I hope my local Tory MP reads this

30th Sunday of the Year (A) 2020

Love God and love your neighbour, Jesus tells the Pharisees.  He wants to link the two commandments together; as if to say that you can’t have one without the other. You might believe that it is easy to love God.  God can be a distant figure, and it is always easy to love someone far away. What isn’t so easy is to love someone much closer.  What Christ is telling us is that the measure with which you love your neighbour is the measure with which you love God.  And just to help us to know how we can love our neighbour we have the first reading from the book of Exodus; it can be used as an examination of conscience.  What do we read?

The first way to love your neighbour says the book of Exodus is to do no harm to him or her; don’t molest or oppress. This shouldn’t come as any surprise to us; that the least we can do: not to harm them.  Then we are told not to be harsh with the widow or orphan; in other words, the most vulnerable in society. There was no social security in those days; if your husband died you and your child would be destitute. Exodus, notice, doesn’t tell us to be kind and generous, it just says don’t be harsh. So again, it is the basic minimum. Then Exodus speaks about money; that we are not to be dishonest and especially with the poor; don’t cheat them. 

Christ’s message is: to love God we have to love our neighbour and particularly those who are vulnerable, those who are weak and poor. The implication being that if you don’t love those who can’t help themselves then you don’t love God.  To love God isn’t something purely spiritual but also something practical. It is not enough therefore to pray. Nor is it enough to go to Church every Sunday or to go regularly to confession. Catholics can do these things and still be hard hearted. The measure of my love of God is the measure I care for others, and particularly the disadvantaged. So it is quite easy really to know if I love God, whom I cannot see. When I examine my conscience I must ask myself how much do I love my neighbour whom I can see. 

Render to Boris what belongs to Boris

29th Sunday of the Year (A) 2020

            I think many admire the clever reply of Jesus to the pharisees and Herodians. They thought they had trapped him. But Jesus evades their trap; “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.” But Jesus reply isn’t just clever, it’s also profoundly important. It is telling us that we have two authorities: the secular, in our case our government, and God. But by far the greater authority is God’s. Today we don’t have the Emperor Caesar, instead we have Boris Johnson!  And so we must give back to Boris what belongs to Boris.  In other words, we must obey our civil authorities. This is particularly important right now as the government is trying to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  

I was at Marylebone railway station the other day and a man, seeing my roman collar, asked me if God was responsible for this pandemic. I told him that you can’t blame God for something that humans have somehow created. It is easy to get down and even depressed by what is happening. We cannot meet up anymore, at least for the foreseeable future. We can’t even visit people in hospital, and many are dying on their own. We can’t travel to many places without having to go into quarantine. Young couples have had to postpone their weddings. Funerals have restricted numbers. Some are fearful that this will never end. People may be wondering: where is God in all this? 

Well God is right here. He is with us in our darkest moments. We should never forget Him. He is all-powerful and all-wise. Turn to him in prayer, and ask Him to give you what you need to get through this crisis. This is what He wants us to do. This is what we should do. What God does is to give us hope; that most wonderful of virtues. When we have hope we can endure, it gives us strength and motivation to keep going. Hope is telling us that all will be well, that this pandemic will not last forever, that some kind of normality will return.  

So we have our civil authority, to whom we owe allegiance. Then we have our spiritual authority, God, to whom we owe much more.  He is looking after us and caring for us in a way that the civil authority cannot.  You don’t see Him but His presence is real.  He gives us that precious gift of hope that no civil authority can give; and with that we can persevere, in the sure knowledge that all will be well. You have God’s word for it. 

Even the bad get into heaven

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) 2020

Imagine being invited to a wedding by a king. That would be some wedding. And yet, according to the gospel some of those invited would not come. 

Of course, if the wedding were today he could only have 20 guests.  Even a king couldn’t have more. You’d be a lucky guest then to get an invite. It is not just the wedding itself that you would look forward to, but also the banquet afterwards: the food, the drink, the dancing, the speeches; what a celebration that would be; imagine for the son of the King. 

Now in the gospel we are told that for some reason some wouldn’t come. So the King was keen that the place should be full. It would look bad, wouldn’t it, if the church was half empty; imagine the poor bride and groom; the most important day of their lives and few could be bothered to come. And so in order to fill up the place the King allows everyone to come in; “ good and bad alike”. Now that is interesting: good and bad alike. Remember this is an allegory for the heavenly banquet; to which we are all invited, “good and bad alike”. It’s understandable that the good would be invited but what isn’t so is that “the bad” would be invited too. I am sure the bad didn’t think they’d be invited, and yet they were. This should be consoling for us. 

I say this because I suspect most of us don’t think of ourselves as good, because we see too many faults and failings and even sinfulness. The good news is that we are not excluded. You see the logic: you don’t have to be good to get into heaven!  Remember the famous ‘good thief’; he was a thief, not a nice person at all; the misery he would have caused people when he stole their money, and yet Jesus said to him moments before he died, “today you will be with me in paradise”.  At the last moment the man recognized his faults and failings; Jesus was impressed with this. And it was enough to get him a ticket for the banquet. 

It is never too late to repent; to say sorry to God and to our neighbour. This is all Jesus asks of us; to recognize our sinfulness and ask forgiveness. And if we do,  the ticket to the royal banquet will be in the post; first class delivery. 

Homily 3rd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent ( A ) 2020

            “He told me all I have ever done” the Samaritan woman told the other Samaritans. Imagine that: someone being able to see all you’ve ever done. It reminds me of  Saint Padre Pio; that when you went to confession to him he could read your soul.   Well Jesus could certainly read this woman’s soul. She had had by all accounts what we could call a “colourful life”. Clearly, she was not popular with the other women who saw her as a threat to their husbands. 

            So, notice, when she went to the well she went on her own. She is alone; ostracised by the decent woman of that town. She was bad news and to be avoided. And yet Jesus, who knew all this, doesn’t avoid her nor condemn her. “He told me all I have ever done”. We just get an abbreviated version of all she had ever done: that she had had five husbands and was now living in sin with someone else. There was much more to this lady’s colourful life, but we are spared the details. Jesus doesn’t condemn her, on the contrary, he sees her potential, that she could change, become a better person.  In fact, Jesus sees that she can become one of his followers. 

            There was something about the meeting with Jesus, his gentle, non-judgemental manner, that touched this Samaritan woman deeply.  He knew all about her past yet he didn’t condemn her as others had done. Sometimes she hated herself. She didn’t like the person she had become but what could she do; she was resigned to her lot.  And yet, this man, this stranger, gives her such hope. Jesus tells her that he is the long-awaited Messiah; “I who am speaking to you, said Jesus, I am he.” 

            At that moment she is a changed woman.  She had come to the well to collect water. She was thirsty. But now she forgets all about the water and goes back into town. Notice, she doesn’t stroll back as she had strolled out, no, we are told she “hurried back”, she ran. She couldn’t wait to tell the others about this man she had met, who said he was the Messiah.  This reminds me of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who when they discovered their companion was Jesus they couldn’t wait to tell the others. The Samaritan woman must have been convincing because the people came out of the town to see and listen to Jesus themselves.  “Now, they say, we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.” 

            You see this woman, this one-time sinner, has now become a follower of Christ. She has been so deeply touched by him that her heart is burning with love. She reminds me of another great sinner, Mary Magdalene. Like Mary her first thought was to tell others about the man she had met. This is what happens when people are touched by the love of God. So, we should never judge anyone whom others look down on. Today’s public sinner can be tomorrow’s saint. It is love that can do this; love can change even the hardest sinner. But we are all sinners. We are all in need of God’s merciful grace. During Lent pray for the grace of conversion, pray to understand the love God has for us in spite of all our faults and failings and even sinfulness. Then share that love with others. 

Homily: 2nd Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent ( A ) 2020

 There is a link between Knock and the Transfiguration.  It might sound an odd thing to say but both have to do with light. It is a privilege to be here in Knock where many years ago several people saw a vision of Mary, Joseph, John the evangelist and the Lamb of God. Even though it was raining at the time, and hasn’t stopped, they figures were bathed in light. And the seers waited in the rain for two hours until the vision disappeared. 

At the Transfiguration it wasn’t raining but there was a similar bright light. The gospel writer describes how Jesus face ‘shone like the sun and his clothes became as bright as the light’. No wonder the three disciples were mesmerized as were the Knock visionaries: this isn’t something you see every day. It’s Peter, speaking for the others, who says to Jesus “it is wonderful to be here; if you wish I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ I suspect that the Knock visionaries would have stayed a lot longer too had the vision not disappeared. Similarly, you remember how Bernadette of Lourdes went back time and again to the Grotto. It was wonderful to be there. 

Jesus doesn’t take up Peter’s offer. He wanted to build three tents. A tent is what you construct when you intend to stay somewhere. Peter and the other disciples were happy to be there; they were more than happy, they were out of their minds with happiness. This was heaven on earth. No wonder they wanted to stay there. But Jesus takes them down the mountain. He didn’t want them to stay on the mountain top but to return to the market place, in other words to the real world. Another way of describing this is to say: Jesus took them out of their comfort zone. 

There’s an even better example of leaving your comfort zone in the first reading; God tells Abraham to leave his country, family and go to a far-away place he didn’t know. I don’t know if any of you have lived in far-away places but it can be a challenging experience. You don’t know the language and for the first months you speak like a child, it’s humiliating; the food is different, customs are different. All your family and friends are so far away. You can feel terribly lonely at times.  But what does God tell Abraham in order to encourage him to say “yes”; He tells Abraham; “I will bless you and make your name famous… All the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you.”  So Abraham has a choice, remain in his comfort zone and do good work, or go out of his comfort zone and do extraordinary things for God. 

In life God sometimes asks us to step outside our comfort zones. Like the 3 disciples on the mountain, like Abraham, it isn’t easy to say “yes” to God. If it was easy then more people would do it. Abraham could have said to God: “I’m not very well. I’ve got a doctor’s certificate to prove it.” Or, “why are you asking me? Why not ask someone else; I’m too old to be doing such a thing. Besides, God, you ask anyone and they’ll tell you I’m doing a good job here, so why take me away from it”. Abraham could have said these things but he didn’t. He put his faith in God and stepped out of his comfort zone and as a result achieved greatness.  

There is a temptation in life to remain where we feel most comfortable. Peter, James and John wanted to remain on the mountain: “Jesus, we are happy here. We’ll stay if you don’t mind. Thanks very much. Give our regards to the folks back home”. But Jesus challenges them to come down the mountain and back into the market place, into the real world. As a result they became saints; they became the pillars of the Church. 

Jesus calls each and every one of us to greatness, to holiness: it’s not the preserve of St Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, or Therese of Lisieux. But in order to achieve this we shall have to leave our comfort zones. It won’t be like Abraham, to go to a foreign land. It usually isn’t anything so dramatic. No, God isn’t like that. But He does challenge us to grow. Wasn’t it Saint John Henry Newman who said “to change is to grow and to become perfect is to have changed often”.  We were called to Carmel to change; to become what God wants us to be, which is far greater then we can imagine.  We were called to do great things for the Church and the world. 

Homily 1st Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent ( a ) 2020

Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. I don’t suppose any of us have done that. I find it hard to fast for 1 day, never mind 40?  Many people didn’t even fast on Ash Wednesday when we are supposed to!  I know from personal experience that it’s not easy to fast. But Jesus didn’t just fast, he was also tempted. Now that’s something we are all more familiar with. But what about the temptations of Jesus: turning stones into bread, or throwing yourself down from a tall building or kneeling down to worship satan?  Are these your kind of temptation? I don’t suppose so. 

The truth is we didn’t have to go into the desert, and fast there for 40 days, and then endure these three temptations. Jesus did it all on our behalf. He did it in order to overcome our sins. The first reading tells us that we were responsible for bringing sin into the world. Our first parents, Adam & Eve, messed things up badly for the rest of us. There was no hope of getting back into the garden of Eden. That is until Christ came along. He made it all possible. This is what St Paul tells us in today’s second reading. 

Paul knew that Christ had paid the debt for the sin of Adam & Eve. Listen to what St Paul says; ‘If it is certain that death reigned over everyone as the consequence of one man’s fall [ie., Adam’s], it is even more certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will cause everyone to reign in life who receives the free gift that he does not deserve, of being made righteous.’ Notice those words, ‘the free gift that he does not deserve’. 

Christ offers us forgiveness as a free gift. In other words, he doesn’t charge us. He doesn’t say “you owe me”. He offers us forgiveness and the freedom that that brings. Not just to good people but to all: good and bad. It is a free gift that, as St Paul says, we ‘don’t deserve’.  But the trouble is some people don’t believe this. 

The free gift of Christ is one of the hardest things for us to understand. It runs against the grain. There is a popular expression in Lancashire or is it Yorkshire: “you get ought for nought”. In other words you have to pay for everything. But it’s not just Yorkshire people this refers to but many of us. This way of thinking doesn’t believe in free gifts.   And so, applying that to our faith, some people cannot accept God’s gift of forgiveness as a free gift. No, “you get ought for nought”. In their way of thinking you have to earn your own salvation. 

Christ offers us all a free gift. Don’t reject it because you feel you don’t deserve it. The truth is we don’t; no one does. If we can learn about the free gift that God is offering us, it will make a huge difference to our lives. God in Christ has done the hard work: the fasting the 40 days and nights, the temptations, the passion, suffering and death; we just reap the benefits. 

The person who believes in God’s gift of grace is blessed indeed. St Therese of Lisieux, ‘the little flower’, understood this: that it isn’t about our efforts, our determination, or self-discipline. No, all is grace; all is gift.  When God in Christ offers us this gift, don’t turn Him away; don’t say, “you get ought for nought.”  Say rather, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner. Thank you for your gift of forgiveness”. 

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.