Fr Michael's Homilies

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

Homily for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, Year C (19 & 20/11/22)

posted 21 Nov 2022, 01:05 by Parish Office

Perhaps because I’m the son of at teacher, one of the things that annoys me sometimes is when punctuation in e-mails is so bad that I have difficulty working out what some of the sentences mean. It’s a subject that annoyed Lynne Truss (not Liz Truss) so much that she wrote the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves. The title comes from a joke which goes like this:

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife annual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

I had a quick look at the book some time ago, and it says that the correct use of a comma was an area of dispute between Catholics and Protestants over today’s Gospel.

Lynne Truss’s claim is that, many years ago, Protestants favoured the version we heard today: “Indeed, I promise you … today you will be with me in paradise”, indicating that the thief would go straight to heaven. Catholics preferred there to be an extra comma: “Indeed, I promise you today, you will be with me in paradise”, in other words, I am telling you now, that you will be with me in paradise, but not saying exactly when the thief would arrive in paradise, leaving the option open for him to be in purgatory for a while first.

I had a look through a few different Catholic Bibles in the presbytery, the earliest going back to 1865, and they all had the supposedly “Protestant” translation, the same as we heard today at Mass. I’m not sure whether Catholic scholars had a change of opinion before then, or whether the idea of adding an extra comma is more fable than fact. But does Jesus saying, “today you will be with me in paradise” go against the doctrine of purgatory? Quite simply, no (notice I put a comma in there).

For one thing, Our Lord saying, “today you will be with me in paradise” could still leave the option open for a short stay in purgatory before the end of the day, which would have been 6 pm back in those days. Our Lord died at 3 pm. But secondly, as Catholics, we have a few more tricks up our sleeves, which could allow the good thief to go straight to heaven.

As part of the Last Rites, as well as the sacraments of confession, anointing of the sick and Holy Communion, there is something called the Apostolic Pardon. This is like a plenary indulgence, doing away with someone’s purgatory. There are two different options in the book, and the first one goes like this:

“Through the holy mysteries of our redemption, may almighty God release you from all punishments in this life and in the life to come. May he open to you the gates of paradise and welcome you to everlasting joy.”

So the words of Our Lord, “today you will be with me in paradise”, could be seen as a form of Apostolic Pardon.

Another option goes as follows: when we are sorry for our sins, we have to look at the reason, and the church divides the reasons into two categories: perfect and imperfect contrition, or sometimes simply called contrition and attrition.

Perfect contrition is where we are sorry for our sins because we love God above all else and are sorry for having offended Him. Attrition comes from more human motives; we are sorry simply because we have let ourselves down, or because of sin’s ugliness and the possibility of eternal damnation. If we are dying and unable to go to confession, perfect contrition does away with our purgatory, whilst imperfect contrition will leave some of it behind. So the good thief could have shown perfect contrition when he said, “Jesus ... remember me when you come into your kingdom”.

All this shows the importance of Christ reigning over our lives, which means that we need to put Him first and in control – He reigns on the throne, not us; thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Incorrect punctuation may not threaten our eternal salvation, because Christ is our salvation.

Homily for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (12 & 13/11/22)

posted 14 Nov 2022, 01:58 by Parish Office

We have been living in unusual, and strange times. Things we might never have expected, have happened in recent memory. For some people in this parish, the closure of St Peter’s Church in Cobrigde was one such example. For others, the vote for Brexit, and/or the vote for Donald Trump and Boris Johnson were seen as cataclysmic events, although these matters are still up for debate. Then, more recently, the pandemic. We were used to hearing about outbreaks of diseases many miles away, with Ebola in parts of Africa, or various forms of ‘flu, SARS, MERS etc., but never for something considered so deadly to spread around the whole world. Now, there is the astronomical rise in gas and electricity prices. A few percent, we might have been used to or even expected, but such a rise, well, if you had predicted it five years ago, nobody would have believed you. The world seems, in so many ways, to be so unstable.

The Jews would have had similar fears when the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Temple was the sign of God’s presence among them. They were used to the fact of Roman occupation, but God had enabled them to continue to practise their religion, unlike the persecution that took place during the time when they were part of the empire of the Greeks. It was an earth-shattering moment.

Whatever happens in our world, there is something even more important, which is when we go to meet the Lord ourselves; as the saying goes, there are two things certain in life: death and taxes. In November, we focus on the Holy Souls in Purgatory; as the saying also goes, prevention is better than cure.

In two weeks’ time, we begin the season of Advent, and that raises the issue of being ready, not only to celebrate the birth of Christ, but also to be ready for His return. One of the ways we do that is by reviewing our lives and going to confession.

There can be various reasons why people don’t go to confession. Sometimes, one of the difficulties is not that of being afraid to confess, but to know what to confess. Pope St John Paul II used to write about people losing their sense of sin – he meant by this that people didn’t know what a sin was, they didn’t think in terms of right and wrong, and were happy to commit sin without even thinking, or perhaps they had justified it in advance

– I need to do this, or, everyone else is doing the same so I would feel awkward with not going along with the crowd. And this can sometimes include matters that are very serious.

When you are trying to get somewhere, if you just try to work it out for yourself, sometimes you get it right, and other times you end up lost. You need a map or a sat nav. The same is true in the spiritual life. If we are to know what is right and wrong, we need similar guidance, and sometimes, the world gets it completely wrong – it’s a bit like a supermarket shelf where someone has swapped the price labels around. As a bit of a guide, I’ve put together something at the back of church. It’s a list of things that the Catechism mentions are serious sins. It’s not for children to read. It’s not exhaustive either. I’m sure there are others as well that we could think of. But it’s a start. Take a copy home, and when you dare to, have a look through it.

Just to finish with, though, I’ve got a story for you:

There was a meeting of the board of directors going on in Hell. Satan was concerned over the fact that business was not increasing. He wanted to reach as many people as possible and draw them into Hell.

One demon jumped up and said: “I’ll go back to earth and convince the people that there is no Heaven”.

“That won’t do”, said Satan. “We’ve tried it before and it doesn’t work.”

“I’ll convince them that there is no Hell”, offered a second demon.

“No – that doesn’t work either”, said Satan.

A wise old veteran in the back of the room rose and said: “If you let me go back to earth, I can fill this place. I’ll just convince them that there is no hurry.”

Homily for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (5 & 6/11/22)

posted 14 Nov 2022, 01:56 by Parish Office

Around fifteen years ago, I was still at Oscott College, studying for the priesthood, and whilst we were studying moral theology, there was one thing I had difficulty accepting, which was that the way the Church’s moral teaching was presented had been previously affected by a heresy called nominalism. It’s not that everyone taught the heresy instead of the real teaching, but rather that it influenced, and distorted, the way some people presented the faith. I thought to myself, how can this be so? The Church teaches infallibly in matters of faith and morals. Well, skip to the modern day and you can see for yourself that, whilst the Church officially teaches what is right and true, different preachers, theologians, catechists and parents teaching their children, can be affected by the local culture, and that can, at times, lead to distortions.

If we go back to the time of Christ, a similar sort of thing is happening. The group called the Sadducees, who were Jews, but with a certain slant on things, said that there is no resurrection. They believed in a vague idea of souls surviving in the realm of the dead, or “sheol”, but as for resurrection and new life, they were not so sure. In one sense, they were trying to be totally “pure” in their faith. You see, just like in the New Testament we hold the Gospels to be more important than the other books – we sit for the second reading, but we stand for the Gospel – they also held the first five books of the Old Testament to be of greater importance, as did so many other Jews. But they went further, and they were more cautious about some of the later books. If someone were to ask, where in the Old Testament does it say that the dead will rise again, we could look to today’s first reading from 2 Maccabees, which was written around the second century BC, so it was one of the “newest” books in the Old Testament. The Sadducees, trying to be both “pure”, you could say, and clever, ridiculed this belief, and so Our Lord puts them straight. He’s also very clever about it, because, rather taking ages to try to convince them to accept something from a more recent book of the Old Testament, He goes to those first five books of the Old Testament and gets His answer from there. Very clever stuff. So when, perhaps, a Protestant asks you “Where in the Bible do you get so-and-so from”, sometimes the answer may well be, such as in the case of Our Lady’s Assumption, that it isn’t there, but that the Bible isn’t the whole of God’s revelation – we have to look to Sacred Tradition for the rest, and that also helps us to get the interpretation of the Bible right – look in Sacred Tradition and see how the early Christians interpreted the Bible, rather than trying to work it out from scratch. But then there may be other things, such as belief in the Real Presence, where we can use the Scripture that they accept, such as John chapter six, to make our point.

We have just started the month of November, dedicated to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. That might raise the question of where we get the doctrine of Purgatory from. It’s not explicit in the Bible, but rather implicit. We need to pull together teaching from different parts of the Scriptures. There is a “spiritual union”, if you like, among the whole human race, so that the sin of Adam and Eve has its repercussions, and Christ, as a human being as well as God, was able to redeem the whole human race. It also means that our personal sins affect, not only us, but the whole Body of Christ, and our wider world. Hence one of the reasons why confession involves confessing to a priest, a representative of the Church, because our sins affect, not only us, but also weaken the whole Church. The bad witness of Catholics, whether laypeople, religious or clergy, has a knock-on effect. But so too does the good witness we give, and the fact that we help each other spiritually. We pray for each other, and the saints pray for us. So we too, also, can help the Holy Souls in Purgatory by praying for them and offering the Mass and our own sufferings for them, to speed up their purification and help them to enter heaven. Then they can pray for us when it’s our turn. Sometimes, we can have a mixed relationship when it comes to sin. Whilst we know that God forbids it, we can still have something of a slight attachment to it, a fondness even, for it, and that needs to be gone if we are to enter heaven. We can’t be joined to God whilst still having a divided heart. St Gregory the Great, indirectly referencing Our Lord in the Gospels, explained Purgatory in this way:

“As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgement, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offences can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come. [By this he means Purgatory]” (Dial. 4, 39: PL 77. 396; cf. Mt 12:31, referenced in CCC 1031)

So there we have it. There is the official teaching, and the danger of us, living in our own time and culture, of distorting the message. It happened in the past with nominalism, and the Sadducees were corrected for making their own amendments. Today, some Catholics do the same by denying Purgatory. The message of the Lord is that we have to believe everything He teaches; nothing is optional. And one day, all will be made clear.

Homily for All Saints’ Day, 1/11/22

posted 4 Nov 2022, 06:24 by Parish Office

Just before putting together this homily for All Saints’ Day I had a look to see what I had said in previous years, to avoid repeating myself. It seems that, in general, I have spoken about persecution of Christians and given examples of lives of the saints, with St John Paul II and St John Henry Newman being mentioned a few times.

Of course, those are also the themes of the readings today, as well. In the first reading, we have the “huge number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language” who are not just saints, but also martyrs. Then, in the Gospels, we are told that persecution in the cause of right, suffering insults for following the Lord, and hungering and thirsting for what is right, are behaviours which earns us a high reward in heaven. So for my homily this year, why break with the pattern of the last few years? What can I draw your attention to this year? How about what is being taught in primary and secondary schools as of this September? I’m not referring to how the faith is taught, and matters of catechesis. Rather it’s to do with moral issues instead.

Olenka Hamilton, writing for the Catholic Herald, recently took her two daughters, aged two and three, to Tate Britain, to look at the art and to try out the children’s play areas that had been recommended to her. When they got there, she was alarmed at the contents of the bookshelves. “Titles included My own way: Celebrating gender freedom for kids, Gender: A Graphic Guide from the makers of Queer: A Graphic History, and Kisses for Jet: A Coming-of-Age Story.” As she put it, “Not a single book that children actually want to read, let alone should be allowed anywhere near.”

When she asked one of the people working there if these books were really appropriate for children, and whether politics and ideology should be brought into a child’s play area, they became less friendly, said they would pass her comments to their supervisor, and they put the books back on the shelves. So Olenka whisked her children away.

But this kind of indoctrination isn’t just the preserve of one or two isolated locations. In September, the new RSE curriculum came into force. RSE stands for Relationships and [a word I won’t say beginning with “s”] Education. An organisation called Public Child Protection Wales has, with the backing of over five thousand parents, taken the Welsh Government to court. The curriculum is in place in England and Scotland as well, but the

Welsh government have gone further by saying there should be no parental opt-out of the classes. There is also, technically, no opt-out for faith schools either.

The content is truly shocking. For children aged four to six, not fourteen to sixteen, but four to six, they are to be taught about “enjoyment and pleasure when touching one’s own body”. I won’t use the words that follow to describe it all. Then there is “Gender Identity: How you in your head define your gender, based on how much you align (or don’t align) with what you understand to be the options for gender”.

Things go further. There certainly isn’t the intention to safeguard purity of heart; rather it is giving children ideas to then pursue, and opening them up to the possibility of being abused.

As I say, the curriculum is already in force, but, in Wales, attempts are being made in court to have it stopped. Parents and grandparents, both in Wales and in England, need to make their voices heard. As Laura Perrin wrote in a recent blog, we can’t assume that other people will do all the work for us by coming forward and speaking up. Many people don’t want any trouble. The thing is, that if we don’t do something now, we are just storing up trouble for the future.

Olenka Hamilton finished her article by saying, ‘Grooming children to be in a position to give “consent” before they are adults is seriously dark, but somehow it is those who object who are branded the evil ones’. We could perhaps add, that by standing up and being counted, we “run the risk” of fulfilling the last beatitude: “Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven”. It just seems that the revolution that began in the sixties is going from bad to worse – and it requires those who are saints in the making to oppose it and build something better. All the saints in heaven, pray for us.

Homily for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (29 & 30/10/22)

posted 31 Oct 2022, 03:49 by Parish Office

Sometimes, people can have misconceptions of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve mentioned before that Our Lord is not a teddy bear. Today, we see that He wasn’t an Englishman either. Fancy inviting Himself round to someone’s house, and not giving everyone time to prepare! “Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus didn’t reply, “Yes, Lord, but Wednesday is the day my wife gets the washing done. And we’ve not been shopping today and the market’s already closed. And as well as that, Jericho is playing Capernaum this evening in the local games. Can’t you come round another day?” God is impatient when it comes to our own conversion. He can’t wait until tomorrow. It has to happen today. It reminds me of a conversion story I read some time ago. I can’t remember the name of the person, but he was an Anglican who became a Catholic. He said that he had studied the matter, and he knew that he had to become a Catholic. But to begin with, he put it off. But then it occurred to him: what if I were to die, and God said to me, “Why didn’t you become a Catholic?” So he decided, that very week, to go and see a Catholic priest about his desire to convert.

So Our Lord goes to visit Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus’ conversion is not a half-hearted affair. He doesn’t say he might think about changing his life, when he has a bit more time, because being a tax collector, well, there’s just so much to do, and the tax office is always making its demands. No, he decides there and then to change everything. And not only is he going to convert, he’s also going to make good amends for his previous life. The fiscal officer declares his income, and taxes it generously for the poor and any he may have wronged: “Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount”. Imagine if someone had come to me in confession and admitted to stealing, and I had said, for your penance, I want you to give back four time the amount you stole. But Zacchaeus is really zealous in putting things right. Our Lord has truly struck whilst the iron was hot. Today is the day of salvation, not tomorrow, when I get round to it and I’m not so busy.

Also looking at the Gospel, we see the reaction of the crowd when Jesus went to visit Zacchaeus. They grumbled. “ ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house’ they said.” In the first reading, there’s a good explanation of Our

Lord’s technique. It says, “you are merciful to all … and overlook men’s sins so that they can repent” [emphasis added]. God’s mercy makes it possible for us to repent. There would be no point, if we were only going to be punished and condemned. I can remember reading a book which was in cartoon format, explaining the Catholic faith. It said that some people only go to Mass because they are afraid of God’s punishment, and there was a picture of a man in bed, clutching the sheets, because he had missed Mass, and God’s hand was pointing at him and saying, “I’ll get you, Murphy!”

So if God is merciful, we need to be merciful too. As Oscar Wilde, of all people, once said, the Catholic Church is for saints and sinners. We have to make it easy for people to return, rather than making them feel unwelcome and uneasy. And we also might need to give them a bit of help and encouragement in returning to confession. It’s not easy to admit your faults. In the NHS, when something goes wrong (as opposed to majorly wrong), the idea is to try to use it as a learning experience, rather than a blame and shame exercise. In the Church, when it comes to confession, the priest is there to administer God’s mercy, not His wrath. In the very first Don Camillo film, the mayor goes to confession to Don Camillo and admits that he was the one that ambushed him in the dark down a side- street. After the confession is over, Don Camillo is thinking of getting his revenge, and hitting the mayor with the paschal candle. But God warns him and says, “I pardoned, and you must. … Your hands are made for blessing, not hitting.”

Our Lord is not an Englishman. Conversion is more important than social convention. God urgently desires our repentance. We need to strike whilst the iron is hot and encourage others to do the same, because “the Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost”.

Homily for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C (15 & 16/10/22)

posted 17 Oct 2022, 04:12 by Parish Office

The need to pray continually and never lose heart: living in the West, we can so often expect things to be done, and done yesterday. You should only need to ask once, and then it should happen. You order something on-line, or from a shop, and you expect it to arrive a few days later. You don’t expect to have to keep on phoning up, week after week, asking, “where is my parcel?” The comedian Omid Djalili once said that in Iranian culture, when you are offered something to eat, it is considered polite to refuse the first two occasions, and then the third time you are asked, you can then gorge yourself. Our Lord says to us today that we should persevere in prayer, rather than giving up if we don’t get what we expected the first time we asked.

Looking at the first reading, there is also an example of persevering prayer there too. It’s as if prayer is like electricity – whilst it’s on, things happen, and when it’s switched off, they don’t. Whilst Moses prays, Joshua seems to be winning, but when Moses gets tired and stops, then Joshua gets pushed back. So it requires others to sustain Moses in his prayer, and that enables Joshua to win the battle against the Amalekites.

So is this how things are in the Church? We’ve got the priests and religious praying, whilst the lay faithful are battling the forces of secularism. Whilst the prayers continue, victories are scored on the battlefield, whilst when priests and religious get lazy, or maybe just go to bed because it’s getting late, then everyone else struggles in the fight against the world, the flesh and the devil. Maybe not.

There’s the hymn The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended and it talks about, or sings, rather, about the fact that prayer is constantly going on all over the world: “The voice of prayer is never silent / Nor dies the strain of praise away”, and that includes both private prayer, and formal prayer. If you look on-line for livestreamed Masses, you will see that, because of the different time zones and the fact that parishes, convents and so on have Mass at different times throughout the day, the Mass is being celebrated constantly. Then, in the different monasteries, convents and so on, they pray the psalms throughout the day. The monks at Ampleforth Abbey, in Yorkshire, pray all one hundred and fifty psalms over the course of two weeks. Priests and religious have a slimmed down version, as they can’t spend quite so much of the day praying, called The Liturgy of the Hours, and we pray the psalms, plus other prayers, canticles, hymns, bidding prayers and so on, over the course of four weeks. So prayer is going on.

But it’s not just a job for those who are ordained or who wear a religious habit. You are asked to pray as well. Our Lord never said in today’s Gospel that it was only certain people in the Church that were expected to pray. He didn’t say, well, the priests can pray all day, because they’ve got nothing else to do, but you have to go to work, so don’t bother.

So how do you pray, apart from attending Mass? Today is / Yesterday was our Day of Prayer for Vocations, and if the Blessed Sacrament is being exposed from 9:30 am to 6 pm, what do you say during all that time? Do you just go into church and say the Our Father over and over again, until your hour is up? Well, no. You can pray to God in your own words and have a conversation with Him. There can be all sorts of people and

situations in our world to pray for, as well as praying, of course, for vocations. Prayer, of course, is not just about asking for things, but it’s also a chance to thank God, to praise God, and also to sometimes say sorry as well.

One of the best prayers we have (obviously the Mass is the greatest and the highest prayer that we have, the source and summit of the Christian life, as the Church says, but one of the best prayers we have) is the Rosary. You might think it’s a bit strange to pray to Our Lady when Jesus is exposed there for adoration in the Blessed Sacrament. But all prayer to Our Lady is ultimately prayer to God. And the way the Rosary works, is it’s about reflecting on the different mysteries, the episodes in the life of Our Lady and Our Lord. You don’t need to be concentrating on the meaning of each word of the Hail Mary. The Hail Marys are supposed to be the background music, if you like, to your meditation, as you reflect on what happened. Reflecting on the mysteries is a way of keeping our faith at the forefront of our mind, rather than letting it slip off the radar.

Linked with the Rosary, is simply reading and reflecting on the Sacred Scriptures, the Bible. We can sometimes find the Bible a confusing book, and not quite know where to start. My advice always is a bit like what they sometimes say about Star Wars. With the original Star Wars films, I’m told the best way to watch them is not from one to six, but to start at number four, and watch them four, five six, one, two, three. The same applies to the Bible – start with the New Testament and St Matthew’s Gospel, and work your way through to the end, and then start the Old Testament. Obviously the Bible is a big book – in fact it’s quite a few books all in one book, and you can’t read it all in one day. It’s a bit like the saying: how do you eat an elephant? One spoonful at a time. You can’t expect to eat a whole elephant in one day (perhaps you would never eat an elephant anyway), but in the same way, you can’t expect to read the whole Bible in one night.

Lastly, when you pray, either before the Blessed Sacrament or in some other quiet place, another form of prayer is just to sit there in silence, relax in the presence of God, and sunbathe, if you like in His presence. Prayer doesn’t have to be always me speaking. Sometimes a married couple can spend profound moments just sitting together on the settee, without saying anything. When the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, there is nothing wrong with just being there in the Church and adoring Jesus, present body, blood, soul and divinity, right there in front of us on the altar. He loves us, and we adore and love Him back. It’s that simple.

So, yes, prayer is not about treating God like a machine: put a few coins of prayer in and collect the chocolate bar. Prayer is about a relationship and spending quality time with God, whether it’s through formal prayer of the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, or our own private prayer. Prayer is what sustains us and gives us life.

Homily for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

posted 26 Sept 2022, 01:19 by Parish Office

Day of Prayer in Thanksgiving for the Harvest (24 & 25/9/22)
The rich man and Lazarus – it’s quite a worrying parable. How many of us here are like Lazarus, living on the streets, hungry and poor? How many of us have a fairly comfortable life, always having enough to eat and a house to live in? But the characters of the rich man and Lazarus are not quite so one-dimensional as we might think. Let’s delve a little deeper.

The rich man was a bit, or maybe quite a bit, of a show-off. Today, wearing purple means nothing, but back then it was extremely expensive. Purple dye came from the murex sea snail, with each snail yielding only a tiny, tiny amount, so it took loads of them to dye a garment. Purple was worn only by royalty and those who could afford to live like royalty. The rich man also used to feast magnificently each day, so he may have had servants and probably also invited his rich friends round as well. He is showing off how much money he has, and how he is enjoying life.

The poor man is called Lazarus. In the Scriptures, someone’s name isn’t just a random choice, but it tells you something important about the person. The name Lazarus means “God helps”. Lazarus has no help from anyone, and so he relies totally on God.

Lazarus is also in a very pitiable condition. He is not only poor and hungry, but instead of sitting by the gate to beg, he lies there. He might be paralysed, too weak to sit up, and might need to be carried around. He might even be too weak to raise his hand to ask for food. Back in 1st century Palestine, there were no rubbish bins and dust bin collections. People would throw the scraps of leftover food over the wall, and the wild dogs would help themselves. Lazarus is too weak to make his way over to eat any discarded remains of the rich man’s banquet. He just lies there and the dogs come and lick his wounds.

The rich man has become too selfish in his wealth, and too indifferent to the plight of others. Yes, there are poor people around, but what do you expect me to do about it? Or perhaps he is so busy enjoying himself that he doesn’t want to go to the effort of helping others; maybe he even doesn’t want to notice them. He just can’t be bothered to help. Surely you can’t expect me to mix with people like that? I need to look after and feed people of my own class.

They both find out, that if there isn’t always justice in this world, then there is in the next. The rich man recognises that his fate is permanent; he sees Lazarus in paradise with Abraham, but some of his attitudes still haven’t changed. He still wants Lazarus to work as a slave and come and cool his tongue. Abraham recognises the rich man as one of his, though lost. He calls him, “My son”. It reminds us of the warning that John the Baptist gave to the Pharisees, that being children of Abraham does not guarantee salvation. Your faith needs to bear the appropriate fruits.

The rich man realises that nothing can now change for him, but what about his brothers? Maybe Lazarus can be sent to warn them. But they already have their warning from the Scriptures – that’s what the phrase “Moses and the prophets” means. If they are so obstinate in their rejection of certain parts of their faith, then “they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead”.

There’s a clever warning here. The reading began by saying that Jesus was preaching, not to a general crowd of people, but to the Pharisees. They were the Jews who thought they lived the faith to a higher standard than everyone else, but in the process, they had distorted it. They had rejected the core, leaving just the externals. And the chances were, that even when Christ rose from the dead, they still would not believe.

Some years ago, I was speaking to a friend from school, who told me he no longer eats meat. He said to me, “The thing I like about being a vegetarian, is that it gives you a sense of moral superiority over everyone else”. I said to him, “You ought to try becoming a Catholic”. Is there the danger that we ourselves can take on something of the approach of the Pharisees, and the rich man? Are our hearts open, or are they closed? Who are the Lazaruses in our life? Conversely, with the rise in gas and electricity bills, we might be feeling more in sympathy with Lazarus, whose name means “God helps”.

As Catholics, we have a high calling. Those to whom more is given, more is expected. Or as St Paul writes today in the second reading: “I put to you the duty of doing all that you have been told, with no faults or failures.”

Homily for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

posted 26 Sept 2022, 01:17 by Parish Office

17 & 18/9/22 – Evangelii Gaudium Sunday

St Paul wrote to St Timothy: “My advice is, first of all, there should be prayers offered for everyone – petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving – and especially for kings and others in authority”. Just over a week ago we were surprised by the death of Queen Elizabeth II. On Thursdays I start my day off, and I briefly heard the news in the afternoon that the Queen was unwell and that the Royal Family were making their way to be at her side, and then, later in the day, when I had my evening meal, I discovered that she had died. And then there was also the news that we now, automatically, have a new king, Charles III. Banknotes, coins and stamps will need to be changed, and the national anthem changes to “God Save the King”.

We will all have different memories of Queen Elizabeth. One of the many good aspects of her reign has been her witness to her Christian faith. There’s an American website that can be quite critical of all sorts of things in the world, but when the Queen in her Christmas Message spoke about the support her faith was to her in her life, they were very impressed.

I’ve not seen much at all of all that has taken place over the last week, and what I have seen and heard has been though visiting a hospital ward where the TV is on; and obviously, when you are visiting someone and the TV is also on, you have to focus on what the person is saying, rather than switching off and listening to the TV. But it has been good to hear the importance of Christ’s Death and Resurrection being preached on national TV, and to a large audience. In some ways, the current time is an opportunity of grace for the nation.

That leads us nicely to the fact that today we celebrate Evangelii Gaudium Sunday, what used to be called Home Mission Sunday. Evangelii Gaudium, which means “the joy of the Gospel” is the title of a document Pope Francis produced a few years ago about evangelisation. The Church exists to evangelise. Our Lord Himself said, “Go, make disciples of all nations”. Whenever we come across something or someone amazing, we tell others about our encounter. Conversely, if we come across something or someone bad, we do the same. So, in theory, our faith, our encounter with the Lord, should be something we want to tell others about. But then, when we get beaten down by others we can find ourselves exercising a certain amount of “self-censorship”. It’s a bit like you’re a great football fan, and you’ve just come back from the match where they’ve scored a massive victory, but the

first friend you meet just can’t stand football and finds it completely and utterly boring. So, as a result, when you’re asked how your day has been, you say it’s fine, but don’t really mention the match. We can sometimes find the same thing with our faith. How we speak about it, and when, can be determined by the company we are with. And sometimes we witness to our faith indirectly, through how we act.

In the Gospel, Our Lord mentions a few things: honesty in financial matters, even down to the small details, treating God as God, not money as God, and, to add to it all, the need for us to be astute. If the children of this world can be so astute when it comes to how they deal with others, we should be similarly astute, and aspire to be astute, in how we deal with matters of salvation. The crafty steward was concerned about his livelihood and who would look after him. We need to be concerned primarily about our salvation and the salvation of those around us. So there may be times when we need to be a little bit “crafty” about it. Perhaps in the olden days, when fish and chip shops used to wrap food in newspaper, one idea might have been to use last week’s copies of The Universe or The Catholic Herald. There is still, of course, the option of “accidentally” leaving behind a prayer card in a public place, or encouraging people that they really should go to that funeral of a distant friend that is taking place in a Catholic church. The possibilities are endless, and your imagination is the limit. Of course, the Queen’s funeral itself may be a bit of indirect evangelisation for many, and we can pray that hearts may be touched, not only with appreciation for the good things the Queen did, but more importantly, for One who made it possible, the Most Holy Trinity.

So I’ve come full circle. As we pray for the repose of the soul of Queen Elizabeth II this coming Monday, let’s pray also for our nation, and just as the Queen found ways to express her Christian faith to the nation, may we also might find clever ways to do the same.

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

posted 5 Sept 2022, 02:10 by Parish Office

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

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

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

“What man can know the intentions of God?

Who can divine the will of the Lord? …

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted 2 Sept 2022, 07:16 by Parish Office

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

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

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

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

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

They do not lie;

They just neglect to tell the truth.

They do not take;

They simply cannot bring themselves to give.

They do not steal;

They scavenge.

They will not rock the boat;

But did you ever see them pull an oar? …

They do not hurt you;

They merely will not help you.

They do not hate you;

They merely cannot love you;

They’ll only fiddle while you burn.

The sins-of-omission folk;

The neither-good-nor-bad-


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

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

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

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