Fr Michael's Homilies

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

19th / 20th October 2019

posted 23 Oct 2019, 05:33 by Parish Office

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

– World Mission Sunday (19 & 20/10/19)

 

Today we celebrate World Mission Sunday.  But what can we do to support the mission of the Church?  Maybe someone here might be called to be a missionary and spread the Gospel in far distant lands.  For the rest of us, we can help by giving to the second collection today.  But more importantly, we can also pray.

 

One of the difficulties we can find in prayer is the lack of results.  If you conduct a scientific experiment, by the end of the experiment you will have a set of results that you can analyse and draw conclusions from.  Praying for the mission of the Church doesn’t work in quite the same way.  You can’t get a computer printout saying exactly how your individual prayers have helped convert some people and keep others from going elsewhere.  And so, when you pray, but aren’t aware of any definite results, the temptation can be to give up, or at least to slacken off a little.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Our Lord reminds us of the importance of perseverance in prayer.  Obviously God isn’t like the unjust judge, whom the widow was constantly begging to do his job properly.  The parable was an illustration of the fact that we, too, need to persevere in prayer, rather than just making our request once and leaving it at that.  Imagine someone who thought:  right.  It’s World Mission Sunday.  I’ll say a prayer.  “Lord, convert the whole world.  Amen.”  Job done.  Is it really enough just to say one very quick prayer, and then think you never have to pray again for that intention for the rest of your life?  When World Mission Sunday comes around next year, can you just say to yourself:  I don’t need to pray for the missions today; I did that last year?  No.  Persevere in your prayer.  Bring your intentions to God each day.  And don’t forget to thank Him for the prayers that have been answered.

 

Clearly, perseverance in prayer can be difficult at times, and our Gospel today ended in quite a worrying way:  “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?”  Will faith in Christ perhaps be like a kettle, that was boiled back in the first century, but by the time Our Lord returns, will have been allowed to go cold?

 

In the Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse, the last book of the New Testament, it looks towards a future age.  In chapter 3, John is asked to write to the Church in Laodicea, which has cooled off somewhat in its devotion to Christ.  This is what he is commanded to write:  “I know your works:  you are neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.  For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.”  It’s sometime said that in Europe, things have moved on from the days of firm convictions, whether Christian or Atheist, being hot or cold towards the Lord.  Instead, people now don’t really care and don’t give it much thought.  Maybe God exists, maybe he doesn’t – who cares?  What difference would it make to my life?  They have become lukewarm.  And that lukewarmness can then begin to affect the Church.  Does it really matter if people become Catholics or not, just as long as they are nice people?  Well actually, it does, and that’s the reason the Church has World Mission Sunday.  If we lose our moral compass, then as long as people appear to be “nice”, they can convince us to do anything.

 

Sometimes, we need reminding that we are taking place in a great spiritual battle.  Not just our own journey through life, but that there is a great cosmic battle taking place between heaven and hell, between the angels and the demons over the salvation or damnation of souls.  The true enemies of the human race are not any particular human beings, or people belonging to certain categories:  it’s the evil spirits that are our true enemies, and they have launched an all-out assault against the followers of the Lord.  Thankfully we have the angels to defend us, with St Michael the Archangel as the leader in the battle.  But once again, we can’t just leave the angels to fight it alone.  We also need to pray.  In the first reading, when Moses’ arms were raised in prayer, the battle went well for the Israelites, but when they fell, the Amalekites were in the ascendancy.  Moses’ arms needed supporting.  In the battle for souls, it can’t just be left up to the Parish Priest!  It requires the whole parish to support the prayer effort.  If things in the Church begin to fail, is that not an indication that we have become lukewarm with regard to prayer?  There’s still some prayer going on, but it’s not enough to fight the present battle.

 

So, prayer warriors, today we celebrate Mission Sunday.  What are we going to do?  I say:  let us pray!

12th / 13th October 2019

posted 18 Oct 2019, 06:23 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Prisons Week (12 & 13/10/19)

 

Who are the outcasts in today’s society?  At the time of Christ, lepers were kept out of cities and lived on the margins.  Perhaps today, one category of people that we could include would be prisoners.  One of the purposes of prisons is to safeguard the public from those who are deemed to be a danger to society.  It has been said that of all the Pastoral Letters Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville ever wrote in his seventeen years as Archbishop of Birmingham, the one that drew most complaints was when he suggested that people should forgive prisoners.  Let’s put things another way:  if you had spent time in prison, after release, would you be happy to tell a group of strangers at a party, “oh, for the last five years I’ve been in prison”?

 

As a priest, I have visited places that many of you will never get to see in your lifetime.  Not only have I visited mental health hospitals, but also prisons.  In my first parish, we used to celebrate two Masses on Saturday in the main prison and one Mass on a Thursday in the open prison.  Some of the men who used to come to Mass wouldn’t be your normal Mass-goers, but it gave them a chance to get out of their cells for a while, although obviously under supervision.  And that can then be a chance for them to hear the Gospel.  Even if someone doesn’t receive Holy Communion, just by attending Mass, you can receive many graces from the Lord.  One prisoner said to me that coming to Mass really gave peace and light to his week.  After prisoners are released, maybe not all of them continue with Sunday Mass, just like only one of the ten lepers thanked Christ for his healing.  But a seed has been sown that could grow later on.

 

When Naaman the Syrian sought out the prophet Elisha to be healed of his leprosy, he got more than he bargained for.  Not only was he healed, but he was given faith in God, and the resolution to give up worshipping any other so-called gods.  His healing was both physical and spiritual.

 

For some people who go to prison, they get more than they bargained for as well.  Whilst there are the bad cases, some get to know God and turn their lives around.

 

It can be tempting to write people off.  But in prison, we don’t know how God’s grace will work

5th / 6th October 2019

posted 7 Oct 2019, 02:37 by Parish Office

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

(5 & 6/10/19)

 

What does God want me to do with my life?  Now there’s a question.  Whether we are five years old, or eighty-five years old, it’s a question that never goes away.  Is God calling me to remain single, to get married, to join a religious order or to become a priest or a deacon?  What does God want me to do today?  Should I apply for that job?  Do I really have to offer to help that person who really irritates and annoys me, and is always so ungrateful?  Should I be spending more time in prayer?  There are all sorts of questions we can ask ourselves from day to day.  Maybe we might think it would be better if we could just plug ourselves into a computer, and it could show us how we are doing:  look – this week, I’ve achieved 89% on prayer, 74% on helping others, but only 32% on controlling my temper.  Click.  “Hint for the day:  try getting up half an hour earlier on Saturdays, so you can get a few more jobs done in the morning, before everyone else gets up and starts making demands on you.”

 

Our lives don’t work that way.  But in some ways, what God has given us is very technologically advanced.  All our prayers are wireless, and we get reception whether we are about the house, or even in a submarine or on the moon.  The computer never crashes.  But sometimes the operator doesn’t want to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

 

It can happen in obvious ways.  Maybe it just seems like too much hard work to help this person out again, and it’s easier just to get annoyed and say “go away” instead.  But it can also happen by a slow slide instead.  In the second reading, St Paul reminds Timothy, who was a bishop (they called them elders back then):  after I laid hands on you, you were filled with the Holy Spirit.  Don’t let those gifts you received remain unused.  Don’t let timidity and fearfulness dominate you and keep you quiet when you should speak out.  Speak with the Spirit, with power, with love, with self-control.  How difficult is that – to keep all those three together:  power, love and self-control?  How many times do we speak out, but without love, and hurt others?  How many times do we try to be loving, but end up watering down the truth, so that it isn’t really proper love, and maybe even encourages others to persevere in bad habits?  How many times to we lose self-control, and anger goes just too far?  And how many time do we not do any of these, but remain quiet, because we don’t know what to say and are afraid that if we speak out, we’ll make a mess of it?  We can probably all put up our hands and admit to these.  For those of us who have been confirmed, the words of St Paul apply to us:  “fan into a flame the gift that God gave you … the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control”.  How we need the Holy Spirit!  And how we need to listen when He prompts us as well.

 

For some people, the Spirit leads them to a certain dissatisfaction with the way the world is today.  It’s a bit like the first reading, where the prophet Habakkuk asks the Lord why there is so much tyranny, outrage, violence and discord around him.  And that dissatisfaction, if it’s not to be empty dissatisfaction, can be joined to a desire to do something about it.  At the end of the reading, the Lord reveals to Habakkuk the suffering of the wicked:  “See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights, but the upright man will live by his faithfulness”.  How wonderful it is to have a clear conscience, and how difficult it can be sleeping at night when you don’t!

 

It’s sometimes said that prevention is better than cure.  A teacher once told me that he went into teaching because he used to be a police officer, and he wanted to influence children when they are young, to stop them ending up turning to crime.  Maybe some might discern that teaching is their vocation.  For others, it might be being a parent, bringing up their children to follow the Lord.  For some, they might feel called to youth work, to provide a good role model, especially for those that don’t have good role models at home.  For some, it might be to dedicate their lives as religious, and to offer their lives catechising, teaching the faith.  If someone has good and solid faith and morals, all the rest begins to take care of itself.  Or it might be a calling to the priesthood.  “See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights, but the upright man will live by his faithfulness.”  The sacrament of confession restores virtue, gives people a second chance, helps them make something good of their lives, rather than throwing them on the scrapheap of prison and a life of crime.  What is God calling you to do?

 

A Prayer of St Ignatius

 

God our Father, You have a plan for each one of us, You hold out to us a future full of hope.

Give us the wisdom of your Spirit so that we can see the shape of your plan in the gifts you have given us, and in the circumstances of our daily lives.

Give us the freedom of your Spirit, to seek you with all our hearts, and to choose Your Will above all else.

We make this prayer through Christ our Lord.

28th / 29th September 2019

posted 30 Sep 2019, 03:05 by Parish Office

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

(28 & 29/9/19)

 

How do you define someone who is rich?  Someone who is now a deacon, who lives in one of the richer parishes in the diocese, once said to me that in his parish, ministry to the poor is to those families with only two cars on their drive.  Conversely, someone living on the streets of Calcutta could say that someone in this country living on benefits is a rich man – he has his own house to live in, running water, heating, food, free healthcare – what more could you want?  There are extremes when it comes to riches and poverty, yes, but the dangers Christ warns us about today are dangers for us all.

 

In the first reading, we hear:

“Woe to those ensconced so snugly in Zion

and to those who feel so safe on the mountain of Samaria …

they dine on lambs from the flock,

and stall-fattened veal.”

I think we all, to an extent, dream of a life of luxury.  Perhaps we already enjoy it, to an extent.  I was told of a priest from Africa who was visiting this country, and the Parish Priest took him to a supermarket.  On seeing all of the fruit piled up, he burst into tears.  We have so much, and they have so little!  Are we not more like the rich man in the parable, rather than Lazarus?

 

Part of the problem with the rich man wasn’t that he lived a luxurious life.  The main issue was that he was so busy enjoying himself and locked up in that lifestyle that poor Lazarus went without.

 

Like the rich man, we can find we have also locked ourselves up in our riches.  They’re mine, and I’ll do with them what I like.  This is where some might begin to accuse the Church of being semi-communist.  What we own is not absolutely ours.  We have a duty and responsibility towards others, what is sometimes called human solidarity.  And it’s not just an idea that the Church borrowed from the communists and watered down a bit.  This teaching pre-dates communism.  St John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, who lived in the 4th century, said, “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life.  The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs”[1].  Pope St Gregory the Great, who was Pope in the 6th century, said, “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours.  More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”[2]  As I mentioned last week, we do believe in the right to private property, but it’s not an absolute right.  The whole world belongs to everyone, and everything on it.  The poor do have a right to demand our assistance.  And we must also remember that it is at the final judgement when those who have helped the poor will be on Christ’s right hand, whilst those who neglected to help them will be on his left.

 

There is, of course, a need for some balance with all of this, though.  Just imagine if you won seven million on the lottery, and you decided to give it all away to charities, without spending a single penny on yourself, or anyone else for that matter.  You could have just sent off the last cheque, or made the final donation on-line, and then arrives through your letterbox an advert for another charity.  Crumbs.  I had all that money, and I’ve not given them a single bit of it.  Am I now going to find myself on Christ’s left hand, because I didn’t give anything to help build wells in remote parts of Africa?  Well obviously not.  There’s only so much you can do, and that means that you can’t help every charity, just the same as when a charity asks for money and you support them, you give them something, but you don’t give them the entire contents of your bank balance, and all your savings.

 

We can, though, at times, lose our focus a bit.  Back in the 1830s in Paris, there was a group of committed Catholics who were defending the Church against accusations of always helping the rich and powerful.  At one point, someone said to them that they say all these things, but what are they actually doing to help the poor?  They realised that they had a point, and from that began the Society of St Vincent de Paul.  We can turn this around to ourselves:  each time we pray the Our Father, we say, “Give us this day our daily bread”.  We don’t say, “Give us this day my daily bread”, but rather “our daily bread”.  We are praying for everyone, not just ourselves.  But if we don’t share our bread with the poor, are we not frustrating what we have just prayed for, and are we not frustrating the will of God?  Yes, I know there is the saying, “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for life.”  There is the role of work and business in all of this as well.  But if you’re homeless and on the streets, if someone tells you, “I’ll set up a company to make a few more jobs”, you need feeding now, not in a few months’ time.

 

The rich man and Lazarus:  how much do we notice those in need, and how much do we do to help them?



[1] [Hom. in Lazarum 2, 5:  PG 48, 992, quoted in CCC 2446]

[2]  [Regula Pastoralis 3, 21:  PL 77,87, quoted in CCC 2446]

21st/22nd September 2019

posted 23 Sep 2019, 04:26 by Parish Office

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

(21 & 22/9/19)

 

Appropriate use of money:  money is supposed to be a tool, rather than an end in itself.  It’s a practical resource.  It’s not supposed to take the place of God.  But money does enable things to happen, and lack of it means things can’t happen.  The world is unstable – one moment boom, the next moment bust.  We don’t know how much our money will be worth in ten years’ time.  So what do we do?  Spend it all now, or cut back even on bare necessities so that we might have something left in ten years’ time?  The Christian approach is always one of appropriate balance, and trust in the providence of God.  There are things in life that are more important than money.

 

We read in Genesis that God gave the whole world to the whole of humanity.  If everything belongs to everyone in the earth, then why have we divided it up, and now some have more than they need, whilst others have practically nothing?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a bit of enlightenment here (paras 2402-2407).  You’ll be relieved to know that, as Catholics, we do believe in the right to private property, because it helps to guarantee safety and security by having your own patch of land, and a place to call home.  There is, of course, the saying that good fences make for good neighbours.  In some ways, Christ lived something of a homeless existence, going from place to place, relying on people’s generosity in finding somewhere to stay for the night.  Perhaps on occasions He and the disciples did have to sleep in fields, or by the side of the road.  But He never said that that is how all of His followers were supposed to live.

 

So we’ve got a few things to take into consideration here:  firstly, the human race has been given the earth by God to look after; secondly, we are allowed to call certain property our own and have a place to call home; and thirdly, we have the issue of the poor and how to care for them.  How do we put these together?

 

The right to private property does not absolve us from care for our fellow human beings.  In Old Testament times, there was no benefit system as we have it today.  But if you look carefully, there are various points where a form of social security was built into the Old Testament, and to have this understanding enlightens our understanding of the New Testament.  So, one of the things that is stipulated is that when you reach harvest-time, yes, you can harvest your crops, but don’t go back a second time to collect all the grapes or corn etc. that you missed.  Leave that for the poor, the orphan, the widow and the traveller.  That’s why, when one on occasion, Christ and His disciples are walking through the cornfields, they start helping themselves to the ears of corn.  It wasn’t stealing.  The Law of Moses said that some of your crops had to be available for those in need.  We can see the same thing is true with our money and possessions today.  I’m not saying that we should leave money and our other items outside for people to help themselves, but part of “love thy neighbour” includes giving to those in need.  Charity begins at home, but that’s where it begins, not where it ends.  The bank of mom and dad needs to be kept afloat in order to provide the occasional loan to the children, but it can also make the occasional transfer to those in need as well.

 

So we’ve got the fact that the whole earth has been given to everyone in the human race, the right to private property and the need to help the poor.  But there’s also another important issue that runs through today’s Gospel and first reading, and that’s the matter of honesty.  Dishonesty and corruption are responsible for so much misery in the world, particularly in certain countries where the use of a bribe is necessary to get anything done.  But, as we know, this country isn’t perfect either.  People lending things and never returning them; the paying of unjust wages, perhaps with complicated systems so that you can’t really work out what is going on; people being ripped off; shoddy workmanship; tax evasion; forgery of cheques and invoices; excessive expenses and waste; promises broken and contracts wiggled out of.  These are times when people value money more highly than their trust in God; they would rather dent their moral character as long as they get a bit more money out of it.  “The man who can be trusted in little things will be trusted in great; the man who is dishonest in little things will be dishonest in great.”  How to redeem things?  We are not obliged to give to crooks, or line the pockets of the dishonest.  We are allowed to defend ourselves against such things, and to give good example in living honestly and fairly, especially when it means that we lose out financially.  Some things are more important than money.  Money isn’t supposed to take the place of God.  On the reverse of dollar notes it says “In God we trust”.  That needs to be the true God, not the false god of money.

14th/15th September 2019

posted 23 Sep 2019, 04:23 by Parish Office   [ updated 23 Sep 2019, 04:24 ]

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Home Mission Sunday (14 & 15/9/19)

 

So here it is – Home Mission Sunday.  Maybe it’s a bit of an awkward topic.  We know we should evangelise – did not Christ say go and teach all nations?  But we don’t always know where to start, and perhaps we’ve had a few occasions where it didn’t go well, or didn’t seem to work, so we felt a bit discouraged.  Maybe it even feels like flogging a dead horse.  Let me tell you, it’s not really that bad.  Each year, across the country, there are new people deciding to become Catholics.  In which case, shall we just say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Let’s leave the subject for now then, finish the homily, and get on with the rest of the Mass”?  No.  I’m not doing that!  As always, we turn to the Word of God for leadership and direction, and here’s what we find in today’s readings.

 

I was struck on Thursday by the opening line to today’s Gospel:  “The tax collectors and sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say”.  We need to turn things around so that today’s “tax collectors and sinners” are all flocking to the Church to seek the company of the Lord.  But how do we do that?

 

Part of the trouble with our current ways of doing things is that we assume that people already have a living faith on which we build.  So when we prepare people for their child to be baptised, or give First Holy Communion or Confirmation preparation, these programmes “work” if the children and parents are already regular Mass-goers.  But if they aren’t, then, we all know what happens next.  Fr James Mallon, who has written the book Divine Renovation, which is about how he has turned various parishes around, has used Alpha as part of the remedy for this.  Firstly though, what is Alpha?

 

Firstly, Alpha isn’t RCIA.  It’s not a course for those who want to become Catholics.  For one thing, the idea is that you come along, have a meal together and then take part in one of the sessions, and there’s no commitment as to whether you come back next week for part two.  So it’s geared to be non-threatening and for those who are exploring the idea of faith and the meaning of life, rather than for those who have already decided that they want to be Catholics.  So what Fr James Mallon has done with it is that he has used it together with sacramental preparation to help people to get to know Jesus and want to follow Him.  Once that happens, then you’re not fighting an uphill battle.  Whilst it hasn’t magically transformed everything in his parish, it has helped to begin to change the culture of just going through the routines and getting the baby “done”.  More people in his parish have become actively engaged parishioners, and it’s then when things begin to get more exciting.  It’s no longer just a turn-up-and-then-go-home parish.  People want to get involved and have an impact.  And it’s a parish that visitors comment on and want to come back to for more.

 

Another initiative is Nightfever.  This has been run in various parishes in this diocese, including in Worcester, and Solihull and Stourbridge in Birmingham.  One evening the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, often with just candlelight to create the right atmosphere, quiet music is played, and people go out in twos, armed with votive candles, to invite passers-by to come in and light a candle and say a prayer.  The idea is not to engage people in a debate like the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses; instead the idea is just simply to invite people to experience God in the church and to have an experience of prayer.  Then there are others in the church who stay there praying for the people outside, a few people to welcome the people that arrive, and a priest available to hear confessions or just be available for a chat for those that want it.  What sometimes surprises people is that it actually works – and some people go to confession after many years as well.  Here in Hanley we’re not in the middle of town, but when the funfayre gets going throughout the winter, there’s a bit more passing traffic, and that could be a time to give it a try.

 

Now a third thing.  Conversion doesn’t happen in the same way for everyone.  For some it is more rapid, whilst for others it takes longer.  Blessed John Henry Newman didn’t become a Catholic until he was forty-four after a long intellectual search.  Meanwhile I was told of someone else who visited a Catholic church, and decided on that basis to become a Catholic.  For some the decision takes longer, for others, shorter.  For some, gradual conversion takes place in fits and starts.  Our parish should be a place where people feel welcome to join in and explore the idea of becoming a Catholic, and not pounced on for not knowing all the rules when they first turn up.  We’re not supposed to be a “members only” club, even though certain boundaries do need to be in place.

 

Lastly, the first reading.  The people abandoned God and turned to a false god, and Moses interceded for the people.  Praying for those who have abandoned the Catholic faith and for those who have never been Catholics is certainly part of being a priest, but it’s also something that everyone can do.  Pope Francis has declared this coming October to be an Extraordinary Month of Mission, and with mission, prayer has to come first.  At St Theresa’s, Trent Vale, Fr Michael Glover is celebrating a triduum of Masses leading up to the feast day of St Thérèse on 1st October, in which they will be praying that the parishes of the deanery become increasingly missionary.  If you don’t know where to start with evangelisation, then attending one of the Masses might be an easy way to begin.

 

So there are at least a few things we can do:  first pray, possibly attend one or more of the Masses at St Theresa’s, Trent Vale, and then get involved with Alpha and/or Nightfever, as well as working on how we can become and even more welcoming parish to newcomers.  We can’t turn everything around overnight, but, as the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  We can draw more people to the church to meet Christ, just as they did two thousand years ago.  But are we willing to take the risk?

7th / 8th September 2019

posted 9 Sep 2019, 02:16 by Parish Office

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

(7 & 8/9/19)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

20th / 21st July 2019

posted 23 Jul 2019, 01:54 by Parish Office

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

13th/14th July 2019

posted 19 Jul 2019, 06:13 by Parish Office

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

29th / 30th June 2019

posted 1 Jul 2019, 03:30 by Parish Office

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

 

“But you...who do you say I am?”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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