Fr Michael's Homilies

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

12th/13th September 2020

posted 16 Sep 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.

8th/9th August 2020

posted 11 Aug 2020, 05:23 by Parish Office

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (8 & 9/8/20)

With all the disruption caused by the pandemic, various things have fallen by the wayside or been forgotten about.  How many people remember that we began this liturgical year with a Year of the Word?  So today, I want to say a bit about how we interpret the Bible, and some of the riches that are hidden inside.

Just like certain types of cake, there are different layers with regard to how we interpret a passage from Scripture.  If you want the technical terms, they are the literal sense and the spiritual sense, and the spiritual sense can be sub-divided into three: the allegorical, the moral and the anagogical sense.  All nice and technical, and you’ve probably forgotten the words already.

First, the literal sense.  As the name suggests, it’s the literal meaning of the text.  So, for example, in the Gospel, we read that Christ walked on the water, and called Peter to do the same.  That is what literally happened.  Or in the first reading, the literal sense of the text is what Elijah experienced when he reached Horeb.  This is perhaps the most straightforward interpretation of Scripture.

Next comes the spiritual sense, which, as I said, is sub-divided.

First, the allegorical sense.  The word “allegorical” is related to the word “allegory”, [pronounced “alla-gu-ry”] a story that has a meaning behind it.  If we talk about the allegorical meaning of Scripture, we’re not saying that the Bible is just a nice made-up fairy tale.  Rather, what we’re saying is that the events in the Bible and the things it speaks about point towards Christ.  So in the first reading, when Elijah goes to the cave to encounter God, it points towards Christ taking time to pray with the Father in the Holy Spirit, which we heard about at the beginning of the Gospel today.  When we read about Moses lifting up the bronze serpent in the desert, and all who looked at it were cured, it points towards Christ lifted high on the Cross, and all who look to Him are saved from sin.  When we read about Noah’s ark and the Flood, it reminds us of the Church as the Ark of Salvation, saving us from the waters of sin and chaos in the world.  Thinking of today’s Gospel, when Christ called to Peter, and when they both got into the boat and the wind dropped, it might have reminded them of parts of Psalm 28 (29), which goes like this:

“The Lord’s voice resounding on the waters,

the Lord on the immensity of waters;

the voice of the Lord, full of power,

the voice of the Lord full of splendour.

“The Lord sat enthroned over the flood;

the Lord sits as king for ever” (vs 3-4, 10).

Hence why they then bowed down before him and said, “Truly, you are the Son of God”.  They had prayed that psalm many times in their lives, and what Christ did revealed to them the He is God, in control of everything.

So that’s the allegorical sense – certain events, especially in the Old Testament, pointing towards Christ and the Church.

Next comes the moral sense.  Morals is all about right and wrong, and doing what’s right and avoiding what’s wrong.  So what is the moral of today’s Gospel?  We can draw a few morals from it.  Firstly, if prayer was important for Christ, and He made time for prayer, then we should do the same.  Secondly, Peter initially trusted in Christ and was able to walk on the water, but then he faltered.  We need to put our full trust in Christ and when things get difficult, trust that He will carry us through, rather than falter and give up.

Lastly, the anagogical sense.  “Anagogical” is a good scrabble word, derived from the Greek word anagōgē”, meaning “leading”.  The anagogical sense leads us towards the future, our heavenly homeland and the return of Christ.  So an anagogical interpretation of the Gospel would go like this:  the boat represents the Church at the present time ploughing through the waves, under attack by evil.  Christ is not in the boat, and some are worrying about the state of the Church and what will happen next.  But Christ will return at the end of the night, that is to say, the end of time.  Then He will put all things right, vindicate the Church and bring joy to those who persevered in His service.

So that’s a few of the ways we can interpret Scripture:  the literal and the spiritual senses, with the spiritual sense sub-divided into the allegorical, the moral and the anagogical sense – what it prophesies about Christ and the Church, how we should live, and what it says about Christ’s return.  And if the interpretation of Scripture is like a layered cake, then something else also applies – you can’t eat it all at once.  Eat what you can each time, and keep on returning for more.  But, unlike eating cake, do return regularly, otherwise you’ll get truth decay.

Homily for the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time, Year A

posted 3 Aug 2020, 13:05 by Parish Priest

The Feeding of the Five Thousand – there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye. When you were at primary school, you might have been taught that Jesus worked a miracle, and multiplied the five loaves and two fish in order to feed the multitude. The miracle showed God’s love, concern, providence and generosity. But then when you reached secondary school, you might then have been told that the Feeding of the Five Thousand links with the Eucharist. If you look closely, you will see that the Gospel uses Eucharistic language: “he took the five loaves … said the blessing. And breaking the loaves he handed them to his disciples who gave them to the crowds”. “Took”, “blessed”, “broke” and “gave” are words we hear each time at Mass during the Eucharistic Prayer. Jesus fed the five thousand plus, and now He feeds many more with His Body and Blood at Mass.

But there’s even more. The Feeding of the Five Thousand shows us Christ’s concern for those in need, and the Eucharist commits us too to those in need. If we recognise Christ in the Eucharist, we also then have to recognise Him in the poor. St John Chrysostom had some rather fiery words for those that don’t. This is what he said:

“You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother … You dishonour this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal … God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful.” (Hom. In 1 Cor. 27, 5:PG 61, 230-231; quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, para 1397).

We can look back over two thousand years of Church history and see that care for the poor has always been part of what the Church is all about. There is, of course, the saying, “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for life”. Help for the poor has to be both sorting out the immediate problems now and also building something sustainable for the future. Giving in charity does not mean that we believe that everyone should live off benefits and never do a day’s work. St Paul, too, had some rather strong words to say about this in 2 Thessalonians (3:10b – 12):

“We gave you a rule when we were with you: not to let anyone have any food if he refused to do any work. Now we hear that there are some of you who are living in idleness, doing no work themselves but interfering with everyone else’s. In the Lord Jesus Christ, we order and call on people of this kind to go on quietly working and earning the food that they eat.”

There are people for whom work is difficult, and allowances to have to be made, but worklessness is not a virtue. One Christian response to this is the L’Arche Community. People with learning disabilities live in family groups with other more able-bodied people, and they are supervised in doing some sort of meaningful work during the week, whether it’s making candles, or growing plants and vegetables to be sold at the L’Arche shop. Then, just like anyone else, they are paid for their work and so they have a sense of achievement, rather than being treated as different and isolated from everyone else.

Lastly, if the Eucharist commits us to the poor, we also need to remember that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word the comes from the mouth of God” (Deut 8:3, quoted by Christ in Matt 4:4). If the Eucharist commits us to relieve people’s material poverty, it also commits us to relieve their spiritual poverty. We are not just flesh and blood – we also have a soul. So many problems exist today because of a neglect of the spiritual and because people only have a very superficial and distorted understanding of the Gospel, so they refuse to follow it. Sometimes we need to be a bit more outspoken about our faith, or even the fact that we are actually Catholics, and that our faith is the reason why we are the way we are – we are not just naturally good and kinder than some of the other people you meet. God has given us a plan to follow and changes our hearts through the sacraments. Just as Windows downloads updates every so often, the sacraments give us “updates” from God to help us live in a changing world. Some people are trying to run their lives using Windows 3.1, or even DOS – their sacramental life hasn’t been upgraded for years, and their floppy drives are beginning to go kaput. We need to offer our help to these people in a tactful way, whether they are lapsed Catholics or non-Catholics. St John Paul II said that we propose our faith, rather than impose it. As I said, tactfulness is what we need, and we don’t always get it right, but it’s good that we at least try, somehow.

So to wrap up, the Eucharist commits us to be concerned for others, both in their material, and in their spiritual, poverty. As Christ said to the disciples: “give them something to eat yourselves” (Matt 14:16).

11th / 12th July 2020

posted 14 Jul 2020, 03:40 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (11 & 12/7/20)

 

Imagine what it must have been like when Christ came to your town or village to preach.  The crowds.  The excitement.  Contact with someone famous.  Perhaps you might get to see miracles taking place, people getting healed.  (Of course, there was no NHS is those days.)  Maybe you had heard what He had done in other parts of the country, and you hope the same might be repeated here.  Or you might have heard that, on one occasion, people said to Him, we’ve heard about the miracles you did elsewhere – do the same here, and He gave them a telling off for only being interested in signs and wonders.  Maybe He might give a few people a telling off this time as well.

 

Maybe it’s now a year later, and Christ has visited, and He is returning.  But this time, the crowds are not as big.  There isn’t the same excitement.  Some people think they know what the message will be, and they don’t like it, or they aren’t interested.  And, of course, at the time of Christ they had some of the same problems we have today:  people who don’t attend the synagogue very regularly, if at all, and people who do, but who just go through the motions.  When Christ preaches, after a while, they begin to switch off.  Or they listen, but afterwards, the message leaves them unchanged, and they just go back to life the same as before.  As Isaiah said:

 

“For the heart of this nation has grown coarse,

their ears are dull of hearing, and they have shut their eyes”.

 

How to engage them?  This is where the parables come in.

 

We can find ourselves that we have heard the parables so many times that we can be in danger of switching off ourselves.  And we’ve also got the explanations.  But with the parable of the sower, the people aren’t given the explanation.  It’s a bit like this:  Christ comes to Hanley, standing at the top of the steps of the bus station, and begins to preach:  “A woman went to the supermarket.  She bought some bread, a pint of milk, a jar of coffee and a few apples.”  And that’s the end of the parable.  So what’s that all about, you wonder.  You think it over, and discuss it among yourselves.  It’s a way of getting people to engage again.  Later on, Christ tells the disciples privately what the parable means, and then word begins to get out.

 

We need something like this again.  We need to get people to think, to engage.  We need to bring people to Christ, and not to just know about Him from school, just like they might know about Napoleon Bonaparte or William Shakespeare.  The trouble we have is that people do just this.  They treat Christ as a historical, or even a fictional, character.  One or two might want to read a bit more about Him, but the vast majority just pass over to the next new thing.  This why, back in 1983, Pope St John Paul II said,Look to the future with commitment to a New Evangelisation, one that is new in its ardour, new in its methods, and new in its means of expression”.  What he’s saying here is that we don’t need to only fall back on methods that have been tried  before.  We can be creative; find new ways to package the Gospel message and new ways of drawing people to Christ.  I mentioned some time ago about something called Nightfever, where the idea isn’t to go out and engage members of the public in debate, but rather instead to give them an experience of prayer:  the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, worship music is playing in the church, and people go out offering people candles to take into the church, light and say a prayer.  It does actually work.  People do actually respond – young people, because at that time of night they tend to be the majority of the people around, if your church is in the middle of a town somewhere.

 

But Nightfever isn’t the only method.  Furthermore I think we can sometimes get a bit discouraged with evangelisation:  we pluck up a bit of courage and speak to someone, or hand something out, or something like that, and then we get a rebuff.  But look again at the parable of the sower:  the sower seems to waste so much seed – he just spreads it everywhere, and some of it ends up on the path.  Some of it ends up in places where it grows for a while, and then wilts.  But some of it puts down deep roots and bears fruit, and it can be the same with evangelisation – a lot of our effort seems to have gone to waste, and a lot of it seems to yield poor results.  But some of it actually succeeds – the important thing is that we actually sow.

 

Christ faced the problem of how to engage people and decided to use parables.  What method will we use?

21st / 22nd March 2020

posted 26 Jun 2020, 01:26 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A – Laetare and Mothering Sunday (21 & 22/3/20)

 

This is the first time that I have ever prepared a homily, knowing that I won’t actually deliver it at Mass.  It’s a bit of a strange experience.  But my plan is to continue putting together homilies to be read from the parish webpage, or printed off together with the parish bulletin, as a way of reaching out to the parish and all others who wish to read these homilies, at this time when public Masses are temporarily not taking place.  In the Gospel today, Christ says, “the night will soon be here when no one can work”, and it sounds a bit like what is happening now, as the country “shuts down” and even the Church in this country says that we need to spend time in isolation to avoid the further spread of this virus.

 

For many of us, the cessation of public Masses will be sorely felt, as will the “fast” from the Eucharist.  Those who can, will be able to watch Masses over the internet, streamed from various locations (unfortunately we don’t have this facility here in the parish).  It will be possible to make a spiritual communion, asking the Lord, present on the altar to enter into our hearts.  But still, it won’t be the same as being physically present at Mass and receiving the Lord sacramentally.

 

For others, who don’t regularly go to Mass, there might be different responses.  For some, the fact that they now don’t have the option of going to Mass even if they wanted to, might mean that they miss it more than they did before.  For others, it might be that it doesn’t make any difference.  They never wanted to go anyway, so now that Masses have ceased, their response is one of indifference.

 

The important thing at this time, though, is that the Lord has not abandoned us, and neither has the Church.  The present situation is only temporary.  In some ways, in this time of Lent, it might seem a bit like living through Good Friday after the Death of Christ.  But it’s not.  Christ is still present in the Blessed Sacrament in our churches.  Now perhaps might be a time to re-discover the Lord’s presence there, what Pope St Paul VI referred to as, “the living heart of each of our churches” (Credo of the People of God, no. 26).  He continues by saying, “And it is our very sweet duty to honour and adore in the blessed Host which our eyes see, the Incarnate Word whom they cannot see, and who, without leaving heaven, is made present before us.”

 

To recognise the Lord requires a new vision.  Rather than just using our eyes to perceive outward appearances, we need what is sometimes called the “eyes of faith”, to see Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament.

 

Today’s Gospel makes a similar point:  who are the ones who can truly see, and who are those who cannot?  The man born blind encounters the Son of Man.  He is healed of his physical blindness, and then is gradually able to recognise Christ, not just as any other man, or just as a prophet, but as the Son of Man, God-among-us who is to be worshipped.  Meanwhile the Pharisees, who are supposed to be the ones with the sight of faith, who claim to be followers of Moses, are not able to see who Christ is, and reject Him and all who follow Him.

 

So when we enter the Church, and see the red sanctuary light burning near the tabernacle, or see the Host exposed in the monstrance, do we see just another ordinary ecclesiastical object, one among many, just like we might see a candlestick, an altar cloth, a carpet, or do we “see” the living God?  Do we respond like the Pharisees, who rejected Christ as a liar, a false prophet and a sinner, or do we respond like the man born blind, who on seeing Him, worshipped Him?

 

The reality of the Blessed Sacrament is not an act of self-deception.  It is not just “in the mind”.  It is reality, as real as everything else around you.  If someone were not to believe that a wall was hard, and ran towards it, reality would catch up fairly soon!  Just because someone else might not believe that the Blessed Sacrament is truly Jesus present among us, disguised under the appearance of bread, it doesn’t mean that He isn’t there.  Hence why the Blessed Sacrament deserves special respect, and isn’t treated like any ordinary object.

 

But the importance for us now, at this time of worldwide pandemic, is to know that Christ is here with us, now.  He has not abandoned us.  As He said in the very last line of St Matthew’s Gospel, “And know that I am with you always; yes to the end of time” (Matt 28:20).

 

Before I end, just one final thing:  on Sunday 29th March, England will be re-dedicated to Mary as her dowry, as her special property, and as part of the lead-up to this, we are asked to pray a special triduum (three days) of prayer.  You will find on this website and also printed off in church, a Litany of the Saints and Martyrs of England.  Let’s join together and pray this litany on Thursday 26th, Friday 27th and Saturday 28th March.  I will make the re-dedication prayers available for Sunday (also available at www.behold2020.com), which we can then all pray together in our homes, asking for the help of Our Lady and the saints of this country at this difficult time.

 

God bless,

                                Fr Michael

Holy Trinity

posted 8 Jun 2020, 03:51 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year A (7/6/20)

When we begin our prayers, we normally start with the Sign of the Cross.  But have you noticed that we say, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, not “In the names of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?  Normally, if there is more than one of something, we use the plural.  So whilst we might talk about one apple, we would say there were three apples, or whilst we might look around the church and see that there is only one paschal candle, there are many candles lit around the altar and tabernacle.  Of course, there are oddities and irregularities in English as well.  So whilst we might talk about one sheep, we also talk about two sheep, rather than two sheeps.  And then there are certain things which are dialect, so whilst, technically, we should say “ten pounds”, it’s not unknown for people to refer to “ten pound”.

But with the Sign of the Cross, the use of the word “name” is deliberate and good English.  There is only one God, who is three persons.  So the one God has a “name” which is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  He is one God, not three gods.  It can be difficult to picture, although we might have heard of the shamrock;  it can be difficult to explain, because God can never be fully understood by the human mind:  he is superior to us, and we are inferior to Him.

Our belief in God as one yet three persons is a fundamental part of our faith.  Yet for people of other faiths, it can be something they struggle with.  The Muslims believe in one God and they also believe in Jesus, but they say that He’s not God, just a prophet, and they disagree with us about what He actually said.  The Jews believe in one God, but they reject Christ as the Messiah and therefore don’t think He is God either.  And then there are other religions that don’t have a place for Christ.  And none of them would regard the Holy Spirit as God, yet a distinct person from the Father and the Son.

We are invited to have a deep relationship with God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  In the Gospel, Jesus said, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life”.  In the year 2000, the Church released a document called Dominus Iesus, which re-affirmed the importance of Christ.  It caused a bit of a storm because it reminded people of the uncomfortable truth that without Christ, there is no salvation.  Without the death of Christ on the Cross, we have no way of getting to heaven.  It’s as simple as that.  The thing is, that when it comes to dialogue between the Catholic Church and the other religions, this fact becomes a bit of a stumbling block.  But we can’t ignore Christ or try to get around Him.  If the document Dominus Iesus wasn’t difficult enough for the issue of interreligious dialogue, then look again at today’s Gospel:  “No one who believes in him [i.e.

Christ] will be condemned; but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already, because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son”.  So does that mean that if you’re not a Christian, then you’re damned?  It can sound like it.  It’s certainly a call from Christ not to be indifferent!  If you know about me, then follow me.  The bus is about to leave.  Don’t hang about and get left behind!

So do only Christians go to heaven?  Do only Catholics go to heaven?  Back in 1964 when the Church met for the Second Vatican Council, these were some of the questions they tried to answer.  To keep it brief, the Church said that Christ Himself said that we need to profess faith in Him and be baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Since we need to be baptised, and being baptised makes you a member of the Church, then the Church is necessary as well.  But God is not unreasonable and inflexible.  So, I quote:

 “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve salvation” (Lumen Gentium 16).  

But note it refers to people who “through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church”, and it says they may achieve salvation, not they will.  This is the case because, I quote again, “they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it” (Lumen Gentium 14).  

But would anyone really do that?  We can speculate and say that it could be possible, perhaps due to us giving a bad presentation of the Gospel.   “If that’s your God, then I’m not interested.”  Today the first reading is interesting.  The Lord descended in the form of a cloud, which is an image of the Holy Spirit.  Then the Lord proclaimed:  “Lord, Lord, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).  Who could fail to follow a God like that?  But Moses has to intercede to God for the people:  “True, they are a headstrong people, but forgive us our faults and our sins and adopt us as your heritage”.  We can look around us and say that nothing has changed – the same description applies to us as well.

So we turn in humility to the Lord.  What more could we wish than to live our lives with the Lord?  Perhaps the most appropriate way to finish is with the words of St Paul from today’s second reading: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Pentecost 1st June 2020

posted 8 Jun 2020, 03:29 by Parish Office   [ updated 8 Jun 2020, 03:32 ]

Homily for Pentecost, Year A (1/6/20)

The first Pentecost:  a day when the Holy Spirit moved with great power among the apostles, a real “wow” occasion when people were drawn to see what was going on.  They heard the preaching of St Peter, accepted his message, repented of their sins and were baptised.  “That very day about three thousand were added to their number” (Acts 2:41).  So why is today so different?  There are a few reasons:  here are some of them.

Clearly, at the birth of the Church, God the Holy Spirit decided to kick-start things in a big way with the powerful wind, the tongues of fire and the gift of simultaneous translation, as well as the powerfulness of St Peter’s preaching.  Since those days, we haven’t seen exactly the same manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the Church.  But God has still been at work.

But perhaps here is one of the problems we have today:  in today’s Gospel, Christ gives the apostles His own authority to forgive sins.  It’s a gift that is passed down through the Church with the sacrament of ordination to the priesthood.  But how many people use that sacrament today?

Connected with this is the fact that we have stifled the working of the Holy Spirit by a false form of human psychology.  Believe it or not, to feel guilty at times is a good and healthy thing.  It shows your conscience is still working.  Yes, our conscience needs correcting at times, but sometimes it is thought that all guilt is bad, and that it’s bad to make someone feel guilty.  But that’s not true.  There are times in our lives when the Holy Spirit prompts us by making us feel guilty.  This is the Lord calling us to repentance, to join the queue for confession, unburden ourselves and leave everything at the feet of the Lord.  But instead it can be easier, perhaps because we feel apprehensive, or ashamed, or awkward - and who isn’t at some point? - sometimes it can be easier just to try to ignore the feeling and hope it will go away, and tell ourselves that it is nothing to worry about.

Now we need to be careful here, because there is also such a thing as unhealthy guilt.  Sometimes, after we are forgiven by God, we still struggle to forgive ourselves.  Or it might be that in fact our conscience is a bit out of alignment and we over-react.  So how do we know which is which?  How

do we know which is the functioning of a correct conscience and which is down to scruples, or even the working of an evil spirit?  This is where we have a real gift as Catholics.  As Catholics, we don’t just read the Bible and decide for ourselves what it means.  There is a whole rich treasury of what it’s all about contained in the teaching of the Church.  1 Tim 3:15 says that the Church “upholds the truth and keeps it safe”.  So when it’s a matter of interpretation, or a moral question, we turn to the Church for the answer.  Sometimes it might mean reading up on something in the Catechism of the Catholic Church or some other official document, or it might mean asking maybe a priest or a sister for advice, or discussing it in confession.  One useful phrase I was taught in my training was that if I was unsure, then to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out”.

But part of the whole re-aligning of our lives is the sacrament of confession.  It is a sacrament of healing – healing our relationship with the Lord, and also giving us internal healing of sin, helping us to be the people the Lord is calling us to be, helping us to shine with the grace of God.  It’s when we shine, so to speak, that we draw others to the Lord, as St Peter did on that day of the first Pentecost.  That is how we renew and build up the Church – as each one of us individually is healed and restored by the Lord, others begin to say that they want to have what we have got:  they are intrigued by what makes us different and what is behind this great outpouring of love we have for God and for others.

So how do we put things right in the Church?  Well, it begins with us really.  Being faithful to what the Lord asks us means being faithful to what is passed onto us by the Church, and asking the Lord’s help in confession when it goes wrong.  They say that saints are sinners who know their need for God – and if we are to give God to others, we have to first receive Him ourselves.

Ascension 21st May 2020

posted 29 May 2020, 04:56 by Parish Office

Homily for the Ascension, Year A (21/5/20)

 

The Ascension:  Christ went up to heaven on a cloud.  Did the disciples think:  oh well, that’s all that over now; back to how life was before?  No.  First He said to them that all authority, not just in heaven, but also on earth had been given to Him.  As a result, “Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you”.  That command applied to them, and it also applies to us.  It’s not for us to shirk our duty.

 

We are a missionary Church, and it’s part of our name.  We are Catholics.  But what does “Catholic” mean?  The word “Catholic” comes from the Greek words kata holon which means “according to the whole”.  Those two words, kata holon, have two dimensions:  “according to the whole” as in the Catholic Church has the fullness of the truth revealed by Jesus, teaching without error, and secondly, “according to the whole” in that the Catholic faith is for all peoples:  everyone is to be brought to Christ.  No-one is to be told “you’re fine as you are” or left alone in his or her ignorance.

 

We have to engage in mission.  The Muslims are trying to convert us.  The Protestants are trying to convert us.  In every parish I have been in, I have had Muslims try to convert me.  They haven’t gotten very far, but they have actually tried.  A group of Protestants in Birmingham tried it once as well, and I pointed out some of their misunderstandings and caricatures of the Catholic faith.  But the Protestants are making inroads in South America, leading many Catholics away from the Catholic faith.  The atheists are trying to convert us to their way of thinking – and look at all the converts they are making – people in our own families.  Are we just going to accept all this, and think that it’s somehow fine for all these people – and others – to try to convert us, but it’s not fine for us to try and convert them?  “But what about ecumenism, what about inter-religious dialogue, what about religious freedom?”  Do any other others halt their missionary efforts because of this?  If Christ has given us the fullness of the truth, and the mission to go, make disciples, baptise and teach, who are we to say no to the Lord?  Should we throw it all away, let everyone else make converts, and let them gradually eliminate us?

 

Perhaps it’s worth saying a bit about religious freedom.  It is wrong to coerce people – in some parts of the world Christians are either heavily taxed or put to death for practising their faith.  Coercion breed rebellion and resentment.  But coercion is not the only way to convert people.  St John Paul II said that we propose our faith, we don’t impose it.  A bit of a difference there.  We propose, but don’t impose.  But it’s important that we actually propose it, rather than remaining silent.  There is also the complementary saying of “error hath no rights”.  People have rights, but error itself has none and can and should be eliminated.  You would do the same in other areas.  If someone walked into the room and said to you that Boris Johnson had died two weeks ago from Coronavirus, you would probably want to put him right.  So why not when someone claims that Our Lady wasn’t always a virgin, or that Jesus wasn’t God, or that the Catholic Church isn’t the Church that Jesus instituted, and that He didn’t give it infallibility in matters of faith and morals?

 

“Yes, but that’s kind of hard to debate with.”  Not if you learn about your faith.  Read books.  Watch some of the great videos on YouTube and various Catholic websites.  (If you want to discuss some of the things you come across with me, get in touch.)  We are the Catholic Church.  We are like an army.  Our leader, Jesus Christ, has given us the order to charge.  Before He went to the Cross, He said, “Now the prince of this world is to be overthrown.  And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:31b-32).  We are to defeat the powers of darkness, and sin, and error, and everything else that gets in the way of the reign of Christ, not make peace with them, because making peace with all these is to admit defeat and to give up.

 

Someone once characterised the three most recent popes’ approach to evangelisation as follows:  Pope John Paul II said, “This is what we believe”.  Pope Benedict said, “This is why we believe it”.  Pope Francis says, “Now get on with it!”  We will each have our own style when it comes to evangelisation.  Some might be more bold, cheeky, even.  Others might be more indirect and diplomatic.  There is no “one-size-fits-all”.  We each have our own styles and each person has to be approached differently.  But approach we must.

 

So as Pope Francis says, we must get on with it.  And as Christ promised, “know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time”.

16th / 17th April 2020

posted 18 May 2020, 05:59 by Parish Office

Homily for the Sixth Week of Easter, Year A (17/5/20)

 

This coming Thursday is the Solemnity of the Ascension, and in today’s Gospel, Christ is preparing His disciples for when He will ascend to the Father.  He said He would not leave us orphans.  So what has He left us?

 

Well, firstly He says that He will ask the Father to send us the Holy Spirit.  We can often neglect and forget about the Holy Spirit; He seems to be sometimes the forgotten person of the Holy Trinity.  We pray to the Father, we pray to the Son, but the Holy Spirit hardly gets a mention.  The Holy Spirit is not some vague “force” like in Star Wars; the Holy Spirit is a person – we can pray to Him just as we can pray to the Father and the Son.  Perhaps at this time when churches remain closed, we can spend some of this time rediscovering the Holy Spirit, praying to the Holy Spirit – of course the days between The Ascension and Pentecost are nine days of intense prayer praying for the Holy Spirit to descend on the Church – it’s the scriptural origin of the Catholic practice of praying a novena – nine days of prayer asking for something important to happen.

 

We also find the Holy Spirit present in all of the sacraments, which were also given to us by Christ.  The first sacrament we ever receive is baptism.  When we are baptised, the Holy Spirit sets up His dwelling place in our soul.  We receive the gift of what is known as sanctifying grace, which is only lost by mortal sin, and can be restored by going to another sacrament, the sacrament of confession.

 

In the first reading, the Philip it refers to is not the apostle St Philip, but rather one of the first deacons, ordained a bit earlier on in the book of Acts.  It is because he is a deacon that he baptises the new converts in Samaria, but can’t confirm them.  So the apostles in Jerusalem send Peter and John, who were both bishops in terms of the sacrament of holy orders, and they lay hands on them, i.e. they confirm them, and they receive the Holy Spirit.

 

You could ask, if they had already received the Holy Spirit at baptism, why did they need to receive Him again?  What’s the difference?  There’s only one Holy Spirit.  Yes, but there are many different sacraments, graces and charisms that the Holy Spirit gives.  Baptism is different to Confirmation.  Confirmation is yet another way in which the Holy Spirit empowers us to serve the Lord and bear witness to Him in the world.

 

The Holy Spirit works through all of the sacraments.  It’s by the action of the Holy Spirit that the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ.  Just as the sacrament of Holy Orders involves the laying on of hands, just as the sacraments of confirmation and anointing of the sick involve first the laying on of hands, so at Mass, when the bell is rung for the first time, the priest lays his hands over the gifts of bread and wine as the first stage.  Then, at the second stage, the words of consecration are said, and the bread, and then the wine, are changed into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.  He is present amongst us again.

 

So now another question:  if we receive baptism once, and confirmation once, why receive Holy Communion more than once?  And why so often?  Well, for one thing, each sacrament is different.  In Holy Communion, we are united with the Lord, a bit like a marriage.  A couple say they love each other when they get married, but that’s just the start, not the end of their declaration of love for each other.  In the same way, Holy Communion unites us with the Lord, but love means that we stay in regular contact and reaffirm our love for the Lord regularly, as He does for us in Holy Communion.

 

Of course it’s a bit of a sore point at the moment, with public Masses suspended.  Spiritual Communion is better than nothing at all, but nothing beats actually receiving the Lord sacramentally, just the same as seeing someone on a computer screen is not the same as being in the same room with that person.  A while ago a video was put together by Catholics across the country, with quite a few from this Archdiocese, asking for churches to be re-opened, and even if we can’t have Mass yet, then at least for us to go and pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.  There is the saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Maybe one of the good things to have come from churches being closed is a growth in appreciation of the Mass and the other sacraments of the Church.  At the moment we are  being put to the test.  Will we allow our faith to grow lukewarm, or will it grow more fervent?  Time to pray to the Holy Spirit – enkindle in us the fire of your love.

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