Fr Michael's Homilies

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

17th 18th Nov

posted 20 Nov 2018, 02:50 by Parish Office

Homily for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – World Day  of the Poor (17 & 18/11/18)

 

Don’t forget the special blessing for the end of Mass.

 

Any links with The Final Battle?

 

“There is going to be a time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence” (first reading).  Those of you who have been listening to the news over the past week will have heard that there have been all sorts of disagreements about the proposed deal with the EU over Brexit.  Maybe “disagreements” is a bit of an understatement.  Perhaps “the end of the world” might be how some might put it, whether it refers to the government, the chance of a deal with the EU, the possibility of Brexit not going ahead, or the chance that there might be a so-called “hard” Brexit.  Take your pick.  But whatever does happen, it won’t be literally the end of the world.  Life will go on, one way or another.

 

How about football?  For some, football matters more than Brexit.  Bill Shankly famously said, “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don't like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that”.  But is that really the case?  Some agree, some don’t.

 

This Sunday we celebrate the second World Day of the Poor.  Christ said, in Matthew 26:11, “You have the poor with you always, but you will not always have me”.  But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to do anything about poverty.  For some people, poverty does mean a matter of life and death, trying to scrape together enough leftover food from rubbish heaps in order to survive and keep body and soul together.  In days gone by, we can think of the Irish potato famine, brought home by the folk song The Fields of Athenry.  Or some of the scenes in Charles Dickens’ various books, such as A Christmas Carol or A Tale of Two Cities.  Closer to home, I was reading on Thursday that over in Cheadle in 1860, the Parish Priest of St Giles, Canon Paul Jones, died in great poverty and in a state of near starvation, after having sold his books and his piano to make ends meet.  If he was struggling like that, then just imagine how bad things must have been for his parishioners.  Closer to home and back to today, walk around the town centres and see how many homeless people there are compared with ten years ago, how we now need to have foodbanks in every city – these are problems that we thought we were gradually moving away from, but it seems that they are coming back and getting worse.  Of course, there’s the whole rise in the use of drugs, which doesn’t help things either.

 

Christ’s return in glory means an end to these problems, and each of us being judged according to how we treated those in need, including the poor.  When it comes to me, what will be my defence?  “So, Fr Michael, what did you do to help the poor in your parish?”  “Well, I allowed the jumble sales to keep going.”  “I see”, replies the Lord, “so just like a good Parish Priest, you found a way to appear to help people and also to make a nice profit for the parish in the process!”  I jest, but you get the idea:  what could we be doing to help those worse off that we aren’t doing at the moment?  Yes, the parish has the jumble sale and the Compassion Kitchen.  But I’m sure there are also various people in the area who are suffering because of problems related to being in debt.  For whatever reason, that’s how they now find themselves, with this big weight around their shoulders, with no idea of how it is ever going to be paid, like a sword of Damocles hanging over them, threatening to fall at any moment.  What can we do as a parish to help them out?  Options could include a Credit Union, setting up an SVP, or looking into a group called Christians Against Poverty.  More work for me, I suppose.  If people are interested, then I can try to get the cogs moving.

 

When will Christ return in glory?  It may be in our lifetime, or it may not.  But if it isn’t, then we will still have to face the judgement of God.  Whatever we do to those in need, we do to Christ, and we are supposed to use our gifts and talents for the building up of the kingdom of God.

 

“There is going to be a time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence.”  When will this be for us?  For some people, they don’t need to wait for this to happen; they are experiencing it now.  If we put off doing anything for a good while, then by the time we finally act, for some people, it may be too late.

10th 11th Nov

posted 20 Nov 2018, 02:47 by Parish Office

Homily for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (Remembrance Sunday) – 10 & 11/1/18

 

This Sunday we celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War.  Finally, after just over four years of bloodshed and wasted human life, the guns fell silent.  On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the treaty of Versailles was signed and it was all over.

 

Earlier in the same year, Our Lady had appeared in Fatima, asking for the Rosary to be prayed each day for peace in the world and for the end of the war.  In her final apparition on 13th October, she said that the war was coming to an end, but that if people do not refrain from offending God, another and more terrible war will begin.

 

After the First World War was over, my secondary school erected a memorial board, inscribed “The Great War 1914-19”, listing pupils from the school that had died in the war.  But by the time I went to that school in the nineties, they had had to change it.  It now read “The Great Wars 1914-45”.  The people of the world had not sufficiently woken up to the call to pray and to change their ways, and so the prediction had come true – a Second World War, claiming more lives than the first, had also taken place.

 

Underneath the heading of the board ran the following:  “These in the morning of their days, for England’s sake lost all but England’s praise”.

 

(Here) At Sacred Heart, Hanley, we have our own war memorial – not a board, but a window.  At the very bottom of the window are the images of three men – a soldier, a sailor and (I presume) a pilot.  But they are only small.  The main focus of the window is three larger images, all focusing on Christ.  In the centre is a priest celebrating Mass, holding the host, Jesus, high, immediately after the consecration.  On the left is an image of Christ, together with the words, “Greater love than this no man hath”; in the translation we use today, the full text reads, “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends”.  Then, on the right-hand side, is an image of Christ at His resurrection, together with what looks like the English flag, but is actually the flag of the resurrection and Christ’s victory over sin and death.  The stained glass also includes the words, “I am the resurrection and the life”.  Then at the very top of the window is God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  The vast proportion of the window depicts God – man has just a few small representations at the very bottom of the window.

 

It’s all very symbolic.  If you were to cover up all the windows showing God, you would just have a very small amount of light coming in from the windows at the bottom.  Without God, there is very little left indeed.  God is the one who brings light and also humanity to the human race.  God became one of us as Jesus.  He showed us how to love and how to live, and it’s His life that nourishes, supports and sustains us, that brings us new life.  And that new life is brought to us in the Mass, because in the Mass, the most beautiful thing this side of heaven, Christ’s death and resurrection are made present.  It’s only in Christ’s sacrifice that human self-sacrifice has any meaning.  We cannot earn our own redemption.  We cannot atone for our own sins.  Christ is the one who does that.  Yes, we can join our sufferings to His and offer them together with His sacrifice on the Cross.  But on our own, we are powerless.

 

Over the past few weeks, the second reading has been taken from the Letter to the Hebrews, which has been talking about Christ’s sacrifice surpassing all the old sacrifices of the Jewish Law.  The Jewish rituals were a prophesy of what Christ was going to do.  Just as previously, animals were sacrificed in place of the people, in atonement for their sins, so Christ was sacrificed in atonement for our sins.  And just as the high priest used to take the blood from the sacrificed animal into the holiest part of the Temple, called the Holy of Holies, so Christ took Himself, not into a man-made place of worship, but rather heaven itself, to “appear in the actual presence of God on our behalf”.  He now intercedes for us before the Father.  And because He has lived on this earth as a real human being, He understands the limitations of human weakness and is a sympathetic High Priest who is willing and able to plead our cause.  All those who died in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts may had died in defence of what they considered to be right, but they all need Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and to be able to be admitted to heaven.  Christ was sinless and faultless, and didn’t have any sins of His own to atone for.  But out of the mess of human sinfulness, including the many wars of human history, He is able to sort out the wheat from the chaff and bring to salvation those who are His.

 

This Remembrance Sunday, then, we remember the sacrifices made by so many.  But even more importantly, we remember that only with God, does life have any real hope and humanity.

All Saints 2018

posted 20 Nov 2018, 02:46 by Parish Office

Homily for All Saints 2018

 

“I, John, saw another angel rising from where the sun rises, carrying the seal of the living God.”  What is a seal?  Of course, the word can refer to a type of furry sea animal, but in this case it refers to a wax seal – not a Madame Tussauds wax model of a furry sea animal, but rather a piece of wax having a design pressed into it, attached to a document to show that it bears official authority.  In days gone by, a document might be put together by people working for the king, and once he had read the document or letter and gave his approval, he would imprint his ring into the wax on the document or letter, to show that it had his approval and authority.

 

So what is the point of the saints and martyrs in the first reading being sealed with the seal of the living God?  It’s a similar thing – to show that they bear the authority of God in the message that they preach, even if they are disregarded, rejected or worse.

 

As Christians, we too are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.  At confirmation, as the bishop makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the person being confirmed, he says, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”.  We are sent on a mission, as ambassadors for Christ.  But what do we have to do to live up to that ambassadorship?  It’s in the lives of the saints that we see what that really means.

 

St John Paul II wasn’t born a saint – he had to choose to respond to God’s grace.  Perhaps by witnessing his country invaded, first by the Nazis, and then by the Communists, he saw first hand the battle between good and evil, and knew which side he wanted to join.  The Nazis were defeated before he was ordained a priest, but the communists were to be a force he had to do battle with for a substantial part of his life.

 

When he was elected Pope in 1978, Poland was ecstatic (apart from the communists, of course).  His return visit to Poland in 1979 was a celebration of a great victory, and the nation had great hopes for its future.  But on a later visit, John Paul found a nation that had been worn down by the communists, and he had to try to rekindle people’s hope once more.  They sometimes say that he was the one who had a major role in ending communism in Europe.  That’s true, but there is a wider picture to it as well.  When he was much younger, perhaps even before he became a priest, Karol Wojtyla consecrated himself totally to Jesus through the hands of Our Lady, as described by St Louis Marie de Montfort in his book True Devotion to Mary.  St Louis died back in 1716, but still inspires many today.  As I may have mentioned before, Our Lady requested, following her apparitions in Fatima, for the Pope, in union with the bishops of the world, to consecrate the world, including Russia, to her Immaculate Heart.  On 25th March 1984, he did just this, not just with the Catholic bishops, but also those of the Eastern Orthodox Churches.  Five years later, in 1989, communism fell in Poland and the same began happening throughout Eastern Europe, with the USSR itself ultimately making a transition to a more democratic form of government.

 

I said that it’s in the saints that we see what living as ambassadors for Christ looks like.  St John Paul II’s coat of arms included a shield which had a cross on it, and a letter “M” in the bottom right-hand corner.  It reminds us of Jesus on the Cross and His Mother Mary by His side.  His motto as Pope was “Totus Tuus”, which translates as “totally yours”, referring back to the consecration he made of his whole self to Jesus through the hands of Mary.

 

We are not all called to become Popes and do exactly the same as St John Paul II.  But as it said in the second reading, God has plan of love for each one of us, and it’s through giving ourselves totally to Jesus through the hands of Our Lady that we have the greatest chance of putting that plan into action and being the person that God is calling us to be.  The second reading finished with those words, “Surely everyone who entertains this hope must purify himself, must try to be as pure as Christ”.  The point that St Louis de Montfort makes in True Devotion to Mary is that, firstly, it’s not an easy road trying to be a saint, to perfectly fulfil the plan of Christ for us, and secondly, that Our Lady can help us greatly in this – it’s a bit like a spiritual “short cut” to holiness.  Talking of short cuts, True Devotion is 125 pages long, but he also wrote a much smaller and more succinct book called The Secret of Mary which is pocket-sized and only 52 small pages long.

 

To sum up, then, at confirmation we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and sent out as ambassadors for Christ, bearing his seal and carrying His message into our world.  But if we are to be faithful, one of the best things we can do is to give ourselves totally over to Him through Our Lady, just like St John Paul II and St Louis Marie de Montfort.

27th/28th October 2018

posted 29 Oct 2018, 05:04 by Parish Office

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (27 & 28/10/18)

 

Today’s Gospel is a bit of a contrast from what we heard two weeks ago.  The rich young man was someone who wanted to follow Christ, but he knew that something important was missing.  When he was told that he needed to give up his riches and follow the Lord, he went away sad.  It was too much for him to give up.  Today, instead, we have someone who is living in poverty because of his condition.  Like the rich young man, he wants to be put right.  He wasn’t always blind.  Have you noticed that he said to the Lord, “Master, let me see again?”  On this occasion, his faith is strong enough, he is healed, and he follows Jesus along the road.

 

I’m sure you’ve all heard it said before that those who are poor seem to be more unhindered in following the Lord than those who are rich.  Sometimes, as a country grows more wealthy, its citizens fall away from God.  Matthew 6:24:  “You cannot be the slave both of God and of money”.  We can look at what has happened in this country, or over in Ireland.  Yes, there are other complications as well, including ministers of the Church who have betrayed the Gospel and given bad example.  And yes, despite America being so prosperous, there are various rich people, as well as poor, who follow the Lord.  But as competition from material things grows, practice of faith can be weakened.  If you come from a poor family, then embracing the religious life and taking a vow of poverty is not such a bit step as if you are well-off and have a well-paid job.  A priest, who used to have a rather well-paid job, once said to me that when he arrived at seminary he was faced with having just a small room to call his own.  He thought to himself, “What have I done?”

 

All is not lost.  Bartimaeus had a longing for the days when he used to be able to see.  I’m sure there are people who have a longing for the days when they had faith, or their faith was more fervent.  But to return to following the Lord means they have to give up things.  Maybe it’s ill-gotten gains.  Maybe it’s other forms of sin in their lives.  Do they have the resolve of Bartimaeus, or will they walk away again, like the rich young man?

 

Western society has grown in wealth over the years, but at what cost?  In the past year or so, the BBC has been celebrating the Pill, and the fact that it has led more women into the workplace, although they also had another website where women spoke of the side effects and failures of the Pill, and how many of them gave up on it because it made their lives intolerable.  I was reading recently about a doctor who was involved in this whole area, and  performing sterilisations and IVF, and who put her conversion down to a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the prayers of Discalced Carmelite nuns.  She had a large poster in her office proclaiming the “benefits” of the Pill.  The sisters never mentioned it, but one day when they left after an appointment, she happened to notice it, and feeling ashamed, ripped it down.

 

When she discovered the fact that the Pill sometimes works, perhaps a low percentage of cases, by causing an early abortion, she was shaken to the core.  “What have I been doing to my patients?” she thought.  In all her years as a doctor, she had never performed abortions.

 

The early forms of the Pill did used to work by suppressing ovulation.  The trouble was the side effect of substantial risk of blood clots, which could be fatal.  So they changed the formula.  It now works in four ways:  it thickens cervical mucus to create a barrier, it suppresses ovulation, and it causes changes to the movement of the fallopian tubes.  If all of these fail and a child is still conceived, then we have the fourth method.  The progesterone in the Pill thins out the lining of the womb, so that a week-old child cannot implant, and so is passed out of the body.

 

The doctor I was reading about, Dr Martha Garza, now promotes something called NFP.  She said that professors in her medical school used to dismiss NFP as the rhythm method.  But it’s not that.  The rhythm method was unreliable, and even back in the sixties it had been replaced by something better.  And things have improved further since then.  There are good, moral alternatives available.

 

When Dr Garza presents these things to people, she is careful to point out that she is not there to judge, as she used to be involved in all of this herself.  She just wants to point out the harmful effects of artificial contraception, and the risk-free method of NFP, which she says is safe and easy to learn.  She also shares her conversion story, and how it led her to change her practice at great personal, financial and professional risk.

 

Despite all the odds, God’s grace is still at work in our society.  People are searching, and whether it’s people hearing about Christ for the first time, or people returning to Him, all over the world, that conversation with the Lord, “What do you want me to do for you?” and “Lord, that I may see again”, is still taking place.

20th/21st October 2018

posted 29 Oct 2018, 04:41 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B –

World Mission Sunday (20 & 21/10/18)

 

World Mission Sunday – for some people, the word “mission” conjures up images from the film The Mission, where the Jesuits bring the Catholic faith to natives in South America.  For others, they might have images of new Churches being built and converts being made in parts of deepest Africa.  For others, the thought might be that mission begins at home.  The week before I was ordained, I attended the ordination of two people from my year who were being ordained for East Anglia diocese, and at the offertory, after they had  been ordained as priests, the organist played the theme tune to the film, The Mission.  They had been ordained, and now the mission begins.  Pope Francis says that the Gospel needs to be brought to all the peripheries, the edges of society – that can include parts of the world without running water, mobile phone reception or e-mails, and it can also include the places that have all those three, where people are indifferent or even hostile to the faith, in other words, right on our doorsteps.

 

The Church is going through something of a hard time at the moment, when the sins of some of her members, even those in high positions, have shocked many.  People who have worked so hard in spreading the Gospel are finding their credibility undermined by the sins of others in the Church, those who have used their positions as ministers of the Gospel to betray the very Gospel they were sent to preach, and instead to pursue their own sinful desires.  Instead of wanting to serve others, they have served themselves.  And everyone suffers for it.

 

In today’s Gospel, James and John wanted to sit and Christ’s left and right in His glory.  Surely, we could say, if there’s anyone who should sit at Christ’s left and right then it should be Our Lady and St Peter.  Why should James and John push them out of the way?  To choose to follow Christ is to choose the path of suffering; James and John were probably more concerned about looking for glory instead.  Each generation has its challenges, but as the saying goes, no cross, no crown – Christians are called to a different type of leadership, which involves being a servant, not a cruel master who makes his authority felt.

 

Are things much better in wider society?  We only know about the situation in which we live and the things other people tell us.  I remember some years ago, someone saying to me that a particular company had been ruined because those in management had appointed their favourites as fellow managers, rather than those who were best suited for the job.  As a result, they went on to make bad decisions and ruined the business.

 

St Paul writes, in his Second Letter to Timothy, “We may be unfaithful, but he is always faithful” (2:13).  When Pope Benedict announced that he was retiring as Pope, he said, “let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ”.  Despite all the things that may happen in the Church, we have to remember that it is Christ’s Church, not a business set up by human beings.  The Church has always had both saints and sinners making up her membership.  The Holy Spirit has always been there to guide the Church, and to lead her to renewal.  It has been said that the Church undergoes a major crisis every 500 years.  The first crisis was about who Christ is.  The second crisis around the year 1000 was about the authority of the Pope, leading to the schism between Christianity in the East and West.  The third crisis around 1500 was about the nature of the Church, the Body of Christ – the so-called reformers saw there were moral problems, and instead decided to reform the faith.  Today, 500 years on, we have a problem of morals again.  We need to convert the world to Christ – but instead we see the Church being converted to the ways of the world.  As people of God, we need to be seen to be offering the world something different and better than what they have already got.  Nothing so masks the face of God as distorted religion.  It is time to remove the masks from our faces and to show the real face of Christ to the world.  It is time for us to do violence to ourselves, to undergo the rugged path of the Cross, to work on ourselves that we may more fully reflect the glory of Christ.  Our Lord said in St John’s Gospel, “for their sake I consecrate myself so that they too may be consecrated in truth”.  If the Church is to be renewed and the Gospel to be spread, we need first to work on our own conversion.  But if we try and do it by ourselves, we will fail.  We need God’s help.  And as I mentioned last week, consecrating ourselves to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart is part of the solution.  If we give her greater freedom to act, then she will set to work.  We want to convert the peripheries of our world.  But first we need to ask Our Lady to pray that we may be able to convert the peripheries of our hearts.  And only then will our witness be more credible and more people be drawn to the faith.

 

In conclusion – our world needs Christ.  He can renew the Church and our world – but only if we let Him.

13th/14th October

posted 18 Oct 2018, 05:54 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(13 & 14/10/18)

 

Last Saturday (at Sacred Heart, Hanley,) was our Day of Prayer for Vocations.  The Blessed Sacrament was exposed from 9:30 am to 6 pm, with a break for the 12:05 pm Mass.  But we could ask ourselves, why do we need so much prayer?  Doesn’t just God call, and people respond?  What’s the need for it all?

 

In the Gospel today, the rich young man can tell that there is something lacking in his life.  He is trying to find out what God wants of him that he’s not doing at the moment.  So he interrupts Our Lord as He’s preparing to go on a journey, and asks Him directly, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He gets his answer, but he’s finds it too much to go through with.  For whatever reason, he finds it too costly, so he goes away sad.

 

It reminds me a bit of part of my journey of vocation discernment.  I went on a three week retreat in Portugal for those considering the priesthood, and we spent the last few days in Fatima.  On the last full day that we were there, I went and prayed before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in one of the chapels, and I said to the Lord, “I’ve been on this retreat for all this time, so what do you want me to do?”  I didn’t hear a voice, but it was more like an inner conviction that I got that God was calling me to be a priest.  Now that was quite a big thing, but I think I also needed the weeks beforehand of the retreat to prepare me for that answer.  If I had just heard it without that preparation, I might have decided, like the rich young man, that I couldn’t go through with that.

 

What makes a decision like that so big?  As a diocesan priest, I don’t have to take a vow of poverty, like a religious does.  Instead, diocesan priests make promises to their bishop of respect and obedience to him, and of celibacy.  For some, celibacy is the more difficult promise to make, whilst for others, it’s obedience.  But both celibacy, and poverty for religious, are about being free and unencumbered in following the Lord.

 

When Our Lady appeared in Fatima in 1917, she made it known that God wanted to establish in the world devotion to her Immaculate Heart, and part of that involved people consecrating themselves to her Immaculate Heart.  There are various prayers you can use to consecrate yourself to her Immaculate Heart, but one of the simpler ones goes like this:

 

“My Queen and my mother, I give myself entirely to you.  With confidence and trust, I consecrate myself to your Immaculate Heart; my life, my heart, and my whole being, without reserve.”

 

It’s a bit like the complete giving of himself that the rich young man was being asked to do, or the complete giving in a promise of celibacy or a vow of chastity – giving yourself to God can seem like quite a scary thing to do.  But they we could ask:  do we trust God?  Do we trust Our Lady?  What could be safer, than to give ourselves totally over to God and Our Lady?  It’s a bit like getting married – two people give themselves totally to each other, with nothing held back.  It’s when they begin to hold things back that trouble comes.  Just the same as getting married is a perfectly normal thing to do, so, for someone who loves God and Our Lady, giving yourself totally over to the Lord in celibacy out of love can also be a perfectly natural thing to do.  Consecrating yourself totally to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart can be a totally natural thing to do.  There’s more security than getting married, because God and Our Lady are perfect.  If you marry another human being, you’re marrying someone who is imperfect.  Of course, when you give yourself over to God and Our Lady, it does mean, though, that any imperfections, faults and failings are your fault – you can’t blame anyone else.  It also requires much prayer on the part of the one being called and much prayer for the one being called to celibacy for the heart to grow and expand, in order for that person to love that much and to want to make that commitment.

 

So do we need all this prayer for vocations?  Oh yes we do.  Prayer is the water that makes vocations flourish.  Let us pray then, and see God work His miracles again in His people.  He is unchanging;  we are able to change.  There is a lot of work to be done, but “many hands make light work”, and it’s certainly true of prayer for vocations.

6th/7th October 2018

posted 12 Oct 2018, 05:13 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(6 & 7/10/18)

 

What is marriage?  Some people see it as just being a legal contract, and that like all legal contracts, they think the rules can be changed by legal process.  But if we delve into a bit of history, we see that that can’t possibly be true.  In this country, there was no state registering of marriages until 1837 – that was the point when registry office marriages came into being.  But marriage, in one form or another, has existed since the dawn of time.

 

Unfortunately, in different places and at different times, marriage has been distorted.  In certain parts of the world, men were allowed to marry more than one woman at the same time, known as polygamy.  In the Roman Empire, the rule was one man and one woman, but whilst the wife was expected to be faithful, the husband was not.  At the time of Christ, women were regarded as property, with no rights, when it came to marriage.  There was no equality.  But Christ does not want things to remain in this mess.  He reminds us that that is not the way it was in the beginning.  Marriage is not something that we invented; rather it was part of God’s original plan.

 

There’s something beautiful and symbolic in the first reading we heard from the book of Genesis.  The man found that whilst the animals may have certain qualities, they were not a suitable helpmate.  The first woman is then created from the rib of Adam.  She was not created from his head, indicating superiority over Adam; neither was she created from one of his feet, to indicate inferiority.  Rather, she was created from his rib, symbolising equality.  Furthermore, the rib is close to the heart, indicating closeness and love.  Then, there’s also the point made by Adam in Genesis:  “This at last is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh!”  At last, here’s someone who is just like me, that I can relate to and will understand me!  No matter which animal you pick, no matter how much of a companion a certain animal might be, it’s just not the same.  People may talk about animal cunning, or the intelligence of certain animals.  But try having a conversation with a horse, and you won’t get very far.  Or with a cat.  Or with a rhinoceros.  Or a porcupine.  Man and woman belong together, and so, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body”.  That rib that was once part of Adam and then used to create Eve, wants to be reunited with him, and for ever.  In the days of Genesis they didn’t do organ transplants or hip replacements.  The union between the body of a man and his ribs was permanent and life-long, and that is how marriage was intended to be, right from the beginning.

 

Sadly, Adam and Eve mess things up.  Following their choice to eat the forbidden fruit, they disrupt not only their relationship with God, but also with each other.  When God finds out what they have done, Adam blames Eve, and Eve then blames the serpent.  Between man and woman there is now the problem of lust and power, domination and subjugation.  Sin has altered everything for the worse.  But that is not the end, because even at this point, our liberation is predicted, what is sometimes called the protoevangelium, the first inkling of the Good News that was to come, with the crushing of the serpent’s head.

 

When Christ came, He loved us so much that He didn’t want us to be ensnared by sin and its effects.  Just as the Fall, the first sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis affected the whole human race, meaning we lost God’s grace and became inclined towards evil, so Christ’s Death on the Cross and Resurrection were about helping to reverse all of that.  The idea was not that life continues as before, but that God forgives us.  It was that, through the sacraments, our lives can be changed.  We can grow in holiness and become more like the people God is calling us to be.  But just like Adam and Eve, we have a choice.  We can accept, or reject, what God offers.  Or we can partially accept and partially reject, this offer of grace.

 

Now I said that it’s through the sacraments that our lives can be changed.  Yes, you’ve probably guessed that that involves baptism, confession and the Eucharist.  But it also involves the sacrament of confirmation, giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit, which we can allow to remain dormant, or make good use of.  It also includes the sacrament of marriage.  Christ didn’t allow marriage to remain the same as it was after the Fall.  He didn’t just say, “come to Church and get married, and receive a nice blessing”.  Marriage is a sacrament, which means that it, too, is now a vehicle of God’s grace.  It is a guaranteed way in which Christ is present in the relationship between a man and a woman.  They won’t be instantaneously perfect just by getting married.  They will bring with them all their faults and failings, their bruises and sore points, on which the grace of Christ needs to work.  At times their lives will be a cross.  But at other times, a source of great joy and fulfilment.  I have found my vocation and this is what I was made for.  “This at last is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh! … This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body.”

 

So is marriage just simply a legal contract?  No, it is much more than that.  The state can register that a marriage has taken place, just the same as registering a birth or a death, but marriage is a much greater reality than any laws can try to explain.  Marriage has its origin in God, and although Original Sin has done its worst, with Christ, marriage can be something holy and beautiful, even in 2018 AD.

29th/30th September 2018

posted 12 Oct 2018, 05:12 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(29 & 30/9/18)

 

On Friday, on the way back from my retreat, I heard on the news that two banks had had problems with people accessing their accounts on-line.  The computer problems also meant that some people’s pay may not reach their account on time.  In this country, we take it for granted that if we go to work, we will be paid for the work that we do, and paid soon.  In days gone by in communist countries, and still sometimes today, it has not been unknown for people’s wages to be delayed by a few months.  But this problem isn’t new – it’s even referred to in the Old Testament.

 

In some countries and in some companies, there may be genuine problems with cash flow which mean that wages can’t be paid on time.  But if it is avoidable but still done deliberately, it’s a very serious matter, one of the few sins in the scriptures that “cry to God for vengeance”.

 

St Paul famously said, in 1 Tim 6:10, that the love of money is the root of all evil.  It’s a very miserable way of life, putting your trust in riches rather than in God.  Today in the second reading, St James is very scathing of those who hoard up riches at the expense of the poor.  Material riches do not last, neither does money.  It’s sometimes said that recessions happen roughly every ten to fifteen years, and of course we know that material goods can be stolen, or get damaged, or perish.  It is legitimate to save up a bit for a rainy day, but if we get into the habit of a never-ending desire to hoard up more and more money, then we run into a problem of injustice.  The goods that God has given us are to be shared, and we have a moral responsibility to do so.  St Basil the Great said, “It is the hungry man’s bread that you withhold, the naked man’s cloak that you have stored away, the shoe of the barefoot that you have left to rot, the money of the needy that you have buried underground: and so you injure as many as you might help.”  If you think that is strongly-worded, he also said this:  “Feed the man dying of hunger, because if you have not fed him, you have killed him.”  St Teresa of Calcutta used to encourage people to “give until it hurts”, and in the Gospel today we are encouraged to put our lives right,  even if it hurts as much as removing parts of the body.  This includes giving to those in need.

 

Elsewhere in the Gospels, Our Lord also makes a similar point, but in a more positive way:  “store up treasure for yourselves in heaven, where neither moth nor woodworms destroy them and thieves cannot break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Matt 6:20-21)

 

 

 

 

22nd/23rd September

posted 12 Oct 2018, 04:59 by Parish Office   [ updated 12 Oct 2018, 05:10 ]

Homily for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (23/9/18)

 

A few weeks ago, Fr Rony George moved into Stoke as the new Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Angels and St Peter in Chains, and next week Fr Michael Glover moves into the presbytery at Trent Vale as the new PP of St Theresa’s.  A change of Parish Priest brings all sorts of questions, worries, excitement and expectations.  What will the new priest be like?  How will he be the same and how will he be different from his predecessor?  What will happen to the Mass attendance?  So many questions, and so many answers eagerly expected.

 

When St John Vianney came to his new parish in Ars, Southern France, he came to a parish in something of a mess.  The bishop had said to him:  “There is little love of God in that parish; you will be the one to put it there.”  His predecessor had left the Catholic faith and the priesthood to become a married merchant, leaving the people of the parish with a sense of despair and profound unhappiness.  Many of the parishioners had become indifferent to the Catholic faith.  But St John Vianney managed to turn the place around, convert his small parish of 230 souls and had people flocking all over France and from further afield to him for confession.  And some of the local clergy were not too pleased, perhaps because they thought it made them look bad by comparison.

 

One of the wonderful things about the Gospels is that they give us a very honest picture of what the Apostles were like, warts and all.  They were very imperfect men.  First we hear today that Christ tells them of His forthcoming Passion, and they “did not understand what he said and were afraid to ask him” (Mark 9:32).  Then we hear that they were arguing amongst themselves about who was the greatest.  They had completely the wrong idea about what they were being called to – a life of service and suffering, not of status and lording it over others.  All of us today, clergy, religious and laity, are not much different.  We all have our imperfections.  It was true of the clergy in St John Vianney’s day, and it has been true of the whole Church all thoughout history.  We are a work in progress, and hopefully, with God’s help, even though we may find ourselves taking one step back, we do also take two steps forward.  Pope Francis has lamented careerism within the curia at the Vatican, and I presume it can be found in businesses, and even within families.  Pride and envy are as old as history itself – look in the Old Testament at Jacob and Esau:  Esau is the first-born son who is supposed to inherit everything from his father, but Jacob pressurises Esau first into giving up his birthright, and then deceives his father into giving him the blessing that should have been given to Esau.

 

In St John Vianney’s time, his example of personal holiness and his success in bringing back sinners, probably made the local clergy feel bad about themselves.  It was a bit like the first reading today, where the godless conspire against the virtuous man.  Rather than saying, “good for him” and trying to learn from him, they wanted to bring him down.  At one point, they sent a petition round the deanery, calling for him to be removed from the parish, saying that he was ignorant.  Envy truly is the sin that knows no bounds, and it poisons everything.  As St James said today in the second reading, “Wherever you find jealousy and ambition, you find disharmony, and wicked things of every kind being done; whereas the wisdom that comes down from above … is kindly and considerate”.  In a previous parish where I was the curate, the Parish Priest said to me that one of the good things about that parish was that people worked together, without any cliqueiness.  If only the whole Church and the whole of society could be like that!

 

Going back to the first reading again, some people may experience a certain discomfort with the translation we have, because it refers to the virtuous “man” rather than the virtous “person”.  But I think on this occasion, it reminds us of something very important, or rather someone – the virtuous man with a capital “M”, namely, Christ Himself.  He is the one whom this reading perfectly predicts, who was to be brought down by the very people who passed themselvs off as religious and holy and virtuous – they were the ones that Christ showed up as being so hollow and distored in their faith.  St John Vianney knew that he could do nothing without Christ, which is why He spent so long in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, even spending all night in the church.  If we are to grow into the people that Christ is calling us to be, we also need that contact with Him, both in the Mass, and in private prayer before His Eucharistic Presence.  We are all a work in progress.

 

So as Fr Rony George and Fr Michael Glover settle into their new parishes and re-convert North Staffs deanery, I hope I will be able to give glory to God for what they are doing, and maybe learn a thing or two from them as well.

15th/16th September 2018

posted 17 Sep 2018, 04:31 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

(15 & 16/9/18)

 

Last weekend I was at Adoremus, the Eucharistic Congress in Liverpool.  The final event on the Sunday was a big procession with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Liverpool, ending with Benediction given by the Cardinal.  It was a great act of witness, with thousands of people present – so many, in fact, that Benediction simply couldn’t have happened in the cathedral, so it took place outside on the Cathedral steps.

 

The procession began straight after the 11:30 Mass, with many bishops, priests and deacons present.  The Archbishop was there, as was Bishop David McGough, and various priests from this diocese.  I had concelebrated the 9:30 Mass, so I wasn’t in the procession of priests, but joined the crowd instead.  Various people had made their way there from this deanery and further afield, and we carried a large Birmigham Archdiocese banner in the procession.  As the procession began, looking up towards the cathedral, there were a few clouds and sunshine, whilst looking behind us there were heavy clouds.  Then, as the procession began, the heavens opened, and the rain came pouring down.  And yes, it didn’t half rain!  Umbrellas went up, and some people waited in bus shelters for it to stop.  We sang various hymns during the procession, and a certain amount of amusement spread throughout the procession as we sang Soul of My Saviour and reached the words, “wash me with water, flowing from thy side”.  Then, towards the end of the procession, the rain slowed down and eventually stopped, with a good wind blowing to dry us all off, so that by the time we all reached the Cathedral steps and Benediction took place, the sun came out again.  It was all rather symbolic of the Christian life.

 

At the beginning of the procession, we had all began rather enthusiastically, just like someone who is new to the Catholic faith.  Then it began to rain.  A kind person let me use her umbrella.  After the initial “honeymoon” period of becoming a Catholic, or returning to the Catholic faith, then can come the moment of trial.  But we persevere.  It’s important that we support each other when things get difficult, when it seems during the Christian life that it seems to be raining.  Because there were so many of us, people came out of the surrounding pubs and other places to see what was going on.  Our Christian life is lived out in public, in full view of others.  And perhaps sometimes, it might inspire others to join us.  During the procession, because there were so many of us, after the monstrance had gone past, I lost sight of it because it was so far ahead.  During our lives as Catholics, it can seem that God isn’t around, but He is still there.  Then, at the end of the procession, we were restored to dryness and blessed by the Lord.  For many of us, after the storms of life, we receive the Last Rites of the Church before our final entrance into glory.  We walked with Christ through life, and it’s through the Cross that we enter into the Resurrection.

 

To sustain us throughout life, we have the Bread of Life.  We are filled with the life of God, just as we need ordinary food to sustain our bodily life.  But the Eucharist doesn’t just unite us to Christ.  It’s like a jigsaw puzzle.  If through Holy Communion we are united to Christ, then it means that we are also united through Him to each other.  Furthermore, when we receive the Eucharist, we don’t receive the dead Christ, but the risen Christ.  Christ fills us with new life and sends us His Holy Spirit, so we shouldn’t remain the same after receiving the Eucharist.

 

Ten years ago in 2008, Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi, Archbishop of Douala in Cameroun, spoke at a previous Eucharistic Congress on how the Eucharist transforms us, and helps us to put our faith into action, as we are told to in the letter of St James.  With perhaps typical African fervour and passion, he put it this way:

 

“If the Eucharist does not lead us to love our brothers and sisters more deeply and to give of our lives no matter what the risk, then let us forget about everything! This is why the Eucharist is terribly dangerous: passion for love is always dangerous. The Eucharistic person is a dangerous person, burning with the fire of the Spirit and whose only purpose is to extend that fire and to become fire for others. This person is bold and confrontational, a person of radicalism and absolutes. This is a person who feels obliged to commit himself for God, for humankind. This person disturbs and challenges others, giving them a bad conscience. This person’s passion is for God and humankind; it is devoured by this thirst, it is their vocation, their destiny.

 

“How can we celebrate the Eucharist, how can we be witnesses to Christ without bearing within us this passion for man and Christ’s torment for the poor and the unloved?”[1]

 

The Eucharistic Procesion at Adoremus symbolised the fact that as Christians, we walk with Christ, supporting and helping each other.  And just as the rain changed to sunshine, so the Eucharist transforms us, and make us then want to change society.



[1]See http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pont_committees/eucharist-congr/documents/rc_committ_euchar_doc_20080621_testimoni-tumi_en.html

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