Fr Michael's Homilies

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

4th/5th April 2020

posted 3 Apr 2020, 04:50 by Parish Office

Homily for Palm Sunday, Year A (5/4/20)

 

My mother made the observation many years ago that when we celebrate Palm Sunday, the entry of Christ into Jerusalem is over rather quickly, and then we focus at the usual time of the Gospel on the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  The Eucharist and the Passion and Death of the Lord seem to overshadow all that happened on Palm Sunday.

 

In perhaps a similar way, we might find the coronavirus situation overshadowing Holy Week.  But what we can do, is we can use this time to reverse the effect.  We can use Holy Week to overshadow the coronavirus.    Let’s inject some hope into the situation.

 

This year, our Gospel reading is from St Matthew.  The two thieves either side of the Cross are given only very brief mention.  St Luke’s Gospel contrasts the two of them:  the one cursed the offer of salvation and mocked Jesus, whilst the other recognised his sin and turned to the Lord for forgiveness, and was given those wonderful words:  “Today you will be with me in paradise”.  In today’s Gospel, instead of the contrast between the two thieves, this year we have the two characters of Judas and Peter.

 

Like many, more advanced criminals, Judas is something of a complex character; people have speculated both about his motivations, and where he went next:  was he damned for all eternity, or did he manage to scrape through into purgatory?  Judas was not like the communist secret agent Kim Philby, giving the appearance of working for the British government.  Philby was happy to betray so many allied secret to the Soviets and watched as so many allied plans failed.  Judas, meanwhile, after Jesus was arrested, didn’t then go and dine and celebrate with the chief priests and elders.  Instead he gave back the money and said, “I have sinned.  I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matt 27:3)  He didn’t just put the money back gently.  Instead it says that he flung down the silver coins.  He was filled with remorse.

 

Contrast this with Peter.  Peter was the impetuous one.  At the Last Supper, when Christ said that all would lose faith in Him, Peter said, “Though all lose faith in you, I will never lose faith. … Even if I have  to die with you, I will never disown you.”  His impetuosity had gotten him into trouble before.  When Christ told them about His forthcoming Passion, Peter’s response had been that this must not happen.  Peter got a rebuke back then.  Similarly, later on, in the garden of Gethsemane.  It was no good these people trying to arrest Jesus, he thought, so he gets out his sword and decides to take control.  But he gets told to put back his sword, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt 26:53).  Then, at the trial of Jesus, comes the crunch.  He sees Christ condemned, and then everyone having a go at beating Him and spitting on Him.  It’s too much.  Peter is afraid and tries to save his own skin, and denies Christ three times.  Then the cock crows, and it dawns on him what he has done… He is supposed to be the leader of the Church, the one Christ has put in charge, and what has he done?  Rather than show leadership, courage, an example for others to follow, he has betrayed Him.  He has completely trashed the whole thing!  At the time when Christ needed him most, he has abandoned and rejected Him.  In one sense, it’s as if he has excommunicated himself.  I don’t want anything anymore to do with Christ or any of His followers.

 

Judas and Peter both recognise the wrongness and the gravity of what they have done.  But their response is different.  Judas goes out and hangs himself.  It’s all over.  There’s no going back.  I’m useless.  I can’t do anything good now.  I am rubbish.  If we ever hear those kinds of thoughts in our minds, that is the very moment to repeat the words of Christ:  “Get behind me, Satan!”

 

Peter’s response is different.  He “wept bitterly” (Matt 26:75) at what he had done.  But it didn’t push him over the edge.  Perhaps he still had at the back of his mind the words of Jesus at the Last Supper:  “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail, and once you have recovered, you in your turn must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).  They had all been told by Christ that they would lose faith in Him.  But that would not be the end.  After his resurrection, He would see them again in Galilee.  Even though they didn’t understand at the time of turmoil, how it would all work out, there was a plan, and God was still in control.  It was predicted that they would betray Him, but God had a plan.  Somehow, things would continue.

 

Lets look at one more “character”:  Jesus Himself.  He knew no sin, but He had the sins of the whole world loaded on Him.  When He was on the cross, did He despair?  As He died, He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  On one level, having all the sins of the world, including all mortal sins, perhaps He experienced that sense of being separated from God, which is what mortal sin is all about.  But it wasn’t a cry of despair.  It was a quote from the first line of Psalm 21 (or Psalm 22 if you use the alternative numbering system).  This was a moment of revelation.  If you read through Psalm 21, you can see that it predicts the Passion of Christ.  All that has happened, was supposed to happen.  It was predicted hundreds of years ago.  It is part of God’s plan.  God is in control.

 

The crucifixion of Christ is a message of hope, not of despair.  Even if our sin is of the magnitude of St Peter, there is hope for us.  Even if it were to be of the magnitude of Judas, there would still be hope for us.  But when we realise our sin, do we react with despair, like Judas, or to we turn to the Lord, like St Peter?  Are we like the bad thief, or do we follow the example of the good thief?

 

“You will all lose faith in me … But after my resurrection I shall go before you to Galilee” (Matt 26:32).

28th / 29th March 2020

posted 27 Mar 2020, 03:48 by Parish Office




Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A (26/3/20)


 


The death and returning to life of Lazarus:  St John’s Gospel has a completely different style and approach to the other three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  One of the things we see is that there are various “signs”, as they are called, that Jesus works, that lead more and more people to believe in Him, ultimately culminating in His own Death and Resurrection.  So it’s in that context that we understand the situation of Lazarus.


 


Back when I was studying St John’s Gospel as I was training for the priesthood, we were also told something else about it’s style:  it’s a bit like certain other books and theatrical productions, where the audience is given advance knowledge which the characters don’t know.  So the example we were given was a bit like this:


 


A murder mystery.  Scene one:  a country manor.  One morning, the Lord of the manor is murdered by the butler in the library, and his body is hidden behind the closed curtains.


 


Scene two:  entrance, stage, left, the Lady of the manor, together with invited guests.  She goes over to the curtains and says to her visitors, “I’m just going to show you a scene that you will remember for the rest of your lives”.  We know that it’s not the rolling hills that they will always remember.


 


So at the beginning of today’s Gospel, before Lazarus dies, Jesus delays in going to see him, and says to His disciples, “This sickness will not end in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified”.  We know that it’s not going to be the case that once Lazarus dies, everyone is sad, and then goes home, and that’s the end.  “This sickness will not end in death but in God’s glory, and through it the Son of God will be glorified.”


 


But everyone else doesn’t know this.  Martha begins by saying, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died”.  She expresses her faith in Jesus’ powerful prayer to the Father, and says, “I know that he will rise again at the resurrection on the last day” - it’s part of Jewish teaching, so she does believe that.  But she doesn’t know what’s coming up next.  Mary says to him, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died”.  Some of the Jews say to each other, “He opened the eyes of the blind man [see last week’s Gospel], could he not have prevented this man’s death?”  Yes, He could have done, but He chose not to, for the sake of something even more important.  Then we have the restoration of Lazarus to life, and more people coming to believe in Him.


 


So that’s the situation with Lazarus, and the way St John’s Gospel works at times, giving us, the audience, extra information in advance about what is going to happen.  But there’s a lesson for us here.  Elsewhere, Jesus rebukes the Sadducees, saying, “Is not the reason why you go wrong, that you understand neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” (Mark 12:24)  The thing about the Sadducees was that they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.  So as the joke goes, they were sad, you see.  But we are not Sadducees.  We have knowledge in advance that our lives will not end in death.  It won’t be like some cartoon where the character dies and then down come the curtains with the words, “That’s all folks!”.  It’s more like the cartoon book of monastic jokes, where the dead monk is lying in state, with a sign saying, “End of Part One”.  We believe that after death comes judgement, and then, ultimately, either heaven or hell.  But there’s more than just that.  Just like Christ, our bodies will rise again.  It’s not like Lazarus.  Lazarus came back to life with the same body as before.  He had to die again.  But our bodies won’t be exactly the same as before, just the same as Christ’s body wasn’t exactly the same as before.  Our bodies will be transformed and glorious, just as Christ’s was after His Resurrection.  It’s something that can’t be fully described until we experience it, a bit like trying to explain to someone who is blind what it’s like being able to see.  St Paul says that it is like when you sow a grain of wheat in the ground – the grain is something quite different from what grows:


 


“the thing that is sown is perishable but what is raised is imperishable; the thing that is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; the thing that is sown is weak but what is raised is powerful; when it is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit.” [1 Cor 15:42-44]


 


Truly it is amazing.  The raising up of Lazarus reminds us of the power of God, but not what we shall be like.  We are a bit like both the audience, and the characters, in the theatrical production.  We have an idea of what is coming up, but in some ways, we are going to be very much taken by surprise.



14th / 15th March 2020

posted 16 Mar 2020, 04:49 by Parish Office

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A (14 & 15/3/20)

 

The thirst for living water:  we all desire to love and to be loved.  St Theresa of Calcutta said that the great evil of our age is the lack of love and charity, the great indifference towards one’s neighbour.  In some ways, nothing has changed since Our Lord’s time.  The woman at the well is a good example of what can happen when things go wrong.

 

Clearly, the woman at the well was something of a broken character.  In the full version of the Gospel text, Jesus reveals that she has had five husbands, and the man she is with now is not her husband.  Whether this was through being widowed or divorced or a combination of the two we don’t know.  But whatever the exact situation, it is bound to have broken her in some way.  And there is a further point:  she comes to draw water at the sixth hour, which is midday, the hottest time of the day, the time when only “mad dogs and Englishmen” are about.  Everyone else stays indoors because it is too hot.  She is trying to avoid other people’s company.  Clearly she has been looking for love, but things have gone wrong in her life, and for whatever reason, she is now living with someone who is not her husband, which wouldn’t have given her a good reputation in the town.

 

So she meets Jesus. 

 

Unclean meets clean.  Someone in need of sanctification meets the One who is sanctification itself.  A woman in need of salvation meets Salvation in person.  Perhaps she didn’t entirely see it that way, at least initially.  But that encounter changes her life.  She finds what her heart really desires.  She encounters healing – as a result she now goes out to tell others about Him, forgetting her fear.  They then are led to Him as well.

 

At the moment, all across the world, various people are preparing to become Catholics at the Easter Vigil.  Some are preparing in our deanery.  They will all have been led to the Church by different routes.  Some more earth-shattering, others more ordinary.  There may be all sorts of reasons and motives.  But just like the woman at the well, they encounter the person of Christ, in their preparation and prayer.  He is the One who changes their lives – and it’s not for us and our personality to get in the way.

 

When I was training for the priesthood, one of the Church documents we had to look at was Pastores Dabo Vobis, produced by Pope St John Paul II, regarding the formation of future priests.  One of the phrases that struck me as both true and also slightly humorous was the following, where it said that candidates for the priesthood should mould their personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge, and not an obstacle, to others in their meeting with Jesus Christ.  It’s important advice for future priests, and also for any other Catholics as well.  Is our parish a place that welcomes newcomers to the faith?  Do we say hello to them and help them to feel at home in the parish, or do we ignore them?  Is our personality a bridge to Christ, or an obstacle?  Because Christ is the One they need to meet.  He is the One who transforms lives.

 

Do we need that encounter ourselves?  You bet we do!  I’m not saying that as a criticism (“dear me, look at you all, we’re in a right mess here etc. etc.”).  No, what I mean is that if we are to radiate Christ to others, we had better make sure that we haven’t put Him in a corner of our lives and left Him on His own.  When we meet Christ, it shouldn’t be a one-off occasion.  It should be a regular meeting, where we keep on coming back for more.  He is our God and the Lord of our life.

 

We all desire to love and to be loved.  Let’s turn to God, who is Love Itself, and our hearts will be fulfilled.

7th / 8th March 2020

posted 9 Mar 2020, 04:37 by Parish Office

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year A (7 & 8/3/20)

 

Back in 2009 I made a pilgrimage, together with a group of deacons and priests, to the Holy Land, and one of the places we visited was Mount Tabor, where the Transfiguration took place.  And I can tell you that the Gospel is accurate – it is a high mountain.  We travelled so far up by coach, and then after that we had to get into taxis for the very steep, narrow, winding road taking us up to the top.  And at the top there is a church commemorating the Transfiguration.  Obviously, back in Our Lord’s time, there was none of these.  They would have had a very difficult, sustained walk, to get up to the top, and probably would have had to stop a few times and catch their breath.  Depending on the weather, they might have had a beautiful view when they reached the top; but it could have been misty instead.

 

Either way, the most important thing when they were there was the Transfiguration.  Over the years, quite a few artists have tried to depict what it must have been like when a glimpse of Christ’s divinity was seen by Peter, James and John.  In fact all three persons of the Most Holy Trinity were present:  the Father spoke, Christ shone in glory, and the Holy Spirit was represented by a cloud – and don’t forget it was the pillar of fire and cloud that led the Israelites through the desert in Moses’ day.

 

The disciples led quite a busy life – at one point it says that there were so many people coming and going that the didn’t even have time to eat – so you can understand why Peter, James and John might not have wanted to leave:  we’re on our own here, with the Lord.  What more do you need?  There are times in our lives when we experience great joy in prayer, going to Mass, or other occasions with God.  We wish things could always be that way.  If only every time we came to Mass it could be like this!  But our life as Christians isn’t supposed to be one big party from start to finish.  Christ had to descend the mountain, and later on be crucified; Peter, James and John had to follow in their master’s steps, and be prepared to suffer for Him.  Do we think we can be exempt?  Sometimes we hope we might be, but it’s an illusion.  The cross is part of our lives.  Moses, when He met God on Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments, couldn’t stay up there forever.  He had to go down the mountain, and then he found that the people had been unfaithful whilst he had been away.  They had taken their gold and made a calf out of it, and were worshipping it.  And what’s more, his brother Aaron had helped them do it.  Aaron was perhaps a bit embarrassed, and he lies by saying that he got together people’s gold, threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.  You can imagine Moses thinking, “Hmm… a likely story”.

 

But what happens to Christ?  After He descends from Mount Tabor, where the Transfiguration took place, He later on goes to Jerusalem, where He casts out the money-changers from the Temple.  This time they haven’t made a calf out of gold, but, in the place where God is worshipped, it seems that some people are turning a false god – money.  So He cleanses the Temple.  What about ourselves?  We find that, after this celebration, we need to look at our own lives and see what needs cleansing from our hearts.  Do we live by all ten of the Commandments, or do we conveniently forget one or two of them?  Do we have other things or persons in our lives that we treat as more important than God, that take priority and first place instead of God?  Do we steal, but try to justify it?  Do we live a pure life?  Do we honour those in charge over us, as well as our own parents?  Do we allow ourselves to be consumed by love of material things?  (It’s Lent, so I can pile on the guilt.)

 

After the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John were to see the Lord transfigured again.  Not in glory, but this time into the Man of Sorrows, sweating blood in the garden of Gethsemane.  That same Jesus they had seen in glory, was now being crushed like a grape to make wine.  He had told us, “take up your cross and follow me”, and now He was going to lead by example.  And in that way, the prophecy made to Abram in the first reading was to be fulfilled:  “All of the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you”.  At the time when that prophecy was made, Abram couldn’t see, in all its detail, how it was going to be fulfilled.  He simply had to trust in God and step forward in faith.  We can’t always know what God’s future plans for us are.  But like Our Lady saying “yes” at the Annunciation, we say “yes” to the Lord and place everything in His hands.  Perhaps our impact on society might be small.  Perhaps it might be greater.  Certainly, by working together as the Church, it can be.  St Paul tells us in the second reading:  “With me, bear the hardships for the sake of the Good News, relying on the power of God”.  Relying on the power of God … that is what we have to do.  Take things to prayer.  Ask for God’s will to be done.  Ask Him to transfigure our lives, so we can radiate Him to others.  Sometimes people might see the transfigured Christ in us, at other times the Man of Sorrows.  The important thing is that we are faithful.  We leave the rest to God.

Ash Wednesday Homily

posted 28 Feb 2020, 03:47 by Parish Office

Ash Wednesday 2020 (26/2/20)

 

Here we are again – it’s Ash Wednesday, the very first day of Lent.  Just another thirty-nine days to go.  What are you going to do, or not do, this Lent?  The same as last year?  Something different?  Who knows, maybe after you’ve heard what I’m about to say, you might decide to change your plans.

 

First, let’s be a bit technical.  Lent employs the technique of “delayed gratification”.  In simple terms, it means that we put off an instant reward now for the sake of a better reward later on.  In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of not seeking reward from the people around us now by our prayer, fasting and almsgiving, for the sake of a greater reward later on from God.  Acting in this way is in itself a form of self-denial:  rather than seeking the pleasure of attention-seeking, I hold back for the sake of something better later on.  It’s a bit like when you give up chocolate for Lent:  after Lent is over and Easter arrives, you enjoy chocolate more than you did before Lent started.

 

Self-denial teaches us something important as well.  We won’t fall apart by not having any chocolate, sweets, coffee, or any of the other things that it is better for us to get rid from our lives, such as sin in general, or perhaps something specific, such as being grumpy.

 

So, what have you chosen to do or to give up for Lent?  Don’t just go for the easy ones, like, “I’ll give up meat”.

Yes, but you’re a vegetarian.

“Okay then, I’ll give up smoking”.

Yes, but you’ve never smoked in your life.  How about something from today’s Gospel:  “Do not put on a gloomy look.”  That means don’t be grumpy.

“But I like being grumpy.  It’s part of who I am.”

Well stop it.  Stop being grumpy, and what’s more, stop enjoying being grumpy.  Take pleasure in being better company and giving other people a good day.

“But if I try and stop being grumpy, I’ll fail.  Five minutes after leaving church, I’ll get to the bus station, realise I’ve missed my bus and then be grumpy, and I’ll take it out on the next person I see.”

Now, I didn’t say Lent would be easy.  But maybe, as we get further through Lent, you might find it easier with practice.  And maybe, possibly (it might not happen), but maybe the grumpiness could be transformed into something else instead.  A different form of release.  How about a dry sense of humour?  Go on, give it a try.  “Knowing my luck, the next bus will be cancelled.  Or we’ll just get out the bus station and it will break down.”  Okay, so you’re starting, but keep on working at it.

 

So what are you going to tackle this Lent?  Go on, be ambitious.  You might not succeed.  You might fail.  You might fail quite a few times.  But you might also make at least a bit of progress.  And it might have lasting effects later on.  And who knows?  Maybe you might be able to store up treasure in heaven, and receive your reward later on.  Delayed gratification is a good thing.  At the very least, if it makes us better company, then we can’t grumble about that.

22nd / 23rd February 2020

posted 24 Feb 2020, 04:34 by Parish Office

Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (22 & 23/2/20)

 

Last week we were told that if our virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and the Pharisees, we will never get into the kingdom of heaven.  This time we are told that our love for others has to be much higher than that of tax collectors and pagans.  “Love your enemies … pray for those who persecute you”.

 

There is the saying that we hate the sin, but love the sinner.  It’s a mid-way between two extremes:  the extreme on the one hand of hate the sin, hate the sinner, and the other extreme of love the sinner and love the sin.  The correct balance is that we hate the sin, but love the sinner.  It means that there is such a thing as legitimate anger.  It is right to be angry against wrongdoing, injustice, sin and so on.  It would be wrong not to be, and just to accept it all as “it’s just the way things are today”.  At the time of the rise of Adolf Hitler, there were various priests and bishops that spoke out against the regime and were sent away to various camps, including Auschwitz.  Not all of them returned.  But it’s said that when some of them did return after the end of the War, they weren’t always greeted enthusiastically by the people.  The people felt embarrassed that they had simply gone along with the regime and kept their heads down, rather than challenge and speak out about what was happening.

 

We are allowed to challenge injustice, to defend ourselves, and to defend others in our charge.  If everyone’s right to life is to be respected, then that includes our own, and we can defend ourselves, using legitimate and proportionate defence.  If a salesman comes into our house and we don’t like the prices he offers, we can tell him to leave.  But what we can’t do is without warning pull out a gun and shoot him.

 

One of the problems with the issue of anger is that it can so easily boil over.  Hatred of wrong can lead then to hatred of the person, and that’s the point when it becomes sinful.  It’s so easily done.  Vengeance can then lead to more vengeance, tit for tat.  Things escalate and get out of control.  People keep on wanting to try to get their own back.  We are called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  Love is different to liking someone.  We may not like the people that broke into our neighbour’s shed.  We certainly don’t like what they did.  But we are called to pray for them that they begin to realise the damage their actions cause and have a change of heart.

 

People can sometimes get disheartened about the way things are today; others may have never known things to be any different.  But, the greater the darkness, the greater the effect of the light.  A kind word or gesture can make such a difference, and help to restore some people’s faith in humanity.  There are still some good people around.  If sin leads people to put up the barriers against others and be closed in on themselves, gestures of goodness and kindness can open them up again.  It doesn’t have to cost anything.  A good word, a bit of encouragement, a kind deed, an offer to help – without expecting repayment – all these things are small ways of building up the kingdom of God.

 

But now comes the crunch:  “if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? … And if you save your greeting for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional?”  The love we show others as Christians has to go further.  It’s one thing helping out the nice old lady down the road with the odd bit of gardening, especially when she rewards you with a nice cup of tea and a few cakes afterwards, and is such pleasant company to talk to.  But what about if she wasn’t so appreciative?  Or a bit of a complainer?  Or something worse?  “For if you love those who love you, what right have you to claim any credit? … And if you save your greeting for your brothers, are you doing anything exceptional? … You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  That is something that we can’t do by ourselves.  We run out of steam.  At times, it might require the patience of a saint, and we are called to be living saints.  Not like some sort of unreal, plaster-cast saints, but real flesh and blood saints who live in the real world but are also in contact with heaven as well.  People who don’t just love our neighbour in the same measure that we love ourselves, but people who love our neighbour with the very love of God, people who love others in the same way that Christ loves us.  And that sort of love can only come from Christ.

 

Our Lord never said that it would be easy to follow Him.  He did say, “Take up your cross and follow me”.  But with Him, the burden is made light.  Let us also entrust ourselves to the prayers of Our Lady.  She is a real saint who knows all our needs and the complexities of our lives.  Sometimes we need difficulties to help ourselves realise that we can’t do things just by ourselves – we need the help of God, and the prayers of Our Lady, because we are called to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.

15th / 16th February 2020

posted 17 Feb 2020, 05:48 by Parish Office

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (15 & 16/2/20)

 

“For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Does hypocrisy annoy you?  Do you roll your eyes when a politician is caught red-handed, but comes up with a response a bit like, “Well, technically, what I was doing wasn’t really illegal?”  It’s a bit like another well-known response:  “Yes officer, but the money was just merely resting in my account”.  We all know the importance of following not just the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law.  But how do we go about doing that?

 

In longer version of today’s Gospel, Jesus picks out three areas where we can all struggle, at different times in our lives:  anger, lust and deceitfulness, which are covered in the Ten Commandments.  Maybe if we don’t know the Ten Commandments off by heart, we at least have an idea of their content.  Back in the first century AD, there we some who took a very narrow reading of them.  So, for example, with the commandment “Do not kill” (or perhaps more accurately rendered, “Do not murder”), they could say that anger was fine, as long as they hadn’t actually killed anyone.  But you know what?  The closer you get to the forbidden line, the greater the chance is that you will actually step over it.  In a time of anger, self-control goes out the window, and then, it’s too late.  Of course the last two commandments speak about desire:  do not covet your neighbour’s wife or your neighbour’s goods; do not long for or desire them.  Desire leads to action, as self-control goes out the window.  Self-control is an area that everyone can struggle with at times, whether it’s around deceitfulness, lust or anger.  Or other areas as well.  What do we do?

 

The first reading today began with this advice:  “If you wish, you can keep the commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power”; and perhaps to give us a bit more motivation it also adds, “[God] has given no one permission to sin”.  Yet we still struggle.  Is it a matter of just having enough willpower?  Is it the case that, if we only had that level of willpower, then maybe we might just be perfect?

 

In simple terms, no.  The experience of the Jewish people was that, by themselves, they were unable to keep all of the Jewish Law (the Jewish Law means the Ten Commandments and all the other regulations in the first five books of the Old Testament).  In the New Testament, St Paul makes this very point:  knowing the Jewish Law doesn’t automatically enable you to keep it.  It’s just the same as owning a car doesn’t automatically make you a good driver.  First you need some petrol (unless it’s a diesel or electric car), and you also need to know how to drive, as well as to grow in experience on the road.  The same is true of living a virtuous life.  Knowledge of the ways of God is part of it.  But we also need the spiritual petrol:  the grace of God, which we receive in prayer, but also in a particular way in the sacraments of the Church.  Jesus said that He is the vine and we are the branches; cut off from Him, we can do nothing.  Just as branches require sap moving throughout the whole vine, so we, as the Body of Christ, need the grace of God moving through all of us through prayer and the sacraments.  And the analogy with a car continues:  passing your test and putting petrol in the tank doesn’t make you the world’s best driver.  You then need to gain experience on the road, and perhaps make a few mistakes along the way.  It’s sometimes said that quite frequently, newly passed drivers have accidents that don’t involve any other motorists, because they think their car will go round a corner like it’s on rails, so they go too fast and end up skidding into something or turning over.  Over-confidence in the moral life can also lead to similar accidents.  I think I have a good amount of self-control, so I can put myself in situations of danger, knowing I won’t succumb.  But I do anyway.  Pride comes before a fall.

 

“For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”  We know the importance of avoiding forms of legalism.  We know that virtue has to be more than just skin-deep.  With Christ, with the grace of prayer and the sacraments, we can begin to be the faithful people He is calling us to be.  But we also have to ask ourselves the question:  do I want to be?  If so, then what in my life needs to change?

1st/2nd February 2020

posted 3 Feb 2020, 05:48 by Parish Office

Homily for the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (1 & 2/2/20)

 

Isn’t the liturgical calendar of the Church an interesting thing?  We were in white vestments a few weeks ago for Christmas, then we went to green for Ordinary Time, now we go briefly back to white and next week we go back to green again.  Today’s feast is so important that it takes precedence over the usual Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time.  So why is it so significant?

 

Well, firstly because it marks an important moment in the life of the Lord.  Just as Christmas and Easter are important events that shape the Church’s year, the Presentation is important too, although of lesser importance than Christmas or Easter.

 

Firstly, then, what was the Presentation in the Temple all about?  Well, it goes back all the way to the time of the Exodus from Egypt.  If you remember, the Israelites had to sacrifice a male animal, one year old, from either sheep or goats, and smear its blood over the doorposts of their houses.  That night, the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites, but the first-born sons of the Egyptians died.  As a result of this event, the Israelites had to sacrifice to God all first-born male animals.  If they wanted to keep them, such as if it was a donkey, they had to sacrifice something else in its place.  For first-born sons, they obviously were not to sacrifice them to God, so they had to offer a sacrifice of an animal or bird in their place.  So the ritual the Holy Family celebrated in the Temple was something that all families were familiar with.

 

But this now is where it differed.  All these sacrifices pointed towards the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and on the occasion of Our Lord’s Presentation in the Temple, Simeon reveals that God has given him an inkling of what is to take place:  this child is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel.  He is destined to be a sign that is rejected, and of course His ultimate rejection takes place on the Cross, where He brings meaning to all the Old Testament sacrifices by being the sacrifice that ransoms us from sin and takes our sins away.  After that, there is no need for any more Temple sacrifices.

 

If you want a visual image of the Presentation, take a look at Our Lady’s altar.  On the left-hand side is a depiction of the Presentation, with what looks a bit like a baptismal font (although it isn’t), with Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and Simeon and Anna.  For us, of course, our equivalent now as Christians is our baptism, which is maybe why the artist has depicted the scene with what looks like a baptismal font.  When we are baptised, it is the sacrifice of Christ that takes our sins away, washes us of Original Sin, gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit and incorporates us into His Church.  We are consecrated and set aside for the worship of God, to live a life that is a life-long worship of God, and we are withdrawn from being instruments of sin.  That is our baptismal presentation, or consecration, to God.

 

Then, at the end of our life, there is another link with the Presentation.  Since the reforms of Vatican II, when it’s possible, the last sacrament anyone receives as part of the Last Rites is not the Sacrament of Anointing, although this is still part of it; the last sacrament you receive is Viaticum, which is your final Holy Communion as food for the journey from this life to the next.  Simeon took the Christ-child in his arms and blessed God, saying:

 

“Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,

just as you promised;

because my eyes have seen the salvation

which you have prepared for all the nations to see”.

 

In the same way when we receive Viaticum at the end of our lives, we receive the Lord into our soul.  Our prayer, too, is, “Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace...”  For practical reasons, it isn’t always possible for a dying person to receive Holy Communion.  Often in hospital people are maybe unconscious, or unable to swallow, or some other reason prevents Viaticum, so still the Anointing of the Sick is the last sacrament they receive.  But, when it is possible, Viaticum is the last sacrament.  Occasionally it’s the case that people who are housebound die on their own at home without anyone calling a priest.  But because they have been receiving Holy Communion at home, their last Holy Communion is in a sense their Viaticum.  They have received the Lord, and gone to the Lord in peace.

 

So the Presentation is an important feast, rich in significance.  It points towards Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father as the ultimate sacrifice, and it reminds us of our own baptism and of Viaticum at the end of our lives.

25th / 26th January 2020

posted 27 Jan 2020, 03:14 by Parish Office

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Bible Sunday

(25 & 26/1/20)

 

A young man heard with disgust that his wealthy old uncle had left him a Bible in his will.  The will read thus:  ‘To my nephew I leave a copy of God’s priceless Word which I trust he will use daily and find within its pages real treasure’.

 

The beneficiary threw the Bible into an old trunk in the attic, disgusted and disappointed with his share in his uncle’s bequests.  Years later, at a time of depression, he turned to the good Book for comfort.  Between its pages he found many thousands of pounds.

 

How often do we read the Bible?  Once a day?  Once a week?  Once in a blue moon?  This year, as we celebrate The God Who Speaks, it might be an opportunity to take the Bible off the shelf, blow off the dust and have a good look inside.  We might be surprised what we find.

 

I suppose sometimes, the question is where to start.  We could try starting from the beginning and reading a bit each day, and gradually working our way through, which might take a few years.  We could begin by looking at the books that might seem more familiar – we could read through the Gospels, perhaps the letters of St Paul, and maybe some of the Old Testament books that we have come across at Mass, such as the book of Isaiah.  Maybe we might also take a look at the Psalms, and after that, we could continue onto the book of Proverbs, for some rather interesting words of wisdom.  It might be a rather interesting way of deepening your faith.  Then there might come questions about what it means.  I’m happy for you to ask, or to write an e-mail.

 

It can be really quite a spiritual revolution to start reading the Bible.  Sometimes we can be a bit wary of it, almost thinking that it is a Protestant book, or that we might turn into Protestants, or that this is something that we shouldn’t really be doing.  But the Bible is actually a Catholic book.  Back in the first century, when the Apostles were travelling over the Roman Empire evangelising, there was no New Testament.  In 2 Tim 3:16,  St Paul says, “All scripture is inspired by God and can profitably be used for teaching, for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be holy”.  But when he refers to “Scripture”, what he’s actually referring to is the Old Testament.  At this point, the New Testament hadn’t been put together.

 

There were various writings that went around different parts of the Roman Empire, and the Church had to decide which ones would go into the Bible and which ones would stay out.  That’s why you occasionally hear about the so-called Gospel of Thomas, or the so-called Gospel of Peter, or of Judas etc.  These were kept out of the Bible because they were heretical – their contents did not agree with the faith of the Church, and if you read them, you will see that they all contradict each other in different ways anyway.

 

Sort-of related to this is the fact that the Old Testament in a Catholic Bible has an extra seven books in it compared with Protestant Bible, and it also has a few extra chapters in some of the other books as well.  This is because there were certain books, such as the Book of Wisdom, a favourite choice in many Catholic funerals, which were written around the time of Christ, and so some of the Jews didn’t accept these last-minute additions to the Old Testament.  The Catholic Church did, but the Protestants by and large didn’t.  So if you’re curious about their contents, then go and check it out.  Two of the books are 1 and 2 Maccabees, which tell us about the era of the Kingdom of the Greeks, when they tried to make the Jews conform to Greek religious customs.  The Maccabee family led a revolt, ultimately defeating the Greeks.  But within these two books is a passage that has been long-associated with the doctrine of Purgatory.  Interestingly enough, the Protestants, who by-and-large don’t believe in Purgatory, don’t have this book, or if they do, they include it under the title of “apocrypha”, which means of dubious authenticity.  Without getting too technical, we call these books instead “deuterocanonical”, which is a rather good scrabble word.

 

Reading the Bible is also a good way to deepen our prayer life.  If we were to take today’s Gospel, we could read it slowly and imagine ourselves in the scene.  Are we someone watching?  Are we one of the disciples?  What is your response when Jesus calls and says, “Follow me”?

 

There is much more I could say now, but I’ve run out of time.  So if you want to find out more about the Bible, the only thing I can say is, open it, and see for yourself.  You might be surprised at what you discover.

18th / 19th January 2020

posted 20 Jan 2020, 02:38 by Parish Office

Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity (18 & 19/1/20)

 

It seems quite a while ago now that we celebrated Christmas Day.  Yet it’s not a month yet.  Yet here we are, back in Ordinary Time, and the green vestments are back.  Back to work, back to school, back to all the usual routines, and in the Gospel, Christ is now no longer a baby, but a man, and His Mission is starting.

 

On Christmas Day, the Gospel reading isn’t the account of the birth of Christ, but rather the prologue, the opening, of St John’s Gospel, setting out what Christ is all about.  “In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (1:1).  But contained within that prologue, is also a reference to John the Baptist:

 

“He came as a witness,

as a witness to speak for the light,

so that everyone might believe through him.

He was not the light,

only a witness to speak for the light” (1:7-8)

 

That is what John is all about.  He prepares the way for the Lord, and the message he preaches is not his own, it is the message of God.  Fairly obvious stuff, you might think.  But this is also the role of the Church.  The Church, all of us included, are to speak as witnesses for the light.  If we speak our own message instead, then we cease to witness to Christ; our witness is dimmed.

 

Of course, in history before, witness to God had been dimmed.  That is why Christ had to correct those who thought they knew about God, the Pharisees and Sadducees.  The people realised that something was amiss; it’s why, when He preached, they responded:  This is what we’ve been looking for!  Or as it says at the end of Matthew chapter seven:  “his teaching made a deep impression on the people because he taught them with authority, and not like their own scribes” (vs. 28-29).

 

We begin today/began on Saturday the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity.  We have to admit that Christian disunity has taken place in the past, because previous generations were unfaithful in various ways to Christ.  In many ways, it was like a family falling apart.  The bad example of some members of the family, and the fact that they claimed one thing but did another, led to other members of the family refusing to listen, and going their separate ways.  And for many years, it was like a family falling out, with different sides refusing to talk to each other, or when they did, they suspected each other of bad intentions.  Now, hundreds of years later, there has been a thawing out of relations, but the separation of centuries takes a long time to heal.  Much prayer is needed, and much love.  A great outpouring of the Holy Sprit is needed.  The words of the Sequence at Pentecost are so appropriate:

 

“Heal our wounds, our strength renew;

On our dryness pour thy dew;

Wash the stains of guilt away:

 

Bend the stubborn heart and will;

Melt the frozen, warm the chill;

Guide the steps that go astray.”

 

A lot still needs to be repaired.  We can’t, by our own, solve all the problems.  But we can play our part.  If it was poor witness to Christ that caused the problems in the first place, then good witness to Christ can help to undo the problems.  Our Lord teaches us:  “No one can be the slave of two masters:  he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn.  You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.”  (Matthew 6:24)  In some ways, it was love of money which helped lead to the break-up of Christianity in the West.  Love of God is what will help to lead to unity, where money is used as a tool at the service of God, not as a tyrannical master that compromises our witness to the Gospel.  Love of the world is what also helped lead to the so-called Reformation.  But as Christ teaches, we are in the world, but not of the world:

 

“If you belonged to the world,

the world would love you as its own;

but because you do not belong to the world,

because my choice withdrew you from the world

therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

 

Crucially, we are not totally isolated from the world either.  We live in the world, but we don’t really belong; we live like people who are from another country, whose true homeland is heaven.

 

John the Baptist lived faithfully as messenger for Christ.  May we increasingly to do the same, and in that way help to build up Christian unity.

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