Fr Michael's Homilies 

Homily for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Day of Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Harvest (23 & 24/9/23)

This Sunday we celebrate a Day of Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Harvest, or in simpler terms, Harvest Sunday. When I was a child we used to celebrate harvest at school and used to have to bring in some food of some sort or another, so I can remember one year bringing in a shopping bag full of pears, grown and picked from our garden. The items we brought in would then be given to people in the community – I can remember vaguely being accompanied to go to an older lady a short walk away from our house to drop off a few items.

When we buy all our food from a shop, and have the money easily at hand, it’s not very difficult for us to forget the effort that has been made to produce some of these delicacies, especially if they were grown in far-flung countries where more of the work is done by hand. At the moment we still face ongoing strikes in this country by the railway workers, doctors and so on, but in other parts of the world, people work for a pittance and don’t have the opportunity to question or do anything about the wage they are paid. Some countries grow cash crops, such as sugar, which they can then sell to rich nations to make money and pay off their debts, but their inhabitants rarely get to buy these items. I remember reading some years ago that on some cocoa plantations, the workers are forbidden from tasting the crops, and don’t even know what they taste like – they just know that if they do, they will get a beating. Discipline is one thing – but conditions verging on slave labour is another.

In the Gospel, the owner of the vineyard was grumbled at for being generous in the payment to some of his workers. Today, thankfully, there are various initiatives to try and improve the wages and conditions of workers, including Fairtrade, where they will deliberately pay above both the normal market rate and the price necessary for them to grow the food sustainably; the extra profit can then go both into higher wages and also community and business projects. The Fairtrade agreement also means a ban on discrimination, child labour and forced labour, and decent working conditions. We have to ask ourselves: would we accept some of the conditions they have to put up with in certain parts of the world? If not, then should why should we profit in our shopping choices by buying goods that are the produce of exploitation? Would it not make more sense to deliberately choose, where possible, items that we know do meet certain standards?

If we are looking to support others in this way, we can also, though, support local business and industry as well. If something has been grown in this country, then you can expect that people are at least paid the minimum wage, so technically it is also fairly traded as well. We just need to watch out for certain products where they try to mislead us, such as putting on the Union Jack, but if you read the small print it says “packed in Britain” – no mention of where the product was originally grown.

In the second reading, St Paul speaks about glorifying God, both in his life and in his death, and invites us also to avoid anything in our everyday lives that would be unworthy of the Gospel of Christ. Being a bit more technical now, there is a difference morally between performing an evil act ourselves, and benefiting from someone else’s evil action, and the more of a distance there is between us and the action, the less guilty we are, in a sense. So if you were keeping slave labour on your farm, then that would be one thing, but if you are buying something from a supermarket and perhaps aren’t aware of the conditions the workers face, then the responsibility is lessened. It may be that you should have made yourself aware; it could be that you didn’t realise how bad things were with that particular item that you bought. But even so, choosing to act for other people’s good should mean we think about more than just saving a few pounds here and there. Once again, that’s easier to say if you have a well-paid job; if you are struggling on benefits then you might not have the choice but to always buy the cheapest things you can find. So there are many different things to throw into the moral equation.

Today we thank God for the harvest, for the abundant supply of food that we have all year round. But we also realise that the food didn’t grow and harvest itself; we need to think carefully sometimes about the choices we make.

Homily for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Evangelii Gaudium Sunday (16 & 17/9/23)

Pope Francis has declared 2025 to be a Jubilee Year, with the title “Pilgrims of Hope” – more to follow on that later on. In preparation for it, he has designated 2024 as the Year of Prayer, with a particular focus on the Our Father. In order to prepare for this, in our diocese, the Office for Mission wants us to begin reflecting on our life of prayer: what we pray, how we pray and why we pray. This is to encourage us to deepen our own prayer life and love of God, and to help others do the same.

So moving along in this vein, today’s Gospel and first reading speak about the importance of forgiveness.

You can imagine Peter perhaps being a bit annoyed with his brother, Andrew, and also maybe thinking he was being a bit generous by offering to forgive his brother seven times. But he wasn’t. “Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times”, in other words, always forgive. Don’t keep a record and set a limit. We have been forgiven so much. How can we not then also forgive others?

As part of my preparation to become a priest I went on retreat at various times during my priestly training, and one of the big points is when you get to be ordained a deacon, a year before being ordained a priest. I went on retreat to Mount St Bernard’s Abbey in Coalville, Leicestershire. One of the things we were recommended to do, was not just to go to confession and confess everything since our last confession, but also to have a good think (and make a few notes) and do what is sometimes called a general confession: in other words, we would confess everything we could remember right from our earliest days. So I spoke to one of the priest-monks and asked him to hear my confession, warning him that it would take a bit longer than usual and what I was doing. The monk I chose I also thought looked a bit like Padre Pio, so that is the closest I have managed to get to going to confession to the famous friar of San Giovanni Rotondo.

And yes, it does make you realise how much you have been forgiven, and how glad you are to have put certain stupid, foolish and embarrassing things behind you.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, it talks about the High Priest of the Jewish religion being chosen from among ordinary men, and, I quote, “so he can sympathise with those who are ignorant or uncertain because he too lives in the limitations of weakness. That is why he has to make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people” (Hebrews 5:2-3). So, in other words, the High Priest of the Jewish

religion was himself a man who had human weaknesses, and that enabled him to understand others who struggled. In the same way today, priests who hear confessions are themselves people who need the sacrament. St John Paul II said that priests should go regularly to confession so that they never forget what it is like to be on the other side off the grille, so to speak. (That’s “grille” as in the metal lattice of the confessional, not the grill you use for cooking your bacon.)

For those of you who are not priests, i.e. everyone else here in the church, a similar principle applies: as well as forgiving others, it is also good to ask for forgiveness. One interesting thing I read recently was from a marriage preparation course. It said that, in a marriage, just saying sorry is the easier option, because, in a sense, you stay in control. If, on the other hand, you ask your spouse for forgiveness, that makes you more vulnerable, because the other person in theory could say no. But it encouraged each person to ask for forgiveness, rather than just saying sorry. I suppose it also makes you more humble with each other. As we realise more and more that we all make mistakes, then who am I to say I can’t understand what you have done, or at the very least, who am I to refuse to forgive? I might need forgiveness for a different matter later on this week.

Forgiveness is so important to any marriage, but it’s also important in any part of society. It’s important when you are growing up as children. It’s also important when you have reached, so you think, the very top of the age pyramid and feel in danger of falling off.

So, briefly, how does all of this link into prayer? Easy: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. It means we are asking God to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others, so if we don’t forgive others, we are asking God not to forgive us. If we only forgive others a little bit, we are asking God to restrict His forgiveness as well. It’s that simple. Or as the first reading put it today: “Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven”. If you want more motivation, read the whole reading again.

If I’ve made you switch off whilst I’ve been talking, then at least remember this: asking for forgiveness stops us getting too big-headed, and giving forgiveness brings healing. And it’s also fundamental to who we are as Christians. God has forgiven us so much over the years. We can only do the same to others.

Homily for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – Education Sunday (9 & 10/9/23)

Some years ago, the French decided to dramatise the Don Camillo books. Don Camillo is a Catholic priest living in an Italian village, and the books and films are about his rivalry with the Communist mayor, Peppone. Being an old-fashioned village, the two of them have known each other for years, and there is something of a complicated love-hate relationship between them. In one of the scenes, Peppone’s family arrives at church in order to baptise his youngest son. Don Camillo asks Pepppone’s wife the baby’s name. “Lenin Liberio Antonio”, she says. So he refuses to baptise the child. They leave, and a bit later, Peppone arrives on his own to sort things out. They head to a separate room and have a fight. Don Camillo wins, but agrees to baptise the child. When it comes to pouring the water, he asks the name of the child. Peppone responds: “Liberio Antonio Camillo” (note the name of Lenin has been dropped). Don Camillo says: “Camillo? … Then you can add Lenin. Camillo will cancel out Lenin!” And the baby is baptised.

When Our Lord said: “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone”, He wasn’t referring to fisticuffs. But what He was doing was giving us a process for trying to reconcile with each other, and with the Church, and to avoid people going their separate ways. It’s an approach you can use in families, it works in the workplace, in schools, and in many other places too. It also applies in government, in that the principle is that you begin with things on the most local level first, before you go up the higher levels of government.

So, first he says that the two brothers should discuss things among themselves. If that doesn’t work, then bring along one or two others. If that doesn’t work, then it says in our translation to “report it to the community”. In the original Greek, the word used is “ecclesia”, from which we get words like “ecclesiastical” – so, depending on the situation, this can mean referring it to the Church, or in other matters it might mean taking it to management in a business, or even the courts. Then the slightly mysterious part: “and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector”. This means that, if you have gone through all these stages (and obviously it has to have been a serious matter), then he becomes an outsider, a pagan or a tax collector. In the Church situation, for very serious matters, this could mean the penalty of excommunication (which does still exist).

It might sound like a bit of a surprise that excommunication does still exist in the Church, but it does, and the point of it is not to banish someone forever, but rather to act as a way of highlighting just how serious something is, and there is always the way of being re-admitted to full communion with the Catholic Church: for all forms of excommunication, to get it lifted, you obviously have to be sorry and want to put things right, and then you go to confession, obviously explaining what has happened, and then you receive absolution.

Moving on: in the next paragraph, Our Lord says: “whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven”. These same words were said to Simon when Jesus declared him to be Peter, the first pope. It was a way of saying that Peter was invested with divine authority. This time, Jesus is speaking more generally to His followers, the future Church. But within the Church, the People of God, there are the important principles of inclusion and salvation – doing all we can to reconcile others and bring them to the Lord.

So the final paragraph talks about prayer in common: “where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them”. Prayer on your own is not the same as prayer together, and individual prayer on a Sunday is certainly not the same or just as good as gathering to celebrate the Mass. We know it anyway, but it’s also worth underlining the point that the Mass isn’t just a prayer service a few clergy in Rome put together one evening; the Mass was given to us by the Lord Himself, although it has, of course, developed over the years. But essentially, the Mass involves Christ praying to the Father in the Holy Spirit. We take part in Christ’s priestly prayer, and everyone belongs as part of that. In fact the Mass itself is about reconciliation, because in the Mass the sacrifice of the Cross is made present – that reconciling grace from two thousand years ago is brought into the present and applied to ourselves and our world.

If you haven’t seen the Don Camillo films, I recommend them, and in a sense, they show a slightly flawed way of trying to keep a village close to Christ, because the communism of communists is only surface deep – underneath many of them are still Catholic. And whilst the Church may at times surprise us with the existence of excommunication for the most severe offences, she is also a mother, desiring to reconcile all people to herself and to Christ.

Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (2 & 3/9/23)

Back in 1971, Fr James Curtin became famous in the Walsall area. Not just because he won over £100,000 on the football pools, but also because he gave most of the money away.

His parish at the time was St Thomas of Canterbury, Walsall, the very place where I was ordained. Some years ago, if you went into the primary school, they still had the newspaper articles on one of the walls, reporting on his big win. On one photo, there he is, sat at the table, with a long line of champagne bottles. But what did he do with all the money? Firstly, he was a wise parish priest, so he said to the press that he wasn’t going to respond to begging letters. He said he knew who the people in need were in the parish. Secondly, he used the money near and far: he had a bit of parish celebration, paid off the parish debt, bought an organ for the church, he paid for a football field for people back in Ireland and all he spent on himself was just enough to buy a new Mini. After that, he gave the rest of the money to the Ibrox Disaster Fund, as he said that it was in part due to that football match that he won the pools. Someone commented: “Any fool can win the pools, but it takes a big man to give it all away”. But perhaps the words of the Lord were also in Fr Curtin’s mind: “What, then, will a man gain if he wins the whole world and ruins his life?”

We can so easily get sucked into the ideas of the world, and the thought that money can win happiness. Obviously we need money in order to pay the bills, but too much of it, or even longing for money and loving money can ruin many a person. Perhaps it sounds a little harsh: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” What does it mean to renounce yourself? We can find, can’t we, that we like to have things our own way, whether in small things, or big things. The fight over the remote control. Which toothpaste we buy. What time we get up and go to bed. And then there are the bigger matters in life: our job, our career, where we live, who we meet up with and so on. And sometimes, our plans for our life clash with what God has planned for us.

Take the first reading, for example. The prophet Jeremiah uses an interesting word for his love for God: he says that he was “seduced” by God, and that he allowed himself to be seduced. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “seduce” as: “attract (someone) to a belief or into a course of action that is inadvisable or foolhardy”. Indeed, Jeremiah complained that everyone was making fun of him because of his work of prophesying ruin for those who did not repent and turn back to God. Maybe it wasn’t what he would have chosen for himself in life; but God had other plans.

In the second reading, St Paul firstly tells the Christians in Rome to “Think of God’s mercy”. There’s a link here with repentance and conversion. Our Lord says to Simon the Pharisee in St Luke’s Gospel that it is the one who is forgiven little who shows little love, contrasting Simon with the woman who was a sinner, who poured tears on his feet and wiped them with her hair in thanksgiving for being forgiven. So, St Paul continues to say to worship God, “in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God”. In other words, to offer our whole lives to Him, and not to be distracted by this passing world, with its indifference and even hostility to God and the ways of God. Why are you so religious? Why are you going to church again? What’s the point in praying? Etc. etc. Instead, he says to “let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind”, in other words, to let Christ transform you, and to be open to ongoing conversion. He continues, “This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.” That is how we discover our vocation, giving our whole selves over to God, and to be open to whatever changes He wants us to make, no matter how radical or far they may be from what we had planned.

In my own life, I can say that I like my sleep. I don’t like going to bed late. I don’t like having to change my plans. So being sent to Hanley and having to look after the hospital has meant, numerous times, I have had to stay up late to get everything done, or gone to bed late because of a hospital call. Sometimes I have had a call in the middle of the night, and then, even when I could have had a lie-in, the phone has gone in the morning as well. And when I needed some time to get various things done in the parish, the pager has gone off and those plans have to be shelved. It has disrupted a marriage preparations session, funeral visits and also meant that meals have gone cold. But to console a grieving family, to give someone the Last Rites, to baptise a struggling baby on the maternity unit – these are amazing things to do, bringing God’s forgiveness and salvation, and that is much more important. It has made me less selfish as an individual, help put my priorities in order and get things in proper perspective. I’ve also had the compensation of a wonderful church building and some wonderful people in this parish. I’ve appreciated people’s good humour, their faith, and at times their bluntness. In my third parish, someone once said to me: when you preach, you can be a bit blunt. But then she quickly added: but sometimes, we need that. And sometimes I need people’s blunt honesty too.

When we choose to follow God, we don’t know where things will lead, what crosses we will have to bear, what suffering we might need to undergo, and even the sense of humour we might need to cope with it. But we do know that God will help us through, that He will bless us in this life and in the next, and that His plan is better than anything we could have planned for ourselves.

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (19 & 20/8/23)

Change and transition are not always easy. It’s just over a month now before I go to my new parish – you have to get used to two new priests, and I have to get used to new parishioners, a new house and living in a new area. There are challenges, and also opportunities.

The readings today reminds us of a much bigger change the Church faced in the first century. To begin with, Christ was just preaching to those of His own religion – the Jews. He also went a bit further afield, and spoke to the Samaritans. Today, He encounters someone who is a pagan – the Samaritans had split from the Jews some years ago, but at least there were some similarities, whilst the pagans had a completely different religious outlook. They also had different morals as well. It has been said, for example, that with Roman marriage, whilst the wife was supposed to remain faithful, that was not expected of the husband. For the Romans to become Roman Catholics, things had to change. So you can imagine how the first Christians, who had grown up in the Jewish faith, might have viewed pagans with a certain amount of suspicion. There’s a bit of a giveaway phrase in The Acts of the Apostles about this too. After Peter has described to the apostles and brothers in Judaea how the Holy Spirit descended on the pagans, they replied, “God … can evidently grant even the pagans the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).

During the time of Our Lord, there were various pagans who showed Him their great faith – today we see the example of the Canaanite woman, but there is, in a sense, one who is even more famous, immortalised in every celebration of Mass. There was a centurion who had a servant who was paralysed and in great pain. Jesus offered to come and heal him, but the centurion, who had great faith in Christ, refused. Instead he said: “Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be healed” (Matthew 8:8). And the rest is history. Christ healed the servant from a distance, and now, at every celebration of Mass, we say words to the Lord similar to the centurion: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”. One man, with words said two thousand years ago, that still influence us today. We recognise our unworthiness to receive Holy Communion, but provided we share the faith of the Church, and live as He commanded, He invites us to receive Him.

So, yes, spreading the Gospel in the pagan world meant that things had to be done a bit differently. When you are preaching to the people of Israel, you can assume that they already know certain things: they are familiar with the Scriptures (remember the New Testament hadn’t been written by this point), they knew the Ten Commandments, and that there is only one God, not many pagan deities, they know you can’t mix and match your religion, and so on and so forth, but the pagans didn’t know these things and needed them explaining to them. It’s why, at one point, St Paul had to say to them, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. … Do we ant to make the Lord angry; are we stronger than he is?” (1 Cor 10:21a. 22). Then we also wonder how they explained to them that the priesthood was for men only, when in the pagan world, it wasn’t. The Jews accepted a male-only priesthood, but for the pagans, it would have stood out as something unusual, especially if you were a priestess of one of the pagan gods. So there were challenges. In that way, our time is no different from theirs.

Change is not easy, and it requires adjustment, but the Gospel message remains the same. Priests in parishes may change, but it is the same Christ that we all worship. Let us turn to Christ in this time of transition, knowing that He will guide us through.

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

(12 & 13/8/23)

Today’s first reading is the middle section of a real drama in 1 Kings. There is King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, and Queen Jezebel has influenced the King to move away from the Lord towards paganism. Most of the prophets of the Lord have been done away with, with Elijah being the only prophet left, whilst there are four hundred prophets of Baal wondering around the country.

So under the inspiration of the Lord, Elijah calls everyone to Mount Carmel, including the four hundred prophets of Baal. Elijah says to the people: look, stop going from one religion to the other. If the Lord is God, then worship Him; it it’s Baal, then worship him instead. So a great test is set up: two altars are to be assembled, with wood and an offering on them, but no-one is to set fire to the wood. Instead, Elijah will call on the Lord, and the other prophets will call on Baal, and the one who answers with fire is God.

So the prophets of Baal begin with their calling and their chanting, and Elijah mocks them. He is a god; perhaps he is asleep, or has gone on a walk somewhere. They spend ages and nothing happens. Then Elijah calls the people to him and the second altar is built, but he asks them to pour water over the wood and the offering. And then to pour water on it a second time, and a third time. Anyone who knows a bit about lighting fires can tell you that, if you want the wood to burn, it needs to be dry. Anyway, Elijah calls upon God, saying, “Answer me, Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, Lord, are God and are winning back their hearts”. And the Lord answers with fire, which burns the wood, the offering, and dries up all the water. And the people fall on their faces, saying, “The Lord is God, the Lord is God”. And Elijah responds: “Seize the prophets of Baal: do not let one of them escape”. And in one of those scenes typical of the Old Testament, they are all put to death.

Queen Jezebel is not pleased. She sends a message to Elijah, saying, in effect, that you have killed the four hundred prophets of Baal, but there is only one of you, and within twenty-four hours, I will make sure you are dead as well. So Elijah flees for his life, and that’s how he gets to the mountain in today’s first reading, where God manifests Himself. So there are highs and lows in the life of Elijah: firstly the “high” of God responding in fire, and the people returning back to the Lord, and now the “low” of the Queen wanting to kill him – and what will happen after that? Where is hope? So God manifests Himself and puts forward a plan: Elijah is to anoint a new king of Israel, as the current one in unfaithful; he is to anoint a new king of Aram, and Elisha as prophet to succeed him. There is hope for the future.

The Gospel reflects highs and lows also. Just before today’s Gospel passage, was the feeding of the five thousand. At that time of wondering how all these people will be fed, Christ feeds them with just five loaves and two fish. Now there is the walking on the lake. Peter trusts, but then “felt the force of the wind” and began to sink. How much do we trust in God?

Elijah saw the fire descend, but felt the force of Queen Jezebel’s wrath. Peter saw the feeding of the five thousand, but felt the force of the wind.

Do we trust in God when we are put to the test?

Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration (5 & 6/8/23)

Imagine what it must have been like to have been on Mount Tabor, and to have witnessed the Transfiguration. You think you know Jesus, but now He reveals something of Himself that completely blows your mind. It’s as if, for a brief moment, the veil is lifted, just a small amount, and the glory of God blasts through. It’s a bit like in the hymn Crown Him with Many Crowns, which has the lines:

“no angel in the sky

can fully bear that sight,

but downward bends each burning eye

at mysteries too bright”.

And then, there is the manifestation of the Father as well: “a bright cloud covered them with shadow”. There’s a bit of an apparent paradox here: the cloud is bright, yet it covers them, not with light, but with shadow. It reminds us of the mystery of God. By mystery, I mean that there are things that are so beyond us, we cannot fully understand them – they are beyond the ability of the most clever minds on earth. It reminds us of the need of humility before God – we can contrast that with those who think they can teach God a few lessons on how things should be done. It also brings to our attention that God doesn’t always do things the way we expect, either. Think of Naaman the Syrian. He was a great military leader, and maybe that had led him to develop something of superiority complex. But he is humiliated by having caught leprosy. He goes to Elisha the prophet, looking for a cure, and when he is told to bathe in the Jordan seven times, his reaction is to want to go off in a huff. His expectation was that Elisha would have waved his hand over the leprosy and cured him, then and there. Why should he have to go and bathe in the Jordan? Surely that river is no better than any of the other rivers back home? But he is advised by one of his fellow countrymen to just do as he has been told. He does so, and is healed. It is not for us to dictate how God works. God does things as He thinks best, and doesn’t come to us, asking us for advice.

So it’s why, elsewhere in the Gospel, Our Lord says, “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do.” (Matthew 11:25-26) Truly, we are beggars before God. Anything good that we do is God’s gift to us, not our own doing or property, and the greater we are, the more humble we need to be before almighty God.

I was reading on Wednesday about the Hapsburg family. They were one of the principal sovereign dynasties of Europe from the 13th to the 20th centuries, i.e. they were a family of kings and queens who ruled in Europe, including the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even though they are no longer a family of monarchs or emperors, they still retain an interesting funeral ritual.

The moral remains are brought into the Neuer Markt Square near the Habsburg Palace in Vienna, pausing in front of the Kapuzinergruft which is the entrance of the Capuchin crypt (the Capuchins are a Franciscan religious order; Padre Pio was a Capuchin).

The Master of Ceremonies knocks on the door three times. A Capuchin friar calls from within: “Who desires entry?”

The Master of Ceremonies then recites the deceased’s many titles and honours, and the friar responds: “We do not know him”. Then the Master of Ceremonies knocks three times again, and when he is asked again, “Who desires entry?”, he recalls all the deceased’s good works and achievements. Again, the friar responds: “We do not know him”.

Finally, the Master of Ceremonies knocks three times again, and when the friar asks the same question again, he says: “A sinful and mortal man”. At this point, the friar finally responds: “Then let him come in”, and the crypt’s door slowly opens.

It’s a bit like the entry of a soul to heaven. We do not earn our way into heaven, and our worldly status makes no difference. Are we humble? Do we depend on God? If we think we can achieve everything by ourselves, we will fall flat on our face. Similarly with the Transfiguration and so many other of the things of God: we stand on holy ground, and whilst Christ also calls us friends, we have to be careful not to become over-familiar and forget Who it is we are speaking to.

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

(29 & 30/7/23)

I mentioned last week that Our Lord was a master when it came to His parables, the way He engaged the people around them, and taught them profound truths in such a simple manner. I don’t claim to be anything like that, but here are a few reflections on what we have heard today from the Scriptures.

The man who bought the treasure hidden in the field: we had, some years ago, the discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard. These things happen from time to time, and more recently a whole series of ancient coins were discovered, although I forget the exact details. When we had work done on the church some years ago and the architect drafted up all the working regulations etc., it had the perhaps slightly curious addition that any treasure discovered on site was not to be pocketed and taken away. In case you are wondering how we managed to pay off the parish debt, that’s not it. The only old coins I have found are a few old pennies, ha’pennies and farthings in the presbytery cellar. But going back to the parable, assuming it was a real situation, people might have asked: why is he buying that wasteland where practically nothing will grow? People might ask something similar of us about our faith: why do we forfeit an hour on a Saturday or a Sunday to go to church? But we are the ones who have found the treasure buried at the heart of the Mass.

The merchant looking for fine pearls: on the M6 as you head north, at some point between junctions 11 and 15, there is an advert to buy silver and gold. Some people like to invest, but there’s always the chance of losing money as well as gaining. Some think that gold is more secure than keeping the cash in the bank. But both options have the chance of being cheated or being stolen from. If people like to collect gold and silver coins, and every so often take them out of storage and admire them, what about us? Our true treasure is the Blessed Sacrament, kept in the tabernacle, and the Blessed Sacrament is not an object, but Jesus Christ Himself. He is the One that we give ultimate adoration and honour to, and His rewards last long past the grave.

The third parable about the dragnet, bringing in a haul of all kinds: the Church is like that too - all sorts of people join the Catholic Church for all sorts of reasons, some better, some not so ideal. Trying to think of a modern equivalent of the parable, I came up with oven chips. Sometimes you put them on the tray, and before you put them in the oven you have to exercise a certain amount of quality control. Maybe it depends where you get them from and what time of year it is and the quality of the potatoes they have used. Sometimes you might need to throw away any that are green or break off some of the bad bits. Then the good ones go in the oven. So we could say the Church is like a tray of oven chips. Some, at the end of their lives, get sent to hell. That is like the green chips or the bad bits. Then the rest go into the oven. That is like purgatory. Certainly, in days gone by, purgatory was spoken of as being a place of flames – not of punishment, like hell, but of flames of the Holy Spirit, burning away the remains of sin in people’s souls and filling them with greater love of God, as lukewarmness is also a fault and a sin. Then, the chips are taken out of the oven, and that is heaven – at least for the one who eats them.

Then the last comment, about the scribe who becomes a disciple of the kingdom of heaven. Converts enrich the Church, bringing new ideas and insights. For those of us who have always been Catholics, we can almost forget the difference our faith makes to our lives. It can be so useful when converts speak of the difference being a Catholic has made to them – in a previous parish, someone told me how, now they have all become practising Catholics, they enjoy proper Sunday rest, and it has made such a difference to family life. We can so easily forget about these things and just assume everyone has the same enjoyments as we do.

That then leads us to the first reading and King Solomon. He asks God for the gift, not of riches, or power, or the death of his enemies, but for wisdom. We know, of course, that later on, Solomon has multiple wives, and they lead him to dabble with paganism, and then things go wrong. We need to make sure we are vigilant with our faith and persevere.

No matter what we go through in life, God can take situations that are not ideal, or sometimes even far from ideal, and achieve something good from them. As the second reading says, “We know that by turning everything to their good God co-operates with all those who love him”. No matter what the imperfections of our lives, our families, our work situation or our neighbourhood, God can achieve something good through them. There are always reasons to hope, and we don’t always notice the good that is being achieved.

So on that note, we can say that the Scriptures truly are a store-house of wisdom. But we have to be careful of the lesson of Solomon. Wisdom alone is not enough – we need to be vigilant and to persevere.

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (22 & 23/7/23)

The parable of the wheat and darnel: Our Lord was a real master when it came to telling parables, using the world around Him as a visual aid. You can imagine Him there, in front of a field, with the people all gathered around Him. Rather than speaking in lofty theological words, He brings it right down to their level, speaking to a farming community about the things they know well. The kingdom of God on this earth won’t be a field of pure wheat; like the field behind Me, there will be weeds as well. If you were new to farming, you might want to tidy it up, and go and pull up all the weeds. But you all know, as experienced farmers, that if you do that it will ruin all the wheat as well, trampling about and pulling up half the wheat at the same time. Best to leave it till harvest-time, and then put the wheat in the barn, whilst burning the weeds on the fire. And that’s how God’s judgement works as well.

But there is always the temptation to try to be a Church of the pure, by which I mean to get rid of those who in some way fall short, or are in some way suspected of not being “true” Catholics.

The film Karol: The Man who became Pope highlights how, in Communist Poland, Government spies were everywhere, even amongst supposedly faithful Catholics. During the course of the film we come across a character who is secretly working for the communists, spying on the future pope, Fr Wojtyła, recording what he says to people in the confessional, attending the lectures he gives on philosophy as a university lecturer, and he gets to see the results of some of his own actions. At one point in the film, there has been a protest against the government, which involves some of his fellow university students. When the news is relayed to Fr Wojtyła that government troops have responded, the spy, Adam, is able to see the results of the information he passed onto the communists about the planned protest, with people being injured and also even killed. Some of the students want to get some guns and take further action against the government, but the future pope instead convinces them to take the path of forgiveness and not to respond to provocation. Evil will devour itself, he says, but if love does not win out, it will come back under a different name. They will not be afraid of your guns. But they will be afraid of your words.

Throughout the course of the film the spy sees how Fr, and later Bishop, Wojtyła traces a course in life so different to that of the communists, of life of love and respect for others, rather than one of force and the use of guns. Things come to a head when Adam decides to confess to him all the spying he has done. Adam says, how can you speak about love for such despicable human beings, because that is how he sees himself and the communists. Bishop Wojtyła tells him that he is not despicable. He forgives him, and says that today is a great day. Adam then goes on to work against his former masters, eventually being sent to a punishment camp where he meets his former mastermind.

So, darnel can become wheat. There is wisdom in holding back judgement and condemnation. Or as today’s first reading, from the Book of Wisdom put it, “you have taught a lesson to your people how the virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow men”.

The story of communism in Eastern Europe shows that God can win through, and people can change. People are not despicable. And even God’s enemies can become His most devoted followers.

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (15 & 16/7/23)

 Around twenty to thirty years ago, the BBC conducted a special episode one of their programmes – I think it might have been Tomorrow’s World, but I could be wrong. After watching an interview, people had to phone in and vote whether they thought the person was likely to get the job. After the phone lines were closed, they then revealed that they had conducted an experiment. They had divided the country into two regions, with slightly different versions of the interview. In the one version, the interviewee finished with a positive comment, and in the second, he finished with a negative one. The results showed that finishing on a positive note made people think the interviewee had done a better job. 

So, what about today’s parable? We have to remember that the ministry of Our Lord wasn’t a total success story. At one level, getting crucified wasn’t exactly a show of positive feedback from the audience. Imagine a parish where they are just getting set up, the parish church has been finally built, and then, the one Sunday, the parishioners hustle the Parish Priest out of the church, and someone gets out a gun and shoots him. It wouldn’t exactly be a very good start. So, with Our Lord, there were those who walked away. Those who weren’t interested: “let me go and bury my father first” – you can imagine the person that thought this one up must have thought it was an ideal excuse. But Our Lord saw through it and said: “Leave the dead to bury their dead; your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God” (see Luke 9:59-60). Then there would have been those who came to Him only for what they could get. Some were healed, but then went away and forgot about all the rest He had said. In John chapter six, Our Lord says to the crowds: 

“I tell you most solemnly, you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat. Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:26-27) 

As we know, of course, when Jesus then explains to them about the Eucharist and His Real Present, the crowds walk away, saying: “This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?” (John 6:60).

So now to the parable of the sower. We encounter all that is going wrong: people are not interested; they are like the seed sown on the path, allowing the devil to come along and take that seed away. We have those who start off well: they welcome the word with joy, but they have no root; their faith is only shallow and superficial, and when persecution comes, they fall away. They are like the ones to whom Jesus said: ‘Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord” and not do what I say?’ (Luke 7:46). Then there are those who receive the word, but the troubles of this life and the lure of riches choke the word, and so it produces nothing. You could say there is nothing new under the sun. And then, the positive note: the one who received the seed in rich soil, and who yields a harvest of a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty. Despite all the failure, despite those who looked so promising to start with, there will still be the good results. All is not lost. As it said in the first reading: “the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.” We are people of hope. Pope Francis has said:

“Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs, or anything else – God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.” 

Next then, briefly, the deanery visitation. What will the results be? What will stay the same, and what will change? What will be the bad news, and what will be the good news? What will potentially demoralise? What will uplift us? What are the ways forward? Our deanery too is like the parable of the sower, and by that I mean not just the practising Catholics, but the entire population in this area. There are various examples of real goodness in our deanery, where the kingdom of God is at work, where the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is taking place. And for that we have to be thankful.

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (8 & 9/7/23)

One or two years ago, I was preparing children for their First Holy Communion, and in one of the sessions I asked them what happens in the Disney film Pinocchio. To my surprise, no-one had seen it. So, if you haven’t seen it yourself, you can probably get the DVD for a few pounds on the internet, or maybe find a second-hand copy in a shop somewhere. 

The story begins with a man called Geppetto, who makes his living making various items out of wood, including cuckoo clocks and other wooden mechanical items. He makes a marionette, a wooden puppet of a boy, and after praying one night, the fairy godmother brings the puppet to life. His name is Pinocchio. The fairy godmother also gives a cricket called Jiminy the job of being Pinocchio’s conscience, to help him tell between right and wrong. If Pinocchio is good and can prove himself, then he will be able to become a real boy. But the film shows how he struggles with that and gets led astray.

At one point in the film, Pinocchio, who should have gone to school, and has already been rescued from one scrape, goes to a place called Pleasure Island. It’s where all the naughty boys go, and they can do whatever they please. They can smoke, drink, vandalise, play pool, whatever they like. So after a while, Pinocchio and his friend are playing pool together, and Pinocchio asks: where have all the other boys gone? His friend answers along the lines of: I don’t know and why should we care? But there is something sinister going on. The island is magic, and the boys get turned into donkeys, which are then captured and sold, and they spend the rest of their lives in slavery and humiliation, working in mines or circuses. Pinocchio’s friend turns into a donkey before his eyes, and Pinocchio himself begins to grow donkey’s ears, but Jiminy Cricket, who has worked out what is going on, rescues him in time and gets him to safety. 

How does all this fit in with today’s readings? Well, if we look first at the second reading, St Paul warns us against living unspiritual lives and obeying our unspiritual selves, a bit like the life on Pleasure Island. In fact, I mentioned vandalism. At one point, Pinocchio’s friend throws a brick through a stained glass window, perhaps symbolic of rejecting the spiritual and going after the unspiritual. I think we can also be safe in making the assumption that the boys who went to Pleasure Island thought they were clever in avoiding school and work and getting to do whatever they liked. They thought they knew better. 

In the Gospel, Jesus points out that we need to be on our guard against looking down on others and thinking we are the clever ones: “I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children”. Pinocchio gets himself into a mess more than once because he ignores his conscience and allows himself to be deceived by other people who are only out to exploit him for money. Maybe he thinks himself too clever just to listen and follow Jiminy Cricket. 

Lastly, the first reading. It’s sometimes said: practise what you preach. This is exactly what Our Lord Jesus Christ does. He preaches humility, and He practises humility. The first reading is quoted in the Gospel for Palm Sunday: “He is victorious, he is triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”. A donkey is a relatively small animal, and a colt, even smaller. The great warlords would ride into town on a horse. Christ came to Jerusalem, not in a show of dominance, or arrogance, but of humility. We are called to follow the same path. Pinocchio is, of course, just a made-up story, but with an important message to teach: follow the right path, and don’t let others lead you astray. But the life of Our Lord is all true, with plenty of evidence to back it up. Which way will we choose? Do we consider ourselves too clever to follow the path of goodness? Are we too easily seduced by our own version of Pleasure Island? We too have a conscience, but we don’t always want to follow it. 

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (1 & 2/7/23)

In three weeks’ time, a group of eight people will be travelling from Ireland to this parish on a mission. They will stay here for a week and spend each day knocking on people’s doors, encouraging the faithful, trying to bring back those who have fallen away, and sowing seeds among those who are not of the faith. They are part of a group called the Legion of Mary, which was set up in Dublin around a century ago, and their spirituality focuses on giving everything to Christ through the hands of Our Lady – a path pointed out by St Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort. Their emphasis will be on encouraging everyone to consider the Catholic Church as the Church to assist them in their journey to salvation, because it is the only Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself while He was alive here on earth. They will speak to people about the importance of the Mass and the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist and the special role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the plan of salvation. We shall have to see how people respond. Please give them a warm welcome if they turn up at your door.

Doing a mission like this requires a certain amount of courage. It is generally recommended by the Legion of Mary that this sort of work is not carried out in your own neighbourhood, but somewhere new to you, perhaps even abroad. I suppose for one thing, if you make a mess of things, you can at least make sure you never visit that town or city ever again. But there is also the saying from the Lord Himself that a prophet is never welcome in his or her own town or neighbourhood. People might be more willing to listen to you when you are new and they haven’t met you before. Something similar happened when there was a change of pope around ten years ago. It was noticed that when Pope Benedict said something, people didn’t seem to treat it as anything too special; when Pope Francis said the same thing, people responded with a “wow”. But maybe now Pope Francis is no longer new, he’s lost that effect on people.

So, back to mission. Having the Legion of Mary visit can seem like we’ve just handed the job over to experts, rather than trying to do the same ourselves. Part of the diocesan vision is a focus on evangelisation; well, the Legion of Mary do have some experience of it and can teach us a few lessons. So often we can talk about spreading the word of God. If a local group of the Legion were to be set up in this parish, there would be a regular meeting of the group; but at that meeting, work would be assigned, and at the next meeting everyone would need to report back on the work done. We

had a bit of a problem in one of my previous parishes with our parish council, in that it was very good at finding work to be done, but not so good at anyone then carrying it out. The chairman resigned in frustration (it wasn’t me). For the Legion to get its results, it relies on the intercession of Our Lady and the prayer and spiritual health of its members. I’m sure they will say a bit more about this when they come to visit.

So how can we support this mission? One of the themes in today’s readings is hospitality for those working for the Lord. If there are any more people who can offer rooms, that would be welcome: be inspired by the example of the lady of rank in the first reading, who provided a room for the prophet Elisha. There are four people for whom accommodation has been arranged, and four others for whom the parish will have to pay if people don’t offer. But the legionaries only need bed and breakfast, and they will give the host family £100 for their stay, so hopefully you shouldn’t be out of pocket. And God will reward you abundantly, as Our Lord tells us in the Gospel.

Secondly, we can pray for the mission’s success. This is a spiritual work, and it requires spiritual means (as well as actually going out there and spreading the word).

Thirdly, it would be good to have a group of people to volunteer to provide meals for them. The parish would pay for the food; we just need the manpower to cook, make sandwiches and so on. It would be good to have a rota of different people to help out, rather than the same people on for a whole week.

So, the Legion is coming to town, and maybe we might be able to get our own Legion set up in this parish to sustain their work. Please do what you can to support, whether by offering a room, prayer, or preparing food. It would be good to give the cathedral a shock next year when we send them our greatly increased Mass attendance figures.

Homily for the Solemnity of Sts Peter and Paul, 29/6/23

On Monday I went to Newman University for an Ongoing Formation Day for priests, and Bishop David Oakley was the main speaker. Now there were many things he spoke about, together with a few humorous anecdotes, but one of the things he mentioned in passing was that there seems to be a change taking place in society: we are moving from a time when people treated the Catholic faith with indifference, to a time of hostility.

Personally, I can see a few positives in this. It shows that people are starting to listen to what we have to say again, even if it means that they disagree with it. It means that they are engaging with us. It’s difficult to get your message across if people don’t care, won’t listen, and take no notice. In some ways, a persecution by indifference is the worst of the two. It reminds me of the poem When Jesus Came to Birmingham:

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,

They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;

They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,

For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed Him by,

They never hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;

For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,

They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do,”

And still it rained the wintry rain that drenched Him through and through;

The crowds went home, and left the streets without a soul to see,

And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.

(by Rev G A Studdert Kennedy)

So for various reasons, hostility is growing; perhaps it is more visible in America and Canada than here, but I think that here, trouble is brewing.

Part of it in America has certainly been the victory of repealing Roe vs. Wade, the legislation that got rid of all state restrictions on abortion. Now Roe vs. Wade is gone, abortion is a state-determined issue. It’s a bit like if the

Abortion Act had been cancelled in this country, and now for some reason it was a matter for local councils to decide what happens in their own area. In some states in America, things are more pro-life; in other areas, less so. Catholics were not the only ones who helped get this through, but we are the “main culprits”, if you like. We can be treated with indifference when nothing much seems to be happening, but when something big like this goes on, then the other side goes mad. In this country, things are many years behind America, it seems. But let’s look at another issue: LGBT.

Pope Francis has, I think, been trying to be quite diplomatic with this issue. But the LGBT movement has been growing increasingly intolerant of anyone who disagrees with it. When the debates were taking place before so-called same sex marriage legislation came into effect, someone said on the radio that it seemed to him as if he had been minding his own business, when someone deliberately crossed the road to pick a fight with him. I think in this country, perhaps the thought has been that the Christian churches, and others, will just gradually fold under pressure, and that does seem to have been happening: the Methodists have voted to attempt to marry same-sex couples; the Church in Wales has produced a “blessing” service, which is marriage in all but name, and the Church of England has moved in a similar direction. How long before only the Catholic Church, plus a few of the smaller Evangelical groups, are the only Christians still opposed? But persecution is already taking place on LGBT issues. The one who pays the piper calls the tune, and if the piper won’t play and dance, then the piper gets dismissed and replaced with someone who will. Some are afraid that if they don’t keep quiet, they soon won’t have a job. Other have found this to be true.

Enduring persecution is part of the DNA of the Catholic Church. It was right there in the beginning. Look at today’s first reading, with St Peter being delivered from prison. Read about all St Paul had to endure on his missionary journeys. Under times of persecution, people can begin to doubt, and also to fall away, at least in their hearts. Why is the Catholic Church so stubborn? We could say the same: why is the secular world so stubborn? The Church sticks to her guns because she is of divine origin, and teaches with divine authority: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.”

Homily for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (17 & 18/6/23)

On Wednesday it was announced that the Holy Father had appointed Bishop Stephen Wright, our area bishop, as the next bishop of the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle (that’s upon-Tyne, not under-Lyme). Whilst we congratulate him on this appointment and pray for him and the people of his new diocese, it leaves a gap here in our archdiocese, which will probably be filled by a priest being ordained as a bishop. That in turn, will then create another gap as a priest is probably taken out of a parish to become the next auxiliary bishop for the north of the archdiocese. It has been said that, whilst there may be shortage of vocations to the priesthood, there is no shortage of vocations to the episcopate, or, as a Spanish saying has it, when mitres are falling, there is no shortage of heads.

So that leads us all into today’s Gospel: “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest.” We need more priests. We also need more laypeople, and the two are interconnected. It has been said in the past that good families result in good priests, and good priests result in good families. Not to say that all priests, even all good priests, come from ideal or perfect families, but families where the faith, and also good parishes where the faith is strong, inspire and nurture men to be able to respond to a calling to the priesthood, and those good priests that result then help to build up parishes, resulting in good families and good parishes.

We also see in today’s Gospel that one of the motivating factors for Christ calling the disciples was His concern for the crowds: “they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd”. That too can reflect today’s situation, where there is talk of declining Mass numbers and parishes being merged due to insufficient priests to fill all the parishes, as well as insufficient parishioners to fill all the pews. But the Gospel is also one of hope, because Our Lord started off with just twelve, and one of those betrayed Him. But it was a start, from which the Church grew and grew. And as Bishop David McGough was saying last year at the Silver Jubilee Mass for the Sisters, in the past, the English and Irish went over to far-flung countries to spread the Gospel, and now those who are the result of their work are now coming to bring the Gospel to these lands. But God is still raising up “native” vocations, if you like, here in this country, whatever the colour of someone’s skin.

A few more points about priestly vocations, and vocations in general.

In the second reading, St Paul tells us of the core of the Gospel: God’s love for us, and that Christ came to save us, to reconcile us to God. And now “we are filled with joyful trust in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have already gained our reconciliation”. Being a Catholic, as well as being a Catholic priest, is about bringing joy and hope to our world. People feel lost. They might think for a while that a big car, a large salary, popular acclaim, or even the latest technological gadget might bring them joy and a sense of fulfilment, but after a while, it leaves you feeling empty. St Ignatius of Loyola experienced his conversion whilst he was recovering from fighting a battle as a soldier, and whilst he was getting back to full health, he spent his time reading. He noticed after a while that, when he read more worldly pursuits, they interested him at the time, but afterwards, they left him empty, whilst, when he read about the lives of the saints, the consolation he had experienced endured. As they say, there is nothing new under the sun. The modern-day world experiences the same sense of being unfulfilled, but it needs us to be there to offer them the fulfilment of the Gospel, shown in the lives of the saints, whether they be St Francis and St Dominic, as it was for St Ignatius, or more modern examples, such as St John Paul II, St John Henry Newman, Padre Pio, St Theresa of Calcutta or St Therese of Lisieux. We need people who are on fire for the Gospel, and from there, we will get good families and good priests. It is already happening, and new movements in the Church, such as Faith and Youth 2000 are filling people with a passion for Christ, and vocations to the priesthood, religious life, marriage and single life are flourishing. There is hope. Despite the coldest of winters and the driest of summers, spiritually-speaking, there are vocations growing, like snowdrops in the snow, or palm trees in the scorching sun, people both small and more reserved, and those more on show and lofty, who are real signs of renewal in the Church.

So I say to you: if you think God is calling you, to whatever form of service, to whichever vocation, step forward. If the Lord is calling you, come forward, and help relieve the harassment and dejection of the flock. Come forward. But it must be the Lord’s call.

Homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, Year A (10 & 11/6/23)

Today we celebrate the solemnity of Corpus Christi, and on Friday we celebrate the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and, in fact the two are related.

At the first celebration of the Mass, Jesus gave us His Body and Blood. These were not just new names for bread and wine, but rather reflected the fact that a complete change had taken place, so that we no longer had bread and wine, but rather Christ Himself – Christ was giving Himself for us to receive in Holy Communion: this is my body, which is given up for you … this is my blood which is poured out for you.

Throughout the centuries, there have been those who have cast doubt on what is known as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and in certain places, Eucharistic miracles have taken place, such as at Lanciano in Italy, where hosts have changed to real flesh, and even sometimes started to bleed. Many years ago, I read a book about various different Eucharistic miracles. Sceptics may want to refuse to believe and to try desperately to argue they are fakes. But modern science, which was not around in the middle ages, showed some rather interesting facts common to all the Eucharistic miracles. When each one was sampled, the flesh was shown to be heart muscle, and the blood group was always AB.1 It reminds us, for one thing, that the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a Eucharistic devotion, where Christ was asking us to make reparation for the indifference with which He is treated, and the devotion of the First Fridays asks that we receive Holy Communion on the first Friday of each month in reparation for the sins committed against His Sacred Heart.

Writing back in 2003, Pope St John Paul II said that, since Vatican II, there had been both lights and shadows with regard to the Eucharist. I quote:

“Certainly the liturgical reform inaugurated by the Council has greatly contributed to a more conscious, active and fruitful participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar on the part of the faithful. In many places, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is also an important daily practice and becomes and inexhaustible source of holiness. The devout participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic procession on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is a grace from the Lord which yearly brings joy to those

who take part in it. Other positive signs of Eucharistic faith and love might also be mentioned.” (para 10 of Ecclesia de Eucharistia)

So these are all good things, signs of an active faith and real love for the Lord. But then he adds:

“Unfortunately, alongside these lights, there are also shadows. In some places the practice of Eucharistic adoration has been almost completely abandoned. In various parts of the Church abuses have occurred, leading to confusion with regard to sound faith and Catholic doctrine concerning this wonderful sacrament. At times one encounters an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet.”

So there is still the need for reparation and renewed faith and practice with regard to the Eucharist. Just a few small points:

One of the things that characterises a Catholic church is the presence of Christ in the tabernacle, and the fact that there is a tabernacle in the church at all. When we walk into a Catholic church where Christ is present, and the red light is burning indicating He is there, the normal thing in the Latin rite has been to genuflect, to go down on one knee. I realise that some people in this deanery are either Ukrainian Byzantine rite, or Syro-Malabar rite, and there may be other rites present as well, and you have different ways of showing reverence. But one thing I have noticed, even among more devout parishioners, is that there are those that are probably Latin rite, but walk into church and sit down without making any act of reverence. That is bad. We need, when we walk into a Catholic church, to be conscious that Christ is present, and to pay Him homage by going down on one knee, or, if arthritic joints or a sports injury make that impossible, then at least to bow. But bowing is only for those that are unable to genuflect. Genuflection is an act of love, devotion, homage and reparation to Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. He is our Lord and our God – we can at least do this.

If I can also make another point, and that is to do with Mass responses and singing. Vatican II wanted the laity to take fuller participation in the Mass, with the emphasis being not just on being physically present, but taking part in the Mass responses and singing as well. But this idea goes back to pre-Vatican II. It was from the 1950s that the people were supposed to join in the Latin responses, rather than only the altar servers’ voices being heard, and the singing of Gelineau psalms was also something that started pre-

Vatican II as well. But somehow, it seems that all of this has not been fully implemented, and some parishes are better than others. In the full version of today’s sequence, the third verse says:

“Then be the anthem clear and strong,

Thy fullest note, thy sweetest song,

The very music of the breast”

I realise that not everyone can sing in tune, but some who say they are not very good are not as bad as they say they are. In previous parishes I have been in, at certain Masses, the singing was particularly non-committal, and in one parish, the same could be said of the Mass responses. If we can have a bit more volume it does help to enliven the Mass and make the priest think: this congregation is alive! When I came to Hanley I was encouraged by some of the singing. Let’s give it all we’ve got!

Lastly: the reception of Holy Communion. I mentioned genuflecting when entering church. Some years ago, the bishops of this country put it as a recommendation that, if you receive Communion standing, you bow in reverence before receiving the Lord. It is a recommendation, but I encourage it. The Australian bishops said in their territory it’s not just a recommendation – it’s what you do. Maybe the bishops of England, Wales and Scotland prefer to encourage you rather than to tell you.

So to sum up: today’s feast and that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus this coming Friday are related, shown particularly by Eucharistic miracles where the host has turned into real flesh that modern science has shown to be heart muscle. And we can show our love for the Lord, present in the Eucharist, among other ways, by genuflecting when we enter the church (and when we leave as well), by joining in the Mass responses and singing with gusto, and also by bowing first before receiving Holy Communion. All these are ways in which we can make reparation for the indifference Our Lord sometimes experiences, as well as making our celebration of the Mass a more uplifting experience. God bless you all.

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year A (3 & 4/6/23)

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, the fact that there is one God, who is three persons: Father, Son and Holy Trinity. Rather than just knowing that there is one God, we know more of the detail: that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The fact that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are persons means that we can have a personal relationship with all three.

So if that is what we are celebrating today, it might raise the question of how the first reading fits into today’s solemnity (a solemnity is a feast day of the highest rank – all feast days are feast days, but some are more important than others). The first reading mentions that God is the Lord, but how does that fit in with the Most Holy Trinity? Well, it’s a bit like a treasure trail: the answers are not just given to you and put into your lap. You’ve got to go and look for them.

The passage is an interesting one because it comes from the time when Moses was given the Ten Commandments, sometimes called the Ten Words. Moses had been on the mountain with God for forty days and forty nights. God gave him the Ten Commandments, and then, when he came down the mountain, he found that whilst he was away, the people of Israel had decided to abandon God and make an idol, the golden calf. Moses is described in Numbers 12:3 as “the most humble of men, the humblest man on earth”, yet when he sees the people of Israel worshipping the golden calf, he is so angry that he throws down the two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments and breaks them. You could imagine him saying, “Now look what you’ve made me do!” - but he doesn’t. He puts the people straight and then God calls him up the mountain. This time, rather than being given the two stone tablets, written by God Himself, Moses has to bring his own stone tablets and then write on them as God dictates the words.

So where is the revelation of the Most Holy Trinity in all of this? Well, we can clearly identify God the Father; God the Son is prefigured in the Ten Words; and as later experience shows, we can’t keep the Ten Words or Ten Commandments just by ourselves: we need the Holy Spirit to help us.

The Holy Spirit is often described as the exchange of love between the Father and the Son. This love personified, is described in today’s first reading: “a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness”. And that then also gives us the key to the Gospel

reading. We can spot the Father and the Son, but we might miss the Holy Spirit if we blink, because He isn’t explicitly named there, but He is implicitly mentioned because the love of God is mentioned:

“God loved the world so much

that he gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost

but may have eternal life”.

That’s the sort of God we want to follow! A God of love! Love is the “motive force”, if you like, of the Most Holy Trinity, and it’s that love which inspires us to serve Him. God doesn’t just love, God is love, and when that love, that grace, is poured into our hearts, we have the ability to respond in kind; in kindness, in fact.

Love is what unites the Three Persons, and the love of God is what draws us to Him and unites us to each other as human beings. It has the power of a complete transformation of human society. But for that to happen, it has to be experienced, and people need to experience it through us. So the words from today’s second reading are so appropriate to today’s feast: “try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. … The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Homily for Pentecost, Year A (27 & 28/5/23)

How much is the Holy Spirit part of my life? You might ask yourself that question and think, not that much, really. But if we look closer, the Holy Spirit is a much bigger part of our lives than we might think. But first, who is the Holy Spirit?

Next week we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, the fact that there is one God who is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So that means that the Holy Spirit is a person, not just a vague force. That means that, just as we can pray to the Father and to the Son, so we can pray to the Holy Spirit in our own personal prayer. We can ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us and guide us when something important is about to happen in our lives. And we can praise and worship the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit is God.

The Holy Spirit is at work in all the sacraments. Perhaps the sacrament we might most associate with the Holy Spirit is confirmation, sometimes described as our personal Pentecost. Just like the apostles, as confirmed Christians, we too are sent out to proclaim the amazing truth that God loves us, that He sent His Son to die for our sins, that He rose from the dead, and now His Spirit is with us. Some might think we are crazy, but better to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit than to be under the influence of alcohol.

The Holy Spirit is at work too in baptism. What are the words we use to baptise someone? We say the person’s name, then “I baptise you” and then the words from the Sign of the Cross: “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, whilst pouring the water three times. When we are baptised, the Holy Spirit is poured into our heart and He makes His dwelling there.

Confession: guess what? The Holy Spirit is involved here too. Firstly, in inspiring someone to go to confession in the first place and being sorry for his or her sins. At times, the Holy Spirit might particularly inspire the priest in the advice that he gives. But the Holy Spirit is always at work in the words of absolution. If you confess behind a screen, you may not see it, but the priest extends his right hand towards you as he begins the words of absolution, and then, at the end, he makes the sign of the cross. And the

important words are at the end: “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. And just to clarify, I was quoting there, so you haven’t all just received absolution.

The Mass: certainly a work of the Holy Spirit. And in order for the consecration to happen, the Holy Spirit turns up again. The bell is rung by the server the first time when the priest extends his hands over the gifts of bread and wine, invoking the Holy Spirit, and then the consecration happens when the priest says the words of consecration over the bread and wine. They are changed, and they become Christ, present under the appearances of bread and wine. So as each one is held up after the consecration, the bell is rung again, and we can honour the Lord Jesus, present here through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Marriage: once again, the work of the Holy Spirit. The couple exchange vows and marry each other, and then, later on, the priest gives the nuptial blessing. The Holy Spirit is present in their marriage, and they need to invoke Him when things get difficult and things go wrong. But also before they go wrong – prevention is better than cure.

Holy Orders or Ordination: just like the consecration at Mass, so there is a similar pattern in an ordination. The bishop lays hands on the person to be ordained, and then says the prayer of consecration, making the man in front of him a priest, or a bishop, or a deacon. The work of the Holy Spirit.

And which sacrament is last? The sacrament of the sick, also called the sacrament of anointing. The Holy Spirit turns up again! The priest lays his hands on the one who is to be anointed, calling down the Holy Spirit, and then, using blessed oil, makes the sign of the cross on the person’s forehead and hands, whilst using the prescribed words. God gives spiritual strength, forgives sins, and if it is His will, some or even complete healing as well, all by the working of the Holy Spirit.

So there we have it – the Holy Spirit is very active indeed. And I’m only just scratching the surface, because He is active in your lives in all sorts of different ways, inspiring you to good works and to the praise and worship of God. And if that’s not the work of the Holy Spirit, then I don’t know what is.

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A (20 & 21/5/23)

During the various lock-downs, when I had a good bit of time to myself in the presbytery on my day off, one of the things I decided to explore was the collections of VHS videotapes left behind by previous parish priests. We have got a few video recorders upstairs, all of which seem to work, so I gradually worked my way through the tapes that looked interesting. More recently, I discovered one about the life of St Faustina, produced back in 1991. I watched it a while ago, but fell asleep part way through, so I decided on Wednesday to watch it again and see it in its entirety.

There were a few different things that struck me about her life and vocation.

She was born with the name Helena Kowalska, and grew up in a practising Catholic family. She was regular at Mass, and also, when she could, would pop into the parish church to pray. She had a sense of her being called by God to be a nun, but her family were opposed. Things came to a head when she had decided to forget about her vocation, and she went to a dance. Our Lord appeared to her and said, “How long are you going to keep me waiting?” In one of those great impulses shown by some of the saints, she decided there and then to follow the Lord’s request, and with her uncle’s assistance, boarded the train to travel to the town to which Our Lord had directed her. She tried various convents, until she finally arrived at one where she was initially turned down, but then the superior told her to go to the chapel and ask the Lord if He would accept her. She went to the chapel and prayed before the Blessed Sacrament, and the Lord said, “I do accept you”. So she told the superior and she was accepted into the convent, later being given the religious name of Faustina.

St Faustina received various communications from the Lord, including experiences of heaven, hell and purgatory. When she went to purgatory, she asked the souls what made them suffer most. The responded, unanimously, desire for God. One of the principal punishments of hell was the absence of God. In heaven, the presence of God in all His infinite mystery, beauty and splendour is the delight of the people there. In the Gospel today, Jesus says, “and eternal life is this: to know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent”. God is our life, and in heaven we will be constantly amazed at the unfolding wonder and depths of Him.

One of the attacks that has been levelled against Christians and people of faith in general, is that of being too focused on heaven and neglecting this world. Maybe in some cases it might be true. But in others it is not, and is perhaps unjust. There are saints who have had more impact on this world than many hard-working communists. Bishop Fulton Sheen once said that a communist had said to a missionary that, even though it was 5 pm, he hadn’t had anything to eat yet, because he won’t eat the people’s bread until he has done the people’s work. Perhaps that’s symbolic of the fact that communism, as a system, was unable to sustain itself and eventually fell apart. But in the life of St Faustina, there were ways in which she was also rooted on this earth. As well has her job and the convent helping those that came to the door who were in need, she had a visit from one of her sisters, i.e. from her family, who was suffering from severe depression. She interceded powerfully with the Lord for her and was able to bring her relief. That helped St Faustina to realise just how powerful prayer of intercession can be. St Faustina is of course best-known as the saint who promoted the Divine Mercy devotion, and it is said that her intercession and promotion of the devotion led to various places being spared destruction during the Second World War. One of the themes in her visions and writings was the need for prayer and penance for sin, and there was a similar message in the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima roughly fifteen years earlier.

In the second reading, it begins, “If you can have some share in the sufferings of Christ, be glad”. St Faustina died at the age of thirty-three in 1938, and it had been revealed to her that it would seem that the Divine Mercy devotion was finished and almost extinguished. In fact it was later officially banned by the Holy Office due to them studying a very poor Italian translation of her diaries. After she died, her spiritual director, Fr Sopocko, also died, never seeing the ban lifted. It was the work of the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyła, who gathered the evidence and the testimonies of witnesses who knew St Faustina, and got the ban lifted. Six months after the lifting of the ban, he then became Pope John Paul II.

We are all called to glorify God, who is our life. St Faustina lived something of an extraordinary life; we can’t expect to have the same visions and experiences. But what we can expect, if we are faithful, is to experience the vision of God in heaven, and then we might get to speak to St Faustina for ourselves, whilst also glorifying God for His incredible mercy.

Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension, Year A (18/5/23)

Today we celebrate the Ascension. It is an important truth of our faith. But we need to make sure that it doesn’t just remain as a fact that we believe, but never really touches our lives. Today’s celebration is so important that the Church makes this feast a holyday of obligation. It’s not supposed to leave us unmoved.

The Gospel itself today reflects incompletion. It begins with that phrase “The eleven disciples”. There were twelve. Judas had betrayed them, the first scandal in the Church. Later on, Matthias is chosen to replace him. But that is still in the future. So the number of disciples is incomplete.

Today, once again, the number of disciples is incomplete. The number of practising Catholics in this country is a small percentage of the total population. Jesus tells the disciples, “Go … make disciples … baptise … teach them”. And those words were not just for the first century, or previous centuries, because He adds, “And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” Christ has not abandoned us. The Holy Spirit has not run out of power. The Father has not gone to sleep.

But the work of evangelisation is certainly not easy. In the parables Our Lord told, not all soil is the same. Think of the parable of the sower: not all the grain sprouted, not all of it reached full maturity. And even the grain that grew in the good soil wasn’t all identical in the fruits it bore. We can be tempted, therefore, to think that if our society is more like the path, or the stony ground, or the soil inhabited by weeds, then it makes sense not to waste the seed. But we don’t always know who is who. Pope Francis, in one of his insights into the parable in Evangelii Gaudium, points out how the sower just spreads the stuff everywhere. He sows the seed, and then moves on. If only one in twenty of the seeds will produce anything worthwhile, then it’s good that the other nineteen were also planted, rather than all twenty seeds being kept in the bag.

As I said, today’s Gospel represents incompletion. They are one short of twelve disciples. In the first reading, they are to wait in Jerusalem before going out, because they are also short of the Holy Spirit. Evangelisation today can be hard work, which is why it is encouraging to see how the Divine Renovation movement is making headway in turning parishes

around and leading people to a radical conversion to Christ. As part of this, they speak often of three “keys”, one of which is the power of the Holy Spirit. How much to we involve the Holy Spirit in our prayer? We believe in one God who is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and because the Holy Spirit is a person, that means we can speak to Him in prayer. The Holy Spirit is not just a vague “force”, but a person, so we can have a person-to-person communication with Him through prayer, just as we can with the Father and the Son. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit turns up powerfully, as He did at Pentecost, whilst at other times, He is there more in the background. It can perhaps be a bit like a priest’s preaching – sometimes there seems to be a powerful message, and it really sets you on fire, whilst at other times, it’s more like a gradual drip, drip, effect of the infusion of the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Going back to the Ascension: Our Lord going up to heaven is not a case of “That’s all folks!” at the end of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and now we go back to life as normal. It’s a transition, a turning-point, between Jesus’ own ministry and the era of the mission of the Church – and as I try to emphasise, “the Church” doesn’t mean it’s just the job of the clergy and religious: you are all members of the Church simply by being baptised. As part of your preparation for Confirmation, you were probably told about the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which were given to you to be used. St Paul said something similar to St Timothy (2 Tim 1:6-8): “fan into a flame the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you. God’s gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control.” Now it’s our responsibility. What does the Holy Spirit want to say to the world today? Where does He want to lead us? That is the question. And it’s by living it out that we find the answer.

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A (13 & 14/5/23)

Being a Catholic Christian means bearing witness to Christ. It doesn’t matter whether you are the Pope, or a small child, or anybody else in-between. We are all called to witness to Christ.

In the first reading, we hear about Philip, who was one of the first deacons. We have deacons in the church today, although in this deanery, all the deacons are now retired. Deacons are ordained men, just like priests and bishops, and indeed, in order to be ordained a priest, you have to be ordained a deacon first.

So Philip is newly ordained, and full of enthusiasm. He’s also a bit daring as well. And what an impact he has! He goes to Samaria to preach the Gospel. Jews and Samaritans didn’t normally get on that well, so it was a bit of a risk, although Our Lord had been to them before and things had gone well. And things go well again. They are inspired by his exorcisms and healings, and these things still happen in the Church today. As an ordinary priest, I can perform what are called minor exorcisms (the major ones are for a specialist), although usually it’s more to do with blessing houses where there has been some sort of disturbance. People are also healed today – one of the sacraments I celebrate regularly is the sacrament of the sick. This sacrament grants people strength in bearing their sickness, forgiveness of sins, and, if it’s God’s will, healing as well. During my time as a hospital chaplain I can remember two occasions when I gave someone the Last Rites, which includes the Sacrament of the Sick, and the person then recovered and went home. But it’s not anything special about me – other priests have seen the same thing happen to them as well. In the second case, I was called in the middle of the night to A+E and celebrated the Last Rites with the family present, and I left and went home. When I came into the hospital later on that week, I expected to hear that she had died, but I found she had been transferred onto one of the wards. When I got there, she was sitting in her chair laughing, telling me that the doctors had said she was a walking miracle. One of the members of staff told me that she was amazed as well, because this lady was so close to death that she was going purple. God does still work today, and that is one of the ways in which, you could say, He witnesses to Himself and that all of this is real.

Going back to Deacon Philip, he baptises the people in Samaria, but, because he is a deacon, it needs Peter and John to come and visit to celebrate the sacrament of confirmation. As you may know, there are three sacraments that make you a fully initiated Catholic: baptism, confirmation and First Holy Communion. Peter was the first Pope, and John was one of the first bishops of the Church, so they were able to confirm these newly baptised Catholics, just as the Church was getting going. Philip also had a big impact elsewhere in the world, because he baptised someone who was travelling to Ethiopia, and it’s thought that that is how Christianity reached Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa.

We are called to witness to our faith – that flows from our baptism and confirmation. In the second reading, St Peter tells us two very important things: firstly, if people ask you why you are a Christian, have your answer ready. Secondly, do so politely, with courtesy and respect. Sometimes people try to ask us awkward questions to wind us up or put us down, and it’s not always easy to give a polite reply. But it can pay dividends. Back in the nineteenth century, there was an Anglican clergyman called the Revd. Charles Kingsley, and he tried to wind up St John Henry Newman, by accusing him and all Catholic priests of being liars. Now, Newman could have just replied “I’m not a liar. You are. When did you last look in the mirror?” But instead they wrote letters to each other trying to resolve the issue, and in the end, the result was that St John Henry Newman wrote a book Apologia Pro Vita Sua, which was his conversion story, which helped many more people to become Catholics. In his own way, in his own style, he achieved much more than if he had had an angry argument.

We are called to bear witness to Christ. But why? In the Gospel, Jesus gives us the answer: God’s love for us, and our love for God. “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” Just by living as God asks us to, keeping the Ten Commandments, going to Mass, loving God and neighbour, is a witness in itself, and sometimes actions speak louder than words. And as Our Lord tells us, “anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and show myself to him.” There is sometimes the saying that the devil looks after his own, but it’s even truer to say that God looks after His own.

We are called to bear witness to Christ, and after all He has done for us, it’s the least we can do.

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A (22 & 23/4/23)

Sadness is turned into joy. Two people are taking a seven mile journey. They are downcast. All their hopes and dreams – dashed to pieces. Did we make a mistake? Were we fools? But it all seemed so real! Cleopas and his companion were walking away from Jerusalem, symbolic of walking away from all that had happened there.

Someone joins them. A rather curious fellow. He doesn’t seem to have heard the news – that Jesus of Nazareth has been crucified. At this point, we can press pause. How is it that they don’t recognise Him? Did He look so different after His Resurrection? The answer is more likely to be that they simply weren’t expecting to meet Him. He was dead and buried. So if they met someone that looked like Him, they would just expect it to be someone that looked rather like Him, but obviously wasn’t Him, because He was dead.

So Our Lord rebuilds their faith, showing them where they have gone wrong. Making sure that they get the scriptures right this time. How many people are there that have abandoned the Lord and seemingly lost faith, but at least part of it is because they didn’t understand the faith properly in the first place? What they need is to have someone go through things with them and rebuild the pieces in the right order. It’s as if they had a jigsaw where they had forced some of the pieces to fit into certain holes. The jigsaw didn’t look right, and eventually it fell apart. They need someone to put the pieces together in the right order so they can see the image they are supposed to see, the image of Christ.

But even after this, they fail to recognise Jesus. It takes Him to celebrate the Eucharist for their eyes to be opened. In the same way, reading about the faith or being told about the faith is insufficient. It’s good, but more is needed. There needs to be an encounter in prayer with the risen Lord, especially in the Eucharist. For the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, that was the final piece in the jigsaw for them, that made them realise that his person didn’t just look like Jesus, but He actually was Jesus. We had been told that He had risen from the dead, and we didn’t believe them. Now we do! We have seen Him for ourselves. Their excitement is such that, after having made a seven mile journey on foot, they travel those seven miles back again, in the dark, to tell the apostles that they have seen Him too. That is some real enthusiasm! When I was around the age of sixteen, I walked for roughly seven miles from Leicester to Syston, because the next train was

in around an hour and half’s time, and I didn’t realise it was that far. I thought my cousin had said that it only took half and hour to walk, but he later said that it takes half an hour by bus. It took me nearly two hours, and I was worn out for the rest of the day. There is no way I would have walked those seven miles again that evening. It just goes to show just how excited Cleopas and his companion were to tell the Eleven they had seen the risen Lord. Sadness had been turned into joy.

For whatever reason in this parish, we get more people coming to the Advent penance service than we do to the one in Lent. This year, only three people turned up, with two priests available to hear confessions. I am told that there were vast numbers who went to confession the following Monday at Holy Trinity, Newcastle, so I wasn’t too despondent. Then, on Good Friday, there were a fair number that confessed their sins after the Good Friday Liturgy. But the big surprise was Holy Saturday. Normally on a Saturday I’m available in the box from 10:30 – 11:30, and there are times when people pop in, and other times during that hour when I have time for my own prayers. But for Holy Saturday, I started ten minutes early as I was told there was already someone waiting, and confessions were constant after that. I had advertised to finish at 11:30, but didn’t actually finish until some time after midday. Sorrow turned to joy. It was very rewarding, both for me as a priest, and for each person who received the forgiveness of the Lord, and made that passage from the death of sin to life by being freed from that sin through the Death and Resurrection of Christ. Maybe next year I need either to advertise two hours of confessions on Holy Saturday, or ask an extra priest to help out.

Sadness has turned into joy. When we encounter the risen Christ, we never know how our life might change.

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A

(15 & 16/4/23)

On Easter Monday I watched the film The Case for Christ. It’s based on a true story about an atheistic journalist in America who decides to go through all the evidence and prove that the Resurrection never happened and that Christianity is false. Simultaneously with his research, he’s also involved in a case where a black man is supposed to have shot a police officer. He interviews him, together with his lawyer, and his opinion is that he’s guilty and his story is all made up. The main character then publishes an exposé in his newspaper about the case and the corruption he has uncovered. In court, the man pleads guilty. He does so because, after the newspaper report, there was no way anyone would find him innocent; if he pleaded guilty he would at least get a lighter sentence. He goes to prison, and afterwards is beaten up in prison and ends up on critical care. By this point it has emerged that the police officer actually shot himself and played the victim, which is rather embarrassing for the newspaper. So our reporter goes to the hospital and asks the prisoner why he, the journalist, didn’t realise what was going on. The response he gets is that he didn’t realise the truth because he didn’t want to know the truth.

By the end of the film, our main character has gone through all the evidence for the Death and Resurrection of Christ. He has consulted with various medical experts, psychologists, archaeologists and so on. He finds there is more evidence for the existence of Christ and His Resurrection than the lives of any of the Greek philosophers. Both Christ and the apostles died, not only because of a desire to be honest to the end and witness to the truth, but because of love, unlike the prisoner who pleaded guilty to get a lighter sentence. The medical evidence shows there is no way Christ could have simply fainted on the cross and then revived later on – the soldiers were expert executioners, and if a prisoner escaped, they would have been for the chop. Eventually, he is forced to admit that all the evidence points towards Christ; and he becomes a Christian. In certain ways, he is a modern-day doubting Thomas.

I sometimes wonder whether some of those who have lapsed from the faith and have become quite anti-Catholic and anti-God, have done so because they have heard what a wonderful message we have, and then have been deceived into thinking that it’s not true. The result is bitterness. It’s very sad. But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. For those who discover Christ, and the forgiveness He brings, it is literally life-changing. Some

time ago, I was called to see someone who hadn’t got too long left to live. He made his confession, and afterwards he said: “I’ll sleep well tonight. I’d been worrying what might happen to me if I died during my sleep.”

Today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. The origin lies in the revelations of Our Lord to St Faustina in Poland in the 1930s. He said to her that those who go to confession and receive Holy Communion for today’s feast, together with a few other conditions, shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. It’s an amazing thing. It means that, if you were to be run over by a bus after taking part, you would go straight to heaven. You could have done some awful things beforehand, but if you repented, and took part with the right intentions, you would have received complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. It could be that you had been a major criminal, having been only recently released from, or escaped from, prison. Maybe you might have been an abortionist. You could have been a modern-day Saul, doing all you could to destroy the Catholic faith, but you could have died a modern-day St Paul instead. Or any other quite serious offender. God can and will forgive everything – it’s a matter of, as one Christian song puts it, trust, surrender, believe, receive.

Today we celebrate a wonderful feast. And the more who take part in it, the more wonderful the celebration becomes.

Homily for Easter 2023 (8 & 9/4/23)

Today we celebrate a great victory – Christ is risen! Today we celebrate the most important feast in the whole of the Church’s calendar, even more important than Christmas. I like the action and the emotion of how the victory is announced. If we look at the account in St Matthew’s Gospel, there is a violent earthquake accompanying the rolling away of the stone. It’s God’s way of saying that death is defeated and rejected, and not half-heartedly, either. The angel rolls the stone away and sits on it, almost treating it with contempt. Death, what chance do you have when you are fighting against God? Christ has conquered; no one needs to fear you anymore. What are you? You are pathetic when compared to the power of almighty God.

Then you have the guards. It says they “were so shaken, so frightened of … [the angel], that they were like dead men”. Whether they believed in Christ before or not, they certainly knew now that they were dealing with the divine!

The angel tells the women: “He is not here , for he has risen”, so he’s not hiding in the tomb waiting to come out. He has already gone. The stone wasn’t rolled away so he could get out. He’s already gone ahead, and you are to tell the disciples that they are to meet Him in Galilee.

In St John’s account, Peter and John go running to the tomb. John gets there first; perhaps he’s the younger and more athletic of the two, but defers to Peter who, as head of the apostles, is able to then give official confirmation of the fact that He is not there. “Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead”. But now, everything changes.

Everything changes for us, too, and for the whole of humanity. We now have a new reason to live – life can go round and round in circles sometimes, but there is purpose and meaning and direction: Jesus is risen; all He said is true; we have new hope for our lives, now and beyond the grave. But we still have to be on our guard against the one who is a murderer from the beginning, and who wants to undo, as much as He can, Christ’s victory, by spreading sin and death. With Christ, we can conquer him.

Christ is risen – giving us comfort and consolation, courage and confidence. Our faith is not an empty, vague hope, that just, maybe, might be true. It is

a definite fact. Christ has risen, and the first century Church is energised and powered into action by this historic event.

Our Lord’s Resurrection gives us new impetus today: despite the setbacks of the past, even now, God can win through. On Good Friday, all seemed to be dead and buried, utterly finished. Now, God rises from the dead, victorious; the angel rolls back the stone, and rather than just leaving it as it is, sits on it – death, represented by this stone, is not to frighten you anymore. As the sequence for Easter Sunday says:

“Christ, my hope , has risen: he goes before you into Galilee.

That Christ is truly risen from the dead we know.

Victorious king, thy mercy show!


Homily for Good Friday 2023 (7/4/23)

(inspiration taken from MMP message no. 569)

Today, according to a most ancient tradition, there is no celebration of the sacraments at all, apart from Confession and Anointing of the Sick. It means that today we don’t celebrate the Mass, but instead a service, also called the Good Friday Liturgy. There are three parts. First the Liturgy of the Word. We hear the usual two readings and psalm, with the Gospel being read by three readers, and then we have the homily and the intercessions. Part two is called Adoration of the Holy Cross; and then we have part three, Holy Communion. Then we leave in silence, genuflecting to the cross on the altar.

I remember being told by my mother that when I was a child, I didn’t quite know what to do when it came to Adoration of the Holy Cross. Apparently, when it was my turn, I just looked at it and then walked off; such a thing is excusable when you are very young and don’t understand. The official guidance is that people show reverence to the Cross by a simple genuflection or some other sign, such as kissing the Cross. It also states that there should be only one Cross for veneration. Having grown up with things being done that way, one Good Friday I was in a parish where they decided to have something like four different Crosses, a bit like you might have four distribution points for Holy Communion. What it meant was that the Adoration of the Holy Cross was over very quickly, which seemed to rather miss the point – taking time helps to unpack the meaning and helps it all to sink in. Let us not forget that Our Lord spent three hours on the Cross: it wasn’t a quick execution at all.

So let’s unpack some of the meaning behind genuflecting to, or kissing the Cross.

Today we express our profound gratitude for what Christ has done for us. He is our Saviour: without Him, our sins would not be forgiven. If He had not died on the Cross, there would be no hope of salvation for us; the gates of heaven would remain closed. He did something for us that we were completely incapable of doing. How grateful we can sometimes be when someone does a small gesture for us, and gives us a helping hand; how much more grateful we are to Our Lord for His act of atonement and salvation for us.

Our genuflection or kiss is also a sign of reparation. We are gathered here in church today, but how many are missing! How few of the people of this country, even if they believe in Christ, come to church to mark this day, rather than staying at home! Our adoration today makes reparation for those who are lukewarm, indifferent, or whose love has gone cold. We don’t judge them, and we also realise there are those who may also be at work today, but we pray for them and we make reparation to the Lord for the sorrow they cause Him by their indifference. We also make a form of amends for historical unfaithfulness to Christ: the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, the abandonment by all the other apostles apart from St John, the cowardice of Pilate, the rejection by the Jewish authorities, and the mockery, rejection and contempt shown by so many in the crowd.

We come to the Cross today to seek refuge. In the hymn Soul of my Saviour, it speaks of hiding in the wounds of Christ: “deep in thy wounds, Lord, hide and shelter me / so shall I never, never part from thee”. In Christ, we hide ourselves from the world and its seductions, from the evil one and his temptations, in order to live in sweet intimacy with the Lord.

We come to the Cross to seek healing. The wounds of Jesus are a fount of living water, springing up to eternal life. We seek to be washed from every stain, freed from every form of slavery, redeemed from every sin, withdrawn from the kingdom of satan, brought to full communion with the heavenly Father, open to love and goodness, illuminated by grace and renewed in the fount of Divine Mercy. As a way of sharing more fully in this, confessions will also be available after today’s Good Friday Liturgy.

So these are some of the reasons we adore the Holy Cross today: to express our gratitude and dependence on the Lord, to make reparation for sin past and present, to seek refuge, to seek healing and forgiveness – I’m sure you could think of others as well. As we honour the Lord today, with a most simple gesture, may our love grow more fervent, our gratitude be deepened, and our faithfulness more profound.

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A (25 & 26/3/23)

In just two weeks’ time, we will be celebrating Christ’s rising from the dead at Easter, the high-point of the whole of the Church’s year. At the Easter Vigil, which is a celebration of the great triumph of Christ rising to new life, it’s also the time the Church celebrates adult baptism, and those of us who are already baptised renew our baptismal commitment. Today’s readings also lead us towards that theme.

The first reading: “I mean to raise you from your graves, my people … I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live, and I shall resettle you on your own soil”. The first reading is “pregnant” with meaning and the details of baptism. We are called to change of life, to turn our lives around so that we face towards Christ. We die to our old way of life and are raised from our graves of sin by the grace of God; we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is also then further added to in Confirmation; we become alive with the gift of God; and God “resettles” us on our own soil, He brings us back to the life that we were meant to live right from the beginning, the place where we belong, as a beloved son or daughter of God. Baptism is such as significant step. For many of us, it happened whilst we were unaware of it as babies, so it’s important that, now we are older, we begin to reflect and appreciate what it was all about. It’s a bit like people who we born in communist countries just as communism was falling – they have no memory of living under communism, but it’s good for them to learn what life used to be like and what great benefits they received by the end of that oppressive system.

The second reading then talks about our new life as Christians, as Catholics. Now that our lives have been re-orientated by baptism, our focus also has to change. The spiritual has to be our focus. That doesn’t mean we can’t have interests in football, food, travel and TV programmes, but they are no longer the focus of our lives. We live on this earth, but we look towards the world to come; we may have a certain attachment to our country, our family, even our workplace, but we have an even deeper love for God, our faith, our future. “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.” God will live through us, through His Spirit living in us, and it means that even after death, when Christ returns in glory, our bodies too will be raised and transformed to be just like Christ’s resurrected body.

The Gospel already begins to tell us that death is not the end; death does not have the last say when Christ is around. Jesus hadn’t told everyone there what He was going to do, and we get one of those moment where someone, who to all intents and purposes, is a faithful follower of Christ, questions Him, or even seems to lecture Him to say, what you are telling me to do doesn’t make sense, and I think I know better than You. Jesus says, “Take the stone away”. Martha seems to rebel slightly against this command and says “Lord by now he will smell; this is the fourth day”. Jesus mildly rebukes her by saying “Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” It’s a bit like, earlier on in Our Lord’s ministry, He says to Simon to put out the nets, and Simon says “we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets” (Luke 5:5). In the film The Miracle Maker, the script writers have elaborated slightly and Simon lectures Jesus saying, during the day the fish hide at the bottom of the sea away from the light, and it’s only during the night that they come up to the surface. Simon, nonetheless obeys, and witnesses a great catch of fish. At Bethany, the people obey and remove the stone from the tomb, a bit like the tomb we have in our minds where Jesus was later buried and rose, and they see the glory of God – Lazarus rises from death. With Christ, death does not have the final word.

So we celebrate this coming Easter Christ rising from the dead, bringing us the new life of baptism. But let’s just finish with an observation of St Augustine: so many fear bodily death, but how many fear death of the soul?


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 )

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.