My homily for the Feast of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension 2017

Is it wrong to question your faith? Or to put it another way, if I have doubts does that mean my faith is weak? I ask this in the context of today’s feast, the Ascension of our Lord into heaven. Let’s look again at the first lines of the gospel, ‘The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted.’ Notice that: ‘some doubted’. We are talking about the chosen disciples of Christ. Was their faith weak? Surely not, it’s just that they found it hard to believe what their eyes were seeing.

Here was a man, someone they had known for about three years, someone they had given up everything to follow, a great man, a leader, the promised messiah, in fact. But in the end, it all went terribly wrong; there was no revolution, the man they believed was the messiah was arrested, tortured and then crucified on a cross. They had seen this. They saw him die. It was horrible to watch. They were powerless to do anything. Yet, now, standing before them, was this same man?! Can’t you see why they would doubt? Was it possible? Could it really be him?

We know from history that eventually they all came to believe, and they did what Jesus asked them to do: they went and made disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, and the son and the holy spirit. That was 2,000 years ago. Some six centuries later Pope Gregory the Great sent missionaries to England, and these men made disciples in England. It all began in Kent. A diocese was established in Canterbury. And we know they they were successful in their efforts because christianity spread throughout the whole of England.

What about today, 2,000 years after the first disciples, and 1400 years after St Augustine of Canterbury was sent here? Do we have disciples today to spread the good news of God’s kingdom. And, of course, we do. We have priests, nuns, missionaries who have given their lives to this end. However, as we all know only too well, the number of priests and nuns and missionaries is diminishing. So now God is turning to the laity, to you, to spread the good news of his Kingdom.

In the past, especially in Jesus time and in the early Church, there were many miracles performed, particularly of the healing kind. People were won over to the faith when they saw these things. Today, there aren’t many miracles. So, how does God expect you to win people over? Simply by your faith, your conviction. Which brings me back to the question I asked at the beginning: if I have doubts about my faith is does it mean that my faith is weak? I would answer no to that question. It is not wrong to doubt? It is certainly not wrong to ask questions. This is how we learn. When you listen to the word of God it will often raise issues you may have problems with. Sometimes the teaching of the Church raises issues for you? But it is not a sign of a weak faith when you question; it can often be the contrary. To question can be a sign of intelligence.

Now all this is important, because if we are to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the people of our generation, then you will do so more easily if you are convinced of the good news yourself. If your faith is lukewarm it will be obvious to those who listen to you. However, if we live our lives with conviction of the gospel truths then others will notice that. We will not have to preach, to lecture people,we just have to live it.

The temptation is to preach. I’ll give you a couple of examples from my own family. My niece announced she is getting married next year. Good news. But wait, she lives and works in Dubai; so she has decided to get married in January on a beach in Dubai! She is a little torn about this, because it will mean her grandmother, who is not well, won’t be able to come. And this, even though she has an uncle, me, who is a priest and can marry her in England and in a church, and with her beloved grandmother present. Her sister, who married a few years ago, though not on a beach, gave birth to a child over a year ago, and it is still not baptized.

These kind of situations are no uncommon in families today. But we must resist the temptation to preach. Because there is a way of convincing others of the good news of Jesus Christ, it is a very good way, it is by being convinced yourself of the good news. Being convinced and living it. People today reject those who preach but they do listen to people who are authentic.

So, pray to God for a deeper faith in him and in the good news of his son Jesus Christ. Don’t worry if you have doubts. They can be overcome. The missionaries of today will be people who live their faith in a way that is transparent. We may not have instant conversions like in the past, but over the years you will change peoples hearts and minds; beginning with people you know and love.

Golden Jubilee of Mgr Aidan Turner

I had the privilege of being at the Golden Jubilee of Priesthood celebrations of my friend Mgr Aidan Turner. It took place at St Anne’s, Westby, Lancashire yesterday, 20th May. I knew it was going to be a big celebration when there was a small traffic jam getting into the Church car park. Everything was well organised, even those doing car park duty had yellow jackets on, and they were smiling. Everyone was smiling. This is because Aidan is such a popular priest. He is popular with everyone, his fellow priests and all the people he has served over the years. The Church was packed, literally standing room only. At the front were his family and friends from the ‘Faith & Light’ movement, inspired by Jean Vanier. There were a dozen priests concelebrating, some going back to his days as a seminarian. Aidan made friends where ever he went and didn’t lose them; you wouldn’t want to lose a friend like him.

I shall always remember his homily. Taking for his theme the last line of the gospel of the day, “I will love him and I will show myself to him”. Aidan took us on a journey through his life from childhood to the present day; and everywhere he went he said he felt God’s love. He was born in the next parish, and from the first moment of his existence he was surrounded by love. He entered the junior seminary aged 11 at Upholland, Liverpool; from there to the senior seminary in Valladolid, Spain.  Then on to Cambridge University to study classics. Where he said he got off the treadmill he had been on since 11, and had the chance to opt out. But he didn’t, thank God. He was ordained and instead of being sent to a parish, he was sent to teach at the Lancaster diocesan junior seminary, at Underlee, where he spent many happy years. After that he was sent to a parish. Then another, including Our Lady Star of the Sea, St Annes (Lytham St Annes), and Walney Island (Barrow in Furness); at the mention of Walney there was a loud cheer from a contingent of parishoners from Walney. He said among other memorable things that he had come to learn that God is in the poor. He worked elsewhere in the diocese, other parishes, but everywhere he went he applied those words: “I will love him and I will show myself to him”. You sensed God’s presence in him as he was speaking. I have rarely been so uplifted by a homily. I thought to myself that if any young man was listening who might be thinking of vocation to the priesthood then this talk would have inspired him.

Mgr Aidan Turner is almost 80, but he is that only in age. His spirit is young, and it is the Holy Spirit that keeps him young as well as his obvious love of God and of other people. He also keeps himself fit. He has a delightful sense of humour and is fun to be with. He is still a good golfer, at least I should say, he can hit a ball further than I can, even though I am about 15 years younger than him.

I just wanted to share this experience about this good shepherd, this true disciple of Christ, a man of faith and love.

My homily for the 6th Sunday of Easter

6th Sunday of Eastertide (a)

Today’s gospel beings with love and commandments and ends with love and commandments. We heard at the beginning, “Jesus, said to his disciples: If you love me you will keep my commandments.” And then at the end the same sentiment only the words reversed: “Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them will be one who loves me.” So Jesus is clearly equating love and commandments.

At first it doesn’t sound too attractive, if that is the word. Commandments are laws and laws are something we have to keep. So what has that to do with love? Besides, many people would say that laws stop you from enjoying life; they would even say that we Christians can’t enjoy life because we have to keep the commandments. But they are wrong, and they are very wrong.

The commandments begin with love: love God with all your heart and all your soul, and the second is love your neighbour as yourself. So we are commanded to love. Not asked to, or invited to, but commanded. We have no choice. If we are to be followers of Christ, if we are to be his true disciples then we must keep the commandments.

To love God, the first commandment, can seem easy. We can say we love God, that’s easy, it doesn’t cost us anything. “I love God. Of course I do”. It is a matter of course. But how do you know you are loving God? How do you measure it? The way we measure it is by the second commandment: ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. It is not a matter of course to love our neighbour. When we love our neighbour all is well. Of course, it is easy to love some people. People are good. Most people in families love each other. There can of course be ups and downs but there is love.

But it is not always the case. Even in families there can be things said and done which are not forgotten nor forgiven. As a result many a family is torn. Sometimes family members can stop talking to each other for years. And that happens in families. I know people this has happened to.

So the challenge for us Christians is to love those we find it hard to love. Obviously, this can be really difficult. And, of course, the temptation is to give up. To say I can’t ever love this person; and I don’t want to even try; so don’t even begin to tell me I must.

Yet we read earlier, “Jesus said “If you love me you will keep my commandments”. It’s not as if Jesus doesn’t understand. He knows of what we are made. He knows the difficulties that occur in many families; he knows that in-laws can become out-laws. He knows these things but he continues to say to us: “love one another”. Indeed, he doesn’t say this, he commands it!

Christ says to us: “I love you”. I love you with all your faults and failings. And he really does know our faults and failings; he knows us through and through; indeed, he knows us better than we know ourselves. And yet, in spite of all the things we have done wrong, he continues to love us. He loves us even when we don’t love ourselves. This is pure unconditional love. He doesn’t wait for us to be perfect, to be sinless, to be holy; he loves us now as we are, warts and all.

Now if we really believe this then the second commandment makes more sense. I must love my neighbour. The secret is to remember Christ’s unconditional love for you. Remembering this you should reason: why shouldn’t I love my neighbour. At least I must try. And that is all God asks. He doesn’t ask that all will change, that from now on all will be reconciled, we’ll live happily ever after. However, if I decide to obey God’s commandments then I am beginning to change. And that is all God asks of you. He just asks you to try. He will do the rest.

Anyone who receives my commandments” says Jesus, “and keeps them will be one who loves me”. This is the message of Easter. It is the essence of the Gospel: love is not a option, it’s a command. But the one who loves, even those he or she finds it difficult to love, will have fulfilled the Gospel; they will be happy in themselves and in life. And others will share in their happiness. Remember: everything is possible for the one who loves God.

Closure of Tabor Carmelite Retreat House, Preston

It was decided by the Provincial Council of the Discalced Carmelites to close our house in Preston. The decision wasn’t taken lightly, but it was felt that we haven’t got the personnel to keep this Retreat House going. It is a pity as in just 15 years it has become a dynamic centre for spirituality in the North West of England. Our numbers are so low that one house in our English Region had to go. The actual closure will take place later in the year; not sure yet of a precise date.

I shall be moving to our Priory in London, Kensington, at the end of August, to take up my appointment as full time vocations director. Please keep me and this task in your prayers. All Orders and Congregations are struggling for vocations in Western Europe, but there are vocations, only not as many as before. It is all in God’s good hands.

Centenary of Preston Carmel: 13.5.1917-2017

The Celebration of the centenary of our Carmelite Nuns in Preston was a wonderful event: 13th May 1917-2107. It coincided with the centenary of the apparitions in Fatima. Our Bishop was there, Michael Campbell, and about ten concelebrants. The little chapel was packed as over 150 people attended: the normal congregation on a Sunday would be about 20.

The photos are of the exhibition that the nuns put on. All those who attended the ceremony were allowed into the nun’s enclosure for refreshments, to meet the sisters, see the exhibition and generally have a good nose around. They have a large beautiful garden.  The article written below dates back to 1917 by the local newspaper. One extraordinary factor is that the Carmel was constructed during the first world war.