakes. And keep on loving yourself, until “love your neighbour as yourself” starts looking like the challenge it’s meant to be!