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Fourth Sunday of Lent (C)

 

In the gospel today we have heard the wonderful story which we call the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It would perhaps be better named that Parable of the Generous Father. Jesus is teaching about the Kingdom of God, giving an understanding of what God is like.

 

The father in the story shows his generosity first by agreeing to divide his estate between his two sons, instead of making them wait until after his death.

 

Then, when the younger son returns, after having wasted all that he had received, the father welcomes him and reinstates him. He allows this son to be fully reconciled with him.

 

St Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, expresses this in a wonderful way:

God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them.

 The father could have said to his son: You have misused the fortune you were given, you have made a mess of your life. How can I trust you any more with the administration of my goods or of any wealth?

But the father does not say this. He does not hold his son’s faults against him. He gives him another chance.

 

Are we like this father? Are we able to forgive people who have done wrong, or do we class them when once they have made a mistake? This is easily done. A relative of my father came to stay with us although she was seriously ill, and she passed on her infection to my sister.  That person was never invited to our home again.

 

It is so easy to bear grudges against people. I think many of us can identify with the elder brother who resents the attention the father gives to the younger son. We can let jealousy plague us, rather than being thankful for what we have and understanding for those who are in need.

 

Returning to St Paul, this great apostle is appealing to the Corinthians, and indeed to all of us, to be agents of reconciliation. He calls on us to be “ambassadors for Christ”, and the message we are to give is: “Be reconciled to God”.

 

Good ambassadors have to espouse the cause of their countries and their governments. So, if we are to be ambassadors for Christ, we have to be convinced that God is kind and merciful, be ready to show mercy ourselves. We are ready to forgive, because we know that God forgives.  Sincerely we repeat the prayer that Jesus has taught us: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

 

We can pray for a generous heart, for a trusting attitude towards other people. We can ask for the grace of forgiveness, for ourselves first of all, because we are conscious that we are not perfect, but also for the grace to forgive others, so that we can build up peace in our families and in our neighbourhoods.

The story that Jesus tells ends up with a great feast, with singing and dancing.  It is the same in two short stories that Jesus tells before this one, the story of the lost sheep and the story of the lost coin.

 

Each of these ends with similar refrain:

I tell you there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine persons of virtue who have no need of repentance.

And

I tell you, there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one repentant sinner.

Let us continue our celebration with joy, because God welcomes us, and he feeds us with the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and so gives us the strength to imitate him and to be true ambassadors of reconciliation.

+ Michael 

Homily for 3rd Sunday in Lent 2022

Posted on 27th March, 2022

3rd Sunday in Lent

20 March 2022 SVP

 

Consider for a moment, if you will, Moses. Here he is on the edge of the desert, minding his sheep and minding his own business. It was where he needed to be; to keep out of harm’s way. He was a wanted man over the border in Egypt, where he was born; born of a slave woman, sequestered into the most prestigious palace in the land and brought up as a grandchild of the pharaoh. But he always knew he was different and one day he killed a man of power who was abusing one of the Hebrew slaves. He was seen and had to flee and found his way into Jethro’s family, where he was welcome but was always a stranger.

 

Misplaced person. Rootless person. One who was brought up a prince in the most powerful land of the time and now finds himself a shepherd on the edge of civilisation.

 

And God called him because God needed him.

 

So often, God calls those who others don’t need. God calls them and gives them a mission. Moses’ mission was to lead the Hebrew people out of a life of servitude in Egypt, into the land God had promised Abraham and his descendants.

 

Out of calamity came salvation.

Hundreds of years later, Jesus is trying to change the way of thinking of his fellow Hebrew people; the same people that God saved through the mission of Moses. These are the people who should know God the most and yet they seemed to know so little of him. They were a stubborn and ignorant people, who were so convinced that they were the chosen people of God that they no longer listened to God but made up their own image of God to suit their own desires and their ambitions.

 

So, they would believe that any accident that befell someone was an act of God to punish them for past sins or failures. They would believe that any sickness was a sign that God had abandoned the sick person. They believed that poverty and wretchedness were signs of God’s retribution, and wealth and power were signs of blessings and God’s favour. Tell that to Moses in his powerless state of a shepherd on the edge of the desert.

 

If their way of thinking was right, then Jesus was doomed to be a failure in the eyes of God. He was from the backwater village of Nazareth. He was 30 years old and had seemingly achieved nothing. He was a wondering preacher, bound for failure. He was now in his 3rd year of preaching and doing good for the people but there was nothing to show for it. He was on his way to Jerusalem and everyone knew that his life was threatened there. The powerful were after him. He was a fig-tree that could bear no fruit. And his death on the shameful cross would be proof of his enemies’ opinion of him.

 

But Jesus turns upside down the values of these people. “Blessed are the poor; - he says - blessed are those who mourn; blessed are those who think they are hopeless and have no future of any value; blessed are those who stand up and are counted as troublemakers and disturbers of the peace, when they seek justice and equality for all. Blessed are those who are crushed and wounded and abandoned by the powerful and the rich” – “for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs”.

 

God calls those whom others would not call, to continue his mission of redemption. God calls those whom others would not consider, to continue his mission of reconciliation. God calls those who are rejected by kings and queens, to build God’s Kingdom. David overcame the strength of the giant. Moses overcame the power of Egypt. Theresa of Avila overcame the corrupt of her congregation. Francis of Assisi still leads the church along the road of reform today.

 

God calls each one of us here today and gives us our mission, our place in the building of God’s Kingdom. Like Moses, like Jesus before, let us say “yes” to God and let each moment of this day be a moment of transforming witness which will take us another step forward to the realisation of God’s plan for us all.   

Terry Madden 

Homily for 2nd Sunday in Lent 2022

Posted on 14th March, 2022

Homily 2nd Sunday in Lent 13 March 2022:

 

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. This is the third time this year that we hear in the Gospel reading that Jesus prayed. Jesus prayed at his Baptism; Jesus went up the mountain and prayed before choosing the Twelve. And today again we hear that Jesus went up the mountain to pray, this time in the company of his three closest disciples, Peter, James and John.

We hear in today's gospel that as Jesus prayed his face changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. This happened to Jesus as a fruit of his prayer. The prayer transformed him.

 

Why was this event on the mountain important for Jesus and his disciples? Just before they climbed the mountain Jesus had prophesied that he would suffer, be rejected, and be put to death by the authorities in Jerusalem. Jesus could foresee that this would happen to him, taking into account the rejection he experienced already from the side of the authorities.

 

The prospect of Jesus' rejection, suffering and death must have had an impact both on Jesus and on his disciples.

 

Today on the mountain, during prayer, Jesus was transformed and experienced for a moment the glory, which would be his after his resurrection; and the disciples witnessed his glory.

 

This event prepared Jesus and the disciples for whatever the future would bring them.

 

The prayer on the mountain transformed Jesus. Prayer can transform us as well: prayer will help us to overcome obstacles and to face difficulties. Prayer will help us to remain hopeful in the face of adversity.

Jesus and the disciples were about to set out on the journey to Jerusalem. We too are on a journey, on a journey through life. In the second reading St Paul tells us: our homeland is in heaven. We are on a journey through life.

 

The happy moments on this journey, we accept them readily. The moments of joy, of laughter, of success, and good health. But what about other events, like the war in Ukraine, on our doorsteps, the sight of millions of innocent people suffering, serious sickness, a sudden death? How to live with these? How to live with the darkness? Sometimes, it seems, things are getting too much.

Jesus and his disciples were comforted by what happened to Jesus on the mountain, the experience of his risen glory. What will bring us comfort?

 

We were not there, but we are comforted by our faith.  Our faith that the light of the Transfiguration continues to shine and to work in the World. The light of Christ continues to shine and transform the powers of darkness.

 

Yes, our faith can be a great comfort as we commit ourselves to face the good and the bad on our journey.

 

In the first reading, we heard how God made a covenant with Abram, because of his faith. Abram put his faith in the Lord.  He was given a new name, Abraham, the father of many nations.

Yes, our faith is a great comfort on the journey: our faith in the resurrection of Jesus, his victory over evil and death. Our trust that He is with us always.

 

We ask the Lord, to increase our Faith in his Presence, and in his action in the World.

 

Fr. Ferdinand Van Campen

Ash Wednesday Homily

Posted on 2nd March, 2022

ASH WEDNESDAY

2 March 2022

 

I confess that I find it hard to speak about Lent, especially on Ash Wednesday. My Lent has an awful tendency to be like the ashes. When we receive them, they show very darkly on the forehead. They’re visible and can easily draw the attention of others. But only a few hours later they will probably have faded to a faint shadow that will be washed off tonight before I go to bed.

 

My intentions of Lent today are real. I will do what I can to join my brothers here in supporting the CAFOD WALK FOR HUNGER. But my experience of last year reminds me that if it’s not for the support of the community, I will find it very difficult to keep up my present enthusiasm. I will stay off the whiskey. But my experience tells me that there will be more than one occasion in Lent that I will justify a little tiple on the side; St Patrick’s day, maybe, or an invitation by a friend who doesn’t practise Lent in the same way. That extra time for prayer I promised God I would take; well, you know – it was a long and busy day and I would surely be better getting to bed for a good rest so that I can do better tomorrow. And so on, for any resolution I take.

 

Often Lent ends up being hardly any different to the rest of the year: my enthusiasm and my commitment waxes and wanes.

 

We all know what the Gospel asks of us for this period of preparation for Easter: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But these are also virtues that we try to practise the whole year through. It is our way of life. In Lent we add some intensity to these practices in order to prepare ourselves for the intense week of Easter, from Palm Sunday to the Day of the Resurrection.

 

The Christian life, said St Augustine, “is an exercise of holy desire.” It does not ask that we suppress our normal desires, but to raise and purify them. We begin our Lent with holy desires. We heed the call of St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “Now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation”. We want to make our lives conform to the life of Christ, to be as God would have us be. and we know that the call is urgent: today. How much this terrible war in Ukraine reminds of us of the urgency of our conversion!

So, how do we keep those holy desires of Ash Wednesday burning and effective?

 

We need both action and prayer. The fasting, the alms-giving, the support of CAFOD, the Pax Christi Walk, are all actions. They are good in themselves and they are charitable. But they also need to be supported by prayer. Giving time to prayer in Lent is just as important as the actions and these actions are a fruit of my prayer. The two support each other and the two need each other for our Lent to be truly Christian.

 

And let us remember; that all of this is because we trust in the love and mercy of God our Father. He knows what is going on in our hearts. He knows our good intentions and that is what he wants above all. The prophet Joel knew this when he acclaimed:

 

“Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn, turn to the Lord you God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion.”

 

In God alone is our trust.

 

Homily 8th Sunday of Year C

Posted on 1st March, 2022

Homily 8th Sunday of Year C

SVP 27 February 2022

 

Spring is in the air! Those who have gardens cannot but notice it. If you are blessed with the possibility of taking a walk in the countryside – or even a city park – as I did yesterday, you will see the banks and braes covered in the gentle, white beauty of the delicate snowdrop, or the flower buds atop the bright green leaves of the daffodils and narcissi: a sure sign that Spring is close at hand.

 

Isn’t it a miracle that these flowers push through the almost frozen soil every year, as winter grinds to its end? They spring up, through the frost and snow, bringing new hope and new life to the greyness and drab of a cold winter. Their delicate beauty thrills the heart. But they are only spring flowers and before long, their colours fade and their proud display crumbles back, dry and browned into the ground. There they lay, hidden, for another 11 months, as other magnificent and glorious flowers take over through summer to bring pleasure to our senses and glory to God, their creator.

 

They seem to need all those months, these glories of early Spring, laying dormant in the warmer summer soil, to give them the strength they need to steadfastly return, the first plants to raise their head in the new year and give praise to the Creator of all. They need the tranquillity and the time of their hibernation to live to the full their vocation.

 

In three days’ time, we begin the season of Lent. Lent is a time in the year that God gives us to do as the early spring flowers. It’s a time of tranquillity and peace, when we can hibernate to some extent and prepare ourselves for the glory of Easter. Then, we will rise out of our winter sleep to celebrate the glory of the Resurrection. Like Christ in his tomb, during the weeks of Lent, we take the time to look at our lives, to interiorise our gaze, so as to rise into a new life in God at the Pascal Feast.

 

We need this special time, this tranquil time, when, with the aid of fasting and abstinence, we take a deep look at how we live our baptismal commitment and where we need to change our ways. Lent is the time of metanoia, of regeneration and rebirth. During Lent, we make space in our busy programmes to reflect on our lives; we take time to create a tranquil and silent space, in which we face our demons and allow God’s healing hands, with his forgiving touch, to embrace us and enfold us in his love.

 

Our lives are so busy. The air is filled with the noise of Tik Tok, the distraction of Instagram, the call of Twitter and – for some – the heat of Tinder or Grinder. The TV with its distractions of splendour and gain, or the news programmes bringing the disasters in so many lives, invades the safety and comfort of our living rooms and lounges. So much noise, so much time on social media, that we no longer have the time or the space to be ourselves, to be the person God wants us to be. We need to let go of these impositions and intrusions, shut them out of our mind so that we can find our true selves and regain our sanity. They have their place, but it should not be so great that it will destroy us. We need to take control and not be slaves. The only master we Christians serve is Jesus Christ; and he sets us free.

 

If we allow ourselves to be enslaved by these agents of the World or by other destructive agents such as power, or drugs, or money, we will be like the blind men of the Gospel: we will go nowhere and we will fall at every obstacle.

 

St. Paul exhorts the people of Corinth, distracted as they were by the temptations of the world, with these words: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain”.

 

On Wednesday, as we come up to receive our ashes, a sign that we enter into the period of Lent, let us be resolved to make more time for Christ and the Holy Spirit of God in our lives. Let us be resolved that in Lent we will seek to listen more to the Lord and make a space in our daily lives to stop and pray. Our desire would be to allow the Holy Spirit of God more space and more power in our lives so that we may lead others to God. Without that Holy Spirit, we can only stumble along the road, like the blind leading the blind of the Gospel. filled, with the light and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we will be like the daffodils and the snowdrops in the park. We will be the heralds of the Kingdom of God where justice and peace and goodness reign.

 

Prayers of the Faithful

 

Let us pray for the people of Ukraine, now living in unbelievable terror, some fleeing to find safety for their families, others obliged to stay and defend their country from the invading forceWs, never before having handled a rifle.

 

Let us pray for the Russian people who live in fear and cannot react to what is being done in their name. Let us pray that they may find leaders who will respect the rule of law and the rights of all people to determine their own destiny.

 

War in Europe brings home to us the horrors and futility of such violence. It reminds us that millions of people have been and still today live in the terror of war, right across the world. Our own governments and industrial companies are complicit in many of these wars. We pray for an end to all these hostilities and that people everywhere may live in peace and security.

 

Let us pray for Pope Francis and for our bishops that they may lead us with wisdom and charity. Let us pray for Bishop William Nolan, who is installed as the new Archbishop of Glasgow today.

 

Lord, you people are sick. We pray for:

 

We pray for the intentions of :

 

Let us pray for those who have died:   

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

 

We are in ordinary time, in fact the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time. This period may not seem very inviting. As someone has said it “may seem drab and colourless. Who wants to be ordinary?” Yet, if we reflect, during the lockdown necessitated by the pandemic, we were dreaming of returning to ‘the normal’, getting back to what was ordinary for us.

 

Being ordinary, as Christians, does not mean that we do nothing. Rather it means that we live out our faith in a way which has become, as it were, second nature for us. St Paul, in his letter to the Christians of Corinth (Second Reading) reminds us of our faith in Jesus Christ, who has suffered death for us, but is Risen from the dead so that we might have life, so that we might be born again to new life.

 

The gospel shows us how people discover Christ. Jesus is preaching to the multitude. They are pressing so closely around him that he feels the need for a bit of distance. He gets into a boat - note that he doesn’t ask if he can enter the boat; he just climbs in. But we can note also that Jesus and Simon have already met before. The Gospel of John tells us that John the Baptist had pointed out Jesus to some of his disciples. One of these, Andrew, had followed Jesus and had then introduced to him his brother, Simon. So Jesus and the boatman, Simon, were at least slightly known to each other.

 

After preaching, Jesus indicated to Simon where he could catch fish. Simon could have reacted negatively: “I am the professional fisherman. Who are you to tell me my business?” But he follows the suggestion of Jesus and the result is truly miraculous.

 

What is his reaction now? “Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man!” This is perhaps a normal reaction when faced with the wondrous generosity of the Lord. It is a common feature of all the readings today. Seeing the glory of God, the prophet Isaiah cries out: “I am a man of unclean lips.” Yet, despite this, he is ready to be the Lord’s messenger. St Paul confesses that he hardly deserves the name of apostle, since he had persecuted the first Christians, but he adds: “by God’s grace that is what I am”, an apostle.

I don’t think that Simon really wanted to be parted from Jesus. And as we see, He and his brother Andrew, and their fishing partners, James and John, leave everything to follow Jesus. And they are encouraged by Jesus who says to them: “Do not be afraid”.

 

It seem to me that Jesus is saying the same to us today. Every time we come to Mass we always start by confessing our sins and asking for mercy and pardon. And just before receiving communion we say: “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”  But Jesus says to us: “Do not be afraid. I am always with you. Do not be afraid to give witness to me. Live your faith, however difficult the circumstances are. Be ready to share your faith with others, more by what you are doing, than what you are saying. Be generous, as God is generous. Be generous to your neighbours, with your goods, but also with your time and compassion. I shall be with you.”

 

Jesus chose companions to share in his mission of spreading the Kingdom of God. We share in this mission. We are not alone. We can give thanks to the Lord that we are part of this parish of St Vincent de Paul, that we belong to this diocese of Liverpool that is called to become the Church that the Lord wants it to be, that we are members of the Catholic Church led by Pope Francis who is inviting us to walk together to discover what God wants of us in these days.

 

Let us continue to walk together, not relying on our own strength, but counting on the graces that the Generous Lord gives to each one of us.  He is leading us, let us follow him with courage, trust and joy. Amen.

Homily for 4th Sunday Year C Terry

Posted on 1st February, 2022

4th Sunday Ord C

 

I quite easily find myself saying to someone, “May your faith be a comfort to you”. And I mean it: especially if someone is suffering, like a bereavement. I really hope that their faith in the resurrection of the dead will bring them some relief for the grief that is overwhelming them. Or if they are sick, I pray that their faith will give them hope of a cure. I think it would be true to say that many of us would be thinking likewise: thinking that in moments of difficulty our faith can indeed bring comfort and the wherewithal to see us through those difficult moments.

 

But there can be a danger to our faith, if we only think of it as a comfort in the difficult moments of life. If we only think of God as the merciful Father who has pity on us and who comforts or strengthens us in those moments of need, we are missing a vital, essential element to our faith. That is that Jesus challenges us too. Our faith is not only a comfort but it is a challenge to live it to its full.

 

The challenge is to love; to love one another as the Father loves us. And we all know that love is not static but is a continual evolution, a continual motion of opening ourselves up to the other person and to the Other who is God. St, Catherine of Sienna says: A soul cannot live without loving. It must have something to love, for it was created to love.

 

To look upon faith only as a comfort and as a security in time of need – and nothing more – is to become stagnant and to hold on to faith as an unmovable rock, an anchor that will hold us in the one, secure position where we feel at our most comfortable. And that, as any rock or any anchor, will get us nowhere. It will only leave us hanging on for dear life, instead of venturing out to the deep on a journey of the exploration of love.

 

This is what may well have happened to the people of the synagogue of Nazareth, the people closest to Jesus. They knew him as the child of Joseph and Mary. News had already reached them about his teaching and miraculous works in the villages of the region. Here was a man, they thought, who would bring fame and maybe wealth to Nazareth; he would put their hometown on the map at last. They knew his family well and their minds were already made up on what they expected of him.

 

But when he came to the synagogue, he surprised them all by his message of liberation, of freedom. They certainly did not expect the challenge he would hurl at them to change their ways, to repent and let go of their false hopes and unachievable dreams. Their anger rose up within them and crowd hysteria took over. How dare he challenge their certainties and their assurances. He must be rejected. His message shook the ground beneath their feet. He must be thrown out and his challenge be silenced.

This message of conversion, this call to repentance and renewal is still the same message that the same Jesus addresses to us today, whether we are inside the synagogue or out of it, whether we are regular church goers or observers from a distance. “Duc in Altum”; “Cast out into the deep”, as Jesus told the fishing apostles after a night of no catch. Do not stay on the shore side, where you feel safe and sound, but cast over the other side, where the water is deeper”

 

This is the message of Pope Francis. It is the message of the Second Vatican Council. It is the reason we held our Synod and the reason that the Pope has initiated a universal synod. He is seeking to lead us out into the deeper waters where love becomes an adventure of discovery. It can be unnerving. It can be somewhat dangerous. But hanging on to the security of the well-known and well-practised only brings stagnation and darkness. If the wise men had not followed the bright star that shone ahead of them on a road they did not know, they would never have discovered Jesus. If we only stay at home, where we feel safe and secure, life becomes a bore.

 

Jesus asks us to rise up, to move forward, to go beyond the known and comfortable: to love. Mother Theresa of Calcutta has a saying: “Love cannot remain by itself - it has no meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service”.

Homily of the Rev Laura Ferguson, priest of the Parish Team of St. Luke's in the City, for Sunday of Prayer for Christian Unity, 23 Jan 2022

 

What a privilege it is to be here with you this morning. I am particularly grateful for the meeting which Fr Michael called some weeks ago to see what events we could organise for this important week of prayer for Christian Unity. Trying to keep our own three churches -St Michael in the City, St Bride's and St Dunstan's - running smoothly through these pandemic times, at times already feels like one a continuous prayer for Christian Unity!

 

I don't know about you but thinking beyond myself, my church, my denomination and reaching out to other Christians can sometimes seem like just one too many things to do. But if I'm to listen to the words of St Paul closely, I am reminded that not only is Christian unity something to seek at all times but it is at the very core of who the Church is. And by 'the Church' I refer to the whole worldwide - Catholic church. We are one body, says Paul. Not one organisation. Not one institution. Not one business but one body. And for a body to function and flourish it needs all organs to be in good health, to be working with each other and to recognise that no one part is of more value than another. The whole body is worse off if one part suffers.

 

Now, this is all well and good but... we might quietly think to ourselves, what about the members of the body who have behaved in unacceptable ways? Or what of those members who are unable to contribute in ways we would like...

Wasn't Paul just being a bit idealistic?

 

Well there are no quick answers to those difficult questions but Paul  didn't use the image of a body for no reason. It is true that some members of the body need extra support, careful consideration or care. But what Paul is suggesting is that remaining as part of the body in the broadest sense is better than the inevitable dismemberment  that happens when we disconnect ourselves or others from body. Unity is certainly a challenge but one that is still worth pursuing. Why? Well for one thing, because we have a job to do.

 

In Luke's gospel we see Jesus ' manifesto laid out for us. He says:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.'

 

It is these values that we are called to live by and work towards. And throughout Luke's Gospel it is these things that we see Jesus doing - bringing good news to the poor, whether that's honouring the woman who anoints his feet with perfume or telling little children, who had no sway in society, to come to him, or drawing attention to

the good example of the poor widow's actions or even - think of his 12 disciples - not scholars or academics but mainly ordinary men with low paid jobs.

 

He also set captives or those who were marginalised free - whether that was to heal those with incurable diseases  (which would have left them excluded from worship) or simply spending time with those who were outcasts because of their social standing or perceived immoralty like tax collectors and sex workers.

 

And he let the oppressed go free, releasing a chained, demon­ possessed man and enabling him to walk free and helping those who worked with the Roman authorities to discover who their true King was.

 

But it's not simply that we're called to carry out similar actions to others, but we are called to examine ourselves and ask as well. Asking questions like, 'do I find myself poor in any way?' Perhaps in the spirit  of generosity/forgiveness/kindness/hospitality? Or asking, 'am I marginalising myself or others because of a prejudice or bias I hold to.' Am I oppressed by anything in my life, by the expectations of others or even the company I keep?

 

So, when we think of how we can be unified by our goal of sharing the good news we might also remember that we don't simply deliver the good news, we are good news. After all, how can we expect the body of Christ to flourish if we are keeping part of ourselves imprisoned?

 

But the other reason I think it is worth being united is because it gives God joy. We've heard in our reading from Nehemiah reading that the 'joy of the Lord was their strength.' If you think about it this is actually quite an odd phrase. It is not, 'the strength of the Lord was their joy' which is what seems to make more sense. But this whole passage is perhaps not what we might expect from returned exiles.

 

It's full of weeping but why? The exiles although in Babylon for 50 years have already returned. They've built a new city, a new wall, a new temple so why now would they break down in tears? Because, they've been working in their own strength to get back to Jerusalem and to rebuild all that they lost but they're holding onto a promise of old, a promise which an entire generation of Israelites have not known first hand.

 

It's only when Ezra reads the first 5 books of the bible to them that it dawns on them that God has been with them through it all. That God was with them in, as they were exiled, in Babylon, he was there in the ruins when they returned, as they slowly cleaned up and rebuild and he is with them now. God has watched them faithfully hold out for His promise of restoration. And this is what moves them - that their efforts did not go unnoticed. Their persistence and determination to unite in their common goal to restore Israel was not carried out alone, they now realise it was all done in partnership with God. He had opened doors for them, brought people of peace into their paths and he'd led them into a deeper trust with him and one another. The weeping comes from the realisation that God was there with them all along.

 

And not only has God been with them but God is filled with joy at seeing how far they've come. This is what gives God joy - to see his people working together with him and one another being continually shaped, transformed and liberated.

 

I wonder how we might feel it Ezra stood before us now and read us the first five books of the new testament? OR even if he read to us the first 500 years of Christian history... Might we be led to weep as we heard it?

 

Christian unity is about all of this. it is about working together for a joint purpose, it's about acknowledging that wheb we do that, God is with us and it's about finding our strength in God's joy. So, this week and beyond, it is my prayer that we as the church wills tand as a beacon of hope, giving good news to the poor, relaeasing captives and setting people free from oppression. And as we do so that we might grow in strength giving the Lord great joy. 

 

 

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

(Sunday in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity)

(St Bride’s Anglican church, Liverpool)

 

It is a pleasure for me to come here and take part in this Sunday service at St Bride’s during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and I thank the team of St Luke-in-the-city for inviting me. I think the readings provided for this day are suitable for reflecting on the unity which we are invited to achieve and which we are striving for.

 

In the reading from the Book of Nehemiah, we have heard how the people gathered together to listen to the Law of Moses being read to them. It is said that Ezra, the priest did this from early morning until noon. Do not be afraid, I am not going to be so long. It is noted that all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. It is this Book of the Law which brings about their unity, as they listen to it and try to apply it in their lives.

 

You may say: “But what has this to do with us? The time of Judaism is over.” We have to remember that Jesus came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it. In the synagogue of his home village he reads from the prophet Isaiah the text that we have heard and says: “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.” Notice that he does not say it has been fulfilled, but rather that it is being fulfilled. This fulfilment is something ongoing in which we are all involved.

 

Jesus, who has returned to his home region and his home town “with the power of the Spirit in him” as Luke says in his gospel, presents, as it were, his “manifesto”. It is inspired by the Spirit, and it is to be carried out not only by himself, but also by us, with the help of the Spirit.

 

This brings us to the passage from St Paul that has been proclaimed. It comes from Paul’s First Letter to the Christians in Corinth. Before the beginning of our passage Paul writes: “There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them.”

 

These words are very relevant today as we consider and pray for Christian Unity. We are called to continue the mission of Jesus. Would this not be more effective if we were united? We don’t need to be the same, nor to be doing the same things. We all have our gifts, given by the Spirit. What is required of us is to respect one another and to be ready to cooperate, work together, with the same concern for those who are disadvantaged, exploited, oppressed.

 

And when we say that we are “sent… to bring… to the blind new sight”, I think we should include ourselves. We get used to things, and don’t see them anymore.  We are used to be being divided as Christians, and often do not realize the scandal that this gives to people of other religions, or none. “When will these Christians get their act together?” people are inclined to say.

 

So we need to pray for ourselves, for our leaders, for our Churches, that we may be open to the Spirit, that the Spirit may convert us, make us truly faithful to the Gospel, so that we may be truly one and give a united witness.

Let this be our prayer today.

 

Homily Peace Sunday

16 January 2022 at SVP

 

What is it about the Russians that scares us so? Why are we so wary of them and they of us? Why are we like enemies all the time?

They are intelligent people: look at their art, look at their architecture before the Stalinist Regime that robbed them of their freedom. Their art and science is as great as ours, maybe greater – artists like Ivan Shishkin, Andrei Rublev, the musicians like Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, authors like Tolstoy and Chekov, all prove their worthiness to be our friends. We like their vodka and caviar, some love their Kalashnikov, we admire their cosmonauts and their scientists all as capable as anyone we can present.

So why have they become our pet hate? 

Maybe, dare I suggest, because they want the same as us? They seek to be recognised and appreciated. They want to have their say and their seat in the power houses of the world.

In fact, they want what we want: We want the same power, the same hegemony, the same recognition. Such desires drove us to leave Europe, where people dared to expect us to toe the line and be equal to them with only an equal voice, not a stronger one. Where there is even a court of justice that can over-rule our own courts: how terrible?

What is true for Russia is true for us. What is true for us is true for North Korea, for South Sudan, for Tigray. What is true at the national and international levels is also too often true at the personal level.  Think of the last fight you had at home, in the house – what was it over? Was it: “Do we do it my way or your way?”  What happens at home in the house, happens on the big international stage. Pride rules, fear rules, jealousy rules. The EGO rules. There’s not much difference in the motivation, only in the consequences.

Wouldn’t it be so much better if we could accept the precepts of St. Paul. He sees all the gifts – the charisms – of the community. Each member has his or her special gift which is to be used for the good of the whole community: one preaches, another has faith, another speaks in tongues, another prophesies. One is wealthy economically; another is wealthy artistically… St. Paul tells us to pool our resources, our gifts and use them for the good of the community. Our gifts come from God and are for the good of all. If we allow pride or fear or jealousy to overcome our relationships, what’s the use of these gifts? Unless they are used for the good of all, they get us nowhere. It’s true on a personal level, as it’s true on an international level.

Pope Francis uses a wonderful phrase in his letter to introduce this year’s world Day of Peace. He writes: “In every age, peace is both a gift from on high and the fruit of a shared commitment.” The fruit of a shared commitment. It’s true, we have to commit ourselves to peace. Like everything else we value or really desire, we have to be committed to procuring it and we have to be prepared to makes sacrifices to achieve it.

Frank Shovlin, on my invitation, wrote on the front page of the newsletter this week. He reminds us of the sacrifices that had to be made to achieve peace between the belligerent sides of the divide in Northern Ireland. Everyone was tired of the violence, the disruption to social life, the anger and the pain of death. They wanted peace. “The Good Friday Agreement of 1998, writes Frank, was a document of compromise in which everyone gave up some of their ground in order for the process to move forward”. Everyone gave up some of their ground in order for the process to move forward. Now, some 24 years later, peace still holds, despite the problems that are always there. This is because everyone gave up something that was important so that the others could feel that they had been listened to and their situation appreciated and taken into account.

Pope Francis writes in his letter: “All can work together to build a more peaceful world, starting from the hearts of individuals and relationships in the family, then within society and with the environment, and all the way up to relationships between peoples and nations”.

He writes further that 3 elements are necessary for the achievement of lasting peace:  the first is dialogue between generations as the basis for the realization of shared projects.

Pope Francis writes “Young people need the wisdom and experience of the elderly while those who are older need the support, affection, creativity and dynamism of the young. Great social challenges and peace processes necessarily call for dialogue between the keepers of memory – the elderly – and those who move history forward - the young”

His second element is education, as a factor of freedom, responsibility and development. He gives a special role in this to places of education for “education provides the grammar for dialogue between generations”. Yet resources devoted to education have been squeezed all around the world, while arms budgets have burgeoned. Pope Francis makes an urgent call for “economic policies aimed at inverting the proportion of public funds spent on education and on weaponry” and the pursuit of genuine international disarmament to free up the funds needed “for health care, schools, infrastructure, care of the land and so forth.”

The 3rd element is labour as a means for the full realization of human dignity.

These are three indispensable elements for “making possible the creation of a social covenant”,[4] without which every project of peace turns out to be insubstantial.

Pope Francis ends his letter and I will finish now with these words: “I make this appeal: let us walk together with courage and creativity on the path of intergenerational dialogue, education, and work. May more and more men and women strive daily, with quiet humility and courage, to be artisans of peace. And may they be ever inspired and accompanied by the blessings of the God of peace!”