Who do you think you are?

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.A tree with six logos as fruit - think-bubble, hand, heart, pound sign, envelope, cross

Who do you think you are?

There’s a television programme by that name, which helps celebrities trace their family trees. This can be a risky business! Olympic rower Matthew Pinsent discovered that he was a descendent of King Edward the First! But consumer rights campaigner Esther Rantzen discovered that her great grandfather became a fugitive, accused of serious fraud!

The good news is that our family tree doesn’t define who we are. In the words of Jesus we hear today, we are told that we are “salt for the earth and light for the world”. If we read further in the New Testament, we find other passages which speak about who we are in Christ.

This is Good News! Jesus wants to give us our identity, our security, and our authority.

Did you stop for a moment as you entered this church to bless yourself with Holy Water? If you did, you reminded yourself that you were baptised “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. By baptism, you were made a member of the Body of Christ and adopted as a son in God’s family – yes ladies, that includes you too! You are the body of Christ and individually members of it (I Cor 12:27): your baptism gives you your identity in Christ.

As members of Christ’s body, we are invited to receive His Body and Blood in Holy Communion. Just before we come forward for communion, we pray the Lord’s Prayer. We ask for our “daily bread”. But what are we asking for? One meaning is “give us what we need for life today”. Jesus told us not to be anxious about the basics of life because our Heavenly Father knows all our needs (Mt 6:24-34). But the word we translate as “daily” has two meanings in Greek, and St Jerome – who made the first great translation of the Bible into Latin – couldn’t decide which one was meant. In his version of St Matthew’s Gospel he chose the other possible translation – give us today our supernatural bread, the bread which has come down from heaven. We believe that every time we receive Holy Communion, our venial sins are forgiven and we are re-connected to Heaven, receiving the Bread of Life which we must eat to inherit eternal life (Jn 6:36-69). Receiving Holy Communion gives you your security in Christ.

To be a full member of the Catholic Church, you must receive three sacraments: Baptism, Holy Communion, and Confirmation. Here in the West, we usually wait until the age of about 13 for confirmation. But in Kerala, where it is called the “sacrament of anointing”, it is given to babies when they are baptised. In both East and West, the minister declares that this is a “seal” of the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the ancient word a seal was used in the way we use an identity card or passport today. But it’s not our own identity card – it’s God’s! And when we are sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit, God promises us power to be his representative in the church and in the world. It was that power St Paul was writing about in his letter today. Being anointed with Chrism gives you your authority in Christ.

So who do you think you are?

Jesus thinks you are the salt of the earth. You have the power to make the world around you a better place, just as salt can cure meat and grit treacherous paths.

Jesus thinks you are the light of the world. That’s high praise, coming from Him! In St John’s Gospel (8:12) He called Himself the Light of the World, and said that if we followed him, we would make it to Heaven. Wow! That’s a challenge! Jesus says you must be the kind of person that if other people imitate your behaviour, they will go to heaven!

What kind of actions is God looking for? The First Reading instructs us to support the hungry and the poor; we do this through our taxes and through giving to charity, in the form of money or the foodbank and clothesbank we have here. We’ll have an opportunity to help some very special people at the end of today’s Mass, when we take a collection to help handicapped children visit Lourdes this Easter.The Bible suggests that for people who don’t know about Jesus, such good works will be enough to get them to heaven (Rom 2:12-16).

Now, it’s also true that Jesus warned us not to show off our good deeds in front of other people – in fact that’s in the very next chapter of the same Gospel (Mt 6:1). He’s concerned that we don’t get proud about our good deeds. But as long as our motivation isn’t to show off, we’re not to hide our Christian actions either – because otherwise we can’t inspire other people to follow us to heaven.

Is it enough to only do good works to help the poor? NO! You are forgetting your identity in Christ.

We are God’s family. We know the family secret, that to have life to the full, we must receive the Bread of Heaven. The example that God wants us to set for others is the example of being people who come every week to receive our supernatural bread! By doing this, we can help people who follow our example find their security in Christ. Remember, Jesus Himself said that if we do not eat of his flesh we will not have life within us! (Jn 6:53)

So who do you think you are?

If you think you’re a good person who doesn’t know Jesus, being kind to needy people will probably get you into heaven.

But if you’re a Catholic and know you’re a member of God’s family, God expects more of you! You are the salt of the earth! You have your identity, your security and your authority from being a brother or sister of Christ our King! But if you lose your saltiness, look out – even God’s identity card won’t get you through the gates of heaven if you claim to be like Jesus but turn out to be a fraud!


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.


Dementia, Faith, and Friendship with Christ

In a Facebook response to a recent homily, a friend posted:

People with dementia forget the relationships they have with people, eventually even close family members they have known for decades and meet regularly. Presumably a relationship with God is not exempt from this? What does this mean? I know that God will never blame me for something that is not my fault, and dementia isn’t anyone’s fault. How does faith fit into it all?

The short answer is that a person in friendship with Christ before the onset of dementia will not lose that friendship because of dementia, and a person who never knew Christ while they were of sound mind is in a similar category to an infant.

The long answer goes like this:

The importance of living in friendship with Christ, is that it is the key to spending eternity in happiness with God (a.k.a. “Going to Heaven”). We can’t earn heaven (Jesus did that on the Cross) and we can’t even make the first step towards accepting the offer of heaven (this needs God’s grace, though Pelagius didn’t think so). Yet some response on our part is needed when we are prompted. So what do we have to do to accept God’s offer of heaven? Different texts in the Bible point to different answers.

Matthew 25:31-46 (“The Sheep and the Goats”) implies that it all depends on whether or not you helped your neighbour when they were in need.

John 6:53-58 (“The Bread of Life”) suggests that only those who take Holy Communion will attain heaven.

John 3:3-5 (“Be Born Again”) says we must be “born again” of water and the Spirit. Some interpret this to mean baptism, though the Catholic tradition allows for the “baptism of desire” of anyone who had planned to receive water baptism but died before it was possible. Others interpret it as experiencing a personal infilling with the Holy Spirit (a.k.a. Baptism in the Holy Spirit).

Romans 10:9-13 (“Speak and Be Saved”) says that you must believe in your heart and profess with your lips that Jesus is Lord.

It would be wrong to rest everything on one passage alone, for God has given us the whole of the Bible that we may know His message. The Romans passage is key, for if we believe and profess that Jesus is Lord, we will become his disciples, and keep all the commands he has given us. We will seek water baptism, if we are not already baptised. We will receive Holy Communion regularly, because he commanded us to do so in memory of him. We will do our utmost to help our needy neighbours. If we fail to do this things, we will not be professing Jesus as Lord.

But two things are necessary foundations for any of this to take place. One is that the person hears the message of Jesus. The other is that they are of sound mind, at least sound enough to understand and respond.

Concerning those who never heard the message, St Paul says they can be saved by doing good according to their own conscience – “the law in their hearts”. This is why the Catholic Church has never said that all human beings automatically go to heaven (those who knowingly turn away from God’s law or who are of persistent ill-will may not), nor that only baptised Catholics go to heaven.

Concerning those who died before ever attaining the use of reason, the Catholic church is confident that baptised infants go to heaven and cautiously optimistic that all who die in childhood are welcomed by Christ, who affirmed children on earth.

What of those who, having lived an adult life, lose their use of reason? Here I am not aware of any formal doctrinal statements, so I will do my best to extrapolate what the Church does teach to cover this situation.

We understand that a person, of sound mind, cannot repent and choose Christ after bodily death. If a sudden and unexpected death befalls a thinking adult – as could happen to any one of us at any time – we receive a particular judgement based on our earthly decisions up to that point. It seems reasonable to say that we also lose our ability to repent and choose Christ if dementia reaches a severe degree, and this is no more unfair than the consequences of sudden death.

If a practicing Catholic is afflicted with dementia, they are only morally responsible for their personal actions to the extent that they understand what they are doing. Once extreme dementia totally removes personal responsibility, it is no longer possible for that person to sin. And since a practicing Catholic can receive the Sacrament of Anointing even though they have lost the use of reason, those sins can be forgiven. Canon Law also requires the priest to give the benefit of the doubt to an unconscious Catholic, so unless it is fairly certain that Catholic would have refused anointing, they must be given the Sacrament. This sacrament forgives sins. It is not uncommon for a priest to be called to the deathbed of a long-lapsed Catholic, and to confer Anointing, even if the person cannot communicate; the lapsed Catholic therefore receives God’s forgiveness before death. This echoes the paralysed man having his sins forgiven on the strength of the faith of the friends who brought him to Jesus (Mark 2:3-5).

I was once called to the bedside of a woman on a life-support machine and was asked, by her teenage children, to baptise her. They insisted that she had never been baptised but was a Christian, watched religious TV programmes with them, sang along with the hymns, and had had her daughters baptised. Now it looked like she would never regain consciousness before the life-support machine was turned off. Nothing in the Catholic rulebook for baptism explicitly covered this scenario. I could only baptise an adult if they explicitly professed faith, but this woman was now in the state of a disabled person who might permanently lack capacity to profess faith – and if she had been a child, could have been baptised on the say-so of her parents. I decided to go ahead with the baptism, giving strict instructions that were she to recover, religious instruction would be needed on how to live as a Catholic.

Coming back to my friend’s original question, how does faith fit into it all? In the Gospels, healing comes by faith. Often it is the faith of the sick person who approaches Jesus. Sometimes it is the faith of another – the friends of the paralytic, or a parent whose child is dying. Sometimes the Lord himself takes the initiative, raising a dead child or casting out a demon.

During our earthly life, that faith can only be expressed within the limitations of our flesh. Clearly, our immortal soul’s capacity to communicate is limited by being in flesh, and more so when there is some illness or deformity affecting the brain. When we die, our soul will meet Christ without the fetters of this earthly life. We can trust that God will be a just judge and will not expect more of any soul than was possible for its own individual circumstances. And yet in some way we will receive the reward of our faithful actions; there will be a greater kind of happiness for those who walked in obedient friendship with Christ, praying and receiving the sacraments, than for those who simply followed their conscience.

It is possible for God to overcome mental illness and brain damage, and communicate Himself to a soul in any way he chooses. But experience tells us that God will not often do this (at least in a way with external consequences), and so people of faith have the painful experience of seeing their loved one with dementia lose touch with their religious identity.

Ultimately, a key mystery of the Christian faith is that Jesus asks us to make disciples of all nations, scattering our seed on the thorny, stony, and barren soil. Only a few seeds bear fruit in abundance; yet the Lord’s work for us is to sow anyway. God chooses which souls are born in places and times which can hear the Gospel proclaimed. God chooses which souls should receive extraordinary calls to conversion (such as St Paul on the road to Damascus). Even those of sound mind can experience a ‘long dark night of the soul’ when God withdraws a conscious sense of his presence – this happened to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. God’s plan also allows those cases where the good soil loses its fertility through dementia, and personal awareness of God is lost until the soul awakens into eternity. This may seem like a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, but if God is the kind of God proclaimed by the Catholic faith, it is the only one consistent with the reality of the world around us.

I Don’t Want To Go!

Homily at Nazareth House on the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B.

The Seven Word Sermon: Letting go is hard, but enables grace.

“I don’t want to go!”

David Tennant played the Tenth Doctor in “Doctor Who”. In his final episode, he was slowly dying from the effects of radiation. He knew that this was about to cause his body to regenerate into a new personality, but faced with what he was about to lose, he was frightened. It was one of the hardest lines for Tennant to play just right – the Doctor had to be truly afraid, yet not totally lacking in confidence. It took four takes to get the message just right – “I don’t want to go!”

Letting go of a life is not easy. This week, many of us bade farewell to Harri Pritchard-Jones. All of us have lost loved ones – parents, brothers and sisters, friends. Some of us have nursed them through their final months, living with that terrible tension of not wanting them to leave us, but not wanting their agony to be long, either. Sometimes, the most loving thing we can do is to make our peace with the person we love and give them permission, by a word or a sign, that they are free to leave us and go to God.

Today, Jesus senses that the time of His Passion is drawing near.  Is he to flee from it or embrace it? He knows that his death will be both meaningful and powerful. He is the wheat-grain which must die if the harvest is to be born. The letter to the Hebrews recognises that Jesus first feared his own death, then embraced it. If God’s own Son is not spared a painful death, then perhaps we can resist the temptation to blame God for the suffering we see in the world. Why doesn’t God do something about it? God has done the most important thing possible, opening the gates for us to an eternal life free of all pain, suffering and tears.

Jesus is the source of eternal life. In just two weeks, we will gather here to celebrate his own triumph over death. Before that, on Holy Thursday, we will remember the night he accepted death, and on Good Friday, the day on which he breathed his last. Our weekly celebration of Mass is our perpetual act of thanksgiving for what Jesus did. As Christians, we are secure in the knowledge that because we follow Jesus, our place in heaven is assured. But heaven is not guaranteed for everyone. Part of our duty as Christians is to spread the message that there is only one secure path to eternal life, following Jesus, forgiving our enemies, pouring out our lives in service of others.

The Tenth Doctor was afraid of losing his identity. Jesus promises that the only way we can secure our identity is to ‘lose our life’ by putting others first. Great saints have always understood that they can pass securely into God’s hands, from the elderly Simeon in the Jewish Temple to St Maximilian Kolbe, offering his life for a Jewish father in Auschwitz. Christ suffered great pain and humiliation before entering into eternal life; our loved ones too, might suffer not only pain but also the humiliations of incontinence, dementia and bodily decay. If it was necessary for God’s own Son to be made perfect through suffering, we must trust that these indignities in some way purify our loved ones and prepare them for heaven, too.

On Thursday night, Jesus Himself was tempted to cry, “I don’t want to go.” But by Friday afternoon, after walking the Way of the Cross, he had overcome his trial. No longer afraid of what he was to lose, confident of what he was to gain for himself and for those he loved, he cried out: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Let us pray for the grace that we, and our loved ones, will be able to do the same when our Father calls us home.

If you are still painfully aware of a bereavement, you may wish to find support from Cruse.

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.