Fr Michael's Homilies

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

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.

11th & 12th January 2020

posted 17 Jan 2020, 06:19 by Parish Office

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord, Year A (11 & 12/1/20)

Some years ago, before I became a priest, I remember another priest beginning
his homily with a story, which went a bit like this:
Across the road from a church, someone decided to open up a club. This club
had a bar, and it also had dancing women, and they were doing things they
shouldn’t be doing. So the parishioners got together and organised a prayer
campaign. They prayed and prayed and prayed, and then, one day, the club
burnt down. The owner was furious. “I’ll sue the lot of you”, he said. The
parishioners said, “Well, we haven’t done anything – we’re innocent”. The
owner replied: “Am I the only one who believes in the power of prayer round
here?”
We celebrate today the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Jesus didn’t need to
be baptised. He was God incarnate, and didn’t need to be cleansed of Original
Sin or have any sins washed away. He was baptised to sanctify the waters of
baptism, so that we can be baptised. He made the waters of baptism holy, so
that we can become holy. His baptism wasn’t just a “nice” event, and our
baptism isn’t supposed to be just a “nice” event that we remember with photos,
but otherwise we forget about it. Baptism is supposed to change us. In
baptism we are incorporated into Christ. We become one with Christ, and that
means that we are then supposed to allow Christ to change us, to become more
like Him. We are not to be like the fictional character Darth Vader, who was
supposed to fulfil a prophesy and instead worked against it. And if we are to
become more like Christ, then it means that we don’t just become “nice”.
Jesus wasn’t “nice”. He wasn’t a teddy bear. There were times when He
invited people to Him to seek comfort: “Come to me, all you who labour and
are overburdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). But He also had
some rather strong words to say to the Pharisees and Sadducees. He warned
people when their eternal salvation was at stake, and He drew people with love
to the Father.
Our faith has to be put into action. Martin Luther King had many admirers in
his work for justice and the elimination of racism, but he also lamented that
there were many who were happy to agree in principle, but do nothing about it,
people he labelled as the “white moderate”. He realised that, without action,
nothing would change. He said, “human progress never rolls on in wheels of
inevitability; it comes through tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers
with God and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces

of social stagnation”. He realised that if a law is unjust, it needs to be
changed. And perhaps broken in the process. And it might even mean that the
people who break that law do so, not just because it is unjust, but also to teach
a lesson. They also must have a willingness to accept the penalty for their
actions. He said:
“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is
unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to
arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality
expressing the highest respect for law”.
We can agree in principle. In order for laws to be respected, they must be just.
They must be fair. Otherwise, they give the law a bad name and encourage
law-breaking. And in this country, if there is any law that is unjust, any law
that is, let’s call a spade a spade, if there is any law that is evil, then it is the
abortion law.
I was thinking this over a few days ago and thinking back to the effort by
William Wilberforce to abolish slavery. I’m not sure how accurate the film
Amazing Grace is, but one of the problems they had with eradicating slavery,
was that many of the people in society and in parliament, owned and traded in
slaves. How did they get them to change their minds?
Throughout the film, you see all the efforts they made. But still, there was big
opposition in parliament. How did they succeed? There was one opponent
they managed to convince, and it was his action that enabled the legislation to
get through parliament and help end the slave trade. That one enemy became a
friend, and by his actions made reparation for and undid his previous support
for slavery.
We have an uphill battle to convince people about the wrongness of abortion.
We also have the problem that there are people who feel compromised about
the issue because of their actions in the past. But we are on the side of Christ.
We are on the winning side, because we have God on our side. We can lead
people to seek forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation, and we can also
recruit them to serve the cause of right.
What can we do? Firstly, pray. Prayer is not the icing on the cake. It’s the
bedrock and foundation of all we do. A few days ago I received an e-mail
saying that the notorious Calthorpe Clinic in Birmingham, which has
performed abortions for many years, has finally closed, after thirty years of

people praying there. It was one of the biggest clinics in this country. It has
been hit by various problems over the years, including partial suspension of its
activities by the CQC; between March 2018 and February 2019, there were 18
incidents where patients had to be transferred to a local hospital. On 2
nd
January, I received an e-mail saying that, after 50 years of activity, it was
finally going to close. Good riddance. Prayer works.
Secondly, we can get involved in the pro-life movement. There are many
different pro-life charities, because there are so many different dimensions and
angles to approach the issue: prayer, letter writing, signing on-line petitions,
support for desperate mothers, counselling for those affected by abortion, and
so on. Just as each of the different members of the Body of Christ has a
different function, so it is with the pro-life movement.
Thirdly, personal initiative. It may be that the issue of abortion is raised in
conversation. It might be that it is discussed on social media, or in letters to a
newspaper. Respond appropriately, with love, but also without watering down
the truth. Love and truth must go together, which isn’t always easy. Hence the
need to pray, and maybe also seek advice.
In America, there seems to be more progress than here in the UK. But there is
further good news. Our recent general election, which occurred on 12
th
December, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Unborn,

resulted in all of the pro-life MPs keeping their seats, whilst some of the pro-
abortion MPs either stepped down or lost them. We also had a few new MPs

being elected who said they were pro-life. There is slow, gradual change
taking place, even if it is slow and under the surface.
Today we recall the baptism of the Lord. He sanctified the waters that we
might be sanctified. We are called to be like Him, when it comes to truth, and
when it comes to compassion. In Martin Luther King’s time, racist laws
needed to be overturned, and that needed people to take action. In our own
time, abortion laws need to be overturned, and that requires us, as the Body of
Christ to play our part. Or will we just ignore the issue and hope it will go
away?

Christmas Homily

posted 17 Jan 2020, 06:13 by Parish Office

Homily for Christmas 2019

[Inspiration taken from Pope Benedict’s Christmas Homily for 2007]

 

All kneel at the words “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate...”

 

I’ve been living in Hanley now for almost three and a half years.  After arriving here in this parish, a friend of mine came to visit from Gloucester.  One of the things he commented on about Hanley in general was not only that the cinema was a lot cheaper than the one he goes to down south, but also that Hanley in general looked rather run down.  But over the last three years or so, things seem to be on the up.  Not only have we had work done on the church and centre, but also it’s as if other people in the area have also had the same idea.  Some of the houses in the area have undergone various renovations, we’ve got new houses being built, and one building that has been unused for quite a while is now in the final stages of being renewed inside and out so that it can be rented out as flats.  Hanley seems to be on the up!

 

What’s that got to do with Christmas?  Well, in some paintings from the Middles Ages and later, the stable at Bethlehem looks more like a crumbling palace.  Everything is falling down.  You can imagine what it was like in its heyday, but now the palace has actually become a stable.  Whilst this isn’t exactly what the stable looked like at Bethlehem – it was actually a cave – the scene is all rather symbolic.  God had promised to King David that his reign would last forever, but at the moment, David’s throne stands empty.  Others rule in his place.  Joseph, who is a descendant of King David, works as a carpenter – the descendant of the king is a poor tradesman and the palace, so to speak, has become the dwelling of a poor family.

 

Is this what Hanley is like?  It might represent the way things have gone in the recent past for Stoke City.  A year or two ago I was looking through different bits of paper in the parish office, and I came across a letter written by Fr Peter Weatherby.  A priest friend of his from somewhere down south was asking for a bit of financial help for his parish.  Fr Peter wrote back an extremely humorous response, saying that, yes, up here in Stoke-on-Trent, all the mines are closed, the pottery industry is only a small fraction of what it once was, people have lost their jobs etc. etc., but yes, of course we will help your rolling-in-riches, leafy suburban parish.  (I’m not exactly sure what he really chose to do in the end.)  It’s sometimes said that the people in Stoke are good and friendly.  Perhaps we need to think what are actually true riches:  money, or the way we treat people and come to help those in need?

 

Christ comes to renew a broken world.  His love and His light make the world a better place to live in.  If someone were to ask you what people mean by the Christmas spirit, what would you respond?  Perhaps you might come up with answers like:  a time for giving, time for family, helping those in need, those who are lonely.  Just think of the carol Good King Wenceslaus:  it’s about how a king with all his riches, sees a poor man going about in the snow.  He decides to help him have a good Christmas as well.  And the important thing is that he doesn’t just get someone to send him a bit of money and tell him it’s from the king, or a Christmas dinner, but he actually goes and spends time with him as well.  “Ye who now shall bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”

 

At the first Christmas, we see Christ and his family as outsiders, as people who are poor and rejected.  There is no room at the inn.  And so, in a humble cave, that is where God finds a place.  The humble, warm and loving hearts of Our Lady and St Joseph welcome the Christ-child into the world.  The angels announce the birth of the Saviour, and draw the shepherds to the manger.  A sign in the heavens brings the wise men.  Christ builds up a new community, where the warmth of the love of God melts the chill of hearts that are frozen and have become incapable of loving.  The stable becomes a palace.  The cave becomes the throne-room of Almighty God.  Human relationships become human once again.  It’s a bit like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where a world which is used to it being always winter and never Christmas, with the coming of Aslan, sees the snow begin to melt, the witch begins to lose her power, and Father Christmas is allowed to visit once more.

 

I mentioned earlier that, in some ways, Hanley seems to be on the up, at least in terms of renovation of buildings and the construction of new houses.  But for there to be any true and good rebuilding, it has to flow from here, from the altar.  The Christ-child has to be at the centre.  The “Christmas spirit” has to flow from here and spread, and warm up our families, our homes, our neighbourhood, our country, our world.

 

I wish you all a happy Christmas.  May the blessings of Christmas 2019 be  life-changing and stay with you long into the New Year.

21st / 22nd December 2019

posted 23 Dec 2019, 02:29 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A – Day of Prayer for Expectant Mothers (21 & 22/12/19)

 

Often, we emphasise, rightly, the role of Our Lady in salvation history.  She was prepared by almighty God to be Mother of the Redeemer:  firstly by her Immaculate Conception, being conceived without Original Sin; secondly by being free from all sin throughout her life; and thirdly by being the ever-virgin spouse of the Holy Spirit: both before, during and after the birth of Jesus.  St Irenaeus, writing in the second century, said of Our Lady:  “Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. … The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience:  what the virgin Eve bound by her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.”  (Adv. Haeres. 3. 22, 4:  PG 7/1, 959A)  So where does all this leave St Joseph?  Was his role merely rather basic and unimportant?  There’s perhaps a bit more to it than first appears.

 

So, the consent of Our Lady made the birth of Jesus possible, but his foster father had a role in salvation history as well.  The Messiah was to be of David’s house and line, and for that it required St Joseph.  In this country in 2013, the rule of male primogeniture for the next monarch was abolished, but traditionally in history, it has always been the eldest-born son who became the next king, regardless of whether he had any sisters who were older than him.  So even if, for the sake of argument, Our Lady had also been a descendant of King David, it required St Joseph to be of David’s house and line for the kingship to pass to Him and for the prophecies to be fulfilled.

 

So that now leads me onto the next point:  given that Our Lord had the legal status of being a descendant of King David, and was also God, and because Mary and Joseph had both agreed to fulfil God’s plan, did that mean that their lives were always blessed and free from suffering?  We know the answer to that question.  Their lives were blessed by God, yes, but they still had to undergo all sorts of suffering.  Think not only of the difficulty in finding a place when they got to Bethlehem and ending up having to settle in a cave, used as a stable for animals, but also about the massacre of the innocents.  Once again, just as in our Gospel reading, an angel warned St Joseph to take Our Lady and Our Lord and flee to Egypt, and to stay there until the death of Herod.  They were refugees in a foreign land, and they didn’t know how long they were going to have to stay there, as well as the difficult journey there and back – there were no buses or planes in those days, even though it’s sometimes called the “flight” into Egypt.  There it would have required Joseph to find work to provide for his family – whether he encountered prejudice and discrimination because of him not being Egyptian we don’t know, but at the very least we can probably say that it was likely.  If he had disobeyed God right at the beginning and abandoned Our Lady, then none of this might have happened for him, but then, how could he go against the clear will of God?  It is an honour to serve the Lord, even when it involves having to undergo all sorts of hardship.  As it says in Psalm 83:

 

“One day within your courts

is better than a thousand elsewhere.

The threshold of the house of God

I prefer to the dwellings of the wicked.” (v.11)

 

It is so much better to have the privilege to serve God for just one day, rather than spend a thousand without God.  And that’s part of the reality of our faith:  our faith doesn’t shield us from sufferings, from the cross.  The joy we experience as Christians is not a superficial happiness:  it’s something deep down inside, a security and a knowledge that all will be well.  In the, perhaps little known, book of the Prophet Habakkuk in the Old Testament, it puts it this way (3:17-18):

 

“For even though the fig does not blossom,

nor fruit grow on the vine,

even though the olive crop fail,

and fields produce no harvest,

even though flocks vanish from the folds

and stalls stand empty of cattle,

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord

and exult in God my saviour.

The Lord my God is my strength.”

 

Sometimes, our part in the work of God may seem rather insignificant.  It might also sometimes seem a bit daunting.  God doesn’t promise us a life free from suffering.  But St Joseph shows us today that to serve God is better than any riches, and sometimes, we underestimate the significance of what we are called to do.

 

St Joseph, foster father of Jesus, pray for us.

14th / 15th December 2019

posted 23 Dec 2019, 02:27 by Parish Office   [ updated 23 Dec 2019, 02:28 ]

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete), Year A – 14 & 15/12/19

 


Today we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, which means that there is just over a week now to go to Christmas.  If you’re an adult, you might think that means that Christmas is just round the corner.  If you’re a young child, Christmas might still seem like ages away.  I can remember as a child getting to the 20th December on my Advent calendar and still thinking that Christmas was still quite a long way away.

 

But whatever your age, the words of St James today in the second reading are so appropriate.  “Be patient.”  He also adds something else relevant in the run-up to Christmas:  “Do not make complaints against one another”.  Amidst all the preparations, making sure that all the food has been bought, the stress of having relatives coming round to visit, getting the decorations up (or “When will the decorations go up?”), it’s easy for patience to run thin and for tempers to flare.  But let’s step back a bit and think through what we are doing and why.  Who are we celebrating?  Why are we celebrating?  The presents we give and receive remind us not only of the three wise men who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but of the fact that Jesus is the present God the Father gives to us.  And why is He so important?  We get an inkling of it in the Gospel today.

 

John the Baptist is in prison, and, as we know, he is going to be executed shortly.  His disciples had started following Jesus, although at this point he was clearly still in contact with some of them.  Maybe some of them were still a bit unsure of Jesus.  John had baptised Christ, and the voice of the Father had said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him” (Matt 3:17).  In St John’s Gospel it says that John the Baptist pointed Him out as the Lamb of God, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).  But now John sends his disciples, maybe as a way of getting them to learn first-hand, who Jesus is:  “Are you the one who is to come, or have we got to wait for someone else?”  The reply Our Lord gives them inspires them and also John when it is related back to him:  “the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and happy is the man who does not lose faith in me” (Matt 11:4-5).  John has baptised Christ, and since then, John has probably only heard things in passing about what has been happening.  Now he and his disciples hear it from Our Lord Himself.  The kingdom of God is among you.  God is among you and working His wonders.  We are in a new age, the age of the New Testament, when God walks among us in the flesh.  The time that the prophets predicted and longed for has come.  As we heard in the first reading:

 

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,

the ears of the deaf unsealed,

then the lame shall leap like a deer

and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6).

 

The One awaited has come!  Think how John must have rejoiced to hear what was happening.  But he was in prison.  Whether he thought that his execution was definite, or whether there might be some chance of release, we don’t know.  We do know what happened, though.  After he had baptised Christ, and some of his followers were leaving him and following Christ instead, John said, “A man can lay claim only to what is given him from heaven. … He must grow greater, I must grow smaller” (John 3:27. 30).  He had that great humility to know that the most important thing was fulfilling the will of God in his life; any other ambitions or desires he might have, had to be subordinated to that.  It was in doing the will of God that John found his freedom, his peace, his fulfilment.

 

This Advent, may our outlook on life be the same as John the Baptist.

7th / 8th December 2019

posted 2 Dec 2019, 05:27 by Parish Office   [ updated 9 Dec 2019, 02:35 ]

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B (7 & 8/12/19)

 

Our Lord said:  “I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is” (Matthew 11:11).  John the Baptist is an amazing prophet, who wasn’t afraid to stand up to those in authority, those who thought they knew better, and those who had corrupted their faith.  As some would say, he spoke truth to power, and faced the consequences, putting his hope in God.  So today, he gives the Pharisees and Sadducees a good telling off:  do not presume that repentance is only for other people.  Look into your hearts.  See what you find there, and repent.  Don’t think that just because you are a Jew, Abraham will save you no matter how you live.  God’s justice applies to everyone.

 

In the book of Genesis, we see how righteous Abraham was, how he put his faith and trust in God, and as a result was told that he would be the father of a great nation, and that his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.  But by the time of John the Baptist, things had become a bit exaggerated.  To the orthodox Jew, Abraham was so unique in his goodness and his favour with God, that his merits could not be exhausted, and they sufficed for all his descendants.  So a Jew, simply by being a Jew, would be safe in the next life, without needing any merits of his or her own.  “All Israelites have a portion in the world to come”, they thought.  They thought that Abraham would wait by the gates of hell, to turn back any Jews that might have somehow strayed and ended up there.  You can guess what this might lead to.  If I’m going to heaven anyway, then who cares how good or bad I am whilst on this earth.  As long as I can get away with it, then why should I worry?  It’s a perversion of religion.  Now, rather than religion being a cause of people’s moral improvement and growth in goodness, it becomes a licence to sin.  I’ll be forgiven, so why worry?  It’s an abuse of God’s mercy and called the sin of presumption.  And it ends in the next life with the shock that God can’t be abused and deceived:  “I have never known you; away from me, you evil men!” (Matthew 7:23)

 

Sometimes, Catholics can be accused of a similar fault.  Okay, so if you can go to confession and have your sins forgiven, doesn’t that mean that you can go out and sin for the rest of the week, knowing that you can go to confession on Saturday and then be ready for Sunday?  Well, here’s news for you.  Just the same as marriages can sometimes be invalid, so can people’s confessions.  In plain language, that means that it’s possible for someone to go to confession, and leave the confessional with no sins forgiven, and an extra sin or two added on top as well.  Now that sounds worrying.  But how is that possible?

 

Easy.  Confession is not a machine, where you go in, put in your coins, press the button and out comes forgiveness.  It’s not a magic wand.  It’s about a relationship with God, and in that sense, it’s just like any other relationship.  If two people have a falling out, and then the one person goes to the other and just pretends to be sorry, without actually being sorry, and the other person knows that it’s all an act, then there is no reconciliation.  In fact, it just puts up another barrier.  You offended me, and now you’re just trying to abuse and manipulate me by claiming to be sorry when you clearly aren’t sorry in the slightest.

 

So how does this relate to confession?  Well, it has to be done with the heart.  So what this means is, that we have to first be sorry for what we have done, then we have to actually confess it, and thirdly we have to be willing to make amends for what we have done.

 

First:  be sorry.  Hopefully that’s not too complicated.  If we aren’t sorry, and are quite happy with what we have done, then there’s a bit of a problem.

 

Secondly:  confess the sins.  We are obliged to confess all mortal sins.  These are the bigger sins that cut us off from the life of grace.  If you are a soldier and are mortally wounded in battle, that means that you are going to die.  Mortal sin is a similar thing.  If we die unrepentant after having committed just one mortal sin, then we go to hell.  It’s that serious.  But whilst we are still alive, there’s the chance of turning to the Lord and  being forgiven.  Venial sins, the smaller sins that send us to purgatory rather than hell, don’t all need to be confessed – that might be impossible.  But we should still have a good look at our souls and confess the sins we find there.

 

Thirdly, make amends.  It’s important that we do the penance the priest gives us.  It’s usually not too difficult – just a few prayers to say.  Occasionally it might be something practical, such as restoring something you have stolen.  Confession shouldn’t be used as a way to benefit from sin.  It’s once again a perversion of the sacrament to think I can use it in order to benefit from stealing.  In Mrs Brown’s Boys, one of the characters said that one Christmas, he prayed for a bike, but didn’t get it.  So the next time he stole a bike, and then he asked for forgiveness.  Proper repentance would mean that he either somehow returns the bike, or if that’s not possible, then he maybe gives it to a charity shop or something similar.

 

Lastly, tied in with all three, is amendment of life.  If you’re sorry for it, then the idea is that you don’t want to do the same thing again.  Sometimes this is easy; at other times it’s easier said than done – bad habits are not always so easily broken all in one go.

 

John the Baptist called the people of the time to true repentance.  God has no favourites.  We are called to true repentance as well.


30th November / 1st December 2019

posted 2 Dec 2019, 05:21 by Parish Office

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A (30/11/19 & 1/12/19)

 

This weekend, November gives way to December.  Our month dedicated to praying for the Holy Souls, our deceased loved ones, draws to a close, and Advent begins.  Thinking of our deceased loved ones reminds us to be prepared for when it is our turn to meet the Lord.  And the message of the first part of Advent is to be prepared, because we don’t know the day or the hour of either our own death, or the return of the Lord.

 

So in our second reading today, St Paul warns us to make ourselves ready.  It’s time to wake up and put things right.  For some, it might mean reconciling with family or friends.  For others, it might be renewing their commitment to the Lord and spending more time in prayer and making more frequent use of the sacraments.  And there can be other things that might need putting right as well.  St John Henry Newman, who was canonised only recently, said that “to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often”.  Advent is a time for getting out of a rut.  It can be easy to live in a rut, and just let things carry on as before.  No real effort is involved.  Everything is familiar.  There’s no need to re-think things and to change.  It can be boring, but you can get used to it.  And then you resist those irritating people who call you to repent.  Maybe you’re not just uncomfortable with the changes that God might want you to make in your life:  you might positively dread them.  Having to get up earlier in the morning and pray; having to help others a bit more and have less time for yourself; maybe even having to avoid bad company and break off certain relationships.  It might also be that at some point previously, you made efforts to change, to grow and to be a better follower of the Lord.  Now you’ve done what you need to do, and now is the time just to rest.  But do you remember, from when you were a child, the story of the hare and the tortoise?  The hare sped off into the distance and thought he was going to win, and so he went to sleep.  Then, whilst he was asleep, the slow tortoise overtook him and won the race.  Sometimes, it’s better to go at a slower, constant pace, rather than to do things in a frenzy and then get tired.

 

As we begin Advent, let’s re-examine our lives and see where the Lord is calling us to a deeper conversion.  And maybe if we proceed at a slow, constant pace, the journey might not be too difficult for us.

23rd / 24th November 2019

posted 2 Dec 2019, 05:18 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year C – National Youth Sunday (23 & 24/11/19)

 

This Sunday is the last Sunday of the current Year C cycle of readings, and next Sunday we start again at Year A.  It means that, for Christ the King, there are three different sets of readings, giving three different themes.  This year, we see Christ reigning as King of kings and Lord of lords, not from a royal throne, but from the Cross.  And the location of the Cross is significant.

 

So firstly, where was Jesus crucified?  We know that on Palm Sunday He entered Jerusalem with great fanfare.  He entered in the way He did to make a point – that He is the King of Peace, prophesied by the Scriptures.  Fr James Mallon put it this way:  what Christ did was just the same as if, in America, someone entered Washington DC in a black stretch limo decorated with American flags and a police escort.

 

But did He die in Jerusalem?  If you go to Jerusalem today, you would be tempted to answer yes, but the city has changed over the years.  Back in the first century, the location of Christ’s crucifixion was actually outside the city, outside the city wall.  Jerusalem was the Holy City, and to die outside it was to die as an outsider and rejected by God.  So what does that mean?  It means that Christ took on all sin, all the rejection of God.  His redemption is not just for the nice people, or for those who think they are good -  it’s also for those who are rejected, those who have been thrown on the scrapheap of society.  He is there for those who have fallen into mortal sin and those who have been excommunicated by the Church – He is there for everyone; not to rejoice in their exclusion, caused by their own sins, but to save them from their sins, and reconcile them to Himself and the Church.

 

Today’s Gospel begins with Christ receiving abuse on all sides – from the religious leaders, the soldiers, and the thief who cursed Him and all He came to bring.  But He is also there with the onlookers who followed Him, and the good thief who repented and turned to Him for forgiveness.  In among all the cursing and insults, the good thief publicly acknowledged Christ as King:  “Jesus … remember me when you come into your kingdom”.  Christ was not defeated on the Cross, despite His apparent powerlessness.  Even at that point, He reigned as Lord, and gave salvation to the repentant thief.  To this day, His work of salvation and His reign continues.

 

A few weeks ago, a priest of the Archdiocese of Liverpool told me about one of his first Christmases as a priest.  He was going to celebrate Christmas Mass in the local hospital, and he had ambitious plans about the carols they were going to sing and what a glorious celebration it was going to be.  But it ended up being something of an anti-climax.  Only a small handful of people turned up.  After that, he then went around the wards to give various patients Holy Communion.  And the very last person he visited on his round was a prisoner.  “Can you hear my confession, Father?”  “Yes, sure.”  He (the priest) said that that confession made all the difference to his day – this is what it’s all about:  one repentant sinner making his way back to the Lord, and despite all he had done, being forgiven and reconciled to God and the Church.  There was a real example of the reign of Christ.

 

Today is National Youth Sunday, and this year’s theme is “significance”.  One of the troubles we can find in society is the number of people who feel that their lives are insignificant, that they are not important, that no one cares, and that they are a waste of time and space.  But we see in the reign of Christ that that is not the case.  If the outcasts in His time were important to Him, then so is everyone today.  When he began as Pope, Benedict XVI put it this way:

 

“only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”  [End of quote]

 

This was him speaking from the heart, to the heart of all of us.  When St John Paul II began as Pope, he called on world leaders not to be afraid of Christ, and to open political systems to Him.  Pope Benedict mentioned this briefly, but finished with a specific message for the youth:

 

“And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.” [End of quote] (St Peter’s Square, 24th April 2005)

 

We would do well to heed his words.

19th / 20th October 2019

posted 23 Oct 2019, 05:33 by Parish Office

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

– World Mission Sunday (19 & 20/10/19)

 

Today we celebrate World Mission Sunday.  But what can we do to support the mission of the Church?  Maybe someone here might be called to be a missionary and spread the Gospel in far distant lands.  For the rest of us, we can help by giving to the second collection today.  But more importantly, we can also pray.

 

One of the difficulties we can find in prayer is the lack of results.  If you conduct a scientific experiment, by the end of the experiment you will have a set of results that you can analyse and draw conclusions from.  Praying for the mission of the Church doesn’t work in quite the same way.  You can’t get a computer printout saying exactly how your individual prayers have helped convert some people and keep others from going elsewhere.  And so, when you pray, but aren’t aware of any definite results, the temptation can be to give up, or at least to slacken off a little.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Our Lord reminds us of the importance of perseverance in prayer.  Obviously God isn’t like the unjust judge, whom the widow was constantly begging to do his job properly.  The parable was an illustration of the fact that we, too, need to persevere in prayer, rather than just making our request once and leaving it at that.  Imagine someone who thought:  right.  It’s World Mission Sunday.  I’ll say a prayer.  “Lord, convert the whole world.  Amen.”  Job done.  Is it really enough just to say one very quick prayer, and then think you never have to pray again for that intention for the rest of your life?  When World Mission Sunday comes around next year, can you just say to yourself:  I don’t need to pray for the missions today; I did that last year?  No.  Persevere in your prayer.  Bring your intentions to God each day.  And don’t forget to thank Him for the prayers that have been answered.

 

Clearly, perseverance in prayer can be difficult at times, and our Gospel today ended in quite a worrying way:  “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?”  Will faith in Christ perhaps be like a kettle, that was boiled back in the first century, but by the time Our Lord returns, will have been allowed to go cold?

 

In the Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse, the last book of the New Testament, it looks towards a future age.  In chapter 3, John is asked to write to the Church in Laodicea, which has cooled off somewhat in its devotion to Christ.  This is what he is commanded to write:  “I know your works:  you are neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.  For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.”  It’s sometime said that in Europe, things have moved on from the days of firm convictions, whether Christian or Atheist, being hot or cold towards the Lord.  Instead, people now don’t really care and don’t give it much thought.  Maybe God exists, maybe he doesn’t – who cares?  What difference would it make to my life?  They have become lukewarm.  And that lukewarmness can then begin to affect the Church.  Does it really matter if people become Catholics or not, just as long as they are nice people?  Well actually, it does, and that’s the reason the Church has World Mission Sunday.  If we lose our moral compass, then as long as people appear to be “nice”, they can convince us to do anything.

 

Sometimes, we need reminding that we are taking place in a great spiritual battle.  Not just our own journey through life, but that there is a great cosmic battle taking place between heaven and hell, between the angels and the demons over the salvation or damnation of souls.  The true enemies of the human race are not any particular human beings, or people belonging to certain categories:  it’s the evil spirits that are our true enemies, and they have launched an all-out assault against the followers of the Lord.  Thankfully we have the angels to defend us, with St Michael the Archangel as the leader in the battle.  But once again, we can’t just leave the angels to fight it alone.  We also need to pray.  In the first reading, when Moses’ arms were raised in prayer, the battle went well for the Israelites, but when they fell, the Amalekites were in the ascendancy.  Moses’ arms needed supporting.  In the battle for souls, it can’t just be left up to the Parish Priest!  It requires the whole parish to support the prayer effort.  If things in the Church begin to fail, is that not an indication that we have become lukewarm with regard to prayer?  There’s still some prayer going on, but it’s not enough to fight the present battle.

 

So, prayer warriors, today we celebrate Mission Sunday.  What are we going to do?  I say:  let us pray!

12th / 13th October 2019

posted 18 Oct 2019, 06:23 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Prisons Week (12 & 13/10/19)

 

Who are the outcasts in today’s society?  At the time of Christ, lepers were kept out of cities and lived on the margins.  Perhaps today, one category of people that we could include would be prisoners.  One of the purposes of prisons is to safeguard the public from those who are deemed to be a danger to society.  It has been said that of all the Pastoral Letters Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville ever wrote in his seventeen years as Archbishop of Birmingham, the one that drew most complaints was when he suggested that people should forgive prisoners.  Let’s put things another way:  if you had spent time in prison, after release, would you be happy to tell a group of strangers at a party, “oh, for the last five years I’ve been in prison”?

 

As a priest, I have visited places that many of you will never get to see in your lifetime.  Not only have I visited mental health hospitals, but also prisons.  In my first parish, we used to celebrate two Masses on Saturday in the main prison and one Mass on a Thursday in the open prison.  Some of the men who used to come to Mass wouldn’t be your normal Mass-goers, but it gave them a chance to get out of their cells for a while, although obviously under supervision.  And that can then be a chance for them to hear the Gospel.  Even if someone doesn’t receive Holy Communion, just by attending Mass, you can receive many graces from the Lord.  One prisoner said to me that coming to Mass really gave peace and light to his week.  After prisoners are released, maybe not all of them continue with Sunday Mass, just like only one of the ten lepers thanked Christ for his healing.  But a seed has been sown that could grow later on.

 

When Naaman the Syrian sought out the prophet Elisha to be healed of his leprosy, he got more than he bargained for.  Not only was he healed, but he was given faith in God, and the resolution to give up worshipping any other so-called gods.  His healing was both physical and spiritual.

 

For some people who go to prison, they get more than they bargained for as well.  Whilst there are the bad cases, some get to know God and turn their lives around.

 

It can be tempting to write people off.  But in prison, we don’t know how God’s grace will work

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