Fr Michael's Homilies

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

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.

Third Sunday of Easter, Year A

posted 26 Apr 2020, 15:08 by Parish Priest

Third Sunday of Easter, Year A (23/4/20)

I’ve never been a great fan of people making unauthorised changes to the Mass. I’m not referring to altering the hymns at the last moment, but rather when a priest (usually a priest) decides to re-word parts of the Mass, or even alter and change everything around. I heard once of a priest who thought it made more sense to swap the Easter Vigil around. Normally we begin with the lighting of the fire, then we light the paschal candle and process into the church, sing the Exsultet, and afterwards, in the light of the paschal candle, listen to the readings from the Old Testament. Instead, he thought it made more sense to have the readings first, and then go outside for the fire, light the candle and so on. But it doesn’t, because it misses an important point: we don’t read the Old Testament wondering when the Messiah will come and who He will be – we already know the answer, and it’s in the light of the risen Christ that we read the whole of the Scriptures. In Christ, it all finally makes sense. As someone once put it, we read the Scriptures with post-resurrection spectacles.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t know all this. Perhaps in some ways they were like Catholics who know bits of their faith here and there, but haven’t been able to put it all together and make sense of it. To them, it didn’t make sense and fit in with their expectations. This man “proved he was a great prophet by the things he said and did in the sight of God and of the whole people”, but he was sentenced to death and was crucified. Well, in a sense, that’s not so unusual for a prophet. Some prophets in the Old Testament were also rejected, or even killed, such as the prophet Zechariah (see Mt 23:34-35; 2 Chr 24:20-22). But the idea of a dead Messiah didn’t fit with their ideas of what He should be and what He should do. Furthermore, it seems they didn’t understand, believe in or make sense of the claims by the women that He had risen. After all, some of their friends had been to the tomb and found it empty, but they hadn’t seen Him. What’s more, there was Christ, walking among them, and they couldn’t recognise Him.

So how does Christ respond? Remember that Jesus isn’t a teddy bear. He’s not gentle and diplomatic with them. He doesn’t respond to questions with more questions: what do you think it all means? How does it make you feel? Don’t worry – God is in your hearts, and that’s all that matters. No! He says, “You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:25-27). Then He goes through the Old Testament and explains it in the light of Himself. He gives them thorough catechesis. Their hearts “burn” as He explains the Scriptures to them. It’s a life-changing encounter – their lives are never the same again. Before they were like a car where someone hasn’t connected all the parts together: the handbrake works, the windscreen wipers move, the seatbelts click, but the engine won’t start and it can’t get anywhere.

This can be how some people’s faith is today. The parts are there, but they aren’t connected together. Maybe some parts are faulty and need replacing. Someone’s decided to replace the car battery with a 9v battery from the supermarket. Rather than using petrol, someone’s filled the tank with water. There’s no engine oil. “Oh – I didn’t think you needed that.” It’s so important to have a sound grasp of your faith. Some people have been broken by various experiences in life, and by objections to the Catholic faith that others have thrown at them. “Well, if this is what you believe as Catholics, then why is so-and-so the case?” Difficulties and objections can be a chance to grow, as the disciples did on their way to Emmaus.

Clearly, the way Christ presented His catechesis was gripping and engaging. “[He] made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them” (Lk 24: 28-29). They didn’t use nightfall as an excuse to get rid of Him.

Then comes the fruit of Christ’s catechesis: when He took, blessed, broke and gave the bread, they didn’t just say, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’m sure I’ve seen that somewhere else before. Don’t worry. It’ll come to me later. It’s not important.” No. They recognised Him. They had the faith to realise who He was. And then they head all the way back to Jerusalem. Their faith bore fruit in mission. It wasn’t an intellectual study, or a nice pastime, or something they just did out of social obligation.

So, how does all this apply to us? We need to get to know our faith, so that we can both draw more deeply from the Mass, and our faith can bear fruit in mission. But just one last point: we need to challenge people – the unbaptised, the lapsed, those in error and in indifference, but how we do so will vary from person to person. Christ could read people’s hearts and know where they were at fault, whilst we can’t. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. So tread carefully, but also tread courageously. And get busy. The news of the Resurrection admits no delay.

Divine Mercy Sunday

posted 19 Apr 2020, 10:05 by Parish Priest

Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A (19/4/20)

Today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday for the first time in lock-down. Normally there would be the option of going to confession, attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion, and also of attending Divine Mercy devotions in the afternoon. But this year is not a normal year, and don’t we know it! Does this mean that the complete forgiveness of sins and punishment that Christ promised through Saint Faustina, is simply suspended this year? No. Because nothing can stop God.

Back in the first century, everyone who hated Christ, thought they had gotten rid of Him. They had seen (or heard from others) that He had been brutally tortured by being scourged, and then made to carry a cross up Calvary, and that He had died on it after hours of agony. There was no doubt that He was dead and buried. And they thought that was the end. The Eleven had heard Jesus predict that He would rise again, but the crucifixion was so real – it must have traumatised them. To see their Master, who had healed the paralysed, the lame, cured lepers and spoken with such authority, to be then taken away and crucified – what did that do to their faith? They didn’t just say, “Oh well, He’ll be back. We just need to sit back for a few days and then wait for Him to return.” They didn’t know what was going to happen next. Well, in a sense they did, because they had been told, but they had probably forgotten, which is why when the women go to the tomb and say they had seen the Lord, they don’t just all believe. Peter and John go running to the tomb, but it seems to hint that only John believed. So in the passage we heard today, the doors were all closed for fear of the Jews. They weren’t rejoicing and saying “Jesus is risen!” and “There’s no need to worry about them – now that Jesus is risen, they don’t half feel stupid”. It can be a bit like how we feel now, with worry about the Coronavirus, and the fact that our churches are closed. Closed because of fear. Our houses are closed, because of fear.

But then Christ enters into that place of fear, and transforms it. He is God – did you really think that anything would stop Him? If He can defeat death, and sin, will Coronavirus, and lock-down, and police on the streets, and whatever else be able to stop Him? Really? He is God. In His ministry on earth, He healed people of disease. He transformed the disciples’ fear into joy, so that they went out from their place of fear. With the temple police, that were sent to arrest him, they came back to the chief priests and Pharisees. The chief priests and Pharisees asked them, “Why haven’t you brought him?” They replied, “There has never been anybody who has spoken like him” (see John 7:32. 45-46). Nothing and no-one can stop Him!

So, going back to the original point: does the inability to go to confession and receive Holy Communion today mean that the complete forgiveness of sins and punishment, the “second baptism” promised to St Faustina, is it not possible today? No, it is possible. God’s mercy is unfathomable, so we shouldn’t try to fathom it. We have a desire to receive the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist. The Catechism says, in paragraph 1452, that when our sorrow for our sins “arises from of a love by which God is loved above all else … such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible”. So even if we have committed mortal sins, if we are sorry for them because of the offence they have caused to God, and say sorry to God in our own words, and have the intention to go to confession as soon as it next becomes available, we can be forgiven now. It’s a bit like getting some sort of a loan. We get the benefit now, but have to pay later by going to confession. Then, if we can’t receive Communion, we can say a prayer called an Act of Spiritual Communion, asking the Lord Jesus to enter into our hearts as if we had received Him sacramentally. So the old saying holds true: Christ has instituted the sacraments, but He is not bound by them. In other words, the sacraments are very good and important, given to us by Christ, but they are not the only way in which He can work.

Sometimes, the Lord puts us to the test. The Divine Mercy devotion spread throughout Poland and further afield following the messages that Christ made known to St Faustina in the 1930s. But a decree and notification by the Holy Office in 1958 and 1959 forbade the spreading of the Divine Mercy devotion. Fr Sopocko, St Faustina’s spiritual director, was severely admonished by the Holy See for his work in spreading the devotion. He died in 1975, with the devotion still forbidden by Rome.

But in 1978 & 1979, Rome reversed the decision, and the Divine Mercy devotion was allowed to spread once more. After it had appeared to be dead and buried, it rose again to new life. Nothing and no-one stops God.

Today, Divine Mercy Sunday, it may seem that the closure of churches prevents the devotion. But nothing stops God.

Easter Sunday

posted 19 Apr 2020, 10:04 by Parish Priest

Homily for the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday (11 & 12/4/20)

Tonight/This morning, we celebrate the most important of all the feasts in the Church. Christmas is important, but Easter is even more important. And it’s also reflected in the way we celebrate Easter. I’m not talking about Easter eggs, but the fact that Easter is just so mind-blowingly amazing that we can’t possibly fit all our alleluias into a single day, so the celebration of Easter spills over for fifty days, leading up to Pentecost. Lent is forty days, Easter is fifty. It would be wrong for Lent to be longer than the celebration of Easter. And even after that, when we return back to the green vestments of Ordinary Time, Easter still hasn’t gone away. Each Sunday is a mini celebration of Easter, no matter what time of year.

So what we celebrate now, should spill over into the rest of the season and into all the Sundays of the year. What is Easter about? Some of the answers we can come up with include joy, hope, fulfilment of Christ’s promises, knowing that He truly is Who He said He is, deliverance from Satan, sin, evil and death. This is what we celebrate, and more. Each Sunday is, or should be, a mini-celebration of Easter. A day to focus on God and to rest from unnecessary work. A day for helping those in need.

Some have said that the present lock-down is a bit like a long Holy Saturday, when Christ’s body lay in the tomb. But another way is to see it as a long Sunday. Back in 1994, the previous Sunday trading laws were overturned, and Sunday became almost like any other day, overturning the restrictions of the previous 1950 Shops Act. With the spread of Coronavirus, once again the Government has decided what is essential and what is not, what is allowed to open and what is not. At the very end of 2 Chronicles, after a succession of kings and the nation had abandoned the Lord and ridiculed the prophets, the nation was invaded by the Chaldaeans, people were put to the sword, the Temple was invaded, looted and burned, and the survivors were deported to Babylon. Then comes the crunch. It says:

“This is how the word of the Lord was fulfilled through the prophet Jeremiah, ‘Until this land has enjoyed its sabbath rest, until seventy years have gone by, it will keep sabbath throughout the days of its desolation’.” (2 Chron 36:21).

I don’t think that we will be in lock-down for seventy years. But as a nation, we have also rejected God for the most part and trampled over the idea of Sunday as something holy and separate from the rest of the week.

So, why rest on a Sunday? On the one hand, it’s because the Ten Commandments say to keep the Sabbath holy. God made the world in six days, and on the seventh He rested. But now, on the eighth day, Easter Sunday, He re-created the world. We made a mess of it, and now He has put things right. Surely, for that, we have to be grateful. That is why the Church, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, moved the idea of Sabbath rest from Saturday to Sunday. Sunday is the first day of the week, but also the eighth day, a day outside of time, and also the first day of the new creation.

Secondly, we need a day to stop worrying and worship God, and to realise that work is not a god, we are not all-sufficient and all-powerful, and for the people who believed that they were, COVID-19 has rather left their faith in tatters! Without God, we are nothing. But with God, we can have everything. He has given us this world to look after, care for and enjoy, and now we have the option of heaven and life everlasting after this one. Sometimes we can get so lost in this world that we forget that there is another one to come, and we forget the real reason why we are here. After the Death of Christ, the Eleven had been rather shaken and knocked back. But when they were told that Christ had risen, they had to go and find out for themselves. In John’s Gospel, Peter and John don’t say, “Oh, I’ll get round to it later on”. They ran to the tomb. Peter and John seem to be having a race, with John being the youngest, getting there first. But out of deference to Peter, he lets him go in first and investigate. “Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (Jn 20:9). Then, everything began to change.

The Resurrection changes everything. Now our lives are different – they cannot remain the same. But lest we forget, we have the Easter season, and every Sunday, to remember what a wonderful God we serve.

Good Friday 2020

posted 11 Apr 2020, 08:43 by Parish Priest

Homily for Good Friday (10/4/20)

Power and authority: these can be good words, or dirty words, depending on how people exercise them. How we perceive them can be down to our experience of others in power and authority over us. Perhaps we can take a look at Pilate, the chief priests, and Christ, in their exercise of power and authority.

Pilate is presented through the Gospel accounts as someone who could see that Christ was innocent, but condemned him anyway. Because of the danger of the people rioting and because they simply wouldn’t be placated any other way, he goes along with their demands and has Christ crucified. But all power and authority have their origin in God. Christ tells Pilate, “You would have no authority over me if it had not been given you from above” - God has given you that authority. As a Roman you will understand that you are supposed to follow orders from authority above you. But then He adds that the same applies to the High Priest, chief priests and so on of the Jewish religion: “that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt”. He has a greater awareness of his responsibility before God, and that is why he bears the greater guilt.

Then there is the notice that Pilate wrote out and had put above the cross: Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews; in Latin, Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum, often abbreviated to INRI. In some ways it’s ambiguous: is it a way of Pilate acknowledging Christ’s Kingship, or is it a way of the Romans mocking the Jews: look, here is your king, and look at what we’ve done to him? Is Pilate hiding behind that ambiguity, acknowledging Christ but making it look like he is not? But the chief priests want to totally reject and disown the Lord. “You should not write ‘King of the Jews”, but ‘This man said: I am King of the Jews’ ”. It reminds me of back in 2005 when white smoke appeared at St Peter’s. One TV station showed people running to see who the new Pope was going to be, and they put the banner at the bottom of the screen saying “We have a new Pope!”. Another news station also reported on the event, but their banner said something subtly different: “Roman Catholics have a new Pope”. In other words, whoever he is, he is nothing to do with us.

Power and authority. In the second reading, we see that Christ has more power and authority than any of them. He is the supreme high priest, greater than any of the other priests around at the time of His crucifixion. He outranks them all. And He leads by example when it comes to fulfilling the Father’s will. He is also a “proper” high priest in more ways than one. Despite his power and authority, including moral authority, He is not incapable of empathising with us. He has been through temptation and knows what it is like, although He has always rejected each and every temptation. That’s how all bishops, priests etc. should be, although we aren’t always. Please pray for us.

Christ’s leadership, power and authority are also empowering: “Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help”. On the Cross, Christ appears powerless, but the reality is far from that. When we turn to Him, He will grant us not only forgiveness when we have sinned, but, more importantly, help when we are tempted, to avoid sinning in the first place. That is true empowerment, true power and true authority: telling the devil to get lost, rather than listening to him like a naive fool.

Yes, the experience of Jews throughout the ages, and of Christians as well, has been that we cannot obey all that God asks of us in the Old and then in the New Testaments by our own efforts alone. We need a saviour so that our sins can be forgiven and that we can be given additional help to live up to our high calling. The only other options include despair, or to modify God’s requirements on our own authority – clearly not to be advised! We cannot save ourselves, and that realisation can sometimes hurt our pride. Pride comes before a fall, and sometimes it’s only once we have fallen that we realise that we can’t save ourselves, and that we need a saviour.

Power and authority: both can be used for good, or for ill. With Christ, we have the example of it being used properly, firstly in rightful obedience to the Father, and then applied to help others. May we be willing to learn from Him, and to turn to Him, not like Pilate and the chief priests.

Maundy Thursday 2020

posted 11 Apr 2020, 08:32 by Parish Priest   [ updated 11 Apr 2020, 08:34 ]

Homily for Maundy Thursday (9/4/20)

The times we are living through are unusual times, and they can bring out the worst in people, and also the best in people. I heard only today of two people who were attacked outside, and when another man stepped in to help, he was attacked as well. I also was told today that the grass on the hill over Carmountside Cemetery was set fire to recently. I’ve also had some good news about the parish which is embargoed until after the Coronavirus situation is over, and I have also seen the dedication of the staff at the Royal Stoke. They haven’t all run away from their jobs and abandoned the hospital; they keep things in proportion, they have the correct PPE and know how to use it to keep everyone safe.

I grew up in the parish of St Thomas of Canterbury in Walsall, and when you’re in the pews, if you look up at the two stained glass windows, the one on the right depicts the Last Supper. The Twelve are gathered around the table, although Judas is sneaking out, and Christ is holding a chalice, with the words “Do this in memory of me” on the window. The thing I found strange about the window as a child was that Christ is not smiling. In fact He looks worried. It was only later on I realised that the reason for that was because He knew what was coming up later that night and tomorrow. In the Gospel tonight, St John tells us, “Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God”. Jesus knew that everything was in control. He wasn’t blasé about it – in the Garden of Gethsemane we see how His humanity struggled with the suffering that He was already undergoing and would have to undergo. He knew in the Upper Room as He celebrated the first Mass that as He consecrated the bread and wine and they became His Body and Blood, that His sacrifice on the Cross was there in front of Him, sacramentally present on the altar. But also sacramentally present was His risen, glorified humanity – with this sacrifice sin would be paid for, the devil would be defeated, and He would rise victorious: the devil doesn’t stand a chance! There is hope.

We don’t know with 100% accuracy how the coronavirus situation will progress in our society, and indeed across the world. Fear of the unknown can be worse than the thing to fear itself. But what we do know, is that God is in control, and that God is with us. The trouble we find, is that we can’t just do things the same as in the past. Christ gives us an example today of humble service, of washing the disciples’ feet. The challenge is to carry that out in the light of our medical knowledge. I was reading an article earlier this week of priests who ministered to plague victims in London, and also St Charles Borromeo’s ministry at the time of the plague in Milan back in the sixteenth century – they visited both the clean and the infected, administering the sacraments. Interestingly, the advice in the sixteenth century was that after giving Holy Communion you should sanitise your fingers by holding them in a candle flame immediately afterwards – there was no alcohol gel in those days. Furthermore, with their more limited medical understanding, there was no awareness that by visiting the sick they could actually be passing disease around from place to place.

New times call for new approaches. If you put new wine into old skins, the skins burst and the wine is lost. New wine, fresh skins. We ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. For the time being, the internet is a hygienic way of participating in the Mass, and it’s even possible to receive a spiritual communion – in the silence after Holy Communion, you can say to the Lord, that although you are unable to receive Him in the normal way, please enter into my heart as if I had received you in Holy Communion, and He will answer your prayer. Of course, it’s still not the same as actually being here and receiving the Lord directly, but it is a valid way to receive the Lord.

Charles Dickens began his A Tale of Two Cities in the following way. It could have been written about today:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way...”

Our times are truly challenging, but the Lord is with us; everything is in His hands. As we celebrate the Eucharist tonight, and recall the first Mass, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to pour Himself out upon us, upon our nation and on our world, that like Christ, we may give ourselves in appropriate, generous, service of others.

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