1st/2nd May 2021

posted 3 May 2021, 01:35 by Parish Office

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B (1 & 2/5/21)

Imagine the situation. (Knock! Knock!) The priest opens the door. “Hello, Father. I’m Richard Dawkins. I want to become a Catholic.” Which priest wouldn’t be at least a bit surprised, concerned, or wonder what was really going on? So back in the first century, you can understand why, when Saul said that he had converted, they were a bit unsure of him, to say the least: “they were all afraid of him: they could not believe he was really a disciple”. Of course, other “big fish” have converted over two thousand years of history, together with various medium-size and small fish. C S Lewis is known today as a Christian author, but he wasn’t always a Christian. After being brought up in what he called a blandly Christian childhood, he embraced atheism. In his conversion testimony, called Surprised by Joy, he states how there were various things that knocked his atheistic “faith”: the beauty of nature and art, the gift of joy, and people that he met, both in reality and those he got to know through reading their books, especially Chesterton and MacDonald.

He writes: “In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for … A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere” (see Surprised by Joy). So basically, what happened was that it was in reading, he came, kicking and screaming, to belief in God:

“You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen [College, Oxford], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (Surprised By Joy,ch. 14, p. 266).

But at this point, there was still so much more to be done. It was Tolkien, together with Dyson, who, two years later, would have a long conversation with him, going to beyond three in the morning, that led him to conversion to Christ and Christianity. C S Lewis came close to being a Catholic, but didn’t make the final leap, being an Anglican when he died, but some say that he was largely there.

Go back to Saul. He’s had an encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. He knows that Christ is real. But when he goes to meet up with the disciples in Jerusalem, they don’t want to know. They just can’t trust him yet. It requires Barnabas, who has seen the way he has preached in Damascus, to introduce him to the apostles, so he can be fully integrated and trusted by the Church.

In the work of evangelisation, each person’s conversion is unique. We also have a lot of material out on the internet now, of varying quality and orthodoxy. People

can search for hours if they want to. But it still requires the personal touch. It’s one thing studying the Catholic faith in books or on the internet, but you need to see it being lived out in ordinary people’s lives, and to see how people put this faith into practice. As St John said in the second reading, “My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active”. And that also means that the lack of personal witness can hinder other people from converting. Probably most, if not all of us, have at some point been made fun of because of our faith, and that can lead us to be a bit more guarded in the future and keep our faith a bit more hidden. But if we hide it too much, then it can suffocate: “No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or to put it under a bed” (Luke 8:16). Obviously if you try and do that with a candle, you either put the candle out when you cover it with a bowl, or you run the risk of setting the place on fire if you put it under a bed. In other words, the whole point of our faith is for it to be seen by others. Not to deliberately show off, but the idea of a “private faith” is a bit of a contradiction in terms. How many Stoke City supporters would be “privately” Stoke City supporters, but in public go to any football ground and support any team? It wouldn’t make sense. If you support a football team, you will get knocks from time to time. But if you never support your team, never go to their matches or watch them on TV, are you really a supporter? Similarly with your faith. If you claim to be a Catholic, but never pray, never go to Mass, and don’t know any other Catholics by sight, then are you really a Catholic? And if you are never public about your faith, are you really a Catholic? If it doesn’t change you as a person, then something or someone else is exercising control over you, and that something or someone else needs to be given a bit of a shove and give way to God. Because the danger is, if we begin to slowly separate ourselves from Christ, then we wither. We need to be re-grafted onto the vine whilst there is still some life left.

“My children, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active.” Is just watching Mass at home on livestream really enough? Or have we got to re-connect with the Church and put our faith into gear? The bishops of England and Wales have issued a letter called The Day of the Lord, in which they talk about people who have fallen away from their faith during the pandemic. It’s for us to help them to return, and we need to work together on this one. As part of this, because the Sunday 11 am Mass has now reached the point of being full, I’m going to be putting on an extra Mass, probably at 9 am on Sunday morning, and it will be our job to fill it, together with the Saturday Vigil Mass as well. The plan is for this to start in two weeks’ time. See who you can find