Teaching about revenge, (An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth) the Old Testament might seem somewhat vindictive. However, we need to keep in mind that this Old Testament law was to prevent people from inflicting undue punishment upon one another. It prevented retribution from being greater than the offence which evoked it. Jesus’ Gospel teaching on forgiveness runs counter to all that we feel in our hearts concerning how to relate to others. Jesus came to fulfil the law and the prophets, and not to abolish them; “Be perfect …as your heavenly Father is perfect”. This perfection has to do with our ability to be like Jesus and to love as he loved. Only in Jesus can the wall of hostility between people be broken down. In all this, how do we fare? Have we hurt dear family members? Do we love and respect those in authority? Do we hold grudges and resentment? Do we make cutting or cynical remarks? Do we love those who are our neighbours and those in the neighbourhood of the world? How about the poor and the helpless? Those who cannot defend themselves? Do we love those of different religions, of racial groups, nationalities or social classes? When we are wronged, our first response must be to say in our hearts that we believe Jesus died on the cross for everyone; that his victory is stronger than our hunger for revenge. We can then ask God for the grace to forgive, to return good for evil. The more we live this out, the stronger will the love of God grow within us.
Choosing wisely and living by the values of the Kingdom are the key phrases that help us to focus on this Sunday’s message. The opening verse in the first reading says, “If you choose, you can keep the commandments, they will save you.”
God gives us both freedom and responsibility. The wise choose life, not death. They choose love, peace and forgiveness not hate and revenge. Choice is always before us. We choose to relate with others wisely by respecting boundaries. St. Paul, in the second reading, describes this choice in terms of either opting for human wisdom or God’s wisdom. If we choose God’s wisdom, we become the best version of ourselves; we live by the values of the kingdom. When we choose human wisdom, we end up being foolish and blaming ourselves.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus addresses several moral issues. On the issue of murder, Jesus calls us to choose to be persons of peace and compassion. It means being a person of forgiveness. Unless one forgives, anger continues to build up until it erupts.
Another issue that Jesus addresses is the new law of marital relations. Jesus calls us to make the choice to live married relationships in fidelity. For Jesus, marriage is part of God’s plan, reflecting God’s fidelity to the chosen people. A married relationship is to be a place of safety, nurture and honour, not a place of violence, dishonesty and destructiveness. By forbidding divorce, Jesus calls for a reconciled relationship between husband and wife, instead of living in a situation of submissiveness or warfare.
We must be Salt and Light. Salt adds flavour, while light illuminates. Both salt and light should be there for others, not for oneself: salt does not give flavour to itself and light does not illuminate itself. Jesus here is referring to the quality of life, or goodness, that flows from within me. My goodness must never be self-serving. It should never be a put-on thing in which I seek to bring glory to myself. The greatest danger facing us Christians today is that we can totally become absorbed by the world and the crowd around us. We become no different from other people, so we become tasteless and darkness. The true follower of Christ must have something special to offer, some light to shed, some flavour to add, some hope to bring. If not, then she or he is not only redundant but also useless. We all know what is done with useless things. For how long can Salt and Light last without running out if we continue to give of ourselves relentlessly? That’s where the power of God comes in. We become Salt and Light to the World as a gift that is given to us by God through Baptism. This is a gift that never ends. One may not be able to become a massive beacon of light, but if one has even a little goodness, and try to be true to it, then one can at least be a humble candle which sheds precious light in its own immediate vicinity
Today, the 2nd of February, we interrupt our progression through the Liturgical year, to stop and meditate on the Solemnity of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. Traditionally, we refer to this feast as Candlemas, because of the blessing of the candles at the beginning of the Mass. The blessing of the candles reminds us that Jesus is the True Light, ‘the light to enlighten the Gentiles’ (Lk 2, 32). In the Eastern Churches, this feast is referred to as the Feast of the Encounter, where the Messiah encounters His people for the first time. Jesus’ solemn encounter with His people of Israel happened in the Temple of Jerusalem when he was still only 40 days old. Animated by the desire to fulfill what was prescribed by the Jewish Law, the newlywed parents, Mary and Joseph, took Jesus in their arms to the Father’s House. At the Temple, they are received by two elderly people, Simeon and Anna. Simeon and Anna are both described as advanced in years, thus representing the history of the People of Israel. What is new is that both Simeon and Anna are at the Temple because they were led there by the Holy Spirit. But Jesus is the centre of this encounter between the Holy Family and these two representatives of the Holy People of God. It is Jesus who moves everything, who attracts one and all to the Temple, which is the House of His Father. Jesus brings together young people full of joy in observing the Law of the Lord and the elderly, full of joy by the action of the Holy Spirit. It is a singular encounter between observance and prophecy, where the young are the observers and the elderly are the prophets. In reality, the observance of the Law is animated by the Spirit himself, and the prophecy is moved in the way traced by the Law. Today’s Gospel presents us with the encounter between youth and old age; between the Old Testament and the New Testament; between hope and fulfilment; between birth and the Resurrection. From the very first moments of his life, Jesus is making his way to his glorious death in Jerusalem. As a result, the presentation calls us to spend our life living fully for God, devoted to the will of the Father. The presentation of our complete gift of self, out of love, leads us in faith to the hope-filled assumption of eternal life.
One of the most common responses to the call to be evangelisers is that we are not ready, prepared or worthy. That may be true, but worthiness is not part of the gospel’s demand. In fact, to be aware of our frailties and weaknesses is a key dimension of our spiritual journey. It helps us stay humble with our feet on the ground. The gospel speaks of the sudden invitation to come follow Jesus and become fishers of people. The call may come out of the blue and of course we don’t feel ready or prepared and we can have too many excuses to put off what God’s will may be expecting of us. I am sure the fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James and John, when asked to follow Christ, could have come up with many, many excuses but they took the risk and their mission was to capture the hearts and minds of people. We are all asked to do the same. We cannot be part-time Catholics. To follow Christ is a lifestyle change and we show example by the way we live our life and how we look after brothers and sisters. It’s through how we live our life in this world that people will want to be part of who we are and what we are about. Such was the lives of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist and the apostles. Proclaiming the good news, healing and teaching. We pray we may have the courage to respond to the needs of this world with Jesus’ love and compassion.
Our Gospel this weekend really does show the character of John the Baptist. He has spent months, maybe years, encouraging people to listen to him, follow him, to be part of his group. People like him, they like what he has to say and are impressed by what he does. It was good to be part of his group even if it was challenging and demanding. And then someone else comes along and John the Baptist actively encourages the people who have been following him to leave him and go with this other person. Yet John the Baptist does just this. He sees Jesus, recognises him for who he is, the Messiah, and immediately withdraws. John is not concerned with popularity. He is not interested in being the centre of attention. John the Baptist has dedicated his life to preparing for the arrival of Jesus Christ and now it is time for him to ‘decrease’ so that Jesus can ‘increase’. His friends trust John enough to leave him and follow Jesus. But whatever was said and done in that time together, it was enough for all of them to understand this was no ordinary man. This was indeed the Messiah.
We are called to grow in wisdom and grace. It took Jesus thirty years to reach maturity and to acquire wisdom. It will take us a lifetime to grow to maturity and to ripen as human beings and children of God. The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus reminds us of our own baptism and provides us with an opportunity to commit ourselves to the Christian life which essentially is a life of service. There are many people that understand this but there are sadly many that don’t. We are not called to save the world or to solve the problem, nevertheless each of us has our own unique calling in our families, in our work, in our world. We need God’s help to be faithful to that call. Faithfulness for everyday tasks is our way of responding to the problems of our time and participation in the work of Jesus. Baptism is like the planting of the seed. It will take a lifetime for this seed to grow and ripen.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. The word Epiphany means ‘manifestation’ so we celebrate Jesus manifestation of himself to the gentile world. Some countries celebrate it more solemnly than they do Christmas. The manifestation of Jesus means that we must continue to proclaim the good news that Jesus the Son of God lived among us and came for all people. This is a practical message of the Feast of the Epiphany. We are called to proclaim this message. There is a beautiful message written by an unknown Christian author that sums up in a beautiful imagery the practical message of the Epiphany: “When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the Kings and the princes are home, when the shepherds are back with the flocks, the work of Christmas begins, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoners, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among our brothers and sisters, to make music with the heart.” May I wish you all a very happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.
Pope Francis wrote in his recent exhortation that the family is “where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another.” That very belonging to each other is what today’s readings are about. Our lives are complicated and families don’t always consist of two parents. But Paul’s letter to the Colossians offers all of us the tools we need to care for each other: heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. I can guess that Paul was intimately connected with family as he notes other important family skills, like “bearing with one another” which seems like an apt phrase on the harder days. When we share a home, we not only have to forgive each other, but to be aware that we need forgiveness from each other, prompted by the example of God’s deeply loving forgiveness for us all. The Gospel is Matthew’s story of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt in fear of Herod, who was searching for their son. They left their homeland and lived in a country they did not know, with languages and customs not their own, separated from their family. When they could finally return to Israel, fear of Herod’s successor forced them to go not home, but to Galilee, where they would be less likely to be found. But despite the stress of their situation, I picture them as holding onto each other even more closely. That seems to be our human reaction to tragedy – we want to gather our loved ones together and hold onto each other. Even with the people who drive us crazy. But they are family and they belong to us and we belong to them; because family is not about perfection but fidelity. As Pope Francis says about families, “We remain steadfast in our intention to respect others, to heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and to ‘bear one another’s burdens.’” Being part of a family means being faithful to our everyday lives, to loving each other on our best and worst days.
The birth of the baby we’re about to celebrate is like no other birth because he was like no other baby. Yes, the child was special because through the power of the Holy Spirit he was born to Mary, a young girl, but he was also special because of his life because he was Emmanuel which means God is with us. God comes to share our life so that we could be saved from sin and death and this amazing wonderful story just has to be told over and over again each Christmas. Just like your own family traditions of Christmas, the stories we tell every year, the decorations we hang, the foods we eat and gestures we make all remind us who we are and what we value the most. So it is in the Christian community, we gather together in church to hear about Jesus, who he was, why he came. We remember that he shows us the human face of God’s love, saves us from sin and offers us a share in the divine life. So this wonderful story needs to be told again and again because each time we hear it we come a little closer to the source that is God with us. We are changed by hearing, by believing, by responding in gratitude to what God has done and reaching out to love one another.
At the time of today’s gospel John the Baptist had been arrested and was sat in a prison cell. He became impatient and he sent some of his visitors to ask Jesus why the delay. Had John been wrong in thinking that Jesus was the one to come? We often hear the same kind of query in our world. Is Jesus really the saviour of the world? If he is, how do you explain the sad state of the world? You hear this asked about our church. Why doesn’t the church leadership do this or that? Jesus answers John’s questions by pointing out the reign of God was in progress and we are not yet at the end. Jesus tells us his friends “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. (John 16:12). He then spoke about the Holy Spirit who he would send from the Father, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you all into the truth. He will take what is mine and declare it to you”. The Holy Spirit is not often thought of during the Christmas season but today would be good to reflect on the role of the Holy Spirit and the role the Holy Spirit plays in in my life.
This week our country calls us to vote. We have had various political parties making incredible promises in a very nice and heart-warming way. But today we meet someone who is no politician, whose words were challenging and uncompromising. He uses strong language as the Pharisees and Sadducees discover in todays gospel. He told his listeners to repent, to turn their lives around, to become new people. He told them to get ready for the coming of the reign of God. Now the extraordinary thing is that rather than being put off by this tough talk the people welcomed it. In fact, they journeyed out into the inhospitable desert to listen to him. They stepped forward to confess their sins and be baptised in the Jordan. They saw that unlike other religious leaders and politicians, John spoke with real authority. He was not interested in promoting himself but only in promoting God’s word and in pointing people towards God. So, they took his message on board. They listened to him, they heeded him, they were baptised and turned their lives around. John the Baptist’s uncompromising message is directed to each one of us today. We must repent, change whatever in our lives need changing, so that we will be ready to celebrate Christmas well.
Advent is a real challenge for parents. Why? Because it has been turned upside down by our culture and only the church continues to remind us that this is not a commercial time (to overspend, to party, to be exhausted, to pile up presents) but rather a very sacred time and so four weeks before Christmas the church begins the season of Advent. This word from the Latin ‘Adventus’ meaning ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. Advent reminds us that Jesus came among us in history, is even now among us in mystery (spiritually) and will come again in glory at the end of time. We start to unpack the nativity set we carefully put away last year when the Christmas season was over, we start to think about Christmas trees, decorations and even now singing along to Christmas songs and carols. It is good to remember Jesus’ birthday in this way, but Advent is a time to do more. The Advent season is all really to do with preparation, preparing our homes and preparing our families and preparing ourselves to celebrate Christmas. Besides the fun way of all these preparations we must remember our own personal preparation to give time to what the birth of Christ means in our lives. Perhaps to refresh ourselves for the celebration by going to confession and to renew ourselves of the Christmas story.
The celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, brings to an end the Liturgical year. We are presented with the kingship of Jesus which is revealed to us in a very surprising way. “The Christ of God, the Chosen One, the King” (Lk 23:35,37) appears without power or glory: his throne is the cross; his crown is made of thorns; he has no sceptre but his hands are pierced with nails; he has no treasure, but is sold for thirty pieces of silver. Saint Paul tells us in the Second Reading, that in Jesus we find redemption and forgiveness. The grandeur of Christ’s kingdom is not power as defined by this world, but the love of God, a love capable of encountering and healing all things. This love alone overcame and continues to overcome our worst enemies: sin, fear and death. However, it would mean very little, if we believed that Jesus was King of the universe but did not make him Lord of our lives. Today’s gospel presents us with an encounter between Jesus and a THIEF, who begs the Lord: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42). This person, simply looking at Jesus, believed in his kingdom. Though crucified because of his errors, sins and troubles – this man still turned to Jesus. He asked to be remembered, and he experienced God’s mercy: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43). Throughout his ministry Jesus shared his forgiveness; he dies breathing it. He died as he lived, reaching out to the distressed on either side of him. In the midst of his agony, he still had time for others. This is the gospel image of royalty – the king and the criminal who go together into paradise. This is the King we celebrate and whose values we try to live. May His kingdom come.
The end of the liturgical year reminds us of the approach of the end of time at the second coming of Christ. This must be a central desire to our faith. We profess in the Nicene Creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” After the Consecration, we profess, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.” The Theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin tells us “we must renew in ourselves the desire for the great coming.” Our fear should be of putting false pretences in things that are perishable. The people of Israel put their trust in the beauty of the Temple. They witnessed its destruction at the hands of the Romans in 70AD. Luke, writing his Gospel just after this event happened (around the year 80AD), wanted to tell Christians that the destruction of the Temple did not signal the end of the world. He cautioned the people not to listen to anyone who claimed to know the time of God’s visitation. Since Luke’s time, many people have claimed to know when the end of the world will come. Some claim a special revelation from God or Mary, and others claim to have calculated it from the Bible. All such claims should be ignored. We should not allow ourselves to be misled by claims or speculations that the end is near but must maintain a constant watchfulness. Before God’s final advent, there is life to be lived and struggles to be endured. Luke’s Gospel offers hope and encouragement in the face of conflict, persecution and family division. Jesus himself was about to experience a violent rejection by his own people and he prepared his disciples for the persecutions that they were to experience as they brought His message to the world. As disciples of Jesus, we trust in God’s mercy and protection, even when we are facing difficulties. Luke presents persecution as an opportunity for the followers of Jesus for “It will lead to your giving testimony” (Luke 21:13). In persecution, God’s wisdom and power will prevail. Perseverance in the face of persecution will lead to our salvation.
Looking around us in the world we live in you must surely be aware of the horrors, the violence, the lack of respect of human beings and God’s creation continues to be an ongoing presence which is hard to ignore even if we are not immediately involved. It is always interesting to read about heroic responses by ordinary people that stand up for those caught up in such difficulties such as things related in the first reading this weekend (2 Maccabees 7). Seven sons and their mother to stand against being forced to break the law. Their mother urged them to remain faithful at all costs. One son in particular is mentioned who cried out, “Heaven gave me these limbs; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again.” This also reminds us of all those who have died for what they believe in on this Remembrance Sunday. We remember all who died in the wars in our country fighting for peace. We remember those martyrs who died for their faith and we remember those who have also died in helping those on the edges of society, the lost and unloved in caring and supporting them. We will always be judged by our loving God on how we have loved our neighbour, cared for our world and loved God. Consider that phrase, “Where your treasure is, your heart is also.”
Zacchaeus was a wealthy man from Jericho. His job as chief tax collector put him in a position where he could get “perks” through extortion, and by overstating monies due from powerless citizens. The wealthy Zacchaeus, who exploits people, hears that Jesus, a charismatic teacher and healer, is going to pass through the town. Curious, Zacchaeus desires to see Jesus. He climbs up a tree to do so. When Jesus arrives, he stops close to the tree, and tells Zacchaeus to come down, for he wishes to stay at his house. We can imagine Zacchaeus’ astonishment! Had Jesus said: ‘Come down, exploiter, betrayer of the people! Come to speak with me to settle the accounts!’ No doubt the people would have applauded. Instead, they began to murmur: ‘Jesus goes to his house, that of a sinner, of an exploiter.’ Jesus’ gaze goes beyond sins and prejudices. He sees a person through the eyes of God, who does not stop at past evil, but perceives the future good. Jesus looked at Zacchaeus’ wounded heart. God is not blocked by our sin but overcomes it with love and makes us long for the good. All humans contain something of good inside their hearts and God looks for this, to help us step away from sin and return to our good selves.
What Do We See? I am drawn by a detail in today’s gospel. It has to do with eyes, with what the main characters are seeing. It is striking that the Pharisee sees the tax collector. His eyes are roving about as he prays in the temple. By contrast, the tax collector sees nothing, certainly not the Pharisee, since we are told that the tax collector “would not even raise his eyes to heaven.” This detail raises the of question what one sees, how one sees, and reminds us of the haunting phrase spoken by the Lord in 1 Samuel 16, 7. As the sons of Jesse are presented before him, he is sure that the number one son is the Lord’s choice. But here the Lord trains and corrects Samuel’s sight: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.” How do we acquire such sight, eyes that see as the Lord sees? One only begins to see with God’s eyes when the heart has been humbled. Knowing our own sinfulness, our identity as loved sinners, gives us new eyes so that we look out on the world and, especially on other people, the way God does. When we see others from such a heart, we see brothers and sisters who are “like me,” in contrast with the eyes of the Pharisee, who does not see from the heart and can only observe that “I am not like the rest of humanity.” Such a humble heart is the key to everything: “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance” (St. Augustine). Lord, humble our hearts. Give us your eyes!
The opening line of the gospel makes it clear that this parable is a lesson about persevering in prayer. The parable involves the conflict between two stock characters. The widow stands for the most vulnerable kind of people in Israelite society – with no husband to ensure their rights widows were at the mercy of others. The rather important judge who neither fears God nor listens to public opinion isn’t going to allow a defenceless woman like her to get the better of him – or at least that’s what he thinks. In the last line of todays gospel something of a reverse takes place. The main character of the parable was an earthly judge but not a very good one at that. Another judge is coming – the Son of Man who will be even more searching than even the most stringent earthly judge. Perseverance in prayer is the key to everything. If I persevere love and trust and patience all grow, and God becomes more real. God is leading us, loving us and the Spirit prays for us when we do not know what to say. So, as the example the widow shows in today’s gospel – have courage, trust and pray.
Jesus hated no one. His love and compassion extended to all people no matter who they were or what their plight. Today’s gospel speaks about the need to be thankful to God for all God gives us and does for us. It also challenges us to think of our attitude to other people who because of their race, colour, creed, wealth, sexuality or health are different from us. Pope Francis has decided that October 2019 is a special month of prayer and action to strengthen and grow God’s mission throughout the church. Each of us is a mission to the world and each of us is the fruit of God’s love. This is where we respond generously to the call of helping and supporting all our brothers and sisters in the world who are in need. Prayer is at the heart of the church’s mission and prayer puts Christ at the centre of our lives so that we as his church will permanently be on mission in the world. Be loving in the support of your brothers and sisters.
A missionary in Africa was translating John’s Gospel into the local dialect and he encountered many problems with certain words. One such word was ‘to believe’. There was no exact word in the dialect, so he approached one of the natives for help. When he explained his problem, the native replied without hesitation, “To believe should be translated to ‘listen with the heart’”. The apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith, but I don’t think they were merely talking about and academic knowledge you get from reading books or studying the bible. Faith also involves ‘prayerful listening with the heart’ to the words of Jesus, modelling our lives on his. Our faith grows when we are no longer uncomfortable about practising our religion in public especially among those who are no longer church goers. St. Paul says in the reading today, “Never be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord”. To increase our faith in the world we live in today is about listening more to God’s word.
In Jesus’ time as indeed today, there was the feeling that the better person you were the richer you were. So a rich person was a good person and a poor person was a bad one. But in today’s gospel Jesus turns this on its head. This message of hope for the poor and oppressed is one that appeals to many but in real terms people do not live up to it even today. Many people today are rich and successful by exploiting others. This weekend in particular we remember migrants and refugees and victims of human trafficking. We are asked by Pope Francis to remember them in our prayers and to help wherever possible. Every person in this world deserves a life and as a Christian we should not use people or walk on the others side of the road when we see people needing help. I would urge us all to pause and think and pray and be of good heart.
In today’s gospel Jesus uses a rather unusual parable about a steward’s sharp practise to make a point about our relationship with God. In telling this parable Jesus isn’t condoning improper behaviour but rather he uses it to stress the importance of taking decisive action when decisive action is needed. The steward hadn’t been doing his job properly and so faced the sack but when his future security was on the line he acted quickly. He didn’t hesitate – he saw he needed to act and he did. It must be the same with our spiritual life. Our relationship with God is of paramount importance in our life but we can easily neglect it and allow it to drift along or we can get distracted by other things, become dishonest and fall into bad habits. If we neglect our relationship with God, if our spiritual future is threatened, then we need to act as quickly and decisively as that astute steward. We need to be as clever at safeguarding our spiritual future and the salvation of our souls as the clever people of this world are when their financial future is in peril.
Mgr. Gerard writes: Whether you are a brand new catholic, a “cradle catholic”, new to the area and parish, young or not so young, now is the time to get involved with your church. Members of the parishes who are actively involved often feel more at home and find joy in serving the Lord and others. Many also say they grow in their spiritual life. Do you want to be an usher, altar server, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, minister to the sick and housebound? Do you have experience in work relating to health and safety or finance? Are you willing to get involved in flower arranging, helping with tea and coffee, fund raising for the parish and being a welcomer, joining the choir, the offertory procession rota? In all our parishes I am extremely grateful for everyone that is currently involved, and I don’t take the support and help for granted but I am also aware that many things that happen in a parish revolve around the same people. At every parish this weekend I am distributing a form that I would like you to take and fill in a form and tick a box what you could on a regular basis become involved with in the parish. I know we all lead very busy lives and have many family commitments but over this past year since taking over the admin of St. Francis’ and St. Clare’s as well as the Shrine and the Cathedral I am asking for more help and support. Sadly, particularly at St. Francis’, our deacon Ray Hall will be stepping down from ministry from 6th October and Ray has been a great help and support to me and the priests in opening the church and setting things up for Mass etc. and I need to rely on people to come forward and take those duties on. Once you have filled these forms in please return them to each of the sacristies where I will personally collect them over the next few weeks. It takes one easy step to volunteer and become part of what are already great teams of people that really look after our churches and our Shrine. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be starting to put the heating back on in all our churches. Recently there have been fairly big bills coming in with all the heating costs and we have also at all our churches had some fire risk assessments and this has resulted in a number of recommendations that must be adhered to and some of those incur costs, in particular the lighting for all of the churches which will be a major cost. But the big change will be when we light the candles. First, we are not allowed to have the seven-day candles at St. Clare’s and the Shrine because I am not allowed to have a church that is not manned while candles are lit and therefore I am having to remove the seven-day candles. I would recommend if you want to light a tea light at any of our churches I would recommend that you do that before Mass begins and not at the end as all candles need to be extinguished when we lock the church. In order to comply with our insurance I have to comply with the fire regulations. Obviously, the recent fire at Notre Dame in Paris is still under investigation as to how the fire started and has brought in stricter controls over the use of candles. Finally, may I thank you for your patience and help over the past year trying to juggle between three churches has been an interesting experience for all the priests but I think we are all slowly getting there.
Today Jesus reminds us that the choice to follow him is the most radical decision we could take in our life. It touches us far more deeply than, for example, the decision to join a political party or to emigrate or to get married. Jesus must be important to us and if we don’t realise that or if we hesitate to affirm it then we are not keeping our baptismal promises.
If we think we can be true disciples of Jesus by going to Mass occasionally, saying the odd prayer, maybe even wearing a cross and making occasional donations to charity whilst remaining radically selfish and easily going along with the norms and patterns of our secular society then we deceive ourselves and our great need is to be shaken out of our spiritual complacency and be truly converted. Setting out in the race as a believer is one thing, crossing the line at the finish is quite another
The truly humble don’t pretend to know everything. They are aware of their limitations and they give respect for everyone. Jesus himself suggests that humility is linked with the way in which we treat other people. So he is actually posing a challenge here to all of us. The word humility is from the Latin word humus meaning ground so a humble person is one with their feet on the ground, a realist who is unpretentious, unassuming, self-accepting. Interestingly in contrast hypocrisy is associated with stage acting so a hypocrite is a pretender, a person who acts a part, wears a mask and puts on an external show. In today’s gospel Jesus calls us to turn from the play acting of hypocrisy and turn to authentic humility. If you want your humanity to reach it’s richest expression then live humbly.
“Try your best to enter by the narrow door…” The passage to salvation described for us in today’s Gospel is Jesus himself. He is the only door through which we can travel in order to come to the Father’s eternal Kingdom. However, part of following Jesus’ path, as we know, involves suffering. Just as he endured Calvary for our salvation, so too he asks us to take up our crosses and follow him.
Many currents in our society perceive suffering as something evil, to be prevented at all costs. But as the Letter to the Hebrews says in today’s second reading, “suffering is part of your training.” We might not be able to explain the reasons for suffering, but by our faith we know that it has a salvific meaning and purpose.
Of course, we make every ethical effort to help those who are suffering – whether that be through medical or pastoral care. However, we should hold fast to the words of Saint John Paul II in his 1984 encyclical letter on the Christian meaning of suffering. He wrote: “…to share in the sufferings of Christ is, at the same time, to suffer for the Kingdom of God. In the eyes of the just God, before his judgment, those who share in the suffering of Christ become worthy of this Kingdom.” (Salvifici Doloris, 21)
Our struggle against sin is a challenging one. Although as the Lord’s faithful we strive to be like Him, we are also fallen human beings who have a weakness, an inclination, to go against God’s law. Today’s world throws at us a whole range of temptations that we have to enter into spiritual battle with.
To help us throw off “the sin that clings so easily” which allows us to continue running in the race towards everlasting happiness, today’s second reading commends to us the “many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us”. The saints throughout every age who are now high in glory all fought against temptation. They teach us to have courage and to not be disheartened when we struggle, particularly when it comes to habitual sins. Their lives are testimonies of opening ourselves to God’s grace, in order that we may reject vice and embrace virtue.
The saints teach us to seek the Lord’s forgiveness and healing by approaching the Sacrament of Confession with humility. The great 19th century Italian priest, Saint John Bosco, said: “Do you want to become saints? Here is the secret: confession is the lock; confidence in your confessor is the key. This is how you open heaven’s gates.”
Get yourselves “treasure that will not fail you…For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel remind us where our true treasure lies: not in wealth, money or success, but in our faith. The second reading presents to us two fine examples of faith: Abraham and Sarah. Their great trust in the Lord amid the challenges they faced came from their desire and thirst for “their heavenly homeland”.
As the Letter to the Hebrews says: “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for…” So, to have a sure hope of heaven, we need to clutch onto that treasure of faith in Christ that we were given on the day of our baptism. As Sarah and Abraham demonstrate by their belief in God’s Providence, holding fast to the gift of faith isn’t fulfilled in a half-hearted acknowledgement of God’s presence in our lives, but a complete and total commitment to the only One who has the power to save us.
In his encyclical Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis describes faith as a “priceless treasure”, which “God has given as a light for humanity’s path” (Lumen Fidei, 7). May we always cling to that treasure so that we can present it back to the Lord as a testament of our desire for Him when the time to meet our merciful judge comes.
The Gospel today calls for persistence in prayer. It would be sad if we only pray to God in time of difficulty or when confronted with a problem and ignore him the rest of the time. Prayer should become second nature to us. Normally we don’t skip meals so also no day should go by without raising our hearts and minds to the one who made us even if its only for a few minutes a day.
Some people give up prayer when they don’t get what they want. Others give up on God when he unexpectedly takes someone away from them. Have we ever been tempted to do the same when we felt hard done to by God?
In one of the Sunday prefaces we say, “In him we live and move and have our being” so we know who is in charge of things both up there and down here. Prayer is a journey into love. Loving God and neighbour without any depth would be an uphill struggle.
You can pray anywhere – before you get out of bed, waiting for a bus, walking the dog. As long as we take time out of each day to pray then we will be constantly connected to God our Father.
Do we ever make space in our lives for people who could do with a listening ear, especially if they catch us on the hop and we are not expecting them? Loving someone is just not helping someone in a time of crisis like the Good Samaritan in last Sunday’s Gospel but also about making them and space for them on a more mundane level and especially if it is inconvenient to us.
But before this happens it is important to make time and space for God in our busy lives. Martha and Mary were equally loved by Jesus. The Gospel tells us that Mary sat down at the Lord’s feet to listen to his words. Jesus gently reminds Martha that Mary had chosen the better part on this occasion and it would be a shame to take it from her.
Blaise Pascale, the renowned 17th century philosopher and mathematician, wrote that “all of humanities problems stem from the inability to sit quietly in a room alone”. If that was true of the 17th century how much more relevant is it for us today? We need to make uninterrupted time and space for God if we are ever going to give quality time to others.
Have you ever reflected on the parable of the Good Samaritan from the innkeeper’s perspective? Why did Our Lord include this character into the story? Perhaps he wanted to teach us the importance of witnessing the charity of others.
Imagine the innkeeper’s reaction seeing a Samaritan man, a foreigner, arrive with the beaten man bandaged up and treated. He would have witnessed first-hand the care, love, and attention the Samaritan would have given the man. This would have inspired and strengthened him to take on the care of the man when the Samaritan said: “Look after him…”
There are many people in our own community who do heroic things for their neighbour, even if they be a stranger. Just like the innkeeper, may we be given the gift of recognising charity when we see it, being moved by it, and then letting holy charity be our outward clothing as well.
When you walked into Church today, the chances are that you dipped your hand into the holy water stoup and blessed yourself: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It’s a practice that can easily just become part of a Sunday routine. But have we ever stopped to think about the significance of what we do?
Primarily, blessing ourselves with Holy Water reminds us of our baptism, our birth into the divine life of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. By the waters of baptism, we were immersed into the depths of a profound relationship with One God, Three Persons – the Holy Trinity, the central mystery of our faith that we celebrate with today’s feast.
Blessing ourselves with Holy Water as we come into Church prepares us to receive the graces we receive in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. It’s also a wonderful practice to have a holy water stoup at home as well. By blessing ourselves regularly, we’ll be reminded of the day we became adopted sons and daughters of God and come ever more deeply into relationship with the Blessed Trinity.
It’s always wonderful to welcome guests. To have people over for a meal or even to have them stay over for a night is a great joy and builds our friendship with them. But to have guests, preparations are required. Firstly, we have to be open to receiving them. Then, we have to prepare the food, the drink, and their accommodation. While they are with us, we have to give our time to be in their company.
On this great Feast of Pentecost, we’re asked to welcome the greatest “guest” into our hearts – the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity. Given to us in today’s liturgy, the beautiful 13th century Veni Sancte Spiritus, known as the “golden Sequence”, contains the striking line: “Thou, of all consolers best, Thou, the soul’s delightful guest, Dost refreshing peace bestow.”
It’s wonderfully comforting to know that the Gift of the Holy Spirit brings a lasting peace to our soul. But notice how the Paraclete is described as a “guest”. That means to receive the plenitude of gifts He brings, we have to be well disposed to receive Him, not just once in a while, but in every minute of every day.
Through our daily time of silent prayer and regular reception of the Sacraments, we allow the Holy Spirit, the greatest guest of all, to enter into our hearts and set us on fire for love of God and each other.
Parishioners and clergy from St Mary’s Cathedral, St Francis & St Clare’s, and the Lady Chapel, Mount Grace, gathered to say prayers and light candles across the River Gave de Pau from the Grotto in Lourdes during the recent Middlesbrough Diocesan pilgrimage.
Monsignor Gerard led the prayers, which included various intentions from people of the parishes, as well as prayers the sick and housebound and for those who have died. Parishioners were also invited to voice their own intentions which they had brought with them to Lourdes.
Several candles were then lit, for the people of all the churches, and for the various intentions of parishioners who had joined the pilgrimage as part of various groups.
It is easy to witness your faith in Lourdes. Young and old are happy to pray together, to come together in friendship and community and to live our faith by the kindness shown in so many different ways. But sadly that time in Lourdes comes to an end and we have to return to our homes and then witness to our faith can be a lonely business.
But in order to sustain our faith – this is where community comes into its own because we need the support of the community. A Christian community is not made up of perfect people. The little community of disciples that Jesus prayed for was made up of people who were, timid, weak and fearful.
Jean Vanier talks about ‘the fellowship of the weak’ and says that greater solidarity can result from the sharing of weakness and the sharing of strength. This might seem a contradiction but if you take a bunch of reeds for example, individual reeds are weak and easily broken. But tie a bunch of reeds together and they are almost unbreakable – and so it is with people.
Great strength comes from togetherness especially for weak people. There is a hidden strength and this is supported through prayer and worshipping together and by a loving service to one another and this is how we bring back from Lourdes all the wonderful gifts and love that we are so easily able to show and give to our communities back home. This is why community should be genuine and help work together.
It is too easy to walk away and join another community simply for our own selfish purposes. During the Last Supper Jesus prayed for the unity amongst his disciples: Father may they be one as we are one. This is our task as a community and it is a great challenge.
Recently, an elderly gentleman was dying. He had had a good life and he would have it all over again. He said he would gladly forego money and health as long as he could have the same wife, same family, same love again.
Love – that was what was important in life. It was love which kept things together and it made sense of life. The day before this elderly gentleman died all the family were around his bedside but as usual some were quite quarrelsome and some at odds with one another. As the elder of the family and the father of the family he told them they must learn to love one another and try harder. This was everything and they must believe this as these were the words of a dying man.
Jesus spoke his similar words to his friends the night before he died. It was a simple clear message “Love one another as I loved you.” We pray that God will touch our hearts so that we are people who are able to love and show love to and for others.
This Sunday is used throughout the world as a day of prayer for vocations to the priesthood.
Vocation is a much more generalised call than simply to the priesthood but this day is set aside for centring on those who the Lord is calling to the specialised ordained ministerial priesthood. I hope we all know that there is the wider royal priesthood. But here we are facing the call to accept a particular ministry which involves celebrating the Mass or Eucharist, normally the administration of other Sacraments and also often the pastoral care of some of the flock of Christ.
As a priest, I can assure you how much I owed to the prayers of others as I tried to seek God’s will in finally going forward to ordination. That was up to ordination. Needless to say, the need and the support has continued. But today especially we are all asked to pray that the Lord will send men to lead his flock.
There are two calls of Peter related in the Gospels. The first occurrence is at the start of Jesus’ ministry (Mark 1: 16-18). The second occurrence is after the resurrection in today’s Gospel.
Three years separated those two calls and during that time a lot of things had happened to Peter. He had found out a lot about the man who had called him, about the task to which he had called him and all about himself. When the second call came Peter was a wiser and humbler man and therefore his second ‘yes’ was far more mature and enlightened than his first ‘yes’ had been.
Peter’s story is one of calling, falling and recalling. It shows that Christ’s call doesn’t exclude falls. A vocation is not something one hears once and answers once. A call has to be heard many times and responded to many times. Each day a part of the chosen path opens up before us. A part we have not traveled before. As one goes on the call gets deeper and the response becomes more internal and personal.
Peter is a great consolation to us. Courage fails us all. In the end all of us are mere mortals who are inconstant in our belief. We must learn to forgive ourselves, our moments of weaknesses and failures. We must not judge ourselves or others by momentary lapses and work as Peter did to look after our brothers and sisters in our community.