Homily 5th Sunday

5th Sunday of the Year ( a ) 2020

            When was the last time someone called you “the salt of the earth”?  What about the other image: “the light of the world”?  I am not sure when I last called someone “the salt of the earth”, but I do know I’ve never said to anyone, “you are the light of the world”, and for that matter no one has said it to me.  What a compliment that would be. It’s not an expression we hear widely used; the “salt of the earth” yes. I’m sure I have called more than one person “the salt of the earth”. It’s a big compliment. I’m sure I made them feel good about themselves. It’s what we can say when we really believe someone is a really good person.  I have never used the other expression: “you are the light of the world”.  The closest I’ve got to it is “sunshine.” It’s not that uncommon in London to call someone by that word, “alright sunshine”, but it’s not really used as a compliment. 

            So how do you get to be the “light of the world”? Well, it’s there in the first reading from Isaiah. You ‘share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor. Clothe the man you see to be naked and shelter the homeless poor.’ And just in case you didn’t get it first time Isaiah repeats himself a few lines later: ‘If you do away with the yoke, the clenched fist, the wicked word, if you give your bread to the hungry, and relief to the oppressed, your light will rise in the darkness.’  We are called not only to be the ‘salt of the earth’ but also ‘the light of the world’. 

            Notice how being “the light of the world” is about thinking of others, especially the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the oppressed. But notice ‘your own kin’ too. Isaiah tells us,  ‘do not turn away from your own kin.’ It can be easy to be charitable to the stranger but not always easy to the people you live with, yet, as they say, “charity begins at home.”  God is telling us that if we want to be happy then we will be givers; the happiest people I know are givers. To be happy is like being a ray of sunshine in someone’s life. 

            Unhappy people are often so because they are selfish; they think only of themselves. You could say, to stick with that symbol, that they live in darkness. That’s because their world is very small; it’s just themselves: a small dark world. We were not created to be selfish, to think only of ourselves, or to live in darkness. We were created to be givers, to think of others, and to live in the light. And yet, it’s so easy to be selfish. As children we can be selfish. We needed to be taught to share our sweets. Or, not to say “I want” all the time, think of others: what do they want? As a child I was taught, “I want doesn’t get.”  We can grow up as children; thinking only of ourselves and not thinking of others, becoming the “me, me, me” generation. But this only leads to unhappiness and to darkness. 

            The Lord says to us: be the “light of the world.” Be the “salt of the earth.” Be generous. Be a giver. Reach out to others less fortunate than yourself.  This is the secret of happiness, to be the “sunshine” that lightens not only our darkness but other peoples too. 

Sermon for Xtian Unity Week

Sermon at St Mary Abbots, Sunday 26th January 2020

Choral Matins | Christian Unity Week

            We are still in Christmas mode; the time of the Epiphany. Actually the Roman Catholic Church finished the Christmas period two weeks ago.  It’s good to know that, for once, we are ahead of the Church of England. I am happy to preach on the theme of Christmas and particularly the Epiphany, when the wise men came to Bethlehem, to signify the revelation of this child to the world. Here we are today celebrating the same feast. Not all of us are wise. Not all of us are men. Nonetheless, we are called to replace the wise men and reveal this child to the nations. 

            The Gospel passage we’ve just heard uses, what for many, are abstract words, particularly the use the Greek, philosophical term, ‘The Word’. When you look at the crib and see the little babe; you don’t normally say, “ah, look at the Word”.  I’m sure the shepherds who came to see the child never used such language. They would have said something like, “ah, look. Isn’t he cute”. When we see a baby we can change. We might make funny noises like people do when they try to communicate with babies, “coudgy, coudgy coo” or words to that effect. Some people just pull funny faces. But you wouldn’t say, “hello Word. Coudgy, coudgy coo”, would you? Or, if you were a biblical scholar, “hello Logos. Coudgy coudgy coo”. Well, I wouldn’t. 

            No, the child Jesus is a child. It’s an ordinary looking baby; nothing abstract or philosophical about it. Soon Mary will have to change its nappy as every Mum has to do, because all babies need their nappies changing. Maybe Joseph was liberated and he too changed Jesus’ nappy. This looks like a very ordinary child, except to his parents of course; like all parents it is the most beautiful baby in the world. Now if he were born today you’d be seeing lots photos of him; now this is one just after he was born, doesn’t he luke cute; here’s one of him in the crib: doesn’t he look gorgeous; and here’s one with him with the ox and the donkey; and, look here’s one with one of the shepherds holding him. You can see he looks a bit frightened. Well, what child wouldn’t be. But doesn’t he look beautiful? 

            This child isn’t just beautiful it is God; it is the Word, it is the Logos.  The challenge for us Christians is to believe this. Not something we can take for granted. 

            The great evangelist John writes of this event. John is depicted in art as an eagle; because his vision is so lofty, he flies so high above all others and certainly above the other three evangelists. John is the only one who calls Jesus, ‘the Word’. ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, our hands have handled, of the Word of life”.  The other three evangelists don’t speak in such lofty philosophical terms, their language is more down to earth. They describe how the disciples ate and drank with Jesus. How they walked from village to village with him. How they got hot and tired and thirsty with him. They argued with him, boasted about who was the greatest with him. Fished with him. They went to weddings with him, drank lots of wine with him. Embraced him, hugged him, slapped him on the back.  This is a different description of the Word, as related by Mathew, Mark and Luke, not so spiritual or philosophical but one we could more easily relate to.  

            Then the baby grew up to be a young boy, then a young man, then a man. A man among other men in his mountain top village of Nazareth. He was in many ways just like the other men in his village. Today, we might say: he was “one of the lads”.  It can still shock us when we read in scripture how his own people rejected him; some even thought he was out of his mind!  But we shouldn’t be shocked. We are coming at this truth with the hindsight of 2000 years; and hindsight is the clearest form of sight. Had we been alive at the time, had we lived in Nazareth village, had we gone to school with him, had we seen him grow up, had we seen him going out each day to work with his father, had we seen him at the wine harvest, or at weddings, had we experienced these mundane things, would we have understood what he was saying in the synagogue that the prophesy of Isaiah is being fulfilled even as you listen?  Would we have got down on our knees, as we would today, and worship him as the Son of God: truly God and truly man? I doubt it. 

            History can make us critical and incredulous of those who knew him: that they didn’t recognize who he really was.  But what about us today, with the benefit of 2000 years of hindsight, of experience, of the witness of others, especially the martyrs, the saints: are we any better? Are we like John the Evangelist; when we look in the crib: do we see the Word, the Son of God.  Because if we do, then it will have changed our lives. 

            Someone who has faith in Jesus as the only son of God, will be different from others. This has always been important but never so much as today. Today we are living in a secular and materialistic society; a society that has pushed God to the periphery. Our Christian values are being eroded by other more secular values. No longer is Sunday, for instance, a day to stop work in order to worship God. People now have to go to work, at least many of them. If they are not working many spend their Sundays at a garden centre or rugby or football match, or just simply having a long lie in. The majority of people living in England will not have looked at a crib at Christmas; the closest they’ll come to that is if they watched ‘The Vicar of Dibley, Christmas Special’.  How are those people going to hear the Word of God? It’s such an important question and the answer is equally important: they will hear the Word of God through us. We are called to evangelize these people, to tell them about the Good News of Jesus Christ; to tell them that God is a God of love and mercy. 

            This is the challenge for us Christians today, living in this secular society. We have to believe ourselves that the baby Jesus is the Word; that Jesus is the Logos. Not just any old baby but God himself. If we are to be effective evangelizers then our faith has to transform our lives. And we will be concerned not only for those who come to church but for the majority who don’t. Our faith will give us a desire to be evangelizers, to go out to others. Our faith has been given to us as a gift, it is not meant to be kept to ourselves, but to be shared with others. 

            We, Roman Catholics, haven’t really been very good at evangelization. We have tended to look after our own. But times have changed, and so have we. Several decades ago one of our Popes, wrote an encyclical letter entitled, ‘Evangelization in the Modern World’. He concluded that people today are not looking for teachers so much as for witnesses.  In other words, those who lives convince others to the truths of the Gospel. Who was it who said, “go out and preach the gospel, use words if necessary”. And this is the point: it is not by preaching to others that we will convince people but by the way we live. If we are kind, generous, compassionate, honest and sincere people will notice. They won’t know anything about the Logos but they will see something of God in you.  This is what we were baptized for: to believe and in believing to share that faith with others. 

            And how much more effective would our sharing be if we Christians were one. The Churches in London are too comfortable in their own skin. We need to get out of our comfort zones. As baptized Christians we share a lot in common. In fact, what we share far outweighs what divides us; yet we continue to live our divisions.  

            I don’t want to finish on a negative note. It wouldn’t be right. The true Christian is positive; always the optimist. Our slogan should be “yes we can”. Yes we can be one. The world we live in needs our witness, our united witness, to the gospel message: that Jesus, born in a stable in Bethlehem, is truly God and man. To share this news, this Good News, isn’t an option, it’s an obligation imposed on us when we were baptised. If you love the incarnate Word then you can’t keep that love to yourself. Our world is desperate for this Good News. And for this reason, we owe it to God to try harder to bring about unity. “Yes, we can”. 

Homily for 3rd Sunday

3rd Sunday of the Year ( A ) 2020

            I am sure that like me many people love the fact that the days are getting longer. I don’t mind that it is only minutes each day because I know that we are going in the right direction. And soon we shall have long bright days. There’s something about light that is so attractive. Is it a coincidence that Christ is born into the world when the days start to get longer? I don’t think so. 

            We read in the gospel today that Jesus moves to Capernaum, as a result we are told, from the prophesy of Isaiah, that a ‘great light has dawned’.  It’s a lovely image: not just a light, but a great light has dawned.  Light tends to suggest happiness and joy. Have you seen those summer holiday ads, where you see people lazing on the beach, enjoying the sunshine, laughing and jumping into the sea.  What fun these people seem to be having. 

            So Christ comes to Capernaum and a light shines in this lakeside town. What are Christ first words? ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand’.  At first, it appears to be a bit of a dampener. The word ‘repentance’ has a certain killjoy ring about it. We hear of evangelical preachers threatening people to repent before it’s too late. There is then almost a threat about it: if you don’t repent you’ll suffer for all eternity. So, one might ask: where’s the light, the joy, the fun that Christ is supposed to bring?

            I can’t really say that repentance is fun; that wouldn’t be right. But it is not a negative word, indeed it’s a very positive word. It means to turn back, and in this instance it means to turn back to God. The presumption being that we have turned away from Him. Surely no one is always turned towards God, even the saints had their off days. And if that is true of the saints what about us?  Surely, we can often forget about God. We can switch off. It’s easily done. After all, we live in a secular society, God is pushed to the periphery. Our eyes and ears are bombarded with sounds and images that have nothing to do with God. Our materialistic society seduces us into thinking that happiness comes from possessing as much as possible.  In such a world, it’s so easy to switch God off and to turn in to a world that offers instant pleasure and fun.  Yet so often our secular society leads people to be unhappy and sad and miserable. 

            Christ came to teach us that a Christian can have fun, can really enjoy the good things of life. Repentance means to turn away from values that appear to offer happiness, to values that definitely offer happiness. Repentance means to begin again, which is something we can do every day, and probably need to do every day. The Lord has infinite patience with us. He keeps calling us to repent, to turn back to Him. He will do this throughtout our lives. Not just once. Never believe people who tell you that you only have one chance; that may apply in some circumstances but not with God; for God gives us endless chances. And what joy is experienced when we do turn back to Him. It is a joy that nothing in this world can give us. It is a joy that no one can take from us. Isn’t that Good News?

Homily for 2nd Sunday

2nd Sunday of the Year (a) 2020

            We can all say with John the Baptist about Jesus, “I did not know him myself”. Jesus lived and died 2000 years ago, so we had no chance to know him. Is that a disadvantage? You sometimes here people say: “if only I could see Jesus then my faith would be much stronger”. You can understand why someone would say that, but it’s not necessarily true. There were many people who saw Jesus in his own day, even saw him perform miracles but they still didn’t believe in him. Faith in Jesus isn’t therefore about sight, about seeing and touching. There are other ways of knowing Jesus, even 2000 years later.  One way of knowing him is through his friends. 

            John the Baptist wasn’t necessarily a friend of Jesus. We know he was his cousin, even though they didn’t seem to know each other. John says at the end of today’s gospel; “Yes, I have seen and I am witness that he is the Chosen One of God”.  It’s that word “witness” that is important: John witnessed to Christ. John’s witness didn’t end at his death. John had his own disciples. They continued to be his disciples for centuries afterwards. As each generation passed away so a new took up the baton. 

            As well as John’s disciples there were, of course, Christ’s own disciples. Beginning with the 12 apostles.  We know that Peter and Paul and James, and many others died a martyr’s death. They witnessed to Christ with their blood.  And this witnessing passed on from generation to generation, down through the centuries, until our own day. Today we have our own witnesses to Christ; some of them are well known: St. Mother Teresa, Saint John Paul II, St Padre Pio, to name but three, but many, many others are not well known. How often have I heard someone say, “my mother was a saint”. Sometimes “my father was a saint” but more often the mother. They will never probably be canonized but they left a deep and lasting impression by their lives. 

            The truth is that we are all called to witness to Christ. We see witnesses to Christ in our own generation; we see people who are gentle, in spite of oppression. We see people who are courageous in the face of terrible violence.  We see people who are kind to those who are rude to them. There are people who would give you their last penny. Those who go out of their way to help someone in need. These are our saints. They witness to the values of the gospel. By knowing them we know Christ. 

            Christ has come into the world in order to be known. He wants us to know him, love him and serve him. And what he is telling us to do is to witness to the people of our generation. He wants us to love like he did. Love makes the world go round; not power, not money, not hatred, but love. It is the greatest force and we are called to know him who is love, our saviour Jesus Christ. Look at him. He is here among us, in the good people you know; but he is also in you; don’t forget that. 

Homily for Baptism of Christ

Baptism of the Lord (2020)

            Today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord. Baptism did not originate with Jesus. Indeed, we see John baptizing before Jesus; he in fact baptises Jesus. No, baptism began long before Jesus, but not as we know it. John the Baptist learned how to baptise from a group of holy men known as the Essenes. Some of you may have been to the Holy Land, and to the famous Qumram, where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls. In Qumram there is a pool of water, which the men went into once a year to cleanse themselves physically and spiritually. Well it was from this that we get the concept of baptism. They would walk down some steps, into the water, before walking out the other side.  It was an annual cleansing event. 

            The gospel tells us that Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan. It tells us ‘as soon as Jesus was baptised he came up from the water’. Notice that: he was immersed in water. John the Baptist knew who he was and tried to dissuade him; “It is I who need baptism from you”. Jesus saw this event as the beginning of his public ministry; baptism for him wasn’t just symbolic, it was making a statement: that from now on he became a public figure. Till now his life was hidden. God the Father uses this occasion to commission Him: “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him.”

            Our baptisms are a beginning too. Most of us were baptized as babies; I certainly was. You were baptized as soon as possible after your birth. Baptism washed away our sins, above all what we call ‘original sin’.  We begin our post-baptismal life as pure as pure can be. Of course, with the way we baptize today it is hard to see the symbolism of washing and cleansing. The font is small. You couldn’t get in it. You certainly couldn’t be immersed in it. And yet, the Greek catholics still manage to put the entire baby into the water. All we roman catholics do is pour a few drops of water over the babies head. This isn’t good enough. It is a poor symbol of what is happening. Our sins are being washed away by the waters of baptism. The more water, therefore, the better. 

            Like Jesus, baptism is for us too a beginning. It is the beginning of our life in God. It is therefore, after our birth, the most important event in our lives. We are cleansed of our sins. We are no longer the same. At the same time we are commissioned by God to imitate His Son; to go out and tell people about the Father: about his love, his mercy and justice. But the awareness of what has happened takes time. Usually a very long time; often a lifetime. A great change has taken place on the day of our baptism, but because we were babies we don’t see it. Nothing extraordinary happens; there is no voice from heaven, yet we are not the same; we are holy; we are sacred to the Lord.

The good Christian will become ever more aware of the importance of his or her baptism. And once they do it makes such a difference. Our ordinary lives now take on an extraordinary dimension. Everything we do has a significance it never had before. We are now holy, sacred. Yes, we are sinners, we are far from perfect, but God looks on us and smiles. On the day of our baptism He has given us a role to fulfil which only we can. And our lives are that much fuller when we discover what that is. Which is essentially to tell others about the love and mercy of God. 

Homily for The Epiphany

The Feast of the Epiphany 2020

Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The Wise Men came to Bethlehem. They must have wondered why was the star guiding them to this small place. They knew from their Arabic that the town meant: ‘house of bread’. But that is all they knew. They were dependent on the light of the star to guide them. 

What were they doing this in the first place? They were called ‘wise men’ for a reason. Today we might have used the word intelligent men or even scientists. Back in their native land they studied the stars. They were experts. One day they noticed a strange new phenomenon: a new star had appeared in the heavens. In the minds of these wise men this could only mean one thing; that a person of extraordinary importance had been born. And so that set off to find this person and to do him homage. 

As they journeyed along they must have discussed with each other who this extraordinary child might be: surely a king. No one would disagree with that. For this reason they were not surprised when the star led them to Jerusalem. It was a magnificent town with a temple the like of which they had never seen for size and beauty. Surely this new born king would be born in a palace; they kind of palace you’d find in Jerusalem. But to their surprise he wasn’t there. Instead the star led them to a poor village just an hour’s walk south of Jerusalem. Imagine their surprise when the star stood still over Bethlehem. They had come such a long way, trusting in the guidance of the star, surely it couldn’t have made a mistake. 

It led them to the home of Jesus Mary and Joseph. It must have caused quite a surprise in Bethlehem to see these three strange men on camels entering their village. It would have caused an even greater surprise to Mary and Joseph. I suppose there was surprise all round, but there was also reverence and mystery. The star did not make a mistake: this was the child. This was why a new star was born. Nature itself recognised the new born king; and not just any old king, if you can say such a thing about royalty, but the King of the Universe. The three wise men offered their gifts to the child and they did him homage. And then they returned home to tell others what they had seen. 

When we come to the crib we shall see the wise men kneeling and offering their gifts. They had come a long way to see the Christ child; a phenomenon like none other, they would never forget this experience. 

We too should never forget this experience. Soon we shall be taking down our decorations and putting the Christmas tree outside for the bin-men; some have done this already. Christmas for too many people will become a memory. For us, Christians, every day we should remember Christmas. Every day we should do homage to our God. He became one of us in order to tell us about the Father. He came to tell us of the Father’s love and mercy. Like the Wise men let us tell others about what we have seen. Let us share the love this child has come to bring with others in our world. Otherwise, Christmas will be just an event that occurs once a year, soon to be forgotten as we plan our summer holidays. Christmas is not just for one day, it is for ever. It is the greatest story every told; and it is ongoing. In our lives God come to us to tell us: I love you. You are lovable in my eyes. Now go out and tell others.  

Homily for Christmas Day

Homily for Christmas Day 2019

            This is, to say the least, a special time of the year. It is a season of goodwill. Have you noticed that people are kinder at this time? Maybe not everyone but generally there is a nicer feel in our world. This is what Christmas does to people. The birth of Christ brings out the best in us. It can bring us together and help us to forget our differences. 

            A wonderful example of this happened in the First World War. It was a famous incident that happened on Christmas day, when the British and German troops were fighting each other in trenches. The trenches were so close they could hear each other speak. Then on Christmas day some of the German soldiers started to sing carols, they sang ‘Silent Night’, then the British soldiers joined in. Then an amazing thing happened. Both British and German soldiers put their rifles down, left the safety of their trenches and stood in no-mans land. They shook hands and wished each other a merry-Christmas. Then they played a football match. It went to extra time and the Germans won on penalties! This coming together only happened once but it has never been forgotten. Such is the transforming power of Christmas.

We continue to sing carols today. Silent night and O come all ye Faithful and O little town of Bethlehem and others. They still have the power to move us. That is because they are about the greatest story ever told. A story that gives us hope, something to believe in when at times we can be tempted to give up. Hope is such an important virtue. It helps us to keep going when we feel like giving up. This hope, this belief that the birth of Christ gives us, will not deceive. It is real. It’s what makes us optimists. And you know what an optimists believes: that all will be well, that God has the power to save us and lift us up.  

So all of us need to hear these words. We need encouragement at times because we all face difficulties of one kind or another. All of us have that in common. I saw a profile of a famous woman in a newspaper the other day. She was smiling and clearly happy.  And there was a short profile of her life. You could be envious of such a person and we can be. We can look at such people and wish we had their lives, their looks, their money, their opportunities. But like this well-known personality you only get a small percentage, maybe 10% of who they are and what their life is like. She didn’t tell us about that part of her life which is full of pain and darkness. No matter who we are we have difficulties and problems that you wouldn’t wish on anyone. 

Well, today, the birth of Christ gives us hope that in spite of these difficulties and problems all will be well. Joy can replace sadness, even though these difficulties and problems may not disappear. We can live with them provided we have hope; and that is what Christ has come to bring. This is why it is  the greatest story ever told. On this day Christ our Saviour was born. He came to give us life, he came to give us peace and he came to give us hope. No wonder we want to sing those beautiful carols because they capture in words and music the way we should be feeling on this day. It is a day to rejoice and to give God thanks for the gift of His son. 

Homily: 2 Sunday of Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent 

            Just 16 days left before Christmas. Some people are very organized; they have bought their Christmas presents already. I suspect that most haven’t. In the meantime we have the general election which will take our minds off Christmas for a while. The result, whichever way it goes, may spoil some peoples’ Christmas. Should we Catholics be concerned about the result; I hope the answer is obvious; of course we should. The result could bring about the biggest change in this country since the second world war. But you know, there is a bigger picture. Even if we leave Europe life will go on; the sun will rise the next day. 

            We should be concerned about the future of our country but there is something more important than the general election, and that is our preparation for Christmas. Now that might seem that I am out of touch with reality; surely nothing is more important than the election. Well, I am not saying it isn’t important, just that preparation for Christmas is more so. And I don’t mean shopping for presents but something much more personal; our own preparation. Because if we get it right it will affect not only the way we enjoy Christmas but the rest of our lives. 

            Now the preaching of John the Baptist can seem as far away from our present reality as you can get. All we hear these days is the preaching of our politicians. But today, here in this church, we have listened to the message of John the Baptist, and that isn’t political, it’s not to win votes, or to gain power. Rather, it is a message for life. There is a slogan, isn’t there; you often see it on the back of cars: “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. Well, the message of John the Baptist, is similar: it’s not just for Christmas it’s for life. John tells us to “repent” and to “prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight”. So, why should this be so relevant to us 2000 years later? Because it is a message of eternal value. 

            As we prepare for Christmas it is so easy to neglect ourselves, and by that I mean our spiritual selves. If we really want to enjoy Christmas, the birth of Christ, then we should prepare ourselves spiritually. I am sure that many of you like me, enjoyed Christmas as children; it was a magic time. Many a parent or grandparent today enjoys Christmas through the eyes of their children. There is a simplicity and innocence about being a child that we adults often lose. When we grow out of childhood we lose our innocence and become much more complicated and often unhappy. John the Baptist is saying that you can rediscover that innocence by “preparing a way for the Lord”. What he means by “preparing a way” is to get rid of all the obstacles in our hearts that can get in the Lord’s way as He comes to us. And the biggest obstacles are our sins. It is our sins that make us unhappy and cynical and selfish. It is our sins that prevent us from enjoying Christmas as we did as children. 

            So this is the deal: this Advent go to confession. Tell the priest your sins. Don’t be ashamed if you haven’t been for years; many Catholics have stopped going to confession. I sat in the confessional the other day for an hour and hardly anyone came. If you do sincerely confess your sins then I guarantee that your Christmas will be jollier: you will be at peace with yourself and with God. There can be no better present that you can give to yourself this Christmas. 

Homily:1st Sunday of Advent

1st Sunday of Advent ( A ) 2019

“Stay awake”. “The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”. You have been warned! It’s a bit scary, isn’t it. “The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”. Play imaginary piano: dedededah!  It doesn’t sound very chrismassy does it? More like Lent.  But the first Sunday of Advent is like this; you see there are two comings of Christ: the first when he was born, which we celebrate at Christmas, and then the second coming, at the end of time. 

Now over the centuries there have always been people who predict when this second coming is going to be. The last time was in 2011. I remember it well, because I was in Malawi at the time and there were huge bill-boards, announcing that we should get ready for the end times. And some people, perhaps many, believed it. It was the idea of an evangelist in America. When the second coming didn’t happen, he apologized and said he’d miscalculated. He is probably going to announce another end of the world any day now. 

I spent four and a half years in Jerusalem. I was there for the millennium, the year 2000. Well, there were people coming from all over to prepare for the end of the world. I remember a man with a long white beard, dark blazer and jeans, carrying a briefcase, with “Elijah” painted on the side. He thought he was the prophet Elijah, he is to come before the end of the world. The Israelis eventually kicked him out. Then there were those who tried to make their way to Armageddon. There’s an actual place in the Holy Land called Armageddon. I used to pass it every time I went to Nazareth from Haifa. It was about halfway. You came to a crossroads: straight on for Haifa, behind you for Haifa and left for Armageddon. The Israelis authorities were kept busy that year. Anyway, the year 2000 came and went and still no end of the world. So we can all relax. 

I like to look at it this way; during Advent we prepare for Christmas. And if we do that well then we prepare for the second coming as well. How do we prepare for Christmas? Well, I don’t know about you but I write a lot of Christmas cards. It takes me ages because I’ve so many to write, but I enjoy it. It is my way of telling family and friends that I remember them at this special time. It is a way of saying I have not forgotten you and even more than that, that I love you. Unlike the rest of the world I don’t go out shopping; that’s one of the advantages of having a vow of poverty: you don’t have money to spend. So I miss the crowds and the pushing and shoving and trying to think what so and so will like.  I offer this pleasure up!!

Advent is a time of waiting, but not passively; we’re not like a patient in a waiting room just sitting there waiting to be called. No, we are active, we get things ready for Christmas, we write Christmas cards and buy presents. In this way we wish to make Christmas special for ourselves but above all for others. And if this is true, then you will be ready for the coming of Christ anew, which ever one it is: the first of the last. 

Homily 33 Sunday of the Year

33rd Sunday of the Year ( c ) 2019

“The time will come when not a single stone will be left on another”. Jesus was speaking about the Temple. Now the Temple was a huge building. I’ve seen the quarry from which the stones were hewn. Some of the stones were the size of a bus. It was a rock solid building. So, it would have been shocking to hear Jesus predict that not a single stone would be left on another.  How could such a strong building be destroyed. We must have some building like that today in England. Take the Tower of London, for example, it’s been there for 1000 years; it’s hard to imagine it being reduced to rubble. 

As for buildings so also for people; it’s hard to imagine life without some people. Not just our parents or siblings but other people we know. Some characters are so big that you might think they will live forever. I remember one of our Carmelite friars had a larger than life personality. He became ill, had a triple heart by-pass, was making a slow recovery of a few months, then next thing we heard he had died. I found it hard to believe. He was such a personality that I thought he would never die. And yet he did. His death was a reminder to me and others that life is always changing. And the ultimate change for us all is death. 

But death is hard to think about; especially our own. I like to watch some old tv comedies; like Morecambe and Wise, or the Two Ronnies, or Only Fool and Horses. Once upon a time, not that long ago, you would never miss these comedians on TV. They were so funny and made you laugh; certainly made me laugh. Your week wasn’t complete unless you saw their programme on tv. It is hard to imagine that they are not there anyone. And yet they aren’t. Life has moved on. 

No, nothing remains the same. Slowly, slowly all is changing.  I look at myself in the mirror and I can remember when I had dark hair, and lots of it, when I had no double chin, no wrinkles. I have changed. And I will continue to change. I look at my friends, friends I have known since I was a teenager and they too have changed; grey hair, or no hair, big stomachs; when we all used to have long dark hair and be slim. We call it ‘father time’; sometimes ‘anno domino’. Born 1950 – (hyphen) died…? Not yet.  I was at a funeral once where the priest preached about the hyphen ( – ).  What matters in life, he said,  is the hyphen; what we do between the day we are born and the day we die. 

No one likes to change, but it was Cardinal Newman, now a saint, who said to change is to grow. Our bodies grow in one direction, but we, our person, in other words our souls, grow in another.  As we get older we change and if we are trying to live according to the Gospel then we grow in holiness. And the fulness of humanity is to be holy. We are not called to be average Christians but to be the best, and God can and will do this in us. 

So when we notice change all around us, we should remember that God never changes. And all we need in life is to hold on to our faith in him. We may change but He will never change.