Fr Michael's Homilies

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

18th / 19th May 2019

posted 20 May 2019, 05:15 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C (18 & 19/5/19)

 

We heard in the first reading, “On their arrival … [Paul and Barnabas] assembled the Church and gave an account of all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the pagans” (Acts 14:27).  So often today, when we hear of the Church expanding, we associate that with mission territories.  Like Paul and Barnabas, someone arrives to give the annual mission appeal.  The appeal is not just for money, but to tell you off all the good that is being done, maybe in mission stations in Africa, South America or Asia, and to ask for your continued prayers for the work of the Gospel.  But what about the mission closer to home?

 

England is already missionary territory.  I mentioned last week the vocation testimony of Fr Anthony Pham-Tri-Van, who escaped from the Communist Army when stationed in Cambodia, and managed to escape to Thailand, and is now working as a Parish Priest in this diocese.  He joined the priesthood with the specific idea of being a missionary.  But in a sense, each parish is a mission.  Okay, you say, we know all this, but what new have you got to say about the mission in England?  Well, the readings this week point to a few areas that we can be in danger at times of neglecting.

 

The first reading was from the Acts of the ApostlesActs is, if you like, the second part after the Gospel according to Luke, which tells us what the Apostles got up to after Christ ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost.  By chapter fourteen, the Apostles are going around the Roman Empire, spreading the Word of God, and building up Churches in each area.  And to make small communities, which will grow, there needs to be a bishop, or at least a priest, to baptise, confirm, celebrate Mass and so on.  So when it says that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders, the elders are either bishops or priests.  The word “elder” is often used to translate the Greek terms episcopoi or presbuteroi, from which we get words like episcopate and presbyterate, and hence the terms bishop and priest.  For the Church to be built up, there had to be ordained ministers capable not only of preaching the Word of God, but also celebrating the sacraments.  But, as I have said before, it’s not all down to the clergy!  When Pope Francis was elected Pope and appeared on the balcony, he asked for the prayers of the Church.  In the same way, it says today that when the new elders were appointed, which can also be translated as “hand-picked” or “installed”, it says that with prayer and fasting they commended them to the Lord.  How much do we pray for the clergy?  When Archbishop Longley was installed as Archbishop of Birmingham a few years ago, was there a concerted campaign of prayer and fasting?  When I was inducted as Parish Priest, perhaps we should have had some sort of novena of prayer, or fasting pledges to support and lead up to the event, as well as the prayer of the actual Mass of induction.

 

Prayer and fasting are the motive force of what we do as the Church.  It can be no coincidence that as prayer and fasting have declined in the Church in the West, so has the spiritual vitality of the Church as well.  As a priest of this diocese once put it, the Mass is like the meat you buy from the shop, and the prayer life is like the packaging.  We’ve thrown the packaging away, and the meat has gone off.  A luxury coach can’t get anywhere without any diesel in the tank.  It might look nice, and we can invite people to admire the nice seats, and the fact that it has vents in the ceiling for air conditioning, working seatbelts, a sat nav and so on, but with no fuel in the tank, it can’t do what it was meant to do.

 

In the Gospel, Christ said, “love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another” (John 13:34-35).  But that requires contact with Christ, both through personal prayer and through meeting Him in the Eucharist.  We can’t give what we haven’t received.  If we haven’t experienced His love through prayer and the sacraments, then we are in no position to pass it on.  We may have our own natural capacity to love, but Christ wants to elevate that, purify it, take it to whole new levels with His love.  We can’t give what we haven’t got.

 

I’ve been reflecting a bit on my own life and what helped me to survive my teenage years with my faith intact.  Looking back, it’s been a bit of a surprise to see how big some of the obstacles were.  I’ve tried to trace things back and work out what helped me through.  Obviously there’s more than one answer, but one of them has to be the family rosary.  I can remember as a child us attending an evening in the parish where a video was shown about the message of Fatima, and afterwards we heeded the messages and started praying the Rosary as a family.  To begin with, it was just one decade a night.  But as time went by, we increased it.  (We said other prayers too, but the Rosary was the main prayer.)  With the Rosary, we allow Our Lady to take us by the hand and lead us to Jesus.  People don’t always find it the easiest of all prayers, but there are different ways of praying it, so if one way doesn’t work, you can try another.  You just need to persevere.

 

The mission of the Church in this country needs our prayer, and our fasting.  A luxury coach won’t go very far without fuel in the tank.  Let’s get prayer going in our families again, and then see how far this coach will go.

11th / 12th May 2019

posted 20 May 2019, 05:13 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C - Good Shepherd Sunday (11 & 12/5/19)

 

We are all sheep of the Lord, because we have been baptised.  But not all sheep are the same.  Someone with experience of sheep farming would be able to tell you that there are many different varieties of sheep, whilst to the untrained eye they might all look the same.  God has given us all a way to serve Him which is unique to each of us personally.  Our task, throughout our life, is to constantly ask the Lord what He is asking to do, and then to follow it.

 

Perhaps easier said than done, at least sometimes.  Following the Lord can lead to great opposition and persecution.  At the very least we might fear ridicule.  How many people have stopped coming to Mass because of various forms of discouragement and ridicule?  One of my memories at secondary school was going up to receive a prize on Speech Day.  It was a formal event in the town hall, with an invited speaker.  Those of us who were going to receive prizes had been informed beforehand, and it had been our task to find a suitable book to be presented to us by the guest speaker.  I had chosen Man of the Century, a book about Pope John Paul II.  When I went up to shake the guest speaker’s hand and receive my prize, he said to me, “That’s not what I would have chosen”.  I took it as his disapproval of the Catholic Church, but took no notice of him.  I have no memory of this person’s name.

 

Now that sounds extremely mild, compared with what happened in the first reading.  Paul and Barnabas preach the message of Christ, and so many are interested that it says that, “The next sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of God”.  But the Jews work to contradict everything they say and turn the people against them.  Then, when Paul and Barnabas decide to speak to the pagans instead, the Jews get to work again and this time get Paul and Barnabas expelled from the territory.  I may have given some poor quality homilies in the past, but I’ve never yet been expelled.

 

Following Christ isn’t always easy.  Christ didn’t promise us a rose garden.  He said take up your cross and follow me.  A few years ago, when I was still in Birmingham, we were asked in our deanery meeting to share amongst ourselves how each of us was called to the priesthood.  Perhaps one of the most remarkable stories was from a Vietnamese priest, a Fr Anthony.  He came from a faithful Catholic family.  They went to Sunday Mass, and he served as an altar server, getting up for 5:30 am Mass each morning.  That’s dedication.  I’m still in bed at that time, unless I get a call to the hospital.  He said that he wanted to become a priest because priests have a comfortable life.  I’m not too sure how much of this was him being humorous and how much of it was just his impression when he was young.

 

He did well at school, and wanted to become a Jesuit.  But because of the Communists he went to university to become a teacher.  He wanted to escape from Vietnam, but didn’t know how to, and was under pressure to join the Communist Army.  Eventually, he was sent to Cambodia to fight.  He prayed to God each day for a way out.  Then he managed to escape on foot, together with a student who was a Catholic.  They went to Thailand, and sang hymns to Our Lady on the way to aid them with their escape and so that he could become a priest.  They travelled through the forest and had to sleep in hammocks high in the trees to avoid the animals at night.  They had no water towards the end of their travels, so they ate leaves to survive.  Then they came across dead deers, indicating that the area was covered with mines.  They prayed to Our Lady and managed to avoid the mines.

 

When they reached the border with Thailand, they were put in prison for a year, in case they were communist spies.  At that time, he decided he wanted to be a priest in Thailand, and joined the Jesuits again.  Four years later, Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville called for priests to come to Birmingham, so he decided to pursue his missionary vocation in England.  The rest is history.

 

If we decide to follow Christ, we might as well throw our whole self in, rather than just dip in our toe.  It can be daunting, but it can also be rewarding.  The Latin American and Caribbean Bishops put it this way:

 

“Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort.  Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.”  (Aparacida Document, 29 June 2007, 360)

 

We are not all called to be St Paul and St Barnabas – we are called to be ourselves.  But it’s only in being totally open to Christ that we find out what I am being called to and what it means for me to be me.

4th / 5th May 2019

posted 10 May 2019, 06:20 by Parish Office

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year C (4 & 5/5/19)

 

How far are we prepared to go in serving the Lord?  Is that enough?  Is our lack of love for the Lord hindering our service of the Lord, our willingness to go wherever He may lead us?  These were questions St Peter had to ask himself throughout his life, and his opinion of himself didn’t always match up to the reality.

 

St Peter is perhaps one of the most impetuous of the Twelve.  He shows great enthusiasm, he’s willing to give things a go, and occasionally decides to jump without looking first.  Take his response at the Washing of the Feet.  Firstly, he objects to Christ washing his feet – that’s the job of a slave.  You can’t do that.  But when he is told, “If I do not wash you, you can have nothing in common with me”, then he responds, “not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!” (see John 13:8-9).  A bit later on in the evening, Christ predicts that he will betray him.  Peter, impetuous once again, says, “Lord, … I would be ready to go to prison with you, and to death” (Luke 22:33).  But we know what happens; Peter denies three times that he knows Him, and then weeps bitterly for what he has done.

 

After the Resurrection, Jesus appears to him, and he knows from this that he hasn’t been rejected.  In the Gospel passage we heard today, he is once again so enthusiastic when he hears that the Lord is waiting on the shore, that he wraps himself in his cloak and jumps out of the boat.  Once he gets to the shore, Jesus then tells him to go and get the fish that have been left behind in the net.  But despite all this, there is still a bit of unfinished business.  He has to affirm three times that he loves the Lord, to cancel out the three times that he denied Him.

 

At this point, there’s something in the original Greek that isn’t translated into our English translation, and it’s perhaps debatable how it should be translated and what it means.  In Greek, there are four different words, which in English can be translated as “love”.  Alternatively, they can be translated as friendship, affection, erotic love and self-sacrificing love.  With the first two questions, Jesus asks Peter for a higher form of love, and Peter responds with a lower form.  Then, with the last question, Jesus uses the same word that Peter used, and Peter responds with the same word.  I’m not a deep and profound biblical scholar, but my translation goes something like this:

 

Jesus asks:  Simon, do you love me above everything else on this earth?

Peter responds:  Lord, you know I love you as a friend.

Jesus asks:  Simon, do you love me above everything else on this earth?

Peter responds:  Lord, you know I love you as a friend.

Jesus asks:  Simon, do you love me as a friend?

Peter responds:  Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you as a friend.

 

So what’s going on here?  I’m not aware of any definite teaching of the Church on this point.  But maybe the experience of Peter being so sure of himself, and then coming crashing down when he was put to the test, has made him somewhat unsure of himself.  He has been broken down by fear and temptation.  [Interpretation from John Marsh.]  But now, Christ affirms that he is putting him back in charge.  He has to trust more in Christ, and less in himself.  Earlier on, Peter had said to him that he was prepared to go to prison and even to die for him.  Christ affirms now that he will get his wish.  And according to tradition, St Peter was martyred by being crucified upside-down in Rome, roughly thirty years later.

 

Just before preparing this homily, I was looking through a few materials for promoting vocations, and one of the leaflets was saying that there are many men who look at the idea of becoming a priest, but then realise that they are not holy enough, and so are discouraged.  It’s understandable, especially if there are priests that you have met or heard about who seem to be really holy people.  You might think that you could never match up to that.  But the truth of the matter is, whatever our calling is, God can make us holy.  Look at the example of St Peter.  Look at what we say in response to “Behold the Lamb of God...”:  “Lord, I am not worthy...”  We don’t then all walk out of the church and never come back again.  The Eucharist is the key to helping us become the people the Lord is calling us to be, to become more worthy, both by receiving Holy Communion, and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, whether in the tabernacle or exposed in a monstrance.  The examples of many of the saints show this to be the case.  If we are cold, we might want to go and stand by an electric fire for a while.  In the same way, if our love of God is growing cold, there’s no better way of warming up and becoming on fire with love for the Lord by spending time in prayer before the Holy Eucharist.

 

How far are we prepared to go in serving the Lord?  Is that enough?  Is our lack of love for the Lord hindering our service of the Lord, our willingness to go wherever He may lead us?  These were questions St Peter had to ask himself throughout his life.  With God’s help, despite falls and setbacks, he fulfilled his vocation.  With God’s help, we too, can do the same.

27th / 28th April 2019

posted 29 Apr 2019, 04:57 by Parish Office

Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday, 27 & 28/4/19

 

This evening/today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, and if we look over the past week or so, we can see that mercy has been at work all throughout Holy Week and into Easter.

 

On Maundy Thursday, Christ knew all that was going to happen over the next few days.  He also knew that He would ascend into heaven, and He didn’t want to leave us as orphans.  So He gave us the Eucharist and the Priesthood, two important ways in which He would continue to be with us through time, till time is no more and He returns in glory.  In the Eucharist, we are brought into contact with His saving sacrifice on the Cross, and His risen Presence at the Resurrection.  The priesthood makes this possible, and through the priesthood Christ would continue to be present among His People.

 

On Good Friday, He let Himself be cruelly treated and put to death.  He let us see not only the horror of our sins and what they have done to Him, but also that He was willing to go through all of that to offer a perfect sacrifice to the Father, to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away and reconciles us to God.  That supremely was an act of mercy.  There was no way we could have redeemed ourselves, as the gulf between us and God and the price to be paid was infinite.  Christ in His infinite nature as God died for us as a representative of the human race.  He confronted sin, never giving in to it.  He let sin do its worst – He wasn’t going to back down from bearing witness to the truth about God, no matter what the cost.  He perfectly fulfilled the will of the Father, and for that, He was hated, treated as worse than a criminal and put to death.

 

But death had bitten off more than it could chew.  “Christ died, but soon revived again, / and even death by him was slain” as the hymn says.  He returned gloriously in His Resurrection.  Now the mission of mercy deepens with the institution of the sacrament of reconciliation:  “those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; … those who sins you retain, they are retained”.  We can’t go back in time to the first century and confess to Christ directly, but through the priest, Christ is present again and we can confess to Him.  That is why a priest is sometimes described by the Latin phrase alter Christus, which means “another Christ”, or that Christ works through the priest, and the priest is an incarnation of Christ.  When the priest says that your sins are forgiven, what he says has the divine guarantee of Christ Himself.  Just the same as when a police officer says, “You are under arrest”, you are under arrest, because the police office has the authority of the law of the land to arrest you.  But confession is the opposite to being arrested and taken to court.  With confession, you declare yourself guilty as charged, but instead of being sent to prison, you are forgiven and set free.

 

Easter is also a time when we focus on baptism, which forgives all sins and does away with our purgatory as well.  In the early Church, it was not unknown for people to delay baptism until their deathbed for this reason – the emperor Constantine followed this practice.  More recently, though, in the 1930s, Our Lord appeared to St Faustina and revealed His desire to institute the feast of Divine Mercy, so that through trusting in His great mercy for us, going to confession and receiving Holy Communion, we can receive the grace of what is sometimes called a “second baptism”.  Just like with baptism, not only are all our sins forgiven, but also our purgatory – the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven – is wiped away.  Jesus said to Saint Faustina:

 

“When you go to confession, know this, that I am waiting for you in the confessional.  I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in the soul.  Here the misery of the soul meets the God of Mercy.  From this fount of Mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust.  If their trust is great there is no limit to My generosity.” (Diary VI 6-7)  Therefore, “Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.”  (11,138)

 

Also, as part of the devotion, Christ asked that the image of Divine Mercy be blessed.  The words of the prayer of blessing ask that the image be a means of grace for people to help them to see their sins and to repent of them, trusting in His Mercy.  The annual blessing of the image reminds us not only of the mercy of God, but also to use the image as a means of helping us trust in Jesus and surrender everything over to Him in confession.

 

Truly great is the mercy of the Lord, and we need it so much.  Lord, help us not to be indifferent to your love and mercy, and neither to be afraid, but to turn to you with faith and trust, knowing that at the time of need, your mercy is there.  Amen.

Easter Sunday

posted 24 Apr 2019, 05:06 by Parish Office

Homily for Easter 2019

 

Back when I was a teenager, I can remember coming back from school, only to find that we had been burgled.  I was the last one to get back home that day, but apparently, the story was that my sister went upstairs and then told my mother that her bedroom was in a mess.  And perhaps my mother thought:  what’s so unusual about that?  But when she came to look, she found it truly was a mess:  draws pulled out and left everywhere, and the contents of the tall boy and the wardrobe left all over the place.  They’d made a mess in my room and my parents’ room as well.  Unknowingly, my father had disturbed them earlier that day when he had returned back to the house at lunchtime to collect some computer parts and return them back to the shop.  So the burglars had fled, without having the time to go through the whole house.  But clearly they had been going through everything they could at lightening speed to avoid being caught.

 

Contrast this with the empty tomb.  Whilst the linen cloths were on the ground, the cloth that had been over the head of the Lord was rolled up in a place by itself.  Sometimes people try to explain away the Resurrection by saying that the Body was stolen.  But if so, they must have been rather neat thieves, taking time to roll up the cloth and put it away nicely, rather than just leaving it on the floor with the other cloths.

 

Of course, that in itself does not “prove” Christ’s Resurrection.  But when we begin to put all the other pieces together, the “alternative theories” begin to look a bit weak.  In the film Risen, the Romans go searching for the body of Jesus but don’t find it.  In fact, in the film, they think about faking it, using a dead body that you probably couldn’t tell for sure who it was.  That, conversely, would have been no proof that Christ didn’t rise.

 

Sometimes people put the Resurrection appearances of Christ down to mass hallucination.  That doesn’t really make sense.  The Gospel accounts show great scepticism on the part of the apostles.  The women return from the tomb, but in St Luke’s account it says, “but this story of theirs seemed pure nonsense, and they did not believe them”.  In St Mark’s Gospel it says that when Christ appeared to them in the evening, “he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14).  In St Luke’s account, when Christ appears to them, they initially think they are seeing a ghost.  He shows them His hands and His feet, but they are still unsure.  It says that “In their joy they were still disbelieving and still wondering” (see Luke 24:38-41.

 

Then, of course, in St John’s Gospel, we have the figure of Thomas.  Even though everyone else tells him Christ has risen, he still refuses to believe, until Christ appears to him personally and gets him to touch the holes in His hands and His side.

 

And then, at the end of St Matthew’s Gospel, when Christ appears a final time, it says, “When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated” (Matt 28:17).  The Resurrection took a long time to sink in.

 

When we compare the Resurrection accounts side-by-side from the four Gospels, we also come up against something else:  they don’t all tell exactly the same sequence of events.  Who saw Christ first?  How many people did the women see at the tomb?  Were they men or angels?  Who said what to who and who then responded in which way?  But this is further proof that the Resurrection really happened.  When the police investigate a crime and get witnesses to describe what they saw, it is a normal thing for the statements to slightly contradict each other when we’re dealing with an emotionally-charged situation.  Emotion makes memory inaccurate.  Meanwhile, if all the witnesses tell exactly the same story, then it could indicate that they got together beforehand and agreed among themselves what they were going to say.  And without doubt, the Resurrection was an emotionally-charged moment.  We know what’s coming up next, but for the women and the Eleven, they don’t know.  When the Eleven hear, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb … and we don’t know where they have put him”, you can imagine the initial alarm, fright and possibly anger too.  Who’s done this?  Why?  Can’t they leave things alone?  Don’t they have any respect for the dead?  What is going on?  Who’s done this:  the Jews or the Romans?  What do they think they are playing at?  Thankfully, they encounter more than just an empty tomb.  Christ appears various times on Easter day and throughout the forty days leading up to the Ascension, re-affirming them in their faith and preparing them for mission.

 

Sometimes, the ways of God are not the way we would have chosen to do things.  But God knows better.

Good Friday

posted 24 Apr 2019, 05:04 by Parish Office

Good Friday 2019

 

Yesterday I was speaking about some of the terrible things that have been taking place in the Church internationally over the past fifty years or so.  We may wonder how all of this could have happened, but even back in the first century, at the Last Supper, there was the presence of Judas.  Today, towards the beginning of the Passion, you may have spotted a small detail.  Judas is not referred to simply as Judas, but as “Judas the traitor”.  After being introduced this way, a second time, he is again called “Judas the traitor”.  Whatever scandals were to take place in the Church down the centuries, none was to be better remembered than that of “Judas the traitor”.

 

How do we explain such treachery?  Pope Benedict, in his three volume work Jesus of Nazareth, put it this way:

 

“what happened to Judas is beyond psychological explanation.  He has come under the dominion of another.  Anyone who breaks off friendship with Jesus, casting off his “easy yoke”, does not attain liberty, does not become free, but succumbs to other powers.  To put it another way, he betrays this friendship because he is in the grip of another power to which he has opened himself.” (Part Two, pg 68)

 

More specifically, in John 13:27, it says that at the Last Supper, after Jesus gave Judas the piece of bread he had dipped into the dish, Satan entered him.  Even earlier, in Matthew 12:30, Christ says, “He who is not with me is against me.  He who does not gather with me scatters”.  There is no “neutral ground”.

 

We can react in horror at the sin of Judas, and at the sins of others, but what about our own sins?  Each one of our sins, in a certain measure separates us from God.  We betray our mission as follower of Christ to bear witness to Him, to show by our lives Christ living in us.  And the more we do so, and the more seriously we do so, the more we open ourselves up to the Evil One.  I’m not saying this to scare you, I’m saying it because it’s true.

 

The devil can then play games with us.  There’s more than one possible thing he can do with us.

 

For some, the habit of repeatedly committing the same sins leads to a certain deadening of the conscience.  We make peace with sin and begin just to accept it and no longer react to it.  Then we can be led to further sins.

 

For some, their sins might lead to a gradual cooling off of their faith.  They become indifferent to the things of God.  If I pray, then I pray; if I don’t then I don’t.  It doesn’t really matter that much to me.  They lose interest.  Love of God is replaced with love of the world.

 

Then there are those who fall into the sin of despair.  Like Judas, they think that what they have done is so serious that it cannot be forgiven.  How awful to think that now everything is over and there is no turning back!  “I’ll just have to live my life and pretend everything is fine, but I know there is no salvation or forgiveness for me now.  Everyone will be surprised when I don’t make it to heaven, but now there’s nothing I can do.”  Wrong, double wrong and triple wrong!  Our time on earth is the time of mercy.  In the next life we have to face judgement for the sins for which we did not seek forgiveness in this life.  To repeat:  we have the choice of seeking forgiveness for our sins in this life, or of facing judgement for them in the next.  All sin can be forgiven, no matter how embarrassing, evil or unmentionable.  Maybe someone might think:  but that’s the whole point – I can’t bring myself to mention that in confession.  Well, if you read up on a few conversion stories, the chances are, you’ll find that their confessions were worse than yours.  Look up John Pridmore’s story – he was involved in organised crime, drug dealing, and plenty of GBH.  If he can be forgiven, then so can the rest of us.

 

With God, there is always a way back.  Even Judas could have been forgiven, if he had asked for forgiveness.  We can never exhaust God’s mercy.  Christ’s Death, which we recall today, is able to atone for, and bring about forgiveness for all sin.  There is no limit to what God can do.

 

Perhaps we still need a bit of help.  Perhaps we are still afraid.  Turn to Our Lady, and ask her to pray for you.  Her prayers are powerful.  Who knows how many people’s conversions are down to her prayers.  Do not be afraid of her, and do not be afraid of the Lord.  St Peter also betrayed the Lord.  The difference was that he sought the Lord’s forgiveness.

Maundy Thursday

posted 24 Apr 2019, 05:01 by Parish Office   [ updated 24 Apr 2019, 05:02 ]

Maundy Thursday 2019

- inspiration taken from https://www.hli.org/2019/03/the-church-in-the-midst-of-the-storm/

 

No ringing of bells after the Gloria!

 

“They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him.”  This year, we have heard various news items that are bad news about certain people in the Church.  It can be all rather depressing.  We can feel angry, let down, demoralised, feel like people are laughing at us, and more.  Surely, things shouldn’t be like this.  In the higher levels of the Church, there should be greater holiness, not less.  What has gone wrong?  We can begin to put together theories about why this has happened, but maybe that won’t get us to the real truth, and just get us more worked up in the process.

 

But we look at the Gospel today, and see that there, on the day of the Last Supper, together with Christ and the faithful disciples, was Judas Iscariot.  Judas was one of the Twelve.  You can’t claim he was somehow ignorant about Christ – he had spent three years with him.  He was able to speak to Jesus face to face, privately if necessary.  But still, for some reason, he didn’t convert.  And being a traitor wasn’t the only fault he had.  Earlier in St John’s Gospel, we read:

 

“Then Judas Iscariot … said, ‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?’  He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions.”  (Jn 12:6)

 

Our Lord knew that Judas was going to betray Him.  But that didn’t paralyse Him.  We heard tonight, “Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.”  Despite what was about to happen, God was in control.

 

It reminds us of the stilling of the storm on the sea.  The disciples were in the boat, and the storm grew stronger and stronger, and they thought that it was all going to be over.  Yet Christ was asleep.  In their fright and desperation, they woke Him up, even saying “Do you not care?”  But with a word from Christ, the storm was stilled to a whisper.  On a few different occasions, Pope Benedict referred to the state of the Church as being like a boat that was in the midst of a storm.  The point once again is that despite what may be going on around us, with Christ, we are secure.

 

Back to the Last Supper.  Christ knew what was coming up.  He knew who it was who would betray Him.  But, as they say, the show must go on; and even more than that: the tragedy that was to follow, was going to result in glory, even if there was temporary confusion and scattering of the disciples.

 

The accounts of the Last Supper are some of the most beautiful passages in the Gospels.  If the recent bad news stories have made you waver and wonder why you are part of the Catholic Church, then this is the reason why.  The Church is all about Christ gathering us together.  He reveals to us His Heart.  Christ tells the Twelve:  “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends, if you do what I command you” (John 15:13-14).  In the Eucharist, Christ gives Himself completely, totally and freely:  This is my body, which is given up for you … This is my blood, which is poured out for you.  This is where we ourselves are most truly the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, gathered together with the Lord to celebrate the Eucharist.  Just recall what a great desire Christ had in His heart to celebrate the Mass:  “I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15); another translation could be:  “How I have longed to eat this passover with you before I suffer”.  And Christ instituted the priesthood so that this most holy sacrament could be celebrated down throughout the ages, until time is no more.

 

As part of the Passover ritual, the youngest at table asks the question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”  In the film The Passion of the Christ, Mary Magdalene gives the response, “Because once we were slaves, and we are slaves no longer”.  Christ’s saving Death and Resurrection mean that sin doesn’t have to have the final word.  Through the Eucharist, we can be brought into contact with Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection – we don’t have to be slaves to sin any more!  But that depends on our response.  The response of Judas was different to the response of Peter and the response of John.

 

At the first celebration of the Mass, the Church was gathered together with Christ, and despite one of the people there having plans to betray the Lord, he was unable to stop God’s plan.  Today, we recall that first Eucharist once again, and we know, that no matter what the problems are in the Church, the Lord is with us, and He is the one who is in control.

30th/31st March 2019

posted 1 Apr 2019, 02:42 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent (“Laetare”), Year C (30 & 31/1/19)

 

The parable of the prodigal son.  The parable of someone who decides to waste his family inheritance, throw away his family and turn his back on his country and his religion.  He thinks he knows best.  And he’s going to show everyone else.  But thankfully, it doesn’t end that way.

 

It just goes to show that despite people could say that everything has changed over two thousand years, in some ways, nothing has changed.  Today we still have people wanting to leave family and/or religion behind and “prove themselves”.  In a certain sense, back in the first century, moving country could mean leaving religion behind, mingling with pagans and learning to live as they do, whilst today the Catholic faith is found all over the globe, although in some places it is smaller and/or heavily restricted.

 

But just as with the prophet Jonah, it’s farcical if you try to run away from God.  It’s just like trying to run away from your shadow.    But you can try to block Him out – with work, entertainment, sin, anything just to stop you having time to think and reflect and be alone with God.  Maybe that’s part of the reason why some people in hospital and prison turn to God – everything else has been stripped away, and now they begin to think what is really and truly important.  But perhaps then, the devil still tries to hold them back.  “You can’t possible think you can be forgiven now, do you, after all you have done?”  When the prodigal son decided to return to his father, it says that he was going to say that he didn’t deserve to be treated as a son anymore, and he would just ask to have the status of a paid servant.  Whether it was that he didn’t believe he could be totally forgiven, or he thought he would be pushing his luck to ask for everything in one go, we don’t know.  But sometimes people think that there is a limit to the forgiveness of God, or that they can’t be forgiven for what they have done.  Not true!  If Saul could be forgiven for actively working against the Church, rounding up Christians and wanting to wipe Christianity and all memory of Christ off the face of the earth, then there is forgiveness for us, too.

 

In the second reading, St Paul gives us a message which is, in many ways, the message of Lent:  “be reconciled to God”.  If we are to be true followers of the Lord, we have to look at the plank in our own eye before we look at the splinter in our brother’s eye.  That means that we have to repent, and it would also be good if we went to confession.

 

St Paul tells us, “For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here”.  Confession is one of the seven sacraments, and all of the sacraments are more than just words and nice ceremonies – they change us from the inside.  Just the same as we emphasise receiving Holy Communion  because it unites us with the Lord, so confession also unites us closer to the Lord.  It heals us and helps us to begin to change our lives.  For that reason, it’s good to receive it regularly, rather than once or twice in a lifetime.

 

It is true to say that the Church’s practice with regard to confession has developed over the years.  In the early Church, confession was only used for mortal sins, such as idolatry, murder or adultery.  It was only received once or twice in a lifetime, and absolution was preceded by sometimes years of penance.  You didn’t take being forgiven lightly.  That’s part of the reason why some people delayed baptism until they were on their deathbed – baptism takes away all sins, so that’s one way of avoiding having to go to confession and do years of penance.  But what if you got run over by a horse and cart before you had chance to think about being baptised?  And it goes without saying that if you were not baptised, there was no way you could receive Holy Communion.

 

Christ told Peter to forgive his brother, not seven times, but seventy-seven times, i.e. to always forgive, no matter how many times.  And that reflects the mercy of God.  In the seventh century, Irish missionaries, inspired by the practice of the monks in the Eastern Church, brought to continental Europe the idea of confession as we know it today.  Confession would be celebrated in secret between priest and penitent, there would be no long and lengthy penance before absolution and it would be used frequently, involving the confession of both mortal and venial sins.  Rather than being a sacrament just practised in extreme situations, it is now a regular celebration to help with spiritual growth in holiness.  If we are serious about our growth in holiness and about our faith, how can we stay away?

 

But perhaps we are still a bit uneasy about revealing what we have done, especially to a priest who might already know us.  For this reason, in the mid 1500s, St Charles Borromeo came up with the confessional box.  Previously, confession would have taken place in the body of the church.  With the confessional, it was possible to go to confession and for the priest not to see who you are.  (I’ve heard in the past of a child talking about disguising his voice when he goes to confession as well.)  Whatever your worries, there are options.  The important thing is to go.

 

So there we have it.  Some things never change – our need for forgiveness, and the mercy of our heavenly Father.  Make your Lent a good Lent by unloading yourself of your sins in the confessional – it could be the best decision you ever make.

23rd/24th March 2019

posted 25 Mar 2019, 06:04 by Parish Office

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year C (23 & 24/3/19)

 

Why do bad things happen to good people?  Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe have been recently hit by a devastating cyclone, leading to terrible loss of life.  There are no easy answers.  One thing we can’t do, though, is fall into the trap of thinking that if you are good, good things will without fail come your way, whilst if you are bad, the opposite will happen.  When the cyclone came, it didn’t discriminate.  It’s now up to God to judge who is who.

 

Natural disasters and tragic accidents, as well as acts of great evil have been a constant theme throughout history.  In recent years we’ve heard of various terrorist attacks on places of worship – think not only of the more recent attacks in New Zealand, but also the martyrdom of Fr Jacques Hamel in France.  Two thousand years ago, it seems that the Romans attacked the Jews whilst they were offering sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem, with the result that their blood mingled with that of their sacrifices.

 

Hopefully we will never have to experience anything as dramatic as this.  But not one of us knows how long we have got left.  It’s normally expected that parents go before their children.  But I know of a family where the mother lived to 107, so one of her sons went before she did.

 

The important thing is that we are ready when God calls.

 

When I was still at secondary school and we were getting ready for exams, we spent a lot of time looking over past papers, and making sure that we knew everything they could possibly ask us.  It would have been foolish to have made no preparation and taken no time to find out what sort of questions we might need to answer.  However I do remember at least one exception to what we were expecting.  When it came to our Maths GCSE, we went in to sit what we thought would be the easier paper, and it was rock solid!  Some of us were thinking, if this is the easy paper, what will the next one be like?  Thankfully, that year they had decided to swap things round, so the next paper was a lot easier.  I also remember sitting a General Studies paper, where I didn’t think to bring a calculator.  As a result, I had to work out on paper something like my seventeen times table and then do short division in order to get the answer.  I never got to see whether I got that question right.

 

There were also a few memorable phrases we were taught when it came to exams and revising.  One was RTQ, ATQ, which stood for “read the question, answer the question” (not a variation on the question, perhaps a lesson for a few politicians).  Another was, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”.

 

How does this apply to our faith?  Much as we may dislike exams and revision, it’s so important that we not only know our faith, but also that we live it.  And in order to live it, we have to know it.  Blessed John Henry Newman put it this way:

 

“I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it. I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity.”

 

It’s sometimes said that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing; part of the danger can be that we don’t realise just how little we really do know.

 

Yes, knowledge is one thing, but putting it into practice is another.  And that’s where we get things wrong.  We all do.  So Christ’s call to repentance applies to everyone, not just the big sinners.  And this is also where confession can be so useful:  Satan can try to distort our conscience, so that we become either too strict or too lax.  I think that over the past one hundred years, preaching in Catholic churches hasn’t helped in this regard.  We have gone from worrying about all sorts of smaller things being mortal sins, to forgetting about mortal sin entierly.  Perhaps we have also moved from thinking that very few go to heaven, to pretty much everyone goes to heaven.  But this is where we need to know our faith, in order to correct these aberrations.  I would suggest the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as one option, although some people find it difficult to understand.  Another option is the YouCat, the youth catechism, which is simpler and has more colourful pictures.  It’s also cheaper and shorter.

 

Why do bad things happen to good people?  There are no easy answers, and we don’t know when our time will come.  Let’s make good use of Lent to find out what God wants of us and put it into practice, so that when we are called, we may indeed be ready.

16/17th March

posted 18 Mar 2019, 03:42 by Parish Office

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year C (16 & 17/3/19)

 

The Transfiguration – it must have been a most amazing experience.  To spend three years with the Lord as a disciple must have been something in itself, but with the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John had a glimpse into Christ’s glory as God.  “Master, it is wonderful for us to be here.”  Can we blame St Peter for wanting to stay on the mountain and not wanting to go back down to ordinary life below?

 

On 21st August 1879, in Knock, County Mayo, Ireland, the local people were surprised by an unusual sight:  the figures of Our Lady, St Joseph and St John the Evangelist appeared outside the local parish church, together with an altar, on which there was a Lamb, which was perhaps between five and eight weeks old.  Our Lady appeared to be life-size, with a large crown on her head and her hands raised in prayer; St Joseph’s head was bent, as if paying his respects; and St John was dressed like a bishop, with a small mitre on his head.  He had either a Mass book or a Book of the Gospels in his left hand, whilst his right hand was raised as if he was preaching.  This sight was seen by various witnesses in the pouring rain, and people stayed there for between fifteen minutes and an hour and a half, observing the apparition, praying, wondering what it was, and what it meant.  Fifteen people went on to make official testimonies, who ranged in age from five years to seventy-four, and the Church found that the testimonies were both trustworthy and satisfactory.

 

Knock is now one of the major pilgrimage sites in Ireland, and if you look at the statues there based on the apparition, Our Lady, St Joseph and St John are over to the left-hand side, because it is the Lamb on the altar who takes centre stage, complete with the angels gathered around the Lamb and a cross behind the altar.

 

Just think what it must have been like to have witnessed that apparition.  Then imagine what it must have been like to have been with Christ on the mountain of the Transfiguration – the Father spoke, the Son was revealed in His glory, and the Holy Spirit was present in the cloud.  Could you think of anything more wonderful?  But God has not left us alone.

 

Back in 1968, Pope, now Saint, Paul VI concluded the Year of Faith by issuing the Credo of the People of God.  It was a statement of what we believe as Catholics, much longer than the Nicene Creed we recite at Mass, designed to correct certain errors that were creeping into people’s minds with regard to what we are supposed to believe.  Towards the end of it, it speaks about transubstantiation and Christ’s continuing presence in the tabernacle.  The Pope  described it wonderfully:  he said that the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle is the “living heart of each of our churches.  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” (para 26).

 

In a sense, the apparition at Knock is making a similar point.  Christ, the Lamb of God, is on the altar, with the angels encircling Him in adoration.  St Joseph has his head bowed in deep respect.  Our Lady has her eyes and hands raised to heaven in prayer.  And what is St John preaching?  He is holding a book, whilst also referring to the altar:  perhaps we could pick a verse from the first chapter of his Gospel:  “The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  St John saw Christ’s glory when He was transfigured.  Often, when we have Eucharistic adoration, the host is placed in a monstrance.  The word “monstrance” comes from the Latin word monstrare, which means “to show”.  It’s where we get words like demonstrate.  The monstrance is like an elaborate display-stand for the host, and often, at the very centre of the monstrance, where the host is placed, there are what look like rays of the sun emanating from the host.  We cannot see Christ’s glory – we need the eyes of faith for that.  But just as He was transfigured on the mountain, and as He was adored at Knock by the saints and angels, today, Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, radiates His love, holiness and graces upon us.

 

Another point:  it says in today’s Gospel, “And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone”.  Sometimes, we can have a very intense and spiritual experience when praying before the Blessed Sacrament.  But there does come a time when we have to return back to our daily lives.  Just like with Peter, James and John, our experience of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament transforms us, which then helps us to bear witness to Christ, crucified and risen, in our daily lives.  Sometimes, though, in our prayer time, we may not feel like we have experienced anything special.  It may have seemed all fairly mundane.  But we know that whichever experience we have had, Christ is still there, present.

 

What if one day we walked into church and saw an apparition similar to the one in Knock?  Would it change the way we behave before Mass?  This Lent, let’s rediscover our appreciation for what Christ has given us, a presence that can transform us, but only if we let Him.

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