My Homily for the 33rd Sunday

33rd Sunday of the Year (b) 2018

There is no lightness in our readings today. No funny lines, no light relief, no humour. You could say ‘all is doom and gloom.’ The first reading, from Daniel, speaks of Michael, the Archangel, standing up and announcing that there will be time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence. And Jesus, in the Gospel, doesn’t get any lighter, when he says, ‘In those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. However, then he goes on to say ‘ before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place.’ Yet, he made this dire prediction 2,000 years ago and yet nothing has happened. Of course, every now and again, there are people who think they know best, and predict when ‘the time of great distress unparalleled since the nations first came into existence’ is about to begin. And often they go up on high mountains, and wait there for this imminent dreaded day. Then, eventually, they have to come down, and admit they got it wrong; till next time.

However, I expect anyone who was involved in the great wars that raged through Europe would have thought that it was a ‘time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence.’ They were dreadful times. So, what is the point of these readings; are they to frighten us so that we repent? To make us give up our sinful ways and turn back to the Lord? There may be an element of truth in this but it is not the main message of these readings. I think that is deeper. There are times when the Church forces us to take life seriously. What do I mean? Well, we live in such a happy go lucky age, an age of consumerism, of materialism, of having fun; an age when the principal thing most people do on Sunday, is go to garden centres or car boot sales, or play football. And in such an age the last thing one thinks about is the meaning and point of life, never mind the end of life.

So the Church, in its wisdom, takes these last few Sundays of its year, to force us to have sober and deep thoughts. Christ finishes the Gospel today with the words, ‘But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither angels of heaven, nor the Son, no one but the Father.’ I presume this is talking about the hour of our death. I don’t know about you but I am rather glad I don’t know when ‘that day or hour will come.’ We don’t usually talk about ‘days or hours’, but, people do say things like, “life is short”.

The Lord does not want to frighten us by the words of the Gospel. The clear message of the Bible is summarised in the life and words of Christ, above all by his death and resurrection. It is a message of hope and encouragement that should leave a person feeling uplifted and stronger, more confident and happier with themselves; and certainly without fear of death.

I think if there is one message I would want us to take home with us from these sober readings, it is the need to pray. Prayer keeps us in touch with ourselves and with what really matters in life. Because when we pray we get in touch with our inner selves, and in doing that we get in touch with what is really real, and that is God. God dwells within each and everyone of us, but all too often we can be too busy with our lives to have time for God in prayer.

Give yourselves five or ten minutes each day to pray; to close your eyes and enter within. Don’t let the modern world with all its attractions draw you away from the one thing necessary, which is God. And a person who really knows God, loves Him. He or she will be ready for whatever comes, when it comes. You have God’s word for it. He won’t let you down.

My homily for the 32 Sunday of the Year

32nd Sunday of the Year 2018 (b)

Jesus watches a poor widow give all she has into the Treasury. I suspect that we admire what she did but wouldn’t do the same. We might have given something but not everything we had to live on. Have you walked down Kensington High Street lately. If you do you have the run the gauntlet of beggars and people raising funds for good causes. It’s a relief when you get through unscaved. I can get away with not signing up to Amnesty International, or Oxfam or Save the Whale because I don’t have a bank account. It’s true, having a vow of poverty means we don’t have our own account The beggars are a different matter.

You can adopt two opposing attitudes to beggars: one, is not to give them anything, justified by the fact that they should get a job, or, more sympathetically, you can give them a little money. But its not like the widow in the gospel who gives the little she had to live on. Most of us wouldn’t go that far, would we. If we gave away all we had to live on what would we live on?

Notice in both the first reading and the gospel the central character is a widow. Now a widow is extremely vulnerable; her husband, who earned the money, has died, so she has no source of income. The first widow gives the prophet Elijah all the food she had left, which was meant for herself and her son. However, he promises her that the food would not run out and it doesn’t. In the gospel the widow gives into the treasury two small coins. It was a heroic act of generosity and trust. Generous, because it was all she had to live on; and trust, because she put her trust in God that He would look after her. We don’t know what happens next; whether Christ sees her later and helps her buy some food. All we are told is that he watched her put money into the Treasury.

I think the message isn’t to do likewise; though I’m sure the Treasury would be very grateful. But rather to learn to trust in God, and trust him for everything. In the knowledge that He is looking after you, though sometimes it can be hard to believe.

I say that because we remember this weekend the first centenary of the end of the First World War. How many of those men and some women went off trusting in God; praying to Him to keep them safe. How many mothers and fathers did the same. And yet, millions were killed during that horrible time. Why didn’t God listen to their prayers? Was their trust in Him a waste of time. Surely not. Life is mysterious and unpredicable. To trust in God doesn’t mean tht life is going to turn out the way we want. Those soldiers and their families who prayed didn’t know what was going to happen, but they prayed and they trusted in God. He didn’t let them down. It was mankind that let them down. God didn’t want war. On the contrary, He wants peace.

God asks us to trust Him. And to do so no matter what the cost. To trust in God is to put our faith in Him. It is to believe that He is looking after us. Inspite of all that can happen, He is there at our side, supporting and encouraging us to go on. He wants us to be generous, to give and not count the cost. Those two widows are praised by Christ not just for their generosity but also for their trust. They gave their all, trusting that God was always with them to look after them. They knew that He was their Lord and Master.

Trust is a great virtue. It’s a wonderful thing to trust in another. Knowing that he or she will never let you down. However, being human, we sometimes do let people down; in spite of our best intentions. But with God it’s different: He will never let us down. If we trust in Him there is not limit to what we can achieve. He can and wants to do great things in us, but first we need to learn to let go, to put our hands in His, and let Him guide us. If you trust in the Lord He will never let you down.

My homily for 31st Sunday

31st Sunday of the Year 2018

I was struck by the number of times the word ‘listen’ was used in today’s readings. When Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment he begins by saying: “This is the first, listen Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord etc.,” His reply would have made just as much sense if he had left out the listen and just said: “The Lord our God is one Lord”. So I presume the word ‘listen’ was important. You see the same in the first reading, only this time its Moses speaking. He says “Listen then, Israel, keep and observe what will make you prosper”. And later on Moses repeats the same word, when he says the same words as Christ: “Listen Israel: the Lord our God is the one Lord. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart..” And again the sentence, in fact both the sentences would have made sense with the word ‘listen’. So it would seem for both Jesus and Moses listening is important.

Listening is surely very important, even today. It was the message that Jesus and Moses wanted to teach, that was so important, that they asked the people are you listening. Teachers at my school, when teaching us something important, would ask: “are you listening McGowan”; we used surnames when I was at school. I obviously gave he impression that I wasn’t listening at times. And the teacher would say, “it goes in one ear and out the other”, or if he was unkind, he would add, “in one ear, through the vacuum and out the other”. I suppose what the teacher was trying to teach me was that if you really want to learn then you must listen.

Maybe the people with Jesus were a bit like me. You can almost hear Jesus shouting the words “Are you listening to me”. “Listen, you must love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself”. Yes, we can hear these words but the trouble is we hear them so often that, sometimes, we don’t hear them; our minds are thinking of something else. However, if we can listen then Jesus will be happy. He surely wants us to take his words seriously and I suggest in particular the second part of that sentence: “you must love your neighbour as yourself”.

I say that because it is the easiest way to judge if we love God. How else will you know? You could argue: well, I go to Church and I say my prayers. Isn’t that proof enough? Yes, it can be, but not necessarily. Jesus, in a way, makes it easy for us to know if we love God, because he equates loving God with our neighbour. Our ‘neighbour’ in this sense is not the person next door, but rather the person we live with or the person we work with or someone we meet in the street, on the bus or train. Do we love them? I suspect most of us would say yes we do love our families and our friends. But what about people you don’t like? What, God forbid, people that you hate? Our neighbour isn’t always someone you like. Yet to love God properly you are asked to love those you do not find it easy to like never mind love. And how often those people be family members? I know of very few families where everyone always gets on with everyone. Rather I know too many families where there are splits and divisions: siblings have fallen out and no longer talk to each other; or parents fall out with their children or even with each other, and where as once there was love, now there is the opposite; bitterness and resentment.

If you really love God, as you are asked to do, then you must love your neighbour; even those you find it hard now to love. The person who doesn’t love their neighbour doesn’t love God; it’s as simple as that. But don’t give up; don’t despair. Just keep trying to overcome bad feelings; keep praying for God’s help, and it will not be lacking. Because there are some divisions that are so deep and painful that only God can heal them. But heal them He will. Are you listening?