My homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter

5th Week of Easter (b) 2018

When Jesus speaks of vines he knows what he is talking about, because he grew up surrounded by vinyards. As a child, at harvest time, he would have trod grapes with the other children. The vine was then something familiar to him.

He would have seen the vine in winter time; looking dead, cut back to its stump, looking like it would never produce any more grapes. And yet come the summer it was transformed. The branches began to grow in the spring. Lovely green leaves form, then slowly but surely the grapes appear. By the end of the summer the grapes are full and ripe and ready for harvesting. It is amazing how much fruit a vine can produce, especially when you remember how barren it looked in the autumn and winter.

Jesus uses the vine as an anology; he identifies with the vine, when he says: “I am the vine” and then adds, “you are the branches.” You cannot have a vine without branches and equally you cannot have branches without a vine. The same sap running through the vine runs through the branches. All the branches have to do is to remain part of the vine. Of course, the vine dresser will have his role to play; he will prune the vine, cut it back in winter, in order to make it more fruitful. Jesus tells us, ‘I am the vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more.’ We are on this earth to produce fruit; we are not here just to exist, but are here for a purpose; we have a role to fulfill.

The analogy of wine and of grapes is, as I said, one that Christ would have been familiar with from his childhood. The vital link between the vine and branches is an analogy of our relationship with him. The same sap, the same life, that seeps through Christ seeps through us. It’s what we call grace. If you cut us, in a sense, it’s his life blood than runs out. The goodness that is in him pours through our veins. As long as we hang on to him we shall produce good and abundant fruit. Chritians are called to greatness, not to mediocrity. But it is all his work.

It is so important to remember this last point. The better we are, the more fruit we produce, the more we need to remind ourselves that it is all his work. If you live a good life people will sometimes say nice things to you: what a wonderful person you are; how kind you are; what a good friend you are. The good Christian will then remember this analogy of the vine and the branches; in other words, what ever good I do, whatever act of kindness I perform, whatever act of faith I make, it is because Christ has done this in me. And therefore I don’t take the credit, but rather I point to him.

All of us are here on earth to do good. We were created to make this world a better place. And it is not such a daunting task as it might appear. Maybe we are not going to change the world radically, but we can do our little bit. All of us can achieve so much if we just allow Christ to work in us and through us, to let him achieve in us whatever good he wants us to do.

‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty.’

My homily for 4th Sunday of Easter

4th Sunday of Easter (b) 2018

Vocations’ (aka Good Shepherd) Sunday

I have asked you young people to come to the front because today’s mass is especially for you. And I want you to know that what I am going to say is for you. Today is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The reason its called that is because Jesus tells us, “I am the Good Shepherd”. And for many years this day has been seen as an opportunity to get you to consider becoming priests and nuns. However, all that has changed; well, not completely, we do hope that some will become priests and nuns, but there is a change in emphasis; no longer does the church focuss solely on priesthood and religious life, but now it recognizes that you all have a vocation: you are all called by God, given a task that only you can fulfil, and given the tools at your baptism to complete that task. And your real life begins when you find that purpose.

Last month in Rome 300 young people, between the ages of 20-35 met to prepare the Synod of Bishops that takes place in October. A synod is made up of bishops from around the world and occurs every 2 years. And the theme of the Synod this year is you: young people; your faith and vocational discernment.

There has been a haemorraging of young people away from the Church for many years. Earlier this year the Bishops of England and Wales prepared a questionnaire to get you to share what you think of the Church. Several thousand replied. What resulted was a clear message: there is nothing wrong with young people’s faith; that young people have a deep faith and a love for God, but don’t always find the church to be relevant to their lives; they want to be trusted and to be listened to. Well, I think, the time has now arrived.

The results of the questionnaire found that a lot of young people find the Church somewhat boring. But when you’re young, so many things are boring. It’s not just church. The bottom line is: that often young people find themselves boring. I say this not as a criticism but as an observation from my own experience as a teenager and in my early twenties. I thought I was boring, that others were far more interesting than me: and then the anxiety, what young lady would be interested in me. Now, years later, I haven’t really changed: I’m still boring!… No, well, maybe I am, but now I have a passion for God and the gospel.

All of us are called by God to work in and for the Church and the world. It is not just the role of the priests and nuns. Have you noticed that the number of priests and nuns is diminishing? And yet the gospel has still to be preached. God in Christ is looking to you to take up the challenge. He is asking you, young people, to preach the gospel message to your friends and peers because if you don’t who will. We live, as you know, in a world that is full of insecure and anxious people. Young people, and not so young, are anxious about the future; about the enviroment and climate change, the threat of nuclear war. Closer to home there is anxiety about relationships, having a girl friend or boyfriend, also, job insecurity, the fear of unemployment. Among the youth there is so much self harm, eating disorders, drug abuse and tragically suicide. God is asking you young people to go out and change the world; make it a better place to live in, show your peers that they are both loved and lovable. You see, you are the best evangelizers of your own generation. We priests and nuns haven’t got a chance:… “what do they know”? Just as peer pressure can lead you into trouble, so it can have the opposite effect; you can have a good influence on the lives of others.

Young people are crying out for the truth, for authenticity, to be taken seriously and above all, to be loved. Most don’t come to the church, but you do. The Lord is asking you, challenging you, to go out there and help them, help your own generation; be their role models. The Church needs you, we priests and nuns need you. This is your vocation in Christ and in his church. We who are less young in the Church will be praying for you.

My homily for 3rd Sunday of Easter

3rd Sunday of Easter 2018

I love these accounts of when Christ appears to his disciples after the resurrection. They so underline the miracle of the resurrection. We are told in today’s gospel that they are still in disbelief. Even though the two disciples on the road to Emmaus tell them they have seen Jesus, they still can’t believe it. In fact, even when Jesus himself comes into the room they think he’s a ghost. The gospel tells us that of their reaction when he suddenly appears to them: “In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost”. Imagine your reaction if, this morning, when you were eating your toast and drinking coffee someone suddenly appeared, you wouldn’t say “good morning; fancy seeing you here”! You’d probably run out of the room; and the disciples would have done that too only the room was locked.

Jesus is clearly a bit annoyed and asks them why they are behaving this way, and why are there doubts in their minds. But, much as they want to believe, they do have serious serious doubts. And so he has to prove to them that he’s not a ghost. First of all he invites them to touch him. But that didn’t work. So, seeing they were not convinced, he eats fish; ghosts don’t eat fish do they. And as they watched Jesus swallow the fish you can almost hear the collective doubt going away. You can almost hear them thinking: “could it really be possible? Could it really be him? It looks like him. Talks like him. Even eats like him! But, we saw him die. And dead men don’t walk”.

We might think the Apostles were awfully slow to believe. Of course Jesus is alive! he died on the Cross and three days later he rose from the dead. Simple, why can’t they accept that? But can we really judge them so badly? It may all be clear to us with two thousand ears of hindsight. And yet, the difference between us and the Apostles is probably very little. But there is one fundamental difference: they were there, we weren’t. They saw him die. They would never ever forget what they saw that tragic Friday afternoon. To watch someone die is an unforgettable experience. To watch someone die as Jesus did, slowly painfully, upon a Cross, was doubly so. When they walked away that evening, having watched their friend breathe his last, words couldn’t describe their sadness.

I am sure that if we thought at little more about what it must have been like to see Jesus in the flesh again then we’d understand why they were so disbelieving. But notice Jesus doesn’t condemn them. Instead he understands. You see, that is the wonderful thing about Christ is that the is so understanding. He doesn’t condemn rather he forgives. Indeed he tells them to do the same: he asks them to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And they do.

To believe that Christ died and rose from the dead is not easy; and we shouldn’t presume that it is. Even though we say we believe this every time we say the Creed it does not follow that we really do. I say that boldly because it is such an incredible thing to happen. How we can know if we believe or not is by the effect our faith has on our life. If I really believe that Jesus died and rose again then I am blessed indeed. But if we don’t, we should simply say, ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief’. And He will.

My homily for 2nd Week of Easter

Second Sunday of Easter 2018 (b)

‘…anyone who has been gegotten by God has already overcome the world; this is the victory over the world – our faith’. This is what St John says in today’s second reading. Faith is therefore something we should never take for granted, but it can be easy to do.

People ask me every so often if it is wrong or even sinful to doubt. Well, look at Thomas in today’s gospel. He doubted. He refused to believe even though everyone else was saying that Jesus had risen from the dead, that they had seen him. For Thomas it was impossible; he wanted to believe but he had seen Jesus die, and much as he wished that he was still alive he couldn’t believe it. As a result, we call him ‘doubting Thomas’; and we use this in our language; when we call someone a ‘doubting Thomas’, we mean they do not believe us.

Is it wrong to doubt? No, not necessarily. We see what happened to Thomas after he believed, when he eventually saw Jesus for himself, he said, “My Lord and my God”. That’s not doubt that’s faith. He went on to live his life in faith and even died a martyr. In many ways Doubting Thomas is an example to us, not for his doubting but for the way he lived, a life of faith after he believed.

Are we doubting thomas’? It is not wrong to doubt. Like Thomas we have been given brains, and God expects us to use them. He doesn’t expect us to have blind faith. In other words, when someone believes because someone else has told them to. People can grow up not with their own faith but with that of their parents. They have rightly but perhap blindly accepted their parent’s faith, never thinking about it for themselves. What Thomas teaches us is that it is not easy to believe. Remember it wasn’t just Thomas who refused to believe; the disciples refused to believe Mary Magadalen, also, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

I am sure that like me you have met good people who do not believe in God. People who live good lives, are honest and kind; you could say they are everything a christian should be but without faith. When you meet these people you want them to believe; and some can’t understand why they don’t. And yet they don’t. Rather than wondering why they don’t believe we should give thanks for our own faith.

My faith is a gift. It is not something I should take for granted. My parents gave it to me, then one day I owned it for myself. I should always try to appreciate the enormity of my faith and what it means. My life now doesn’t make sense without my faith. It gives meaning to my life.

Do not be put off by your doubts. It is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it can be a sign of confidence. I believe but I am surrounded by people who don’t. I/we live in a secular society that has pushed God to the periphery; to believe in God today is almost counter-cultural, at least in the UK. So I must be grateful for my faith. And pray that I will never lose it. On the contrary that it will grow.

Jesus last words to Thomas were not just for him but were directed to us; “You [Thomas] believe because you can see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”. That’s us. Lord, we believe, strengthen our faith today and everyday.

My Homily for Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday (b) 2018

Today we celebrate the Triumph of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It is a triumph of life over death, of good over evil, and above all it is a triumph of love. Love that is the greatest of all virtues; that gives meaning to our lives; that teaches us to hope when reason tells us to doubt or despair.

It must be significant that Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb first; she who loved Christ so much. She gets up so early in the morning, when most sensible people are still asleep. Something in Mary urges her to get up early and just go to the tomb. To be there with Christ’s body. But when she gets there she sees the stone rolled away. Seeing this she panics. She doesn’t go into the tomb. She immediately assumes that someone has taken Christ’s body. Such is her anxious state of mind that she runs. Mary cannot walk. There is no time to be wasted. She is still thinking that someone must have taken the body, so she must tell the others quickly before the trail goes cold. When she meets Peter and John she can hardly speak, she is so breathless but eventually she manages to blurt out: “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him”. Who are ‘they’: the Jewish Leaders, the Roman soldiers, bodysnatchers? Peter and John immediately pick up Mary’s anxiety. And so they run to the tomb; they run as fast as they can. They are thinking that there’s still a chance that they might catch those who have taken Christ’s body away.

When they arrive at the tomb they too are breathless. They both enter. We don’t know what Peter is thinking as he surveys the scene, but we do know what John is thinking because the gospel tells us; ‘the disciple Jesus loved, saw and…believed’. He hasn’t seen the resurrected Christ, that will happen later, but here and now, in the empty cold tomb a light dawns in his heart. A light he cannot ignore; an awareness that something incredible has happened, and he is excited beyond words.

He is the disciple Jesus loved. His heart told him that it was true: Christ’s body wasn’t snatched away, but he has risen from the dead, as he said he would; but no one believed him. That burning in John’s heart convinces him; and no one can tell him otherwise: Jesus is really risen. Mary Magdalene would understand. She too loved him. The other disciples would eventually be convinced when their eyes saw for themselves. But John believed with his heart before he saw with his eyes.

John and Mary loved Christ in a very special way. There is something about love that makes sense of the impossible. He gives you an instinct, a certainty. The lover knows; he/she just knows. Was it Pascal who said, “love has its reasons that reason cannot understand”.

John the Beloved Disciple only saw the empty tomb. But something told him that something beyond his wildest dreams had just happened. Without seeing, without touching he believed. It was love that convinced him. We too, two thousand years later, have not seen, nor touched, ther risen Christ, but the fact that he is risen has changed our lives; it gives us hope, that precious gift, that gift that we all need so badly at times; when we have doubts and fears; when we look at our world today and worry about the future; when all can seem dark and hopeless. We christians do not despair, because of our faith. Jesus Christ who is our life, who loves us, has risen from the dead and he will never leave us again. This is the message of Easter.