Fr Michael's Homilies

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

Christmas 2018

posted 1 Jan 2019, 02:08 by Parish Office

Homily for the Christmas 2018)

 

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

 

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

         

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

 

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

 

(pause)

 

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

 

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

 

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

22nd/23rd December

posted 1 Jan 2019, 02:03 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C (22 & 23/12/18)

 

Over the past three Sundays, I’ve managed to make a link between some aspect of the day’s readings and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Now that we’ve reached the Fourth Sunday of Advent, you might be wondering what I might say this time.  Well, you’ll have to wait.  Let’s have a look at the Gospel.

 

The event we heard about today is sometimes called The Visitation, obviously because Our Lady goes to visit Elizabeth.  We don’t know the exact time between the archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was with child and Mary then arriving.  But we do know that, at the time of the Annunciation, Our Lady was told that Elizabeth was already in her sixth month.  If you don’t know much about babies, well, it normally takes nine months before a baby is born.  Elizabeth was six months’ pregnant, and it says that when Our Lady went to visit Elizabeth, that she stayed for about three months (see Luke 1:56).  If we do some primary school maths, 6 + 3 = 9.  That means that she may have been there when John the Baptist was born.  She’s not mentioned, but she may have been there.  Either way, three months is quite a long time to stay with someone.  If you have relatives coming round for Christmas, having them visit for the day is fine, and if they have to stay a few days or a week, because they have to catch a flight, then fair enough, but to stay for three months might stretch some people’s patience.  You would hope in this time that they would make themselves useful, rather than just expecting to be served and entertained all that time.

 

What do we observe about Our Lady?  Well, firstly, there were no telephones.  So she wouldn’t have phoned Zechariah and Elizabeth and asked how they were, and then been invited round.  It was a different way of life, and I presume the norm was for people just to drop in.  Our Lady went, not for free board and lodging, but out of concern and joy for her cousin Elizabeth.  Unlike some visitors we may receive at our doors, perhaps people trying to sell us something, Our Lady’s visit was a real source of grace and joy – John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  She was also, of course, bringing with her Our Lord – just think of the sense of joy and hope: people had waited for hundreds of years for the Messiah.  It had been spoken about by the prophets.  There may also have been a sense of expectation that He would come soon, by calculations from the prophecies in the book of Daniel.  It says later on in the Gospel that when John the Baptist was born, “All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. … ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered” (Luke 1:66).  Just imagine, then, how Mary and Elizabeth must have discussed the coming of the Lord.

 

So God was working in amazing ways in their lives.  But there were still the ordinary tasks to be done.  Somebody had to go and fetch the water, prepare the meals, wash up, put things away, sweep the house, wash the clothes and so on.  Elizabeth was in the last three months of pregnancy, so she probably wouldn’t have been particularly mobile and agile.  Maybe the neighbours helped her.  Maybe Our Lady also helped out as well.  Despite the extraordinary ways in which God was at work, the ordinary things did not go away.  The dinner didn’t cook itself.  It reminds us that our homes, too, are holy places, with God at work in so many good things and different acts of kindness that often taken for granted:  the fact that we have a roof over our heads, that the heating works, that we have food to eat.  Even if we have problems with some of the neighbours in our street, things could still be so much worse.  Perhaps we do have good neighbours, or at least neighbours that don’t cause us too much trouble.  We have so much to be grateful for, even if our lives aren’t totally perfect, or maybe even far from it.

 

I mentioned at the beginning about somehow fitting A Christmas Carol into all of this.  At the beginning of the story, Ebenezer Scrooge sees people, especially the poor, as a nuisance and an inconvenience, threatening his beloved money.  The poor?  Are there no prisons?  And the union workhouses?  Are they still in operation?  He suggests that if the poor would rather die than go to the workhouses, then they should do just that, and help decrease the surplus population.  As time goes by, he sees the fruits of his attitudes, brought home especially by the character of Tiny Tim.  His heart goes out to someone who is poor, weak and defenceless, and decides to become something of a good uncle to him.

 

Who do we need to look after and help in our local area?

Christmas Carol Service 16th December

posted 20 Dec 2018, 02:13 by Parish Office

Homily for the Christmas Carol Service (16/12/18)

 

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

 

Praised be to God, we do have Christmas.  We have the Christmas carols and songs, presents and the Christmas holidays.  We have Christmas crackers with silly jokes and little things that no one knows what to do with.  We have Christmas cake, turkey, sprouts, a Christmas tree, Christmas cards, decorations, song, laughter, joy, meeting up with family and friends, feeling appreciated and loved.  But best of all, at the heart of it all, we have Jesus.  God cares so much for us that He became one of us.  The Father sent His Son.  “The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  Nothing can beat that.  No piece of technology can rival God becoming one of us, and to start with, being a baby.  Isn’t it amazing – God didn’t just beam down to earth as a fully-grown man, instead He was conceived of the Virgin Mary and was born as a baby.  The God who made the universe, with all the stars, became a helpless baby, relying on His mother and father to supply all His needs, the first one being to keep Him warm from the cold.  We read that Mary wrapped her first-born Son in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.  It’s something that any child can relate to.  God is not just for grown-ups.  God is not just a concept or an idea for philosophers to debate about.  He’s someone we can relate to, who became one of us.  He became a human being.  He had to learn to crawl.  To eat.  To talk.  To play with other children.  He had to grow up.  He had to help his father with his job as a carpenter.  He had to work.  And he also had to pray.  Not to Himself, but to His Father and the Holy Spirit.  By the age of twelve we know that He definitely knew that He wasn’t an ordinary boy.  He was God as well.  When He reached the age of His Bar Mitzvah at the age of twelve, when a Jewish boy was considered responsible for his actions, what happens?  When he went with Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem, He decides to stay behind.  When Joseph and Mary find Him after three days, and Mary tells Him how worried she and Joseph had been, He replies that He has to be about His Father’s business.  Ouch!  A difficult lesson for Joseph and Mary, but an important one for all parents to learn:  no matter how important parents are, and of course the Ten Commandments say you should honour father and mother, there’s something even more important:  God comes first.  Not second.  Not third.  First.  Always and everyways.  Even when it’s inconvenient.  Even when it causes trouble.  Even when it messes things up.  First.  Always and everyways.

 

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

15th/16th December

posted 20 Dec 2018, 02:02 by Parish Office

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent “Gaudete” (15 & 16/12/18)

 

Christmas is getting ever closer – have you bought everything you need yet?  Maybe you haven’t even started.  But more important than any of the food or presents, is getting our hearts ready for Christ’s coming this Christmas.  Today, St John the Baptist reminds us that, for each of us, what we need to do is different.  Back in his day, tax collectors had to do one thing, soldiers another.  For each of us, what we need to do will be different.

 

Some things, though, will be the same.  We all need to look at our hearts and see what obstacles we find to the reign of the Christ-child.  Does God really occupy first place in my life?  Really?  Or is something or someone else there instead?  We may need to look at our attitude towards God.  Do we serve Him enthusiastically and joyfully, or do we serve Him grudgingly, perhaps even stingily?  Talking of stingily, let’s have a look again at Ebenezer Scrooge.  When he travels with the Ghost of Christmas Past, we see that he wasn’t always the same.  But it was a love of money that led him to turn his back on others – he had to choose the one or the other, and he made his decision.  As a result, his life was a misery.  A self-made misery.  The mercy was that he saw this, and that he could change.  There was still time.  He didn’t have to follow his old co-worker, Jacob Marley, to the same fate.

 

For some of us, love of money may not be the issue.  But John the Baptist’s illustration reminds me of something else I read.  John talks about the Christ being the one who will separate the wheat from the chaff.  But sometimes, as Padre Pio once pointed out, sometimes, wheat-grains are actually all chaff.  If you go through a field full of wheat, you will see that some of the ears point upwards.  They represent pride and vanity.  If you take these ears, you will find that they are hollow.  Instead, if you take the ears that are bend down to the ground, these are the ones that are full, and represent people who are humble.  Pride is vain; it’s humility that bears fruit.

 

Going to confession in Advent is one of those tasks that perhaps we don’t always like too much, a bit like having to do the housework, or perhaps going to the dentist.  When I was a child, the dentist was next door to the church we sometimes went to for confession if were weren’t able to go to our own parish.  I think I was probably more apprehensive about going to confession that about going to the dentist, even though I knew that I would feel great after going to confession.  It was only in my late teens, when I started going to confession more often than just twice a year, that I overcame the sense of fear and trepidation.  However there would be occasions when what I needed to confess made me a bit apprehensive again.

 

Sometimes people wonder about what the priest will think.  Sometimes, people want to be as quick as possible, because they are afraid that if they take too long, others might wonder what they have done.  Let me tell you one thing – the time people take is usually more about their style of confessing, rather than what they have done.  Some people are more to the point.  Here are two fictional examples for you.  Which is the bigger sinner?

 

Example one:  “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.  It’s been eight months since my last confession.  Since then, I’ve shot the neighbour, I’ve shot the policeman who came to investigate, and I shot the postman in the dark thinking he was another policeman.  I don’t think there’s anything else.”

 

Example two:  “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.  It’s been, oh, I don’t know, a while since I was last here.  You lose track sometimes, don’t you?  I was only thinking the other day that maybe it was time to go again, but then I kept on putting it off.  Anyway, since last time I want to tell you about the problem I had last Tuesday.  It was six o’clock and I thought that it was time I fed the cat.  I went to the cupboard and opened the cupboard door, but when I went to get the tin off the shelf, the cat must have heard the noise and came running in.  Well, she gave me a fright, she did, and as I went to get the tin I knocked all the other ones over the floor.  I didn’t mean them to land on the cat, but, well, I think I frightened it a bit.  I do love animals.  It’s just that sometimes I’m a bit jumpy when I hear a noise and I wonder what it is.  Anyway, I picked up the tins...”

 

You get the idea.

 

Just like with Ebenezer Scrooge, there is still time to change.  Just as he woke up and found out it was still Christmas morning, it is still now just the Third Sunday of Advent.  There is work to be done!  It may be daunting, but just think:  if you’ve been away for a long time from confession, then the joy afterwards will be all the greater.  Don’t put it off, even if you feel you have to go all the way to Shrewsbury Cathedral to confess to an unknown priest behind a screen.  The God of mercy awaits you.  Do not be afraid.

8th/9th December 2018

posted 10 Dec 2018, 02:08 by Parish Office

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C (7/12/18)

 

Last week you may remember that I mentioned something amazing Ebenezer Scrooge did.  After committing himself to a change of heart, he decided to do something beyond perhaps the wildest dreams of a lot of people – he cancelled their debts for Christmas.  As a result, they were able to sing “Thank you very much.  Thank you very much.  It’s the nicest thing that anyone’s ever done for me.”  Today, the readings are also very much about joy.

 

The first reading is saying to us:  the time of sorrow is no more!  Now is the time to rejoice!  Your people were escorted away by their enemies, but now they return, carried back in glory like royalty.  God turns defeat into victory!

 

The psalm takes up the same idea:  it speaks of deliverance from slavery; the misery of having to serve other masters is replaced by freedom, laughter and songs.

 

In the second reading, St Paul begins, “Every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy...”

 

Finally, the Gospel speaks of clearing out the junk, turning over a new leaf and putting things right to make a royal highway for God.  When I moved to Hanley and travelled to the hospital, I was surprised that one of the routes you can take involve going through various small roads between terraced houses -  I was surprised that there wasn’t a nice easy road to get there.  I’ve since found other routes.  But some years ago, when I went in someone else’s car to Wolstanton, I was surprised at the existence of the D road – in my naivety I thought that it was only places like Birmingham where those kinds of roads existed, where they had cleared out and demolished various houses and buildings to make a big, wide, fast road through the middle of town.  Of course, what I should have remembered was that a similar thing had happened in Redditch where I was living at the time – when Redditch became a “new town” and they expanded it, they put various 70 mph highways through the town, which meant that certain houses had had to be demolished.  I spotted at one point, when trying to do a bit of visiting, that there was a jump in the house numbers because of the highway that ran underneath the road at one point.  All those houses had been cleared away to make space for the highway.  I guess that in Stoke-on-Trent there must have been various building that went when the D road was constructed – some lamented, others forgotten about and not missed.

 

It’s a bit like clearing out the junk from our own lives:  that can be a painful process, too.  But it can also bear great fruit.  A  bit like someone who has too much cholesterol and has circulation problems, who then manages to get his arteries cleaned out so that the blood flows properly once again.  “I feel like a new man” he says.  Or maybe it’s a bit like when my father decided to flush out the central heating and put a cleaning additive into the tank – it was a nuisance having to get all the air out of the radiators afterwards, but we soon found that the radiators warmed up in half the time.

 

God looks at us, struggling with the cholesterol and limescale of sin and says, “I didn’t make you to suffer like that.  I made you to rejoice.  Come and be healed and made new again.”  Sometimes, we think that we are the ones who put our lives right, take control and set things straight.  But it’s always God who takes the initiative, and puts the zeal into us and the determination to get to work.  As we heard in the first reading:

 

“Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress,

put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever,

wrap the cloak of integrity of God around you …

since God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven”.

 

We have not been created for misery, but for greatness.  As we work with God to clear our hearts this Advent, we too can sing, “Thank you very much.  Thank you very much.  It’s the nicest things that anyone’s ever done for me.”

1st/2nd December 2018

posted 10 Dec 2018, 02:05 by Parish Office

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year C (1 & 2/12/18)

 

Some of you may have seen the films The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that were produced over the past ten years or so.  There has been speculation about whether they are going to dramatise the last two books, The Silver Chair and The Last BattleThe Last Battle was highly acclaimed when it was first written, and as a result, C S Lewis won an award.  If you haven’t read it, I don’t want to spoil the storyline for you.  I only read it earlier this year for the first time, and as an adult, I was impressed with the different plots and ideas that C S Lewis wove into the storyline.

 

One of the many Biblical themes that he puts into it is the idea of the final judgement at the end of the world.  It’s quite profound in that it’s not just the end of Narnia, but the whole universe, including planet Earth.  In the prequel to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Magician’s Nephew, the professor is a young boy, and he gets to see Aslan creating the world of Narnia.  It’s a very beautiful scene, in which Aslan “sings” the new world into existence.  In The Last Battle, this beautiful world comes to an end.  But that is not the end, because all those who have been faithful followers of Aslan are rewarded with a new world, even better than what they had before.  But not everyone makes it, though.  There are those who pass by on Aslan’s left into darkness and are never seen again.  But those who loved Aslan are rewarded for their faithfulness.  I don’t want to spoil the book, and in fact there is a lot that happens before this, as this is towards the end.  Perhaps, for those of you with young children who love reading, a box set of the seven Narnia books might make a good Christmas present.  And if you’re curious, you might also want to read the books too.  I presume that most of you realise that Aslan is based on Christ, who will return at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead.

 

Back in 1990, the Catholic funeral rite in England and Wales was revised.  But the then Archbishop of Birmingham, Maurice Couve de Murville, chose to retain two prayers from the previous funeral rite.  One of them has this line:

 

“Give us grace to prepare for that last hour by a good life, / that we may not be surprised by a sudden and unprovided death, / but be ever watching / that when you call / we may enter into eternal glory”

 

Sometimes, people think that certain things in the Bible, such as the idea that we will be judged on how we have lived out lives, are there to scare us, but they’re not – it’s all part of the message that there is still time to change our ways.  As we approach Christmas, one of the well-known stories on our TV screens is that of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in its various adaptations.  The whole point about it is, that although Scrooge begins as something of a mean man, he is shown his past, how things will be the this Christmas, and how things will end up if he doesn’t change.  So he does change, and in the 1970s film Scrooge, they all get to sing “Thank you very much, it’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me” as he rips up all their debts.

 

For ourselves, there may be debts that we have run up over the year.  As well as any financial ones, there are also the debts of our sins.  We can choose to take the risk and see what the balance is when we die, or we can go to confession now as we begin to get ready for Christmas.  Truly, I think that the bigger our sins, the greater the relief when they are forgiven. 

 

When will our final moment come?  When will Christ return in glory?  We don’t know.  But we do know that we can choose from this very moment now, how the present will be from now onwards.  We can go to confession, make amends, and then our celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas will truly be something to celebrate.

24th/25th Nov

posted 27 Nov 2018, 05:41 by Parish Office

Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Year B (24 & 25/11/18)

 

“His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).  Christ is our King, and He rules like no other.  The Roman Empire is no more, the British Empire is no more, but Christ’s reign lasts for ever.  And what sort of a reign is it?  What sort of a King is Christ?  In this country, the Queen is nothing more than a figurehead.  She takes part in royal ceremonies, and addresses the nation at Christmas, but throughout the year, has no real power; the real ruling of the country belongs to Parliament.  She has to agree with what Parliament decides, and if she decided to go against it, she might have to abdicate.  That is not how Christ rules.  Christ is not just about nice ceremonies, a few nice words at Christmas, and then to be ignored throughout the year.  Christ’s reign is about the whole of life.

 

Christ’s reign is also a permanent reign.  All of today’s three readings mention this at the end of each of them.  The first reading:  “His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire be destroyed”.  The second reading:  “ ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’ says the Lord God, who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty”.  The Gospel speaks of the timelessness of the truth Christ brings:  “I came into the world to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice”.  The truth by which Christ reigns does not change from one thing to another from age to age.  We might deepen our understanding of it, but it’s still the same truth.  Technology does not make it null and void.  At the time of the Roman Empire, Christians were persecuted and put to death, but in the end, Christianity was legalised, and in the end, the Roman Empire fell apart.  So many other empire and kingdoms (and republics too) have risen and fallen, but Christ remains.  The Third Reich was supposed to last a thousand years, but didn’t even manage fifty.  Communism managed more than fifty, but in Western Europe it collapsed – the Church remained.  In the East, the question is, when will Communism fall?  The Church is being heavily persecuted – it’s now illegal for anyone under the age of eighteen to go to church, and if you are a Christian you can lose your job and be refused medical treatment – all for being a follower of Christ.  The Chinese government say they are trying to “Sinicise” religion, make it more Chinese – in other words they want to alter it to fit their ideas.  We know that Christ will triumph in the end, it’s just a matter of when.  And in our own society, how long will it take before things turn a corner and we have a new springtime in the Church and in our country?  We wait in joyful hope.  But perhaps the most important thing is not to look at others, but to look at ourselves.  How far do we allow Christ to reign in our lives, and how much do we want to be sovereign instead?  That is a painful question.

 

In the Second Book of Maccabees, which is one of the books of the Old Testament, found in Catholic Bibles but not in all Protestant ones, Judas Maccabaeus made the following discovery:  after one of their battles, when they were arranging to take their fallen comrades and bury them, they found that all those who had fallen were carrying amulets of the idols of Jamnia.  If you’re wondering what an amulet is, the Oxford Dictionary of English defines it as “an ornament or small piece of jewellery thought to give protection against evil, danger or disease”.  These were people of divided loyalty, who were supposed to be fighting for God, but were also trusting in idols as well.  Maybe they thought God wasn’t strong enough, or they just wanted to hedge their bets.  If we look at our own hearts, we can find things in our lives that can be idols, that we perhaps trust in more than God, that make us people of divided loyalty.

 

When Judas Maccabaeus and his followers discovered what had happened, they didn’t bitterly reject their compromised comrades that had fallen.  Instead, they prayed to God for their sins to be forgiven, and arranged for a sacrifice to be offered in Jerusalem in atonement for their sins.  We know that God is merciful.  Today, we do something similar.  In this month of November, dedicated to the Holy Souls, we pray for those who have died, light candles for them, and offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.  We also hope that when we go, others will do the same for us.  We don’t claim to be any less needy of God’s mercy than anyone else.  But we give thanks for the ways in which Christ has reigned in us, and in our departed loved ones, and we look forward to the glory of heaven, where Christ reigns in all His fullness and splendour.  As we know, “His sovereignty is an eternal sovereignty which shall never pass away, nor will his empire be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).

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.

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