Dewi Sant

Homily at St Teilo’s Church for the Solemnity of St David, 2017

d094d0b0d0b2d0b8d0b4_d0a3d18dd0bbd18cd181d0bad0b8d0b9_28d0b8d0bad0bed0bdd0b029Timothy Rees, the Anglican Bishop of Llandaf, composed a hymn in honour of St David. It included the words: “Glorious in the roll of heroes shines the name of Dewi Sant.” The icon on the front of your order of service also has that name inscribed, faintly, at the top.

Dewi Sant! As we gather this evening to honour our patron saint, we must ask what lessons that glorious name holds for us. In fact, the name Dewi is a useful reminder for us of four values he would have us hold.

D is for DETAILS. Famously, in his last Sunday sermon before he died, David said: “Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed. Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about. I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.”

“Do the little things.” Our Christian faith is a way of life, which brings love into the smallest actions. Many centuries later, St Thérèse of Lisieux would also show us the “little way” of simple kindness. We read that in David’s monasteries there was a life of hard labour – the monks did not use oxen to pull the ploughs, but did so themselves. They ate only vegetables. Nevertheless, there was something so attractive about David’s way of life that he shone out among his contemporaries and we are telling his story 1500 years later. What was that something? Surely the love with which every simple action was imbued.

E is for the English Heresy. David famously found himself in dispute with the teachings attributed to the British monk Pelagius. Are we worthy of heaven because we “do the little things”? No! But it is all too easy to get drawn into the idea that God loves us because we do good, and this is sometimes called the “English heresy“. No! God loved us while we were still sinners, and sent Jesus to die for us. St Paul understood this clearly. He wrote to the Romans that this was the case, and in the letter to the Philippians we have just heard, Paul said: “I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ.” Our Patron Saint, therefore, reminds us clearly of just how deeply God has loved us.

W is for the Waterman. In an age before water treatment plants, when people regularly drank beer or wine because they were free of bateria, David insisted on drinking only water. He probably took part in the Celtic custom of praying while standing in an icy cold river, too. Was he doing that to earn God’s friendship? No! As an opponent of the teachings of Pelagius, he would have known full well that living an ascetic life would not endear him to God more than any other person. But he might have sensed that living this way would help him grow in self-discipline, and would show solidarity with the poorest people who would come to his monastery seeking help. In this way, David is a perfect patron of our Catholic aspiration, to live simply, sustainably, and in solidarity with the poor.

I is for Inspiration. Today’s Gospel exhorts us to be salt for the earth and light for the world. Why did David ask us to be joyful and keep our faith? We are meant to inspire others. The world is a large place – we can’t be responsible for all of it. A patron saint reminds us that we are a particular people with a common heritage. (Even in the Bible, the Book of Revelation spoke of seven churches who each had their own angel.) We have a special responsibility to not only keep our faith, but to share it, in this place and nation which is our own. What will be the most powerful light to our nation? Joy!

Pope Francis understands this very well: in one sermon last year, he said: “The identification card of a Christian is joy: the joy of the Gospel, the joy of having been elected by Jesus, saved by Jesus, regenerated by Jesus.” Our current Pope can’t seem to stop talking about joy; he even wrote an Apostolic Letter called The Joy of the Gospel!

Dewi Sant confidently declared that he would “walk the path that our fathers have trod before us.” Do you share his confidence? When you die, are you sure of walking the same path as St David?

You can pay attention to the details. You can love people by doing little things. Rejoice!

Don’t fall into the English Heresy, but gaze deeply on the depths of God’s love. Even in your brokenness, Jesus loved you enough to die for you. Rejoice!

You might not be called to be a waterman, but you can live simply and tread lightly in 21st century Wales. In this way, you can build a better Wales for everyone. Rejoice.

You are called to be an inspiration to others. You can change other people’s lives for the better, by following the example of St David. Rejoice!

The last words of today’s Mass will be: Awn ymaith mewn tangnefedd i ogoneddu Duw yn ein bywydau – “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life” Our Mass does not end at the church door. Rather, you will be light to the world and salt for the earth when the name and the spirit of “Dewi Sant” shines forth in your words and actions. May the prayers of our patron saint go with you!

Dewi Sant – gweddi dros Gymru!

St David – pray for Wales!

Merciful, Like the Father

Homily at St Philip Evans for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year C.

Is your family a holy family?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.

Don’t be fooled by the question. I could have asked a different question – is your family a pious family? We’ve just heard the story of two pious families in the Bible. First Hannah and Elkanah with the boy Samuel, then Our Lady and St Joseph with the 12-year-old Jesus – both families do their religious duty and visit the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. There’s nothing wrong with piety, because the word means paying our respects to God. We’re all doing something pious by being here in church just a day or two after Christmas, and it’s good. God appreciates the sacrifice each one of us has made to be here right now.

But we’re not celebrating today the Feast of the Pious Family. Holiness is more than piety. Saying our prayers and going to church makes us pious, but it doesn’t automatically make us holy. A holy life is a life in balance. A holy family puts God first. A holy family puts each other’s needs next. But finding the right balance isn’t always easy. And above all, true holiness needs us to push aside our sense of what we think we deserve.

Consider this story: a big sister and her little brother were in the kitchen, arguing about a chocolate cake.

“We should cut it down the middle, 50:50”, said Little Brother. “Fair shares.”

“Oh no!” said Big Sister. “My tummy is twice the size of yours so I should have twice as much cake as you.”

But before either of them could wield the knife, Mum walked into the kitchen, packed the whole cake into a tin and said, “Sorry kids – this isn’t our cake, the man next door paid me to bake it for him.”

In my eight years as a priest, I have heard very many stories about family rows which have become lasting feuds. They almost always start in one of two ways – one family member says wounding words, or when a will is read, some of the relatives don’t get what they were hoping for.

It’s easy to become angry when other people don’t do what we hope they will. But do you always do what other people would like you to do? Even our Lord, aged 12, didn’t do what his parents were expecting. When they found him in the Temple, Our Lady said that she was most vexed, and took him home. Now, there was no sin here – only two very different sets of expectations. We may have high hopes for what other people will do. But unless they have promised to do it, our hopes may be dashed. Even when there is a promise in place, circumstances beyond their control might get in the way. I have learned, the hard way, that when I have been let down it is always more useful to ask “What stopped you?” rather than the more accusing question, “Why didn’t you?”

Often enough, people say to me “I can’t forgive so-and-so.” But I think what they mean is that they can’t feel warm towards the person who has hurt them. Forgiveness doesn’t require us to change our feelings – that’s not within our power. Forgiveness is a choice – a choice to act with kindness towards those who don’t deserve it. If someone has betrayed a secret, it is wise not to entrust them with another one until they’ve earned your trust back. If someone has spent your money irresponsibly, don’t be quick to entrust them with more funds. But forgiveness means that we don’t punish the other person by doing anything beyond taking sensible precautions.

If your family is a holy family, you will treat every inheritance as an undeserved gift. If you act as if you deserve nothing, then any free gift will be a bonus, and a reason to thank God. But if, like the children in my story, your heart desires the largest share which might reasonably be yours, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

If your family is a holy family, when there is a major bust-up, you won’t be asking “”Who started it?” but rather “Who’s going to act first to stop it?” Perhaps in your family there is someone you haven’t spoken to for 20 years after a disagreement. Or perhaps you had words with someone around your table this year on Christmas Day. The Lord is inviting you to be a peacemaker!

To finish the story: When Mum got back from delivering their neighbour’s cake, she opened the oven and showed Little Brother and Big Sister that she wasn’t done with the baking. For each child, there was one of their favourite cakes, a carrot cake and a sponge, each just the right size for its intended recipient. Little Brother and Big Sister replied with one voice in the only thing you can possibly say in such circumstances: “Thanks, Mum!”

St John says that in the future, we shall be more like God. Let’s not wait until heaven! Whenever you forgive, you are doing something divine. So let’s, each one of us, choose to be holy within our family.

Holiness is loving those who have let you down.

Holiness is expecting nothing as a right, but rejoicing in everything received as a gift.

Holiness is forgiving not because the other person says sorry, but because forgiveness is our way of life.

We are in the Year of Mercy. Now is the perfect time to become, as the banner says, “Merciful Like The Father!”

A Heart of Flesh, a Wedding Garment

Homily at St Philip Evans for Thursday 21st August 2014 – Memorial of St Pius X

Just over 100 years ago, Pope Pius X had an unlikely visitor: a domestic servant from France. Estelle Faguette had received a series of 15 visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1876, in the course of which she was healed from a terminal illness.

Today’s first reading brings a message that God will bring restoration where his Temple has been profaned. Anti-Catholicism in France was certainly such a case, for in the last decade of the eighteenth century, the French Revolution had caused many great churches to be desecrated; and the middle of the nineteenth century saw a fresh wave of opposition to the Catholic faith throughout France. Yet Heaven responded with an offensive of grace, the Blessed Virgin appearing in Chapel of the Miraculous Medal, Paris in 1830, La Salette in 1846, Lourdes in 1858 and Pontmain Sanctuary in 1871.

Then, in 1876, to a simple domestic servant, the Mother of God revealed a new devotion: she wore, on her breast, a white scapular bearing the image of the sacred Heart of Jesus. The Virgin asked that those who loved her Son should wear this livery.

In today’s Gospel, we are warned that if we want to enter Heaven, we will need our wedding garment! Of course, merely placing a piece of cloth on a cord around our necks does not make us a Christian. The garment God seeks is the garment of obedience to his commands. But to place an image of the Heart of Jesus upon our own breast is to make a commitment to love as Jesus loves: see the flames, his burning love for the whole world! See how the heart bears a cross, and carries it gladly! See the crown of thorns and the drops of blood which fall as the love of Jesus is mocked and rejected by the world.

It is said that in the days of the New Testament, if you were invited to a wedding, a suitable garment would be provided for guests at the door. There was no excuse for failing to wear it; to do so would be to show disrespect to the host who was providing the good things on offer. In the same way, God is offering to renew our lives with by placing a Godly heart within us, that we may wear the deeds which spring from it.

There are many holy medals and scapulars associated with different private revelations in the life of the Church. If we wore them all, we would clank as we walk and end up in a knot! Each of us will be called to live out a life of holiness in our own way. If we choose to wear a Scapular of the Sacred Heart, we do so as an outward sign of our inner choice to live in obedience to the King of Heaven, and to love as His Son, Jesus, loves. What matters is that we come to the Feast and put on our own wedding garment. Which one is yours to be?

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Champions of Team Heaven

Homily at St Philip Evans for the Solemnity of the Assumption, 2014

To win the Tour de FranceYellow Jersey with Blue Bar you need three things: the right kind of body, arduous training and a good team behind you.

Only one person can win the race and take the coveted yellow jersey.

If you had the misfortune to be born with the wrong kind of body, you might yet become a reasonable cyclist, but you won’t become the champion.

If you do have the right kind of body, but you don’t train hard, you still won’t become the champion.

Even talent and training together are not enough; winning also requires teamwork. Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome last year each became Tour de France champions because they were part of Team Sky – they were backed by other riders whose actions gave them the opportunity to break away for the lead at crucial stages of the race. These other team members, like Welsh rider Geraint Thomas, know that they’ll never have the glory of the yellow jersey – yet victory for their team-mate is victory for the whole team.

Today’s celebration is like the final stage of the Tour de France. Most of the competition is already settled; the winner, clad in a golden robe, cycles up to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to the adulation of the cheering crowd. The Bible also speaks of the task of getting to heaven as a race, and today we celebrate the greatest champion ever to have been born of a human father, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Just as a champion racer is born with innate talent and body-structure, so Blessed Mary from her mother’s womb was preserved free from sin and its effects by the miracle we call the Immaculate Conception.

Just as a champion racer trains hard each day, so Blessed Mary had to decide each day to do God’s will. At certain seasons of her life, this wasn’t so easy: consider the months when people thought she was an adulterous woman; the years she spent in exile in Egypt; the weeks when she fretted over the strange reports of the things her Son was saying and doing; and the final hours spent at the foot of the Cross. Through all of this, Mary proclaimed, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done according to God’s will.”

Just as a champion racer relies on the support of their team, so Mary didn’t succeed alone. When Jesus was an infant, she was supported by Joseph; during the Lord’s adult ministry she was accompanied by other women who accepted his message; before He died on the cross, he entrusted her to the care of St John.

Today, we celebrate the triumphal entry of our Blessed Mother into the halls of heaven. It is a lap of honour; the woman clothed with the sun takes her place amid the cheering of throngs of saints. It’s a moment of pure glory, and worth our turning out today for a celebration. But in celebrating Mary, we’re celebrating all the members of Team Heaven – it is not for nothing that the final mystery of the rosary is the Coronation of Mary, Queen of Heaven AND the glory of all the saints.

We will not finish the race in first place. Not one of us will displace Blessed Mary from her unique achievement. But this is about glory for the team. With Mary, we can triumph! She is on our team, praying for us, inspiring us to endure difficulties and aspire to greater things.

A champion is made from the gifts they have been given. Not one of us is conceived without sin, but all of us who have been baptised and confirmed have been filled by the Holy Spirit; each one of us have gifts which God has given us to use in the service of the parish and the wider community. Inspired by Mary, let us ask: how are we using our gifts?

A champion is made by a daily routine of training. In the Christian life, we call these, virtues, the good habits and attitudes which we get better at, the more we practice them. Inspired by Mary, let us ask: what kind of person do I want to be in God’s sight?

A champion is made in a disciplined team. As members of a parish, we are called to give moral support and practical help to encourage one another in the race to heaven. Everyone who crosses the line is a winner, but the greatest prizes are reserved for those who help others along the way. Inspired by Mary, let us ask: how am I blessing the other members of this parish?

This is our feast! This is our victory celebration for all members of Team Heaven. Let us rejoice in Mary’s glory, for where she leads, we shall also follow. All we have to do is choose, each day, to keep riding with the team!

O Mary, Champion of Team Heaven – pray for us!

Plunging in Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So…

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

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

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

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

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

More or Less?

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the Vigil Mass of Pentecost, 2013, using the first reading from Ezekiel (the valley of dry bones)A glass, half full of water, and a large jug, brimful of water, stand on a white cloth behind which is a red cloth embroidered with the white dove of the Holy Spirit descending.

Sometimes, I think the glass is half-empty.

Sometimes, I think the glass is half-full.

Never mind the glass! Look how much water is available in the jug!

Tonight, the beginning of the celebration of Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the Church’s birthday, for it was the coming of the Holy Spirit which united the Christians into a bold community of servants of Jesus Christ. I think it’s appropriate, therefore, to look around and see what we can see.

Sometimes, I think the glass is half-empty. The bones are dry and dessicated. The whole of creation is subject to frustration. We see fewer children coming forward for the sacraments. We see our congregation shrinking, and not many younger adults getting involved in church. We wonder whether we can afford to pay the church gas bill, or carry out necessary repairs. At the national level, we’re painfully aware of the errors of judgment made by some of the leaders of our church. We are tempted to worry!

Sometimes, I think the glass is half-full. We have structures, just as Ezekiel’s dry bones managed to form themselves into structures. We have enough volunteers to run a First Holy Communion programme – just.  We have enough volunteers to run a Confirmation programme – just. We keep the essentials going. We have a few people enquiring about becoming full members of the Catholic Church. And every weekend, more than 200 people pass through the doors of St John Lloyd church to worship God. Yes, the glass is half-full. We have reason to be optimistic.

The trouble is, we keep looking at the glass.

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”

Did you get that?

Our Lord did not say it in a whisper.

Our Lord did not slip it into the middle of a sermon so we could lose focus.

Our Lord stood in the heart of Jerusalem, raised his voice, and cried out: I’ve got what you’ve been looking for… but you have to come and get it! And taking hold of this requires both faith, and courage!

When the breath of God entered Ezekiel’s dry bones, they came to life. But they needed more than life – they needed hope. So Ezekiel proclaimed to them: The Lord will give you life and re-establish you!

St Paul knew that not even the coming of God’s Spirit will make this life perfect on earth. He acknowledged that yes, we must be patient until perfection comes in heaven. But St Paul also challenges us to hope – to take hold of a firm confidence that God will prevail in the end. In another place (Ephesians 3:19-20), Paul reminds us that we can be filled with the utter fullness of God, and that God’s power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine!

So what is Jesus saying to us and our church this evening? If you believe in me, come and drink deeply of the Holy Spirit! Don’t let your imagination be limited by the way you’ve experienced church in the past, or by the prospects of decline which seem to be all around. Expect that God can do so much more in you and through you.

Now there’s a challenge!

Will you let God’s Holy Spirit use you to invite others to be part of God’s church?

Will you let God’s Holy Spirit use you to be an active member of this parish, making God’s love present in this building and in the world around us?

Will you dare to ask God’s Spirit to make his home in you anew this night, so that you can move beyond what is comfortable, and allow God to do more than you can ask or imagine in your life?

Many Catholics have done this in ages past. They have founded religious orders, raised holy families, sheltered refugees, spoken out against oppression and refused to deny their faith, even until death. We call them saints. And many Catholics do this in own age. They do this by adopting children, volunteering as part of the SVP, knocking on the doors of lapsed Catholics, taking part in pro-life demonstrations, or sharing their faith around the watercooler at work. We call them, ordinary Christians, aware of the high standard of holiness to which all God’s children are called.

If the challenge I have just thrown out excites you, yet leaves you doubting that you have the means to respond, understand what Jesus is offering. You cannot do any of these mighty works on your own. But the gifts of the Holy Spirit, entrusted to you when you were confirmed, will enable you to do all the works which God is inviting you to undertake. So in this Year of Faith, focus on what will sustain your faith in the work of the Church.

Is the glass half-empty? Yes, it is, but if we focus on that we will be tempted to despair.

Is the glass half-full? Yes it is, but if we focus on that, we will be tempted to settle for being a mediocre church.

Is Jesus offering us as much living water as we can handle?

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” So ask the Lord for living water. Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of our Church!