A Night With a Difference

Homily at St Philip Evans for Maundy Thursday, 2017.

“Why is this night different from all others?”

Earlier this week, Jewish families around the world gathered to celebrate the Passover together. The youngest child able to speak would ask that question, and the father of the household would answer by telling the story of the first Passover, the story we heard part of in our First Reading.

The Jewish household would remember how, when they were slaves in Egypt, they were commanded to slaughter the first Passover lamb, and place its blood on their doorposts. Then they were to roast the lamb and eat it. Only those who had eaten of the lamb and marked their homes with its blood were protected when the Angel of Death passed over Egypt that night.

“Why is this night different from all others?”

We gather as a Christian community to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, remembering how Jesus and his disciples gathered to celebrate a Passover meal. If you had lived in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus, you would have witnessed thousands of families bringing their lambs to the Temple that day, to be slaughtered. It is said that the lambs would be hung, to bleed out, on a crossbar, and then skewered from head to tail to be roasted… the skewered lambs would look very much as if they had been fixed to a cross. (See this example.)

We are not told whether Jesus and the disciples had a roasted lamb at their table – the Bible only speaks of bread and wine. But lamb was present – Jesus himself, declared by John the Baptist to be the Lamb of God. That night, as St Paul reminded the Corinthians, he would take the cup of wine, and declare it to be his blood, which was to be shed for many. The following day, not a wooden doorpost, but a wooden cross, would be stained by the blood of this Lamb. Upon that Cross, the Firstborn Son of God would fall victim to the plague of death.

In the Jewish religion, it was strictly forbidden to drink blood, for blood represented life. Even for the first Christians, when they considered what Jewish laws new Christians should have to keep, abstaining from blood was one of the four laws they retained. Yet the Lord Jesus commanded us to drink his blood, in the form of wine.

Only those who ate the Passover lamb – save perhaps infants too young in the household marked by blood – would be protected from the plague of death. Just after feeding 5000 people with loaves multiplied abundantly, Jesus said “if you do not eat my body and drink my blood, you do not have life within me”. So although we are forbidden to drink the life of any mere creature, we are commanded to drink the blood of Our Divine Lord; we, mere humans, to drink the life of heaven and consume the bread of angels.

“Why is this night different from all others?”

We’re going to do something in this parish tonight we haven’t done before.

Tonight, we are going to bless wooden crosses which from now on will be worn by the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion on duty at Mass. We’re doing this for a very practical reason – if a minister on duty is delayed and arrives late, that person can see on arriving if a substitute has taken the last cross and relieve them of it. But when we decided to give our ministers some insignia, we chose a very particular source for these crosses. This wood is tainted – it is stained by sin. It comes from wooden moulds used to make concrete blocks – blocks which form a wall separating communities from one another in the Holy Land. Some of the local people rescue this wood and carve crosses from it, trying to bring some good from a work of division. In this way, material used in the construction of an oppressive barrier is being employed by local craft workers to create a symbol of the triumph of life over death and of love over injustice. This wood is both shameful and redeemed.

A wooden cross with a Celtic-style ring around the joining of the barsThese insignia are in the form of a circle on a cross. We might think of it as a Celtic Cross. But since our ministers give us the Body of Christ in the form of a small round wafer, the circle might also remind us of Christ’s Body, hung on the Cross for our salvation – just as those ancient lambs were mounted on cruciform spits to be roasted for the Passover meal.

“Why is this night different from all others?”

After the death of the Firstborn, Pharaoh King of Egypt sent the Jews out on their journey into the wilderness. God would provide for them, in the wilderness, manna from heaven, honey-sweet bread which was a foretaste of the Promised Land.

Perhaps the world we live in today feels like a wilderness. Acts of terrorism and conflicts between nations are never far away. The manna from heaven was God’s promise that he would provide for his people as they journeyed towards their Promised Land.

This is our security. Will we go to heaven because of the good works that we have done? No. We who are followers of Jesus will go to heaven because we have the life of God within us; we have feasted on the Bread of Life and drunk the Cup of Salvation.

Tonight Jesus challenges us all to perform good works which make this life a little more like Heaven. But he also points us to those two days in history when wood was stained with blood so that God’s people would be saved from Death – that first Passover, when the firstborn sons of Israel were spared, and Good Friday, when our debts were paid and the price of our sin paid by the precious blood of the Lamb of God. Eat the flesh of this Passover Lamb. Drink the Blood of the Saviour who died for you. Rejoice, for when you hear the words, “The Body of Christ”, “The Blood of Christ”, hear God’s tender voice: “This is how much I love you.”

Much of tonight’s homily is based on Brant Pitre’s book The Jewish Roots of the Eucharistas was the teaching about the shewbread in my Christmas Sermon.

Building Believers

Homily at St Joseph’s, Guildford, for members of the Homegroups and participants in a recent Alpha course.

Readings: Acts 2:42-47 and Matthew 10:7-15.

“As you go, proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.”

Last weekend, at Sunday Mass, we heard Jesus send 72 of his followers to announce his coming in the villages he was about to visit.

Tonight, he commands his 12 apostles to announce his message as they go along, and to stay in each town as long as they were welcome.

I’ve got good news for you. You don’t have to go anywhere. You’re already where God wants you to be – the Gospel has spread from Galilee to Guildford, from Samaria to Surrey! Sometimes, especially when we are open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we will speak a life-changing word to a person we meet only once. But the most likely way we will spread the Good News of Jesus is with the people whose lives interact with ours on a daily basis.

Last Saturday night, I did something very Biblical. Jesus often ate with tax collectors. I sat down and had dinner with some bankers! It was the 25-year reunion of my undergraduate physics class. Lots of physics graduates end up working in finance. I, of course, took a slightly different route, first a PhD in astrophysics, then seminary, and now nine years working as a priest. Naturally I wore my clerical collar rather than a black tie – it’s a great conversation starter!

I was seated next to a student who’d started a year after me. She was from a Catholic family – her uncle was a priest – but she wasn’t a churchgoer. I’ll call her Shirley, though that’s not her name. We haven’t had a conversation for 20 years, and there we were, former physics students, now a banker and a Catholic priest.

Naturally, the conversation turned to religion. “But you can’t believe everything the Catholic Church teaches, surely, you’re a scientist trained to question evidence!”

“As a scientist, I know that our beliefs have to be based on evidence, and my beliefs are based on what Jesus actually said and did.”

“But you can’t believe that what’s in the Bible accurately represents Jesus, surely, people must have changed and spun it through the years?”

“We have accurate manuscripts, radio-carbon dated, to early centuries after Jesus. And I have spent time studying the different influences on the way the Bible is communicated so I can understand what is authentic!”

She wasn’t convinced. She was scandalised that I was willing to accept the written message of the Jesus-of-then, rather than my own sense of relating to the Jesus-of-now, as authoritative.

I’ll tell you something even more scandalous! Did you hear it in our reading from Acts? It didn’t say the first Christians devoted themselves to the teaching of Jesus – it said they met to listen to the teaching of the Apostles!

Jesus didn’t write a book. Our faith is not like Islam, which claims that an angel dictated God’s word directly. We believe that God lived among us, told stories, and instructed 12 chosen Apostles to pass on the message – authenticating what they did by giving them the power to heal and pass on the Holy Spirit to those who received their word!

Today, our Pope and our bishops are the successors of the apostles. From the vast store of Christian wisdom, they choose to issue documents highlighting those teachings which are most useful to our life in the 21st century. St John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis each bring their own eye to the needs of the church and the world. When I step up to the pulpit to preach, I come not with my own opinions, but with the Teaching of the Apostles.

There was a second thing that bothered Shirley at that black tie dinner – it was a comment I have also heard from many parents who have asked to have their children baptised. Surely you don’t have to go to Church to be a good person, to be a Christian?

Well, let’s look at what the first followers of Jesus did.

They were attentive to the Teaching of the Apostles. Now, in the Internet Age, you certainly don’t have to leave home to learn something, but here in Guildford, in the Homegroups, you meet to deepen your understanding of the Teaching of the Apostles. It is good, and human, to meet to discuss these things.

They met for the “breaking of bread”. I have yet to meet a parent who says “we don’t have to go to church to be a Christian” who claims to have celebrated the “breaking of bread” at home. It’s what we do in Church, the Eucharist with an ordained priest presiding.

From the writings of Justin Martyr, we know that in the early days of the Church, the Christians gathered to hear the Word of God read for as long as time allowed (don’t worry, I won’t do that tonight!) followed by a sermon. Then the minister presiding “gave thanks at considerable length” – I like to imagine a long, charismatic prayer at this point. Later, when the Roman Empire legalised the Church, they had to recruit a lot more priests quickly, and only then did Eucharistic Prayers get written down and circulated.

In the Homegroups, we don’t often meet for the breaking of bread, but it is good that we are here tonight, offering Mass to give thanks for the cycle of activity now ending and to pray for the year to come. I’d like to say a special word to those among you who are followers of Jesus, but not members of the Catholic Church.

It can seem awkward, on a night like this, that we do not invite other Christians to communion. But there is a certain integrity about that. Each of you will have your own reasons for belonging to the church you do belong to. When a Catholic minister holds up the consecrated Host and says “the body of Christ”, he or she is saying, abbreviated, “We believe that Jesus commanded the Church to ordain priests with the power to turn bread and wine into His true body and blood; we are one body in Christ because we receive Holy Communion and accept the teaching of the Apostles, given through the Bishop of Rome.” If you are tempted to ask “But why can’t I receive?” then ask yourself this: “Why am I not a Catholic?” The answer to both questions is the same. Yet we can worship together in all other aspects, sing the same songs, say the same prayers. Let us focus not on the one thing which divides us, but the many things which unite.

The early Christians were faithful “to the fellowship”. That’s another reason for coming to church. To have fellowship, we have to be together – stay-at-home Christians miss out. The very word “church” in Greek is “ekklesia” which means “the gathered community”, the “people called-out”. As a church, we are only as strong as our fellowship with one another.

It’s a sign of the strong community in the Homegroups that I am here with you 10 years after leaving Surrey. Yet in those 10 years, some of you have been in regular touch by post, and others have opened your dining tables, homes and spare rooms to me over the years. Don’t take that for granted – there are not many Catholic parishes in this country where you can find the same sense of community.

Now, community isn’t always easy. We don’t always get on with each other. But the Lord taught us to pray “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Now, think of the church member you get on with least well. In your mind’s eye, picture the gates of heaven. Jesus is there, standing next to that person. Jesus says: “You can come in, as long as you don’t mind spending eternity together!”

The early Christians were faithful “to the prayers”. Now, that’s one thing you CAN do at home. But the Bible affirms the power of “two or three” praying together. Asking God for help is quite intuitive. But a true Christian knows who God is, and chooses to worship.

So here we are tonight, to worship. As we look back on the cycle of activities now closing, let’s give thanks. Thanks for the teaching received. Thanks for the Masses we have attended. Thanks for the friendships made and restored in our fellowship. Thanks for those prayers which have been answered.

Let’s also pray for the future, for the new year of life which will pick up from September. Let’s pray for a deepening of our commitment to understand the Teaching of the Apostles. Let’s pray for vocations, so we will always have priests for the breaking of bread – perhaps God is calling someone here tonight to the ministry of the altar, as a priest or deacon. Let’s pray for new members in our Homegroup Fellowship, and the courage to invite people to come – to come to know Christ, to come to Alpha, to join the Homegroups. And perhaps I could ask you to pray for “Shirley” – God knows her real name – that after our conversation, she begins to understand that the Gospels are trustworthy and that she is truly invited to be part of our church, with all its human flaws.

Jesus chose 72 and send them out around Israel. Jesus chose 12 and send them to the ends of the earth. Jesus chose YOU and sends you to Surrey. “As you go, proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.”

They were faithful to the Teachings of the Apostle, to the breaking of bread, to the fellowship and the prayers. Do this, and the same Holy Spirit who worked wonders through them will most surely work through you, too!

A Gift Beyond Common Sense

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:Host
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

In these words we hear St Thomas Aquinas meditating on the mystery which lies at the heart of our Catholic Faith: the holy Eucharist. At the Last Supper, Our Lord Jesus took bread and wine, and declared “This is my body, this is my blood. Do this in memory of me.” Today, in John’s Gospel, he insists that he himself is the Bread of Life. Over the next three Sundays, we will hear Our Lord become more and more insistent that he really means what he says.

“Did you fail to hear properly what Jesus taught?” asks our Second Reading. “Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution.”

These words of Jesus force each one of us into a battle between faith and common sense.

Common sense looks at a communion wafer and sees nothing but a disc of baked flour. Certainly we can bless, break and share the wafer and tell the story of what Jesus did so many years ago. No miracle is needed for us to simply speak and remember.

Faith hears the words of Jesus. This is the same Jesus who fed 5000 people with a few loaves, calmed a storm, walked on water, raised Lazarus from the dead and himself appeared risen on the third day after being nailed to a Cross. This is the Jesus who took the bread and said “This is my body.” The power of God at work in Jesus is quite capable of making these words come true.

What do we know for certain?

The wafer does not change its shape, smell, texture or taste when it is consecrated by a priest. If we were to send a portion off to the local food science labs, they would tell us that it is nothing but baked wheat.

Jesus said “This is my body.” For this reason, when any Catholic minister gives communion, the words spoken are: “The body of Christ.”

Who are we to say that it is not his body? From the earliest days of the church, we have held on to this truth: “It looks the same but what it really is has changed.” So what our Church has taught since the beginning is that the consecrated elements are no longer bread and wine, but the body and blood of Christ. What we eat is NOT bread, but Jesus. What we drink is NOT wine, but Jesus.

Surely that goes against common sense?

Perhaps… but common sense does not always lead us to the truth.

Common sense says that freely-moving objects slow down. But Isaac Newton saw beyond common sense, realising that in empty space things go at a constant speed, and came up with his famous Laws of Motion, on which classical physics is founded.

Common sense says that something goes faster if you throw it forward from a moving vehicle. But Albert Einstein saw beyond common sense, realising that light moves at a fixed speed, and came up with his famous Theory of Relativity, on which modern physics is founded.

Common sense says that something that looks and tastes like bread must be bread. But we are called to see beyond common sense, realising that Jesus has declared this to be His own body, and trusting His word over the evidence of our senses. This indeed needs a “spiritual revolution” in our minds. If you can bring yourself to reject common sense, you too will be as stupid as Newton or Einstein.

Because we believe that what was bread has become Jesus, we show great honour to the Blessed Sacrament, by bowing our knee on entering and leaving this place of worship, and by keeping a living flame burning at all times.

Because we believe that what was bread has become Jesus, we have the great privilege of being able to pay a visit to Our Lord in any chapel where the Body of Christ is kept. Of course we can pray anywhere at all, and God hears us; but if we choose to go specially to a place where the Body of Christ is kept, we give God greater honour, and at the same time we make an act of faith that Jesus is truly present. We express this faith in a more public way by placing the Body of Jesus on the altar exposed for worship, or by holding a procession with the Blessed Sacrament in a public place.

In today’s Gospel, the crowds went to look for Jesus. What about you? Perhaps in these summer months, you may have a little more free time than is usual? Why not choose to visit a church or chapel where you can honour the Body of Jesus with a short visit? Is it not the most natural thing in the world to visit someone we love? If we don’t sense Our Lord’s love coming to us in return, that makes our act of love even greater, as if we were visiting a resting friend in hospital or gazing lovingly at our own child sleeping. Like the Israelites of old, we are exiles; when we reach heaven we will see Jesus perfectly. For now, approaching the Blessed Sacrament is the closest we can come.

Even if you find it difficult to overcome your common sense, make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament anyway – and accompany it with the prayer of the disciples, “Lord, I believe – help my unbelief!” Pray for God to grant you a spiritual revolution in your mind, and surrender your need to understand how it works. I don’t understand how it works. I simply know that the Lord of the Universe once said “This is my Body” and it was so, just as the Lord said, “Let there be light,” and all that is came into being.

The work that God expects us to do, is to believe in His messenger, the Christ. Each week in the parish we pray “Lord, use me as you will.” If we have doubts about the Eucharist, it is His will that we work on those doubts so we can believe in Jesus.

It was by faith, not by common sense, that I became a Catholic. “Do this,” said Jesus. The many Protestant Churches did it but said it wasn’t really his Body and Blood. Jesus said it was. “Take and eat it.” So I became a Catholic. Now, as a priest, I “do this” so that you can do that.

When I first became a Catholic, I was not familiar with the hymn written by St Thomas Aquinas. But in retrospect, I am happy to make it my own:

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

 

Further reading:

A fuller list of Early Christian Teachings

From a book on St Thomas Aquinas

Wikipedia on Transubstantiation (the church’s technical term for “What it is changes, even though it appears to stay the same.”)

 

Food For The Journey

Homily at St Philip Evans on Maundy Thursday 2015

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

Are we nearly there yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do this, and remember!

Homily at St Philip Evans for Maundy Thursday, 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back on the Year of Faith

Official logo for the Year of Faith - a stylized ship with the letters IHS (Jesus) as the sail surrounded by a Eucharistic circleAs the Year of Faith closes on the Feast of Christ the King 2013, I am making available here links to some talks I have given to mark the Year of Faith. They were first given at St John Lloyd Parish intended for an audience of practicing Catholics, then some of the talks were slightly adapted to be more accessible to an audience including non-Catholics and given again at the Cornerstone at St David’s.

The links here are for narrated Powerpoints of the St John Lloyd versions of the talks.

We Believe in a God who Speaks, covering the Bible, Tradition and private revelation.

We believe in Faith and in Sciencefrom my perspective as a Catholic Priest with a PhD in astrophysics.

We believe in the Virgin Mothercovering the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth and Assumption of Our Lady.

We Believe in One Church of Christ, covering the relationship between the Catholic Church and other Christian communities.

We Believe in One Catholic and Apostolic Church, on the role of St Peter and the Apostles and how this led to the modern leadership of the Catholic Church.

We Believe in a Suffering Saviour, on whether God can suffer and if so, how this should affect our way of praying.

We Believe in the Holy Spirit, on how we know there is a Holy Spirit, why we celebrate Confirmation, and how we can develop a prayerful relationship with the Spirit of God.

We Believe in the Blessed Sacrament, on why we claim that bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ, and how worship of Jesus in the form of the Blessed Sacrament has developed in the Catholic Church over the centuries.

We Believe in a God Who Heals, looking at the phenomenon of healing in the Christian Church historically and today.

The Attitude of Gratitude

Homily at St Philip Evans, for the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

The Lord be with you. – And with your spirit.

Lift up your hearts. – We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. – It is right and just.

Did you notice what you just said? I proposed that we should all, together, give thanks to God. And in reply, you told me that this was the proper thing to do – and more than that, God deserves it!

Saying “Thank You” is something we teach children until it becomes automatic. But the words “Thank You” become a polite phrase rather than a heartfelt expression of gratitude. If we really want to show thanks, we do something special – sending flowers, or a card.

Today’s readings are all about the attitude of gratitude. Na’aman the Syrian and the Samaritan leper were both clearly grateful for the cures they received from God. Na’aman takes two buckets of earth home with him – he thinks he can only pray his thanks to the God of Israel by standing on Israeli soil!

Jewish law was full of rules about thanksgiving. The main Jewish feasts, at Passover and Pentecost, and the autumn Festival of Booths, were the times when different crops were harvested. The first fruits of each farm could be offered to God at the Temple. When an animal gave birth to a firstborn male, that too had to be sacrificed.

For centuries, when most Christians lived off the land, Harvest was a major celebration in each village church. Now, though, we’re in danger of taking things for granted. There’s food in the shops, and power at the flick of a switch. We know that biology and chemistry can explain how and why plants grow in the way they do.

Unlike our ancestors, we don’t rush to say that life’s a miracle which only God can explain. Slowly but surely, Christian harvest festivals became less and less about giving thanks, and more and more about giving food to those in need. We might still sing the words, “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above…” – but they might not ring true in our hearts the way they did for our grandparents.

It’s certainly good to give food to those who are without. At the end of this month, we’ll celebrate Harvest here at St Philip Evans. In support of our local Foodbank, I’ll ask you to bring in long-life foodstuffs – there’s a list in the newsletter of what’s most useful. Foodbanks provide emergency food when a caring professional recognises that a family in need will have to wait a while before the welfare state catches up with them. You can read more in the newsletter or online, and I’ll say more about Foodbanks at the end of the month.

But let’s not fall into the trap of thinking Harvest is all about giving food to the needy. When we pray the Creed, we call God the Creator – and even though we understand a great deal of the science of HOW plants and animals work, our Christian faith tells us it’s still God who holds the Universe in being. Even Jesus gave thanks to his Father whenever he shared food with others, recognising that all good things are God’s gift to us.

So today’s a good day to remind ourselves that it is always appropriate to say grace before a meal. If there are guests who are not believers at our table, we can ask them to wait respectfully while we give thanks to God. This is a simple yet powerful way of showing that God is important in our daily life. Some families even dare to hold hands when saying grace! This creates a moment when it’s OK to use touch to keep in touch with one another.

We have other reasons to thank God, too. The Second Reading today reminds us that Christ is Risen. We gather for Mass on Sundays precisely because Sunday is the day when Jesus rose from the dead. So today we celebrate that Jesus is Alive! We remember also that because Jesus rose, we know that our loved ones and we ourselves can look forward to happiness with God, in heaven. When the first Christians gathered for their Sunday prayers, they called the service Eucharist – that is the Greek word for thanksgiving! They know, as we know, that there is no better way to give thanks to God the Father than to obey the command of Jesus: Do this in memory of me.

The Church has no doubt that it is truly right and just to give thanks and praise to God – you will hear me say so in the prayers every time we celebrate Mass. So in the silent reflection after this sermon, take a moment to ask: “What do I want to give thanks to God for this Sunday?”

We know how to give thanks – by celebrating Eucharist. We know why we give thanks – because all our good things are granted to us by God. And we know what to give thanks for, if only we take time to listen to our hearts. So let us give thanks to the Lord our God – it is right and just!

Yellow Banner - "Jesus is not dead"