Fr Michael's Homilies

Homilies by Fr Michael Puljic, Parish Priest of Sacred Heart, Hanley are to be found here. 

21st/22nd November 2020

posted 23 Nov 2020, 02:19 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year A (22/11/20)

Think of someone like Saul, the great persecutor of Christians. He had a good knowledge of his faith, so he thought. He had zeal for God’s cause. And putting two and two together, that meant that you had to get rid of Christianity. Perhaps if you had tried debating with him, he could have used the Scriptures against you. He was so sure that he was right, and it must have been such a crushing defeat when Christ blinded him on the road to Damascus. But note, Christ does not say to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting the Church” – of course, he was persecuting the Church, trying to get rid of it. Instead, Christ says, “why are you persecuting me?” To persecute the Church of Christ is to persecute Christ, to try in vain to separate the Lord of the Universe from His People.

So there is a profound link between Christ and the people of His Church, the baptised. But we also know that if Christ is Lord of the Universe, then all people are His. We also know that He is present in a particular way in the poor, those who are marginalised, the suffering, the weak, those whose bodies are far from perfect, those who are afflicted with disease and so on. We have to sometimes overcome our prejudices. When we are young children, we are read (“red”) and we watch children’s stories, where it is easy to tell who the good people are and who are the baddies. But in real life it is not always so easy. We can’t think that the more physically perfect you are, the better a person you must be. Sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes it is the people with more profound disabilities who reveal to us the joy of life and a way of being that is simple, direct, without attempts to deceive others or to cause others harm. They are the defenceless ones who need our protection.

So we are to come to the aid of those in need as a way of spreading Christ’s kingdom. But it’s not always easy. St Vincent de Paul said that we should not judge the poor by their outward appearance, and in effect he said that we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t have perfect middle-class manners. Remember, we are not in the world of children’s books, where the good people are beautiful to look at and are properly mannered, and the evil people are ugly and carry poisoned apples. Sometimes, in this world, it’s the ones you least suspect who turn out to be the rotten apples. Appearances can be deceptive.

Talking of appearances, what is the crux of the message of the Last Judgement? What we do to others, we do to Christ. Some people may not look very Christ-like; but what we do to them we do to Him. And also, what we don’t do, we do to Him. Sins of omission, where we fail to do a good act, can be just as bad, or worse, than sins of commission, where we do a bad act: neglect of the hungry and thirsty; neglect of the stranger; neglect of those who are naked, sick or in prison. By these sins of neglect, we sin against Christ! Those on His left say, yes, but Lord, if I had known it was you, I would have helped you. He is giving us this warning now, so that we do know, and don’t repeat their mistake.

It reminds me of a joke I was told almost twenty years ago:

There was a young man called Paddy. He wasn’t a very good Catholic. He used to spend a lot of his time down the pub with his friends, and not a lot of his time praying or going to Mass. Anyway, he came under the influence of the Salvation Army, and became a changed man. And then the day came to give his testimony. His friends laughed and they cried, and they thought it was all so silly what he now believed.

But time went on, and Paddy’s friends died and appeared before the judgement throne of God. They were terrified. “But”, they said, “we didn’t know Lord. We weren’t sure Lord.” And God replied [replacing the swearword from the original version I was told] “Well, you jolly well know now!”

A bit like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, we are given a warning now, so that we can put our house in order. But it’s not just about being nice to people: it’s about our love for the Lord and building up His kingdom, letting people see what it looks like when God reigns in someone’s heart.

So, we may not be on quite as bad a footing as poor Saul. But we too have been shown what is right, and as Saul became St Paul, we too can make something wonderful of our lives too, with the grace of God. 

15th November 2020

posted 16 Nov 2020, 00:56 by Parish Office   [ updated 16 Nov 2020, 01:01 ]

Homily for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – World Day of the Poor (15/11/20)

A few months ago we were looking at how there are different layers of meaning within the Scriptures. Besides the purely literal meaning, there is also the eschatological meaning – in plain English, what this text has to say about Christ’s return in glory. We also noted how Our Lord’s parables are designed to refer to Him, which is why occasionally some of the details don’t always reflect life as we would expect it. So today, we have the man who went off abroad, and didn’t return for a long time. When he did return, then it was the time of reckoning for his servants. Well, surprise, surprise, as we get closer to the start of Advent, the readings turn towards the theme of Christ’s return in glory, and in this parable, Jesus is the Man who “goes off abroad” – not just to a distant country, but to heaven, and is then to return “a long time after”.

There’s also another detail and key to this parable, and the other parables Our Lord gives us. The master is always the honest one, who doesn’t try to deceive, whilst some of the other characters do. So when we come to the man
with the one talent, who says, “Sir, ... I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered” there are at least two things going on here. Firstly, he is trying to make up
excuses, and the master, Christ, has no time for them. Secondly, though, the man with the one talent is giving a distorted image of God – the inflexible headmaster, where you’re always in trouble no matter what you do – so why bother trying? You’re going to get a beating anyway. That’s not what God is like. Sometimes we need to purge ourselves of our own misconceptions of God and be reliably informed by what Christ has revealed.

Moving to the more literal understanding of the text, good financial management is also a lesson here. Remember that it is the love of money which is the root of all evil, not money itself – money can be used as a tool to
further the kingdom of God. It’s when money becomes the master that it shows itself to be a cruel tyrant. In Luke 16:11-12, Our Lord says: “If then you cannot be trusted with money, that tainted thing, who will trust you with genuine riches? And if you cannot be trusted with what is not yours, who will give you your very own?” 

It’s quite a startling message, when you take it seriously! Firstly, more obviously, our being given riches by Christ is a test, to see if we can be trusted with the proper riches of heaven. Secondly, the riches are not our own – they have been given to us by God. We don’t have absolute ownership over them. We are to use our riches to help people in need. That’s not an optional extra – it’s a demand of our faith. Do we trade our talents by investing them in the poor and those in need? Now, of course, charity begins at home. If, say, a father wastes all his money on gambling, which means that there is nothing left to spend on his family, then there is a serious problem. If a mother were to spend all her money buying excessive amounts of clothes for herself, and neglecting her children, there would be a problem as well. So charity begins at home. We have to look after those closest to us. I think that point is fairly obvious. But we also, as Christians, have to think of the wider Church family and the wider family of the world. We can’t expect to single-handedly solve all the world’s problems, or all the problems in the Church. But we can do something, and sometimes it might be that we don’t have the money, but we do have a bit of time that we can spend in helping those in need. That can be a different sort of investment for the sake of the kingdom of God, changing the world around us for the better.

The first two servants in the parable invested their master’s money and doubled it. If we look at the Scripture reference for the first reading, you’ll spot that it has been shortened. If you look at the rest of the chapter, it gives the example of the industrious woman, who organises her servants, buys a field, plants a vineyard, joins in with the work and works long hours to provide for the family. She also gives good advice and assists those who are poor and needy. That’s another example of investing the master’s money and making a good return, and being a good example and being held in high esteem by the neighbourhood. 

As we head towards Advent, our readings turn towards the return of Christ in glory. Will we be ready? How are we investing the money, the time and the gifts that God has given us? How are we caring for our families, the Church, the wider world, the poor and those in need? Money is to be a servant, not our master: our true master is Christ. Our money has been given to us by God, to further His kingdom and as a test to see if we can be trusted with real riches. May we pass the test with flying colours, and be a shining example of what is possible, in the Lord. 

7th / 8th November 2020

posted 9 Nov 2020, 01:06 by Parish Office   [ updated 16 Nov 2020, 00:57 ]

Homily for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (Remembrance Sunday) – 7 & 8/11/20

On Thursday, England went into lock-down again, and just before 9 am, Cardinal Vincent Nichols spoke on Radio 4 to express his opposition to the cessation of public Masses. The interviewer began by quoting the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, which has described the cessation of public Masses as “a source of deep anguish”. During the interview, which is available on the BBC website, the Cardinal said that this measure was not supported by any scientific evidence, as churches are “very well managed, they are very well cleansed and they are among the safest places that people go to”. He also added, “that’s not true in most places of social gatherings”, making the important point that going to church is not a social gathering; the government’s approach “shows a misunderstanding of the importance of religious faith”. He did, however, say that it was good that churches will be open for private prayer, which was something that wasn’t initially possible under the previous lock-down [see from 2:50.32 onwards]. One consolation, of course, is that it seems that this lock-down has a sell-by date, and should only last for four weeks. But even so, that’s four weeks without public Masses. It leads us to reflect on how important our faith is to us, and how important the Mass is to us.

In the parable we just heard, the bridesmaids were waiting the arrival of the bridegroom, but it says that they all grew drowsy and fell asleep, both the wise ones and the foolish ones. Perhaps if we have grown a bit drowsy, now is the time to arise from sleep. For some, that might be a more literal thing: when Christ the Bridegroom appears at Sunday Mass at the consecration, people need to wake up, get out of bed and get to Mass in the morning – I can remember a student once saying that some of her fellow students take Sunday as a day of rest quite literally, and don’t get up until the afternoon. But there can be other ways in which we can be asleep, sometimes without even realising it.

This year, for my annual retreat, rather than going away to a retreat house, I stayed in the presbytery, and one of the books I read during that time contained the conversion testimony of Fr Steven Scheier.

Fr Steven was involved in a head-on collision with a pickup truck and ended up in intensive care. It was thought that he had only a fifteen percent chance of survival, and that he could be paralysed from the waist down for the rest of his life. But his parishioners prayed the rosary for him every morning and evening, and the Protestants prayed for him too, and he recovered in record time, without any paralysis. But afterwards, something suddenly came to him. Following his accident, He had appeared before the judgement throne of God, and the verdict wasn’t good. Our Lady interceded for him to be given a second chance, and Our Lord granted it.

Why had he been sentenced to hell? His parishioners thought he was a good priest, but that was all a bit of an act. His prayer life was practically nil. He didn’t mind saying Mass, but he didn’t mind missing Mass, either. He liked being popular, which distorted his ministry. He said:

“What brought me to the sentence I received was a string of broken commandments. For twelve years, I pantomimed being a priest. My priesthood, the Lord told me, was only the bitter icing on top of a rotten cake.”

Today, he is quite a different priest. He sees the need to bear witness to the truth, despite ridicule and unpopularity. He is less judgemental, although he recognises the need to recognise right from wrong. He recognises the importance of the role of Our Lady in his life, and the need to pray the Rosary, both in thanksgiving for what happened to him, and also in prayer for others. He says, “I was allowed to come back to tell others, particularly priests, that hell exists, and we are liable to end up there. My mission is also to tell people Divine Mercy exists, and God’s love outweighs his justice.”

Going back to Cardinal Vincent’s interview on Radio 4, he mentioned an initiative that Protestants and Catholics are asked to take part in during this time: to pray every evening at 6 pm that we hold together as a nation, that the best of us comes out, not the worst. We can add to this that our nation comes to recognise Christ once again as the source of “peace on earth”. May this be a time of purification for us all, that we may re-align our focus on the things that really matter.

Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.

All Saints' (1st Nov 2020)

posted 2 Nov 2020, 03:57 by Parish Office

Homily for All Saints’ Day 2020

Take the following phrase: “Queen Elizabeth was born on 21st April 1926”. What’s wrong with that phrase? Queen Elizabeth wasn’t queen when she was born. She began life as Elizabeth Windsor. Or take the following phrase: “St Paul began his life as a persecutor of Christians”. What’s wrong with that? Well, he didn’t begin his life as a saint. “St Paul began his life as Saul, and in his younger years was a persecutor of Christians.” Is this all just nit-picking? We know what it means, so why be pedantic? The point I’m making is that saints are not born, they are made. There are certain people that God raised up to do great and amazing things, to alter world history. But everyone here is called to be a saint. As I’ve said on previous occasions, if we don’t become saints by the time we die, then there’s purgatory to finish off the job.

We sometimes hear of people who are described as “living saints”. Pope John Paul II was one such famous example. But he wasn’t perfect from day one. It’s said that he went to confession once a week. They say that saints are sinners who know their need for God. That was certainly true in St John Paul II’s case. But we find the same thing in today’s first reading. We are presented with a scene with “a huge number, impossible to count” of people who have been martyred for their faith in Christ. But note carefully: the fact that they gave their lives didn’t mean that they earned their way into heaven. They got into heaven because of the sacrifice of Christ: “These are the people who have been through the great persecution and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb”. The holiness of their lives and their final act of witness were only possible because Christ gave them the grace to do that. Their salvation in heaven was only possible because Christ died for them so their sins could be forgiven. They didn’t earn their way into heaven and get their by their own efforts. They were not their own saviour. Like the rest of us, they were born with Original Sin, which was washed away in baptism, and with God’s grace they progressed in virtue and saintliness. It wasn’t an easy road – but you bet it was worth it for the reward at the end of it. Some of those who died as saints were big sinners in their earlier life. As St John Vianney said, “The saints did not all begin will, but they all ended well”. It means there’s hope for us all.

Now the saints are all in heaven, they don’t forget us, leave us alone and just spend their time enjoying themselves. Would that be selfish? They’re part

of the Church. Sometimes they’re referred to as the Church Victorious, whilst those in Purgatory are the Church Suffering, and we on earth are the Church Militant. We are at war against the various attacks and deceits of the evil spirits, with the saints praying for us, and if you like, cheering us on. Fr Ronald Knox once said that he imagined it as being a bit like a football match, but of course the saints don’t using swear words when foul play is detected. When a saint dies and goes to heaven, it can seem like a loss. But when St Dominic was dying, he said to his fellow Dominicans:

“Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life”.

St Therese of Lisieux said, “I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth”. (Both quoted in CCC 956.)

The fact that the saints do pray for us is shown by people who have their prayers answered. Just think of the shrine at Lourdes: if you look in old black and white photos of the shrine, you will see various walking sticks, crutches and so on hanging up there, as testimony to the healing different people received by praying to Our Lady at the shrine. The same can be said of the shrines of other saints, such as that of St James at Santiago de Compostela.

So today, we celebrate the glory of the saints, people who once were like us on earth, people who were born just the same as you and I, but with the grace of God, became saints whilst on earth. Their witness shows it’s possible for us – and their prayers help us on the way to heaven.

24th / 25th October 2020

posted 30 Oct 2020, 03:15 by Parish Office

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (24 & 25/10/20)

St Augustine of Hippo is sometimes quoted as saying, “Love, and do what you will”. But what is love? It’s not quite so clear as you might think. This is what St Augustine also says:

“…we find people made fierce by love; and by wickedness made seductively gentle. A father beats a boy, while a kidnapper caresses him. Offered a choice between blows and caresses, who would not choose the caresses and avoid the blows? But when you consider the people who give them, you realize that it is love that beats, wickedness that caresses. This is what I insist upon: human actions can only be understood by their root in love.”

So when Our Lord tells us to love God above all else, and our neighbour as ourselves, we need a bit of “programming”, if you like, as to what love is. What does it mean to love God? What does it mean to love our neighbour? We have to know the whole content of our faith. Some years ago, I was running a session of the parish youth group in my first parish, and they were doing a bit of preparation for confession, as we were in either Advent or Lent at the time. I can remember one of the teenage lads, who was in the sixth form by that point, looking through the CTS A Simple Prayer Book, which has an examination of conscience, and we were laughing at him as he discovered more and more things that he did that were sins. He was saying things like, “Oh no! And sarcasm is a sin as well!”

If we just get back to the original context in Our Lord’s time, the Pharisees think that this time, they’ve really got Him trapped. The Jewish Law is so complicated, that no matter what He says, people will argue against it. There were so many rules and regulations and commandments and so on. Is He going to pick the Sabbath? The honour due to God? Care for the weak and oppressed? Etc. etc. But no. He zooms out from all of these and says that the most important, over-arching concern is first, to love God above all else, and then secondly, our neighbour as ourselves.

Fast forward to the 1970s, and now people in the Catholic Church, or more accurately, some people in the Catholic Church, take the opposite extreme to the Pharisees. In the past people learned the Penny Catechism off by heart, not always understanding all of it until they were older. But now we

just say, “God loves you”. All the rest you’ll work out for yourself later. How should I behave? “Love, and do what you will.” And so we have people poorly formed in their faith, and also many people lapsing from their faith.

We’ve moved on from the errors of the seventies. We need to know our faith, but it’s not just about intellectual knowledge. Our faith is something multi-layered, including prayer, spirituality, mystery, the lives of the saints, the life of grace etc. It’s also not just about the externals, either, but they are part of it. You can get someone to do a good impersonation of a practising Catholic, going to Mass, knowing what to do in church etc., but there needs to be the heart. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Not just the mind alone, but with all your heart and all your soul. And then, after all that, there’s the whole topic of how we love our neighbour. The Church produced the Catechism of the Catholic Church back in 1994, a whole lot bigger than the Penny Catechism, revised it in 1999 to make it hopefully a bit easier to navigate and understand, and then, if you wanted a bit more detail on how to love your neighbour, brought out the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church in 2005. There’s plenty of bedtime reading. But, if you’re a convert whose family are non-Catholics, you will know that you need more than just reading books – you need to speak to real Catholics and see how the faith is lived out (ideally Catholics who live out their faith properly, rather than ones who haven’t been to church since they were baptised when they were two months old). We can take great inspiration from the saints, but how do we live the faith now, in 2020? In St Augustine’s time, there was no social media.

Just going back to St Augustine, he did say, “Love and do what you will”. But he wasn’t a 1960s hippie. He was a fifth century Catholic bishop. What he meant was that when we love perfectly, then we only want to do what pleases God. And who is the best example of that? Our Lady. When the archangel Gabriel presented God’s plan that she was to be the Mother of God, her love for the Lord and her openness to His plan meant that she couldn’t do anything else but say yes. It was a case of, “Love and do what you will.” “ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said to be done to me'," (Luke 1:38)

17th / 18th October 2020

posted 30 Oct 2020, 03:12 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – World Mission Sunday (17 & 18/10/20)

The relationship between the state and the Church: sometimes, we can think: weren’t things wonderful back in the past, when England was a Catholic country? The king was Catholic, his advisors were Catholics, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York were Catholic archbishops, and to be a Christian meant to be a Catholic – the two were the same thing. But then came King Henry VIII who messed everything up. He broke with Rome, quite conveniently declared himself to be Head of the Church in England, and once a few awkward people, such as the monks, and the people who took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace, had been dealt with, then religion came under state control. Ever since then, we as Catholics, have been a bit wary of the state, particularly given the memory of the Catholic faith being banned for almost three hundred years. But weren’t things wonderful in the past? Well, actually, there were still problems. Just think of the martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury, also known as St Thomas à Becket. The then king uttered those words one evening, “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?”, or words to that effect, and a few people overhear the remark, and decide to get into the king’s good books by killing St Thomas in his own cathedral. We always have to be careful of relations between the state and the Church.

Other countries have had similar problems. Take the Church in Spain. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the options for any citizen were to align with either the communists or with Franco. Clearly the Church couldn’t align with the communists – they hated the Church and were literally crucifying priests on the doors of their churches. You can even view photos of it if you wish. So the Church opted to support Franco. It meant that whilst in communist countries, if you went to Mass, your career opportunities were rather non-existent, in Franco Spain, going to Mass, or even daily Mass, was good for your career. But Franco wasn’t the perfect Catholic.

But let’s not forget that God does work through non-Catholics and non-Christians to achieve His purposes. Look at the first reading. King Cyrus was a pagan. But it was through him that God was going to bless Israel. If you look on the internet, some videos claim a similar thing for Donald Trump. If you look at the rest of the reading, it sounds a bit like him as well:

“to subdue nations before him

and strip the loins of kings,

to force gateways before him

that their gates be closed no more” (45:1)

Mr Trump isn’t exactly shy! Someone said that when he met with European leaders, his attitude was one of, I’m the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, whilst you’re just the leaders of small European nations. Some Americans are putting their hope in him that he will help in the battle to guarantee religious freedom and also for greater progress with the abortion issue. The issue is quite polarised in America, with the option of voting for the cutting back of abortion or voting for more of it, and it seems that one of the radio stations I listen to doesn’t like to mention that word, but tries to hint to it in other ways instead, perhaps fearful that people might wake up and start to question it. But question it we must.

Today we also celebrate World Mission Sunday, and in days gone by, one of the missionary approaches was to convert the king, knowing that then the conversion of the whole country would follow, or at least be a lot easier. You can question whether, with such an approach, some of the conversions were nominal conversions, i.e. people just converted in name, rather than in terms of true and deep conviction. In the second reading today, St Paul praises the Thessalonians, because, “when we brought the Good News to you, it came to you not only as words, but as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction”. Today, it seems that the state prefers Christians who are simply nominal Christians, as they are more likely to go along with whatever they say and not make strong stands in conscience against what they dictate. Nominal Christianity is also responsible for people in government claiming to be Catholics but then going against Church teaching on important matters, such as the abortion issue, but also others besides. Being a Catholic is not only about words, but also about power and the Holy Spirit and utter conviction. It’s no good saying, “I’m personally opposed to racism”, but then claiming it’s someone’s right to choose to be a racist and act in a racist manner. If something is wrong, then you stand up against it. The methods you choose may vary, but you don’t just go along with it. That’s true for any important moral issue.

So ultimately, all people, both citizens and rulers, have to acknowledge the power of God. We may have certain duties to the state, but the state isn’t God. Or to quote St Thomas More, who was executed by Henry VIII for not going against his Catholic faith: “I am the king’s good servant, and God’s first”.

10th / 11th October 2020

posted 16 Oct 2020, 01:14 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (Third Scrutiny on Sunday) – 10 & 11/10/20

Today/tomorrow, we celebrate what is called the third “scrutiny”, a third stage for those who are preparing for baptism as adults in this parish. Part of the purpose of the scrutinies is to show that to be baptised and follow the Lord requires a change of heart; the prayers that we use echo the call to conversion, and also include a prayer of exorcism to free those to be baptised from the attacks of the evil one.

When we go back to the beginning of the Gospels, we see a similar thing. Before Jesus began His public ministry, John the Baptist preached repentance and performed a kind of baptism, although we learn in the Acts of the Apostles that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance; it wasn’t the baptism that Jesus gave to His Apostles to practice, that wipes away Original Sin and makes people members of the Church. When you become a Catholic by being baptised as an infant, everything is rather truncated. As an adult, you take many classes of instruction first, you become a catechumen, then you take part in the three scrutinies on three separate Sundays, and then, normally at the Easter Vigil, you are baptised. As an infant, it is all collapsed into one celebration. You’re too young to undergo any instruction, so that has to happen later. You haven’t committed any sins yet to need to repent. The priest or deacon says just one prayer of exorcism, anoints you with the oil of catechumens, your parents and godparents make promises to bring you up as a Catholic, and then you are baptised. But the important thing is, that whatever age you are when you are baptised, becoming a Christian requires a different way of life to some of the people around you. Living life as a follower of Christ requires not only words, but also deeds. It’s both faith and works. It’s both coming to Mass on Sundays and also putting what you have learnt into practice during the week.

In the parable of the king who gave a feast for his son’s wedding, those who were invited first, decide they aren’t interested and invent excuses. So he gets his servants to invite people off the streets to come in, both bad and good alike. But then comes the slightly strange detail at the end: the man without a wedding garment, who is thrown out. The kingdom of God is open to everyone, whatever their background, good or bad, but they must convert. Just two Sundays ago, we heard Jesus say to the chief priests and elders of the people, “tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way

into the kingdom of God before you. For John [the Baptist] came to you, a pattern of true righteousness, but you did not believe him” (Matt 21:31-32a). The tax collectors and prostitutes were having a change of heart, such as, for example, the Apostle St Matthew, or St Mary Magdalene. So as Our Lord’s crucifixion and death draw near, He goes and raises Lazarus to new life. That is something that actually happened, but his death and being brought back to life by Jesus point to something else. We read in Genesis, and also in the Book of Wisdom, that death came into the world because of the sin of Adam and Eve. That is a fact re-affirmed by the Second Vatican Council (see Gaudium et Spes, no. 18, plus footnotes). Lazarus dies, but through the action of Christ, he is brought to new life. In the same way, the human race has died spiritually, because of sin, but through baptism shares in Christ’s death and resurrection, and rises to new life. So it’s a contradiction, after baptism, to go back to sin again. Unfortunately, we still do.

We all have to undergo daily the battle between good and evil, within our own hearts. It was something that St Paul struggled with as well. But he was able to say in his letter to the Philippians, “There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength” (4:13). St Paul found it a battle, but he won in the end, and so we call him Saint Paul. He was a flesh and blood character, who had his faults just like any of the rest of us. But he found himself driven irresistibly forwards by the Holy Spirit. And with the Holy Spirit he finally gave the supreme witness to Christ of martyrdom – he couldn’t be crucified like St Peter, as he was a Roman citizen, so they beheaded him with the blade of a sword.

If we follow Christ faithfully, where will our lives lead? That, we don’t know. What we do know, is that if we are faithful, there will be times when it is a rough journey, and things in our hearts have to change. But, as the saying goes, “faint heart never won fair lady”, and in the same way, if you an easy life, well, the door is right behind you. 

3rd / 4th October 2020

posted 7 Oct 2020, 03:28 by Parish Office   [ updated 7 Oct 2020, 03:28 ]

Homily for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

I was saying last week how, with some of the parables that Jesus taught, they sound a bit strange – sometimes they might make people think: why did the main character do that? Surely so-and-so would have been a better option? If we look briefly at the parable of the landowner, we find a similar thing: the owner of the vineyard sends some of his tenants to collect the produce, but the tenants give them a beating, and kill some of the them as well. So the landowner sends a larger number of servants, and the same happens again. So after all of this has happened, he sends his son. Surely he could predict what was going to happen? His son is killed. Why was the landowner so foolish? Simply because the whole point of the parable is that it is a description of the history of Israel: God sent the prophets, and the people took little notice of some of them, abused some and killed others. And what’s going to happen next? Now that God has sent His Son, His Son is going to be killed by the Jewish authorities. They are the bad tenants that have been put in charge of the vineyard, Israel. They should be giving glory and honour to God; instead they are misusing the gifts of God for their own selfish enjoyment, and everyone else is suffering as a result. Or as we read in Isaiah:

“Yes, the vineyard of the Lord of hosts

is the House of Israel,

and the men of Judah

that chosen plant.

He expected justice, but found bloodshed,

integrity, but only a cry of distress” (5:7).

So when we read later on, in St John’s Gospel, about the healing of the man born blind, it’s rather refreshing. Here is a man who was born blind, and Our Lord gives him his sight. But not just his physical sight. He also gains spiritual sight, to recognise who Jesus is. Meanwhile, the Pharisees are obstinate in their rejection of Christ, and so they reject the testimony of the man born blind.

So is the moral of the story then that the Jewish authorities went wrong and corrupt, so Jesus established the Church in their place, and that’s the end of the story? That’s part of it, but there’s more. Two things then: where do the Jews stand today, and where do we stand? Are the Jews condemned forever? Is anything bad that happens to them just simply their fault? That’s not what St Paul said, in his Letter to the Romans.

In Romans 11, St Paul comes up with his own mini-parable. He begins first, though, by saying, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? [By this he means the Jews.] By no means! … God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew… For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Vs 1a. 2a. 29). What is going on, he says, is that the Israelites rejecting Christ has created the opportunity for the Gentiles to get to know Him. Now the parable of the olive tree: God has created a cultivated olive tree, which is the House of Israel. Some of the branches have been broken off, and in their place, wild olive shoots, the Gentiles (Gentiles are the non-Jewish nations of the world) – the Gentiles have been grafted on in their place. But: here is the warning. Branches that have been grafted on can also be broken off, and the natural branches can be more easily grafted back on. If we are talking about the true religion, and following God as He wants us to follow Him, then that is open to anyone, and also, anyone is able to fall away. But God’s plan is for all of us to be reunited together. As St Paul continues:

“For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree” (V. 24).

We are all called to be one with the Lord, regardless of our background. The important thing is not our background, but our response to God. Are we to be like the Pharisees, and the bad tenants of the vineyard, or like the man born blind? Both the Pharisees and the blind man were Jewish – that is not the issue. The issue is faithfully following the Lord, which enables us to recognise who Jesus is.

12th/13th September 2020

posted 16 Sept 2020, 01:52 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (12 & 13/9/20) 

I can remember, before I started training for the priesthood, that a priest said to me that when you train for the priesthood, some things can’t be taught in the classroom – you can only learn them at the coalface, as it were. So after I was ordained a priest, it was both good and necessary to be able to turn to other priests of much greater pastoral experience for advice with some of the situations I came across. 

One of the issues I turned to for advice was that of forgiveness. Not God’s forgiveness, but people who had perhaps been deeply hurt by someone in the past, and found it difficult to forgive. Domestic violence was one such example. Sometimes, good Catholics find themselves so deeply hurt by someone that it then begins to affect their faith. They can’t pray those words in the Our Father “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. They just can’t bring themselves to forgive. One thing I often say is that we can often associate together the words “forgive” and “forget”. But they aren’t the same thing. Sometimes, we can easily forgive and forget. It was only a small matter, it wasn’t much of an issue, and if you hadn’t come and said sorry, I might have forgotten that it ever happened in a week’s time anyway. But sometimes, things are so bad, they cause such deep distress, that there is no way you will ever forget it. Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. It is possible to forgive without ever forgetting. Forgiveness is saying that someone owes us a debt, but we are not going to go and collect the debt. The debt is cancelled. There may be times in life when we are in danger of going back on that, of digging up the past, and it might require an effort and quite a bit of prayer to make sure that someone stays forgiven. Forgiving, and forgetting, are two different things. 

Another example: I know of a situation where there were two work colleagues, and something happened. The person who was offended against didn’t think it was much of an issue. But somehow management found out and got involved, and the offender submitted a note of apology. The person who had been “offended” didn’t think it was much of a big deal, but others thought it was. The offence could have been easily forgotten about without any forgiveness being offered. But the one said sorry, and they other gave forgiveness. 
Our faith is a very practical faith. There can be parts of our faith that we don’t appreciate or see the worth, until someone, or some situation, means that we join the dots and see the relevance. What about penance, and offering things up? Conflicts arise between people because this person want to do A, and the other wants to do B. The first person does not want to do B, and the second person does not want to do A. We have a problem and a conflict. Can both people always insist on always getting their way? Penance and offering things up mean that we do things for God that we wouldn’t necessarily choose to do. So when we have a conflict, we can choose to go along with what the other person wants, and offer it up as a penance. Sometimes, we might later on realise that the other person had the better idea; at other times we might have to bite our tongue to avoid saying, “I told you it wouldn’t work” etc. etc. 

Connected with that, we all notice that others have faults. But we need to acknowledge our own. “Those living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” So a quick story for you: There was a young man who grew up in an African tribe, and went to England to university. When he came back to his tribe, he became king after the death of his father, but he found that his golden throne, situated in his grass house, was a bit uncomfortable. So he ordered a settee from England. It arrived, and he had the throne stored up in the loft. 
The months went by, and he found his settee an ideal place to conduct his business as king, and he could recline on it when he wanted to and put his feet up. Anyway, time went by, and time went by, and then one day, the ceiling gave way, and the throne fell down from the loft and squashed him. And the moral of the story is: those living in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones. So there’s something for you. As Christians, we are called to forgive. But forgiving is not the same as forgetting, and we need to remember our own faults, so that we don’t judge others too harshly. Those living in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

22/23 August 2020

posted 24 Aug 2020, 02:33 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

(22 & 23/8/20)

Who is your favourite Pope? There are so many possibilities down through the ages – so many different personalities and styles of leadership. Maybe you prefer Pope Francis. Some people see him as being more like your average, friendly Parish Priest, rather than a distant figure. Perhaps you might prefer the great charisma of Pope St John Paul II, and his great devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady. You might prefer Pope Benedict, a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord, with his clear insight, deep thought, yet his real ability to explain the faith to First Holy Communion children. Perhaps you might prefer a Pope from the more distant past. But whatever your choice, or choices of favourite Pope, they were all a focus of unity and a real gift to the Church.

The papacy is a real gift. It means that there is direction and focus in the Church, and most importantly of all, we are kept on the straight and narrow when it comes to following the Lord.

Back in the time of Our Lord, the Jews had a similar sort of authority to guide them. In Matthew 23, Jesus says, “The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say”; unfortunately, though, He has this to add: “but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach” (vs. 2-3). In today’s Gospel, Christ sets up a new authority in His Church. As I’m sure you remember, St Matthew’s Gospel was written for Jewish converts, who would have a good grasp of the Old Testament, and so it includes reference back to the Old Testament. Today’s Gospel is no exception, as it refers back to the first reading from Isaiah. Shebna is dismissed from his post and replaced by Eliakim son of Hilkiah. The Lord transfers the authority to him and says, “I place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; should he open, no one shall close, should he close, no one shall open”. Compare that with: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven”.

But we know from the life of St Peter, that this authority doesn’t mean that Peter is perfect in every way, or therefore that any Pope is perfect in every

way. Peter was impetuous – at one moment he said that he was prepared to die for Christ rather than deny Him, but then a few hours later he did deny Him. Popes, despite the grace given them by God, are still human beings and can still make errors of judgement. But the real gift we have as Catholics is that, because of the Pope, because of that gift of the Holy Spirit they have, we have a body of teaching that is sure and definite, like a rock. It’s not like other situations, where we have to weigh up what different people say, and we have to know who is more trustworthy, and who doesn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. When it comes to matters of faith and morals, when the Pope teaches, it is Peter who speaks, and Christ who speaks through him. An off-the-cuff remark is different. If the Pope is asked who is the best football team, he probably won’t answer either Stoke City or Port Vale. But when speaking in an official capacity as Pope about an important matter of Church teaching, that is when we need to sit up and take notice. And if I ever preach anything that seems to be contrary to the Catechism, then check with me first what I said. But if there were ever to be a conflict, then you must follow the Catechism, which sets out the teaching of the Church, as taught by the Pope.

So who is your favourite Pope? Whatever your answer, we know that no matter what the personality of the Pope, God is at work through him; his authority goes back to Simon Peter, and the Holy Spirit is his guide.

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