Homily for 4th Sun of Lent

4thSunday of Lent (c) 2019

This gospel of the prodigal son is probably the most famous of all the biblical stories about forgiveness. Do you see why Jesus tell us this story? It begins with the scribes and Pharisees who notice that ‘tax collectors and sinners’ were seeking out Jesus to hear what he had to say. Why weren’t they seeking out the scribes and Pharisees? Therein lies the tale.  The scribes and Pharisees lived respectable, upright lives, they didn’t do any harm to their neighbours and were looked up to precisely because they were scribes and Pharisees. But for all the good things they did they were still harsh and judgemental; the tax collectors and sinners therefore avoided them. 

The two sons represent two kinds of Christians. They are, in a sense, caricatures, rather than real people; most of us are not like the Prodigal Son, if anything we are more like the elder brother; but there is something of both sons in all of us; we are not always good, we have our faults and failings, but nor are we always bad; in fact, I’m sure we do more good than bad. 

We are not told why the younger son went off once he got his money. But we do know that the love of money can destroy people. Recently a man won a staggering £70 million. A journalist asked him if this was going to change him. Normally people who win such sums say, “no it won’t change me, I’ll still be the same”. However, this man said candidly, “You bet it will change me”.  I remember many years ago a beautiful blonde lady won a fortune. And when a journalist asked her what are you going to do with this money, her reply was headlines in the newspaper, she said, “I’m going to spend, spend, spend”. Sadly, this sudden fortune led to the breakup of her marriage, and other serious problems. Like the prodigal son a sudden fortune did her not good in the end. 

But the story of the prodigal son has a happy ending. Instead of spending the rest of his life in poverty he returns to his father who welcomes him with open arms. At this moment the son learns an important lesson: that His father is merciful. Now, why do you think the father is so merciful?  Could it be that when he was a young man he did something similar?  Could it be that the Father also returned home when life became so bad, and instead of being scolded by his father he was also welcomed with open arms? 

Of course I don’t know if this is why the Father was so merciful. But I do know that his son had to learn the hard way, by his mistakes, his weaknesses and sinfulness. But learn he did. Surely most of us learn about the mercy of God too by our mistakes. Surely, all of us have made mistakes, sometimes big mistakes, many of us have made bad decisions in life. In our youth some of us have lapsed from the Church, in search of what we thought was freedom. Yet we found our way back; there was no harsh judgement, just mercy and forgiveness. 

The parable Jesus tells is not just about the younger brother, it’s also about the older one. Never having made a mistake he has yet to learn about God’s mercy and compassion. He is, without doubt, a good young man but, like the scribes and Pharisees, he is judgemental. He suffers from the sin of pride.  The problem for the Older Son is that he won’t learn. But, one day, he will fail, he will let himself and others down, but when that happens he may well find it hard to forgive himself. And if he can’t forgive himself he’ll find it impossible to believe that God has forgiven him.  

In this story the problem isn’t the Prodigal Son but rather the Older Brother. Jesus tells it because he sees the judgemental attitude of the Scribes and Pharisees. It is a lesson for us all. 

            When your child or grandchild goes off and forgets all that you taught them, stops going to Church, don’t despair. Just keep praying. The Lord gives us time to come to our senses, only some people learn quicker than others. Eventually, like the prodigal son, they will realize that they were happier, much happier, in the Church. Not only that, but having made a mess of their lives, having been humiliated, they will be humbled. And the best Christian is the humble one. He or she will be less judgemental, will be more compassionate. When they see the proverbial ‘tax collectors and sinners’ of today they will say “but for the grace of God go I”. 

My homily 3 Sunday of Lent

3rdSunday of Lent ( C ) 2019

             Some people say that Catholics are obsessed about sin. It’s not true. We acknowledge sin, it’s part of our lives, it’s something we all struggle with, so why wouldn’t we at least talk about it.  I would say we take a healthy interest in sin rather than be obsessed by it. Maybe during Lent we hear more about it than at other times of the year, but that is because Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. We began Lent on Ash Wednesday, as we received the ashes the priest said the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel”. 

Today’s Gospel takes up that familiar theme. Jesus asks his listeners: “Do you suppose those Galileans whose blood Pilate spilt, were greater sinners than any other Galilean? … No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did”.  It all sounds a bit threatening. However, Jesus doesn’t threaten. Remember what he said at the end of that Gospel: when he spoke about the parable of the fig tree that didn’t produce fruit but instead of cutting it down he waited until it did. I hope you realize this isn’t really got about fig trees or fruit but has everything to do with sin and repentance. 

The parable teaches us that God is patient. He doesn’t condemn us when we sin. Rather he gives us time to change. Surely you know this. Everyone here has sinned. Sometimes we sin badly. But has God struck you down?  The fact that you came to church, that you are here this morning, proves He didn’t. And it’s not as if He didn’t see what you did; God sees everything. The truly wonderful thing about God is that He gives us time to repent; to say sorry. This is what he’s waiting for: for us to recognize the harm we’ve done and say sorry. 

However, being human we keep on sinning. We may ask: isn’t there a limit to God’s patience. Surely I may be pushing my luck. One more sin and I’ll be struck by lightening! But think about it again: you are still here, and yet like the rest of us you keep on sinning. No, God gives us time, in fact He gives us a lifetime to repent. Look at the Good Thief; he had sinned all his life, only at the last moment did he repent. Then he heard those wonderful words: “Today you will be with me in paradise”. 

No the Church is not obsessed by sin, but it is concerned for sinners. This is why it encourages people to go to confession, especially in Lent. God is calling us to say sorry. He really doesn’t mind how many times we say that word: He can’t hear it enough. And don’t be put off by repeating the same sin; some people repeat the same sins they had as children. Do you think God cares?  He understands what it is to be human. He is compassionate and loving. He does not treat us according to our sins, but He does want us to acknowledge them;  to say sorry for the damage we do to ourselves, to others and to the Church.  So, repent and believe the Good News. 

My Homily 2nd Sun. of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent (Year C) 2019

I’ve often heard this Gospel.  I must have heard it hundreds of times.   But when I was preparing this homily a question arose in my head for the first time: why did Christ take his discples up a mountain?   Couldn’t he have prayed somewhere else?   Couldn’t he have prayed in his room?   After all didn’t he teach his disciples to do just that?    And while I was pondering over this question it struck me that maybe he just wanted to get away from it all: the hustle and bustle, and where better to go than up a mountain.   

Mountain tops must be good places to pray: where you can see for miles and miles; it can be so beautiful, and the air so fresh.  It is easy to pray on a mountain.   I’m sure when the three disciples set off they didn’t expect to see Moses & Elijah. Nor surely did they expect to see Jesus clothes begin to shine; as ‘brilliant as lightning’.   Then the cloud descends and it all gets a bit scary, in fact, a lot scary, when they hear a voice saying; “This is my Son, listen to Him”.

              They had just gone up the mountain for a bit of exercise and to say a prayer with Jesus.   Then this happens.   They didn’t say a word to anyone afterwards.   How could they?  Who would believe them?   You can imagine the reaction of other fishermen back home:   off enjoying themselves up a mountain, while they were left to do the work.   Then to be told that they saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus, people who’d been dead for a thousand years and more, and that Jesus had gone all funny and they heard the voice of God.    Yes, I can see why they kept quiet.

But this experience was to change their lives.   On the mountain they had been scared but at the same time also fascinated.   So much so that they wanted to stay there.   That’s why they asked Christ if they could build three tents: they wanted to stay.   They didn’t want to go back down to reality; to the fishermen, to the work, to life as it had been up to that point.   But Jesus said no tents: that they had to go back down the mountain, back to normality. Which they did: but they never forgot this experience. 

To escape from reality is a common enough desire.   That’s why holidays are so popular: either to go up a mountain or to go the seaside: but getting away from it all is important; forgetting all the cares and worries for a week or two.   And when we have a perfect holiday who doesn’t want to stay there forever.  

But being a christian isn’t about escapism; it’s about facing up to reality, with all its problems and difficulties.   Our faith in Christ, in the Gospel, is supposed to change our lives; in a sense to transfigure them.   It is then our duty to tell others about our faith.   We’re not to stay on the mountain, but rather to come back down, and to share the good news of Jesus Christ to those we meet.   

God the Father told the three disciples to “listen to Him”. He tells us the same. WE haven’t gone up a mountain. We didn’t need to. God speaks to us everyday in the here and now, in the ordinary circumstances of our lives. But Jesus shows us by his transfiguration that nothing is ordinary. His light is shining within every person we meet and every situation we encounter. Yes, maybe we won’t shine.  But our faith does make a difference to us. God has given us a message, to listen to His Son.  And what does His Son tell us: to go out and make disciples in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are all called to do this. You can’t leave it to the priests; there’s not enough of us. No, all of us are called to spread the good news of Christ. You don’t have to preach, you just have to give good example. Above all you are called to love others; show them they are loved and lovable. 

“Difficult” you might say? “Impossible?” Remember: nothing is impossible for God. 

My homily 1st Sun. of Lent

1stSunday of Lent 2019 ( C )

Here we are at the first Sunday of Lent. People came to the church on Wednesday to receive their ashes, to begin Lent well. Many people give up things for Lent; chocolate is a popular one, alcohol is another, some people who smoke give up cigarettes. Lent is meant to be penitential. It is good to give up something so that you don’t forget it’s Lent. It would be easy to forget. I went passed our local pub on Ash Wednesday and saw lots of people drinking to their hearts content. I resisted the temptation to tell them it was Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and abstinence. It wasn’t really much of a temptation, but I did think of it.  For many people Lent is something they’ve heard about, and that’s all. But for us Catholics it must be real; and by giving up something, something small, it keeps Lent before our eyes.

Jesus we are told lived in the wilderness for forty days during which time he ate nothing. Now that’s what you call fasting! And if that wasn’t enough he was tempted by the devil for forty days. It was a strange kind of temptation, not a “go on have a chocolate; go on, only one!” But something very different. He’s asked to turn a stone into a loaf. That’s not something we would normally feel tempted to do; at least, I wouldn’t. What’s the big deal about changing a stone into bread?  For Jesus it is a temptation. Now temptation is something we do know about. We are masters of temptation. We have Phd’s in temptation. The great Irish poet, Oscar Wilde, once said, “I can overcome everything, except temptation”. Temptation is our daily experience, and it’s not easy to overcome. 

Lent is a good time to look at ourselves; to stop and reflect, to ask ourselves: how am I doing? What more can I do? What do I need to repent of.  A good Christian will always be tempted.  He/she will fall sometimes. St. Paul, who was certainly a good Christian, did not always overcome temptation. Lent can be a good time to acknowledge our sins and our failures. To beat our breasts and say, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner”. 

But to fall is not the worst thing in the world. God can use sin to help us. He lets us fall into temptation so that we get to know ourselves better. Yes, it’s true.  When I fail, when I fail, when I sin, I am learning a valuable lesson about myself. I learn how weak I am without God. And that is a valuable but difficult lesson to learn.  God is teaching us through failure that no matter how strong our resolve is not to sin, how self-disciplined we are, we will still not be able to overcome temptation. Rather than become disillusioned with ourselves we need to learn that without God’s grace we are weak, pathetic and cowardly. This is not nice to admit; all of us would like to be considered strong, and self-disciplined and morally upright. But the truth is the opposite: without God we are weak, fragile and prone to falling into temptation. 

There is an old saying; ‘we learn from our mistakes’. And it is so true. It would be a big mistake to believe that my will power alone will help me overcome. It won’t. I need God’s grace; only with His grace will I overcome sin and temptation.  God is trying to teach us that we need Him, we need His grace, if we are to succeed. 

And so we may not be tempted to turn stones into bread, but we can learn from Jesus. He died to overcome our sins. His death is our victory. He has already overcome sin. When you are feeling weak, remember that: remember that He is offering you the grace to overcome sin in yourself. His victory over sin is our victory. But don’t expect to learn this quickly; this is lesson takes a lifetime. Put your trust in Him, not in yourself. 

My Homily for the 8th Sunday

8th Sunday of the Year (2109)

Yesterday I was at an event for young people at Wembley Arena; there was about 9,000 16-30 year olds. I thought the highlight for me was going to be listening to the words of the 90 year old Jean Vanier. I expect some of you have never heard of Jean Vanier. Well he was introduced as the leading light in the Church today. I would not disagree with that. His words of wisdom just poured out of his mouth, coming straight from his heart. Tell the young people that they are beautiful; that God loves them more than they can imagine. No wonder they applauded him at the end. 

The Gospel this morning said that ‘a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart’. What fills the heart of Jean Vanier is love, and more specifically the love of God. At the end of the day, before exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, there was an Afro American from Texas, who spoke with a strong accent. He spoke fast. He was funny. He was a great communicator. His words were words of wisdom, and they came from his heart. He told the young people not to be envious of others; not to look at the gifts of others because they are, each and every one of them, God’s masterpiece; they had all the talents and gifts they needed to make a success out of their lives. They didn’t need to be envious of anyone else. And the young people loved him, gave him a standing ovation.  He too like Jean Vanier, spoke the truth from his heart. 

When you know you are loved, loved for who you are, when you know you are loved in spite of all your faults and failings, it gives you wings. You can fly. Such a person will be overflowing with love for others. So when they meet another and the other is praised they are so happy, not envious or jealous.  They are the kind of people who will encourage someone who needs encouragement; tell someone who doubts themselves that they can do it. I am reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography, and she does this. She loves talking to young people who are struggling, who are deprived in some way, who haven’t had a good start and in life, and she tells them “yes, you can”. And, do you know what? They can. She visited a girl’s state run comprehensive in London some years ago. The girls there were struggling. She told them she believed in them. Later on she found out that there had made great improvement in their exams; their ‘C’s’ had become ‘A’s”. 

Isn’t this what we should do: praise people, encourage them. Tell them that they are loved. The young especially. Sometimes young people grow up without ever being told they are loved; even by their parents. Some young people feel inadequate, insignificant and hopeless. The Pope told those who had gathered for World Youth Day in Panama that some young people “feel invisible”. And all they need is someone like us to say: “I believe in you”. “I trust you”. Then stand back and watch them grow. Love is like water to plants; without water plants won’t grow. It is like oil in an engine. A car will go much better with oil in the engine. 

And all it takes is a few words of encouragement. It’s easy. And yet it’s so difficult. If it were easy then there wouldn’t be so many under achievers in our society. We, as Catholics, can be that voice for others. A person can be helped by all sorts of people, if not its parents, then a relative, a friend, a priest a nun. Surely we all know people who are down, depressed, unhappy. Maybe all they need is a kind word; something that no one has ever said to them. Then that gives them hope. And once we have hope, then we can live. Let’s use our words to make this world a better place.