Homily to members of Sion Community and LiveStream Viewers on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B.

Last month, tens of thousands of people from all over the world tuned in to a webcam at the Cambridge Botanical Gardens. A rare ‘moonflower’ was expected to bloom at any moment – and watchers were caught off guard when this happened not during the night, but in broad daylight.

In ancient Jerusalem, people from afar were also looking for a rare attraction – some Greeks arrived, pagans with an interest in Judaism, and declared “We want to see Jesus.” Maybe they were content to have him pointed out to them. Maybe they wanted an interview with him. Perhaps St John was even using “seeing” to mean “believing and understanding”. Whatever it was they wanted, their arrival was a sign: news of Jesus had passed beyond the Jewish nation and was beginning to attract the wider world. When pressed to perform his first miracle at Cana, Our Lord protested that his hour had not yet come; but now, with the nations watching, the hour was indeed at hand.

When a moonflower blossoms, it is a bittersweet occasion. The beautiful and fragrant bloom soon closes again and exudes a putrid odour. Yet this is necessary for the flower to achieve its purpose and give rise to new life. Jesus too needed to alert his supporters that the path ahead would lead through devastating loss before the new life he had promised could be attained, and he too chose an image from the natural world, an image which warned that what was to come was quite different from what had gone before – as different as an ear of wheat is from a tiny grain.

How do you enable a grain of wheat to burst into new life?

Well, first you have to wait for the right time. Winter wheat and spring wheat each have a right time for planting. Jesus waited until he was 30 to begin his public ministry.

Next, the seed needs to be watered. Jesus began his public ministry with baptism.

A seed cannot grow without oxygen. The Holy Spirit, whose name means ‘breath’, descended upon the newly-baptised Christ.

Some seeds need to pass through a trial before they germinate – a forest fire, a cloud of smoke, or rough treatment in the gizzard of some animal. In all cases the seed must break its outer casing and send a root earthwards and a shoot heavenwards. Jesus was roughly crucified, his body laid in the earth and his divine spirit released to enter heaven, after a visit to the holy souls waiting outside the gates.

A seed does not literally die when it is planted – a truly dead seed will not germinate at all – but it suffers the ‘death’ of losing its old identity. We could choose many other examples of creatures which have shed their old identity – caterpillars becoming butterflies, nymphs becoming dragonflies, tadpoles becoming frogs and toads; all point us to the need to grow and change. Yet each of these creatures changes according to the law written in its very being, the DNA which programmes every cell in its body.

“If anyone serves me, that person must follow me.”

Jesus invites us to follow him through death and resurrection. Everyone who becomes a follower of Jesus faces the trial of openness to change:  if we are truly to be servants of Jesus, he tests us to see if we are willing to live by his standards even when this is far from convenient for us. This might be a challenge to turn away from some obvious sin – but it might be the challenge to stand up for Jesus and for his church in the face of public criticism.

This week, the Vatican issued a statement explaining why the Catholic Church is unable to offer blessings to same-sex couples. We may find ourselves suddenly challenged to justify why the Church is ‘homophobic’. We live in an age which is not interested in what ‘the Church teaches’ so we need to shift the conversation to ‘what Jesus said’. In fact, Our Lord said nothing directly about same-sex relationships, but did say it was God’s plan, made clear in Genesis, that a husband and wife should form a committed bond with one another. So perhaps the best response to a critic is that the Catholic Church exists to bless what Jesus blessed, and we are only trying to be faithful to Jesus; the same statement said that the Church will gladly bless individuals who seek to be faithful to God’s plan. What the church says to all human beings who experience same-sex attraction – as it does to all other people – is that “You are valued. You are loved by God. You are worthy of God’s blessing.” This response will not satisfy all our critics, but it may encourage them to take a fresh look at who Jesus was and what he taught. Our role is only to hold Jesus up in front of the world – he is the one who will ‘draw all people to himself’.

Recently a Zulu king died and was buried – but in the Zulu culture, they use a word to indicated that he was ‘planted’ in the ground and gathered unto his ancestors.

It is not enough that Jesus died and entered eternal life – I too must be planted. The divine law written in my heart must be allowed to shape my growth. It is not about who I am now, but who I am called to be. What part of my shell must be broken? My pride? My selfishness? My desire to conform to the world around me? My fear of change? After the water of baptism, after the infilling of the Holy Spirit, I must face up to the challenge to change.

Do you want to see Jesus? Do you want to follow him, whatever the cost? He is the one affirmed by the voice of the Father. And Christ himself cries out: “Come to me on the cross! Embrace the tree of life! Drink from the source of eternal salvation! But do this and your life will never be the same again.”

The day and the hour of our own blooming into eternal life is as mysterious as that of the moonflower. But the webcam team were ready. Don’t be caught out. Don’t delay. The day to give God permission to break your shell and begin your transformation is today. Our crosses are veiled because today is not the day to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection. Today, we celebrate yours – but only if you are willing to change!


Homily at St Philip Evans, for 11.30 pm Mass on New Year’s Eve 2013 (Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God).

“Every baptised Christian is called to bless, and to be a blessing.”

So says the Catechism of the Catholic Church!

But what is this thing called “Blessing?”Our Lady of Banneux - Blessing (4)

It is when one person connects another person with the gifts God wishes to pour into that person’s life.

In our First Reading, Moses instructs Aaron, the first High Priest of the Jewish religion, about his priestly duties. He is to bless God’s people, in the words given to him by Moses.

In this way, we see it is part of God’s plan to give great blessings through a priesthood, a group of men set apart for this purpose. To go to a special person, a person not of our choosing, to receive God’s blessing, is irksome! Why make it so complicated? But it is a sign of our trust and dependence on God. To receive God’s blessing we approach God on His terms, not ours. The priest uses God’s words, not his own.

This same humility was shown by Our Blessed Mother when she took the Christ-child to the Temple. Although this child was a heaven-sent child, a true Son of God, she was the Mother of this Child, the Mother of God-made-flesh – the Mother of God. She did what all humble Jewish mothers did on giving birth to a male child: she had him circumcised in humble obedience to God’s covenant with Moses. She did what all humble Jewish mothers did on giving birth to a first-born male: she went to the Temple to redeem the child with an offering.

Mary herself has come as one who blesses. The Catholic Church recognises that 80 years ago, she appeared in the Belgian town of Banneux and designated a spring to be a place of healing. At times she stretched her hands in blessing over the visionary, Mariette Beco (the statue pictured captures this gesture). Is the Blessed Mother a priest? No, but she is one who mediates God’s blessings between heaven and earth. She revealed this more fully to St Catherine Labouré in 1830, when she appeared with rays of light radiating from her outstretched hands – the graces that God allows her to obtain for us from heaven. Yet there were some dark spots. These, she said, were the graces we forgot to ask for.

We, too – because of our baptism – are a priestly people. Every baptized person is called to be a “blessing,” and to bless. We do this when we say grace over a meal, when a mother superior sprinkles her nuns with holy water at compline, when a mother or father makes the Sign of the Cross on their child’s brow at bedtime. And we bless one another in our parish community by praying for one another’s needs.

If we would receive God’s blessing, we must approach God in all humility. We must ask for God’s blessing each day. Yet do we ever ask God to guide us in which blessings to ask for? If we ask for what we would like to receive, we may be granted it. If we pray for what God is guiding us to seekwe shall surely receive it!

So as we stand on the cusp of a new year, the Year of Our Lord 2014, let us ask God to teach us how to bless one another. Let’s stand a moment of silence. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us. We have just heard that “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” and made us heirs of God the Father. If the Spirit dwells within us, the Spirit can teach us how to pray. Ask the Spirit to whisper into your heart what blessings God would pour on Wales, on the Catholic Church, and on us gathered here tonight. Pray in silence for what you feel God may be giving you. Let’s do that now…

[after a silent pause]

Now, let us offer our prayers for the Church, for the World, and for the local community. Feel free to put into words the thoughts stirred up in our hearts. We can never be sure we have heard God fully, but at worst we will be asking our Heavenly Father for the good things that we would like for one another, and at best – we will have caught the voice of the Holy Spirit and will be united with Christ as one body in praying, humbly, to the Father.

Thought for the web: Continuing the theme of humility, Anglican and other Christian traditions pray a “prayer of humble access” before coming to communion, of which this is one modern form: We do not presume to come to your table, merciful Lord,trusting in our own goodness, but in your all-embracing love and mercy. We are not worthy even to gather up the crumbs under your table, but it is your nature always to have mercy. So feed us with the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your Son, that we may forever live in him and he in us. Amen.