Believe, Beloved (Morning Edition)

Homily at St Philip Evans for Easter Day 2017 – Second Reading from I Corinthians.

“Get rid of the yeast of evil and wickedness, having only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

There’s been a lot of talk about sincerity and truth lately. Like yeast, fake news generates a lot of hot air. Indeed, only last week, Facebook published some guidelines to help us tell whether a news story is true or false. Three of them are helpful to us not only on the Internet, but for life in general.

  • Can we trust the person sharing the news?
  • Does the news include good evidence that it’s true, and few warning signs that it might be false?
  • Is anyone else independently reporting the same news?

We’ve just heard a claim that Jesus has risen from the dead – his tomb is empty, the stone has been rolled away and Mary Magdalen has had a conversation with him!

The news was written by a man called Matthew, a tax collector who became a follower of Jesus – and one of the friends who ran away when he was crucified.

Is anyone else reporting the same news? Yes, Peter saw the Risen Jesus too! We have just heard an account of him speaking to Cornelius – a Roman soldier – about how many people met Jesus after he rose from the dead!

We do find that the accounts given by all these people don’t match up exactly. But that shouldn’t worry us too much. When eyewitnesses agree 100% about what they claim they have seen, that’s often a sign they have colluded to make up a story. Real witness make mistakes about details!

There’s another way of testing the evidence, too. If Jesus is really alive, he should be touching people’s lives even today.

On Good Friday, I saw a post on Facebook about a woman called Natalie. 10 months ago she suffered a brain injury which had life-changing consequences: vertigo, intolerance of light and an inability to read. After coming forward for prayer she was completely healed! Two days later she was still suffering no symptoms at all!

Good news or fake news? Let’s apply the tests.

Do I trust the person sharing the news? I do, because I know him personally. His name is Andrew Fava and he belongs to a Catholic community, Cor et Lumen Christi, with a particular gift for praying for healing.

How good is the evidence? The post included a picture of Andrew alongside a beaming Natalie. I know that this community is careful not to make premature claims about healing – waiting two days to see if the effects are lasting is a good practice.

Is anyone else reporting the same news? Not specifically about Natalie, but about Jesus’ power to heal – certainly! At Lourdes, and when saints are canonized, the Catholic Church has a formal process to investigate miracles and establish that the claims are credible.

Still not convinced? You can check out the evidence yourself! Members of the Cor et Lumen Christi community will be running a healing mission here in Cardiff in September.

After listening to Peter’s testimony, the Roman soldier Cornelius chose to be baptised. He accepted Peter’s message that “all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name”. In a few moments, I will take the Easter water, blessed last night, and sprinkle all of us with it. Before you receive the water, I will ask you to renew your baptismal promises. But as promises go, these ones sound strange. I will ask, three times, “Do you believe?” and you will answer “I do!” What kind of promise is this?

To believe simply means “to put your trust in”. What I am asking about is not the ideas in your head, but the choices in your life. Do you trust in God the Father, who created heaven and earth? Do you trust in Jesus, who rose from the dead and has opened for you the path to heaven? Do you trust in the Holy Spirit, to live in you and produce a fountain of living water? Do you trust in the Catholic Church, to teach the truth about God and about right living?

When you leave Mass today, you will be handed three invitations. One is for a free showing of a movie this Friday. Another is to come to the Celebrate conference in a fortnight’s time. The third is to a special confession service in Splott next Sunday – Divine Mercy Sunday. Nearly one hundred years ago, the Risen Jesus appeared many times to a Polish nun, Sr Fautina Kowalska, and asked that the Sunday after Easter be kept as a special celebration of his mercy. Jesus promised special blessings to anyone who goes to confession on that day and who venerates the Divine Mercy Image. What is that image? It is Jesus with rays representing baptism and Holy Communion flowing from his breast, and an inscription: “Jesus, I trust in you!”

Often, good news is only a beginning. It contains great hope, but the promise takes time to come about.

So they have discovered a wonder-drug with potential to beat some killer disease? Fantastic! But it will be years before the safety tests are complete and we can benefit from it.

So the reviewer is raving about the best film ever – but that’s no good to me if I can’t get to the cinema to watch it.

This morning we celebrate that Jesus really rose from the dead, and heaven is for real – though we do not yet live in the Promised Land. Mary Magdalen was given a glimpse but had to tell the disciples that they would later “see Jesus in Galilee”.

Jesus said he was the gate for the sheep through which we must enter, the true vine to which we must stay connected, the bread of life we must eat to enter heaven.

How can we tell if this is true news? If it is true that Jesus has overcome death and is alive right now, he can make good on his promise! He can touch your life, brighten your darkness, quicken your heart and stir your soul!

The word “believe” shares its origins with the word “beloved”. Because we’re loved by another person, we can place our trust in that person to be there for us – we can believe in our beloved. We can place our faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be there for us, because on Easter Sunday morning, we learned that the Father raised Jesus from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. We know that he is truly in Heaven sitting at the right of the Father. We only know that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven because of the testimony of those first Christians, who paid with their lives for insisting that the news was true.

Christ is Risen.

Heaven is open for business.

Jesus can even heal people today!

That’s not fake news – it’s good news! Alleluia!

Believe, Beloved

Homily at St Philip Evans at the Easter Vigil 2017 – readings from Exodus, Baruch and Ezekiel.

Tonight is all about trust. Who do you trust?

Do you trust what you read on the Internet?

Last week, Facebook published some guidelines to help us tell whether a news story is true or false. Three of them are helpful to us not only on the Internet, but for life in general.

  • Can we trust the person sharing the news?
  • Does the news include good evidence that it’s true, and few warning signs that it might be false?
  • Is anyone else independently reporting the same news?

We’ve just heard a claim that Jesus has risen from the dead – his tomb is empty, the stone has been rolled away and Mary Magdalen has had a conversation with him!

The news was written by a man called Matthew, a tax collector who became a follower of Jesus – and one of the friends who ran away when he was crucified.

Is anyone else reporting the same news? Yes, Mark, Luke and John, who wrote Gospels. Peter, who wrote letters. And Paul, who wasn’t there at the time but met the Risen Jesus later!

We do find that the accounts given by all these people don’t match up exactly. But that shouldn’t worry us too much. When eyewitnesses agree 100% about what they claim they have seen, that’s often a sign they have colluded to make up a story. Real witness make mistakes about details!

There’s another way of testing the evidence, too. If Jesus is really alive, he should be touching people’s lives even today.

Yesterday, I saw a post on Facebook about a woman called Natalie. 10 months ago she suffered a brain injury which had life-changing consequences: vertigo, intolerance of light and an inability to read. After coming forward for prayer she was completely healed! Two days later she was still suffering no symptoms at all!

Good news or fake news? Let’s apply the tests.

Do I trust the person sharing the news? I do, because I know him personally. His name is Andrew Fava and he belongs to a Catholic community, Cor et Lumen Christi, with a particular gift for praying for healing.

How good is the evidence? The post included a picture of Andrew alongside a beaming Natalie. I know that this community is careful not to make premature claims about healing – waiting two days to see if the effects are lasting is a good practice.

Is anyone else reporting the same news? Not specifically about Natalie, but about Jesus’ power to heal – certainly! At Lourdes, and when saints are canonized, the Catholic Church has a formal process to investigate miracles and establish that the claims are credible.

Still not convinced? You can check out the evidence yourself! Members of the Cor et Lumen Christi community will be running a healing mission here in Cardiff in September.

What other claims must we examine tonight? Our first reading claimed that God’s Chosen People crossed a sea with dry feet, but their enemies were drowned. Our second reading claimed that God is offering us a drink from the fountain of wisdom, granting life and peace for ever. Our third reading claimed that God wishes to gather a new people to himself and cleanse them from sin.

What are we celebrating tonight? In a word, Jesus. It was Jesus who was baptised and asked us to follow his example, so that we might escape everlasting death by passing through water. It was Jesus who promised to give us living water which would well up within each one of us. It was Jesus who sent his apostles to baptise all nations so that a new community of God’s friends may be formed, and their sins be forgiven.

In a few moments, I will bless Easter water and sprinkle all of us with it. Before you receive the water, I will ask you to renew your baptismal promises. But as promises go, these ones sound strange. I will ask, three times, “Do you believe?” and you will answer “I do!” What kind of promise is this?

To believe simply means “to put your trust in”. What I am asking about is not the ideas in your head, but the choices in your life. Do you trust in God the Father, who created heaven and earth? Do you trust in Jesus, who rose from the dead and has opened for you the path to heaven? Do you trust in the Holy Spirit, to live in you and produce a fountain of living water? Do you trust in the Catholic Church, to teach the truth about God and about right living?

I would dare to go one step further, and ask tonight whether you trust in my leadership of this parish. Lent is over, and we have restored our six banners of the “expectations” I have preached about in recent months. I put it to you that if you trust the teachings of Jesus and the Catholic Church, you will choose to worship, connect, explore, volunteer, invest, and invite others to be part of what we are doing here.

When you leave Mass tonight, you will be handed three invitations. One is for a free showing of a movie this Friday. Another is to come to the Celebrate conference in a fortnight’s time. The third is to a special confession service in Splott next Sunday – Divine Mercy Sunday. Nearly one hundred years ago, the Risen Jesus appeared many times to a Polish nun, Sr Fautina Kowalska, and asked that the Sunday after Easter be kept as a special celebration of his mercy. Jesus promised special blessings to anyone who goes to confession on that day and who venerates the Divine Mercy Image. What is that image? It is Jesus with rays representing baptism and Holy Communion flowing from his breast, and an inscription: “Jesus, I trust in you!”

Often, good news is only a beginning. It contains great hope, but the promise takes time to come about.

So they have discovered a wonder-drug with potential to beat some killer disease? Fantastic! But it will be years before the safety tests are complete and we can benefit from it.

So the reviewer is raving about the best film ever – but that’s no good to me if I can’t get to the cinema to watch it.

Tonight we celebrate that Jesus really rose from the dead, and heaven is for real – though we do not yet live in the Promised Land. Mary Magdalen was given a glimpse but had to tell the disciples that they would later “see Jesus in Galilee”.

Jesus said he was the gate for the sheep through which we must enter, the true vine to which we must stay connected, the bread of life we must eat to enter heaven.

How can we tell if this is true news? If it is true that Jesus has overcome death and is alive right now, he can make good on his promise! He can touch your life, brighten your darkness, quicken your heart and stir your soul!

The word “believe” shares its origins with the word “beloved”. Because we’re loved by another person, we can place our trust in that person to be there for us – we can believe in our beloved. We can place our faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be there for us, because on Easter Sunday morning, we learned that the Father raised Jesus from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. We know that he is truly in Heaven sitting at the right of the Father. We only know that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven because of the testimony of those first Christians, who paid with their lives for insisting that the news was true.

Christ is Risen.

Heaven is open for business.

Jesus can even heal people today!

That’s not fake news – it’s good news! Alleluia!

Filled with Spirit

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for Pentecost Sunday, 2012

Would you like to get drunk?

I’m not a pub person. It continually amazes me that so many people enjoy going into an atmosphere which is filled with music so loud you can’t hear each other speak, where people drink until they lose so many inhibitions they say and do things they regret, and which, until the anti-smoking laws were passed, was filled with acrid smoke.

Yet… pubs and clubs thrive, and they thrive because people want to go there. There are lots of good reasons: you can meet your friends, express yourself through dancing or karaoke, enjoy a drink or two, and the effect of alcohol might help you drop the mask you usually wear and let the real “you” emerge. As long as you only get “singing drunk”, not “fighting drunk”, and the designated driver takes you home, no harm is done.

When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost, they did not keep quiet. They proclaimed the message of Jesus in the presence of a huge crowd, who heard them speaking in many different languages. Because of the babble of tongues and the enthusiasm of the apostles, some of the listeners accused them of being drunk. “No we’re not,” said St Peter, “it’s only 9 o’clock in the morning!”

But they looked drunk. And I wonder whether what the apostles had that day held the same attraction as the pubs and clubs of our own age. I think the Apostles looked happy – no, more than happy, radiant with joy. Despite their exuberant behaviour, there was something so attractive about them that many in the crowd of onlookers wanted to be part of what was going on. Through the power of God, they had shed those inhibitions which held them back from being the people of faith which God was calling them to be.

“When the Spirit comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father,” said Jesus, “you too will be witnesses.” Both through the word that they preached and the joy which they radiated, the Apostles showed forth the Good News of Jesus Christ. And this was also the experience of Christians in the fourth century, when Saint Ambrose of Milan and Saint Cyril of Jerusalem could write about the “sober intoxication of the Spirit”.

What about us? When we leave this church building this morning, will we look like we’ve spent an hour having a good time – doing something that we want others to come and join? It’s easy to become cynical about our Church, jaded at doing the “same old same old” time and time again. So let’s resist that, and remember that we are a church of good news. For instance…

  • Last month, in Ilfracombe, 1500 Catholics gathered to enjoy their faith at the week-long Celebrate Conference. Nearly half the participants were under the age of 18, they spent a week being Catholic and loving it!
  • When I visited Washington DC last year, a poster in the presbytery showed that there were over 60 men in seminary for the Archdiocese of Washington (and it had their pictures to prove it) – that was more than the total number of diocesan priests active in the same diocese. (Here in Cardiff, we have 5 seminarians, compared to 37 active diocesan priests.) Washington DC might not be a place you’d expect to be a hotbed of vocations to the priesthood, but it’s happening!
  • Across the world, our church is growing – in Africa and south-east Asia. We may be painfully aware of decline in Europe, but in many parts of the world, people are becoming Catholics with great enthusiasm.
  • In Johannesburg, South Africa, there’s a church they call the “lemon squeezer”. Apparently its Sunday evening Youth Mass is such a vibrant experience that it’s listed in the local press as one of the top 1o attractions to see while you’re in town!
  • Last year, the only Catholic cabinet minister in Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed for standing up the rights of religious minorities in a Muslim country. Although tragic, this is also a good news story – of a man martyred for having the convictions of his faith.

What about our own parish? This month, four young people from our parish chose to be confirmed. That’s good news. We have a thriving SVP who have launched the Sunday Café project, and we are actively participating in our local Foodbank. We have a two small faith-sharing groups meeting on Mondays and a prayer group on Thursdays. So while we do see some other parish activities shrinking or ceasing, there’s much to celebrate in the life of our own community, too. All of these good works are signs of a community infected by love. Our good works are excellent – but they are only half of what we are about as a Christian parish. The other half is what we are doing here, now, on Sunday morning.

We are called to be witnesses. When we walk out of this church just after 11 o’clock on a Sunday morning, we should look happier than anyone who’s just finished a session at the best pub or club in Pontypridd. Not by putting on a face, but because we have truly enjoyed our worship this morning. For the psalm, we have all sung: “Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth!” God wants to begin with each one of us. We are invited to taste a spirit stronger than any liquor which can be brewed. When we are filled with this spirit, we will lose our inhibitions about how to behave in church. If we have sinned, we will know that we are the forgiven children of a prodigious father. If the preacher tells a joke, we will have no worries about laughing, for we know God approves of happiness in his house. When it is time to sing, we will sing our hearts out for the God who loves us, because we know He is worth it.

The best advert for the Church is a happy Christian. It’s been said that although millions of Christians pour out of church doors every Sunday, they “don’t look very saved”. So let us rejoice that God has forgiven our sins. Let us give thanks that God sent His Son at Easter, making the sacrifice which we celebrate every Sunday. And let us rejoice at the gift of the Holy Spirit, given at Pentecost, so that we, gathered around God’s altar, can be the happiest people on Earth.

Do you want to get drunk? Open your heart, lose your inhibitions, and ask God to plant his Holy Spirit firmly within. It is the Spirit of the God who loves you, and no harm can come of this, for what the Spirit brings is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control. Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth!

Come to the Water!

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for the Vigil Mass of Pentecost Sunday, 2012

At this Mass, an adult was baptised. Owain had joined the RCIA too late to be ready for baptism at Easter. From the alternative First Readings, Ezekiel 37:1-14 (the dry bones) were chosen.

I am now going to take away your sorrow and restore you to life!

Owain, this is God’s word to all of us this evening, but especially to you.

The reading from Ezekiel gives us the famous vision of the valley of dry bones, immortalised in song. These bones give us a lesson in what it is to become part of God’s life.

First, the bones stand up – the Greek word for “stand up” is anastasia which also means resurrection. Whenever we read in the Bible of someone “standing up” we are invited to see a connection to the rising of Christ. Owain, by your Baptism you will be joined to Christ and share his new life.

Next, the bones are filled with God’s breath. The words for breath and spirit are closely connected – when we breathe in, we inspire, and out, exspire. Owain, through the gift of Confirmation you will be filled with God’s living Spirit.

But it is not enough for the bones to be restored to life; they are to be restored to their homeland, to become part of the new Israel, which is the Church. Today, you will be joined to us by receiving Holy Communion for the first time.

Because of your baptism, you will begin a new life today. The old is gone, the new is at hand.

Earlier today, I saw a toddler, filled with wonder, taking hesitant steps to explore the world around him – a perfect image of your new life in Christ.

I am now going to take away your sorrow and restore you to life!

These words are also for us as a parish. The toddler filled with wonder is a sign for Owain and for us.

It’s easy to become cynical about our Church, jaded at doing the “same old same old” time and time again. So let’s resist that, and remember that we are a church of good news. For instance…

  • Last month, in Ilfracombe, 1500 Catholics gathered to enjoy their faith at the week-long Celebrate Conference. Nearly half the participants were under the age of 18, they spent a week being Catholic and loving it!
  • When I visited Washington DC last year, a poster in the presbytery showed that there were over 60 men in seminary for the Archdiocese of Washington (and it had their pictures to prove it) – that was more than the total number of diocesan priests active in the same diocese. (Here in Cardiff, we have 5 seminarians, compared to 37 active diocesan priests.) Washington DC might not be a place you’d expect to be a hotbed of vocations to the priesthood, but it’s happening!
  • Across the world, our church is growing – in Africa and south-east Asia. We may be painfully aware of decline in Europe, but in many parts of the world, people are becoming Catholics with great enthusiasm.
  • In Johannesburg, South Africa, there’s a church they call the “lemon squeezer”. Apparently its Sunday evening Youth Mass is such a vibrant experience that it’s listed in the local press as one of the top 1o attractions to see while you’re in town!
  • Last year, the only Catholic cabinet minister in Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed for standing up the rights of religious minorities in a Muslim country. Although tragic, this is also a good news story – of a man martyred for having the convictions of his faith.

What about our own parish? I think we see dry bones mixed with green shoots. This Saturday evening congregation is visibly smaller than it has been in recent years, and many of those dear to us have died, or are no longer well enough to attend Mass. Yet there is also good news. This month, four young people from our parish chose to be confirmed. We have a thriving SVP who have launched the Sunday Café project, and we are actively participating in our local Foodbank. We have a two small faith-sharing groups meeting on Mondays and a prayer group on Thursdays. So while we do see some other parish activities shrinking or ceasing, there’s much to celebrate in the life of our own community, too.

Throughout the Easter season we have been sprinkled with holy water and sung “Water of Life”. By our baptism, we stand as members of the Body of Christ – but we also need to breathe the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to do God’s works in our own strength, in fact we can’t. Only by accepting the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus can we find the strength and inspiration to do God’s will in our own life. Today we celebrate that gift of the Spirit, and as the church moves tomorrow back into Ordinary Time, we continue living the lives of exceptional holiness which we are called to as ordinary Christians.

I am now going to take away your sorrow and restore you to life!

Accept God’s gift, and you will become a fountain of living water. By God’s Spirit, we will become a source of living water for all Pontypridd.

Owain, it is time for your baptism: now come to the water!