Homily: 2 Sunday of Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent 

            Just 16 days left before Christmas. Some people are very organized; they have bought their Christmas presents already. I suspect that most haven’t. In the meantime we have the general election which will take our minds off Christmas for a while. The result, whichever way it goes, may spoil some peoples’ Christmas. Should we Catholics be concerned about the result; I hope the answer is obvious; of course we should. The result could bring about the biggest change in this country since the second world war. But you know, there is a bigger picture. Even if we leave Europe life will go on; the sun will rise the next day. 

            We should be concerned about the future of our country but there is something more important than the general election, and that is our preparation for Christmas. Now that might seem that I am out of touch with reality; surely nothing is more important than the election. Well, I am not saying it isn’t important, just that preparation for Christmas is more so. And I don’t mean shopping for presents but something much more personal; our own preparation. Because if we get it right it will affect not only the way we enjoy Christmas but the rest of our lives. 

            Now the preaching of John the Baptist can seem as far away from our present reality as you can get. All we hear these days is the preaching of our politicians. But today, here in this church, we have listened to the message of John the Baptist, and that isn’t political, it’s not to win votes, or to gain power. Rather, it is a message for life. There is a slogan, isn’t there; you often see it on the back of cars: “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. Well, the message of John the Baptist, is similar: it’s not just for Christmas it’s for life. John tells us to “repent” and to “prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight”. So, why should this be so relevant to us 2000 years later? Because it is a message of eternal value. 

            As we prepare for Christmas it is so easy to neglect ourselves, and by that I mean our spiritual selves. If we really want to enjoy Christmas, the birth of Christ, then we should prepare ourselves spiritually. I am sure that many of you like me, enjoyed Christmas as children; it was a magic time. Many a parent or grandparent today enjoys Christmas through the eyes of their children. There is a simplicity and innocence about being a child that we adults often lose. When we grow out of childhood we lose our innocence and become much more complicated and often unhappy. John the Baptist is saying that you can rediscover that innocence by “preparing a way for the Lord”. What he means by “preparing a way” is to get rid of all the obstacles in our hearts that can get in the Lord’s way as He comes to us. And the biggest obstacles are our sins. It is our sins that make us unhappy and cynical and selfish. It is our sins that prevent us from enjoying Christmas as we did as children. 

            So this is the deal: this Advent go to confession. Tell the priest your sins. Don’t be ashamed if you haven’t been for years; many Catholics have stopped going to confession. I sat in the confessional the other day for an hour and hardly anyone came. If you do sincerely confess your sins then I guarantee that your Christmas will be jollier: you will be at peace with yourself and with God. There can be no better present that you can give to yourself this Christmas. 

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.”

Homily for 28th Sunday

28thSunday of the Year ( c ) 2019

             I’ve never met a leper. I’ve seen plenty of pictures of them but never seen or met one myself. Fortunately, it has been eradicated from Europe, where it used to be a problem. Both today’s readings speak of leprosy and of healing, even miraculous healing. Jesus heals ten lepers but only one thanks him afterwards. It seems that only one realized that it was Jesus who saved him from this ugly disease. The other nine could not believe their luck but they didn’t think their healing was from the hand of God. 

            I suspect that you have heard priests equate leprosy with sin; that leprosy is a symbol of sin: something destructive and ugly that can destroy a person’s life. I think it is a good analogy. Sin is ugly and it can indeed destroy people’s lives. There are many people in our society who may not be lepers but who have ugly sins. These can be addictions, temptations or weaknesses that won’t go away. People can live with these for years. Some times an addiction can destroy a person, and not just that person but many of those associated with them. You can see the parallel with leprosy: something ugly, self-destructive that can be ultimately deadly. 

            What to do? A good question. What did the lepers do? Naaman in the first reading put his trust in God.; against his own better judgement He did what God’s messenger told him. In the Gospel, on the other hand, the ten lepers went to Jesus, and said “take pity on us”. They don’t ask for healing, notice. Maybe because after so many years they have given up believing they can be healed. So they say to Jesus, “have pity on us”. Which of course he does. He heals them all; he does have pity on them.  These lepers were pathetic people, they knew it, which was why they turned to Jesus; they believed in him. And this is the point for us. 

            All of us our lepers in some way; in other words, all of us have sins, failings, weaknesses. Some of us have addictions and life-long difficulties with temptation or one thing or another. It is not wrong to be a leper, it is not wrong to be a sinner; what is wrong is when we don’t turn to the Lord for help; when we don’t ask him to “Have mercy on us”. A sinner, and, as I said, we are all sinners, should be someone who is painfully aware of their sinfulness. They should acknowledge that of themselves they can’t overcome their sin. A good Christian has found this out over the years: try as they might they can’t seem to stop sinning. And so, the good Christian, aware of this, will turn to the Lord in faith, and say: “Lord, have mercy on me”. 

            Yes, a good Christian will be brought to their knees by their sinfulness. But that is a good place to be. It is an act of humility: to beg the Lord for help. Because he can and wants to help us. Of ourselves we can do little. It is the Lord who heals, who sets us free.  But it might take us a lifetime before we find this out. 

            I remember meeting a lady who was by now a dry alcoholic; she told me she was grateful for being an alcoholic, because of the peace and freedom she had today. She was still fragile and always would be. But then so is every sinner. It is God, and only God, who gives us the strength to overcome. He may take a long time to cure us but so be it; in the mean time we are on our knees praying, but as I said that is a good place to be. 

Last Blog of my Camino

Yesterday I prayed at the tomb of St James. The magnificent cathedral was closed for public worship but you could still go inside. There was a long queue to the statue of St James which you approach from the back and up a flight of steps. When you get there I did what millions of other pilgrims did before me, I hugged the statue. Then down the steps and more steps till you come to the crypt where you find the tomb of St James: which consists of an ornate silver reliquary. I knelt in prayer for quite a long time. This was my reason for coming all this way. It was a moment of peace and hope; hope that my prayer for Vocations would be answered. This’s wasn’t blind hope but an act of faith and trust. Then, in a sense, it was all over. I went back outside and met up with my friend Ken. We went back into the main square and enjoyed watching people finishing their journey; it was moving to their reactions as they finally arrived, many in tears.

I visited our Carmelite nuns in Compostella. Their convent, with its granite floor and walls looked forbidding, but when I met the prioress and her assistant I was met by typical Carmelite hospitality. They too are struggling for Vocations. The nearest friars are 100 Kms away in Coruna; only two of them. I wondered if we couldn’t eastablish an international community here. The two sisters loved this idea. Maybe this is Inspired.

Then all good things come to an end and it was time to say goodbye to The Camino, to Compostella and to Ken; this was not easy. But life goes on. Back to the UK on Monday. It has been a “buen Camino”. Thank you for following my blog.

20th Day of Camino

I walked into Santiago yesterday, so strictly speaking I’m no longer on the Camino. I walked on my own from where I had stayed last night, 20 Kms away. It was an easy walk. Said my rosary as I walked in the dark through the woods. Not that many people around, but it was 6.30 when I left. Got to Mount Gozo, which means mount of joy; it’s the first time you get to see Santiago. However, it was misty and so I didn’t see Santiago, 4 Kms away. Met Kieron, from Ireland. I’d met him in my hostel two days ago. He was excited to tell me that he’d come to the hostel to get wifi (it’s a problem in so many places) as he was applying for a job and that he’d got it. I felt so happy for him; it was a blessing. I’ve come to expect them.

Walked on for another hour through the busy modern streets of Compostella. Eventually arrived in the historic centre. Managed to find my way to the cathedral. A crowd of Americans called my name and cheered as I walked into the centre. It was an emotional moment. I welled up about an hour later when Kieron said “well done”. It was wonderful to be there and to see others arriving, some laughing, some crying, but everyone had arrived, some limping. We laugh at what we call the ‘Camino walk’: most of us are stiff and sore, so we waddle. One girl wanted me to take a photo of her jumping for joy.

The first thing to do was to get our certificate, this took a long time. You get a number and wait; it’s worth waiting for. Fortunately thanks to modern technology, and my phone in particular, you could scan your number and then watch as it slowly gets to your number:1280. this wasn’t till 6.30 in the afternoon. I went to mass in the evening. Visited the Carmelite nuns, whose Convent is close to my hotel. I’m treating myself to a hotel. I’ll visit the cathedral and St Jame’s tomb tomorrow; that’s the main reason why I’ve walked this way.

My American friend, Ken, treated me to a meal at a plush restaurant adjacent to the cathedral. He had walked all the way from France (st Jean Pied de Port) ; I don’t think his achievement had sunk it. It was a lovely way to spend what had been a special day, one that I had been waiting nineteen days to experience. I’m looking forward to the mass for pilgrims and of course to visiting the tomb.

18th Day of Camino

Tomorrow I arrive in Santiago. We are asking each other, “how do you feel?” Most people are not sure how they feel. We shall have to wait and see. My motivation for doing this was quite precise: I’m praying for vocations to my Order. I shall be saying an earnest prayer when I kneel before the tomb of St James (Santiago). My blogs have been irregular due in great part to poor wifi connections.

Right now I’m sitting on a bed, with my own room, which feels luxurious after sharing a room with many others these passed 18 days; 18 euros. I’m feeling fit and if my friend Ken had said let’s continue to Santiago, I could have done it. But there is no need to rush. I am going to have two days there before being picked up by friends. Right now I don’t feel excited but nor do I feel disappointed. I am looking forward to tomorrow. I shall concelebrate at the evening mass. The cathedral is closed for refurbishment; closed that is for mass, but we can still go in. Mass will be said in another place. I shall concelebrate for the first time since I began the Camino.

I should have good wifi in Santiago so can let you know how I felt getting there. Until tomorrow.

14th Day of Camino

Left Sarria this morning at 6.30. Was surprised to find that I was on my own for the first hour. I like to say the rosary first thing. Once the sun had come up I began to put stones on distance-markers along the way. My stones joined others with the same idea. It’s a lovely way to think and pray for people as you journey to Compostella. I prayed for lots of people this morning. My American friend, Ken, asked me what I was doing; I was surprised he didn’t know. I was introduced to this by an American lady (Meghan) last year.

Today was an easy day. Just 22 Kms. I arrived in Portmarron about 1.00 and checked into the municipal hostel; just 6 euros, but no plugs. As I queued up to register (it takes ages to do this: they stamp your card called a ‘credencial’ which you present in Santiago to get a certificate, and take details from your passport; all by hand), I met two extraordinary young people, who had walked from the Czech Republic and Slovakia: Wendy & Joseph. That’s extraordinary enough but there’s more: Wendy was personal assistant to a paraplegic, a man like Stephen Hawking. He wanted to go to Compostella, and Wendy agreed to push him in a wheelchair. She sought support using Facebook. Eventually six of them set out in March. Sadly the man, Milan, died in France: they had walked together 2000 miles. Wendy, Joseph and the others decided to continue; they have now just five days to go. When they get to Santiago they will hitch-hike back to their respective countries. They have no money left; the money Milan gave them from the sponsorship has run out. I’m wondering how I can help them. They gave me a card about what they done with a web-site: http://www.lifewithabackpack.co It would have been worthwhile coming all this way to meet these two marvellous examples of youth.

The hostel is noisy as I write this, it’s raining so everyone is inside. Wendy and Joseph are speaking to a man from Eastern Europe, who noticed the card they’d given me. He told them he’d seen this card in hundreds of churches as he passed through Europe; he must have been following them. A great coincidence. There are some truly remarkable people on this pilgrimage.

Bye for now.