Children of God

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 4th Sunday of Easter, Year B Vocation Sunday

A true Christian lays down his – or her – life in the service of others.

Many of us do this as parents. Once children come along, any caring parent is committed to dozens, nay, hundreds of sleepless or disturbed nights, and endless worry, which doesn’t stop when your offspring embark on teenage adventures or leave home. The bank of Mum & Dad – or the parental taxi service – are the way many parents lavish their love on their children. It’s normal. It’s natural. In fact, we are wired to go to extreme lengths for the sake of our children – and to worry about them ceaselessly!

What’s more remarkable is that some of us go to similar extremes for the sake of members of our church family.

Blessed_Marie-Anne_BlondinTake Blessed Marie-Anne Blondin. She lived 200 years ago in Canada – at a time when there was a church rule that parishes couldn’t run mixed-sex schools. Parishes usually couldn’t afford to run two schools! But she lobbied for the rule to be lifted and eventually formed a congregation of religious women to teach in mixed-sex schools. She was extremely successful – until a manipulative priest moved in, wrested control from her, and eventually had her forbidden from being re-elected as Mother Superior.

Sr Marie could have fought – but she chose not to. Her congregation had already grown and flourished, and she had a strong sense of God guiding her through the harsh decisions now being imposed upon her. First she was moved away to be headmistress at a distant school; then she was recalled to the Motherhouse, where she was kept to domestic chores, mostly in the laundry and ironing room. She wrote: “As for me, my Lord, I bless Divine Providence a thousand times for the maternal care she shows me in making me walk the way of tribulations and crosses”. To a novice who asked her one day why she, the Foundress, was kept aside in such lowly work, she simply replied with kindness: “The deeper a tree sinks its roots into the soil, the greater are its chances of growing and producing fruit”.

Prevented from being called “Mother” by those in authority, Mother Marie-Anne did not jealously hold on to her title of Foundress; rather she chose annihilation, just like Jesus, “her crucified Love”, so that her Community might live. However, she didn’t renounce her mission of spiritual mother of her Community. She offered herself to God for the sins which were committed in the Community” and she daily prayed to Saint Anne for her spiritual daughters. Like any prophet charged with a mission of salvation, Mother Marie-Anne lived persecution by forgiving without restriction, convinced that “there is more happiness in forgiving than in revenge”.

The story I have just shared with you is not that of a weakling, but that of a powerful woman strong enough to sacrifice herself in imitation of Christ. She sensed when God was calling her to stand up in the face of bishops and challenge the status quo; she also sensed when God was calling her to an act of great humility.

The Church needs women like Sr Marie-Anne, women who see the new needs of the church in the present age and dedicate their whole life to working for it, choosing to deploy the weapons of humility and boldness as appropriate.

The Church also needs priests who are men after God’s own heart. We need men who can do better than the bishops and priests Blessed Marie-Anne encountered.

Where do these priests and sisters come from? They come from among us.

Parents, are you praying that any of your children or godchildren should receive a calling? I know this can feel like a threat. You do not want your children to suffer hardship or make the sacrifices which priesthood or religious life demands. So I will offer you some advice to put your minds at rest. It is the realisation I came to when I stopped saying “no” to God.

Do you believe that Jesus is wiser than you are? He is the Great Teacher, the Lord of the Universe. Can you trust that he knows better than you do what will be best for each of your children?

Do you believe that Jesus loves each one of your children more than you could ever imagine? He laid down his life on the Cross for each one of them, after all! And surely if he loves them so much, he will not choose anything that causes needless harm to them!

Do you want Jesus to be Lord of your life, and that of your children? It is very easy to live with Jesus as your spiritual advisor. He makes suggestions; you make decisions. If you only do what Jesus suggests when you like His ideas, he is not your Lord. But if you give up your power of veto and allow him to make all the decisions, then you have climbed into the passenger seat and given him the wheel.

The beautiful second reading today speaks of our status as God’s children – and promises that we will be “like him”. The challenge to parents is that if you cling to your own children, you are really hoping they will be “like you” – it’s only when you allow them to be God’s children that you give them permission to be “like God”!

So pray with me, if you dare, the following prayer. Please ONLY repeat each line after me if you are comfortable saying it:

Dear Jesus, I give you each one of my children – my grandchildren – my godchildren.

Thank you for loving them, for dying on the Cross so each one of them could enter heaven.

Thank you for allowing each one to be adopted into God’s family.

Now I entrust each child to God.

Heavenly Father, call each child to that path in life which is truly best.

Lord Jesus Christ, I trust in you.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Callings

Homily at St Philip Evans for the 4th Sunday of Easter, Year A Vocation Sunday

He calls his sheep one by one. They follow because they know his voice.

In recent years, six young men connected with South Wales have sensed the voice of the Shepherd, asking them to consider being priests for our diocese. They are now at different stages of training in seminary or in parishes. One, Jonathan Stogdon, will soon be spending a year with us at St Philip Evans.

Training a priest is not a quick exercise. I can speak from experience when I say that it is both measured and wide-ranging. The time it takes to train a priest – typically 4 to 6 years – is less about the amount of information to be learned, more about the time needed to form a mature human personality. The classes are small, and the attention is personal. But that doesn’t come cheap. Between the board and lodge, and the salaries of full-time staff and part-time experts, it can cost £20,000 per year, per student, to train a priest.

For several years, Cardiff had no seminarians. Now we have six – but this is an expensive blessing! Today the Archbishop is inviting you to contribute to these training costs through a special collection. [Explain practicalities.]

He calls his sheep one by one. They follow because they know his voice.

In our own parish, we are blessed that many young people have sensed the voice of the Shepherd inviting them to assist at the altar. Of all the parishes I have worked in, none has had as many regular servers as St Philip Evans. Today we enrol some of our servers in the Guild of Saint Stephen, a recognition of their commitment to serve. Also this weekend we award silver medals to two of our servers, Caru King and Cathy MacGillivray, in recognition of 10 years of loyal service.

The strength of our parish depends on what we contribute – as readers, cleaners, helping in ways behind the scenes or more visible. If you wish to be a reader, or an altar server, or serve in any other way, please don’t wait to be asked. It is easy to contact the right person – every week there is a list on the back page of the parish newsletter!

He calls his sheep one by one. They follow because they know his voice.

30 years ago, there was a shepherd who called the people of Llanedeyrn to form a new parish. His name was John Maguire. Some of you here were part of that founding community, meeting in the school hall before this church was built. [Invite show of hands.] Thanks to his work as pastor – which means shepherd – we have both a parish and a church.

A church building is a blessing, a trap, and a big responsibility. It is a blessing because we have our own place to worship and to pray. It is a trap because with a building, we can forget the church is really built of living stones. Jesus said his flock would go in and out; each week we gather and disperse again. It’s what we do together as members of church that makes our community strong. Finally, this church building is a responsibility because like all public buildings, it must be maintained and kept safe and secure – and that doesn’t come cheap.

At the end of today’s Mass, our parish finance officer, Bernie Nolan*, will ask us to consider being involved in running the social life of our parish, and how we contribute to the parish’s running costs. At the moment we are breaking even as a  parish. The student coming to us next year is a blessing – but will also mean that our council tax and household bills will go up. I will ask the diocese to make a contribution from the priest training fund, but we will get a direct benefit from the work of the student, and it is only fair we contribute something as a parish to his keep.

The Good Shepherd calls his sheep one by one. They follow because they know his voice.

Jesus promised us “life to the full”. How do we access that life? First, we take seriously our parish prayer, “Here I am Lord, use me as you will.” If this prayer is merely words that we echo each Sunday, it will not bear fruit. But if we pray it seriously, genuinely asking God what we are to do to serve him, we will begin to sense the call of the shepherd. God’s call may challenge us, but is never beyond what we can achieve, with divine help. It’s only when we accept this challenge that we can know the deep satisfaction, the fullness of life: such fulfilment only comes from knowing that we have generously responded to God’s call to the best of our ability.

The shepherd asks different things of different people – preparing food, erecting gazebos, serving on committees, reading at Mass, serving at the altar, joining a religious order or even devoting one’s entire life to the priesthood. He know best!

He calls his sheep one by one. They follow because they know his voice. What is he asking of you?

* No, she’s not the Bernie Nolan you may be thinking of.

Worship? Follow? Avoid?

Homily at St John Lloyd, for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year CWorld Day of Prayer for Vocations

23 years ago last Sunday, I became a Catholic. It was a significant step – but not the biggest decision I have made in my relationship with God. It was part of a journey – I’d wanted to become a Catholic for several years, attended Mass for a year-and-a-half, attended RCIA for 6 months, and made my First Confession the previous week. 14 April 1990 was the day when I made my First Communion and was Confirmed – and then the journey continued.

6 years ago next month, I was ordained as a Catholic Priest. It was a significant step – but not the biggest decision I have made in my relationship with God. It came only after 7 years of study in seminary and of training in pastoral placements. As another new priest once said to me, on ordination day, it’s as if a tap is turned around – instead of having a lot of stuff poured into you, you immediately have to start pouring out to others.

39 years ago, I was baptised, in an Anglican church. It was a significant step – but since I was only 9 months old at the time, it doesn’t count as any kind of decision in my relationship with God.

What, then WAS the biggest decision I have made in my relationship with God?

20 years ago, I said YES.

Yes to what?

Yes to everything.

If you use a computer, think of those dangerous moments where the computer asks you if it can move 289 files to the trashcan and you either have to check them all individually, or do the risky thing and click “Yes to everything!”

If you have ever written out a blank cheque, lent your car-keys to a teenager, or done a house-swap leaving near strangers with the run of your family home for a week, you’ll know the kind of thing I mean.

It’s that kind of open-ended commitment where you hope everything is going to turn out OK, but there’s that nagging doubt in the back of your mind…

In August, 1993, I was on a Youth Retreat being run by Youth 2000, the same group – though now run by different young people – which is coming to St David’s Sixth Form College next weekend. I was also two years into my undergraduate degree and beginning to wonder what to do next.

I was young.

I was male.

I was single.

I was Catholic.

So…

What about the priesthood?

No.

NO.

Definitely not!

The thing is, although I knew I was saying no, I didn’t know WHY I was saying no. What was I afraid of?

I think, looking back, I was afraid that Jesus was going to ask me to do something I probably wouldn’t like. I’d have to do it, because he was God. And once I said yes, I was going to be miserable for the rest of my life.

During that retreat, one of the speakers invited us to take a silent hour in the afternoon, so I found myself a secluded spot on a riverbank and began to ponder.

I believed that Jesus, as God, was the smartest being in existence.

I believed that Jesus, as God, was the most loving being in existence, and couldn’t possibly want anything for me that would be bad for me.

I called Jesus, Lord. If I really meant that he was my Lord, that would mean I was saying I wanted him to be the person in charge of my life.

So… if Jesus is smarter than me, if Jesus will never choose anything which is not in my best interests, and if the Bible encourages me to call Jesus, “Lord”, I was faced with only one inexorable, inescapable, and incontrovertible conclusion: YES to everything.

So I prayed. And my prayer went something like this: “Jesus, I believe you are who the Bible says you are. I believe you love me and have my best interests at heart. From today onwards I will go where you ask me to go, do what you ask me to do. Whatever you ask – if you make it clear what you want, I will do it – even if it is the “priest thing”.

Well, back then it wasn’t the “priest thing”. I ended up in working in Nottingham on a gap year and then at Cardiff University for my PhD. But in 1997, the Lord showed me that it was time for the “priest thing” and here I am today, as your parish priest at St John Lloyd.

No two priests lead a parish in the same way. Each priest brings different gifts to the task. Some have a listening ear and are brilliant at binding up the broken-hearted. Others are community organisers, mobilising the masses to build parish halls and run grand social events. And me? My gift to you is that I am excited about making disciples, helping people to understand the teaching of Jesus, to follow him in their daily lives, and worship Him in their prayer lives. You will understand that a man who once stood in God’s presence and said “YES to everything!” might get a bit excited about this.

One or two of you here today will have made the same journey quite consciously and said to God, “Yes to everything”.

Quite a few of you have made this journey without realising it, and your heart has already said “Yes to everything” without putting it into quite those words.

But there will be those among us who are still afraid of what Jesus might ask of us, who say to God, “Yes, but only to the bits I feel comfortable with”. I was there once – for three years after becoming a Catholic, until I realised what God was really asking.

Listen to the words of Jesus:

‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life.’

The Good Shepherd offers each one of us the security of eternal life, but this comes with a condition: we must listen to the voice of Jesus, and we must follow.

It is always a struggle to say Yes to God. There is a special struggle in the hearts of those who are being called to ordained ministry and to the religious life, and I would like to invite you now to join me in praying a prayer, using the words of Blessed John Paul II, for those young people who are caught up in this struggle at this time:

Lord, Jesus, Christ, Good Shepherd of our souls, you who know your sheep and know how to reach the human heart.

Stir the hearts of those young people who would follow you, but who cannot overcome doubts and fears, and who in the end follow other voices and other paths which lead nowhere.

You who are the Word of the Father, the Word which enlightens and sustains hearts, conquer with your Spirit the resistance and delays of indecisive hearts; arouse in those whom you call the courage of love’s answer: “Here I am, send me!”