My homily for the 25th Sunday

25th Sunday of the Year (a) 2017

“Yes, the heavens are as high above the earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts” These words are spoken by the prophet Isaiah is in the context of forgiveness. The prophet is saying that no matter how bad a person is, how evil, if he turns back to the Lord, he will be forgiven. The prophet knows human nature well, he knows that if someone does bad things then we would want him punished not forgiven. We have a strong sense of justice. It is not quite “an eye for eye, a tooth for tooth” but our sense of justice is strong; since we were children we were taught right from wrong; and if you do wrong you deserve to be punished.

This sense of justice is evident in the gospel story we have just heard. The men who worked longest, all day in fact, expected to get more than the men who were hired at the last minute. When they realize that those who hardly did anything are getting the same amount, they grumble, “they have done only one hour and you have treated them the same as us, though we have done a heavy day’s work in all the heat.” These men feel the landowner is being unjust, unfair. And you can see why. I remember sharing this story with a male charge-nurse in a hospital; I was working there for a few months. I thought he would pick up on the point of the gospel, but no, he told me that if that happened in this hospital, he would call a strike: it was the 1960’s and everyone was striking.

What God says to us in Christ is that we must be merciful and generous as He is merciful and generous. Don’t expect to accept this teaching easily; because it’s not easy, to say the least. It means we have to think like Christ, be merciful as he is merciful, be generous as he is generous. As a child I had a strong sense of justice. And when I saw my brother do something wrong I would want my mother to punish him, and would be upset if she didn’t: “he get’s away with murder” I would complain. But sometimes mothers can understand the gospel message better than most. Their love for their children makes them ‘soft’ in other peoples eyes. How often did I tell my mother, “you’re too soft with him”. Of course, I never did anything wrong!

God is soft with us. He is, in a sense, ‘unjust’ in his mercy. I have learned this over the years. I still have a strong sense of justice but more importantly of mercy. Mercy comes before justice. All of us do wrong things in life, and sometimes the things we do are very wrong. However, all we have to do is to turn back to the Lord and ask forgiveness, and we are forgiven. It’s a simple as that, and yet that is not simple. It is not easy to believe that we have been forgiven. I know people who cannot believe God will forgive them. They cannot forgive themselves the wrong they’ve done; not even God, they think, can forgive them. And yet, this God of ours wants nothing else than to forgive. He is not like us. He is just, yes, but above all He is merciful.

My homily for 24th Sunday of the Year

Forgivenss

24th Sunday of the Year (a) 2017

“How often must I forgive my brother”, asks the impulsive St Peter, “as often as seven times?” You can imagine had Jesus said, “yes seven times”, what Peter’s reaction would have been. No doubt he had someone in mind when he asked the question, and, couldn’t wait to let his brother have it! Probably that would mean a punch on the nose! However Jesus doesn’t say, “seven times” but seventy-seven times”. I can almost hear Peter from here shouting: “what! After all he has done to me!”

To forgive is one of the hardest things to do in life, especially when we have been hurt badly by someone we love; a spouse, a brother, sister, maybe even mother or father or friend. And because it is so hard to forgive we have many families that are divided; brother doesn’t speak to brother, or sister to sister, not to mention the in-laws. It all comes to a head at family gatherings, like weddings and funerals. I remember speaking to someone whose brother didn’t come to his daughter’s wedding. He told me that they’s falled out years ago, and hadn’t spoken to each other ever since. And when I asked him what led to this fall out, he couldn’t remember! Now I wish this applied to just this man’s family but it doesn’t. There are so many families living with division, good catholic families.

Division is a sin. We were not meant to be divided. To forgive is a grace; as Christians we are meant to forgive. Difficult as it is we must forgive. Do you remember the example of Pope John Paul II, now a saint, who visited in prison the man who shot him? Obviously that is an extreme example but he was showing us the way. It helps greatly if we can step back from our anger and look into ourselves; remember our own faults and failings. “Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you, said the writer of Ecclesiates, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven”. In one sentence, this is what today’s gospel is saying.

The key is to look at yourself, but don’t stop there, then pray. When I first entered religious life as a carmelite, in what is called the novitiate, I spent about five hours every day praying. Long prayers and then long periods of silence. And during those silences memories from my past would sometimes flood my mind,not always pleasant. I also realized for the first time just how selfish I had been. It had taken me 25 years to realize something that was probably obvious to others. It wasn’t easy to acknowledge but I had to; there was no denying it. I had managed to live all those years blissfully unaware of my selfishness. Yet I would have been quick to spot this in my siblings then resentful if they got away with it. I still struggle with selfishness but at least now I am aware of it. And being aware of it helps me to forgive others their selfishness and other sins.

Self-awareness is the secret to forgiving others. The better you know yourself the better aware you’ll be of your sinfulness. Didn’t Pope Francis answer the newspaper reporter, who asked him “who are you”, by saying “I am a sinner”. He meant it; it wasn’t false humility. We are all sinners. Sin is something we have to live with and struggle to overcome on a daily basis. And in our stuggles there will be inevitably failure. So, if we are to forgive others the offenses they commit against us, it will greatly help to remember our own sinfulness.

However, some people will say that they can never forgive someone. I know people who have told me this. As I said as the beginning, it is hard to forgive, and sometimes is seems impossible but that is when you pray. Do not expect to forgive on your own; no, you will need help; God’s help. Pray for the gift to forgive, especially where there has been long term division in the family, and God will answer your prayer. We are all sinners; we all need to be forgiven.

My homily for the 23rd Sunday

23rd Sunday of the Year (a)

‘If your brother does something wrong’. What about sisters? Now when I was growing up we were four brothers and two sisters, and sometimes one of the two did something wrong. So, that line ‘If your brother does something wrong’ can also read, ‘if your sister does something wrong’. I was with my niece yesterday and told her of the time her mother, my sister, when still a child, and my parents were out, drank a whole bottle of sherry! She liked the sweet taste you see; and she saw adults drinking it and thought “yes, I’d like to be merry too”. Then she was taken to hospital. I don’t think she’s touched sherry ever since.

If your brother of sister does something wrong”. It’s not really a question of ‘if’ they do something wrong. You can be sure they will. It’s more a question of when. In the Gospel Jesus tells us; “if your brother/sister does something wrong, go and have it out with them alone”. Sound advice; it means we can clear up the problem straight away.

Children argue and fight. At least we did in our family. I notice now when I go to visit my sister and I watch my nieces and nephew: when they fall out, one will go to the mother and tell her that the other one won’t let them play with them; or that they hit them. They don’t tell the other child. But you wouldn’t expect children to talk through a problem; you wouldn’t expect to hear; “let’s talk this through man to man”. No, children haven’t learnt the art of talking things through: they either cry, or argue, or fight or all three.

As adults we can have just as many difficulties with others. But, unlike children, we’ve learnt to hide our hurts. There is an old expression in english: “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. But I don’t think that’s true; words can hurt us far more than sticks and stones. However, as adults we learn to pretend, to cover up, so that the other person doesn’t know they’ve hurt us. But the problem with this is that hurts can lead to divisions. How many families are divided simply because no has said sorry.

We can’t help annoying each other at times or falling out. Even in the best of families and among the best of friends there will be arguments. But don’t let these destroy a relationship. If we don’t want this to happen then, as Christ taught, “if your brother does something wrong go and have it out with him alone.” And be ready to say “sorry”.

Often this small word can be the most important in any relationship. Yet it can also be the hardest to say. And the more a person hurts you, the harder it is to say it. But we must learn to say sorry and to say it often. Say it before its too late; before a division takes firm hold. Be prepared to say sorry often and you will always have a united family and keep your friends close. And if the hurt is so painful that you say I can never say sorry, then pray for the grace to say that important word, so that you may enjoy that friendship again, as Christ wants you to. We were not meant to be divided. Division is a sin. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is a grace and one we should always pray for.

My homily for 22nd Sunday of the Year

How to make Christ’s message to his disciples about carrying the cross, more palatable?

31st Sunday of the Year (a) 2017

Homily

The gospel we have just heard isn’t easy to listen to; right from the beginning when it states: ‘Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to… suffer grievously… and to be put to death…’ And if that wasn’t clear enough for his disciples he adds: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me…” I can’t see his disciples putting up their hands straight away and saying, “yes, count me in. I’ll be your follower”. In fact, doesn’t Peter object to what Christ had said; “This must not happen to you”.

Recently I was made vocation’s director for the Carmelites in the UK. And so I have to think about how we attract young men to the Order. I could begin, like Christ, and tell anyone who wants to join, “If you want to be a Carmelite, a follower of Christ, renounce yourself and take up your cross and follow Jesus”. They might ask: “follow him… where?” “Well, just up this hill, I’d say. You will fall a few times but when we get to the top you just lie down on the cross and then I take these nails, ask you to open your right hand, that’s it, just a bit wider, then I take the nail and a hammer and tell the young man, ‘this might hurt a bit…’” You can imagine the reaction of a young man. He would run away. I don’t want to join the Carmelites after all, you’re mad, I’ll join the Jesuits instead”.

It’s not easy to be a vocation’s director. To get the message right. Is there anyway of softening Jesus’ message: that if you want to be a follower of his you have to take up your cross? Of course,we are all asked to be followers of Christ, not just those who want to be priests or nuns. We can find an answer to that question in the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah. Now, Jeremiah was a most reluctant prophet, and you can understand why. He just wanted to live a normal life like everyone else, minding his own business and keeping his mouth shut. However, the Lord had other plans for this young man. He becomes a prophet of God and everything he tried to avoid happening happens: he has to shout at the people because they won’t listen to God. As a result he is riduculed and derided. He says he has become a “daily laughing stock”. Poor Jeremiah, who would want to be a “daily laughing stock”?

Jeremiah, as I said, wasn’t someone who liked to upset people, to tell them off. Yet he couldn’t help it. He said God seduced him, that God overpowered him, that God was stronger than he was. Notice what he says at the end of that first reading: “I used to say…I will not speak in his name anymore. Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones… I could not bear it.” Notice that: the fire in Jeremiah’s heart. That’s not any old fire, that’s the fire of love. That’s what the love of God who touches someone deeply feels like: it burns like a fire. And yet it is irresistible. Love is like that. Between love and pain there is a thin line. In fact, and many of you will know this, love and pain often go together. What mother has not suffered pain over her children; when a child suffers she suffers. Would a mother have it any other way? No, surely not. Pain is a price worth paying.

Now look at what the psalmist says about love: “O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry weary land without water.” Shakespeare couldn’t have said it any better: “for you my soul is thirsting”. That’s such a strong expression of love: to thirst for someone. “My body pines for you”. Who ever wrote these words knew what love was. It is so deep; it affects not only the body but also that part of us which is deepest. “O God, you are my God, for you I long.” The one who loves God cannot resist Him. Can’t avoid doing what God is asking of them. Again, as the psalmist says in the same psalm: “For your love is better than life, my lips will speak your praise.” That’s beautiful, isn’t it: “love is better than life”.

Yes, love and pain go together. The disciple of Christ will pick up their cross, but they will do it gladly, out of love for God. And the one who wants to become a Carmelite won’t have to be crucified but he will have to follow Christ, he will have to put up with difficulties, with misunderstandings, live with people who can make his life uncomfortable at times, listen to bad jokes, but, if he has the love of God in his heart then he will do it gladly. He will say, like Mary, “fiat voluntas tua”: thy will be done.

Our Vocation’s Trailer now on YouTube

I have been thinking about a Vocation’s Trailer for my Order since autumn last year but only now has it actually come about. I watched it and think Mark Rotherham, the editor, has done a good job. I look a bit wooden at the beginning but, fortunately, loosen up a bit later on. It says what it should say and in a way I think is easy to follow and understand. I am hoping that thousands will visit the site, as they have done with some. I noticed our Wolverhampton Carmel has almost 100,000 views the last time looked. I’d be pleased to get even a tenth of that number. I hope people like it and more importantly I hope that those who have a vocation will look at it. This is my prayer. We shall see. Next thing I need to do is prepare a permanent exhibition. Thank you for reading this.