Homilies

15th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

My earliest memories of my dad are mind pictures of him immersed in his vegetable garden. These would be the second world war years. All his life he fed his family from his garden and any surplus went to neighbours and friends.

All his life he would come home from work and go directly to his garden. He wasn’t into flowers. Everything he grew was for the table.

Weeding was a continuous, unrelenting, task which was always part of my life. It was a never ending war. I learnt to munch cabbage, carrots, turnips and peas as I wed.

He died in February. The afternoon before he died suddenly of a heart attack he was out in his garden planning the programme for the spring planting.

I have no doubt that Joseph and Mary had a vegetable garden also and that the young Jesus was constantly pressed into the task of weeding etc.

So he knew what he was talking about when he told todays parable.

Planting and nurturing the seeds of faith; of belief in God; of gratitude to God our Creator, has always been and always will be a challenge, a puzzle, a conundrum.

My experience over the years is that one can give any given group of persons, who declare interest in joining the church, exactly the same teaching, exactly the same preparation, exactly the same process; Some will drop out during the process, some will drift away after reception into the church and some will continue as convinced and dedicated members.

This seems to be normal.

Jesus said to them. ‘It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. ……But there are some of you who do not believe. … For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father. As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.’

So the parable of planting the seed of God’s Word on all types of soil is the best way to describe the work of the catechist. What happens then is up to the Father and He is it keeping it close to his chest.

Why this is so? Your guess is as good as mine.

Our’s not to reason why, Our’s but to do and die.

 

14th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

We are always being urged to pray. The following are my ideas on prayer.

If I were to follow the regime of prayer which I was required to follow in the seminary and which was expected of me for the rest of my life as a priest I would spend four hours each day in prayer.

If I were living a monastic life where prayer was the only focus of my day then that is ok.

As a parish priest working with and among people it is totally unrealistic.

Naturally, I and most other secular priests, had to abandon many, if not all, of these spiritual exercises.

We were taught that there were spiritual things or activities and profane things or activities. (Here, profane means secular, not religious, not related to God.)

Anything which was not prayer in the strict understanding of the word (for example being on your knees in church or reciting the rosary or the psalms etc.) was profane.

Even preparing people for the Sacraments and administering them could be regarded as profane and draining on our spiritual resources.

This had, and still has, a profound effect on our relationship with our God.

To keep in contact with God one had to stop doing profane things and get on ones knees to top up ones spiritual batteries with ‘real’ prayer.

This way of thinking and acting was unrealistic for secular priests (that is Diocesan Priests) but far more so for lay people.

I would even say that it had, and still has disastrous consequences for our relationship with our God. We end up thinking that there are parts of our life which involve God and most of our daily life has nothing to do with God.

The truth is that God is involver in every aspect of our lives. The truth is that evertyhing we do and say and think can be as much a prayer and involve our God as when we are celebrating Mass or praying on our knees.

Gen. ‘God saw all he had made and indeed it was very good.’

Rom. ; ‘I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself.’

It is my attitude or intention which makes something profane.

Nothing is objectively unclean. It is I who make something unclean.

I am not saying that I should not spend some time in traditional prayer. On the contrary I am saying that I can spend all my day in prayer with a little effort and forethought.

For most of us, life is an adventure of discovery. An adventure of discovery in the company of my marriage partner, my children and my grandchildren. Throughout the day my thoughts keep returning to them in one way or another, irrespective of how busy or preoccupied I am.

What I am trying to say is that if I can include my God in this family bundle; Then, I and my God worry about them. I and my God hope they are ok. I and my God look forward to meeting them in the evenings or after school or during supper together. I and my God getting them bedded down for the night. I and my God up and about to prepare breakfast and get them all off to school or to work. I and my God planning our family holiday together etc. etc. With a little effort and practise this togetherness with my God can easily extend to those I work with and meet casually during my day. In this way my whole day is a prayer. In this way my whole day or most of it is spent in the company of my God.

Formal prayer has its place in my life but only as part of my everyday life and work, which is my real prayer.

If I confine my contact with my God to the times of formal prayer then I will not be spending much time with my God.

 

13th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’

Here we are talking about ‘amoral familism.’ That is the extreme type of family bond which existed in Palestine and still exists, even today, in some cultures. For example ‘honour killing’ of a member of a family to preserve ‘the honour of the family.’ Willingness to do extreme hurt to any outsider who threatened the family in any way.

What Jesus of Nazareth is telling his disciples is that even if your family disapprove of your being a Christian or do not want you to live as a Christian, this must not deter you from following Jesus of Nazareth.

Situations like this are common today when only one member of a family is Christian or when a son or daughter might wish to enter the religious life.

‘Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink, amen, I say to you, they will surely not lose their reward.’

What about the ones who install and maintain a water supply for a whole town?

What about those who build and maintain roads and transport systems?

What about those who build and maintain property?

What about those who educate and guide our children?

Those who look after our mental and physical health?

The ones who keep our money safe and administer it wisely and honestly?

Those who keep the peace so that we can live safely in our homes?

Those who remove our rubbish and waste? Etc Etc.

In all these things it is the motivation and the dedication that matters.

I can give a cup of cold water to a thirsty person just to get rid of them or because I really want to help them, as a person; as a brother or sister.

I can repair a person’s car as fast as possible and as cheaply as possible just so that I get my money, or I can do it conscientiously and carefully so that the owner can travel safely and dependably.

In everything I do the personal element must be involved. What I am doing is for somebody, will help somebody, is important to somebody and that somebody is a very valuable, a very important person because he/she is a child of God and my brother or sister.

If one is looking after a home; washing, cleaning, ironing, cooking etc. getting the motivation right is much easier as it is for people you love and respect.

That is why Jesus did not just say ‘Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink, amen, I say to you, they will surely not lose their reward.’

What He said was; ‘whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, truly I tell you they will not lose their reward.’

Here understand ‘in the name of a disciple’ or ‘because they are a disciple,’ to mean, because they are God’s children and your brothers and sisters.

This is the motivation which can give the most repetitive and boring tasks meaning, at least some of the time.

This is what can sanctify the work I do. This is how I can ‘pray always without becoming weary,’ and fulfil St. Paul’s exhortation to ‘pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.’

My work; Everything I do and say can evolve into a prayer. In this way there will be no distinction, no separation, between work, prayer and leisure.

12th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus of Nazareth tells his Apostles that they are to proclaim his message openly and completely. The instructions he gave them privately as his closest group and the explanations he gave them on many occasions are not just for them but to be proclaimed to the whole world – ‘what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.’

They must not be afraid. Even if you are threatened with torture and even death because you are Christians – fear not. God, whom you serve, is more powerful that any and all who threaten you.

Trust in your God at all times and in all situations, for your total wellbeing is your God’s main concern. After all the sparrows are counted and cared for as are the hairs on your head (few or many as they may be!). I must not try to conceal my belief in God or what I believe to be right and wrong, especially in a world that ridicules morality and belief in God.

Corpus Christi (A) 2017

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.’

‘Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.’

The great desire of my God is that I believe and recognise that God is with me.

This is the message of the Bible.

This is why God the Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, became a human being and lived and died among us.

God made Man; Jesus of Nazareth, demonstrated to me, by word and example, that his sole concern is my total welfare. My God wants me to have a long, happy and healthy life here on earth before joining Him in Eternal Life.

The world will try and convince me that happiness is getting plastered drunk on Friday night and making a total ass of myself.

The Eucharist; Holy Communion, is the great symbol of Emmanuel. The visible and tangible sign of my God’s presence with me and in me.

Holy Communion – the Eucharist, the Mass – is not given to me so that I can spend time in adoration. It is to remind me that Jesus of Nazareth is with me and in me so that I may go forth and live as he did in Galilee, showing compassion, tolerance and forgiveness, sharing my good fortune with, and helping my fellow human beings,  as and when I can.

A big problem with me is my ability to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament and then go forth as intolerant, unforgiving, selfish, nasty and mean as when I came in.

The latter is comedy; it is a big joke.

So receiving Holy Communion is not about spending a short time in prayer and adoration but about going forth and living as Jesus of Nazareth lived.

‘For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.’

A second aspect of Holy Communion, of the Eucharist, is remembering.

Remembering that on Holy Thursday evening just before his arrest, he celebrated the Last Supper with his Apostles and instructed them to do this in memory of him. This is the Mass, the Eucharist.

So when I receive Holy Communion I remember. I remember not only the Last Supper but also the Passion, execution, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

I look on the Crucifix and ask myself, can I trust one who is willing to undergo such an ordeal on my behalf?

Trinity Sunday (A) 2017

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.’

‘God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’

God loves the world.

What does that mean?

God loves the stars. God loves the galaxies, the nebula, the black holes. God loves the clouds, the rain, the sunshine, the snow the wind, the volcanoes and earth quakes. God loves the insects, the bacteria, the reptiles and the mammals, including human beings.

God created them as they are and loves them as they are. This degree of love is beyond  my comprehension.

God’s plan is the salvation of the world, be it astronomical singularities or great crested newts.

What does Salvation mean?

Salvation is the progression, over time, of primordial matter, by means of the Divinely installed evolutionary process,  into self-awareness and an understanding of the Creator. Culminating in eventual union with the life and being of the Creator.

Why do we believe this?

We believe this because Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be God made man (the Creator) progressed from an initial one cell entity in his mothers womb through the various stages of the evolutionary process (again in his mothers womb) to be born as a human being. Growing in wisdom and understanding like the rest of humanity he accepted the trauma of death and burial but rose from the dead with a glorified body to rejoin the Holy Trinity from whom he originally progressed.

There were many witnesses to this, some of whom left us their witness in writing (the New Testament) and most of whom accepted death rather than deny what they had witnessed.

Today we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

The Holy Trinity are the tree separate persons who make up the One God.

Love (which we mentioned above) is the bond uniting the Tree Persons of the Trinity.

True, genuine love is never inwardly focused. It is always outwardly focused. So the love of the Holy Trinity must be outwardly focused. Since, from the beginning, nothing existed but God the Holy Trinity was compelled to create other things so that their love could accomplish its compulsion to move or focus outwards.

So the reason for creation is God’s  love which of its very nature must encompass other things.

For the same reason we can say that nothing that God has created, or will create, will ever be discarded and cease to exist. All creation in some way must be gathered up into the life and being of the Creator – the Holy Trinity.

As St. Paul says in Rom: 8 ;

‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.’

What is our place in all this?

We are the only creatures on Earth (maybe in the whole universe) who can know and appreciate all of the above. We are the only ones who can consciously and overtly proclaim the greatness of the Creator  and express our gratitude for existence and salvation. We are the focused voice of creation, able to proclaim gratitude and praise on behalf of all creation.

So let us lift up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord our God!

Pentecost Sunday (A) 2017

Even a cursory examination of the Old Testament will tell you that it is a litany of failure. The repeated failure of the chosen people (the Israelites) to live as people created in the image and likeness of their Creator. Despite the many and repeated disasters which this failure brought upon them they continued on their self – destructive way. Through all this there was the ‘remnant’ who to some extent remained faithful to the One True God. Though this ‘remnant’ had its ups and downs in their faithfulness to God, nevertheless, over and over again, they acted as a small nucleus around which the chosen people could coalesce in times of trouble and defeat. They acted as a beacon of hope to lead the people to the One True God when things were desperate. In the New Testament we see the same trend. The life of Jesus of Nazareth himself is peppered with disappointment, rejection, desertion in times of trouble and even outright betrayal by one of his closest followers. This trend continues today in the Body of Christ – the Church. We are the ‘remnant’ today. Despite our oft forgetfulness and our sometimes unfaithfulness to the One True God, yet we struggle (even if sometimes halfheartedly) to remain loyal to our God and Creator. We are that remnant; that beacon of hope, around whom the scattered people of God can gather and coalesce in troubled times or in their search for meaning and comfort in life. The fact that we are but a fraction of the population of this country or any country, this town or any town, should not bother us unduly. It was always so except where people were under pressure to comply. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit; that there is, was and always will be, the ‘remnant,’ who despite their many and repeated faults and failings, continue the struggle to be faithful to the One True God. To keep the memory of the One True God alive. Like the Israelites of the Old Testament, we the people of God of the New Testament are presented by our God with a daunting (one could say impossible) calling or vocation. In the Old Testament their calling was: ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.’ In the New Testament we are required ‘to be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ God my Creator is perfectly aware of my inability to live up to any of these callings. After all he made me and gave me these feet of clay. I can waste my time bewailing my present and past faults and failings, but that is not my vocation. While well aware of my feet of clay I keep my eye on the target. Like the athlete I strive to jump that bit higher or run that bit faster each day and disregard the limitations of yesterday. I refuse to be controlled by past events about which I can now do nothing. Being open to the Spirit of God who dwells within me, I take each day as an opportunity to live out my basically unachievable vocation, trusting in the wisdom of my God. As St. Paul said, ‘God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.’

Ascension (A) 2017

The instruction Jesus of Nazareth gave to his followers before he was executed was that they should go to Galilee where he would meet them again. Mtt. ‘But after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.’ And the women who went to the tomb early on Sunday morning were told; Mtt. ‘Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.’ Why must the disciples of Jesus go to Galilee to see the Risen Lord? It was in Galilee, one of the poorest, most backward districts of Palestine, that Jesus of Nazareth exercised his ministry. It was here, among the poor and the dispossessed, that Jesus, we are told, went about doing good, healing the sick, sharing what he had with the hungry and speaking to them of the Good News of the Kingdom of God. So it was in Galilee that Jesus, the Risen Lord, gave his followers their mandate. This mandate was to continue the work he did in Galilee. His followers lived with him for a couple of years in Galilee, witnessing everything he did and said. Now their mandate was to continue this work until the end of time. They were to do this, not just on an individual level but as a community of His followers. This community or Church was the symbol of their being part of the community of God; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Being Baptised was a visible sign of their entry into the unity of this community or church. This community and the work it does is what Jesus of Nazareth called ‘the Kingdom of God.’ They would not be left to continue his ministry on their own. Just as he was physically present with them in Galilee as their mentor, exemplar and guide, so too now he would continue to be with them but not visibly so, except to the eyes of faith. So that is the mandate given to us, the parish of St. Patrick, in Corsham. As one community or church or parish we are to go about doing good, bringing healing to the sick and the grieving, feeding the hungry, and speaking of, and living according to, the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

6th Sunday of Easter (A) 2017

‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments (my word, my teaching). And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (Councillor, Paraclete) to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.’ If you look for just one guiding influence in the life of Jesus of Nazareth it would be his adherence to what he believed to be the truth. The Bible is full of warnings against deceitfulness and lying. ‘Proclaim the greatness of our God! A faithful God, without deceit, how just and upright he is.’ ‘Keep your tongue from evil, your lips from speaking lies.’ ‘Bread gained by deceit is sweet, but afterward the mouth will be full of gravel.’ ‘Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him. If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ ‘God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.’ When I lie I spew the Spirit of God from my mouth together with my lying words. It is disgusting to listen to many of our so called leaders; political, civil and industrial, especially in recent years. We are fed on a diet of deceit and barefaced lies. Innocuously it is called spin but is deceit and lying and meant to cause confusion and misinform. When someone is brave enough to speak truth they are showered with ridicule and abuse. The world does not know, or want to know, Jesus of Nazareth, because they no longer want truth or to hear the truth. ‘And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.’ I cannot do much about the lying and deceitful ways of many of the leading figures of our various institutions but all of us can create an oasis of truthfulness around ourselves. This is lighting the lamp and placing it on the lamp-stand, ‘where it gives light to all in the house.’ Those who are honest with themselves will recognise the light of truth and will be affected by it. Our Pope Francis is a light on a lamp stand enlightening not only the Church but the whole world. Strangely enough the greatest opposition to the light he brings comes from within the Catholic Church itself. When we have something to hide we do not like the light. When our status and privileges are threatened we do not like the changes that truth may bring. The prince of darkness has many servants. Some willingly so, many not even aware of their slavery. ‘Jesus said I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ For Jesus of Nazareth light, truth and fulness of life are one and indivisible.

5th Sunday of Easter (A) 2017

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.’ The world contains great joy and great sorrow. There is great love and great hate. There is great health and great illness and pain. There is great hunger and great abundance. There is great good fortune and great misfortune. How does one reconcile this suffering with a totally good God. It is true that much of our suffering and pain results from ones own actions and words and much from the actions and words of other people. Even if I can blame myself or others for a lot of my suffering there still remains a lot of suffering which I cannot blame on anybody. So where does this leave me? It leaves me with the very same problem; Why does a totally good God allow suffering? Why did the Creator create a world where suffering is endemic? Over the years I have read everything I have come across on this subject. All are helpful to a greater or lesser degree on a theological and intellectual level. Not very useful on a practical, ‘ad hoc’, here and now situation. At this stage in my life I think that the answer must come from within, on two levels. Firstly, the person best qualified to bring comfort is one who has suffered the same type of pain or grief. One who actually feels the pain and grief of the sufferer. This ability is a precious gift to those who have actually suffered and grown with the experience, and should be recognised and used to bring comfort and acceptance to others. This is a ministry which many of you possess without realising it. Anyone of you who have undergone or are still undergoing, pain and grief, and still hold to your faith and trust in a totally good God, have a great potential to bring comfort and healing to those presently experiencing pain and grief. Not so much by what you can say to them but rather by your compassionate and understanding presence. By sharing in their pain and loss. Secondly the person them self who is suffering, must try and reach into them self and hold tight to their faith and trust in the total goodness of their God despite what they are going through now. For example; After Jesus was tempted for forty days in the wilderness and was exhausted, and again in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was overcome with dread of his approaching execution, we are told that angels came to comfort and strengthen him. Here, Angels can be taken as symbols, meaning that Jesus received comfort and strength from his total belief and trust in his God. It was his belief and trust in the total goodness of God and that his total wellbeing was safely in God’s hands, that gave him comfort and strength to live through this pain, grief and distress. This is what I mean when I say that the answer to pain and grief must come from within. From within the comforter and the sufferer. It must come from my God who dwells within me. How else could the early Christians face or even contemplate being torn to pieces by wild animals in the colosseum for the amusement of the crowds. How else can a parent survive the death of a child and yet believe in a totally good God. How else can one survive the long drawn out pain and death of a lifelong marriage partner and yet trust in one’s God. So when all is said and done we are left with the mystery of God and the apparent contradiction between perceived reality and the words of Jesus – ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.’