Fr Michael's Homilies

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

13th / 14th February 2021

posted 15 Feb 2021, 05:31 by Parish Office

Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

The power of God is amazing! He created the whole world, indeed the whole universe. Why does the universe exist, rather than there being nothing? Because God made it. And when we examine the natural world, when we explore more deeply the physics of the laws of the universe, it is truly amazing in its depth, detail and beauty. Our knowledge of the natural world is only a fraction of all that is there. We go on discovering more of it (and we also discover we have made a few mistakes along the way), and we are truly amazed by what we find.

So at the time of Christ, medical knowledge was rather limited. Leprosy was an incurable disease. They also didn’t have completely accurate diagnoses, so sometimes other diseases were classed as leprosy as well. But because leprosy was contagious and there was no cure, the only option was isolation. We heard in the first reading that a man with leprosy must live away from everyone else, and warn others that he had leprosy by having messy hair, torn clothing, and calling out “unclean” if anyone is near by. You can imagine how people must have despaired if they were diagnosed with leprosy.

God created the world, but man ruined it by sin, but God became one of us as Jesus to restore our world. So in the Gospel, Jesus does not drive the leper away. Neither does He cure him by standing a good two metres away and wearing a mask. Instead, “he stretched out his hand and touched him”. Rather than disease being passed from the leper to Christ, healing is transmitted from Christ to the leper. He is restored, not only to health, but also to human contact. He is fully reconciled to normal society. But then here comes the twist. Jesus tells him to say nothing to anyone about his healing, but what does he do? He can’t keep quiet. As a result, Christ then takes on the form of life of a leper because of the vast crowds looking for Him: He, “could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived”. He took on the leper’s way of life, in a sense. Perhaps Captain Mainwaring might have said to the former leper, “You stupid boy!” He made things difficult for Christ. But it was also a fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah (53:4): “And yet ours were the suffering he bore, ours the sorrow he carried”.

A more modern example: back in the nineteenth century, leprosy was still incurable, and in Hawaii, a leper colony was established on the Kalaupapa Peninsula. Fr Damien discerned a call to serve them.

The leper colony was something of a dumping ground for lepers. There was very little medical care there, and people lived in despair, turning to alcohol and immorality. There was no law and order.

One of the first things Fr Damien did was to build a chapel, where he took the lepers to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. This time, they weren’t healed of their leprosy, but instead they were healed within. When they had Christ, they didn’t need to take refuge in destructive behaviour.

The place was in disorder, but through Fr Damien, Christ brought order. Fr Damien brought people together to build houses and schools, and he personally looked after the sick and gave the dead an appropriate burial. Order and routine made the place liveable.

After being there for a while, a friend wrote him a letter and asked how he was able to stay so long among the lepers. Fr Damien’s reply was, “Without my daily holy hour in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament, I would not be able to have stayed here a single day”.

Christ is still among us today, and He works through His Church, which doesn’t just mean priests and religious sisters, but through you, too. But we need that food for the journey, and to be able to take refuge in the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. We can’t just do it all off our own bat. Well, we can try, but the results won’t be the same. If we try ordinary means, we will get ordinary results. If we want the extraordinary, then we have to go for extraordinary means, and that means we must go to Christ. Or as the first option today for the Communion Antiphon says:

“They ate and had their fill, and what they craved the Lord gave them; they were not disappointed in what they craved.” May our craving be for Him, not for any other person or thing. Then we shall not be disappointed in what we craved.

Racial Justice Sunday (30 & 31/1/21)

posted 1 Feb 2021, 01:59 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Racial Justice Sunday (30 & 31/1/21) 
Demons and exorcism: we need to avoid two extremes here. The first is complete disbelief, thinking that it’s just all down to psychological disturbances, and the second is attributing everything bad to the activity of the devil. 
So firstly, what is the origin of the devil and his fellow demons? We can piece various parts of scripture together to get something of a picture, and it goes a bit like this: before the creation of the world, God created the angels. But before they were to enjoy the bliss of heaven, like us, they had to undergo a trial. Some chose to obey God, whilst Lucifer and those who followed him chose to rebel against God. They refused to serve God, and so the archangel Michael and all the angels that had chosen to serve God cast Lucifer and his fallen angels to hell. The devil has had his wish (and is now known as Satan), but he lives in a rather miserable kingdom. A place of domestic violence might be a bit of an understatement. But now, in their envy of human beings, they want to stop us getting to heaven and send us to join them in hell as well. 
The good news is that God is in control. I think it was St Augustine who said that if God didn’t limit the devil’s power, the devil would have killed us all by now. But as human beings, we do have free choice, and through sin, especially serious sin, and also of course getting involved with Ouija boards, seances, the occult etc., we can open the door to the devil and open up spaces for him to work in our lives. We all suffer from temptation, but there are also other degrees of influence the demons can exert, leading up to full-blown possession, which is quite rare. There is always a way back. It’s through repentance and return to Christ. In the Gospel today, He shows Himself as having power over the demons. I may have said before that there have been two occasions in my life when I have witnessed something similar to the exorcisms in the Gospels, and both involved people being blessed by the Blessed Sacrament. On the second occasion, someone started shouting and shrieking in a way that, when you hear it, you can tell it’s not a normal kind of shouting. You can imagine in Capernaum when this happened that the people in the synagogue were rather afraid, and then relieved and amazed when Christ liberated the person from the unclean spirit. Today, those who are appointed by the bishop as exorcists in the Church have the same authority. Little priests like me can only do minor exorcisms – a major exorcism, if you like, taps into the prayer power of the entire Church to zap the demon or demons. 
The evil spirits are evil, and they have perverted their nature. Rather than being angels of light who worship God, they live in servitude to Satan. They are evil, and like criminals, they work in all sorts of devious ways to obstruct the reign of Christ through His Church. In the Gospel today, the unclean spirit is actually threatening Christ. One of the underlying themes of St Mark’s Gospel is what is sometimes known as the “messianic secret”. This basically means that Christ knows that once people know who He is, it will be regarded as blasphemy and, as we know, the punishment for blasphemy in the Jewish Law is death. So it is only gradually that Christ reveals who He is. The demon in the Gospel is trying to threaten Christ’s ministry: “I know who you are: the Holy One of God”. There’s also another dimension to this too. In some of the exorcisms that Jesus performs, He asks them for their name, because that gives power over them. To this day, in an exorcism, the exorcist wears the demon down and tortures it with the prayers of exorcism until it reveals its name, and then it can be cast out. In the case of a human exorcist, the exorcist would normally go to confession first before beginning an exorcism, as a form of defence in the spiritual warfare that an exorcism involves. With Christ, of course, He has no sin, and He is God – He is the Supreme Exorcist. The demons don’t stand a chance. 
So spiritual warfare involves serving the Lord with an undivided heart. The same thing is emphasised in the first and second readings today. In the first reading, Moses directs the people to follow all that the Lord has commanded, including all the valid prophets; those that speak in the name of other so-called “gods” are to be ignored. An important moral for us would be to avoid listening to New Age philosophies, occultic knowledge or any similar things, as well as also dodgy forms of psychology – follow the Church instead. In the second reading, St Paul explains the benefits of celibacy in serving the Lord with an undivided heart. Obviously not everyone can be celibate, otherwise the human race would die out; the important point for us all though is to serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Spiritual warfare concerns all of us. We are all exposed to temptation, even though it’s not usually quite as dramatic as what happened at Capernaum. 
So yes, the devil is real, but so also is God, and God is much more powerful. Follow God then, and the devil will have no power over you.

23/24th January 2021

posted 25 Jan 2021, 03:48 by Parish Office

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Sunday of the Word of God & Octave of Christian Unity (23 & 24/1/21) 
Today is Sunday of the Word of God, and so it’s my job today to encourage you to read the Bible. If you switch off and don’t remember anything else, please remember these two points: firstly, the Bible is a Catholic book, not a Protestant one, and secondly, you should all be reading it. Okay then – on with the show. 
The Bible is in two halves: the Old Testament, which prepares the way for Christ, and the New Testament, which tells us all about Christ. So the Old Testament was written in the years BC, and the New Testament, the years AD. If you look at the contents page, you will see that the Bible is actually a collection of books, and the contents page might have them grouped into different sections: major and minor prophets, Gospels, letters of St Paul etc. 
The Bible didn’t fall from the sky in its current form. The Catholic Church decided, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which books went into the Bible, and which ones were left out. So when the Protestant Reformation took place and the Protestants rejected the authority of the Catholic Church, one of the things that goes with it is they took a different view as to what should go into the Bible – so a Protestant Bible has only 39 books in the Old Testament, whilst a Catholic one has 46, plus a few other extra chapters in some of the other books as well. So when your Protestant friend asks you, “Where is Purgatory in the Bible?” and you say, “There’s a hint of it in 2 Maccabees ch 12”, when he hands you his Bible, you can’t find 2 Maccabees, because the Protestants took it out. To be fair, some Protestant Bibles do have the extra books, listed either as “Apocrypha” or “Deuterocanonical Books”; what’s more, the Orthodox have a few extra bits in their Bible that we don’t have, so it all depends on which authority has the authority to decide what goes into the Bible. 
Okay, so a Catholic Bible is a Catholic book, and some of them even have some sort of official Catholic authorisation in the front of them. But if your book at home is a Protestant one, then you can still read it. I did when I was younger, and look what happened to me. But obviously, not all the books have the same status. Just think about how we celebrate the Mass: we sit for the first reading, psalm and second reading, but we stand for the Gospel, the most important part of the Bible. And besides, there are some parts that are perhaps of lesser interest, such as long genealogies where so-and-so begat so-and-so, who begat so-and-so and so on. There are important lessons to glean from these sections, but it’s more specialised knowledge.
One way of reading the Bible is through curiosity. Today we have the first reading from the prophet Jonah. It’s an extract from the book of Jonah. So it doesn’t tell you that this calling of Jonah is God giving him a second chance, after he messed up big time the first time round. It also doesn’t tell you how Jonah gets into a bit of a mood afterwards, and God has to make him be a bit less selfish and think about others a bit more. The book of Jonah is only four chapters, so you could read it before going to bed. And unlike some novels you can buy, the book of Jonah speaks about God. It’s also a bit funny and farcical at times. One of the things about some of the characters in the Old Testament is that they are characters. They aren’t perfect; some are scared, some are naughty, Esau gives away his birthright so he can have something to eat, and Jacob colludes with his mother to trick his father into giving him the blessing the Esau should have had. The characters in the Old Testament are not Christ – they are not perfect. A quick word about the Gospel, and then I’ll finish. We hear today about the calling of Simon, Andrew, James and John. Each Gospel writer has his own style, and the Gospels themselves are a summary of what happened – they don’t give you a full script of what everyone said, or what everyone had for breakfast, and they only occasionally tell you what the weather was like. St Mark’s Gospel in particular is concerned with keeping things short – a bit like this homily. It’s the shortest of all the Gospels, if that inspires you to try reading it first before you try St Matthew’s version. So when Jesus calls them and they respond, the chances are that they had met, seen, or at least heard about Jesus beforehand. You wouldn’t follow any old person who said to you, “Follow me”. But imagine: they see Jesus walking towards them, and they say to each other: “Look, that’s Jesus of Nazareth”. They’ve already got such an admiration for Him. Then He looks at them and says, “Follow me”, and they don’t say, “Let me think about it”. This is Jesus who is calling, the chance of a lifetime. He calls, and you go. Sometimes it can be useful to have some sort of commentary when reading the Bible, but be careful which ones you read. Some are written by people who don’t believe in God, so the explanation they give is worthless.
So I said at the beginning that there are two things I want you to remember (can you remember them?): the first is that the Bible is a Catholic book and the second is that you should read it. So guess what your homework is? Maybe homework is the wrong word. Out of curiosity, take a look at some of the more intriguing books of the Bible – there’s something there for every taste.

16/17 January 2020

posted 18 Jan 2021, 07:06 by Parish Office

Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (16 & 17/1/21)

How do we renew the Church?  How do we bring new life into things, fill up the pews again and make growing Mass attendance a “new normal”?  Slow decline should not be something we just shrug our shoulders about and accept.  The readings today give us a few pointers.

Let’s start with the first reading and the boy Samuel.  Samuel was a young boy when the Lord first called him, but he didn’t know how to respond, or even how to recognise, the Lord.  It required Eli to show him the first steps.  Faith has to begin in our families, when children are at their youngest years.  “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”  I would suggest in this modern age that we find useful resources on the internet to help young children to get to know about and to love God, including videos, songs, computer games etc.  But of course, nothing replaces the example in the home.  It’s sometimes said, “The family that prays together, stays together”.  Prayer can begin by something as basic as saying grace before and after meals, but it can also then develop into prayer time during the day as well.  Once again, there are resources available – children’s prayer books, websites etc. that can help.  For some of you, it may be that you have grandchildren whose parents don’t practice the faith.  But you still have a relationship with them and are in a position to influence them, and I’ve seen families where it seems that the Faith has skipped a generation, and the new generation has been happy to come to Mass and has even persevered into adulthood.

The second reading:  St Paul warns against fornication and speaks about appropriate treatment of the body.  Teenage years.  How many have left the practice of their faith because of the distractions of lust!  Lust is one of the seven deadly sins, so-called because the deadly sins gradually lead people away from God.  And then misery results.  People may appear happy on the outside, but what is going on deep inside?  How many marriages have failed because they actually married the wrong person, because they were biassed in favour of each other because of fornication?  Otherwise they might have split up earlier on, and married someone else.  It’s not the only reason these things happen, but it’s a reason that society seems to not notice.  It’s so important to educate teenagers in purity.  It’s not easy in these times, but it’s so important.  Purity has never been easy, but it’s worth it.  St Paul writes that we are not our own property – we have been bought and paid for.  It’s an expression that links in with images of slavery.  Imagine the slaves standing there in the marketplace.  Someone comes along and buys them, not to work as slaves, but to set them free.  That is what Christ has done.  He has suffered and died for us on the Cross, and paid the price of our redemption.  We are no longer to be slaves of sin, but set free to follow God and to find our true fulfilment in Him.  That is why we should use our body for the glory of God.  If we fail in the area of chastity, God is always willing to welcome us back in the sacrament of confession.  It can be a real turning point in someone’s life.  The grace of God is experienced; we know that God is real; we know that our faith is very relevant to our life.  And we can go on then to live lives of gratitude towards almighty God.

The Gospel reading:  the calling of three of the Twelve Apsotles, the first Pope and bishops.  Brought up and educated in the faith, and saved from sin in our teenage years, it frees us to respond to God’s call as adults, whatever that call may be.  People talk of a crisis of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but what about the crisis of vocations to marriage?  It used to be a regular thing, even in smaller parishes, to have weddings, or maybe even a few weddings, most Saturdays.  But now the churches are largely quiet.  We can turn things around, it just requires time, patience and perseverance.  Whatever our calling in life, God gives us the graces necessary to be able to follow Him – we just have to step out in faith.

So how do we renew the Church?  Part of it begins with family life, rooted in both knowing and loving God.  I’ve not mentioned it, but we could also add, devotion to Our Lady, and we could add even further, as she requested at Fatima, the Rosary and consecration to her Immaculate Heart, the vaccination needed for these troubled times.  With God there is always hope.  Or as Padre Pio put it, “Pray, hope and don’t worry”.  

January 9th/10th 2021

posted 11 Jan 2021, 03:14 by Parish Office

Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Year B (9 & 10/1/21)

Shortly after Christmas Day, I found the time one evening to watch the film Paul. Apostle of Christ. It covers the last days of the Apostle St Paul’s life, imprisoned in Rome and awaiting execution. The film is a 15 because it contains a few gruesome scenes of the persecution of Christians at that time, but it’s well worth viewing. Some people, when they are in prison, try to break out. Instead, the prison’s prefect, played by Olivier Martinez, tries to work out why St Luke, played by Jim Caviezel, has broken into prison to see St Paul. Luke has already written his Gospel, and now wants to capture, from Paul’s mouth, his life story, before he is put to death.

The film follows the scriptural accounts of St Paul, but it also obviously has to fill in a few gaps in order to create the dialogue for the film. It shows St Paul as a real human being. For him, martyrdom is not an easy thing to sail through. He is attacked by the devil, who reminds him of all the things he did when he was younger: the Christians he killed as he tried to put an end to what he thought was a blasphemy and a heresy spreading around the Roman Empire. He said that at that time, he knew what the Law was, but he didn’t understand love. In one of the deleted scenes on the DVD, he speaks before the Jewish leaders and says that he thinks they have been a bit too soft on the Christians. The Christians have dispersed from Jerusalem due to the persecution, but now they are gathering in Damascus, and Damascus is a location where all sorts of traffic is passing through. If they are not stopped, then Christianity will spread everywhere (you could perhaps say, like a virus). His plan is to head down there and get rid of Christianity from Emmaus. The rest, as they say, is history. On the way to Emmaus, he falls to the ground as a blinding light calls to him and asks, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul gives his reply, which I think sounds a bit strange – was he already having doubts about what he was doing? - “Who are you Lord?” “I am Jesus and you are persecuting me.” He goes to Damascus a blind man, and three days later Ananias gives him back his sight. Then he is baptised. And that changes everything.

He was a man of youthful determination and energy. He knew the Jewish Law, but he didn’t know about love, about God’s grace. But with his baptism, all his previous sins, grievous as they were, were washed away. But at the end of his life, the devil is tormenting St Paul with his past. Can you really be forgiven for all this, he implies. It requires faith for him to believe that he has been forgiven, and not to go back over the past and doubt the forgiveness he received in baptism.

In the Gospel today, we hear St Mark’s account of the baptism of Christ. People have asked, why did Our Lord need to be baptised? He had no Original Sin to be washed away, and He was sinless, so why was He baptised? The answer is, not that He needed the grace of baptism, but rather it was necessary so that He could give baptism itself His grace. In the second reading, St John speaks, perhaps a bit obscurely, about belief in Jesus as the Son of God who came by water and blood, not with water only, with the Spirit as another witness. What does that mean? I looked it up to find an answer. The bit about the Spirit as another witness refers back to the Gospel, where the Spirit descended on Jesus and the Father’s voice was heard: “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you”. So the Spirit and the Father witnessed that He was the One that John had been preparing people for. But what about water and blood though? My commentary said that “water” stands for the water of baptism, whilst “blood” stands for the crucifixion. Our salvation comes to us because Christ died for our sins, and we share in that salvation through our baptism. The Spirit witnesses that Christ is the One we must follow.

So in a sense, our lives are a bit like St Paul. It may be that we were baptised as adults, and had a lot of sins washed away then, or maybe we were baptised as babies and so it was only Original Sin that was washed away at that point, requiring confession for our sacramental forgiveness of sins. But either way, when we are forgiven, we are forgiven. It’s no good letting the devil torment us with the question of whether we were really forgiven or not. We have been given the free gift of God’s grace, which cannot be taken away from us (although we can commit sins later on). We should rejoice in our sacramental forgiveness – it’s something to celebrate, just like in today’s psalm response: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation”.

At the end of the film, St Paul is beheaded for his faith. He bears no hard feelings to those who execute him. He says to St Luke beforehand that to him, life is Christ and to die is gain. His whole life looks towards Christ, and it was through the grace of baptism and the Cross that his whole life was turned around. He dies in his faith, and receives faith’s reward.

We may not be executed for our faith. But like St Paul, we have to trust to the end in God’s mercy. To live is Christ and to die is gain, and it has been made possible through the grace of our baptism.

5th/6th December 2020

posted 7 Dec 2020, 02:43 by Parish Office

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B (5 & 6/12/20)
 – Bible Sunday

Last week, in the first reading, we saw how there was a sense that things were not right – that it seemed as if the heavens were closed up, that God was ignoring their pleas and prayers, and it seemed as if they were cut off from God because of their sins. “Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down” it said. Today’s first reading, also from Isaiah, is a lot more hopeful. Their prayer has been heard. God is coming. The time of punishment for sin is over, and now God is coming to their rescue. 

It can all seem a bit like Covid. The time of suffering and perhaps the sense of being abandoned by other people and by God looks like it could be coming to an end. It’s certainly taken its toll on people. Some are demoralised, some are worn out with the stress and the worry of this disease. Others are simply bored – and so it’s being said that some are wanting to create a bit of cheer by putting up the Christmas decorations – just something to lift people’s spirits. 

As we know, materialism doesn’t totally satisfy. It might help people for a while to forget what has happened and to think about something else. But we can use the material things of this world to help us celebrate the arrival of Christ. The hope in the first reading isn’t just seasonal hope – it’s rooted in God. God is coming to save us. It says:
 “Here is the Lord coming with power,
his arm subduing all things to him. … 
He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, 
gathering lambs in his arms, 
holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.” 

Their hope is placed in the Lord. 

In the Gospel today, we come across the figure of St John the Baptist. He doesn’t just arrive to tell everyone that the Messiah is coming. He tells them to get their house in order first before He comes. John proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and has the people confessing their sins to him as he baptises them (if you missed that bit, read through the Gospel text again: it is there). With the coronavirus, there has been a lot of thought about getting it to end, and prayer for the end of the pandemic – but not so much talk about repentance. It was said during the Second World War in France, by the French, that the reason they had been taken over by Germany was because they had abandoned God. God had been removed from their classrooms, so if you shut God out, why should we expect Him to suddenly help us? As a nation, we have a lot of repenting to do, as do other countries; but we also need to think about our own personal situation. Pray for the forgiveness of other people’s sins, yes, but also turn to God to confess our own, because that is the only way: with God we proper, but without Him, we fall. 

In St Peter’s time, people were asking why Christ hadn’t already returned in glory. So in the second reading, we have an answer from St Peter: the Lord is being merciful towards us and giving us time to repent. He will return in glory at some point in the future: He has told us that; we have his word for it. But when, we do not know. Now is the time to make the best use of the time we have, and put our own house in order. Preparation now leads to something much better when He comes at Christmas, as well as when He returns in glory. Fail to prepare … prepare to fail. 

We await the Lord’s arrival this Christmas. We long to celebrate God-with-us. God is good, and He will help us through this coronavirus. But we also need to repent of the ways in which we have offended Him, great and small. In that way we show that He is truly Lord of our lives.

5th/6th December 2020

posted 30 Nov 2020, 05:37 by Parish Office

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B (29/11/20)

Happy new liturgical year! Today we start the Year B cycle of readings, and so liturgically, according to the Church’s year, the new year starts today. We begin in Advent, awaiting the birth of Christ, then we celebrate His birth at Christmas, and then during Ordinary Time we unpack the impact of the coming of Christ – the difference it makes to our ordinary lives. Then we celebrate Lent, prepare for Holy Week, and then celebrate the Resurrection at Easter. Easter then finishes with Pentecost, and we, filled with the Spirit, return to Ordinary Time and bring the Lord, using the gifts of the Spirit, to our world.

That’s the liturgical year in a nutshell. But there are also other themes as well. Advent is not just about looking forward to Christmas, but also looking forward to Christ returning in glory at the end of time. The Gospel today says that we need to be ready. And so, as we begin a new liturgical year, we turn over a new leaf. On 1st January, people often make new year resolutions, which don’t always last too long. Maybe we could make a few Advent resolutions, but these would be different. Rather than the secular new year resolutions, where you try to do things off your own bat, why not Christianise the custom for Advent? This is what I am going to do, but not just using my own willpower and strength, but asking for the grace of God instead. I’m tempted at this point to jump to something in the second reading, but let’s look at the first reading first.

It’s quite relevant, actually, and reflects a lot of the problems and questions in society, as well as in the Church sometimes too. It says, “Why, Lord, leave us to stray from your ways and harden our hearts against fearing you?” It’s a good question. We can be a bit bewildered by why the world has been allowed to get into such a mess. Surely it shouldn’t be this way? If there was a time when people followed God more fervently, then that should have continued. Why have people moved away from God and why are we in such a mess? Please Lord, come and help us. We read, “Return, for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your inheritance”. Then it comes up with something rather interesting. It’s as if something is blocking God’s action in the world: “Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down”. Have you ever bought a tray of meat from the supermarket, with a plastic base and a thin film of see-through plastic on the top? You would assume that is should be easy to open – maybe there should be something you can pull to open it – but it won’t open. You pull at the edges and it just slips from your fingers. So in the end, there’s only one things for it: get a fork and break it open. “Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down.” Obviously there isn’t a thick piece of cling-film creating a barrier between heaven and earth. But there is something. We seem to have somehow insulated ourselves from God.

As the reading moves on, it begins to get to the cause. What is the cause of this barrier? Why do we seem to be abandoned by God? Why can’t we experience His presence, like in days of old?

“You were angry when we were sinners; we had long been rebels against you. We were all like men unclean, all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing.”

How many people today claim to be “good people”, to have “never done anyone any wrong” etc. etc., yet I bet if you knew them more fully, you would discover there was plenty they had done wrong! And what about if we look into our own hearts? We claim to be people of integrity, but in fact God sees that our lives are soiled by sin: “all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing. No one invoked your name or roused himself to catch hold of you.” Well, no wonder things went wrong! “For you hid your face from us and gave us up to the power of our sins.” So the means to be rid of this barrier is to acknowledge God, repent of our sins, and turn to Him for forgiveness, to do things His way, not ours.

Now a different vision: the second reading. “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send you grace and peace.” That’s what we need: the grace of God, leading to true peace. St Paul is rejoicing at how God is at work through the Church in Corinth:

“I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ. I thank him that you have been enriched in so many ways … the witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you … [Our] Lord Jesus Christ … will keep you steady and without blame … and God is faithful.”

Do we want to live in the world of the first reading, or the second reading? Do we want to try to do things all by ourselves without God, or achieve all things with God? “ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said be done to me'."

21st/22nd November 2020

posted 23 Nov 2020, 02:19 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year A (22/11/20)

Think of someone like Saul, the great persecutor of Christians. He had a good knowledge of his faith, so he thought. He had zeal for God’s cause. And putting two and two together, that meant that you had to get rid of Christianity. Perhaps if you had tried debating with him, he could have used the Scriptures against you. He was so sure that he was right, and it must have been such a crushing defeat when Christ blinded him on the road to Damascus. But note, Christ does not say to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting the Church” – of course, he was persecuting the Church, trying to get rid of it. Instead, Christ says, “why are you persecuting me?” To persecute the Church of Christ is to persecute Christ, to try in vain to separate the Lord of the Universe from His People.

So there is a profound link between Christ and the people of His Church, the baptised. But we also know that if Christ is Lord of the Universe, then all people are His. We also know that He is present in a particular way in the poor, those who are marginalised, the suffering, the weak, those whose bodies are far from perfect, those who are afflicted with disease and so on. We have to sometimes overcome our prejudices. When we are young children, we are read (“red”) and we watch children’s stories, where it is easy to tell who the good people are and who are the baddies. But in real life it is not always so easy. We can’t think that the more physically perfect you are, the better a person you must be. Sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes it is the people with more profound disabilities who reveal to us the joy of life and a way of being that is simple, direct, without attempts to deceive others or to cause others harm. They are the defenceless ones who need our protection.

So we are to come to the aid of those in need as a way of spreading Christ’s kingdom. But it’s not always easy. St Vincent de Paul said that we should not judge the poor by their outward appearance, and in effect he said that we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t have perfect middle-class manners. Remember, we are not in the world of children’s books, where the good people are beautiful to look at and are properly mannered, and the evil people are ugly and carry poisoned apples. Sometimes, in this world, it’s the ones you least suspect who turn out to be the rotten apples. Appearances can be deceptive.

Talking of appearances, what is the crux of the message of the Last Judgement? What we do to others, we do to Christ. Some people may not look very Christ-like; but what we do to them we do to Him. And also, what we don’t do, we do to Him. Sins of omission, where we fail to do a good act, can be just as bad, or worse, than sins of commission, where we do a bad act: neglect of the hungry and thirsty; neglect of the stranger; neglect of those who are naked, sick or in prison. By these sins of neglect, we sin against Christ! Those on His left say, yes, but Lord, if I had known it was you, I would have helped you. He is giving us this warning now, so that we do know, and don’t repeat their mistake.

It reminds me of a joke I was told almost twenty years ago:

There was a young man called Paddy. He wasn’t a very good Catholic. He used to spend a lot of his time down the pub with his friends, and not a lot of his time praying or going to Mass. Anyway, he came under the influence of the Salvation Army, and became a changed man. And then the day came to give his testimony. His friends laughed and they cried, and they thought it was all so silly what he now believed.

But time went on, and Paddy’s friends died and appeared before the judgement throne of God. They were terrified. “But”, they said, “we didn’t know Lord. We weren’t sure Lord.” And God replied [replacing the swearword from the original version I was told] “Well, you jolly well know now!”

A bit like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, we are given a warning now, so that we can put our house in order. But it’s not just about being nice to people: it’s about our love for the Lord and building up His kingdom, letting people see what it looks like when God reigns in someone’s heart.

So, we may not be on quite as bad a footing as poor Saul. But we too have been shown what is right, and as Saul became St Paul, we too can make something wonderful of our lives too, with the grace of God. 

15th November 2020

posted 16 Nov 2020, 00:56 by Parish Office   [ updated 16 Nov 2020, 01:01 ]

Homily for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – World Day of the Poor (15/11/20)

A few months ago we were looking at how there are different layers of meaning within the Scriptures. Besides the purely literal meaning, there is also the eschatological meaning – in plain English, what this text has to say about Christ’s return in glory. We also noted how Our Lord’s parables are designed to refer to Him, which is why occasionally some of the details don’t always reflect life as we would expect it. So today, we have the man who went off abroad, and didn’t return for a long time. When he did return, then it was the time of reckoning for his servants. Well, surprise, surprise, as we get closer to the start of Advent, the readings turn towards the theme of Christ’s return in glory, and in this parable, Jesus is the Man who “goes off abroad” – not just to a distant country, but to heaven, and is then to return “a long time after”.

There’s also another detail and key to this parable, and the other parables Our Lord gives us. The master is always the honest one, who doesn’t try to deceive, whilst some of the other characters do. So when we come to the man
with the one talent, who says, “Sir, ... I had heard you were a hard man, reaping where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered” there are at least two things going on here. Firstly, he is trying to make up
excuses, and the master, Christ, has no time for them. Secondly, though, the man with the one talent is giving a distorted image of God – the inflexible headmaster, where you’re always in trouble no matter what you do – so why bother trying? You’re going to get a beating anyway. That’s not what God is like. Sometimes we need to purge ourselves of our own misconceptions of God and be reliably informed by what Christ has revealed.

Moving to the more literal understanding of the text, good financial management is also a lesson here. Remember that it is the love of money which is the root of all evil, not money itself – money can be used as a tool to
further the kingdom of God. It’s when money becomes the master that it shows itself to be a cruel tyrant. In Luke 16:11-12, Our Lord says: “If then you cannot be trusted with money, that tainted thing, who will trust you with genuine riches? And if you cannot be trusted with what is not yours, who will give you your very own?” 

It’s quite a startling message, when you take it seriously! Firstly, more obviously, our being given riches by Christ is a test, to see if we can be trusted with the proper riches of heaven. Secondly, the riches are not our own – they have been given to us by God. We don’t have absolute ownership over them. We are to use our riches to help people in need. That’s not an optional extra – it’s a demand of our faith. Do we trade our talents by investing them in the poor and those in need? Now, of course, charity begins at home. If, say, a father wastes all his money on gambling, which means that there is nothing left to spend on his family, then there is a serious problem. If a mother were to spend all her money buying excessive amounts of clothes for herself, and neglecting her children, there would be a problem as well. So charity begins at home. We have to look after those closest to us. I think that point is fairly obvious. But we also, as Christians, have to think of the wider Church family and the wider family of the world. We can’t expect to single-handedly solve all the world’s problems, or all the problems in the Church. But we can do something, and sometimes it might be that we don’t have the money, but we do have a bit of time that we can spend in helping those in need. That can be a different sort of investment for the sake of the kingdom of God, changing the world around us for the better.

The first two servants in the parable invested their master’s money and doubled it. If we look at the Scripture reference for the first reading, you’ll spot that it has been shortened. If you look at the rest of the chapter, it gives the example of the industrious woman, who organises her servants, buys a field, plants a vineyard, joins in with the work and works long hours to provide for the family. She also gives good advice and assists those who are poor and needy. That’s another example of investing the master’s money and making a good return, and being a good example and being held in high esteem by the neighbourhood. 

As we head towards Advent, our readings turn towards the return of Christ in glory. Will we be ready? How are we investing the money, the time and the gifts that God has given us? How are we caring for our families, the Church, the wider world, the poor and those in need? Money is to be a servant, not our master: our true master is Christ. Our money has been given to us by God, to further His kingdom and as a test to see if we can be trusted with real riches. May we pass the test with flying colours, and be a shining example of what is possible, in the Lord. 

7th / 8th November 2020

posted 9 Nov 2020, 01:06 by Parish Office   [ updated 16 Nov 2020, 00:57 ]

Homily for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (Remembrance Sunday) – 7 & 8/11/20

On Thursday, England went into lock-down again, and just before 9 am, Cardinal Vincent Nichols spoke on Radio 4 to express his opposition to the cessation of public Masses. The interviewer began by quoting the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, which has described the cessation of public Masses as “a source of deep anguish”. During the interview, which is available on the BBC website, the Cardinal said that this measure was not supported by any scientific evidence, as churches are “very well managed, they are very well cleansed and they are among the safest places that people go to”. He also added, “that’s not true in most places of social gatherings”, making the important point that going to church is not a social gathering; the government’s approach “shows a misunderstanding of the importance of religious faith”. He did, however, say that it was good that churches will be open for private prayer, which was something that wasn’t initially possible under the previous lock-down [see from 2:50.32 onwards]. One consolation, of course, is that it seems that this lock-down has a sell-by date, and should only last for four weeks. But even so, that’s four weeks without public Masses. It leads us to reflect on how important our faith is to us, and how important the Mass is to us.

In the parable we just heard, the bridesmaids were waiting the arrival of the bridegroom, but it says that they all grew drowsy and fell asleep, both the wise ones and the foolish ones. Perhaps if we have grown a bit drowsy, now is the time to arise from sleep. For some, that might be a more literal thing: when Christ the Bridegroom appears at Sunday Mass at the consecration, people need to wake up, get out of bed and get to Mass in the morning – I can remember a student once saying that some of her fellow students take Sunday as a day of rest quite literally, and don’t get up until the afternoon. But there can be other ways in which we can be asleep, sometimes without even realising it.

This year, for my annual retreat, rather than going away to a retreat house, I stayed in the presbytery, and one of the books I read during that time contained the conversion testimony of Fr Steven Scheier.

Fr Steven was involved in a head-on collision with a pickup truck and ended up in intensive care. It was thought that he had only a fifteen percent chance of survival, and that he could be paralysed from the waist down for the rest of his life. But his parishioners prayed the rosary for him every morning and evening, and the Protestants prayed for him too, and he recovered in record time, without any paralysis. But afterwards, something suddenly came to him. Following his accident, He had appeared before the judgement throne of God, and the verdict wasn’t good. Our Lady interceded for him to be given a second chance, and Our Lord granted it.

Why had he been sentenced to hell? His parishioners thought he was a good priest, but that was all a bit of an act. His prayer life was practically nil. He didn’t mind saying Mass, but he didn’t mind missing Mass, either. He liked being popular, which distorted his ministry. He said:

“What brought me to the sentence I received was a string of broken commandments. For twelve years, I pantomimed being a priest. My priesthood, the Lord told me, was only the bitter icing on top of a rotten cake.”

Today, he is quite a different priest. He sees the need to bear witness to the truth, despite ridicule and unpopularity. He is less judgemental, although he recognises the need to recognise right from wrong. He recognises the importance of the role of Our Lady in his life, and the need to pray the Rosary, both in thanksgiving for what happened to him, and also in prayer for others. He says, “I was allowed to come back to tell others, particularly priests, that hell exists, and we are liable to end up there. My mission is also to tell people Divine Mercy exists, and God’s love outweighs his justice.”

Going back to Cardinal Vincent’s interview on Radio 4, he mentioned an initiative that Protestants and Catholics are asked to take part in during this time: to pray every evening at 6 pm that we hold together as a nation, that the best of us comes out, not the worst. We can add to this that our nation comes to recognise Christ once again as the source of “peace on earth”. May this be a time of purification for us all, that we may re-align our focus on the things that really matter.

Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us.

1-10 of 121