Help! I’m a Catholic who wants to evangelise!

You are reading this page because you are a Catholic who wants to share the Good News of Jesus with other people, but you don’t know where to start.

First, congratulations! Trust your instincts. Don’t listen to the people who say “that’s a Protestant thing” or “Catholics don’t do that”. On the contrary, heed Pope Francis who reminds us that all Catholics are called to be Missionary Disciples.

There’s a broad sense in which all the good works done by the Church are ‘evangelistic’. But not all of the Church’s good works explicitly speak about Jesus. There’s a blurred line where evangelisation stops and catechesis begins, at the point where a listener knows Jesus is real and wants to learn more about him. Nevertheless, you know you aren’t called to join the SVP or be a leader in your local RCIA group. You want to evangelise – you want to introduce people to Jesus.

But, how do we evangelise as Catholics? The best place to start depends on your context. Who are you working with and for?

I’m a lone Catholic with no-one else who shares my vision.

Don’t panic! You can do a great deal on your own, because effective evangelisation generally takes place within existing relationships. There are some things you can do to hone your skills at sharing your faith in a way that doesn’t put other people off.

  • Learn to be sensitive to where other people are in their growth towards faith. Read Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples and watch the Proclaim’15 video on Sharing the Gospel Message.
  • Practice giving your testimony – and watch the video on Testimonies.
  • You can volunteer to your parish priest to “mentor” anyone who needs a confirmation sponsor or has expressed interest in the Church.
  • You could get involved as a volunteer with one of the non-parochial Catholic groups which runs faith-deepening activities – groups such as Youth 2000 or Celebrate.
  • You could also get involved with other local Christians running Alpha.
  • There are lots of other ‘lifestyle’ suggestions from the Home Mission Desk.

There are a few of us in my parish who want to evangelize, but my parish priest isn’t interested.

This isn’t unusual. Hard-pressed parish priests might worry that they don’t have time to manage another parish group, or might be struggling to sustain the parish RCIA arrangements and worry about how they would manage if you were successful in your evangelising. Nevertheless, a parish priest has no authority to stop any group of Catholics from meeting and praying on their own private property (see paragraphs 19 and 25 of Apostolicam Actuositatem).

I’ve been asked by my parish priest to start an evangelisation group.

Great! So first you need to form your group and do some general training. Then you need to identify what particular opportunities there are in your parish and get some training and do some planning around your project.

A good starting point will be to watch the Proclaim’15 videos about Vision and Strategy and Parish Teams, and how to share the Gospel message and give a Testimony.  If you are also responsible for organising intercession in support of evangelisation, use the session on Prayer (but if you’re not responsible for that, make sure someone is!)

If your team doesn’t feel very confident, you could run some more extensive training – in 5 sessions you can do Pass It On, or in 18 short or 9 long sessions you can use the Relit Evangelisation Course (that’s not cheap to buy, though).

After basic training, it’s time to decide what kind of project your group will tackle. Here, the Southwark Handbook can be invaluable. You will probably settle on one of three kinds of projects – to reach non-churchgoing Catholics, to reach people with no particular faith background, or to help those who already worship in your parish to move from being mere churchgoers to missionary disciples.

Focus on non-Churchgoing Catholics

Of all the human beings who don’t attend Mass, non-Churchgoing Catholics are the easiest target. They are members of the families of the people who do go to Mass. They are parents at the local Catholic School. They are easy to identify – but hard to shift. Dr Ann Casson’s 2014 research established that young Catholic parents consider themselves “good Catholics” if they are kind to other people and turn up in church at Christmas and Easter.

The Catholic Church’s focus on non-Churchgoing Catholics in England and Wales is branded as Crossing the Threshold and an e-manual is available, as well as a video from Proclaim’15. There are also extensive resources for use around Christmas and Easter.

You may wish to adopt one of the established packages – Keeping In Touch, Landings or Catholics Returning Home.

Focus on non-Catholics

The most challenging project for most Catholics will be the prospect of sharing the Catholic faith with people who have no prior Catholic connections. Pioneering work in this regard has been done by the Seeker Centre at Pantasaph, who have developed an Evangelisation Manual. There is also a Proclaim’15 video. You could run an Alpha, which contains only basic teaching common to all mainstream Christian traditions. If you have a town centre location, you might consider the Nightfever model, or offer some other kind of Prayer Experience.

Focus on evangelising the churchgoers

Many regular churchgoers will fail to understand the need or importance of evangelisation. You may decide that your starting point is to raise support among the congregation before you start to reach outside. There are three Proclaim’15 videos touching on particular groups you may wish to work with:

You may decide that a formal cell-group structure will work in your parish. If so, there are several models available:

Other tools for deepening the faith of a congregation include Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism resources and the video sets from Cafébut remember that education alone may not be enough – parishioners need to be confronted with the challenge of taking God seriously. Some courses (e.g. The Gift) do include a step of personal commitment but a parish mission can help more people take that step, and help to run a parish mission is available from groups like Café and the Sion Community.

I’m a parish priest, but I’m not sure what to do.

Your calling is to be an enabler of evangelisation. Found a team, and let them take the steps above. Your job is to equip the laity – they will connect with people you would never meet in your daily activities. But also have a strategy for your parish with evangelisation as an integral part. If your resources allow it, have some kind of pre-RCIA activity, such as Alpha, running all year round, and some kind of parish “Connect and Explore” fellowship which can help regular parishioners deepen their faith, and also serve as a post-RCIA opportunity. If your parish is too small to do that, you may need to consciously focus on raising the commitment level of existing worshippers, following the pattern of Divine Renovation.

In your preaching, be conscious of the need to draw your congregation on a journey from membership to discipleship. You don’t have time to read a book, so try this short summary of Forming Intentional DisciplesWhen you feel the time is right to issue a more direct challenge, run a Parish Mission.

I’ve been made responsible for promoting evangelisation across a diocese, deanery or cluster.

Great! The most important thing is to resist the temptation to put on some “big event” aimed at unchurched people or non-churchgoing Catholics. Big events only ever work when you have an enthusiastic network of churchgoers ready and willing to invite their non-churchgoing friends to come with them.

There is value in having networking events for active evangelisers to support each other. The wider the area, the lower the frequency. A city might have a monthly gathering for evangelisers – a diocese might have a convention once every year or two.

You can organise regional events to pray for intercession – you can use the Proclaim’15 Prayer Resources, the Mass for the New Evangelisation, or the Masses on pages 810-823 and 1342-1345 of the British & Australian Roman Missal.

Above all, promote evangelisation at the grassroots level – most effective evangelisation is carried out by individuals and fostered by parishes. Promote all the small-scale solutions above and encourage your evangelisers to persevere. May the Lord who has begun the good work in you, bring it to completion!

Great Expectations: Explore

Homily at St Philip Evans, for the First Sunday of Advent, 2016.

I’d like to begin today by inviting the children preparing for their First Holy Communion to come forward. Children, on your first communion day, what kind of clothes are you going to wear? [They will answer, clothes like wedding dresses and wedding suits.]

Do you know why we use wedding dress for First Communion? That only makes sense if we know our Catholic history.

100 years ago, 75 years ago, and perhaps 50 years ago (though things were starting to change then), almost everyone in our country agreed that a wedding marked the beginning of a new family. When a young man and a young woman liked each other, they could go dating, eat together, go dancing together – but they didn’t start living in the same house together until their wedding day. So back then, a wedding wasn’t only a special celebration in the life of a family – it marked a new beginning. From the wedding day on, a brand-new family lived together, at first just a couple, and then hopefully children would come along. The world we live in today has lots of other different ideas about marriage, but in the Catholic Church we hold on to this idea that God’s plan is that a man and a woman first make promises to each other in church, ask for God’s blessing, and then move in together and start a family.

Some of you children have been coming to church since you were babies. Some of you have only started coming in the last few weeks because you want to make your First Holy Communion. Either way, I’m really glad that you’re here with us today. Our job, in the next few months, is to prepare you not only for your First Communion Day, but for the next step of your life as members of St Philip Evans Parish. The reason you wear wedding dress on First Communion Day,  is because it’s the first day of your new life as a connected member of our Parish Family.

exploreEach family has its own rules and values. Last summer, I visited an old college friend who’s got children now, and on his fridge door was a big piece of paper, the “D**** family values”. Over the next few weeks I want to share with you our St Philip Evans Family Values, and the first one is on this banner – it says “explore”.

Some of you were at the Mission Mass at St Philip Evans School recently. What did I give some of the pupils and adults to wear? L-plates, because we are Learners, and D-plates because we are Disciples!

The prophet Isaiah imagined a time to come when people would go to the Temple to learn God’s teaching. Jesus walked among us as a Teacher – the only perfect Teacher of God’s message. He commanded his followers to go and make disciples of all nations. The words “learner” and “disciple” are connected, and that’s quite easy to see in Welsh. In fact, all of us who are followers of Jesus are entitled to display a D-plate! If we’re not “dysgwyr” [learners], we’re not Christians!

So our first St Philip Evans Family Value is to “explore” what Jesus taught us. Most of you are blessed to be in Catholic School so you can spend lots of time in the classroom thinking about Jesus and his stories. I know some of you go to Catechism Class on a Saturday afternoon once a month – how many? When you finish your First Communion Class, the rest of you could join them and do Catechism once a month and know Jesus better.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need a word with the grown-ups.

These days, anyone working in a serious job is required to take part “continuing professional development” – to prove they have carried on learning and updating their knowledge and can still work effectively. If that’s important for our earthly work, how much more important is it to prepare us for heaven! So how do we do our “Continuing Faith Development”? Do you ever read the Bible or a Christian book on a regular basis? Do you ever go to a church event that includes an interesting talk or exhibition?

One important thing we need to re-learn is the value of Christian marriage. It’s easy for us to get sucked into the values of the world around which says, “Move in together, start a family, save up and have a big wedding party later.” But our vision is different. When we put God first, a wedding is about a church service which asks for God’s blessing on a new family; save the big party to mark your 10th anniversary if you can’t afford one straight away. But we also believe in second chances in the Catholic Church. Sometimes I meet parents who think that because they’ve already had children, they are not allowed to get married in church. But that’s wrong! It’s never too late to put things right in God’s eyes, and I’ve helped plenty of couples who already have children to make their vows in church. It’s also worth remembering that once you are a baptised Catholic, you must get married in a Catholic Church or with the Church’s permission, otherwise it doesn’t count as far as the Church is concerned.

I don’t want to focus only on marriage. It was one of the things important to Jesus, but there are lots of other things Jesus taught, too. After Christmas, there’ll be lots of opportunities here to explore this. If you can come weekly, the Alpha Course will start on Tuesday nights. If you can come monthly, there’s Call to Question. I’m also thinking of starting a fortnightly group after Monday morning Mass for people who find daytime easier than evenings. We can’t live well as Christians unless we know the teaching of Jesus, and a short 7-minute slot at Sunday Mass isn’t long enough to go into things deeply. We no longer live in a world where Christian values are all around us. We need to take time to listen to Jesus and think about how we do what he asks in our daily lives. Remember, that Jesus warns us that he may come back at an hour we do not expect! If he finds that we have been studying the Bible, the lives of the saints, or the teaching of the church, he will not find fault with us – as long as we are putting into practice what we have learned!

What does the word Disciple mean? LEARNER!

What do you have to be to be a good learner? A LISTENER!

What will you do after Christmas to listen to the teaching of Jesus? That’s up to you, but do something. EXPLORE!

Keep Calm, and Follow Jesus

Homily at St Philip Evans, for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

kc1We live in uncertain times. By a small majority, the UK voted to leave the European Union, but no-one quite knows how that’s going to work out.

America has just elected Donald Trump as its president and that too will lead to a time of change.

On this weekend of Remembrance, we recall that 100 years ago, Britain was at war with Germany and her allies. That war was won, but more conflict followed. Sixty years ago, during the Second World War, British civil servants had to prepare for the worst. What if Britain suffered a heavy Nazi bombardment? A series of advisory posters was prepared, but never used. Now, with the safety of half a century between us and the danger, those posters have seen the light of day, and been reproduced on everything from T-shirts to mugs. The words of wisdom? “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

We human beings are good at worrying. Have you noticed how most of the things we give energy to worrying about, never actually happen?

Each of today’s readings is an invitation, in its own way, to keep calm and follow Jesus.

The prophet Malachi speaks of a Day of Judgment coming as a burning fire – but for those who love God, it will be a healing light.

St Paul warned the busybodies in Thessalonica not to get over-excited about what other Christian believers were doing but, well, to keep calm and carry on!

In Jesus’ own time, in the face of a changing world, the Lord said: “Do not be frightened. Your endurance will win you your lives.”

It’s not only the Bible which urges us to avoid worry and fear. The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy offered similar advice in an even more pithy form: the words “Don’t Panic!” – written in big friendly letters on the front cover.

How, then, can we keep calm and follow Jesus? Another word for a follower is a “disciple”, which comes from the Latin word for “learner”. How do we “sit at the feet of Jesus” to understand his teachings better?

During our Parish Mission, we had daily opportunities to explore our faith. Each morning, a different member of the Mission Team shared the story of how they came to faith. On the evenings of the Celebration Week, through the spoken word and through movement, we were given a deeper teaching than we have time for in the homily at Sunday Mass.

It’s unusual to have a whole week of such events in our parish, and that won’t happen again for a generation. But it’s normal for a community of Christians to take time once a week, once a fortnight, or at least once a month, to explore more deeply what the Bible says or what our Church teaches. The Mission was called “Great Expectations”. God expects, and your Parish Priest expects, that each one of us will take time at least once a month to explore our faith and to connect with other members of our community beyond the limited social contact we have by attending Mass.

One way of exploring faith is through an Alpha Course. We’re going to run an Alpha weekly on Tuesday evenings from early January. If you’d like to find out more about that, and especially if you are willing to help with the practical side, there’s a meeting in the Small Hall this Tuesday evening.

Not everyone is able to make the time for a weekly commitment, so as well as Alpha, we will soon begin running “Connect & Explore” groups. When will these run? Mornings, afternoons or evenings? Weekly, monthly, fortnightly? That depends on you. I have some survey forms for everyone willing to get involved. Some of you already filled them in earlier this week, but the altar servers will bring them now to anyone who needs one.

There’s a story about a saint, perhaps it was Saint Francis, who was busy sweeping the floor of his churchyard, when a rumour spread around the town that Jesus was going to come back in one hour. Some of the villagers rushed to confession. Others went to make peace with their enemies. Still others sank to their knees to spend the last hour of their lives in deep prayer. But Saint Francis? He just carried on sweeping the floor, comfortable in the knowledge that he was already living his life in the way the Lord expected.

This weekend we remember those who gave their tomorrow for our today, and we offer prayers for their souls.

But let’s also remember the One who laid down his life for us and invited us to follow him. In an uncertain world, the very best thing we can do is stay close to Jesus. We do that through prayer, through serving Him in the poor – and by gathering to explore his teachings. As long as our life is in balance on that score, we have nothing to fear. In short, let’s remember that our Heavenly Father has sent his Beloved Son and asked us to listen to him. Let’s “Keep Calm, and Follow Jesus.”

The Call

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

The Seven Word Sermon: Invite someone to find Jesus… maybe yourself!

I wonder if today’s readings have left you feeling a little bit pressurised?

Jonah turns up in Nineveh and everyone in the city cleans up their act! But we are still struggling to keep our New Year’s Resolutions…Thermometer

St Paul writes to the Corinthians, worried that the world is about to end, and suggests no one should bother about worldly things like getting a job or being married. But here we are, two thousand years later.

Jesus marches up to Andrew, Peter, James and John, and immediately they down tools and follow him! But in less than an hour, we are going to leave this Mass and go right back to where we came from.

Now it’s true, that there is a sense of urgency in today’s readings. We are meant to feel the pressure, so I’ve brought my pressure gauge with me. But being a physicist, I know that when things are placed under pressure, they get hot – so mine’s a thermometer.

We could easily get distracted and think that today’s message is about how much TIME we can give to God’s work. For most of us, that would leave us near the bottom. Not many of us are going to become priests, nuns or lay missionaries who take on the work of the church as our full-time pursuit. Some of us are retired, and can turn out regularly to help with the church decoration, flower arranging, and tea-making. A few of us give an hour or two a week to work with our young people preparing for First Communion or Confirmation. But I know that for many of us, it’s a struggle just to get the family ready to turn up at Mass on time, let alone do anything more for church activities during the week.

So relax! This isn’t a TimeOmeter, and the Lord is not asking many of us to devote more time to church. Perhaps one or two of you are feeling the nudge to do rather more, and that’s a sign it would be good to talk to me, Deacon Steve or Jonathan about the kind of short term or long term calling God might be pointing you towards. It would be fantastic if some of tomorrow’s priests and religious sisters were sitting in this congregation today. But for most of us the challenge is rather different.

“I will make you fishers of men,” says Jesus. That is the call which Jesus gives to all of us – and it is much more important for you who go out into the world than for the likes of clergy who spend all their time dealing with Catholics. We are all called to catch fish, that is, to invite people to become members of our church community. But perhaps the image of being a caught fish, tangled up in a net, doesn’t seem that appealing. I prefer another image, the one Jesus used when he said he had come to set the world on fire, and wished it was ablaze already! We are called to set the world on fire! A soul on fire cries out to God in prayer and reaches out to their neighbour in love. But we aren’t going to do that unless we are red-hot, and that brings us back to my thermometer.

I am going to suggest four steps you might take to help you share the Catholic faith with others. Each step is more challenging than the last. You might have taken one or two already – this will indicate what you might do next. A kettle doesn’t boil in an instant, but if we are going to set the world on fire, we need to start warming up now!

STEP ONE: Place a holy picture in your home where visitors can see it. Know the story behind it if they ask you about it.

STEP TWO: Say grace at mealtimes. It may feel a bit strange it first, if it isn’t your family custom, but it really is as simple as making the sign of the Cross and saying thank you for the food. And if there is a guest in your home, don’t skip grace. Simply say it is part of your faith and if your guest doesn’t want to join in, they can wait politely.

STEP THREE: Think of a person you know, someone who trusts you, but someone who is not an active Christian. What difficulties are they facing in life right now? Could you say to them, next time you meet them, “I am praying for you” – because of their cancer, their family breakdown, or whatever worries they have confided in you? This achieves two things at once – it says that you care, and that you believe God can help. (Don’t forget to actually pray for them!)

STEP FOUR: Ask a friend if they would like to come with you to church. A survey which came out in 2007 showed that there were 3 million people living in the UK who don’t attend church – that means that if you know 20 people who don’t go to church, one of them will say YES when you invite them. Remember, there was a time, way back in the past, when your family did not attend church. Someone invited your ancestors and they came. It might have been back when St Thomas came to India, or St Patrick to Ireland. You are here because of them. It’s time to return the favour!

 

One final thought. Many people who do join a religion do so because of the kindness of members of that community. I trust that we will be a kind and welcoming community to all those who meet us, here, at St Philip Evans, or out in the wider world. But kindness is not enough. Peter and Andrew, James and John left their boats because they saw something in Jesus worth following.

The call to be fishers of men, to set the world on fire, comes to us directly from Jesus. He is the only good reason to take any of these steps I’ve suggested. If the thought of even taking the first step makes you uncomfortable, then ask yourself: Do I trust Jesus? Am I willing to follow Him, even though He may make some high pressure demands on me?

If the answer is yes, then you are certainly called to be a fisher of men. But if the answer is no, pray this prayer: “Lord Jesus, take away my fears and set my heart on fire.” Until he answers that prayer, you are off the hook!

 

Further thoughts for the online edition:

How do we catch fish? How do we set people on fire for Jesus? In ages past, we might have reminded people that when we die, each one of us will have to give an account to God of the good and bad choices we have made during our life on Earth. But in this skeptical age, few people in Wales will worry about being judged – indeed, a survey released this week showed that many people who believe in God don’t think there’s an afterlife, and many others believe in some kind of afterlife but not in God!

 

The Voice

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Year B.

The Seven Word Sermon: Follow Jesus only. Reject New Age counterfeits!man-in-chair

Are you ready for, The Voice?

The TV version of ‘The Voice’ has a few celebrities listening to an unseen singer. When one likes what they hear, that one will turn around and choose a candidate to put their faith in.

Among celebrities, there are goodies and baddies. If your name is Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay, expect lots of stories about what a so-and-so you are. But some celebrities on The Voice are portrayed as ‘goodies’, so you’ll only hear about how they have helped coach their chosen candidate for stardom.

The media also portrays our Church as having goodies and baddies. Pope Francis is definitely a goody. So when he says, ‘Who am I to judge?’ you hear all about it. On the other hand, you won’t hear much reported about the Pope speaking about abortion, though he has said clearly that it is wrong in all circumstances.

These days, Jesus is a goody, too. Most people know that Jesus healed sick people, talked about love, and hung out with those polite society rejected. It’s all true! But that’s only half the story. Today, God’s voice boomed over the water: ‘This is my Son! My favour rests on Him!’

This means we must pay attention to the words Jesus said as well as the things he did. And Jesus said lots of deep things about Himself. ‘I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father except through me!’

These words are very specific, and specific words are more important than general ones. If you were a guest in someone’s home, and your host said said, ‘Make yourself at home here, but please don’t go into my study,’ you couldn’t use the excuse that you had been told you were welcome, in order to go into the study. It’s the same with Jesus. There’s a lot of love, a lot of forgiveness, but some very clear DON’Ts as well.

Jesus is God’s Son. He is God’s clearest Word to us. And He is the only one we can follow to reach Heaven. The early Christians knew this when they composed the prayer which has come down to us as the Gloria. Most Sundays we proclaim:

  • You alone are the Holy One!
  • You alone are the Lord!
  • You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, in the glory of God the Father!

These aren’t just words. They have practical consequences.

Suppose you are invited to friend’s religious wedding ceremony, or to prayers that they say at home, but their religion is not Christian. Can you take part in their prayers? No. We can certainly attend, and be a silent and respectful presence, but that’s as far as we can go.

At a Muslim ceremony, the prayers always affirm that Mohammad is a true prophet of God. But we can’t say Amen to that, because Mohammad taught that Jesus wasn’t God. WE believe He is God just as much as His Father is God.

In a Hindu home, a family might conduct a Puja ceremony to one of the Hindu gods. If we took part in that, we would be saying that one of their gods was a true god. But we believe that Jesus alone is Lord. So WE couldn’t do that without denying Jesus.

The good news is that we don’t have to worry about eating foods connected with other religions. St Paul taught us clearly that food itself cannot harm us as long as we say grace over it. It doesn’t matter if meat is kosher or halal, or food has been used in Hindu or Sikh ceremonies, as long as we pray thanks to Jesus before we eat.

In ancient Rome, before Christianity became legal, if you were suspected of being a Christian, the authorities might arrest you and ask you to offer incense to honour the Emperor as a god. If you gave in and did it, you would be excommunicated from the Church. In those days, it was regarded as one of the three big sins, along with murder and adultery, which only the bishop could forgive!

We worship Jesus alone. This isn’t just arguing about words. It has consequences. Jesus gives us these rules for our own spiritual protection. If we pray to a god who is not Jesus, His Father, or the Holy Spirit, we are seeking to make a connection with something spiritual other than God – and the other spirits which exist don’t care about our well-being. The pulpit is not a place to share bad news stories, but I know of plenty of cases where people have found their peace disturbed because they opened their lives to negative spirits.

Some of you may have tried out different kinds of alternative medicine. Not all of these things are problematic, but we do need to be careful. There are treatments with names like reiki or bioenergy which quite explicitly claim to be rebalancing your spiritual energies. Others are more subtle, but if you ask the practitioners why they do certain things in reflexology, say,  or acupuncture, they may give a similar explanation. Sometimes the therapist will even say that what they are doing is using ‘Christ energy’.

Beware! Not everything done using the name of Christ is Christian! If someone talks about ‘Christ energy’ or ‘Christ consciousness’, ask them what they mean. If they tell you that ‘Christ’ is the force of love who worked through Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad, run a mile! St John knew better. If we have Christian faith, we recognise that Jesus, the baby born at Bethlehem, the man baptised in the Jordan by John, the Saviour of the World slain at Calvary, he and he alone is Christ. It’s God’s Holy Spirit working in our heart that makes us confident about who Jesus is. This is why St John says that faith ‘overcomes the world’.

Some voices in the world say it doesn’t matter whether we follow Jesus. Other voices in the world say that ‘Christ energy’ is in all sorts of places. There are many voices on offer. Which voice will you spin your chair for? I’m only going to spin MY chair round when I hear that loving yet demanding voice which says, ‘I am the way. No one comes to heaven but through me.’

If you are concerned about the issues concerned in this sermon, please consult the New Age section of my website.

Choosing for God

Homily at St Philip Evans on the First Sunday of Advent, Year B.four stylized heads with book, cross, praying hands and bread

The Seven Word Sermon: Make godly choices. The alternative is sin!

Today, we begin a new cycle of the Church’s year, a new beginning, a good time to get back to basics. I’d like to invite the children who will prepare to make their First Holy Communion next summer to come forward and help me with this sermon…

Children, today I would like to start at the very beginning, and that means starting with God. God is the name we give the three persons who run the universe. They were there before time and space began, they called the universe into being, and they gave us life.

The strange thing about God is that although God is three persons – we call them Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – they never disagree with each other about anything. They share one will, one set of beliefs and hopes about us. And why do they never disagree? They are wise and kind, and they always choose the very best thing they could do; they always get it right – so they always agree. They share one will.

Now the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in charge of the whole universe, but the way they run it is a bit “hands-off”. When they made us human beings, they left space for us to make choices of our own. We can choose to do the very best thing, the thing that is most helpful to other people – or we can be a bit selfish. God won’t stop us from doing that. But God does ask us to think carefully about what we do. God whispered to lots of prophets in the Old Testament; and then one of the three persons in God, the one we call the Son, became a human being, baby Jesus, born of Mary. When he grew up, he was able to speak God’s words to us. One of the things he said – we heard in today’s reading – was this. “Each one of you has a job to do. One day, God is going to check up on you to make sure you are doing it!”

But what does God want us to do? This is the hard part. Our church hasn’t done a very good job of helping us “get it”.

When your great-grandparents were small, we told them that God expected them to be “good people”. And what is a good person like? A good person never has bad thoughts! A good person always goes to Mass on Sunday. They thought that if they didn’t do all the things a good person was supposed to do, God would be angry. So if they were stuck in bed with ‘flu on Sunday, God would be angry, right? No, that would be silly! And if a naughty thought popped into their heads, even if they said straight away, “That’s a bad thought and I don’t want it.” God would be angry, right? No, that would be silly too!

By the time your parents were born, our church had a different focus. We kept telling people how loving and kind God is, that whatever we do, God will always love us and forgive us and give us another chance. I’m sure you’ve read stories from the Bible in school, like the Prodigal Son or Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, where Jesus gives people another chance. It’s all true! Sometimes we feel bad inside because we know we have done something wrong. Those are times we can turn to Jesus – he can always hear what we are thinking – and say “sorry”. But there was still a problem – our church was so busy telling us God wanted to forgive us when we got it wrong, that it didn’t give much time to teaching us how to get it right.

So now I am going to have a go. What does God want? God wants us to make good choices. God wants us to choose things the way Jesus showed us. We’ve got a special name for people who choose to do things Jesus’s way – “Disciples”! God is inviting all of you to become disciples, just like St Andrew, St Peter, St Mary Magdalen and the other friends of Jesus. To be a disciple we have to do two things. First, we have to learn what Jesus asked us to do. Second, whenever we need to make choices, we must ask, “What would Jesus want us to do?” That’s why, after Christmas, you will have a special course. We will think a bit more about what Jesus has asked us to do. Then we will help you make your first confession – so if you have made bad choices, you can say sorry to Jesus and promise to make better choices in future. And all of this is leading up to one very special thing Jesus asked us to do. He blessed bread and wine, said “this is my body, this is my blood” and asked us to eat and drink. This is why we take Holy Communion. It’s what Jesus wants us to do!

In the Second Reading we heard today, St Paul is happy because the church in Corinth had been blessed with lots of people willing to do God’s work. We have been blessed here in St Philip Evans Parish with lots of people who help to do God’s work too. And because we are beginning a new church year, I would like to bless and re-commission our parish ministers. Children, since they will be helping you to take the next step in belonging to our church community, I’d like your help doing this.

First of all, we have ministers who help us know what Jesus wants us to do because they read from God’s word, the Bible. Could I ask all our parish readers present today, to stand?

Child 1: Will you proclaim God’s word clearly, faithfully and prayerfully?

Readers: I will.

Priest: Everlasting God,

when he read in the synagogue at Nazareth,
your Son proclaimed
the good news of salvation
for which he would give up his life.
Bless these readers.
As they proclaim your words of life,
strengthen their faith
that they may read with conviction
and boldness,
and put into practice what they read.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Thank you, readers for your faithful service. Please be seated. Next, we have those who prepare our building and our worship for our weekend Mass. Please stand if you are in the Singing Group – among the church cleaners or flower arrangers – if you collect or count the weekly offering – if you work on the newsletter or handouts, in the sacristy or in the narthex – together with those who help maintain our buildings or do work of administration.

Child 2: Will you continue your work to make our gatherings for the Lord’s day the best that they can be?

Ministers: I will.

Priest: God of Glory,

your beloved Son has shown us
that true worship comes from
humble and contrite hearts.
Bless our brothers and sisters,
who have responded to the needs of our parish
and wish to commit themselves to your service.
Grant that their ministry may be fruitful
and our worship pleasing in your sight.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Thank you, each of you, for your faithful service. Please be seated. Now we have our catechists, who prepare children and adults to be baptised, confirmed and receive holy communion – please stand – together with our parish bereavement support group and our deaf pastoral group.

Child 3: Will you continue to work with those who need your assistance?

Ministers: I will.

Priest: 

Lord God, in your loving kindness
you sent your Son to be our shepherd and guide.
Continue to send workers into your vineyard
to sustain and direct your people.
Bless these ministers.
Let your Spirit uphold them always
as they take up their new responsibility
among the people of this parish.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

Thank you, each of you, for your faithful service. Please be seated. Finally, I turn to our Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, who are entrusted with carrying the Body and Blood of Jesus within and beyond our church services.

Priest: Are you resolved to undertake the office of giving the body and blood of the Lord to your brothers and sisters, and so to serve to build up the Church?

Ministers: I am.

Priest: Are you resolved to administer the holy eucharist with utmost care and reverence?

Ministers: I am.

Priest: 

Dear friends in Christ,
let us pray with confidence to the Father;
let us ask him to bestow his blessings
on our brothers and sisters,
chosen to be ministers of the eucharist.

(Pause)

Merciful Father, creator and guide of your family,
bless + our brothers and sisters.
May they faithfully give the bread of life to your people.
Strengthened by this sacrament,
may they come at last to the banquet of heaven.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.

In this parish, for a number of years, we have had a custom that the ministers of Holy Communion say the name of the person receiving Holy Communion when they distribute the Body or Blood of Christ. This is a beautiful custom, because it reminds us that the Lord calls each of his beloved sheep by name – but it has one major drawback. It is not possible for every minister to know every communicant by name. This creates a distinction between “known” and “unknown” parishioners which is unfortunate, because one of our strong Christian values is the way we welcome the stranger. So today, while I thank our Extraordinary Ministers for the way they have served until now, I ask that from now on, we revert to the usual practice of the Church of simply saying “The Body of Christ – the Blood of Christ”. Communion is a personal encounter between the soul, and Our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament; the minster simply offers Christ and takes a step back.

But it would be a shame if we were no longer greeted by name in church. I would therefore like to commission every parishioner as a minister of welcome. From this day onwards, when we offer the Peace to one another at Mass, I would like us to do so by name – and unlike communion time, at that point in the Mass it is possible to ask the name of the other person if you do not already know it. Therefore, let us practice right now! Please ask the name of the people sitting closest to you, and then, by name, let us offer one another a sign of peace.

 

Great and Beautiful Things

Homily at St Philip Evans on the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

“I’m expecting great things of you, Mr Leyshon! Great things!”Black and white photo of Mr R. I. Denis Jones JP, former headmaster of Graig Comprehensive School, Llanelli

My headmaster in Secondary School, Mr Denis Jones, left me in no doubt of his high expectations. He said so often, in Welsh tones that brooked no argument. He never said precisely what great things he was expecting, but as a Welsh-speaking chapel-goer, I think he would be rather pleased to know I had been appointed to serve a Welsh-language congregation.

Last week, Deacon Steve reminded us that faith alone is not enough to see us through the gates of heaven. For us who know that Jesus asks us to do great works of mercy, we will be judged on our generous response. Today’s Gospel continues the same theme – God is not looking for people who says “yes” with their lips, but with their actions. You don’t have to read much of the Gospel to know that God, like my old headmaster, expects “Great Things” from his followers.

So here’s a deep question. Why should we do what God wants?

We could say it’s a point of principle. God is in charge of the Universe and knows exactly what is good and right at all times. So if we do what God wants, it must be the right thing! This is certainly true, but it’s a bit high-faluting…

Or we could say it’s in our own best interests. God is going to judge us and if we haven’t done what God wants, we will find ourselves with the goats on the left, separated from happiness for all eternity. But stressing that God is our judge feels a bit scary; it gets in the way of the even more important message that when we fail, we can say sorry to God and have another chance to get things right.

Pope Francis offers us a different answer. We should do what God wants because this is what makes us beautiful! If we follow the message of Jesus to the best of our ability, we will “appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of [the] goodness and beauty…” If we listen to the message of Jesus, we will have great wisdom on tap. If we follow his way, we will discover a “life to the full”. If we open our hands before God and truly pray for the help, the grace, which only God can give, we will be enriched.

You can’t watch many adverts on TV before you are told you will become beautiful, or attractive, if you use a certain perfume or deoderant. The people who make Lynx even claimed that angels would fall from heaven for a man so fragrant! It’s a seductive idea. But what truly makes you memorable?

We know that when other memories fade, stories of great heroes persist. We know of mighty warriors of old like Alexander the Great, or Boudicea. We remember those blessed with great wisdom, Solomon and Aristotle. We tell stories of saints who went on great missionary journeys like Thomas and Patrick, who defied rulers and public opinion like Agnes and Clare, who laid down their lives for others, like Maximilian Kolbe and Margaret Clitherow. We recognise in the stories of saints, a life which has been touched by the fragrance of heaven.

If we live our life following the teaching of Jesus and the moral guidance of the Catholic church, we will not fail to become beautiful human beings. Pope Francis puts it like this: “Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others. Under no circumstance can this invitation be obscured! All of the virtues are at the service of this response of love.” If we live out these values well, our very lives will radiate forcefully and attractively, causing others to ask us about the light which guides us.

A few become famous globally. Others in our own community. Become great doesn’t mean trending on BBC News. It means being known by those who you can inspire. To achieve Great Things, you needn’t make the Ten O’Clock News. You need only touch ten lives.

I think both St Paul and Mr Jones were well aware of the temptations faced by good persons – the temptation to be mediocre, to lower ourselves to the standards of the world around us. This is why Paul reminds us that whatever others said around us, in our own minds we must always be conscious that virtuous behaviour is always to put the needs of others first. It’s why my headmaster, knowing that well-behaved boys are teased for being goody-goody and bright pupils are mocked for being swots, wanted to affirm that I was on the right path.

People of St Philip Evans, I am expecting great things of you!

I am expecting that you will pray at least a short word of praise to God every morning and evening, even when you don’t feel like praying.

I am expecting that you will put the needs of others first, in your families and in the community, each day, but especially when you sense the last straw is at hand and you deserve some “me” time.

I am expecting that when you feel tempted to skip church on Sunday for some social invitation, you will explain to your friends that because it is the Lord’s Day, God must come first in your life for one hour a week.

The ordinary people around us will say this way of living is foolish, but we are no ordinary people.We are the sons and daughters of the living God, children of the King of the Universe. I am expecting Great Things of you, so that each life in this parish shines with the light of God. Don’t let me down. Don’t let God down. Don’t let yourself down. I’m expecting great things of you. Be great!

Bonus material for the web:

Like anyone concerned for justice, God looks at us hoping we will do the right thing, working for each other’s well-being.

Like any proud parent, God longs to be able to say, “Well done my child!” The more we live like Jesus, the more God sees us reflect the image of his well-beloved and only begotten Son.

Like any responsible parent, God wants us to succeed not so much for his pleasure as for our flourishing. He wants us to be truly good and morally beautiful. This was reflected in our official school prayer, which asked God’s help that we “may go forth from this place as brave and merciful persons, to play our part in the larger life of the world.”

Still unsure that you are called to greatness? Don’t just take my word for it! Pope Saint Leo said: “Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God’s kingdom. Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.”