Do you call this food?!

2021 18th Sunday of the Year (B)

 There are two things in life you need to feed: your body and your soul. The first is obvious; the second, much less so. If you don’t eat food you will die.  Food gives us the nourishment to go on.  If you don’t eat for days you will grow weak and, if you stop eating, you will die.  But there is also food for the soul, which isn’t so obvious:  you can’t see the soul. But it is just as important to feed the soul, indeed, it is more important, because the soul lives on forever. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel: “Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life.” 

When during mass we take communion, it is hardly food. I mean, there isn’t much of it. It’s just a wafer of bread. But this wafer is the body of Christ, food for our souls. Is it that our souls don’t need as much food as our bodies?  That’s a good question.  What we receive at communion, not matter how small, is sufficient for us.   Without the eucharist we will become weak, we are in danger of stopping on our journey to God. 

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry.”  Notice that: “never be hungry.”  There is such a thing as spiritual hunger. We may not recognize it as such. But many people experience it. Many will experience some kind of void, that nothing seems to fill. This experience is not obvious, it’s a feeling, we could call it a longing. Many try to hide from it, try not to think about it,  but the longing won’t go away. What we are experiencing, sometimes without knowing it, is a longing, a hunger,  for God. My soul is hungry for God and nothing can satisfy this hunger, this longing, only God.  We were made for God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.  So, this is why Jesus comes to us as “the bread of life.” It is to satisfy that hunger and to fill us with good things; just as earthly food fills us with good things. 

Every Sunday we receive Christ the bread of life. He who is food for our souls. With this food we can carry on. We will be happy, satisfied; no longer pining for something we can’t identify because we have found it. Never underestimate the importance of this spiritual food, it may not look much, but it is from heaven and it is for our wellbeing, our happiness. Nothing else on this earth will satisfy us.  

Can’t beat a free meal

2021 17th Sunday of the Year (B)

Did you see why the five thousand men not to mention women and children follow Jesus? We are told at the beginning of the gospel reading: “they were impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick.”  That’s why they followed him. And who wouldn’t? Even today anyone who has a reputation for healing will draw large crowds. People go in the hope that they or their loved ones will be healed. Some of these healers are authentic; they are there to serve. Others are not authentic; they are there for the wrong reasons. Jesus is clearly there to serve, to help, to heal. 

But there is something more about Jesus which sets him apart. He doesn’t just care about the soul he also cares about the body as well. He wants them to have a nice meal. The people that followed him were hungry yes but they weren’t starving. Jesus didn’t have to feed them. They could have returned home later that day, albeit very hungry. But Jesus didn’t want them to be hungry. Now there can be nothing nicer than a free meal. It’s also surely one of the best experiences in life to be out in the open and have a picnic. The food taste even better. You can imagine how happy those five thousand must have been as they chatted away and ate as much as they wanted. And how grateful to Christ. 

Of course Jesus wants them to would understand the deeper meaning of what he did. And then to understand who he is. Many months later at the Last Supper he would take more bread and again bless it and give it to his disciples. “Take this and eat it” he would say, “for this is my body.” Now he was giving them food not just for the body but above all for the soul. And the priest at mass does something similar, he holds us the consecrated bread and says, “the body of Christ.” And the people reply: “Amen”; meaning: I believe. Jesus feeds us this way every Sunday. It really is food for our journey through life.  And, like the 5,000, it’s free. It cost Jesus, but it doesn’t cost us anything.  And with this food we can remain strong in our faith. We will grow in our love and awareness of God. We will realize that he cares not only for our souls but also for your bodies; He wants us to be happy.  So the next time you have a meal, thank God. We used to say grace before meals and some families still do: it’s a way of saying thanks to God, because, if only we realized it, even this meal is a gift from Him. We should thank God for the gift of food. He is a God who cares about us; even about our stomachs, but above all our souls, because they are eternal.   

My mate the bishop

2021 16th Sunday of the Year (B) 

‘Jesus felt sorry for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd’. This is a familiar theme in the gospel, that of sheep and shepherd. A shepherd is someone who cares and looks after his sheep; and that is what the Church expects of Bishops.  Last week I found out that a friend of mine has just been made a bishop, an auxiliary bishop in Liverpool. Canon Tom Neylon and I have known each other ever since we began at Ushaw College, Seminary in Durham back in 1976. He was just 18, I was 26. At the end of our training we were both ordained together. We try to meet up for our anniversary every year. So I was so happy to hear that he had been made a bishop. Will he be the kind of bishop that Christ wants?  I hope so. I believe he will, because he is humble and a man of prayer, and as a bishop he will need prayer. 

To be a bishop isn’t about privilege, even less about power. It is about service, and if a bishop has come to serve then he will be the kind of bishop that Christ wants. Indeed, he will be like Christ.  In the gospel we see that Christ feels sorry for the people who are following him; indeed, they won’t leave him alone. Everywhere he goes they go. He needs a rest, but his heart melts when he sees them. He says, “they are like sheep without a shepherd.” In other words, tired, vulnerable and a little lost.  They believe in him, why else would they follow him around. 

My friend, the new bishop, must earn peoples’ trust. They will listen to him if they do.  He will guide them along the right path, as the psalmist said. He will also help them when they walk in ‘the valley of darkness.’  Who hasn’t walked in that proverbial ‘valley?’  It is one of the less pleasant experiences of life but most if not all of us have experienced it.  And there can be many reasons why we walk through this darkness, but the experience is the same: of being lost, alone, frightened, confused, despairing even. It’s not called the ‘valley of darkness’ for no reason. And at such times we need help and support. We need someone to get us out and take us back into the light. That is a what a good shepherd will do.  As the psalmist says, ‘near restful waters he leads me, to revive my drooping spirit.’ And when you have gone through the valley of darkness, and are back in the light, you will be a better person. Because you will know that it was Christ, the good shepherd, who got you through it. You will have learned a most important lesson: that in the moments of greatest darkness he is beside you, to encourage you; to love you back to those ‘fresh and green pastures.’

Catholic Guilt? Nah, not me.

2021 15th Sunday of the Year (B) 

I love the message of this gospel. To many people it’s unreal. Jesus tells his disciples to go out without anything, except a staff: no food, no bag, no money. People would say it’s crazy. Certainly one of my friends would say that: he won’t go out to post a letter without checking he has his wallet!  What does he need his wallet for, he was only posting a letter?  There’s no way that he could go out without money, his credit card, driving license, insurance policy. But then, to be fair, he wasn’t a disciple of Christ. Though I have met people who do crazy things like the disciples did: who put their trust in God totally. I really admire them. 

But what struck me most about the gospel wasn’t so much the apostles going out without anything except a stick in their hand, but what they went out for. The gospel tells us: “they set off to preach repentance.” And I thought about this for a while, and then said “yes”; I understand why. I understood that it was what the people of Jesus’ day needed to hear most: they needed to know that their sins were forgiven.  And it is still the same today, 2000 years later: people still need to hear the same message.  Human nature in Jesus’ day isn’t so different from our own. People made mistakes in Jesus’ day and they still do today. And as a result of their mistakes they blame themselves; and often walk through life weighed down with guilt. 

To be forgiven is to be set free. Even as a child, 7, 8, 9 years old I remember feeling so free after confession. I was only young yet my sins weighed me down. Was that what people call ‘catholic guilt’. Maybe, but whatever it was, after confession I felt great, free. In those days Catholics used to go to confession twice a month; now many Catholics have stopped going. The only trouble with that is the guilt that people carry around; and that’s not ‘catholic guilt’; it’s just guilt. We can try to sweep sins under the carpet, pretend that they are not there; but our consciences keep troubling us. And we can become terribly unhappy. And all that could change in a moment. But the longer not going to confession goes on the harder it is, till in the end some just give up.  No wonder the first things the apostles preached was repentance: acknowledge your sins and ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness will not be lacking. And then we can be free as birds again; a weight lifted off our shoulders. “Why didn’t I do this years ago?” one might question. Whatever the answer: it is never too late to start. 

Why won’t you listen?

2021 14th Sunday of the Year ( B )

 “A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house.”  Why do you think that is?  I asked myself why should a prophet be despised, ignored, not listened to, in his own country? Was it because he was too familiar?  Was it because he was trying to teach people who knew better?  Did they not liked to be preached to, and especially by one of their own? So I’m not exactly sure why a prophet gets this treatment but  I think the answer is in there somewhere. 

I must admit that I find it hard to preach when I know members of my family are present. It’s true; I get self-conscious.  I can almost hear the members of my family listening to me and thinking: “hmm. He’s good at talking, but we know another side to him. Indeed they do. They have seen me grow up; they know all my faults and failings, the things I did wrong, my traits of character;  how my words don’t always match my deeds. I’m thinking of all these things while preaching. 

Christ, we can presume, practised what he preached but still he was openly rejected. How hard that must have been for him, to be rejected by his own. He wasn’t preaching his own message but that of God’s. I suppose it could be argued that he didn’t have to preach in his hometown, that he could have kept quiet and just observed. That would have been the easy way out; be there but not do anything, not say anything. In that way he would have been accepted like a long-lost son. But Jesus can’t keep quiet. It’s not that he’s stubborn: “I’ll preach to these people if it’s the last thing I do!” No, he’s not stubborn. Rather he’s compelled to preach. He can’t stop himself. There is a flame burning within him that cannot be put out. He wants to tell these people above all about God, about His love and mercy. He wants to change their lives, make them better people. Ultimately, he wants them to have the same flame burning within them. 

You see, Jesus is a classical prophet: he has to preach. He can’t stop himself preaching. And this because the love of God is burning in his heart; it is a love that he wants to share with others, because he can’t keep it to himself. Jesus will eventually pay the price for this; he will be put to death for daring to preach. But paradoxically his greatest sermon was when he was nailed to the cross. No words could express more clearly the message of God’s love for us. It was something he was prepared to die for and indeed did die. He preaches not only to his own people but to us too; so that we too might catch that fire of love. 

To be or not to be? Answer: To be!

2021 13th Sunday of the Year ( B ) 

Every time I read or hear those words, “Talitha kum” I think of my time in Jerusalem. I am reminded of meeting people in West Jerusalem; it was a good rendezvous point under the “Talitha kum” arch.  These words, written on an arch, it was all that was left of a Christian school that had been there during the British mandate. You couldn’t miss the arch as it stood out amongst all the modern buildings. 

Two thousand years before Jesus used those immortal words to order a young girl to get up. She had died but Jesus restored her to life. You can’t begin to imagine how the parents felt. Here had been a young girl, no doubt so full of life loved and cherished by her parents. Her life cruelly cut short. But Jesus miraculously restores her life.  But the irony of this is that one day she will die again only this time there will be no miracle. And yet she will be alive. I remember visiting my father’s body in a funeral parlour. I was on my own. I sat there silently and looked at him. It was my father. His eyes were closed as if he were asleep; indeed, I thought he would open his eyes. But of course he didn’t he couldn’t: he was dead. And yet he wasn’t dead. It wasn’t like the little girl in today’s gospel, I didn’t hold my father’s hand and tell him to get up, but I knew my father was alive. How did I know?  Does saying I believed it sound too simplistic?  But it’s true: I believed my father’s body was there but he was alive. He was living on. 

I was touched in the first reading at the statement: ‘virtue is undying.’ It rang true for me about my father. He was a virtuous man. And though he had died yet I knew his virtue lived on. Indeed, he lived on. It is the miracle of life. As we read in that first reading, ‘Death was not God’s doing… to be – for this he created all.’  And even though we shall all die one day we were not created to die, but rather to live. Death is but a transition; from one form of life to another; both are real, and the second even more so, because it lasts for eternity. Doesn’t St Paul confirm this when he says that love never comes to an end. How consoling that should be when we lose our loved ones: because of their love, their virtue, they cannot die.  At the moment of their death and indeed or ours the Lord will hold us by the hand, as he did to the little girl, and say: ‘Talitha cum’; “I tell you to live”. 

King Canute v God

 2021 12th Sunday of the Year (B)

In school we were taught a lot about the Danes; as you may know they invaded England. I don’t remember much but I, like most children, would always remember King Canute: he was Danish and a king of England. He had a reputation for being wise and powerful. Such was his reputation that his followers even believed he could control the sea. And so, one day they sat him on his throne on a beach. He then asked the waves to stop. But, of course, they didn’t; and he got very wet.  No one can control the sea but God. 

In today’s gospel Jesus is on a boat on the sea of Galilee. The waters are getting very rough. The boat is taking in so much water that it begins to sink. The experienced fishermen were panicking. Jesus on the other hand, was in the stern of the boat, his head on a cushion, asleep. He was obviously not worried. Indeed, unlike Canute, he was able to stop the waves. We are told: ‘he woke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Quiet now! Be calm!” And immediately, all was calm again.  The disciples asked each other: “who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.”  They didn’t realize that he was the Son of the all-powerful God.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a boat and frightened of sinking. But I suspect you have been in difficulty sometime in your life and probably more than once. The image of waves breaking over the boat is a good one. Sometimes our lives can be like that; we feel we’re drowning. I know a lovely lady who was married to a very famous entertainer. She had a lovely family and she seemed to have everything. And yet she felt she was sinking beneath the waves. In her despair she fell to her knees one morning and begged God to help her. And before she could get up her phone rang. It was a friend who said she did not know why but she felt compelled to call her. This lady learned that God heard her cry for help. And just as He helped her so He will help us. The God we believe in is looking after us, even though there are times when it doesn’t feel like it. God has the power to change our lives, to lift us up out of the darkness, to fill our hearts with peace and joy. And he is only a prayer away. We may leave Him but He will never leave us. 

Growing Plants for Idiots

2021 11th Sunday Ordinary Time (B)

Some body gave me a present recently of a box of seeds. No one has ever given me such a present before. And at first I just left the box on my shelf, I didn’t know what to do and to be honest I wasn’t that interested. But then my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to look inside the box to see what was there. Inside there were all sorts of things: paper mache pots, compressed soil in bags that grew to five times the size when you added water, there were sticks for the 8 different kinds of herbs and then there were the seeds themselves. So I set about putting the seeds into the pots; it was so easy: sowing for idiots. The very next day one of the herbs was already growing. I was amazed, that it should have grown so quickly. Then the next day another seeds spouted, then another. There was just one that held back, the coriander for some reason, but when I looked at pot before this mass even that had started to grow. I did feel pleased with myself; and yet I had done very little. 

So I was delighted when I saw that the gospel today was about seeds and growth. The farmer plants the seed and we’re told, ‘night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how he does not know.’ That was just like me. It is wonderful to watch the growth; but all we do is watch. Like the farmer I did nothing; except pour a little water on the seeds from time to time. It’s a marvellous image of what God is doing in us. 

The seed of God was placed into us on the day of our baptism. And over the years that seed grows. Only it’s not a seed; it’s the love of God. It grows and grows without us doing much.  It is God who makes our love grow. God is the best of farmers. He knows how to get the most out of his crop. A good farmer will go dig up the weeds. And yet, weeds are not always bad for the growing shoot; indeed, a weed can make a plant grow stronger; because it has to fight to grow. And so for us, sometimes our weaknesses, our sinfulness, can make us stronger. We try to weed them out but try as we might like weeds they keep coming back; they won’t leave us alone. But our sins keep us on our knees, they keep us humble. And so a good Christian won’t be perfect. He or she will have struggled with sin, and continues to struggle. But that struggle leads to a deeper faith.  God, the good farmer, uses all sorts of means to help us grow; some you would expect but some you wouldn’t: as I said: God can even use sin to help us grow.  And at the end of the day, when our love has grown strong, we should thank God; because it was all His work. 

That’s awesome!

2021 Corpus Christi (B)

I must have read this passage from the gospel hundreds of times. I know it backwards. And yet I when I read it last night I saw something I had never noticed before. I noticed that at the last supper the disciples had already drunk from the cup before Jesus spoke to them. We read in that passage: ‘Then Jesus took a cup and when he had returned thanks he gave it to the disciples, and all drank from it, and he said to them, “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many.” What struck me was that it was only after the event, only after they had drunk, did Jesus explain the significance. We, on the other hand, do it the other way round: the priest tells the people before they drink from the cup that this is the body of Christ. 

The point I’m trying to make is that the disciples only began to appreciate what they had drunk after the event. When they first drank from the chalice it was wine; the same wine they’d been drinking all evening. After Jesus words they realized that something else had happened to the wine; that it was no longer just wine, but as Jesus said, “This is my blood.”  And though we are told first, before we drink, that this is the blood of Christ, the reality only hits home once we have drunk it.  What has happened is so mysterious, so profound, so spiritual, that we need time to appreciate what we have just consumed; and by time I mean years.  I think it is a good habit after communion to pray to understand what we have just consumed: it is after all nothing less than the body and blood of Christ. 

But we can become over familiar with communion. It is something we do each week. As a result, there is the danger that we don’t think about it very much: we receive the consecrated host, we go back to our places and wait for the mass to end. And yet Christ is dwelling within us; not just in a spiritual way, now it’s physical. And for a short while we are like a tabernacle. Christ is literally within us. Think about that. But do more than think: pray; ask for a deeper awareness of what you have just done. And when you do this you become more aware of why Christ allows himself to be consumed by us. His purpose is to help us to grow in love; indeed, to be transformed by love, till we become more like him. And this is awesome. This feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, is awesome. 

as the years go by so we are transformed by doing this.  With this precious food we shall keep going and finish the course. So never stop thanking God for this precious gift to us. 

Lonely hearts & The Trinity

2021 Trinity Sunday (B)

People have been baptised from the beginning, 2000 years ago, in the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I can’t remember how many times I have baptised using those same words. Does it make any difference if you chose different words; for example, I baptise you in the name of God? That would be correct but it wouldn’t be whom God has chosen to be known as: God is three Persons not one. We all learned that at school: God is three and God is one: Father, Son & Holy Spirit. 

What God is telling us is that He is not an object. Nor is He God on His own. But rather He is a relationship. And not just any relationship. But a relationship of love. When you love you are close to God. You don’t have to explicitly love God. You can love anyone. But have you ever asked yourself where does that love come from.  It is the most amazing reality in our lives. Love transforms us. It lifts us up to another realm. We speak about falling in love. I’ve never thought about the expression before; why do we ‘fall’ in love [answers on a postcard please]. What ever the answer when it happens you know.  Have you noticed how many songs are about love; almost all of them.  We are besotted by love; and not just young people. There is a huge industry in finding a love-partner, often called ‘lonely-hearts guide.’  People are searching for love, they are craving for love; they want to feel loved. 

The origin of it all is God. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit love each other. There love is real, it is consuming it is life-giving.  We are invited to touch that love; to be embraced by it, to be carried away by it. The feast we are celebrating today, the Feast of the Holy Trinity, is essentially about love. You have heard it said so many times: God is love. And He is. What a wonderful thing love is; what would we do without it. But then what a wonderful thing God is, to source of love. As I said at the beginning, when we are in love we are close to God; we are close to understanding who He is. God is love: Father Son and Holy Spirit. What must the reality be like: we only experience a touch of that love, a spark; but once it touches we want more. And you should know: God is offering more. More than we could ever realize or wish for or hope for. Such is the nature of love, that it just wants to give and give and give.