Homilies

Seniors’ Mass, August 2019

“He said to one of them in reply, ˜My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?”
For many years of my life I understood religion to be a sort of bargain between me and God. I would try to keep his commandments and he would pay me the usual salary – a place in heaven.
I now know that the above is a totally wrong understanding of religion and of God.
I was created by God in God’s own image and likeness. I share God’s genes, God’s nature. I am made in such a way that I will only find fulfilment, pease of heart and of spirit by living like God. Religion is understanding this and striving to live in this way. Whether there is a heaven or not is irrelevant to this. If God announcer this evening that unfortunately heaven was full up and there was no room for us, nevertheless the best way for me to live will still remain the same.
We are all guilty to some extent of the same attitude of the workers who came first. Everything we have and are is a free gift from God. Yet we keep comparing our lot with that of others. Why can I not be like him or her I complain.
What I am and have been given by my God is totally unique. I try to live like my God while living with, while using, while burdened with, while blessed with what I am and have or have not.
That is religion. That is the best and the happiest and the most fulfilling way to live – all the time being grateful to my God for what I am and have.

20th Sunday of the Year (C) 2019

The Prophet Jeremiah spoke truth to the people of Israel but their leaders did not want to hear it and tried to murder him.
Jesus of Nazareth spoke truth to the people of Israel but their leaders murdered him.
As today’s Gospel tells us; “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Speaking or living the truth always brings persecution and conflict. Anyone who knows how, what we call ‘whistle blowers’, are persecuted will realise this.
I am blind to my own faults. My family, my friends, my neighbours see them clearly. I seriously resent being corrected or having even one of my faults pointed out to me. “Mind your own business” I retort angrily.

When I joined the Seminary, the first year was a spiritual year. We did what you might call a crash course in spirituality. It was a conditioning process. Part of it involved four to five hours in church each day performing various forms of prayer.
Another part involved the whole group, supervised by the spiritual director, publicly pointing out each others faults and failings. You can see the thinking behind it seeing as we are all blind to our own faults. Of course we, at the age of eighteen, had very little discernment as to this or understanding of the root causes or motivation for these visible faults. Luckily humour sometimes crept in (although frowned upon) as for example I was once accused of not removing my clerical black hat in the dormitory until I had put on my pyjamas.

The message of today’s readings is that I should be open to correction especially by those who love me and are concerned for my welfare.
I should always be alert to hints and remarks which may be vaguely critical and not resent them and strike back. Thinking later about these hints can be educational and helpful in seeing myself through the eyes of others who always see me more clearly than I do myself. Feeling gratitude for such hints should be my response rather than a hot resentment because they may well be pearls of wisdom.
For the wise, criticism from an enemy can gain one more self knowledge and understanding than floods of affirmation.

19th Sunday of the Year (C) 2019

Today’s readings are about the journey of life and the best way to live it.
Through what we call faith we know where we are going.
Through what we call hope we look forward to journey’s end with confidence.
Through what we call charity (that is mutual respect, mutual forgiveness, mutual tolerance, mutual support) we know how to live, how to journey together.
This whole edifice of my life is based solidly on the tripod of the Holy Trinity – God. Belief in God – the Creator – is essential to support this edifice.
This belief in the existence of God cannot be proved and demonstrated beyond doubt by any physical proof or verbal arguments.
Neither can the existence of God be disproved or demonstrated beyond doubt by any physical proof or verbal arguments.
Our church teaches us that this faith (belief in the existence of God and trust in God’s promises) is a gift from God. Obviously not everyone receives this gift. Why this is so is God’s secret. Just as it is God’s secret why some are born with brilliant minds and some are born mentally impaired.
This is so irrespective of what sort of a person you are.
But all human beings are created in God’s image and likeness. This means that no matter what our stance is vis a vis the existence of God, the law of God is imprinted in our very being. The vast majority of human beings follow this imprinting of God’s law most of the time. It is obviously the only way to live in peace and harmony. Some ignore this imprinting because of upbringing and environmental factors or because of many free contrary choices over a period of time.
For me the most obvious way to live is by following the law of God which is part of my very being and nature. (Does not a child, at a very early age, know or sense or understand the difference between what is right and what is wrong). To me the most pleasant way to live, the happiest way to live, the most fulfilling way to live is the way of mutual respect, tolerance, forgiveness and support; ie the law of God
This being so, we know how we should conduct our lives and affairs irrespective of belief in the existence or non – existence of God.

Belief in the existence of God is the icing on the cake.
Trust and confidence in the promises of God is the honey on the toast.

18th Sunday of the Year (C) 2019

“Concern for the future is good stewardship. But if concern becomes greed, egotism, keeping up with the neighbours, inspired by the philosophy that “we live only once,” you are in trouble. You are only God’s steward of all you possess! Do you feel responsible for those less fortunate?”
(From St.Joseph Sunday Missal.)

Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal.
You and I step back in horror at the very idea that we might do these things.
Yet we sit back comfortably on our well padded financial cushion with not the slightest twinge of conscience, when, what we have read in today’s gospel is at least as important in the eyes of our God, if not more so.

That is the message, in a nutshell, of today’s three readings.
Let us contemplate this message as we listen to some music.

17th Sunday of the Year (C) 2019

As you are probably aware, before the art of writing was discovered, events of importance were passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth by the retelling of stories and legends. People being people, these stories were embroidered and exaggerated down the centuries.
The stories of events recounted in the Book of Genesis such as the Tower of Babel, Noah and the Flood, and of course todays story about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah all had their beginnings in events or natural disasters in the dim and distant past.
For example archaeologists and geologists have recently found evidence of the occurrence of a massive earthquake or landslide in the Dear Sea region (where Sodom and Gomorrah were situated) which would have wiped out structures and inhabitants of the region at that time. There would be much rumbling, earth shaking and smoke or dust clouds.
The memory of this event, passed on by oral tradition, was taken up by the authors of the Book of Genesis and used as a story to illustrate the sinfulness of human beings and the trouble that we bring on ourselves by our greed, selfishness and rampant ambition.
There is certainly a message here for us today when naked ambition, greed and selfishness, at a personal and national level, is ratcheting up hatred and intolerance. If things continue as they are, if lies and deliberate misrepresentation continue at the present pace it may end up in a major misunderstanding and crisis in which we will all suffer.
Remember the message that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is meant to convey and like Abraham pray for deliverance.

16th Sunday of the Year (C) 2019

Two great Christian virtues; Two traits, we as followers of Jesus of Nazareth should be noted for, are welcome and hospitality.
Abraham looked up and saw three men standing patiently nearby.
When I went to Kenya in 1964 it was the custom of the older generation, when visiting someone’s house, rather than going up to the house and knocking or announcing their presence with a loud greeting, to stand or sit in the shade of a nearby tree in full view of the house and wait patiently to be noticed, approached and welcomed.
This was obviously the custom also at the time of Abraham.
Having noticed them Abraham hurried to greet and welcome them into his home.
Obviously Abraham acted in this way not just because it was the custom and the done thing but principally because he felt honoured at being visited and was eager to hear what they had to say and what news they brought as well as being eager to tell them all about himself and how he and his family were.
He showed true and sincere welcome and hospitality.

Jesus and his entourage were passing by the village of Bethany on their way and Jesus slipped away unnoticed to visit his dear friends Martha and Mary.
Both sisters were as delighted to see and welcome him as he was to visit them.
But both reacted differently. Martha immediately began to think; what am I going to cook? is the house clean? is the spare room tidy and ready? And instead of sitting down and hearing all Jesus’ news and telling him her news she bustled around like a small tornado trying to do everything at once and getting stressed out and angry with her, to her mind, unhelpful sister.
All Jesus wanted to do was talk to his friends and listen to them.

In the Bible to have a visitor is an honour, a privilege, a gift.
I find that the most satisfying visit is when there is no fuss or preparation.
People sit down, talk and exchange news over a simple cuppa. You do not feel that you are disrupting anything or causing anxiety in any way.
In the Christian tradition visiting should be enjoyable and fulfilling for both the visited and the visitor.
Small tornadoes, though understandable, put everyone on edge.
I was still quite young when I noticed that when we were expecting a female visitor my mother morphed into a small to medium sized tornado and we were all swept up into the flurry of preparation. On the other hand if the visitor was male there was hardly even a gentle breeze.
I wonder why is that???

15th Sunday of the Year (C) 2019

Today we have a religious lawyer ( or canon lawyer in today’s parlance) wanting to find out who is and who is not to be regarded as his neighbour.
Remember that this is a follow up on the question he asked Jesus – “what is the greatest commandment?” The answer to which was to ‘love God and your neighbour.’
You can see the lawyer’s frame of mind.
Firstly; To him not everybody was his neighbour and therefore there was no obligation for him to love or care for them. The obligation was only towards those he regarded as his neighbours.
To get the message across Jesus picked the most despised people in the eyes of the Jews – the Samaritans. Even these despised and hated ones were neighbours and are fully deserving of our love and care.
Secondly; The lawyer was concerned only for himself – how he could fulfil the law with the least inconvenience to himself. For him, compassion for the suffering or needs of others did not enter into the equation.

Let us put this parable into today’s situation and language. For the lawyer read you and I. For the man who fell into the hands of brigands read asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. For the Samaritan who rescued and cared for the unlucky traveller, read the ship’s captain Carola Rackete who rescued 40 migrants at sea and brought them safely to port.
The authorities of the so called Christian country of Italy had her promptly arrested and imprisoned. The Samaritan who helped in Jesus’ parable was not arrested and imprisoned. What does that say for so called ‘Christian Europe today’ ?
Where do I truly stand in this matter?
What of the political turmoil we are presently experiencing these days in our own country and throughout Europe? Is not the root cause racism, xenophobia and narrow minded and destructive nationalism?
Or have I totally misread the situation?

14th Sunday of the Year (C) 2019

Besides the twelve apostles, who spent most of their time in the company of Jesus of Nazareth, listening to his teaching, watching his example and absorbing his instruction, there were also many other fairly constant followers, and these Jesus sent out before him to prepare the towns and villages on his itinerary, for his arrival. These were the seventy two.
This number is not necessarily an accurate count but indicates a large group. (A bit like the Diocesan mass count).
They were not to take supplies or funds with them. It was the duty and privilege of those whom they visited and prepared for the coming of Jesus, to feed and look after them.
This was the practise of Jesus himself. We see from the Gospels that Jesus and his group of followers were generally well looked after and given shelter.
This was so to the extent that they could regularly give alms to the poor and the needy.
This way of doing things was great in 30 ad. Galilee was a small province and easily negotiated on foot. Cutting a walking staff from the bushes on the side of the road was all you really needed to get going. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem and other holy places were common and helping pilgrims on their way was accepted procedure.
Things are different today. The whole world is a big place. Things need to be organised, money needs to be gathered, transportation needs to be paid for, those sent need to be chosen and trained etc.
This is where the organisation called the Roman Catholic Church comes into its own. It recruits, trains and sends people to all parts of the world to prepare for the coming of Jesus of Nazareth. This is what I call the political church. It organises, administers, and financially sustains this work. Those who are sent and the work they do is what I call the prophetic church.
One needs the other, to be effective, to have meaning.
But there must be a delicate balance maintained.
There are always, in any organisation, those who use the organisation to forward personal ambition, personal power and personal control.
This was, and still is a big problem in our church. It has been called ‘clericalism’ by Pope Francis who is determined to curtail and hopefully eliminate it.
Clericalism is an attitude of mind. It is a presumption of entitlement. It is a desire for self promotion. It is a controlling frame of mind. It is a desire for money, influence and acclaim.
Clericalism is not only a fault found among the clergy but even more so among the laity who deliberately kowtow and insist on full and proper titles to impress and curry favour with the clergy. In my own mind I call this the ‘yes, very reverend father’ syndrome.
What human being, subjected to this treatment on a permanent basis, would not succumb to the evil of clericalism? So blame for clericalism needs to be shared.

13th Sunday of the Year (C) 2019

Today’s gospel reading tells us that during his life here on earth Jesus of Nazareth was not looking for more followers, but for more committed followers.
I think that the churches, indeed all religions, are too focused on numbers of adherents – on numbers of followers. This is so because they consider that the greater the numbers of their members the more influence and power they have in this world.
For instance our own church requires each parish throughout the world to count mass attendance, baptisms, confirmations, marriages etc. each year. From this they can say whether the number of adherents is rising or falling. Then they can boast that they have this number or that number of followers. As in our own case, our church claims over one billion followers.
This is vanity and meaningless. For example it is not the number of relatives and friends that you can count, that is important, but the number of them who will stand by you and help you when you are in trouble.
For instance when I came to Corsham twenty years ago the official number of catholics in the parish was recorded as over 2000. This is the number the diocese sent to Rome. I don’t need to comment on such a number.

I am glad to be able to say that I think, rightly or wrongly, that most of you attend weekend mass not because you thing you are obliged to or you feel compelled to but because you want to.
When this is particularly so, like at weekday mass or senior parishioners mass or mass for a particular group, one can feel the spiritual ‘buzz’ as one might say.
To use another example; in the cold weather it is not the number of radiators in your house that matters but the degree of heat they give off.
So it is not the size of the congregation, or the size of the P.P.C. that impresses God but they’re freely given dedication and commitment.
It is good to examine my conscience as regards the why of my religious practises, not so that I stop them if I find that they are motivated by perceived obligation or fear or to merely please someone else but rather that I try to upgrade my motivation to that of gratitude to God and pray for this change.
Developing my trust and confidence in the goodness and love of my God is the surest way of doing this.

Corpus Christi (C) 2019

The reason we have the Mass is that Jesus of Nazareth asked us (his followers) to do what he had done at the Last Supper as a way of remembering Him ( that is everything that Our God has and will do for his creation, especially human beings). The Eucharists exists, not as a separate entity but as part of what He (Jesus) did at the Last Supper.

‘Do this in memory of me’ He said to his followers. He did not say when they should do it or how often they should do it. While to ‘do this in memory of me’ is a direct request of Jesus, when we do it or how often we do it is a purely human regulation. While I can clearly see the reasons for these human regulations I can also clearly see how these human regulations can and do change what should be a happy and joyful gathering into a burdensome and often boring repetition. Then it becomes an obligation with a sanction attached. Hardly what Jesus of Nazareth had in mind.

I think that there should not be a separate feast of corpus christi.
The Eucharist, which is inseparable from the Mass, tends to be treated as a separate entity and worshipped and adored as such. (We have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament rather than adoration of God, the Holy Trinity)
To me it is a bit like adoring some work of God’s hand rather than adoring God Himself.
Many will argue that adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is adoration of God and that the visible host or tabernacle helps to focus ones attention.
This is true but it is also true that the Host can, for many, take the place of God as the object of worship. For example we have Benediction straight after Mass (what a strange custom even if you do like it). We have 40 hours adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We have religious orders whose whole existence is centred round perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
You can argue that our Church has endorsed these practises, which to my mind is begging the question, as our Church has endorsed many questionable practises down the years.

From the beginning of Christianity, the Mass (‘do this in memory of me’) was the central act of worship for Christians. The Host (the bread consecrated at Mass) was only physically separate from Mass when brought to the sick who could not get to Mass, as a symbol of their spiritual presence at, and participation in, the Mass.

Then for convenience sake some Hosts were kept after mass for later distribution to the sick. This safe place for keeping the Hosts was called the tabernacle. Then people started praying to the Host in the tabernacle. Then gradually a whole cult and liturgy evolved around these Hosts.
The Blessed Sacrament (the Host) only has meaning within the Mass and with reference to the Mass. All cultic liturgies and practises involving the Blessed Sacrament must be firmly anchored to the Mass and refer directly to the Mass (the Last Supper).

What is wrong with approaching God my Father directly? Does approaching God indirectly, through some saint or through his mother, or through some symbol or relic etc. reveal a certain lack of trust in and suspicion of, God’s love, care, and compassion for me?

I am not condemning these indirect approaches to God (use them if you find them helpful) but do think of what I have said and do not be afraid to recalibrate your approach to your God.

Eucharistic ministers might try to focus the sick person’s mind on the celebration of the worshipping community from which the Eucharist emanates.