Trinity Sunday (C) 2019

The Holy Trinity is all about three persons who live in unity, co-operation and love.
In every hamlet, village, town and city in the country there are thousands and thousands of people promoting unity, togetherness and mutual support through various organisations, be they sports, mutual interest groups, various clubs, churches, charities, etc.etc. And yet we seem incapable of electing leaders who promote and seek unity and peace among all our people.
The ordinary people (forgive the term because they are in no way ordinary) of this country respect one another and rub along pretty well together, most of the time, co-operating on many levels for the common good. But our leaders come among us and sow dissent, mutual suspicion and disunity for their own selfish ends and ambitions.
How do such good, intelligent people elect such leaders???
There is one thing we must thank Mr. Trump for. He has brought home to us, in the most graphic way, how ubiquitous ‘fake news is’ and how irrelevant truth is to political leaders of all persuasions and colours.
Speakers of truth are drowned out and vilified. Speakers of truth are labelled as the enemy. They are regarded as a treat to national interest and security.
A house divided against itself cannot stand. A country divided against itself cannot stand. History is littered with the bones of mighty nations and empires brought low by internal dissent and disunity. Are we not now witnessing the same dissolution of the United Kingdom??
This is what Jesus of Nazareth referred to as the power of this world.
He told us that he had overcome the powers of this world (the power of untruth and greed) by absorbing all the evil the world could trow at him (his arrest, torture and execution on a cross) and then rising triumphant from the dead.
He told his disciples that though they must live in this world for the time being yet through his teaching and the power of the Holy Spirit he has taken them out of this world, meaning that we are enabled to live our lives in this world as people who do not belong to the falsehood and greed of this world.
We are enabled to live as people of the Resurrection.
Look on the Holy Trinity as the exemplar of the basic human unit as created by our God. The human family. Husband, wife and child, bound together by love, mutual support and mutual dependence.

Pentecost Ecumenical Service (C) 2019

A sailing ship with unfurled sails can be quite a sight, but it is going nowhere  without the wind.

The function or action of the Holy Spirit in our lives has been likened to the action of wind on the sailing ship.

This, of course, is only a human image and like all human images of God or the action of God, is subjective, symbolic and inadequate.

To continue with this image of the sailing ship, even if there is wind but its sails are furled it will only drift aimlessly. Should it also be anchored it will only drift in circles.

The function of religion and the churches is to help me to weigh anchor and unfurl the sails so that when the Holy Spirit breathes on me I am ready to move. Like the crew of the sailing ship I have to be willing to move from where I am and take all necessary action so as to catch the wind of the Spirit when it comes.

At no point in my life will my spiritual life and practise of religion be adequate. It will always be a work in progress. It must always be changing. There must always be movement from where I am to some other position.

Like the crew of the sailing ship I must wait patiently with anchor raised and sails unfurled. This is what I describe as `unconditional availability’ to my God and to my fellow human beings.

This is what is meant in Lk. 12: “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like  servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.”

And Rev. 3: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”

Should I have the TV blaring loudly (that is being preoccupied with self interest ) I will not hear the gentle knock.

How open and alert am I to the breath of the Spirit? Have I weighed anchor and unfurled the sails ready to move, or am I still at anchor or, worse still, am I tied up at the wharf waiting for the perfect weather forecast, which of course never comes?

We can be utterly unaware of the prompting and guidance of the Spirit

of God in our lives or we can be constantly aware of the guidance and

help of the Spirit. Again most of us are a combination of both to varying

degrees. Another variable is the type of person we are.

Never judge your spiritual life; your relationship with God, by comparing it with that of others, or comparing it with what you read

about some `saint.’ Each one of us is created different. Each one of us

will have a different relationship with God depending on the sort of

person we are. Again never disparage another’s relationship with God. This is something I find difficult as one is inclined to thing that ones experience of God is the only valid one.

Each one is led by the Spirit in their search for God and the relationship

they have is, within certain broad limits, something which can only

bring delight to God.

Pentecost Sunday (C) 2019

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago when discussing the ‘sensus fidelium’ (that is the church, as God’s family on earth, be it universal, national or parish level, being led and guided by the Holy Spirit in their discernment of what is right or wrong, what is Christian teaching or not Christian teaching ) today’s Gospel reading reiterates this ability inherent in the Christian community.
As always happens in human influenced organisations the political and institutional entity of our church has claimed this help and guidance of the Holy Spirit as solely their prerogative and domain.
These claims were widely used and enhanced by church leadership from the fourth and fifth centuries ad.  As St Augustine, in the fifth century, put it succinctly; ’Roma locuta est, causa finita est.’ ( translated; ‘Rome has spoken the matter is closed’)
As church political leadership laid greater and greater claim to being the sole recipient of the guidance of the Holy Spirit they downplayed and ignored any such ability existing in the local church community. This was graphically illustrated when John Paul 11 completely shut down any discussion of the possibility of female ordination, solely on his own initiative.
Pope Francis is trying to reverse this long standing trend by urging local bishops conferences to solve their own problems and work out their own initiatives. A great number of bishops are allergic to making any moves in this direction; not least our own.
Human beings as a race are power hungry. We grab all the power we can.
We are at least partly to blame for this. We allow it to happen on the civil political level and also on the Church political level. We sit back, shrug our shoulders and moan ‘what can we do?’ We should have to be dragged away, kicking and screaming in protest, at being deprived of our God given rights and abilities.

7th Sunday of Easter (C) 2019

‘I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.’
Jesus is not just praying for his original disciples who knew him personally but for all who believe and follow his teachings as passed down to us from his original disciples.
Why is he praying to the Father for us – for you and I – ‘so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you.’ So this is why Jesus was sent by the Father to live among us. So that you and I may live in unity, peace, mutual respect and mutual support.
Furthermore Jesus goes on to say that this is the only way ‘that the world (those who know not God) may believe that you sent me.’
We are always being told to pray for this and for that. Which many of us do.
You judge for yourself as to whether these prayers are being answered.
Praying, it seems to me, is the easy option. One comes to me for help and I say ‘I will pray for you.’ Does that alleviate his/her hunger?
I know the answer very well but I hide from it.
It is in today’s Gospel reading and I quote it again ‘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.’
Christianity is an invitation for us to join and share in the life of the Holy Trinity family.
Where do I start? Not with God. God is out of my line of sight. Never gets in my way. Never contradicts me. Never tells me to stop acting the fool.
So I start with my family. ‘So that we may all be one, as you, Father are in me and I in you.’
Then I try the same with my Christian family – my parish family.
Then seeing how we live our neighbours and acquaintances may begin to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was sent by God.
After all does not the life and words of Pope Francis do the same for you and I.

6th Sunday of Easter (C) 2019

Jesus said. ‘Those who love me will keep my teaching, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’
What is Jesu’s teaching; ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all you’re being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and you’re neighbour as yourself.’
But loving God whom we can neither see, hear nor touch is difficult – But there is a way; ’If anyone says, I love God but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.’
So true Christianity, true religion, must hinge on how we treat one another. ‘Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.’
Every religion has, over the years, surrounded itself with what I call scaffolding. Things to be done, prayers to be said, services to be attended, doctrines to be adhered to, purely human rules and laws to be blindly obeyed. The origin of each individual item of this scaffolding was, at the time it was introduced, meant as an aid to following the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.
Very often, over the years and centuries, this item of scaffolding became so important in the eyes of many, that it began to replace true religion. Not only did it become possible, but often common, for this scaffolding to obscure and even replace true religion.
In our own Church a case in point was our Sacramental system. Surrounded by obscure ritual, administered in a language nobody understood, the emphasis was on getting it done, getting it in, with no connection with the understanding, motivation, and intelligent and personal participation of the recipient.
The scaffolding had replaced true religion.
Hence the words of Jesus of Nazareth to the Scribes and Pharisees of his day; ‘Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name? Then I will declare to them solemnly, I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’
They had replaced true religion with scaffolding without knowing that it was just temporary scaffolding.
We are too inclined to take everything we are told as Gospel. Even in the Old Testament the prophet Jeremiah speaking of the coming of the Redeemer prophesied; ‘ But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to know the Lord. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the Lord.’
And in the New Testament St Paul says ‘The Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying: This is the covenant I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them upon their minds.’
This is so because as Jesus tells us in today’s gospel reading; ‘The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you.’
There is a long standing, but oft overlooked, doctrine of the Catholic Church. It is called the ‘sensus fidelium.’ It means that the church community, the church family, the parish community, instinctively know what is right and wrong, what is true religion and what is false religion. This is so because of the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit in the parish community.
Pope Francis is the first Pope in a long time to tap into and use this ‘senses fidelium’ rather than just listening to the Vatican gurus.
The meeting of our deanery on June 1st. at Trowbridge is also a belated recognition of this ‘sensus fidelium’ and acceptance of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, always available in and through the christian community.

5th Sunday of Easter (C) 2019

‘Paul and Barnabas strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’
In many countries today being openly christian invites many hardships and even persecution, imprisonment and even death.
We are lucky here in the UK. We are left in peace to live our faith if we so wish.
Despite this some of us seem to think that if we are practicing Christians ( go to church) we should not be subject to the normal injuries, accidents, suffering, griefs and losses of life which everyone, be they religious or atheist has to cope with.
In the life of Jesus of Nazareth we can see how the suffering, grief and oppression which people had to undergo, grieved him greatly and how he tried to alleviate it as much as he could.
You could say that in a way his whole life, especially his arrest, torture and public execution, was an apology to us (to me) for what we (I) must endure during life here on earth.
You can imagine God, in his love for me and his distress that I had to bear so much grief and suffering during my life, deciding that saying sorry was not enough and voluntarily undergoing even greater suffering and grief in solidarity with me and as a way of trying to convince me that He was not responsible for it.
When I look at the crucifix I cannot but consider that part of the mystery of the cross is my God apologising to me for what I may have to suffer and endure during my life.
The world as we know it needs salvation. Nations, governments, companies and most individuals are preoccupied with narrow national interest, self interest, power seeking, personal enrichment, self promotion and personal ambition and greed.
These are the powers of evil. These are the forces that arrested and executed Jesus of Nazareth. These are the demons that have plagued the world from the beginning, and that imprison and torture the speakers of truth.
That the world will or can heal itself is a pipe dream.
The Bible speaks of a New Heaven and a New Earth and I quoted; “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away …. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them (as their God). He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away.”
Meanwhile I do what I can to alleviate suffering in the world (as Jesus of Nazareth did) and like him await, with patient and unshakeable hope, for resurrection from death and my entry into the New Heaven and the New Earth.

4th Sunday of Easter (C) 2019

First reading; ‘On the following sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.’

The latest report on religious intolerance and persecution tells us that the most persecuted religion in the world is Christianity.
This is good news. It shows that the powers of intolerance, the powers of evil, the powers of injustice, the powers of falsehood and of obfuscation fear Christianity. I contribute this in no small part to the teaching, example and influence of our Pope Francis. He has, single handedly, set our church, and Christianity as a whole, on the pathway of forgiveness, tolerance, compassion and justice for the poor and the downtrodden.
For this many love him. For this many hate him. Even within our own Church he is feared and obstructed by those who do not want to follow this path.
Today’s first reading demonstrates that this is nothing new.
To quote the words of Jesus of Nazareth; “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues.”
And again; “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.”
As you and I well know, nobody is perfect. The Twelve Apostles could be an awkward and fractious lot. Good people criticise Pope Francis for not doing enough about this or about that, and rightly so, but we must also consider that he is in his eighties, an outsider catapulted abruptly from Argentina into the cauldron of Roman intrigue and political ambition. That he has achieved such change and transformation in a few short years is totally remarkable.
The very least I and you can do is to co-operate with him to the best of our ability.
The best way to do this is to live and speak truth. Jesus of Nazareth was arrested and executed for speaking truth. As Christians we must follow his example by living and speaking truth.
The world hates truth. Spin doctors make big money obfuscating truth. For the most part senior politicians do not even know what truth is.
I can guarantee you that if you speak truth in any group of people you will garner dirty looks if not outright hostility.

Seniors’ Mass, May 2019

Very often the present prayers of the Mass can be convoluted and arcane.
Todays opening prayer is ok.
It goes as following; read: ‘Fill our emptiness with the blessing of this eucharist, the foretaste of eternal joy.’
The Sacraments: as well as symbolising a now happening event also symbolise and acknowledge an already and prior existing situation.
For example Baptism makes one a child of God, but that is not all. It is also an acknowledgement and an official expression of thanksgiving for an already received gift ; Every human being is born a child of God.
The same holds for the Eucharist:
Firstly; Receiving the Eucharist (receiving Holy Communion) symbolically and actually unites me, body and soul, with Jesus of Nazareth.
Secondly; At the same time it is an acknowledgement of and an expression of profound gratitude for, an already existing union, body and soul, with Jesus of Nazareth.
Thirdly; The Eucharist is the symbol of, the actual realisation of, the definitive guarantee of, my actual presence in heaven here and now.
So it is incorrect to speak of going into heaven after death.
With God there is no past, present or future. All three elide into the one eternal now.
So the Eucharist is not just there for prolonged, silent adoration before the tabernacle (pleasant and comforting as this may be).
The Eucharist is the guarantee of the always presence of Jesus of Nazareth in me and I in him.    (‘Behold I am with you always even to the end of time’ )
The Eucharist is equally the actual union body and soul, here and now, of I and Jesus of Nazareth.
The Eucharist is also, equally, my actual presence in heaven (eternal life) and my total absorption into the Eternal Life of my God, here and now.
The whole point is a constant reminder of my actual, and total union with my God so that, with a heart overflowing with joy and gratitude for this great gift, I might sally forth into the world speaking and acting and living as Jesus of Nazareth did – as one who is already in Eternal Life with my God.
So let us rejoice and be glad. Alleluia.
A nice little touch might be ( after Communion) to greet (in your mind) your relatives and friends who have gone before you as well as deceased parishioners, deceased victims of human trafficking and the many migrants who have drowned alone at sea.

3rd Sunday of Easter (C) 2019

Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and two other disciples went out onto Lake Galilee one evening to fish. They were professional fishermen and had fished this big lake all their lives. I would assume that being so many they went in two or three boats. They fished all night (at night the fish would not see the nets and would hopefully swim into them) but caught nothing. (In a large body of water the fish tend to migrate).
At first light they wearily headed back to shore with nothing to show for their hard work.
As they neared the shore a stranger standing there called to them to know if they had any fish (Obviously wanting to buy some). Getting a negative answer he suggested that they try again just where they are. Sceptical and just to please him (he might be someone important) Peter complied and to his astonishment made his biggest catch ever.
The same story in Luke tells us that ‘when Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’
Peter got the message.
Peter and his companions went forth confidently to fish. They were professionals and knew the lake and how to fish it. They caught nothing. Then this stranger who never fished made a suggestion which they followed for the fun of it knowing that, so near the shore, it was ridiculous. It would make a good story and give them a good laugh over a glass of wine later.
But they made their biggest catch ever.
The message is, and I quote St. Paul; “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.”
Everything in the Bible must be interpreted as symbolic of some spiritual truth; Of of how God thinks and acts.
Confidence, drive, ambition, application to the job are all laudable in this world. In the spiritual world I get nowhere until, as St. Paul says “God’s power is made perfect in weakness. …… Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
A realisation that when it comes to the things of God; When it comes to my relationship with God my personal effort gets me nowhere. It is recognising my weakness, my helplessness, my frailty, and opening my life to God to do with me as God wills, that allows God to act in me and through me. This attitude, this conviction is called humility or truth. It is elusive.
In today’s Gospel reading Peter got and accepted this lesson in humility. This is what qualified him for leadership among the Apostles.
As Jesus said ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.’

2nd Sunday of Easter (C) 2019

The Apostle Thomas reminds me of our attitude to global warming, or climate change, or destruction of habitat, or over utilisation of the earth’s resources, or rampant consumerism, or overpopulation, or destruction of our environment.
We have been told about it, see its effects already, know its on the way and will effect our children and grandchildren severely but as yet have done very little or nothing in our lives to prevent it.
We see and laud people who have dedicated themselves to preventing it from happening. Who have given their lives and energy to making us aware of the dangers facing us.
Yet we procrastinate. Fail to act decisively in our lives. Don’t want to abandon our comfort zones. Are nervous of taking on what real acceptance will entail.
Is not my approach to God somewhat similar. I fear what total commitment will require. I want to be close friends with my God but not cohabit with God.
Thomas, probably more clearly than the others, realised what the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from death would entail. What demands it would make of him. The total commitment it would require. So he hesitated.
I too see what total commitment to Christianity has entailed for those brave enough to make it. So I hesitate. I inhabit the outer fringes. I commit but not totally.
I massage my conscience with the thought that ‘I have done my bit over the years.’ I avoid the thought that it is what I am now, at this moment in time, that matters.
I need to pray to Thomas for the courage to jump out of the boat and walk on the water.
I need to believe that God’s only motivation is Love.