My Homily for Christmas Day 2018

Christmas Day 2018
Jesus Christ is born today and the world will never be the same again. This is the truth we hold on to at Christmas; that God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son. This is what gives us hope and that hope is sometimes all we need.

I say that because I have a friend who is a Bishop in Nicaragua. As you may or may not know the political situation in Nicaragua is not good and the church is being openly persecuted. My friend, Bishop Silvio Baez, is risking his life by preaching peace and justice; already he has been beaten up and his ring taken from him. His situation is all too similar to that of Archbishop Oscar Romero who was shot dead. I think of my friend and wonder how he is going to enjoy Christmas, can he enjoy it? He is a brave man, outspoken, telling to the truth to people who do not want to hear it. But it is because of Christmas that he has the courage to keep going; to stand up for justice to criticise those who are corrupt. The birth of Christ has given him hope that all will be well. Spare a thought and a prayer for the people of Nicaragua today.

Christmas gives us hope. Hope that all will be well; that if our lives have been difficult this past year that they will be better next, even when we can’t see that happening. There will be people suffering today, not just in Nicaragua, but also here in England, but for different reasons: people who have lost someone they love; and this the first christmas without them. But Christmas gives us hope; that all will be well. And that the pain of loss will be turned to something more positive. I can think of two families who will be mourning this Christmas, grieving for someone who was loved. We pray, don’t we for such people, and we all know them: we pray that the Lord will comfort them at this special time when everyone is having a good time.

The birth of Christ is such a huge event; its meaning so mysterious that its is hard to comprehend. We believe that God became one of us. In becoming one of us He lifted us up to Himself. These are two amazing truths: God became flesh and we became, by adoption, His sons and daughters. His birth really has changed the world. It has given us hope, a hope that will not deceive. A hope that all will be well. I am sure that during the last year not everything has gone well for you. Sometimes people have terrible years and pray that the next year will not be as bad. Because of the birth of Christ we can pray with confidence that things will change, that life will not always be so difficult, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Christmas should put a smile on our faces. It is good news. Not bad news. People can sometimes say to us, “I’ve got good news and bad news. Which do you want first?” Well, with Christmas there is no bad news, it’s only good news; the news that our Saviour has been born for us. And why was he born? To tell us that we are loved by God. All of us; not just some of us, and not just when we are good, but all the time. We don’t have to be good to be loved by God. We say to children, don’t we, that Santa Claus will bring you presents but only if you are good. But God loves us even when we are not good. Nor do we have to be anybody else, just ourselves. But how hard to believe this: that God loves me as I am. So, when you go back home after this mass, stand in front of the mirror, look yourself straight in the eye and say: “God loves me. He loves me as I am”. And try not to laugh. I say that because I know that to some this is ridiculous: all too many people do not like themselves, so they can’t expect God to love them; but he does. This is the good news of Christmas; this is the magic of Christmas.

Christmas is good news. It is the most wonderful news. The birth of Christ gives us hope that all will be well. It gives us hope that all is not hopeless; whether you are living in Nicaragua or England. Today, this day, is the beginning of something new: Your saviour has been born for you. May that truth make you smile, may it make you happy. Christ has come so that all will be well; this is our hope and it will not deceive us.

My homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent

4th Sunday of Advent (c) 2018

Last Thursday I went to Victoria where I had a coffee with one of my nieces. I hadn’t seen her since I learned that she was pregnant, five months ago. I met her outside Westminster Cathedral. I didn’t notice any bump. So we sat down and talked about the baby that was in her womb. She knew it was going to be a girl; as they do these days. She was excited and couldn’t wait till April. We talked about what name she would give it. I couldn’t help but be excited for her.

I suppose the Blessed Virgin Mary would have had similar experiences. I’m sure all mother’s do, not that I would know, being a man. Of course, Mary wouldn’t have had a scan; actually she didn’t need one because she knew it was going to be a boy. But she would have been excited like my niece and looking forward to the day she would give birth, which in her case wouldn’t be long. She must have talked to Joseph about all sorts of things; not least where they were going to go to have the baby. They would have wanted somewhere nice and comfortable in Bethlehem; a nice warm house with a proper bed. Little did they know what was going to happen. How could they have known at that time that this tiny village of Bethlehem would be full, and that there would be no room for them.

Mary must have prayed and given God thanks. She knew that the baby would be special. Even if she hadn’t known before she would have found out when she visited her kinswoman Elizabeth. Elizabeth was pregnant with her son John, and Mary with her son Jesus. In Ein Kerim where Elizabeth lived there is today a special statue, or statutes, of the two women when they first meet. They are not saying anything, not hugging, they are just looking into each others eyes: each one knew that they had been blessed with a child. Words, it seemed, were unnecessary. Elizabeth gazed into Mary’s eyes and she knew; she knew something very special was about to happen.

I don’t know if my niece is praying, is thanking God for the gift of her child, I hope so. But we can be sure that Mary was. Oh how she must have been praying now that she was about to give birth. All that had happened to her was a gift; the fact that God chose her, that she was to give birth to His son; that God became man in her womb. What a mystery! Yes, I suspect Mary prayed and prayed at this time: praying that all would go well, that nothing would go wrong at the last minute; that the child would be born healthy.

Only a few more days to go; who can imagine what Mary must have been thinking; what thoughts were going through her head as she travelled down from Nazareth to Bethehem. All the time making sure that nothing would happen to damage the child; being super careful when she got on and off the donkey. Her body wasn’t her own any more; it now belonged to two people: herself and her baby. But her baby came first. She must have prayed that she wouldn’t give birth on the way, on the side of the road, with no one to help; in the freezing cold. But as always she trusted in God, that all would be well. She gave thanks to him for such a gift. She would have been so grateful too to have Joseph at her side; a good man, a noble hardworking man. He was another gift from God.

Yes, soon all would be over. She would give birth. And then for the first time the world would see something only she and Joseph knew: that God had chosen her to be the mother of His son. And the world would never be the same again. Not only for Mary but also for us who look forward once more to the birth of Christ; we too should pray and ask for the grace to understand the mystery of God becoming one of us.

My homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent

3rd Sunday of Advent (c) 2018

A friend of mine went into a shop the other day and asked the assistant if there were any religious Christmas cards left. The assistant looked at her blankly and asked: “what do you mean”. It was obviously a strange request: a religious Christmas card: wouldn’t a wintry scene or a Santa Claus do?

It’s possible to enjoy Christmas without religion: most people do after all. But religion is more than going to Church. Religion, God, His goodness, can be seen all around us. Like last night I walked round Trafalgar Square. It looked beautiful with all the lights: the Christmas tree, all the people, the man with his smiling son on his shoulders. This wasn’t Church but I just felt good being there: my mind and my heart were raised up.

But many of the things that make Christmas Christmas aren’t strictly speaking religious; they don’t take place in Church. The exchange of presents is very special; especially if you’ve got children. But even if you haven’t it’s till wonderful to be given a present by someone: there is a child in us all, who wants to rip off the wrapping paper and see what’s inside. It’s probably be a pair of socks or something, but that doesn’t matter: it truly is the thought that counts. My little niece who is eight, inorder not to get socks or anything she doesn’t want, makes out a list of what she wants: I noticed that fourth on that list is money!

Then there’s the traditional Christmas dinner: a time when we all get together, or try to. And even if we can’t be together we think of those who are absent: those who have gone before; we think of Christmasses past. The family are together; for some it’s possibly the only time in the year when we are together. Then we pull crackers, put on the silly paper crowns and read the innocent jokes. It’s often a time of laughter, when we tell stories, often about the family: the silly things that Mum or Dad said or did. And we laugh.

Then the Christmas food is different than we normally get: most of us don’t eat turkey each day. Nor Christmas pudding. It’s a time for justified indulgence: we eat and drink too much and it’s o.k. We’re supposed to. It helps us sleep in the afternoon.

Now this is how many people will spend their Christmas. It will be a time when we see people at their best. Not everyone of course, and sadly, for some, Christmas is a sad time: people can be very lonely at Christmas, even in a crowd. But notice how: the family being together, giving presents to say, without words, I value you, and even I love you, and sharing a meal together: all these things are also what Christ came to give us.

But Christmas day hasn’t come yet. We’re still in Advent: the time the Church sets aside to prepare for Christmas. As Christians we enjoy Christmas as much as anyone, and probably more than most. And uplifting and good as the decorations and Christmas dinner are it has to be for us more than just this: which is already a lot. We have to prepare our hearts and minds and our souls. But we don’t have John the Baptist running around telling us to prepare the way of the Lord. But we do come to Church, and we do hear the word of God: and John the Baptist, speaks to us today through the readings we’ve just heard.

He continues in this way to say to us: prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare your hearts. Go to confession to experience something of the love and mercy Christ came to give us. Let us keep Christmas holy. Santa Clauses and robin’s are important, but, even more important is the figure of Christ. And remember this: when on Christmas day, you feel good because someone gives you a present; or, when you laugh till you cry listening to family stories, remember that this is what Christmas is about; and know that the Kingdom of God is very near to you.

My homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent (a) 2018

John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness…’Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ Someone might say, “hey, wait a minute, isn’t John the Baptist and all this talk of repentance and sins meant for Lent? This is Christmas! Couldn’t we have something a bit lighter, a bit more fun, a bit more, say chrismassy?’ A ‘bit more chrismassy’… “Yes, that’s more like it” says my friend; none of this repentance stuff or confessing sins, that’s too heavy for Christmas, besides, it might frighten the kids!” “Keep Christmas happy, jolly, fun, you know Santa Claus and all that.”

So, no repentance, John the Baptist or confession of sins, keep it light and don’t frighten the kids. However, Advent is, like Lent, also a time for repentance, as well as for kids. Aren’t we adults really children at heart? Doesn’t Christmas touch the child in us? It certainly does me. Christmas is essentially about love, that love that Paul speaks of in the second reading: ‘My prayer is that your love for each other may increase more and more.’ Christ has come into the world to teach us how to love, to transform our world by love into a better place.

Is such a world possible? Yes, it is. Surely we should want to create a better world for ourselves and for our children, but where do we start. We can say, ‘what can I do, I can’t change the world, even if I wanted to.’ And so we give up even before we start. But, you know, you don’t have to change the whole world, no, that would be too much, you just have to change one little thing, but that can be very difficult, because that one little thing is yourself. So, you see, we’re now back to repentance and John the Baptist and confession of sins.

When John the Baptist cries in the wilderness; prepare a way for the Lord by making paths straight, filling in valleys and laying low every mountain, he isn’t really talking literally; in other words, he doesn’t expect these things to happen: levelling mountains, and hills, filling in valleys. Rather, John is pointing to what we have to do in our hearts; we have to make the way into our hearts much easier for Christ to come in this Christmas, by getting rid of all the obstacles that are in His way. In other words our sins.

Advent is a time to take stock, to look at ourselves, and ask ourselves if we are doing enough to, not necessarily change the world, but simply to change the life around us; it is a good examination of conscience to ask: am I responsible for making other people’s lives difficult because I am impatient or unkind or selfish?

Christmas and repentance do go together; the person who repents sincerely will have a happier Christmas than the person who doesn’t. Christmas is not just for children, it is also for adults, adults who haven’t given up, who haven’t stopped trying, who have never abandoned their hope in God. A contrite heart this Christmas would be the best present you could bring to your homes.

My homily: first Sunday of Advent 2018

1st Sunday of Advent 2018 (c)

Christmas is such a busy time there’s hardly time to think about anything else. Let alone this sunday’s readings with their message of the second coming of Christ. They’re just twenty three shopping days left. Some people have done their shopping already. Yesterday I already received two christmas cards. I heard on the radio about someone who’d bought all their presents last January, during the sales. But there was just one problem: they couldn’t remember where they’d hidden them.

Yes, Christmas for most people is simply a busy time, and not a lot else. It’s interesting that we speak of Christmas, because in the church we call this season Advent. Christmas doesn’t begin till….Christmas: December 25th. But even for us Christians we’re all caught up in the Christmas rush. It’s not as if we don’t shop like everyone else. Besides, all the shopping and the lights, and the trees, the carols, and the Santa Clauses, do give this season a special atmosphere. I was singing with our choir yesterday at Kensington High Street station. It was really special; a great start to our christmas preparation.

I remember being in Rome for Advent and Christmas. There was nothing before the Christmas midnight mass: no decorations in the streets, carols, cribs, Santa clauses, no noffink. The real celebration begins, rightly so, after Christmas day. For us in England the religious content of christmas isn’t there for many people. They’ve forgotten why they’re celebrating.

But for us Christian this time means more than just shopping. Advent is meant to be a time of preparation. We prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ anew into our lives. The readings today are a little bit scary though: there’s no much about a little baby, and cribs, and shepherds and wise men. It’s all rather different, depressing even. We read in the gospel, “There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars…men dying of fear as they await what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken etc.”. One might wonder what’s this got to do with Christmas. And the answer is: it hasn’t., but it has a lot to do with Advent. And, Advent is about the first as well as the second coming. The second coming being at the end of time.

When I was a child I used to see a lot more “end of the world” people; the kind that wore sandwich boards with words like: “the end of the world is nigh”. As children we used to laugh at these people, but, the gospel this morning isn’t that dissimilar. It’s not the sort of thing we like to be reminded of. Besides, we’ve got Christmas to think of first; then after Christmas it’s Easter; then the summer holidays, then after them there’s…well, Christmas again. And so it goes on. We’re too busy planning the future to often think of the here and now. It is true we don’t want doom and gloom merchants putting the fear of God into us, but nor should we run away from the realities of life by being busy all the time.

Advent is a time of preparation. It’s a God-given time. It’s a special time. Perhaps we can best use it by thanking God; thanking him for all the good things He has given us. Christmas does tend to bring out the best in people. People give more to the poor at Christmas. We buy presents for each other and cards. We get a kick out of seeing someone open their presents: it’s a way of saying thank you to them for being who they are. We don’t say that in words, of course, but that’s what it means. So, maybe this Christmas, this Advent, we can try that much harder to be nice to people, to be that much more thoughtful and generous. Above all to make this Christmas the happiest ever for those people we know and love; and, maybe even, if possible, for those we don’t particularly love: now that would be a good way to prepare for Christ first or second coming.