2nd Sunday of Advent (C) 2018

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

1st Sunday of Advent (C) 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feast of Christ the King (B) 2018

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

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

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

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

33rd Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

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

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

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

32nd Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

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

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

31st Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

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

30th Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

Life is a bit like a batsman in cricket. Balls come at you fast, slow or in between. They spin and bounce this way or that way. They can bounce short or long etc. No matter how good you are you are eventually bowled out.
When bowled out the batsman does not give up playing the game. He/She learns from the experience and continues to try and improve their game.
Many Christians, when they are bowled out give up the game. They experience their faith and trust in God wavering and fading when they experience difficulties in life. They ask angrily ‘why me?’
They are annoyed at God and ask ‘what good is God to me?’ ‘What do I get out of it?’
Today’s Gospel reading shows us Bartimaeus. Imagine him a strong resourceful man earning a good living. He goes blind. He cannot work any more. He becomes a huge burden on his wife and family. He is led to the side of a road every day by one of his children to beg from passers bye in an effort to eke out some sort of a living. His and his families’ once strong religious observance now seems pointless. They do not attend the Synagogue any more except rarely.
But there is still something there – a faint spark of faith and hope in the God of his earlier life.
Hearing from the unusual crowd that Jesus of Nazareth, the so called ‘prophet,’ the so called ‘man of God’ is passing by, Bartimaeus, in his despair and depression at what life has thrown at him, cries out in a last gasp of fading faith and hope – “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
A lot of us find ourselves or have at one time found ourselves in a spiritual position like Bartimaeus. Our faith and hope in God is formless, wispy, inconsequential, unhelpful, pointless. I am almost fully convinced that there is nothing there for me.
This is the time, in my spiritual blindness, in my spiritual helplessness, in my spiritual barrenness, in my rapidly fading faith and hope, to cry out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

29th Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

We are so used to people blowing their own trumpet that we take it for granted.
We should be aware that self-praise is no praise. It amazes me how often I listen closely to someone telling me about all they do and have achieved, and more or less believing it. Even we can recommend a person for a job or a position solely on the strength at what that person has said about themselves. We make an art of self-promotion and self-deception.
When I feel the need to praise myself or the amount of work I do or to emphasise how busy I am, it is because I am unsure of myself or of my abilities. Self-praise demonstrates my weakness rather than my strengths.
Today’s Gospel reading is alien to the mores of this world.
It emphasises the gulf which exists between life in the Kingdom of God and our everyday life and aspirations. And I quote “You know that those who are recognised as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
It surprises me that so many of you here in St’ Patrick’s parish do spend so much time and energy in service to others. Your example helps me, and I am sure many others, to do a reality check on our own commitment to service to others.
The seats at the high table in the Kingdom of God will not be allocated to the dignitaries of State, Church or commerce but to those whose lives have been ones of humble service.

28th Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

‘Jesus …. said to him. …… Go, sell what you have, and give to (the) poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’
Jesus invited (called) this man to be one of his Apostles. This calling required that he abandon all his worldly attachments and possessions. This was for him ‘a bridge too far.’
Although I am not invited to be an Apostle, I am nevertheless invited by my God to share the assets God has gifted to me with those in need.
The Governments of the world seem to be determined to accumulate the gifts God has given us in as few hands as possible. We are now in a situation where many people in work no longer earn a living wage. Where it can take a lifetime to acquire ones own home even when both husband and wife are working full-time. Where ‘our’ governments are no longer ‘our’ governments but the
government of the wealthiest five or ten percent. Where truth is no longer available and news is a hodgepodge of fiction and spin. Where war and civil strife are waged (by proxy) by financial interests and multinational companies to gain control of the natural resources of poor country’s; totally ignoring the welfare of these countries’ populations.
There is little you and I can do politically to remedy this situation as successive governments seem to fall prey to the same vested interests.
What we can do is share our good fortune with those in need, by supporting the appropriate charities where we know that our donations go to the needy and not to the inflated salaries and expense accounts of ‘fat cat’ ceos’ and directors. The smaller the charity the more likely it is to deserve our support and to use it effectively.
Anyone who gives regularly and generously will have experienced the joy it brings and the freedom it gives from attachment to money and possessions.

27th Sunday of the Year (B) 2018

Today’s Gospel reading is not about adultery but about misogyny and the abusive nature of marriage, for women, at that time.
Observing how Jesus of Nazareth treated the women among his followers as equals, the Pharisees tried to trap him with their question.
Firstly Jesus states God’s plan for marital relations by quoting the Book of Genesis; ‘From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.’
This is the ideal. This is what is to be aimed for, desired and fostered in marital relations.
But the ideal is not always achieved. Things go wrong for any number of reasons.
So in the Old Testament and at the time of Jesus of Nazareth,
when things went wrong in marriage a solution had to be found. The Jewish solution was as follows (keep in mind here that it was a very patriarchal society where women were the property of husbands or fathers and were treated as such.) : All a husband had to do, and I quote from Deuteronomy; ‘When a man, after marrying a woman …. is later displeased with her because he finds in her something objectionable … he writes out a bill of divorce and hands it to her, thus dismissing her from his house.’ Of course this was totally one-sided as a woman could not divorce her husband. She could not do the same.
Adultery was punishable by stoning to death. But a man was not regarded as committing adultery against his marriage or his wife if he went with another woman as his wife was his property. His fault was in diminishing the value of another man’s property (his wife or daughter). If a woman did the same she was condemned to death because she had violated her marriage. In short the wife was not regarded as a partner but as part of her husbands property.
What Jesus is trying to get across here to his listeners is that this one sided treatment of women is wrong and unjust. What is true for the wife is equally true for the husband. Husbands cannot hide behind a human law or tradition which is blatantly patriarchal and self-serving to give themselves an unjust and unlawful loophole.
This astonished the Jews not least his disciples and I quote: Shortly after ‘In the house the disciples again questioned him about this.’ They are shocked at Jesus saying that the duties and rights of husband and wife were equal; That adultery, whether by husband or wife, was equally reprehensible.

I may look on the relationship between the sexes in the Old Testament as pretty neanderthal but judging from the response to the ‘#MeToo’, things have not changed that much in the interim.