Epiphany (C) 2109

Among Scriptural scholars, controversy surrounds the historicity of the Magi.
Magi were wise men/ astrologers/ diviners/ Zoroastrians/ members of a priestly caste in Persia/ astronomers/ scholars etc. who dwelled in areas east of Palestine – Iraq, Iran. The area where writing was invented.
We do not need to go into whether they’re coming to Bethlehem seeking ‘the new born king of the Jews’ actually happened as described or not, no more than we need to go into the name of the hill from which Jesus spoke the Beatitudes or if he actually spoke from a hill.
The Bible is not about seeking out historical facts or locations but about seeking out the message intended.
The first message the visit of the Mage conveys is that Jesus of Nazareth; the Redeemer, the Saviour, was Redeemer and Saviour not just for the Israelites but for all peoples, nations and ethnic groups.
They symbolise us – all peoples from all backgrounds.
Where do they find this newborn ‘King of the Jews?’
Naturally they went first to the king’s palace. King Herod was unhappy with the news they brought. Rivals to his crown were unwelcome.
Eventually they found him in a cattle pen, lying on an armful of straw, being cared for by his parents – a humble working man and his wife.
You can imagine that after travelling this long journey in high expectation their surprise was great.
Why they didn’t turn around and depart immediately in great disappointment is beyond my understanding. Obviously they had ‘been had.’ Imagine the amusement among their peers when they arrived back home. Without doubt the bad news would have preceded them.
But they didn’t.
We are told ‘they prostrated themselves and did him homage.’
What wisdom was required to act in this way !
What humility was required to act in this way !
The second message from today’s Gospel is that God’s ways are not our ways – the ways of the world. Kings are born in palaces not in stables.
From the first moment of his birth God chose the life of the poor, the oppresses, the needy. He ended his life in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the needy. There is certainly a message here for me, a message that I tend to ignore.

Christmas (C) 2018

A certain medical Consultant lecturing on the `Stages of Ageing’ presented a class
in medical school with a case study of a patient under his care.
“The patient neither speaks nor comprehends the spoken word. Sometimes she
mumbles and babbles incoherently for long periods.
She is disoriented about person, place, and time. She does, however, respond to her
name… I have looked after her for the past six months, but she still shows complete
disregard for her physical appearance and makes no effort towards her own care.
She must be fed, bathed, and clothed by others.
Because she has no teeth, her food must be liquid. Her shirt is usually soiled from
almost incessant dribbling and she does not walk.
Her sleep pattern is erratic. Often she wakes in the middle of the night and her
screaming wakes up everybody else. Most of the time she is friendly and happy, but
several times a day she gets quite agitated without any apparent cause. Then she
wails until someone comes to comfort her.”
After presenting the class with this challenging case. He then asked his students if
any of them would volunteer to take care of this person. No one volunteered. Then
he said, “I’m surprised that none of you has offered to help, because actually she is
my favourite patient. I get immense pleasure from taking care of her and am
learning so much from her. She has taught me a depth of gratitude I never knew
before. She has taught me the meaning of unwavering trust. And she has taught me
the power of unconditional love.” Then he said, “look here is her picture” and he
pulled out the picture and passed it around. It was the photo of his six-month-old
baby daughter.
This is very much our problem in our relationships with each other. We constantly
fail to recognise people for what they are.
Christmas has one big message for us. Emmanuel;­ God is with us.
Emmanuel means that this little baby in Bethlehem who has to be washed and
cleaned and fed. Who screams and kicks and wriggles in the most aggravating way,
is God.
Emmanuel means that the wife or husband who ignores what I say & who has the
most annoying habits and mannerisms, is God.
Emmanuel means that the children who disobey me and drive me to distraction are
Emmanuel means that the parents who never seem to understand, are God.
Emmanuel means that the person sitting next to me now is God.
Emmanuel means that the little child creating the disturbance in the church is God.
As St John says; ’Those who say, I love God and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.’

4th Sunday of Advent (C) 2018

Today’s first reading is an oracle. That is a prophesy given by some prophet or person with special powers, usually given in ambiguous language.
Bethlehem was the home town of David who was king of Israel about 1,000 b.c. He was the most celebrated ruler of Israel and the long awaited Messiah was to be born of his lineage. So in today’s first reading the prophet Micah is speaking an oracle foretelling the coming of this Redeemer; this descendent of king David who will lead Israel to victory and glory.
In today’s second reading from Hebrews the author is telling us that the multiplicity of sacrifices of the Old Testament are now replaced by the one sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross.
Today’s Gospel reading describes Mary’s hurried journey to Elizabeth her relative. When the Angel Gabriel asked Mary if she agreed to be the mother of the Redeemer he/she also mentioned that her kinswoman Elizabeth was also pregnant in her old age. Now, Mary was in a quandary. She was pregnant and as yet unmarried, who would believe her story about the visit of the Angel Gabriel? Certainly not her parents or her boyfriend Joseph.
She knew Elizabeth was kind and understanding and would believe her story after what has happened to her in her old age. So now, having a good excuse to visit Elizabeth she set out hotfoot to see her. I believe that it was Elizabeth and her influential husband Zaharia the priest, who ironed things out with Mary’s parents and Joseph and arranged for a somewhat hurried wedding.
We have Elizabeth congratulating, blessing, Mary for believing and trusting the word of God brought to her by the Angel Gabriel. This in contrast to her husband Zaharia’s reaction of doubt when he was told by an angel that he would have a son in his old age.
The Message today is in the words of Elizabeth to Mary – ‘Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
This message brought to Mary by the Angel brought joy but also worry, embarrassment, problems and anxiety. She had to use her knowledge, ingenuity and common sense to solve these problems. She did not regret her decision or rail against the unfairness of her situation. She trusted in her God and got on with what had to be done.

3rd Sunday of Advent (C) 2018

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
Why all the rejoicing?
My health isn’t great. I am in pain. I am depressed and life itself is a burden. I am short of money. I lost my job. My family are troublesome. The weather is cold. I have doubts about the love and support of my marriage partner. My car is a wreck. My dog is sick. The Church is mired in controversy. The Conservatives are in power. etc etc. So what is there to rejoice about?
The answer is “The Lord is near.” Immanuel has been revealed to me.
So what???
When we say the Lord is near; when we say Immanuel, what does it mean?
There is much to be said about the Incarnation – salvation, forgiveness, resurrection, eternal life etc. But for me the most important thing about the Incarnation is that God has existentially demonstrated to me that just as God was intimately and personally present to and in Jesus of Nazareth throughout his life, death and burial, so to is God present to and in me throughout my life, from birth to death and burial.
So why can my life sometimes be so difficult?
Now that is a ‘good’ question!!
If you can figure out why the life of Jesus of Nazareth was sometimes so difficult, then you have your answer.
God was not only with and in Jesus of Nazareth but God was actually Jesus of Nazareth. Yet few can claim that their lives were fraught with danger, pain, disappointment and suffering as his was. Yet God was with him. Yet he was God.
One theologian I read said he thought that God was ( is ) so distressed by the pain and suffering we undergo in this life that He himself became a human being and suffered all these pains in solidarity with us as an apology. And not only that, but God by being with and in me actually undergoes in Himself personally these very same distresses and sufferings. Or like the good military officer who always leads his soldiers into action. Who only asks them to do what he himself is willing to do.
To me this is what Immanuel means. To me this is what Christmas means. God is with me.
If this is true. If I truly believe this then there is great reason for rejoicing.
So let us ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! The Lord is near.’

2nd Sunday of Advent (C) 2018

Following on the homily of two weeks ago regarding my attitude or relationship with my God; whether it be ‘Old Testament’ or ‘New Testament,’ I would like to discuss the matter further today.
How I understand God to be, is of paramount importance not only to me but also to God.
To me because it will mean that my spiritual life will be hidebound, fearful, subservient and mercenary or light, free and delightful. To God, because his beloved child will treat Him/Her merely as a source of endless handouts which have to be earned in some way and accounted for or as a beloved parent whose arms are ever open to hug and console no matter what.
One might say. If God is so good, so generous, so forgiving, so compassionate no matter what, why not just sit back and enjoy the ride? Why bother myself with things like gratitude, respect, and God forbid, love.
I might as well say, I know my parents love me and will leave their house and money to me so why bother visiting them, saying thank or, worse again, listening to their oft repeated stories?
It is really all about me and the sort of person I am or want to be – the one I want to live with for the rest of my life.
I must stop thinking of God as ‘other.’ As someone who dwells up there on high. As someone who must be called on.
I must stop thinking that I must ‘say’ my prayers. Must go to Mass etc.etc.
Think of God as you think of your marriage partner, children and grandchildren. They are constantly flitting into your thoughts and consciousness no matter where you are or what you are doing. They are, in some way, present to you always and everywhere.
All God wants is to be part of my family. To have the same standing in my life and in my thoughts as my family. To be treated with the same loyalty and love as I treat my family.
God is Immanuel. God is with me. God is part of me. If God asks me to do something why bridle at it. Do I not wait patiently in the supermarket car park for my marriage partner or worse again push the trolly around? Do I not stand around endlessly grinning as my children and grandchildren do silly things to amuse me?
So if my God asks, do something in ‘memory of me’, why put on a sour face?
So it is all about attitude. With the right attitude it is never a case of why or how much or how often or for how long. These questions should not even arise. It involves freedom, willingness, a looking for opportunities to please.
“In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realise that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”
So is today not ‘that day.’

1st Sunday of Advent (C) 2018

Talk By Miss Rita McLaughlin, Head Teacher, St Patrick’s School, Corsham

“Pupils are happy, well rounded, caring individuals who are extremely proud to belong to this exceptional Catholic community where ‘All Are Welcome’”.
That quote is taken from the Diocesan Inspection report which we received in the Summer. In the sweltering final weeks of last July, the staff and pupils were inspected for 2 days, and we are thrilled with the result.
However, an OUTSTANDING judgement is not a novelty to Saint Patrick’s Catholic Primary – this most recent inspection is the fourth time we have been judged as OUTSTANDING.
That’s over a decade of Outstanding Catholic education provided in your parish school.
Rightly, the exceptionally talented, committed and immensely special staff have been recognised in their excellent work. More impressive, perhaps, is that most of our teachers and staff are not Catholic. However, committed to the Catholic ethos they are, and as one parent told the inspector –
“The teachers go over and above and the children follow their lead.”
Saying that, at present, less than half of the population of the pupils and families in our community are Catholic. We have Christian, Muslim, lapsed, curious or families with no faith background at all. To paraphrase the hymn – ‘All Are Welcome in Our Place”!
Many of our families walk or drive past some pretty great local primaries to come to Saint Patrick’s; as they identify with something that they want for their child. It may be good behaviour…high expectations…a small, family feel…traditional values…ethos or Mission Statement that attracts – whatever it is, our families are united in their commitment to our school community, and our endeavour to enable….every….single…child to flourish.
Our children are our joy and delight. Coming from a broad spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds, personal circumstances, life experiences and family aspirations. The report states –
“Behaviour is exemplary across the school, with pupils having a strong respect for themselves and others, saying their favourite thing about school is ‘belonging to a family.’”

Our curriculum is one of high expectations where results are repeatedly in line with or above national expectations. However, we do not hothouse our children.
Our curriculum is broad, enriching, diverse, creative, energising and investigative – and just great fun!
We like to dabble in fencing, ballroom dancing, orienteering, climbing, dressing up as Vikings, making dens, playing the ukulele, modelling with willow, balloons, rubbish and even plants. We like to ‘go large’ at every opportunity and our smashing PTFA can pull amazing Christmas Fairs, Spring Flings and Summer Jamborees out of the hat.
We recently celebrated the Golden Anniversary of the school with a year of celebrations, not least a whole school trip – 236 adults and pupils to the woods in the Forest of Dean. I’ll leave you to imagine how many risk assessment forms I had to complete for that one!

In these days where we hear almost daily of the challenges our young people face with social media and mental health issues, as well as the Catholic church under relentless scrutiny and criticism, at Saint Patrick’s it is our privilege to nurture and grow your children – holistically.
This year’s school priority is to focus on the national and local drive to ensure good mental health for children and young people. Even in our own little school, we see an increasing number of children joining us with emotional vulnerabilities. For this year, we have devised a series of initiatives so that our children (and staff) can GROW HAPPY…..STAY HAPPY……and SHARE HAPPY.

The motto of our school is –
‘Live, Love and Learn Like Jesus’
A couple of years ago, we held a whole school ‘Big Me Week’ – on the face of it, a unique Careers Week for younger children – and indeed we had some great parents and professionals share their awe inspiring jobs –
Air traffic controllers…farmers…dentists…fire fighters…artists…scientists…actors…inventor …chaplains…lawyers…and even a rock star!
More importantly, echoing Pope Benedict’s words from his visit to the UK in 2010, we challenged our children to think – not only what they wanted to DO when they grew up, but what kind of person they wanted to BE.
Answers to this question ranged from the expected – train driver / nurse / footballer / dancer
To the more unusual – tooth fairy / Santa helper / unicorn groomer / Harry Potter.
However, children will always ground us and remind us what we are really about. Another popular answer to the question – ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ was ‘KIND’.
We like to nurture this spiritual element of our school, and have a team of chaplains called ‘The Sunshine Saints’ – so called as their mission is spread a little sunshine amongst the school. All children are on a unique school designed initiative called ‘Footsteps in Faith’ and in recent years, we have embarked on Corsham Caminos – collecting stamps for our passports as we pilgrimage around Corsham between each local place of worship.
As part of the Year of Prayer, we will be doing another Corsham Camino – perhaps you could join us….

I am grateful to Fr. John for allowing me to share our good news with you. Saint Patrick’s Catholic Primary, after all, is YOUR school and we hope you are proud of us.
However, there is no such thing as a free lunch, and I have two favours to ask of you…
Firstly, we continue to battle the common misconception that a Catholic school is only for Catholic families. This is obviously not the case. We all know that ‘catholic’ with a small ‘c’ means universal. Please help us to spread the message – that we offer a specific, values based curriculum to ANYONE who wants it.
Secondly, I would appeal to you to consider becoming a Foundation Governor for our school. We really do need you. As Foundation Governor, you represent the Bishop’s interest in the running of the school. At present, Mary Ellis is our Chair and represents Saint Patrick’s parish, and I know that she is happy to talk to anyone who is interested or curious.
Please do think about it….
Before I finish, I’d like to pay tribute to Fr. John. Certainly, in the 14 years we’ve worked together, he has been an inspiring model of Gospel Values and Christ’s teaching. He is a true friend of our school, and staff and pupils find him cheerful, amenable, supportive and interested, whilst also having the highest of expectations of us. In no small part, the outcomes of our inspection report can be attributed to his influence.
Thank you Fr. John, and thank YOU for listening to me this evening / this morning.

To everyone here today, know that you are always welcome to come and see your school in action at any time. Perhaps you may wish to come and join our seasonal celebrations.
I wish you all a happy and stress free Advent and Christmas.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
Rita E.McLoughlin – Executive Headteacher: Saint Patrick’s Corsham and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Primary, Kingswood (interim)

Feast of Christ the King (B) 2018

Human beings seem have three differing relationships with God; They ignore God. They fear God (Old Testament relationship). Or they have a New Testament relationship of gratitude, loyalty and love.

Old Testament relationship; Psalm 2. ‘Serve the Lord with fear; with trembling bow down in homage, Lest God be angry and you perish from the way in a sudden blaze of anger.’
This is the attitude most of us we’re brought up to have with God.
Our Christianity was an unhappy religion made up of duties and obligations to be fulfilled.
Our relationship with God was that of servant to master – a strict, demanding, accountant type of master. We had to earn, merit, achieve, win God’s forgiveness, favour and salvation.
Our religion was made up of rituals, liturgies, precepts, fixed prayers and times of prayers etc. – often only vaguely understood.
‘Getting into heaven’ was one’s goal in life. This goal or prize was elusive, hard to attain and in constant danger of being lost due to our perceived sinfulness and the constant danger of falling prey to a multitude of ‘mortal sins.’
All of us, bishops, priests and laity laboured and groaned under this burden. No wonder that joy, happiness and gratitude were so often absent in religion.

New Testament relationship: Eph. 2; ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.’
1 John 4: ‘In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us (first) and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.’
‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. Let us love, then, because God first loved us.’
Grace means a gratuitous, free gift from God which can in no way be merited or earned or achieved. Salvation is grace, freely offered. This free gift can be accepted or rejected.
It is good manners to feel and express gratitude for a gift. Religion is this normal response of gratitude to God the giver of the gift.
Various cultures and peoples have, over the centuries, developed different ways and means of showing their gratitude to God for this gift. But a true, valid response will always be solidly based on gratitude, appreciation and respect for the giver of the gift – God. You can call this love.
As every right-minded parent hopes for from their child so too does God hope for gratitude, respect and love from His/Her children. How the child treats its parents, how I treat my God, will reveal the sort of person I am.
Since I came to Corsham I have had one ambition. To change my own and your attitude to God. It annoys me; It angers me to see and hear people treating God, my God, as a despotic, cruel, vengeful, selfish, small minded person.
Wake up. Look around you. Did you decide to be born? did you give yourself the gift of life. Did you choose your gender, your colour, your height, what you look like, your intelligence etc?
All these were given to you. All these are gift.
Of course you can accept a gift with gratitude and delight or you can accept it grudgingly and be unhappy and discontent. You can also reject the gift and kill yourself.
My attitude to God, my understanding of what my God is like, will affect my whole life. Am I worried about what God thinks of me? Am I fearful of what God might have in store for me. Do I worry as to whether I have sinned or not, whether I have fulfilled an obligation or not. Am I distressed about past faults? Am I forgiven or not? Have I done things the right way?
This is a spiritual illness called scruples.

So let your attitude be one of boundless trust and confidence in God.
So forget about the past. Put the future in God’s hands. Wake up every morning with joy in your heart for God is always with you – Immanuel.
‘You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.’
You have been saved. You are already a resident of the Kingdom of God. Act and speak in accordance with this fact. ‘For God does not withdraw his mercy, nor permit even one of his promises to fail.’

33rd Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

I am not in favour of every Thomas, Richard and Harold picking up the Bible and reading it without adequate preparation, direction and guidance.
You take todays three readings. Can any one of you explain them to me? Did they mean anything to you? What meaning did you get from any one of the readings and if you got any meaning was it what the author intended?
I know you have, over the years, been told and urged to read the Bible.
Bye and large reading the Bible without knowing a fair bit about it and especially about the particular book you are reading can often lead to confusion. After all the thousands of different Christian Churches differ in their understanding of the Bible at least to some extent.
You take todays first reading from the Book of Daniel. Daniel was a fictional character. Whoever the author was lived about 160 B.C. and he wrote in symbolic prophetic language about events that had already happened.
The second reading from Hebrews although attributed to Paul is very likely not written by him. It was written about 60 – 69 AD. It seeks to convince the Jewish Christians of that time that the one sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth on the Cross superseded and abrogated the many and differing sacrifices of the Temple in Jerusalem – of the Old Testament.
The Gospel reading is a hotchpotch of apocalyptic accounts about the end of the world, about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. and about one’s own death, all mixed up together.

Why did our church put on these three readings today? As you say if you are asked a question on the TV. the answer to which you do not know – you say; ‘now that is a very good question.’
It is probably because we are approaching the end of the Liturgical year of the Church (in two weeks time) and they want me to sit up, review my relationship with my God and put my spiritual lives in order.

Having said all this we must recognise that parts of the New Testament, especially the Gospels, are readily understandable and helpful to the most casual of readers. Many of the parables and instructions as regards how to live our daily lives are self evident and can be read over and over again and meditated on to ones advantage.

32nd Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

We remember today and pray for all those who lost their lives as a result of the First World War.
It is good to remember and contemplate the enormity of what happened.
Casualties are estimated at 9 million combatants, 7 million civilians, between 50 and 100 million who succumbed to the flu epidemic which begun towards the end of the war and to which the war was a major contributing factor.
While attending Neston C of E church at an ecumenical service I noticed a plaque on the wall naming those from Neston hamlet, who had lost their lives in the war. The number was either 7 or 9 (I can’t quite remember now as it was 17 or 18 years ago.) Even today Neston village is a small place. Imagine that in 1914 it was a very small huddle of houses centered around their church. Everyone knew each other intimately. The inhabitants would have either worked underground in the stone quarries or on the local large estate.
Imaging the grief and shock in that hamlet at the loss of what was probably most if not all their young men.
Multiply this anguish and loss, millions and millions of times over, in families, hamlets, villages and towns all over the world.

And has the human race learned anything from this great tsunami of grief and loss and despair? We have learned how to slaughter each other in far greater numbers and far more efficiently.
This is what we call Original sin. This is the name Christianity gives to our propensity to bring harm and grief on ourselves and on each other.
That is why we need salvation. That is why we need a new heaven and a new earth.
As we read in 2 Peter; ‘We await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.’
We prey and hope that all the victims of World War 1 are now experiencing this new heaven and new earth.

31st Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

In the run up to today’s Gospel reading we have Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees, (all experts on the Scriptures and the religious traditions) asking Jesus difficult questions in an effort to trap him. One of the Scribes, who was listening in and impressed with the answer and explanations that Jesus gave asked him a very important and sincere question. “Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Judaism, at the time of Jesus, was an utterly confusing aggregate of hundreds of laws and regulations covering the minutest details of life. This Scribe was hoping that Jesus could bring some sanity to the legalistic confusion.
To his delight he got a simple, straightforward, and very clear answer – love God and your neighbour.
We human beings, in our usual inimitable way, take this simple answer and obfuscate it.
We ask, ‘who is my neighbour?’
The answer is equally simple if I really want to know. Everyone who has ever lived, is presently alive and who will ever live in the future is my neighbour. If I in any way question this, if i quibble in any way, if I seek exceptions, then I am not a citizen of the Kingdom of God. After all, in God’s Kingdom, I hope to meet all these people face to face, on an equal footing. Can I face that?
We ask, ‘What do you mean by love?’
Love is a word which has been so bandied about, so analysed, so loosely used and abused, that it can mean anything.
In the New Testament Jesus of Nazareth was quite clear about love:
‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’
And God in the Old Testament:
‘Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.’
Since we are all ‘once off’ creations we all experience and express love in different ways – physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. If I were to give one word that was to cover ‘love’ in all circumstances I would say ‘service.’
By and large in the Old Testament official religion functioned independently of ‘love’ and ‘neighbour.’
By and large I was brought up in a religious atmosphere which gave only lip service to ‘love’ and ‘neighbour’.
If Jesus of Nazareth were visibly with us today he would have exactly the same problem with religion today as He had 2000 years ago.
Our Pope Francis has the very same problem, the very same opposition today, because he too is trying to put ‘love’ and ‘neighbour’ as first priority in religious practise.
We wold love to help him.
The greatest way for I and you to help Francis is for each one of us to put ‘love’ and ‘neighbour’ as our top religious priority in all we do and say.