Tell Me About Jesus!

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

“Tell me about Jesus!”

How would you answer if someone asked you that question?

Perhaps even more important, is where would you get your information?

Jesus went to his home town. That would be Capernaum, on the shores of Lake Galilee. If you go there today, there’s a church on stilts, shaped like a flying saucer, perched over what we believe was the house of Simon Peter. Just a stone’s throw away is the ruin of a synagogue – perhaps the very synagogue where Jesus spoke in today’s passage.

Note that it wasn’t Nazareth. The people there didn’t know the extraordinary story of the Virgin Mary’s miracle baby.

It wasn’t the pagan town of the Gerasenes, where Jesus had just cast a demon out of an afflicted man. The people hadn’t seen him do that.

It wasn’t the town Jesus was in last week, where he healed the Synagogue leader’s daughter and a bleeding woman. The people here hadn’t seen that either.

What the people of Capernaum did know was that Jesus was a local workman, and they knew his family. “Don’t we know his brothers and sisters? Who does this one think he is?”

We, too, get a partial view of Jesus.

How many of us have read the four Gospels all the way through?

How many of us have read Pope Benedict’s wonderful three-volume work on who Jesus is?

Is your Jesus a traditional “Sacred Heart” with doleful eyes and bleeding wounds?

Is your Jesus a reflection of Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ or a blue-eyed Robert Powell in Zeferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth?

Or perhaps your Jesus is a a swarthy Middle Easterner with a tangled beard, from when the BBC tried to reconstruct the “true face of Jesus” a few years ago?

If we only had today’s passage to go on, we might conclude that Jesus was from a large family with at least four brothers and two sisters. But if we also rely on information passed down orally, not written in the Bible – we call that Tradition – we conclude that Jesus was the only son of Mary, and these “brothers and sisters” were probably cousins, because the words for “brother” and “sister” were used quite loosely in those days. So if you end up in an argument with a Bible-believing Christian, relax. You can’t prove from just the Bible that Jesus was an only child, so don’t try.

“Tell me about Jesus!”

If you know your Bible well, you can tell me that He is the Lamb of God, the Bread of Life, the True Vine, the Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

If you’ve studied theology, you can tell me that he is the Second Person of the Divine Trinity, True Man and True God united in one person, yet with two wills, human and divine, in union.

Jesus humbled himself to be mocked by Pilate and then suffer death on a cross – he lowers himself so much that we have the rare word “abasement” in today’s prayers to say just how low he stooped for you.

If you know the history of private revelations, you will know He is the bearer of Sacred Heart, the Divine Mercy, and the one who bestowed stigmata on Sts Francis of Assisi and Pio of Pietrelcina.

But all of these things are rooted in the past. What if I asked you to tell me who Jesus Christ is in your life today?

Would you say he is your Lord – which means you obey his every word? Would you call him a Friend, or a Brother?

How do you feel about Jesus?

Perhaps you feel disturbed, because you know Jesus will confront the sin in your life. But do not be afraid, because he loves you so much he has already died for your sins. All he needs is your permission to pay the price for you, which you give him by making an honest confession.

Perhaps you feel concerned, because talking so directly about Jesus doesn’t feel very Catholic. Isn’t it easier to talk about being “part of the Church” and “taking Holy Communion” because these are comfortable Catholic things? But to be baptised as a member of the Church means being a cell in the Body of Jesus. And what is Holy Communion if not the very presence of the Body of Jesus? We might hide Jesus behind the language we use, but he is still there, waiting for us.

All our recent Popes, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, have challenged us to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. We’re stuck in a culture where Jesus is “he who must not be named”. We have to change the culture – unless we can talk freely about Jesus, how could anyone believe that we love Him?

Out of respect, we have tended to defer to Jesus and speak instead about “Our Lord”… but then we slide into “doing church” and losing sight of how the things we do are connected to Jesus. We need to find a middle way, a happy balance!

“Tell me about Jesus!” Tell me about the Person you will meet on the day when your earthly life comes to an end.

Will you meet him as a Judge who confronts you with your unconfessed sins?

Or will you meet a smiling Jesus who has already paid your debts and embraces you at the threshold of heaven?

If you don’t believe such a happy meeting is possible, where is your image of Jesus coming from?

I’d like you to get to know Jesus better. I’d like you to decide, today, to come to the Discovering Christ course we will run on seven Wednesdays in October and November. The clue is in the name – it’s a course about Jesus!

You don’t have to come. In fact, if you can spend one whole minute telling the person sitting next to you about who Jesus is, you don’t need to. But if you can’t, perhaps you need to Discover Christ before you can tell me about Jesus. Mark your diaries now!

A New Hope

ChristmasWrapperFrontHomily at St Philip Evans for Christmas Day 2015.

A long time ago, 
in a village far far away...

a child was born –  a child who was the subject of ancient prophecy. He was born at a time when a great Empire ruled over much of the known world. In a small province, one tribe resisted the imperial demands to worship their Emperor – the Jewish people. The Jewish child born at Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, would be the one, not to ‘bring balance to the Force’, but to deliver the ultimate triumph of light over darkness.

We remember certain films we’ve seen because they tell epic stories. The original Star Wars movie took a simple farm boy and showed how he succeeded in destroying a powerful enemy. In the sequels, Luke Skywalker set out to rescue his friends and even made a strong attempt to persuade his archenemy to abandon evil. As for a certain film released a week ago – no, no spoilers from me. But it’s no secret that the new film is called The Force Awakens.

We human beings tell three kinds of story to explain the way things are. Each story is an epic, but only one can be correct.

In the West, we’ve grown used to the epic story called Science. We study the world around us, and discover the rules by which it operates. Science is good, as far as it goes – I was a research scientist myself before I became a priest – but if science is all there is, this epic is a lonely story indeed. We humans are the only creatures on this planet – and perhaps the entire universe – capable of understanding and controlling the world around us. This story says: we’re on our own, we’re free to create our own moral values, and when our bodies turn to dust we live on only in the memories of our friends.

In the East, the great cultures of Asia have long told a different kind of story. Many believe there is a ‘force’, a ‘life-force’, known by many names – prana, ki, chi, bioenergy, a force which balances good and bad, light and dark, yin and yang. Healing practices such as Chinese medicine, reflexology, acupuncture and reiki all draw on these beliefs. No doubt George Lucas had some of these ideas in mind when he imagined ‘The Force’ in Star Wars.

Lucas’s Force can be used for good or for ill. What distinguishes the ‘Dark Side’ from the Jedi way? The evil Empire seeks to control its citizens, but those who walk in the light respect the freedom of others.

The third epic story is the one we celebrate tonight. It tells how the ultimate power in the Universe is not a Force but a person, the one we call God. Jews, Christians and Muslims all speak of a God who is Good, and though there are dark forces in God’s creation, they are not equal to God in power.

What we celebrate on this Christmas Night is the awakening of a person, a newborn child. The Bible calls him the “Word of God”. When God, the Father of Mercy, wanted to speak to us, his beloved people, he sent part of His own being among us. God knows that we understand the language of stories, so God became part of the Greatest Story Ever Told.

Our Christmas story is full of drama. Would the pregnant Virgin Mary be rejected by St Joseph? Would the wicked King Herod find and destroy the new-born child? At every stage, God-made-flesh is in mortal danger. A chorus of angels fills the sky, but then a small family sets out on a lonely journey to become refugees in Egypt. And what we celebrate at Christmas is only the first reel. In a few months we’ll be invited to two sequels – on Good Friday, The Devil Strikes Back, followed on Easter Sunday by The Return of Jesus.

Our Christian story is indeed epic – but what’s the moral of the tale? To help us grasp the message, Pope Francis has declared the year now beginning a Year of Mercy. Outside every Catholic Church in Cardiff you will see a banner, ‘No-one is excluded from God’s mercy’. Because God’s light comes into the world, says the prophet Isaiah, our boodstained battlegear will be burned. When the light of Christ shines in our human hearts, we let go of old resentments and become ready to make peace. We open the door so that others can find mercy.

Some of us here tonight will feel that we are not worthy of God’s love because who we are, or something we’ve done in our life, doesn’t deserve it. Foolish we are, if that we believe! Rather, listen to these words from the Letter of St Paul to Titus:

When the kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us.

This is God’s gift to you this Christmas. Hear these words: You are loved.

God loved you so much that he sent part of his own being to walk among us, and to die an agonising death on a Cross of wood, to show what he was willing to endure for you.

Yet if the God of the Universe is all-powerful and all-good, why is there so much trouble in our world? We have already glimpsed the answer – if the hallmark of the Dark Side is that it seeks to control others, those who walk in the light must be free to choose for themselves – free to choose even to turn the darkness, or to turn away from it.

The God who respects our freedom asked the Virgin Mary if she would consent to bear His Son into our world. She said yes.

The God who respects our freedom allowed Jesus to choose whether to give his life for us. He sweated tears of blood in his agony at Gethsemane, but he said yes.

The God who respects our freedom sent out disciples into all the world, to tell the epic story of the Christ Child who came among us, to invite us not only to follow his teachings but to become members of God’s family through baptism and know God through prayer. Pope Francis continues this same work by inviting you to baptism, to confession, and to walk through a door which is open for you – and you will find these invitations on the card which you hold in your hands.

Tonight, then, decide which story you will believe. Is there nothing more than human ingenuity? Is there a Force we can use for dark or noble purposes? Or did a loving God who respects our freedom live among us as a new born baby?

In a galaxy far far away, the children of light wish each other well by crying, “The Force be with you!” But those who are wise to the message of the Star of Bethlehem will understand the deep meaning of an ancient Christian greeting: The Lord be with you!

(And with your spirit!)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Amen.

 

Small Victories

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B.

The Seven Word Sermon: Celebrate Small Victories. Jesus surpasses Moses quietly!

And God said: I will send you a prophet like Moses! And lo! Jesus appeared among us.

Moses called down ten plagues on Egypt! Jesus stopped James and John from calling down fire on Samaria.

Moses parted the sea – thousands of Israelites were saved, and thousands of Egyptians were drowned. Jesus calmed a storm for the sake of a dozen troubled disciples.

Moses presented the whole Israelite nation with manna from heaven six days a week for forty years. Jesus fed two crowds of 5000 and 4000 with bread and fish.

Moses went up a mountain and received ten Commandments. Jesus sat on a mountain and proclaimed eight Beatitudes.

Under Moses, Israel was led for 40 years by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Over Jesus, the voice of the Father was heard twice, at his Baptism and again on the Mountain of Transfiguration.

Compared to Moses, I can’t help feeling that Jesus performed God’s work on a rather smaller stage. Indeed, we know that Jesus was tempted to perform public spectacles. Turn stones into bread? Have angels catch him as he stage-dived from the parapet of the Temple? He could have done both, but it wasn’t what he was about.

Jesus shows us what it is to be truly human. Few of us will be called to the dizzy heights of leading a nation in exile. All of us will feel angry, fearful or hungry at times. So although what Jesus does is less impressive on the world stage, it’s much more important for our daily lives. We are assured of God’s forgiveness, God’s comfort and God’s guidance in the trials which we all face.

We find less assurance in St Paul’s words today, which might give the impression that God isn’t in favour of regular family life. Paul seems to be saying: “You can get married and focus on the things of this world, or you can stay single and do what God really wants.” But if you read one of the verses just before today’s passage, Paul does say he is only giving his own personal advice, not God’s commands; and bear in mind that St Paul is an unmarried man who has had a radical conversion experience and become a travelling missionary relentlessly wearing down his shoe leather across the eastern Mediterranean! Nevertheless, there is some wisdom in what he says.

In a marriage where both partners are not equally committed Christians, there will be tensions which force the more committed spouse to choose between God and their husband or wife. How much time should be given to prayer, at church or in the home? How much money should be offered to the Church each week?  What ethical values should be taught to the children? St Paul is an idealist, and abhors the idea of a Christian spouse compromising on what they might give to God for the sake of peace at home.

Some followers of Jesus will choose not to marry, precisely so that they can devote all their life’s energy to continuous prayer or service of the poor. The lives of those called to be celibate, because this is a counter-cultural choice, will be powerful signs that God’s Kingdom is present on earth.

On the other hand, I think if St Paul were alive today, he would also say there’s a powerful Christian example we can give by being faithful to marriage. When bride and groom choose to live apart until their wedding day, this speaks volumes. When one of us is drawn into a conversation about modern life, we can gently but firmly express our belief that married people must choose to make many sacrifices for the sake of staying together, short of exposing themselves to actual harm, because that is what the wedding vows require.

Marriage always requires daily compromises. Sometimes this means that a partner has to make a permanent sacrifice – setting aside their own pet way of doing something, their daydream of how it SHOULD be…and never drawing attention to the matter again. In marriage, and in daily life, it is the small victories which matter.

St Mark gives us today’s story of Jesus casting out a demon because he wants us to know that Jesus has power to overcome evil and darkness. We, too , face a struggle with temptation – not in the form of a screaming demon, but of that small selfish voice inside of us which suggests we should put our own needs first.

We can win many small victories every day. We can choose to smile when an ageing parent rings us for the fourteenth time this week. We can get on with the laundry and the cleaning as a labour of love. We can pick up the phone and call a friend who is in need. We can do the tasks that need doing with good grace; and when something good happens beyond our control, we can rejA posse of angels on one shoulder prepare to overpower the demon on the otheroice and give thanks to God.

It is Jesus, not Moses, who shows us the path. Curb your anger, however frustrated you get. Be a peacemaker in troubled times. Give freely of what you have to those in need. Live out the eight Beatitudes. Live as a true child of God-the-Father. Live a life marked not by mighty spectacles, but by small victories. Listen to your better nature, not the inner voice of selfishness, and you will be victorious – with victories so small that only God and yourself are aware of the inner battle which have taken place. Then you too will be greater than Moses!

The Voice

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Year B.

The Seven Word Sermon: Follow Jesus only. Reject New Age counterfeits!man-in-chair

Are you ready for, The Voice?

The TV version of ‘The Voice’ has a few celebrities listening to an unseen singer. When one likes what they hear, that one will turn around and choose a candidate to put their faith in.

Among celebrities, there are goodies and baddies. If your name is Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay, expect lots of stories about what a so-and-so you are. But some celebrities on The Voice are portrayed as ‘goodies’, so you’ll only hear about how they have helped coach their chosen candidate for stardom.

The media also portrays our Church as having goodies and baddies. Pope Francis is definitely a goody. So when he says, ‘Who am I to judge?’ you hear all about it. On the other hand, you won’t hear much reported about the Pope speaking about abortion, though he has said clearly that it is wrong in all circumstances.

These days, Jesus is a goody, too. Most people know that Jesus healed sick people, talked about love, and hung out with those polite society rejected. It’s all true! But that’s only half the story. Today, God’s voice boomed over the water: ‘This is my Son! My favour rests on Him!’

This means we must pay attention to the words Jesus said as well as the things he did. And Jesus said lots of deep things about Himself. ‘I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No-one comes to the Father except through me!’

These words are very specific, and specific words are more important than general ones. If you were a guest in someone’s home, and your host said said, ‘Make yourself at home here, but please don’t go into my study,’ you couldn’t use the excuse that you had been told you were welcome, in order to go into the study. It’s the same with Jesus. There’s a lot of love, a lot of forgiveness, but some very clear DON’Ts as well.

Jesus is God’s Son. He is God’s clearest Word to us. And He is the only one we can follow to reach Heaven. The early Christians knew this when they composed the prayer which has come down to us as the Gloria. Most Sundays we proclaim:

  • You alone are the Holy One!
  • You alone are the Lord!
  • You alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, in the glory of God the Father!

These aren’t just words. They have practical consequences.

Suppose you are invited to friend’s religious wedding ceremony, or to prayers that they say at home, but their religion is not Christian. Can you take part in their prayers? No. We can certainly attend, and be a silent and respectful presence, but that’s as far as we can go.

At a Muslim ceremony, the prayers always affirm that Mohammad is a true prophet of God. But we can’t say Amen to that, because Mohammad taught that Jesus wasn’t God. WE believe He is God just as much as His Father is God.

In a Hindu home, a family might conduct a Puja ceremony to one of the Hindu gods. If we took part in that, we would be saying that one of their gods was a true god. But we believe that Jesus alone is Lord. So WE couldn’t do that without denying Jesus.

The good news is that we don’t have to worry about eating foods connected with other religions. St Paul taught us clearly that food itself cannot harm us as long as we say grace over it. It doesn’t matter if meat is kosher or halal, or food has been used in Hindu or Sikh ceremonies, as long as we pray thanks to Jesus before we eat.

In ancient Rome, before Christianity became legal, if you were suspected of being a Christian, the authorities might arrest you and ask you to offer incense to honour the Emperor as a god. If you gave in and did it, you would be excommunicated from the Church. In those days, it was regarded as one of the three big sins, along with murder and adultery, which only the bishop could forgive!

We worship Jesus alone. This isn’t just arguing about words. It has consequences. Jesus gives us these rules for our own spiritual protection. If we pray to a god who is not Jesus, His Father, or the Holy Spirit, we are seeking to make a connection with something spiritual other than God – and the other spirits which exist don’t care about our well-being. The pulpit is not a place to share bad news stories, but I know of plenty of cases where people have found their peace disturbed because they opened their lives to negative spirits.

Some of you may have tried out different kinds of alternative medicine. Not all of these things are problematic, but we do need to be careful. There are treatments with names like reiki or bioenergy which quite explicitly claim to be rebalancing your spiritual energies. Others are more subtle, but if you ask the practitioners why they do certain things in reflexology, say,  or acupuncture, they may give a similar explanation. Sometimes the therapist will even say that what they are doing is using ‘Christ energy’.

Beware! Not everything done using the name of Christ is Christian! If someone talks about ‘Christ energy’ or ‘Christ consciousness’, ask them what they mean. If they tell you that ‘Christ’ is the force of love who worked through Jesus, Buddha and Mohammad, run a mile! St John knew better. If we have Christian faith, we recognise that Jesus, the baby born at Bethlehem, the man baptised in the Jordan by John, the Saviour of the World slain at Calvary, he and he alone is Christ. It’s God’s Holy Spirit working in our heart that makes us confident about who Jesus is. This is why St John says that faith ‘overcomes the world’.

Some voices in the world say it doesn’t matter whether we follow Jesus. Other voices in the world say that ‘Christ energy’ is in all sorts of places. There are many voices on offer. Which voice will you spin your chair for? I’m only going to spin MY chair round when I hear that loving yet demanding voice which says, ‘I am the way. No one comes to heaven but through me.’

If you are concerned about the issues concerned in this sermon, please consult the New Age section of my website.

The Absence of God

Rublev's icon of three angels around a table, representing the TrinityHomily at St Philip Evans for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.

Today, I’d like to talk about God.

This is not as easy as it seems!

There are two problems with talking about God. The first one is being clear about who we are talking about.

Our Lord, Jesus, called his heavenly Father, “God”. Usually, when we read the Gospels, the name “God” points to “God-the-Father”. But we believe in one God who exists as three persons: the Father, who loves us; Jesus the Son, who died for us; and God the Holy Spirit, who lives within us. So when we hear the name, “God”, we must always pause and ask ourselves what is meant: the Person whom Jesus called Father, or the common nature shared by Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

The second problem is what we are talking about. Sometimes, when we hear the name, “God”, our mind is filled with all kinds of ideas which don’t really match what Jesus came to teach us. Is God a faceless cosmic force like the one in Star Wars? No. Is God an old man with a beard looking down on us from a cloud? No. Is God just a label for the ideas contained in the Bible? No. God exists as three persons who love us very much, three persons who invite us into friendship. The Russian artist, Rublev, depicted God as three angels around a table, and a place open at the fourth side for us for us to join them. Now that’s a good image for God!

Next I’d like to talk about the absence of God. Sometimes, it seems that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not there when we need Them. Today’s Gospel ends by Jesus showing his divine power – not only does He calm the storm and walk on water, but He announces Himself to the disciples in the words “It is I” – a powerful expression, equivalent to God telling Moses his name was “I Am Who Am”. But if this is a story about Jesus showing us that He is God in human form, let’s backtrack and read the story again. I’m going to add a twist – wherever Jesus does something, I will put in the name, “God”.

The story begins with God sending the disciples away. They are doing what God wants, but they are alone at sea when a terrible storm starts battering the boat. They cry out to God – but God is back on shore, praying. God is also very close to them, loving them, but they do not notice that in their fear.

Eventually God does come to them, but they are scared to see Him coming. Peter cries out, “God, let me do what you do!” – and for a few moments he succeeds. But he soon finds that it’s not easy playing God, and so the true God has to rescue him.

The Prophet Elijah had a similar experience. God said: “Go outside and wait for me.” Elijah endured an earthquake, a mighty wind, and fire, before God turned up in a moment of calm.

As for Peter and Elijah, so there are times in our lives when God seems far away. Perhaps we’re enduring a long illness, or some ongoing conflict at work. In particular, when someone we love dies, we look for someone to blame, and God seems an easy target. God could have healed that person, and didn’t. So it must be God’s fault that they are dead. And as soon as that thought enters our head, it becomes much more difficult to love God, because who could love a person who has robbed you of a loved one? But God is not present to us in the earthquake which has rocked our lives, or the storm of confusion which follows, or the fire of anger which is a natural part of loss. We only re-connect with God when we find our balance again.

Even being a churchgoer, or a friend of God, doesn’t protect us from being tested. Such trials come even though we’ve followed the direction God has set for us. We can take comfort in knowing that the Bible also promises us that we will not be tested more than we can bear. Even so, God will test us. God challenges us saying, “Ye of little faith, why did ye doubt?” If we have faith, we will endure until the peace of God returns. And through all of this, we are very much loved by God, as a parent loves their growing and wandering child.

Those of you who are parents know that at a certain age, your children will go out into the world and you will no longer be able to protect them from all their mistakes. In the same way, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit allow us to live in this world with all its trials, knowing that we will be tempted to blame Them. So today, may I invite you to forgive God for not living up to your hopes and expectations? If the fire of anger still burns in your heart towards the Father Almighty, it is only when you forgive Him that you can experience the calm place of meeting. If the mighty winds of the storms of life surround you, call out to Jesus; he will come and calm the storm, in His own time. If the earthquake is just beginning, call upon the Holy Spirit to abide in your heart with His gifts of patience, self-control and the ability to endure. God will be there for you when the storm has passed. Have faith! Let God be God! And when the storm passes, Jesus will also be holding you above the waves.

So I invite you to forgive God for allowing you to be tested. Your God is too small! The Great God hidden in Jesus Christ will invite you to go on adventures where you may not always experience God’s presence, but remember Rublev’s icon: you will always be invited to return to the place set for you at God’s table. Come now, let us dine at the Lord’s Supper.

Take Care of Your Local Parish!

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

Episode 5 of 5 in our current series, Knowing and Following Jesus.
Jesus stands in the distance, waving. Bemused listeners hold survey slips saying

[This is the version for Sunday morning Mass.]

When Jesus had a task which needed doing, he did not ask for volunteers.

He looked at those who were following him, and appointed 72 of them to do the work.

There are more than 72 of us here this morning – probably about 120.

We represent 50% of the active Catholics in Trowbridge and St Mellons.

If God has work for his Catholic people to do in our parish, we represent half the workforce.

More than that, ONLY those of us who are here this morning, can make this morning’s gathering what God wants it to be. We represent 100% of the people God has called to this morning’s Mass, and nearly 100% of the people who regularly come here on Sunday mornings.

Our goal is to make this Mass the best place to be in Trowbridge on a Sunday morning. It should be a place where people want to come – where people want to stay. If it is going to be easy for parents with small children to attend, it is because we, here and now, are providing Children’s Liturgy and kindergarten facilities. If it is a welcoming environment, it is because we are the welcomers and ministers of the environment. If there were refreshments afterwards, it would be us who were providing them.

Now, I don’t know which 72 of you to appoint, because I am not yet familiar with all our gifts and talents. So for the next few minutes I am going to invite you to fill in a questionnaire. It’s in two parts, a white sheet about ways you might assist our parish community, and a blue sheet – which will not have your name on it – to help me take the spiritual temperature of our parish. I am asking each one of you to be generous in your answers on the white form. Some of the questions are about things that are done apart from Mass, and require a bit of your time. But many roles take place during this Mass, and need little extra time, only a willingness to help. For instance – it would make it much easier for parents with small children to attend this Mass if we could offer a Children’s Liturgy or a kindergarten every week. But the only people who could make this happen tonight are here sitting on the pews right now. As Parish Priest, I can make training and moral support available – but only you can provide the hands to do the work.

Did you notice in the Gospel that immediately after telling his followers to “pray for labourers for the harvest”, Jesus said, “By the way, you are the answer to your own prayer?”

Dear friends in St John Lloyd, because you love this parish, because this is your church, please fill in these forms as honestly and generously as you can. I would like each person present aged 10 or above to fill in their own form, because each one of us has something to offer. When we take the collection, the collectors will also gather the responses which you offer, as your personal gift to building up this parish. There will be separate baskets for the blue and the white forms, so you can be confident that the blue form is truly anonymous. The harvest of St John Lloyd in the years to come depends on the seed you will plant today.

The Healthy Madness of Christians

St Peter and St Paul (as they appear in the coat of arms of the Polish City of Biecz)Homily at St John Lloyd, for The Solemnity of St Peter and St Paul, 2013.

Episode 4 of 5 in our current series, Knowing and Following Jesus.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been taking a fresh look at Jesus.

Today we return to where we began – our awareness that when Jesus enters a person’s life, he often makes uncomfortable demands.

We are offered two prime examples in St Peter and St Paul. Both died in Rome, probably around the year AD 64. According to tradition, Peter asked to be crucified upside down, feeling unworthy to die as Jesus died; Paul, as a Roman Citizen, was privileged to be beheaded.

So ended the lives of two souls whom Jesus asked to follow him. To each of them, Jesus gave a new identity. Simon, the hasty fisherman, became Peter, the rock of the Church. Saul, the persecutor of Christians, became Paul, the preacher of Christ.

To each of them, suffering came on the path of following Christ. We’ve just heard the account of how Peter spent some nights in jail – God sent the angel to rescue him on the last possible night, not the first! And when we read, in the Epistle, that “the Lord will rescue me from all evil attempts on me”, we might recall that Paul was beaten and whipped – numerous times – frequently imprisoned, three times shipwrecked and once stoned during his journeys preaching Christ. Despite all this, St Paul persevered – because he had a mission, to encourage all who would listen to also persevere in the work of following Jesus.

In May, Pope Francis – the successor of St Peter – highlighted St Paul’s capacity for “being a nuisance” — unsettling Christians who had become too comfortable in their faith, stirring up in them the kind of zeal which is essential to move the Church forward.

Such zeal, said Pope Francis, might sound like madness, but it’s a “spiritual madness, a healthy madness.” It can lead to persecution, but even so, we cannot be “couch-potato Christians”, cozy in our comfort zones. Such cozy Christians “are well mannered, do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and apostolic zeal.”

Are you hearing this? Are you getting the message? Pope Francis is telling us that there is no room in our church for backseat Christians. Each and every one of us is called to be active for Jesus!

Two weeks ago, the homily focussed on Jesus as the man who forgives sins. If we feel unworthy to work for God, there is a remedy at hand: we take our sins to Jesus (through confession to a priest if the sins are serious) and Jesus gives us a fresh start.

Last week, the homily challenged us to decide for ourselves if we really believe that Jesus is God’s messenger to humanity, and the Saviour who died to pay the price for our sins.

This week, following Pope Francis’ lead, I want to invite each and every one of us to make a decision to do God’s work on earth. In his sermon, the Pope reminded us that the Lord “always wants us to move forward, forward, forward,” and not take refuge in a comfortable, quiet life. He reminds us that this kind of zeal is not about gaining power or possessions. It’s the strong beat of a heart which knows Jesus Christ.

Jesus came to Peter in person when he was fishing on the shores of Lake Galilee.

Jesus came to Paul in a vision on the road to Damascus.

None of us alive today can have met Jesus in the flesh; few of us will ever experience the kind of vision which St Paul had. But it’s possible for all of us to have a quieter encounter with Jesus, the kind of spiritual experience which moves us from understanding in our heads to knowing in our hearts, that Jesus is a loving presence even today. If we haven’t ever had that kind of heart-experience, stories of martyrs like Peter and Paul will frighten us – who would want to be a Christian if it leads to pain, persecution, or martyrdom? But once we receive the gift, in our hearts, of knowing that Jesus loves us, forgives our sins, and calls us to be his hands, feet and voice in the world, then we will become unstoppable!

You are not called to be Peter or Paul. Yours is not the role of filling a chair in the Vatican, or travelling around the Mediterranean, preaching. But you are called to do something for God that only you can do. You have a mission to perform, for which you are uniquely qualified. It is not easy, but not impossible. It is the challenge which God has chosen for you, and if you rise to it, on the day God calls you to himself, you will hear the most wonderful words we could hope to hear from our Master: “Well done good and faithful servant!”

Today’s celebration marks the end of the earthly journey for St Peter and St Paul. It might also mark the beginning of a new chapter for some of us present at Mass today. If you have never experienced the presence of Jesus in a way that gives you courage to do God’s work in the world, if you want to respond to Pope Francis’ call to move the Church forward, then in this moment of silence now, ask Jesus – the same Jesus who called St Peter and St Paul – to speak to your heart, and to give you a share in that same confidence which moved those princes of the Church to do such great things for God.

With thanks to Deacon Rigo Logier for pointing me to the relevant homily by Pope Francis.