Forgiven Through Love

Sermon at the Penitential Service at the Sion Community Mission in Clayton & Ashley.

Scripture: Ezekiel 36:24-29a

When I was a child, I wasn’t naughty that often – but often enough that I remember what would happen next. First Mum or Dad would give me a telling-off, and send my to my bedroom. Then, maybe half-an-hour later, Mum would come to my bedroom, and with one single word she would ask a question. With one single word, I would answer it.

“Friends?”

“Friends!”

When I look back at this through adult eyes, I see that Mum needed me to learn that whatever I did wrong, I would always be forgiven. That’s what a mother’s love does.

The message of the Bible is clear. God is a Father who, because of his great love for us, longs to forgive us. In fact, there are only two things that can prevent God forgiving us. The first is our refusal to admit we’ve done wrong. The second is our unwillingness to offer that same forgiveness to other people.

Perhaps some of you here tonight have not experienced that same loving forgiveness from your parents that I did from mine. Perhaps the idea of God as a forgiving Father feels uncomfortable because your earthly father didn’t forgive easily. All I can say is, will you give God a chance? If you blame God for not allowing you to experience the tender love of human parents, will you forgive Him for not living up to your hopes and expectations?

Your Father in heaven loves you! On Monday evening, many of you will have picked up a copy of the “Father’s love letter” from the Lady Chapel. The whole Bible is full of expressions of his love. The passage we’ve just heard from Ezekiel declares that God longs to pour healing water over us, and cleanse us. The other great prophets of the Old Testament also speak of God’s hunger to forgive us. Many of the Psalms, inspired by the Holy Spirit, call upon our heavenly Father to cleanse and restore us. And if that were not enough, God sent his only Son, Jesus, to say to many souls, “Your sins are forgiven!” and to call upon His Father to forgive even those who nailed him to the Cross.

Tonight we are invited to receive God’s forgiveness through one of the Church’s Sacraments, Penance. Why do we have this Sacrament? Jesus gave to his Apostles, authority to forgive sins. The Apostle James wrote “confess your sins to one another”, and the authority given by the first Apostles to the bishops and priests who came after them means that when we hear the words of absolution, we need have no doubt whatsoever that our sins are truly forgiven.

We sometimes call this Sacrament, Confession. In order to receive forgiveness, the first step is to acknowledge that we have sinned, by naming our sins aloud to a priest. We don’t need to be too worried about forgetting something trivial. The Church assures us that “When Christ’s faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon.” But if we are conscious of mortal sin – if we are responsible for some grave action or omission, in which we knew how serious it was and were free to make a different choice – these sins must be mentioned. If you’re not sure whether a sin was mortal or not, confess it anyway – then you can be sure it has been forgiven!

There is one other sin which you might want to make a point of confessing this evening. It’s that little one you’d rather not mention because it’s a very small matter, but quite embarrassing. It’s not mortal, so you don’t have to confess it – but it’s your secret pleasure. It’s the one you don’t want to mention because of what you fear the priest will think of you. Well, I can tell you what this priest will think of you. I will think you are very brave, and serious about living your Christian life in a way most pleasing to God! So better out than in! Tonight’s the night! Confess everything and be cleansed!

We commonly call Confession the Sacrament of “Reconciliation” – a word which has a deep and hidden meaning. RE – to do something again. CON – a joining term, meaning two things are coming together. TION – a word ending indicating an action is taking place. And the least obvious portion, CILIA – which comes from a Latin word meaning “little hairs”, in this case your eyelashes. RE-CON-CILIA-TION literally means, “Let’s look one another in the eyes again.” Just as my mother would come to me in my bedroom, so God comes through the person of his priest and asks for a simple answer:

“Friends?”

“Friends!”

But God’s promise, given out of love, is for more than forgiveness.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; I will make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

Because Reconciliation is a Sacrament, it includes an absolute promise from God of help in our earthly lives. It’s not only a promise that God will hit the reset button on our relationship. It’s also a promise that He will give us some help to fight against the temptations we have confessed. But God can’t do that without our co-operation. St Thomas Aquinas wrote that “grace perfects nature”. God builds on what we offer Him.

It’s not enough to simply name our sins to the priest. God also asks us: “What are you going to do, to avoid falling into that sin again?” If we’re struggling with anger, we might need to learn something about anger management. If we’ve fallen into using pornography, we might need to restrict our own access to the Internet – there’s a website called ClickToKick that can help you with that. If we’re worried that we don’t pray enough, we need to make a plan for where and when prayer should fit into the rhythm of our day and our week. So whatever YOUR sin is, what will you choose to do about it?

You will see that at the front of the aisle, there is a bowl of holy water. When you have been to confession, and received absolution from a priest, I invite you to go to the holy water and bless yourself. Remember God’s promise, to wash away your uncleanness and plant a new heart within you. Tell God what new choice you will make in time of temptation. Ask God to give you strength to avoid sin and live this better life.

See, among us now are many priests who have come to lend their voices to God and their ears to you. God is longing for you to confess your sins, so he can restore you to friendship. These priests will hear your confession, absolve your sins, and propose a penance – perhaps they will even ask you to go to the holy water as your penance. To prepare ourselves to receive this gift of forgiveness, and the grace of turning away from sin, let’s stand now and pray in words given to us by God Himself:

A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me.

 

Great Expectations: Peacemaking

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 31st Anniversary of the Dedication of the Church and the start of the parish Sion Community Mission – 22 & 23 October 2016. great-expectations-logo

At the start of Mass: Our Church was solemnly dedicated by Archbishop Ward on 25 October 1985. Today, on the nearest weekend, we celebrate another year of the life of our parish community, but we also mark a new beginning, as we enter our Parish Mission. Previously, on this Dedication festival, I have asked you to make a point of exchanging the sign of peace by name. This year, not only for today but throughout our Mission, I am inviting you to take one more step. On the pews in front of you are pens and name badges. I invite you to write your name on a badge and wear it not only today, but whenever you come to a church event throughout the next two weeks of our Parish Mission.

Now please turn to greet, by name, the people in front of, and behind you.

Normally, we would call to mind our sins at this moment. I’m going to hold that back until the middle of Mass today – so let us enter into our celebration with a great song of praise, the Gloria!

Homily: This church is full of sin!

Look! There is the confessional! Every week, sinners come and leave their sins at the feet of a priest.

Look! Here is our altar, dedicated 31 years ago. Whenever we gather around this altar to celebrate Mass, we begin with a moment to “call to mind our sins”. The Lord forgives all our little sins, and we leave them here.

Look! Above us, the great Crucifix, the sign of Christ taking on his shoulders all the sins of the world! When we celebrate Mass, Calvary becomes present on this altar, making present not only our personal sins, but all the sins of the human race!

Look! Gathered here, a throng of people! I don’t know what sins you are conscious of in your heart, but you do – and God does, too.

Yes, my dear brothers and sisters, we must acknowledge a terrible truth: our Church is a magnet for sin.

But I have good news. God can do something about it!

Why do we have a solemn celebration for the Anniversary of the Dedication of a Church? It’s a natural, human thing to want to mark another year of our being here with a celebration, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s another reason, too. In the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish people were commanded to keep an annual commemoration of the Dedication of their Temple – the solemn observance of Yom Kippur. Our First Reading today was an extract from the instructions given for that day.

Yom Kippur was the one day in the year when the High Priest was commanded to enter the Holy of Holies, the inner chamber of the Temple. First, the High Priest offers a sacrifice for HIS OWN SIN – it’s a bull. (You may be pleased to know that I myself went to confession on Friday; you may also be relieved to learn that no livestock were injured on my behalf!)

Next, the High Priest makes an offering to take away the sin of all the people of Israel – it’s a goat. But what happened to the other goat? If I had included a longer reading from Leviticus, we would have heard how the priest was to speak all the sins of the people over the head of that goat, and it would then be driven out into the wilderness. It was the original scapegoat. That’s where the term comes from!

Today, we mark the Dedication of our own Temple, this Church of St Philip Evans. It’s also the beginning of our first ever Parish Mission. It struck me that today ought to be for us a new beginning. God doesn’t want us to be tied down by sins and problems from the past. We haven’t had a perfect history as a parish. Before I became your parish priest, the life of this parish was marked by some very serious disagreements. As human beings, our natural reaction is to ask “Who started  it?” and seek an apology. But that’s not God’s way. No, the question God asks is “Who is willing to end it?” – in today’s Gospel we heard these words:

“If you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first.”

This matters! In fact, it matters so much that St Paul wrote that “anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be behaving unworthily towards the body and blood of the Lord.” The Communion that we receive at Mass is only a Holy Communion when we have made peace with all the members of our community.

Making the first move for peace might seem unfair. What Our Lord did on the Cross was not fair – it was the greatest act of generosity in the history of the human race. He took on himself all our sins. We are asked to imitate him in a very small way, making peace without the satisfaction of an apology.

Often enough there’s no possibility of an apology. We are human beings from different cultures, different nations, and different ways of thinking. Two people can approach the same situation, or even hear the very same words spoken, and interpret things in very different ways. Each person has their own integrity, and might do what they believe to be right – and still conflict comes, because our perspective is so different. This is why God doesn’t ask “Who started it?” but only “Who will make peace?”

Let me begin with myself. At seminary, we’re taught to become aware of our own character faults and weaknesses. I know that I have strong gifts for organising things, but I’m not always sensitive to other people’s feelings. It’s quite possible that at times I have been insensitive and not even realised the hurt I’ve caused. If I have hurt anyone in the three years I have been here by things I have said, done, or failed to do, I ask your forgiveness.

Then, on behalf of all the clergy. All priests and deacons are human beings, capable of having bad days and being tempted. To anyone who has ever been offended by the words, actions or inactions of any minister, I apologise in the name of the Church.

Finally, on behalf of Mother Church herself. Sometimes we feel let down by what the Church has done as an institution, or its failure to be the kind of Church we hoped it would be. But whenever we are part of something bigger, things won’t always go the way that we wish for, and this calls for great patience on our part. Will you forgive the Catholic Church for not being perfect on earth?

The Book of Leviticus lists many kinds of sacrifice that could be made in the Jewish Temple. Some were for the cleansing of individual people. Some were for the whole community. Some were even for the cleansing of the land. God waits for us to ask, before He uses His divine power to free us from the consequences of sin. So today, let us ask! If we are involved in any conflict, great or small, with people inside or outside this parish, let’s decide, right now, to make the first move for peace.

I’m going to celebrate, now, the same rite of blessing and sprinkling holy water which we keep at the Easter Vigil. One of the questions I will ask is whether you believe in “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins”. When I come among you sprinkling Holy Water, this will be a prayer for cleansing of the parish, that God will free us from all the spiritual effects of all the sins confessed in this church in the past, and all the spiritual baggage from conflicts which we, as members of the body of Christ, have been part of. If you are ready to make peace, if you are ready to receive this new beginning of spiritual cleansing, I invite you to receive the gift of Holy Water with open palms.

After the sprinkling rite:

There’s one loose end from our First Reading. What about the two rams, one for the priest, one for the people? These were “holocaust offerings”, every part was to be offered in sacrifice to God, holding nothing back. God had great expectations of the people of Israel – they were to be totally dedicated to God, trusting God for everything, giving God the very best of what they owned.

In a moment, we’ll do what we do every week – we will take a collection. Let’s remember that what we give in money is an act of worship, an offering to God. But also, while the collection goes on, I am going to pass around this clipboard. We want to give God an offering of prayer while members of our Mission Team are visiting people at home this week. Could you sign up for half-an-hour of prayer one day this week? If you can, please book your slot – and the clipboard will be brought up with our other gifts as part of our offering to God.

Psst. Mercy!

Homily at The Immaculate Conception, Tredegar, for the Vigil of Saints Peter & Paul, 2016.

This is the logo for the Holy Year of Mercy, which opens Dec. 8 and runs until Nov. 20, 2016. (CNS/courtesy of Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization) Christ carries a sinner over his shoulders as a shepherd would carry a sheep.

Psst! Have you heard the gossip?

There’s a man who’s been trying to destroy the Church from the outside.

First he shouted encouragement when they stoned that deacon, Stephen.

Then he asked for permission to go to Damascus and round up all the Christians there.

They say he was utterly merciless in the way he treated them.

 

Psst! Have you heard the gossip?

There’s a man who nearly destroyed the Church from the inside.

Jesus told him he had to forgive people who sinned against him. He tried to negotiate a limit of seven times. Jesus insisted on seventy times that!

He promised he would never abandon Jesus, but the night the Lord was arrested, he denied him three times.

They say he’s going back to his old career as a fisherman.

 

Psst! Have you heard the Gospel?

That Saul the Merciless, riding on the road to Damascus, had a vision. Jesus spoke to him.

They say he’s become an Apostle, teaching people about the love and mercy of Jesus!

Jesus changed his name to Paul, the little one.

Paul travelled all over the Mediterranean, starting churches and writing letters.

Little Paul was arrested, appealed to the Emperor, and was beheaded in Rome.

 

Psst! Have you heard the Gospel?

That Simon the Fisherman, the Rock who couldn’t hold firm, had a visit. Jesus took him for a walk on the beach. Three times he asked “Do you love me?” and Simon struggled to reply.

Jesus, the great forgiver, offered him another chance. This time Peter, the Rock, would lead the 12 disciples. Next time, Peter would not turn away, but would stand up for Jesus.

Simon Peter, first Pope and Fisher of Men, was crucified upside down in Rome.

 

Psst! Have you heard the Gospel?

That there’s someone in this Church, this evening, who doesn’t believe Jesus will really forgive them for something they’ve done wrong in their life?

But Jesus says: I forgave Paul, who persecuted the members of my body. I forgave Peter, who denied me three times. They both became leaders in my church, and great saints in heaven.

What kind of sinner are you, that you deserve forgiveness less than Peter or Paul?

 

My friends, I want to apologise to you. Our church is not always good at communicating what we stand for. Often we present ourselves as the Church of “Don’t Get Into Trouble”. It’s true that part of my job, and the task of every preacher, is to stand up and talk about right and wrong, because God wants us to choose good and keep away from evil. But we are also called to be the church of “Lord, Have Mercy”. The Church isn’t for perfect people. It’s for people who mess up and need to know they can make a new start. In the Name of Jesus of Nazareth, doubt no longer but believe. The one who had mercy on Peter and mercy on Paul offers you no less mercy.

Once Paul realised that Jesus was real, there was no stopping him; and as for Peter, when Jesus looked at him and saw a man who would be willing to say sorry, ask help, and start again every time he messed up, what did he say? On this rock I will build my Church.

Forgive!

Homily at St Philip Evans, on Palm Sunday, Year C.

“Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”

Forgiveness.

It is the most distinctive feature of our Christian faith.

Every day, we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The story of the Lord’s Passion is shot through with forgiveness.

Peter, you will deny me three times, but once you have recovered, you must strengthen your brothers.

One of the disciples cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant, but touching the man’s ear, Jesus healed him.

They crucified Jesus. He said: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”

The good thief acknowledged that he deserved punishment, and said “Jesus, remember me.” Jesus replied, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

The story of God’s people through the ages is also shot through with forgiveness.

St Stephen, the deacon and first martyr of the church, was stoned, and died crying: ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’

In 1679, St Philip Evans was brought to the gallows in Roath and was permitted to make a speech before he was hanged. “If I have or had any enemies in the world, which I do not know that ever I had in my life, I do heartily forgive them for anything done or said against me, and if I have offended anybody, I am heartily sorry for it and ask them forgiveness. I pray God bless and prosper the king.”

In 1902, a young Italian girl was fatally wounded by a young man who attacked her. Her parish priest brought her Holy Communion and asked whether she forgave her attacker. St Maria Goretti replied, “Yes, I forgive him and want him to be in Paradise with me.”

Blessed Miguel Pro, about to be executed by firing squadIn 1927, a Jesuit priest working in Mexico was falsely
accused of plotting against the President. Rejecting the traditional blindfold, Blessed Miguel Pro stretched his arms out in the form of a cross and facing the firing squad said, “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you. Lord, You know that I am innocent. With all my heart I forgive my enemies.”

Beyond the ranks of the Catholic Church, we could speak of the Methodist, Gordon Wilson, who forgave the IRA for the bomb which killed his daughter, Marie; we could point to the Anglican Bishop Festo Kivengere, who dared to preach forgiveness towards the homicidal dictator, Idi Amin; we could mention of the Russian mystic Seraphim of Sarov, who was brutally assaulted and left crippled for life, but refused to press charges against his attackers.

Christians forgive. If we do not forgive, we are not followers of the Crucified One.

But how can we forgive? If someone has wounded us so deeply that our only feelings towards that person are hatred and revenge, are we not entitled to say, “I cannot forgive – I will never forgive”?

No.

Say not, “I cannot forgive”, but “I will not forgive” – because forgiveness is a choice.

Forgiveness is nothing to do with your feelings, and everything to do with your willpower.

How can you forgive your worst enemy? Here are three steps you must take.

  1. Say the words. “Heavenly Father, I forgive this person. Do not hold their sin against them.”
  2. Choose not to punish the person for what they have done. If there is any ongoing situation where you are being vindictive, stop it immediately.
  3. Show some sign of love towards the other person, if it is safe to do so.

None of these actions require you to feel warm towards your enemy. They only require an act of will. You forgive with your mind first, and eventually your heart will follow.

Perhaps this seems too much to ask. It will certainly require a great deal of emotional energy. If you cannot find it within yourself, ask God for a share of the love which flows from the wounded heart of Jesus. But if you need inspiration, if you need motivation, look to the Crucifix, and remember what we celebrate this day.

“Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”

 

Admonish the Sinner!

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 5th Sunday of Lent, Year C.

Do you show mercy in your daily life?

If we want to be merciful, like the Father, we must offer mercy.

If we want to make a good confession this Lent, we must face up to where we’ve failed.

Over these few weeks, we are considering the spiritual works of mercy. Today, I invite you to ask: have I admonished sinners?

It’s not easy, getting other people to change their behaviour – especially if they don’t share our viewpoint. After all, have ever tried changing your own behaviour? A diet? A fast? It’s not easy. They say that when we point the finger at others, three point back.

There’s a story about a mother who marched her son up to a monk and said “tell him to stop eating so many chocolate biscuits”.

“Come back in two weeks,” said the monk.

Two weeks later the bemused mother took her son back to visit the monk. The monk looked the boy in the eye and said: “Stop eating so many chocolate biscuits”.

The Mum was grateful, yet curious about why she had been made to wait for a fortnight. So she hung back and whispered her question to the monk.

“My dear daughter,” said the monk, “it’s only 13 days since I gave up eating too many biscuits!”

Today’s Gospel gives us a window into how Jesus corrected a sinner. First, he communicated clearly that he was not keen that she should be punished for what she had done. But second, he left her in no doubt that what she had done was wrong – “Go and sin no more!”

 

Over the last few years our bishops have found themselves in a very difficult position. Our politicians have moved away from Christian values on matters such as the sanctity of human life, the definition of marriage, and Sunday trading. If our Bishops do stand up for these values, they will be accused of being bigoted and not respecting the different values of other people in society. If our Bishops shrug and accept that British laws can no longer embody Christian values, they will be accused of being soft on morality. A retired Chief Rabbi recently suggested that religions should seek to wield great influence but not hold political power – perhaps our bishops are ensuring the Catholic viewpoint is heard in the public debate, even if they don’t expect Parliament to enshrine Catholic values in law.

It’s easier to correct a sinner if they are a committed Catholic and you are a supportive friend. If your starting point is knowing the other person also wants to live their life as a follower of Jesus, you can gently question their actions. Otherwise, how do we start the conversation?

Slowly.

The monk in my story took his time. He made sure he was living a life of integrity, so he wouldn’t be a hypocrite. It also takes time to build up trust, and without trust we won’t get anyone to change their behaviour willingly.

Sometimes we don’t have time, and the cause is urgent. One example would be the people running the “40 days for Life” campaign, praying and witnessing outside abortion clinics. They don’t have months to get to know mothers in distress, and the stakes are as high as possible – life or death.

But in most cases, if we want to embrace our calling to admonish sinners, we should take our time. We build up trust slowly. The effective conversation is one which starts “Where is Jesus in your life?” rather than “Hey! Don’t do that!”. It’s only when we can talk about God that we can tackle the tricky are of what God’s commands are.

During the next week, priests across the City of Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan will put on two penitential services each day so that you have the best possible opportunity to go to confession in Lent for the Year of Mercy. There are morning, afternoon and evening opportunities, including here at St Philip Evans on Thursday evening.

One reason we might feel reluctant to go to confession is a sense that “I haven’t done anything really wrong.” Now it’s true that the small sins of everyday life don’t have to be taken to confession. When we receive communion, God deals with our thoughtless gossip, momentary displays of anger, and failure to pray as much as we might. But it’s still good to ask not only for forgiveness, but the special grace to overcome sin which God gives through absolution. To prepare for confession, we must examine our consciences, and that’s why I’ve been working through the spiritual works of mercy this Lent.

Now we can’t achieve everything we’d like to, because there are only 24 hours in a day. Reflecting on the works of mercy is less about asking whether we should go off and do voluntary work, more about asking ourselves whether we have made the best use of the opportunities God has sent us in daily life. If bad behaviour came our way, did we bear wrongs graciously? When a friend sinned, did we speak up? Did we pray for the friends and colleagues whose sins have affected us? If we don’t know our faith well enough to pass it on effectively, have we made a plan to help ourselves learn anything? And what have we done for friends who are in distress?

“No need to remember the past” says God through Isaiah.

“I want only the perfection that comes from faith in Christ, not my own efforts,” says St Paul.

“Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus, “go away and sin no more.”

All of these await you at the confessional. Please don’t wait for me to send out personalised invitations!

Bear Wrongs Patiently!

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the 4th Sunday of Lent, Year C.

Do you show mercy in your daily life?

If we want to be merciful, like the Father, we must offer mercy.

If we want to make a good confession this Lent, we must face up to where we’ve failed.

Over these few weeks, we are considering the spiritual works of mercy. Today, I invite you to ask: have I borne wrongs patiently?

We’ve just heard the very familiar story of the Prodigal Son. The young son pursued sins of the flesh, wasting his inheritance on a life of luxury which brought no lasting fulfilment. The elder brother fell into sins of the heart: jealousy and unforgiveness. But today I invite you to focus on the father in this story, and the way he loves his sons. Jesus told us this story so that we could know the heart of God-the-Father.

In all the years I’ve worked as a priest, I’ve heard a lot of stories of broken hearts and broken families. Hearts may be broken when a close friend doesn’t fulfil our hopes or expectations. Families can be broken when there’s an inheritance, and someone thinks they are not getting their fair share.

The father in this story had every right to abandon his younger son. By asking for his inheritance, that son had said, in effect, “Dad, I wish you were dead!” In a different kind of story, Dad would have said “Take your darn money and never darken this door again!” But in the story Jesus tells, the father is watching out every day, longing for his wayward son to return – watching so intently that when the son appears in the distance, the father runs to embrace him and welcome him home. Not only that, but when the elder brother is having a hissy-fit in the garden, this same father comes out and pleads with his firstborn to show some compassion. This father is a peacemaker. This father believes that unity is so important, he is willing to make big sacrifices in order to draw back to him the children he loves.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to hope for a fair outcome. It’s morally good to seek justice, especially for vulnerable people who can’t stand up for themselves. But it’s not always easy to work out a “fair” outcome is. It’s one thing to seek justice for the vulnerable, but quite another to seek to get my own way when I have a private dispute with another person. In such cases, God asks us for a special kind of triumph. Am I strong enough to say: “I choose to let you win”?

This isn’t about being a doormat who caves in because of pressure. This is about being a strong Christian who freely chooses unity above getting my own share. We talk about “justice and peace”, but sometimes the only way to peace is by taking a deep breath and accepting a solution where I come off second best. Was it fair for Jesus to bear the punishment for all the sinners of the human race? No, but he was generous enough to accept it.

It’s OK to hope that our friends will devote a lot of time and energy in our direction. But let’s not withdraw our friendship when they don’t.

It’s OK to hope for an equal slice of the pie when you are in someone’s will. But remember, it wasn’t your money in the first place, and someone might have good reason to give a larger slice to someone whose hidden needs only they know. Grown-up children who expect nothing from their parents can never be disappointed, only delighted.

It’s OK to hope for justice, but let our prayer always be: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. And when we know it’s time to accept something we cannot change, we can make our own this prayer taught by Our Lady of Fatima: O Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

St Paul understood God’s love. Paul himself had arrested Christians and approved when they were killed. But Jesus had stepped into Paul’s life and called him to become a Christian preacher. Now Paul understood the amazing love of God-the-Father, so he could write: “God was not counting our sins against us.”

St Paul dared to say that in Christ, we were called “to become the righteousness of God”. I am speaking about the spiritual works of mercy because if we practice them, we become living saints, and God does not want us to settle for anything less. Rudyard Kipling penned a poem about his vision of what it meant to be a real man. With apologies to Kipling, here is my offering about what it means to become the “righteousness of God” in this regard:

If you can dream of wealth you may inherit,

Yet smile when what you’re willed is not a bean;

If you can love when not reciprocated,

Yet not condemn your paramour as mean;

If you can hope to be best friends forever,

But not respond with wrath should friendship end,

And ask the grace of God to bear wrongs nobly –

Then you will be indeed a saint, my friend!

Crucifix in the Crypt at Beauraing

Crucifix in the Crypt at Beauraing, Belgium. Inscription translates as: If you love my Son (Jesus), then sacrifice yourselves!

 

Guilty!

Homily at St Philip Evans, for Ash Wednesday 2016.

Bang! Bang! Bang!A gavel banging on its stand

How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?

This Lent, you are invited to a courtroom – a most unusual courtroom – called the Tribunal of Mercy.

In this courtroom, you are the accused.

In this courtroom, you are also the jury. And you have come to court for one simple reason – you already know you are guilty.

In this courtroom, a judge is waiting to pass sentence. But the sentence has already been served!

 

As Catholics, we are famous for our sense of guilt.

Sometimes we suffer from false guilt, from our failure to achieve the impossible. We may have missed Mass due to a snowstorm, or had a ‘bad thought’ to which we gave no wilful encouragement whatsoever. But if we did not have the power to do otherwise, such guilt is not a sign of culpable sin.

Sometimes we suffer from residual guilt. Perhaps we have formed our own opinion, which is not the Church’s opinion, about abortion, or contraception, or weapons of mass destruction, or involvement in unfair trade. But after we have acted, or voted, in accord with our private views, perhaps our second thoughts chip in, saying, “but what if, when I meet Our Lord, it turns out that the Catholic Church was right after all?” Hold on to that thought!

Sometimes we suffer from true guilt. We have made a choice which is not a good and godly choice. Perhaps that was a once-in-a-lifetime major event which we’ve been trying to forget about ever since. Perhaps it was the beginning of a chain of addiction, to alcohol, pornography, or some other pleasure. Or perhaps it was some petty act of jealousy or spite towards another person. Whatever it was, it quite rightly causes us to feel guilty.

The great thing about being Catholic is that we have a way of dealing with guilt. Run to the confessional, plead guilty, let the priest pass sentence. The sentence is always the same – your sins, together with all the other sins of the world, deserve death. But by freely offering himself to die on the Cross, Jesus served that sentence for us. What we are called to, instead, is true repentance.

True repentance means running to the God who loves us, no matter what sin we have committed.

True repentance means having the confidence of the prodigal son, to return to the Father’s House – and trusting that a joyful welcome awaits us.

True repentance means trusting that nothing we can do, no sin we might commit, can cause God to love us any less than than God does already – any more than a mother can stop loving her wayward child.

True repentance means rushing to the Tribunal of Mercy and saying, “Father, I messed up again.” In return, God says, “I love you! And I forgive you again!”

We do not – we cannot – earn God’s forgiveness.

God loves us. God will never reject us, whatever our actions might deserve.

This is the God who commanded Peter to forgive seventy times seven times, who sent his only Son to die so our sins could be forgiven.

This is the loving Father who declares: “Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning.”

 

In this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invites us to rush the the place of mercy, which is the Confessional, and do the most important thing necessary to receive the Father’s forgiveness – admit our guilt.

Now, it’s true that to make a good confession, we also require a “firm purpose of amendment”. If we have recognised that our actions are sinful, we must do what is within our power to avoid sin in future. If our sin is one of addiction, “what is within our power” may be to begin to get help, by attending a 12-step programme like Alcoholics Anonymous. If our sin is one of being drawn into pornography, “what is within our power” may be to install blocking software on our computer, or confiding in a friend to be an “accountability partner”. God delights in our efforts to overcome sin. God will give us extra help to resist temptation, if we ask for this in prayer. But God’s love for us does not depend on our efforts to resist evil. God’s love  is always there.

 

 

This is the Year of Mercy. The priests of our deanery are working together to make sure that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is widely available, on afternoons and evenings. The door of mercy is open wide at our cathedral.

Are you are suffering from guilt?

Rush to the confessional.

Plead guilty.

Be amazed at Christ’s love in dying to pay the price for your sin.

Rejoice that God’s love for you is solid and unshakeable.

Best. Lent. Ever!