Fr Michael's Homilies

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

15th/16th September 2018

posted 17 Sep 2018, 04:31 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(15 & 16/9/18)

 

Last weekend I was at Adoremus, the Eucharistic Congress in Liverpool.  The final event on the Sunday was a big procession with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Liverpool, ending with Benediction given by the Cardinal.  It was a great act of witness, with thousands of people present – so many, in fact, that Benediction simply couldn’t have happened in the cathedral, so it took place outside on the Cathedral steps.

 

The procession began straight after the 11:30 Mass, with many bishops, priests and deacons present.  The Archbishop was there, as was Bishop David McGough, and various priests from this diocese.  I had concelebrated the 9:30 Mass, so I wasn’t in the procession of priests, but joined the crowd instead.  Various people had made their way there from this deanery and further afield, and we carried a large Birmigham Archdiocese banner in the procession.  As the procession began, looking up towards the cathedral, there were a few clouds and sunshine, whilst looking behind us there were heavy clouds.  Then, as the procession began, the heavens opened, and the rain came pouring down.  And yes, it didn’t half rain!  Umbrellas went up, and some people waited in bus shelters for it to stop.  We sang various hymns during the procession, and a certain amount of amusement spread throughout the procession as we sang Soul of My Saviour and reached the words, “wash me with water, flowing from thy side”.  Then, towards the end of the procession, the rain slowed down and eventually stopped, with a good wind blowing to dry us all off, so that by the time we all reached the Cathedral steps and Benediction took place, the sun came out again.  It was all rather symbolic of the Christian life.

 

At the beginning of the procession, we had all began rather enthusiastically, just like someone who is new to the Catholic faith.  Then it began to rain.  A kind person let me use her umbrella.  After the initial “honeymoon” period of becoming a Catholic, or returning to the Catholic faith, then can come the moment of trial.  But we persevere.  It’s important that we support each other when things get difficult, when it seems during the Christian life that it seems to be raining.  Because there were so many of us, people came out of the surrounding pubs and other places to see what was going on.  Our Christian life is lived out in public, in full view of others.  And perhaps sometimes, it might inspire others to join us.  During the procession, because there were so many of us, after the monstrance had gone past, I lost sight of it because it was so far ahead.  During our lives as Catholics, it can seem that God isn’t around, but He is still there.  Then, at the end of the procession, we were restored to dryness and blessed by the Lord.  For many of us, after the storms of life, we receive the Last Rites of the Church before our final entrance into glory.  We walked with Christ through life, and it’s through the Cross that we enter into the Resurrection.

 

To sustain us throughout life, we have the Bread of Life.  We are filled with the life of God, just as we need ordinary food to sustain our bodily life.  But the Eucharist doesn’t just unite us to Christ.  It’s like a jigsaw puzzle.  If through Holy Communion we are united to Christ, then it means that we are also united through Him to each other.  Furthermore, when we receive the Eucharist, we don’t receive the dead Christ, but the risen Christ.  Christ fills us with new life and sends us His Holy Spirit, so we shouldn’t remain the same after receiving the Eucharist.

 

Ten years ago in 2008, Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi, Archbishop of Douala in Cameroun, spoke at a previous Eucharistic Congress on how the Eucharist transforms us, and helps us to put our faith into action, as we are told to in the letter of St James.  With perhaps typical African fervour and passion, he put it this way:

 

“If the Eucharist does not lead us to love our brothers and sisters more deeply and to give of our lives no matter what the risk, then let us forget about everything! This is why the Eucharist is terribly dangerous: passion for love is always dangerous. The Eucharistic person is a dangerous person, burning with the fire of the Spirit and whose only purpose is to extend that fire and to become fire for others. This person is bold and confrontational, a person of radicalism and absolutes. This is a person who feels obliged to commit himself for God, for humankind. This person disturbs and challenges others, giving them a bad conscience. This person’s passion is for God and humankind; it is devoured by this thirst, it is their vocation, their destiny.

 

“How can we celebrate the Eucharist, how can we be witnesses to Christ without bearing within us this passion for man and Christ’s torment for the poor and the unloved?”[1]

 

The Eucharistic Procesion at Adoremus symbolised the fact that as Christians, we walk with Christ, supporting and helping each other.  And just as the rain changed to sunshine, so the Eucharist transforms us, and make us then want to change society.



[1]See http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pont_committees/eucharist-congr/documents/rc_committ_euchar_doc_20080621_testimoni-tumi_en.html

1st / 2nd September 2018

posted 4 Sep 2018, 06:06 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(1 & 2/9/18)

 

What causes some people to move away from God?  For some people, it’s a big event that perhaps causes them to lose faith, such as maybe the death of a close friend or relative.  For others, it can happen rather more slowly – a gradual cooling off.  We just heard some rather strong words from Our Lord for the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were supposed to be the ones who, as far as possible, perfectly obeyed everything that God asked of them.  But what had happened, was that their love for God had grown cold, and they had gradually, perhaps without realising it at times, replaced the religion God had given them with a religion of their own, and at times when there was a conflict between the Ten Commandments and their human rules, they ended up following the human rules instead.

 

The Gospel we heard today is actually an edited-down version of the full text.  If you open your Bibles to Mark, chapter seven, and read through to the end of verse twenty-three, you will see that Our Lord gives an example of something that clearly violates the Ten Commandments.  I wonder if anyone here would be able to tell me, if I asked, what the fourth commandments is.  To save you embarrassment, it’s “honour your father and your mother”.  Notice there’s no mention of the word “sometimes”.  But the Pharisees violated it, using something that seemed to be fairly good and holy.  Serving God is a good thing, as is giving of your time, talents, money and material goods in the service of God.  And surely, giving God more than just a little bit is a good thing too.  So what would happen, is that someone with a certain amount of wealth, or possessions, would dedicate them to God.  But here comes the crunch:  because they were now dedicated to God, it was forbidden to use them for anything else, including helping their parents.  So in this way the Commandment was declared null and void.  It’s a bit like you had a staggeringly huge amount of money, maybe a million pounds, and you put all it into a savings account which meant it couldn’t be touched for the next five years.  Along come your parents, who have hit hard times, and they say to you, “You’ve got lots of money.  Could you lend us a bit just to pay a few of the bills?”  But you can’t, because the money is locked away.  Maybe not a perfect comparison, but it gives a bit of an idea of what was going on in Our Lord’s time.

 

The custom of ritual cleansing, referred to in the Gospel, had led to other distortions too.  The idea behind washing your hands and arms before eating was that you might have come into contact with people who were non-Jews, who were ritually unclean, or you had been handling profane things, things that were not sacred.  So you washed your hands, so that you didn’t “contaminate” yourself and make yourself ritually unclean by eating with unclean hands.  It wasn’t so much about avoiding bacteria, but a form of religious contamination.  Jesus said it was nonsense.  You can see that at the end of the Gospel, the people found it difficult to think that this idea was wrong, so Jesus has to explain it to them – eating doesn’t make you unclean.  It’s the evil intentions that come out of the heart that makes someone unclean:  fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly.  This connects with what we are told at the Sermon on the Mount, where it’s not just a matter of avoiding doing certain things, but even thinking about them.  Don’t just avoid adultery – avoid lustful thoughts as well.  Don’t just avoid murder – avoid angry thoughts that could eventually lead to it.  Don’t let sin get the smallest grip on you.

 

The first and second readings today refer us back to the idea of pure and unspoilt religion – in the first reading we are told that there is wisdom in God’s teachings, and that they are not to be altered (as the Pharisees had done).  And in the second reading, once again it says that with God, “there is no such thing as alteration, no shadow of a change” and that we should keep ourselves uncontaminated by the world.

 

Unfortunately, today, some think that this no longer applies.  I’ve not found a sell-by date anywhere in a footnote to the Ten Commandments, saying that they don’t apply after nineteen-sixty-something, or if you live in a country where the other people around you live a liberal and secular lifestyle.

 

For 1,900 years, all Christians had been united in their condemnation of contraception.  But at the Lambeth Conference on 14th August 1930, the first break occurred, with the Anglican Communion deciding that they woud allow it, but, I quote, “The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception-control for motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience”.  The United Federal Council of Churches followed suit in 1931, which led to strongly-worded protests from various Protestants about this decision.  But one of the most insightful comments came from the Washington Post on 22nd March 1931:

 

“Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee's report, if carried into effect, would sound the death-knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraceptives would be "careful and restrained" is preposterous.”

 

At this time in America, there were laws declaring contraceptives illegal, the result of Protestant legislators seeing this as the virtuous thing to do.

 

Pope Pius XI wrote an encyclical in 1930 re-affirming traditional teaching, but it was in 1968 that Pope Paul VI famously predicted the effects that these “new ideas” would have:

 

1) An increase in marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.

2) Men reducing women to being mere objects of pleasure, rather than partners to be shown care and affection.

3) Governments may also decide to use these methods to force forms of population-limitation on their citizens (think of China’s ‘one-child’ policy).

 

All of these predictions have come true, with so much pain in families as a result.  This whole change in mentality is a modern example of people, some perhaps rather well-intentioned, laying aside the commandments of God to cling to human reasoning instead.  The commandment forbidding adultery covers a whole spectrum of sins, rather than just that one sin.  Our Lord said that we need to avoid wrong thoughts, not just the final outcome, and the commandment itself could probably be more accurately translated as “You shall not commit impure acts”.

 

I’ve hardly scratched the surface of this issue, and I’ve left a lot of things unexplained as a result.  But I do think it is something of an elephant in the room that is behind so many growing lukewarm in their faith and abandoning the Lord.  There is a lot of research and various books and articles vindicating God’s ways, but you need to do a bit of searching to find them.  Yet the search is well worth it.

 

Please note : Some of the information was taken from https://www.ewtn.com/library/PROLENC/ENCYC098.HTM

The Assumption 15 Aug 2018

posted 15 Aug 2018, 03:23 by Parish Office

Homily for the Assumption, 15/8/18

 

By celebrating the Assumption of Our Lady today, we are continuing in a tradition that goes back formally to at least the fifth century.  Yet there is evidence of belief in the Assumption going back even further than this; for example, the lack of any evidence of attempts to sell supposed relics of Our Lady, since it was known that her body had been assumed into heaven.  Furthermore, by celebrating the Assumption, we connect ourselves to English Catholics who lived in the mediaeval times, for whom it was the most important of all festivals of Our Lady.  Many churches and other religious foundations were named after the Assumption, such as Salisbury Cathedral and Eton College.

 

So if this is the case, why was the Assumption only declared infallibly by the Pope as a dogma just sixty-one years ago, and why did it need to be declared anyway, if everyone believed in it (in the Catholic Church, anyway)?  Well, often Church teaching develops in response to attack of one sort or another.  It was in response to heresy about who Christ is that the Church developed her creeds, doctrines and dogmas on who Christ is.  Today, it is other areas of Church teaching that are under attack.

 

It has been claimed that the Assumption, being declared in 1950, was done so in response to the Second World War.  Human life had been destroyed on a vast scale, far greater, seemingly, than ever before, and there was still the possibility of a future war involving nuclear weapons.  Furthermore, human life had been devalued by the Nazi eugenics programme, with certain people being declared as “life unworthy of life”, and in some cases, used for experiments.  Of course, not only the Nazis were guilty of human rights abuses; the US experimented on its own soldiers to see what the results of nuclear exposure would be.  So at a time when human life had been so devalued, the declaration of the Assumption was speaking about the value of the human person, including the human body.  Our Lady was immaculately conceived, yes.  She lived without even committing the smallest sin, yes.  It was already a dogma that Our Lady was ever-virgin – just as a chalice is consecrated and set aside for the worship of God alone, so Mary was set aside for God alone in this sense.  But to crown it all, this body of Our Lady was not allowed to corrupt in the grave.  It’s not that God thought that because Our Lady had a pure soul, her soul was able to go to heaven, but that her body didn't matter.  Rather, both were important.  Both were therefore to enjoy the bliss of heaven.

 

When people try to understand the relationship between the body and the soul, there's always the danger of seeing ourselves as being a bit like the  Daleks.  Apparently, many people were surprised when it was revealed in Doctor Who that the Daleks were not those machine-like robots with a gun, camera and sink-plunger.  Rather, they were little creatures that lived inside machines with a gun, camera and sink-plunger.  The relationship between the human body and the human soul is not like that.  The body is not a machine inhabited by a human blob-like element called a soul.  Rather body and soul are profoundly united and, apart from death, inseparable.  The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that a statue is made up of form (i.e. a certain shape) and matter.  The two cannot be separated.  The Church has used this idea to say that the soul’s relationship to the body is similar to the form of a statue to its matter.  Soul and body cannot be separated either.  The Catechism put it like this:  “spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, bu rather their union forms a single nature” (no. 365).  If you don't understand what I've just said, just remember that the soul and body are so united that they form one human being – they are not two distinct things like the Dalek and the machine.

 

This understanding of the value, dignity and worth of the human body shapes many things.  Catholic worship does not just involve the mind, but also the body.  That's why we make the sign of the cross, genuflect, use bells and incense, beautifully decorate the church, bow the head, beat the breast, sit, stand and kneel.  We pray using the body.  But it also has a moral dimension.  We treat other human bodies with respect.  So we don't tolerate torture; we come to the aid of those suffering hunger; we are concerned about safe living and working conditions; we work for an end to homelessness; we work to end embryo experimentation; and we treat the bodies of the deceased with respect.  All of these flow from the Catholic understanding of the value of both body and soul, exemplified in the Assumption of Our Lady.

 

So the next time you pray the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary (the Assumption), see it as an important mystery, one that safeguards the dignity of the human body against many ideas that treat it as no more than a machine to be used.

11th / 12th August 2018

posted 13 Aug 2018, 02:10 by Parish Office

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(11 & 12/8/18)

 

What have we got to do in order to get to heaven?  It’s not quite as simple as some people think.

 

Throughout the Gospels, there are various isolated phrases which people can quote out of context and use them to let themselves off the hook.  Today we have two:  “everybody who believes has eternal life” and “Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever”.  But it’s only when we put together everything Christ taught that we get the full picture.

 

Let’s look first at “everybody who believes has eternal life”.  What does this mean?  Some think it just means that you have to believe in Jesus, but that it doesn’t demand much of them.  St Paul wrote, in the Letter to the Romans, about the importance of faith (which Luther famously mis-interpreted).  St Paul’s point was that we put our faith in Christ who saves us.  We don’t earn our way into heaven by our own effort independent of Christ.  But then St James, in his letter later on in the New Testament, had to correct perhaps the opposite extreme:  people who thought they just had to believe, but didn’t really have to live out that faith.  This is the example he gave:

 

“If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty’, without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that?  Fatih is like that:  if good works do not go with it, it is quite dead” (James 2:15-17).

 

We could perhaps also quote the example of the parable of the sheep and the goats, where it is those who failed to take care of those in need who found themselves on Christ’s left, and told to depart to the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.

 

So when Christ says, “everyone who believes has eternal life”, He means that belief should lead to action.  And today, as two thousand years ago, being a good Catholic means that we care both for the poor and for the unborn.  If we follow the ideology of either the left or the right in politics and let that superceed our religion, then we’ve made an idol out of ideology.  As they often say, the Catholic faith is “both...and”, not “either...or”.  We care for both the poor and the unborn, not just either one or the other.

 

Let’s have a look at the second phrase of Christ:  “Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever”.  Do we take it in a narrow, literal, way, by thinking that if you receive Holy Communion just once in your life, then everything is sorted and you will go to heaven?  Do I need to answer that question?  There’s almost a hint of an answer in the first reading:  Elijah was told by the angel to get up and eat, so he did, and then lay down again.  So the angel told him to get up and eat again, and then Elijah had the strength for the journey to Horeb, the mountain of God.  But don’t take that literally either, and now think that we have to receive Holy Communion just twice in our lives, and then we will be alright.  Holy Communion, the Bread of Life, is food for the journey througout life, and, for those who are able, it is the last sacrament they will receive as part of the Last Rites before they depart this life.

 

Now just imagine for a moment that you’re the devil.  You hate the Eucharist, you hate the priesthood and you hate humanity.  So if you managed to finally get someone to give up going to Mass, would you then move in straightaway with the attack?  Or would you hold back, maybe for years, and perhaps give the person less temptations than before, so that your victim actually has a sense of peace?  Then, years later, you might decide to have some fun with your victim, with him or her never thinking to join together the dots, and putting the blame on something or someone else.  In our  battle with evil, we are not dealing with a machine, where you press this and that happens – we are dealing with a being with intelligence.  And as any soldier will tell you, in warfare, bombs and bullets are not the only weapons.  Part of the assault is psychological.

 

We can look through other parts of the Gospel and find other things that we are expected to do as Christians, but I won’t cover all of those today as well.  But to the simple question of what do I need to do to get to heaven, one of the best answers was given by Our Lady at the wedding feast at Cana:  “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).

4th / 5th August 2018

posted 13 Aug 2018, 02:07 by Parish Office

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (4 & 5/8/18)

 

As I mentioned last week, today we continue our look at John 6 with “part two”.  I’m going away on holiday in a few weeks’ time, so I won’t be able to preach to you over the whole of our reading of John ch 6, so I’ll have to truncate what I was going to say.

 

The manna in the desert:  to begin with, it was a test of the Israelites’ faith.  And they weren’t doing too well.  They doubted that God could sustain them throughout the journey to the Promised Land, and wished they were back in Egypt.  God proved them wrong.

 

In this country, a regular food supply is taken for granted, but in some countries today it’s still an issue, and in our own country in the past, it wasn’t always so.  Think back to the Second World War, when food was rationed.  Even for some people in our country today, lack of money means a lack of food, with people having to rely on foodbanks.  On the radio on Friday, someone said that only 8% of people on universal credit find that it gives them enough to live by.  Lack of food, and not knowing where your next meal will come from, can cause major stress.  So no wonder the Israelites were tested in the desert, and the people in the Gospel were eager to follow someone who could multiply food and solve the food shortage problem.

 

Issues of basic sustenance are not things to make jokes out of.  But there’s something, or rather someone, even more important than ordinary food, and that’s Christ.  “Do not work for the food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life.”  What is the focus of our life and work?  Earning enough to pay the mortgage and do up the house?  Or is it our relationship with God, our love of the House of the Lord, our desire for salvation and to draw others to follow the Lord as well?  Where is our heart?  St Paul says the same to us in the second reading:  “I urge you in the name of the Lord, not to go on living the aimless kind of life that pagans live … You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires.”

 

When the Israelites had to eat manna and quails in the desert, they were being trained to be dependent on God and to follow His ways.  As well as relying on Him so that each day there would be food, there was an additional test.  You can read about it if you look in your Bibles around the passage that was quoted in the first reading.  Each day, they were to gather manna for themselves, but not to keep it for the following day.  Some, of course, did, and it went off.  But on the sixth day of the week, they were to gather twice the amount, and it would keep for the seventh day, because they were to rest on the seventh day.  Every seventh day, when they kept the manna from the previous day, it did not smell foul or breed maggots.  Yet there were those who, to begin with, did not trust God nor obey Him, and went looking for manna on the seventh day.  They soon learned.  In the Our Father, we say, “Give us this day our daily bread”, and that prayer, which we should say daily, doesn’t just ask God for the ordinary things that we need, such as food, shelter and clothing, but also for the daily celebration of the Eucharist.  That, too, is our daily bread, the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.  In fact, some parishes use very thin hosts which melt on the tongue, a bit like the manna in the desert which was also rather delicate.

 

Christ is the One who sustains us.  “He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.”  In Christ we have complete satisfaction; if we go for junk food then we will suffer deficiency diseases.

 

For some people, one of the sources of great pain in their lives is the thought that something is missing in their marriage.  There can be various reasons for this.  But for some couples, one of the reasons is that Christ is not at the centre of their marriage, and Christ is not at the centre of their lives.  Spouses expect to find complete fulfilment in each other – but their spouse is not God.  They are not perfect, and if they expect their spouse to be perfect then they will be in for a disppointment.  Yes, marriage can be a very important way in which two people experience the love of God through each other; but just as a priest is not perfect, even though God works through Him, in the same way someone’s spouse is not perfect either.  Growth in holiness makes us more perfect, closer to God and more God-like, but we will always fall short.  Only Christ is Christ; only Christ is our saviour – no-one else.  No-one can replace God in our lives, and no-one should demote God to second or third place in our lives.

 

“I am the bread of life.

He who comes to me will never be hungry;

he who believes in me will never thirst.”

28th/29th July 2018

posted 1 Aug 2018, 03:08 by Parish Office

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

 

The Feeding of the Five Thousand – what can we say about it?  Well, clearly, first, it was a miracle.  In the first reading, the prophet Elisha fed a hundred people with twenty barley loaves and fresh grain.  Christ supassed it by feeding five thousand men (as well as all the women and children) using just five barley loaves and two fish.  But there’s more to it than just a feeding miracle.  The words used, “Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them out” remind us of the Eucharist, which Jesus will speak about later on in the chapter, which we will hear over the next few weeks.  Given that the Eucharistic Congress Adoremus will be taking place in Livepool in September, it’s worth me saying a bit about the Eucharist.

 

Firstly, we have the worry of Philip:  what are we going to do?  Two hundred denarii (and a denarius was the wage a labourer received each day) would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.  Some troubles in life are far too big for us to deal with, and even vast amounts of money wouldn’t solve the problem.  But a small boy brings his small gift of five barley loaves and two fish to the Lord, and then, they are enough.  It’s a bit like the symbolism that takes place during the offertory.  Bread and wine are brought up, and the wine is placed in the chalice.  But what is added to the wine?  A small drop of water.  The wine represent’s Christ’s offering, His sacrifice on the Cross, whilst the water represents our small, weak, puny offering.  In the offertory, it is joined to the wine, and together, they become the Blood of Christ at the Consecration.  It ceases to be water and wine, and becomes Christ Himself, and His Sacrifice on the Cross is made present before us once again.  We are joined to Christ in the Mass, not just when we receive Communion, but during the Eucharistic Prayer, when Calvary is brought into the 28th/29th July 2018, at Sacred Heart, Hanley/Tunstall.  We can’t go back in time to see Christ there, so He comes to us.  And that’s why attendance at Mass is of so much benefit, even if we can’t receive Communion on this occasion.  If I can just use a visual representation, Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ is Catholic through and through.  At the point when Christ is being raised up on the Cross, it shows flashbacks to the first Mass, celebrated the day before in the Upper Room.  Then, once the Cross is upright, one of the soldiers pulls away the rope, and a ring of metal falls down and makes a sound of metal striking metal.  It’s a good reminder of the link between the Christ being raised up on the Cross, and the elevation at Mass, after the Consecration, when the bell is rung.  Next time you see the film, look out for that detail.

 

In the second reading, St Paul implores the Ephesians, and therefore us as well, to “lead a life worthy of your vocation”.  When he says “vocation”, he’s not just referring to priests and relgious.  We all have a vocation, as baptised people, to serve the Lord.  He implores the Ephesians, and us, to overcome the divisions between us, and to be bound together in the charity of Christ as the Body of Christ.  And this is what the Eucharist does.  The sacrifice of Christ has the power to draw us into greater unity and to begin to conquer our faults and to grow in holiness.

 

After the crowds had eaten the multiplied bread and fish, we find another important lesson.  Jesus doesn’t just allow the food to be left behind and go mouldy.  He says, “Pick up the pieces left over, so that nothing gets wasted”.  On one level, you could say that this reminds us that at the end of communion, the remaining sacred hosts are placed in the tabernacle.  Given that the Eucharist is Christ, not just blessed bread, the hosts have to be placed somewhere secure, and never thrown away.  If a host falls on the floor, it has to be consumed.  If something were to happen to a host so that it couldn’t be consumed, then it would have to be left to dissolve in water, and then, once it had dissolved, the remains would then be poured down into the earth.  Each host, and parts of a host that might break off, have to be treated with the utmost reverence, and it also means that if, for example in hospital, someone is given only a small sliver off a host for medical reasons, the person still receives the whole of Christ.  But there are other dimensions here too, because the action of gathering together the remaining bread and fish reminds us that the Eucharist commits us to care for the poor.  You may have plenty – but don’t waste it.  Give of your excess to those who are hungry. 

 

Lastly, the people saw the sign Jesus had given – and misinterpreted who He is and why He had come.  We get things wrong – and we need to keep coming back to God, hear His Word, and find out what it is we are supposed to be doing.  No-one is perfect, but with each Mass we attend we can make some progress, even if it is two steps forward and one step back.

 

So, end of part one – and next week we will unpack other dimensions of the Eucharist, as we continue our journey through John chapter six.

21st / 22nd July 2018

posted 27 Jul 2018, 05:07 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist

(23 & 24/6/18)

 

Last Thursday was the 21st of June, which means that from now on the days begin to grow shorter and the nights draw in.  I read on Friday that this is actually relevant to today’s solemnity, because the celebrations of the birth of St John the Baptist and the birth of Christ are strategically placed – we celebrate John’s birth as the days begin to grow shorter and Our Lord’s birth as the days begin to grow longer again. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  It’s a pattern that applies to all of us.

 

In the first reading we heard about the calling of the prophet Isaiah:  “The Lord called me before I was born”.  We all have a calling, which goes right the way back to when we came into existence at our conception.  The task is to find out what our calling is, and to be faithful to it.

 

The thing is, that as well as the call to grow in grace and holiness, we also have to fight against the competing trend of selfishness within our lives.  It can be a bit like weeds growing in the garden.  They need to be uprooted straight away, before they get too big and strong and difficult to eradicate, and grow faster than all the other plants and block out their light.  When John the Baptist was born, there was already the temptation, in embryo, as it were, for his parents to do their own thing instead, now that they had a child, and to go back on their faithfulness to God.  It’s symbolised at the point of John’s circumcision, where the parents have to name the child:  “they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up.  ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’”  They are not going to live according to expected conventions and the pressure of the people around them; instead they choose to go along with God’s plan.

 

We may think it would be wonderful if God could give us such a clear plan of where He wants us to go and what He wants us to do.  We could ask, though, whether we would be willing to follow it.  There was a time in my late teens, when people were suggesting the idea of the priesthood to me, when the idea filled me with dread and horror.  You may have seen the film Pinocchio, where all the naughty boys are shipped off to a place where they can do whatever they like, but the price is that it’s all a trick and they turn into donkeys.  For me, the thought of becoming a priest was a bit like the dread shown by one of Pinocchio’s companions as he turned into a donkey.  It took a bit more maturing on my part and a vocation discernment retreat in Portugal combined with a pilgrimage to Fatima to get me to accept the call to the priesthood when it began to become clear to me.  So perhaps there is wisdom in God not revealing to each child what his or her vocation is.  I also remember hearing a Dominican sister saying that when she was younger, another sister suggested to her the idea of the religious life.  I can’t remember her exact response, but it was along the lines of her being embarrassed, annoyed and angered by the suggestion.  Still, God got His way in the end, and she was happy for it.

 

Sometimes, we can have delusions of grandeur about ourselves.  People tell us we can be anything we want to be, and we think that we’ll go out and change the world.  You hear of people who want to go and do all sorts of humanitarian work in far-flung countries, but won’t even help out at home.  A bit of an irony there.  Imagine what people could have said to John.  Don’t bother with this idea of being a prophet.  What sort of a life is that – living out in the desert of all places, wearing camel skins and living of locusts and wild honey?  I’m sure the novelty will wear off after a while.  And besides, what use is it just preaching to the people in Palestine, a small country the size of Wales?  You need to have bigger ambitions.  The whole Roman Empire could be your oyster!  But instead, of course, John was faithful to God and became St John the Baptist, and now has a world-wide fame, down through the centuries.  In the film Jesus of Nazareth, there is the scene where John is preaching and he sees that King Herod is passing by.  Using more courage than many men have today, he confronts him with the message that it is immoral for him to be living with his brother Philip’s wife.  For that he is imprisoned and later beheaded.  It’s a bit like the courage shown by St John Fisher and St Thomas More in standing up to King Henry VIII making himself head of the Church of England and then divorcing his wife so he can marry Anne Boleyn.  To be great means that we have to master ourselves and overcome selfish tendencies, to be willing to listen to the voice of God and to do His will, not ours.  “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

 

Some might say that following God is not for wimps.  But, in a sense, we are all wimps.  Thankfully, the grace of God can transform us.  “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

14th /15th July 2018

posted 27 Jul 2018, 05:05 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (14 & 15/7/18)

 

I tend not to get too many complaints about my homilies – so far.  Whether that’s a good thing or not, I don’t know.  Maybe only some of the people who disagree actually tell me.  I can’t remember any complaints, as such, when I was in Birmingham, and in my first parish, I can only recall two instances.  One was when I mentioned in passing that Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor had been offered a place in the House of Lords, but had declined.  I said that he did so, in part, because it would have led to a conflict of interest.  Someone didn’t like this and said after Mass that if he had accepted, then he might have been able to better promote the Catholic cause in politics.

 

In the first reading, perhaps it’s not the best example to use, the priest Amaziah sends away the prophet Amos, telling him that his prophesying is causing national disturbance.  Just before the extract we heard, Amaziah went to the king of Israel and told him that Amos was plotting against him; in fact Amos has been predicting ruin if the country did not repent, which is not quite the same thing.  It can be a dangerous and complicated thing if the Church gets mixed up with the politics of kings and governments.  But what kind of a relationship should there be between Church and State?

 

In ancient times, when missionaries arrived, there was of course no Church.  But missionaries found that in certain parts of the world, if the ruler converted, the people followed – I’m speaking in broad brush-strokes again.  There was the Latin saying, cuius regio, eius religio, which meant that the people followed the religion of their leader.  In the Roman Empire, meanwhile, Christianity began as a troublesome sect, whose members refused to worship the Roman gods.  This was seen as a problem for the State, because they thought that if the gods were not worshipped, then they would withdraw their favour, and the State would fall apart.  It was following the rise of Constantine the Great that the Roman Empire became officially Christian, but there was a problem – Christians were divided.  Whilst the Church had always taught that Christ is both God as well as man, some disagreed and said that he wasn’t, following an influential leader called Arius, who put his heresies to music and got people singing them in the taverns and elsewhere.  Constantine realised that an empire divided over religion meant a divided empire, so he made sure that Church sorted the issue out.  The Council of Nicaea met and the Church re-affirmed that Christ is both God and man.  The longer creed that we say at Mass is descended from the Council of Nicaea – it was later added to as new heresies came along.

 

Meanwhile, fast-forwarding to England in the sixteenth century, there had been disputes between Church and State on various occasions over the years, but finally King Henry VIII seemingly brought everything under control – England broke with Rome, and he made himself Head of the Church of England, despite not being a bishop or a pope.  Once Henry died, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had more freedom to do what he wanted, because King Edward VI was just a boy, so he took the Church of England in a more Protestant direction.  After Queen Mary ascended the throne, England became Catholic again, but she only reigned for a few years, from 1553-58, and after that came Queen Elizabeth I, who took things in a Protestant direction.  With so many different religious opinions going around by this point, the Church of England under Elizabeth was a compromise between different factions.  To achieve this, a certain amount of skulduggery also played its part.

 

I mentioned that the first reading wasn’t perhaps the best example to use to show the difficulties with too close a tie between Church and State.  Even if the priest Amaziah had been completely independent of the king, he could still have told the prophet Amos, politely, to go away.  But if you work for the state as a minister of religion, it can be more difficult to be prophetic and to call the State to account.  You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.  So how should things be between Church and State?  There’s no “perfect” form of government and relationship with the Church, but this is what the Church asks for:  freedom of expression, teaching and evangelisation; freedom of public worship; freedom of organisation and of her own internal government; freedom of selecting, educating, naming and transferring her ministers; freedom for constructing religious buildings; freedom to acquire and possess sufficient goods for her activity; and freedom to form associations not only for religious purposes but also for educational, cultural, health care and charitable purposes (see the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 426).  All of these could be mini-sermons in themselves.  Basically, the Church needs to be able to be free to witness to Christ, and like the prophet Amos and the Twelve Apostles, to reproach, call to conversion, and be prepared to walk away if necessary.

7th/8th July 2018

posted 27 Jul 2018, 05:03 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (7 & 8/7/18)

 

Remember Young at Heart talk!

 

Padre Pio, or St Pio of Pietrelcina, was a Franciscan friar and priest who lived from 1887 to 1968 and is famous for many reasons.  He had visions of Jesus and Mary.  When as a child, he was asked why he hadn’t told anyone about them, he said he assumed they happened to everyone!  He also had the gift of being able to read people’s souls in confession, to tell them of the sins they had not confessed, but needed to confess, and gave them the advice they needed.  He also, like St Francis, had the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, imprinted on his body.  Because he lived so recently, it means that there are photos of him and even videos, including a video of the last Mass he celebrated on earth.  But one perhaps even more unusual fact about his life was that he was attacked physically by the devil, who sometimes came disguised as someone else.  One on occasion, he thought the Pope had come to see him, until “the Pope” started beating him up and he realised it was the devil.  In one sense, this phenomenon is not so unusual, as St John Vianney used to be attacked by the devil as well, being dragged along the floor, having his bed curtains set on fire and being subjected to various noises when he was trying to sleep, such as the noise of many people speaking, or of a flock of grazing sheep.

 

What’s all this got to do with today’s readings?  Well, in the second reading, St Paul speaks of a “thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan” that was given to beat him and stop him from getting too proud.  People have speculated what exactly this was.  It could have been a demon of some sort that physically attacked him, or others have said that it could have been some sickness or disability.  He had asked the Lord to take it away from him (whatever “it” was), but had been told, “My grace is enough for you:  my power is at its best in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

 

The vast majority of people don’t have to deal with direct, physical, demonic attack, but we do all have our areas of weakness when it comes to living our lives as Christians, and there can be various causes.  I was told that in Cuba, one of the effects of Communism has been the habit of lying, with people turning to priests for help with this sin.  I’ve also heard that lying was a problem with the children in occupied France during the Second World War.  They gotten so used to lying to the Nazis, that when peace came they had difficulty telling the truth to people in authority.

 

Sometimes people are embarrassed by their sins and the fact that they keep on confessing the same ones in the confessional.  Why doesn’t God deliver me of this affliction?  Why does He leave me so weak in dealing with this problem?  We have a bit of an answer from the answer given to St Paul:  “My grace is enough for you:  my power is at its best in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).  Our weaknesses and sins can help to keep us humble and dependent on Christ – otherwise there might be the danger of thinking that our moral success was down to ourselves:  “I’m a self-made man and I worship the one who created me”.  In addition, we can also spot that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross was God showing His power in the midst of weakness.  The same is true of Our Lady:  in the Magnificat she recognised her complete dependence on God and that is was God who worked His marvels in her, leading her to realise her vocation as Mother of God.  Furthermore, we can use our temptations as weapons against the devil.  On one occasion, when St John Vianney was being prevented from sleeping by noise created by demons, he prayed, “My God, I willingly make to Thee the sacrifice of some hours' sleep for the conversion of sinners”, at which point the noise stopped.

 

We may be glad that we don’t have the same attacks as Padre Pio or St John Vianney (or maybe St Paul), but they do have their use.  St Pio of Pietrelcina, St John Vianney and St Paul, pray for us.

23/24 June 2018

posted 28 Jun 2018, 06:22 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of the Birth of St John the Baptist

(23 & 24/6/18)

 

Last Thursday was the 21st of June, which means that from now on the days begin to grow shorter and the nights draw in.  I read on Friday that this is actually relevant to today’s solemnity, because the celebrations of the birth of St John the Baptist and the birth of Christ are strategically placed – we celebrate John’s birth as the days begin to grow shorter and Our Lord’s birth as the days begin to grow longer again. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  It’s a pattern that applies to all of us.

 

In the first reading we heard about the calling of the prophet Isaiah:  “The Lord called me before I was born”.  We all have a calling, which goes right the way back to when we came into existence at our conception.  The task is to find out what our calling is, and to be faithful to it.

 

The thing is, that as well as the call to grow in grace and holiness, we also have to fight against the competing trend of selfishness within our lives.  It can be a bit like weeds growing in the garden.  They need to be uprooted straight away, before they get too big and strong and difficult to eradicate, and grow faster than all the other plants and block out their light.  When John the Baptist was born, there was already the temptation, in embryo, as it were, for his parents to do their own thing instead, now that they had a child, and to go back on their faithfulness to God.  It’s symbolised at the point of John’s circumcision, where the parents have to name the child:  “they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up.  ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’”  They are not going to live according to expected conventions and the pressure of the people around them; instead they choose to go along with God’s plan.

 

We may think it would be wonderful if God could give us such a clear plan of where He wants us to go and what He wants us to do.  We could ask, though, whether we would be willing to follow it.  There was a time in my late teens, when people were suggesting the idea of the priesthood to me, when the idea filled me with dread and horror.  You may have seen the film Pinocchio, where all the naughty boys are shipped off to a place where they can do whatever they like, but the price is that it’s all a trick and they turn into donkeys.  For me, the thought of becoming a priest was a bit like the dread shown by one of Pinocchio’s companions as he turned into a donkey.  It took a bit more maturing on my part and a vocation discernment retreat in Portugal combined with a pilgrimage to Fatima to get me to accept the call to the priesthood when it began to become clear to me.  So perhaps there is wisdom in God not revealing to each child what his or her vocation is.  I also remember hearing a Dominican sister saying that when she was younger, another sister suggested to her the idea of the religious life.  I can’t remember her exact response, but it was along the lines of her being embarrassed, annoyed and angered by the suggestion.  Still, God got His way in the end, and she was happy for it.

 

Sometimes, we can have delusions of grandeur about ourselves.  People tell us we can be anything we want to be, and we think that we’ll go out and change the world.  You hear of people who want to go and do all sorts of humanitarian work in far-flung countries, but won’t even help out at home.  A bit of an irony there.  Imagine what people could have said to John.  Don’t bother with this idea of being a prophet.  What sort of a life is that – living out in the desert of all places, wearing camel skins and living of locusts and wild honey?  I’m sure the novelty will wear off after a while.  And besides, what use is it just preaching to the people in Palestine, a small country the size of Wales?  You need to have bigger ambitions.  The whole Roman Empire could be your oyster!  But instead, of course, John was faithful to God and became St John the Baptist, and now has a world-wide fame, down through the centuries.  In the film Jesus of Nazareth, there is the scene where John is preaching and he sees that King Herod is passing by.  Using more courage than many men have today, he confronts him with the message that it is immoral for him to be living with his brother Philip’s wife.  For that he is imprisoned and later beheaded.  It’s a bit like the courage shown by St John Fisher and St Thomas More in standing up to King Henry VIII making himself head of the Church of England and then divorcing his wife so he can marry Anne Boleyn.  To be great means that we have to master ourselves and overcome selfish tendencies, to be willing to listen to the voice of God and to do His will, not ours.  “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

 

Some might say that following God is not for wimps.  But, in a sense, we are all wimps.  Thankfully, the grace of God can transform us.  “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

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