Who do you think you are?

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.A tree with six logos as fruit - think-bubble, hand, heart, pound sign, envelope, cross

Who do you think you are?

There’s a television programme by that name, which helps celebrities trace their family trees. This can be a risky business! Olympic rower Matthew Pinsent discovered that he was a descendent of King Edward the First! But consumer rights campaigner Esther Rantzen discovered that her great grandfather became a fugitive, accused of serious fraud!

The good news is that our family tree doesn’t define who we are. In the words of Jesus we hear today, we are told that we are “salt for the earth and light for the world”. If we read further in the New Testament, we find other passages which speak about who we are in Christ.

This is Good News! Jesus wants to give us our identity, our security, and our authority.

Did you stop for a moment as you entered this church to bless yourself with Holy Water? If you did, you reminded yourself that you were baptised “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. By baptism, you were made a member of the Body of Christ and adopted as a son in God’s family – yes ladies, that includes you too! You are the body of Christ and individually members of it (I Cor 12:27): your baptism gives you your identity in Christ.

As members of Christ’s body, we are invited to receive His Body and Blood in Holy Communion. Just before we come forward for communion, we pray the Lord’s Prayer. We ask for our “daily bread”. But what are we asking for? One meaning is “give us what we need for life today”. Jesus told us not to be anxious about the basics of life because our Heavenly Father knows all our needs (Mt 6:24-34). But the word we translate as “daily” has two meanings in Greek, and St Jerome – who made the first great translation of the Bible into Latin – couldn’t decide which one was meant. In his version of St Matthew’s Gospel he chose the other possible translation – give us today our supernatural bread, the bread which has come down from heaven. We believe that every time we receive Holy Communion, our venial sins are forgiven and we are re-connected to Heaven, receiving the Bread of Life which we must eat to inherit eternal life (Jn 6:36-69). Receiving Holy Communion gives you your security in Christ.

To be a full member of the Catholic Church, you must receive three sacraments: Baptism, Holy Communion, and Confirmation. Here in the West, we usually wait until the age of about 13 for confirmation. But in Kerala, where it is called the “sacrament of anointing”, it is given to babies when they are baptised. In both East and West, the minister declares that this is a “seal” of the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the ancient word a seal was used in the way we use an identity card or passport today. But it’s not our own identity card – it’s God’s! And when we are sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit, God promises us power to be his representative in the church and in the world. It was that power St Paul was writing about in his letter today. Being anointed with Chrism gives you your authority in Christ.

So who do you think you are?

Jesus thinks you are the salt of the earth. You have the power to make the world around you a better place, just as salt can cure meat and grit treacherous paths.

Jesus thinks you are the light of the world. That’s high praise, coming from Him! In St John’s Gospel (8:12) He called Himself the Light of the World, and said that if we followed him, we would make it to Heaven. Wow! That’s a challenge! Jesus says you must be the kind of person that if other people imitate your behaviour, they will go to heaven!

What kind of actions is God looking for? The First Reading instructs us to support the hungry and the poor; we do this through our taxes and through giving to charity, in the form of money or the foodbank and clothesbank we have here. We’ll have an opportunity to help some very special people at the end of today’s Mass, when we take a collection to help handicapped children visit Lourdes this Easter.The Bible suggests that for people who don’t know about Jesus, such good works will be enough to get them to heaven (Rom 2:12-16).

Now, it’s also true that Jesus warned us not to show off our good deeds in front of other people – in fact that’s in the very next chapter of the same Gospel (Mt 6:1). He’s concerned that we don’t get proud about our good deeds. But as long as our motivation isn’t to show off, we’re not to hide our Christian actions either – because otherwise we can’t inspire other people to follow us to heaven.

Is it enough to only do good works to help the poor? NO! You are forgetting your identity in Christ.

We are God’s family. We know the family secret, that to have life to the full, we must receive the Bread of Heaven. The example that God wants us to set for others is the example of being people who come every week to receive our supernatural bread! By doing this, we can help people who follow our example find their security in Christ. Remember, Jesus Himself said that if we do not eat of his flesh we will not have life within us! (Jn 6:53)

So who do you think you are?

If you think you’re a good person who doesn’t know Jesus, being kind to needy people will probably get you into heaven.

But if you’re a Catholic and know you’re a member of God’s family, God expects more of you! You are the salt of the earth! You have your identity, your security and your authority from being a brother or sister of Christ our King! But if you lose your saltiness, look out – even God’s identity card won’t get you through the gates of heaven if you claim to be like Jesus but turn out to be a fraud!


Looking back on the Year of Faith

Official logo for the Year of Faith - a stylized ship with the letters IHS (Jesus) as the sail surrounded by a Eucharistic circleAs the Year of Faith closes on the Feast of Christ the King 2013, I am making available here links to some talks I have given to mark the Year of Faith. They were first given at St John Lloyd Parish intended for an audience of practicing Catholics, then some of the talks were slightly adapted to be more accessible to an audience including non-Catholics and given again at the Cornerstone at St David’s.

The links here are for narrated Powerpoints of the St John Lloyd versions of the talks.

We Believe in a God who Speaks, covering the Bible, Tradition and private revelation.

We believe in Faith and in Sciencefrom my perspective as a Catholic Priest with a PhD in astrophysics.

We believe in the Virgin Mothercovering the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth and Assumption of Our Lady.

We Believe in One Church of Christ, covering the relationship between the Catholic Church and other Christian communities.

We Believe in One Catholic and Apostolic Church, on the role of St Peter and the Apostles and how this led to the modern leadership of the Catholic Church.

We Believe in a Suffering Saviour, on whether God can suffer and if so, how this should affect our way of praying.

We Believe in the Holy Spirit, on how we know there is a Holy Spirit, why we celebrate Confirmation, and how we can develop a prayerful relationship with the Spirit of God.

We Believe in the Blessed Sacrament, on why we claim that bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, and how worship of Jesus in the form of the Blessed Sacrament has developed in the Catholic Church over the centuries.

We Believe in a God Who Heals, looking at the phenomenon of healing in the Christian Church historically and today.

Not a Tame Lion!

Homily at St John Lloyd for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year B – National Youth Sunday

Imagine a Kingdom not of this world.

Imagine a Kingdom where a Lion is King!

C. S. Lewis did just that. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobeand in his other Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis unfolded a vision of a great Kingdom, called into being by the song of Aslan, the Lion, where animals could speak and lived in harmony. A time came when the land was gripped by evil; it was always winter and never Christmas.

Four children from our own world were brought into that Kingdom. One of them, Edmund, chose the side of evil. Aslan, the Lion King, offered himself as a sacrifice so that Edmund could be restored to his family and to the side of Good.

At the end of the story, Edmund, with his brother and two sisters, are all installed as Kings and Queens of Narnia – not a King attended by a brother Prince and two Princesses, no, but all of them Kings and Queens. They were summoned out of our world to become a royal family in the Kingdom of the Lion.

Imagine a Kingdom not of this world.

That’s the challenge which Our Lord threw out before Pilate. Do you really want to know if I am a King? Are you interested in the answer? Because if you press me, I will admit the charge – but you must be prepared to imagine a different kind of Kingdom.

In Britain, we’ve had a Queen on the throne for sixty years, and we might feel we understand monarchy: Her Majesty launches ships, opens hospitals, and parachutes into the Olympics, accompanied by James Bond.

But our constitutional monarchy is a mere shadow of the power of kings in ages past. For much of Britain’s history, kings had power to tax the people, to declare war, and make decisions on matters of life and death. A whisper from a King might get an enemy executed; a royal pardon could spare the most wretched criminal. In Christian Europe, the King was seen as representing the authority of God Himself, just as the Kings and Queens of Narnia received their authority from Aslan.

Imagine a Kingdom not of this world.

The image on our pulpit which represents Christ in Kingship is a Lion. This represents dominance and authority. If you find yourself faced with a Lion, you will not be able to negotiate with it – you will only survive if you treat the Lion with the utmost respect.

Our Lord asks us on this day, which celebrates His Kingship, whether we are ready to accept Him as our King. If we belong to His Kingdom, we will live in this world, without sharing in its values. The blessing which we’re offered is that in God’s eyes, we are to be reckoned as Kings and Queens. The challenge is that we must exercise this God-given authority in a Christ-like way. This is the way of self-sacrifice, as Aslan gave his life for Edmund. This is the way of forgiveness, as we exercise the royal power of pardon. This is the way of using our riches to bless the poorest among us, as the sainted Queens Margaret of Scotland and Elizabeth of Hungary distributed their wealth to the poor, tending to beggars and invalids with their own hands.

Those saintly Queens were criticised by the court circles of their age for their decidedly non-royal behaviour. In the news this week, many commentators have criticised the Church of England for being “out of touch” with modern values by failing to accept women as bishops. Hardly any voices have pointed out that the mission of a Christian Church is not to follow the trends of society, but to invite that society to accept the rule of Christ as King. To be sure, there’s disagreement even among Anglicans on what they believe the King’s Command to be on such matters – but only a few voices have dared to say that any religion must have the freedom to follow its own principles, as long as non-members are not discriminated against. We must keep Anglican leaders in our prayers as they struggle to work out what it means to be part of a Kingdom “not of this world” while being the Established Church for England.

Imagine a Kingdom not of this world.

Imagine a way of living where the most important question we ask ourselves each day is: What is the command of Christ, our King?

Imagine a way of living where each one of us uses our proper authority – in the workplace, in our family home, in the voluntary groups we belong to – not for own own advantage but to favour the poorest, the most disadvantaged, to give those struggling a helping hand.

Imagine a Kingdom not based on personal advancement or shaped by our fears, but built on selfless love.

When you come to Mass and see the creatures on the front of this pulpit, remember Narnia – remember that you are part of a Kingdom not of this world. And before you leave this building at the end of Mass, look again at the pulpit and let these creatures speak to you of what they represent. These creatures are truly talking animals, for they invite you to go forth to proclaim the Gospel with your whole life!

Plaques on the Pulpit at St John Lloyd Church, Cardiff.

Go forth like the ox, willingly bearing the burdens laid upon you.

Go forth like the angel, ready to speak God’s word wherever it needs to be heard.

Go forth like the eagle, carrying your prayers to the heights of heaven.

Go forth like the lion, thinking of that other Kingdom where Christ is Lord, and where the values are not the selfish ones of the world around us. Remember that such a Kingdom will remain a fantasy, unless you choose to make it a reality.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.