Homily:1st Sunday of Advent

1st Sunday of Advent ( A ) 2019

“Stay awake”. “The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”. You have been warned! It’s a bit scary, isn’t it. “The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”. Play imaginary piano: dedededah!  It doesn’t sound very chrismassy does it? More like Lent.  But the first Sunday of Advent is like this; you see there are two comings of Christ: the first when he was born, which we celebrate at Christmas, and then the second coming, at the end of time. 

Now over the centuries there have always been people who predict when this second coming is going to be. The last time was in 2011. I remember it well, because I was in Malawi at the time and there were huge bill-boards, announcing that we should get ready for the end times. And some people, perhaps many, believed it. It was the idea of an evangelist in America. When the second coming didn’t happen, he apologized and said he’d miscalculated. He is probably going to announce another end of the world any day now. 

I spent four and a half years in Jerusalem. I was there for the millennium, the year 2000. Well, there were people coming from all over to prepare for the end of the world. I remember a man with a long white beard, dark blazer and jeans, carrying a briefcase, with “Elijah” painted on the side. He thought he was the prophet Elijah, he is to come before the end of the world. The Israelis eventually kicked him out. Then there were those who tried to make their way to Armageddon. There’s an actual place in the Holy Land called Armageddon. I used to pass it every time I went to Nazareth from Haifa. It was about halfway. You came to a crossroads: straight on for Haifa, behind you for Haifa and left for Armageddon. The Israelis authorities were kept busy that year. Anyway, the year 2000 came and went and still no end of the world. So we can all relax. 

I like to look at it this way; during Advent we prepare for Christmas. And if we do that well then we prepare for the second coming as well. How do we prepare for Christmas? Well, I don’t know about you but I write a lot of Christmas cards. It takes me ages because I’ve so many to write, but I enjoy it. It is my way of telling family and friends that I remember them at this special time. It is a way of saying I have not forgotten you and even more than that, that I love you. Unlike the rest of the world I don’t go out shopping; that’s one of the advantages of having a vow of poverty: you don’t have money to spend. So I miss the crowds and the pushing and shoving and trying to think what so and so will like.  I offer this pleasure up!!

Advent is a time of waiting, but not passively; we’re not like a patient in a waiting room just sitting there waiting to be called. No, we are active, we get things ready for Christmas, we write Christmas cards and buy presents. In this way we wish to make Christmas special for ourselves but above all for others. And if this is true, then you will be ready for the coming of Christ anew, which ever one it is: the first of the last. 

Homily 33 Sunday of the Year

33rd Sunday of the Year ( c ) 2019

“The time will come when not a single stone will be left on another”. Jesus was speaking about the Temple. Now the Temple was a huge building. I’ve seen the quarry from which the stones were hewn. Some of the stones were the size of a bus. It was a rock solid building. So, it would have been shocking to hear Jesus predict that not a single stone would be left on another.  How could such a strong building be destroyed. We must have some building like that today in England. Take the Tower of London, for example, it’s been there for 1000 years; it’s hard to imagine it being reduced to rubble. 

As for buildings so also for people; it’s hard to imagine life without some people. Not just our parents or siblings but other people we know. Some characters are so big that you might think they will live forever. I remember one of our Carmelite friars had a larger than life personality. He became ill, had a triple heart by-pass, was making a slow recovery of a few months, then next thing we heard he had died. I found it hard to believe. He was such a personality that I thought he would never die. And yet he did. His death was a reminder to me and others that life is always changing. And the ultimate change for us all is death. 

But death is hard to think about; especially our own. I like to watch some old tv comedies; like Morecambe and Wise, or the Two Ronnies, or Only Fool and Horses. Once upon a time, not that long ago, you would never miss these comedians on TV. They were so funny and made you laugh; certainly made me laugh. Your week wasn’t complete unless you saw their programme on tv. It is hard to imagine that they are not there anyone. And yet they aren’t. Life has moved on. 

No, nothing remains the same. Slowly, slowly all is changing.  I look at myself in the mirror and I can remember when I had dark hair, and lots of it, when I had no double chin, no wrinkles. I have changed. And I will continue to change. I look at my friends, friends I have known since I was a teenager and they too have changed; grey hair, or no hair, big stomachs; when we all used to have long dark hair and be slim. We call it ‘father time’; sometimes ‘anno domino’. Born 1950 – (hyphen) died…? Not yet.  I was at a funeral once where the priest preached about the hyphen ( – ).  What matters in life, he said,  is the hyphen; what we do between the day we are born and the day we die. 

No one likes to change, but it was Cardinal Newman, now a saint, who said to change is to grow. Our bodies grow in one direction, but we, our person, in other words our souls, grow in another.  As we get older we change and if we are trying to live according to the Gospel then we grow in holiness. And the fulness of humanity is to be holy. We are not called to be average Christians but to be the best, and God can and will do this in us. 

So when we notice change all around us, we should remember that God never changes. And all we need in life is to hold on to our faith in him. We may change but He will never change. 

Remembrance Sunday 2019

32nd Sunday of the Year ( C ) 2019

Today is a day when we remember all those who died during the two great world wars. So, the readings are appropriate. They’re appropriate because they focus on death and the afterlife. We Catholics believe that we shall rise again after we die. The Gospel concludes, “for to God all men are alive”.

November is a month when we tend to think more about those who have died. Today there will be a big ceremony at the cenotaph; some of you may have seen last night the memorial service at the Royal Albert hall. In November we also think of our deceased parents and relatives, some of us will visit their graves. Here in the church we have a November dead-list, and we pray very specially for those on the list.  Is it morbid to do such things? I don’t think so. I like visiting cemeteries. I like to look at the headstones and note how old they were when they died and the names. My mother and father are buried in south west London, together with my brother and two sisters. I don’t go there as often as I should, but I will make special effort to go this month. I like reading obituaries; it’s one of my favourite sections in a newspaper. I find it interesting to read about peoples’ lives in brief. 

The church is wise to focus on death at this time. It’s the one reality we can be sure of. Who was the American comedian who said there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. We’ll I don’t know what the church says about taxes but I do know what it says about death, and in particular that death is part of life. We were not born for this life only. No, there is something far greater laid up for us in heaven. So, death is not the end, it’s only the beginning of something new and real. What it will be like exactly we don’t know but we do know that it will be a place of peace and joy and happiness. There’s not a lot of that around now. Not with Brexit and the election coming up. You could say there’s the opposite. 

Our life can be summed up as a journey that will only be completed at the hour of our death. Often our lives can be difficult, and often people die after suffering a lot. I had to watch my two siblings die of cancer. That wasn’t easy. And yet I know that suffering is not the worst thing in the world. People can suffer a lot as long as they know that they are loved and wanted. True suffering can be when you feel you are a burden, that you are not wanted. How sad is that. But the church teaches that our sufferings can be joined with those of Christ; we join in his suffering for the salvation of the world. That is quite extraordinary, it takes suffering onto a completely different dimension. I also realize that it is easy to say, but not so easy to experience. And yet people do. I know people who offer up their sufferings for others. 

This remembrance Sunday is a chance for us to focus on death and the after-life. We take comfort from the church’s teaching; and those last words of the gospel, ‘for to God all men and women are in fact alive.’

31st Sunday of the Year

31st Sunday of Ordinary Time ( C ) 2019

“The Son of Man has come to seek out and save what was lost.” Jesus isn’t really telling this to Zacchaeus, he’s telling it to us all. Did you notice Zacchaeus’ reaction when Jesus says he will come to his home, how Zacchaeus welcomed him joyfully. The man was lost and is now found; as a result he is full of joy. Only a person who has been lost and now found can really appreciate what this feels like.  

I’m sure that many of us have lost things and then found them. I had such an experience recently when on a pilgrimage. I had run out of money; I didn’t have enough to buy a meal, as my bank account was overdrawn. Fortunately, someone put some money into my account but when I tried at the cash-machine in the morning there was still no money. I tried again in the evening, but still no money. No money meant no food. However, as I left the bank the manager called after me. He had the money I’d asked for in his hand; it seems the money had come through after all: he had heard it coming through. Well was I overjoyed. I couldn’t thank the manager enough. How wonderful to find something you thought you’d lost. 

The same happens on another level, on a spiritual level. Many people get lost in the maze of life. Sometimes it’s due to circumstances beyond one’s control, sometimes we are the architects of our own downfall. It is not unusual for a teenager or young adult to be caught up in the materialism and secularism of our world. God is pushed onto the periphery and sometimes even further. Without the values of the Christian gospel we can get really lost. We can abandon what we once held dear, under the guise of freedom, so-called. In this world a person can become really unhappy. Life can become difficult and dark as we lose our innocence. And this can go on for years; in some cases a lifetime. People would not admit they are unhappy but they are. They wouldn’t admit they are lost but they are.  But then one day we see the light, as the saying goes, and oh what joy.  

I listened to a young lady yesterday at a conference. She was giving testimony about her life. Someone asked her when she first began to really live her faith. She said it was when she went to confession. Now, she explained, I’d been to confession before, but this time I had my first real confession, and she stressed the word “real”. She says she trusted this priest and poured out her heart to him; telling him all about her life. She says she told him everything. You could hear in her voice the joy as she remembered how she felt afterwards. The joy of being forgiven; the joy of knowing that you are loved. 

This is how Zacchaeus felt. He had been a sinner; a greedy, selfish and corrupt man. Then Jesus came along; saw the goodness in him and forgave Zacchaeus. Surely one of the hallmarks of forgiveness is joy; it is a joy this world cannot give; only God can. And He so badly wants to. “For the Son of Man, says Jesus, has come to seek out and save what was lost.”