Imagine Heaven

Yesterday, I was at a gathering of Christian ministers in South Wales addressed by Julian Richards, leader of New Wine Cymru. He recommended a book, Imagine Heaven – suffice it to say, the fact I have read it from cover to cover in the last 24 hours is a recommendation that it is a good book

Many, many people in the last 100 years and before, have reported “Near Death Experiences” (NDEs) – following a life-threatening injury or serious illness, they have reported experiences of leaving their body, and commonly (but not always), seeing their own body from the outside, travelling down a tunnel, meeting a being of light, and being taken on a review of the positive and negative actions in their whole life. There is a growing body of scientific literature analysing these reports, looking for common threads, and trying to understand what is going on. Is it an artefact of what happens to consciousness in a dying brain? Is it a spiritual gift to encourage or convert a person’s behaviour? Or is it a foretaste of what will happen to all of us when we take our final journey?

There are several ways a Christian could seek to analyse these reports objectively. One would be to look at all the possible explanations and weigh their merits and demerits. Another would be to make the working assumption that they are genuine spiritual experiences and try to list how each experience matched up to a number of spiritual worldviews. The third would be to assume that the Christian worldview revealed in Scripture is correct, and see how the actual experiences reported, stripped of the personal interpretation put on them by the recipients, measure up to what a Christian would expect. It is this third path which has been taken by the author, John Burke, who trained as an engineer and is now a Christian pastor

Burke finds that NDE reports from non-Christian cultures are generally compatible with Christian understanding: a study of Indians commonly found reports of meeting a Being with a Book, which Hindus naturally interpreted as a ledger of karma, but can also be understood as the books of personal deeds and the Book of Life spoken of in the last book of the New Testament, the Apocalypse, or Revelation, of St John. Burke repeatedly notes that atheists, surgeons and pilots – well-paid professionals with nothing to gain and reputations to lose – have reported meeting Christ or a Christ-like being of light, even if they were not Christians prior to their experience.

Imagine Heaven is not written from a Catholic perspective, but I find nothing in it contrary to Catholic teaching. A small proportion of the NDEs are visions which seem to be of hell rather than heaven, sometimes eased when the person cried out to God for help – but by definition, an NDE is not a passage into irreversible judgement, since the person’s earthly life is not yet over. Several case studies have the soul near death being met by pairs of angels (and the author notes the Gospel passage establishing the existence of guardian angels is plural, though ambiguous about whether there is one angel per soul – it only says that ‘children have angels’.) One case study has the soul being met and showed around heaven by ‘a woman’, though Burke does not speculate on who the woman’s identity might be. Nor is Purgatory discussed directly – but there is one fleeting reference to a soul who, having met Jesus, asked what happens if a person is not ready to enter into perfect love? The answer was that they “freeze”, further explained as: “They just lock up and . . . think about themselves. . . . They want to move forward but they’re not ready to.” 

This book has challenged me to think again about my ideas of what happens to us at death. I realised that until now, I had a very hands-on idea of God reaching down, plucking the soul from the body, and putting it where it was meant to go. But if modern medicine is able to rescue more and more patients from the brink of death, this fits poorly with a God who knows in advance who is going to recover. Except for those cases where a soul needs to be challenged to conversion or encouraged in its good works, why would God ‘take’ a soul only to put it back? Rather, perhaps this is evidence for the nature of the human soul, which is unconstrained and able to experience the afterlife as a dying body shuts down but not totally released until the body is beyond repair? (The idea of a ‘silver cord’ is found in scripture, at Ecclesiastes 12:6 – perhaps this is more than poetry?) The ‘judgment’ may indeed be more about the soul’s own response to the pure light which is God, than an active gathering or dismissing by order of a divine judge.

Souls in heaven are generally reported as being shaped like human bodies yet translucent and permeable to the matter of heaven. The appearance is often around 30 years old, but there are reports of children and of ‘eternally young grandparents’ – suggesting that the way appearance is communicated, is malleable. Heaven is pictured as a beautiful landscape, with no seas but a river of life literally flowing ‘through’ those who plunge into it, and as a great city filled with light. Delicious fruits can be tasted from trees which immediately regrow any fruit picked, and a flower borrowed from the ground to sample its scent immediately re-roots itself on being put down. Colours, fragrances and other sensory experiences are reported as being much richer than our earthly experience. Joyful meetings with family members and friends are generally mediated by thought rather than speech, though there are also reports of souls joining with songs of praise. The one image which seems absent is of souls sharing a meal together – perhaps this experience must await the general resurrection of the body?

When I first became a Christian in my teens, I remember reading the Book of Revelation and excitedly pondering what sort of apartment I would have when I reached the heavenly city, and who my neighbours would be. In more recent years, when my closest friendships have been long-distance relationships squeezed into the cracks of priestly ministry, I have sometimes pondered what it will be like when I can enjoy these relationships when they reach their fullness in heaven, without the constraints of limited time or interpersonal misunderstanding. There, I look forward to ‘knowing and being fully known’ (I Corinthians 13:12), not only in my relationship with Christ, but with all the members of His Body I have already started to love on earth.

Burke speculates that St Paul himself may have had an NDE, perhaps at the time he was ‘beaten and left for dead’ – resulting in his ‘knowing a man caught up into heaven’. I had never thought of St Paul as having had an NDE rather than a simple vision, but it is fascinating to imagine how this might have informed his writings, alongside the Book of Revelation which is explicitly framed as a vision of heaven. Imagine Heaven is not Scripture, and adds to Scripture only people’s claimed experiences – and yet those experiences fit so well with what we already know from Scripture that I, for one, will now be daydreaming in richer images when I meditate on the last mystery of the rosary – the Coronation of Our Lady and the Glory of all the Saints!

Glimpses of Immortality

Homily at St Philip Evans, for All Souls’ Day, 2017.

We are immortal souls, destined to rise again.

Each of the readings we’ve just heard offers us a glimpse of immortality.

God whispers to the prophet Daniel that the dead will rise again.

St Paul, who was caught up into heaven and allowed to see long-hidden things, speaks confidently about a day when the dead will be raised and the living caught up into the air with them.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus and the 11 gathered in the Upper Room rejoiced when they met Jesus risen from the dead.

What do these three scriptures have in common? They are glimpses not of heaven, but of the resurrection of the body. We are immortal souls, destined to rise again.

When we pray the creed, we profess our belief in “the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come”.

When we lose someone we love, is our first instinct to rejoice in their resurrection or hope they are in heaven? And how much is our picture of heaven shaped by Hollywood and popular culture, rather than what God shows us through his Word?

Perhaps it’s true that God allows many people a foretaste of heaven, either through mystical experiences – such as the paintings of child prodigy Akiane Kramarik – or near-death experiences. Two recent films have been based on children who have claimed to have been on the brink of death and returned after meeting Jesus – Heaven is for Real a few years ago, and last year, with an all-star cast, Miracles from Heaven. There are also many adults who have had near death experiences and returned with remarkable stories – such as Stanley Villavicencio, a Filipino man who sat bolt upright after three days in a coma, with a message of meeting Jesus as depicted in the image of Divine Mercy.

These stories are interesting, even encouraging – but they are not God’s word.

There are also stories of souls visiting earth to ask for our prayers. In Rome there is even a small museum of purgatory – a display case holds a dozen artefacts, each with the story of a soul in need of prayers appearing to a living relative to ask for prayers and leaving some kind of mark on an everyday object. An Austrian woman, Maria Simma – who died in 2004 – claimed to have a special gift of being visited by many souls in needs of prayer and wrote about her experiences in a book called Get Me Out of Here!

Again, these claims are interesting – but they are not God’s word.

We are immortal souls, destined to rise again.

The passages from the Bible we have heard today point us not to heaven, but to our own immortality. What happens after we rise again – whether we spent eternity in happiness with God or in agony, forever separated from perfect love – depends entirely on whether we accept God’s gracious offer of salvation during our life on Earth. For those of us who hear the Gospel it’s about whether we turn to Jesus in prayer and ask Him to save us. For those people who never heard the Gospel, it’s about how they follow their consciences. But today isn’t about whether we spend eternity with God or apart from him. It’s about what happens before that.

Today is the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed. Today exists on our calendar because we understand that souls who have died are in need of our prayers. The Bible never says this directly, but drops hints. The Second Book of Maccabees notes in passing that it is “a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins”. Jesus told a parable about a sinner who was put in prison “until he could pay the last penny” – surely having no money in prison, the debt could only be paid by those who loved him. Other Bible passages also hint at the reality of Purgatory, a final purification before some souls enter heaven – a state that only exists for souls who die before the Second Coming. When the day comes that we’ve just heard St Paul talking about – the day when the living and the dead are raised together – there will be no more Purgatory.

We are immortal souls, destined to rise again. But we haven’t yet reached our destiny. So as an act of love, while we still live in these mortal bodies, we pray for the Faithful Departed who have gone before us and await the day when they will be raised anew and caught up with those still alive.

Let’s stand and pray for these souls. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Destination: Heaven

Homily at St Philip Evans, on the Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

Imagine that you’re minding your own business, walking down a street in Cardiff, when a stranger approaches you and introduces themself to you. Very quickly the stranger asks you a direct question: “If you were to die tonight, do you know, without a shadow of a doubt, whether you would go to heaven?”A

Actually, that might have happened to some of us. Is there anyone in church today who has had such a conversation?

At the start of July this year, there were teams of Christians all over Cardiff asking that very question as part of a Mission to Wales.* The Mission will continue in future months, so if you haven’t been stopped yet, there’s a chance it might happen in the near future. But what answer would you give?

Now as Catholics, we believe in Purgatory – that for many souls, some purification may be needed before we can enter heaven. If the stranger asks you whether you would go “STRAIGHT to heaven”, you might say no, expecting to spend time in Purgatory first. But I don’t want to spend time today talking about Purgatory, or how to avoid it. I want to talk about our final destination. We know that all souls will either end up in Heaven or in Hell.**

Do you know what you have to do to make sure that you will end up in Heaven, not in Hell? I’ve tried asking lots of Catholics the question “will you go to heaven when you die”, and many of us don’t seem too sure about it! But we can be certain! St Paul seems pretty confident in today’s Second Reading that if he died, he would go to be with Jesus. Our Lord came to show us the way and tell us what we need to do. So here is your 5-minute guide on “How to Get to Heaven”.

Step One: Get Baptised.

Baptism wipes away all our past sins. When an adult – or a child old enough to understand – chooses baptism, they’re asking God to wash away everything bad from the past. Someone who dies just after baptism will surely go straight to Heaven.

Step Two: Avoid Mortal Sin.

Remember that a Mortal Sin is committed when we choose to do, or neglect, something which is serious in God’s eyes, in full knowledge of the situation, and with moral freedom to choose our course of action. It’s not possible to commit a Mortal Sin by accident – it’s because we’ve made a deliberate and free choice of something bad that the sin becomes mortal.

Step Three: If you do commit Mortal Sin, go to confession.

And if you aren’t sure whether your sin is mortal or not, go to confession. What you can be sure of, is that any sin sincerely confessed to a priest will be forgiven.

So…

Imagine that some terrible explosion destroyed all our bodies in the next sixty seconds. If you know that you’ve been baptised, and you’ve confessed any mortal sins committed since your baptism, you can rest assured in the knowledge that your final destination is Heaven.

On the other hand, if you’ve been avoiding baptism, or avoiding confessing the serious sins on your conscience, then start worrying, because your final destination would be the Other Place, and you don’t want to go there!

Of course, we can always try to pick this simple teaching apart with clever “What-If” scenarios. What if someone dies waiting for their scheduled baptism or on the way to confession? But God knows our hearts, and will not punish us for failing to do something we were genuinely trying to do.

Some of you might find a worrying word stirring in your consciousness at this moment, the word presumption. Weren’t we once taught as Catholics that we should avoid presuming we would go to heaven?

Not exactly, no.

What the Church says*** we can’t presume is that, if we don’t bother to repent of our sins, God will admit us to heaven anyway. No – the first message of Jesus is that we must repent! While Jesus does sometimes talk about good works – the sheep who feed the hungry and visit the prisoners are welcomed into heaven – we have to put all his teachings together to get the full picture, and Jesus spoke many times to warn us that our sins can send us to Hell if we don’t change our ways. So in the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “Seek the Lord while he is still to be found! Turn back to God, who is rich in forgiving!”

Our Church also says that we can’t presume that our good deeds will “earn” our entry to Heaven. That’s what today’s parable is all about. Heaven is not a reward for doing a full lifetime’s work on earth. Rather, the deal God offers us is this: “If you’re working for me on the day you die, you’ll receive the reward in heaven.” On the other hand, if you’ve been labouring for a whole day, but you can’t look the master in the eye when it’s time to receive your wages, you will not receive your reward after all.

It’s very simple. Get baptised. Avoid sin. Confess the sins you can’t avoid committing. Never turn away from the deal God offers, that you must work for him on earth, and when you die, by the free gift God is offering, you will certainly go to heaven!

So next time someone stops you on the street to ask “If you were to die tonight, would you go to heaven?” you should know exactly what answer you should give. And if that answer is not an unambiguous YES, I strongly urge you to do something about it!


* Full disclosure: CatholicPreacher led a team of 12 Catholics on the streets of Cardiff as contributors to the Mission.

** OK, this is an over-simplification for preaching purposes. Heaven and Hell are the long-term destinations pending the Second Coming. It’s possible a soul could be in Purgatory until the Last Judgment. And for a soul which has been in Heaven, or waiting in Purgatory for the Last Judgment, the ultimate destination is “the new heavens and the new earth” which the Bible promises. I’m using “ending up in Heaven” as shorthand for this. Souls in Hell receive their eternal body at the Last Judgment and then return to Hell.

*** The Council of Trent (Chapter XII of the Sixth Session) taught that no person could rashly presume to be predestined to eternal life “for without special revelation it is impossible to know whom God has chosen for himself”. However, this is a teaching about final perseverance (“If I don’t die right now, can I be sure I won’t commit a mortal sin between now and the moment I die”) rather than a teaching saying we can’t know the state of grace we’re in right now. Rather, because baptism and sacramental confession are objective acts, and Mortal Sin requires a conscious knowledge of one’s own action, I can make a very clear statement about whether I am in a “state of grace” right now. Baptism attains that state; mortal sin loses it; a genuine intent to confess the sin with a firm purpose of amendment regains it, sealed by actually making confession insofar as that is possible.

 

Life After Death

Homily at St Paul’s for the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

“When I awake, I shall be filled with the sight of your glory!”recon

What does happen to us when we die? Many people who have been brought back from the brink of death talk about seeing a “light at the end of the tunnel”. Some report meeting God and being told it’s not their time yet. A few people have reported a vision which seems more like Hell than like Heaven.

It’s good to keep an open mind about these reports. Science suggests good reasons why a brain starved of oxygen might experience “tunnel vision” and human imagination is quite capable of wishful thinking or self-condemnation. Even so, there are certainly some powerful stories around, not least from an Anglican vicar I know who prayed for a 19-year-old teenager killed in a motorcycle accident… the boy woke up in the morgue the next morning having had such a powerful religious experience that he joined a church and got baptised soon afterwards!

If we put our trust in what God has said through the Bible, what can we be sure of? When our church leaders put together all the relevant bits of the Bible, what we know goes like this:

  • On the day we die, our souls are judged immediately by God – or some would say that we judge ourselves in comparison to the pure love we see in God. Either way, we can go in one of three directions.
    • For those truly repentant of their sins who do not need to be greatly purified, they go straight to heaven. These are the souls we celebrated on All Saint’s Day.
    • For those who call on God’s mercy but who need significant purification, they go to Purgatory until they are ready for heaven. Those are the souls we remember on All Soul’s Day, and for whom we offer Masses.
    • For those who have not chosen God’s mercy, God allows them to be separated from his loving presence, and this we call Hell.
  • We believe that Our Lord and Our Lady already have bodies in heaven – this is why we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus and the Assumption of Blessed Mary. The rest of us live there as souls without bodies. We may be full of questions about how that works – the Sadducees in today’s Gospel certainly were, and they tried to trip up Jesus. But he insisted that heaven was real, and left the details to God. Will husbands and wives be re-united in heaven? As long as they have accepted God’s mercy, yes – but not to live as a couple in the heavenly Jerusalem. Like all the saints, they will be members of the body of Christ. They will not love their earthly spouse any less; but the love they give to Jesus and receive in return from Jesus will be immeasurably greater than we can know in even the best marriage on earth.
  • One day in the future, this world as we know it will come to an end. Will that happen through a natural disaster or by God intervening in an amazing miracle? We don’t know. But we are so certain that this will happen that every Sunday in the Creed we assert: “We believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.” When this happens, God will raise every soul who has ever lived and give them a new and everlasting body – or for those who are still alive on earth when this happens, their earthly body will be transformed. This is the moment we call the Last Judgement. Those whose souls were already in Hell, or were alive at the end of the world but had not chosen God’s mercy, will be sent bodily into Hell. Everyone else will be welcomed into what the Bible calls the “new heaven and new earth”.

What Our Lord says today is an uncomfortable message if you are married, even more so if you are widowed. But… don’t panic! If you are in a second marriage, relax. There can be no jealously in heaven. You can hope to be there with both your earthly spouses, and there will be no unpleasantness.

Our Christian faith is not wishful thinking. If it were, we would believe that married couples live happily-ever-after in heaven, and the Sadduccees would have a valid point. So here is a useful check of where your faith comes from. If you believe in heaven because the alternative is too horrid to imagine, open your ears to Jesus! Believe in it because he rose from the dead. If you need to, ask him to increase your love for Him!

Today’s reading also reminds us that there is such a thing as a “fate worse than death”. When a human being is martyred, that is a tragedy for the family they leave behind, but a triumph in being faithful to God. As the familiar reading from Wisdom says, “their going seemed like a disaster, but they are at peace”. And remember that Leon Bloy once wrote, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”

Your loved ones are alive to God. The dead will rise again. Not only will you see them again, but you, and they, are destined to be given new and glorious bodies which will never perish. As for where that body goes, that’s up to the choices you make on earth. Whatever happens, we can be sure of this: “When we awake, we shall be filled with the sight of God’s glory!”

People Matter.

Homily at St Philip Evans, for All Souls’ Day, 2013.
Christ (in gold) reaches down to lift up a soul (bronze, on purple background)

People matter.

The point of this special day in the Church’s calendar is to remind us that people matter.

At the heart of the Bible is the message that God loves human beings, and asks us to share this same love for all humanity.

Today is not about – or at least, not mainly about – remembering our own loved ones. (We have a special day for that in this parish later in November.)

The clue is in the official name of today’s liturgy: The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.

It’s a commemoration – so it’s about remembering.

It’s about all the Faithful Departed – so we are remembering every soul who has ever lived on earth and is now being purified on the way into God’s perfect kingdom.

Although we call them faithful departed, we are not making a claim about how religious they were in their earthly lifetime. Every soul which passes from this life into God’s hands will accept God’s love immediately, or slowly, or not-at-all. Yesterday we celebrated those who have already accepted that love fully, and become saints. Today we celebrate those souls who, on beholding God, have faith to believe they will enjoy that love as soon as all their brokenness is purified – and it has always been the understanding of the Catholic Church that the prayers of the living can assist in that purification.

People matter. Today is especially about those souls who have no-one to pray for them. As an act of love, the whole church sets apart this one day in the year to remember and offer Mass for them all.

Today might also be a reminder for us that there is some special act of love which we need to show to the living. Is there a word of reconciliation we know we need to say but have been putting off? Is there an act of kindness we could do but which has never made it to the top of our priority list? We have many ways to show love to the living; once a soul has passed into God’s hands, all we can do is pray.

In our bidding prayers in a moment, we will pray by name for those whose funerals were held at or through this church during the last 12 months. Among them will be those who worshipped regularly and those who never worshipped at all; Catholic funeral registers even contain the names of those who were not themselves Catholic but were given a church funeral by loved ones who share our faith.
Those we could never have helped practically in their earthly life, we assist spiritually today. This is a genuine and powerful act of love, and an expression of our faith in eternal life.

People matter. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Only by Grace

Homily at St Philip Evans, for the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

I’d like to begin with a story. It’s about Paddy – a man who was very active in his church community, and died in his 70s.A cartoon showing a queue of people at the Pearly Gates

When Paddy reached the Pearly Gates, he expected them to swing open in front of him. Instead, he was rather bemused to find St Peter standing in front of him with a clipboard.

“OK,” said St Peter, “here’s how it works. In order to get into heaven, you need 100 points. You tell me all the reasons we should let you into heaven, and I will add up the points.”

“Right,” said Paddy. “For starters, I have never missed Mass on a Sunday. Every weekend of my life, I’ve been at church.”

“Excellent,” said St Peter. “One point.”

Paddy’s face fell. “Only one?” he thought – but he didn’t say it out loud.

“I’ve always supported church,” said Paddy, “and ever since I started earning a decent wage I’ve given 5% of my income to church. And I used Gift Aid!”

“Great,” said St Peter. “That’s another point.”

Paddy was beginning to feel rather desperate now. What would earn him another 98 points? He had one more thing…

“I’ve always been a peacemaker,” he said, “stepping in to stop fights. And if I’ve been arguing with someone, I’ve always been the first to step forward to make up.”

“Wonderful,” said St Peter, “the boss is really keen on that sort of thing. That gets you another three points – you’ve scored five so far.”

“FIVE POINTS?” scowled Paddy. “For all that, just five? If I’m ever going to get through those gates, it will only be by the grace of God !”

At that moment, a fanfare played and the gates opened. “That’s the correct answer,” said St Peter, “only God’s grace is worth 100 points. Come on in!”

If we wish to become saints – and if our goal is to enter heaven, then we must all plan to become saints – our first step is to recognise that we need God’s help. “Grace” is just a fancy name for God’s help. When God gives help to people who don’t deserve it, that’s called “mercy”.

It’s easy to get the wrong idea about “mercy”. There’s a playground game where children wrestle until one shouts “mercy” because it hurts; or in a movie, the bad guy might have some terrible torture to inflict on the victim, who calls out for mercy. Do we really believe God is like a Hollywood villain, out to punish us?

It’s true, there’s a prayer which we might have learned to use in confession, where we acknowledge that because of our sins, we deserve God’s “dreadful punishments”. This might fool us into thinking that God is some kind of sadist who delights in handing out justice. But we know that Jesus came to show us that God is the most loving of Fathers, who always wishes to forgive rather than punish. And how do we obtain that forgiveness? We do what the tax-collector did in today’s Gospel! We cry out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

Why, then, did the Church ever come up with a prayer which talks about “dreadful punishments”? It’s because we know that, like Paddy, we could never deserve to go to heaven because of our good deeds. Only someone who had never committed a sin in their life could deserve to go to heaven. No sinner could be worthy to spend forever in God’s company. But if we missed out on being with God – if we know there is a God who loves us, and yet we are separated from Him for eternity – that would be truly dreadful! So that prayer is a reminder that none of us deserve to go to heaven. Heaven is a gift – a grace – a free gift offered to us by the Heavenly Father who loves us.

Of course, we should try to do the right thing. Today, at our Harvest celebration, we will shortly present our gifts of food to give to the local FoodBank. It’s important that those of us who can afford to give something away, give food for people in our local community who have fallen through the gaps in the help the State can provide. It’s one of the many good deeds we do as church members, working together for the good of our community. But a couple of weeks ago, St Luke reminded us that we shouldn’t boast about doing things like that – because we are only useless servants who have done the duty expected of us!

Our Lord was not impressed with the Pharisee who listed all his good works. Like Paddy, however many good deeds we can list, we can’t boast of being good enough to deserve heaven. What we can boast of, is this: Jesus loved us so much that he opened the gates of heaven by taking on himself the dreadful punishments that our sins deserve. And we do boast about this – we boast by singing hymns. It’s the amazing thing about graceWhen I Survey the Wondrous Cross spells it out clearly in the words: “Forbid it, Lord,that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God!”

We need to boast even louder! The Catholic Church is famous for demanding high moral standards – and notorious for cases where its leaders and members have failed to keep them. We must become even more famous for proclaiming that we believe in a God who doesn’t want to hand down dreadful punishments but gives a second chance to everyone who asks for mercy. So let’s rejoice in God’s mercy. Let’s humble ourselves by recognising that we are sinners. Let’s give thanks to God by offering our gifts to the FoodBank and by wholeheartedly celebrating this Mass. And let’s go home knowing that if we have done all this, we will certainly be at rights with God!

Today’s story is not original! You can find versions online by Carey, Mascarenhas and that most prolific of authors, Anon.