Fr Michael's Homilies

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

Homily for the Second Sunday after the Nativity (1 & 2/1/22)

posted 3 Jan 2022, 03:20 by Parish Office

Homily for the Second Sunday after the Nativity (1 & 2/1/22)

Somebody once came up with a bit of a joke based on the beginning of today’s Gospel. Apparently, in the Catholic edition of the Bible, it says instead: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was ‘no!’” Is God, and following God, always about no? In actual fact, God becoming one of us, taking flesh and becoming man, is rather about God saying “yes”. God loves humanity, the people He has created, and loves them so much that He doesn’t want us to be on our own, trying to figure things out by ourselves. That is why He came among us.

It was always part of God’s plan. St Paul tells us today in the second reading: “Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence”. It was God’s plan right from the very beginning. We are not an afterthought.

The first reading and psalm talk about the special place that Israel had in all of this. In fact the last verse of the psalm seems to boast about it:

“He makes his word known to Jacob,

to Israel his laws and decrees.

He has not dealt thus with other nations;

he has not taught them his decrees.”

It’s like Israel is saying to other nations, “we have the revelation from God, but you don’t. We’re special. God chose us, not you.”

But what was the purpose of this special choice? It was all part of the plan of the revealing of His Son. The revelation of the Old Testament prepared the way for Christ. For years, the prophets had been speaking about the One who was to come, the Anointed One, the Messiah. Isaiah spoke of the Suffering Servant, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who was not to appear among the people for hundreds of years. And then, finally, the Christ appeared. What Moses had brought was good, but what Christ brought was even better. As St John put it, “though the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ”.

But, it was not all glory. There was tragedy too. How prepared were the people for the coming of the Christ? John the Baptist came as his witness,

to get the people ready, but not everyone listened to him. As a result, when Christ came, “He came to his own domain / and his own people did not accept him”. In a sense, this could also describe our age as well. How many accept, and how many reject, Christ today? But the next line also speaks of our own age as well: “But to all who did accept him / he gave power to become children of God”.

Despite living so many centuries after the birth of Christ, that grace and power is still available. One of the growing problems in our society is drug use. It’s getting so out of hand, with so many lives being lost, families ruined, and the dependence also fuels other crime, such as theft, in order to pay for the drugs. Can God helps us in this? Yes He can. One such example is the Cenacolo communities. Founded back in 1983 by Mother Elvira, they admit people who have been dependent on drugs, alcohol or other addictions, such as gambling, and through a life in community, together with a healthy prayer life, they manage to lead people towards Christ and away from their addictions. Cenacolo is one of the more exceptional examples. But whatever our walk in life, Christ is able to work through us and achieve great things in us. Sometimes, we might be the main actor; at other times, we might be more in the background, acting as a signpost for others, facilitating great work. But God’s power is there for all of us.

“In the beginning was the word, and the word was ‘no!’”. Really? God comes to say ‘yes’. If we say ‘yes’ to Him, God will be able to do great things through us, and show that His grace is available for everyone.

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year C (26/12/21)

posted 3 Jan 2022, 03:19 by Parish Office

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year C (26/12/21)

Sometimes, we can think that things must have always been wonderful and perfect for the Holy Family. Our Lord and Our Lady never committed a single sin, and St Joseph was a saint, so it must have been just wonderful. But that’s not necessarily so. A priest once joked many years ago, that it must have been rather tough for St Joseph. Given that Our Lord and Our Lady were free from Original Sin and any actual sin, whenever something went wrong, St Joseph must have had to say, “I know! I messed up! I’m sorry! Again!”

More seriously, though, we know from the Scriptures about the hardships the Holy Family faced. When Jesus was only a baby, they had to get up in the middle of the night and flee to Egypt to avoid King Herod’s attempt to do away with all the newly-born boys in Bethlehem. They couldn’t get a flight, and stay in a nice hotel in Egypt. They didn’t have car, and they weren’t able to stop overnight at a motorway service station. And they didn’t know, at the time, how long it would last, until finally, in a dream, Joseph was told that Herod was dead and that they should return. And that’s the beginning of the life together of the Holy Family!

Of course, there would have been various blessings and times of joy and consolation as well. The next episode in their lives, we hear today, was when Jesus was twelve years old. At that age, boys were considered responsible for their own actions. So Jesus goes to His Father’s house, a difficult lesson for Mary and Joseph to learn. You can imagine how, if they had been “normal” parents today, they would probably have had something of a row. They had lost a child who wasn’t just any ordinary child, but the Lord! I guess we would like to think that instead, they were able to control their worried nerves and put their trust in God that He would be safe. After three days they find Him in the Temple, and He says to them: “Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?” A difficult lesson to learn.

After this incident, we don’t know anything specific about what happened, except that, “Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men”. The time between when He was twelve and when He began His public ministry when He was thirty is known as His “hidden life”. In the film Ben Hur, they obviously used a certain amount of artistic licence, but

there is a scene where Joseph is in his carpenter’s shop together with one of the villagers, and the villager asks him, where’s Jesus. Joseph replies that Jesus told him that he must be about His Father’s business. To which the villager replies, why isn’t He here then? And then in the next scene, if my memory serves me correctly, we see the young Jesus going off into the hills to pray.

We can sometimes think that if we live a good life, that everything will be perfect and wonderful for us, and that any crosses we would have received by straying from the Lord, won’t come our way. To an extent, that’s true. But we can’t be totally insulated from the misdeeds of others, and God sends crosses to purify us – throughout our lives we are always called to grow “in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men”. There is no escaping the cross, but following the Lord has its great blessings too. In the first reading, Hannah has conceived a child after being barren for many years, and part of the promise she made to God was that if she did conceive, she would give her child over to the Lord. So that is what she does, and we also ought to note that her husband would have agreed to it as well, otherwise he might have claimed back Samuel or stopped her giving him away in the first place. Because of their generosity to God, Samuel was then able to become one of the Old Testament prophets. There are times in family life when parents too may be asked to give over a son or a daughter to the Lord as a priest or a sister. In days gone by, many would have loved to and seen it as an honour. In these days, when family sizes are smaller and parents have fewer children, they feel the sacrifice more greatly, knowing that that child won’t have any children of their own. But great blessings result from this sacrifice. And it used to be the case that when a new priest was ordained, and his hands were anointed with sacred chrism, one of the three oils blessed by the bishop or archbishop just before Easter, that after the anointing the oil would be absorbed by a special cloth and presented to the priest’s mother. The idea would be that that cloth would then be placed in her coffin when she died, so that when she appeared before the Lord she could show Him that she was the mother of a priest.

Today we honour the Holy Family. Like our own families, much of their lives was lived privately, away from public scrutiny. Like our families too, they were not spared crosses. But by being totally open to the Lord, they were also richly blessed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Homily for Christmas 2021

posted 3 Jan 2022, 03:16 by Parish Office

Homily for Christmas 2021

How do we prove the existence of God? Some people turn to philosophy. One of the arguments goes like this: we can show the existence of God through the existence of movement in the world. In order for one inanimate object to move, such as a snooker ball, it requires something else to make it move, maybe another snooker ball hitting into it. But ultimately, there needs to be something, or perhaps we should say, someone, who started the ball rolling, a bit like the snooker player with a snooker cue. So when we look into the sky and see the motion of the planets, someone must have started it all off. And the One who did that, people call God. Perhaps some people might put it together with the Big Bang theory, and say that God started off the explosion that created the universe.

There are other arguments too. But they only take us so far (and some of them are a bit complicated, and leave some people with their brains overheating and steam coming out of their ears). These arguments try to prove the existence of God, but that is as far as they go. Their job is to prove the existence of God. They tell us that God exists because…, but they don’t say much about Him beyond that. That is why we need God to speak to us, what we sometimes call divine revelation.

When we read the Bible, we see that God didn’t want to leave us alone – He wanted to reveal Himself to us and help us to get to know Him. To begin with, He communicated with his prophets. At times, people saw them perform great miracles, such as the parting of the Red Sea, or the multiplication of food. And then, when the time was right, after all this divine revelation had taken place, God took part in the ultimate divine revelation: rather than communicating with us from afar, He became one of us. God the Son, who had existed before time began together with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, who had been present when the world was made, through whom all things were made, now became one of us. He didn’t give up being God. But at the same time He became one of us, subject to all the limitations of being a human being – needing to sleep, to eat, feeling thirsty and so on. He was willing to take on all of that so that He could be close to us, win us over to Him, and reveal fully what God is like. As St John wrote in his Gospel: “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” Jn 1:18. Or as the

first preface of the Nativity of the Lord says, “as we recognize in him God made visible, we may be caught up through him in love of things invisible”. Christ reveals to us that there is more than just the material world around us. Science speaks about so-called “dark matter”, which we can’t see but is out there in the universe and exerts a gravitational pull on everything else. The universe is amazing, but Christ reveals other things invisible: the existence of angels, the grace of God, including in the sacraments, the existence of heaven and so on. When Christ is born, for a brief moment, the shepherds see and hear the angels. They see what is already there, but invisible. We each have a guardian angel. But we have probably never seen our own or other people’s guardian angels. We are like blind people, and someone needs to describe to us the people and things around us that we cannot see.

Christ reveals to us other things that we can’t necessarily see. You can’t “see” love as a concept, but you can recognise it in others. The way Christ reveals the love of God is not through some complicated philosophical reasoning; He demonstrates it Himself in the love He shows to others. And that love isn’t just about being nice – at times that loves leads Him to speak out and defend people from those who are leading them astray, such as those so-called religious leaders who are so knowledgeable about God that when God actually walks among them they fail to recognise Him.

Jesus puts it all across so simply. He makes things easy to grasp using parables. But first of all, before all that, He is born amongst us as a baby. Shepherds are told about this new birth, not by a sudden philosophical inspiration, but by the appearance of angels who bring the message, and fill the night air with heavenly harmonies praising God for what He has done, and what He is going to do: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will”. Later on, guided by a star, come the Wise Men. But before them, come those who respond to God’s direct revelation through the angels, who come with humble hearts to the manger. First those who trust, and then the intellectuals.

Tonight/today, we follow in their footsteps. We pray that, “as we recognize in him God made visible, we may be caught up through him in love of things invisible”. God has become one of us. God has become close to us. And His love opens us up to a whole new world.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – Day of Prayer for Expectant Mothers (18 & 19/12/21)

posted 3 Jan 2022, 03:13 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent – Day of Prayer for Expectant Mothers (18 & 19/12/21)

Back when I was beginning my training for the priesthood, I began with a propaedeutic, or preparation year, at the English College in Valladolid, in Spain. During the course of the week the seminary chapel was closed to the public, but it was open for Sunday Mass, and we used to have local people, either English or Spanish, who would join us for our Mass in English. Despite the fact that the Catholic Church is one all over the world, each country has its own local customs. Being English, we followed the English custom for an Advent wreath, with three purple candles, one rose candle, and a white candle in the centre. One of the visiting Spaniards was intrigued by it, as their custom is to have four different coloured candles, and the fourth candle is blue, for Our Lady.

Since Vatican II, we now have a three-yearly cycle of readings, but the Fourth Sunday of Advent always mentions Our Lady: Year A’s Gospel covers the dilemma that St Joseph had when he found that Our Lady was with child; Year B is the Annunciation, and today’s Gospel for Year C is the Visitation.

As we also know, whilst the Catholic Church all over the world is one, with each country having its own legitimate local customs, the Protestant world’s both beliefs and customs differ across the globe, but one of the things that unites them is their belief that we show too much honour to Our Lady.

So first, should we honour Our Lady? Why of course! That point is not up for dispute. Elizabeth honoured Our Lady. In today’s Gospel she says, “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?” Perhaps the Protestants would say that they realise that Our Lady should be given some honour, but the question is, how much?

The town of Bethlehem is famous because of it being the birthplace of Our Lord. Previously it was just a fairly small place of no real significance; maybe beyond Israel no-one had heard of it, except for Jews who heard it mentioned in their Scriptures, such as in today’s first reading. It was because of the birth of Our Lord that it became internationally famous. Perhaps it’s a bit like Burslem – before the arrival of the pottery industry, who in London

had heard of Burslem? But it went on to have the title of Mother Town of the Potteries. And just like Hanley is the capital, if you like, of the Potteries, so Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The distances are roughly similar: Bethlehem to Jerusalem, I am informed is 5.52 miles, whilst Burslem to Hanley is 2.29 miles. And sadly, just like Burslem has declined with the Pottery industry, Bethlehem today is in a rather sorry state, in large part due to a great literal wall of partition separating it from Israel, making travel and commerce rather difficult. Following Covid, lack of pilgrims have made things even more difficult, and Friends of the Holy Land have done much to support desperate families.

Is this the way Our Lady should be treated? Did God simply use her for the birth of Christ, for her only then to be discarded? In this country, when I was young, we had Queen Elizabeth, and also the Queen Mother. The Queen Mother had an obviously lesser role than the Queen, but she was honoured nonetheless. Our Lady is mother of the Lord – she isn’t divine, but honoured she must be. She was prepared for her role by being conceived without Original Sin. She co-operated with God completely, remained ever-Virgin, and like Our Lord, never committed a single sin in her life. She was given to us as our mother by Our Lord whilst He was on the Cross. At the end of her life, she was assumed, body and soul, into heaven. And now she intercedes for us before her Son. Think how powerful her prayers must be: the apostle St James wrote in his letter in the New Testament, James 5:16, that “the heartfelt prayer of a good man works very powerfully”. When we pray, almighty God can see all sorts of conflicts and self-interest in our prayers, but when she prays, He sees the total love and purity of her intentions.

So do we pay too much honour to Our Lady? No. We honour Our Lady; we worship the Lord. The different is important. And we pay Our Lady more honour than any other human being, because she is mother of the Lord and our mother too. Whilst Burslem and Bethlehem struggle, Our Lady is in glory with Our Lord. Because we worship Our Lord, we give Our Lady appropriate honour, and that’s the way it should be.

11 & 12th December 2021

posted 17 Dec 2021, 05:40 by Parish Office

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent “Gaudete” (11&12/12/21)

Following on from last Sunday’s theme of getting our house in order in preparation for the coming of Christ, today St John the Baptist continues in a similar theme. The ordinary man or woman in the street is to look after the poor and those in need. The tax collectors are to avoid adding extra onto what they charge for themselves. The soldiers are to be content with their pay, and not misuse their power to take money off the general populace.

There seems to be the running theme of money here; perhaps, indeed, the love of money. It chimes well with the theme of Ebenezer Scrooge, who at a time of poverty in Victorian Britain was not only harsh with the poor, but also so loved amassing riches that it seems he only grudgingly spent them on himself. You know the story well: a man who manages to turn his life around after seeing how money has corrupted him, even depriving him of getting married, and if he doesn’t change, he risks dying unloved, unmourned, and with worse to follow in the next life.

There is also a true story that took place in the middle of the nineteenth century, also concerning riches – the Great Train Robbery of May, 1855. Edward Pierce plotted together with various accomplices to steal £12,000 in gold bullion from a train heading to Folkestone. The plan was elaborate, and in its execution he could have ended up falling off the top of a railway carriage. They managed to get away with the gold, but he was arrested, tried and found guilty. Unfortunately, he managed to escape on his way to prison. It was a crime that shocked Victorian society: not just because of the amount of gold that was taken, or the audacity of the plan, obtaining the necessary keys to get to the gold, and getting enough lead shot to replace the gold to cover his tracks - there were other crimes involving large sums of money and elaborate plots also taking place around the same era. What so shocked Victorian society was that it was an attack on progress, the progress that had been brought by the railway, which they believed would eliminate all sorts of criminal behaviour and make us into a better society. People were slowly learning the hard way that technology does not necessarily mean the moral improvement of society. As the criminologists Barnes and Teeters were to write in 1949, “Most offenses are committed through greed, not need” [quoted in the novel The Great Train Robbery, by Michael Crichton]. At the time of Vatican II in the 1960s, the Council re-affirmed that technology alone will not stop crime, yet even today, we can sometimes fall into the trap

of thinking that if we just get the right cameras, the right laws, and the right paperwork, then crime will be a thing of the past.

St John the Baptist knew better. He knew that the battle needs to be waged in the human heart. There is a need for moral principles – one of the problems we have today is that people don’t think morally – they do something because they feel like it. It’s a bit like the slogan “Just do it”. No. Don’t. Stop and think. Our moral thinking is also today paralysed by the idea of not wanting to judge others. But there are two dimensions to judging: we can’t know with certainty people’s background and why they act the way they do; we can’t assess their moral culpability – we have to leave that to God. But what we can judge is that certain things people do are wrong. Otherwise, what’s the whole point of a criminal justice system? But sin and breaking the law are not always the same thing. There are things that are a sin, which are not against the law. It’s not illegal, for example, to miss Mass on a Sunday. And there can be certain times when it’s not a sin to break the law – not always, I hasten to add. But there can be at times unjust laws that have no authority and run contrary to God’s Law. When that is the case, they can be broken with a clean conscience. God always comes first, not the sometimes mistaken or badly-framed laws put together by human parliaments. As St Thomas More said, “I am the king’s good servant, and God’s first”.

St Paul famously said, “ ‘The love of money is the root of all evils’ and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith and so given their souls any number of fatal wounds” (1 Tim 6:10). Perhaps today we can examine our own hearts. What are my attitudes towards money, towards acquiring material goods, and looking after those in need? To what extent do I follow the bad examples around me, and to what extent do I allow my faith to shape my life, and influence wider society? What do I need to bring to the Lord in confession this Advent?

4th/5th December 2021

posted 6 Dec 2021, 01:18 by Parish Office

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C (4 & 5/12/21)

This Sunday our focus is on St John the Baptist, proclaiming a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. When we celebrate the Church’s liturgical year, we take part and immerse ourselves in the different events of salvation history. So if we are to truly “immerse” ourselves in today’s celebration, we first need to know what sin is.

Sin is something that goes against God, and maybe also against ourselves and others. When you switch the lights on in your house, the light doesn’t just stay in the one room, but it can also spread outside, through the window, and also into the next room, when the door is open. In the same way, both sin and goodness can spread, and we can’t always keep them so tightly confined to our hearts. Some people think that certain sins only affect themselves and are harmless to others. But they all affect our relationship with God, and change us as people, for the worse, which then has a knock-on effect on others. So, for example, if we give in to uncharitable thoughts about others, putting them down and condemning them as stupid, or careless, or whatever it might be, it can help perpetuate a cycle of negative thinking, which then spreads to other areas of our lives and how we speak to others. If, on the other hand, we are people of hope, who trust in God to be able to transform people and situations, and if we spread that hope and encouragement around us, we become a positive force for good – a much better situation.

Going back to what is a sin, we can sin in a few different ways, and it says in the I Confess: “I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do…” - so sin can involve, not only things we have done, but things we have thought, things we have said, and also, things we have failed to do. So that’s quite a few things to think about!

Then, next in the prayer, comes a very important point: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”. For something to be a sin, there has to be an element of personal choice about it. We can’t sin whilst we are asleep. If you fall asleep on a chair, and then fall onto the floor, and someone trips over you, your responsibility is very small! Maybe you should have gone to bed instead, but it wasn’t your intention to trip someone up. If, on the other hand, you pretended to fall asleep, and then made yourself fall on the floor to trip someone up, then that could be a sin.

A few more points: obviously some sins are more serious than others. If you tell a small lie, it’s not quite as serious as if you tell a big lie in court and an innocent person gets locked away and later on leaves prison with a criminal record. We also make a distinction between sins that we call venial and sins that we call mortal. If you’re a soldier and you’re mortally wounded in battle, that means you are going to die. So mortal sins are the more serious ones that mean we die spiritually – we lost the grace of God, and if we don’t repent and go to confession, we shut ourselves off from heaven – it’s that serious. Venial sins weaken our relationship with God, but they don’t cut us off from heaven – they just mean that purgatory is needed to cleanse them, if we haven’t been perfectly cleansed from them before we die. Hence the importance of confession, indulgences and the Last Rites.

So how do you know if a sin is mortal or not? For a sin to be mortal, it has to be something rather serious, such as breaking one of the Ten Commandments in a big way – perjury in court is serious enough, but a young boy telling his parents he has done his homework when he hasn’t isn’t serious enough. Also, for the sin to be actually mortal it needs to be done with the knowledge that it is really serious, and also with full and deliberate consent. So if people are under extreme pressure, or they act because of some sort of addiction, then it doesn’t count as mortal, and the same applies if they act in genuine ignorance. The Catechism says that drug-taking is a serious sin, but obviously when people are addicted, full consent is lacking.

Moving swiftly on, the whole point of repenting and confessing sin is to be free of it. And once that happens, it’s a call for celebration. A bit like the first line of the first reading: “Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever.” If you find it difficult to go to confession, plan some sort of celebration for once you have been. The Prodigal Son got to eat the fatted calf. Maybe your sin wasn’t as great as his, so you might want to scale down the celebration a bit – but celebrate you must.

Next, we know that we can fall into temptation again. Some say, what is the point in going to confession if you are going to sin again? My response is: what is the point in washing the car if it is going to get dirty again? What is the point in vacuuming the house if it will only get dusty again? What is the point in having a shower if you are only going to sweat again? I think you get the point. We can’t guarantee that we will always be able to resist, or that, if we do resist, that it won’t be a struggle. The I Confess puts it this way: “therefore I asks blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God”. Let’s

pray for one another this Advent. Here’s a new resolution for you: every time you spot what seems to be a fault in someone else, pray for that person. Perhaps if you’re a bit of a fault-finder, you might think: but that way, Father, I’ll be on my knees all day! Well, I never said becoming holy was going to be easy.

One final point: during the Year of Mercy some wondered if there might be calls for services of general absolution. These services can be bad because people see them as a replacement for confession, which they aren’t. Apart from in danger of death, forgiveness of mortal sins requires confession: general absolution is invalid as a replacement for it. But it was observed that things have gotten worse today than that. Rather than going to the inconvenience of leaving the house and going to a service of general absolution, many people today decide to give themselves absolution: they tell themselves not to be guilty and not to worry about it. That is actually quite serious. Jesus tells us: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” [Mt 12:31; cf. Mk 3:29 & Lk 12:10] The Catechism (no. 1864) explains this saying like this:

“There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence [which means you’re not sorry for what you’ve done] and eternal loss.”

It’s that serious, I’m afraid. We must repent of our sins and seek God’s forgiveness. We must never tire of asking God for His forgiveness. God wants to save us. He’s like an examiner giving us the right answers to write down. He wants us to pass the test. But only we can decide if we will.

28th November 2021

posted 29 Nov 2021, 02:24 by Parish Office

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year C (28/11/21)

On Tuesday last week, NASA launched a spacecraft, and its mission is to deliberately collide with an asteroid. The whole purpose is to see if it is viable to collide spacecraft into asteroids that are heading towards earth, to knock them off course. But just imagine for one moment, if the following happened: many years later, when a spacecraft collided into a different, near-earth asteroid, it led to a visible trail of space debris in the sky – a horizontal line from the spacecraft, and a vertical one from the asteroid, forming a cross, the “sign of the Son of Man”. What if people then started to say that they could now see the signs that the Son of Man is soon to return in glory? People talk about climate change. How about if they put that together with Our Lord speaking today about “nations, in agony, bewildered by the clamour of the ocean and its waves”?

Let’s make it even more dramatic. What if, when the spacecraft and the asteroid collided, the fallout blocked out the light from the moon, the stars, and maybe, largely from the sun? Every day now spent in semi-darkness, lit up by the sight of the cross in the sky? Some of the sceptics might just say that it was caused by dust in the atmosphere. And then, let us suppose, that, just as churches began midnight Mass for Christmas, suddenly the sound of angels was heard. Everyone rushed outside, and it was true: Christ was returning in glory. Well, Mr Atheist, how do you explain that?

St John Henry Newman, in one of his Parochial and Plain Sermons (VI, 17) once said:

“If it be true that Christians have fancied signs of his coming, when there were none, it is equally true that the world will not see the signs of his coming when they are present. … True it is, that many times, many ages, have Christians been mistaken in thinking they discerned Christ’s coming; but better a thousand times think him coming when he is not, than once think him not coming when he is. … Now he must come one day, sooner or later.”

Of course, we know neither the day nor the hour, but we should be ready. We pray each time in the Mass, “that, by the help of your mercy, we may be free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” Our call during Advent to go to

confession is not only to prepare for Christmas, but also to be ready for the return of Christ in glory.

In Old Testament times, God promised that the line of King David would last for ever. But at the time of the first reading, it seemed that the line of David was ended and the promise was buried. But in the first reading, God promises new growth, a “virtuous Branch”, Christ, who was to lead to a growth in virtue across the world. When He returns in glory, where in the world will he see virtuous growth, and where will he find only a pale imitation? Where will He find wheat, and where will He find darnel? Where will He find those who practise only a “love of neighbour” of sorts, that neglects the love of God, and where will He find a hollow “love of God” that neglects love of neighbour? And where will He find true love of God, where God is truly put first, which leads to an overflowing love of neighbour?

We have our work cut out.

20/21 November 2021

posted 29 Nov 2021, 02:22 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year B (20 & 21/11/21)

“Jesus Christ is the faithful witness … the Ruler of the kings of the earth” – so said the second reading. If only all rulers took notice of Him! If only we took notice of Him completely as well!

There are now at least two countries where either the local or national government have said that priests are obliged to report to the authorities certain crimes that they hear of in confession. In one of these countries, a bishop basically said to the ruler of the country, “Buzz off! You’ve overstepped the mark. Christ rules the Church, not you.” The ruler wasn’t very pleased, but the bishop was right. In this country, various kings in times past wanted to have more control over the Church. It was part of the reason for the martyrdom of St Thomas Beckett. King Henry VIII came up with a solution: he declared himself in charge of the Church in England, and anyone who disagreed with it had to face the wrath of the king. He also did away with St Thomas Beckett’s shrine and feast-day – an interesting piece of symbolism.

A similar thing happens today in other parts of the world. In China, the communist authorities, in their desire to control religion, have outlawed the Catholic Church, but also created something similar to the Catholic Church that reports to them, called the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. It is like the Catholic Church: it has clergy and they celebrate Mass and so on, but it is run and organised by the state, by people who are not clergy and sometimes not even baptised.

During the English Reformation, there were some clergy who in public accepted the new regime, whilst quietly also ministered as Catholic priests: they used Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer in church, but then secretly also said Mass for a select few as well. In the same way today in China, there are those clergy who are both, in public, members of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, and also in full communion with the Catholic Church, what is sometimes referred to as the “Underground Church”. In the English Reformation, there were some laity who were referred to as “Church Papists”. In order to avoid hefty fines, they, usually men, would turn up at Anglican services when they had to and stay in the porch, and then secretly at home one of their servants, who was actually a Catholic priest, would say Mass for the family and other people who were “in the know”. A similar

thing happens in China, where people who attend the Masses of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association also secretly find their way to Masses celebrated by the Underground Church.

These are forms of persecution and ways of responding to it, and we can find the same thing happening in our own lives too. Whilst we may look negatively on how certain rulers of countries behave or have behaved, what about our own souls, where we are the “rulers” who make the decisions? So often, we’re not in the situation of having completely rejected Christ and installed ourselves as absolute sovereign, neither do we allow Christ to be seated permanently on the throne; instead, we just allow Him to reign sometimes. At other times, we do our own thing instead. Of course, we can at times find ourselves in difficult situations, and maybe then we conform to the prevailing expectations a bit more than we should – like the “Church Papists” turning up for Anglican services to avoid being fined, and then going back home for Mass afterwards.

“Jesus Christ is the faithful witness … the Ruler of the kings of the earth” – so said the second reading. If only all rulers took notice of Him! If only we took notice of Him completely as well!

6th/7th November 2021

posted 10 Nov 2021, 05:13 by Parish Office

Homily for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(6 & 7/11/21)

Appearance, and reality: the two are not always the same. The scribes who went about in fine clothes, who were highly esteemed, treated well – little did people know the reality of their souls. Or what about the rich, who poured a vast amount into the Temple treasury? Imagine the sound of all those coins, music to the ears of the Temple priest. And then imagine the sound of the poor widow putting in her two small coins – maybe no one heard the sound of them being added onto the pile of other coins. Maybe people wondered if she had put in anything at all. But hers was the greater gift. God looks at the heart.

And what did he find when he looked at the heart of each of these people? The scribe, who appeared to be a good and religious man: perhaps he found there someone who was attached to riches, to his own comfort; faith in God took second place. In fact his position enabled him to feather his own nest, using religion to be well-treated and liked by wider society. Aren’t we glad to have someone like him, they might have thought, whilst we live surrounded by the occupying and interfering Roman army, keeping God on our side and our enemies at bay? And what about the rich? Aren’t we glad that they are so generous, funding repairs to the Temple, being people of intelligence and reason, the pillars of our country etc. etc. As for the widow, well, she needn’t have bothered with her contribution. And besides, isn’t she being rather reckless, throwing the little she has into the Temple treasury? Doesn’t she think how she is going to pay for this evening’s meal?

But that’s not how God thinks. The scribe: his religion is rotten. In Deuteronomy it says: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is the one Lord; and you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4) But instead of love of God, there is love of riches and comfort, and luxury, and wealth, and status. God has become a means to that. The things of God are still part of his life, but they are not the central focus. They are not where all his zeal and interest are aimed. And what good he fails to do, because of that. And what damage he does, because of that.

The rich: yes, your money is there for doing good, and yes, you are doing something of that. Your gifts to the Temple will certainly be put to good

use. But they don’t excuse you from the work that needs to be done to your heart. “What I want is love, not sacrifice” – in other words, prevention is better than cure. Love of God, not sin followed by almsgiving to atone for sin. Reform of life, not using wealth as a Get out of Jail Free card.

And the widow: someone who lives, not only unencumbered by wealth, but also someone who isn’t dominated by the desire to accumulate wealth either. Someone who puts her complete faith in God, knowing that God is faithful, that He will provide. Perhaps hers is a rather simple faith. Unlike the scribe, she can’t quote chapter and verse of the Law and take her part in detailed discussions about the minutiae of the precepts in the book of Leviticus. But she understands what it means to put God first, and, even more than that, she actually puts God first as well. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Which of these do we seem to copy ourselves? And what do we need to do next?

All Saints' Day

posted 5 Nov 2021, 02:02 by Parish Office

Homily for All Saints’ Day 2021

“Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Pre-Covid, I was at a meeting for Catholic hospital chaplains, and one or two of the more experienced chaplains said they had noticed something: over time, the number of Catholics in high-ranking positions within hospitals had declined. Today, whilst you may find many Catholics working on the lower rungs of the career ladder, you were less likely to find those who had reached the higher stages. For various reasons, it seems that something of a “glass ceiling” exists for good Catholics.

One of the more recent examples of this was the series of court cases involving the midwives Mary Doogan and Connie Wood. Their hospital re-arranged mid and late-term abortions to take place on the labour ward rather than the gynaecology ward, and expected them to supervise it, which they refused. Ultimately, the UK’s supreme court gave a very narrow interpretation to the conscientious objection clause in the Abortion Act, saying that they could object to directly performing the abortions, but they still had to delegate. Paul Tully from SPUC summed up the ruling by saying that:

“Junior midwives might still be able to work in labour wards where abortions are performed but they will be restricted to 'staff midwife' status at best.

“They could easily be placed in an impossible situation by pro-abortion superiors, and would be unable to receive promotion to a more senior role without fear of being required to violate their consciences.” (See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-30514054 )

Of course, there are other issues in the NHS too, and other potential issues. If euthanasia were to be legalised, what position would that place doctors and nurses who object to it? Can you really have a clean conscience if you don’t actually perform the act yourself, but instead find someone else to carry it out instead? Would it not be like saying, “I won’t fire the gun, but I know a good hit man and here are his details”?

And then there is the whole LGBT movement, which is gradually affecting various sectors of society and employment. Whilst we believe in treating everyone with respect, there is a difference between treating people with respect, and being asked, mandated, or effectively forced, into becoming LGBT activists, promoting things we find distasteful, even morally repugnant, under threat of being marginalised, disciplined or even dismissed.

Years ago, Pope Benedict spoke about what he called the “dictatorship of relativism”, and some people probably wondered what he was talking about. But it seems that he was prophetic. As Europe becomes less Christian, so too does its morality, and its expectations of its citizens shifts. And the “new morality” doesn’t allow for dissent, hence the idea of their moral relativism being a dictatorship. Where does that leave those who want to remain faithful to Christ? Maybe things could get to a situation that was found in communist countries, where signed up members of the communist party receive good treatment, benefits and jobs, whilst those who are not exist on the margins of the country’s life, penalised for going to Mass, and sometimes end up working on the land and living in small villages where electricity supplies are intermittent.

Maybe this all sounds rather bleak, or even extreme. But only five or ten years ago, the transgender movement seemed far-fetched, yet now it is being made mainstream. But all is not lost yet. And hats off to those of you who wrote to Peers in the House of Lords to express their opposition to assisted suicide. There is still so much more we can do. And whatever does happen, God is with us, and nothing beats having a clean conscience.

“Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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