Everyday Saints


Fra Angelico's The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and MartyrsHomily at St Philip Evans, for The 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

“Don’t you realise that God wants you to become a saint?”

Think about that for a moment. It’s a comment I often throw into a conversation. I know what the answer is likely to be: “Oh no! Not me! I could never be a saint.”

I think that most of us have decided that there are three kinds of people in this world.

First, there are saints: – great heroes of generosity like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta; women and men of deep prayer, like St Therese of Lisieux; and martyrs, like St Philip Evans – or the 81 men, women and children killed when a bomb exploded in a church in Pakistan last Sunday.

Then there are ordinary Catholics, people like you and me, who don’t do heroic deeds but get on with ordinary daily life.

And there are rotters like the filthy rich scumbag who never fed the beggar at his gates and got what he deserved when he died.

Think again! If saints go to heaven, and rotters go to hell, where do ordinary Catholics go?

In the story Jesus told, Lazarus, the beggar, went to heaven. Jesus doesn’t say that Lazarus did any remarkable kind deeds. His life was mostly suffering and misery. But God, who blesses the poor and lowly, takes him into heaven. That can mean only one thing: Lazarus is a saint.

When Blessed John Paul II addressed crowds of millions of young people, he frequently said to them: “Do not be afraid to be saints of the new millennium.” What did he mean by this? He spelled it out in these terms:

Pray.

Listen to God’s Word.

Draw strength from God through Holy Communion and by receiving absolution by confessing your sins to a priest.

Show that human life is valuable from conception until natural death by your words and actions.

Serve your brothers and sisters – that is, look after the needs of the other members of your church community.

Forgive others.

Where you see injustice in the world around you, do something about it.

Make peace with others.

Know what the Catholic faith teaches, and live it out consistently.

When Pope Benedict XVI visited Britain and spoke to young people three years ago, he also invite them to become saints, saying “We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone…  Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts. Not only does God love us with a depth and an intensity that we can scarcely begin to comprehend, but he invites us to respond to that love.”

Once we come to know God’s love, he added, “You begin to feel compassion for people in difficulties and you are eager to do something to help them. You want to come to the aid of the poor and the hungry, you want to comfort the sorrowful, you want to be kind and generous. And once these things begin to matter to you, you are well on the way to becoming saints.”

St Paul gave similar advice to Timothy in today’s second reading. “Be saintly”, he said, showing faith, love, patience, and gentleness. He called it “fighting the good fight”. There is a battle raging within us – a battle which we lose whenever we put our selfish needs first. It is a battle which we win whenever we choose God’s will and treat others with generosity and undeserved forgiveness.

We can support each other in the battle. We can encourage each other in good deeds. We can pray for each other. Did you notice what I prayed for all of you in today’s opening prayer? “Make those who hasten to attain your promises, heirs to heaven.” In other words I was praying for those of you present who choose to respond to God’s will quickly, to be blessed by going to heaven.

In this parish, for some years, you have prayed: “Lord, use me as you will.” But have you taken the next step? Have you sat down in private and prayed: “Lord, show me what your will is for me?” Have you tried to find the answer through reviewing the gifts and opportunities which God has given you? The Popes were speaking to young people. We may not be so young – and that makes the need to respond to God’s call all the more urgent!

Do not wait for a bolt from the blue. Jesus tells us that no-one will be raised from the dead to give a warning just to this rich man’s corrupt family. The only thing we have to prompt us is what we know already – that Jesus did rise from the dead and he left us this parable as a warning.

There are indeed three categories of people, but it works like this:

There are rotters, who do not heed God’s command – either from the voice of preachers, or from the voice of conscience bothering them within. Such persons are in real danger of spending eternity in Hell.

There are extraordinary saints, who are called to do rare things like founding religious orders, becoming Popes, or making missionary journeys to dangerous lands. Few of us will be called to these heights.

And there are everyday saints, who secure their place in heaven by – as St David once said – “being faithful in the little things”. So today I make an earnest recommendation to you: Become a saint. Be an extraordinary saint, or be an everyday saint, but either way, become a saint. Pray every day, love your neighbours and your enemies, live out your Catholic faith. After all, there’s only one alternative to becoming a saint, in the end, and I promise you this – you won’t like it!

Bring the Lost to Christ and His Church

The altar of St Philip Evans Church, dressed for EasterHomily at St Philip Evans, for The 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

“Go and find those who are lost, and bring them home.”

This parish is your spiritual home, and today, I begin to make it my home.

I’m delighted to begin my time as your parish priest with this Gospel.

What we’ve just heard proclaimed are parables of the Kingdom. That means, it is God speaking to us about the way he wants his friends on earth to live. In God’s Kingdom, we look for those who have lost their way, and bring them home. This isn’t negotiable. This Christian Community – in common with every Catholic parish – is called to reach out to those who have lost contact with Christ and His Church, and assure them that their home is HERE.

Those who are lost are welcome here.

Those who speak Welsh are welcome here.

Those who speak English are welcome here.

Those who use sign language are welcome here.

Those who are not Catholic are welcome here.

Those who struggle with their personal relationships, are welcome here.

Those who welcome others are welcome here.

In today’s second reading, from a letter to St Timothy, we hear St Paul reflecting on how he had once been an enemy of the Church. Now he is a member of the Christian community and a friend to the apostles. Only a community willing to embrace an enemy can achieve this! I wonder how many people back then said “We can’t have Paul – he is a spy, he will betray us!” But Christian good sense prevailed. Those early Christians were true to their calling to transform enemies into their friends.

Today, Home Mission Sunday, the whole Catholic Church across Wales and England is reflecting on how we help the lost and lapsed to find their place at home among us. As my first act of leadership, I declare that we, together, priest, deacon, and people, have a mission: we are to work together to bring the lost sheep of Christ back into the sheepfold of St Philip Evans Parish.

We are to reach the lost.

We are to reach those who once came to Mass, but stopped going.

We are to reach those who feel disappointed by this parish.

We are to reach those who feel disappointed by the Catholic Church as a whole.

And remember – disappointment does not mean the same as blame. We can be disappointed when others let us down – but we can also be disappointed when our own expectations are too high.

When we do reach the lost, what will we do with them?

We will invite them to join with us, to grow and learn as followers and worshippers of Jesus.

We are the Catholic people who serve Llanederyn, Pentwyn and Pontprennau, and those members of the wider community who choose to worship here.

As Catholics, we believe that Jesus did not leave us to work out his teachings alone, but set leaders over his church and promised that the Holy Spirit would guide them through the ages. We believe that this promise means that the Pope, in Rome, is guided by God when he teaches us about God, and about the behaviour which God expects of us.

That doesn’t mean that we have to believe that the Pope, or priests in general, are given any special protection from making unwise practical decisions. As a parish priest, I’ve made a few poor ones myself. The Lord allows us to learn by reflecting on our mistakes – but for the sake of unity in the Church, God asks us to give our leaders the benefit of the doubt as far as possible.

Today, I take up the role of being your new parish priest. I’m not going to use this sermon to introduce myself or tell my full life story – there would be too much to tell. Rather, I am inviting you to come a week Thursday, September 26th, either at 2 pm or after 7 pm Mass, when I’ll give you the story of how I became a Catholic, a doctor of astrophysics, how God led me to be a priest, and some of the more unusual things I’ve done in the course of my ministry. But I am very conscious that I am new to you and you are new to me – it’s going to take a little time for us to get to know each other.

Two things I would like to share with you today: First, that I am the kind of priest who asks questions and consults when possible, but makes executive decisions when necessary. There will be times when it is possible for me to consult widely before I make decisions. I’ll try to do that as much as possible. But there will also be times when an urgent decision is needed, or pressure of time means I can’t consult as widely as I like, and I’d be shirking my responsibility if I didn’t act there and then.

Second, I am not Tony Hodges. I’m not the kind of priest who is going to rush to make changes for the sake of proclaiming “I’m in charge” but some things will be immediately different simply because I am a different person with different gifts. Please give me a chance! When someone new comes along, one or two of us might be tempted to try a different parish, or give church a rest. Please resist that temptation! How can I learn the St Philip Evans way from you, if you are not here to teach me?

Because I need to learn from you, too, I am inviting us to spend a few hours together on the afternoon of Sunday 29th September. We can bring some lunch to share, I will say a little about the different kinds of things we need to do, to be the kind of Church God invites us to be, and then I will give the floor to leaders of the various parish groups so you can show me the ways in which St Philip Evans already carries out the work of Christ.

I know I have much to learn from all of you, but I know we have the same starting point in common. We are the Catholic Church which serves Llanederyn, Pentwyn and Pontprennau, and members of the wider community who choose to worship here. Here, the Eucharist is celebrated by a priest who has received from the successors of the apostles, the power to require bread and wine to become the true Body and Blood of Christ. Here, the message of Jesus, shaped by the successors of Peter, is taught to give life to the world.

You see, I’m excited about being a Catholic. 23 years ago I became a Catholic and made my first communion. About 18 years ago I started going to daily Mass because I knew in my heart that Jesus was calling me to draw closer to Him. I’m looking forward to that wonderful day at the end of my life when I will meet Jesus and hear him say “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Isn’t that a bit presumptuous? Not as long as I follow the Lord’s commands, which are made clear by the Bible and the Church. When I do fail, as long as I make a good confession and try my hardest to avoid falling back into the same behaviour, I need have no fear about meeting God. If God has particular tasks in my life that I am to do, it’s his job to make that clear to me – not mine to agonise about whether I am doing the right thing. Right now, God has made it clear, through Archbishop George, that I am to be the Parish Priest of St Philip Evans, and here I am.

When Benedict XVI became Pope, in his first homily he said: “Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” I echo those words today – each member of this parish is loved by God, and is needed in order for this parish to be all that God is inviting us to be.

At the end of the today’s Gospel stories, there’s a party. There’s a celebration that the lost sheep and the lost coin are back in their rightful place. But then what happens? If coins and sheep had human feelings, the found one, now just “one of the crowd” might realise they are no longer the special one. The 99 sheep or 9 coins, meanwhile, might feel jealous of the fuss that was made of the lost one in the first place. Within each of us, an anxious voice pipes up: “Do I matter to God?”

Jesus tells these stories so that we know YES, we do matter. Sometimes our needs are greater and God becomes more present to us. But in everyday living, we must remember that we are precious to God at all times. When we need to renew our confidence, we need only say: “The Good Shepherd loves me, and he knows my name.”

The Good Shepherd is Jesus. I stand here on his behalf, but it’s not possible for one man, one priest, to spend quality time with everyone who worships here, and the hundreds of children and parents associated with our schools. I will prioritise spending time with current and future leaders in our community; helping you, who are leaders among us, to support the whole community. This is a shared work – it’s not about building my kingdom, or your kingdom, but building Christ’s Kingdom here at St Philip Evans.

Often enough I have said “we Catholics”. I’m aware that some of us here today might not be Catholic, or might be Catholics who do not come to Holy Communion. If you are here to support a family member or friend who is Catholic, thank you for your commitment. If you are choosing to worship here even though you do not receive Holy Communion, thank you for your faithfulness. If at any time you wish to have a conversation about your situation, my door and my ears are open. And if you have been thinking for a long time about becoming Catholic and wonder how to take the next step, perhaps the RCIA group beginning after Mass this Thursday evening is the right place to explore that. I sometimes meet people who think “The Catholic Church wouldn’t want me to be a member.” You know what? They are always wrong! We’ll take anyone!

In today’s First Reading, we see Moses praying for the Israelites who have not kept God’s law. Moses loves them and wants them restored to friendship with God. Dear members of St Philip Evans, please keep in your prayers those who God will restore to our community, together with those God is inviting to become Catholics for the first time.

Please work with me to help our lapsed and lost re-take their places in this community, by praying for them, by welcoming them, and by being ready to live in peace with all who make their spiritual home here. Please work with me also to re-discover the joy of our Catholic faith, to discover that the teaching of our Church is life-giving even when it is challenging – and for this we may need a deeper appreciation of the difference between church teaching, which will always draw us closer to God, and the way the institutional church has operated in practice, which sometimes needs our forgiveness. Leaders within our community, please work with me and support those you lead with the same prayers and presence with which I will support you.

Last year, when I was sent to St John Lloyd, the Archbishop said it could be a short-term move. This year, he has made appointments as part of a long-term strategy for the city and the whole diocese. I am looking forward to being your parish priest at St Philip Evans for years to come. Much as I will try to learn the “St Philip Evans way”, I am bound to do things slightly differently, because I am a different person. So I ask you to give me a chance.

I’m told there’s a tradition in this parish that when the priest asks the congregation a question, they feel free to answer. So I am going to give it a go.

Will you work with me to help lost Catholics find their way home?

Would you like to discover a new excitement and security about being members of Christ’s Catholic Church?

I will respect the positions of responsibility already entrusted to members of this community. In return, will you bear with me as a I learn how to be your new parish priest?

We are a community loved by God, who has a different purpose for each one of us, and has given us all the gifts and skills we need to do things as individuals and as a parish. Together, let’s be God’s church in this place, at this time. Amen!