My homily for Mass on Holy Thursday: Easter Triduum

Homily for Mass on Holy Thursday 2018

When I read the second reading this morning in preparing this homily I was struck by something for the first time. Even though I had read this passage numerous times only today did I notice that Paul was not at the last supper. When you read what he tells the Corinthians you, at least I, got the distinct impression that he was there: ‘This is what I received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you: that on the same night he was betrayed , the Lord Jesus took some bread, and thanked God for it and broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you; do this as a memorial of me’. And in a sense he was there.

I have forgotten much of what I was taught in seminary, but one thing I remember and have never forgotten was the Jewish meaning of the word ‘memorial’. For us a memorial is something that commemorates the past; and so we have many monuments or memorials to the first and second world war. However, memorial has a much deeper meaning for the Jewish people, and is the one we christians have inherited when we celebrate the eucharist. For the Jewish people memorial is not simply something of the past, recalling past events, like the passover, for example. It is not simply a question of remembering the past, but of being present. For them memorial brings the past into the present they don’t commemorate the passover as history they are present at the Passover. And this is the same for us. You recall Jesus famous words, “this is my body which is for you; do this as a memorial of me’. We are not just recalling an historic event; we are actually present, in a strange but real way, at the Last Supper. When we celebrate the eucharist in a few minutes we sit down around the table with Christ and his disciples; it is not then history we are really there. On this very night Christ instituted the eucharist, and He instituted the priesthood, so that we could continue to celebrate the eucharist.

St Paul was probably Christ’s greatest disciple, even though he never met him during Christ’s lifetime. He too pondered on Christ’s words ‘this is my body given for you’. He was told by others of Christ’s gesture of washing the disciples’ feet. And he understood as only Paul could what Christ was saying to them but also to us all: as I have done, who am your Lord and Master, do you also to others. Paul did give his body for others; Paul did wash the feet of others. And in doing this he gave us an example, that we should do likewise.

Like St Paul we too have not seen Christ but he still speaks to us today as if we were living with him. His message to us is eternal; it wasn’t just for his generation, but was meant to be passed on down through all the generations. Christ challenges us today to give up our lives for others. At the same time to wash each others feet, not literally, but in a metaphorical sense. We are here to serve, not to be served.

The Lord instituted the Eucharist this night so that we can have the strength to do what he asks of us. You must have had the experience already in life of overcoming difficulties, of being very unselfish, of enduring great pain and anxiety. And maybe people have said to you: “I don’t know how you did it. I couldn’t have done it”. But they could, just as you did. Christ, in the Eucharist, gives us the grace to do the most difficult things, things we couldn’t image doing. Christ in the Eucharist is our strength, our life, our joy and our only hope. How blessed we are to have the Eucharist; to have Christ in our midst, food for our souls and bodies. Tonight we are not just celebrating an historical event that took place two thousand years ago. No, we are in a real way present at the Last Supper, and that is surely awesome.

my homily for 5th Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent (b) 2018

At the beginning of Lent you remember Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and forty nights. He’s now been in the desert a long time 32 days by my calculation. The desert is an awful place; nothing grows there; it’s suffocatingly hot by day and freezing by night. I remember sleeping one night in the Sinai desert; I was never so cold in my life. And that was just one night! Jesus spent forty nights there. The desert is also a lonely place, especially if you are, like Jesus, on your own. So much time to yourself; time to think; to look back over your life. What was Christ thinking as he passed the days and nights in such solitude? St Paul tells us, revealingly, that ‘Christ offered up prayer and entreaty aloud and in silent tears, to the one who had power to save him out of death’. I am struck by those words, ‘silent tears’? It is a terrible sight to see a grown man cry. Why was he crying? Paul would seem to suggest he was afraid: he offered up prayer and entreaty, said St Paul, to the one who had power to save him out of death.’ Was he afraid of dying? Was this why he crying?

When I read those words, ‘silent tears’ they always move me. I hate to see anyone cry, but this isn’t just anyone, this is our Lord Jesus Christ. And here he is doing something that surely all of us do sometimes. Here we see Christ with tears pouring down his cheeks; his eyes raised to heaven, pleading with his father to help him. This isn’t the garden of gethsemane; no, this is a long time before that. I wonder what was it that brought him to tears? If he was fully human, as the Church teaches, then maybe it was the thought of death. He knew he had to be strong for what was about to happen, and yet in the desert, all alone and weak from fasting, he probably felt vulnerable and anything but strong. None of this was easy for him.

In the gospel Jesus tells his listeners, “unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest”. Clearly the thought of death is not far from his mind. But notice how he doesn’t see it as total disaster, as the end of everything. Rather, incredibly, he implies that his death is necessary; that by his death there will come a rich harvest. Think about that: he wasn’t doing this for himself, but for us. This cruel death which he fully expected was to happen, he could have avoided. He is in a desert, after all; no one else around; no one would have spotted him if he slipped off somewhere else. But he didn’t. After this time in the desert he was ready for what ever was to come. And he knew it would be difficult but he was ready and willing. And all this for us.

We don’t have to go into the desert, but we can remember him who did. We can thank him for what he is about to do for us. In the next couple of weeks we will see exactly what did happen; the pain, the betrayal, the scourging, the mocking, and then finally a slow cruel and painful death. It’s not easy to think about this, who would normally want to. And yet this is what the church is asking us to do; to accompany him as he prepare for his passion. Remember it was something he knew would happen; back in the desert he had thought about this. And we know he was moved to tears. So why shouldn’t we be: he went through all this for us, the least we can do is acknowledge that.

He did it for love of us; each and everyone of us. He loved us, he loves us, in spite of our faults and failings and even our sinfulness. He pleads with us today as he did to those who heard him two thousand years ago: “turn away from sin, and believe the gospel”!

My homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday Lent (b) 2018

When I read this gospel yesterday I was struck by a particular word; that word was ‘lost’; ‘God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life’. I don’t really know why it stood out for me, but scripture is like that. You can be very familiar with a passage but one day something new is revealed. So the word ‘lost’ was one I had seen hundreds possibly thousands of times before but yesterday it seemed to jump out at me. I thought it an odd use of a word in the context of the sentence: ‘so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life’. I would have thought the more obvious word would have been ‘saved’.

But it started me thinking about lost and being lost. It’s not nice to be lost, to lose your way. And yet there are many people who are lost today. Not necessarily in the sense that they have lost their bearings, but in a moral sense. It is one of the saddest facts of modern life that there are so many suicides. Among a certain age group of young people, it is the most common form of death. That is tragic. And its not just in England. I remember being with my uncle in Ireland, walking through a cemetery when my relatives are buried, and he pointed out to me a number of graves of young people who had taken their lives. I had thought it would only happen in towns and big lonely cities, but no.

Someone who commits suicide must have been really lost; their worlds must have become so dark. But this is what can happen when people lose their moral compass, when they abandon the teachings of Christ. And I was like this once. In my late teens and early twenties I left the Church. It wasn’t really a conscious decision more a sliding away from all that I’d done before. This was the 1960’s, the age of the Beatles and the Stones, it was the beginning of pop music and of rebellion; young people no longer did as they were told, as their parents, and their parents had. And so I lost my moral bearings. Without the teaching of Christ I became unhappy. I became something that I had not been. My life became dark. Not that people would have noticed, we are all actors and keep the bright side out; we do not want others to see the dark inside. How often have I heard people say of someone who has taken their own life: we never suspected s/he would do this, they seemed happy enough.

I was blessed to rediscover my faith by the age of twenty four. But sometime later I spoke with an old friend I had known in my bad old days. I had not seen him for a number of years. He was surprised to hear from me, as he said that he had heard the rumour that I had committed suicide. I felt a cold shiver run down my spine. If I had continued on the way I was going who knows that could have happened to me.

Without God, without the teachings of Christ it is easy to get lost in our world. And not just young people. Christ gives us a moral compass to follow; it may not always be telling us the direction we want to go in, but it is a sure guide. This is because all God wants is our happiness, and if we obey His Word then we will discover that happiness.

God loves us so much He sacrificed His own Son to prove His love for us; to stop us getting lost. Someone who loves that much does not want anyone to get lost. The gospel of Christ is the unique guide to our happiness and salvation .

My homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent

Third Sunday of Lent 2018 (c)

What stands out about this gospel is, I suspect, Jesus making some kind of whip and driving out all those who sold cattle and sheep and pigeons in the Temple, and turning over money changers tables and his shouting “take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market”. And yet this isn’t all that we heard in the gospel, later Jesus predicts his death and makes a most important statement that in three days he will rise again; which is much more important than the expulsion of the Temple, but it’s what stands out for us.

If there is one incident in the whole of the new testament that we can identify with Jesus this is it: when he loses his temper. We can’t identify with his fasting for forty days and forty nights, his miracle working and healing, but we can identitfy with what comes across as an apparent weakness; a human failing: to lose one’s temper. Who hasn’t lost their temper? And we can argue that if Jesus can lose his temper then why can’t I. I think anger must be one of the most common of human failings.

Some people get angry for reasons I consider stupid. Take football supporters for example; they get angry when their team loses. At worst they can fight with the opposing fans. I remember once, years ago when I was a teenager, getting punched because I said something degrogatory about Wimbledon Football Club; and this is before they became professional for goodness sake! But Jesus wasn’t getting angry about football, but rather about abuse, and in particular abuse of the Temple, “my Father’s Temple” he calls it. People were making money, taking advantage of the crowds, exploiting the situation, and paying little or no respect to the sacredness of the place they were in. All these marketeers were interested in was money; money had become their God.

To get angry is not good, but there are things we should get angry about: for example, we should get angry about corruption; it’s unjust, it’s greed, it’s wrong, and it can lead to all sorts of bad things. Look at Genfell Tower, just a few miles away from us, that went up in flames so quickly, costing the lives of 72 people. We know that it need not have happened had the right kind of cladding been used; someone was trying to make money. Money again.

I can get quite angry too about sunday trading. There is no need for it. For most of my life I have lived without sunday trading, and everyone managed. Except in few circumstances there is no need for sunday trading. It is just greed; big businesses trying to make even more money. Sunday should be a day of rest; people shouldn’t have to go to work on a day of rest. We christians are supposed to dedicate Sunday to God and to our families; to put our feet up, enjoy lunch together. The hour we spend in church should be the central point of our day.

I also get slightly angry about how sport has almost taken over sunday mornings for some families; I am mad keen on sport myself, but I think there’s something wrong about our priorities when football or rugby becomes the most important thing the family does on a Sunday morning. When I was in Preston, the famous football club, Preston North End, played football on Good Friday which began at 3pm. Now that made me angry. We are a christian nation and yet too often we let big business dictate to our society.

So Jesus losing his temper in the Temple can have echoes in our own time. The Temple was a place of worship, not a place for making money. I think Jesus would be angry with what’s happening today; when we’ve allowed Sunday to become a day like any other. As Christians we should not accept Sunday trading. Sunday is for us a day of rest and a day to be with the family, one day in the week when God and Church take centre stage. Now where’s my whip…?