Fr Michael's Homilies

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

23/24 June 2018

posted 28 Jun 2018, 06:22 by Parish Office

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

(23 & 24/6/18)

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

June 17th

posted 19 Jun 2018, 01:59 by Parish Office

Homily for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (16 & 17/6/18)

 

On Wednesday, for my day off, I caught the train to York to see a few friends from my university days.  On the way, as we passed through one of the stations (it might have been Leeds, I’m not quite sure) there was a whole carpet of red-pink flowers along the side of the railway line.  It looked almost as if they had been deliberately planted there, but the expanse of flowers went on and on along the line and also filled an abandoned railway line, as well as the same green plants with the same red-pink flowers also growing out of the top of the wall by the nearby canal.  It seems they must have spread in the wild, and they were growing wherever they could find a small spot to grow.

 

Nature can be an amazing and beautiful thing, reflecting the glory of God.  Today we hear about the man who sows seed on the ground, which grows, but how, he does not know.  It just happens.  It reminded me of one of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortations, Evangelii Gaudium, “The Joy of the Gospel”, in which he describes evangelisation as a process of sowing seeds.  It seems the Pope is simply in awe of the action of God.  This is how he puts it (EG 22):

 

“God’s word is unpredictable in its power.  The Gospel speaks of a seed which, once sown, grows by itself, even as the farmer sleeps (Mk 4:26-29).  The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking”.

 

Those flowers I saw by the railway line were of the sort of quality as if they were not just wild flowers, but maybe the sort you would buy in a garden centre, and they had just spread everywhere they could find a spot of earth.  They were not just growing in the soil by the railway line, but also on the tops of walls and anywhere they could.  It’s a bit like the way the Gospel spreads – in ways both conventional and unconventional.

 

Last summer a group in the Catholic Church called “The Way” conducted a mission across the whole world, including this country.  After a Mass in London with Bishop John Sherrington, 150 men and women were sent out to the major cities of England and Wales, including Stoke-on-Trent.  They prepared with two days of prayer and confession, and then the pairs were assigned destinations by lot.  Like the Twelve, they were sent in radical simplicity, relying on the Lord for everything.  They went off by public transport, taking only a Bible, a breviary, a crucifix, a rosary and a return ticket.  No money or mobile phones were allowed.  They had to rely on the Lord for food and lodgings.  Sometimes they managed to find somewhere to stay for the night, but at other times they did not, so they slept in parks, under bridges or church porticoes.  What it did mean was that whilst they knocked on people’s doors and spoke to people in the street during the day, they then spoke to the homeless and drug addicts in the evenings, who showed openness to what they had to say.  This is what happened to one of the missionaries:

 

“A poor Irishman who had welcomed the announcement with joy organized a meeting with the poor, alcoholics and drug addicts.   They listened to the Kerygma [i.e. the basic Gospel message] and each one of them asked and received a word chosen at random from the Gospels.  They went on praying together and talking about their lives for a long time.”

 

There were other testimonies of encounters with people contemplating suicide who were transformed.  In one case, the two lay missionaries taught a woman who was thinking of committing suicide to pray the rosary.  Her atheist mother told them to continue doing whatever they were doing because her daughter was now smiling, and she hadn’t smiled for years!

 

What will be the fruits of this evangelising?  We don’t know.  It’s just like seed that is sown in the wind.  It could be, just like the flowers growing by the railway line, that the message spreads and spreads and spreads.  At St Joseph’s in Goldenhill, Fr Julian Green invited the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Renewal to conduct a parish retreat/mission.  The Franciscans have moved on now, but what will be the fruits of their hard work?  We leave it to the Lord.  It’s the same for us with our witnessing to our faith.  We can’t always calculate our impact on people.  Sometimes people can be resistant, whilst at other time they can appear resistant, but later on reflect and begin to change.  Experience shows us one thing, though.  The Gospel isn’t like eating marshmallows; for some, it is more like itching powder, that gets under their skin and irritates them until they do something about it.

 

10th June 2018

posted 12 Jun 2018, 06:35 by Parish Office   [ updated 19 Jun 2018, 01:55 ]

Homily for the Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (9 & 10/6/18)

 

Imagine you are living in first century Palestine.  You’ve heard people speaking about this person called Jesus, but what do you make of Him?  Some people say He is a prophet, some say He is misleading the people; others say that He is in league with Satan and wants to destroy our religion.  Who do you listen to? 

 

One of the answers might be, of course, to go and listen to Him yourself, or wait for Him to come and visit the village.  But even then, you might still be undecided.  Is He a great man, maybe a prophet or something greater?  Or is it the case that He’s a deceiver?  Yes, He said all those wonderful things, and cured a few people and expelled a few demons whilst He was in the village.  But the scribes and Pharisees say that He doesn’t understand the Law given us  by God and that He’s probably using some sort of magic or in league with demons to perform all these signs and deceive the people.  Shouldn’t these people know – after all, they spend so long studying the Scriptures and debating their interpretation?

 

C S Lewis, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe examines a logical puzzle which we can apply to this situation.  The two older children, Peter and Susan, go to the professor because they think that their youngest sister, Lucy, is behaving strangely.  She claims that she has walked through a wardrobe into a place called Narnia.  She also said that their youngest brother, Edmund, also found his way to Narnia through the wardrobe as well, although he later claimed that it was all pretend.  Peter and Susan tell the professor that they believe Edmund, because what he says seems to make more sense.  But the professor gets them to use a bit of logic.  Who is normally the more truthful out of the two?  They agree that the answer is Lucy, which is why they think that she is not lying, but maybe she’s gone mad.  But the professor points out that you can tell she’s not mad by the way she behaves.  So in this situation there are three possibilities:  either she is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth.  They know she doesn’t tell lies and they can tell that she’s not mad, so the only option left, unless any other evidence turns up, is that she is telling the truth.  It’s a derivation of the argument that either Christ was a liar, or He was mad, or that He is God:  the “bad, mad or God” argument.  St Thomas More argued that “surely, if he were not God, he would be no good man either, since he plainly said he was God”.

 

The scribes in today’s Gospel say that He is either bad or mad.  “Beelzebul is in him … It is through the prince of devils that he casts devils out.”  They are so obstinate in their belief that He is not the Messiah, that they try all sorts of excuses to give them a seemingly good reason for opposing Him.

 

So who is the more trustworthy, and who is the more upright, moral and honest:  Jesus, or the scribes and the others who opposed Him?  From the Gospels, it seems that the answer has to be Jesus.  Both Jesus and John the Baptist pulled up the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees on various occasions for distortions in their faith and practice.  We can think of the argument about declaring anything they had “Corban”, i.e. dedicated to God, so that they were then forbidden to use anything they had to help their parents.  But some may want to argue that the Scriptures perhaps don’t let the opponents of Jesus go into detail in their arguments to give us a balanced argument.  We haven’t got enough information to make a decision.

 

Today, though, we have the reverse situation.  Various opponents of Christ get to publish their ideas in newspapers, on-line, speak on the radio, appear on TV, write books, produce documentaries and so on, in their attempt to tear the Gospels to shreds.  When there is news of some new “discovery” about Christ or the early Church, I often wonder what they are going to come up with next.  But it’s a bit like when Christ was brought before the Sanhedrin:  various supposed witnesses came forward, but their testimony did not agree.

 

In Genesis, Adam and Eve were presented with a similar dilemma about the truth:  who is telling the truth and who do we listen to?  The serpent is lying, but crafts his argument in a way that is appealing.  As a result, Eve and then Adam become biased in favour of listening to the serpent.  They want what he says to be true, and so they deceive themselves into doing what he says.  And we know what happens next.  I sometimes wonder whether some of those who claim to reject Christ do so for similar reasons:  it seems more desirable to follow the crowd, and avoid ridicule and the struggle of living a good, moral life, so they listen more favourably to the arguments against Christ.  Hopefully we aren’t guilty of the same mistake.

27th May 2018

posted 29 May 2018, 03:03 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year B – First Holy Communion Mass (27/5/18)

 

    So Zuzanna, Agata, Malwina, Emmanuela, Lena and Jamie, the big day has arrived, and I bet you’re probably both a bit excited and a bit nervous as well. 

    You’re all nicely dressed to celebrate the first time you will receive Jesus in Holy Communion. 

    And the way your dressed might look a bit like you’re going to a wedding, although of course you’re not.  But there are some similarities here. 

    Often when a man and a woman get married, even though they’re adults by that point, they are often at least a little bit nervous, and their parents might be nervous as well. 

    When two people get married, it’s because they love each other, and they promise to love each other till the end of their lives. 

    Holy Communion is a bit like that as well.

    Jesus loves us so much, and we heard Him say to us in the Gospel to us that He will be with us to the end of time, and one of the ways in which He is with us to the end of time is Holy Communion.

    Jesus is always here in the church, in the tabernacle, and from today onwards, you will be able to receive Him each time you come to Mass.

    Sometimes, it might be that after you have been to Mass you feel really happy and holy; at other times you might not feel anything.

    But it’s a bit like when we meet our friends, at school or on our holidays.  Sometimes we might be really excited to meet them, or at other times we might not feel anything.

    Now you’ve probably been told a bit about healthy eating at school, and sometimes people say “you are what you eat”.  If you eat healthily, then you will be happier and healthier than if you eat the wrong sorts of food, or not enough of the right sorts of food.

    Normally, when you eat food, your body turns it into a part of you. So maybe when you eat a carrot, your  body breaks it down and uses it to help you see better.

    With Holy Communion, instead of our bodies turning it into part of us, the opposite happens.  We become more like Jesus.

    Now that doesn’t mean that girls will turn into men and grow beards.

    What it means is that we begin to love God more, we begin to become kinder to other people and more loving.

    Just as a carrot helps us to see better in the dark, receiving Jesus in Holy Communion helps us to spot that there might be other people who need our help, or to realise that Jesus is the Light of the World, and that we need His help if we are to be better people.

    Today, as well as being your First Holy Communion Mass, is also a day when we celebrate the fact that there is one God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    If you listen very carefully to the words of the Eucharistic Prayer later on, when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, you will hear that this is one of the things we ask God to do: we ask God the Father to send His Holy Spirit on all those who receive Holy Communion, that we may become one body in Christ.

    It might sound a bit complicated, but there is an easy way to understand it.

    Think of a jigsaw puzzle.  It has all those different pieces, which are all different shapes and sizes.

    If you look around the church, at all the people in church today, you will see that they are all different shapes and sizes too.

    So, just like all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fit together to make one big picture, we ask that as we receive Jesus today in Holy Communion, we might all fit together and live and work together in peace.

    Then, together, we will do the work that Jesus want us to do in our world today.

    That’s enough from me.

    So, even though you might be a bit nervous, enjoy receiving Jesus for the first time today, and as you grow older and receive Him again and again, watch and see how He helps you to be the person He wants you to be.

26th / 27th May 2018

posted 29 May 2018, 03:00 by Parish Office

Most Holy Trinity, Year B (26 & 27/5/18)

 

Understanding the Most Holy Trinity is not easy.  No matter how clever you are, how many books you have read, or how good your teachers are, you will never fully understand God in all His depth.  We, as finite human beings, can never expect to fully comprehend God, who is infinite.  But, the fact that we can’t understand everything doesn’t mean that we should just give up, because we can still understand at least something, even if it’s only a smal sliver of the whole.

 

The Church has been around for two thousand years, and during that time, people have struggled to get their beliefs and their language right when it comes to the Holy Trinity.  In part it’s because God is a mystery – we can’t fully comprehend Him, and as we try to do so, we can get it wrong.  If you think of a sliding scale, with at one end, the idea of one God, one person, and at the other end, three gods and three persons, we need to hit somewhere in the middle with one God and three persons.

 

Why is it so important that we get it right?  Well, here are a few reasons.  Firstly, if we don’t, and our beliefs aren’t Catholic, then it distorts our whole faith.  I’ll say a bit about this in a few moments.  Secondly, if we get it wrong, then what we believe isn’t true.  The whole point of our faith is that it is true – our faith describes reality, not a make-believe world.  Thirdly, if we claim to be people who love God, then we should want to get to know God as He is.  Imagine if you claimed to be a friend of a family, but you didn’t know their names, didn’t know what they did, what there interests are, got different people mixed up and were not really interested in anything about them – are you really a friend?

 

Back to the point about wrong beliefs about the Most Holy Trinity distorting our faith:  I mentioned the sliding scale, with the extremes of one God, one person and three gods, three persons for a reason – in the early Church, there were some people who were more towards the one God one person end of the scale.  They tried to oversimplify God and make Him easier to understand by saying that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were really all the same.  It was just one God acting in different ways, a bit like a clockstand with three faces.  For that reason, one of the names they were called was Patripassionists – “Patri” meaning “Father” and “passion” referring to the Cross.  As we all know (I hope) it was God the Son who died for us on the Cross, not the Holy Spirit or the Father.  But if you think that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are really only the same, then you could be accused of thinking that the Father died on the Cross., hence Patripassionists.  Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal and one, yet also different.  The second reading today showed us the difference between the three persons.  By our baptism, we have received the Spirit who prays in us, “Abba, Father!”, and we have a right of inheritance of eternal life made possible for us by the Son.  If Father, Son and Spirit are all the same, then why be baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, as we heard in the Gospel?

 

And there’s more.  Just a simple study of the Most Holy Trinity shows us that God is not a solitary being, but a relational being.  The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and the fruit of their love is the Holy Spirit.  Humanity has been made in God’s image and likeness, and so marriage, also created by God, reflects the Holy Trinity – the love of husband and wife results in offspring.  Husband and wife are equal, but not the same, just as Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal, but not the same.  Back when David Cameron was proposing changing the state’s understanding of what marriage is and who qualifies, Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth Diocese wrote him a letter, pointing out that he was misunderstanding what equality was all about.  He stated:

 

“a man cannot be a mother nor a woman a father, and so men and women can never be absolutely equal, only relatively equal, since they are biologically different. So too with marriage. Marriage, ever since the dawn of human history, is a union for life and love between a man and a woman. It is a complementary relationship between two people of the opposite sex, the man and the woman not being the same, but different. They are not, in other words, absolutely equal but relatively equal. This is why ... two men or two women, are not being ‘excluded’ from marriage; they simply cannot enter marriage.”

(http://www.portsmouthdiocese.org.uk/bishop/talks_and_addresses/2012-12-15-Letter-to-PM.pdf)

 

David Cameron was proposing a simplified understanding of what marriage is, but marriage is more rich and complex.  Men and women are in some ways mysteries to themselves as well as to each other, and the Most Holy Trinity is even more complex still.

 

So we, with our simple human minds, cannot expect to fully understand God, when we don’t even fully understand each other and ourselves.  But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try, whilst at the same time avoiding oversimplifications.

 

19th/20th May

posted 21 May 2018, 06:06 by Parish Office   [ updated 21 May 2018, 06:08 ]

Homily for the Solemnity of Pentecost, Year B (19 & 20/5/18)

 

How do we distinguish right from wrong?  And how do we make sure that we actually do what is right and avoid what is wrong?  It’s a lifelong task, trying to get it right.  And the Holy Spirit comes to our aid.

 

But we have to be careful, because as well as the Holy Spirit, there is the evil spirit, Satan, the deceiver.  St Louis Marie de Montfort wrote that Satan is just like a forgerer of coins – no one bothers to forge coins of little value.  How many forged 1p coins have you heard of?  Probably not a single one.  Meanwhile, the Royal Mint has changed the £1 coin because there were so many forgeries in circulation.  The same can be true with our faith, and our sense of right and wrong.  There is the truth, and there are forgeries, deceptions, spread by the Evil One, on some quite big issues.  How do we know which is which?  It’s not always easy.

 

Christ gives us some help today in the Gospel:  “But when the Spirit of truth comes / he will lead you to the complete truth … he … will say only what he has learnt … since all he tells you will be taken from what is mine”  (Exerpts from John 16: 13 and 14).  There is one truth.  Truth does not contradict truth.  So the Holy Spirit brings deeper understanding, not contradiction.

 

In the year 156, a recent convert to Christianity, Montanus, claimed that he was receiving special revelations from the Holy Spirit, that were going to add to and complete what Christ had revealed.  Many were seduced, including the theologian Tertullian.  Montanus and his followers claimed that the Church was lax, and lengthened the time of fasting.  They said that people were not to flee from martyrdom, they discouraged marriage and said that those who had been widowed were not allowed to get married again.  They also said that the heavenly Jerusalem was going descend on the Earth in a plain between the two villages of Pepuza and Tymion in Phrygia.  It never happened, of course, and the followers of Montanus were finally excommunicated by the Church.  They then became a separate sect, setting up their headquarters in Pepuza.  The movement eventually faded away.

 

Instead, today, we have an opposite trend.  Instead of an overly-strict moral code, we have the opposite.  In the second reading, St Paul reminds us that self-indulgence is the opposite of the work of the Spirit.  Self-indulgence leads to fornication, gross indecency and sexual irresponsibility; idolatry and sorcery; feuds and wrangling; jealousy, bad temper and quarrels; disagreements, factions, envy; drunkenenss, orgies and similar things.  It sounds like something on the Jeremy Kyle Show.  Meanwhile, the Spirit brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control.  He then underlines this and says, “You cannot belong to Christ Jesus unless you cruficy all self-indulgent passions and desire” (Galations 5:24).  Ouch!  He has to be strict with us because otherwise we can start to deceive ourselves into thinking that “self-indulgence”, as he calls it, isn’t so bad after all.  So if we know where we need to go, how do we get there?

 

Well, firstly, before we get discouraged, let’s remind ourselves of a few things.  Firstly, St Paul is speaking about “fruits” of the Holy Spirit.  The fact that they are fruits means that they take time to grow.  It also means we can draw an analogy with fruit trees.  At the moment, many of the trees are in flower.  They look nice.  But flowers are not fruits.  The flowers are a bit like when someone is first baptised and confirmed.  The initial enthusiasm.  But with flowers on trees, after a while, the petals fall off, and then they don’t look quite so interesting.  After the initial enthusiasm with converts, things can then begin to settle down a bit.  With trees, it’s only then in the months that follow that we see the fruits grow and ripen, and then finally they’re ready, if someone doesn’t knock them off the tree first, or the late frost damage them, or the birds get them.  In the same way with us, the fruits of the Holy Spirit require us to keep the danger of self-indulgence away, the tempations of the world, the flesh and the devil.  Just as a tree needs the warmth of the sun, so we need the warmth of the fire of the Holy Spirit to help us to ripen as Christians.  Or we can put it another way.  We need the Holy Spirit to be the motive power in our lives, like the petrol for a car.  In the first reading, the Apostles knew what they were supposed to do (in theory, a little bit, at least), but they needed the Holy Spirit to empower them into action.  We too need the Spirit!  Oh yes we do!  And being the month of May, we can ask Our Lady, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, to intercede for us, to join her prayers to ours as we pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit on ourselves, the Church and the world.

 

So if we are to remain faithful, if we are to grow, if we are to go from strenth to strength, we need the Holy Spirit.  Without him, we’re like tourists without a sat nav and fruit trees without sunlight.  We might as well be flogging a dead horse.

12/13th May 2018

posted 15 May 2018, 02:55 by Parish Office   [ updated 15 May 2018, 04:30 ]

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B (11/5/18)

 

On Thursday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Ascension.  After Christ rose from the dead, He spent forty days with his disciples, reminding them of all He had taught them and preparing them for His departure.  Now He has gone up to heaven, now what?  Were they just supposed to work everything out for themselves, or was God still going to lead them?

 

Obviously, it’s the second option.  Jesus was not going to leave them like orphans, with no one to look after them.  He was going to send them the Holy Spirit, to be with them and to guide them.  But they were not going to be like a group of disconnected individuals, living in absolute isolation from each other.  Today, when we have phones, the internet, TVs, radios, newspapers, we can look back at previous generations and see things as being rather primitive.  We can be mistaken and prejudiced at times.  Some years ago, when I visited Wilenhall Lock Museum, the guide first decided to have a bit of fun with the children there and ask them if they could find the phone in the nineteenth century office.  They pointed to various different things, but of course, back then, phones hadn’t been invented.  But the postal system was in some ways better than it is today.  We were told that when the postman arrived, the manager could ask the postman just to wait for a few seconds, whilst he read a letter he was waiting for, quickly scribble a reply and give it to the postman.  Then his reply could be back in London by the end of the day.

 

In the same way, in ancient times, and in the times of the Apostles, people did communicate with each other.  The Church of the first century faced new challenges, and they had to get everyone together, pray about it and make decisions.  They had to ask themselves, “How does this idea fit with what Christ taught us?”  And then that decision was binding on everyone.  In the Gospel we heard those words, “Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name”.  If each of the Apostles were to have no contact with each other and just simply think on their own, “What would Jesus do?” or perhaps, “What would Jesus say?” and then act on that, then by the end of the first century there would have been quarrels and disagreements, splits and disunity.  Instead, they had to come together as the Church, headed by Peter.  Only then would the Spirit keep them one in the truth.

 

For example, in the Acts of the Apostles, we read that some of the converts from Judaism were saying that everyone should keep the Law of Moses and be circumcised, as a basic requierment of being a Christian.  This caused some trouble, as you can imagine, so it says the Apostles and Elders, i.e. bishops, met in Jerusalem to discuss the matter.  The conclusion was that these people were wrong and that Christians did not need to be circumcised and keep all the special rules of the Jewish faith, such as avoiding eating “unclean” animals and so on.

 

Throughout the ages, there have been times when the Pope and bishops of the Church, as well as other invited experts and so on, have gathered to discuss the questions of the day and to resolve certain issues.  At the time of the so-called Reformation, there was a gathering of the Pope and bishops for the Council of Trent, not to be confused with the Council of Stoke-on-Trent.  The Council of Trent took place in Trento, or Trent, in northern Italy.  In more recent times, we had the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, which took place, surprisingly enough, at the Vatican.  One of the topics it dealt with was how God reveals Himself to us today.  Of course, God is at work in our lives and other people’s lives all the time, but when it comes to what we should believe, that’s already been revealed to us by God.  Vatican II said that divine revelation doesn’t mean just the Bible, though.  The Bible needs interpreting, and that’s the job of the Church, taking into account also what has been believed by Christians down throughout the ages.  The danger is, that if we decide to go it alone on these matters, we end up inventing our own version of who Christ is, what He taught and what His Church is all about.  We end up creating an idol.   And idols are no good.  We need to meet the real, living God, and that means that at times God runs counter to our expectations.  He doesn’t do things the way we would have done them.  After all, looking at the history of the early Church, would we have wanted St Peter to be crucified upside down and St Paul to be beheaded?  Would it not have been better for them to have died of old age, admired and respected, and having converted the majority of the whole world?  God’s ways are not our ways.  In 1968, many priests thought the Church might be able to soften up her stance on birth control, but it was not to be.  Instead, it was a bit like John chapter 6, where Christ revealed Himself as the Bread of Life, and the people walked away.

 

“Holy Father, keep those you have given me true to your name, so that they may be one like us.”  As we pray for the descent of the Holy Spirit in these days between the Ascension and Pentecost, we pray that we may be attentive to His voice, working through the Church.  We ask that we may follow, both when the message is what we would like it to be, and when it is not.

5th/6th May 2018

posted 8 Feb 2017, 05:50 by Parish Office   [ updated 7 May 2018, 05:37 ]

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year B (5 & 6/5/18)

 

“If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love … I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you.”

 

How we would love this parish to grow!  People sometimes talk about the “good old days”, when churches were full and you had to stand outside if you didn’t get there in time, and how many more Masses there used to be and more priests and so on.  Sometimes I think we can talk ourselves into just accepting things as they are and think there is nothing that we can do.  But that rather goes against our faith.

 

We believe in a God who is all-powerful, who is all-loving, who can perform miracles.  We also believe in a God who expects us to get our hands dirty as well.  St Paul writes in Romans chapter ten:

 

“But they will not ask his help unless they believe in him, and they will not believe in him unless they have heard of him, and they will not hear of him unless they get a preacher, and they will never have a preacher unless one is sent … so faith comes from what is preached” (vs 14-15. 17).

 

So conversions happen, not just by prayer, but also by our preaching, by the things that we think, say and do, and the things we don’t think, say or do.  But it can seem a bit of a daunting task.  Thankfully though, it’s not a job that we do alone.  We all do our part and put in our part of the jigsaw so that someone can see the whole thing.

 

When Blessed John Henry Newman was still an Anglican, even though he was gradually moving in the direction of becoming a Catholic, he still had reservations.  In the Creed we say that we believe in a Church that is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.  He realised that the Catholic Church has been one in faith down throughout the ages; he knew that we are catholic or universal, just as in the first reading where Peter recognises that the message of Christ is for all people, not just for the Jews; he recognised that the bishops were descendents of the apostles, making the Catholic Church apostolic.  But he couldn’t see that the Catholic Church was holy.  He had read about the saints in the early days of the Church, but where were they now?  Enter, stage left, Blessed Dominic Barberi.

 

Blessed Dominic was a Passionist Priest, so he belonged to a religious order, and he was sent by his order, not to preach to the missions in Africa or Asia, but to England.  He arrived in 1841, with a strong Italian accent, and went around barefooted in his religious habit, preaching in the industrial centres of this country.  People threw stones at him, they cursed him, he had to endure times when he had very little to eat, he was mocked, and more besides.  He was a bit like St Paul in 2 Corinthians, where he speaks of all the beatings, shipwrecks, starvation, and other attacks he had endured in the service of the Gospel.  Blessed Dominic suffered, but his work also bore great fruit, bringing thousands into the Church.

 

Blessed John Henry Newman, in his Anglican days, had said, “If they [that is, the Catholics] want to convert England, let them go barefooted into our manufacturing towns – let them preach to the people like St Francis Xavier – let them be pelted and trampled on, and I will own that they do what we cannot.  I will confess they are our betters far.”  Little did he know that that was exactly what Blessed Dominic and his followers were doing.  And it was Blessed Dominic who was the missing piece in the jigsaw for John Henry Newman, and led to his conversion.  Blessed Dominic didn’t need to go through deep theological and philsophical arguments with him – that work had already been done.  It just needed the witness of someone who was holy and aflame with love for God and for the conversion of souls.

 

In days gone by, we could grumble that the media seemed to be against us, and that anything on the TV about the Catholic faith seemed to be skewed against us.  Today we have Catholic TV stations, and also the internet, which can help prepare some of the groundwork.  But people still need to meet real-life Catholics who can help them make sense of the Catholic faith, and who live in 21st century England and yet still give an example of following Christ, keeping His commandments and showing them His love.  It may be that for you, things work the other way round to how they did for Blessed John Henry Newman – the fact that you were there for someone, and that you actually cared, means that they then start to think about investigating the Catholic faith.  Rather than being the “icing on the cake” like Blessed Dominic, you might be the foundation instead from which they build.  Or maybe you might have a different role.  When I was on placement some years ago there was someone who wasn’t a Catholic, but came to Mass with his wife and son.  At a social event, he said to me that he had questions about religion, but they might weaken my faith.  I took him up on the challenge, but they weren’t exactly difficult questions.  One of them was that he thought that certain Anglican churches looked more like a church than the Catholic church did, which was a 1960s construction.  I said I agreed with him and that I’m sure there are other Catholics who would agree with him too.  I don’t know whether those really were his obstacles to belief, or not, but I know that he later on became a Catholic. 

 

So the message about building up this parish is:  we’re all in it together, and we all have our piece to add to the jigsaw puzzle of other people’s conversions.  If we keep Christ’s commandments and remain in His love, then others will see Christ in us and want to find out more.

21/22 April 2018

posted 8 Feb 2017, 05:49 by Parish Office   [ updated 7 May 2018, 05:39 ]

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B – Good Shepherd Sunday

(21 & 22/4/18)

 

“I am the good shepherd:  the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.”  Where are the men, young and maybe not so young, who are going to stand up and follow the call of Christ to serve as priests in His Church?  Christ doesn’t cease to call.  Those vocations are out there.  It just requires much prayer for those who think they might be called to the priesthood to make that journey to the priesthood, just as young saplings require regular watering to grow into great trees.

 

The priesthood is a great gift to us from Christ.  Christ is the good shepherd, and through the sacrament of holy orders, he enables men to share in his work of shepherding the flock.  But spot that within the same sentence, He adds, “the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep”.  Being a priest involves personal sacrifice.  In many secular professions, you give over part of your life, do a job, and then when you go home, your life is your own.  But not with the priesthood.  When you become a priest, you give your whole life over to God.  You place yourself completely in God’s hands.  You take a promise of celibacy, and also a promise of respect and obedience to your bishop.  It’s no longer up to you what sort of house you have, or where you live, or what you do.  You are sent, and go wherever the mission of Christ requires you.  And that can be a little bit daunting.  As I was coming up to the end of my time in my previous parish, I knew that I could be literally sent to pretty much any of the parishes in the Archdiocese, and/or I could be made a chaplain to perhaps the RAF, or the prison service, or even the diocesan youth service.   I had to say to the Lord that, no matter what my fears about the future might be, that I placed myself into His hands and would go wherever He sent me.  He was good.  He sent me to Hanley and gave me the hospital to look after.  I’ve always loved getting a good night’s sleep, but I know that that isn’t always possible now, because other people’s needs can be greater.  I can catch up on sleep later on.  St John Paul II used to warn young people about the dangers of selfishness, and used to say that to be full of hope and joy, you have to give of yourself to others.  That is what the priesthood is about.  Christ freely laid down His life, and freely took it up again, and what a difference His sacrifice made.  People sometimes say, “no pain, no gain”.  He went through a lot of pain, and gained so more than just the whole world.  He was so transformed and glorified in His Resurrection, and He wants to pass that onto us, if we will let Him.

 

So in the first reading we see the effects of this, with Peter, as another Christ, fearlessly preaching a message that not everyone wants to hear today:  “For of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved”.  The truth is not always popular, but it is always true.  And so, in the psalm, the response could have been writtten for today.  “The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone.”  Christ, the stone which so many of the builders of our society have rejected, is the most important of all, and it’s why the buildings they are making are all falling down.  The foundations are no good, because they are lacking Christ.  It is the calling of a priest to be a prophet, and perhaps a doctor too, to diagnose the cause of the symptoms and to propose the cure, even if sometimes people are afraid to take the medicine.

 

In the second reading it says, “Because the world refused to acknowledge him, therefore it does not acknowledge us”.  It’s not our mission to gain the acclaim of the world.  Christ in fact said, “Alas for you when the world speaks well of you!  This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.”  (Luke 6:26)  Following a calling to the priesthood can involve misunderstanding and ridicule, and sometimes even from Catholics.  We have the strange phenomenon of Catholics who discourage Catholics from pursuing a vocation to the priesthood.  “Are you really sure?  Perhaps when you’re a little older you might change your mind.”  I was quite impressed when a seminarian told me that he had turned teenage rebellion on his head and re-used phrases so many others have used in rejection of God.  His mother didn’t want him to train for the priesthood, so he basically said to her that it’s his life, not hers, and that she can’t control his life.

 

We need men who are ablaze with love of God and zeal for the salvation of souls.  Look at this from 1 Samuel 17:34, where David is speaking to King Saul:  “When your servant grazed the sheep of his father, if a lion or a bear removed a single one of these sheep, I followed and struck down the beast and tore the sheep from its jowls.”  We need workers to go out into the world and bring back the lost sheep and make converts.  That’s a job for everyone, but it needs especially the leadership and example of a priest.  We do not need shepherds that are what Scripture calls “dumb dogs” that are afraid to bark!  Perhaps there might be one or two people listening to this who think they could do a better job than me.  Maybe you can.  If so, do not be afraid to respond to your calling.

 

“I am the good shepherd:  the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.”  Where are the men, young and maybe not so young, who are going to stand up and follow the call of Christ to serve as priests in His Church?  Christ does not cease to call.  

14/15 April 2018

posted 8 Feb 2017, 05:47 by Parish Office   [ updated 26 Apr 2018, 06:26 ]

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B (14 & 15/4/18)

 

Last week I mentioned in passing that we need to make sure that our understanding of right and wrong is grounded in the Word of God, rather than some of the ideas going around in wider society.  Today I’m going to expand on this a bit more, because if we’re not careful we can get ourselves into a bit of a mess, and end up missing out.

 

One of the sins we can sometimes struggle with is the sin of pride.  Sometimes, pride can be very obvious, when people show off and put others down.  But there can also be a more hidden form of pride as well, when we think that we have all the answers and others don’t know what they are talking about, unless they agree with us, of course.  We become too attached to our own way of thinking, and can’t even begin to think that others might have some useful insights, or corrections, to our way of thinking.  And if we’re not careful, we can extend the same thought process to God.  It can be that we think we know our faith so well that we understand God completely.  Perhaps if we come across something in the Bible or the teaching of the Church that contradicts our ideas, then we still think that we are right and there must be something wrong somewhere with the Scriptures or the Church.  It’s been said that God created us in His own image and likeness, and, ever since, we’ve been trying to pay back the compliment.  When we create in our own minds our own version of God, we end up creating an idol.  The thing about an idol is that it can’t challenge us.  We have control over it, a bit like wooden idols of old, that could be carried around, or put in the cupboard out of the way.  We don’t have that level of control over God!  Rather it’s the other way round.

 

What’s all this got to do with today’s readings?  Well, all three readings today involve the need to be open to conversion, to allow God to change us.  Perhaps in some ways the most obvious is the second reading:

 

“We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments.

Anyone who says, ‘I know him’,and does not keep his commandments,

is a liar, refusing to admit the truth.”

 

Rather strong words, that make an important point:  we are not authentic followers and lovers of God if we follow our own path and go our own way instead.

 

In the first reading, we see the results of this pattern of behaviour.  Peter tells the people that they are responsible for the death of Jesus.  They are the ones who handed Him over to Pilate to be crucified.  They had their fixed ideas of what God is like and what anyone speaking on His behalf should be like.  Jesus didn’t fit that mould,  and in fact opposed it, so they thought they had to get rid of Him to preverve their own ideas.  Wrong ideas leading to bad actions.  Peter at least has some compassion though.  He says, “Now I know, brothers, that neither you nor your leaders had any idea what you were really doing”, but he still adds that they need to repent.

 

Then we have the disciples in the Gospel.  They had heard the testimonies of the women who said that he had risen, and had not believed them.  Peter had gone to the tomb, seen the cloths, but not believed (whilst the beloved disciple had).  The disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus had run all the way back and told them about it, and still they hadn’t believed.  Then when Christ appeared to them, they thought they were seeing a ghost.  They had to be woken out of their fixed ideas of what God could and couldn’t do.  And it was a rather pleasant surprise.

 

God can suprise us in all sorts of different ways.  Sometimes it’s a bit like the song, “I beg you’re pardon.  I never promised you a rose garden.”  Of course, even roses have thorns.  Following Christ involves difficulties and suffering.  But at other times, what seemed to be so difficult is actually not like that at all.  When the Sisters of our parish had a special Mass and celebration in Bloxwich to mark the founding of their order and the many years they have been in this country, it was a Nigerian-style celebration, and there was also plenty of song and dance in the parish hall afterwards.  Someone said to me that it was good to see the sisters being so happy and enjoying themselves, because people can think that following God means being serious all the time and never having any fun, but it’s not like that.

 

To follow God is a most liberating adventure.  But it means that we have to leave some of our own ideas behind, and go with the flow of the Holy Spirit.  Rather than living life my way, we want to be able to look back over each day and be able to say to God, “I did it Thy way”.

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