13th Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

‘There was a woman afflicted with haemorrhages for twelve years.’
Central to this event is Leviticus 15. ‘When a woman is afflicted with a flow of blood …. she shall be unclean, just as during her menstrual period.’
As you can imagine a patriarchal Old Testament was not female friendly.
In the Old Testament being unclean meant that (like lepers) you could have no contact with God or other human beings. You were forbidden the synagogue and its prayers and devotions. Anything or anyone you touched became unclean.
So this woman was not only physically sick but also regarded as spiritually sick and ostracised by everyone. She could not even have the consolation of recourse to her religion and her God.
All this through no fault of her own. She was the victim but punished as the perpetrator.
Imagine her relief and joy not only at her physical cure but at the words of Jesus; ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.’
How many Catholics are experiencing the same exclusion and sense of guilt as this unfortunate woman? How many Catholics feel excluded from their church and their God because of some clergy who think and act like the Pharisees. Pope Francis is trying to apply the mind of Christ to all these moral teachings and practises but is meeting unyielding opposition.
The church is given authority to lead people to God by its teaching and practises. Nobody has the authority to act as a stumbling block for others in their search for God.
Pope Francis is trying to teach us to take responsibility for our own decisions in religious and moral matters. This particularly in marital and sexual problems.
There are plenty of embezzlers, thieves, liars, corrupt officials, drug dealers, human traffickers etc. walking around freely and nobody is telling them that they cannot receive Holy Communion.
But have some marital or sexual problem and the whole weight of ecclesiastical law lands on your head!!!
If you are excluding yourself or have been told to exclude yourself from Holy Communion, think long and hard about how you are treating your God – not as a loving and compassionate parent but as an unforgiving and small-minded overseer.

Birth of John the Baptist (B) 2018

‘Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist.’
Why did Jesus of Nazareth describe John the Baptist in those words?
For Jesus of Nazareth John was greater that Abraham, than Isaac, than Jacob, than Samuel, Elijah, David, and Solomon. For him John was greater than Peter or Paul or any of the Apostles. For him John was greater than his mother, than Mary of Magdala or anyone else you can think of.
I wonder why?
For me the reason is that at the height of his physical and mental abilities (he was only 30), at the height of his popularity and power (he was so popular and had such a large dedicated following that neither political leaders nor religious leaders could touch him despite his excoriating them for their hypocrisy and immorality) he urged and even ordered his followers to follow and listen to this newcomer called Jesus of Nazareth.
He was well aware of what this would mean for him, and what very soon happened. With the departure of most of his followers to join Jesus of Nazareth his political and religious enemies had him quickly arrested, jailed and executed without trial.
John the Baptist was the greatest because he had no personal desire for greatness; it was thrust upon him by God. He accepted greatness and immediately abandoned greatness as his God willed, although the latter came at a terrible price.
He underwent much soul-searching and was plagued by doubts as we read in the Gospels: From prison “John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask. Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
It is amazing that we have all sorts of people within our church urging us to pray to this saint or that saint, to practise this devotion or that devotion but I have never heard of anyone urging us to pray to John the Baptist or pushing a devotion to John the Baptist!!!
This is John the Baptist. This is what he was and is like. He steppes aside. He relinquishes power gladly. He does not promote himself. He likes the background. For him it is only God who matters. It is God he promotes. He eschews showy devotions. He is not the patron saint of anything. He was never canonised (as far as I know). You do not see statues of him in churches surrounded by votive lights and vases of flowers. Have you ever seen a prayer to John the Baptist?
And yet according to Jesus of Nazareth – God the Son the Second person of the Blessed Trinity – he is the greatest.
For me his greatness is in his humility and his total dedication to the will of his God.

11th Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

Jesus of Nazareth was sent by the Holy Trinity to tell us about, and to inaugurate, the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God.
This Kingdom of God is everything that the kingdoms of this world are not.
Take any aspect of government, of royalty, of dictatorship and you will find that the Kingdom of God is the direct opposite.
We find this unnerving. We find it very hard to swallow. We find it very difficult to accept and practise.
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the meek.’ ‘It is like a mustard seed which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground.’ ‘Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed (in) with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened.’ ‘When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing.’
Moses was on the run from the Egyptian police when God called him to lead the Israelites to freedom. He had a bad stutter and had to have Aaron to speak for him.
David was not even considered by his father when Samuel came to anoint one of his sons king. They had to send someone to call him from where he was herding the sheep and goats in the bush. Jesus of Nazareth himself came from one of the poorest hamlets in the poverty stricken province of Galilee. ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ was Nathaniel’s reply when told that Jesus was from Nazareth. Jesus called his twelve Apostles not from the religious leaders or the privileged classes but from everyday working people.
Lastly, our exemplar, our Leader, our God is executed on a cross as a subversive and a criminal.
I could profitably spend some time thinking about the following quotation from Jesus of Nazareth – the convicted and executed criminal – who is my God.
‘This I command you: love one another. If the world hates you, realise that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.’
So do I belong to the ‘world’ or to the Criminal?

10th Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

Jesus of Nazareth’s preaching and lifestyle was a great scandal, a great embarrassment, a great challenge, not only to the religious and political authorities but also to his family and relatives, including his mother. For the authorities it challenged their power and privilege. To his family it meant scrutiny from the authorities and the near certainty that their Jesus would be arrested and maybe executed. So his family made a number of attempts to dissuade him and bring him back home, by force if necessary. (What mother wants to lose her only child !!). So forget about any presumption you had that his family and relatives were all behind him and supportive.
Belief in Jesus of Nazareth only came to his family after the resurrection. We also seldom realise that the same was true for many of the priests, Scribes and Pharisees. Certainly nothing like the majority but a substantial number became Christians. As we read in Acts. at the council of Jerusalem. “some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers stood up and said, It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.” ( In other words they wanted Gentiles to officially become Jews before becoming Christians). Belief in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead was the decisive factor which prompted the Apostles and so many early Christians to give their lives for the faith. It was the decisive factor which finally changed the minds of his family and relatives. It was the decisive factor which prompted many of his one time enemies to become Christian. It was the decisive factor in the conversion of St. Paul.
Are you convinced of the Resurrection?
Are we perhaps just covering both wickets?
Does belief in Resurrection enliven your day, make your grief bearable, lift your joys to a new level, give meaning to the hum drum of life, inspire you to volunteer your time and abilities in helping others, make the aches and pains of old age acceptable?
If not then get with Resurrection from death and Eternal life with and in your God.

Corpus Christi (B) 2108

Most of us have some photograph, or piece of music, or some household article, or piece of jewellery, or some saying or story etc. which we associate with a parent or parents. We treasure this because of its associations with someone we love, because of the memories it brings back.
For the same reason we see people putting some object on a coffin or on a grave.
These are symbols of the love that person has for us and we have for them.

‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.’
‘In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.’
Jesus of Nazareth is the living symbol of the love God the Creator has for me.
‘Do this in memory of me’ Jesus said at the Last Supper.
‘For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.’ said St. Paul.
That is why we are gathered here today.
That is why we look on the image of Jesus of Nazareth executed on a cross.
That is why we bow down in reverence before what seems to be simple bread and wine.

The Eucharist. Holy Communion. The Body and Blood of Jesus of Nazareth. The Breaking of Bread. The Mass. Call it what you like. Is the great symbol of Immanuel. Of ‘God with me.’
Jesus says; ’I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one.’

I do not need to go anywhere to be one with my God. The Eucharist is the symbol and the guarantee of this. Life is walking in the presence of my God at all times, in all places, in all circumstances. We come together in one place as one family to confirm our oneness with our God and to thank God, as one united family, for this great gift.

We need to come together as one family (God’s Family) every week, expressing our gratitude for ‘Immanuel’, otherwise all the above becomes vague and woolly and ceases to exercise any influence on my life and conduct.

Trinity Sunday (B) 2018

The first Commandment of God to the whole of creation is; ‘I, the LORD, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me.’
This is the central and main doctrine of the Bible.
To this day the heart of, and the reason for, all Jewish worship is the cry; ‘Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.’
This great commandment, this great cry of allegiance, is also the heart of Christianity and the centre of all our worship.
The existence of the Holy Trinity was unknown in the Old Testament. (Although there were
hints or references pointing towards it.)
One of the most important revelations brought to us by Jesus of Nazareth was the existence of three distinct Persons in the One God (the Holy Trinity). Firstly, we learned something of the relationship that exists between the Three Persons. Secondly, what you might describe as the sphere of influence or speciality of each Person and thirdly, what their individual relationship with creation might be.
You might say that this pushes back slightly the cloak of mystery surrounding God the Creator.
This revelation concerning the Holy Trinity enables us to draw certain tentative conclusions.
Our God is a community or family.
The relationship within this family is one of total unity and love.
This love, of its very nature, seeks to share itself with other things. Hence creation.
The proper response of creation to this sharing must be as part of this unified community.
It always puzzled me as to why God bothered to create.
For me the answer was to be found in the relationship within the Holy Trinity Family. The internal love existing within the Holy Trinity family was such as to compel that family to share that love. True love reaches out, seeks to share that love. To reach out in love to others God had to create those others first.
St John tells us; ’We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them.’ And again; ’For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.’

We are attracted to a family where mutual respect and love exists.
One seeks a loving couple when looking for adoptive parents.
The reason is that love tends to reach out, to share, to encompass others.
We were created because of love. We are encompassed by love. We return to the love that created us.
Religion is realising this and responding to it.

Pentecost Sunday (B) 2018

“Jesus said to them again, Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
The council of Trent (1545 – 1563) defined that this power to forgive sins is exercised in the Sacrament of Penance (or as we call it today; the Sacrament of Reconciliation).
This does not say, or mean, that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the only way the Church (the Christian Community) exercises the power to forgive sins.
For instance the Christian Community exercises the power to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Baptism.
The Christian Community exercises the power to forgive sins in the Sacrament of The Anointing of the Sick.
The sinner oneself, who is genuinely sorry for and regrets any harm, hurt or damage caused and sincerely try’s to repair any such harm, damage or hurt, receives forgiveness of sin.
There is no compelling reason to believe that when the events described in today’s Gospel reading took place there were only the ten Apostles present (The next verse tells us that the Apostle Thomas was not present). The people in the room are described as the Disciples. This would include a very mixed group of Jesu’s followers including Apostles and disciples, both men and women.
It is this group or gathering or family of Jesus’ followers who were given His (Jesu’s ) power to forgive sin.
Naturally in a endemically patriarchal culture as existed at that time ( and is still to be found today) an important ability such as that to forgive sin (as well as leadership roles generally within the Christian Community) would be cornered by the male gender and particularly by those in leadership positions.
(The latter is just common sense, and how things generally pan out in all aspects of human society.)

Having said all the above I now want to look at the essential role played by both the sinner and the victim in the process of repentance, reconciliation and forgiveness. It is very difficult, if not impossible for the sinner to obtain healing and repentance if the victim refuses to forgive. This refusal only increases the hurt and bitterness in both parties. But if the victim welcomes any movement towards reconciliation on the part of the sinner then the floodgates of healing and reconciliation begin to open for both parties. The above examples illustrate the words of todays Gospel reading “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Events occurring during the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa graphically demonstrated those words of Jesus.
To my way of thinking this way of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of healing, fits in nicely with the example and actions of Jesus of Nazareth, rather than the more mechanical and impersonal ‘secret confession to a priest’ who has no involvement in the whole affair.
Therefore I, as a Christian, must face up to my ability and responsibility to facilitate forgiveness for those who sin against me, in any way, by my attitude and willingness to go at least half way.
The attitude of the father of the prodigal son must be my guiding star.

6th Sunday of Easter (B) 2018

‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.’
Jesus of Nazareth was sent to us by God, our Father and Creator, so that the love and joy which resides within the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – be shared with you and I, and reside in us always.
This is what true religion means.
So any religion or religious teaching that deliberately fosters or promotes fear or unhappiness is false religion.
So also any interpretation of the Bible which promotes fear of God ( that is fear as in fear of violence, fear of deliberate punishment, fear of imposed pain etc.) is a wrong interpretation of the Bible and needs to be restudied and reinterpreted.
As an aside it is important to note that our understanding of the Bible is an ongoing process. Scripture scholars are continually having new or fuller insights into our present understanding of the Scriptures. This will, and should continue to be welcomed by us and not treated with automatic suspicion or rejection.
It is important to note that many of us, consciously or unconsciously, harbour a residual fear of our God and an inherited doubt regarding the totality of God’s goodness, mercy and love for us.
It is good for me to recognise this condition in which I find myself and continually ask my God to free me from it, as it is a subtle ploy of the ‘Evil One.’
This joy about which we read in today’s gospel reading, which comes from God and is a gift of God, is not dependent on the earthly condition in which I find myself at any particular time. It must go much deeper than everyday events be they joys or sufferings. It must be based on the total trustworthiness, veracity, mercy and love of my God and a looking forward in great hope to resurrection from death and a sharing in the Eternal life of my God.
This is something that the first followers of Jesus of Nazareth understood well.
We are told of the apostles; ‘So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name.”
And again of St Paul; “This man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
There are no promises of a comfortable ride here !!!

5th Sunday of Easter (B) 2018

I remember well when I was seven or eight years old, having heard somewhere that one should not damage the bark of a tree, especially that one should not cut the bark of a tree all around; this was called ringing a tree. Curious to see what would happen, I ringed anice ash tree which was about a foot in diameter. This tree did not belong to us. Some time later my father noticed it. I haven’t ringed any trees ever since.

For some time the tree showed no signs of damage in the branches and leaves but gradually the foliage began to wilt and die. By the following spring the tree was well and truly dead and was cut down and burned as firewood. I have always regretted this act of vandalism for a number of reasons.

Today’s Gospel uses this as a simile of what happens when I lose contact with Jesus of Nazareth. I am cut off from the sap of the Spirit. I begin to wilt. I begin to drift away from the church community. I begin to not pray. I begin to attend the Mass less frequently and then not at all. I seldom think of God and then only when disaster strikes.

Spiritually I die and can only be used as ‘firewood.’ From time to time some of you have asked me about someone who was once part of our parish community. Have they moved house you ask? Are they unwell you ask? Have they died you ask? The answer of course is yes – they have been ringed and died spiritually.

This is nothing strange. A once strong friendship will, through neglect, slowly wither and die. A once single figure golf handicap will, for lack of practise, become a double figure handicap.

A once familiarity with my God will, through neglect, become a mere nodding acquaintance.

We all know how to fix this situation – the very same way you fix your golf handicap or your neglected friendship.



4th Sunday of Easter (B) 2018

There are two sorts of prayer. One is a private conversation, or communion or communication between you and your God. It is private, personal and intimate.

The second is an official, community or family function with a set form and intent.

The Mass is this second form of prayer.

A couple of things today which might improve, enliven, enhance, our Masses for ourselves and for God our Father.

What is all important is the attitude we have, our approach to, our understanding of, what our Mass is about.

Mass is a family, a community gathering, a get together, a celebration of, our bond as one family – Gods family.

We come together as one united family – God’s family here in Corsham. We come together in response to our Father’s invitation to his children to join Him at table and to rejoice in our unity as one family. We, brothers and sisters, God’s beloved children, gather together in mutual respect and love, to rejoice together and with God, as God’s family, and express, as one family, our gratitude and respect to God our Father.

Imagine grandparents throwing a party on the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary. They invite all their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren as well as some long standing relatives and friends. Imagine the greetings, laughter, hand shakes, hugs, chatter etc. as they meet, exchange news, coo over the latest crop of babies and generally catch up with family news and events. Of course each one greets the grandparents first but then mix freely with all others.

Of course at the proper time, all are called to order and to give their undivided attention to the official programme, speeches, and presentation of gifts.

That is my understanding of the celebration of Mass. That is why I encourage you to get to know each other especially those sitting near to you. That is why I encourage you to sit in different locations from time to time. That is why I try to greet you as you enter rather that as you leave. That is why we have hospitality in the hall after 9.30 mass on Sunday’s. That is why I am happy to see you getting to know each other and chatting together before Mass. It goes without saying that all the clergy do not share this understanding and attitude.

Of course the time comes when all the above ceases and we give our undivided attention to the official celebration.

How I join in the responses of the Mass is a very good indication of the degree of my understanding of, and participation in, this family celebration. Synchronised responses with a pleasing volume will help me to appreciate my part in this community celebration in honour of God our Father and in gratitude for God’s many gifts.

I always maintain that if I participate well in the Mass; If I participate mentally, emotionally and verbally, then I will, and should, feel tired at the end of Mass but also content and happy.

A Mass where the responses are given in unity of voice, with enthusiastic volume, is a joy to the ear and uplifting to the mind and soul for all present.

This does not just happen; it must be worked on and brought about.