Fr Michael's Homilies

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

21st & 22nd August 2021

posted 23 Aug 2021, 07:41 by Parish Office

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

(21 & 22/8/21)

The Eucharist has been controversial, right from the start. At the time of the Reformation, it was one of the great stumbling-blocks, not only between Catholics and Protestants, but even amongst the Protestants themselves they couldn’t come to an agreement as to what to believe. The reformers Luther and Zwingli strongly disagreed with each other. And more recently, there have been questions about what to do about Joe Biden and other pro-abortion politicians presenting themselves for Holy Communion. The Eucharist was controversial from the start, and still is today.

“[This] is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?” It’s a phrase that could be said today by the secular world about various Church teachings. But even today, the Church’s teaching on the Real Presence, the fact that Christ is present, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist, still ruffles feathers. A few years ago, one of the local councils was trying to stop local parishes from teaching the Real Presence to children as they prepared for First Holy Communion. They had to be reminded that they had overstepped the mark. The reasons for the Eucharist being controversial have changed over the ages. So why was it controversial at the time of Christ?

We missed a section of John chapter 6 last week because we celebrated The Assumption, but the crux of the matter is this: Jesus spoke of eating flesh and drinking blood. To the Jews it would have sounded like cannibalism, which, of course, is completely off-limits, both now and then. So why did Christ use such “offensive” language? In part to bring home the realism of the Eucharist. When the people reacted and started walking off, He didn’t call them back and say He was just exaggerating and that the Eucharist is only symbolic – it isn’t. The way we worship, and the way we arrange a church building express our beliefs. Whilst in a Protestant church there often isn’t a tabernacle, and they certainly don’t genuflect, in a Catholic church the Lord is reserved in the tabernacle and is honoured as God with genuflections, candles, flowers and so on. A light is kept burning 24/7 before the tabernacle in honour of the Lord, showing that He is there constantly – He doesn’t disappear the moment Mass ends. Furthermore, He is not inside bread like an evil spirit possessing the body of an individual human being. Rather, after the consecration, the bread and wine become Jesus, and that is why we no longer talk about bread and wine, but the Body and Blood of Christ. A

change has taken place, a miraculous conversion. And that is why every host and every drop of the Previous Blood need to be treated with special care. In some of the Protestant churches, they have started using little self-service cups for communion, a bit like the little containers of milk you might get a motorway service station, where you pull off the plastic lid and pour it into your tea. And once they have opened the container and taken their sip, the contents go in the bin. But we can’t do that. We can’t throw Our Lord in the bin! In some Protestant churches, people take some bread and then dip it into the wine, and if a few drops fall on the floor, then it’s a bit messy, but it doesn’t matter. But we can’t do that! We can’t drop Our Lord all over the floor, and then have other people tread over Him! It’s also why we need to be careful when receiving the host in the hand, so that any crumbs don’t end up on the floor either.

[I just now need to add an aside: some of you might think that I have just contradicted myself by talking about bread and wine at a Protestant service. But because of changes they made to the rite of ordination at the Reformation, they lost the sacrament of ordination, so their ministers have no more power to consecrate bread and wine than any ordinary layperson.]

So, going back to what Our Lord was talking about, the Eucharist is a very real, physical, reality, and of course we need the Eucharist because we are real, physical human beings with bodies; we receive the Lord by receiving the Eucharist. Our faith isn’t purely spiritual. Christ chose to heal not only by giving blessings, but also through physical contact – people touching his cloak, placing earth in their eyes mixed with spittle to heal blindness, and so on. He chooses to work now, not just through prayer, but also through physical sacraments involving bread, wine, water, oil, physical touch and so on.

Why did the crowds abandon Jesus? It seems that they didn’t trust Him and they didn’t have faith in Him. They trusted too strongly in their own reasoning and not in Him. Contrast that with St Peter: “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God”. Today, to follow Christ, we have to have faith in Him, and the Catholic Church which He instituted, with St Peter as the first Pope. If we go anywhere else, the Eucharist will continue to be misunderstood.

14th & 15th August 2021

posted 23 Aug 2021, 07:36 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of the Assumption (14 & 15/8/21)

The Assumption of Our Lady – it’s a most beautiful and wonderful feast. The Catholic faith is most truly beautiful at its heart. The love a son has for his mother is always a beautiful thing; but the love the Son of God has for His Mother is more beautiful yet. So the Assumption is a bit like a thank you present. But there are other reasons for it too.

Today’s preface says, “rightly you would not allow her to see the corruption of the tomb, since from her body she marvellously brought forth your incarnate Son, the Author of all life”. Why should the Author of life allow His Mother to face the corruption of the tomb? After what she had done for the human race in giving us Jesus, would there not be something incongruous, something going against the grain, for His Mother to be buried, and for her body to decay in the grave? Everything is interlinked. There are certain truths, or dogmas, that we are obliged to believe as Catholics about Our Lady, and they all connect together: Mary as Mother of God, Mary as ever-virgin, Mary as the Immaculate Conception and Mary assumed into heaven.

It’s because of Our Lady’s role as Mother of God that all the others follow. Our Lady was conceived immaculate, without Original Sin, as she declared herself at Lourdes, and as Pope Pius IX had explained a few years before. That meant she was totally free to follow God – she is the holiest of all the saints, the one who followed God the most perfectly, the only saint not to commit a single sin whilst on earth. All of this was a gift to her from God – she didn’t “earn” to be conceived immaculate. Just as Christ’s Death in the future brought the possibility of salvation to all those who had died before Him, so His Death enabled Our Lady to be the Immaculate Conception. Since death entered the world through sin, would it have been appropriate for Our Lady’s tomb to be with us, with a body that had decayed centuries ago? It could have remained incorrupt, but that would have given her a status only the same as other saints whose bodies are also incorrupt. Unlike them, Our Lady did not inherit Original Sin when she was conceived; unlike them, she did not commit sin and need to seek God’s forgiveness. Our Lady is in a different league altogether.

Our Lady is “blessed Mary ever-virgin” as we say in the “I Confess”. This means that she became Mother of God through a miracle. It means that she

gave birth to Christ in a miraculous way, or as Vatican II put it, Christ’s birth, “did not diminish His mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it” (Lumen Gentium 57). It means that after the birth of Christ, she did not have any other children – she is the Mother of God, and the Mother of God alone. She was set aside completely for the Lord. It makes sense that at the end of her life, she was assumed into heaven.

Death came into the world because of sin. We are all sinners, and that is why we die. Whilst the Catholic Church does allow cremation, burial is preferred from a symbolic point of view. Death is not the end. Not only do our souls have the hope of going to heaven, but also our bodies too. Our Lady already enjoys life in heaven, both soul and body. When Christ returns in glory, our bodies will be resurrected and glorified too. Our Lady, in her Assumption, points towards our future.

The Assumption, as I mentioned, is a dogma too. It was declared by Pope Pius XII in 1950, after the horrors of the Second World War, when the dignity of the body had been so undermined, not to forget the First World War as well. Our Lady was presented to the Church as a sign of hope.

Last year, in March 2020, Our Lady was presented to this country as a sign of hope as well. In The Apocalypse, shortly after today’s first reading, it says that the dragon “vomited water from his mouth, like a river, after the woman, to sweep her away in the current, but the earth came to her rescue; it opened its mouth and swallowed the river thrown up by the dragon’s jaws” (12:15-16). We were in preparation for the re-dedication of England to Our Lady as her dowry when we went into lockdown. But the rededication still happened. You can view it on the website – We are invited, if we haven’t done so already, to join in with the rededication by consecrating ourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Just as in 1950 Our Lady was presented to the Church as a sign of hope, today the rededication reminds us that Our Lady is still with us, looking after us and interceding for us. And just as God conquered in the heart of Our Lady, so today, in the end, her Immaculate Heart will triumph.

7th / 8th August 2021

posted 9 Aug 2021, 04:47 by Parish Office

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (7 & 8/8/21)
 Faith leads to action! 
Today’s first reading is the middle section of a very dramatic part of the First Book of Kings. I recommend that you take your Mass sheet home and then, using the Bible reference, read what happens before and after in your Bible. But to give you a summary, and a bit of a spoiler, this is what it’s all about. 
King Ahab marries Queen Jezebel, and as a result they abandon following the Lord and go after the false god Baal. And Elijah the prophet is called by God to sort things out. 
So under God’s command, Elijah summons the people of Israel to Mount Carmel. He is the only prophet of God left – all the other ones have been put to death by order of the king and queen. And Elijah also invites the prophets of Baal – there are four hundred and fifty of them in the country. So he says to the people: this is what we are going to do. There will be two altars, one set up for The Lord, and the other for Baal. A sacrifice will be put on each one, and they will both be called on to set their sacrifice on fire. Whichever one answers with fire, that is the one to serve. 
So the prophets of Baal begin, and call on Baal from morning until midday. But there is no answer. They keep on calling until the evening, and there is no answer. Then Elijah rebuilds the altar of God, and gets the people to pour loads of water on the offering, to stop it from being able to burn. They pour on so much water that it flows over the offering and the altar and into the trench around the altar. Then Elijah calls on God, and God answers with fire from heaven, which burns up the offering, and dries up all the water in the trench. The people fall on their faces and say, “The Lord is God! The Lord is God!” And Elijah says: seize all the prophet of Baal. Don’t let one of them escape! 
So it seems all has gone well. But Queen Jezebel isn’t very impressed, and wants to kill Elijah. So he flees and runs away, and that is where today’s reading starts. Elijah thinks that he’s going to be put to death. He told the people that he was the only prophet of God left. And once he’s gone, then what? But that’s not going to happen. God tells him: get up and eat. He does so, twice, and with that food is able to walk forty days and forty nights until he reaches Horeb, the mountain of God. Faith leads to action. There God reveals His plans for the future: two new kings are going to be anointed, one for Israel and one for Aram, and a new prophet, Elisha, is to be chosen to succeed Elijah. The religion of God has a future, and God is going to make sure of it. Faith leads to action, but it needs to be the right faith – faith in God, not faith in Baal – a spiritual revolution.
I was talking last week about a spiritual revolution brought about by Christ, and that leads us to today’s Gospel reading. Jesus tells us today that we have to believe the right things, and put that faith into practice. He says: “to hear the teaching of the Father, and to learn from it, is to come to me.” In other words, we come to Him to hear the teaching of God the Father. And it’s no good just listening and then forgetting, or saying “that’s nice” and then ignoring it. We have to hear it, and learn from it. What does it mean, “to learn”? We had the example a few moments ago, with the two sacrifices on Mount Carmel. The people had been following the false god Baal. But when they saw that he didn’t respond, but God did, they learnt that The Lord was the true God, and He was the One to follow. There was now no turning back. Why go back to Baal, when you know that the Lord is the true God? 
Now for the next bit: the people learned, but Elijah was afraid and fled away, because Queen Jezebel now wanted to kill him. Elijah had been part of that great miracle on Mount Carmel, but evil had fought back, and he had lost a bit of hope. So God strengthens him once again, and with the food he gave him he was able to walk for over a month to where he needed to be. In the Gospel, Jesus moves on and develops what He is saying. After saying that we follow the true God by following Him, He begins to reveal the Eucharist. He is going to feed us with Himself: “and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world”. Just as God gave new hope to Elijah, and gave him food to sustain him for the next part of his mission, so today, Christ gives us Himself in the Eucharist, to sustain us for the next part of our mission in serving and following Him. We need to live that adventure to see where God is going to lead us. Faith leads to action. Faith brings us to Mass, and in the Mass we meet Christ and He deepens our faith. And then faith leads to action!

31st July / 1st Aug 2021

posted 6 Aug 2021, 05:41 by Parish Office

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (31/7/21 & 1/8/21) 

Almost two weeks ago, on Monday 19th July, the remaining Covid restrictions were loosened up in England. Some have dubbed it “freedom day”, although many other restrictions were relaxed back in May. Traffic on the road has certainly increased since May, and we’ve heard lots about “getting the economy moving”. Certainly it’s good that people have jobs and earn money to put food on the table, but do we need more than that? There’s the joke about two Scotsmen who are walking past a Catholic church. On the door is a sign: £60 to everyone who becomes a Catholic. The first one says to the second: “What do you think about that?” The second says, “Well, £60 is £60”, but the first says he isn’t so sure. So the first one waits outside whilst the other one goes in. Half an hour later, he comes out again and the first Scotsman asks: “Did you become a Catholic?” “I did”, he says. “And did you get you £60?” And the second one replies, “Is that all you ever think about?” 

There is more to life than material well-being, whether we’re thinking about clothes, money, jobs, nice food, whatever it may be. It can’t fully satisfy the human heart. We are both material and spiritual, and both need to be appropriately cared for. We can’t try to be pure angels and spend all day praying and never ever eat anything again, but if we try to do the opposite, look after the body but completely neglect the soul, we suffer as well. So when Our Lord says, “Do not work for food that cannot last”, He isn’t saying we should give up our jobs, live off the dole and not eat anything. Instead he is saying that we shouldn’t be obsessed about material things and neglect the spiritual. The spiritual has to be our focus, whilst also recognising the need to eat and drink. And He is the One to turn to for both of these. Elsewhere, in St Matthew’s Gospel, chapter six, Jesus tells us: “No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.” (vs 24) Money, like drink, can be a useful servant but a terrible master. We were made for God, and will only be totally happy and satisfied when God truly is master of our lives, and everything else comes second: family, friends, prestige, job, wealth, comfort etc. “You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.” Some of the Americans have criticised Pope Francis for saying that they should be generous with their wealth in helping others, accusing him of socialism. Specifically, the Pope has been saying something that isn’t new – you can find it, for example, in the writing of Pope St John Paul II. He has been saying that our wealth is not absolutely ours. 
Unfair distribution of wealth means that it should be fairly distributed, and not just by governments and companies. We ourselves, on a private level, should help others with our wealth and, of course, our time. If our response to charities and people in need is “Clear off!”, and if our response when Christ comes asking for help is, “Clear off!”, then we might find, when we die, that He says “Clear off!” to us, in words to that effect: “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; … naked and you never clothed me” (Matthew 25:41-42. 44). God has to come first, and the rest then follows. “ ‘What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’ ” (John 6:28- 29). 
Jesus is the One who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world; that is why He calls Himself the Bread of Life. And that involves a change of heart. As St Paul tells us in the second reading: “You must give up your old way of life; you must put aside your old self, which gets corrupted by following illusory desires. Your mind must be renewed by a spiritual revolution…” (Ephesians 4:22. 24) Next week, Our Lord will unpack for us a bit more of what this “spiritual revolution” involves. In the meantime, we must believe in Him, and He will shows us what we must do

24th/ 25th July 2021

posted 6 Aug 2021, 05:39 by Parish Office

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (24 & 25/7/21)
 What was it like to be with Our Lord during those three years of His public ministry? I’m not just thinking in terms of someone who turned up, listened, watched and then went home. I’m thinking more in terms of the disciples who travelled around with Him, got to know Him and speak to Him personally. Did He show at times a certain sense of humour, or pull people’s legs? In the Gospel today, literally thousands of people had turned up to see Him. And now it’s time to eat something. But they couldn’t go down to the supermarket – and besides, even if they could, the average supermarket couldn’t cope with the sudden arrival of five thousand families on its doorstep. What to do? Jesus asks the apostles. It seems as if they almost panic. “Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each” … “There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?” Did Jesus have a twinkle in His eye as He asked them what they should do? Or did He keep His thoughts more hidden? When I was in my second parish of Corpus Christi, Stechford, one evening I was in the sacristy getting ready for the Saturday evening Mass. The sacristan said to me something like, “Make the Mass short, Father”. I can’t remember exactly what I said to him, but I remember that I kept a completely serious face, whilst inside I laughed. 
The Mass had to be long that evening. The Dean was celebrating the Saturday evening Mass at St Wilfrid’s in Castle Bromwich, and then was coming to speak to the parish about the two parishes being asked to work together. It would be no good if when he arrived, the Mass had finished and most people had decided to go home. So clearly Our Lord has something of the teacher about Him. Class, here’s a problem. How do we solve it? No idea? Let me show you how. Get the people to sit down and I’ll do the rest. But if He managed to teach the apostles, at the time, the people are slow to leave old ideas behind. They think of the Messiah in terms of an earthly king who will beat up the Romans and re-establish the Jewish kingdom. “Jesus, who could see they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped to the hills by himself.” These people need to be handled with care. Going back to the two parishes in Birmingham, things worked out well in the end. 
The Dean had arrived by the time we got to the Our Father, so he was able to have a captive audience for what he had to say after the distribution of Holy Communion. The two parishes would be sharing priests, but it wouldn’t be a simple joining of two parishes together, but rather the forming of a cluster of parishes in the area, with different priests helping out with different things to share the load. I would be what I call almost-but-not-quite-parish-priest of St Wilfrid’s, another priest would help me with the pastoral work, and another would deal with the finances, whilst a fourth would be there for moral support. New times, new approaches. 
You’ve heard a bit so far about the diocesan vision, but it’s probably going to catch a lot more people’s attention once it starts talking about the nitty gritty of what might actually happen in parish life. Of course, at the moment, this is part of the discernment process. But as priests retire, what will the mission of the Church in this diocese look like? Which parishes will amalgamate? How can the load be shared across the deanery to make things more efficient? Where will we have to cut our losses? What will be the new approaches that will bring new life? We can be a bit like the apostles, when Our Lord said, “Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?” It’s a question that might make some people break into a cold sweat. “Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give them a small piece each.” But Our Lord knows what He is going to do. We don’t have the plan. He does. It’s for us to discern what His plan is – and it might surprise us. Our job is to follow the Lord, and we leave the rest to Him

17th/ 18th July 2021

posted 19 Jul 2021, 06:40 by Parish Office

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – 17 & 18/7/21

On Tuesday, Fr Julian Green celebrated his twenty-fifth anniversary of ordination as a priest with a special Mass at St Joseph’s, Goldenhill. The homily was preached by Fr Sean Gough, the nephew of the Fr Gough who was a curate here some years ago. Fr Julian didn’t want it to be all about himself, as if it was a eulogy at a funeral or a canonisation ceremony. So Fr Sean spoke about the priesthood, and what I’m going to say now is using a bit of borrowed material from what he said on Tuesday.

The first reading began by speaking about bad shepherds: “Doom for the shepherds who allow the flock of my pasture to be destroyed and scattered”, and as a result, God is going to raise up new shepherds to look after them instead. God is going to take care of the sheep through those shepherds. And that is what the priesthood is all about – God shepherding us through his shepherds.

We sometimes here about a priest acting in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. This happens especially when he celebrates Mass and changes bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and brings the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross into the present day. It also happens especially when he absolves someone of sin in the confessional, and when he preaches the word of God. It’s because he has received the sacrament of ordination that he can do that. But those aren’t the only times when Christ works through a priest. In fact, it happens all the time, both in the extraordinary moments of the sacraments, and the ordinary, routine events of life, and everything in-between. When someone dies, for example, and it hasn’t been possible for the priest to celebrate the sacraments before the person passed away, people still want the priest to come and pray. It’s not that they can’t pray themselves, or that their prayer has no validity. It’s that through the priest, Christ is present there with them, praying for their loved one who has departed this life. And we can’t be indifferent about that.

Today I celebrate/On Saturday I celebrated my eleventh anniversary of ordination as a priest, and each priest’s experience of priestly ministry is unique. We were all in different parishes at different times and eras, and we all have different stories that we can tell. The smallest hospital I have ever been chaplain to so far has been the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, yet it hold the record for me for the greatest number of calls to the dead and the dying in a single evening. I was called to see one person who was dying, and whilst I was still on site, I had three more calls before I went home. They were all grace-filled moments. One thing I tend to find is that some of your earlier experiences stay in your mind, whilst after a while, the others become a blur. You remember the first baptism you ever did – I learnt how important a microphone is to speak over a very noisy child, but my fifty-fourth baptism, well, I can’t recall which parish I was in at the time.

In the Gospel today, the apostles have come back from their missionary work and are in need of a bit of rest, so that’s what they try to do. But the people could see where they were going and went on ahead of them. You can imagine the frustration of the apostles. As a priest, you can’t always have things on your own terms – the needs of others can sometimes determine when you get time off and when you take your holidays. But I can remember certain holiday moments as times of real refreshment, and times to express my gratitude to God for calling me to be a priest. One thing Fr Sean Gough said in his homily is that he assumes, as a priest who hasn’t completed a whole year of ordination yet, that there can be the danger of the extraordinary becoming ordinary to you – the times people really open up to you and you help them in a profound way with their problems, the times you witness moments of grace and real conversion in people’s lives and so on. In some ways, a holiday can help remind you what “normal” life is actually like.

All the baptised are called to be missionaries and to witness to Christ as well, to be the presence of Christ in a different way to the way of a priest. It’s all very well people hearing from a priest what being a lay Christian is like, but they need to see it being lived out, today, in front of their very eyes, rather than just reading about it on a computer screen. Laypeople reach areas of society that priests normally do not. To give an exotic example, how many priests are airline pilots? So a Catholic airman is able to make contact with and influence other pilots and co-pilots and lead them to Christ in a way that a priest, normally, cannot.

Christ is our shepherd, and He takes care of us through His Church. His priests are an incarnation of Him, they act in persona Christi and make Him present. But the Church isn’t just made up of clergy. You, as lay faithful, also make Him present in the world, and together, we can make the world into something beautiful for God.

10th / 11th July 2021

posted 12 Jul 2021, 02:00 by Parish Office

 Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (10 & 11/7/21)

It isn’t an easy life being a prophet. At the time of the first reading, Israel was divided into two, with a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom. Amos is sent by God to preach in the north, in Samaria. But he’s not greeted by a large-hearted Yorkshireman, saying, “Welcome t’northern kingdom”. Instead, he’s told to go back to the south where he belongs. Nothing changes. Because the message he has been preaching is one of repentance to avoid disaster, rather than saying things are wonderful, the priest Amaziah doesn’t want him around. The message of God isn’t always welcome, and it isn’t always about saying how wonderful we are. At times it is consoling, but at other times it is challenging, or if you prefer, it is difficult.

We are often used to hearing the Beatitudes, promising blessing and reward for righteous behaviour. But in St Luke’s Gospel, we have both blessings and curses. The last of the curses says this:

“Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26) Clearly the prophet Amos was doing his job, because this wasn’t how he was treated – he preached a tough message. Instead, the last of the beatitudes is more appropriate to him:

“Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.” (Luke 6:23)

Moving to the time of the Apostles, Christ prepared them for what they may have to face, good or bad. Their mission had to be pure, relying on God, and not looking to feather their own nest. It’s no good for them to be accused of only being in it for their own benefit. We know, of course, of the scandal of Judas Iscariot, who used to help himself from the contributions to the poor. Christ sent them with the absolute bare essentials. They were to rely on divine providence – God will provide for their mission, rather than carrying around two big heavy suitcases. They’re also not to go fussily around from house to house, saying, “I didn’t think much of the dinner yesterday, so let’s find somewhere else a bit better.” So poverty, contentment with what you are given, and also the personal poverty of the messenger, are themes. They haven’t got university degrees in the theology of evangelisation. They go, like the prophet Amos, as messengers sent by God. They are messengers, and the authority comes from the One who sent them.

The Archbishop is focusing, as he said a while ago in his pastoral letter, on evangelisation, and that’s a task we’re all called to. Part of the task is for us to see, not only what advances evangelisation, but what currently hinders it. What are the areas we need to let go of, whether in our personal lives, the way we run parishes, the way we conduct ourselves? It’s important to discuss these things, heated though some of the discussions might get.

Do we need to go back to a simpler way of life? That, of course, is part of the attraction of some of the great religious orders, where they often take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Benedictines also take a vow of stability, which means that they will live in the same religious community for the rest of their lives, rather than moving from religious house to religious house. What about taking prayer and fasting more seriously? Today, there are only four compulsory fast days: Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the two Cafod fast days, whilst previously there were more. In the past, when there was greater poverty and food supplies were less reliable, there were more fast days. Someone once told me that when he was growing up, eating and fasting were dictated by what was available: “We fasted when there was nothing, or when the food our mother cooked was inedible”. When you’ve lived a hard life, you want a bit of a rest from that. If you haven’t lived a hard life, you probably wouldn’t normally want to choose it. But if we are too attached to our comforts, we become lazy and the mission of the Church suffers. “[The] road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 6:13-14).

It’s not always easy following the Lord. Amos was told to go away, the Apostles had to wander from place to place with few possessions, and we are called to live a life that is, at times, in contradiction with what the world holds dear. But we do so because following the Lord is better than anything else, and the rewards are truly out of this world.

3rd / 4th July 2021

posted 5 Jul 2021, 01:45 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (3 & 4/7/21)

“For it is when I am weak that I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

These words of St Paul might seem a bit contradictory. Surely weakness is weakness and strength is strength? Not always. When you have God working with you, things can sometimes be turned on their head.

We all experience weakness from time to time. It might be just the weakness of the years going by and the body getting more frail. It could be the weakness of struggling with temptation: take the example of the gambler who had managed to keep away from his fatal vice, but on one occasion when he is with friends, he succumbs, and he loses every penny. He’s not only lost his money, but also his sense of achievement, and possibly, if he has a wife and children, he might lose some of their respect, and there could be questions of how do we manage without the money you just lost when you should have known better. But there can be other experiences of weakness: when we are tired and worn down because of work or family commitments, or maybe just through the stress of Covid, and not being able to have a proper holiday; or maybe the humiliation of having to face the German fans after a 2-0 defeat at Wembley to England. Experience of failure is humiliating, but it can also lead to greater humility, to recognise our need for God. We are never so poor than when we think we are strong enough to do everything by ourselves, and sometimes, pride comes before a fall. As the Lord said to St Paul, “My grace is enough for you: my power is at its best in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

We see the opposite in the first reading. The Israelites are described as a set of rebels, who are in revolt against God. They think they know better. The prophet Ezekiel is still going to proclaim God’s word in all its power. If they don’t listen, then it’s their problem. Or what about today’s Gospel reading? The people had known Jesus as He grew up, and were astonished at His wisdom, His preaching and His miracles. But they thought they knew Him and no-one could teach them otherwise. They remained closed to God. And God was amazed at their lack of faith. So much more could have been achieved had they opened their hearts to Him. As it was, “he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them” (Mark 6:6).

Let’s dream for a while. What could be achieved if people really put their faith in God?

Just think how lives could be transformed. Reconciliation of hurts. Growth in honesty. A great reduction in crime. Restoration of trust between people. Hopelessness replaced by hopefulness. People’s lives having purpose, meaning and direction. Think how parishes could be transformed: a great increase in numbers; the return of so many to the fold, bringing with them their gifts and talents for service of the Lord; a new golden age in the Church; God being given the honour that is His due; an upsurge in vocations to the priesthood, religious life, diaconate, marriage. We can go on. But for the dream to begin to become reality, it has to start with us. People standing on the sidelines, observing, need to see the difference God makes to our lives, in ways great and small.

So we don’t need to be the people with all the gifts. Out of our suffering, our humiliations, humility grows. We acknowledge our dependence on God. And then God does great things. “For it is when I am weak that I am strong". (2 Cor 12:10)

26th/27th June 2021

posted 5 Jul 2021, 01:40 by Parish Office

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (26 & 27/6/21)

Last Sunday was our Day for Life, focusing on the weak, the vulnerable, those at the last stages of life, their protection and defence. Today’s first reading and Gospel speak about life and death, health and well-being, with faith being an important part of it. The first reading:

“Death was not God’s doing…

To be – for this he created all …

God did make man imperishable,

he made him in the image of his own nature;

it was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world,

as those who are his partners will discover.” (Wis 1:13. 14. 2:23-24)

Back in 1995, Pope St John Paul II published Evangelium Vitae, a document about the importance of everyone standing up in defence of human life, especially at its earliest and latest stages, when it is threatened by abortion and euthanasia. He identified how, in society, there is a battle going on between what he called the “Culture of Life” and the “Culture of Death” – the Culture of Life, which comes from God and revealed to us through the Gospel, is one where all life is respected and cherished, whilst the Culture of Death is to do with selfishness, looking after only yourself, and seeing others as a nuisance and an inconvenience, even to the point of indifference towards others (think of the rich man and Lazarus) and also their elimination. We have all been affected in different ways by the corrosive effects of the Culture of Death – it’s present in our media, our education system, our news, the general culture. As Pope St John Paul II puts it:

“The first to be harmed are women, children, the sick or suffering, and the elderly. The criterion of personal dignity – which demands respect, generosity and service – is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what they "are", but for what they "have, do and produce". This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak.” (EV 23)

Of course, the problem is wider than just the “traditional” pro-life issues. He also mentions poverty, violence, malnutrition, hunger; the arms trade; “the spreading of death caused by reckless tampering with the world's ecological balance, by the criminal spread of drugs, or by the promotion of certain kinds of sexual activity which, besides being morally unacceptable,

also involve grave risks to life” (EV 10). We can ask ourselves if anything has really changed. There is still a lot of work to be done.

These issues have not gone away, but certain people on “the other side” don’t want to listen, it seems, so Pope Francis has tried a different tactic. Rather than an encyclical on pro-life matters, he must have thought, let’s pick an issue they do want to hear about, and sneak pro-life matters in under the radar. So what do we have? Laudato si’ – On Care for our Common Home. It sounds rather nice – Pope Francis making reference to St Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures and writing about care for the environment. But, for those who actually read it, it contains all sorts of pro-life statements, connecting care for the planet with care for humanity. He speaks about those who want to reduce the population, rather than to properly assist poor countries, and who tie economic aid to certain so-called “reproductive health” policies – i.e. contraception and abortion (no. 50). He says that we must both look after animals and the rest of creation – it’s not an either/or matter. Some people seem to care more about other species than human beings (no. 90-2). To quote him directly:

“Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for, other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” (no. 120) [See also nos. 117 & 136].

We all have different areas of the faith that we are interested in, and it’s a matter of bringing them all together and keeping them all in balance, underpinned by prayer. Our world is broken. But it’s when we identify the cause that we can begin to solve the problem. We need to move away from treating others with a mindset of what they have, do and make, to looking at them with respect, generosity and service. For we are all made in the image and likeness of God, no matter how we are packaged.

19th/20th June 2021

posted 21 Jun 2021, 01:14 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Day for Life (19 & 20/6/21)

What comes to your mind when you think of water? Is it a refreshing drink on a hot day? A utility bill that needs to be paid, where they seem to keep on putting up the price? Rain falling on the garden, whether too much or too little? If you were a sailor, then it would also represent your livelihood – think about Brexit and fishing quotas. But for many a sailor, a storm at sea can also mean the chance of shipwreck and even drowning – water can represent both life when fishing goes well, and death in the event of a storm.

The disciples in today’s Gospel would have had similar concerns. Water means food, but also the risk of storms. They also would have thought of the Crossing of the Red Sea back in the times of Moses – God worked a miracle and parted the waters, saving the Israelites, but then He released the waters and they returned back to their place, drowning the pursuing Egyptians. Now the disciples have first-hand experience of being saved by God from water – Christ stilled the storm, showing His authority as God. No human power, even today, can still a storm. “They were filled with awe and said to one another, ‘Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.’”

But in the second reading, the words of St Paul remind us of another way in which water is used – the waters of baptism. Through baptism, “there is a new creation” – our old life of sin is washed away, and we are given the grace of God to live a new life. He says, earlier on, that living as a Christian means that we live now for Christ, rather than just for ourselves. We move from a selfish way of life to one that is focused on God, and that also includes others as well.

As we know, when we came into existence, God performed a new act of creation and created our soul, giving us a dignity higher than all creation. We all inherit Original Sin from the first human beings who chose to rebel against God, but with baptism we are made part of God’s family, the Church. So the value of a human being, no matter how ill or crippled in any way, is greater than any horse, hippopotamus or elephant. It’s not our size, or our intelligence, that gives us that special status, but rather the fact that we are children of God, with an immortal soul created by God at the moment of our conception. Human beings, when they reach the end of their working life, are not to be taken outside and shot.

Today is our Day for Life, focusing on caring for the sick and dying, and the respect owed to life. Compared with the abortion issue, we have done very well, given the circumstances, in keeping full-blown euthanasia out of our laws and our country. But, every so often, they keep on trying again. As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t believe in keeping life going at all costs. If treatments are too burdensome, with little hope of any real benefit, then we are allowed instead to let nature take its course, and recognise in humility that we can no longer stop the dying process. That is when palliative care comes in, which means good pain management. It’s often said that people who are terminally ill want an end to pain, not to end their lives. In hospices for the dying, where there is good pain relief, there is no need for euthanasia.

But what if pain relief might shorten someone’s life? Is it still allowed? There are two things here. Firstly, I heard of a medic who once got rather annoyed with this statement, saying that good pain relief doesn’t shorten life, it actually prolongs life, because if someone is agitated and in great pain, the whole stress of it all can shorten someone’s life. But even in cases were pain relief could shorten life, it would depend on the intention. If the intention is to accurately gauge the right amount of painkiller to control pain, then that is perfectly fine (this is sometimes referred to as titrating pain relief). On the other hand, if the intention is to give a massive overdose to finish someone off, then that would be an act of euthanasia and clearly wrong. No one has the right to decide to kill people off. We can’t say that the ends justify the means. We don’t have absolute ownership of our lives, and we certainly don’t have ownership of other people’s lives. Our lives are given to us by God, on trust, and later on, after having come from God, we return to God. We don’t own our lives like we might own a Biro, which we can throw away when it doesn’t work anymore. People are not things. Our value is not determined by what we do, earn and make. Our lives are given us by God and each life deserves respect, generosity and service. We don’t become less of a human being because we can’t do certain things for ourselves. In the past, we perhaps treated things as more like people: you can’t throw the kettle away, get someone to repair it. Now, we seem to sometimes treat people like objects – we don’t want it, it’s a nuisance, so get rid of it.

I could go on about this, but I’ll stop. The important thing to remember in all of this is that we are all children of God. And that changes everything.

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