Fr Michael's Homilies

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

7th / 8th September 2019

posted 9 Sep 2019, 02:16 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

(7 & 8/9/19)


Next week is Home Mission Sunday, when we focus, as the title implies, on our work of mission here on home turf.  I’ll say a bit more about mission next week, but I want to say a bit about it this week, as the readings today also lead us in that direction.


Suppose you are speaking to someone who has never been brought up in any faith, but is curious about the whole idea of God and religion.  Where do you start?  Well, as an outline, I would say that one approach would to be begin with reason, then move to God’s revelation, and then move to commitment.


First:  reason.  How do we know there is a God?  Various arguments have been put forward over the years, both for and against.  Some of the arguments you can work out for yourself.  Let’s use a bit of science and a bit of reason.  Back when I was a student studying chemistry at the University of York, we used to spend two days a week in the labs.  One one occasion, my round-bottomed flask went missing.  So I went to the serving hatch and asked for another one.  I said to the lady behind the hatch:  “my round-bottomed flask disappeared!”  Perhaps with a hint of humour she said, “Flasks don’t just disappear!”  She was right.  It wasn’t just there one moment, and then suddenly, bing, it was gone.  Someone had taken it.  Let’s reverse the process.  Did the world, and the whole universe, suddenly, one day, just appear?  One moment there was nothing, and then, with no reason or cause, bing, it just appeared?  What do you think?  Surely it makes more sense that something, or perhaps, Someone, caused it to appear.  Scientists have said that everything came into being with the Big Bang.  If so, what caused the Big Bang to take place?  If there’s a bomb in the room and it goes off, the bomb didn’t just appear by itself.  Someone made it and someone put it there.  And what’s interesting about the Big Bang theory, or one of the things that is interesting about it, is that it says that when the Big Bang took place, it wasn’t just that the stars and planets were formed, but that space and time came into being at the same time.  In a sense, everything we know in the this world came into being.  Before that, there was nothing.  As we read that the very beginning of the Book of Genesis (1:1):  “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”


Okay, so now we seem to have reasoned our way to the existence of some sort of a God, but what is this God like?  We can use reason further to come up with ideas of what He might be like, but how can we know that our ideas are correct?  That’s where God’s revelation comes in.  The first reading said, “It is hard enough for us to work out what is on earth, laborious to know what lies within our reach; who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?  As for your intention, who could have learnt it, had you not granted Wisdom, and sent your holy spirit from above?”  There is, of course, the question of which religion to go for.  Perhaps if you look at different religions you might be able to quickly cross off a few.  A Franciscan brother once said that when he was investigating religions, he looked at Hinduism, but he found the part animal, part human gods a bit difficult to get his head around.  He found that the idea of God becoming one of us as Jesus a lot easier to relate to.


I’ll skip on a bit.  So let’s assume that we’ve decided to follow the Catholic faith, or at least investigate it.  There is a lot in the Gospels to correct any misconceptions we might have about God.  We can learn from the Jewish authorities, who thought they knew about God but had it wrong in all sorts of ways.  And then, once we get to know God through God’s revelation given to us through the Catholic faith, we then have to make a decision:   do I want to follow Him?  In the Gospel today, Jesus tells us to look carefully before making our commitment.  It’s not going to be an easy ride.  As the song goes, “I beg your pardon.  I never promised you a rose garden.”  We have to take up our cross and follow Him.


But being a Christian, a Catholic, isn’t only suffering.  We had those wonderful words in the psalm today, “In the morning, fill us with your love; we shall exult and rejoice all our days”.  I would say that committing yourself to God is a bit like a marriage.  When a couple exchange their marriage vows, they recognise within those very vows that there will be both good times and bad:  “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death do us part”.  The same is true of our commitment to God:  it’s a no-matter-what-happens-I-will-always-follow-You commitment.  It may not be a bed of roses, but it’s worth it.


To sum up then:  how do we explain our faith?  One way is to first use reason, then God’s revelation, and finally explore commitment.  There are other ways too.  Next Sunday is Home Mission Sunday.  Time to put theory into action.

20th / 21st July 2019

posted 23 Jul 2019, 01:54 by Parish Office

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (20 & 21/7/19)


Hospitality – how do you cope?  Maybe you're naturally very hospitable, or have developed the skills to be so.  You might relish the opportunity.  Or maybe your thoughts on the matter are more like, “It's great when guests come to visit, but it's even better when they leave.  There's nothing more comforting than seeing a set of rear brake lights.”  Today, I want to look at the issue of hospitality, taking Martha and Mary as a point from which to begin.


Some people get very stressed at the idea of guests coming.  They worry about the state of the house not being good enough, the cat gets kicked and the children get shouted at.  We don't know if Martha and Mary had any animals, but we certainly get the impression that Martha was a hive of activity, but also got rather exasperated.  Not only did she get annoyed with Mary for not helping her out, but she also was a bit rude and disrespectful towards the Lord Himself.  “Lord”, she said, “do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself?”  In the next sentence she is a bit more polite and uses the word “please”.  But it shows us how sometimes, fussing over the details can get to the point where the main focus is lost.  The whole point behind all the preparations was to make Christ welcome, and she ended up saying something that wasn't phrased in the best possible way.  So how might this sort of situation be repeated today?


For the sake of balance, it's worth mentioning that we should treat guests as if Christ Himself were visiting, so there should be some sort of an effort made.  Hospitality is a virtuous thing to do, even though we can struggle to get it right at times.  And in the process of making preparations and then the visit itself, it's good to get the balance right between over-fussiness and neglect.  Having guests round can sometimes be stressful, which may also depend on who the guests are.  In which case, we can adopt the approach of St Paul in his first line of today's second reading.  He wasn't writing specifically about inviting people round, but the idea applies.  He says, “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now”.  That doesn't mean we tell our guests what a nuisance their visit has been!  But rather for the sake of doing a good deed, we can offer up the inconvenience for a good cause, bear it with a smile, and be glad to (hopefully) make someone happy.  The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes talks about the importance of being a neighbour to everyone without exception – we don't want to be like the rich man who ignored Lazarus.  So it also mentions people we may need, in various ways, to be hospitable and welcoming to, whether at home, at work, or elsewhere.  They include the elderly person who is forgotten about, and the foreign worker or refugee.  All are to be included.


Excessive fretting over the less important matters of life can also work the other way too.  Sometimes, these very things can stop us from being a guest at other people's homes, or other situations.  We're too busy to go round.  Furthermore, they can lead us not only to reject Christ in other people, but also to more directly sideline Him through allowing work or other things to get in the way of prayer or going to Mass on Sundays.  Given that Mass is the most important thing we do as Catholics, it's worth considering, if paid employment doesn't get in the way, of seeing whether we can also get to Mass during the week as well.  After all, Jesus said it was Mary who had chosen the better part.  This doesn't mean that we can legitimately use Mass and prayer as an excuse for never doing any work or fulfilling our duties, though.  Gaudium et Spes adds that it is a mistake to think we can dodge our responsibilities by focusing solely on the spiritual.  In fact, you could say it uses quite strong language where it says the following, “The Christian who shirks his temporal duties shirks his duties towards his neighbour, neglects God himself, and endangers his eternal salvation” (no. 43).  But, as I said, it's a matter of balance, because we don't want jobs, duties and work to multiply to the point where prayer and the Mass get squeezed out.


I'll leave it there.  So whatever your current response to hospitality, see Christ in every guest, respond in a measured way, and don't take it out on the pets or the guests.  Basil Fawlty must not be your model.

13th/14th July 2019

posted 19 Jul 2019, 06:13 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (13 & 14/7/19)


Back when I was training for the priesthood at Oscott, every year there used to be a football tournament involving ourselves and teams from various schools in North Staffordshire.  The football players would arrive in time for the mid-day Mass, and after a bite to eat the various football matches would begin.  Invariably, we lost each time, being somewhere towards the very bottom of the various football teams.  The inter-seminary football matches were not quite so bad; some years we won the trophy, but other years we got the large teddy bear instead.


One year, before the North Staffordshire football matches began, it was Fr Paul McNally, now the Parish Priest of Holy Trinity, Newcastle, who was preaching.  He encouraged the lads to discover the real Jesus.


One of the problems we can sometimes face is that people see Christ as being more like a teddy bear.  A teddy bear gives you comfort when you are young.  Teddy is nice to look at, and never tells you off.   Teddy always does whatever you want him to do, and is always nice to you.  And with teddy, you are the one in control.  You make up what he says, what he does.  You can leave him alone on the shelf and he won’t complain.  He doesn’t make any demands of you, unlike human beings.  And unlike God.


God is not a teddy bear.  (Do I really need to tell you that?  I knew you knew that.)  But sometimes, people see God in that way.  They say:  God is nice.  God doesn’t judge me.  God makes no demands of me.  I make up what God wants me to do.  That’s not God, and that’s not true religion.  We are creatures, and God is God.  When the lawyer asks a question to disconcert Jesus, thinking “here’s a tough question that’ll He’ll struggle to answer”, Jesus doesn’t say that in order to inherit eternal life, it’s simple.  Just be nice.  That’s teddy bear religion.  He turns the question back to the lawyer, who says that you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.  Now that’s pretty demanding.  It’s also quoting Scripture, so the lawyer hasn’t made it up.  Look where it led Mother Theresa.  She was moved by God to look after the poor and the dying on the streets of Calcutta, and it wasn’t going to be comfortable, or glamorous, or easy, or even popular.  And it wasn’t going to be a temporary job for a few months or years, but loving Christ as He had never been loved before in the poorest of the poor was to be her life’s work.  When she received the Nobel Peace Prize she spoke of many things, including the beauty of giving and of love.  We are not all called to do exactly the same as Mother Theresa, St Theresa of Calcutta, but one of the pieces of advice she gave in her acceptance speech we can all do.  She said, “Smile at each other, make time for each other in your family”.  She had seen that one of the root causes of so much misery in more affluent countries is the lack of love between people.  I’m sure we all know from experience that it is sometimes in our families that we find it more difficult to love.  Part of it can be that we are on best behaviour when in public, but when at home we expect others to know not to do certain things, and we get annoyed when they do.  But also, family can make greater demands of us sometimes than people we hardly know, and that’s more taxing.  St Theresa of Calcutta, in her acceptance speech, said, “I find it sometimes very difficult to smile at Jesus because he can be very demanding sometimes. This is really something true, ... yet we can give it to Him with joy.”


The good Samaritan was a fictional person in a parable, rather than a real person.  But he embodied the demanding love that God asks of us.  Can you imagine what it might have been like if the Samaritan had been a constant complainer?  It might have gone something like this:


But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him saw him lying there and thought, “Oh no!  Here goes my quiet evening.  Now I’ve got to look after this person.  And it will probably cost me a bob or two.  And I bet he won’t repay me either.  And he’s all messy as well!  I’ve now got to use up some of this wine and oil I’ve just bought cleaning him up.  And when I do get home the wife will ask, “So where have you been, then?”  And I’ll begin by saying, “You’ll never believe this, but...”, and she’ll interrupt and say, “You’re right.  I won’t believe you.”  So he grudgingly cleaned him up, and then lifted him onto his mount, grumbling to himself, “As if I wasn’t worn out enough now as it is, and now I’ve got to take a detour and walk all the way there!”  And when he reached the town, he found that the cheap inn he wanted to use was all full up, so he had to go somewhere more expensive!  He paid the innkeeper, and as he was about to leave, it then dawned on him:  I suppose I’ll have to come back later and check he’s alright.  And there might be more expense as well!  Why didn’t I just stay at home this morning?”


And the moral of the story is this:  St James wrote that faith without works is dead, but works without love rather misses the point.  Our faith is demanding.  Jesus is not a teddy bear.

29th / 30th June 2019

posted 1 Jul 2019, 03:30 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, 29 & 30/6/19


“But you...who do you say I am?”


In some ways, Our Lord is a bit like Marmite – once you get to know Him, either you love Him or you hate Him.  There can be no middle ground.  Many of the people loved Him, many of the scribes and Pharisees hated Him, and the eleven faithful disciples definitely loved Him.  But we are weak, and if we are to imitate St Peter and St Paul’s love for Christ, we need more than just vague conviction.


St Peter was something of an enthusiastic and impetuous man.  It was easy for him to say to Our Lord at the Last Supper, “Though all lose faith in you, I will never lose faith. … Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you” (Matthew 26:33. 35).  It says also that “all the disciples said the same”.  Unlike us, who live by faith, they had seen the Lord in the flesh, they had seen all the miracles He had done, heard His great preaching in detail – we just get a summary of it all in the Gospels.  How could they not have been filled with conviction and thought that they would never abandon the Lord?  But we know what happened next.  They did exactly that.  Love and conviction were not enough.  But when their time came, then they gave supreme witness to Christ by shedding their blood.


What about Saul?  He too, was a man of love and conviction for the Lord.  That’s why he wanted to get rid of all the followers of Christ.  As far as he was concerned, they followed a distorted version of the Jewish faith, and if they weren’t going to back down and renounce Christ, then punishment and worse awaited them.  At the martyrdom of St Stephen, it says that Saul entirely approved of the killing.  He thought it was the right thing to do.  And Christ had predicted exactly that.  John 16:2-3:  “They will expel you from the synagogues, and indeed the hour is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is doing a holy duty for God.  They will do these things because they have never known either the Father or myself.”  That was the mindset of Saul.  Can you imagine what a totally, crushing, humiliating defeat it must have been for him when he discovered on the road to Damascus that he was wrong?  Then he had to go and study the Scriptures all over again and work out where he had gone wrong.  But once he had done that, he was then able to take on the Jews with full intellectual vigour, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.  And so, whilst some converted, others hated him, as they had done with St Stephen.


Like St Peter, St Paul was passionate in his love for Christ, and went to extremes to make him known.  In 2 Corinthians we read (11:24-28):


“Five times I had the thirty-nine lashes from the Jews; three times I have been beaten with sticks; once I was stoned; three times I have been shipwrecked and once adrift in the open sea for a night and a day.  Constantly travelling, I have been in danger from rivers and in danger from brigands, in danger from my own people and in danger from pagans; in danger in the towns, in danger in the open country, danger at sea and danger from so-called brothers.  I have worked and laboured, often without sleep; I have been hungry and thirsty and often starving; I have been in the cold without clothes.  And, to leave out much more, there is my daily preoccupation:  my anxiety for all the churches.”


Truly St Paul knew what it meant to give until it hurts, and then to give even more.  But in all this, he realised that it was the grace of Christ that was the motive force of what he did.  In fact, like St Peter at the time of the arrest and trial of Christ, St Paul also struggled with human weakness.  Romans chapter 7  (vs. 19. 22-23a. 24-25a):


“instead of doing the good things I want to do, I carry out the sinful things I do not want.  …

In my inmost self I dearly love God’s Law, but I can see that my body follows a different law that battles against the law which my reason dictates. …

What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”


It’s reassuring to know that we aren’t the only ones who struggle in the fight against sin.  We can’t expect to achieve holiness and virtue just by trying harder – we need the grace of God.  In their earlier years, St Peter and St Paul made the mistake of putting their trust in themselves, in their own abilities.  It was once they learnt to distrust themselves and put their hope in Christ, that then they could truly succeed.


“But you...who do you say I am?”  Lord, you are the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Sts Peter and Paul, pray for us.

Corpus Christi 23/6/2019

posted 24 Jun 2019, 04:27 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Year C (22 & 23/6/19)


Ecclesia semper reformanda – the Church is always in need of renewal.  It’s part of human nature, that over time, we can find ourselves deviating from the right path and losing our focus.  It’s a bit like a car I drove once.  When you accelerated, the car pulled in one direction, and when you braked, it pulled in the other.  You had to apply appropriate force on the steering wheel to keep the car going in a straight direction.


Alas, it has always been thus.  In the second reading, St Paul is correcting the Church in Corinth and trying to get them to re-connect with the heart of the Eucharist.  What was happening at the time, was that before the celebration of Mass, they used to have a meal, also called an agape.  It was supposed to be a great show of fraternal love, but what was happening instead, was that the rich were gathering together by themselves and enjoying themselves to excess, whilst the poor were sitting together embarrassed by the fact that they had almost nothing to eat.  And this was then overshadowing their celebration of the Eucharist that followed.  Thankfully, this custom is long gone, and although it has been cut back from what it was before, we have the Eucharistic fast, which means that we don’t eat any food, or drink anything apart from water, up to an hour before we receive the Eucharist.  (Medicine, though, doesn’t count.)  It goes without saying, then, that the only food we do eat in church is the Eucharist.


In each age, there have been things that have overshadowed and obscured the celebration of the Eucharist, to a greater or lesser extent.  Fr James Mallon has written a book called Divine Renovation, based on his experience in turning parishes around, and part of this is the quality of our Sunday celebrations.  Some of the things he mentions are more within the hands of the priest, but there are also things that everyone can do.  Some years ago, a priest was giving a talk about the Mass to young people, and he said that one of the problems we have shows itself within the first few minutes of the start of the Mass.  The priest says in a loud, audible voice, “The Lord be with you”.  And the people respond in an inaudible mumble.    So, pointing to a newly-ordained priest, he basically said, here’s Fr Tom, who is young and enthusiastic.  But how long will his enthusiasm last, if each time at Mass he says, “The Lord be with you”, all he gets back is a half-hearted mumble?  I adapted this once when I said Mass in a high school for a class of teenagers.  I said to them that if you went to a football match, and when your team scored, half of the people didn’t even notice, one or two people cheered and the rest just celebrated in a quiet mumble, it would be much of a football match.  You need to put yourself into it.  To be fair to them, they took the message on board, and the Mass was much more upligting as a result.


We can also say the same about singing.  Today’s longer form of the sequence says, “Then be the anthem clear and strong, thy fullest note, thy sweetest song”.  God deserves our very best.  Today we have a real cause for rejoicing – celebrating Our Lord’s presence among us as the Holy Eucharist.  Never mind any secular personality coming to visit.  Today we have Our Lord Himself.  If we are more enthusiastic about Our Lord than about our hobbies, then there will be no danger of being guilty of idolatry.


St John Paul II, writing towards the end of his life in a document called Ecclesia de Eucharistia, said that, following Vatican II, there had been both positive growth, but also shadows.  In certain places, Eucharistic adoration has been almost completely abandoned and, I quote, “abuses have occurred, leading to confusion with regard to sound faith and Catholic doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament.  At times one encounters an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery.  Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet [end of quote].” (para 10)  It’s almost as if in a different way, the problem St Paul was addressing in the second reading has come back – people beginning to treat the Mass increasingly as if it were not sacred and forgetting Who is present at the heart of it all.  As part of a remedy for this, he mentions the practice of Eucharistic adoration, helping us to rediscover Christ’s presence at the heart of the Mass.  He says, “The Eucharist is a priceless treasure:  by not only celebrating it but also by praying before it outside of Mass we are enabled to make contact with the very wellspring of grace” (para 25).  Ecclesia de Eucharistia is a wonderful and inspiring document, well worth reading.  It’s also relatively short.


Lastly, before I finish, one more thing that we can do to renew our appreciation for the presence of Christ when we receive Holy Communion:  it seems that, across the world, people have asked themselves whether there is some way of making the reception of Holy Communion more reverent.  This idea was made as a strong recommendation by Rome some time ago, and has now been adopted by the Bishops of England, Wales and Scotland (see GIRM 160).  When you come forward to receive the Host or from the chalice, just before you answer “Amen” and receive, bow your head to the Sacred Host or the Precious Blood, and then receive the Lord.  It’s a way of reinforcing the fact that we are receiving Our Lord Jesus Christ, not just any ordinary object.


So to sum up, our time is just like any other and there is always the need to re-polish our celebration of the Mass.  By more enthusiastic singing and saying of the Mass responses, by bowing our head before receiving the Lord in Holy Communion, and by praying in Eucharistic adoration, we can deepen and renew our wonder of this awesome mystery, the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Most Holy Trinity

posted 17 Jun 2019, 01:50 by Parish Office

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year C (15 & 16/6/19)


Today’s feast is rather difficult to understand.  How can there be just one God, yet that one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit?  When you’re at primary school, adults tell you that there are so many things that you can’t understand at the moment, but you’ll understand when you’re older.  But with God, even when you’re ninety-three (which I’m not, yet), you still can’t claim to fully understand God.  Of course, if we ever did fully understand God, then that would, in a way, make us greater than God – clearly impossible.  We would be God, rather than God being God.  So we just have to accept that no matter how clever we become, we shall never, never, fully understand God.


But does that mean we should just give up?  Of course not!  But let’s look at it all another way.  We can study God as if He were some subject like English or Maths or History.  But that misses the point.  We’re not just supposed to know something about God, we’re actually supposed to get to know God.


I mentioned two weeks ago about the cartoon character He-Man.  Obviously, He-Man isn’t real.  We can watch the cartoons, and read on the internet about who he is and that sort of thing, but that is only getting to know about him.  With God it’s different.  With God we can actually get to know Him.  And as you get to know Him, you also want to know about Him as well.  The two go hand-in-hand.  As we read about Him in the Bible, we are inspired to talk to Him in prayer.  We discover that He is a God who answers prayer, but in His way, not ours.  We don’t control God.  We begin to discover how beautiful God is.  And like a stained glass window, the more we look, the more detail we find.  The thing with God is that He is infinite.  We can have all eternity in heaven and still be constantly discovering more.


I’d better say a bit about today’s readings.


Jesus said, in today’s Gospel, “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now.  But when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth”.  The disciples had been brought up with the Old Testament.  That was how they had come to know God as Father.  But now they had spent three years with Jesus, God the Son who had become one of us.  They had been able to talk to Him and share their lives with Him.  But there was even more.  After Christ returned to the Father, next they were to receive God the Holy Spirit.  Their relationship with God just kept on getting deeper and deeper.  Can you imagine what impact it must have had on them to have seen Christ work all those miracles, then to have seen Him apparently defeated in death, and then rise from the dead and appear to them again?  And what about His Ascension into heaven?  And then the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, enabling them to speak to people of different languages without learning their languages, and to perform various miracles themselves?


But our faith isn’t just about great spectacles, great displays of power and might, or seemingly impossible things happening.  The core and the heart of it is the love of God.  Love makes such a difference to the world.  You can have everything – an expensive car, a huge house, the latest gadgets, and be without love, and be utterly, completely miserable.  Or you can be of much more modest means, but with love, you are richer than a millionaire.  Or a billionaire.  Or even a trillionaire.


And where does all love come from?  It ultimately comes from God.  God is not just a community of persons who love, God is love, and He wants to pour Himself into our hearts.


How does He do that?  In Holy Communion.  During the Mass, we ask the Father to send His Holy Spirit on the gifts of bread and wine, that they may become Jesus.  The appearances of bread and wine remain, but reality has changed – it really now is Jesus that we now receive.  And in today’s Eucharistic Prayer we ask the Father, that through receiving His Son and having the Holy Spirit poured out on us, we might be brought together into unity with Him.


It’s awful when we forget this, when we fail to realise what the Eucharist is.  And Holy Communion becomes a terrible missed opportunity of grace when we block the action of God in our hearts by our sins.  But it’s a beautiful thing when we remember the heart of what the Mass is all about, and when we go and allow ourselves to be washed of all sin by going to confession, allowing that grace to flow freely again.


Let’s enjoy today’s celebration.  Let’s remember why we are here.  The one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – loves us, and doesn’t want us to be anywhere else.


posted 14 Jun 2019, 06:26 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost (8 & 9/6/19)


When the Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles at Pentecost, there was still much work to be done.  Christ was hardly known at all outside of the Holy Land.  The Church was only in embryonic state.  But with the Spirit, the Church took on the known world, and began to take it by storm, even though there were persecutions.  The gift of, what we might call today, a form of simultaneous translation, overcame the barrier of different languages.  This showed that with the Spirit, all sorts of things are possible, and all sorts of barriers can come tumbling down.  But what about today?  What are the challenges and how do we overcome them?


In England, and certainly many other countries in the western world, there seems to be a return back to pre-Christian and pre-Holy Spirit ways of life.  The rebellion of the evil spirit, Satan, seems to be in vogue, the one who said to God, “I will not serve!”  So a civilisation has been built up that is contrary to God and His Law of love, that justifies every form of sin as an exercise of some sort of freedom.  People get lost in material things, and we see a rise in hatred, violence and impurity on our screens.


But, things have changed before, and they can change again.  If society returns back to a pagan way of life, it can be converted again, through the action of the Holy Spirit.  This also requires renewal of the Church.


As the Church, we too need the Spirit.  Without the Spirit, we are nothing.  We are weak, lacking in faith, at times believing something contrary to the faith of Christ and the Church.  We can be like a child that has abandoned its parents and is living on the streets.  This is the state to which our sins reduce us.


Renewed by the Holy Spirit, we can be courageous again, reflect the glory of the Lord, full of zeal for evangelisation, and proclaim a message we fully believe in ourselves and live out to the letter.  The Holy Spirit can work in us to transform us for the better.  As the sequence for Pentecost says, “Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill; Guide the steps that go astray.”  Under the influence of the Spirit, we can come at last to a fuller understanding of the Gospel, and to realise how we have sold ourselves and the wider world short by mutilating it and trying to make it fit our own ideas and theories and errors.


There is a saying, “Nothing so masks the face of God as religion”.  I would say it's truer to say, “Nothing so masks the face of God as false religion”  Under the grace of the Holy Spirit, people can finally come to see the real face of Christ reflected in us and be drawn to follow Him, recognising that He is their one and only Saviour.


Present in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost was Our Lady.  She wasn't there by mistake.  She is the masterpiece of the Holy Spirit. She was conceived without Original Sin and obeyed perfectly the will of the Most Holy Trinity.  She is sometimes referred to as “Spouse of the Holy Spirit”.  People don't always know what the word “spouse” means.  It's not the same as “partner”.  A “partner” may or may not be married; a “spouse” is always married.  Our Lady is “married” to the Holy Spirit.  For this reason, she is a model for all consecrated women, whether nuns, religious sisters, or consecrated single women.  The Holy Spirit, as her spouse, made her fruitful, and so she bore Christ.  For this reason, she is a model for all Christian mothers as well.  Because of her unique role in the Church as Mother of the Redeemer who is Head of the Church, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, she was present in the Upper Room too, on the day of Pentecost.  Our Lady was a presence in the early Church, and she is, too, today.


There have been various apparitions of Our Lady that have been approved by the Church over the last two thousand years (as well as a few that have been declared false or inauthentic in some way).  The truth, whole and entire, has been entrusted by Christ to His Church, but we don't always choose to follow all of it, and that is why Our Lady is allowed to appear, to call us to a more authentic following of the faith.  It is said many times that Our Lady leads us to her Son.  But she also helps us to co-operate with the Holy Spirit.  To help us to do this, she has asked through Sr Lucia from Fatima that we consecrate ourselves to her Immaculate Heart.  If we voluntarily give ourselves over to her, she can then entrust us to the Holy Spirit, and aid us in being docile to His grace.


So, just like at Pentecost, there is more work to be done in converting the world to Christ.  The Holy Spirit managed it before, and with our help and closeness to Our Lady it can be done again.


1st / 2nd June 2019

posted 5 Jun 2019, 06:09 by Parish Office

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C (1 & 2/6/19)


“May they all be one … so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.”  Christian disunity is something of a scandal.  Following Vatican II, there was something of a thawing of relations between the Catholic Church, the Protestants and the Orthodox.  Some believed that by the year 2000, full unity would have been restored.  Sadly, we haven’t reached that yet.  Whilst we are prepared to work and pray together on the areas where we agree, still, so many issues from the time of the Reformation remain unresolved – the role of Our Lady and the saints, purgatory, confession, the priesthood, what baptism is all about, what the Eucharist is all about, the Pope, etc. etc.  With the Orthodox, we have much closer unity in matters of faith and morals, but even still, there is more work to be done.


When I was a child, growing up in the 1980s, one of the cartoons I used to watch was He-Man.  He was one of the good guys, and the baddies were led by someone called Skeletor.  In one of the episodes, Skeletor and his co-workers have been up to some sort of spell that has gone wrong, and a new enemy, Evilseed, has arrived.  Even though Skeletor and He-Man don’t see eye-to-eye, they join forces temporarily to get rid of Evilseed.  Sometimes, a new threat brings people together.


In parts of the world, attacks on Christians from Islamic extremists, whether ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other similar groups have led to Christians being martyred, and they don’t discriminate between different types of Christians.  Pope Francis has referred to this as an “ecumenism of blood”.  It’s one, rather dramatic way in which Christians are giving united witness to Christ.


In the first reading, we heard of the witness given by Stephen just before his martyrdom.  You may have noticed that, just like Christ, he forgave his persecutors and commended his spirit to Lord before he was stoned to death.  The more closely we imitate Christ, the better our witness will be and the cause of Christian unity advanced.  You may also have spotted that, present at the stoning, was the figure of Saul, who entirely approved of the killing.  But we know that later on, Saul converts, and becomes the apostle of the Gentiles.


In our own time, it’s not a perfect comparison, but in 2015 in Libya, twenty innocent Egyptian Coptic Christians were captured and executed by extremists.  Together with them, there was one non-Christian.  He protested against this execution, reportedly saying, “Their God is my God”, knowing that he too, would be martyred.  More recently, following the attacks in Sri Lanka this Easter, we have seen how Muslims have expressed their horror at these act of extremism and shown solidarity with the local Christian population.


In this country, fortunately, we don’t have those kinds of large-scale attacks, specifically targeted at believing and practising Christians.  Instead, we have a “softer” form of persecution, where we are persuaded to go against our faith.  In the Soviet Union, one the things they liked to do was to take the children of their political opponents and bring them up to work for destruction of all their parents had stood for.  In the same way today, through the media – TV programmes, pop music, social media and so on, each successive generation is being brought up to oppose more and more radically the Gospel of Christ.  At times, this persecution too is creating “martyrs” of a sort.  People who lose their jobs because they refuse to go along with the secular agenda, whether it’s unnecessary working on Sundays, elements of the so-called “equality” stipulations, or so-called “rights” that are nothing of the sort.  They witness to the fact that, as the response to today’s psalm said, “The Lord is king, most high above all the earth”.  His authority outweighs all others.  If there’s a conflict between what God teaches and some other human institution, God is the one we serve.  This persecution is also creating a certain amount of ecumenism.  Christians have worked and are working together in the various  countries of the world to oppose so-called “gay marriage”, “no-fault” divorce, being forced to assist with abortions, gender ideology and so on.  One convert to the Catholic faith said that it was through being arrested for pro-life work and being locked up with Catholics that got to see how they lived their faith, how they prayed and their devotion to God, and that was what led him to come and join us.


“May they all be one … so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.”  We may not have resolved all the moral and doctrinal issues that keep us apart yet, but in some ways, persecution is actually helping to drive us closer together.

30th May 2019 The Ascension of Our Lord

posted 30 May 2019, 06:02 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension, Year C (30/5/19)


What’s so special about the Ascension?  Is it really that significant?  Is it right that we think about it only once a year, or should we consider it more often?  It's possible just to see the Ascension as the end – a bit like on some cartoons, where at the end the music plays and the message “That's all folks!” comes up on the screen.  But it's much deeper than that.  Let me show you how.


One of the ways in which the Ascension is important is that it marks, not an end, but a change in the way the Eleven related to Christ.  Before the Ascension, they spoke to Him face to face; now they pray to Him without seeing His human face.  So what, you might say.  One of the things it did was it made them take the initiative and, rather than being just like children, asking for the answers all the time, they had to reflect on all Jesus had given to them for the past three years – both His teaching, and those things they hadn't used that much so far, the sacraments.  Word and sacraments were now to play a much bigger part, and there were to be more “bonus points” for doing this.  After all, Jesus said to Thomas, “You believe because you can see me.  Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)  The disciples now had to live by faith, and pass that faith onto others who had never seen Christ.  The Apostles’ disciples then had to pass the faith onto others who also had not seen Jesus, and so on, onto our own day.  As the Church, we were not to remain like infants, needing Christ to hold our hand all the time.  We know that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are with us through all things, and so we live out our faith and witness to the Holy Trinity without fear.


Another way the Ascension is important is reflected in the Mass.  Preparing this homily has made me reflect on this a bit more.  In each celebration of Mass, we don't just remember, but participate sacramentally in the Last Supper, Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection, and also His Ascension.  We use the words Christ used at the Last Supper.  His saving sacrifice on the Cross is made present for us - “This is my Body ... given up for you”  “This is my Blood ... poured out for you”.  We receive in Holy Communion the risen Christ, not the dead Christ.  At the dismissal, we are sent out to evangelise, just as Christ sent out the Apostles at the moment of the Ascension:  “Go forth”;  “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord”.  But there's even more, which is highlighted in part in today's second reading from the letter to the Hebrews.  In the Jewish Temple, which was situated in Jerusalem until the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD, there was a place called the Holy of Holies.  This was the holiest part of the Temple, as the name suggests, and the High Priest could only enter it once a year, on the Day of Atonement.  On this day, there was a special ritual he had to perform to atone for the sins of the people, detailed in Leviticus, the third book of the Bible.  He had to bathe and put on special garments, then sacrifice a bull to atone for his sin and that of his family, with its blood sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant (which was kept in the Holy of Holies).  Then he had to take two goats, and one was allowed to run off into the wilderness, taking the people's sins with it, whilst the other was sacrificed, and its blood also sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant.  The whole design of the Temple was supposed to be modelled on heaven itself, with all the layout and measurements for it recorded in Leviticus.


Now for the clever bit.  All this was a prophesy of what Christ was going to do.  Christ was not going to offer the blood of an animal to God, but His own Blood on the Cross to atone for human sins.  He wasn't going to take His Blood to a man-made temple, modelled on heaven.  Instead, He took Himself to heaven itself, to present Himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity to the Father in heaven.  We often talk of Jesus' Death on the Cross being how our sins were forgiven, but with the Ascension, the whole prophecy is fulfilled.  What the High Priest was doing each year on the Day of Atonement was only symbolising what Christ was going to do when He ascended into heaven and presented Himself to the Father.  Just before Jesus died on the Cross, He said, “It is accomplished” (John 19:30), because with His Death on the Cross, there was no need any more for the Day of Atonement ritual.  Now that He has entered heaven, everything prophesied by the Day of Atonement has taken place.  So at each celebration of Mass, when we take part sacramentally in all Jesus did to redeem us and save us from sin, the Ascension is part of it too, and three out of the four Eucharistic Prayers mention it.


So the Ascension is an event that perhaps we should think about a bit more than just once a year.  It marks a change in how the Church relates to Christ, from sight to faith, from being an infant holding Christ's hand to growing to adulthood, relying instead on Word and sacraments.  And it also represents the completion of everything symbolised in the Day of Atonement ritual.  The Jewish Temple has served its purpose, and is needed no more.

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.

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