18th / 19th May 2019

posted 20 May 2019, 05:15 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C (18 & 19/5/19)


We heard in the first reading, “On their arrival … [Paul and Barnabas] assembled the Church and gave an account of all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the pagans” (Acts 14:27).  So often today, when we hear of the Church expanding, we associate that with mission territories.  Like Paul and Barnabas, someone arrives to give the annual mission appeal.  The appeal is not just for money, but to tell you off all the good that is being done, maybe in mission stations in Africa, South America or Asia, and to ask for your continued prayers for the work of the Gospel.  But what about the mission closer to home?


England is already missionary territory.  I mentioned last week the vocation testimony of Fr Anthony Pham-Tri-Van, who escaped from the Communist Army when stationed in Cambodia, and managed to escape to Thailand, and is now working as a Parish Priest in this diocese.  He joined the priesthood with the specific idea of being a missionary.  But in a sense, each parish is a mission.  Okay, you say, we know all this, but what new have you got to say about the mission in England?  Well, the readings this week point to a few areas that we can be in danger at times of neglecting.


The first reading was from the Acts of the ApostlesActs is, if you like, the second part after the Gospel according to Luke, which tells us what the Apostles got up to after Christ ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost.  By chapter fourteen, the Apostles are going around the Roman Empire, spreading the Word of God, and building up Churches in each area.  And to make small communities, which will grow, there needs to be a bishop, or at least a priest, to baptise, confirm, celebrate Mass and so on.  So when it says that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders, the elders are either bishops or priests.  The word “elder” is often used to translate the Greek terms episcopoi or presbuteroi, from which we get words like episcopate and presbyterate, and hence the terms bishop and priest.  For the Church to be built up, there had to be ordained ministers capable not only of preaching the Word of God, but also celebrating the sacraments.  But, as I have said before, it’s not all down to the clergy!  When Pope Francis was elected Pope and appeared on the balcony, he asked for the prayers of the Church.  In the same way, it says today that when the new elders were appointed, which can also be translated as “hand-picked” or “installed”, it says that with prayer and fasting they commended them to the Lord.  How much do we pray for the clergy?  When Archbishop Longley was installed as Archbishop of Birmingham a few years ago, was there a concerted campaign of prayer and fasting?  When I was inducted as Parish Priest, perhaps we should have had some sort of novena of prayer, or fasting pledges to support and lead up to the event, as well as the prayer of the actual Mass of induction.


Prayer and fasting are the motive force of what we do as the Church.  It can be no coincidence that as prayer and fasting have declined in the Church in the West, so has the spiritual vitality of the Church as well.  As a priest of this diocese once put it, the Mass is like the meat you buy from the shop, and the prayer life is like the packaging.  We’ve thrown the packaging away, and the meat has gone off.  A luxury coach can’t get anywhere without any diesel in the tank.  It might look nice, and we can invite people to admire the nice seats, and the fact that it has vents in the ceiling for air conditioning, working seatbelts, a sat nav and so on, but with no fuel in the tank, it can’t do what it was meant to do.


In the Gospel, Christ said, “love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another” (John 13:34-35).  But that requires contact with Christ, both through personal prayer and through meeting Him in the Eucharist.  We can’t give what we haven’t received.  If we haven’t experienced His love through prayer and the sacraments, then we are in no position to pass it on.  We may have our own natural capacity to love, but Christ wants to elevate that, purify it, take it to whole new levels with His love.  We can’t give what we haven’t got.


I’ve been reflecting a bit on my own life and what helped me to survive my teenage years with my faith intact.  Looking back, it’s been a bit of a surprise to see how big some of the obstacles were.  I’ve tried to trace things back and work out what helped me through.  Obviously there’s more than one answer, but one of them has to be the family rosary.  I can remember as a child us attending an evening in the parish where a video was shown about the message of Fatima, and afterwards we heeded the messages and started praying the Rosary as a family.  To begin with, it was just one decade a night.  But as time went by, we increased it.  (We said other prayers too, but the Rosary was the main prayer.)  With the Rosary, we allow Our Lady to take us by the hand and lead us to Jesus.  People don’t always find it the easiest of all prayers, but there are different ways of praying it, so if one way doesn’t work, you can try another.  You just need to persevere.


The mission of the Church in this country needs our prayer, and our fasting.  A luxury coach won’t go very far without fuel in the tank.  Let’s get prayer going in our families again, and then see how far this coach will go.