Great Expectations: Invest

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A.

Consider the humble img_1161bucket.

Have you ever tried to draw water from a well?

Just letting the bucket down on a single rope might not work so well… the bucket floats on the water!

So what can you do?

You can use a heavy weight to sink the bucket. But who wants to be burdened by that weight all the time?

You can TIP the bucket so it falls over and fills from the side.

Or you can use a special bucket designed to let a little water in at the bottom. If you draw it out quickly, you will keep most of the water!


Today, Jesus is thirsty. He meets a woman at a well and asks her for a drink. He has no bucket – but his plan is to offer her the living water that only He can give.

How do we open ourselves to receive that living water?

Like the weighted bucket, we may be sinking into desperation when we turn to Christ. In Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programmes, the participants come to a point of despair. They realise that the power to change is not within themselves. They must turn to some “Higher Power”. There are many Christian stories of people who made a new connection with God when they were at their most broken. The Bible tells us: “Seek the Lord and you WILL find Him – if you seek with ALL your heart!”

Like the tipped-over bucket, we can choose to humble ourselves. If we know who Jesus really is, we will bow down our hearts and ask for his help. Scripture says: “Humble yourself in the eyes of the Lord, and he will raise you up.”

Like the bucket with a valve in the bottom, once we receive something of the living water, we will be thirsty for more. The increased weight allows the bucket to sink deeper. Once we’ve had a taste of the Lord’s love, we will be motivated to pray harder and longer, and the Lord can increase our capacity to receive. St Paul must have experienced this; he wrote of how God’s love can be poured into our hearts.

The woman at the well provided the Lord with two things to fill – a bucket for water, and a soul for faith, hope and love. The Lord filled her gradually. She starts the conversation by addressing him as a hated “Jew”. Then a more respectful “Sir”. If we read on, Jesus is acknowledged as a prophet, and eventually Messiah. The more she sinks into the living water, the more able she is to receive who Jesus truly is; eventually the conversation moves from matters of fetching water, to questions of the right way to worship.


A bucket is also a classic sign of holding a collection. As the current tax year draws to a close, it’s appropriate that I say something about money. Indeed, the money we give to the Church is one very practical way in which we worship God – with our wallets! To “worship” is to declare God “worthy”, which means “worth it”. I’ve placed the two banners on the sanctuary reminding us to “invest” and to “worship” because they are so closely connected.

We, the people of this parish, are responsible for keeping our parish running. Each year, it costs us roughly £15k to keep our building warm, safe and in good repair. It costs another £15k to have a priest – that’s not just money in my pocket, that includes my travel and other expenses as well. And it costs a further £12k to adminster the parish – printing, phone, internet and office staff. Let’s not forget that we are also paying off our debt, if we aim to pay off £10k per year, that all adds up to £52k per year or £1000 per week.

Now, a thousand pounds per week might sound like a lot of money, but the good news is that about 300 people worship here each weekend. Some of us are children, but if 250 adults are here each weekend, that’s about £4 per person per week. That’s the bare minimum we can pay into our parish if we want to look after our building and keep a priest.

There are lots of ways we can contribute. We can set up a standing order from our bank, or we can give cash every week. If we pay tax, we can ask the Government to Gift Aid our contribution. We can also choose to sponsor the costs of particular church expenses. At the end of today’s Mass, our finance team will talk about Gift Aid. Next week, we will launch this year’s Sponsorship Appeal.

Remember, the Lord is asking us to meet his needs out of the gifts he has already given us. Today’s psalm is an invitation to give praise to God, who has provided for our basic needs, rather than giving in to the temptation to grumble – that’s what the Israelites did at Massah and Meribah in the desert. If our income has gone down in the past year, it is quite proper for us to give less to the church than we used to. But if we can afford to give a little more, let’s do that. Imagine what our Church could do if we had  the resources to invest in our community as well as keeping our building and our priest in working order?

I’m not going to tell you we’re sinking and desperate for money – we’re managing. Just.

I’m not going to bow down and beg you for money, but I am simply telling you what we need.

I am, however, showing you what we can do with a little more money. We have living water to share with the community we live in. You see at the outside of the church that we now have signs and banners. The is the first step of asking our local community to come in and drink from the living water. Imagine what more we could do with the funds to go out into the community and connect with people!

Jesus saw a woman with a bucket, and asked her for a drink. She was cautious, but he won her trust, and her life was changed. Today, you see a priest with a bucket, a priest who wants to share living water with the people around us. What will you put in my bucket?

Great Expectations: Worship

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A.

worship

There’s a person in prison for what he believes. His name is John.

What were the beliefs that landed him in prison?

He believes that God is real. He believes that God expects people to behave in a certain way. He had preached a simple message: God is coming soon. You can be friends with God – but you have to change. You have to live your life God’s way.

For King Herod, living by God’s law would have meant separating from the woman he called his wife. That’s why the king had put John in prison.

John is worried. He’s gambled his whole life on his belief that God is coming soon. Now he’s in prison and may soon be executed. Has his gamble paid off?

In his prison, he’s asking the same questions we’re all likely to ask in times of stress. “What can I do when life gets hard? Where is God in all of this?”

The answer John finds is rather unique. He knows that the prophet Isaiah said that when the blind and the lame were healed, it would be a sign that God himself is coming. Now he’s heard rumours that his own cousin, Jesus, is healing people. And more than that, Jesus sends back a message “I am giving Good News to the poor – don’t lose faith in me!”
But do we have faith in Jesus?

For many of us, something inside us resists seeing who Jesus really is.

If Jesus were really our Teacher and Judge, we would have to put aside our own ideas about right and wrong, and find out what Jesus thinks.

If Jesus really wants us to celebrate the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, then we have to adjust our plans for sports, hobbies and socialising to make room for him.

If Jesus really loved me, I would have to look again at that big negative image of myself I secretly think is the real me. If Jesus sees good in me, I can’t be so bad really!

Jesus had a way of asking difficult questions. “Why were you so interested in John the Baptist?” he said to the crowd around him. If he were here today, he might say, “What are you doing at Mass on a Sunday morning? Are you jumping through hoops so your children can have First Communion? Have you come out of a sense of ‘habit’, because it feels as comfortable as an old sweater, or because your friends are here? Or do you really believe that when you attend Mass, you’re taking part in the one thing which delights the God who created you more than any other human activity?”

 

This morning, I wanted to give you a really good reason why you should worship God. In fact, our word-of-the-week is “Worship”.

I could tell you that when you’re in love, it’s natural to say affectionate things to the person you love. But perhaps you haven’t fallen in love with God yet.

I could tell you that if you could only sense how awesome God is, you would instinctively bow down and adore. But if you can sense that, I won’t need to explain.

I could tell you that my main reason for worshipping God is that Jesus said “Do this in memory of me”, and I made a decision when I was 19 years old that I was going to do what Jesus asked me for the rest of my life. But if you haven’t already decided to follow Jesus, that won’t help you at all.

In fact, I’ve reached a stark conclusion.

There is NOTHING I can say in this sermon which will make you believe in Jesus, if you don’t already have faith.

I can only promise you that if God gives you the gift of faith, he will help you to deal with all the obstacles that seem scary when you don’t have faith.

Only God can give the gift of faith. When I was 11 years old, I prayed – not because I was curious, but because I was hurting and needed to know the answer – “God, if you are real, show me.”

God did.

That’s why I became a Catholic.

That’s when I realised that there was nothing I could do on any weekend which was more important than coming to take part in Mass and receive Holy Communion.

You could ask God too, show you whether he’s really there.

Don’t be afraid.

 

Some of you have been given the gift of faith. Some of you are confident that when you receive Holy Communion, it is Jesus himself who nourishes you in body and soul. I have a challenge for you, too. My challenge is to go deeper. Every weekday in school time, we have a time of adoration. We place the body of Jesus on the altar in the Prayer Room. Members of our Indian community have a rota, so that Jesus is never left alone. Often they come as families and spend hours singing hymns and offering prayers.

What about our wider community? I’d like to challenge the rest of us to take adoration seriously. I’ve made an agreement with the regular adorers that the first hour of adoration each day will be in silence. So you can come along at half past ten on a weekday, knowing that your own prayers won’t be disturbed by someone else’s for that hour.

Why not come and try it out?

Even if you are not sure if God is real, why not come and give God the benefit of the doubt?

 

There’s a person in prison because of what they don’t believe.

They don’t believe Jesus is real.

Or if they know Jesus is real, they don’t believe he can change their life for the better.

If that person is you, Jesus would like to set you free today.

I’m praying that you find the courage to say “Yes” to Jesus. John did. Mary did. I did. You can, too.

 

 

Five Steps of Faith, and a Murky Mirror

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 4th Sunday of Lent, with Second Scrutiny.

Whenever adults are to be baptised Catholic at Easter, we have these readings 3 weeks before. They help us reflect on the journey of faith which brings us to baptism – or for us who were baptised as infants, to making an adult decision to continue with our faith. On Easter Night or Easter Day, we will all be invited to renew our baptismal promises. Let us not do so blindly!

 

Step 1. God turns up in your life. For the boy David, it was a prophet turning up for tea with a pot of anointing oil. For the blind man, it was Jesus placing mud on his eyes. When was the first time you became conscious of a person or idea which you felt was connected to God?

Step 2. You are curious enough to want to find our more. The blind man – still blind, and with mud in his eyes – was willing to follow Jesus’ instruction to go and wash in a certain pool. Some of our elect here today responded to a school newsletter inviting them to learn more about the Catholic faith. Can you remember what first made you curious about Jesus or the Catholic Church?

Step 3. Trouble comes! It might be trouble from other people who tease us about our faith or try to argue, like the Pharisees did, about the right way to do religion. Or it might be trouble from our own mind, which says “Hold on – if I follow Jesus, I might have to give up certain things I enjoy.” What, for you, is the biggest obstacle to believing and living your faith?

Step 4. You’ve survived the trouble and it helps you realise that God is getting through to you. You might not know how you know, but you know that the message of Jesus is important for your life. This makes it crucial to ask the right questions. The blind man says, “Tell me who the Son of Man is!” – in other words, tell me more about Jesus. From this year’s group preparing to be Catholic, I have faced some fascinating questions, about what the Church says about ghosts or life after death. Let me throw out a question in return – if God appeared to you and promised to give a straight answer to just one question, what would that question be?

Step 5. The blind man says “I believe!” and worships Jesus. At Easter Mass, each one of us will be asked if we believe in Jesus. To say “yes” is not just to declare we have an idea about Jesus in our heads. It is to affirm that we put our trust in him, we follow his teachings in our life, and we come to Mass on the Lord’s Day because he asked us to do this in memory of me. So with this in mind – Do you believe in the Son of Man?

We don’t get the full picture of our faith straight away. The blind man encountered Jesus but spent time with mud in his eyes. Was he healed when Our Lord put the mud on, or when it was washed away? And why did Jesus do that? Was it perhaps because we see “through a glass darkly”, God’s light reflected in the murky mirror of our human existence? Jesus comes to us through glimpses of his presence in a messy world? Very few of us get the blinding light of St Paul having a vision on the road to Damascus. The water of life is mixed with the dust of this world. Most of us live with the Lord giving us just enough nudges of his loving presence to encourage us to carry on. It’s normal to have just enough faith. Blinding visions are quite the exception!

Today’s sermon has been full of questions – questions you’ve had a moment to think about but noGeneric image of a robed prophet chance to discuss. This is why we have activities like the monthly Call to Question group, where we can go deeper into questions of faith. It’s also why I’ve been asking us in these months to pray “Invite me Lord, to know you better, through … study”. Jesus is inviting us to know him better. For those of you who have been taking part in our faith exploration groups this year, how will you deepen your knowledge next year? And this question is for all of us – is a 7 minute sermon each weekend enough to nourish our faith? Don’t we need more? And here’s my last question. What would you say if you met the blind man and he asked: “Tell me who the Son of Man is?”

 

 

 

Your Word is a Lamp Unto My Feet

Homily at the Celebrate Catholic Family Conference in Cardiff, 2 May 2015 – using the readings for St Athanasius, I Jn 5:1-5 & Mt 10:22-25

“Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.”

John Henry Newman was in trouble. As a young Anglican minister, he travelled to see the great churches of Italy, but just before his return voyage he became ill and was bedbound for three weeks. Desperate to return to England, as soon as he was well enough he managed to start his journey home on a cargo ship bound for Marseilles – only for the wind to drop and for him to be stuck on board this ship for a whole week, going nowhere fast. During this enforced pause at sea, Newman’s mind turned to poetry. Knowing that God’s plans were not our plans, he channelled his frustration into writing the lyrics which became the hymn, Lead Kindly Light.

Another holy man who knew that God’s plans seldom run in straight lines was the saint we celebrate today, Athanasius – a man born in Egypt just before Christianity became legal. Athanasius was deeply convinced of who Jesus was: Jesus was God in human form, and Son of the Father. But in these days when Christian ideas could be openly debated for the first time, there were many opposing voices who said Jesus was not quite equal in stature to God-the-Father. These debates even became the stuff of politics. Successive emperors took different positions. But Athanasius never wavered – which meant that sometimes he found himself at odds with the Emperor, and other leading bishops.
This was a perilous situation for him, since he had become the Bishop of Alexandria. Five times, Bishop Athanasius was exiled. The first exile was to Rome! Later, he fled to a desert monastery! And some say that his final exile included four months in his father’s tomb. Yet five times Athanasius returned from exile, truly earning his nickname, “Athanasius Contra Mundum ” – “Athanasius versus the world!”

We human beings like to know where we are going – we usually make decisions by looking at the likely consequences. But God asks us for faith. We are to trust that God knows where we are going, and will lead us one step at a time.

There’s an Indiana Jones movie where Indy has to be guided by ancient riddles, that he can only survive by being penitent, walking in God’s footsteps and taking a leap of faith. He can’t see all the dangers ahead, but kneels down where he is told to be penitent – and deadly arrows sail harmlessly over his head. When he is told he must walk in God’s footsteps, picking out the Name of God from random letters on the floor helps him find a safe path. And at the end, it’s only by jumping into a seemingly bottomless chasm that he finds the hidden bridge to the end of his quest.
For each of us, there are times in our journey through life that we will only succeed by following God’s instructions. And these we find in God’s Word, which is a lamp unto our feet. Now God’s Word is first and foremost a person – Jesus, our Master, our Teacher.
Who can overcome the world? Only the man who believes that Jesus is Son of God-the-Father.

Do you believe that Jesus is God in human form? This is a gift, a gift of faith, which only God can give. To have this kind of faith is to be ‘begotten by God’. The world around us is happy to recognise Jesus as a wise teacher  – the world has seen many of those – but Jesus is much more than this. If Jesus is God walking among us, then his words have a weight and a security which no other teacher can match. Are you secure in knowing that Jesus is God? If not, my challenge to you this morning is to put the question back to God. Only God can teach your heart this truth. Ask our Heavenly Father to show you who Jesus really is!

And yet, even if we know this, we waver. For half a century Christianity wavered between saying that Jesus was God, or the heresy that Jesus was merely quite similar to God-the-Father, a near-perfect reflection if you like. For this, Athanasius suffered exile five times. In a more practical way, we waver about putting our trust in Christ’s teaching rather than our own understanding of the big picture.

God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet. In the Bible, we have God’s word in human language. Some things in the Bible guide all of us with equal weight. Other things, God shines a spotlight on for certain people at certain times. Athanasius wrote the life-story of St Antony, whom he met in the desert. One day at church, Antony heard the Gospel in which Jesus says, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Antony realised that message was meant for him in a very literal way, so he sold his home and went to live in the desert, becoming the first monk.

And let’s face it, following Jesus’ teaching is not easy. We are not all going to be summoned to be monks in the desert, but it’s hard enough keeping the teachings which apply to all of us. In his own day, Jesus told his disciples to be ready to be persecuted, and if that happened, just to move on to the next town.

In our day, if we follow Jesus’s teachings, we will be called at best, old-fashioned, and at worst, bigoted.

Some of you have chosen to follow the Church’s teaching to the full in the way you conduct your married life. This is not easy, and no-one gives you affirmation for this. So I say here and now, in the name of the Church: Thank you for your faithfulness.

Some of you have chosen to have large families in our world where there’s an increasing vibe that more than two children is ‘more than your fair share’. For this, you have endured put-downs from your neighbours and colleagues, but I say to you, in the name of the Church: thank you for receiving the gift of life, made in God’s image, and for the daily sacrifices you make in raising your children.

Some of you have worked through difficulties in your married life and stuck together, for the sake of your faith, when the world around you might have said ‘why bother’. In the name of the Church – thank you for your faithfulness to your vows to God and to one another. And remember that the Church is here to walk with you through the dark times, and there are retreats and courses which help couples to renew and deepen their married life together.

Each one of us is called to follow Jesus, and the Gospel gives us the marvellous message that ‘we are called to be like him’! But that does not mean we will be clones. Rather, God has equipped each one of us with a unique mix of gifts and skills. What does God want you, personally, to do? A big clue is to look at the gifts he has already given you. And don’t be shy! We can fall into the trap of a false modesty. We know that as Christians we shouldn’t show off, or seek to impress others for the sake of it. But Jesus also taught us not to hide our light under a jar. There is nothing wrong with going to your parish priest, or a project leader in your church, and saying – ‘actually, I am good at accounting’ or ‘I used to run a playgroup’ – your parish will thrive when each member places their gifts at the service of the community. If the leaders do not know what gifts are present, how can they do that? Don’t be afraid of being prominent for doing something you are good at – true Christian humility is to accept that this will happen when you serve as you should, but to offer your gifts anyway.

Pope Francis says each of us is called to be a missionary disciple, placing one foot in front of the other, following Jesus in the place where we are called to be. For Newman, that meant resigning as a vicar, becoming a Catholic priest and placing his scholarship in the service of the Catholic Church. For Athanasius, that meant sticking to his teaching that Jesus was God, even when that meant exile. And for you – well, God has a plan for you too, each of you individually, for no two of you are called to do the same works.

God’s plan is not like a SatNav. On  a SatNav you can press a button and see the whole route planned out before you. But God’s word does not show us the route – only the final destination, which is Heaven, and the next turning on the narrow and winding path from here to there. God’s Word is a light to our  feet, not a sun illuminating the whole world. There are times when this is frustrating – just ask Newman, becalmed, or Athanasius in exile. But we are disciples, learners, and just as we cannot do our GCSE, A-level and degree all in one go, so the Lord teaches us the path of life one step at a time.

“Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.”

Faith in the Future

A gateway looking through the wall of Scarborough Castle onto the seaHomily at St John Lloyd, for The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

Episode 1 of 4 in our new series, The Challenges of Following Jesus.

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

When I was a pupil at comprehensive school in Llanelli, our Deputy Head often read those words, at Christmastime or at the end of the school year. And in a primary school where I used to work, the last day of term was often marked by a rousing song with the refrain “I can do anything I choose!” These are stirring words, and the poem and the song both bring us a feel-good factor for an uncertain time in our life. It’s good to have hope.

Our Christian hope is based on more than mere sentiment or optimism. We do not read cheerful words to create hope where none is warranted. Rather, in our worship we remind ourselves that our God is a faithful God, a God who has kept His promises, and will keep His promises. Our rather mysterious first reading was referring to the way God kept his promise to make Israel a great nation by liberating the Hebrew people from Egypt on the night when the first born males of the Egyptians died, though the houses which had sacrificed a lamb were spared. Over the last couple of weeks, the readings at weekday Mass have recalled the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert, as they doubted whether God was ever going to bring them to the Promised Land. Indeed, the Bible is full of many journeys into the unknown, from the calling of Abraham to St Paul’s journey, as a prisoner, to Rome. These stories are to strengthen each one of us as God leads us on our personal journey from the unchangeable past into the unknown future.

It is not easy, being a friend of Jesus. He allows his friends to be tested, and tested sorely. The apostles had to pass through the pain of Good Friday and the agonising loneliness of Holy Saturday before they could experience the unending joy of the Resurrection. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we recall both the triumph and the tragedy of the Easter story.

There was a time, in the history of this parish, when St John Lloyd was without a Parish Priest for several months. It must have been a difficult time, because the anguish is clear in the voices of those among you who have told me about it. I wonder what would happen if this parish again found itself without a resident parish priest? The temptation would be to throw a pity-party, to despair, to doubt that God or the Church cares about this part of Cardiff. But that would be a tragic mistake! To be sure, when there is no Parish Priest, something significant is missing. But why focus on the one gift which is absent, rather than the many gifts which are present?

Imagine there were no parish priest here. But God has not changed! He is, and always will be, the God who allows his friends to be tested and brings them out of darkness and into light. If you have faith in God – the God who has always rescued his people from dark times – then you will not be alone. Did you know that in the year 1587, priests were expelled from Japan, but lay leaders kept the Catholic Church alive, underground, for nearly 250 years? Without priests, they could have baptisms and marriages, but no other sacraments. In 1865, a French priest was permitted to build a church near Nagasaki; suddenly, a group of visitors approached and asked if it was true that he was single, sent from a place called Rome, and that the church contained a statue of the Virgin Mary. In this way, the hidden Catholics were reunited with the wider Church; Pope Pius IX called this a miracle! For those hidden Christians, who had been keeping watch for several generations, the Master had returned!

Imagine there were no parish priest here. But the official presence of the Church would still be close at hand, in the form of our local deacon, and of the priests in nearby parishes, who would still lend assistance. And indeed the Church is present wherever Christians meet together to pray and to do God’s work. When two members of the SVP visit a person at home, the Church is present. When members of the congregation pray Morning Prayer together, even if neither Deacon Rigo not myself are here, the Church is present. When our First Communion Catechists gather with our children, the Church is present. If you have faith in one another, you will keep the community together and continue to make the Church present.

Imagine that, for a time, there were no parish priest here. When one was appointed, what would he find? A community dejected and mournful, or a confident community ready to present the works they have been preparing for him? I have known of priests who have been disappointed to arrive in their new parish to discover no food in the cupboard, no furniture in the bedroom, no set of keys for their duties and no Christian work taking place in the community. But I tell you this, if a priest were to arrive and to be presented with a warm welcome, a group of candidates well-prepared for the sacraments, and all of the material needs on hand, then surely he would put on his apron, wait upon your needs, and become your friend for life. On the day I moved in, the parish turned out in force to help move my boxes, and for that welcome, St John Lloyd is second to none!

Today’s Gospel is first and foremost about the coming of Christ – the Second Coming at the end of time, or the personal Coming when our earthly lives reach their end. It asks us whether the Lord will find us living out our Christian values of faith, hope and love throughout our lives, even when we are tired. Let’s recognise that it’s not easy, being a follower of Jesus. It’s not meant to be. Jesus embraced his Cross and warned us that we would each have to carry our own Cross. Over the next three Sundays, Jesus will be teaching us something about the price we will pay for choosing to follow him.

We will choose the path of humility, or else we will be humbled.

We will set down our baggage, or else find that we cannot carry it with us through the narrow gate of heaven.

We will choose to follow Jesus when this does not make us popular with friends and colleagues who do not share our faith, or else we will please our friends at the expense of God.

Today’s Gospel can also apply to any wilderness experience when being a faithful Catholic seems hard, and the presence of God, in the form of Christian friends or of the institutional church, seems far away. So if in your life now, or in the future, the presence of God feels far away, remember these words:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied: “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

Plunging in Confidence

Homily at St John Lloyd, for Trinity Sunday, Year C.

The Earth projected as a disc surrounded by an ice wall.“While my godson is growing up, I’m not going to tell him whether the earth is flat, like a disc, or round, like a ball. When he is old enough he can look at the scientific evidence and decide for himself.”

Wouldn’t that be a strange statement for a typical adult to make? Even if you didn’t know that I was a professional astronomer before becoming a priest, you’d probably be rather worried if I came out and seriously made a declaration like that.

In fact, for the record, I do believe that the world is round, like a ball. The ancient Hebrews thought of the world as a disc floating in a vast ocean, and so our poetic first reading speaks of God’s Wisdom – for which we can read the Mind of Christ – giving shape to the world by “drawing a ring on the surface of the deep”. At the end of the poem, God’s wisdom is in this world, to guide all God’s children.

There are some decisions that human parents make on behalf of their children because it’s their duty, as parents, to give their children the best options possible in an uncertain world. I was taught the Green Cross Code, the six-times-table, and the English language. If my grandmother had taught me Welsh at her knee, I could be making Welsh-language documentaries on space travel by now… but she didn’t, so here I am.

Parents decide what is best for their children. It’s their job! They do it all day, every day, from providing toast, not a bar of chocolate, for breakfast, to setting a firm bedtime which, of course, is never late enough to satisfy their offspring! But Mum and Dad know best!

And yet, when it comes to faith, parents sometimes hesitate. How many of you know a Catholic parent who has said: “I am not baptising my child now. He, or she, can make their own decision when they are older”?

The choice by Catholic parents not to baptise a child says: “Darling, we think God might be real, but we’re not sure enough that God is real to want you to be part of God’s family. If we’re right, God loves you and will want to protect and guide you. But we might be wrong about that, so we wouldn’t want to risk dedicating you to such a loving God right now!”

The decision to baptise a child says something about our confidence in God’s existence, God’s presence, and God’s love. Today, Trinity Sunday, we remember that we profess something quite remarkable: we believe in a God who is One and who is Three. That’s not easy to wrap your head around and the only reason we even begin the mental gymnastics involved is that we’re trying to make sense of what God has actually shown us through Jesus and his teaching. And we use the Name of the Trinity every time we carry out a baptism.

The original meaning of the word baptism is ‘to plunge’, and in a moment we are going to plunge this child into the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the Orthodox Churches of the East, babies are usually baptised by being plunged rapidly into water three times. Our baptisms are a little more timid – a little splash of water on the head – but make no mistake, though the child’s body is only wet in one place, the child’s soul will be fully immersed into the life of God!

Blessed John Henry, Cardinal Newman was able to write, in his famous hymn, Firmly I believe and truly, God is Three, and God is One. If we believe firmly and truly, then we are confident in God – the very word is con fide, with faith – and we can confidently plunge our children into the life of the Holy Trinity through baptism. If my godson, or this child baptised today, wished to leave the Catholic Church – or, for that matter, join the Flat Earth Society – no-one would have the right to stop them. But that would be their own mature decision to respectfully disagree with what their parents judged was in their best interests.

At this Mass, however, we have a family who have made the choice to present a child for baptism. Well done! In today’s world this calls for courage. Some of your friends might think that what you are doing today is old-fashioned or ill-informed. But here, in this congregation, you have our support.

Your task, in the years to come, is to help your child recognise the God into whose life they are being plunged today.

Some children come to faith through marvelling at the beauty of creation – you certainly get the impression that today’s psalm was written by such a child.

Some children come to faith through sheer logic. “Why am I here?” Either it is a random fluke, or someone loved me into existence – and they connect with that Someone, who is God.

Some children come to faith through the experience of being loved. They experience tenderness from those closest to them, who care for them, and see in that love the echo of a Greater Love which called the world into being.

So…

While my godson is growing up, I am going to tell him that there is a God, at whose command the whole of the cosmos sprang into being. (If he’s interested, I can also teach him the maths which set out exactly how that happened!)

While my godson is growing up, I am going to tell him that a man called Jesus, who lived 2000 years ago, was the human face of God – and we must follow the teachings of Jesus if we want to be perfect friends of God on Earth.

While my godson is growing up, I am going to tell him God wants to fill each human being with God’s own Holy Spirit, so that God can live in us, guide us, and help us to become saints. I will tell him that when he was baptised, his family asked Jesus to look after him, and invited the Holy Spirit to live within him, to keep him safe.

If you can say, with Cardinal Newman, “firmly I believe and truly”, then give thanks to God for the gift of a firm faith. But if your own confidence is plunging, if your faith feels uncertain, then ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells within you through your own baptism, to fulfil the promise which Christ gives in today’s Gospel – to lead you to the complete truth. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this. Take the first step of faith, and God will give the increase!

And now, in confident faith, let us plunge this child into the life of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Amen!