Fr Michael's Homilies

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

19th/20th May

posted 21 May 2018, 06:06 by Parish Office   [ updated 21 May 2018, 06:08 ]

Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost, Year B (19 & 20/5/18)


How do we distinguish right from wrong?  And how do we make sure that we actually do what is right and avoid what is wrong?  It’s a lifelong task, trying to get it right.  And the Holy Spirit comes to our aid.


But we have to be careful, because as well as the Holy Spirit, there is the evil spirit, Satan, the deceiver.  St Louis Marie de Montfort wrote that Satan is just like a forgerer of coins – no one bothers to forge coins of little value.  How many forged 1p coins have you heard of?  Probably not a single one.  Meanwhile, the Royal Mint has changed the £1 coin because there were so many forgeries in circulation.  The same can be true with our faith, and our sense of right and wrong.  There is the truth, and there are forgeries, deceptions, spread by the Evil One, on some quite big issues.  How do we know which is which?  It’s not always easy.


Christ gives us some help today in the Gospel:  “But when the Spirit of truth comes / he will lead you to the complete truth … he … will say only what he has learnt … since all he tells you will be taken from what is mine”  (Exerpts from John 16: 13 and 14).  There is one truth.  Truth does not contradict truth.  So the Holy Spirit brings deeper understanding, not contradiction.


In the year 156, a recent convert to Christianity, Montanus, claimed that he was receiving special revelations from the Holy Spirit, that were going to add to and complete what Christ had revealed.  Many were seduced, including the theologian Tertullian.  Montanus and his followers claimed that the Church was lax, and lengthened the time of fasting.  They said that people were not to flee from martyrdom, they discouraged marriage and said that those who had been widowed were not allowed to get married again.  They also said that the heavenly Jerusalem was going descend on the Earth in a plain between the two villages of Pepuza and Tymion in Phrygia.  It never happened, of course, and the followers of Montanus were finally excommunicated by the Church.  They then became a separate sect, setting up their headquarters in Pepuza.  The movement eventually faded away.


Instead, today, we have an opposite trend.  Instead of an overly-strict moral code, we have the opposite.  In the second reading, St Paul reminds us that self-indulgence is the opposite of the work of the Spirit.  Self-indulgence leads to fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; idolatry and sorcery; feuds and wrangling; jealousy, bad temper and quarrels; disagreements, factions, envy; drunkenenss, orgies and similar things.  It sounds like something on the Jeremy Kyle Show.  Meanwhile, the Spirit brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.  He then underlines this and says, “You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you cruficy all self-indulgent passions and desire” (Galations 5:24).  Ouch!  He has to be strict with us because otherwise we can start to deceive ourselves into thinking that “self-indulgence”, as he calls it, isn’t so bad after all.  So if we know where we need to go, how do we get there?


Well, firstly, before we get discouraged, let’s remind ourselves of a few things.  Firstly, St Paul is speaking about “fruits” of the Holy Spirit.  The fact that they are fruits means that they take time to grow.  It also means we can draw an analogy with fruit trees.  At the moment, many of the trees are in flower.  They look nice.  But flowers are not fruits.  The flowers are a bit like when someone is first baptised and confirmed.  The initial enthusiasm.  But with flowers on trees, after a while, the petals fall off, and then they don’t look quite so interesting.  After the initial enthusiasm with converts, things can then begin to settle down a bit.  With trees, it’s only then in the months that follow that we see the fruits grow and ripen, and then finally they’re ready, if someone doesn’t knock them off the tree first, or the late frost damage them, or the birds get them.  In the same way with us, the fruits of the Holy Spirit require us to keep the danger of self-indulgence away, the tempations of the world, the flesh and the devil.  Just as a tree needs the warmth of the sun, so we need the warmth of the fire of the Holy Spirit to help us to ripen as Christians.  Or we can put it another way.  We need the Holy Spirit to be the motive power in our lives, like the petrol for a car.  In the first reading, the Apostles knew what they were supposed to do (in theory, a little bit, at least), but they needed the Holy Spirit to empower them into action.  We too need the Spirit!  Oh yes we do!  And being the month of May, we can ask Our Lady, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, to intercede for us, to join her prayers to ours as we pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit on ourselves, the Church and the world.


So if we are to remain faithful, if we are to grow, if we are to go from strenth to strength, we need the Holy Spirit.  Without him, we’re like tourists without a sat nav and fruit trees without sunlight.  We might as well be flogging a dead horse.

12/13th May 2018

posted 15 May 2018, 02:55 by Parish Office   [ updated 15 May 2018, 04:30 ]

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B (11/5/18)


On Thursday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension.  After Christ rose from the dead, He spent forty days with his disciples, reminding them of all He had taught them and preparing them for His departure.  Now He has gone up to heaven, now what?  Were they just supposed to work everything out for themselves, or was God still going to lead them?


Obviously, it’s the second option.  Jesus was not going to leave them like orphans, with no one to look after them.  He was going to send them the Holy Spirit, to be with them and to guide them.  But they were not going to be like a group of disconnected individuals, living in absolute isolation from each other.  Today, when we have phones, the internet, TVs, radios, newspapers, we can look back at previous generations and see things as being rather primitive.  We can be mistaken and prejudiced at times.  Some years ago, when I visited Wilenhall Lock Museum, the guide first decided to have a bit of fun with the children there and ask them if they could find the phone in the nineteenth century office.  They pointed to various different things, but of course, back then, phones hadn’t been invented.  But the postal system was in some ways better than it is today.  We were told that when the postman arrived, the manager could ask the postman just to wait for a few seconds, whilst he read a letter he was waiting for, quickly scribble a reply and give it to the postman.  Then his reply could be back in London by the end of the day.


In the same way, in ancient times, and in the times of the Apostles, people did communicate with each other.  The Church of the first century faced new challenges, and they had to get everyone together, pray about it and make decisions.  They had to ask themselves, “How does this idea fit with what Christ taught us?”  And then that decision was binding on everyone.  In the Gospel we heard those words, “Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name”.  If each of the Apostles were to have no contact with each other and just simply think on their own, “What would Jesus do?” or perhaps, “What would Jesus say?” and then act on that, then by the end of the first century there would have been quarrels and disagreements, splits and disunity.  Instead, they had to come together as the Church, headed by Peter.  Only then would the Spirit keep them one in the truth.


For example, in the Acts of the Apostles, we read that some of the converts from Judaism were saying that everyone should keep the Law of Moses and be circumcised, as a basic requierment of being a Christian.  This caused some trouble, as you can imagine, so it says the Apostles and Elders, i.e. bishops, met in Jerusalem to discuss the matter.  The conclusion was that these people were wrong and that Christians did not need to be circumcised and keep all the special rules of the Jewish faith, such as avoiding eating “unclean” animals and so on.


Throughout the ages, there have been times when the Pope and bishops of the Church, as well as other invited experts and so on, have gathered to discuss the questions of the day and to resolve certain issues.  At the time of the so-called Reformation, there was a gathering of the Pope and bishops for the Council of Trent, not to be confused with the Council of Stoke-on-Trent.  The Council of Trent took place in Trento, or Trent, in northern Italy.  In more recent times, we had the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, which took place, surprisingly enough, at the Vatican.  One of the topics it dealt with was how God reveals Himself to us today.  Of course, God is at work in our lives and other people’s lives all the time, but when it comes to what we should believe, that’s already been revealed to us by God.  Vatican II said that divine revelation doesn’t mean just the Bible, though.  The Bible needs interpreting, and that’s the job of the Church, taking into account also what has been believed by Christians down throughout the ages.  The danger is, that if we decide to go it alone on these matters, we end up inventing our own version of who Christ is, what He taught and what His Church is all about.  We end up creating an idol.   And idols are no good.  We need to meet the real, living God, and that means that at times God runs counter to our expectations.  He doesn’t do things the way we would have done them.  After all, looking at the history of the early Church, would we have wanted St Peter to be crucified upside down and St Paul to be beheaded?  Would it not have been better for them to have died of old age, admired and respected, and having converted the majority of the whole world?  God’s ways are not our ways.  In 1968, many priests thought the Church might be able to soften up her stance on birth control, but it was not to be.  Instead, it was a bit like John chapter 6, where Christ revealed Himself as the Bread of Life, and the people walked away.


“Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us.”  As we pray for the descent of the Holy Spirit in these days between the Ascension and Pentecost, we pray that we may be attentive to His voice, working through the Church.  We ask that we may follow, both when the message is what we would like it to be, and when it is not.

5th/6th May 2018

posted 8 Feb 2017, 05:50 by Parish Office   [ updated 7 May 2018, 05:37 ]

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B (5 & 6/5/18)


“If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love … I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you.”


How we would love this parish to grow!  People sometimes talk about the “good old days”, when churches were full and you had to stand outside if you didn’t get there in time, and how many more Masses there used to be and more priests and so on.  Sometimes I think we can talk ourselves into just accepting things as they are and think there is nothing that we can do.  But that rather goes against our faith.


We believe in a God who is all-powerful, who is all-loving, who can perform miracles.  We also believe in a God who expects us to get our hands dirty as well.  St Paul writes in Romans chapter ten:


“But they will not ask his help unless they believe in him, and they will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher, and they will never have a preacher unless one is sent … so faith comes from what is preached” (vs 14-15. 17).


So conversions happen, not just by prayer, but also by our preaching, by the things that we think, say and do, and the things we don’t think, say or do.  But it can seem a bit of a daunting task.  Thankfully though, it’s not a job that we do alone.  We all do our part and put in our part of the jigsaw so that someone can see the whole thing.


When Blessed John Henry Newman was still an Anglican, even though he was gradually moving in the direction of becoming a Catholic, he still had reservations.  In the Creed we say that we believe in a Church that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.  He realised that the Catholic Church has been one in faith down throughout the ages; he knew that we are catholic or universal, just as in the first reading where Peter recognises that the message of Christ is for all people, not just for the Jews; he recognised that the bishops were descendents of the apostles, making the Catholic Church apostolic.  But he couldn’t see that the Catholic Church was holy.  He had read about the saints in the early days of the Church, but where were they now?  Enter, stage left, Blessed Dominic Barberi.


Blessed Dominic was a Passionist Priest, so he belonged to a religious order, and he was sent by his order, not to preach to the missions in Africa or Asia, but to England.  He arrived in 1841, with a strong Italian accent, and went around barefooted in his religious habit, preaching in the industrial centres of this country.  People threw stones at him, they cursed him, he had to endure times when he had very little to eat, he was mocked, and more besides.  He was a bit like St Paul in 2 Corinthians, where he speaks of all the beatings, shipwrecks, starvation, and other attacks he had endured in the service of the Gospel.  Blessed Dominic suffered, but his work also bore great fruit, bringing thousands into the Church.


Blessed John Henry Newman, in his Anglican days, had said, “If they [that is, the Catholics] want to convert England, let them go barefooted into our manufacturing towns – let them preach to the people like St Francis Xavier – let them be pelted and trampled on, and I will own that they do what we cannot.  I will confess they are our betters far.”  Little did he know that that was exactly what Blessed Dominic and his followers were doing.  And it was Blessed Dominic who was the missing piece in the jigsaw for John Henry Newman, and led to his conversion.  Blessed Dominic didn’t need to go through deep theological and philsophical arguments with him – that work had already been done.  It just needed the witness of someone who was holy and aflame with love for God and for the conversion of souls.


In days gone by, we could grumble that the media seemed to be against us, and that anything on the TV about the Catholic faith seemed to be skewed against us.  Today we have Catholic TV stations, and also the internet, which can help prepare some of the groundwork.  But people still need to meet real-life Catholics who can help them make sense of the Catholic faith, and who live in 21st century England and yet still give an example of following Christ, keeping His commandments and showing them His love.  It may be that for you, things work the other way round to how they did for Blessed John Henry Newman – the fact that you were there for someone, and that you actually cared, means that they then start to think about investigating the Catholic faith.  Rather than being the “icing on the cake” like Blessed Dominic, you might be the foundation instead from which they build.  Or maybe you might have a different role.  When I was on placement some years ago there was someone who wasn’t a Catholic, but came to Mass with his wife and son.  At a social event, he said to me that he had questions about religion, but they might weaken my faith.  I took him up on the challenge, but they weren’t exactly difficult questions.  One of them was that he thought that certain Anglican churches looked more like a church than the Catholic church did, which was a 1960s construction.  I said I agreed with him and that I’m sure there are other Catholics who would agree with him too.  I don’t know whether those really were his obstacles to belief, or not, but I know that he later on became a Catholic. 


So the message about building up this parish is:  we’re all in it together, and we all have our piece to add to the jigsaw puzzle of other people’s conversions.  If we keep Christ’s commandments and remain in His love, then others will see Christ in us and want to find out more.

21/22 April 2018

posted 8 Feb 2017, 05:49 by Parish Office   [ updated 7 May 2018, 05:39 ]

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B – Good Shepherd Sunday

(21 & 22/4/18)


“I am the good shepherd:  the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.”  Where are the men, young and maybe not so young, who are going to stand up and follow the call of Christ to serve as priests in His Church?  Christ doesn’t cease to call.  Those vocations are out there.  It just requires much prayer for those who think they might be called to the priesthood to make that journey to the priesthood, just as young saplings require regular watering to grow into great trees.


The priesthood is a great gift to us from Christ.  Christ is the good shepherd, and through the sacrament of holy orders, he enables men to share in his work of shepherding the flock.  But spot that within the same sentence, He adds, “the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep”.  Being a priest involves personal sacrifice.  In many secular professions, you give over part of your life, do a job, and then when you go home, your life is your own.  But not with the priesthood.  When you become a priest, you give your whole life over to God.  You place yourself completely in God’s hands.  You take a promise of celibacy, and also a promise of respect and obedience to your bishop.  It’s no longer up to you what sort of house you have, or where you live, or what you do.  You are sent, and go wherever the mission of Christ requires you.  And that can be a little bit daunting.  As I was coming up to the end of my time in my previous parish, I knew that I could be literally sent to pretty much any of the parishes in the Archdiocese, and/or I could be made a chaplain to perhaps the RAF, or the prison service, or even the diocesan youth service.   I had to say to the Lord that, no matter what my fears about the future might be, that I placed myself into His hands and would go wherever He sent me.  He was good.  He sent me to Hanley and gave me the hospital to look after.  I’ve always loved getting a good night’s sleep, but I know that that isn’t always possible now, because other people’s needs can be greater.  I can catch up on sleep later on.  St John Paul II used to warn young people about the dangers of selfishness, and used to say that to be full of hope and joy, you have to give of yourself to others.  That is what the priesthood is about.  Christ freely laid down His life, and freely took it up again, and what a difference His sacrifice made.  People sometimes say, “no pain, no gain”.  He went through a lot of pain, and gained so more than just the whole world.  He was so transformed and glorified in His Resurrection, and He wants to pass that onto us, if we will let Him.


So in the first reading we see the effects of this, with Peter, as another Christ, fearlessly preaching a message that not everyone wants to hear today:  “For of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved”.  The truth is not always popular, but it is always true.  And so, in the psalm, the response could have been writtten for today.  “The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone.”  Christ, the stone which so many of the builders of our society have rejected, is the most important of all, and it’s why the buildings they are making are all falling down.  The foundations are no good, because they are lacking Christ.  It is the calling of a priest to be a prophet, and perhaps a doctor too, to diagnose the cause of the symptoms and to propose the cure, even if sometimes people are afraid to take the medicine.


In the second reading it says, “Because the world refused to acknowledge him, therefore it does not acknowledge us”.  It’s not our mission to gain the acclaim of the world.  Christ in fact said, “Alas for you when the world speaks well of you!  This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.”  (Luke 6:26)  Following a calling to the priesthood can involve misunderstanding and ridicule, and sometimes even from Catholics.  We have the strange phenomenon of Catholics who discourage Catholics from pursuing a vocation to the priesthood.  “Are you really sure?  Perhaps when you’re a little older you might change your mind.”  I was quite impressed when a seminarian told me that he had turned teenage rebellion on his head and re-used phrases so many others have used in rejection of God.  His mother didn’t want him to train for the priesthood, so he basically said to her that it’s his life, not hers, and that she can’t control his life.


We need men who are ablaze with love of God and zeal for the salvation of souls.  Look at this from 1 Samuel 17:34, where David is speaking to King Saul:  “When your servant grazed the sheep of his father, if a lion or a bear removed a single one of these sheep, I followed and struck down the beast and tore the sheep from its jowls.”  We need workers to go out into the world and bring back the lost sheep and make converts.  That’s a job for everyone, but it needs especially the leadership and example of a priest.  We do not need shepherds that are what Scripture calls “dumb dogs” that are afraid to bark!  Perhaps there might be one or two people listening to this who think they could do a better job than me.  Maybe you can.  If so, do not be afraid to respond to your calling.


“I am the good shepherd:  the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.”  Where are the men, young and maybe not so young, who are going to stand up and follow the call of Christ to serve as priests in His Church?  Christ does not cease to call.  

14/15 April 2018

posted 8 Feb 2017, 05:47 by Parish Office   [ updated 26 Apr 2018, 06:26 ]

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B (14 & 15/4/18)


Last week I mentioned in passing that we need to make sure that our understanding of right and wrong is grounded in the Word of God, rather than some of the ideas going around in wider society.  Today I’m going to expand on this a bit more, because if we’re not careful we can get ourselves into a bit of a mess, and end up missing out.


One of the sins we can sometimes struggle with is the sin of pride.  Sometimes, pride can be very obvious, when people show off and put others down.  But there can also be a more hidden form of pride as well, when we think that we have all the answers and others don’t know what they are talking about, unless they agree with us, of course.  We become too attached to our own way of thinking, and can’t even begin to think that others might have some useful insights, or corrections, to our way of thinking.  And if we’re not careful, we can extend the same thought process to God.  It can be that we think we know our faith so well that we understand God completely.  Perhaps if we come across something in the Bible or the teaching of the Church that contradicts our ideas, then we still think that we are right and there must be something wrong somewhere with the Scriptures or the Church.  It’s been said that God created us in His own image and likeness, and, ever since, we’ve been trying to pay back the compliment.  When we create in our own minds our own version of God, we end up creating an idol.  The thing about an idol is that it can’t challenge us.  We have control over it, a bit like wooden idols of old, that could be carried around, or put in the cupboard out of the way.  We don’t have that level of control over God!  Rather it’s the other way round.


What’s all this got to do with today’s readings?  Well, all three readings today involve the need to be open to conversion, to allow God to change us.  Perhaps in some ways the most obvious is the second reading:


“We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments.

Anyone who says, ‘I know him’,and does not keep his commandments,

is a liar, refusing to admit the truth.”


Rather strong words, that make an important point:  we are not authentic followers and lovers of God if we follow our own path and go our own way instead.


In the first reading, we see the results of this pattern of behaviour.  Peter tells the people that they are responsible for the death of Jesus.  They are the ones who handed Him over to Pilate to be crucified.  They had their fixed ideas of what God is like and what anyone speaking on His behalf should be like.  Jesus didn’t fit that mould,  and in fact opposed it, so they thought they had to get rid of Him to preverve their own ideas.  Wrong ideas leading to bad actions.  Peter at least has some compassion though.  He says, “Now I know, brothers, that neither you nor your leaders had any idea what you were really doing”, but he still adds that they need to repent.


Then we have the disciples in the Gospel.  They had heard the testimonies of the women who said that he had risen, and had not believed them.  Peter had gone to the tomb, seen the cloths, but not believed (whilst the beloved disciple had).  The disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus had run all the way back and told them about it, and still they hadn’t believed.  Then when Christ appeared to them, they thought they were seeing a ghost.  They had to be woken out of their fixed ideas of what God could and couldn’t do.  And it was a rather pleasant surprise.


God can suprise us in all sorts of different ways.  Sometimes it’s a bit like the song, “I beg you’re pardon.  I never promised you a rose garden.”  Of course, even roses have thorns.  Following Christ involves difficulties and suffering.  But at other times, what seemed to be so difficult is actually not like that at all.  When the Sisters of our parish had a special Mass and celebration in Bloxwich to mark the founding of their order and the many years they have been in this country, it was a Nigerian-style celebration, and there was also plenty of song and dance in the parish hall afterwards.  Someone said to me that it was good to see the sisters being so happy and enjoying themselves, because people can think that following God means being serious all the time and never having any fun, but it’s not like that.


To follow God is a most liberating adventure.  But it means that we have to leave some of our own ideas behind, and go with the flow of the Holy Spirit.  Rather than living life my way, we want to be able to look back over each day and be able to say to God, “I did it Thy way”.

7/8 April 2018

posted 8 Feb 2017, 05:45 by Parish Office   [ updated 26 Apr 2018, 06:28 ]

31 March/1 April 2018

posted 8 Feb 2017, 05:44 by Parish Office   [ updated 26 Apr 2018, 06:30 ]

28 March 2018

posted 8 Feb 2017, 05:43 by Parish Office   [ updated 26 Apr 2018, 06:31 ]


posted 8 Feb 2017, 05:40 by Parish Office   [ updated 26 Apr 2018, 06:32 ]


posted 8 Feb 2017, 05:38 by Parish Office   [ updated 26 Apr 2018, 06:33 ]

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