Fr Michael's Homilies
PASTORAL LETTER FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY OF LENT (18/19 MARCH 2023)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
God does not see as man sees: man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.
Our annual pilgrimage through Lent has reached its mid-point. In the midst of our acts of penance and self-denial Laetare Sunday invites us to look forward in hope towards the Easter celebration that lies ahead. On this occasion I would also like to greet all the mothers in our families and parish communities and to thank you for your loving witness as parents and as women of faith.
We have just listened to St John’s Gospel with its account of the healing of the man who had been blind from birth. People who have a sight impairment often have great insight into the world around them. From the Gospel story it is clear that this man placed his trust in Our Lord. He did not hesitate to do what the Lord asked of him, even though he could not foresee the consequences.
There are many moments when we are asked, as individuals or as the Church, to place our trust fully in Christ – to acknowledge that we cannot see the full picture yet – and to pray that he will let us see our lives and our mission as he can see them. This has been very much my prayer as we have tried to develop a diocesan vision for the future – a future that lies entirely in the Lord’s hands but which he needs us to bring about in his name.
By now you will be familiar with our diocesan vision statement which says:
We are called to be a Catholic diocese which is: faithful to the mission entrusted to us by Jesus Christ full of missionary disciples who work together co-responsibly in vibrant communities of faith, joyful in their service of God and neighbour.
In order to make this a living reality within the parishes and deaneries of the Archdiocese I have asked our clergy to reflect, among themselves and with you, on the present pattern of parish life and the people and resources that sustain it.
I am asking you over the coming months to notice and record where and how our diocesan priorities of evangelisation, formation, liturgy and worship and social outreach are already flourishing. I am also asking you to notice where they are not so evident and to see how parishes can work together, in one or more of these areas, to strengthen the Church’s local mission.
Over the next few months, please do what you can to respond to the invitation to reflect as priests and people together. Try to see co-responsibly what needs to change for the good of the Church’s mission within your parish or across the wider deanery. Try to ensure that young people and families are a particular area of focus for your parish’s mission.
In St John’s Gospel it isn’t only the man who had been blind from birth who has limited vision. When the Pharisees are consulted they only see a reason to disapprove and criticise Our Lord’s miracle. Because it had been a sabbath day they say: This man cannot be from God: he does not keep the sabbath. It is only the man whose sight was restored who can say of Jesus: He is a prophet.
We hear an echo of this spiritual disability in today’s reading from the First Book of Samuel. Despite their promising appearance, none of Jesse’s sons is chosen as king until David is brought in from the fields and immediately anointed by Samuel. We learn that God does not see as man sees: man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.
In order to see as the Lord sees we need the Holy Spirit to bring us together as the Body of Christ. All the baptised are called to share in the Lord’s ministry as priest, prophet and king. Priests have a sacramental share in the Priesthood of Christ and a mandate to teach, sanctify and lead his holy people in praise of God and in service of our neighbour. Our Lord invites us to use these charisms together for the building-up of his body, the Church.
As we journey through Lent and with the approach of Holy Week we are called to repentance. We aim to see ourselves as the Lord sees – not looking at appearances but at the heart. We aim to look more deeply at the life and mission of the Church so that in every place we can be more faithful to the mission entrusted to us by Our Lord. We ask the Lord to heal us, as he healed the man who had been blind from birth, so that we may see the risen Christ and come to share in his new life this Easter.
With my thanks for your faithfulness this Lent and asking the prayers of Our Lady, Mother of the Church and St Joseph, Protector of the Church.
Yours devotedly in Christ,
+ Bernard Longley
Archbishop of Birmingham
Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A (11 & 12/3/23)
One of the many revelations in St John’s Gospel is not just about Christ, but about how people respond to Him. You would have thought that the whole of Israel, God’s chosen people, would have welcomed Him with open arms, and the religious authorities, as the people closest to God, would have been the apple of His eye. But instead, it seems that everyone is put to the test. In the general population, some choose to follow Him, some with better motives than the others, and some do not. Among the religious authorities, most reject Him, whilst one or two are more secret followers; in John chapter three, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a leading Jew, comes to visit Him by night, so that no-one else will know.
So this week, Our Lord visits a Samaritan town. If Jesus has been rejected by so many Jews, what will be the response of the Samaritans? In theory, they are further away from God than the Jews are, so they should be even more difficult work. But God works through all peoples. The Samaritan woman at the well is perhaps one of the last people you might have thought who would respond. She is an outcast from the town because of her way of life – certainly the other women wouldn’t want her hanging around and associating with them, so she goes to the well when everyone else is sheltering from the sun. But it just goes to show that we can’t make assumptions about who is most open to the Lord. She, too, has a longing for God, and she’s absolutely amazed when she discovers that this man she has been speaking to is the Christ, in her very own town. God has promised all these years that He is going to bring His work of revelation and salvation to a high point with the coming of the Messiah, and here He is, in our lifetime, in our own street! No wonder she puts down her water jar and hurries back to tell to tell the whole town.
In our own time, we need the eyes of faith to see Jesus, particularly, as I mentioned last week, in the sacred Host, but also we need to be able to perceive God at work in our own lives and the world around us, and sometimes we are put to the test. In the first reading, the people begin to despair that God will take care of them. We are thirsty, and our children and our cattle, and there’s no water around. Moses, why did you bring us out here to die? And Moses himself is anxious as He prays to God: Lord, help, before they stone me! God put them to the test, and they were found wanting in trust for the Lord. But God did still come to their rescue.
Some years ago I watched the film Faith Like Potatoes. It’s based on a true story about a white man who goes to live in Africa, and who discovers faith in God. On one occasion, his crops are on fire and there’s nothing that can be done. But he trusts in God and prays, and a sudden downpour puts out the flames. But towards the very end of the film, he has trusted in God and planted potatoes. But there has been no rain, and the fields are dry and dusty. Even his minister says that he has tried to push things too far. But he and his trusty co-worker decide in faith that they are going to harvest their potatoes, despite nothing has grown. And to their amazement, they keep digging, and digging, and the field is full of potatoes.
In the second reading, St Paul speaks, not about potatoes, but God’s love for us. We can’t see God’s grace at work in us, but nonetheless, God’s grace is still there. He tells us, “it is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace”, and that, of course, includes the grace of baptism, when we received the Holy Spirit for the first time into our hearts. It’s because of that grace that we can look forward to God’s glory. Our “hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit”. Just as God came to the rescue of the Israelites, and in the film, God multiplied the potatoes, God is at work among us as well. We, too, will be put to the test. It might be that some things are only explained to us beyond the grave. But through it all, we have to trust. St Paul reassures us: “what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners” – He didn’t wait for us to change our ways first; He didn’t wait for us to become perfect first, as that requires God’s help, and for some of us, that also requires work after the grave, in purgatory. But Christ died for the whole of humanity, warts and all.
We have a choice. And what Christ offers us is truly beautiful.
Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year A (4 & 5/3/23)
Imagine what it must have been like to have spent three years with Christ as one of His disciples. You would have seen Him perform miracles right in front of your eyes. Think of being able to witness Him preaching to the crowds, and having compassion on the people. And then, at other times, He would have spoken to you all and you would have had the chance to ask Him questions yourself. Would it not have been a golden time of your life?
There would, of course, have been sorrows, too. Seeing Him rejected, ostracised, ridiculed, mocked. In some places, miracles failed to happen because the people did not believe – how they missed out because of their stubbornness of heart! And then there is the prediction that the Son of Man will be mocked and scourged and crucified. But on the third day He will rise again. We know what it’s all about, but for the disciples at the time, it was something that confused them, and they were too afraid to ask the Lord what He meant.
So before the drama of Holy Week, Christ leads Peter, James and John up a high mountain, and there in their presence, He is transfigured. What would that have looked like, to see Christ in glory? Obviously it would, even then, not be His complete glory, because we will only see that in heaven, but on Mount Tabor He was revealed in glory nonetheless.
St Peter says, “Lord … it is wonderful for us to be here”. Wouldn’t it be great to experience that ourselves? But we do have an opportunity. Jesus is here, in the church, in the tabernacle. When the host is taken and displayed in a special stand called a monstrance, during a special time called Exposition or Adoration, we too can spend time with Jesus – He is there as really and truly as He was on Mount Tabor, body, blood, soul and divinity. We just need the eyes of faith to recognise that what we are gazing on is not bread, but Jesus, in the form of bread. Appearance is one thing; reality is another. Then, gazing on Him, adoring Him, we too can hear the words of the Father: “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.” We can then spend time with Jesus both speaking to Him and listening to Him in silence. We honour Him as both Lord and as a brother (although, let me just qualify that – there might be certain ways you speak to a brother, but you wouldn’t speak that way to the Lord!).
In the first reading, God calls Abram to leave his country, his family and his father’s house and to follow where God sends him. In the same way, our encounter with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament may lead us to leave behind everything that is familiar and serve the Lord in a different way to the way we had planned.
In the second reading, St Paul invites us to bear with him “the hardships for the sake of the Good News, relying on the power of God”. Just like Peter, James and John, after our encounter with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we need to return to our daily lives. Sometimes we can think that our busy lives prevent us from spending time with the Lord in adoration. But here is a testimony from someone who has found the opposite:
“I have for many years resisted the call or invitation to be involved in Eucharistic Adoration. I didn’t see any great advantage in it and anyway I felt I was too busy. Adoration has been going on in ...[my] Parish for 10 years or more. My life was taken up with work, sporting activities, and holidays. I never had a spare moment. Suddenly I faced a crisis in my life and when all else failed I dropped into our church to ask for help. Adoration was in progress with a few people present. On the way out I was approached by this man who asked me if I would commit to an hour a week for about a month and fill in for him while he was on holidays. After some persuasion on his part I agreed. This was the best decision I ever made. It was the first time in years that I experience peace in my life and I wanted more of this. ... It has made such a difference in my life. I now go to mass regularly and have a much greater love of the mass and much more interested in it. The crisis, bit by bit disappeared. I am still very busy at various things but the hour in Adoration seems to help me to have a clearer head and do things more effectively and efficiently. I now realise after all these years that the busier you are the more you need the Lord and one of the places to find Him is in the Adoration Chapel.” (For more testimonies, see https://eucharisticadoration.ie/testimonies/ )
To wind everything up then, it would be wonderful for us to be able to be with the Lord and experience His Transfiguration. But the Lord has not left us alone. He is here in the Blessed Sacrament, and He can, even two thousand years later, truly change our lives.
Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year A (25 & 26/2/23)
It’s Lent, when one of the things we focus on is controlling our desires. Let’s have a look at this through the lenses of Adam and Eve, and Our Lord.
Firstly, Adam and Eve. Have we spotted that there isn’t just one, but two crucial trees mentioned in the first reading: “The Lord God caused to spring up from the soil every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat, with the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden.” So all the trees were enticing to look at and good to eat, but in the very middle there were two trees: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They have to make a choice. It’s the last one that they are to keep away from.
They were put to the test, and they didn’t just fall by themselves. They were deceived by the serpent, representing Satan, but they chose to listen. If only they hadn’t been so “broad-minded”! They are defeated by a tree. They lose the grace of God and their human nature is damaged, so that they find it more difficult to keep God’s commandments afterwards, and find themselves inclined towards further sin. This condition, is what we call Original Sin, and it has its consequences for all of us – it is inherited by every member of the human race.
Except for two people: Our Lady and Our Lord. Eve, a virgin, was defeated by a fallen angel and chose to disobey God and bring sin into the world. Our Lady, a virgin, was greeted by the archangel Gabriel and chose to obey God and bring redemption into the world. Adam and Eve were defeated by a tree. Christ conquered by a tree and so begins the defeat of the devil, which is a battle that is being fought out now until the end of the world, when the devil will be finally, ultimately, defeated. But it doesn’t mean he can’t win a few points along the way.
Now for the temptation of Our Lord in the wilderness. Our Lord Jesus Christ is fully God, and also fully man. In His human nature, He was free from all trace of Original Sin. The devil tries again. Our Lord fasts for forty days and nights, taken to the limit of His endurance, you could say. He is tempted to satisfy the flesh, to make a spectacular show of Himself and gain people’s admiration, and to gain power over all the world. But He refuses each and every temptation. He doesn’t give in and think, “What will happen if…” And in St Matthew’s account, the response that finishes Satan off is when Our Lord
says, “You must worship the Lord your God, and serve him alone”. He will not give him an inch, or even a millimetre. There is nothing Satan can do.
So how does he obtain our consent? Let’s go back to the first reading.
The serpent is very shrewd. He didn’t say to Eve: why don’t you take this fruit, and then you can be kicked out of the garden and have a bit more misery in your life? Instead he questioned her and explored her lack of knowledge. Yes, there’s something I can exploit. Then he tries to make himself look like the expert, and God as someone who just wants to control them and hasn’t told them the full story. They fall for it. I’m now going to come up with another situation, although quite an extreme one. Imagine someone who, maybe as a young boy or a teenager, gets lured into joining a secret gang. You mustn’t tell anybody. It’s our secret. He makes new friends, they have fun, and they seem to have similar ideals. But over time, he begins to understand that the gang is actually bigger than he thought, and there are other gangs linked to his gang. And he’s not supposed to make contact with them unless he is invited. And then, one day, he overhears something that he isn’t supposed to have heard. He realises, that this gang is plotting a bomb attack. What does he do? If he breaks the secrecy and tells the police, the other gang members might find out and give him a severe punishment, or worse. But if he tells no one, is he responsible for what is about to happen? If he’d known what the gang was all about from the start, he would never have joined. Is it too late now to leave?
We can find ourselves enticed into different things, maybe not quite so big as joining a terrorist organisation, but rather smaller things which we perhaps wouldn’t have gone for if we had known the full story, or maybe believed those who warned us against it. Prevention is better than cure. But we are where we are. The Lord has power to save. There is a famous icon of Our Lord, after His crucifixion, when He descended to the dead, lifting Adam and Eve out of the grave; the hand is missing from the arm of Eve that reached out for the forbidden fruit. Christ can save us. We are never beyond forgiveness. We all struggle to control our desires at times. This Lent, let us acknowledge our weakness before the Lord, and ask Him to strengthen us; we know that He is strong. He is the only One who can conquer the devil.
Homily for Ash Wednesday 2023
It’s Lent, it’s Lent, you must repent. Yes, it’s that time again. Time to re-examine ourselves and sincerely ask the question: what needs to change in my life? Where am I falling short, and perhaps not wanting to change? Do I really trust that God’s will is the best thing for me, or do I think that my way of thinking is better? Lent is a time to be cleansed of all self-deception, look ourselves in the mirror and ask God for help. Because we can’t do it all by ourselves.
The first reading gives us good reason to repent. Not by putting the fear of God into us, but placing us face to face with God’s love and mercy. We can have confidence that God will forgive us. He desires to do so. He yearns for us to return to Him. He wants to restore us to full friendship with Him. And our repentance at this time has a community dimension, too. This Lent, the whole Church turns to God in prayer, and we pray, both for ourselves, the Church, our country and the whole international community. Lord, have mercy on us!
Our second reading also speaks of conversion and mercy. St Paul tells us, “now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation”. It reminds me of the Divine Mercy revelations to St Faustina. Our Lord said that now is the time of mercy, but those who refuse to accept God’s mercy now will have to face God’s justice when they die. The choice is ours – and going to confession this Lent, taking just a few minutes, seems better than spending however long it might be instead in purgatory.
The Gospel: Our Lord gives us the three traditional things we do during Lent: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. I read an interesting commentary on this Gospel yesterday by the Jesuit R Gutzwiller, and he was saying that when it comes to almsgiving, God must be the motive behind all our giving help, rather than just the desire to relieve other people’s physical distress. Otherwise, there is the danger that our almsgiving becomes dependent on how we are feeling at the time: we can be moved to help today, and be closed to all desire to show mercy tomorrow. If we are governed by sentiment, we can end up helping those who make the most noise, perhaps even with a certain amount of exaggeration, whilst we neglect those who are more modest and shy about their need. Meanwhile, if God is our motive,
we shall ask Him whom we are to help and how, so that we help at the right place and at the right time, in the right way.
If we take a look at the idea of fasting, for some of us, health reasons might mean that it is inadvisable, such as if we are diabetic and need to maintain the correct sugar level throughout the day. But for those of us who could fast, we might look at the idea and think, that’s nice for those that want to, but for me, no thank you. Cafod Family Fast Day will be here soon, and sometimes it is said that you fast and put in the envelope what you have saved, and share in the suffering of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. But we might think, yes, that’s a nice idea, but I’d much rather put the same amount in the envelope and have a few nice meals as well. But fasting is not about a harsh practical way of finding money to give to charity if we don’t have any spare cash. Fasting has a spiritual dimension, just like prayer and almsgiving. When we fast, however strict or not the fast is, we share in the suffering of Christ on the Cross for the salvation of the world. Fasting is an intense prayer to God for ourselves and our fallen world, a cry for mercy to the heart of the Father. How seriously do we desire our world to change? Yes, as I said, we need to be careful with fasting if our health is more delicate, and even if it is fine, we also need to think about whatever work we might need to do. If we work in heavy industry, and we need our strength for plenty of lifting and carrying, we are actually dispensed even from fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as well as whatever voluntary fasting we might want to do during Lent. But there might be other smaller ways we might fast, such as from certain foods, TV programmes, or other things that we enjoy, and our Lenten penance can be part of that as well.
It’s Lent, it Lent, you must repent. We put our trust in God. In our desire for conversion, we must not relent.
Homily for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (18 & 19/2/23)
“[L]ove your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven … be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Once again, it’s a tough Gospel and a high standard. But in some ways, it has to be, because of the corrosive effect of hatred, on families, on society, and even on the relations between countries. We also need to think a bit about the history of the teaching on these matters.
Christ quotes for us, “You have learnt how it was said: You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy”. If we look at the Old Testament, it says that we must love our neighbour, but it doesn’t say to hate our enemy. Instead, what had happened was that the teaching had been distorted over time; what some of the rabbis taught wasn’t what God originally commanded. “Neighbour” was often used to refer just to Jews; Our Lord says that it should refer to everyone – just think of the example of the parable of the Good Samaritan; back at that time, the Jews hated Samaritans.
The world could be so much different if, over two thousand years, we had been faithful to this teaching of Christ. Instead, we have divisions in families, in society and between nations. We also find prejudice between nations due to crimes committed hundreds of years ago. Some prejudices may now be more moderated into certain jokes. The English make jokes about the Scots, the Welsh, the French and so on, and I’m sure they do the same about us as well. There are ways to let bygones be bygones, and to remember that the people who committed certain horrible acts are dead and buried, and children don’t always copy their parents.
Am I being naive? Some might say, “But they haven’t changed, Father”. That may or may not be the case. But sometimes, we have to be the ones that have to make the first, careful, tentative, steps towards peace. They may also have prejudices against us as well, and we need to dispel those. Think of the mess in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants, although it is more to do with politics rather than religion. There is still more work to be done, but ways have already been found for at least a certain amount of peace and toleration.
The point Christ makes about being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect is that we are called to be perfect in love. It’s a matter of spreading love, not hate, kindness, rather than violence, generosity, rather than stinginess, to be open to all, rather than to form closed cliques. It also, of course, links to evangelisation. As Bishop Stephen was saying last week, it can be so easy to dip our hand into the bowl of fire of evil and start throwing that around, but we need instead to dip our fingers into the water of holiness and spread that around instead. We called to bless, not curse. God the Father offers His love to all sides, and we must do the same, even if, like with God, some choose to reject it.
We can so easily overlook the importance and knock-on effect even of a smile or a kind word. Someone once said to me that he was locking up the car park and he doesn’t know what look he had on his face, but a man was walking by and said to him, “Don’t worry, mate. It probably won’t happen.”
So there are all sorts of things we can do. In big matters, it can be difficult to continue to choose to love, when to wish someone ill would be easier; but as the saying goes, we are to hate the sin but love the sinner. Even just small gestures can make a difference; out of self-defence we might want to close the door half-way, but we still leave it half-open.
The Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (11 & 12/2/2023) was given by Bishop Stephen Wright.
Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
– Racial Justice Sunday (4 & 5/2/22)
Today we celebrate Racial Justice Sunday. When I was at school, we studied figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and it seemed that, firstly, racism in the twentieth century had been worse in America than over here – we never had segregation of schools or on buses, and secondly, it seemed that things have improved here over the years as well – in the past, you might have seen an advert for a home to rent, with the comment “no blacks, dogs or Irish”; that kind of thing wouldn’t be allowed anymore. So when, during the first lockdown, protests began across America organised by Black Lives Matter, it reminded us of how much work still needs to be done across the Atlantic – we don’t have neighbourhoods here segregated into white, black and Hispanic. But then protests started here as well. For those of us who are white, for some of us at least, it was a bit of a surprise. Yes, there are still remnants of it left in corners here and there, but is it really so widespread?
Last year I saw a video produced by medical students from Keele University about this very issue. It showed how sometimes, racism exists in attitudes or ignorance, for example, a Chinese woman was told that the reason for her health problems was probably because she hadn’t cooked her rice properly – later on she discovered that she had cancer. Or sometimes it was to do with who gets selected for promotion – some relatively new people get tapped on the shoulder and are told that they ought to apply for this new job offer, whilst others are not and work in the same department in the same job for years.
The Catholic Church is called “Catholic” for two reasons. The word “Catholic” comes from two Greek words kata and holos, meaning “according to the whole”, i.e. the Catholic Church has faithfully passed on the whole of Christ’s teaching, without losing any of it along the way. But “Catholic” also refers to the fact that the Church is for everyone, no matter what your age, social background, country or race. Statistics now show that whilst the Church may be receding in Western Europe and Northern America, there is real growth taking place in Africa and Asia. Over time, successive Popes have reflected this by picking new cardinals from Africa and Asia, rather than Italy or other parts of Europe. And so, missionary endeavour also changes too – apparently an African priest once said to his parish in this country: you brought the faith to us, and now we bring the faith to you.
In the Gospel today, we are called to be salt and light to the world, and we want to avoid our salt becoming tasteless, or even nauseating, and our light being put out by a tub of secularism. But how do we spread the Gospel? Firstly, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Many different people means many different styles. Your style might be different to mine; some people need one approach, others need another. Vatican II was at times quite blunt about the need, though, to evangelise. One such quote goes as follows: “a member who does not work at the growth of the body to the extent of his possibilities must be considered useless both to the Church and to himself” (Apostolicam Actuositatem 2) … “Laymen have countless opportunities for exercising the apostolate of evangelization and sanctification. The very witness of a Christian life, and good works done in a supernatural spirit, are effective in drawing men to the faith and to God” (ibid., no. 6).
In the first reading, we also saw some of the good works that can lead others to the Lord: “Share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor, clothe the man you see to be naked and turn not from your own kin”. But then in the second reading we are reminded that we rely on the power of God, rather than clever reasoning. At times, of course, things do need to be explained, and some things can be complicated and/or difficult. But ultimately, we need the grace of God. If God inspires us to do the planting, we also need to ask God to do the watering. This is where prayer becomes so important, and Eucharistic adoration can form such a powerful part of that – but more about that another time.
Today, we reflect on the fact that we are all important to God, no matter what our age, race or background – and we commit ourselves to evangelise, each in our own way and our own style.
Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (28 & 29/1/23)
It is now almost a year since the war started in Ukraine, and like any war, the hardship it has caused could probably be called a nightmare. How will it end, and what will be the final results? This we do not know. And we also need to remember other places of conflict or difficulty in the world, such as Afghanistan, and also Nigeria, where Christians are facing numerous acts of terrorism by Boko Haram.
The first reading today was given at a time when the people had been reduced to nothing by the Assyrian conquest. They too, longed for a time of peace, when normality would be restored. So the Lord, through the prophet Zephaniah, gave them a message of hope. A humble and lowly people will in future “be able to rest with no one to disturb them”. But peace won’t just come magically by itself. Each individual is asked to repent and turn to God: “Seek the Lord, all you, the humble of the earth who obey his commands. Seek integrity, seek humility…” That is how they will reach a reward after all that has happened and have a peaceful life.
The psalm gives words of hope, not just for the people of the time it was written, but for all of us today, whether we are living in a literal war zone, or maybe in some of the smaller war zones at home, family, or work: “It is the Lord who keeps faith for ever” – Our God is a faithful God and we can trust Him to help us through.
So often with wars, people think it is just the big and important people that make the decisions, and we are powerless. But it requires our prayers – we need to storm heaven, and then things will begin to change at the top. St Paul says in the second reading that “those whom the world think common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything”. Whilst the world might laud politicians who managed to broker peace deals, in God’s eyes the real heroes and heroines of the situation are the old lady who prayed her Rosary, or the young man who offered up penance and fasting – without them, it wouldn’t have been possible. We also need to think of the consecration of the world, with special mention of Ukraine and Russia, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, that took place in March last year. When Pope St John Paul II did something similar in 1984, communism fell, beginning in Poland, five years later. Prayer does work, and if we follow the way given us by heaven, a little bit of heaven can be restored on earth.
In the Gospel Our Lord says to us, “Happy are the peacemakers”, but the road to peace isn’t always plain sailing, and it’s not always so easy and clear-cut either. It might involve getting into quite a bit of conflict with people at times as well, if we are resolute in being faithful to the Lord. “Happy are those who are persecuted in the cause of right … Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
We commend ourselves and our troubled world to the Lord, and we renew our commitment to work and pray for peace, for God’s will to be done. It’s not easy, but it is worth it.