My Homily for 2nd Sunday of Lent

Homily for 2nd Sunday in Lent (b) 2018

Today we focus on the transfiguration of Christ. Have you ever had a transfiguration experience? Or any kind of spiritual experience? I ask the question in all sincerity. I have learned over the years that it is not uncommon for people to have a spiritual experience. I remember one lady I used to visit on a weekly basis. By now she was old and housebound. She was also lonely and depressed. And one night in the depth of her depression she saw a vision of her husband. He didn’t say anything She wasn’t frightened, on the contrary the experience gave her comfort and lifted her out of depression. This is just one example of someone who has had a spiritual or mystical experience.

Let me share with you another one, only this time it has striking resemblance to the Gospel. I was visiting a cathedral in Scotland with a friend. She was also sad because she had lost her husband only recently. We looked round Dunkeld cathedral in Scotland together, then I left first and waited outside. I noticed she was taking her time. Eventually she came out. At first she was quiet, didn’t say a word. Then she turned to me and said, “I’ve just had the strangest experience. I was in the cathedral looking around, not thinking of anything in particular, when I heard a voice which said, ‘I have given you John. Listen to him’. She looked round to see who had spoken these words, but there was no one. To this day she remembers that experience, even though it happened a long time ago. As a priest I felt a great sense of responsibility from that moment on.

So spiritual experiences are not uncommon; at least that is my experience, though I have only given you two examples, I could give you more. Jesus transfiguration was definitely a spiritual experience. Not only did he suddenly start to shine, but two people who were dead for centuries appeared to him; Moses and Elijah. And if that wasn’t enough the disciples hear a voice from God the Father, saying “This is my Son, the Beloved, Listen to him.” At the time they didn’t fully understand the experience, but it was afterwards, years later, when they’d witnessed Jesus passion and death, that they rememberd the experience and the words and it gave them great comfort.

Jesus was a mystery to them, and even more so when they saw him transfigured. There must have been a element of confusion at some stage: who is this man we have left everything for? But the voice of God is reassuring: “Listen to him”. And no doubt at first the disciples said that we have been listening to him; what have we been doing these past three years except listen to him. What was about to happen to Jesus will make them even more confused; when they see him betrayed, taken away from them, treated like a common criminal, beaten, mocked and finally crucified, they must have wondered if it had all been a mistake. Yet those words kept repeating themselves, ‘Listen to him’. It was only by listening to the words of Jesus that they began to understand the mystery of his passion and death; that somehow it was all meant to be; it was all part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world. It wasn’t a mistake. On the contrary.

In our lives too there can be mysteries, things we don’t understand, things that happen to ourselves and those who are dear to us. “How can God allow this to happen?” we might ask. But the voice the disciples heard on the Mount two thousand years ago, is relevant for all time. When we are in crisis or distress, confused or frightened, listen to him. Jesus is there at our side to reassure you, that all will be well, and that all manner of things will be well.

During Lent we are being prepared for the greatest mystery of our faith; the death and resurrection of Christ. Use the time well, prepare yourself. All of us will one day have our own death and resurrection. But the Lord says to us now, and especially during Lent, “Listen to him.”

First Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent (2018) B

On Ash Wednesday many people received the ashes on their forehead. The Priest said to them, either ‘Remember man that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return’, or ‘Turn away from sin and believe in the Good News’. It is the second of these statements that is best reflects today’s readings. Indeed, Christ says almost the same words: ‘Repent and believe the Good News’. This message is for all time: for those who actually heard Christ say these words and for us today who hear them at Mass.

The message is in two parts: the first is ‘to repent’ or ‘to turn away from sin’. Lent is perhaps the time when more than any other we examine ourselves. The good Christian is not afraid to examine his or her conscience. It is not an easy thing to do because when we do it seriously we discover just how much sin is part of our lives; indeed, part of ourselves. There is a tendency in us all to pretend; to turn away from the reality of our sin. As if by not looking at one’s sinfulness we can fool ourselves. So, it takes a little courage to be honest with oneself, to face up to one’s sin.

Sin is a reality in us all. We have to learn to live with it, not to avoid it. But living with it is hard; especially for the good christian. It’s hard because I have to acknowledge things about myself, to myself, that I do not like. It would be much nicer if I could say what a wonderful person I am. But the good christian cannot say this; others may, but then they do not know us. Rather, I have to acknowledge that even though I try sin affects me all the time. It makes me selfish and intolerant of others; it makes me small minded; It makes me cowardly and weak-willed. It also makes me angry far too quickly: because my pride is so sensitive. These are realities in us all; man woman and child, priest and religious and pious layperson.

To deny sin in ourselves is to fool ourselves. But when we can acknowledge our sins then we can begin to do something about them. It is by recognising the enemy that we can then do battle. And the battle has already be won for us: this is the Good News of Jesus Christ; this is the Gospel, which is the second aspect of Lent: ‘Turn away from sin and believe the Good News’. Jesus is the Good News.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus was driven out into the wilderness. In other words to a lonely place. He was alone in a wilderness: there was no where to hide, or escape, and there was no one he could turn to for comfort and support. No, he was there alone, vulnerable and defenceless. We are told that for forty days Satan tempted him. So, alone and unaided he took on everything Satan could throw at him. Jesus felt these temptations: it wasn’t a game;

he wasn’t acting: it was real. The temptations were real. Jesus really did feel tempted just like the rest of us. To suggest otherwise is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of Christ’s victory. Because inspire of Satan, and we can say inspire of the temptations he felt, Christ did not give in: he was victorious. He vanquished Satan and would do so again on Calvary, when he nailed our sins to the Cross.

His victory is our victory. We did not have to suffer and battle as Christ did, but yet he lets us share in his victory over sin. It doesn’t mean, however, that sin has disappeared from our lives; it hasn’t. We still have to live with it and will have to continue doing so until our dying day. But what it does mean is that Jesus has over come sin in us. There is no need to despair. We may continue to sin, and sometimes we can go through periods in our lives when sin seems to fill our horizons. When, try as we might, we cannot seem to overcome a particular sin. But St Paul had the same problem, but he did not despair. Rather, he looked to Christ and knew that he was both understood and forgiven.

This really is Good News. That God forgives our sins. No matter how bad we are we can be and will be forgiven by God. God has infinite patience with us. We go on sinning, offending God and the Church, but God sees our hearts, he sees the good will as well as the weakness. He cannot but forgive the repentant but weak sinner. And to be forgiven is to begin again; sometimes, in the case of big sins, it is almost to begin life again. . The person who is forgiven is grateful; and gratitude is an aspect of love. When we are forgiven we should love even more.

Lent then is a God given opportunity for us all, to look deep into ourselves, to acknowledge whatever sins lie there; to face up to them rather than to pretend, in the knowledge that God understands, he knows that we are sinners, he knows of what we are made, and all He wants to do is forgive us. The our lives begin again; we come alive again. Surely this is Good News.

My homily for 5th Sunday

5th Sunday of the Year (b) 2018

If every you are feeling depressed or ill then its probably best you don’t read the book of Job. Poor Job is not the happiest of souls. This morning’s reading from his book is no exception, ‘months of delusion I have assigned to me, nothing for my own but nights of grief.’ And he goes on in the same vein. Of course, sometimes if you are feeling down, then it helps to know that you are not the only one. I was feeling down recently. I had flu over Christmas; in fact, spent Christmas in bed with a high temperature, headache, aching bones, and no energy What I way to spend Christmas I thought. But then I got over the flu only to develop a cough that I can’t get rid of. So, I know how Job felt. When you’re ill it’s not nice, you really are not at your best.

We are told in the gospel today that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was ill too; that she had gone to bed with fever. However, Jesus came to her aid; he took her by the hand and helped her up And, we are told, the fever left her. We can imagine how she relieved she must have felt and grateful to Jesus. Word must have got round the village, because that evening everyone who was sick in the village came to where he was staying, and we are told that he cured many.

Now some atheists might say that today we don’t need Jesus to heal us; because we can go to the doctor or the pharmacist; we can get asprin and paracetomol; or if we have a virus our doctor can get us antibiotics. And its true.; I got over my flu thanks to taking medication. But for that reason wouldn’t dismiss the role Jesus plays in my healing. You see, colds and flu are illnesses but there are other forms of illness that is brought on by the way we live. People who are selfish make themselves ill in another way. It may not be visible but their selfishness is destructive to them and to others. People who are proud can also affect their own lives and those of others. Pride has a way, at its worsts, of destroying people’s health. The proud person will often be angry, aggressive and jealous. All of these vices poisons our system and we become ill.

No pill, nor tablet, no antibiotic can overcome the problems caused by selfishness and pride. However, the message of Christ can. His message is he antidote. He teaches us to be humble, to be gentle, to be kind and generous. Such people don’t get ill deep down in their souls. Christ’s message is so simple and you don’t have to pay a penny; it’s all given.

In life we cannot avoid getting ill at times, like Job, we will feel sorry for ourselves when we are down. But Christ is always there at our side. Like St Peter’s mother-in-law, he wants to lift us up again, make us feel better. And the wonderful thing about the message of Christ is that it can do this even though our circumstances haven’t changed; we can feel good about ourselves even in the midst of trials and tribulations, at times of illness. Because we know that He is always there at our side to help us to endure. How many people, good people, I know who are suffering from one thing or another, trials that would break most people, and yet to meet them for the first time you wouldn’t think they had a care in the world. This is because they have really understood the message of Jesus Christ; it gives them hope and makes them smile when they feel like crying.

So dear Job, we know how you feel, but its not the message for us. We do have the message to make our lives happier and more meaningful; and its free and for everyone.