Save Us From the Fires of Hell

Homily at Christ the King for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A.

“Pray and make sacrifices, because so many souls go to Hell…”

Those are not my words, but the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to St Jacinta Martos and her cousin, Lucia dos Santos.

One hundred years ago this weekend, these children, with Jacinta’s brother, St Francisco, saw a vision of the Virgin Mary while they were tending sheep outside the village of Fatima, in Portugal. It was to be the first of six visions spread over six months. In the course of those visions, Our Lady of Fatima showed the children a vision of Hell and promised to take them to Heaven. She warned that many souls were in danger of going to Hell because they were not leading the right kind of life. She asked the children to offer up sacrifices so that God would give to those souls the grace of conversion – enough grace to carry them all the way to Heaven.Grey statutes of the Fatima children, Jacinta (seated) and Francisco (standing_

The Gospel we’ve heard today is very familiar – it’s the one most commonly chosen for Catholic funerals. There’s a very positive message: Jesus has prepared a room in heaven for each person on earth. But that doesn’t guarantee that every soul will arrive in the place prepared for them. We never claim the soul of any person, other than an infant, goes directly to heaven until that person has been canonised – so we rejoice that the Church has canonised St Jacinta and St Francisco this weekend. At a funeral, we presume the soul is on the way to heaven, but may benefit from our prayers to help the soul pass through Purgatory more swiftly. The message of Fatima challenges us to pray another kind of prayer, a prayer which saves souls alive on earth today from going to Hell.

There are deep mysteries here. First of all, why does God need us to pray for sinners to be converted? Why doesn’t God just convert them?

Last weekend we marked Good Shepherd Sunday, a day to remember that Jesus called us to pray for the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to the harvest. The “labourers” can mean priests, but can also mean any Christian souls willing to invite other people to become members of the Church.

God has so much respect for us, as members of the body of Christ, that He invites us to be part of His great plan – His plan for more shepherds, and His plan for the sheep.

The second mystery is whether it can really be true that souls are in so much danger of going to Hell? Didn’t Jesus say in today’s Gospel that he had gone ahead of us to prepare the way to Heaven? Indeed he did – and he explained to St Thomas that the way to get there is to follow him!

Among people who are not church members, many today believe that this life on earth is all we’ve got, so we should make the most of it while we still can. We have a message for them – God has so much more in store!

Within the church, we have a bigger problem. Two whole generations of Catholics have grown up with the impression that God is a kindly grandpa who looks the other way when we choose to sin, and throws open the gates of heaven when we die. That’s false! That’s cherry-picking some bits of the Gospels. Yes, the Father of the prodigal son ran to meet him, but not until the son had come to his senses and resolved to go and apologise to his father!

Third, why does God need our sufferings? Today’s Scripture says we are a holy priesthood offering sacrifices to God, and that by doing so we build up God’s house. The greatest sacrifice of all was Jesus dying on the Cross – but because baptism makes us members of Christ’s body, we can offer own little sacrifices as our contribution to this work. This is the priestly work that ALL members of the church are called to undertake.

How do we do this? The children of Fatima were taught a prayer that they could say whenever they voluntarily accepted any hardship, rather than choosing to complain: “Oh my Jesus, it is for love of you and in reparation for sins against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

Daily life will send us plenty of material for sacrifice. Sometimes, we have to sacrifice our pride to let well-meaning people help us. Sometimes we have to go the extra mile to do a favour which is not onerous but certainly inconvenient, helping a family member, friend, or stranger. Sometimes, life sends us physical aches and pains – these too can be material for sacrifice rather than complaint

Each of the three children of Fatima had a different calling. Lucia is not yet canonized. She lived until 2005, and her case is still being investigated: she remained on earth as a witness. Her two cousins both died in the Spanish ‘Flu which swept Europe before 1920. Our Lady said that she would take Jacinta to Heaven – and Francisco, who saw the vision but did not hear the words – would go to Heaven too, but first he would have to pray “many rosaries”!

So, my dear friends in Christ, let us not take Heaven for granted. We rejoice today that Jesus has opened the way – but to get there we must follow Him, and for others to get there, they must follow Him too. Let us not forget to pray that many people will indeed choose to start following Jesus on earth, and so find the way to their home in heaven. If we add daily sacrifices to our prayer, we will be doing something most pleasing to Our Lady – but we will only find out what great fruit our prayers bring when we reach that heavenly home prepared for us.

St Jacinta – pray for us!

St Francisco – pray for us!

Our Lady of Fatima – pray for us!

Shock Tactics

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B.

The Seven Word Sermon: Take action before it’s too late. You!

(This sermon begins with the preacher and his accomplices lobbing ping pong balls into the congregation, calling ‘catch!’)

Sometimes, it takes a shock to persuade us to change our ways.

For much of his life, my Dad smoked. He tried to quit several times, but it was only when his doctor gave him a stern warning about his blood pressure, that he was motivated enough to kick the habit.

A few years ago, I had severe back pain. My doctor told me to use an exercise bike to strengthen the muscles in my lower back, and I now do so regularly. If it hadn’t been for that wake-up call, I probably still wouldn’t exercise regularly.

And what is true of our health is also true of our faith.

Each of today’s readings is a wake-up call.

The Risen Lord is having difficulty getting through to the Apostles. During his lifetime on earth, he had tried to explain that his mission was to die so that people’s sins could be forgiven. After allowing them to touch the wounds in his hands and feet, and eating a piece of fish to prove he was no mere apparition, he ‘opens their minds’ so they can understand what is going on. Eventually, they wake up and realise that their mission is to tell the world to ‘repent’. The Greek word we translate as repent, metanoia, means much more than ‘saying sorry’. It means a radical change in one’s way of life!

St Peter is having difficulty getting through to his Jewish audience. 50 days earlier, many members of the same crowd had shouted “Crucify him!” – no doubt quite a few had got caught up in the emotion of the moment and only realised the enormity of what they had done when the dead body of Jesus of Nazareth was taken down from the Cross. Yet Peter turns this to his advantage, excusing what they had done and saying that they, too, are invited to become followers of Jesus.

St John is having difficulty getting through to his Christian audience. Some among them claimed to know Jesus, but were not living their lives according to the teaching of Jesus. St John does not mince his words, calling those with the wrong lifestyle, “liars”. But at the same time, he insists that all sins can be forgiven if we turn to Jesus.

Now today, I hope I will have no difficulty getting through to you! If you have caught a ping-pong ball, please hold it in the air so that everyone can see it! Look around you – see how many balls are being held aloft…

These balls represent the responsibilities in our parish which no-one is yet taking hold of.IMG_0076[1]

The white balls represent the ministry of welcome. Since his arrival last September, our seminarian, Jonathan, has been on duty at weekend Masses welcoming people as they arrive. But Jonathan will be leaving us in July, and we need to hand on this task to others. There are many balls, because we wish to have a rota of welcomers so that each person is only on duty once a month. If you come to this church regularly, can smile, and are able to stand up for 20 minutes, you qualify as a welcomer. You don’t even have to be a Catholic! All that we ask is that you come 20 minutes early for the Mass you would be attending anyway, greet visitors and distribute any booklets or leaflets needed for that Mass.

The yellow balls represent our duty to share faith with our children. It is some years since this parish has had a Children’s Liturgy during Mass – that is, an opportunity for under-8s to go out during the first half of Mass to listen and respond to the Bible in a way more appropriate to their age. If we don’t provide a Children’s Liturgy, we are making it difficult for parents with young children to be part of our parish community. But to get a good Children’s Liturgy running, we need four teams, each with three people – 12 people altogether. Four of those need to be team leaders, who – with guidance from myself – will prepare the children’s session. It’s not hard – their are lots of resources available. Eight will be ‘additional adults’ there to help supervise the children. Everyone who takes on this task will need to have a DBS check – what we used to call a Criminal Records Check. We cannot re-launch a Children’s Liturgy unless we have a large team, because it’s not fair to expect a few people to do the work every weekend. But for the leaders, it only means one hour per month preparing material, and for the assistants, it takes no more time than coming to Mass.

Finally, the blue balls represent our responsibility to keep our church and hall in good condition. As a public building, there are many Health & Safety inspections, and maintenance tasks, which need to be carried out each year. Some, such as checking for trip hazards, can be done by a volunteer. Others, such as electrical testing, need us to call in professionals – but we still need a responsible person on site to show the professionals around. I am very grateful to Deacon Steve, who has done the lion’s share of this work in recent years, and to Joe Manson, who has done many practical jobs on our site, but we need a larger team. In December, I called a meeting for those willing to help, but no-one new came. If Deacon Steve or myself have to supervise maintenance, every hour we spend dealing with this is an hour when sick parishioners are not being visited, the bereaved are not being comforted, or prayers are not being offered. Do you want your clergy to spend their time looking after buildings, or people? It may be that your husband or wife does not attend Mass but would be willing to support the parish through taking on one of these practical jobs – could you ask them when you get home?

On Easter Sunday, I had a text message from a friend of mine, a priest in Kent. We were ordained deacon together, but he is a few years older than me. On Easter Sunday night, he suffered a mini-stroke and spent a few days in hospital. His doctor has warned him to avoid stress – not easy when you are a priest celebrating Easter. And for me, this was a wake-up call too, it was a “There but for the grace of God go I” moment. This is OUR parish. It is as strong as we make it together. It cannot depend on the priest or the deacon doing all the work. Nor can it rely on the priest having to approach people individually to persuade them to take on a particular role. So today, I am sharing with all of you the responsibility of recruiting volunteers. And I want to do this in a way that makes it clear what is needed.

Please hold up the ping-pong balls again, if you have one.

Remember, WHITE represents the ministry of Welcome, which needs you to come 20 minutes early, once a month. YELLOW is Children’s Liturgy, which assistants can do when at Mass anyway. BLUE is you, or your partner at home, giving a few hours per month helping with practical site maintenance. Now don’t panic – if you have caught a ball, you don’t have to do the task it represents. All you have to do is find someone in church right now willing to take that responsibility from you. And if there is a task you would like to take on, you can go to someone holding the right colour ball and offer to take it from them. You can do that right now. Go!

(After a few minutes of people exchanging ping-pong balls…)

Thank you for that. We now need to take contact details for those of you taking on these new tasks. When the collection is taking place, Jonathan will come and give you a slip to complete, so please hold up your ping-pong ball then for him to see. But now we continue with the Creed and Prayer of the Faithful.

Bacon and Eggs

Homily at St Philip Evans for the English-speaking community on the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

two fried eggs on a slab of bacon, on a white plate

On a farm one day, the chicken was very excited.

Her friend, the pig, asked her what all the commotion was about.

“The farmer is holding a great breakfast,” she clucked. “Lots of guests are invited!”

“Really?” said the pig. “What are they serving?”

“Bacon and eggs!” said the chicken.

At this, the pig turned a very pale shade of pink.

“What’s the matter?” asked his chicken friend.

“Bacon and eggs!” exclaimed the pig – “For you, that’s a day’s work. For me, that’s a life commitment!”

Today, we recognise that some of the paths we take in life have far-reaching consequences. At the end of today’s Mass we’ll have an appeal for our Sea Sunday collection – remembering that many people who work at sea have to spend weeks or even months apart from their families and the safety of dry land. They have chosen a career which is vital for us who depend on North Sea oil, offshore wind farms, and foreign consumer goods, in our island nation. Let’s remember with gratitude those men and women who embrace these more challenging patterns of working, from which we all benefit.

Just as some career choices are more ‘bacon’ than ‘eggs’, so there are two ways in which we can approach our Catholic faith.

The first way is to read the Bible with interest. When we spot something we agree with, we can nod approvingly – “I am glad your teaching is something that I can agree with, O Lord.” Jesus used parables because they would be memorable stories, and as with all stories, we can pick out those meanings and morals which strike us as important.

But the Disciples of Jesus were offered something more. They were the ones who had chosen ‘bacon’ rather than ‘eggs’, to set out in the Lord’s boat rather than turn up daily on the dockside. Jesus offers them his direct teaching, not wrapped up in a story but explained clearly. This is both a blessing and a challenge, because it leaves no hiding place.

When new apprentices question the teaching offered by the Master, they will surely be rebuked, told to trust the Teacher, and follow the instructions. Only when an apprentice has learned the Master’s arts will that person be truly skilled enough to understand why the Master works a certain way. Only then can the disciple begin to critique the teaching.

Some of us present this evening have already reached the point in our faith when we have recognised that if Jesus is truly our Master, his teaching will challenge us to make some significant changes in our life. I learned that lesson in August 1993. I had already become a Catholic three years previously, but now I was a year away from completing my undergraduate degree. I was reluctant to pray a prayer asking Jesus what he wanted me to do. What if he asked me to do something I didn’t want to do? But during that summer youth retreat, I realised the Lord was asking me for bacon, not eggs. He was inviting me to trust him. If he was truly the loving Friend we meet in the Gospels, then Jesus wasn’t going to ask me to do anything which would damage me. He would only choose what is best. So that summer, I surrendered. That was the first time I could truly both pray, and mean, “Here I am Lord. Use me as you will.”

God’s word does not return to him fruitless. One of you here this evening will go home tonight, and for the first time in your life, will pray a prayer acknowledging Jesus as the Master of your life, even though you know He is asking you to make some significant change in your life. Perhaps He is inviting you to take on a charitable project, or to deal with some personal fault you have been avoiding. Jesus is asking this of you, because he loves you. If you trust him, he will give you the strength to bring it to completion.

Jesus himself never told a parable about bacon and eggs – it wouldn’t have been appropriate for a Jewish audience. But he did say this: unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

We are not randomly scattered seeds. We can resist the temptation of the Enemy who whispers to us that Jesus is not worth following. We can resist the distractions of the world around us. We can even choose to die to our own selves, resisting those inner doubts which worry that following Jesus might not always have the best outcome. If we choose to listen to what Christ and His Church DO say, even though the message is uncomfortable to us, we will indeed bear fruit. Some thirtyfold, some 60, some 100.

Listen, anyone who has ears!

Stop! Here comes Jesus!

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

Episode 1 of 5 in our new series, Knowing and Following Jesus.

A few months ago I was driving to the clinic – I had this terrible pain in my left leg – and while I was waiting at the traffic lights, a young man stepped in front of the car, as bold as brass if you please, and held out his palm in a gesture that could only mean one thing: STOP!A human hand, palm exposed, in the STOP gesture.

Well, I don’t normally pick up hitch-hikers but there was something about this guy – hard to put into words – but he just exuded trustworthiness. I couldn’t help but unlock the passenger door and gesture to him to hop in. He wasn’t much to look at – early 30s, long hair, sweatband round his head – but he just felt, well, safe. And that’s when things started to get a bit weird.

“Where to?” I asked him.

“Home,” he said.

“But I don’t know where you live.”

“No, your home.”

“But I’m on my way to see the doctor,” I protested.

“No need,” he said, cheerfully. “I think you’ll find that the pain in your leg has gone.”

Blow me, he was right! My leg felt perfect, and – this is the really weird bit – how did he know?

On the way home he told me his name was Josh, and he had nowhere to stay. So – I know it sounds crazy – but I offered to put him up for a few nights.

We stayed up late the first night watching telly. I suggested one of the adult channels, but he gave me a funny look. He said his Dad was a garden designer and he much preferred wildlife and nature programmes.

The next night I offered him a drink with supper. He said he’d have just the one glass of wine, but that I should go easy on the spirits. He’d read me right again – how did he know that a weakness for alcohol runs in my family?

Then there was the day I’d had a big row at work with my colleague Valerie, and came home grumbling bitterly. Yes, the spat was partly my fault but I was blowed if I was going to be the first one to make peace. I needed someone to vent my spleen on, and Josh was in the firing line. If he was taking my hospitality, he could jolly well take my side in this. Only he didn’t. Looked me straight in the eye and asked me if I was man enough to be the first to say sorry.

That was when I started to get suspicious. He was still wearing that sweatband, but occasionally it slipped out of line and I could see some spotty scars underneath. And on the back of each of his wrists, it looked like an old wound had healed.

Then Saturday came, and he said he’d have lunch ready when I got back. I enjoyed the morning at the bowling green and came home. Lunch was ready, as promised, but it turned out I wasn’t the only one joining him. He had not only invited Valerie – who I hadn’t apologised to yet – but also the lady across the street I never talk to; I think she was discharged from Whitchurch on one of those care-in-the-community schemes – and the Big Issue seller whose pitch is round the corner. In my house! Without asking!

I just about managed to keep my temper until the last guest had gone, but then I lost it, I really did. While Josh was busy doing the washing-up, I cleared out the walk-in cupboard under the stairs and waited for him to come out of the kitchen. Then, at exactly the right moment, I gave him a big shove and bolted the door.

Yes, I know who it is that I’ve locked in the closet. I’m still feeling a bit guilty about that. So I’ve put a table in front of the door with a nice bunch of flowers – changed every week, and I keep a candle burning there. When I walk past the door, I make a respectful bow in that direction. But I’m not opening that door. I’m not letting him out. If that man gets into my life again, it’s going to be far too disruptive. I don’t mind having Jesus with me each day, but I’m not going to let him interfere in my everyday life!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus stepped in front of a funeral procession, restored one life, and changed another forever. In today’s Second Reading, St Paul recalled how the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus, causing him to set off as a missionary without delay.

Each one of us here today knows something about Jesus. Part of what we know is right, but simplistic, because we learned it in childhood. Part of what we know is wrong, because we have learned it at second hand from people who found the real Jesus too annoying or challenging to embrace in full. And part of what we know is right – but leaves us room to go deeper. As the Ordinary Sundays unfold over the remainder of this Year of Faith, let’s take a fresh look at the real Jesus – the annoying Jesus, the challenging Jesus, the full picture of Jesus presented to us by the Gospels.

But be warned – when we look closely at Jesus we will be forced to make a choice – to push him into a closet where we can hide the parts of the message we find too much to bear, or a choice to live with him, in which case we will not find rest until we accept his invitation to change our life.

Acknowledgements: today’s story was largely inspired by a tale told by the Jesuit, Gerard W. Hughes, published in Gathered and Scattered and also in For God’s Sake – Unity. Also a nod in the direction of Joseph F. Girzone’s Joshua. ‘The annoying Jesus’ as found in a litany from the Iona CommunityClipart adapted from a file on

Worship? Follow? Avoid?

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year CWorld Day of Prayer for Vocations

23 years ago last Sunday, I became a Catholic. It was a significant step – but not the biggest decision I have made in my relationship with God. It was part of a journey – I’d wanted to become a Catholic for several years, attended Mass for a year-and-a-half, attended RCIA for 6 months, and made my First Confession the previous week. 14 April 1990 was the day when I made my First Communion and was Confirmed – and then the journey continued.

6 years ago next month, I was ordained as a Catholic Priest. It was a significant step – but not the biggest decision I have made in my relationship with God. It came only after 7 years of study in seminary and of training in pastoral placements. As another new priest once said to me, on ordination day, it’s as if a tap is turned around – instead of having a lot of stuff poured into you, you immediately have to start pouring out to others.

39 years ago, I was baptised, in an Anglican church. It was a significant step – but since I was only 9 months old at the time, it doesn’t count as any kind of decision in my relationship with God.

What, then WAS the biggest decision I have made in my relationship with God?

20 years ago, I said YES.

Yes to what?

Yes to everything.

If you use a computer, think of those dangerous moments where the computer asks you if it can move 289 files to the trashcan and you either have to check them all individually, or do the risky thing and click “Yes to everything!”

If you have ever written out a blank cheque, lent your car-keys to a teenager, or done a house-swap leaving near strangers with the run of your family home for a week, you’ll know the kind of thing I mean.

It’s that kind of open-ended commitment where you hope everything is going to turn out OK, but there’s that nagging doubt in the back of your mind…

In August, 1993, I was on a Youth Retreat being run by Youth 2000, the same group – though now run by different young people – which is coming to St David’s Sixth Form College next weekend. I was also two years into my undergraduate degree and beginning to wonder what to do next.

I was young.

I was male.

I was single.

I was Catholic.


What about the priesthood?



Definitely not!

The thing is, although I knew I was saying no, I didn’t know WHY I was saying no. What was I afraid of?

I think, looking back, I was afraid that Jesus was going to ask me to do something I probably wouldn’t like. I’d have to do it, because he was God. And once I said yes, I was going to be miserable for the rest of my life.

During that retreat, one of the speakers invited us to take a silent hour in the afternoon, so I found myself a secluded spot on a riverbank and began to ponder.

I believed that Jesus, as God, was the smartest being in existence.

I believed that Jesus, as God, was the most loving being in existence, and couldn’t possibly want anything for me that would be bad for me.

I called Jesus, Lord. If I really meant that he was my Lord, that would mean I was saying I wanted him to be the person in charge of my life.

So… if Jesus is smarter than me, if Jesus will never choose anything which is not in my best interests, and if the Bible encourages me to call Jesus, “Lord”, I was faced with only one inexorable, inescapable, and incontrovertible conclusion: YES to everything.

So I prayed. And my prayer went something like this: “Jesus, I believe you are who the Bible says you are. I believe you love me and have my best interests at heart. From today onwards I will go where you ask me to go, do what you ask me to do. Whatever you ask – if you make it clear what you want, I will do it – even if it is the “priest thing”.

Well, back then it wasn’t the “priest thing”. I ended up in working in Nottingham on a gap year and then at Cardiff University for my PhD. But in 1997, the Lord showed me that it was time for the “priest thing” and here I am today, as your parish priest at St John Lloyd.

No two priests lead a parish in the same way. Each priest brings different gifts to the task. Some have a listening ear and are brilliant at binding up the broken-hearted. Others are community organisers, mobilising the masses to build parish halls and run grand social events. And me? My gift to you is that I am excited about making disciples, helping people to understand the teaching of Jesus, to follow him in their daily lives, and worship Him in their prayer lives. You will understand that a man who once stood in God’s presence and said “YES to everything!” might get a bit excited about this.

One or two of you here today will have made the same journey quite consciously and said to God, “Yes to everything”.

Quite a few of you have made this journey without realising it, and your heart has already said “Yes to everything” without putting it into quite those words.

But there will be those among us who are still afraid of what Jesus might ask of us, who say to God, “Yes, but only to the bits I feel comfortable with”. I was there once – for three years after becoming a Catholic, until I realised what God was really asking.

Listen to the words of Jesus:

‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life.’

The Good Shepherd offers each one of us the security of eternal life, but this comes with a condition: we must listen to the voice of Jesus, and we must follow.

It is always a struggle to say Yes to God. There is a special struggle in the hearts of those who are being called to ordained ministry and to the religious life, and I would like to invite you now to join me in praying a prayer, using the words of Blessed John Paul II, for those young people who are caught up in this struggle at this time:

Lord, Jesus, Christ, Good Shepherd of our souls, you who know your sheep and know how to reach the human heart.

Stir the hearts of those young people who would follow you, but who cannot overcome doubts and fears, and who in the end follow other voices and other paths which lead nowhere.

You who are the Word of the Father, the Word which enlightens and sustains hearts, conquer with your Spirit the resistance and delays of indecisive hearts; arouse in those whom you call the courage of love’s answer: “Here I am, send me!”