My homily for 33rd Sunday of the year

33rd Sunday of the Year (a) 2017

We have all been given talents and we should use them; that is the moral of the parable. I think it is important we understand what Christ means by that word ‘talent’, because it can have several meanings. I suppose the obvious meaning is gift; we say that someone is very talented; in other words they are gifted. We could say that the Tottenham Footballer, Harry Kane, is very talented; I’m not sure the Arsenal fans would agree with that, but, it means that he is very good at football. Also, we could say that the formula one driver, world champion for the 4th time, Lewis Hamilton, is very talented. Mary Berry, the chef, has great talent when she is cooking. These are talents given to a few people. Most of us don’t have these talents to such a degree. At school I was quite talented in art and sport. I wasn’t particularly talented at football; I did manage to score a few goals, which I still dream about. But Christ isn’t talking about this kind of talent.

The kind of talent he is talking about is to be found in the first reading. The opening line is a gift for many modern comedians: ‘a perfect wife-who can find her’! But I’m not a comedian, even though I do like to make people laugh. But the point of the first reading is deadly serious. It speaks of a wife who works hard in the home to make the place a home; we are told ‘she is always busy’. But we are also told that she ‘holds out her hand to the poor, she opens her arms to the needy’. This is her talent, her real talent. The person who holds out their hands to the poor and needy is gifted; they have been given the gift of compassion by God, and they are using that gift. The reading goes on to praise the wife for her wisdom. Now this too is a gift: wisdom. It’s not something you can buy or demand because it’s a gift. And gifts are freely given. But compassion and wisdom are not just for wives or women, they are gifts offered to everyone, men as well.

The real talents we have been given can’t be measured; if you’re kind you can’t measure that; if you think of others, especially the poor and needy, it can’t be weighed in a scale. And wisdom; what a great gift, but again, you can’t measure it or weigh it. It is a gift from God. We are all given these gifts and they are to be used to make our homes and our world a better place. Don’t neglect the gifts you have been given. And all of us do have such gifts.

When I was a teenager I used to admire people who were tall and good looking, who had lots of money, who had class, who could chat up girls, who wore fashionable clothes whose hair was expensively cut. But now that I am older and wiser, I admire different qualities in people. Qualities, or gifts, that are not fashionable; such as loyalty, reliability, dependability; I admire honesty and generosity; kindness and compassion. Maybe they are not eye catching qualities, and they are hard to measure, but they are precious gifts. God is offering these gifts to us all. He does so for a purpose. Use them to make the world a better place; use them to spread love in our world; use them to make people realise that they are lovable and loved. Then you will be using the talents you have been given. You will be fulfilling the purpose God has for you. And all you do is to recognize your gifts and then use them for the greater praise and glory of God.

My homily for 32nd Sunday

32nd Sunday of the Year 2017 (a)

“So stay awake because you do not know the day or the hour”. Sobering words! I hope you are all still awake, I’ve only just started. Some time ago a priest was preaching a long sermon and a man was asleep in the front row. The priest noticed this and said to the man beside him, “can you wake him up?” The man replied that he didn’t think that would be right. “Why not” replied the priest?” “Because, said the man, I wasn’t the one who put him to sleep”!

So far so good, no one is asleep. The wise person, like the five wise bridesmaids, does stay awake and is ready for the unexpected in life. There are two things in life that are certain, said a famous American politician; two things in life that you cannot avoid: death and taxes.

Four people I knew have died recently; one cousin, one old family friend and two priests. One of the priests died suddenly and unexpectedly, all the others had time to prepare before their deaths. People say its a blessing to die quickly. Have you noticed how some, who know they are going to die, make out a bucket-list of things they want to do before they die; so all they had planned to do in their lives is squashed into a short space of time. Some people go on long journeys to exotic places, or go on a cruise, or do something extravagant, like sky-diving, or mountain climbing. I don’t know if any of those I knew who died recently had a bucket-list; I think my cousin may have had, because she has been to some marvellous places recently. But the other priest friend who died didn’t have time; from diagnosis to death was just two months; he was too ill to go any where!

Is it wise to have a bucket-list? Is this a sensible way to prepare for death? Well, it could be provided that it isn’t all a person is going to do. It’s important not to forget the soul. It’s important to pray. Every night before going to bed we Carmelites, like all monks and nuns, say a prayer known as the ‘De Profundis’; one line of it goes, “…At last all powerful master, you give leave to your servant to go in peace.” Now that is what I consider to be the most important preparation for death; “to go in peace”; at peace with God and with my fellow men and women. And if I am at peace then I am ready to go anytime, quickly or over a long period of time. This is wisdom; praiseworthy wisdom. The kind of wisdom you find in the gospel.

Our society seems to has a phobia about death. It is a taboo subject that polite people do not discuss. However, the Church, in its wisdom, does talk about death, forcing us to think about it, even if we don’t want to. And it does this by devoting the last few weeks of the Church’s year to readings that focus on death and after life, heaven and hell. The kind of things we’d normally not think about.

The wisdom of the gospel is telling us that death can come at anytime. Or, as Matthew puts it: “So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour”. Of those four people I knew who died, three had had time to reflect on their death but one didn’t. However, he was a good man, a good priest, and I’m confident he was ready. Be at peace with God and with all men and women, then you will always be ready. And if you are not, then don’t wait. If you have hatred in your heart or even fallen out with someone, if you haven’t spoken to a close relative in years, then do something about it. Make amends. Say sorry. Why not go to confession; it brings healing and peace. Be at peace with all; with yourself, with others with God; and then you will be a wise person and always be ready for that one certainty in life.

My homily for 31st Sunday

Sunday Week 31 Year A

Now priests this warning is for you’, says the prophet Malachi in the first reading, ‘You have strayed from the way; you have caused many to stumble by your teaching’. This is a strong condemnation of priests. Now I don’t want to use this homily to condemn myself, nor do I want to spend it condemning you. No, but religious when it’s badly taught can do a lot of damage. It can even ruin people’s lives. How many people have been scared by bad experiences in Church. Too many people have a fear of confession because of something a priest said to them when they were a child. Yet God is supposed to love us, liberate us, make us fully alive.

There is a big difference between religion as it is taught today and as it was when I was a child. Then you never questioned; you didn’t ask why: and if I did ask my mother she would resort to the standard answer: ‘because I say so’. ‘Mum, why do I have to go to Church’. Answer: ‘Because I say so’. But in truth I never asked questions. To some extent there were no quetions to ask. Religion as then taught wasn’t meant to provoke questions. It was the same for adults; My parents if they wanted to know the answer to a moral problem they went to the priest, and he told them.

Today so much has changed. A child is encouraged to ask questions. Today when you go to a priest with a moral problem instead of answering the problem for you, he ought to throw the ball back in your court: “what do you think”. So, we are now being encouraged to ask questions and to think for ourselves. But, you know, thinking for ourselves is not easy. It’s so much easier to have someone tell you what to do, then do it. So, when your child asks you: “why should I go to church on Sunday?” be happy! Be glad, because the child is thinking.

It can happen that a child turns into an adult and never asks questions: never asks: ‘why do I go to church on Sunday’? And if they’re not asking that question then there not asking lots of questions. Questions that are vital: like who is God for you? who is Jesus Christ for you? For some these are non-sensical questions: they’d reply: ‘God is God’! What else can I say’.

The way we understand God is usually formed in childhood. The greatest influence on our image of God will be our parents, teachers and the local priest. The image of God we have as a child will stay with us until such time as we chose to either accept it or change it. But it can happen that the image of God that we grew up with isn’t really right. God was sometimes used by parents as a threat: when all else fails bring God in, the ultimate deterant: ‘if you don’t put your tongue in, God will leave it there’. ‘Or, if you cross your eyes any more, God will keep them like that’. ‘If you don’t do this or that God will not be pleased’. An adult may have to acknowledge that his or her image of God is still a threatening one. But isn’t the image we find in the Bible.

Time and time again we are told that God is Father. In the Old Testament as well as the New. In both todays readings: the first and the Gospel, God is called Father. God is loving, kind, forgiving and all merciful Father. It is one thing to hear these words, it’s another to believe it. For too many people God isn’t so understanding, nor forgiving. Rather he is a harsh Judge.

We cannot help the childhood images with which we grew up. But as adults we can question them. It’s not wrong to question. On the contrary it’s good. And the question we can be asking ourselves is: do I really believe what Jesus Christ says: do I really believe that God is my loving Father, who in spite of all my faults and failings doesn’t judge or condemn me; this is the correct and adult view of God.