Fr Michael's Homilies

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

Homily for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (3 & 4/9/22)

posted 5 Sept 2022, 02:10 by Parish Office

Following the Lord is not a decision to be taken lightly. It costs, and sometimes, quite a lot. We have to be prepared to carry our cross, and not just give up after a few metres just because it’s beginning to feel heavy. God has to be put in first place, before everyone and everything else. He is our “number one”, not our father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters or our own life.

Think of planning a building. Pugin was a great architect of churches in many ways, and he also designed the decoration for the Houses of Parliament. But unfortunately, the old St Gregory’s, in Longton, which he designed, had to be demolished, because the ground was collapsing underneath. Someone told me how the floor tiles were coming loose, and you could hear sounds underneath the church. So a beautiful church, similar in many ways to this one, had to be demolished, and a more modern church took its place. Meanwhile, Sacred Heart, Hanley, still stands. But what happened in our case was that all the money raised was insufficient, and was spent making the ground safe, so it was donations from America that funded everything you see above ground. Just imagine if, instead, they had decided that they would do things on the cheap. Perhaps as an extreme example, they could have decided not to bother with foundations, or even with bricks. Just put up a few tents, and leave it at that, and keep all the spare money in the bank. Job done. It sounds quite ridiculous. But sometimes, people do try to do the same with religion. They give God something that doesn’t cost them much at all – I’m not talking about money, but the offering of their lives. They live their lives, and let God have the loose change, as it were. But does Christ recognise them as His disciples? He says to us: “none of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions”, and the way this applies to us is not that we need to give up everything we own, but we need to put our whole lives in the Lord’s hands: “Do with me, Lord, whatever you choose”. If God says to sell up everything and go and be a missionary in a foreign land, then so be it. But if He says to stay here and bear witness to Him by my life, then so be it as well. We also need to give over to him anything that possess us and restricts our freedom, even addictions such as alcohol or gambling.

We also need to give over to God our pride. The first reading talks about the importance of humility before God:

“What man can know the intentions of God?

Who can divine the will of the Lord? …

It is hard enough for us to work out what is on earth …

who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?”

We need God’s revelation. There are those who want to work things out for themselves, but it does save a lot of reasoning and arguing to be just given the answer.

In the second reading, St Paul writes about someone called Onesimus, who has something of an interesting history. Onesimus was a slave who had robbed his master and fled. But after coming into contact with St Paul he was baptised and became a Christian. No doubt St Paul impressed upon him the need to turn his life around. Onesimus was someone who had seen the demands of the Gospel, but also the new life offered to Him in Christ, and now St Paul vouches for him to his former master. Christ makes the demand of a radical change of life, and the blessings are much greater than the initial sacrifice.

So there we have it. We are called to give everything over to God, to be humble, to be aware of what we are signing up to, and not to think that little will be demanded of us. But the rewards are out of this world.

Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (27 & 28/8/22)

posted 2 Sept 2022, 07:16 by Parish Office

As Christians, we are supposed to be humble, and that means that we also need to avoid pride. So firstly, what is pride?

Pride can come in more obvious, and less obvious forms. The more obvious: the example in the Gospel parable of the man who exalts himself and automatically sits in the highest and most important place. Just imagine, for a moment, I went to the cathedral for a big and important Mass. At the start of the Mass, the MC comes over to me and says, “I’m sorry, Fr Michael, but you need to move. That’s the Archbishop’s seat.”

So there is the more obvious, overt, form of pride, where someone goes around with the attitude of “the whole world revolves around me, and I’m the most important person in the world”. But there can also be much more subtle pride as well. Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The serpent said to them that if they ate the forbidden fruit, they would be like God, knowing good and evil. Knowledge! And knowledge is power, as they say. So they chose to rebel against God and eat the forbidden fruit. Of course, it was all a deception. The more subtle form of pride is when we want to be self-reliant and do things by ourselves, apart from God, and when we refuse to submit to God and acknowledge God. No, we want to say, “I achieved it all by myself”.

But then we also want to avoid falling into the opposite trap, which is a false form of humility, where we want to put ourselves down and be part of the mediocre crowd. I never do anything good. I’m good for nothing etc. It’s not actually true. We are made in the image and likeness of God. Our dignity comes from God, and so we have to confess that every good thing we do comes from God, and that God is at work in us. We do sin, and we do mess things up from time to time – that’s true of everyone. But God is at work in us, and we have to give Him the glory. And if we have been given great gifts and talents, then we need to use them in service of God and neighbour, for the glory of God, not hide them under a bushel or bury them in the sand. Being a follower of the Lord is not just about avoiding bad – it’s also about doing good.

I came across this recently, which makes the point that it’s no good being someone who never does any bad, but also never does any good either:

They do not lie;

They just neglect to tell the truth.

They do not take;

They simply cannot bring themselves to give.

They do not steal;

They scavenge.

They will not rock the boat;

But did you ever see them pull an oar? …

They do not hurt you;

They merely will not help you.

They do not hate you;

They merely cannot love you;

They’ll only fiddle while you burn.

The sins-of-omission folk;

The neither-good-nor-bad-


Lastly, another little gem I found. It’s important that we avoid pride, and that we don’t try to use pretend humility to further our pride:

There is the story of a rabbi and a cantor and a humble synagogue cleaner who were preparing for the Day of Atonement. The rabbi beat his breast and said “I am nothing, I am nothing”. The cantor beat his breast, and said “I am nothing, I am nothing”. The cleaner beat his breast, and said “I am nothing, I am nothing”. And the rabbi said to the cantor “Look who thinks he’s nothing”. (Alan Paton)

So, to sum up, we are called to avoid both overt pride, where we think we are superior to everyone else, and also more subtle pride, where we want to be our own master and rebel against God, denying we ever needed His help. But we also want to avoid false humility, where we claim that we are nothing whatsoever. The humble person says, yes, I sin and make a mess of things, but I’m also a child of God, and I use His gifts to give Him glory.

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (6 & 7/8/22)

posted 15 Aug 2022, 02:41 by Parish Office

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (6 & 7/8/22)

Back at the very beginning of my priestly formation I spent a year at the seminary in Valladolid in Spain, and there was one fellow seminarian who was always the first downstairs to the chapel in the morning. But, one day, when I came down to the chapel, he wasn’t there. And he wasn’t there in time for mediation. Neither did he arrive for Morning Prayer. And when we went for breakfast, he wasn’t waiting outside to go in either. Then, about half-way through breakfast, he arrived, in an utterly foul mood. What had happened, was that he had been locked out of the seminary. We had a system that when you went out in the evening, you signed your name on the list on the front door, and when you returned you crossed it off. Then whoever was last to return would cross his name off the list and lock and bolt the main door, from the inside. Somehow, someone had locked the front door whilst one person was still in town. Nobody admitted to being the guilty culprit. (pause) Well don’t look at me like that! I didn’t do it. To this day, I have no idea who it was.

Today in the Gospel Our Lord tells us to be ready for the master when he returns, like servants waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast. It’s no good if the servants have given up, locked the door and gone to bed. And we can’t be like the person in the Gospel two weeks ago, saying to the Lord, “Do not bother me. The door is bolted now, and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up to give it to you now”. That would be a dereliction of duty.

And part of being ready, is also to act responsibly. The next example Our Lord gives is that, just because the master is taking his time, it’s no good for the servant to abuse his position, trash his master’s property and make other people’s lives difficult. We can perhaps think of corruption in parts of society – you sometimes hear about corruption in the police in parts of Asia, or government officials in Africa that live off, and only do any work, if they are bribed first. But we could find other examples closer to home as well. Clearly, that shouldn’t be happening. But we also have to look to ourselves, our own hearts, as well. When Christ returns as judge, he will judge each of us for our own sins; what other people have done will be largely irrelevant.

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

posted 15 Aug 2022, 01:55 by Parish Office

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

(30 & 31/7/22)

If you watch the last film Laurel and Hardy ever produced, it begins like this: their uncle has died and they go to the solicitors to request their share of the inheritance. The three men at the firm begin by saying, “Your uncle was quite an eccentric.” ... “He didn’t believe in banks.” … “He insisted on keeping his money in cash.” And they produce three piles of money, in French francs, Italian lira and English pounds. Hardy is about to put the three piles of money into his case, when they say that first they have to deduct the relevant fees. About half of the money disappears. Then Hardy tries to take the remaining money, but he is told, wait, we have to now deduct taxes. The vast majority now disappears from the remaining piles of money. Finally he is able to collect what remains, just a few notes. They have, though, also inherited a yacht and an island. But when they get to the dockyard, they then spend the remainder of the French francs on the dock fees, plus a little “tax”. And that’s how the film begins.

In recent history, we’ve been used to a fairly secure financial situation in this country. Obviously we have had recessions and people have found it rather hard at times, but compared with some countries, inflation and unemployment have been nowhere near as high. But we are learning now that financial security is not necessarily set in stone. There is the saying that there are two things certain in life: death and taxes. Perhaps, though, we can add a third: suffering. We don’t like suffering, and do what we can to avoid it, and that is part of why so many pursue riches – they think it will make their lives secure, worry-free and make life so much easier.

It doesn’t necessarily work that way, though. On one level, you can talk about loss due to inflation, theft, burglary, becoming a target due to your wealth, having your property vandalised, and then the threat of disease, and some diseases, no money can cure. But what about salvation? There are those who spend so much time acquiring wealth, and just leave the issue of salvation to deal with itself. Our Lord seems to imply that this is back-to-front logic. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and its righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” “Watch, and be on your guard against avarice of any kind, for a man’s life is not made secure by what he owns, even when he has more than he needs.” “Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it

be then?” [Quotes both from today’s Gospel.] We could say: you can’t take it with you. And in the first reading, the Preacher says that one person works hard to amass wealth, and another inherits it without doing any real work for it. This is vanity. Or, as in the case of the Laurel and Hardy film, one person works hard for it, and then others don’t inherit much of it after all, because the tax man and the solicitors get their hands on it first. Make yourselves rich in the sight of God. “[S]tore up treasure for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor woodworms destroy them and thieves cannot break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). “[U]se money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity.” (Luke 16:9).

Let us make sure we are not “too busy” to give priority to the things of God. Money and possessions are not secure in this life, and we can’t take them with us to the next.

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C –

posted 25 Jul 2022, 01:52 by Parish Office

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C –

World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly (23 & 24/7/22)
What is prayer? Well, one definition is the raising of the heart and mind to God. Another way of explaining it could be to say that it is a way of spending time with God, Our Lady, the saints and the angels. It is sharing in the life of heaven. St John Vianney said that to pray and to love is our happiness on earth. He also said:
“Prayer is nothing else than union with God. When our heart is pure and united to God, we feel within ourselves a joy, a sweetness that inebriates, a light that dazzles us. In this intimate union God and the soul are like two pieces of wax melted together; they cannot be separated. This union of God with His little creature is a most beautiful thing. It is a happiness that we cannot understand.”

Prayer, of course, is not just about asking for things. Sometimes people use the word ACTS to summarise four different types of prayer:
“A” stands for adoration. This is where we just spend time with God, without even necessarily saying anything, but just adoring Him, a bit like sunbathing in His presence. In adoration, we show God how much we love Him.
“C” stands for confession. Just like the sacrament of confession, this means saying sorry to God for our sins, just like at the start of Mass, when we say the “I confess” or say “Have mercy on us, O Lord”, or “Lord, have mercy”. We recognise that we are not perfect and need God’s help and forgiveness.
“T” stands for thanksgiving. We have so much to thank God for, but so often we just take it all for granted. Sometimes we need to re-invigorate our attitude of gratitude and say thank you to God for so many wonderful things in our lives.
“S” stands for supplication, which is another word for asking for things. It’s not that God doesn’t know or pay attention to what is happening in the world, but He wants us to make our needs known to Him, a bit like a grandson asking his grandmother for his favourite meal. She just loves to be asked and loves to make him happy!

In the Gospel we see other forms and advice on prayer. We can pray using prayers composed by others. The Our Father is a good place to start, as it was given by Our Lord Himself. It contains all that we need, a bit like a health food that has all the vitamins and minerals that go to make for a healthy body.

Our Lord encourages us to persist in prayer. Praying to God is not just like going to a snack machine, typing in the right code, paying for it, and there it is. It’s about a human-divine interaction, a personal relationship. There are also different forms and styles of prayer. Repetition and perseverance is recommended. We are to avoid vain repetition in our prayer, but not all repetition is vain. When we pray the Rosary, the Hail Mary’s become the background music whilst we reflect on each of the mysteries, or scenes, in the life of Our Lady and Our Lord. It’s a good way to spend quality time with them, when, if we were to just use our own words, we might have run out of things to say after five minutes. It’s also a prayer that Our Lady has encouraged us to say. When she appeared in Lourdes, she had a Rosary in her hands – a bit of a hint there. When St Bernadette began to pray the Rosary, she didn’t tell her off or say it was a waste of time. Then, later on in Fatima, she specifically asked us to pray five decades of the Rosary each day. The Rosary is a powerful prayer which can help change world events. Padre Pio referred to it as “the weapon”. But weapons aren’t much use if they are left gathering dust in a draw somewhere. An army won’t win any battles if its munitions are kept nicely polished in a museum. They have to be taken out of their display cases and be used – they are no good if they are allowed to rust.

In the first reading, Abraham prays and pleads with God to have mercy on the people of Sodom. What is happening here is not that Abraham is making God somehow change His plan. Rather Abraham is becoming more aware through prayer how merciful God is. He won’t destroy the town if there are fifty just men there, or forty-five, or forty, thirty, twenty or even ten. As we probably know, in the end God instructs the one virtuous family there to leave, and the place is destroyed. So one of the messages is that, through prayer, we can come to a deeper knowledge of God; God speaks to our heart, and our thinking begins to become more in tune with His.

So prayer is quite an amazing encounter with God, sometimes containing great sweetness. It is a privilege and a joy – life is wonderful when we make the most of it.

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (16 & 17/7/22)

posted 18 Jul 2022, 01:19 by Parish Office

On first glance, the theme running through today’s first reading and Gospel seems to be one of hospitality. But it goes a little deeper, in that it’s to do with hospitality towards the Lord. In the first reading, it says that three men come to visit, and also that it was the Lord that visited – an early indication of the Most Holy Trinity: one God, three persons. In the Gospel, it’s the incarnate second person of the Most Holy Trinity, Our Lord Jesus Christ. On neither occasion is He told to go away because He hasn’t made an appointment, or they are too busy at the moment. In Abraham’s case, they quickly set to work to produce a meal for the Lord. In the case of Martha and Mary, we only hear about three people there, but there may have been others, or there may not. Our Lord’s visit may have been expected, or it may have happened without prior notice. But the preparations, good in and of themselves, turn out to be a distraction for Martha. I don’t know whether it has ever happened in your family that someone has been rather “put to the test” by a certain guest, leading to the odd cross word or two. It can be embarrassing sometimes. But poor Martha loses her cool with the Lord, a bit like the disciples when they were in the boat that they thought was going to be flooded in the storm, whilst the Lord was asleep. Martha says something similar: “do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do all the serving by myself?” Fancy saying that to the Lord. Presumably, normally, she wouldn’t have spoken to Him like that. But in the heat of all her annoyance, those are the words that she uses. Human nature hasn’t changed.

When someone shouts at us, it can be easy instinctively to shout back without even thinking. But the Lord retains His composure, and calmly tells Martha that she is going a bit over the top with the preparations and has lost the focus. He is not saying that food and other arrangements are unimportant; what He is saying is that these things shouldn’t be so exaggerated in importance that the whole point of them, looking after our Guest, is lost sight of. So the day won’t be a complete failure and disaster if the chicken gets slightly overdone, or someone puts the olives on the wrong side of the table. She needs to be there beside the Lord as well.

There can be various tensions in our lives, and things that we need to keep in balance: the time we spend on our families, our work, and also the Lord. Sometimes people say they are too busy to get to Mass, and this being “too

busy” persists, week after week. When they get to the pearly gates, will St Peter say to them that he is “too busy” to see them now, because he has so many other people to see instead? There’s a message for us all here today in this Gospel, about the need to simplify our lives and make more time for the Lord.

On two days each year, we are required to fast: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as well as practising abstinence from meat each Friday (unless of course it’s a special feast day, such as Christmas, for example). Fast meals are fast for at least two reasons: they are fast to prepare and fast to eat, because the food is simple and there isn’t much on the plate. But that time saved can then be used for other things, including the Lord.

Fasting isn’t always an easy thing to do, and some struggle even with abstinence from meat. In the second reading, St Paul begins by saying, “It makes me happy to suffer for you…” - he is happy to undergo a bit of hardship for the sake of others, and to “offer it up” for their spiritual welfare. Fasting and abstinence are things we can offer up for the good of others. But even when we can’t do that, there are still smaller penances that we can do, without people necessarily noticing, such as choosing our second choice for dinner rather than what we would have preferred. Or we can tie that into when we are catering for others, going for what they would prefer, rather than our own favourite. In serving others, we serve Christ, just like Martha. There is of course the saying:

“Christ is the head of this house, the unseen guest at every meal, the silent listener at every conversation.”

It’s a good reminder.

So when we next have someone or a group of people around to visit, let’s make sure that we see the Lord in every guest, even the most difficult ones, and always make time for the Lord, no matter how busy we are.

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Sea Sunday (9 & 10/7/22)

posted 11 Jul 2022, 01:57 by Parish Office

Christianity is a pretty demanding religion. It doesn’t do things by halves. We are to love God above all else, with every fibre of our being, and part of our love of God is that we also love our neighbour. Elsewhere, in the Gospels, we are asked to see Jesus in everyone, because when Our Lord speaks about the final judgement, what we did (or didn’t do) to others, we did (or didn’t do) to Him. And the definition of neighbour is a broad one – it’s not just the person living next door to us, or the people that we know really well at school or at work, or just family. It’s everyone. It even includes our enemies.

That’s part of the shock of the parable: Jews and Samaritans were enemies. At the end, when Christ asks the lawyer which person proved to be a neighbour, the lawyer couldn’t bring himself to say the word “Samaritan”, so he just says, “The one, who took pity on him”. The lawyer probably also realises the demands of loving neighbours, and so he wants to have to be kind to as few of them as possible. For us, there are no limits – everyone is a neighbour.

Why did the priest and the Levite walk on by the other side? Perhaps they were afraid of incurring ritual impurity by touching a dead body, if he was dead. And maybe also they were concerned about the potential inconvenience, so they rationalised that he was probably dead anyway, so it’s best not to get involved and just keep on walking. Imagine you were the man half-dead, and perhaps you had great respect and esteem for priests and Levites. You looked up to them, and were relieved to see one of them walking down the road towards you. What pain and disappointment it might have caused you to see them just walking on and ignoring you; and perhaps you would have been too injured and beaten-up in order to call for help. And then what of your surprise and relief when the Samaritan came to help. Actions speak louder than words; our faith is to be more than just nice words – it has to be real and active.

I mentioned earlier that the love of neighbour is a sub-department, if you like, of the love of God. The love of God is supposed to be everything in our lives, and it should be our love of God that inspires our love of neighbour. Our love for God therefore should be greater than our love for our neighbour. It doesn’t mean we can neglect others in need and use God as an excuse, though; if you were on your way to Mass and you ran someone over with your car, you need

to stop and see to the person you ran over – you can’t just keep on driving because you don’t want to be late for Mass.

We also see in the Gospel a beautiful love of neighbour shown by Our Lord. The lawyer asked a question “to disconcert Jesus”, to ask Him a difficult question to make Him sweat and produce and answer that he could pull apart later on. But Our Lord treats it as a genuine question, and produced a beautiful parable out of it.

So, yes, we are called to love our neighbour, and there are fourteen “works of mercy” that the Church has identified we should practise. They are not things that we are asked to do as a matter of mere justice, but as mercy, going beyond the demands of strict justice. The seven spiritual works of mercy are: to convert the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead. The seven corporal works of mercy, with the word “corporal” referring to the body, corpus in Latin, are as follows: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to visit the sick, to visit the imprisoned, and to bury the dead.

Today you have the chance to perform a work of mercy for seafarers. They have to work many miles from home and not see their families for the majority of the year; the work and the conditions can be demanding. Many are still being denied the right to leave their ships for even a short break away from the relentless noise and pressure onboard.

Today our second collection is for Stella Maris, which is the maritime agency of the Catholic Church. Its chaplains provide practical help and pastoral care to those working on ships, whether it’s giving information on where the shops are when they dock, where the nearest church is, or providing SIM cards so they can phone home. Being an island nation, our country is highly dependent on their work for both imports and exports, and seafarers have spiritual needs too. So please consider giving your two denarii as you leave the church today.

We are called to love of God above all else and to love our neighbour. It’s a very demanding, but also a particularly fruitful, combination.

Homily for the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, 29/6/22

posted 4 Jul 2022, 02:43 by Parish Office

History has a knack of repeating itself. We just have to be sufficiently on the ball in order to spot it. But no matter what happens, Christ is with us.

Both Sts Peter and Paul had occasions when they got into difficulty with the ruling powers. At different times they were arrested and tried and sent to gaol – and most of the time managed to get out again. Today’s account in the first reading is rather miraculous: St Peter is literally released from prison by heavenly intervention. But ultimately at the end, they were both martyred, with St Peter being crucified upside-down and St Paul was beheaded. On the site of their martyrdom, there are now large basilicas in Rome, and in the middle of the colonnade of St Peter’s is a large obelisk. It was originally a pagan monument, and was there when St Peter was executed. But now it is surmounted by a cross, and bears the words, Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat. Christus ab omni malo plebem suam defendat – Google Translate gives us in English, “Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ rules. Christ protects his people from all evil”. On one level, you could say that the martyrdom of Sts Peter and Paul was a failure, in that they lost their lives. But on another level it was a victory – they remained faithful to Christ no matter what, and they inspired countless others to follow Christ even to the shedding of their blood, and today basilicas stand in their honour on the site of their martyrdom. Their persecutors are no more.

In fact, thinking of the cross, how did the Roman persecution come to an end? The story goes that Constantine, before the battle of Milvian Bridge, saw a cross in the sky together with the words, In hoc signo vinces – “In this sign you will conquer”. He got the soldiers to paint crosses on their shields, and he won the battle, and as emperor he legalised Christianity in 313 AD.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that after 313 AD there has never, ever, been any persecution of Christianity. It comes back in different forms now and then. And today, with the rise of secularism and other movements at odds with the Catholic faith, conflict is inevitable.

Back in 2012, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said,

“Speaking a few years ago to a group of priests, entirely outside of the current political debate, I was trying to express in overly dramatic fashion what the complete secularization of our society could bring.”

This is what he said back in 2010:

“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die as a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

The recent trial of Cardinal Pell in Australia has led some to wonder if these words were, in a certain sense, prophetic. Cardinal Pell was convicted on charges brought by one person, whilst twenty other witnesses said that it was impossible for that to have happened in a busy sacristy with so many other people around. He appealed, and his appeal was dismissed in a 2-1 decision. Then he made a final appeal to the Australian High Court and his convictions were unanimously quashed – Cardinal Pell left prison to the cheers of the other prisoners, just over a year after his initial conviction.

It was a case that exposed bitter divisions in society, and vitriol in certain parts of the media. But in a statement after he was released, Cardinal Pell both re-affirmed his innocence, and said that he held no ill-will towards his accuser.

What will the future bring in terms of persecution or lack of persecution? That we do not know. The future we do not know, just as ten years ago, who would have predicted a world-wide pandemic? But whilst we do know that history can repeat itself, we also know that, no matter what, God is with us. Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat. Christus ab omni malo plebem suam defendat – “Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ rules. Christ protects his people from all evil”.

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (25 & 26/6/22)

posted 28 Jun 2022, 01:31 by Parish Office

Following the Lord requires enthusiasm. Giving your life to Him requires commitment. And these mean that there is no turning back.

Our Lord led by example. This is what we just heard: “As the time drew near for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely [emphasis added] took the road for Jerusalem”. He knew what was coming up, and He resolutely took that path.

But lest anyone think that that sense of determination was only supposed to apply to the Lord, look at what He said to those who wanted to follow Him. He wasn’t so desperate for followers that He would just take anyone. “Let me go and buy my father first”, one of them said. Our Lord’s response seems harsh, but He could read people’s hearts and He knew this person was just inventing excuses. It seems like an ideal obstacle to put in the way: I would follow you, but family bereavement mean that I will have to wait a bit first. At that point, most people would back off, not wanting to appear lacking in compassion. It was an ideal excuse, or so he thought. But Jesus saw straight through his idleness: “Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God”.

Or what about the second person: “I will follow you sir, but first let me go and say good-bye to my people at home [emphasis added]”. More excuses again. Just let me do this first. And then, he might say, “oh, I forgot. I just need to go and do so-and-so as well. And now my brother has come round to visit, and it would be rude to disappear without spending time with him first.” That’s no good. Radical commitment is required. Following the Lord is not for the faint-hearted: “Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”. With farming, if you look back whilst you are ploughing, you stop ploughing in a straight line and mess everything up. Perhaps today you could say something like: no-one who is driving a car should start turning around and taking a look for sweets on the back seat. It’s no good following the Lord and to keep on thinking, “what if…?”. Your eye needs to be on the Lord, not on other things.

Contrast this with Elisha in the first reading. To begin with, Elisha says to Elijah, “Let me kiss my father and mother, then I will follow you”. It’s possible that his mother and father could have been living miles away. Elisha wasn’t just cutting the lawn in the back garden. But once again, radical commitment is needed if Elisha is going to be the prophet to succeed Elijah. So Elisha slaughtered the oxen, and used the plough as firewood to cook them. His old way of life was over. There was to be no turning back. “He then rose, and followed Elijah and became his servant.”

We might be tempted to think that this radical commitment belongs only to priests and religious – they are the ones who are called to follow the Lord to whichever parish, chaplaincy or apostolate the Lord sends them to; they are the ones that leave home, father and mother behind, and sometimes possessions as well. But there are other forms of radical commitment in the Christian life. Does not the Lord say, “This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.” We know that Christ raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament. We know that sacraments are permanent and they are a means of Christ and His grace being present in two people’s lives. We know that for some, God calls them to serve Him by being married – that is their vocation. But, like I say, not everyone is called to be married. However, all of us, as Christians, are baptised, and we are confirmed once we reach a certain age. Baptism and confirmation are both sacraments. They are permanent. You can’t undo baptism and confirmation, and that is why they can’t be repeated. You can’t issue a piece of paper and say that someone is now no longer baptised or confirmed. So all of us are called to a radical serving of the Lord. Through baptism and confirmation, we are “set apart” for Him. What Christ said to the person who made excuses, He says to us too: “your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God”.

Baptism is such a radical commitment and belonging to the Lord that it overrides everything else. To give an extreme example: some people take part in satanic ceremonies, in which they claim to “sell their soul to the devil”. Afterward they are sometimes afraid of what might happen to them next, and they think it is a one-way street. It is not. The devil was a liar from the beginning. As a baptised person, you belong to the Lord. You cannot sell yourself to the evil one. Yes, you have given yourself into his power, but there is a way out. Go to confession and confess that sin (plus all the other ones as well), and renew your baptismal promises. Renounce satan, and all his works, and all his empty show.

The second reading: “When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” The devil is a liar and a deceiver. Whilst we may not want to serve him openly, he tries to make us submit to what St Paul refers to as “self-indulgence”, selfish behaviour that comes cloaked in all sorts of disguises.

Following the Lord requires enthusiasm. Giving your life to Him requires commitment. And these mean that there is no turning back.

Homily for Corpus Christi, Year C (18 & 19/6/22)

posted 20 Jun 2022, 02:15 by Parish Office

Many of you will have studied geography at school, and no matter how much of it you can remember and how much you have forgotten, I’m sure you all still know that the earth is round. And one of the effects of the earth being round is that the climate and seasons are different, depending on where you are living. A bit of an extreme example of that was only on Friday, when the weather forecast was saying that if you live in London, the temperature will be 33oC, whilst up in Scotland it might be only around 18-20oC. But one of the other effects on the earth is that if you live close to the equator, the time of sunrise and sunset is fairly constant throughout the year, whilst here in England it varies quite dramatically between summer and winter. When I began my priestly training and spent a year in Spain I was surprised to discover that in summer it’s not light outside until around 7:30 – 8 am, whilst in England the sun can rise at around 4:30 am. And there are other differences too. Here, when the sun sets, there is still light for at least another half an hour or so, but closer to the equator, it becomes dark very sudden. The comedian Lenny Henry once said that when he went to the equator, all of a sudden, it was night.

In the Gospel today, did you spot what time of day it was? It was late afternoon, meaning that darkness would soon come, and, of course, there were no street lights back then. But light and dark is a theme running through the Gospels. Before it gets dark, Jesus multiples the bread and fish to feed the five thousand, and that meal reminds us of the Eucharist: “he took the five loaves … said the blessing … broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute among the crowd”. When does the Last Supper take place? In the evening. Judas leaves the room to betray his Master, and we are told, “Night had fallen” (Jn 13:30b). The crucifixion happened during the day, but there was an eclipse of the sun for three hours: “a darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour” (Luke 23:44). But when we come to the Resurrection, it is a new day as they go to the tomb and find it empty. We live now in the time of the Resurrection.

The Sequence today tells us, “And rising day dispels the night”. But it’s important that that Day doesn’t gradually fade in our memory. What Christ has done for us demands a response, the response of love.

The Sequence is wonderful piece of poetry, and it’s worth reading slowly when you have time. It also says:

“Christ willed what he himself had done

Should be renewed while time should run”.

That refers to the Eucharist. The preface today says:

“at the Last Supper with his Apostles,

establishing for the ages to come the saving memorial of the Cross,

he offered himself to you as the unblemished Lamb”

Just like Melchizedek in the first reading offered a sacrifice of bread and wine to God, Jesus has given us a sacrifice to offer, which is not just ordinary bread and wine, but His Body and Blood, but the thing is that it’s not another sacrifice, but it’s the same sacrifice that Christ offered on the Cross. The bread and wine are first changed into His Body and Blood, and the priest then, after the memorial acclamation, offers that sacrifice to the Father. Christ speaks through the priest and offers Himself to the Father. Then in Holy Communion, we receive the fruits of that sacrifice, or as St Paul put it in the second reading, “every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming his death”.

The sacrifice of Christ and His Resurrection have great power to renew the world, and that means the Eucharist has great power to renew the world, but only if we allow that to happen by cooperating with the Lord. I have a quote here from Pope St John Paul II, although I’ve not managed to find the reference, but this is what he said:

“There must be a complete return of the whole Church Militant to Jesus present in the Eucharist to combat the indifference and sacrilegious communions which contaminate the whole church, paralysing it, making it so very sick. We must go to the fountain of living water, which will open up a new Pentecost of grace and light, of renewed holiness of the Church, Jesus in the Eucharist.

“No human or pastoral plans will bring this about, only Jesus in His sacramental presence.”

So to renew the Church and renew the world, we have to return faithfully to the Eucharist. That is how the darkness and the shadows in this world will be dispelled. We have to turn to Him. We can’t expect to do the work all by ourselves.

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