What A Privilege to Work with Youth

Feast of Christ the King (A) 2020

Youth Sunday

Today is the feast of Christ the King. The Bishops of England and Wales have designated it as Youth Sunday. As I am vocation’s promoter for my Order in England and Wales I would like to say something about Youth. I consider myself blessed to be working with so many young people. I have come to realize that they are not the Church of tomorrow they are very much the Church of today.  I am often moved by the faith of young people; never doubt the depth of that faith. Recently I opened my newspaper and saw a young lady whom I had listened to on a zoom conference the night before. She was in the paper because she had volunteered to be infected with Covid 19. She did this, she took this risk, in order to help find a vaccine. She was not thinking of herself but of others. What generosity of spirit. There are so many young people doing such good work, giving up their time to be of service to others. 

I was at World Youth Day in Panama last year. What an experience of youth that was. I will never forget it. Already I am looking forward to the next one in 2023 in Lisbon, Portugal. The Pope spoke to the young people. He encouraged them. Told them that they were loved by God. He said they must share that love, especially with those who are not loved.  Later that year the Pope wrote a letter for young people. He wrote the letter following what’s called a general Synod which took place a few months before. Then hundreds of Bishops and Archbishops and Cardinals converged on Rome to discuss young people. It was the first time this had ever been done. One of the most remarkable things about the Pope’s letter is that the young people helped him to write it.  Before the General Synod they held their own Synod with their own report.  The Pope incorporated their report into his letter. It is a wonderful letter, called ‘Christus Vivit’, one of the most uplifting and stimulating church letters I have ever read, and yet few people have read it.  

I will finish with a quote from the Pope who speaks to young people in his own inimitable way. He says: “Dear Young People, make the most of these years of your youth…. Take risks, even if it means making mistakes. Don’t go through life anaesthetized or approach the world like tourists. Make a lot of noise! Cast out the fears that paralyze you, so that you don’t grow old before your time. Be alive! Give yourselves over to the best of life! Open the door of the cage, go out and fly! Please don’t take early retirement.’ (143)

I would just add one word to what the Pope has said, and that is we need you young people in the Church; together, young and not so young, we can change what needs to be changed in the Church and what needs to be changed in our world. 

You can change the world

33rd Sunday of the Year (A) 2020

The readings today speak about ‘talents’. All of us have been given talents and they are to be used well. The first reading focuses on good women, good wives. The lines that jump out at me are, “She holds out her hand to the poor, she opens her arms to the needy.’  The good wife uses her talents in this way. Tomorrow I am going to preside at a funeral service for a lady who was vice-chair of the Royal Society for the Protection of Children. She had held an important job using the talents God had given her. In her role she would have given so much to help improve the plight of poor children. She ‘held out her hands to the poor and opened her arms to the needy.’ God must have been very pleased with her. It was clear that God had given her many talents and she used them well. 

But not everyone has the same talents. We have all been given talents which we use in different ways, but always to make the world a better place. There is an elderly nun I know. I don’t know her well but I see her every now and again. And when I see her I smile. I do that because she lifts my spirits. She doesn’t do much, because by now she is elderly. But she smiles, and she laughs and she is kind and polite. If she does this for me then she does it for others too. She is using the talents that God has given her, and again, I am sure that God is pleased with her. 

All of us have been given talents. Some may be extraordinary but most of us are not given extraordinary talents.  Indeed they are probably very ordinary, but God has given them to us for a purpose: to make the world a better place. I do admire the talents in others. But it would be wrong to be envious. I realise it is easy to become envious of others. You see someone who is so clever, so successful, so attractive, they have lots of money and friends, and always seem happy. Yes it’s easy to wish that you could be like them. But that would be wrong.  Never envy another person’ talents. You’ve no idea of the crosses that person may have to bear and because of their talents. Instead concentrate on your own talents. You have been given them. God has given them to you for a reason: to make the world a better place. 

“But what can I do?” you might ask. Well, you can do a lot if you use your God given talents. Any good we do in life is because God has given us the grace. So if God has given us talents, and He has, He will help us to use our talents. He will help us to flourish. To be successful. To be pleasing to Him. God does not want us just to live in the world, He wants us to change the world, by using the talents we have been given. And we can do that at any age: it isn’t always about doing things. That old nun I know doesn’t do that much now. But she is changing the world by the talents that God has given her. 

Am I the only one who has left his keys in the front door?

32nd Sunday of the Year (A) 2020

One of the most memorable experiences I had in the five years I was in Jerusalem was a wedding. One of our Palestinian staff got married and I was invited to the wedding. All the guests sat down at tables while we waited for the bride and groom to arrive. When they did we all stood up. They came in procession and leading the procession were the bridesmaids carrying candles. I was so touched by this. It reminded me of the gospel we’ve just heard, the one about the wise and foolish bridesmaids. 

It is easy to feel a certain sympathy for the foolish bridesmaids. Their sin was that they forgot to bring the oil. How often have I forgotten things. When I first was a priest I used to celebrate mass in a place called Mere, in Wiltshire. For one reason or another, maybe lack of experience I would forget things. So I would have to go back into the sacristy to collect what I had left behind. Some one gave me the nickname “Fr Wrong John.” So, I really do feel a certain sympathy for those bridesmaids. However, the moral of the gospel isn’t that we should not forget things, no, it’s far deeper than that. It is actually about wisdom. You remember Jesus begins the parable by telling us that there were 10 bridesmaids: 5 were foolish and 5 sensible, or wise would be a better word.  Jesus is teaching us to be wise, rather than not forgetful. 

The last sentence of the gospel is the reason why we should be wise: “…stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.”  It’s not a cheery message, not light-hearted, on the contrary, it is deadly serious. A wise person lives in such a way that they are always ready for whatever comes, even death. A foolish person, on the other hand, lives in such a way as if there is no tomorrow, as if they will live for ever; their lives are concerned only with this life, they never think that one day this will all end; eat drink and be merry is their philosophy, and not because tomorrow we die, but simply because they have never thought about tomorrow, nor that there we are destined for eternal life; a life of union with God.

So, a wise Christian can be forgetful, can leave their keys in the front door, or in the car.  But what they don’t forget is that life is precious, and at the same time fragile. That in the relatively short time we have we should try and be good; try to be faithful followers of Christ. In this way we shall always be ready to meet our loving Saviour.  

The person beside you could be a Saint

All Saints (A) 2020

I am sure that many of us have favourite saints. Mine is St Teresa of Avila, who founded my Order. The statues of two of the most popular saints are to be found in most churches: St Anthony of Padua and St Teresa or Therese of Lisieux. However, it is not enough to light candles before them. The Saints should be our inspiration and even our models. We should want to be like the Saints. Ridiculous you might think, but it’s not as ridiculous as it may sound. I say this because in baptism we were all consecrated to be Saints. 

There is in each and every one of us the potential for sainthood.  We were given the gifts to achieve this on the day of our baptism; the graces we will need to become what God wants us to be. You see we weren’t created for mediocrity; if we were then God wouldn’t have given us in abundance the gifts of faith and hope and love. No, we were created to be like the Saints we so admire and look up to. Very often we don’t realize just what precious gifts we have been given. Who can blame us: we live in a busy, secular and materialistic world, that has no time to think about who we are in God’s eyes. 

A good Christian will always take time out to pray, to think and reflect about their faith. In prayer we discover those hidden truths that this world cannot know. We discover what St Paul was desperate to share with anyone who would listen to him. ‘Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, he said, by letting us be called God’s children.” A Saint is someone who knows this; who realizes that he or she is loved and that they are a child of God. These are not just nice sounding words but words that transform people’s lives. Paul goes on to say that when we enter heaven, “we shall be like God because we shall see Him as He really is.”  What great, what indescribable dignity is ours. 

So, we may not be like one of the great saints, but that doesn’t matter, we are called to be ourselves; to be what God created us to be; to fulfil our potential, and if we do then we shall be Saints. Today we thank God for the example of St Anthony and St Teresa, and for all the Saints.  They were not super men and women. They were ordinary people like us, but they believed in the power and love of God to transform their lives. Like them we too are, as St Paul says, “children of God”; which is why we can, with all the Saints, call God our Father. 

I hope my local Tory MP reads this

30th Sunday of the Year (A) 2020

Love God and love your neighbour, Jesus tells the Pharisees.  He wants to link the two commandments together; as if to say that you can’t have one without the other. You might believe that it is easy to love God.  God can be a distant figure, and it is always easy to love someone far away. What isn’t so easy is to love someone much closer.  What Christ is telling us is that the measure with which you love your neighbour is the measure with which you love God.  And just to help us to know how we can love our neighbour we have the first reading from the book of Exodus; it can be used as an examination of conscience.  What do we read?

The first way to love your neighbour says the book of Exodus is to do no harm to him or her; don’t molest or oppress. This shouldn’t come as any surprise to us; that the least we can do: not to harm them.  Then we are told not to be harsh with the widow or orphan; in other words, the most vulnerable in society. There was no social security in those days; if your husband died you and your child would be destitute. Exodus, notice, doesn’t tell us to be kind and generous, it just says don’t be harsh. So again, it is the basic minimum. Then Exodus speaks about money; that we are not to be dishonest and especially with the poor; don’t cheat them. 

Christ’s message is: to love God we have to love our neighbour and particularly those who are vulnerable, those who are weak and poor. The implication being that if you don’t love those who can’t help themselves then you don’t love God.  To love God isn’t something purely spiritual but also something practical. It is not enough therefore to pray. Nor is it enough to go to Church every Sunday or to go regularly to confession. Catholics can do these things and still be hard hearted. The measure of my love of God is the measure I care for others, and particularly the disadvantaged. So it is quite easy really to know if I love God, whom I cannot see. When I examine my conscience I must ask myself how much do I love my neighbour whom I can see. 

Render to Boris what belongs to Boris

29th Sunday of the Year (A) 2020

            I think many admire the clever reply of Jesus to the pharisees and Herodians. They thought they had trapped him. But Jesus evades their trap; “Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.” But Jesus reply isn’t just clever, it’s also profoundly important. It is telling us that we have two authorities: the secular, in our case our government, and God. But by far the greater authority is God’s. Today we don’t have the Emperor Caesar, instead we have Boris Johnson!  And so we must give back to Boris what belongs to Boris.  In other words, we must obey our civil authorities. This is particularly important right now as the government is trying to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  

I was at Marylebone railway station the other day and a man, seeing my roman collar, asked me if God was responsible for this pandemic. I told him that you can’t blame God for something that humans have somehow created. It is easy to get down and even depressed by what is happening. We cannot meet up anymore, at least for the foreseeable future. We can’t even visit people in hospital, and many are dying on their own. We can’t travel to many places without having to go into quarantine. Young couples have had to postpone their weddings. Funerals have restricted numbers. Some are fearful that this will never end. People may be wondering: where is God in all this? 

Well God is right here. He is with us in our darkest moments. We should never forget Him. He is all-powerful and all-wise. Turn to him in prayer, and ask Him to give you what you need to get through this crisis. This is what He wants us to do. This is what we should do. What God does is to give us hope; that most wonderful of virtues. When we have hope we can endure, it gives us strength and motivation to keep going. Hope is telling us that all will be well, that this pandemic will not last forever, that some kind of normality will return.  

So we have our civil authority, to whom we owe allegiance. Then we have our spiritual authority, God, to whom we owe much more.  He is looking after us and caring for us in a way that the civil authority cannot.  You don’t see Him but His presence is real.  He gives us that precious gift of hope that no civil authority can give; and with that we can persevere, in the sure knowledge that all will be well. You have God’s word for it. 

Even the bad get into heaven

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A) 2020

Imagine being invited to a wedding by a king. That would be some wedding. And yet, according to the gospel some of those invited would not come. 

Of course, if the wedding were today he could only have 20 guests.  Even a king couldn’t have more. You’d be a lucky guest then to get an invite. It is not just the wedding itself that you would look forward to, but also the banquet afterwards: the food, the drink, the dancing, the speeches; what a celebration that would be; imagine for the son of the King. 

Now in the gospel we are told that for some reason some wouldn’t come. So the King was keen that the place should be full. It would look bad, wouldn’t it, if the church was half empty; imagine the poor bride and groom; the most important day of their lives and few could be bothered to come. And so in order to fill up the place the King allows everyone to come in; “ good and bad alike”. Now that is interesting: good and bad alike. Remember this is an allegory for the heavenly banquet; to which we are all invited, “good and bad alike”. It’s understandable that the good would be invited but what isn’t so is that “the bad” would be invited too. I am sure the bad didn’t think they’d be invited, and yet they were. This should be consoling for us. 

I say this because I suspect most of us don’t think of ourselves as good, because we see too many faults and failings and even sinfulness. The good news is that we are not excluded. You see the logic: you don’t have to be good to get into heaven!  Remember the famous ‘good thief’; he was a thief, not a nice person at all; the misery he would have caused people when he stole their money, and yet Jesus said to him moments before he died, “today you will be with me in paradise”.  At the last moment the man recognized his faults and failings; Jesus was impressed with this. And it was enough to get him a ticket for the banquet. 

It is never too late to repent; to say sorry to God and to our neighbour. This is all Jesus asks of us; to recognize our sinfulness and ask forgiveness. And if we do,  the ticket to the royal banquet will be in the post; first class delivery. 

Homily 3rd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent ( A ) 2020

            “He told me all I have ever done” the Samaritan woman told the other Samaritans. Imagine that: someone being able to see all you’ve ever done. It reminds me of  Saint Padre Pio; that when you went to confession to him he could read your soul.   Well Jesus could certainly read this woman’s soul. She had had by all accounts what we could call a “colourful life”. Clearly, she was not popular with the other women who saw her as a threat to their husbands. 

            So, notice, when she went to the well she went on her own. She is alone; ostracised by the decent woman of that town. She was bad news and to be avoided. And yet Jesus, who knew all this, doesn’t avoid her nor condemn her. “He told me all I have ever done”. We just get an abbreviated version of all she had ever done: that she had had five husbands and was now living in sin with someone else. There was much more to this lady’s colourful life, but we are spared the details. Jesus doesn’t condemn her, on the contrary, he sees her potential, that she could change, become a better person.  In fact, Jesus sees that she can become one of his followers. 

            There was something about the meeting with Jesus, his gentle, non-judgemental manner, that touched this Samaritan woman deeply.  He knew all about her past yet he didn’t condemn her as others had done. Sometimes she hated herself. She didn’t like the person she had become but what could she do; she was resigned to her lot.  And yet, this man, this stranger, gives her such hope. Jesus tells her that he is the long-awaited Messiah; “I who am speaking to you, said Jesus, I am he.” 

            At that moment she is a changed woman.  She had come to the well to collect water. She was thirsty. But now she forgets all about the water and goes back into town. Notice, she doesn’t stroll back as she had strolled out, no, we are told she “hurried back”, she ran. She couldn’t wait to tell the others about this man she had met, who said he was the Messiah.  This reminds me of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who when they discovered their companion was Jesus they couldn’t wait to tell the others. The Samaritan woman must have been convincing because the people came out of the town to see and listen to Jesus themselves.  “Now, they say, we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world.” 

            You see this woman, this one-time sinner, has now become a follower of Christ. She has been so deeply touched by him that her heart is burning with love. She reminds me of another great sinner, Mary Magdalene. Like Mary her first thought was to tell others about the man she had met. This is what happens when people are touched by the love of God. So, we should never judge anyone whom others look down on. Today’s public sinner can be tomorrow’s saint. It is love that can do this; love can change even the hardest sinner. But we are all sinners. We are all in need of God’s merciful grace. During Lent pray for the grace of conversion, pray to understand the love God has for us in spite of all our faults and failings and even sinfulness. Then share that love with others. 

Homily: 2nd Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent ( A ) 2020

 There is a link between Knock and the Transfiguration.  It might sound an odd thing to say but both have to do with light. It is a privilege to be here in Knock where many years ago several people saw a vision of Mary, Joseph, John the evangelist and the Lamb of God. Even though it was raining at the time, and hasn’t stopped, they figures were bathed in light. And the seers waited in the rain for two hours until the vision disappeared. 

At the Transfiguration it wasn’t raining but there was a similar bright light. The gospel writer describes how Jesus face ‘shone like the sun and his clothes became as bright as the light’. No wonder the three disciples were mesmerized as were the Knock visionaries: this isn’t something you see every day. It’s Peter, speaking for the others, who says to Jesus “it is wonderful to be here; if you wish I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ I suspect that the Knock visionaries would have stayed a lot longer too had the vision not disappeared. Similarly, you remember how Bernadette of Lourdes went back time and again to the Grotto. It was wonderful to be there. 

Jesus doesn’t take up Peter’s offer. He wanted to build three tents. A tent is what you construct when you intend to stay somewhere. Peter and the other disciples were happy to be there; they were more than happy, they were out of their minds with happiness. This was heaven on earth. No wonder they wanted to stay there. But Jesus takes them down the mountain. He didn’t want them to stay on the mountain top but to return to the market place, in other words to the real world. Another way of describing this is to say: Jesus took them out of their comfort zone. 

There’s an even better example of leaving your comfort zone in the first reading; God tells Abraham to leave his country, family and go to a far-away place he didn’t know. I don’t know if any of you have lived in far-away places but it can be a challenging experience. You don’t know the language and for the first months you speak like a child, it’s humiliating; the food is different, customs are different. All your family and friends are so far away. You can feel terribly lonely at times.  But what does God tell Abraham in order to encourage him to say “yes”; He tells Abraham; “I will bless you and make your name famous… All the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by you.”  So Abraham has a choice, remain in his comfort zone and do good work, or go out of his comfort zone and do extraordinary things for God. 

In life God sometimes asks us to step outside our comfort zones. Like the 3 disciples on the mountain, like Abraham, it isn’t easy to say “yes” to God. If it was easy then more people would do it. Abraham could have said to God: “I’m not very well. I’ve got a doctor’s certificate to prove it.” Or, “why are you asking me? Why not ask someone else; I’m too old to be doing such a thing. Besides, God, you ask anyone and they’ll tell you I’m doing a good job here, so why take me away from it”. Abraham could have said these things but he didn’t. He put his faith in God and stepped out of his comfort zone and as a result achieved greatness.  

There is a temptation in life to remain where we feel most comfortable. Peter, James and John wanted to remain on the mountain: “Jesus, we are happy here. We’ll stay if you don’t mind. Thanks very much. Give our regards to the folks back home”. But Jesus challenges them to come down the mountain and back into the market place, into the real world. As a result they became saints; they became the pillars of the Church. 

Jesus calls each and every one of us to greatness, to holiness: it’s not the preserve of St Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, or Therese of Lisieux. But in order to achieve this we shall have to leave our comfort zones. It won’t be like Abraham, to go to a foreign land. It usually isn’t anything so dramatic. No, God isn’t like that. But He does challenge us to grow. Wasn’t it Saint John Henry Newman who said “to change is to grow and to become perfect is to have changed often”.  We were called to Carmel to change; to become what God wants us to be, which is far greater then we can imagine.  We were called to do great things for the Church and the world. 

Homily 1st Sunday of Lent

First Sunday of Lent ( a ) 2020

Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. I don’t suppose any of us have done that. I find it hard to fast for 1 day, never mind 40?  Many people didn’t even fast on Ash Wednesday when we are supposed to!  I know from personal experience that it’s not easy to fast. But Jesus didn’t just fast, he was also tempted. Now that’s something we are all more familiar with. But what about the temptations of Jesus: turning stones into bread, or throwing yourself down from a tall building or kneeling down to worship satan?  Are these your kind of temptation? I don’t suppose so. 

The truth is we didn’t have to go into the desert, and fast there for 40 days, and then endure these three temptations. Jesus did it all on our behalf. He did it in order to overcome our sins. The first reading tells us that we were responsible for bringing sin into the world. Our first parents, Adam & Eve, messed things up badly for the rest of us. There was no hope of getting back into the garden of Eden. That is until Christ came along. He made it all possible. This is what St Paul tells us in today’s second reading. 

Paul knew that Christ had paid the debt for the sin of Adam & Eve. Listen to what St Paul says; ‘If it is certain that death reigned over everyone as the consequence of one man’s fall [ie., Adam’s], it is even more certain that one man, Jesus Christ, will cause everyone to reign in life who receives the free gift that he does not deserve, of being made righteous.’ Notice those words, ‘the free gift that he does not deserve’. 

Christ offers us forgiveness as a free gift. In other words, he doesn’t charge us. He doesn’t say “you owe me”. He offers us forgiveness and the freedom that that brings. Not just to good people but to all: good and bad. It is a free gift that, as St Paul says, we ‘don’t deserve’.  But the trouble is some people don’t believe this. 

The free gift of Christ is one of the hardest things for us to understand. It runs against the grain. There is a popular expression in Lancashire or is it Yorkshire: “you get ought for nought”. In other words you have to pay for everything. But it’s not just Yorkshire people this refers to but many of us. This way of thinking doesn’t believe in free gifts.   And so, applying that to our faith, some people cannot accept God’s gift of forgiveness as a free gift. No, “you get ought for nought”. In their way of thinking you have to earn your own salvation. 

Christ offers us all a free gift. Don’t reject it because you feel you don’t deserve it. The truth is we don’t; no one does. If we can learn about the free gift that God is offering us, it will make a huge difference to our lives. God in Christ has done the hard work: the fasting the 40 days and nights, the temptations, the passion, suffering and death; we just reap the benefits. 

The person who believes in God’s gift of grace is blessed indeed. St Therese of Lisieux, ‘the little flower’, understood this: that it isn’t about our efforts, our determination, or self-discipline. No, all is grace; all is gift.  When God in Christ offers us this gift, don’t turn Him away; don’t say, “you get ought for nought.”  Say rather, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner. Thank you for your gift of forgiveness”.