16th Sunday of the Year

16thSunday of the Year ( C ) 2019

Martha and Mary were sisters. They were also friends of Jesus. When ever he was in the area he would call in at their house. He loved to do this because of their friendship and hospitality.  This gospel of often misunderstood, in my opinion: Jesus isn’t saying Mary is better than Martha. Look at the scenario. Jesus has been out ministering all day. He comes to his friends’ house, he is tired and hungry.  Martha prepares the food for the meal while Mary listens to him; she sat down at his feet. Now just suppose Martha also sat down at Jesus feet. Remember Jesus is tired and hungry. After a while what do you think he would say? I don’t think he’d say oh thank you ladies for sitting at my feet and listening to me. No. Surely he would say: “Oi, I’m starving! Whose going to prepare the meal?” or words to that effect. 

Notice what Jesus criticizes Martha for, he says: “You worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one”. He criticizes her because she worries and frets about so many things.  But isn’t she like so many of us. Don’t we all worry and fret about things. Who doesn’t worry and fret about money, or the lack of it, or about our health of someone else’s? Who doesn’t worry and fret about the world we are living in; global warming, the environment, the violence in our society; just to name a few things. Is it wrong to worry? Is Jesus saying that we lack faith because we worry. No, I don’t think so. Notice what he says to Mary, notice the last words: “Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed, only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part”. Notice that: ‘It is Mary who has chosen the better part”. And what is Mary doing? She is listening to Jesus. 

The problem we have with worrying is that we get absorbed in the worry and can think of nothing else. I rang a friend of mine up recently, he had had a heart attack. When I spoke to him I said “you don’t sound very worried”. He said “I’m not, my wife does enough of that for both of us”.  But isn’t it true: when you are something you are worried about it can be that it takes over your whole existence. You wake up in the morning and straight away are worried. You go through the day and can’t think of nothing else. Then at night you take sleeping pills because your worries keeps you awake. It becomes the be all and end all of your being. But as Christians we are not meant to worry like this. 

Jesus doesn’t tell Martha to stop working; he doesn’t say: come and sit at my feet and listen to me. He just tells her to stop worrying. He tells her in the midst of her worries to listen to him. My sister likes to listen to BBC radio while she’s washing or ironing. She is doing two things at once. It isn’t a problem for her. But in a similar way this is what Jesus is saying to us: “in the midst of your worries listen to me. Don’t be so absorbed in your worries that you forget all about me. I am here at your side to help you, to lighten the burden. Can you not hear me calling to you?” 

So tonight when you mothers and wives are slaving over a hot cooker and your husband and children are sat down watching the tv, don’t complain to them. Complain rather to God who is with you. In the midst of your troubles and woes listen to him. 

My Homily 15th Sunday

15thSunday of the Year 2019 (C )

The Good Samaritan felt compassion for the man who had been robbed and left half dead. He didn’t know him. He’s never seen him before, but his heart went out to him. So he stopped and went out of his way to help the man. We may wonder why the others didn’t stop. We’re told the priest passed by on the other side: what was he doing?  Maybe he was in a hurry to say mass somewhere, which of course came first, at least in his mind. Then the other man, the Levite, he too passed by on the other side. What was his excuse?  Maybe he thought it was a trap. And he was too smart to get caught like that. These are both understandable excuses: we’ve all been there, especially being in a hurry: ‘no sorry, can’t wait. I’ll say a prayer…’

The Good Samaritan on the other hand felt sorry for this person; he stopped what he had to do in order to help this person in distress. His heart would not let him pass by on the other side. And Jesus praises him. You know, the Good Samaritan is a bit like God; God is compassionate too; in fact, God is compassion. He looks on us and feels sorry for us. Jesus knows what it’s like to be human. ‘Compassion’ means to suffer with.  It is one of the most beautiful of all Christian virtues.

If you have been unlucky in life then you have been beaten up. Sadly this kind of thing does happen. However, in spite of what we see on our tv’s and newspapers it is quite rare. Most of us will go through life without this having happened to us. But what we won’t avoid is another kind of injury. By that I mean when we beat up ourselves. Now that might sound like a funny thing to say but there are people who do this, not necessarily literally but in other ways. There are people who self-harm because they want to punish themselves for something they’ve done wrong. 

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t done wrong; and some people I know have done really bad things. Often they feel bad about what they’ve done and proceed to beat themselves up. Some forgive themselves but there are too many people who don’t. They continue to beat themselves up in one way or another for the rest of their lives. 

Now God looks on such people and weeps. He has compassion on them. He knows of what we are made. He knows we make mistakes. He knows that we are sorry. He doesn’t pass by on the other side. He wants to bind up our wounds; He wants to embrace us and tell us that all is forgiven, that He understands; this is because He is a God of mercy. So it pains God when people who are hurt turn away from Him. They can’t forgive themselves, and believe, that God won’t forgive them. 

God is the Good Samaritan. He binds up all our wounds. What we may not realize is the joy that this gives God. His compassion is such that he feels our pain, but He has the power, through his love, to heal us, to make us whole again. 

My homily 14th Sunday

Fourteenth Sunday of the Year 2019 (Cycle C)

“The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest” (Luke 10:2).   This has usually been understood to mean that we should pray for more Priests.   But, have we understood it correctly?

I ask this because we know that God answers our prayers.   And yet in this case our prayers don’t appear to be answered.   Vocations to the priesthood have been declining since the 1970’s.   When I first went to the seminary there were about one hundred and twenty students for the priesthood.   But when I went to visit it recently I saw that there were about twenty-five.  In about twenty years the number of students had dropped by two thirds.   

This shortage of vocations has had an effect on the Roman Catholic.   Many of you will remember when there was a Parish Priest and a Curate, sometimes more than one.   Some large parishes had as many as six Curates.    Today few Parishes have one nevermind six curates. Most of my priest friends are now running two parishes.    

You can understand why the Church urges us with to pray for more vocations.   “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few’.  So we pray with greater urgency.   I am the vocations’ director for the Carmelites in England and Wales.  I have now been doing this job part time for three years and full time for two. We use the social media a lot, because that is how most inquirers learn about us. We have our own webpage dedicated to vocations, created a video. We have also organized what we call ‘Come & See’ days, attended conferences, gone on pilgrimages and even walked the Camino.  I can say that we have never worked so hard for vocations.  And not only us but the Church generally is now really focussed on vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  But our prayers do not appear to be answered.   

What is the problem?  Why aren’t we getting more vocations?  Why aren’t more labourers coming forward to help with this bountiful harvest?   I suggest that they are, only they’re not just priests.   When the Lord was spoke of  “labourers” he didn’t mention that they had to be priests.  He didn’t say, “send priests to his harvest” did her, but rather, “send labourers to his harvest” “Labourers” can be priests but they can also be people like you, people the Church calls ‘the laity’; you too are being called to the harvest.   And it is already happening. 

More and more Laity are doing studies that were once reserved for Priests.   Some are studying theology at University.   A few are studying alongside students for the Priesthood in seminaries.  An increasing number of laypeople are as well educated in scripture and theology as many Priests. 

I see more and more dedicated laypeople working for the Church: as Catechists, Eucharist Ministers, Readers. In my last parish we priests never touched the money; all the money from the masses was counted by our parishoners and banked by them. We had a parish secretary who probably did more ministry than we priests.  I have become aware that an increasing number of Laity have a sense of vocation and some are dedicating their lives to working for the Church. 

Now all this is happening while the number of Priests is declining.  Is this the end of the ordained Priesthood: are Priests are dying breed?   No!  The Church needs the ordained Priesthood, and we must continue to pray for more vocations.   But the Church of today needs dedicated Laity just as much.  

“The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest”.   Well, He is doing this.  Our prayers are  being answered.  Only the “labourers” will not only be Priests.   God is asking you, the non-ordained Laity, to work more and more for the Church: to help those overworked labourers who have been working alone for too long.   We’re all in this together.