Eternally Grateful

Homily to members of Sion Community and LiveStream Viewers on the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B.

You have saved our lives! And we are eternally grateful!

If this saying sounds familiar, you’ve probably seen the movie Toy Story 2, where on no less than four occasions, Mr Potato Head rescues some alien toys from less-than-certain doom. It becomes a running gag until Mr Potato-Head finally accepts their undying love.

Every Sunday Mass is actually something very similar! We enter into an act of worship which has Jesus Christ at the centre. The message we want to express in our liturgy is that he has saved us, and we are eternally grateful! But what kind of saviour is Jesus?

At one level Jesus is a model for us of non-violent resistance. When a good man dies for a cause and refuses to repay violence with violence, this sends out a powerful message. Martin Luther King Jr is rightly honoured as someone who resisted violence and forfeited his life for addressing racial injustice in the 20th Century. But Jesus is more than an amazing role model.

We claim that Jesus died to save us – but from what peril? It’s easy to recognise the gift of saving life when St Maximilian Kolbe offered himself in exchange so a Jewish prisoner would be spared in Auschwitz, or when a rabbi and three Christian chaplains gave their lifejackets to four young sailors on a sinking US Naval ship in 1943; we see the direct connection between the lives sacrificed and the lives saved. With a little more imagination we can make the connection between the Few who gave their lives as aviators in the Battle of Britain and the freedom we enjoy in the UK today. But how has the carpenter from Nazareth, nailed to a cross of wood, liberated me from anything?

All of today’s readings point to the reality of sin. We’ve just heard, from St Luke’s Gospel, that Jesus

… opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘So you see how it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all the nations.’

It was the Risen Jesus himself who made the connection. He stood among his disciples, demonstrating that (as he had promised) death was not the end of our human story. But he didn’t just return to validate his claim that he had “gone to prepare a place for us”. He also explained the meaning of the Scriptures to his followers. We’re told that the second half of the message, after proclaiming Christ risen from the dead, was repentance for sins in the name of Jesus. We’re asked to take it on trust, from the One who knows these things, that the death of Jesus makes the difference for us between eternal damnation and everlasting joy. It was because St John came to understand this that he could write in his letter that Jesus “is the sacrifice that takes our sins away”. And St Luke, who wrote the Acts of the Apostles as well as today’s Gospel, reports St Peter’s speech proclaiming that the very people who had cried out “Crucify him!” could “repent and turn to God”, so that their sins may be wiped out.

Later Christian philosophers tried to understand why the death of Jesus could be so powerful. A thousand years after the crucifixion, the English monk Anselm argued that only God could be pure enough to pay the debt of human sin, but only a human being was entitled to make up for human faults – which is why it was essential for Jesus to be God-become-man, so there could be a man good enough to pay the price of all the sins of human history.

It’s satisfying to know the answer – but it’s not essential. There’s a famous T-shirt slogan which says “I solve problems you don’t know you have, in ways you can’t understand” – usually placed under a job description such as Architect, Accountant or Computer Programmer. We don’t need to be aeronautical engineers to board a plane and complete a flight. A mother doesn’t need to be a gynaecologist to give birth to a baby. We are invited to take it on trust that if Jesus hadn’t died on the Cross, all human souls would be separated from God for eternity; but now, anyone who asks Jesus sincerely for mercy can go to heaven.

Sometimes, we find ourselves deeply conscious of sin in our lives, and have a genuine sense of being unburdened by making an honest confession. If you listened to last Sunday’s edition of The Beloved Podcast, you’ll have heard one of our community members, Violeta, speaking about how God gave her both strength and opportunity to break away from a sinful sexual relationship when she made a good confession to a trusted priest.

In other cases, we may not have that same awareness of sin. When I became a Catholic, 31 years ago, I wasn’t conscious of any sin in my life beyond mild childhood disobedience to my parents. But sometimes we need to trust other people to let us know we have a problem. You might be called in for a routine medical scan, and discover a problem you didn’t know you had, in time for it to be treated effectively.

It turns out I have a sin problem. To know what behaviours are sinful, I trust the teaching of the Catholic Church. To know how the problem can be resolved, I look to Jesus my Saviour. He, above all, solves problems I didn’t know I had in ways I don’t fully understand. But if Jesus explained this to his first followers, who am I to disagree? So as an act of faith, I gladly turn to Jesus and say: “You have saved my life! And I am eternally grateful!”

Consider Thomas!

Homily to members of Sion Community and LiveStream Viewers on Divine Mercy Sunday.

Consider Thomas, a man of great faith and dedication to the Lord!

In today’s Gospel, we famously meet St Thomas, the apostle who doubted. Thomas only stands out three times in the whole Bible, and we’ve just heard that he was not in the room when the other apostles first met the Risen Jesus. So not unreasonably, Thomas says:

Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.

Yet I have declared Thomas a man of great faith! Why do I dare to say this? The first time we see something of his character, it’s a few weeks earlier. Jesus is lying low on the far side of the River Jordan, because he knows the Pharisees are plotting to have him executed. Then news comes that his close friend, Lazarus, is seriously ill and close to death. The apostles become divided. Some say, “Lord, he’s your friend, you must go to him.” Others say, “No, Lord, it’s too dangerous – you can’t go.” Thomas says: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Thomas alone has the courage to stand up for loyalty and friendship, even to the point of risking death. So you can understand his doubt, his confusion, his despair, when he learns that Jesus appeared to the other apostles at a time when he alone, Thomas, wasn’t there! “Is this the the thanks I get for my loyalty? Our Master, who now seems to have the power to walk through locked doors and appear wherever and whenever he chooses, chooses to meet with all of them and not with me? Is THIS the thanks I get?”

Thomas is a man who wants to know things clearly. At the Last Supper, Jesus speaks about his coming death, and uses words which I’m sure we’ve all heard at many funerals: There are many rooms in His Father’s House, and he’s going to prepare a place for us. Jesus say to the apostles: “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas replies: “How can we know the way?”

Jesus IS the way. Thomas is looking for a plan. What Jesus is offering is a person. He turns to Thomas and says “I am the way.”

Jesus is the way, and Jesus makes a way for us. At communion time, we’re going to hear a modern worship song called Waymaker. Our security is when we follow Jesus. But sometimes the Lord leads us through darkness. The song’s lyrics declare:

Even when I don’t see it, You’re workin’
Even when I don’t feel it, You’re workin’

Thomas wasn’t feeling it. Thomas wasn’t seeing it. His anguish was what any one of us might cry out in a dark time – “Lord, unless I can touch you, I can’t believe you’re really there.”

Thomas got his wish.

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’

John 20:26-27

I wonder how Thomas felt in that moment. He was carrying a mixture of fear and love, doubt and hope. He had doubted whether Jesus remembered and cared for him personally. He had doubted the testimony of his friends, that Christ was risen. But now, undeniably, Jesus had not only remembered him, but had noticed his doubt and his pain. Thomas’ reward for his loyalty was to be written into history as the one man to stand for all of us who know that same painful mixture of doubt and hope. All of us will have moments of crying out, “Lord, are you there?” in the dark times of our lives. It is not the Lord’s will to answer immediately. But neither is it the Lord’s will to fail to answer at all. The Lord shows himself to Thomas on the ‘eighth day’, the time of perfection, a week after hope is given. “I am the way” says Jesus. “I am the one who will show himself to you after a time of testing. Doubt no longer but believe.”

On this Sunday we also remember that Jesus appeared to St Faustina Kowalska in the 20th century, to show his Divine Mercy. “Paint an image of my with two rays streaming from my breast: the water of baptism and the blood of communion. On the Sunday after Easter, honour this image, saying, ‘Jesus, I trust in you.’”

You won’t find promises of a trouble-free life in the Bible. You will find promises that God will walk with us through the darkness. When we say, “Jesus, I trust in you,” what we mean is: “Jesus, I will follow your commands even when times are hard; I know you walk with me through the darkness.” Thomas and the other apostles knew the darkness of facing the Death of Jesus, yet they were sent as messengers of hope to the whole world!

This is the victory over the world – our faith! Do you want to win a victory over the world? Put your trust in Jesus. Keep praying to him. Keep confessing your sins and receiving Holy Communion, or at least making an Act of Spiritual Communion. Look for the signs that he loves you. They won’t always be the signs that you wish for, but they are there.

Thomas finally recognised who Jesus was. “My Lord and My God!” When we recognise this, we can dare to declare:

You are here, working in this place
I worship You.

You are here, turning lives around
I worship You.

You are here, healing every heart
I worship You.

Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you!

Washed in the Blood

Homily to members and friends of Sion Community for the Third Sunday of Easter, 2020

Why did Jesus have to die on the Cross?

The first Christians understood why – but only because Jesus explained it to them. Did you notice what Jesus did on the road to Emmaus? He didn’t start by showing himself to his friends and saying “Look, I’m alive!” No, he said “If you want to understand who Jesus is, let me explain the Bible to you!”

So I’m going to try to do the same thing today – we’re going to do a bit of a Bible study. And the big idea I want to explore is about the blood of Jesus.

I once heard a reflection on the radio by a man from Northern Ireland, who’d become a Hindu. He’d grown up in a Christian family, where he often heard talk of being ‘washed in the blood of the Lamb’. He said – pardon my accent – that “the very thought of being washed in the blood of a lamb is a terrible thing when you’re a vegetarian!” Do we need to use such scary language, even when it puts people off? Yes, we do!

Lots of the Christians who wrote books of the New Testament wanted people to know about the Blood of Jesus.

St Mark (14:24) said that the wine blessed at the Last Supper became the blood of the covenant. Now a covenant is a solemn promise between someone more powerful and some people who are less powerful. It was marked by sacrificing one or more creatures. So Mark wants us to know that the blood of Jesus is his promise to protect us. Jesus literally loved us enough to die for us!

St Matthew (26:28) wanted us to know that at the Last Supper, the wine would become the “blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins”.

St Luke (Acts 20:28) tells us that Jesus ‘bought the church – that’s us – with his blood’.

St John agrees (I Jn 1:7, Rev 1:5) that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin and also says that we overcome temptation through His Blood! (Rev 12:11)

St Paul too (Col 1:14) tells us that we are redeemed – rescued from being punished – through the blood of Jesus.

We don’t know the name of the Jewish Christian who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews. But this disciple too understood the power of the blood of Jesus. In the Jewish religion, each year the High Priest had to sacrifice a calf as a payment for his own sins, so that he would be worthy to enter the Holy of Holies, the innermost part of the Temple, and then he could sacrifice a goat for the sins of the rest of the people. The blood of both animals would be sprinkled in that Holiest part of the Temple. But, we read in Hebrews, Jesus was a High Priest who was made worthy by his own blood, to offer a sacrifice for his people. The whole of Chapter 9 of the Letter to the Hebrews is worth reading – God gave us this as part of the Bible so we could really understand why Jesus had to shed his blood for us.

Finally, we have the words of St Peter, who in today’s reading says that we were ransomed by the blood of Jesus. Ransomed from what? Well, for St Peter, we are ransomed from the need to sacrifice any animals in the way that Jews had done for hundreds of years. But we are also ransomed from death and from sin. And that’s not the first time God has used blood to protect his people!

On Easter Night, we always tell the story of the Passover. God told his faithful people that if they wanted to be protected from the angel of death, each household must sacrifice a lamb, roast and eat its flesh, and place its blood on the doorpost of their house. In British Sign Language, the sign for Passover is two strokes, as if you are marking blood on the lintel and post of a door. But take note – it was not enough to mark the doorpost – the family also had to eat the lamb!

When the Jewish people had a Temple in Jerusalem, families would go there each year for Passover, taking a lamb with them. The priest would kill the lamb, and its blood would be poured into a bowl ready to be taken into the Holy Place of the Temple and poured on the altar. The family would take home the body of the lamb, to roast it and eat it.

When Jesus died on the Cross, his blood was shed… falling on the ground outside the city walls of Jerusalem. He was the True Lamb – John the Baptist had called him that. And he even made it possible for us to eat the lamb by celebrating the Last Supper.

We know one thing today that wasn’t known in the days of the Bible. Blood carries the breath of life from our lungs to every part of our body. It is not enough for us to eat the lamb – we must also be filled with the breath of God, which is the Holy Spirit.

St Peter ate of the Lamb. He was filled by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, and given the courage to stand up in front of the people who had wanted Jesus dead. Peter declared on that Pentecost: “What you see and hear is the outpouring of that Spirit.” Maybe you’ve had your own personal Pentecost experience and seen or felt the Holy Spirit at work within you. If so, then you’ll probably want to sing and pray and give thanks to God. Lots of worship songs speak of the power of the blood of Jesus – if you’ve wondered why, now you know we are simply affirming what Jesus teaches us clearly through the Bible. If you’ve never experienced the Holy Spirit in that way, maybe today you can take a moment for prayer: just say “Holy Spirit, come and teach me to worship Jesus.” Be open. But it’s God who chooses when Pentecost happens for each one of us.

There are lots of prayers around that we can pray to ask Jesus to protect us by his blood. Some have been around for decades, others have been written to ask God to protect our health at this time. You can find online testimonies from Christians who say life goes better when you pray for the protection of the Precious Blood at last once a month. There are no rules here about prayers you must say – unless God gives an instruction the way he did to Moses, we are all free to pray the prayers that seem most meaningful to us. But if you find that praying for protection like this works, keep it up!

It may be, like the Northern Irishman who felt repelled by being ‘washed in the blood of the Lamb’ that you don’t like the language. That’s OK too – but recognise that all the first followers of Jesus came to understand that his blood protects you and forgives your sins.

I’d like to leave you with the words of another Ulsterman, C. S. Lewis, who wrote these words in Mere Christianity:

You can say that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And, whatever you do, do not start quarrelling with other people because they use a different formula from yours.

And finally, remember, God the Father and Jesus Christ love you so much that Jesus shed his blood for you and the Father raised Him from the dead – so that you would have faith and hope in God. As Padre Pio once said – pray, hope and don’t worry. You might think of today’s Gospel as the Road to Emmaus – I see it as the Road to Jerusalem, to Mount Sion, where joyful disciples rush to gather, to sing and celebrate the Risen Lord and the power of His Blood. Let’s do that joyfully as we celebrate thie Eucharist. And may the Precious Blood of Jesus protect us from all evil, now and evermore. Amen?

Some noteworthy resources:

The Protection and Healing Prayer by Fr Robert Hilz TOR.

Evangelical discussion of how to ‘Plead the Blood

Academic thesis on the ‘Blood of Jesus’ in Pentecostal Churches.

Feeling Left Out?

Introduction to Mass

Today is “Divine Mercy Sunday”. It’s very rare for the Catholic Church to recognise a claimed vision of Jesus or Mary in its official prayers, but that’s what has happened today. St Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who lived 100 years ago, was shown an image of Jesus as Divine Mercy, with a pale ray of baptismal water and a red ray of his Precious Blood streaming from his breast. Jesus asked that we celebrate this Sunday, the Sunday after Easter Sunday, as a day in honour of his mercy, saying:

On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.

What Jesus is offering is a gift equivalent to a second baptism. We know that if an adult were to be baptised and died immediately afterwards, they would go straight to heaven. Once we’re baptised, when we confess our sins we know we are restored to friendship with God but we still need to be purified when we die. That purification can be so painful that it feels like a punishment, but we can also be purified by the prayers of those who love us, which the Church calls an indulgence. What Jesus offers us on this day is his own gift of being purified without any trace of punishment.

Now normally on Divine Mercy Sunday I would lead my congregation in the special prayers straight after Mass and then sit in the confessional so anyone who wished could make their confession. Today, of course, we will be able to receive neither Holy Communion nor the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But the Church is flexible, and in these times says we can still receive an Indulgence through praying today and deciding, in our hearts, that we will go to communion and confession as soon as that becomes practically possible. While we are waiting for confession we should make an act of perfect contrition, which means we tell God we are sorry for our sins – and not just because we are scared of the consequences, but because we love God and want to come to be perfectly happy with him in a place free from all sin.

So now, let us prepare to receive God’s great gift of mercy by calling to mind our sins.

Lord Jesus, you showed yourself to your friends and followers. Lord, have mercy!

Lord Jesus, you wish to free us from all our sins and from all punishment. Christ, have mercy!

Lord Jesus, the very depths of Your tender mercy are open. Lord, have mercy!

Homily to members and friends of Sion Community for Divine Mercy Sunday, 2020

Have you ever felt left out? Have you ever had the experience of Not Being Picked for something you really wanted to be involved in? I have.

At school, I was that tubby kid who was always the last pick for any sports team. I didn’t mind that – I didn’t particularly want to be running around the field anyway. But when they started a School Council, and I wasn’t picked for that, it hurt. So I kindly but firmly pointed out that it wasn’t fair for one person to represent the whole Sixth Form – there should be reps for upper and lower sixth. The staff agreed! They opened up an extra position, for which I was eligible. And guess what? I was Not Picked again! Ouch!

Or there was one time at home when we had visitors. My family didn’t often have uncles and aunties to come and visit. I must have been about 5 or 6 years old when we did have visitors once. Mum shouted ‘tea is ready!’ and I came down. I can remember what I had – chocolate pudding with tapioca! But why do I remember that day? It was because I expected to have tea with the grown-ups, but I was given my tea on my own. Why was I being left out? Wasn’t I old enough to eat with the visitors? That hurt!

I know that right now, we’re not allowed to have visitors. Everyone is staying at home. In some places that means grown-ups have no-one else with them, and that’s tough… but it can also be lonely when you’re stuck at home with a family. Maybe there’s someone else in the house who needs more looking after – a baby brother or a sick granny. Maybe you’re wondering how you can get a bit of attention from Mum or from Dad or whoever is looking after you right now.

Don’t be afraid to just ask! When I’m hearing children’s confessions in school and a child tells me they’re feeling left out, here’s what I say.

Wait until Mum, or Dad, or whoever you need to talk to is having a quiet moment. Don’t interrupt them in the middle of something else. Then just say to them – let’s imagine it’s Mum for a moment – ‘Mum, I need to talk to you about something. When can we have a chat?’ Now, that’s a very grown-up kind of thing to say so your Mum might be surprised. But she’ll either say ‘Right now!’ or if she’s tired or needs to do something for work she’ll tell you when, and she’ll make it happen. Remind her that you need a chat if nothing happens after a day or two. Once you’ve got that chat time with Mum, just tell her how you’re feeling. Don’t blame her for the other ‘busy’ things she’s doing, that’ll only make her feel bad; you know she cares about you so just talk about yourself. ‘Mum, I know there are lots of things you have to do at the moment, but I’m feeling really left out right now.’ And trust that Mum – or Dad – or whoever is looking after you, will care enough to find a way to give you your fair share of what you need.

Please remember that ‘fair shares’ aren’t always ‘equal shares’. A small baby or a sick person will need more looking after, and that’s when we have to be brave and accept that we might not get as much as we’d like. But if you need something, just ask. If you’re feeling left out, just say so. And if you’ve got an idea for something Dad, or Mum, or your big brother or sister can do that won’t take much time but could make a big difference, speak up!

Now, a word to the parents and carers. I know this is a difficult time. I know you are stretched right now looking after the people under your own roof and connecting with lots of others by phone. You want give more time to your own family – but when you can’t give more, you can give smarter. Remember that each family member is an individual and we all experience love in different ways. Maybe you’re already familiar with the concept of ‘love languages’. We’re all wired differently, so there are different things that might fill up our need to be ‘cared for’. One child might need a lot of quality time, either just talking or doing something practical where you serve their needs. Other will be happy spending most of their time on their own if they receive a small gift (maybe home-made), or the right words, spoken or written down to show you care, or a big cuddle. But remember that each child needs a share of you – their own personal share. If you don’t know what one thing is best at saying “I care” to each member of the household, maybe it’s time for a family conversation!

Remember, as well, that we’re not going to make everyone happy all the time. Jesus didn’t make Thomas happy, at first. And St Thomas had good reason to grumble. He had been a loyal apostle! When the other disciples thought it would be too dangerous for Jesus to visit the sick Lazarus, it was Thomas who said ‘Let’s go, even if we have to die with him!’ But now Thomas gets rewarded by what he feels is an insult. Jesus is risen from the dead: He is Lord, and can do whatever he wants. Jesus chooses to appear when the other 10 Apostles are all in one place – and surely the Lord knows that Thomas won’t be there! If it feels bad not being picked for the school football team, how much worse not to be picked by the King of the Universe to witness a miracle!

Jesus had a plan, but what he did was difficult for his friends. His own Mother had to see him die on a Cross! All the apostles, except John, were so scared they ran away that day. Now Thomas ends up feeling left out – but a week later, Jesus gives him a special gift. Touch! See! Know that I am risen from the dead! Thomas, like each one of us, gets his own experience of what happened to Jesus: “The stone that the builders rejected becomes the cornerstone!”

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. Normally I would be saying how Jesus wants us all to go to confession today, so that we can receive the special gift not only of forgiveness, but of total cleansing from the consequences of our sins. We know that this year, we can’t go to confession. In today’s Gospel, too, the Apostles are given the power to forgive sins – but they can’t use it yet! They are locked in, in the Upper Room, and won’t be able to go out to minister until the Holy Sprit comes at Pentecost!

Jesus is still merciful, so today, let’s make an Act of Perfect Contrition. First, decide in your heart that you want to live your life God’s way. Next, decide to forgive everyone. You might need to forgive a grown-up who hasn’t been there for you. You might need to forgive yourself for getting your priorities wrong – or for imagining you can do more than you really can. Get ready to tell God you are sorry for all times you chose to do things your heart knew were wrong.

Now, if you wish, just say after me:

Jesus, I love you.

Jesus, I forgive everyone who’s let me down.

Jesus, I forgive everyone who’s hurt me.

Jesus, I’m sorry for all my wrong choices.

Jesus, take on yourself all the consequences of my sins.

Jesus, teach me to love the way you love.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Prayers Following Mass

What the Church asks of us to honour the Divine Mercy today is that we pray one Our Father, the Creed, and a devout prayer in honour of the Divine Mercy. So please join me:

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Now, regard the image of the merciful Jesus, and pray with me, three times,

Jesus, I trust in you!

Jesus, I trust in you!

Jesus, I trust in you!

To receive the Gift of the Indulgence, we are also asked to pray for the Holy Father’s intentions. Often this is done through an Our Father and a Creed, but we’ve just prayed those already and we are free to pray for the Pope in any way we wish. Actually, the Pope’s intentions are published each month, and this month Pope Francis has asked us to pray “that those suffering from addiction may be helped and accompanied”. We know that right now, many addicts will be locked in with a great stash of temptation. Many other addicts, who cannot access what they crave, will be going through withdrawal symptoms, possibly alone. So I’m going to lead us now in one Hail Mary, where we will ask the Mother of God to remember all addicts at this time.

Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Now brothers and sisters, if you have made a good act of sorrow for your sins in your hearts, you have done everything within your power which you can do today. If you are firmly resolved to go to confession and receive Holy Communion as soon as that becomes possible, then be confident in your hearts that you have received the full gift of Divine Mercy Sunday today. Peace be with you.

To make you feel my love

I’d go hungry; I’d go black and blue

Image of Jesus with red and white rays flowing from his breast and the inscription “Jesus, I Trust in You”

And I’d go crawling down the avenue

No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do

To make you feel my love

Bob Dylan wrote these words, and Adele made them famous a few years ago. There are times we need to know that we are loved. And we may find we are blessed with people in our lives who want to communicate to us that yes, we are truly loved, even when we’re not in a mood to receive it.

Sometimes I catch myself wishing that my closest friends would do something to show they care. If only that person would send me a birthday card, or pick up the phone…! But perhaps I’m looking for the wrong thing. Instead of wishing for things I want, what happens if I look for signs they care, expressed their own way? Then, perhaps, I might start noticing that someone is actually sharing their deepest thoughts with me, or looks happy when I’m around. And it’s the same with God. Not only can we miss the signs that other people love us – we can miss the signs that God loves us, too.

We live in a world where stuff happens. In the last 48 hours, there have been stabbings and shooting in London; a British snowboarder suffocated when he fell head-first into a snowdrift in France; and this afternoon, a lorry drove into a crowd of people in Germany. The Bible itself says there will always be wars and famines and earthquakes in the world. If we expect God to stop these things happening as a sign of His love, we’re going to be disappointed.

The world at large hasn’t changed much in two thousand years. Bad stuff always had happened, and always will happen until Jesus comes again to bring the world, as we know it, to its end. What does change, is sometimes a whole heap of trouble comes into our own life all at once. Even Queen Elizabeth II famously had a bad year – an annus horribilis – in the year Diana, Princess of Wales, died, and Windsor Castle caught fire. And no-one, except the Pope, gets prayed for more often than Queen Elizabeth – even the British National Anthem is a prayer for her!

All of us can have a bad day, a bad month or even a bad year. Perhaps we have a run of accidents; or perhaps there are several deaths or terminal illness suddenly in our extended family. At times like that, the whole world seems to be against us. So remember, on days then the world is all wrong, this is the victory over the world – our faith!

Faith is a noun, which hides a verb! To have faith is more than to believe something in your head. You can look at a rickety rope bridge, and believe it will hold your weight. But you only put your trust in it when you move your feet! So what does it mean to put our trust in God? In fact, can God be trusted?

Instead of wishing that God would fix the world on my terms, perhaps I should look for what God’s actually done to make me know his love. “These [things] are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” wrote St John at the end of his Gospel.

Jesus appeared to St Thomas, as a sign to every future Christian who would doubt. Look! Touch! Believe! But blessed are those who will hear these words, and not see, but yet believe!

Jesus appeared to St Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 15th Century to show his Sacred Heart. Do you doubt that I love you? Here is my heart, burning with love for you!

Jesus appeared to St Faustina Kowalska in the 20th century, to show his Divine Mercy. “Paint an image of my with two rays streaming from my breast: the pale ray says I want to you become part of my body, through baptism. The red ray says I want my life to flow through you when you drink my blood. On the Sunday after Easter, honour this image, saying, ‘Jesus, I trust in you.'”

You won’t find promises of a trouble-free life in the Bible. You will find promises that God will walk with us through the darkness. When we say, “Jesus, I trust in you,” what we mean is: “Jesus, I will follow your commands even when times are hard; I know you walk with me through the darkness.” Thomas and the other apostles knew the darkness of facing the Death of Jesus, yet they were sent as messengers of hope to the whole world!

God shares with us the work of making the world a better place. In the first reading, we hear about a perfect community! Nobody was in want, because everyone gave from their wealth. But those people were in want, before that happened. And after the wealthy members had sold their property, what happened then? We have to keep working to make the world a better place! We also need to keep working to make our parish better, so each new tax year, we need to remember we have an opportunity to use Gift Aid – Toni will say something about that at the end of Mass.

Do you want to win a victory over the world? Put your trust in Jesus. Keep praying to him. Keep confessing your sins and receiving Holy Communion. Look for the signs that he loves you. They won’t always be the signs that you wish for, but they are there.

Bob Dylan, born Jewish, became a born-again Christian in 1978, and his faith inspired many of his songs. I don’t think he’d mind too much if I gave his lyrics a little tweak to speak about Jesus:

He went hungry; he was whipped for you;

And went carrying his cross, for sure,

No, there’s nothing that he wouldn’t do

To make you know his love.

Thursday Night is Parish Night! (And Sunday is the Lord’s Day.)

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A Divine Mercy Sunday.A blue dove with an olive branch - the logo of St Philip Evans Parish

The Lord has risen from the grave! Alleluia!

Errm, OK. Now what?

The friends and followers of Jesus had been on an emotional rollercoaster. For many months they’d travelled with him on the road, listening to his teachings and marvelling at his miracles. They’d been plunged into darkest despair when he was crucified on Calvary; filled with unspeakable joy at the news of his rising; and now they were coming to terms with the bittersweet reality that although he had risen, his plan was not to remain with them as he had been before. He had left them with two gifts – the teaching he had given to the Apostles after his Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit, given to strengthen and comfort the believers on the Day of Pentecost. Armed only with these tools, the friends and followers of Jesus set out to do what the Master has asked of them.

We’ve just read there were four things that mattered to the first Christians. First, they wanted to hear the teaching which Jesus had given his apostles. Second, they built a strong community – our reading said ‘brotherhood’ but the Greek word behind it is not male; it is ‘koinonia’, which means a close-knit community. Third, they practiced the ‘breaking of bread’ – they celebrated Mass. Fourth, they were faithful to prayer.

How did they do this? The first Christians attended the daily Jewish prayers at the Jerusalem Temple, but they also met in their own homes to celebrate Mass. We know from historical sources that Sunday was an ordinary working day. Despite this, the Christians would remember the Lord’s rising by gathering in the morning to sing psalms and again in the evening to celebrate Eucharist. Later, these two parts were combined into a single service more like the Mass we celebrate today.

Because it was important to those first followers of Jesus to celebrate Eucharist on Sunday, it is important to us. This is why, as far as possible, we come to Mass on Sundays – we include Saturday evenings, because the Jews counted a day to begin from nightfall. This is why our Archbishop makes sure that Mass is provided in Welsh and in British Sign Language on the Lord’s day. This is why, in many parishes across South Wales, priests drive between churches to ensure that two or even three different towns can have their own Mass on Sunday. This is why, across Cardiff city, priests ensure that Masses are available on Sunday at many different hours between 8.30 in the morning and 6 o’clock in the evening. The priests and the deacons working with them do this because the first followers of Jesus knew it was a sign of our love and our faith to worship him on the Lord’s Day. In this way, we try to provide maximum flexibility so you can schedule other family committments around a Mass time that works for you.

But is Sunday Mass enough for us to do all four of the things which matter to the friends and followers of Jesus? We get a seven-minute sermon, but that’s not a lot of time to explore the teaching of the apostles. You might have a brief conversation in the car park, but is that enough to build the kind of strong community the first Christians had? Are we the kind of parish where everyone helps each other because we knew who is in genuine need? And as for prayer – there are many other forms of prayer besides Mass, so what else can deepen our inner life with God?

Today, therefore, I am launching something new for our parish which will begin in September: Thursday night is Parish Night!

We already have a short Mass at 7 o’clock on Thursday evenings. Each week, there will be something different immediately after that Mass, something that helps us do one or more of the things the first Christians knew were important.

On the first Thursday of each month, there will be an opportunity for deeper prayer. Each month will explore something different – ways of praying with the Bible, or with the rosary, or perhaps using art.

The second Thursday of each month will be parish business night. The key committees which share in the work of leading our parish will usually meet on this night – the Liturgy Planning Group, the Finance Committee, and the Group Leaders’ Forum. I also wish to re-establish a Parish Council and we will have elections later this summer for this. Although committees and councils may sound rather boring, they are crucial if our parish is to be a true community, not a dictatorship under one parish priest.

On the third Thursday of each month, there will be a different guest speaker who will allow us to think more deeply about our faith. I have already arranged for talks about the ancient Celtic saints in Wales, about the message of Divine Mercy – something the church celebrates in a special way this weekend – and for a vicar who is also a conjourer to give us his unique perspective on the Gospels.

When I first arrived here at St Philip Evans, I spoke about my hope to form a parish vision group which would look forward to the years 2020 and 2025, and work with me for long term planning. I am now ready to launch this. On the fourth Thursday of each month, from September until next July, I will be giving talks about the different things Our Lord asked his followers to do, so we build up a rounded idea of what a parish is called to be. I hope that those who wish to be part of the Vision Group will attend these talks, and then continue to meet on fourth Thursdays to work on turning the vision into reality.

Finally, if the month happens to have a fifth Thursday, this will be an opportunity for a social night. We will say more next month about how these could be organised.

So from September this year, there will be something special happening every week following Thursday evening Mass. I am sharing this with you now so we have time to prepare. Thursday nights will be a special time for us to come together in this parish to grow as a Christian community, in the same way as the first Christians in Jerusalem built up their community.

Finally, I know that many of you work in healthcare or in other jobs where you are regularly required to work on Sundays. This is also an opportunity for you! Let us make Sunday the day when we honour the Lord’s resurrection, even if we have to go to another Church for Mass. But let us make Thursday the evening when we build up our parish, grow as a close-knit community, listen to the teaching of the apostles, and gather at 7 p.m. for the breaking of bread. Thursday Night is Parish Night! Are you coming?