My homily for S. Peter & Paul

Solemn Feast of Sts Peter & Paul

The Bishops of England and Wales thought this feast was so important that they moved from yesterday, which was 29thJune, to today. It really is that important. Today the Church honours two of its most important saints. The are the foundation stones upon which the Church has been built. Had they got it wrong the Church would have collapsed a long time ago. 

They were not supermen; they were ordinary people like you and me. I saw this as a given fact but I realize that it is hard for many to see them as ordinary; surely, they are saints and that makes them extraordinary; besides, they are not just ordinary Saints they are Peter and Paul; the two pillars of the Church. And yet, I repeat they were ordinary people; but what made them different is that they believed in an extraordinary God. Look what the Lord do for St Peter when he was in prison. The Jewish authorities are determined to try him and then execute him. He is the big fish that they wanted to catch; and now that they have him they are take every precaution to see he cannot escape. They four squads of four soldiers to guard him in turns: each takes six hours. While he slept there was a solider to his right and to his left. There were two more soldiers at the main entrance. His hands were fastened with double chains. The authorities were taking no chances. It was impossible for him to escape. But he did escape. It was a miracle; an angel sent by God set him free. Peter himself couldn’t believe it; he thought he was having a dream. 

Imagine the effect this had on Peter. With God on His side no one, no force, no power, no authority could stop him preaching the Gospel. We know that Paul also felt the power of God to save him out of trouble. He told Timothy in his letter, ‘The Lord will rescue me from all evil attempts on me, and bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.’  Like Peter he learned to put his faith in God. And it was because of this faith that these two men achieved such great things. They would be the first to say: it was all God’s doing. 

Later we read in the Gospel how Christ praises Peter then makes this promise to him: “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.” What confidence this gave Peter to know that God in Christ was behind him, supporting him, giving him the help he needed when he needed it. 

Both men died as martyrs; they chose to die rather than deny their faith. They were not supermen, they were ordinary people who believed in an extraordinary God. If they were here today they would want to repeat that: “we were not supermen, but we believed in an extraordinary God”. This is the God that we believe in. We know we are not supermen and women but like Peter and Paul, we too can put our faith in Him. For he wants to do great things in us. We have Peter and Paul are role models. Let us follow in their footsteps. 

Trinity Sunday (2019) They say that when a priest thinks he can explain the mystery of the most holy Trinity, it is a sign that he is going mad!… So, this could be a very short homily, if I can’t explain anything about the mystery of the Trinity. To seek some help I looked up two words in my dictionary: mystery and trinity. ‘Mystery’, says my Collins, complete and unabridged dictionary, is ‘any truth that is divinely revealed but otherwise unknowable.’ ‘Otherwise unknowable’, not much help there. And the word ‘trinity’ is defined as, ‘the union of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in one Godhead.’ That was more helpful, but I wanted to know more. And who better to ask than a child. I was visiting one of our catholic schools, a class of 7-8 year olds, who’d just had their first holy communion. I asked the class of about 30 children, put your hands up who can explain the trinity. Immediately, and without hesitation most the class put up their hands. ‘Please sir, please sir’. So I asked one lad at the back. I quickly realized that though he had his hand up he couldn’t remember the answer. So I asked the girl beside him, she said ‘God is Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, all three are God but they are one.’ I congratulated her for her good answer. Then I asked how do you describe the Holy Trinity. Again the same number of hands shot up. There was a lad sitting right at the front whose right hand was so high it was almost touching the ceiling. So, to save him from doing any damage to himself I asked how he would describe the Trinity. Delighted to be asked he replied, ‘Well, there is God the Father on the top. He’s an old man with lots of wrinkles, he’s very bald and has a long white beard. In the middle there is the Holy Spirit, he looks like some kind of white pigeon, with his wings outstretched. Then at the bottom is Jesus, he’s like the father only younger, he has all his hair and a dark beard.’ Good, I said. I then asked them a third question: who can tell me what binds the Trinity together. “Glue” one lad shouted out, and everyone laughed; obviously the class comedian. “A triangle”, said a second. Good, I said, I could see where he was coming from. No one seemed to know so I asked the question another way: “what is the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”? A girl in the front who said, ‘love.’ Yes, love. Well done, I told her. What binds the Trinity is love; they love each other equally. You see, if you want to know something just ask children. God, the Trinity, remains a mystery which I cannot explain, but I do know something about love, we all do. But do we love each other equally? Isn’t our love for each other often one sided. Often, I think it is true to say, a mother’s love is like this. It can even be sacrificial, in other words, she will sometimes give up things for the sake of her children, or work for them without complaining. Take, for example, a mother-son relationship, where the son is a teenager. I look back on my own teenage years and I blush with embarrassment. In my late teens I would come home expecting my tea to be ready and the ironing to be done, ‘cos I wanted my shirt ironed, as I was going out that night. This is sacrificial love or, a one-sided love. When we love like the Holy Trinity, as we are called to, the son would get home before mum, having bought flowers on the way, he does the ironing and put a quiche in the oven. I may have got a few sons into trouble for this, but you get the point? There is a difference in the two types of love; we are called to love like the Trinity its not one-sided; we love equally. Yes, it is true we don’t understand the mystery of the Trinity, but we do understand love. It is, however, something we live imperfectly. God is love. The Trinity is love, where the three persons love each other equally. The Trinity is our model. We are called to love in the same way, equally. What a beautiful world it would be if we could only try to be less selfish and love more.

7th Sunday of Easter

7thSunday of Easter 2019

            I sat down this morning and thought what am I going to say to the people today.  It’s the 7thSunday of Easter, the Sunday before the great feast of Pentecost and it’s all good news. But I have to honest with you, I find it much easier to talk about bad news than good news, to talk about sin rather than virtue. Sad, I know!

            But then I read the gospel a second time, nothing had struck me the first. On the second occasion something did strike me quite clearly; two themes that were repeated over and over again: unity and love. I suppose love we have come to expect but unity? Less common. Christ’s prayer to his Father is, “May they all be one”, and he repeats this prayer three times. So it’s obviously important to Jesus.  And so I ask: are we one?  Listen to Christ’s prayer, he’s almost pleading: “Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me”. And so I ask again: are we one? Are we one so that the world may believe?

            Isn’t it one of the most difficult things in life to be one, to be united? There are so many things that can and do divide us. Take Brexit for example, it has caused so much division within our country, and even within our families. Three of my siblings are pro-brexit and I am anti-brexit. When I play golf with one of my brothers I try to avoid the subject, because we argue and it becomes personal.             And this is how divisions begin. One sibling take offense and refuses to forgive. How many weddings and funerals have I been to where certain family members don’t turn up, or are not invited?  If it’s not Brexit dividing us it’s the legacy from a will, or relationships or in-laws that have become outlaws.

            That’s where the other virtue I mentioned comes into play. Remember I said there were two themes in today’s gospel, unity and love. Just to remind you what Christ said about love, “I have made your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with which you loved me may be in them”.  If we only realized that the love we have been given by God is strong enough to overcome all our divisions. It’s not just any old love; it’s Christ’s love for us. He loved till it hurt; in fact, he loved until he died. 

            Such love cannot tolerate division. It wants to overcome whatever divides and it is prepared to suffer to do that. If we are to overcome our divisions then we have to overcome our pride. We have to be prepared to say “sorry”.  This is probably the most under used word in the English language. We hear love all the time. How many of our pop-songs are about love. You can read endless books about love. Almost every other film we see is about love. But what about forgiveness and that word sorry?  

            We cannot avoid falling out with people, especially those we are closest to. What takes courage, what takes guts, is to say “I’m sorry. Let’s not fall out”.  It takes courage because when we say “sorry” we make ourselves vulnerable and the other may reject us. We should never reject someone who says sorry. Yes, it can be so difficult to mend division.  But unless we do we remain divided. Don’t let Brexit divide us. Don’t let family quarrels divide us. Don’t hold on to grudges. Don’t let pride have the last word. Pray for the courage to say sorry. If you love as Christ asks you to, then you will be prepared to do this. “Father, may they be one is us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me”.