Fr Michael's Homilies

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

5th/ 6th June 2021

posted 9 Jun 2021, 04:52 by Parish Office   [ updated 9 Jun 2021, 04:52 ]

Homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Year B (5 & 6/6/21)

Words change their meaning over time. Some usages drop out of use, whilst others develop secondary meanings, and sometimes the secondary meanings eventually displace the original meaning. One classic example is the word “wicked” – in earlier years people understood the word to mean evil, whilst now it is also used to mean good. If we go back a bit further in time, the word “gay” used to mean happy. What about the word “awful”? Today it would be used to mean horrible, but previously it meant “full of awe”. I remember coming across a hymn that spoke of God’s awful glory, but I did an internet search and I couldn’t find out which hymn it was.

Words change their meaning, and this also causes confusion when it comes to our faith. When Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me”, it’s easy to interpret “memory” in the modern sense, of just remembering, or calling to mind. But for first century Jews, it was much more than that. When they celebrated the Passover, they weren’t just remembering what had happened all those years ago – they believed that they actually took part in the original Passover. Memory wasn’t just about remembering in their heads what had happened – it was about bringing an event from the past into the present and taking part in it themselves. So when Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me”, He was, in a sense, saying, “Do this to make Me and my saving sacrifice present”.

Words can be confusing sometimes, and just changing a minor detail can make for a complete change in meaning. You can take the same letters, in the same order, and if you just adjust the spacing you can get a different message. For example: compare “God is nowhere” with “God is now here”. Just adding one extra space makes for a completely different meaning. Let’s apply this to the Eucharist. Some people think that the Eucharist is just a representation of Christ and the sacrifice of the Cross. But the Church teaches that the Eucharist is a re-presentation of the sacrifice of the Cross. Not just a representation, like a painting on a wall, but a re-presentation – the sacrifice of the Cross is presented, put before us, once again. We take part in it again each time we come to Mass. We only need to look at the words of the Gospel today: Christ said “This is my body” and “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many.” Those words could be describing the celebration of the Mass, or what took place on Calvary, because they are one and the same. We can look at the altar as the priest says, “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood”, or we can look at the Cross as those same words are said. Pope St Paul VI said the same thing in a new Creed called the Credo of the People of

God. He said, “We believe that the Mass … is the sacrifice of Calvary rendered sacramentally present on our altars” (para 24). So the Mass is not like getting a VHS video off the shelf, dusting it off, rewinding the tape and playing it in a video recorder. It’s more like a kind of internet livestream, or if you prefer, a live TV broadcast, except that it’s livestreaming or broadcasting through time, bringing the past right now, live, into this very building.

But there’s more. Livestreaming and broadcasting are limited realities – if you see something on a computer or TV screen, you can’t get into the screen and take part yourself; in one sense you are hermetically sealed from what you are watching. But when we physically attend Mass, we are taking part in Calvary just the same as if we were physically present, in that we receive grace from God. Have you heard the definition of sacraments being outward signs of invisible, or inward, grace? You can’t see the grace given to us by the sacraments, but you can sometimes see and feel the effects – how many people have just felt wonderful by attending Mass, or being absolved of their sins in confession, to give two examples? It’s as if at times, God allows us to “feel” the greatness of what is happening; but when we don’t feel anything, God’s grace is there just the same – occasionally He lifts the veil so we glimpse some of the glory that lies behind what is going on.

And if the Mass is the sacrifice of Calvary, then who do we find there on Calvary, if not Christ Himself? So the Eucharistic species, i.e. what we receive in Holy Communion, have to be Christ Himself: His Body given up for us, and His Blood poured out for us. It’s that real, that we call it the Real Presence.

How truly lucky and fortunate we are to be able to take part in all this! With the eyes of faith we can enter into a new dimension and see, no longer bread and wine, but Jesus, with only the outward appearances of bread and wine; with the eyes of faith we see His saving sacrifice there on the altar. Our only response can be to kneel down and worship and adore, and similarly, when we enter and leave the church, to go down on one knee in adoration of the Lord reserved in the tabernacle.

Words change their meaning, but Jesus and His sacraments remain the same. We are the ones that need to change, by regular contact with our saving Lord.

29th/30th May 2021

posted 9 Jun 2021, 04:46 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year B (29 & 30/5/21)

Next week we celebrate the solemnity of Corpus Christi, or The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, to give it its English title. Normally we would have a procession after the 11 am Mass, but the current requirements for social distancing would make it all a little tricky. But the subject of Corpus Christi processions gives me a link into today’s feast and Gospel reading. The normal thing to do in a Corpus Christi procession, if you are part of the crowd, rather than part of the procession, is to kneel down as the monstrance passes containing the Host, because the Host is Christ Himself, present body, blood, soul and divinity. We as human beings are present here now body, blood and soul, but Christ, because He is both God and man, also has divinity, hence why we worship and adore Him as God.

In the Gospel reading today, it says that when the Eleven saw Jesus, “they fell down before him, though some hesitated”. It had taken the Eleven a good while to come round to the idea that Jesus was God as well as man. Understandably so, because they had been taught that God is One, which He is, so they wouldn’t in that sense have expected Jesus to be God. In St Mark’s Gospel, it’s when Our Lord is being tried by the Sanhedrin that everything reaches a climax. The various so-called witnesses have made statements that are conflicting, nothing to convict Christ. So the high priest puts a question to Him: “Are you the Christ, … the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus doesn’t just say “yes”, but he actually says “I AM”, which is the very name of God Himself, the mysterious name of God that the Jews did not dare to pronounce. Jesus not only pronounces it, but says it applies to Himself. And for that, they convict Him of blasphemy (see Mark 14:55-65).

Spring forward to the Resurrection, and Jesus has shown that He is truly God. No prophet had risen from the dead by his own authority and then been able to appear at will in different places even through closed doors. Furthermore, when Jesus appeared, He wasn’t just an apparition – He was real flesh and blood, and could be touched, His wounds could be examined, and He was able to eat with them just as before. So when He appears in today’s Gospel, they treat Him as God and fall down before Him. He is Lord, and we will treat Him as Lord.

In the second reading, St Paul speaks about the Holy Spirit. We have to remember that our faith teaches us that we believe in one God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit is equally God together with the Father and the Son. He is due the same respect and honour as the Father and the Son.

Sometimes, you hear people speaking about God, Jesus and the Spirit. It sounds like they only believe that the Father is God, and that the Son and Holy Spirit are lesser creatures. (It also sounds a bit like what the Muslims believe.) But we do not believe in a greater, a lesser and a least. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal in majesty, and one. We don’t believe in three gods. When people try to picture all this and describe it, sometimes they get tied in knots, because it is so beyond human understanding (as you would expect for God). We don’t believe in one God who is one person, who like a chameleon changes between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe in one God who is three persons.

Around this time last year, Steve Fleming from Oscott was staying with me in the presbytery, and we were having a bit of a heated discussion about something over the dinner table – I can’t remember the exact topic. I laid a trap for him, but he knew his Trinitarian theology. As things got more heated, I was waiting for him to say, there’s only one person who’s perfect, and that’s God, and then I could have said right, caught you out – that’s heresy. God is three persons, not one. But he saw the trap prepared and avoided it, and we both laughed that my plan was foiled.

The Muslims, as I said, do deny that the Son and Holy Spirit are God. We need to know our faith well to engage with them. We no longer live in a world where we can neglect what our faith actually teaches on these points. Otherwise, just as some Protestants will catch out Catholics because they don’t understand what they should and should not believe about Our Lady, so the Muslims will do the same with regard to the Holy Trinity. The Muslims will at times misrepresent our faith, and we need to know it well enough to correct them.

Going back briefly to the feast of Corpus Christi: some time ago, Richard Dawkins, on-line, largely got right what the Catholic Church teaches with regard to transubstantiation, and said it was ridiculous. Then, to their shame, various Catholics replied and said, that’s not what we believe, and showed that they actually believed Protestant doctrine. It then took other Catholics to correct both the first group of Catholics and Richard Dawkins. Let’s not do the same with the Most Holy Trinity. We don’t want Catholics showing that they actually believe Muslim doctrine. Let’s fall down and worship the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the only God, the true God, and the only One worth worshipping.

Ascension Thurs 13th May 2021

posted 17 May 2021, 05:11 by Parish Office

Homily for the Ascension, Year B (13/5/21)

Can we really believe all that is contained in the Creed? As we know, some people struggle, and there are also those who struggle to believe the very first part: belief in God. In my first parish there was a couple. The wife was a practising Catholic who came to Mass on Sundays, whilst her husband (let’s call him Adam) used to accompany her about once a month or so. One year, on Easter Sunday, I preached a homily which not only spoke about the victory of Christ in the Resurrection, but also ridiculed atheists. He wasn’t too impressed. He saw the good in the people that came to Mass and said that they had something that he didn’t, but, at the time, he found it difficult to believe in God.

Jumping forward in time, at his funeral, they invited a priest-friend to preach, and he told the story of a previous curate from the parish, who went to visit a family to arrange a funeral. One of the children said: “Well, dad wasn’t really a church-goer. In fact, we’re not even sure that he believed in God.” The curate, who had a reputation for being a bit blunt at times, responded with: “He does now”. The joke was made about different times in “Adam”’s life when it seemed that God had been trying to give him the hint that He exists.

Going back in time a week or so, the Parish Priest told me that he had been to visit “Adam” whilst he was dying, and he had given him the Sacrament of the Sick, also called the Sacrament of Anointing. Apparently, it made such a difference to him that he was praising it for a long time and saying how amazing he felt. The Parish Priest said that “Adam” had found his faith again.

On another occasion, I was called to give a lady in the parish the Last Rites. One of the relatives at the bedside told me that the Parish Priest had visited this same lady some time in the past and given her the Sacrament of the Sick, and when he did so, she instantaneously relaxed and became a lot more calm.

“These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.”

This list doesn’t say that everyone who believes will be able to do all of these things, but that these are the things that will be associated with those who believe in the Lord. The ministry of exorcism continues in the Church; in the Charismatic Movement, the gift of tongues is not a rarity, and I have witnessed

it myself; I’ve not seen anyone pick up snakes, but the Acts of the Apostles mentions that St Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake when he arrived in Malta, but he shook it off into the fire and he wasn’t affected by the bite (see Acts 28:1-6); various saints in the past have survived attempts at being poisoned; and today, both through prayer and through the Sacrament of the Sick, people do sometimes recover.

The Lord has gone to heaven, but He has not abandoned us. So now, we too, are called to put our faith in Him and witness to Him. That doesn’t mean that we will be able to go around A&E at the Royal Stoke and cure everyone. But sometimes, you know what, God does actually surprise us. Sometimes, for example, people are given the Last Rites, and then they recover and go home. Last week, someone told me of a man who had cancer. He prayed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and when he went to see the doctor for a scan before his operation, the cancer was completely gone. His doctor, who was an Anglican, started attending the Sacred Heart Masses at Maryvale in Birmingham. Does our lack of belief at times hold back the miracles of God? We read in Mark 6:5-6: “and he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them. He was amazed at their lack of faith”.

God doesn’t want our faith to lead to our own glory – perhaps another reason for a lack of miracles. But God does work through the ordinary means as well. In the second reading, St Paul speaks about everyone, with different gifts, building up the Church, the body of Christ. We can use our gifts for the Lord, humble though they may be. There’s the story of a man who was sweeping the stairs of a tenement block in the South Bronx. A well-dressed young man walked past him. Seeing how depressed he looked, he invited him for a cup of coffee. They spoke for about half and hour, and then the young man left. The young man then went and made his first confession in twenty years. He told the priest that he was so depressed that he was going to kill himself, but a man sweeping some stairs had made him a cup of coffee and told him how much Jesus loved him. That was what led him to decide not to take his own life and to make his peace with God.

God has done amazing things, including the Ascension; He continues surprise us today, and has so much more planned for the future. But will we allow Him to act?

1st/2nd May 2021

posted 3 May 2021, 01:35 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B (1 & 2/5/21)

Imagine the situation. (Knock! Knock!) The priest opens the door. “Hello, Father. I’m Richard Dawkins. I want to become a Catholic.” Which priest wouldn’t be at least a bit surprised, concerned, or wonder what was really going on? So back in the first century, you can understand why, when Saul said that he had converted, they were a bit unsure of him, to say the least: “they were all afraid of him: they could not believe he was really a disciple”. Of course, other “big fish” have converted over two thousand years of history, together with various medium-size and small fish. C S Lewis is known today as a Christian author, but he wasn’t always a Christian. After being brought up in what he called a blandly Christian childhood, he embraced atheism. In his conversion testimony, called Surprised by Joy, he states how there were various things that knocked his atheistic “faith”: the beauty of nature and art, the gift of joy, and people that he met, both in reality and those he got to know through reading their books, especially Chesterton and MacDonald.

He writes: “In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for … A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere” (see Surprised by Joy). So basically, what happened was that it was in reading, he came, kicking and screaming, to belief in God:

“You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen [College, Oxford], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (Surprised By Joy,ch. 14, p. 266).

But at this point, there was still so much more to be done. It was Tolkien, together with Dyson, who, two years later, would have a long conversation with him, going to beyond three in the morning, that led him to conversion to Christ and Christianity. C S Lewis came close to being a Catholic, but didn’t make the final leap, being an Anglican when he died, but some say that he was largely there.

Go back to Saul. He’s had an encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. He knows that Christ is real. But when he goes to meet up with the disciples in Jerusalem, they don’t want to know. They just can’t trust him yet. It requires Barnabas, who has seen the way he has preached in Damascus, to introduce him to the apostles, so he can be fully integrated and trusted by the Church.

In the work of evangelisation, each person’s conversion is unique. We also have a lot of material out on the internet now, of varying quality and orthodoxy. People

can search for hours if they want to. But it still requires the personal touch. It’s one thing studying the Catholic faith in books or on the internet, but you need to see it being lived out in ordinary people’s lives, and to see how people put this faith into practice. As St John said in the second reading, “My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active”. And that also means that the lack of personal witness can hinder other people from converting. Probably most, if not all of us, have at some point been made fun of because of our faith, and that can lead us to be a bit more guarded in the future and keep our faith a bit more hidden. But if we hide it too much, then it can suffocate: “No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or to put it under a bed” (Luke 8:16). Obviously if you try and do that with a candle, you either put the candle out when you cover it with a bowl, or you run the risk of setting the place on fire if you put it under a bed. In other words, the whole point of our faith is for it to be seen by others. Not to deliberately show off, but the idea of a “private faith” is a bit of a contradiction in terms. How many Stoke City supporters would be “privately” Stoke City supporters, but in public go to any football ground and support any team? It wouldn’t make sense. If you support a football team, you will get knocks from time to time. But if you never support your team, never go to their matches or watch them on TV, are you really a supporter? Similarly with your faith. If you claim to be a Catholic, but never pray, never go to Mass, and don’t know any other Catholics by sight, then are you really a Catholic? And if you are never public about your faith, are you really a Catholic? If it doesn’t change you as a person, then something or someone else is exercising control over you, and that something or someone else needs to be given a bit of a shove and give way to God. Because the danger is, if we begin to slowly separate ourselves from Christ, then we wither. We need to be re-grafted onto the vine whilst there is still some life left.

“My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active.” Is just watching Mass at home on livestream really enough? Or have we got to re-connect with the Church and put our faith into gear? The bishops of England and Wales have issued a letter called The Day of the Lord, in which they talk about people who have fallen away from their faith during the pandemic. It’s for us to help them to return, and we need to work together on this one. As part of this, because the Sunday 11 am Mass has now reached the point of being full, I’m going to be putting on an extra Mass, probably at 9 am on Sunday morning, and it will be our job to fill it, together with the Saturday Vigil Mass as well. The plan is for this to start in two weeks’ time. See who you can find

24th / 25th April 2021

posted 26 Apr 2021, 01:29 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday), Yr B – 24 & 25/4/21

“I am the good shepherd.” Today’s Gospel is something of a blueprint for what a priest should be, as we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s a high calling, and those that are called are not perfect – as it’s sometimes said, God doesn’t choose the qualified, He qualifies the chosen. So it’s to be expected that some men who experience a sense of calling also think that they are completely unsuited to the task. But the Lord knows what He’s doing – it’s just for the candidate to engage with the discernment and formation process. Let’s have a look, then, at this blueprint of what a shepherd should be. You’ll see that at some point, all priests fail to fully live up to it.

Of course the first thing to note is that Christ is speaking here about Himself. In a sense, there is only one priest in the Church, and that is Christ. All other “priests” merely share in Christ’s priesthood – they are not independent agents, and if the Church is the Body of Christ, they are not independent of the Church, either. You cannot separate Christ and His Church.

“[The] good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.” A priest is called to be the father of the family, and that involves making sacrifices, just like any father who cares for his children. It’s easy to say; it’s easy to talk about high ideals and what should happen. It’s another thing when you are completely worn out and another demand is made on you - you just wanted to sit down and rest, but now someone has turned up at the door, or you’ve just realised that you’ve forgotten you should be somewhere in ten minutes’ time, or the phone goes for the hospital. There can also be certain things that we hold “sacred” in life, as it were. The principle of being allowed to have an undisturbed night’s rest, and not being woken up part-way through. The sense that I have worked so hard recently that I have earned this time to watch TV, and that no-one should disturb me. I can remember in my first parish, where there was another curate as well as the parish priest, that the other curate said to me that with the hospital pager, if you get woken up in the middle of the night then, well, it’s what you’ve signed up to, so you just get on with it. But then I can also remember one night hearing a load of clattering in the house, followed by a door slamming shut and the other curate’s car disappearing. I thought that we’ve either just been burgled and someone’s stolen his car, or he’s just been called to the hospital. The following morning I asked him to be a bit quieter when others are sleeping.

“The hired man … abandons the sheep and runs away as soon as he sees a wolf coming.” The hired man has little sense of responsibility for the flock. To him, being a shepherd is just a job, nothing more. It’s not worth the bother of being

attacked. Is being a priest just a job, or is it a career, or is it a vocation? If you treat it as just a job, you end up with the priest who is the comfortable bachelor. “If Stoke are playing, then woe betide anyone who phones or turns up at the door!” Being a priest is not a 9-5 job, where you down tools at the end of the day and don’t turn up again until the following morning. It involves dedication, commitment, and also acceptance that you will be attacked from time to time – not necessarily physically, but perhaps in other ways, with people disagreeing with you and criticising you. One priest said to me once how he used to have to grit his teeth when he went to visit a certain housebound couple in his parish, because there was always something that they would attack him for. But let’s look at what happened to St Peter, when Christ was tried before the Sanhedrin. They declared Christ guilty of blasphemy, and spat at Him and struck Him with their fists. Peter saw this and then someone said “You too were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth” (Mark 14:67). He acted out of self-preservation, denied all knowledge and tried to escape. He denied the Lord, yet the Lord made a good shepherd out of him later on. Once you are ordained a priest, you are not instantaneously perfect. Formation is a life-long task. Fr James Mallon, in his book Divine Renovation says how he began seminary knowing his imperfections, but he also knew he had so many years of seminary to iron them out. But then, just before ordination, he had a slight panic when he realised that he wasn’t perfect yet. But it’s true for all of us. We don’t achieve perfection by the time we hit eighteen, or twenty-five, or forty, or even eighty. It’s an ongoing process with the Lord, whatever our vocation.

I just now want to quickly give a bit of balance to things, because sometimes people seem to give the impression that being a priest is just about suffering. It isn’t. There are other compensations. On the purely worldly level, you never have to worry about being homeless, unemployed or going hungry. But there is also the great sense of fulfilment, of doing something truly worthwhile, of bringing the Lord to so many people, and there’s also the love that you receive from them in return and the fact that you wouldn’t be happier in life doing anything else. Being a priest is a vocation, a calling from the Lord, not a job. It’s something you do out of love for the Lord, not just simply as a duty, and that’s why you are willing to undergo the difficulties and suffering, and let’s face it – plenty of other people have their sufferings too. You can’t escape the cross.

All those Christ calls to the priesthood are called to follow His example: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep”. And that laying down of one’s life results in God’s glory. Today, being World Day of Prayer for Vocations, please pray for all vocations, but particularly for priests and those who are called to the priesthood, that they may respond eagerly to the call of the Good Shepherd, to be shepherds like Him.

17th/18th April 2021

posted 20 Apr 2021, 01:17 by Parish Office

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B (17 & 18/4/21)

Back in 2011, the film The Iron Lady was released, about the life of Margaret Thatcher. It’s shot from the perspective of her now being an old woman who has lost her husband and is reflecting on her life, and there are points where she seems to be seeing and speaking to her husband Denis. Does she really see him, or is it all just in her mind? The whole thing has been crafted by the film-writers as a way of telling the story.

Not so the Resurrection. “In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost.” But Jesus not only appears and later disappears, but He is also able to be touched, and He eats with them. And of course, more than this, He also appears to hundreds of other people as well. One or two people could be accused of seeing things. But can you really accuse five hundred people of wishful thinking, and that is was all just in their minds (see 1 Cor 15:3-8)? There are some people who do deny the Resurrection, and even some who call themselves Christians. I don’t know how; St Paul is quite clear, and he connects it with the resurrection of the dead, the belief that at the end of time, we will all be raised up to new life with bodies, just as Christ rose from the dead. This is how he puts it, in his usual, engaging style:

“[If] Christ has not been raised then our preaching is useless and your believing it is useless; indeed, we are shown up as witnesses who have committed perjury before God, because we swore in evidence before God that he had raised Christ to life. For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, you are still in your sins. And what is more serious, all who have died in Christ have perished. If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of all people.” (1 Cor 15:14-19)

Our lives as Catholics hinge on the Resurrection, and just like a door falls on the ground if the hinges break, so without the Resurrection our whole faith falls apart. The Resurrection is part of the proof that what Christ said was true. If He said He would rise again, and then He didn’t, then that rather disproves so much of what He said. But as St Paul continues, “Christ has in fact been raised from the dead…” (1 Cor 15:20).

Sometimes, people try to re-construct the Gospel message according to what they think happened instead. If you do this, then you end up writing your own religion. Occasionally you come across films and documentaries that are supposed to be about what happened in the Bible, but when you watch it, you

think, “Hang on - that’s not what it says”. Certain story-writers have decided to alter it to fit their own beliefs instead. There was one film I watched some years ago, where Christ, instead of being God made man, was instead a rather confused, ordinary man, who worked no miracles, and got a bit confused when people challenged Him. That’s someone’s made-up image of Him, not what we find recorded in the Gospels.

But sometimes, people do try to take a very sceptical view of what is written about Christ, both in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. The trouble is, they take such an extreme approach that if you applied it to other areas of life, most of our historical knowledge would fall apart. Archbishop Fulton Sheen showed that if we use the approach of the Gospels being a “sun god myth”, i.e. it was just adapted from ancient ideas of a sun god, and if we are consistent and apply it to Napoleon, then we get the result that Napoleon never really existed. The life of Napoleon is just ridiculous – it was all just made up (see ).

In the second reading, we have another way of proving the truth of Christianity – the way we live our lives: “when anyone does obey what he [God] has said, God’s love comes to perfection in him” (1 John 2:5). We show by our lives that Christ is alive in us, that this faith actually works. Sometimes actions speak louder than words; at other times, both are needed to fully convince someone – there have to be both the intellectual arguments, and also the evidence of us practising what we preach.

Lastly, the first reading. St Peter is preaching to the ordinary Jewish people after Pentecost. He converts them in a three stage process. Number one: the factual situation: you had Jesus put to death and killed the prince of life, but God raised Him from the dead. Number two: where you stand now with God: “neither you nor your leaders had any idea what you were really doing” (Acts 3:17) and it was all part of God’s plan, as was prophesied. Number three: “Now you must turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). It’s a message of salvation, not of damnation. He didn’t say, “You’re big sinners, and now you’re really in trouble, and there’s nothing you can do about it”. Our message to the world has to be that as Christ died and rose to new life, so we can die to our sins and rise to new life with Christ, and we need to be living proof of the difference it makes.

The reality is that Christ is alive; and because of Him, we can be alive too.

10th/11th April 2021

posted 12 Apr 2021, 02:49 by Parish Office

Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday (10 & 11/4/21)

Our celebration of Easter continues today, as we hear how the disciples were all gathered in one room with the doors closed, “for fear of the Jews”. Jesus enters that place where the Church is gathered together in fear, and transforms it into an occasion of peace and joy.

Today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, and later on you can come and take a good look at the Divine Mercy image on your right, which I’m going to bless a bit later on. You will see that Jesus has his right hand raised in blessing, whilst His left is touching His Heart. His Heart is not visible, as it is on the Sacred Heart statue, but there are two rays, one red, the other pale blue, emanating from His Heart. And you’ll also notice that you can just about make out the fact that His hands still have the holes made by the nails on the Cross. It is an image of the risen Jesus.

Sometimes, your Protestant friends might ask, “Where is confession in the Bible?” Well, today we read that very passage where Christ institutes the Sacrament of Confession, or Reconciliation (John 20:22-23):

After saying this he breathed on them and said:

Receive the Holy Spirit.

For those whose sins you forgive,

they are forgiven;

for those whose sins you retain,

they are retained.’”

The Divine Mercy image, and devotion, are all about the forgiveness of God. No matter how great our sins, God’s mercy is all the greater. Our Lord spoke to St Faustina many times during her life about His desire for there to be a Feast of Divine Mercy, and spoke of the world’s need to turn to Him, trusting in His forgiveness. This was back in the 1930s when Catholics were more frequent in going to confession. It’s even more relevant now. This is what He said, as recorded in St Faustina’s diary (para 1448):

Write, speak of My mercy. Tell souls where they are to look for solace; that is, in the Tribunal of Mercy [the Sacrament of Reconciliation]. There the greatest miracles take place [and] are incessantly repeated. To avail oneself of this miracle, it is not necessary to go on a great pilgrimage or to carry out some external ceremony; it suffices to come with faith to the feet of My representative and to reveal to him one’s misery, and the miracle of Divine Mercy will be fully demonstrated. Were a soul like a decaying corpse so that from a human standpoint, there would be no [hope of] restoration and everything would already be lost, it is not so with God. The miracle of Divine Mercy restores that soul in full. Oh, how miserable are those who do not take advantage of the miracle of God’s mercy! You will call out in vain, but it will be too late.”

Part of the emphasis of this Sunday’s readings is also on mission. “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you” (John 20:21). These days, that means both bringing back the lapsed and making new converts. For some, it might seem rather off-putting to be told about the need to go to Confession. For some, their dread is a bit of a form of self-defence. Often, to admit to doing wrong is to expect punishment, or at least some form of criticism. But that’s not what Confession is about. Confession is about revealing our wounds to the Lord, so that they can be healed. Yes, Lord, I’ve made a mess of things, and I want your grace to start again. When I was baptised, I was clothed in a white garment, but I’ve dirtied it and I want it to be clean again. I’ve offended others, I’ve hurt myself, and most of all, I’ve offended you. I place my burdens at your feet, Lord, including the heaviest ones, the most unmentionable ones, trusting in your mercy.

Another illustration of God’s mercy: on Thursday, I watched the film The Good Pope: John XXIII, starring Bob Hoskins. You can find it on YouTube. One of the new things that Pope St John XXIII did was to visit a prison. In the film, he addresses the prisoners, not to give them a telling off, but to tell them that he is there for them as their father, and he blesses them. One of them comes running across towards him, behind the bars, of course, and he publicly confesses that he killed a man. He says, “What you said … was not meant for me”. Pope John replies that it was, that it was especially for you. God knows your sorrow, and He forgives. That’s also the image of Divine Mercy Sunday: no matter what our sins are, God is here for us with His mercy, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Our world needs God’s mercy. It is too filled with condemnation, revenge, rejection and constantly tries to justify the unjustifiable. Divine Mercy is its only hope. That’s how it can emerge from a room of fear, rediscovering the risen Lord.

Easter Homily

posted 5 Apr 2021, 03:03 by Parish Office

Homily for Easter 2021 (3 & 4/4/21)

On Good Friday we entered into the mystery of the Lord’s Death on the Cross. We recalled the horrors that He had to undergo and how much He suffered for us all. Tonight/today we enter into the celebration of the Resurrection, and re-live its glory, awe and wonder. Christ is Risen! Alleluia! As St Paul puts it, “Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more” (Rom 6:8-9) and neither should death and sin have any power over us.

In St Mark’s Gospel, the women go fearfully to the tomb. They meet a young man in white. He tells them not only that Our Lord is risen, but has a message for them to pass onto the disciples and to Peter: “He is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him, just as he told you”. In other words, the show goes on! Christ is unstoppable. He is risen from the dead and now He will meet you all again in Galilee. Be there to await your next instructions from Jesus Himself.

In the Gospel of St John, it says that later on, Peter and John go to the tomb and find it empty, with the burial cloths on the ground and the face cloth rolled up in a place by itself. “Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:9). But from now on, it’s all going to make sense.

Before, when Our Lord tried to warn and explain to them that the Son of Man was to die and rise from the dead, they were afraid to ask what “rising from the dead” was all about. But now, they are going to find out. Christ is going to gather them all together again, remind them of all He taught them, and then send them out all over the known world as witnesses to Him. St Paul, after he converts, will be able to say, if you don’t believe me, ask all the others that have seen Him: “he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died” (1 Cor 15:6). Through His Church, Christ will be unstoppable. The Romans will try to execute them, but even that won’t work. It didn’t stop Christ. Tertullian, who lived in the second and third centuries, was to write that "We spring up in greater numbers the more we are mown down by you: the blood of the Christians is the seed of a new life”, i.e. martyrdom only helps the Church to flourish. To this day, Christianity is the world’s biggest faith at roughly 2.4 billion people, putting Islam in second place. And within Christianity itself, Catholicism is the biggest denomination.

But the power of Christ’s Resurrection isn’t just about making converts. It’s about conversion of life. In 1 Corinthians, St Paul makes a comparison with bread. When bread is baked for the Passover, it is supposed to be unleavened. Back in the first century, you couldn’t go and buy a pack of yeast from the supermarket, so when you made bread, you kept a bit of the dough behind for the next batch to leaven it. When you make unleavened bread, you use entirely fresh dough, so that there will be no yeast in it and it won’t rise. He says, “so get rid of all the old yeast, and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be” (1 Cor 5:7). St Gregory of Nyssa, writing in the fourth century, says that all this means that, “no remainder of sin should be mixed with our new life, but that we should make a completely new start in life by a real conversion, by cutting off the perpetual procession of sin” (See From Glory to Glory). The point is that we need Christ’s resurrected life to shine through the whole of us. But instead we can be like trying to clean out a tea-stained mug, where we manage to clean most of it, but getting into the corners requires a lot more effort. In the same way, we want God’s grace, through the sacraments, to get into all the corners of our lives too. The experience of the saints shows that it is possible. But Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Tonight/today we glory in the Resurrection of the Lord. Christ cannot be stopped, no matter what people try to do to Him or to His Church. And in our own lives too, the message is clear: let His glory shine in you!

Good Friday

posted 5 Apr 2021, 02:59 by Parish Office

Homily for Good Friday 2021 (2/4/21)

One day, a science teacher decided to have a bit of fun with his class. He brought out a glass beaker and asked them: “If I put these three rocks into the beaker, will it be full?” Some said yes, some said no. So he put the rocks into the beaker. “Is it full now?” he said. The class wondered what was going to happen next. The teacher then brought from underneath the table a bag of stones. “If I put these stones in the beaker, will it be full?” He put the stones in the beaker. “Is it full now?” Some said yes, some said no. Then he produced a bag of sand. “If I put this in, will it be full?” He filled the beaker to the top with sand. At last, the class thought, it was safe to say that the beaker was now full. But the teacher had the last laugh. Next he brought out a measuring cylinder full of cold, fresh water, and poured it into the beaker, and the water level reached right the to top. “Now it’s full” he said.

What’s this got to do with Good Friday? Quite simply, Our Lord is the beaker, who took on all the sins of the world. He took on all the rocks, the really big sins, such as when a bank charges ridiculous interest on a poor country, and people die because the poor country is crippled by having to spend so much of its income repaying the loan and all the interest.

He took on all the stones, the bigger sins that we commit, not just murder and theft, but also other sins such as when we dishonour God by missing Mass and trampling on Sunday as if it were any other day, when we put other things and other people before God, when we deny our faith and say “I do not know Him!”. He also took on all those sins that we are extremely embarrassed and ashamed to confess.

He took on all the sand, all the smaller sins, the ones that everyone does, that little by little, add up to quite a bit of weight on our souls, the sins that we find easier to confess than the bigger ones.

And He took on all the water, the even smaller sins, the ones we forget, the ones we hardly notice. Jesus suffered for all of these sins. And yes, we don’t half have a lot to be grateful for! We could never have atoned for all those sins ourselves. There is only one Saviour, and His name is Jesus.

His suffering was so great. Not only were there the physical sufferings: the scouring, the crowning with thorns, the nailing to the Cross and so on; but there were also all the other sufferings too. He suffered anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane; on the Cross He experienced the sense of being abandoned even by God: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He experienced, paradoxically, what it is like to be separated from God by mortal sin, even though He Himself is God.

We thank Him today, we worship Him, we honour Him, and we ask that we may not add to His sufferings, but live lives of grateful service to Him and to all humanity. Peter denied Jesus, but Jesus died for Peter, and then Peter lived for Jesus, and ultimately, died for Jesus.

Maundy Thursday

posted 5 Apr 2021, 02:52 by Parish Office

Homily for Maundy Thursday 2021 (1/4/21)

Today is 1st April, also known as April Fools’ Day. Some people say it originates from the fact that the New Year used to begin between 25th March and 1st April (depending on the year), and that when we changed to the new calendar, those still using the old calendar were referred to as April Fools. In fact the tradition goes back long before that, to pre-reformation times, but that slightly inconvenient fact deviates from the point I want to make. In the first reading, God says to Moses and Aaron that the month in which they celebrate the Passover is to be the first month of their year, i.e. this is when the new year begins. If the year still worked that way, then we could say that the dying of the old year and the rising of the new one mirror our celebration of the dying and rising of Christ. Of course today, we don’t celebrate Good Friday, nor Easter Sunday, but rather Maundy Thursday, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist. The Eucharist joins us to both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The whole point of the Easter Triduum is that the celebrations over the next few days are all one big celebration, rather than separate stand-alone events; when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, He didn’t actually finish the celebration; it’s a bit like if I decided to wander off into the house after the Offertory and finish the rest of the Mass tomorrow. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus said, this is my Body, which is given up for you, this is my Blood which is poured out for you – that’s exactly what happened on the Cross. Jesus gave up His Body and poured out His Blood so that our sins could be forgiven. But what we receive in the Eucharist is not the dead Christ, but rather the risen, living, resurrected Christ, so the Eucharist links us with the Resurrection as well. It is all interconnected.

John F Kennedy famously said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. In the same way, the Eucharist isn’t just about what God does for us; it’s also about what we then do in return for God. It’s about service. That’s where the priesthood comes in. Jesus didn’t just give us the priesthood so that we can have Mass – the priesthood is also about service to the whole People of God.

As I’m sure you know, today, in this country, is called both Holy Thursday and Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” derives from the Latin word Mandatum, which refers to the washing of feet and Christ’s commandment that we love one another as He has loved us. Unfortunately, because of Covid, the washing of feet can’t happen this year. You may know, from your RE at school, that the sacrament of Holy Orders has three “rungs” to it, if you like: deacon, priest and bishop, and ordination happens in that order, so all priests are ordained as deacons first. It used to be the case that it was compulsory for a bishop to wear the vestment of a deacon underneath his episcopal vestments; when I was a seminarian at Oscott and we used to go to the cathedral in Birmingham for the Easter Triduum, Archbishop Vincent would remove his chasuble for the washing of feet, revealing a deacon’s dalmatic underneath. Bishops, like priests and deacons, are called to serve; of course one of the titles for the Pope is not just the Bishop of Rome, but Servus Servorum Dei – Servant of the Servants of God. There is an important rule going on here: the greater you are, the more humbly you should behave. Christ, great as He is, took on the role of one of the lowest of the servants, by washing the disciples’ feet. His example is also relevant for families and people in general. And it goes further. Even though He knew He was going to the Cross and had plenty to worry about, He still thought about others, rather than Himself: “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail, and once you have recovered, you in your turn must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). It’s so easy, when we are suffering, to think only about ourselves, and sometimes we even make other suffer too; it’s more difficult to think about others instead.

Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” Today we recall what God has done for us, and continues to do for us in the Mass. And we ask ourselves how we can serve God, and others, in return.

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