Fr Michael's Homilies

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

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C – World Day of Prayer for Vocations (7 & 8/5/22)

posted 9 May 2022, 04:48 by Parish Office

Serving the Lord can be daunting. For most of us, our calling to serve the Lord begins when we are baptised as babies. As we grow up, we begin to learn more and more what it involves to follow the Lord. At times it’s wonderful: we go to Mass and feel afterwards so wonderful inside, it’s as if we are floating! But at other times, it’s a rough road. All those things that we shouldn’t do, that we find so easy to do: trying to cut corners with our schoolwork; getting annoyed with our brothers and sisters; being told “no” by our parents. When I was at primary school, I had a friend on my table who was from another religion. I can remember thinking that life was easy for him, because all he had to do was go to the temple on a Sunday, and then for the rest of the week he could do what he liked. Of course, that’s probably not how his religion really worked, but I knew as a child that there was more to being a Catholic than just going to Mass on a Sunday – you had to put it into practice for the rest of the week.

That challenge doesn’t go away when you become a priest, either. When I was training for the priesthood, I came across a similar sort of saying: it’s one thing being a nice priest for an hour on Sunday, but you’ve got to make it last for the whole of the week.

So people know that being a Catholic isn’t always easy. Of course, there are great joys and consolations too, and sometimes, cradle Catholics don’t always appreciate that. It’s the converts, who have experience “on the other side”, as it were, who appreciate the difference it makes now having purpose and direction in their lives, knowing where they have come from (God) and where the are going to (God), and who can show them how to live their lives to the max (God). So if we’re not careful, we can begin to develop a distorted image of God, which sees Him only as to do with “no” and never with “yes”, with always the things we don’t want to do and are difficult, rather than the things that make life wonderful and that we do want to do.

The same, then, can go with a vocation. We are all called to serve the Lord. The question is: in what way? Some can be afraid of being on their own and being single. Others can be afraid of marriage and what it might bring. The religious life: am I really holy enough for that? And for some, the priesthood just seems like completely off the scale.

We have to begin with Christ. We have to get to know Him and trust Him, by growing close to Him in prayer. Perhaps we might need to do a bit of exploring the faith by ourselves. It can be a bit like buying a new car: rather than just looking at it from a distance, you need to have a look inside, see what it’s like. Are the seats comfortable? How does it drive? What features does it have? If we are to be comfortable in our faith, we need to explore it for ourselves. How well do we know the Bible? Do we know why the Mass is the way it is and what it’s all about? When did you last try praying the Rosary? What’s Benediction all about? What does the Church say about work, about a fair wage, taking part in trade unions, appropriate rest and relaxation etc.?

When we begin to feel at home with Christ, with our faith, with the church building, then it’s a bit less daunting to ask the Lord what our vocation is. For some of us here today, it’s already decided. As St Paul said, “If you are tied to a wife, do not look for freedom” (1 Cor 7:27). For others, it is still an open question, whether for ourselves or others that we know. And, as I was saying, just like with growing up as a child, with vocation there can be what I think I want to do, and what God wants me to do. A religious sister once said that (obviously before she joined her religious order) she was planning to get married. She can remember looking at herself in the mirror in her wedding dress, and having a sense of God saying to her: this isn’t what you are being called to.

If you join a religious order, you take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. For a teenager, all of those seem difficult. Chastity – certainly. Poverty – never being able to have the stuff that you want. Obedience!!! They look forward to leaving home so they can do their own thing, not to have someone else telling them what to do for the rest of their lives. If you become a diocesan priest, you don’t take a promise of poverty. But you do make promises to your bishop of celibacy, respect and obedience. And obedience can mean that you don’t know where in the diocese you are going to be for the whole of your priestly life. In this diocese, you can be literally sent to Coventry. There’s actually quite a sizeable Catholic population there. Or you could be sent to a very small, rural parish. You could be sent to Sacred Heart, Hanley, and have other priests say things to you like, “well done for getting that parish”, or, “I wish I was being sent there”. What

makes someone happy to give up the chance of a family, a good career, a well-paid job, all those sorts of things? Quite simply, love of the Lord.

“Jesus said:

The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;

I know them and they follow me.

I give them eternal life;

they will never be lost

and no one will ever steal them from me.”

If we know what it means to follow the Lord, if in love we abandon ourselves to Him, then we are prepared to go to the very ends of the world for Him. Or to live our lives in the same street in Stoke-on-Trent for the rest of our lives. Whatever He asks.

Today we celebrate World Day of Prayer for Vocations. That means we should pray. Let’s spend a bit of time in prayer today, by ourselves, asking the Lord to help us know Him better, to serve Him better, and to follow Him, whatever He may ask of us next.

Third Sunday of Easter, Year C (30/4/22 & 1/5/22)

posted 4 May 2022, 02:25 by Parish Office

In some ways the shorter option of the Gospel today doesn’t entirely make sense: it misses out the second half, where Peter’s threefold denial of Christ when He was before the Sanhedrin is cancelled out by his threefold affirmation of his love for the Lord. But perhaps a more careful look at the other themes flowing through the readings might show another theme or two that can be pursued by using the shorter Gospel. You may remember that at the Last Supper, Peter said to Jesus: “I will lay down my life for you”, and it had led to the response from Our Lord: “Lay down your life for me? … I tell you most solemnly, before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.” Peter was overconfident in his natural abilities, which led to his crushing defeat, when, in order to save his own skin, he denied that he even know the Lord.

Fast forward to the first reading, which is taken from after Pentecost, and Peter and the apostles are preaching fearlessly their faith in Christ, regardless of the consequences. The high priest tries to get them to back down, and he’s given the rebuke, “Obedience to God comes before obedience to men”. St Thomas More, fifteen centuries later, was to say something similar at his trial: “I am the king’s good servant, and God’s first”. This time, rather than wanting to avoid any negative consequences for being faithful to the Lord, it says they were, “glad to have had the honour of suffering humiliation for the sake of the name”.

Going back to the scene at the Sea of Tiberius, Jesus affirms that Peter is going to die as a martyr, he is going to lay down his life for the Lord; but he doesn’t indicate when that will happen. The Church Fathers are unanimous in saying that he was executed during the persecution of Nero by crucifixion. In Rome there is a church called Domine Quo Vadis, which means, Lord, where are you going? The story is that during the persecution of Christians in Rome, Peter decided to flee again, and was blocked by a vision of Christ. He asked Him where He was going, and He told Peter that He was heading to be crucified again. The vision disappeared and Peter got the hint, and headed back into Rome to face martyrdom. When Peter was crucified, there is also the story that he considered himself unworthy to be martyred in exactly the same way as the Lord, so he asked to be crucified upside-down, and that is why the upside-down cross is the symbol of St Peter, and the papacy, today.

Being faithful to Christ requires courage, and it needs more than just natural abilities. That is encouraging if we think we are lacking - a priest once said to me that he wondered if he had lived in England during the Reformation whether he would have had the courage to stand up for his faith. The history goes that, at the time of King Henry VIII, many laity died for the Catholic faith, as did many monks, and some priests, but only one bishop – St John Fisher; all the others went along with Henry’s demands. But after the advance of the Protestant cause under Edward VI, and then the Catholic restoration under Mary I, when Elizabeth I ascended the throne and wanted to break with Rome again, this time all the bishops held fast apart from one.

Today we might find that we are not asked to shed our blood for the faith; instead we have to undergo smaller trials. Some say that living in a more godless age is in itself a trial, what is sometimes called a “white” martyrdom. It can also be said that we are sometimes subjected to a slow suffocation, where no blood is shed and no complaints are made. There have been various movements in the past where their way of getting rid of Christianity involved tolerance – the old are allowed to continue to practice their faith, but the young are brought up with different ideas. At other times, the slow suffocation may mean a succession of small compromises. It seems at other times like fighting the beast like a leopard in Revelation 13:7 “It was allowed to make war against the saints and to conquer them, and given power over every race, people, language and nation”. But as we know in the book of Revelation, in the end, Christ is victorious. The trial is permitted only for a while, and the victories of the various beasts only make their final defeat all the more humiliating.

So, if the life of St Peter is anything to go by, we can perfectly understand both his zeal and his failure in the face of threats. Like him, we can also learn, repent, reaffirm our love for the Lord, and with Him, be faithful to the end. Maybe we won’t have basilicas erected in our honour, but we will have recognition from the Lord, and that, truly, is the only recognition that counts.

Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday, Year C (23 & 24/4/22)

posted 25 Apr 2022, 03:42 by Parish Office

Today’s feast day of Divine Mercy Sunday originates from the messages Our Lord gave St Faustina, all approved, of course, by the Church. But it also ties in well with today’s Gospel reading.

When Our Lord appears to the Eleven, they have reasons, perhaps, to be afraid. Out of the eleven, how many were there at the foot of the cross? The answer is one. All the others ran away. That was embarrassing in itself. Then there is the fact that the future Pope and leader of the Church, St Peter, not only ran away – that came later on. In the garden of Gethsemane he cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Our Lord had to heal him and tell Peter to put his sword back in its scabbard, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:53). Then Peter denied three times that he even knew Him. Finally, on Easter Sunday, many of them refused to believe the women when they said that they had been told that Christ had risen from the dead.

But when Jesus appears to them, they are not rejected for making a complete mess of things and failing when they were put to the test. Instead, they are made ministers of the sacrament of confession:

“Receive the Holy Spirit.

For those whose sins you forgive,

they are forgiven;

for those whose sins you retain,

they are retained.”

Perhaps it could be said that, because they have themselves been through temptation and fallen, it will make them more understanding when others come to them for forgiveness. A good priest, or even bishop, hearing confessions, needs to have the humility to recognise that he too, is a sinner. Even if others might confess things which, in and of themselves, are more serious than anything he has ever done, he has to recognise that, as a priest or bishop, he has greater knowledge and responsibility, and so when he sins, it is more serious.

Next, the apostle St Thomas. He was too sceptical and untrusting. No one could convince Him that the Lord was alive. He had to see it for himself. And he did. Jesus said, “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.” We are asked to put our trust in Him. And that’s what it says at the bottom of the Divine Mercy image: “Jesus, I Trust in You”. Thomas’ response is not just to recognise that Jesus is risen, but to confess His divinity as well: “My Lord and my God!” We also are asked to confess that Jesus is our Lord and our God. That means that we need to

put our trust in Him, and live our lives for Him. And as part of that, we need to draw others to the Lord, to express to others the difference He makes in our lives.

The message of Divine Mercy is that we cannot exhaust the mercy of our God. Our sins are no match for the love of the Lord. It’s like trying to stop the sun by holding up a block of ice – the ice will only melt. No matter whatever our sins, they can be forgiven. Even the sin of Judas Iscariot can be forgiven. People speculate about what happened to Judas Iscariot. It was theoretically possible for him to be forgiven, if he turned to the Lord in repentance. Many have been guilty of homicide, trying to kill a human being. Some have been guilty of, at least attempted, regicide, killing a king. Judas was an accomplice to deicide, trying to kill God. But even that sin can be forgiven – even a sin of that magnitude. So we have no reason to be afraid that when we go to confession that the priest will say: sorry, your sins are just too bad. You can’t be forgiven for that.

But the devil can try to play tricks with us. With some people, he distorts their conscience in one direction, so that they can commit even quite serious sins and have little or no regret. With others, he makes them think that small sins are so great that they can’t be forgiven, or maybe are only forgiven slightly. Our Lord said to Saint Faustina (Diary, 1074):

“The flames of my mercy are burning me. I desire to pour them out upon human souls. Oh, what pain they cause Me when they do not want to accept them! … Tell aching mankind to snuggle close to My merciful Heart, and I will fill it with peace.

“Tell [all people], My daughter, that I am Love and Mercy itself. When a soul approaches Me with trust, I fill it with such an abundance of graces that it cannot contain them within itself, but radiates them to other souls.”

We could think of the example of St Augustine of Hippo, who as a young man joined the heretical sect of the Manichees and led and immoral life, cohabiting with his girlfriend, but he cast her away when she impeded his progress in social standing. His experience of conversion and God’s mercy led him to write his Confessions, his account of his conversion, which is still read to this day as a literary classic. His experience of the mercy of God has radiated down throughout the centuries, and continues to this day. He left a life of sin and became a great bishop and teacher of the faith. The words of Our Lady could apply to him: “the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name, and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.” (Luke 1:49-50)

Today, there are many saints still to be made. Will we help and trust in our Lord, and will we be one of them?

Homily for the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday, 16 & 17/4/22

posted 19 Apr 2022, 01:53 by Parish Office

I always like the drama of the celebration of Easter. In St Luke’s account, the women go to the tomb, find the stone has been rolled away and the body missing. As they stand there not knowing what to think, they are told, with a note of triumph: “Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?” They go back to tell the Eleven. In St John’s Gospel, after Peter and John visit the tomb, it says, “till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead”. On Easter Sunday, the psalm after the first reading says, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. This is seen as prophetic of Christ, who was completely rejected by the religious authorities at the time, but was raised to new life, and He is now the cornerstone on which the whole Church is founded.

The significance of a cornerstone is that it is first stone that is set when building a new construction, and the whole alignment of the building is made in reference to it. So, in other words, Christ is the reference point for the whole building. And just think how stupid it would be for the builders to throw the cornerstone away, and then try to build without it. “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. In another translation, it says, “It was the stone rejected by the builders that proved to be the keystone”. So now I need to explain to you what a keystone is.

A keystone is the top stone of an arch, where an arch is made up of different wedge-shaped stones. The top one, the keystone, is the one that keeps all the other ones together and balances them so that they don’t fall over. Remove the keystone, and the arch fails.

So the Resurrection of Christ means that our lives have to be built on Him and He has to be the One that keeps us together, keeps us in balance and is our reference point for the whole of our lives. With Him, we are strong; without Him, we are weak and doomed to failure. So many churches have been built in honour of Him, and as the Church we need to be a living building, showing what God is capable of in ordinary peoples’ lives. Through Christ, we are set free; in the Acts of the Apostles, St Peter tells everyone, “all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name”. Everything has changed because of Christ’s Resurrection, and there’s no turning back. He is literally unstoppable.

But that power and that joy are still to be fully implemented. Christ rose, but no-one was there, inside the tomb, to see it happen. When the women went to the tomb in the early morning, before the sun rose, they saw what had happened and suspected the worst. The Eleven also struggled to come to terms with it, suspecting the worst as well. Christ was already risen, but they were probably getting annoyed and depressed. Later, Christ appears to people over a whole succession of events. He upbraids the Eleven for their unbelief. He says to Thomas, “be no longer unbelieving, but believing”. The disciples on the road to Emmaus are depressed, defeated and feeling like they have been beaten. Our Lord has to first jolt them into belief (“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?”) Then he had to go through the scriptures, and make it obvious to them that it had all been predicted long ago.

This weekend, we have new life in our parish, with Ernest becoming a Catholic and being confirmed at the Easter Vigil, and Atipaishe being baptised at the 11 am Easter Sunday Mass. This too is a cause for rejoicing, just like the Resurrection of Christ. And just like us, they will discover more deeply, day by day, what it means to follow the Lord. At times is it a call to conversion; at other times it is a journey of amazement at the wonders of the Lord. It is always great to see new people joining us and together with us, following Christ, the cornerstone and keystone, the One who gives all our lives meaning. Please keep them and their families in your prayers, today and especially throughout the Easter season; I am sure that they will also pray for you.

Homily for Good Friday (15/4/22)

posted 19 Apr 2022, 01:51 by Parish Office   [ updated 19 Apr 2022, 01:51 ]

“A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, “It is accomplished”; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.”

There are a few things going on here. Firstly, why were they offering Our Lord vinegar? It wasn’t left over from the soldiers eating fish and chips on a Friday. The vinegar was probably the rough wine the soldiers drank, and it was a form of pain relief for those dying of crucifixion, an act of mercy, as it were. But there’s also something else going on as well.

We are Christians, and don’t have a working knowledge of the Passover ritual, but for those that do, I’m told that the description of the Last Supper seems a bit strange. For some reason, Jesus omits drinking the last cup of wine. It might be argued that He had a lot on His mind and simply forgot, but that doesn’t sound right. When He goes to the garden of Gethsemane, Our Lord doesn’t just pray that this suffering might be spared Him, but rather He refers to it as a “cup”. As we heard on Sunday: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine.” The theologian Scott Hahn did some research on this, and he came to the conclusion that what this tells us is that it was on the Cross that the Passover celebration was concluded. The final cup was drunk by Christ when He received the so-called “vinegar” on the Cross. So the words that follow, “It is accomplished”, don’t just mean that His suffering on the Cross is completed, but that the Jewish system of sacrifices in the Temple is finished now too, as they have been brought to fulfilment by Christ’s sacrifice. They only had value before because they pointed towards Christ’s sacrifice, and now it has happened, there is no need for any other sacrifices.

But there’s more, because, not only does the Passover ritual extend from the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday through to the Cross on Good Friday, but the celebration of the Mass extends beyond Maundy Thursday as well. Just listen to the words of consecration: “this is my Body, which will be given up for you … this is the chalice of my Blood … which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins”. And indeed, the liturgy of the Church expresses this link: we are currently celebrating what is known as the Triduum: three days of celebration which are all linked together: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. The Mass

contains all these, whether it’s a quick weekday Mass with no singing, or a Sunday Mass with an extra reading, Gloria, Creed, bidding prayers and plenty of sung music.

In John’s Gospel, it says that the sponge soaked in vinegar was put on a hyssop stick, whilst Matthew and Mark use the generic term “reed”. Is there any significance in the term “hyssop”? Hyssop was just a general plant that was growing in that area, which could be used for that purpose. It’s a bit like the tradition in this country, before the importation of palm leaves, of using yew branches on Palm Sunday, or olive branches in Italy. But hyssop also goes back to the original Passover ritual. When the sacrificial lamb was slaughtered, hyssop branches were to be dipped into the blood, and the blood was then to be spread around the lintel and doorposts of the Israelites’ dwellings. Hyssop was also used in other forms of ceremonial cleansing (see Lev 14:1-7 and 14:33-53). In the Psalms, referring to forgiveness of sin, it says, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 50(51):7). Christ is the One who on the Cross, purifies us of sin – He is the source of all cleansing, keeping us safe from spiritual death.

“A jar full of vinegar stood there, so putting a sponge soaked in vinegar on a hyssop stick they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the vinegar he said, ‘It is accomplished’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.” We are grateful today for all thatq Our Lord did for us. He suffered unimaginable torments so that we could be forgiven. Gratitude is the only appropriate response. And we accompany Him at the Cross, every time we celebrate the Mass.

Homily for Maundy Thursday (14/4/22)

posted 19 Apr 2022, 01:50 by Parish Office

There is something truly wonderful and moving about these four days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, and indeed Holy Week. Working with Christians of other traditions in the hospital, it has led me to a deeper appreciation of the fact that we, as Catholics, have a rich and detailed liturgical year – rather than every day being the same, we live out the different events in the life of the Lord over the course of twelve months. And that kind of idea goes back to the Jewish celebration of the Passover.

For the Jews, when they celebrated the Passover once a year, they were not just remembering an event from many years ago, but they were actually taking part in the original event. And that’s what we do over the next few days. We liturgically enact and take part in the original event – today Christ washes the disciples’ feet, celebrates the Eucharist for the first time, and then goes to the garden of Gethsemane, where He asks his disciples to stay awake and pray not to be put to the test, before He is then arrested in the middle of the night and taken away to the High Priest. Tonight is a most special night as we build up to the most important part of the whole of the Church’s year.

Firstly, we have the example of service, with Christ washing the disciples’ feet. Peter was scandalised initially that the Lord would attempt to wash his feet. But Christ turns things on their head. In the Church, leadership should not mean the pagan model, where the leaders lord it over others and make their authority felt. The leader has to serve, and Jesus doesn’t just tell them what to do, but He takes the initiative by serving them Himself, with an example that they would never forget. There was someone on the radio this morning saying that he collapsed recently on a flight as the plane returned to England, and that he would never forget the kindness shown by the airline staff, and then the doctors and nurses at A+E afterwards. In one sense, you could say it was just their job, but actually, there’s what you do and how you do it. The nurse who slams the pills down on the table and says, “’Ere, you, take these pills now and shut up” isn’t perhaps the best model. She too will be remembered, but for the wrong reasons. What does it say of the love of the Lord, that He would actually stoop down to wash the disciples’ feet?

Tonight, we relive that experience, but also remember what He said afterwards:

“If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.”

In a very wonderful way, He makes it clear, without hurting those who didn’t get the hint the first time round. All Christians are called to service, but especially the clergy – service is at the heart of what it means to be ordained.

Jesus knew that He had come from the Father and was returning to the Father. His plan was not to leave us alone like orphans. He made preparations for when He would no longer be walking on the earth. He gave us a sacrament, the sacrament of all sacraments, to be at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian: “Do this in memory of me.” When Christ celebrated the Eucharist during the Passover, it must have caught their attention: what is He doing now? Someone could have said, “That’s not in the book!” His sacrifice on the Cross and Resurrection were going to bring all of the prophecies and rituals of the Jewish religion to their fulfilment: “this is … the blood of the new and eternal covenant.” Just as the Israelites had manna in the desert to sustain them on the way to the Promised Land, now the Eucharist is to be our food for the journey through life to the next, nourished not just with any ordinary food, but with God Himself. Just think of how much God must think of us to want to feed us with Himself! He didn’t say, “ungrateful lot, here, share a few scraps of food – it might help you remember me once in a while”. Instead, He entrusted His very self to us – a Gift that is open to abuse, but also one that can lead people to deep holiness when they have the right dispositions. As the sequence for Corpus Christi states:

“The good, the guilty share therein,

With sure increase of grace or sin,

The ghostly life, or ghostly death:

Death to the guilty; to the good

Immortal life. See how one food

Man’s joy or woe accomplisheth.”

And lastly, of course, there needs to be a way for the Eucharist to come about. Christ institutes the priesthood for that very purpose. The Christians religion is not to be a religion just of lay preachers, but of men who are themselves icons of Christ, who speak in His name, and who have that power from the Lord to cause bread and wine to become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to make His sacrifice on the Cross sacramentally present and His risen presence present in the Eucharist. The Eucharist contains in itself, each time it is celebrated, the mysteries we are going to take part in over the next few days. Great is the Gift that the Lord has given us.

Tonight, then, we spend quality time with the Lord. We marvel at His great love for us, in His example of service, and His gifts of the Eucharist and the priesthood. Love is at the heart of it all. And we commit ourselves to be that love for others, too.

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (2 & 3/4/22)

posted 4 Apr 2022, 06:11 by Parish Office

It’s not often that I base my homily on someone else’s work, but this time, what I’m going to say was originally given, in a slightly different form, by Archbishop Fulton Sheen. If you want to see the original, do a search on YouTube for Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “nice people”.

There can be two sort of people in society: those who follow the social conventions, and those that don’t. There are, what we could call, the “nice” people, and the “awful” people. Nice people, if they do something wrong, say, well, it wasn’t my fault. I was driven to it. I was poor, or, I was brought up rich, and that’s why I did it. With awful people, their sins are there for all to see, and they can’t claim to be good. Sometimes you come across people, and they break all the commandments. But people say, “but he’s so nice”, or, “she’s so nice”. And nice people say, well, every one else is doing it. But people don’t fault them, because they’re so nice. If they have a problem with alcohol, then people call them alcoholics, but it’s not really their fault, it’s a disease. With awful people, well, we call them drunkards.

One of the things about society is that it can’t tolerate people that are too good or too bad, which is why Our Lord was crucified between two thieves. The thieves were too bad for conventional morality, and Our Lord was too good.

So one day, Christ was in the Temple, and the nice people, the scribes and Pharisees, came to Jesus with a problem – one of these awful people had been caught committing adultery. They asked Our Lord, “What have you to say?” It was an ideal trap. You claim to be from God. We know that Moses spoke on behalf of God, and he said to stone people like this to death. If you don’t stone her, how can you claim to be from God? But if He does stone her, right in the capital city of Jerusalem, the Romans are going to find out, and only the Romans are allowed to put someone to death.

What should He do? He begins by writing on the ground with his finger. They pressed Him for an answer, and He said, “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”. What was He writing on the ground? It doesn’t say, but one theory is that he was writing their sins. Archbishop Fulton Sheen puts it like this: most of them had gone away, and just three were remaining. Our Lord pierced him with His gaze,

looking deep into his soul. He bent down on the ground and wrote “thief”, and the man dropped his stone and fled. Then He looked steadily at the second, then went back to the sand and wrote “murderer”. The second man ran away too. The third man was a young man, who, when he had arrived, had examined his neighbour’s stone, and made sure he had the heaviest one, and she had the lighter one. He was full of the judgment of youth. Our Lord penetrated deep into his soul and wrote “adulterer”, and the young man had to leave the scene as well.

Our Lord is left with the woman caught in adultery. He has been asked to condemn, or otherwise appear to condone adultery and completely undermine who He claims to be and His entire mission. But He does neither. He holds together in tension both the seriousness of the sin and the need to show mercy: “Neither do I condemn you … go away, and don’t sin any more”. He didn’t deny the gravity of the sin. He was going to die for it on the Cross. The nice people had been convicted of their sins and had left, without receiving pardon and absolution. The awful person had been convicted of her sin, remained, and received pardon and absolution.

The thing with the awful people is that there is no hiding, no cover-up, no psychological excuses – they admit they are guilty, that they are wrong. If they do anything good, they say it was the grace of God. If they see someone else doing something wrong, they think, “There but for the grace of God go I”, in other words, they could easily find themselves in the same situation, so who am I to condemn? The nice people have their excuses. But when people get to heaven, they will look around and say “Wow, look at him! How did he get in here?” And “What’s she doing in here?”. They will also be surprised at all those nice people that they expected to meet, who aren’t there. But you know the biggest surprise? The biggest surprise of them all, is that we are there.

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year C (19 & 20/3/22)

posted 21 Mar 2022, 01:34 by Parish Office

Where were you when Kennedy was shot? Can you remember what you were doing when the Berlin Wall came down? Who were you talking to when 9/11 happened? Big news events cause a stir and a response – we have only to think about the current war in Ukraine and the very large community response we had here in this church, with the area outside completely carpeted with people’s donations – it took a few days to sort everything, get it boxed up and sent off to Ukraine. Back in Our Lord’s day, it was big news when people heard that Pontius Pilate had slaughtered the Galileans whilst they were offering their sacrifices to God. Jesus is a Galilean. What will He say? And what about a pagan not only interfering with worship being offered to God, but actually slaughtering everyone whilst it happened? It was big news when the police entered a church on Good Friday last year and told the Polish congregation that everything had to stop because there were too many people in the church and they weren’t adhering to social distancing. So you can imagine how, in the first century AD, they wanted a public reaction to the big news story: Pilate in Draconian Clampdown on Northern Pilgrims. They were waiting for Our Lord’s live commentary.

Maybe they were a bit disappointed. There were no words of condemnation, no fiery rebuke. Instead, words of warning to the crowd. We joke occasionally in this country about differing attitudes in the north and the south and the stereotypes, the accents, and so on. So it’s interesting that Our Lord’s focus is not on the crowd’s attitude to Pilate, but on the way they sometimes use events to make themselves seem better than other people in the country. Those who were put to death by Pilate’s forces were not “troublesome northerners” who got what they deserved: “Do you suppose that these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.” You are wrong if you see this as a punishment from God – after all, you are just as guilty before God as they were. Perhaps here there is also the theme once again of removing the plank from your own eye, before you try to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye. If I may give a more modern day, and rather uncomfortable example: people condemn the Luftwaffe for bombing people’s houses as well as industrial and military targets, but the RAF did the same with the bombing of Dresden

(and that’s the Dresden on the east side of Germany, not the Dresden down the road from Longton).

We have to look to our own hearts, rather than condemning others. We are called to repent, especially during Lent. It might be an uncomfortable journey to see what sins we have hastily buried in our subconscious, but all sin can be forgiven, even the most unusual, the most serious or the most unmentionable.

Like the fig tree, God is looking at us to bear fruit. He is giving us more time to repent. But will we respond?

I’ll just finish with a story which makes a similar point:

A tribesman went to study at university in England, and after graduation, he returned and was made king of the tribe. He had a wonderful gold throne, but found it a bit uncomfortable, and he remembered how comfortable the beds were when he was in the UK. So he arranged for a bed to be delivered to his throne room, and had the throne stored up in the loft. He enjoyed sitting on his bed, having it lavishly decked out, and conducting his work from it. But one day, the ceiling gave way, and the throne fell through and squashed him. And the moral of the story is: those living in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones.

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year C (12 & 13/3/22)

posted 14 Mar 2022, 03:01 by Parish Office

Who are the “enemies of the cross of Christ” that St Paul refers to today in the second reading? One of the more accepted theories is that they were a group known as the Gnostics, with the word Gnostic deriving from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis. Gnostics, of course, are not to be confused with Agnostics, but there is a link. If gnosis means knowledge, then to be agnostic means to claim that you do not know, specifically with regard to God, heaven and so on. The Gnostics claimed that they had secret knowledge about God, so they disregarded certain parts of the Gospels. They said that God the Son had not become one of us as a man, and also denied the resurrection of the body. They seemed to think that they were superior to “normal” Christians, and that theirs was a spiritual existence, which had no time for embracing the cross of Christ – they were already living resurrected lives. As they were so “perfect” already, they thought they could embrace things normally regarded as sins, without being affected. Their ideas were corrupting Christianity, and that is why St Paul was encouraging the Christians in Philippi to remain faithful to what he had taught them.

But are such ideas a million miles away from what we might sometimes encounter today? Do we not today have people who think they are faultless, who “make foods into their god and … are proudest of something they ought to think shameful; the things they think important are earthly things”? It seems that those who have an excessively and distortedly “spiritual” view of themselves are as much in error as those who have a much more “material” view of who they are.

The Transfiguration blasts away all these errors. God the Son became one of us, a human being, without ceasing to be God, and in the Transfiguration the glory of God shone through His humanity. For a short while, Peter, John and James witnessed just how amazing Christ is. But they were also afraid. And they were perhaps even more afraid when the cloud, indicating the presence of God, descended on them and encompassed them.

Christ wasn’t just transfigured and standing there by Himself, however. He was accompanied by Moses and Elijah, who also appeared in glory, and we can be transformed and glorified too. In the second reading, St Paul tells us to ignore what the gnostics believe: “the Lord Jesus Christ … will

transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body”. In other words, our bodies are important, and need to be treated with appropriate care, not given over to shameful things. They have a future destiny to be glorified by God when He returns in glory at the end of time. Elsewhere, St Paul says about not sinning against the body – our bodies have been bought and paid for by the blood of Christ, and now that we are baptised, we are members of the Body of Christ. We could perhaps add that, just as we treat the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, with appropriate respect, in the same way we have to treat our own bodies, and those of others, the mystical Body of Christ, with appropriate reverence too.

To sum up, both body and soul are important, both ours and those of people around us. Christ has been transfigured, and following any other ideas will only lead us into error and opposition to Christ. But if we are faithful, we can look forward to enjoying the company of almighty God, not just with our souls, but also with glorified bodies

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year C (5 & 6/3/22)

posted 9 Mar 2022, 02:08 by Parish Office

If you thought that fasting on Ash Wednesday was difficult, spare a thought for Our Lord’s fast of forty days. It’s perhaps one of the understatements of the gospels where it says: “During that time he ate nothing and at the end he was hungry”. He was probably a bit more than just slightly hungry. Some have said that forty days is probably the maximum anyone can survive without any food. Unlike us, Jesus was free from Original Sin, and so His self-control would have been much better than our own, but even still, it wouldn’t have been plain sailing. And something to note is that these temptations come, not at the very beginning of the forty days, but at the end, when Christ would have been at his weakest.

The next thing to note is that He does not repel the tempter with natural ability alone. Each time He repels the temptation, He quotes Sacred Scripture. Firstly, He says, “Man does not live on bread alone”. We could complete the quote with “but … on every thing that comes from the mouth of God”. The temptation is to satisfy the flesh at the expense of manipulating God and religion to serve selfish interests.

The next temptation is rather interesting. We might think that people giving themselves over to the evil one in order to get greater power and influence is a more recent phenomenon. But this is the first century AD we are talking about. Satan has always been at work to try and get the honour that should be paid to God, to be paid to him instead, or if he can’t manage someone to go that far, then he tries to get the person to give that worship and honour to creatures, rather than to the creator. Looking around us, it seems he’s being rather successful at the moment. But things can change. Once again, this second time when Christ quotes Scripture, there is no discussion, no attempt to reach a compromise. It is straightforward rejection of what the devil offers: “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone”.

So far, Christ has used Scripture to reject each temptation, so in the third temptation, the devil tries to use Scripture himself. He quotes today’s responsorial psalm, which speaks of God’s protection of those who serve the Lord faithfully. But, if you put the Lord to the test, you cease to serve God faithfully. You sin. So it would have been wrong for Christ to make a spectacle of Himself by throwing Himself off the parapet of the Temple. Once again, Our Lord uses the same technique, with no discussion. Instead,

simple statement of Scripture the way it is: “It has been said: You must not put the Lord your God to the test”.

“Having exhausted all these ways of tempting him, the devil left him…” With these three temptations, Our Lord was tempted at the very root of all temptations: the world, the flesh and the devil. The world: “throw yourself down”. Make a spectacle of yourself. The flesh: “tell this stone to turn into a loaf. The devil: “worship me, then, and it shall all be yours.” By conquering at the very root of all temptations, Christ defeated all temptations. Now we have to do the same.

If the example of Christ is anything to go by, we can’t achieve that by ourselves. Firstly, we are weak. Despite we have been baptised and Original Sin has been washed away, concupiscence still remains, that left- over weakness and distortion of our nature, which at times is inclined to sin. We can’t rely on our own willpower alone. Christ refuted the devil with Scripture. We need to be sure we know our faith, rather than a distorted version of it that says we can put God to the test. And lastly, we need to show gratitude. In the first reading, the person making the offering before God recounts all the good things God had done for the People of Israel up to that point in salvation history. “Here then I bring the first-fruits of the produce of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” As we ease of out of the coronavirus restrictions, one of the things we are allowed to bring back is the offertory procession, in which we offer ourselves with the gifts that are brought up to the altar. We thank the Lord for all He has given us, and we metaphorically bow down in the sight of the Lord our God.

Lent has only just started. Will we make it all the way through, or will we stumble and fall? Our Lord is God and free from all Original Sin – we are not. We need His help. The devil is a reality, a perverted spirit, who tries to pervert others in their following of the Lord, and it’s no good trying to pretend he doesn’t exist. Christ shows us the way. And with Him, we can conquer.

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