Fr Michael's Homilies

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

16/17th March

posted 18 Mar 2019, 03:42 by Parish Office

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year C (16 & 17/3/19)


The Transfiguration – it must have been a most amazing experience.  To spend three years with the Lord as a disciple must have been something in itself, but with the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John had a glimpse into Christ’s glory as God.  “Master, it is wonderful for us to be here.”  Can we blame St Peter for wanting to stay on the mountain and not wanting to go back down to ordinary life below?


On 21st August 1879, in Knock, County Mayo, Ireland, the local people were surprised by an unusual sight:  the figures of Our Lady, St Joseph and St John the Evangelist appeared outside the local parish church, together with an altar, on which there was a Lamb, which was perhaps between five and eight weeks old.  Our Lady appeared to be life-size, with a large crown on her head and her hands raised in prayer; St Joseph’s head was bent, as if paying his respects; and St John was dressed like a bishop, with a small mitre on his head.  He had either a Mass book or a Book of the Gospels in his left hand, whilst his right hand was raised as if he was preaching.  This sight was seen by various witnesses in the pouring rain, and people stayed there for between fifteen minutes and an hour and a half, observing the apparition, praying, wondering what it was, and what it meant.  Fifteen people went on to make official testimonies, who ranged in age from five years to seventy-four, and the Church found that the testimonies were both trustworthy and satisfactory.


Knock is now one of the major pilgrimage sites in Ireland, and if you look at the statues there based on the apparition, Our Lady, St Joseph and St John are over to the left-hand side, because it is the Lamb on the altar who takes centre stage, complete with the angels gathered around the Lamb and a cross behind the altar.


Just think what it must have been like to have witnessed that apparition.  Then imagine what it must have been like to have been with Christ on the mountain of the Transfiguration – the Father spoke, the Son was revealed in His glory, and the Holy Spirit was present in the cloud.  Could you think of anything more wonderful?  But God has not left us alone.


Back in 1968, Pope, now Saint, Paul VI concluded the Year of Faith by issuing the Credo of the People of God.  It was a statement of what we believe as Catholics, much longer than the Nicene Creed we recite at Mass, designed to correct certain errors that were creeping into people’s minds with regard to what we are supposed to believe.  Towards the end of it, it speaks about transubstantiation and Christ’s continuing presence in the tabernacle.  The Pope  described it wonderfully:  he said that the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle is the “living heart of each of our churches.  And it is our very sweet duty to honour and adore in the blessed Host which our eyes see, the Incarnate Word whom they cannot see, and who, without leaving heaven, is made present before us” (para 26).


In a sense, the apparition at Knock is making a similar point.  Christ, the Lamb of God, is on the altar, with the angels encircling Him in adoration.  St Joseph has his head bowed in deep respect.  Our Lady has her eyes and hands raised to heaven in prayer.  And what is St John preaching?  He is holding a book, whilst also referring to the altar:  perhaps we could pick a verse from the first chapter of his Gospel:  “The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  St John saw Christ’s glory when He was transfigured.  Often, when we have Eucharistic adoration, the host is placed in a monstrance.  The word “monstrance” comes from the Latin word monstrare, which means “to show”.  It’s where we get words like demonstrate.  The monstrance is like an elaborate display-stand for the host, and often, at the very centre of the monstrance, where the host is placed, there are what look like rays of the sun emanating from the host.  We cannot see Christ’s glory – we need the eyes of faith for that.  But just as He was transfigured on the mountain, and as He was adored at Knock by the saints and angels, today, Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, radiates His love, holiness and graces upon us.


Another point:  it says in today’s Gospel, “And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone”.  Sometimes, we can have a very intense and spiritual experience when praying before the Blessed Sacrament.  But there does come a time when we have to return back to our daily lives.  Just like with Peter, James and John, our experience of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament transforms us, which then helps us to bear witness to Christ, crucified and risen, in our daily lives.  Sometimes, though, in our prayer time, we may not feel like we have experienced anything special.  It may have seemed all fairly mundane.  But we know that whichever experience we have had, Christ is still there, present.


What if one day we walked into church and saw an apparition similar to the one in Knock?  Would it change the way we behave before Mass?  This Lent, let’s rediscover our appreciation for what Christ has given us, a presence that can transform us, but only if we let Him.

9th / 10th March 2019

posted 11 Mar 2019, 02:24 by Parish Office

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year C (8 & 9/3/19)


I've often thought what a cheek Satan had to tempt the very Son of God to sin.  Yes, he tempts us, but to actually tempt God to sin – what a cheek!  It just goes to show that this infernal pest will stop at nothing to bring us down.  But thankfully, we have Christ to raise us up, who knows how to defeat him.


One of the first things to spot is that it's after Christ has been fasting for forty days that the Tempter comes.  He waits until Christ is at His weakest before he appears in person to bring his three temptations.  It can be easy to resist temptation when you are in a position of strength.  Why steal a sweet from a shop when you have enough money to buy bags and bags of them?  Why would you exchange an angry word with someone when all is well in the world for you and you're having a really good day?  Instead, it's when we're at a point of weakness and fragility that we are more likely to succumb to temptation.  But it's at this point that Christ resisted each and every temptation.


Each of his answers was not Him just being clever; each one was a quote from Sacred Scripture.  “Man does not live on bread alone” is from Deuteronomy 8:3.  This quote comes from a section that speaks about the Israelites' journey through the desert to the Promised Land, and it says that we must observe all that God commands us.  The Israelites were tested, and allowed to experience hunger to make them realise that it's God's sustenance that matters.  The section finishes with this moral:  “Learn from this that the Lord your God was training you as a man trains his child, and keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and so follow his ways and reverence him”.  Jesus was sticking firmly to this path, and He wasn't going to be sidetracked.  It's following God that comes first, and the rest second.


You would have thought that Satan would have gotten the message, but now he tries something even more daring:  “Worship me, … and it shall all be yours”.  I wonder if that comment made Christ's blood boil.  But He remains self-controlled and reminds him of Deuteronomy 6:13 “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone”.  The context of this quote is that the Israelites are reminded that when they get to the Promised Land and see “the great and prosperous cities not of your building, houses full of good things not furnished by you, wells you did not dig, vineyards and olives you did not plant”, do not forget the Lord your God who gave you all these things.  Once again, we are to follow God first and leave it up to Him to provide, not turn to Satan.  Unfortunately, some people do.  Some get involved with the occult, various spells, even satanism in order to get what they want.  Others use various underhand means to promote their careers.  Better to be honest, God-fearing and of modest means, than to be rich and powerful, yet tethered to Satan.


That approach didn't work, so now Satan tries a different angle.  Christ has used Scripture as His weapon each time so far, so now Satan tries using Scripture himself, although he twists it, quoting it out of context.  Yes, Psalm 90 says that God protects those who are God-fearing, but it doesn't say that they have control over God and can make Him do whatever they want.  So Christ reminds Satan of the verse which says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test”, because He's not your slave.  This time Christ is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:16, a few verses on from the previous one.  This verse reminds the Israelites of the occasion when they tested Him at Massah in the desert, where they doubted Him and wondered if He was really with them or not.  The water had run out and the people panicked, so they went in a group to Moses and Aaron to oppose them.  Moses and Aaron fell face down before the Lord to ask Him for help.  God told Moses to take his staff in his hand and to speak to a rock for it to issue water.  But Moses used it as an occasion to glorify himself.  He gathered the people together and said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?”  Then he struck the rock twice with his staff and the water flowed.  But God was displeased with Moses and Aaron and said that they would not lead the people into the Promised Land because of what they had done.  Christ was not going to repeat the same mistake, and show lack of trust in His Father, take things into His own hands and seek to glorify Himself.  Humility and trust are things we can learn from His example.


That was it.  Satan had exhausted himself and failed.  If we are to defeat Satan in the same way, we too need to be steeped in the Word of God.  For us, God has to come before anything else, we have to look to Him for everything we need, and remain in humble trust, even when things seem to go wrong.  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matt 6:33).

Ash Wednesday 6th March 2019

posted 6 Mar 2019, 05:58 by Parish Office

Homily for Ash Wednesday 2019


What are you planning to do for Lent?  You can, of course, take on more than just one thing.  Traditionally, there are three practices that we focus on, all of which are mentioned in today’s Gospel:  almsgiving, prayer and fasting.


Firstly almsgiving.  What are alms?  Not the things that stick out of your body and have a hand at the end; alms here is spelt A-L-M-S.  A dictionary definition could be giving money or food to the poor.  So almsgiving really means giving to those in need.


How much should we give?  Even if we won the lottery, we wouldn’t be able to solve all the world’s problems.  The demand will always outstrip what we are able to supply.  So a more useful guide is to give according to your means.  For some people, giving £5 would be far too much.  It may be that they only have £7 to last them to the end of the week, and they have to feed themselves and their family.  For others, who have an annual salary of around £100,000, £5 would be far too little.  But as Christ says, we also need to think about how we give.  What is my motivation?  Occasionally, when I hear about some particularly rich person giving a large sum of money to a particular worthy cause, I do hope the intention is not to show off.  Better to give discretely and then be found out, rather than have it trumpeted just how good you are.  This Lent, what changes do we need to make to our lives when it comes to almsgiving?  Are we too mean or too generous?  Do we give to make ourselves feel better, or because someone else is in need?


Prayer.  How is our prayer life?  Has it gone a bit stale?  It is a duty done grudgingly, or is it a joyful encounter with the Lord and Our Lady?  Do we pray too much, or do we pray too little?  Do we use prayer as an excuse for not doing the things we should be doing, or do we use the things that need doing as excuses for not praying?  Have we explored different ways of praying?  If not, then Lent can be a time to find out more.


Fasting.  There are only two days in the year when we are obliged to fast by the Church:  today and Good Friday.  Perhaps because fasting only comes round twice a year it means we get so worked up about it.  Christ tells us in the Gospel not to let anyone know we are fasting, and to act in a way so that no one knows that we are fasting.  Sometimes, though, it slips out.  Not just by being observed at mealtimes, but also if fasting makes us more short-tempered.  Following the papal visit in 2010, the Bishops of England and Wales decided to restore the previous discipline with regard to Fridays.  After Vatican II, it was decided that the bishops of each country could decide how Fridays should be marked in their territory.  So in this country, we were given the option of abstaining from meat, or choosing one of a list of other various options.  Some found it easiest to continue abstaining from meat, whilst others somehow heard that you were not obliged to abstain from meat, but didn’t hear the bit about doing something else instead.  So after the Pope visited in 2010, it was decided that we should all go back to abstaining from meat on Fridays as an act of common witness.  Just as we go to Mass on Sundays to celebrate the Resurrection, so we should abstain from meat as a way of commemorating Christ’s Crucifixion.


But why abstain from meat, and why fast?  Sometimes it is said that the money you save by fasting you should put into your Cafod envelope.  But if that is the only reason for fasting, then you could say, well, thank you but no thank you.  I’ll eat normally and just put some money in.  Why go to all that suffering?


Fasting and abstaining are not just about fundraising.  They are about expressing our sorrow for our sins and the sins of others.  They are about sharing in the sufferings of Christ on the Cross and offering something up for the salvation of souls.  When I was training for the priesthood, it was pointed out that Christ most probably did not eat between the Last Supper and His Death on the Cross.  When He was imprisoned overnight, there was no breakfast in the morning.  But in the first century AD, fasting was seen as the greatest prayer you could offer for sinners.  Of course, fasting also helps us to develop self-control over our instincts.  When we see the purpose of fasting and abstinence, then maybe we might take it up more often.  And then it won’t be such a great ordeal.


What are you planning to do for Lent?  Maybe if we look at the practices of almsgiving, prayer and fasting, we can find, if you will excuse the expression, much food for thought.

23rd/24th February

posted 25 Feb 2019, 03:17 by Parish Office

Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (23 & 24/2/19)


On Friday I was listening to a radio episode of Dad’s Army, one I had never come across before.  Captain Mainwaring decides to make Private Frazer a Corporal, and there’s the hope of further promotion yet.  Corporal Frazer then goes about proving his worth by showing excessive loyalty to Captain Mainwaring, and also harshly bossing around his subordinates.  Towards the end of the episode, Frazer is now taking things to extremes and has charged Pike with the offence of desertion in the face of the enemy, a serious charge.  It turns out that what actually happened was that Pike was in a trench when a dog came along.  Pike ran out of the trench because he doesn’t get along very well with dogs, and the dog was a German Shepherd.  Desertion in the face of the enemy.  What is Captain Mainwaring going to do?


Today Christ tells us that we are to love our enemies, do good to them, bless them and pray for those who treat us badly.  “Treat others as you would like them to treat you.”  A bit different to Corporal Frazer.  Continuing on from last week’s Gospel, He is asking us to love others in the same way that God loves and forgives us.  If we want to interpret all that He says correctly, then we need to see how Christ lived.  Forgive your enemies?  On the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them;  they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).


What about turning the other cheek?  When he was tried before the Sanhedrin prior to being handed over to Pilate, it says that one of the guards gave Him a slap in the face, saying, “Is that the way to answer the high priest?”  Jesus didn’t literally turn His face in the other direction and invite him to slap the other side, neither did he bite his head off.  Instead He remained composed, but also defended Himself.  He said, “If there is something wrong in what I said, point it out; but if there is no offence in it, why do you strike me?” (See John 18:22-24).  It reminds me of the story of Desmond Tutu, who was walking along a raised wooden platform above the mud of the street.  As he came to a narrower part of the wooden platform, he was met by a white man coming the opposite direction.  The man said to Tutu:  “Get off the sidewalk; I don’t make way for gorillas”.  Tutu stepped aside, gestured broadly and said, “I do!”


So what about, “Treat others as you would like them to treat you”?  Let’s go back to that episode of Dad’s Army.  Whilst Captain Mainwaring is wondering how to deal with the mess of Corporal Frazer, in bursts Captain Square, as if things couldn’t get any worse.  He gets Pike off the hook and then bosses the platoon about so much, with the result that Frazer storms off, only to return with the intent of hitting Captain Square over the head.  Captain Mainwaring now has the perfect excuse to return Frazer back to the ranks.  Frazer had not treated others as you would like them to treat you.


Compare this with David and Saul in today’s first reading.  Saul was going after David’s blood.  When David and Abishai entered Saul’s camp, one of them could have finished off Saul, but instead they spared his life.  We don’t hear it in the extract of today’s first reading, but it continues with Saul being reconciled to David because of David sparing his life.  Unlike Frazer, David treated others as he wished to be treated.  In doing so, he regained his friendship with Saul and saved his life.


The thing that makes Christ’s teaching so radical is that it’s not a matter of “love those who love you, and hate those who hate you”.  Rather we are called to love our enemies, and that’s how we win them over, not with tit for tat.  To love enemies, requires going that extra mile.  But it’s also something we can apply to other settings to.  To arguments that occur in the family, the workplace or among friends and neighbours.  Regardless of who is in the right and who is in the wrong, sometimes, showing a bit of undeserved kindness can save things from going sour.


“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who treat you badly … because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.”  We can take this, put it back in the bottle and leave it on the shelf.  Or we can use it to  transform society.

16th February 2019 (Sat Vigil only. Sunday Homily by Fr John Collins, Society of St Columban.)

posted 18 Feb 2019, 02:34 by Parish Office

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (15/2/19)


Today we hear the beginning of what is sometimes called The Sermon on the Plain, Luke’s equivalent of The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew’s Gospel.  One of the differences between the two is that whilst The Sermon on the Mount is just expressed in a positive way, “How happy are the poor in spirit” and so on, The Sermon on the Plain also has negative consequences for those who don’t follow it:  “Alas for you who ...”  If you compare the happy statements with the woe statements, you will spot that they mirror each other.  So, for example, “How happy are you who are poor...” is mirrored by, “But alas for you who are rich...”.  But it needs some interpretation, otherwise we are in danger of thinking that all poor people go to heaven, and all rich people go to hell.


There are a few different “keys” to understanding what it’s actually all about.


The Gospel of St Luke is the Gospel of the poor and outcast.  Christ is born in a manger, with no room at the inn, He is visited by shepherds, who weren’t exactly rich or popular, and we are told that He finished up His life crucified in-between two thieves.  So St Luke’s Gospel emphasises God’s love for those on the margins of society, which is also found in some of the parables.  It doesn’t mean, though, that we should romanticise poverty.  The underlying attitudes and the focus of your heart are the things we need to be more focused on.  This is what we also see in the first reading.


The prophet Jeremiah contrasts those who put their trust in man, who rely on the things of flesh, with those who put their trust in the Lord.  Where is my trust?  Where is my security?  Is it in riches, or in the provision, the providence, of God?  In Luke, chapter twelve (vs 16-21), we have the parable of the man who decides to pull down his barns and build bigger ones because he has had a good harvest and wants to hoard it all.  Little does he realise that he is going to die that night; then he will be judged by God for his selfish use of the things God has given him.


So back to the Sermon on the Plain:  the problem with the rich is that rather than possessing riches, they let their riches possess them, and blind them to the need of others around them.  Just like the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (also in St Luke’s Gospel), they enjoy their riches to the point of ignoring their obligations to the poor.  The key to it all is a certain style of speaking.  When Christ says, “Alas for you who have your fill now:  you shall go hungry”, it’s not a condemnation of everyone here today who normally manages to eat three meals a day, as if that were sinful behaviour.  It’s a condemnation of selfish enjoyment of food, riches, the gifts of God, and a lack of trust in God’s care for us.  Some people might think:  if I give away a portion of what I have, then I won’t have enough for myself.  Sometimes, it is a case of giving until it hurts, and recognising that other people’s needs are greater than your own.  But it’s also one of trust in God that He will provide.  Matthew 6:33 has been set to music:  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Seek to do the will of God as your first priority, and then all the rest will fall into place.  But this doesn’t mean that we won’t have crosses to bear as well.


On Friday I read the testimony of Roman Kluska.  Following the collapse of communism in Poland, he founded an IT company.  Within a few years it had become the absolute leader in computer sales in Poland.  He put its success down to the ethics running right through the company.  You work as a service to others, you lead by example and the most important example comes from the management.  The company grew to thirty different enterprises.  But when the authorities imposed new conditions on them, involving deep corruption and excessive bureaucracy, he decided to sell.  He was advised by the appropriate government office that he was not obliged to pay any tax on this sale, but they also said, “Mr Kluska, we have various needs in the region, and you have saved so much tax money”.  He didn’t like where it was leading, so he reformulated the sale so that he paid 40% tax on it.  Then he was arrested and locked up as a major criminal.


He couldn’t believe it – he had voluntarily paid all that tax, and now he was in prison and totally disillusioned with the justice system.  His way of survival was to pray “Jesus, I trust in you” and to really mean it.  He abandoned his whole life over to God.  Then, the following day, he was released without charge.


It didn’t end there, because his prosecutors still persisted.  He had visitors who would say things like, “We are sent by the prosecutors.  If you do not pay, this matter will never end”.  He received another letter with even greater charges than those he was originally accused of.  Things went on for a year and a half or so.  But he put his trust in God, and then finally the Supreme Administrative Court in Warsaw ruled in his favour.  It was the officials who had committed the legal violations.


So who has the greatest power?  Is it money, or is it God?  I think the Psalms have it right:  “Do not set your heart on riches / even when they increase” (Ps 61(62):10).

9th/10th February 2019

posted 18 Feb 2019, 02:24 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (8/2/19)


As I mentioned last week, this week the Archbishop is asking priests across the diocese to speak about their personal understanding and experience of being a priest.  So here we go.


I became a priest on Saturday 17th July 2010, which meant that I presided at Mass for the first time the following day.  One of the most profound moments of the Mass is when the words of consecration are said and the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of the Lord.  I think that to begin with, I was so concerned with remembering what I had to do at each point and getting everything right, that there was little time to reflect on this.  When Padre Pio used to celebrate Mass, at least in his earlier years, his Masses could take between two and three hours, because he used to pause at different points and get lost in prayer.  I think that if I was going to take in fully what is happening, I wouldn’t pause for quite as long, but I would need to pause a lot longer than I do.  I don’t because I know that everyone else is waiting, and we can’t have a series of mini holy hours in the middle of Mass.  So, really, it will take me a lifetime and more to come to appreciate the Mass and all that’s contained within it.  And I’ve hardly scratched the surface in what I’ve just said.


In both the first reading and the Gospel today, the experience of God leads both Isaiah and Peter to be filled with a sense of great unworthiness.  No man, no matter how good, gifted, holy or talented is worthy of the priesthood.  It’s a bit like what’s written in the Letter to the Hebrews.  Because God calls men who struggle with their own sin and weaknesses, they can then have some understanding of other people in their difficulties, trials, sins and temptations.  Hearing confessions as a priest is an amazing thing, and it’s an experience reserved to priests.  When you’re on placement in a parish whilst your in training, you can accompany the priest with various things he does, but you can’t sit in the confessional and observe all the confessions.  You get good training and practice in the seminary, but it’s slightly daunting when you hear confessions for the first time.


Without revealing anything that anyone has said, I would say that you really get an inside view into different people’s spiritual lives – how much they love God, and how deeply sorry they are for having offended Him.  Okay, you can gleam some of this from what people say at other times, but in confession people reveal to you a side of their relationship that remains hidden from the general public.  And hearing children’s confessions in schools helped me to see just how seriously so many of them are taking their faith – at times I have seen what you could perhaps call the “originality” of some of the things mentioned, which shows they have really reflected on their lives, rather than just choosing a few options on the list their teacher gave them.


As well as all of this, there’s also something unique about the relationship between your average Catholic and a priest.  Yes, how well each individual Catholic knows each individual priest colours things as well, but there are many times in the hospital or in other settings where I meet people that I have never seen before, and because I’m a Catholic priest, it means that already there is a relationship of trust there, and I make Jesus present by my very presence.  If I celebrate a wedding and then afterwards go along to the wedding reception, I don’t need to have spoken to every single person there or have had loads of funny anecdotes to tell or said something really deep and profound – just having been there means a lot to people.


Feeling inadequate can come to each priest at different points.  In the Gospel, Peter had been out fishing all night long and caught nothing.  All that hard work had been completely and utterly useless and pointless – he might as well have just been lazy instead and gone to sleep and not bothered to try fishing that night.  But then, when the Lord gave the word, the catch was so great that two boats struggled to bring it all in.  At the end of the day, any man is inadequate to the task of being a priest.  But you become a priest, not by gaining sufficient philosophical and theological knowledge, or learning about how to help people in their difficulties.  That helps you in your ministry, but what makes you a priest is receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders from your bishop.  It is a grace from God, not anything you have earned or learnt or worked out.  God doesn’t choose the qualified, He qualifies the chosen.  It doesn’t mean that you’re perfect afterwards, but He works through you in a way that no man can achieve by himself.  St John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, said that Our Lady and all the angels could pray as hard as they could, but they wouldn’t be able to make God descend from heaven and shut Himself up in a tiny host.  But a priest, even the lowliest, just has to say a few words during the Mass and that’s what happens.


Fr Werenfried van Straaten, the founder of Aid to the Church in Need, said, “The vocation to the priesthood so greatly exceeds ordinary human strength that its germination, its growth and its fruitfulness are entirely dependent on the prayer that must precede, sustain and accompany the life of every priest”.  Please pray for vocations to the priesthood.  Pray for your priests.  We’re not perfect, but we’re the ones that you’ve got at the moment.  And we will continue to pray for you.  God bless you.

2nd/3rd February 2019

posted 4 Feb 2019, 01:42 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (2 & 3/2/19)


In June last year we began the Year for Priests, and next week the Archbishop is asking priests to speak about their personal understanding and experience of the priesthood.  Today, though, I’m going to focus on the lay vocations to the single life and married life.


In the past, when people spoke about “having a vocation”, they were referring either to a calling to the priesthood or the consecrated life.  The trouble with that emphasis was that it could be misinterpreted as saying that it was priests and religious who did all the work in the church, so if you were particularly zealous in your faith then you ought to think about joining a religious order or becoming a diocesan priest.  But, right from the start of Christianity, there have always been zealous laypeople who spread the faith, and some who were martyred for it as well.  In this country, think of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales – not all of them were priests or religious.  St Margaret Clitherow was a married woman who was crushed to death for harbouring priests.  The English mission at that time of persecution wouldn’t have been able to survive, had it not been for laypeople supporting and hiding travelling priests, helping them to avoid capture.  So, as St Paul was saying in the second reading last week, everyone has a role in the Church – no-one is surplus to requirements.


In today’s world and today’s Church, there are more opportunities than ever before to serve as a layperson.  Lay chaplains are becoming a more familiar sight in schools, prisons, hospitals, the Apostleship of the Sea and so on.  And there are still all the usual openings – in the workplace, in the home, nurses, teachers, parents – there are so many places that a priest or a sister is not able to be, and by working together we have a whole army working for God, rather than just one or two people.  In the first reading, we heard God say to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you; I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.  So now brace yourself for action.”  Jeremiah had a special calling as a prophet, a calling that was unique and rare; we too, each and everyone of us, have a calling from God that is unique to us.  Some callings are more low-profile than others; I once read we can sometimes value more what could perhaps be called the more extravert gifts, such as prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues.  But there are also in Scripture what could be called more introvert gifts.  In the Old Testament, God tells Moses that He has filled Bezalel with the spirit of God in wisdom, knowledge and skill in every kind of craft:  in designing and carrying out work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones to be set, in wood carving and in executing every kind of work (see Exodus 31:3-5).  There are also other gifts that might be more underrated, but are still essential.  At the hospital, the good work of the medical staff can only take place because there are other people behind the scenes who make sure that the correct items are ordered, that the water, gas and electricity bills are paid, that infections are kept at bay by keeping the place spotlessly clean and so on.  The same is true for the Church, whether we are talking about keeping the church building going, through cleaning and maintenance, or the Church the People of God being kept going through individual Christians supporting each other in good times and bad.  It’s sometimes said that behind every successful man is a surprised woman; for many Christians, but not all, marriage is what helps to sustain and support them and grow the mission of the Church.  The second reading today is one that is often chosen for weddings, and it reminds us of the important role that love has within the Church.  St Therese of Liseux, who wasn’t married, but was a Carmelite nun, said that without love at the heart of the Church, everything would fall apart; apostles would not preach the Gospel and martyrs would refuse to shed their blood.  She saw her vocation as love, love beating at the heart of the Church which animates all the other vocations.


Love can manifest itself in many different ways, and sometimes it might even be in a form of “tough love”, perhaps a love that, whilst accepting others as they are, loves them so much that it doesn’t want them to stay that way, but to grow.  And that can mean difficult conversations and occasional conflict too.  In the Gospel today, the people changed from admiration to anger at hearing a message they didn’t want to hear – that sometimes, pagans are more open to God than God’s own people.  Time to reflect and time to change.


So in summary I can say that we all have a vocation, of one sort or another.  Our task is to discover what it is and to use it for the building up of the People of God, which is the Church.

26th / 27th Jan 2019

posted 28 Jan 2019, 02:47 by Parish Office

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (26 & 27/1/19)


When we come to Mass and hear the readings, you’re probably aware that they have a three-year cycle, with year A covering St Matthew’s Gospel, year B St Mark and Year C St Luke.  St John’s Gospel gets fitted in at different points over the three years.  You may also be aware that the first reading is then picked to somehow relate to and complement the Gospel, whilst with the second reading we gradually read through the various other books in the New Testament.


Some readings are more easily forgotten, whilst others are more memorable.  For some reason, today’s first reading sticks in my mind, with the scribe Ezra standing on his wooden dais.  (If you’re wondering what a dais is, it’s a platform you stand on to address people.)  Maybe the imagery, and the unusual word “dais” are the reasons why I remember it.  But the reading itself, and the Gospel too, can teach us a few important lessons about the importance and sacredness of Sunday and also the Mass.


What we hear first is that the people are all gathered together in solemn assembly.  Ezra is not just erecting a soap-box in the market-square and asking the passers-by to listen.  They are gathered to hear the Word of God, contained in the Law.  What is the Law?  The Jews didn’t regard every book in the Old Testament as being of equal value.  Just the same as we regard the Gospels in the New Testament to be more important than all the other books, so the Jews considered the first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, to be the most important part.  So it says that when Ezra opened the book, all the people stood up.  It’s a bit like the fact that when we celebrate Mass, we sit for the first reading, psalm and second reading, but then we stand for the Gospel.  We stand to attention and we stand as a sign of respect.  The other readings have been predicting Christ or about Christ, but now we hear the actual words and actions of Christ.  The book resting here in the pulpit is not a Bible, it is a Book of the Gospels – it doesn’t contain all the readings, the same as the book on the lectern down there – rather it contains just the Gospel readings for the Sundays and feasts of the Church’s year.  Unlike the Lectionary, it is also kissed and, on Sundays, incensed, as further signs of honour and respect.  These are things to remind us of how important the Gospels are to us.


A few words about enthusiasm:  in this country, there is sometimes a bit of an attitude of wanting to get Mass over and done with as quickly as possible.  That’s not what we hear in the first reading.  Instead, it says that Ezra, “read from the book from early morning till noon”; what is more, “all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law”.  Because we have a three yearly cycle of readings, there can be the danger of switching off when listening to the readings, because we’ve heard them before.  In the past, you may have heard of priests telling people to be careful how they receive Communion, and not to let any small crumbs of the host fall on the floor.  In the same way, we need to be careful that we don’t let any crumbs of the Word of God fall on the floor either.  We need to listen in the same way as if we were hearing it for the first time.


We need to do a similar thing with the whole of our faith.  We need to celebrate it with the freshness of recent converts.  To take it seriously and as joyfully as new converts.  Ezra said to the people, “This day is sacred to the Lord your God.  Do not be mournful, do not weep.”  In the Gospel it says that Christ, “went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did”.  Do we keep Sundays holy?  Are Sundays different to any other day?  As well as going to Mass, there are of course other things that we can do to keep Sunday holy, the obvious one being making it a day of joy and celebration.  Ezra said to the people, “Go, eat the fat, drink the sweet wine, and send a portion to the man who has nothing prepared ready.  For this day is sacred to the Lord your God.”  Sunday should be a day of eating the best food and drink, and also for sharing your joy with others.  In a sense we do that in this parish by the Compassion Kitchen feeding the homeless on a Sunday.  But it’s not the only way we can spread the joy of Sunday around us.  What about inviting others round for Sunday dinner?  I’m sure there are other ideas you could think of.


So there’s a little project for you:  how can I make Sunday truly a day of celebration?  Surely the first answer is by coming to Mass, but after that, what do I do to make the celebration continue?

12th/13th Jan 2019

posted 28 Jan 2019, 02:44 by Parish Office

Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Year C (12 & 13/1/19)


Pope John Paul II – now St John Paul II – was once asked what was the most important thing that ever happened to him.  There could have been all sorts of things he could have answered.  One of them might have been being elected Pope – and what about all the emotion that went with it:  at the conclave, hearing the votes being counted and then realising that he had been chosen, his decision to accept, and then his appearance on the  balcony, as the crowds outside, and all over Poland, went wild.  But no.  He said that the most important thing that ever happened to him was his baptism.


We’ve just been celebrating the birth of Christ, and now, as the Christmas season draws to a close, we celebrate Christ’s baptism.  For thirty years, Christ had lived a fairly quiet life, and nothing is recorded between his being found in the Temple at the age of twelve, and then Him beginning His public ministry, aged thirty.  He is baptised, and then it all begins.  It’s the same for us.  When we are baptised, that is when our lives as Christians begin.  Many of you were probably baptised as babies, but some of you have been baptised as adults, or perhaps somewhere in-between being babies and adults.  Perhaps you learned about Christ first, and began to pray.  But even so, it was only when you were baptised that you became a member of the Body of Christ, the Church, and your life as a Christian began.  After Christ was baptised, the Father declared, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you”.  In the same way, at our baptism, we became children of God.  The baptismal waters washed away Original Sin and gave us the Holy Spirit – God’s favour rested on us.  It’s now up to us how we use that gift.  Maybe we are not called, like Christ, to live a life of travelling and preaching, and ending up being crucified.  But we are called, each and every one of us with no exception, to follow Christ through thick and thin, to witness to Him, to spend our lives for Him, to show to the world that no thing and no one takes the place of God – God is our all and our everything.  Like St Paul, we confess that “nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For him I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him.” (Phil 3:8).


In some ways, being baptised is a bit like being elected Pope.  It’s a life-changing event, and through it, great things can happen, and God can use us to begin to change the world.

Christmas 2018

posted 1 Jan 2019, 02:08 by Parish Office

Homily for the Christmas 2018)


Have you ever thought what it would be like if there was no celebration of Christmas in this country?  It’s maybe in some ways a bit of a strange question, but let’s just run with it for a moment.  Just suppose, for whatever reason, Christmas was wiped off the national calendar.  No tinsel, no Christmas shopping, no time off from work or school for the 25th, no celebration, no meal, not even any Father Christmas.  Nothing.  What a miserable, boring time it would be.  We would just have winter.  The nights getting longer, the daylight getting shorter, the temperature falling, everything boring.  In the days of Communist Yugoslavia they didn’t totally ban Christmas, but they downplayed it, and tried to put all the emphasis instead onto the New Year.  But what’s New Year compared to Christmas?


Praised be to God, we do have Christmas.  We have the Christmas carols and songs, presents and the Christmas holidays.  We have Christmas crackers with silly jokes and little things that no one knows what to do with.  We have Christmas cake, turkey, sprouts, a Christmas tree, Christmas cards, decorations, song, laughter, joy, meeting up with family and friends, feeling appreciated and loved.  But best of all, at the heart of it all, we have Jesus.  God cares so much for us that He became one of us.  The Father sent His Son.  [Vigil Mass] “The Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’.”  [Mass During the Night] “Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  [Mass During the Day] “The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” 


Nothing can beat that.  No piece of technology can rival God becoming one of us, and to start with, being a baby.  Isn’t it amazing – God didn’t just beam down to earth as a fully-grown man, instead He was conceived of the Virgin Mary and was born as a baby.  The God who made the universe, with all the stars, became a helpless baby, relying on His mother and father to supply all His needs, the first one being to keep Him warm from the cold.  We read that Mary wrapped her first-born Son in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.  It’s something that any child can relate to.  God is not just for grown-ups.  God is not just a concept or an idea for philosophers to debate about.  He’s someone we can relate to, who became one of us.  Sometimes, people can be afraid to turn back to God.  Perhaps there is something in their past that they find it hard to face.  Tonight, we focus on God being born among us as a baby.  As the carol Once in Royal David’s City says, “He was little, weak and helpless”.  There is no need to be afraid of Him.  Offer all your worries and burdens to Him.


For a moment, imagine you are one of the shepherds.  You’ve seen the angels and been rather afraid, and you’ve decided as a group to go down to Bethlehem to see the Child.  Off you go, with a certain amount of nervousness and excitement.  On the way, you’re discussing with the other shepherds what the Child is going to be like and what He will do when He grows up.  Then, you finally get there.  One of the other shepherds, perhaps one of the boldest in your group, introduces who you are to Mary and Joseph, and tells them all about the message of the angel, and how you all saw a great multitude of angels praising God about the birth of this Child.  Joseph thanks you all for coming to see Jesus, and then Mary gives each of you the chance to hold the Child.  When Mary places the baby Jesus in your arms, what is your response?




Back to the present day, through this Mass we are celebrating now, we can still be with Jesus, Mary and Joseph together with the shepherds.  We can present Him our hearts.  As I pour the water into the wine at the offertory, that water represents our offering that we make to God.  Two thousand years ago, as Jesus grew in Mary’s womb, each meal she had nourished the unborn Jesus.  She probably did eat bread, and wine mixed with water.  Now, we take those very same things, and at the consecration of the Mass, they are changed once again into Jesus, present body, blood, soul and divinity on the altar.  Then in Holy Communion, we receive Jesus, so that He can fill our hearts with the warmth of His love.  We give ourselves to Him, and He gives Himself to us.


The mystery of Christmas is so rich and so deeply satisfying.  It touches our hearts in a way like nothing else.  Despite all attempts to snuff it out, the human heart needs Christmas.


So let’s be glad that in this country, the state, in a certain sense, recognises its place and lets us celebrate the birth of Christ.  I wish you a happy and holy Christmas and that the joy of Christmas overflows for you into the New Year and beyond.  May God bless you.

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