30th Sunday of the Year
This weekend was supposed to be Synod Weekend, the time when, together as an Archdiocese, we would have presented the deliberations of the Synod at a special Mass in Liverpool Cathedral. The Synod timetable has now been revised due to the on-going pandemic and we will now do this in June 2021. The journey and the work of the Synod have not stopped. The Synod working Party received over 3,500 proposals and reflections on the different Synod themes we shared during the last 18 months or so. This also included a number of proposals and reflections made in the light of Covid-19. This huge response gave the Synod Working Party their task during lockdown.
During the next few weeks we are asked to think once again about what proposals we would like to put forward, especially perhaps in the light of the difficult year we have experienced so far. So even though we are still going through a period of great uncertainty, we invite you to think once again about what proposals you would like to go forward. This can be done either by email, or by filling in one of the forms at the back of Church – you will have to take one home and bring it back the following weekend to Mass. We hope that by doing this, and by building on the proposals already put forward, we can become the kind of Church God is calling us to be.
The Gospel Reading this weekend reminds us of the two great commandments – to love God and to love our neighbour. So who is my neighbour? Basically, it is EVERYONE. Perhaps this is the best proposal anyone could have for the Synod, that we should love God, not only in words but by the way we live our lives, and love everyone in the way Jesus did throughout his life here on earth.
29th Sunday of the Year
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ enemies try to trap him with a clever question about whether or not to pay taxes. Whichever answer he gave could lead to his ultimate downfall. Despite the flattery with which they tried to ensnare Jesus, the Pharisees saw themselves as the religious elite to which he could never belong. How dare an uneducated carpenter from Galilee tell them how to live! The Pharisees and Herodians were not concerned about the legitimacy of taxation. They just wanted to get rid of Jesus, who was, in their eyes, “not one of us”. Likewise, they saw the Romans as “them” and not “us”. They were just foreigners with a different language, way of life and religious beliefs. There was an unbridgeable divide: “they” could never be the same as “us”. True, the Romans had occupied and had created their own “them and us” scenario which fostered hatred and dissent amongst the people rather than respect and unity. But Jesus’ questioners in today’s Gospel had no intention of healing the divisions between the different groups. They only wanted to trap him and did not look for a sincere answer to their question. They were unprepared for Jesus’ suggestion that the only conflict of interests lay in their own hearts.
This weekend is World Mission Sunday, when Catholics across the world unite in praying for and supporting the Church in countries where the faith is still very new and being nurtured. “Mission” is not about a “them and us” situation. We see Mission take place when people across the divide, from different faiths and denominations, come together to work for each other. Mission occurs when people ignore their differences and come together. Pope Francis once told a story: “It happened here in Rome that a homeless man had an abdominal pain….he went to a priest, the priest saw him and was moved. He said, “I’ll take you to a hospital but I want you to do me a favour. When I start to explain what you have, act like you’re fainting”…He acted well because it was peritonitis, a very serious disease. This man has now been healed. If he had gone alone, he would have probably been discarded, and he would have died.” World Mission Sunday is about forgetting differences and, instead, coming together. Jesus’ challengers could not look beyond the “them and us”. The Pharisees discarded the Romans and Jesus because they were “them” and not “us”. Jesus reminds us to look inside our hearts. World Mission Sunday tells us that, as Christians, there is no such thing as “them and us”. We discard nobody and are called to welcome everyone, no matter who they are.
28th Sunday of the Year
Today we listen to another story from Jesus. It is the story of the king who invites many guests to the wedding of his son. Matthew’s story is so overlaid with symbols that it is easy to forget the central image of God as a gracious host who hopes that everyone will come to his banquet. This central image is at the heart of Matthew’s story, but it could easily get lost amidst the different symbols, where the roast dinner goes cold whilst a military expedition burns the city. And after that, when the king sees that among the bad and the good picked up from the streets, there is one who is not dressed properly for the wedding. The king has him bound hand and foot and thrown out into the darkness. All this makes it difficult to hold on to the original image of a generous host who knows how to throw a party. Matthew’s story is full of symbols. The outside of the hall is described as outer darkness, where people will weep and grind their teeth. This represents the hall being the Kingdom of God and outside as hell. The wedding garment, the condition for entering the feast, is readiness, that is conversion. At the final judgement, for the good and the bad, only those who are clothed in goodness and faith will be invited to the banquet of life.
For ourselves we hold precious the image of God who calls the good and the bad to the banquet of life. It reminds us that, whatever good or bad we may have done in our lives, there is always a way back with God. God does not reject us, even if we sometimes feel like he should do. The invitation is always there for us to come to the banquet of Heaven by preparing ourselves by living out lives of faith and hope here on earth. The expectation is that we will prepare ourselves now by being dressed appropriately for the occasion. Perhaps the best description of the proper wardrobe for a Christian is given to us by St.Paul. If we wear the clothes he describes then we will be welcome to the banquet…
“You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you and you should be clothed in
sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience….
over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love.
And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:12-15)
27th Sunday of the Year
Throughout his parables, Jesus uses the life experience of the people around him to teach them about the Kingdom of God and about the way we should treat others if we want to do God’s will. The stories often relate to what the people know about every life – farming, fishing, building – and how to make these things work for the common good. They are examples which even today relate to life as we know it. In today’s Gospel, the context is the vineyard, with tenants employed to manage it. Having been left with this responsibility, these tenants begin to think of it as “their” vineyard and when the time comes to produce the harvest for the owner they resent having to do it. They beat up and kill the owner’s representatives including, finally, his own son. The story is an allegory. Jesus reminds the chief priests and elders of the people the prophecy of Isaiah, in today’s First Reading. God is the creator of the vineyard, God’s own people, on whom God has spent a great deal of love and attention, but has not received the harvest which was expected. Jesus develops this image, focussing on those who are now responsible for the care of his vineyard, the chief priests and the elders. They have begun to think of the people as their own possession and so reject the message of God’s messengers, the prophets. Now is the time for the final act, where they reject the Son, Jesus, and are about to kill him.
So what has all this got to do with us today? Firstly we are all responsible for the spreading of the Good News. Each and every one of us has a duty of care for everyone else and for what Pope Francis calls “our common home”. We are all workers in the vineyard of the Lord. This is not something exclusively for Church leaders, but for everyone. It doesn’t just relate to religious ideals, but to everything and everyone who shares the planet with us. It’s about making the world the place God wants it to be. Over the centuries there have been moments of conquest and colonisation, which have led to the enslavement and oppression of millions of people. There have been wars of liberation and there have been transformations of cultures as human beings have learned the ways of international co-operation and global peace. However, there are continuing examples of war and violence all around the world. With this as the constant backdrop, the Word of God provides us with a vision of a world that can be at peace, where kingdoms and peoples gather in unity to worship the one God and Lord of all. The role of God’s people is to give witness to the possibility of such a reality, to produce the good fruits of God’s vineyard. Jesus came to reinforce this message of peace and reconciliation and so he sent out his disciples to demonstrate a new way of living together – the way of forgiveness and service to others. There is no place in God’s world for violent oppression and exploitation of others. The death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s answer to human selfishness and greed. Today, the disciples of Jesus, the Church, you and I, are the tenants responsible for producing the fruits of the harvest of God’s Kingdom.
26th Sunday of the Year
At the moment we are listening to so many of the parables during the Gospel at Mass. Today is the parable of the two sons. One refuses to work for his father, then relents and does his father’s will. The other says “Yes” straight away, but does nothing. Jesus uses the story to confront the chief priests and the elders of the people. He confronts them and criticises them as “yes-men” whose easy promises are not matched by what they do. The father asks his two sons to work in his vineyard. The first son refuses bluntly, “I will not go”, but afterwards regrets his decision and changes his mind. The second son agrees politely and says “Certainly sir”, but his instant consent is not matched by his behaviour. He doesn’t turn up. Jesus’ question, “Which of them did the father’s will?” only allows for one answer. Only one son did anything. Jesus’ own reply identifies the two sons. The son who refused but repented represents the tax collectors and sinners – those who have turn away from God in the past – who now listen to God’s Word and try their best to turn back to him. The other son represents the priests and scribes who maintain an outward appearance of piety but have no real devotion to the will of God. Their outward piety, unsupported by obedience to God, is criticised earlier in the Gospel, when Jesus says, “It is not those who say to me “Lord, Lord” who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in Heaven.”
The son whose word was “no” but whose action became “yes” is held out to us as the one who did his father’s will. The story doesn’t tell us why he changed his mind or why he didn’t want to help out in the first place, only that his generosity of spirit had the last word. In time he caught up with the best that was in him. He was late in doing his father’s will, but not too late. The Gospel last weekend – the story of the men being hired out to work in the vineyard who were all paid the same wage – reminds us that God’s love and forgiveness is greater than anything on earth. If we think about the lives of the saints, so many of them were the greatest of sinners. St.Augustine, for example, is someone who refused to do the will of God in his early life, even at the encouragement of his mother. In his writing “Confessions” he admits to many sins. He refused to listen to the Gospel message for many years but later in life, at the age of 32, he came back to God and found fulfilment there. There are many more saints whose lives started out in this way. For us their lives remind us of the great love of God, and that there is always a way back with God. But like the son in the Gospel story, it is our decision to turn back, repent and believe in the Good News.
25th Sunday of the Year
On first reading, the parable in today’s Gospel looks very unfair. Why does the landowner pay everyone the same wage, especially since those who have worked for just one hour are paid – and are paid first – the same as those who have worked for twelve, and in all the heat and the sun too. We have to remember that it is a parable. In the story people are waiting around in the marketplace, standing idle, lost and unemployed. Although they do not know it they are waiting for the Gospel. Along comes the landowner who, of course, is Jesus, and a group of them take up his invitation to work in the vineyard. A meaning comes into their life at once and they are gainfully employed in the Kingdom of God. They are working for God, in the sense of fulfilling their purpose in life, living life in the way that is pleasing to God. And the wages they receive will be eternal life. Some hear the call later in life and their reward is the same. Even at the eleventh hour some people respond to his call, and among them we may think about the penitent thief on the cross next to Jesus: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Here is a wonderful picture of Jesus walking into his Father’s presence, leading this man by the hand: “Here, Father, is the man I have saved.” How completely appropriate that the Saviour brings with him the sheep that was lost: that the first person to enter God’s Kingdom with him was a thief.
The fundamental point seems to be that the Church, the messenger of Jesus, is sent to preach the Gospel to people in every kind of situation, both young and old, with the invitation to enter the Kingdom of God. So Isaiah preached, “Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near.” But we can only do this, and offer a welcome to those who come to the Church from all kinds of backgrounds, if we share the mind of Christ and his love for others. The Gospel today reminds us that there is always a way back to God, especially those are the biggest sinners. So there is hope for everyone. Jesus says time and time again that he was sent to bring sinners back to God. Even if we may have been going to Church all our lives, do not be surprised if, or when, someone you know comes back to God at the last moment. As Pope Francis once wrote, a note that he would love us to have put up in all our churches: “Here Jesus welcomes sinners and invites them to his table.” As we continue to live through these troubled days may we always know that the Lord opens his arms to us all and welcomes us into his loving presence.
24th Sunday of the Year
In today’s Gospel Matthew continues to deal with relations between Christians, focussing on the need for forgiveness between members of the early Church Community. Peter asks Jesus how often must he forgive someone, then answers his own question by suggesting seven times. The Jewish tradition of the time taught that God forgives three times and punishes on the fourth occasion. According to this tradition Peter’s suggestion is generous, but according to Jesus it is very insufficient. Just as in the old days there is no limit to hatred and violence, so among Christians there is to be no limit to mercy and forgiveness. The parable of the unforgiving official is told in order to underline the need for forgiveness. When a king calls his court officials to audit the accounts, one shows a deficiency of 10000 talents, a colossal sum of money. The sum is deliberately extravagant to heighten the contrast with the few pounds owed to the man himself. When the king orders the sale of the debtor and his family into slavery, the official pleads for time. The king feels sorry for him and decides to write off the vast debt. The official, however, learns nothing from this experience, for he refuses to give a colleague the time to pay him a much smaller debt and has him thrown into prison. When this heartless behaviour is reported to the king, the grant of full forgiveness is retracted and the unforgiven official is himself thrown into prison. Apart from anything else, the unforgiving official is condemned for his lack of memory. Forgetfulness of our own sins and the forgiveness we have received can lead us to a lack of compassion for others. Remembering how our sins have gone unpunished by God should lead us to forgive others. Through forgetfulness of God’s compassion, we can end up being cruel and unforgiving towards each other. This is why, at the being of every Eucharist, we are invited to be mindful of our own sins. Only when we do this can we pray the words of the Our Father, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The purpose of calling to mind our sins is not to make us feel bad, but to remind us that we all live in the gracious love and forgiveness of God himself. Whoever we are, we remember our sins because we need to remember to forgive others too.
23rd Sunday of the Year
As we listen to today’s Gospel, we must remember that in every community there are always divisions or upsets at times. It is inevitable when people try to live or work together. We all know what it is like to fall out with someone, even someone very close. It hurts even more the closer the person is. So the Gospel today gives the early Christians some practical advice concerning reconciliation and what to do when a person does not want to forgive or be reconciled. The advice is straightforward: “If your brother or sister does something wrong, go and have it out with them alone, between your two selves.” The Gospel says that the “offended” party – not the “offending” one – should first seek reconciliation. It suggests personal intervention and honest confrontation. It encourages members of the Christian community to straighten things out with each other privately rather than complaining publicly. The purpose of confronting someone who has done wrong is not to humiliate them but to be reconciled with them.
All the practical advice in the Gospel centres on Christians taking responsibility for each other. Belonging to a community implies being involved in the lives of everyone, NOT in an invasive way, but from a sense of caring for each other. Just as conflict is sure to happen in a community of sinners, so confrontation can sometimes be the only language of love. St.Paul tells us in today’s Second Reading that “love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour”. If love faces the real, it cannot avoid facing conflict. Where silence would permit greater division in any community, love must do something. As a great philosopher once said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.” And doing nothing in the face of wrongdoing and hurt is precisely what the Gospel opposes. Today’s Gospel is not easy to follow. So, whatever we do, if we act out of love and of wanting what is best for the person, as Jesus always did, then we cannot go too far wrong.
22nd Sunday of the Year
Today’s Gospel reminds us of the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. Jesus says to his disciples, “Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.” The word “cross” has been softened somewhat, because we sometimes think that it refers to the difficult things we have to go through. The Cross that Jesus refers to in the Gospel is the suffering that comes into our lives because of the choices we make in being a disciple. Many people in life make sacrifices for what they believe in. think of Nelson Mandela, for example, or Mother Theresa. They gave up so much and suffered greatly because of what they believed in. there are many examples, especially those of the saints through the ages.
It is true to say that faith is the best support we can have in times of weakness. But it can be a lot more. It can be a positive force in our lives. It is something that should also challenge us at times and stretch us so that we can achieve new goals. In the Gospel Jesus asks commitment from his followers. Being a disciple can be difficult. It is a challenge for a lifetime. Jesus doesn’t just focus on suffering in the Gospel today. In fact, he didn’t seek that for his followers. The story of Gethsemene makes that clear. But suffering will inevitably be part of Christian life as it was part of Jesus’ life. Our discipleship and following of |Jesus can be done in small steps. God is patient. His challenge is an invitation. As we think about the words of the Gospel this weekend, let us be open to the gifts God wants to give to us, gifts which will help us prevail through the suffering so that we can always see the hope of the coming of God’s Kingdom one day soon.
21st Sunday of the Year
As we think about the wonderful relationship between Jesus and Pater this weekend, let us remember that, despite his faults and mistakes, Peter became a great leader of the early Church. Jesus gave him chance after chance. Sometimes Peter let him down. Other times, like in the Gospel today, he spoke the truth and showed his leadership skills. It’s very interesting to see how Jesus deals with peter. How he helped him to grow into the man who was ready to lay down his life for him, and who eventually did. Their relationship began when Jesus called him. We all need someone to believe in us. It’s hard to believe in ourselves if no one else does.
• Peter didn’t think he deserved to be a disciple. He said, “Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man”. Jesus did not deny that Peter was a sinner, but he challenged him to grow and to change.
• Jesus involved Peter in his work. He made him a partner in it, not a mere messenger.
• Jesus asked Peter to declare his loyalty. Once, when large numbers of people were leaving him, Jesus turned to peter and said, “Will you also go?” This forced Peter to look into his own heart and ask why he was following Jesus. He answered, “Where shall we go?”
• When Peter made his great declaration of faith, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, Jesus praised him and promised him further responsibility. We all need recognition for work well done. We all need affirmation.
• Jesus corrected Peter. When Peter drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemene Jesus told him to out away his sword. It took courage to challenge Peter and point out his mistakes.
• When Peter tried to stop him from returning to Jerusalem, Jesus told him off. Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan”. There are times when you have to face people with the truth.
• After the Resurrection, knowing that Peter had denied knowing him, Jesus gave him three opportunities to declare his love. He gave Peter another chance. The thread which runs through their relationship is love. Peter knew that Jesus loved him. Love is the climate in which people can grow. This was the real rock in Peter’s life.
Peter became a very good leader. A leader has to be aware of their own weaknesses. The experience of denying Jesus rid Peter of any pride and blind reliance on his own resources. He knew he had to rely totally on God. It also enabled him to understand the weakness of others. Peter’s story is our story too. Sometimes we are strong, and other times we are weak. So we can take courage and hope from Peter’s story. We need a good relationship with Jesus if we want to lead others to God as Peter did.
Feast of the Assumption
As we celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, we must remember that the Gospels tell us very little about the mother of Jesus. She is mentioned in the infancy narratives, of course, and a few more times during the Gospels. This is perhaps because the Gospel writers are NOT composing a biography of Jesus, but rather they are expressing through story form what they believe about him. All the other characters appear in relation to Jesus and his mission – the writers have no interest in anyone else, not even his mother, simply for their own sake. Luke presents Mary as the model disciple of Jesus, one who listens to God’s Word, reflects on it and then puts it into practice. Today’s Gospel is not some example of Mary’s thoughtfulness and generosity in going to look after her cousin Elizabeth. She visits the mother of John the Baptist to confirm that the message she received from the Angel Gabriel was indeed true. Elizabeth’s expectation of a child, “in her old age”, is a sign to Mary that it was indeed God’s will that she should have a child to, the Son of God in fact.
The meeting of the two cousins is a celebration of what God is doing with and through them. Elizabeth stand sin the tradition of the mothers of the Hebrew tradition who gave birth to significant figures ion the story of God’s dealings with Israel. God intervened to enable these people to bring forth important characters in the story of God’s plan for his people. John the Baptist is perhaps the last of these figures. Mary’s story is part of the new plan, the beginnings of salvation through Jesus. However it is not just in the fact that Mary became the mother of Jesus that she is important for Luke, in his Gospel. Later in his Gospel, a woman cries out from the crowd, “Happy the womb that bore you”, but Jesus replies, “Still happier those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” This description suits Mary perfectly. For Luke, and all the evangelists, she is the perfect disciple.
The Gospels tell us very little about Mary and nothing in regard to the end of her life. The eastern Churches hold the doctrine of the Dormition, which means that she simply fell asleep. The Church of the Dormition in Jerusalem has one of the only depictions in the world of Mary asleep, as though she has come to the end of her life here on earth. We might better understand the teaching of the Church in the following way: when Mary, whom sin had never touched in any way, had come to the end of her life on earth, God took her as a complete human being into his presence in Heaven. So where is heaven? Perhaps we might think about it not so much as a place but rather as a state of being: it means being in the direct presence of God. Whenever we recite the Apostles Creed together, we say that we believe in “the communion of saints”. By this we declare that we are, in some way, united with all those disciples of Jesus before us, down through the ages. First among these disciples is Mary, not because she was the mother of Jesus, but because she listened to God’s Word and lived it out in her life. So, if we want an ideal follower to imitate, then Mary is our example; and in her Assumption, we see the future glory God has in store for those who try their best to live by the teachings of Jesus.
19th Sunday of the Year
Today in the Gospel we find Peter being invited by Jesus to walk on the waters of a stormy lake. Here there was no lengthy preparation, no team of helpers, just Jesus and a crew of frightened disciples. Peter had to put his faith in Jesus. He had heard his wonderful teachings. He had witnessed many miracles of healing. Recently he had witnessed how Jesus had fed more than 5000 people with five loaves and two fish. But now the act of believing was personal. For Peter it was a matter of life and death. So long as he looked at Jesus he would be safe. Once he looked round and saw the stormy waters, his faith weakened and he began to sink. Fortunately, Jesus was there to take him by the hand and bring him to safety, enabling all the disciples to declare their new-found faith, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
In today’s First Reading we hear part of Elijah’s story. He was hiding from his enemies and was disillusioned with his life as a prophet. He was angry with God for putting him in dangerous situations. He wants to see God act with great power, but God reveals himself not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. God is revealed in the whisper of a gentle breeze. Like Elijah we can ask ourselves where God is in the turbulence of our times. We can lose sight of the daily miracles in life all around us. We want God to speak up loud and clear so that everyone can see and believe. But, as with Elijah’s story, God does not speak in extraordinary ways, but in the quiet moments when we listen to him and look beneath the surface of our lives.
We find Jesus, who invites us to step out of the comfort and security of our little boat into the rough waters of everyday life. He invites us to keep our gaze on him, like Peter, to listen to him and not be afraid of all the turmoil in life around us. So today let’s listen to Jesus, who tells us to have courage and not to be afraid, who invites us to come to him through all the storms of life. Let’s keep our eyes fixed on him, and our ears open to his Word. We surely will recognise his presence in the daily miracles of our life: the little acts of love and kindness that we receive and are able to give. As we try to close our ears to the violence all around us, we listen for that still small voice of calm, who assures us of his presence, “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid!”
18th Sunday of the Year
Jesus teaches and heals, but he also feeds those who come to him. The feeding is both metaphorical, in the sense that he feeds his listeners with the Word of God, but he also feeds the crowds that come to him in a real way, providing them with more than enough food for their needs. Why does he do this? It is as though he is looking back and looking forward. He looks back to the way God fed the people in the Old Testament, especially when he gave them manna in the desert. Jesus is taking over the role as the one who provides for his people today. Looking forward, he is anticipating a time when he will no longer be with his followers in the flesh but will continue to feed people. The final act he performs before his arrest is when he eats with his disciples at the Last Supper and leaves them with the instruction to repeat the act of the Eucharist in memory of him. After the Resurrection he eats with his disciples again as they journey to Emmaus – they only recognise him when he breaks bread. Later he feeds his disciples again after they have had a night of fruitless fishing.
As we receive the Eucharist and come back to Church after all these months away, may we remember that the Eucharist itself helps us to comprehend the mystery of Jesus’ presence among us. The actions of the Eucharist go beyond words and lead us through symbols into the divine life of God. It is here, perhaps more than anywhere else, that we acknowledge and recognise his presence. As we think about the feeding of the 5000 in today’s Gospel, let us pray that we may never take the Eucharist for granted. It is here that Jesus us with his Word and with his Body and Blood. It is also here that we became the Body of Christ in our world, called to share his presence with everyone we meet each day and love them in the way Jesus himself taught us to.
17th Sunday of the Year
Since the dawn of time people have been looking for treasure. In by-gone days they searched in the fields, in the hills, under the sea. Today people are still looking for treasure. Except now they look for it in the lottery, the casino, the stock market. If only they could hit the jackpot all their troubles would be over.
All of us are treasure hunters in the sense that we are looking for something that will make us happy. There is nothing wrong with this. If we were all happy all the time, then the artist would not be painting, the writer would not be writing, the musician would not be moved to make music.
Jesus encourages us in our searching as the two stories in today’s Gospel illustrate. Jesus loved people who searched. He had sympathy for those who were looking, even if they were looking in the wrong places for the wrong things. He understood their hunger and thirst and often tried to point them in the right direction. Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a rare pearl or a priceless treasure. In other words, the Kingdom of God is worth everything we have. Those who find it are truly fortunate. Even in the eyes of the world they appear foolish and poor, but in the eyes of God they are wise and rich.
The pearl of great price, in today’s Gospel, which Jesus uses to explain God’s Kingdom, is not some illusion. The parable underlines the unrestrained joy of the one who finds the pearl. When we feel a sense of God’s presence, and a certainty about his love for us, it is the most wonderful feeling. It brings us peace, hope, and joy. To taste the joy of God’s Kingdom involves letting go of everything else, not in the sense that we have to give them up completely. What we have to do is let go of our dependence on them, of the way we make our earthly treasures the be-all and end-all of our lives.
A close relationship with God is our greatest treasure. It gives us a sense of who we are and where we are going. Only God can give us what we are looking for. If we find God, we find all.
16th Sunday of the Year
During the last few weeks and months many of us have become keen gardeners. Many of us try our best even though we don’t know exactly what we are doing. We need experts to help us sometimes, or at least the expert gardeners on the TV. Weeding is perhaps one of the most difficult jobs in gardening. It is very time consuming, it can be back-breaking and, if we don’t quite know what we are doing, we can end up throwing out the good plants with the weeds.
In today’s Gospel Reading we hear the parable of the wheat and the darnel. One interpretation of the parable is that it is about being inclusive and welcoming people from all kinds of backgrounds. Darnel is a weed that closely resembles wheat. The difference is only evident when the plants mature and the ears of the wheat appear. By then it can be too late. When the owner’s servants discover weeds in the wheat field, the question is not only where could they have come from, but also what should be done about them. To their surprise the owner tells them not to weed the field but to allow the wheat and the darnel to grow together. When both are mature at harvest time the sorting will be done. The wheat will be gathered up and stored; the darnel will be burned.
Jesus explains that the parable is about good and evil thriving alongside each other in the world. Many people give up their faith when they see bad things happening in the world. Yet Jesus knew that evil would thrive just as the good in people would thrive too. He warned his disciples about this on many different occasions. He also explains that the power of God’s Kingdom is like the growth potential of a mustard seed, or the transforming qualities of yeast. In sharing today’s parable Jesus asks us to trust our inner energies for doing good. We can all be agents of change for good in our world.
The Gospel reminds us to be patient with the ambiguities of life and the situations and people we may encounter, especially those who are different from ourselves. We can apply this parable to our own Christian lives. We are called to follow Jesus’ patience and tolerance towards others, particular those who are weak and vulnerable at this time. And nurturing wonder and humility towards the whole community of our planet – God’s creation – is appropriate today as Jesus reminds us of the power of seeds and yeast. From fields of wheat swaying in the wind to birds perching on a mustard tree to the smell of baked bread, there is infinite healing and generosity in the gift of nature. Jesus uses another wonderful image from our environment to conclude the Gospel – “the virtuous will shine like the sun in God’s Kingdom.”
15th Sunday of the Year
The Gospel this weekend reminds us of the importance of listening to the Word of God. It is no good just listening to the Gospel unless we respond by living out Jesus’ message. Of course there will be times when we fail – more often than not perhaps – but the Gospel also reminds us of the infinite love of God. It is a love that gave Jesus the strength to go all the way to Calvary and give his life for our salvation. The Gospels are full of stories that remind us of this and present us with people who have found this out for themselves. How often do we listen to the readings at Mass and think, “Oh yes, I know this one,” then switch off and don’t listen properly anymore. Each Gospel story can teach us something new every time we hear it. So Jesus calls us to be like the “rich soil”. In today’s Gospel, he mentions all the different ways in which the Word of God is received – the barren ground, the weeds, the rich soil. Which one of these are we most like? Only we can answer this question for ourselves.
It isn’t just about listening. Jesus calls us to open up our hearts to his message, to the Good News, and live it out in our lives each day. It can be very challenging at times, especially in these most difficult days when we see so few of those we love and very little of the people we share our faith with. Yet God calls us, even in these difficult times, to be the Good News for others. How can we claim that we know God unless we read or listen to his Word? As we begin to open up our churches again, cautiously of course, let us pray that God’s Word will bring us the hope and encouragement we need to persevere and, by living out his Word, let us inspire others to do the same. It is a great blessing to us to have heard the message of Jesus and respond to it in faith. This is not the result of our virtue but of God’s mercy. Yet some people still do not believe. For some people, we are the only Gospel that they will ever hear. We are the only letter from God that they will ever read. Each one of us is called to be a disciple and to share the Good News in our own way. even if we never see the fruit of our labours, we can trust in the fact that, the closer we come to Jesus, the more like him we will become.
14th Sunday of the Year
Through the Gospel stories, many of the so-called wise and powerful people rejected Jesus, but the simple and powerless always seemed to accept him. The intellectuals had little use for him, but the humble and those in need accepted him completely. This is why Jesus said these words, “I bless you Father for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children”. Jesus is not condemning intellectual power, but intellectual pride. It is not cleverness or intelligence that shuts God out, but pride and the feeling that we do not need God. Because we have Jesus, and are able to listen to him in the Gospel Readings and share him – when we can – in the Eucharist, we no longer need to see God as someone who is remote. Jesus shares the notion of God as someone who is close to us, who knows each and every one of us, and is concerned about us because we are all his children. He is the God especially of the weak, the poor and the overburdened. As we continue to live through these difficult and very uncertain days, let us remember that we are all God’s children, and that he loves us and holds us in the palm of his hands.
St Peter and St Paul
In Matthew’s account of the Gospel, Jesus praises Simon and renames him “Peter” – the “rock” on which Jesus will build his Church. Hell’s gates will not prevail against it. Peter will receive the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven and whatever he binds on earth will be bound in Heaven. The Pharisees claimed these attributes for themselves. Jesus once said of them that they held the keys of knowledge but they had locked the gates. Peter is given the keys to open the gates of heaven for all people.
What we know of Paul mainly comes from the Acts of the Apostles. We hear in today’s First Reading how they are threatened for their faith. Paul persecuted the early Christians himself until his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Even then many of the early Christians could not and would not believe he had been converted. After all, they had seen him in charge of the executions of their friends. Yet Paul became one of the greatest ever missionaries in the history of the Church.
As we celebrate the lives of Peter and Paul today, we acknowledge them both as great leaders and great missionaries. They both gave their lives for their faith in Jesus. Both of them were executed in Rome – Peter hanging upside down on a cross and Paul killed by a sword. They were both great saints after being great sinners. Their lives remind us of the great hope we must have in God’s forgiveness. Even though Peter denied Jesus three times after his arrest, Jesus continued to believe in him. Even though Paul was responsible for putting early Christians to death, God still believed in him. When we feel scared or afraid, when we do anything wrong, will God abandon us? Today’s Feast of Peter & Paul has to remind us that he won’t do that. As we see the hope of our churches re-opening, and the lockdown measures being gradually put to one side (for now at least!) let us pray that we may be the Christian communities God is calling us to be by being more like Peter and Paul in the way we live out our faith together.
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
When Jesus sent his disciples out to be his witnesses in the world, he knew that they would be putting their lives in danger. He knew that they were afraid. He understood their fears, and tried to help the disciples through them. He told them not to be afraid of human beings who can kill the body but can do no more. Instead they should fear God, even though his love for them was greater than any earthly love. There is such a thing as a holy fear of God. The Bible says, “Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”, It means the fear of displeasing God, the fear of losing God, the fear of not going to Heaven. But Jesus tells us NOT to base our relationship with God on fear, but on trust and love. He says, “Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Heavenly Father knowing….so do not be afraid. You are worth so much more.”
In these days of isolation, we must remember that Jesus is trying to move us from fear to trust. Fear creates suspicion distance, defensiveness and insecurity. Trust leads to closeness, intimacy, and a feeling of safety. In all his words Jesus encourages his followers to understand the unique and undying love of God the Father, a love that we called to put our faith and trust in at all times. As we continue on our journey of faith, and in these days of unknowing, let us put our faith and hope in the loving Father and know that he is watching over us especially in these uncertain times. In the end only God can allay our deepest fears.
As human beings we cannot live on bread alone. We suffer from many kinds of hunger, especially in these very difficult times. Let us look at the Gospel to see the various kinds of “bread” Jesus offered to people, thus satisfying their many hungers.
• To the people who followed him into the desert, and who were starving, he offered bread and fish.
• To the leper whose body was falling apart, he offered the bread of physical healing.
• To the lonely woman at Jacob’s Well, he offered the bread of human kindness and acceptance.
• To sinners he offered the bread of forgiveness.
• To rejects and outcasts, by mixing with them and sharing their bread he offered the bread of companionship and love.
• To the widow of Nain, who was burying her only son, and to Martha and Mary, who had just buried their brother Lazarus, he offered the bread of compassion and new life.
• To Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector who had turned against his own people, he offered the bread of a better life.
• To the thief who died at his side on Calvary he offered the bread of reconciliation and new life in Heaven.
Jesus can nourish us in so many ways, especially in the Eucharist. God alone can satisfy all the longings and hungers of our hearts, because he alone can give us the Bread of Eternal Life. As we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ this weekend – even though most of us will not be able to receive the Eucharist – we pray that Jesus, the “Bread of Life”, will nourish us and strengthen us and, in these dark and difficult days, draw us closer to himself and to God the Father.
One day a farmer went into the city. As he was walking down a busy road he suddenly stopped and said to a friend who was with him, “I can hear a cricket”. His friend was amazed and asked, “How can you hear a cricket in the midst of all this noise?” “Because my ears are attuned to his sound,” the farmer replied. Then he listened more intently, and following the sound, found the cricket perched on a window ledge. His friend couldn’t get over this. But the farmer showed no surprise. Instead he took a few coins out of his pocket and threw them on the pavement. On hearing the jingle of coins, the passers-by stopped in their tracks. “You see what I mean,” said the farmer. “None of those people could hear the sound of the cricket, but all of them could hear the sound of the money. People hear what their ears are attuned to hear, and are deaf to all the rest.”
It can be the same with God. As we live through these difficult times it can be easy to wonder where God is in all that is happening. As we see people suffering each day many will ask whether there could even be a God. But how about seeing God in the goodness of people at this time? Those who work in hospitals and care homes, those who put the weak, the sick and vulnerable first in all that they do, those who are literally putting their lives at risk for the good of others as we battle this Coronavirus. The Spirit of God – the spirit of love and self-giving – is certainly illustrated in their lives at this time. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I can see how it might be possible for a person to look down on earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how they could look up into the heavens and say that there is no God.”
Whenever we look at a work of art it is impossible not to think of the artist. To look on the created world and not see the Creator is to be blind to the meaning of creation and of ourselves. Yet sadly many look and see nothing. Many listen and hear nothing. Jesus spoke about God as a merciful and forgiving Father. He spoke about himself as the Son of the Father. And he sent the Holy Spirit to us to help us live as his disciples and as the children of God today. So our prayer for Trinity Sunday has to be for those who are struggling in any way at this time, for those who have been saddened by the death of a loved one, and also for us that, amidst all we see in this troubled world, we may continue to know and believe that God holds us in the palm of his hand and that we are caught up in the love that exists between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were virtually living in hiding in the Upper Room. Like many of us today, they were in lockdown due to the fear of being recognised as one of Jesus’ followers. A great task had been entrusted to them – namely to spread the Good News all over the world – yet they still did not have either the strength or the will to begin this special mission. But once they received the Holy Spirit they were changed people. They left their hiding place, and set out courageously to preach the Gospel. In the promising the apostles the Holy Spirit Jesus said to them: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but…to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The key word here is “power”. Before Pentecost they were completely powerless. They were crippled with fear and a sense of inadequacy. They felt totally incapable of carrying out the task of preaching the Gospel and witnessing to Jesus. After all, they had witnessed what happened to Jesus. They needed courage. They needed someone or something to empower them.
Empowerment is a word that is often used these days. We have seen individuals or groups of people who initially felt powerless to change their situation, suddenly become able to do so when someone empowered them. Empowerment means to give or delegate power or authority to someone, or to authorize them. It also means to give someone the ability to carry out a certain task. When people are empowered, they become able and willing to take charge of their situation. They no longer wait for someone else to do it for them. They accept that they, and they alone, have to do something about it.
The Holy Spirit empowered the apostles. He came upon them in the form of wind and fire, both symbols of power. The Spirit filled them with the power of God. We too, especially ion these difficult times, need someone to empower us so that we may know the power of God in our lives and live our faith to the full. We need empowerment to witness to our Christian faith. The power that changed the apostles is available to us today. As we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost this weekend, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will renew us, energise us, and strengthen our spirits in these difficult times so that we may continue on our journey of faith.
7th Sunday of Easter 2020
When Jesus died the disciples were like sheep without a shepherd. Worse still, during the Lord’s Passion, they learnt some disturbing things about themselves. Before then they thought they were brave, strong, and generous. During Jesus’ suffering they came to realise that they were cowardly, weak, and selfish. But Jesus had foreseen all this. He knew very well that they would need strength. This is why he told them to do nothing until they received “power from on high”, that is, the Holy Spirit. Only with the help of the Spirit would they be able to go out and preach the Gospel. The experience of their own weakness during the Passion made them more open and more willing to accept the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
We all have experiences which make us painfully aware of our own weakness. These days that we are living through now make many, if not all of us, feel vulnerable, anxious and afraid. Some days – which can be good or bad – remind us of our powerlessness and vulnerability. This is why it is important that we either become or continue to be people of prayer. At the end of all this, whenever the end comes, the Church might well be very different. Our Mass going and attendance at Church might be very different. The way we celebrate the sacraments might be very different. But if we are people of prayer, with Jesus at the centre, we cannot and will not go far wrong. All the saints knew such experiences in their lives in one way or another. What made them holy, and therefore saints, was their ability and willingness to turn back to God at such difficult and dark moments in their lives.
During the nine days between the Ascension and Pentecost the apostles, with Mary by their side, assembled for prayer in the Upper Room and prepared themselves for the coming of the Holy Spirit. They stayed behind locked doors too. Their preparation for receiving the Holy Spirit was prayer. These nine days are the oldest and perhaps most important novena in the Church. In these difficult days let us makes these days, days of prayer. Jesus prayed for those he left behind to carry on his work. He prays for us too. As we approach the wonderful feast of Pentecost, let us pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit that he may indeed renew the face of the earth.
5th Sunday of Easter 2020
There are times in the lives of all believers when everything feels very dark. We believe in something that we cannot prove and accept a faith in God that we cannot completely understand or make sense of. It’s at times like now, living through this awful pandemic, that we need strong faith, but it's sometimes precisely at such times that our faith can seem to let us down. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we have a strong faith when everything is going well. Yet when a crisis arrives – such as these days that we are going through – we discover what kind of faith we really have. There are many people who wonder where God is in all this. If he really loved us, if he was really there, then why would he let bad times happen to us? Life would indeed be plain sailing if this were the case. Yet it is precisely because we go through the bad times that we have faith. We wouldn’t need it otherwise. Besides which, God is present in the goodness that we do see in our world at the moment.
John’s Gospel tells us that “God is love”. So if there is love in our hearts during these days then that is where God is. During the Last Supper the apostles were thrown into crisis when Jesus started to talk about his Passion and death. On hearing this their hearts were troubled and filled with fear. Knowing that their faith would be severely tested, Jesus tried to prepare them for the ordeal. He said to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. Believe in God and believe also in me.” As we continue through these troubled times let us pray that our faith in the Risen Jesus will be our comfort and our consolation and hope. As Gandhi once said, “A person with a grain of faith in God never loses hope, because they believe in the ultimate triumph of truth.” So when times are bad, may we hear the gentle words of Jesus: “Believe in God and believe also in me.”
4th Sunday of Easter 2020
In the Gospel this weekend Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. He lived a life of love, compassion, forgiveness and tenderness, yet he was someone who could confront those who kept others down or made life so very difficult for them. There was a wonderful program on TV about the Lake District last week. During the program it showed a number of shepherds from different farms trying to guide the sheep down from the moors so that they could have their wool shaved off in time for the hot summer. It was great seeing the shepherds, along with their sheepdogs, working together. It would have been so difficult if they had tried to do the job individually. Of course, there is always one or two sheep who get stuck on the cliff faces and can’t escape on their own. The program showed the shepherds climbing the rocks, tying the sheep safely, and lowering them down. What came across very strongly in this part of the program was the great love the shepherds had for their sheep. What a wonderful picture of the way God loves us. If we go astray, if we get lost, if we feel that life is hard, then it is Jesus the Good Shepherd who calls us to follow him to the safety of his loving heart. He is our way, our truth and our life. Although we sometimes turn away from him, the call is always there for us to turn back to him and follow in his footsteps and live the life he calls us to live.
These difficult times that we are living in certainly remind us that life is a fragile gift. We are learning perhaps more and more that every moment is utterly unique. We should live every moment as though it is a gift from God, which it most certainly is. But every moment is also fleeting. How quickly life’s stream runs down to the sea. Living for each moment certainly gives life its true meaning and should make each moment all the more precious. The Aztec Indians had a special saying: “For we do not enjoy this world everlastingly, only briefly; our life is like the warming of oneself in the sun.”
The Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, wants us to have life. Therefore, let us not be so timid and fearful, but trust in him as our Good Shepherd. Let us live whatever presents itself to us, the good and the bad, for life itself is a gift from God. Mere existence, as we seem to be living at the moment, is not enough. We perhaps cannot find he meaning of life by ourselves, but we are experiencing being alive, and, even better, being alive in God’s love. Jesus began his ministry with the following words, “Believe in the Good News” What is the Good News? R=The Good News is, “I came that you may have life and have it to the full.”
3rd Sunday of Easter 2020
Usually we would all be getting back to normal now after the Easter break – whatever “normal” means! Easter affords us the opportunity to spend a holy time in our churches, to reflect on the meaning of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection, and spend some good quality time with our loved ones. Apart from those who have been self-isolating together, many of us have not been in church – unless you’re a priest – and lots of us have not been able to be with our loved ones at all. We continue to live in these strange and somewhat scary times, wondering when it will all end and when we can get “back to normal”. Usually all our schools and colleges are reopening now too but, once again, as we continue in “lock down”, this cannot be the case. Not yet at least. Hopefully the story of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection will have brought us some comfort and hope. Please God, when we can be together again soon – hopefully very soon – we can celebrate Easter at a later date.
After Jesus’ Resurrection, he appeared to some of his followers on the road to Emmaus. They did NOT recognise him. They did not know about the Resurrection, even though they had heard some rumours, and were on their journey still feeling dismayed at the events of his death. In the Gospel Reading this weekend Jesus reveals himself to them in the Breaking of Bread, giving them strength, courage and hope.
Sometimes things happen in the world or in our lives that puts a stumbling block on our journey. But God is always there, even if we sometimes struggle to recognise him. To all of us we must remember that God’s purpose for each of us is much greatly than any immediate ambitions we may have. What we are going through is a bump in our journey in life that will form a much bigger picture in the future. We may not be able to see that at the moment but everything will work out in time if we remain in God’s loving hands. So, even in isolation, let us continue to love and support each other in whatever way we can in these difficult times ahead. Let us cherish the times we have already shared with each other and look forward to a day when God calls us together again, hopefully very soon. Like Christ Jesus himself we walk with each other on our road to Emmaus.
2nd Sunday of Easter 2020
It seems that after Good Friday Thomas, one of the Twelve, had cut himself off from the other group of disciples and walked alone. He was in very deep grief. People who are grieving can have a tendency to isolate themselves. But in cutting himself from the other disciples, Thomas made life much more difficult for himself. However, when he did meet them, he would have noticed a difference. Their fear was largely gone. They had been blessed with joy and peace. It was clear that someone had breathed new life into them. From the Gospels we know that Thomas wasn’t present when the disciples first saw the Risen Jesus and they claimed that they had seen him. Thomas refused to take their word for it. He wanted to see for himself. He had to be sure. We can surely sympathise with Thomas. He was merely echoing the human cry for certainty. However in our spiritual lives there is no such thing as certainty. If there was faith would not be necessary. Thomas’ needed to see the wounds of Jesus for himself, otherwise he would not believe. Also, by not being there, he felt left out of the community of the disciples and all the other followers at that time.
In these difficult times we can obviously feel very isolated, even those who are currently living with their loved ones. We are living a type of isolation that none of us thought we would ever have to do. Today’s world can be a lonely place. We need support. This is why we need community, a family to share our beliefs and encourage us to keep going, especially when we feel very low, as Thomas did at the beginning of the Gospel this weekend. This is why it is good that we keep in touch with each other as much as possible. Thomas’ mistake – if indeed he made one – was to cut himself off from the rest of the disciples, especially at that time, just after Jesus’ death on the Cross, when he would have needed them most. He only came to believe in the Risen Jesus when he touched his hands and his side. We are all certainly missing human touch at the moment – a handshake with a stranger, perhaps, or a hug or a kiss from a loved one. Thomas’ opportunity to touch Jesus changed his whole life and he went on to become one of the greatest apostles of Jesus, not the “doubting” Thomas we think of in the Gospel this weekend.
As we continue our journey through these very difficult times, let us continue to pray, hope and believe that we are in God’s hands. Perhaps these days will remind us of how important it is to belong to a Parish Community or any family or group for that matter. We are called to live as members of a community of believers whose common faith strengthens the faith of each individual. Our faith is certainly being tested at the moment. That’s why we have to support each other and love each other in whatever way we can. The Gospels, and especially the readings from the Acts of the Apostles, remind us of the kind of community the first Christians had. It wasn’t always easy for them, especially when they had to face persecution. Our ministry to one another doesn’t just consist of just doing things for others, it means travelling on the same journey of faith, it means listening to each other and learning from one another. Let us learn from Thomas’ story this weekend and open up our hearts to the Risen Jesus. May his love for us keep us strong in faith and loving towards each other.
Easter Sunday Gospel Reflection.
As we face such difficult times, the Gospel reminds us that we can face anything, endure anything, but only if we have hope. Easter reminds us that there is hope of new life. We can face the difficulties of a long and miserable winter because we know that spring will come again. Hope is as necessary for the spirit as food is for the body. It is amazing what the human spirit can endure and overcome provided it is nourished by the bread of hope. Easter can inject us with an enormous amount of hope. And how much it is needed in these uncertain days. There is a lot of tragedy in life. Good things are destroyed at times. Great people are lost to hatred – Thomas More, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero…and of course, Jesus. He too was cut down. But he rose again.
The world didn’t take too much notice of the Resurrection of Jesus. The reason for this lies in the fact that it was a humble, hidden event. After his Resurrection, Jesus did not appear in triumph at the Temple in Jerusalem, humiliating those who humiliated him. Only those whom he called by name, with whom he broke bread and to whom he spoke words of peace, were aware of what happened. And even they had difficulty believing. Like us, they were slow to believe. Yet, it was this hidden event that freed humanity from the chains of death.
Jesus rose from the dead as a sign to those who loved him and followed him that God’s love is stronger than death. The Resurrection of Jesus must not be separated from the resurrection of humanity saved by him. By entering fully into human life, and by experiencing the bitterness of death, Jesus became a brother and a Saviour to all people. The death of Jesus was part of God’s plan. Jesus is the pioneer and leader of our salvation: pointing the way and leading the way along the road of obedience and suffering.
At Easter we still feel the pain of the world, especially in these difficult, strange times. But the Resurrection must surely bring with it the hope that we are in the hands of God. It doesn’t remove the pain and suffering and anxiety that we are going through, but it can give them new meaning. It lights us up with hope. All is different because Jesus is alive and speaks his words of peace to us as he did so with the disciples 2000 years ago. So as we celebrate this Easter in such a very hidden way – much like the disciples on the first Easter Sunday – let us pray that the meaning of Easter will have even greater significance for us this year as we celebrate the fact that God loves us so much that he gave us his only Son Jesus to be our Saviour and our friend.