Fr Michael's Homilies

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

Easter Homily

posted 5 Apr 2021, 03:03 by Parish Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Friday

posted 5 Apr 2021, 02:59 by Parish Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maundy Thursday

posted 5 Apr 2021, 02:52 by Parish Office

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

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

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

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

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

20th / 21st March 2021

posted 22 Mar 2021, 02:13 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B (20 & 21/3/21)

This Sunday we move into the last part of Lent, also known as Passiontide. The focus moves much more now towards the Cross. In this church, the statues and crosses have been covered up, making the church more plain in appearance, as we move deeper into the depths of Lent, depriving ourselves even of the legitimate delight of the beauty of the church. It is then only on Good Friday that a veiled cross is solemnly unveiled, as we adore Christ on the Cross.

So our Gospel today points towards suffering and the Cross as well: “unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest”. No pain, no gain. Just think for a moment if Christ had managed to avoid the Cross. He might have had more time to convince people that He was the Christ (and also made a few more enemies). But the whole purpose of Him becoming man was so that He would suffer and die for our sins. Without the Cross and Resurrection, His life and mission would have been incomplete. And the same is true for us. “If a man serves me, he must follow me, wherever I am, my servant will be there too.” We have to be there, not only at the rejoicing of the Resurrection, but also at the Cross as well. It’s difficult. Ask the Apostles and they will tell you – only one of them was there; the others had fled to save their own skins. If we remain at the Cross with our Master, there is reward: “If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him”. That’s better than having a bad conscience for having compromised with the world.

“Now sentence is being passed on this world;

now the prince of this world is to be overthrown.”

Who is the “prince of this world”? If God made the world and God is King, then who is this “prince”? Clearly it’s not Christ, because it’s Christ who is speaking and referring to “the prince of this world”. The prince of this world is Satan. He is the imposter. He is the usurper. We hear in Genesis how God created the world, but then Satan entered and deceived the human race. Adam and Eve were created for paradise, but they ended up having to leave paradise. It’s a bit like in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Narnia doesn’t belong to the Witch, but Narnia is under her spell. It’s when Aslan arrives that her magic begins to fade, and ultimately she is overthrown. Jesus is King of the universe, but Satan has usurped. (If you don’t know what usurped means, it doesn’t mean the same as slurped. Slurping is when you make a loud sucking noise when you eat your soup. Usurp means that you take power, or property, or the throne, when it doesn’t belong to you and you have no right to it.) God has created the universe, but Satan has come along as an architect, taking what was already there and re-

arranging it according to his own plan. So the Cross is now God’s rescue plan, to get things back to where they should be. We can’t undo the past, but we can move forward. Christ is going to reign from the wood of the Cross; from the Cross will flow the power of the sacraments, restoring supernatural life to souls. John chapter 1:

“But to all who did accept him

he gave power to become children of God …

Indeed, from his fulness we have, all of us, received –

yes, grace in return for grace,

since, though the Law was given through Moses,

grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ” (vs 12 & 16-17).

This is prefigured in the first reading, where it speaks about God making a new covenant with His People. But the new covenant is going to involve not only Jews, but also Gentiles. The Gospel today began with some Greeks, who were Gentiles, i.e. non-Jews, who approached Philip and asked to see Jesus. This would remind many a Jewish reader of Zechariah 8:23, a prediction of the messianic times: ‘In those days, ten men of nations of every language will take a Jew by the sleeve and say, “We want to go with you, since we have learnt that God is with you”.’ Jesus says, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself”. “Lifted up” doesn’t mean His Ascension; it refers to Him being raised up on the Cross. But already, even now before His crucifixion, He is drawing the non-Jews to Himself as well. His mission is fruitful even now, but will be even more fruitful later on, through the Church.

What about the fruitfulness of the Church today? Maybe in two hundred years’ time, when secularism has burnt itself out, various inconvenient truths have been exposed about it and the mask has been pulled away, people might think back to the Church of today, and see this as another era of persecution. What great people they were, to remain faithful, to remain, like Our Lady and St John before the Cross, when all seemed to be in ruins. Some lived to see the dawn of the Resurrection, whilst others died still hoping for things to change. In the 20th century, communism rose and fell, by and large, but secularism, atheism and practical atheism took longer to defeat. Our task today is not necessarily to be fruitful, although we want that too; our task is to remain faithful, knowing that the grain of wheat has to die and be buried in the earth before it can yield a rich harvest. No sowing means no reaping; no cross for the Church means no resurrection.

As we move into Passiontide, then, we choose to suffer together with the Lord, because “wherever I am, my servant will be there too”.

6th/7th March 2021

posted 8 Mar 2021, 04:36 by Parish Office

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year B (6 & 7/3/21)

The Cleansing of the Temple: is it true to say that Our Lord lost His rag with them and kicked them all out? Jewish society in the first century AD was not England in the twenty-first century, and it’s probably true to say that they were maybe a bit more expressive of their emotions than we are, which would include anger. But if we limit it just to a display of anger then we miss a few important points. Our Lord was not just any ordinary human being, prone to fits of anger and losing self-control. If you’ve seen any of the Don Camillo films, He was not like the priest Don Camillo, who occasionally ends up in fisticuffs when he is taunted or mocked. So what was going on in the Temple?

“ ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ … ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ ” The Temple sacrifices prefigured the offering of Jesus, once and for all, on the Cross. Following the Crucifixion, there will be no need for any more Temple sacrifices. In a sense, driving out the money-changers, cattle, sheep and pigeons was prophetic of that fact that all of this was going to come to an end. These sacrifices will be brought to fulfilment, and when that is the case, then there is no need for any more sacrifices for sin.

Secondly, there was the great love of God the Son for God the Father, and the absolute insistence that the Temple should be treated with respect as a place of prayer and a place free from sin. The money-changers, cattle, sheep and pigeons were there for a reason: the Temple was a place where burnt offerings were made to God, and so the people, when they came to the Temple, had to have an offering to give to the priest to be burnt upon the altar. The Holy Land was under Roman occupation, and the Romans were pagans. So as part of the idea of the purity of the Temple, people were not allowed to spend Roman denarii or Greek drachmas, because they had the image of a pagan ruler on them. They had to change them first for Jewish money, shekels, and then use those to pay for an offering. Perhaps the exchange rate might have been low, and/or the cattle, sheep and pigeons sub-standard. People might have been tempted to grumble at the cost, and thought that if they had brought one of their own animals or birds, then that would have been a much better offering to make than this poor quality thing they have just sold me. That could have been happening and part of the reason for Our Lord’s anger.

God is a jealous God. That means that He won’t share the position of God with anyone or anything else. We can’t be members of multiple different religions, and we cannot serve both God and money. Looking back at the first reading today, the first commandment is that you shall have no other gods except me, and it then follows on with not making any pagan idols and worshipping those. Then, later on, it says, “You shall not steal”. Should the Temple of God be a place where people’s hearts are more set on money, rather than the worship of God? Should the worship of God be a relatively unimportant by-product of the desire to make money? Having a piety shop in a church isn’t a problem, but if the Parish Priest is more interested in people buying diaries rather than taking part in the Mass, then we have a problem.

Of course, the temptation of the love of money isn’t just a snare for parish priests. It can affect everyone, and sometimes it is a bit more subtle than you might suspect.

Some years ago, I read the testimony of Maggie Moulton, who had been drawn to practice something called Transcendental Meditation. It presents itself as one thing, when in fact it is quite something else. Some might think of it as being a secular distillation of eastern thought and practice, but in reality, it leaves you open to the world of evil spirits. In the ceremony where you are given a mantra to recite, Maggie was given a special phrase. She had been told that it was merely a sound, used only on the level of sound, not meaning. But years later, whilst reading classic Hindu literature, she found her mantra, along with others she had memorised to give to other people she had taught. The mantra translated as “To the goddess of wealth, I bow down”. A chilling revelation. Thankfully, she turned away from Transcendental Meditation and turned towards a full living out of the Catholic faith, but it left its after-effects, and like an addict, she described being constantly tempted to go back, and having to make an effort and decision of the will to follow Christ instead.

As we reflect on our lives this Lent and prepare to make a good confession, perhaps the question we can ponder this Sunday is: what are the “false gods” in my life, that I allow to have priority over the Lord? And what should I be doing instead?

27th / 28th Feb 2021

posted 1 Mar 2021, 07:01 by Parish Office

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year B (27 & 28/2/21)

Sometimes, something tragic happens to us that really puts us to the test. It could be a cancer diagnosis. It could be someone close to us suffers a serious car accident, like Tiger Woods recently. It might be that an exam result isn’t what we were hoping for, with future hopes dashed. It seems that God is laying a heavy cross on us. It can throw us into shock, disbelief, anger, numbness, and maybe we just don’t know what to think. Sometimes, the Lord asks difficult things of us, that turn our lives upside-down. So what went through Abraham’s mind? God put him to the test and said to him:

“Take your son … your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.” (Gen 22:2)

You can imagine the confusion, shock and sadness that Abraham might have felt. The way it’s put really builds up the emotion: it’s not that Abraham has hundreds of children. God reminds him: “your only child Isaac, whom you love” and to offer him as a burnt offering. What father, who loved his son, would not have his heart torn out by that sort of request? But Abraham obeys. Abraham may also have wondered, given that God has promised him that it is through Isaac that He will establish His covenant, how will that happen if Isaac is dead and never has any children. Still, Abraham trusts in God.

Just as a little aside, there’s also the question of child sacrifice. At the time of Abraham, it wasn’t unheard of, and so in one sense, Abraham may not have been so surprised about God requesting it. But the point of the passage is, that God does not want child sacrifice. It’s later in the Old Testament that God specifically tells the people not to practice it.

So Abraham goes through with God’s command, and at the last moment, God tells him to stop. He has passed the test with flying colours. Once again, notice the emotion in how God praises and rewards him:

“I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – [this is no ordinary promise – it has the backing of the Almighty] because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. … All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.” (Gen 22:16-18)

Yes, if we want to have God’s blessings, then we have to do God’s will. That’s our side of the deal. What about God’s side?

The ram, the male sheep sacrificed in place of Isaac, represents Christ, who died in our place for our sins. When Abraham was called to sacrifice Isaac, there were the themes of Abraham’s love for Isaac as his only son, and of his obedience towards God. With Christ, the themes are similar: Christ’s love for His Father and for the whole of humanity, and His obedience: to His Father, and to His mission. It was obedience to the truth, and the fact that He spoke truth to power, that led to His crucifixion. He wasn’t going to back down and compromise the truth. He couldn’t deny who He was and His relationship with His Father, and so the Jewish authorities wanted Him crucified. Christ meekly went to the Cross, like a lamb being led to slaughter.

So let’s tie this in with St Paul in the second reading: “With God on our side, who can be against us?” Abraham gives the example of total obedience to God, even when it costs so much; Christ goes through with it, and we are reconciled to God. We have so much to be thankful for. We are so richly blessed because of Christ. St Paul continues:

“Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give.” (Romans 8:32)

Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are more richly blessed than Abraham was. Our blessings go further. We know Christ. When He was transfigured on the mountain, Peter, James and John must have been awestruck and afraid as they saw Moses and Elijah, two heroes of the Jewish faith, appear there before them. But Christ is even more important than them – many times more; infinitely more important. We know Christ. We don’t just know about Him, we know Him. He is our Lord, our God, our Master and our brother. Through our baptism into the Catholic faith, we have a family relationship with Him – that is what being baptised and becoming an adopted son or daughter of God means.

We go through our trials, and sometimes, they are massive and life-changing trials. But God is with us through it all. Despite our sufferings, we are still, very greatly, blessed indeed.

13th / 14th February 2021

posted 15 Feb 2021, 05:31 by Parish Office

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

The power of God is amazing! He created the whole world, indeed the whole universe. Why does the universe exist, rather than there being nothing? Because God made it. And when we examine the natural world, when we explore more deeply the physics of the laws of the universe, it is truly amazing in its depth, detail and beauty. Our knowledge of the natural world is only a fraction of all that is there. We go on discovering more of it (and we also discover we have made a few mistakes along the way), and we are truly amazed by what we find.

So at the time of Christ, medical knowledge was rather limited. Leprosy was an incurable disease. They also didn’t have completely accurate diagnoses, so sometimes other diseases were classed as leprosy as well. But because leprosy was contagious and there was no cure, the only option was isolation. We heard in the first reading that a man with leprosy must live away from everyone else, and warn others that he had leprosy by having messy hair, torn clothing, and calling out “unclean” if anyone is near by. You can imagine how people must have despaired if they were diagnosed with leprosy.

God created the world, but man ruined it by sin, but God became one of us as Jesus to restore our world. So in the Gospel, Jesus does not drive the leper away. Neither does He cure him by standing a good two metres away and wearing a mask. Instead, “he stretched out his hand and touched him”. Rather than disease being passed from the leper to Christ, healing is transmitted from Christ to the leper. He is restored, not only to health, but also to human contact. He is fully reconciled to normal society. But then here comes the twist. Jesus tells him to say nothing to anyone about his healing, but what does he do? He can’t keep quiet. As a result, Christ then takes on the form of life of a leper because of the vast crowds looking for Him: He, “could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived”. He took on the leper’s way of life, in a sense. Perhaps Captain Mainwaring might have said to the former leper, “You stupid boy!” He made things difficult for Christ. But it was also a fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah (53:4): “And yet ours were the suffering he bore, ours the sorrow he carried”.

A more modern example: back in the nineteenth century, leprosy was still incurable, and in Hawaii, a leper colony was established on the Kalaupapa Peninsula. Fr Damien discerned a call to serve them.

The leper colony was something of a dumping ground for lepers. There was very little medical care there, and people lived in despair, turning to alcohol and immorality. There was no law and order.

One of the first things Fr Damien did was to build a chapel, where he took the lepers to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. This time, they weren’t healed of their leprosy, but instead they were healed within. When they had Christ, they didn’t need to take refuge in destructive behaviour.

The place was in disorder, but through Fr Damien, Christ brought order. Fr Damien brought people together to build houses and schools, and he personally looked after the sick and gave the dead an appropriate burial. Order and routine made the place liveable.

After being there for a while, a friend wrote him a letter and asked how he was able to stay so long among the lepers. Fr Damien’s reply was, “Without my daily holy hour in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament, I would not be able to have stayed here a single day”.

Christ is still among us today, and He works through His Church, which doesn’t just mean priests and religious sisters, but through you, too. But we need that food for the journey, and to be able to take refuge in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. We can’t just do it all off our own bat. Well, we can try, but the results won’t be the same. If we try ordinary means, we will get ordinary results. If we want the extraordinary, then we have to go for extraordinary means, and that means we must go to Christ. Or as the first option today for the Communion Antiphon says:

“They ate and had their fill, and what they craved the Lord gave them; they were not disappointed in what they craved.” May our craving be for Him, not for any other person or thing. Then we shall not be disappointed in what we craved.

Racial Justice Sunday (30 & 31/1/21)

posted 1 Feb 2021, 01:59 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Racial Justice Sunday (30 & 31/1/21) 
Demons and exorcism: we need to avoid two extremes here. The first is complete disbelief, thinking that it’s just all down to psychological disturbances, and the second is attributing everything bad to the activity of the devil. 
So firstly, what is the origin of the devil and his fellow demons? We can piece various parts of scripture together to get something of a picture, and it goes a bit like this: before the creation of the world, God created the angels. But before they were to enjoy the bliss of heaven, like us, they had to undergo a trial. Some chose to obey God, whilst Lucifer and those who followed him chose to rebel against God. They refused to serve God, and so the archangel Michael and all the angels that had chosen to serve God cast Lucifer and his fallen angels to hell. The devil has had his wish (and is now known as Satan), but he lives in a rather miserable kingdom. A place of domestic violence might be a bit of an understatement. But now, in their envy of human beings, they want to stop us getting to heaven and send us to join them in hell as well. 
The good news is that God is in control. I think it was St Augustine who said that if God didn’t limit the devil’s power, the devil would have killed us all by now. But as human beings, we do have free choice, and through sin, especially serious sin, and also of course getting involved with Ouija boards, seances, the occult etc., we can open the door to the devil and open up spaces for him to work in our lives. We all suffer from temptation, but there are also other degrees of influence the demons can exert, leading up to full-blown possession, which is quite rare. There is always a way back. It’s through repentance and return to Christ. In the Gospel today, He shows Himself as having power over the demons. I may have said before that there have been two occasions in my life when I have witnessed something similar to the exorcisms in the Gospels, and both involved people being blessed by the Blessed Sacrament. On the second occasion, someone started shouting and shrieking in a way that, when you hear it, you can tell it’s not a normal kind of shouting. You can imagine in Capernaum when this happened that the people in the synagogue were rather afraid, and then relieved and amazed when Christ liberated the person from the unclean spirit. Today, those who are appointed by the bishop as exorcists in the Church have the same authority. Little priests like me can only do minor exorcisms – a major exorcism, if you like, taps into the prayer power of the entire Church to zap the demon or demons. 
The evil spirits are evil, and they have perverted their nature. Rather than being angels of light who worship God, they live in servitude to Satan. They are evil, and like criminals, they work in all sorts of devious ways to obstruct the reign of Christ through His Church. In the Gospel today, the unclean spirit is actually threatening Christ. One of the underlying themes of St Mark’s Gospel is what is sometimes known as the “messianic secret”. This basically means that Christ knows that once people know who He is, it will be regarded as blasphemy and, as we know, the punishment for blasphemy in the Jewish Law is death. So it is only gradually that Christ reveals who He is. The demon in the Gospel is trying to threaten Christ’s ministry: “I know who you are: the Holy One of God”. There’s also another dimension to this too. In some of the exorcisms that Jesus performs, He asks them for their name, because that gives power over them. To this day, in an exorcism, the exorcist wears the demon down and tortures it with the prayers of exorcism until it reveals its name, and then it can be cast out. In the case of a human exorcist, the exorcist would normally go to confession first before beginning an exorcism, as a form of defence in the spiritual warfare that an exorcism involves. With Christ, of course, He has no sin, and He is God – He is the Supreme Exorcist. The demons don’t stand a chance. 
So spiritual warfare involves serving the Lord with an undivided heart. The same thing is emphasised in the first and second readings today. In the first reading, Moses directs the people to follow all that the Lord has commanded, including all the valid prophets; those that speak in the name of other so-called “gods” are to be ignored. An important moral for us would be to avoid listening to New Age philosophies, occultic knowledge or any similar things, as well as also dodgy forms of psychology – follow the Church instead. In the second reading, St Paul explains the benefits of celibacy in serving the Lord with an undivided heart. Obviously not everyone can be celibate, otherwise the human race would die out; the important point for us all though is to serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Spiritual warfare concerns all of us. We are all exposed to temptation, even though it’s not usually quite as dramatic as what happened at Capernaum. 
So yes, the devil is real, but so also is God, and God is much more powerful. Follow God then, and the devil will have no power over you.

23/24th January 2021

posted 25 Jan 2021, 03:48 by Parish Office

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Sunday of the Word of God & Octave of Christian Unity (23 & 24/1/21) 
Today is Sunday of the Word of God, and so it’s my job today to encourage you to read the Bible. If you switch off and don’t remember anything else, please remember these two points: firstly, the Bible is a Catholic book, not a Protestant one, and secondly, you should all be reading it. Okay then – on with the show. 
The Bible is in two halves: the Old Testament, which prepares the way for Christ, and the New Testament, which tells us all about Christ. So the Old Testament was written in the years BC, and the New Testament, the years AD. If you look at the contents page, you will see that the Bible is actually a collection of books, and the contents page might have them grouped into different sections: major and minor prophets, Gospels, letters of St Paul etc. 
The Bible didn’t fall from the sky in its current form. The Catholic Church decided, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which books went into the Bible, and which ones were left out. So when the Protestant Reformation took place and the Protestants rejected the authority of the Catholic Church, one of the things that goes with it is they took a different view as to what should go into the Bible – so a Protestant Bible has only 39 books in the Old Testament, whilst a Catholic one has 46, plus a few other extra chapters in some of the other books as well. So when your Protestant friend asks you, “Where is Purgatory in the Bible?” and you say, “There’s a hint of it in 2 Maccabees ch 12”, when he hands you his Bible, you can’t find 2 Maccabees, because the Protestants took it out. To be fair, some Protestant Bibles do have the extra books, listed either as “Apocrypha” or “Deuterocanonical Books”; what’s more, the Orthodox have a few extra bits in their Bible that we don’t have, so it all depends on which authority has the authority to decide what goes into the Bible. 
Okay, so a Catholic Bible is a Catholic book, and some of them even have some sort of official Catholic authorisation in the front of them. But if your book at home is a Protestant one, then you can still read it. I did when I was younger, and look what happened to me. But obviously, not all the books have the same status. Just think about how we celebrate the Mass: we sit for the first reading, psalm and second reading, but we stand for the Gospel, the most important part of the Bible. And besides, there are some parts that are perhaps of lesser interest, such as long genealogies where so-and-so begat so-and-so, who begat so-and-so and so on. There are important lessons to glean from these sections, but it’s more specialised knowledge.
One way of reading the Bible is through curiosity. Today we have the first reading from the prophet Jonah. It’s an extract from the book of Jonah. So it doesn’t tell you that this calling of Jonah is God giving him a second chance, after he messed up big time the first time round. It also doesn’t tell you how Jonah gets into a bit of a mood afterwards, and God has to make him be a bit less selfish and think about others a bit more. The book of Jonah is only four chapters, so you could read it before going to bed. And unlike some novels you can buy, the book of Jonah speaks about God. It’s also a bit funny and farcical at times. One of the things about some of the characters in the Old Testament is that they are characters. They aren’t perfect; some are scared, some are naughty, Esau gives away his birthright so he can have something to eat, and Jacob colludes with his mother to trick his father into giving him the blessing the Esau should have had. The characters in the Old Testament are not Christ – they are not perfect. A quick word about the Gospel, and then I’ll finish. We hear today about the calling of Simon, Andrew, James and John. Each Gospel writer has his own style, and the Gospels themselves are a summary of what happened – they don’t give you a full script of what everyone said, or what everyone had for breakfast, and they only occasionally tell you what the weather was like. St Mark’s Gospel in particular is concerned with keeping things short – a bit like this homily. It’s the shortest of all the Gospels, if that inspires you to try reading it first before you try St Matthew’s version. So when Jesus calls them and they respond, the chances are that they had met, seen, or at least heard about Jesus beforehand. You wouldn’t follow any old person who said to you, “Follow me”. But imagine: they see Jesus walking towards them, and they say to each other: “Look, that’s Jesus of Nazareth”. They’ve already got such an admiration for Him. Then He looks at them and says, “Follow me”, and they don’t say, “Let me think about it”. This is Jesus who is calling, the chance of a lifetime. He calls, and you go. Sometimes it can be useful to have some sort of commentary when reading the Bible, but be careful which ones you read. Some are written by people who don’t believe in God, so the explanation they give is worthless.
So I said at the beginning that there are two things I want you to remember (can you remember them?): the first is that the Bible is a Catholic book and the second is that you should read it. So guess what your homework is? Maybe homework is the wrong word. Out of curiosity, take a look at some of the more intriguing books of the Bible – there’s something there for every taste.

16/17 January 2020

posted 18 Jan 2021, 07:06 by Parish Office

Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (16 & 17/1/21)

How do we renew the Church?  How do we bring new life into things, fill up the pews again and make growing Mass attendance a “new normal”?  Slow decline should not be something we just shrug our shoulders about and accept.  The readings today give us a few pointers.

Let’s start with the first reading and the boy Samuel.  Samuel was a young boy when the Lord first called him, but he didn’t know how to respond, or even how to recognise, the Lord.  It required Eli to show him the first steps.  Faith has to begin in our families, when children are at their youngest years.  “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”  I would suggest in this modern age that we find useful resources on the internet to help young children to get to know about and to love God, including videos, songs, computer games etc.  But of course, nothing replaces the example in the home.  It’s sometimes said, “The family that prays together, stays together”.  Prayer can begin by something as basic as saying grace before and after meals, but it can also then develop into prayer time during the day as well.  Once again, there are resources available – children’s prayer books, websites etc. that can help.  For some of you, it may be that you have grandchildren whose parents don’t practice the faith.  But you still have a relationship with them and are in a position to influence them, and I’ve seen families where it seems that the Faith has skipped a generation, and the new generation has been happy to come to Mass and has even persevered into adulthood.

The second reading:  St Paul warns against fornication and speaks about appropriate treatment of the body.  Teenage years.  How many have left the practice of their faith because of the distractions of lust!  Lust is one of the seven deadly sins, so-called because the deadly sins gradually lead people away from God.  And then misery results.  People may appear happy on the outside, but what is going on deep inside?  How many marriages have failed because they actually married the wrong person, because they were biassed in favour of each other because of fornication?  Otherwise they might have split up earlier on, and married someone else.  It’s not the only reason these things happen, but it’s a reason that society seems to not notice.  It’s so important to educate teenagers in purity.  It’s not easy in these times, but it’s so important.  Purity has never been easy, but it’s worth it.  St Paul writes that we are not our own property – we have been bought and paid for.  It’s an expression that links in with images of slavery.  Imagine the slaves standing there in the marketplace.  Someone comes along and buys them, not to work as slaves, but to set them free.  That is what Christ has done.  He has suffered and died for us on the Cross, and paid the price of our redemption.  We are no longer to be slaves of sin, but set free to follow God and to find our true fulfilment in Him.  That is why we should use our body for the glory of God.  If we fail in the area of chastity, God is always willing to welcome us back in the sacrament of confession.  It can be a real turning point in someone’s life.  The grace of God is experienced; we know that God is real; we know that our faith is very relevant to our life.  And we can go on then to live lives of gratitude towards almighty God.

The Gospel reading:  the calling of three of the Twelve Apsotles, the first Pope and bishops.  Brought up and educated in the faith, and saved from sin in our teenage years, it frees us to respond to God’s call as adults, whatever that call may be.  People talk of a crisis of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but what about the crisis of vocations to marriage?  It used to be a regular thing, even in smaller parishes, to have weddings, or maybe even a few weddings, most Saturdays.  But now the churches are largely quiet.  We can turn things around, it just requires time, patience and perseverance.  Whatever our calling in life, God gives us the graces necessary to be able to follow Him – we just have to step out in faith.

So how do we renew the Church?  Part of it begins with family life, rooted in both knowing and loving God.  I’ve not mentioned it, but we could also add, devotion to Our Lady, and we could add even further, as she requested at Fatima, the Rosary and consecration to her Immaculate Heart, the vaccination needed for these troubled times.  With God there is always hope.  Or as Padre Pio put it, “Pray, hope and don’t worry”.  

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