Join the “Serve One Another” Society

Homily at St Philip Evans for Maundy Thursday, 2016.

coffee-cupWould you like it Regular, Large, Extra-Large, Skinny or Superskinny? Fries, mash, or side salad? And which dressing will you have with that?

Choice. It’s all around us. As consumers, we’re told that we can have things the way we like it, when we want it. It’s part of the self-service society we now live it. At the supermarket, we can self-scan. At the airport, we can self-check-in. Shopping on-line, we can see a bewildering array of options and choose exactly what we want. It makes things cheaper for the companies, because we are doing more of the work ourselves. But this also comes with a price. That price is a kind of loneliness and isolation – and it sells us an illusion, the illusion that we are self-sufficient.

Sooner or later, most of us will need help. If we live to a ripe old age, we might need someone to cut our nails, manage our mobility or even provide all-round nursing care. As Christians, we will need to resist the temptation to say “I can do it myself, thanks” and receive the help on offer with good grace.

But Jesus wants us to do more than that. We don’t just help each other when we can’t manage. We help each other because we are one body with many parts, and the Church works best when allow ourselves to serve one another. There’s a cost to this too – if you let someone else help you, chances are you won’t get everything just the way you like it.

When I first became a priest, I learned quickly never to say “no” to offers of help if there was any way I could make use of that help. I also learned that while I could do things my way, it’s always best to let other people do things their way. Unless some important point of Health & Safety or Safeguarding is at stake, trying to make other people do things my way is a hiding to nothing!

Simon Peter is appalled when Jesus wants to wash his feet. But if Jesus is going to do it at all, then he should wash all of Simon’s body, right? No. Jesus does things differently. He wants to wash our feet and Peter learns to accept that with good grace. The Church is not part of the self-service society; quite the contrary. Jesus invites us to become the “Serve One Another” society. And that’s going to be messy. None of us will get things just the way we like it. But none of us is in charge of the Universe, so that’s OK.

Recently, the Gold Group, our parish “family group of families“, came to me with an offer. Could they serve coffee after Sunday Mass once a month? Of course, I said yes. It’s not going to be Starbucks or Costa. You won’t have all the options from Grande thru Superskinny. But it will be a chance for us to get to know each other better. For some months now, we’ve been praying “Invite me, Lord Jesus, to know you better through the people of my parish.” From next month, he will be inviting us to do just that once a month, over a drink in the Hall. So even if it’s not a convenient time, even if it’s not your favourite drink, I invite you tonight to make a decision. Each month, stay and be part of coffee time. More than that, offer to help out, or even to start Saturday evening coffee.

We don’t do a social gathering after Mass just because we enjoy it – we do it because our parish only becomes a strong parish when we network with one another. Moses told the Israelites to come together in one house where two families were too small to eat the Passover on their own. He commanded us to “wash one another’s feet” – but what he meant was we should find ways to serve one another which make sense in our own society. If we gather together, if we serve one another, if we get to know each other better, our parish will become what Christ is calling us to be.

“Copy what I have done,” said Jesus. It didn’t come with options – in fact there is only one option, regular. How regular? Eat this and drink this communion – every Sunday. Coffee after Mass, one Sunday per month. Your priest washing feet at Mass – once per year. So let those chosen for the footwashing come forward now.

Recommended: A TED talk on the perils of too much choice.

Virtuous Living

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 1st Sunday of Advent, Year C.

(Every worshipper today is given a sticky label to write their name on. At the start of Mass, we celebrate the rites of welcome for those to be baptised or received into the Church next Easter. Before reading the Gospel, the congregation are asked to remain standing for a moment when it ends.)

Altar servers, singers, members of the deaf pastoral group, please take your seats. Each of you sits in a certain place because you need to be in that position because of your role. Now, could I ask the rest of you to exchange places with someone else? And be seated.

(A basket of straw is presented.)The outline of a heart, made in agricuotural straw

See in the corner, our crib has been built. Here is straw for the floor – straw for the place where the Son of God will be born among men and women. When the Son of God came to earth, his first dwelling place was a borrowed dwelling. Advent begins today – the season when we must make our hearts ready for the coming of Christ. It is right and fitting that we begin Advent in a place slightly strange and uncomfortable.

Advent! Happy new year!

This weekend, we celebrate a new church year, and as on January 1st we make resolutions for our life in general, so today we should begin afresh our spiritual life. We all suffer from the human condition. We know the good things we are called to do, but we become lazy or distracted. We sometimes need a reminder to do the good things we already know we should be doing. The words of scripture speak to us:

  • Live the kind of life that you are meant to be living;
  • Live the kind of life that you are already living;
  • Do not allow your hearts to become coarsened.

The first words of our parish Vision Statement say: The parish of St Philip Evans is a welcoming Catholic community.

They remain only words on paper unless we put them into practice. How should we welcome others? To answer that, ask yourself how you would like to be welcomed when you visit another church?

For example, you are a visitor sitting in another church and the regular parishioner who normally uses that seat arrives. Do you want to be asked to move, or do you expect the regular parishioner to sit elsewhere without passing comment? The golden rule tells us that we must treat others the way we would like to be treated. So if any one of us comes to St Philip Evans and finds our usual seat occupied, I’ll tell you exactly what to say. Say this: “Thank you Jesus, that a new person has come to join us!”

I’ve asked you to swap seats today as a reminder that the seat you usually sit in is not your seat. It’s only a seat you are welcome to us as long as no-one else is already using it. Even this chair here behind the altar, it’s not my seat. When the Archbishop comes, he uses it. If Deacon Steve conducts a wedding or funeral, without any priest present, he uses it. If the inn-keeper in Bethlehem has said “This stable isn’t a place for families,” Our Lord would have been born in the streets. But Our Lord was welcomed to a place which wasn’t his.

Now, a second reminder. What happens when we exchange the sign of peace? Exactly one year ago, I asked us to begin doing so by name. Today we are wearing name badges to make it easier for us to do so, but on other weeks I encourage you to ask the name of anyone standing near you don’t already know, before you shake hands.

How else can we make this a welcoming parish? We need to ensure that anyone who volunteers to help is given a genuine opportunity to help, as long as they can do so competently. I’ve heard of parishes where no-one else was allowed to help with flowers, or with the collection, or with counting the money, because so-and-so always does it. That is not the sign of a welcoming community. No-one should be forced out of a role where they are doing good work, but neither should any one of us block another person from helping.

Why don’t we always welcome help? Sometimes it’s pride – “I can do this on my own.” But God doesn’t want us to work alone; love asks us to work together. And sometimes we don’t want to let go of a role because we think it’s what makes us important. But there’s a saying, that the graveyards are full of important people. For most of us, sooner or later our health or our family circumstances mean that we can no longer do the things we used to. If I ask “Who am I?” and the answer is “a child loved by God not because of anything I’ve done, but because God’s loves me anyway,” I can feel secure. If I ask “Who am I,” and the answer is, “I am a Reader, or an Extraordinary Minister of Communion, or a Signer, or a Singer,” then I have a problem, because on the day I can no longer do that role, and such a day will come, I will have a crisis.

Each one of us is called to grow in virtue. That is, we must keep practicing our good habits until they become automatic. Getting into good habits is like strewing straw in a stable, it makes the ground ready for Christ to live in our hearts. Today let’s practice the good habits of welcoming others, and helping them to share in our work.

God expects that each one of us will give generously of the talents and abilities entrusted to us. We may even receive a special reward in heaven for doing good on earth. But we don’t do good to earn our place in heaven – we can’t. The child born in Bethlehem earned that for us. It’s HIS seat, but he doesn’t mind if we sit there too. So budge up – make room for everyone! And may the Lord be generous in increasing your love for one another!

 

 

Please Give Generously

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.

“Hello! I’m calling on behalf of the Big Charity Appeal of the week – do you have five minutes?”

Giving to Charity has been in the news recently, and for all the wrong reasons. Details of generous givers are passed from charity to charity, and those who are most generous are bombarded with appeals to give – most notoriously, in the recent tragic case of Olive Cooke.

We can try to opt-out of receiving unwanted mail or phone calls, but sooner or later we will be confronted by yet another request for charity – someone shaking a bucket at a supermarket door, an appeal to “spare any change” on the street, and even when you come to church, you know that once or twice a month, there will be yet another appeal for a retiring collection!

It’s easy for us to feel pressured by our own guilt. A charity has sent us a free pen or coaster? We ought to give in return. The people either side of me in church are watching – how much should I put in the bag?

Today, I’d like to share with you a simple antidote to guilt. It’s called planning. The most likely reason for us to feel guilty about an appeal to give, is that we haven’t planned how much we intend to give this year, and set an honest limit. I’m not talking specifically about what we give to church, but all our giving – to family members who don’t live in our household, to charities we choose to support, and to colleagues or strangers who approach us to ask for help. We are called to practise not charity, but generosity.

There’s one key verse in the Bible we should keep in mind – it’s II Corinthians 9:7.

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

We are called to give generously and cheerfully, not out of a sense of guilt or obligation. So in these next few weeks, we might look at the coming year 2016 and make a deliberate plan of what we will give. We might choose to give to certain charities and no more. That way, when we receive an awkward phone call or meet someone on the supermarket steps, we can say, with no guilt, “I’m sorry, I’ve already decided which charities I am going to support this year. When I re-pick for next year, I will keep your cause in mind.” Or as part of our planning we might keep back a percentage for “contingency giving”, for the colleague at work or the needy person on the street; and once that amount is gone, it’s gone.

But if we are planning how much of our income to give, how much should that be? Here are some suggestions.

100%. That’s what we see in today’s Gospel, and Our Lord speaks warmly of what the woman has done. We aren’t told how God provides for her in return for her generosity, but we know God has seen her good deed and implicitly, she won’t lose out. The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal operate a policy where at the end of each year they give away any remaining funds and start on January 1st with zero assets. God provides!

95%. Give away almost everything and keep just the bare minimum. This is what Oskar Schindler did, liquidating his fortunate to buy the freedom of Polish Jews. When it was time for him to make his own escape, the film Schindler’s List portrays him lamenting that he could have sold just a little more to save three or four more lives. St Katherine Drexel, an American heiress, gave away most of her fortune in founding her own religious order.

50%. An equal share for yourself and the person in need. St Martin of Tours cut his cloak in half to warm a beggar. Blessed Mother Teresa told a story of taking rice to a starving family. The mother receiving it promptly poured half into a bowl and took it next door to their equally famished neighbours. The widow in today’s First Reading had an extra mouth to feed, so Elijah’s fair percentage was 33⅓.

10%. In the Old Testament, the Jewish people were clearly instructed to set aside 10% of their income to give to the Temple – this was called a tithe. Compared to the stories we’ve just we’ve just heard, from the Bible and from the saints, suddenly 10% sounds quite manageable!

These decisions are the kind which all the adults in a household need to make together. Once you have decided on your percentage, then you can share this between the different good causes you can support. You might keep in mind how many other people will support the same cause. Your elderly parents? Only your brothers and sisters. This parish? No-one except parishioners. Next week’s diocesan appeal for retired clergy? No-one except other Catholics in South-East Wales and Herefordshire. Big national charities? The whole population of the UK!

There’s no need to feel guilty because we can’t support every single good cause which comes our way. It’s even OK not to support every retiring collection we hold in church. These days, we need to remember that a person who puts nothing in a collection bag may already have a direct debit set up. What’s not OK is for us as Christians to refuse to be generous. The measure we give to others will be the measure God returns to us.

I’d like to leave you with the story of two friends walking along a beach. The tide has washed up a number of starfish, slowly drying out and dying on the shoreline. Every so often, the first friend reaches down, picks up one of the starfish, A five-armed starfish on a white backgroundand casts it into the sea. They walk on in silence for a long time, and eventually the second exclaims: “Why do you bother? There are so many starfish and you can only throw back a few. Do you think you’re really making a difference?”

The first friend made no response, but simply reached down and picked up the next starfish, smiled, and threw it into the surf with a satisfying plop. “I reckon it made a difference to that one!”

Food For The Journey

Homily at St Philip Evans on Maundy Thursday 2015

The Seven Word Sermon: Christ exhorts and sustains us through life.

Are we nearly there yet?

For six weeks we have been journeying through Lent. If we have taken our Lent seriously, we have done whatever is within our power to overcome our bad habits and to increase our doing of good deeds. God willing, our new and better habits will stick – but we may not sustain our short-term burst of good deeds in the long haul.

400 years ago, a French priest, St Vincent de Paul, felt inspired to gather a band of men who would travel to the ends of the earth to do the work of God; he called them simply The Congregation of the Mission, and reflected on their work in these words:

What have our Missioners in the Far East undertaken?  … A single man takes on the care of a ship crewed by two hundred convicts: religious instruction and confessions to the healthy and to the sick, day and night, for two weeks; and at the end of that time, he gives them a party, going himself to buy a side of beef and have it cooked; it’s their delight; one man alone does all that! Sometimes he goes off to the farms where slaves are placed; he takes them on their free time and helps them to know God; he gets them ready to receive the sacraments, and at the end he gives them a treat and has a little party for them. In Madagascar the Missioners preach, hear confessions, and teach catechism constantly from four in the morning until ten, and from two in the afternoon until nightfall; the rest of the time is spent praying the Office and visiting the sick. Those men are workers, they’re true Missioners!

Are we nearly there yet? Not yet, but we are well on the way. The journey takes a lifetime; but God has provided us with food for the journey.

Faith and feasting have always gone hand in hand. God commanded the Israelites to sacrifice and eat the Passover Lamb each year. Our Lord Jesus celebrated a similar meal at the Last Supper, when he commanded us to feast on his body and blood. The Missioners mentioned by St Vincent completed each of their missions by a celebration meal. Our journey through life is punctuated by feasting and fasting. In giving us the Gift which is the Eucharist, Our Lord has entrusted us with food for the journey. In doing this, he at one and the same time instructed us about what was within our power, and what was his alone. It is within our power to give of ourselves to those in need. It is within God’s power to sustain us on the journey with the Bread from Heaven.A South American native holds aloft a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament

Many of you may have watched the film, The Mission, on television last Sunday. There is one scene in which a missionary priest, trying to protect the natives of a South American tribe, leads them in a procession, carrying the Blessed Sacrament. When he is attacked and falls, a native picks up the monstrance and continues the procession. That priest, though merely the creation of a scriptwriter, represents the many missionaries who have succeeded in giving both material help and a renewed sense of dignity to the poorest people of the world. Among them, we might name the soon-to-be-Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero, gunned down at Mass for speaking up for the poor, and many of St Vincent de Paul’s missionary martyrs.

When the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul sold their property to build the Deaf Service Hall here at St Philip Evans, we inherited the contents of their chapel. Among them are relics of St Vincent de Paul himself, and two of his priests who were martyred as missionaries in China, St John Gabriel Perboyre and St Francis Regis Clet. Nor was St Vincent only an inspiration to men, for he founded the Daughters of Charity with St Louise de Marillac; perhaps the most famous later member was St Catherine Labouré, to whom the Blessed Mother showed herself to reveal the Miraculous Medal. I have placed all these relics on the table where we will also receive the holy oils, because the oils are for our journey to become saints: in Baptism, we are joined to the body of Christ; in Confirmation, we are promised strength to help us act as saints; in the Sacrament of the Sick, we are anointed to prepare our souls to return the mission on Earth or enter the company of the saints in Heaven.

Lent is but a moment in the cycle of our Christian life, to remind us of the mission we have been given all-year-round, to love one another as Christ has loved us. Tonight we remember how Christ taught us the work of humble service by washing the feet of his disciples, disciples who were commissioned to go out into the world and do likewise. This is our mission as Christians, as Catholics. We who choose to gather on this Thursday night, we are the heart of this parish, and so it falls especially on us to continue this mission.

Loving other people is hard work. It takes a lot of time. The people we try to love never behave the way wish they would. And whatever good we do, it never seems enough, for there’s always more that we could do if only life and its limitations did not get in the way. But God knows this. God himself experienced the limits of human flesh in Jesus Christ. And Jesus constantly called upon us not to be afraid. If we are truly people who love without fear, then the way we vote in next month’s General Election will be shaped by a generous concern for the poorest members of society, not a frightened snatching at our own self-interest.

Are we nearly there yet? None of us knows the day or hour when God will call us to complete our journey. Tragically, we live in an age where religious extremists are making martyrs of Christians in many parts of the world. We are called to the bloodless martyrdom of living our daily lives for Christ. In this, we are not alone. God has provided for us, food for the journey. Let us not be daunted by our calling, for St Vincent spoke as follows: We’ll always have greater strength than is needed, especially when the occasion arises. No one can be excused on the grounds of powerlessness: we have in us the seeds of the omnipotence of Jesus Christ. 

Do this, and remember!

Homily at St Philip Evans for Maundy Thursday, 2014.

Do this, and remember what God has done for you!Children around the table at a Passover Seder meal

Each of tonight’s readings from the Bible contains a command to “Do this, and remember.”

On Monday evening this week, Jewish communities around the world celebrated Passover. They gathered in their own homes, placed a symbolic meal on the table, a young member of the family asked, “Why are we doing this?”, and an elder told the story of how the Jewish people were able to leave Egypt because the homes marked with the blood of a Lamb were protected.

For well over three thousand years, Jewish families have done this in obedience to God’s command, which we have just read from the Book of Exodus.

Do this, and remember what God has done for you!

Each day, in Catholic Churches throughout the world, priests take bread and wine, and repeat the words of St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, as he himself passes on what he learned from those who were with Jesus at the Last Supper. When we receive Holy Communion at Mass, we not only keep the Lord’s command to “take this and eat it,” we also re-tell the story of how Jesus died as the Lamb of God, the one sacrifice which makes up for all the sins of humanity. “When we eat this bread, and drink this cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again.”

Do this, and remember what God has done for you!

During the past year, Pope Francis has given us many powerful reminders of what it means to love our neighbours. He washed the feet of a Muslim woman last Maundy Thursday. His first official visit was to a camp for asylum seekers at Lampedusa. He invited homeless men to share breakfast with him on his birthday. He has challenged all of us to be a Church for the Poor. In doing this he has made a strong statement of the same kind which Our Lord made when he washed the feet of his disciples. We are to pour our lives out in service of others, following these examples.

Do this, and remember what God has done for you!

But… we must beware of becoming complacent consumers. If we are not careful, our religious duties become things we can “get done” once a week by going to Church. We go to Sunday Mass, receive Holy Communion, put some money in the CAFOD envelope or wall-box for Bulawayo, and contribute a few tins in the Foodbank.

To be sure, these are excellent things to do! But they are the easy part of our faith.

When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, he reminded us that the true test of our faith was not what we give at the convenient times we choose, but how we help the needs of those whose paths cross ours in the most inconvenient ways. The true test of our love of neighbour is how generous we are when we stumble across the needs of others in our daily life.

The Jewish passover meal takes place in the family home, with each family member playing their part. Each Catholic home is also called to be a “domestic church,” where the great events of our faith are to be remembered as part of grace before meals and bed-time prayers. The true test of our love of God is not only that we come to Mass once a week, but that we invite God into our homes each day.

The command to “do this” is not one we can completely fulfil in Church tonight. At each Mass, the priest reminds us to “Do this in memory” of Jesus, and the Deacon sends us out to glorify the Lord with our words and actions. The Lord’s command is not carried out in its fullness until each and every worshipper lives it out daily in prayer and in works of charity. Tonight, together, we will remember the Lord washing feet, receive gifts for the Foodbank and celebrate the Eucharist. But tomorrow, and in the days to come, the responsibility is yours, to fulfil the Great Commandments to love God and love your neighbour. Each of one you will do it in your own way, but God trusts us so much that he has given the same command to each one of us:

Give thanks that Jesus has forgiven your sins and bought for you eternal life. Know that you, too, are called to be a Good Samaritan. Do this, and remember what God has done for you!

The Road to Hell

Homily at St Philip Evans, for the Sixth Sunday of Year A.Torcello - Registres 5 & 6 - Les damnés

Today’s Gospel is a lesson on how to go to Hell. We are being given a sermon by Christ Himself – and He is serious!

Have you deliberately insulted a fellow Christian by calling that person a fool? You will answer for it in hellfire.

Have you failed to restrain lust in your life? You will answer for it in hellfire.

I wish Our Lord hadn’t said those things. It would make my job as a preacher much easier. I could stand up here and say: “Don’t worry folks! God loves us all! We’re all going to heaven, and we’ll all live happily ever after.” But that wasn’t quite the message Jesus came to bring.

A little later in this same speech he will echo a message which John the Baptist gave earlier in the Gospel, that unless we bear good fruit, we are in danger of being cast into the fire.

If we look later in St Matthew’s Gospel, in chapter 18, we find Our Lord repeating his warning that we must cut off our eye, hand or foot if any of these cause us to sin. He means, of course, that we should cut off the behaviour, rather than the limb, but the meaning is clear: If you’re going somewhere you shouldn’t go – if you’re touching something you shouldn’t touch – if you’re looking at something you shouldn’t look at – STOP IT! Stop it right now, and cut it off for good, or face the consequences.

In chapter 23, Jesus will warn us that those who teach one thing but do another – the hypocrites – deserve to be punished in Hell.

In chapter 25, Jesus will present us with the image of the sheep and the goats – with the goats condemned to eternal fire being those who never gave food, drink, clothing or comfort to persons in need. In St Luke’s Gospel, Jesus will illustrate the same theme in the parable of the rich man who went to Hell because he did not feed the beggar, Lazarus, at his gates.

Are we feeling uncomfortable yet?

There are four kinds of sin which Our Lord is explicitly warning us about, because they put us on the fast-track to Hell.

First of all, there is expressing our anger against our brother or sister. It’s no sin to feel angry – but it is a serious sin, to let the anger dominate our reaction. Indeed, we must make the first move to bring peace, even if the fault is not ours. That’s why I devoted a whole sermon, a couple of weeks ago, to the importance of forgiving our enemies.

Second, there are sins connected with the lustful look. With modern printing, television and computer technology, there’s now a whole industry based on treating people as objects, an industry which satisfies lust on demand – for a price. As Christians, we can have no part of it. Jesus is warning us there is no room for compromise here; any answer other than a resounding NO sets us on the road to Hell.

Third, hypocrisy. No Christian should ever need to dismiss a child or an underling with the message “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Fourth, the sin of the goats, a total failure to love those who need our charity.

But take heart!

The picture becomes less bleak when we realise that Our Lord often uses exaggeration to get his point across. If the goats sent to Hell are those who never helped the needy, and the sheep taken up to heaven are those who always helped, where does that leave the rest of us who have offered charity at least sometimes?

There’s clearly a big warning about Hell in today’s passage. But we must read it in the context of the greater message which Jesus came to bring, an invitation to repent of our sins and be carried, by his grace, all the way to Heaven. Any warning from God is an invitation to turn our lives around while we still can. If any of these kinds of sin which Jesus identifies are present in our lives, we can choose today to reject them. We can set out on the road of conversion, the road of virtuous living.

We may need to ask help from a trusted friend so we are not alone in the struggle against temptation. We are invited to make use of the great Sacrament of Reconciliation, through which God forgives our sins and gives us strength to struggle against temptation. We need to fix our eyes not on the warnings of Hell, but on the great teaching that we have a Forgiving Father who welcomes us whenever we come to our senses and return to him. 

The direction we choose determines the destination where we shall dwell. We are called to be people of virtue – passionately committed to living the right values. To behave faithfully is within your power. If you wish, you can keep the commandments. Always seek to repair broken relationships, avoid lust at all costs, shun hypocrisy, and be as generous as you can to the poorest of the poor.  But be careful with the next move of your foot, your hand or your eye – for if you set out in the direction of Hell, you can be sure where you will end up, unless you turn around on the way!

Acknowledgment is due to Revd Ifor Williams for an inspiring Bible Study on “Hell in the teaching of Jesus” which I attended some years ago.

This sermon does not intend to imply that the sins listed above are the only ones which can consign a person to Hell. The Catholic tradition has evolved a broader understanding of what constitutues a “mortal sin”. My intent above is to identify those sins which Jesus explicitly linked to hellfire.

Bonus material for the web:

St Paul knows that God’s wisdom is different from that of the world. The psychologists will give us reasons why it is healthy to vent out our anger, and why we should move on from broken relationships. The adult entertainment industry wants to persuade us that everything is permissible between consenting adults. But the wisdom of Ecclesiasticus is as valid today as it was thousands of years ago. We can choose cooling water or searing fire, eternal life or everlasting death for our souls.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus dangles hope in front of us, too: if we’re in dispute with another Christian, we must make it our business to make peace, even if the dispute wasn’t our fault in the first place. If we fail to make peace, says the Lord, we may be “in prison until we have paid the last penny”. That doesn’t sound good, but it’s not as dire as being condemned for eternity. Could that be a hint about Purgatory?

When Our Lady appeared to three children in Fatima nearly 100 years ago, she warned them: “You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart” – and she taught them to add a prayer to each decade of the rosary for the conversion of sinners. Let’s pray for the conversion of sinners – and act for the conversion of the sinner called “me”!

Legacy Issues – What You Leave Behind

Homily at St John Lloyd, for The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Episode 4 of 4 in our current series, The Teachings of Jesus.

“Legacy! Legacy!” says the politician. It’s all about legacy!

Here we are, a year on from the 2012 Olympic Games, and everyone in the media seems to be talking about the Olympic Legacy. The games were meant to achieve so much – to give a boost to our economy and tourist trade, to get more people involved in sport, to make world-class buildings available to a deprived area of London… what we built were not bigger barns but better stadiums, and now the wrangling continues about who gets the benefit, and how much the taxpayer has had to subsidise commercial interests.

According to Ecclesiastes, the Old Testament preacher, it’s a terrible thing to work hard and have someone else enjoy the benefits. That’s called vanity.

According to our modern politicians, it’s a wonderful thing to work hard and have someone else enjoy the benefits. That’s called legacy.

But behind the rosy glow of “legacy” we might yet see the darker side of the human heart at work.

What motivates the politician who wants to leave a legacy?

Could it be a desire for prestige, for having achieved a landmark project?

Could it be sheer pragmatism – “We can’t afford all this healthcare, so we need to encourage our population to get fit?”

Could it be a genuine care and concern to make the community a better place? Yes, it could – for we must resist cynicism and find goodness even in the hearts of our politicians; but we recognise that few hearts act from pure motives and in every heart, we will find caring and kudos in competition.

Not all of us are Politicians with a capital P, but each one of us lives among other human beings, with a natural concern about what others might think of us. The way we use our wealth communicates something to those around us. The man in today’s parable did not need to build bigger barns to secure himself and his family; rather, it was an act of pride, “Look at how successful I am!”

He was trying to impress his neighbours; he failed to impress God.

If we wish to impress God, St Paul offers us a hard recipe: kill everything within ourselves that falls short of God’s standards. We are to put an end to lying – which is the desire for a reputation we have not earned; we are to put an end to greed – which tempts us to consume more than is good for our bodies and souls; and we are to put an end to indulging any desires for sexual relationships other than with the husband or wife to whom God has called us in holy matrimony.

The testimony of an ordinary saint – an everyday saint like you or me – therefore, runs something like this:

I spoke the truth, even when it did not paint me in the best light.

I chose to live simply and consume no more than is good for me. (I have to admit – I’m still working hard on this one. So no chocolate for Christmas this year, please!)

I asked God to show me the husband or wife I should wed, I waited until God blessed our relationship, and I have been faithful ever since.

A further hallmark of an everyday saint is that they see the good things of the world as a gift, not as a right. Jesus is most unimpressed at the heart of the man who considers himself entitled to a share of his brother’s inheritance. So many families in our society are torn apart by dashed expectations of inheritance! Only a humble attitude can preserve the peace!

If that man had said: “My brother’s inheritance is an undeserved gift, and I have no right to any of it,” peace would have been prevailed. And if this was important in the Lord’s day, it is even more important in today’s economy when senior citizens spend their golden years SKI-ing – that is, “Spending the Kids’ Inheritance” – or are forced to convert the value of their home into the cost of care.

Those who have little, impress God by treating what they do receive as a generous and undeserved gift. Grown-up children who expect nothing from their parents can never be disappointed, only delighted.

Those who have much, impress God by giving generously of what they have received. Parents with the ability to do so should give fairly to their children, but remember also the needs of the poor.

Over the last four weeks, we have examined some of the most challenging teachings given to us by Our Lord. The Gospels we hear at Mass, and the sermons proclaimed, are only of value to us if we take these teachings on board and change our lives accordingly.

We have been challenged to love our enemies. Have we prayed for them and reconciled with them?

We have been challenged to spend time listening to Jesus. Have we set aside a daily or weekly slot to open the Bible or practice silent meditation?

We have been challenged to be persistent in prayer. Do we have a strong sense of what we need from the Lord, and a determination to pray until we receive it?

And today, we have been challenged to use our wealth in a way which impresses heaven above us rather than the world around us. What changes do we need to make in our lives accordingly?

“Legacy! Legacy! It’s all about legacy!”

The legacy I would like to leave is this: “He reminded his people of the difficult teachings which Jesus gave us, so we could all become saints. Slowly the people of the parish took these difficult teachings on board. When they saw a part of their life in which change was needed, they went to confession, and so obtained God’s special help to live their life in a new and better way. And by taking small steps towards becoming saints, the people of St John Lloyd shone with the image of Jesus living within them, transformed the world around them, and made themselves rich in the sight of God.”

We can do this! So let the favour of the Lord be upon us: give success to the work of our hands!