26th Sunday in  Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

The messages in the first reading from the book of Numbers and Mark’s Gospel, are the same: Just because someone isn’t part of the ‘inner circle’ doesn’t mean that they cannot do the work of God.

          In the first reading, we hear of a young man complaining to Moses about Eldad and Medad prophesying, even though they weren’t enrolled among the seventy elders that Moses had appointed. Joshua, the son of Nun, then told Moses to stop them. Moses replied, “If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his spirit to them all!”

          Similarly, in Mark’s Gospel, John says to Jesus, “Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.” Jesus tells John, “You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.”

          This tells us that Moses and Jesus both held the same view, that if anyone is working in the name of God, for the good of others, they should be encouraged, not deterred from their mission. They should be seen as allies, not competition.

          Are we at times, just as misguided as John? Do we see others, who may not hold exactly the same beliefs as ourselves as a threat? Or as competition?  The Anglican church is not our competitor. They may not do the same things that we do. Their doctrines may not be the same as ours, but if they are casting out the demons of hate, spreading the love of God, helping people in any way, then let us be grateful for them. Neither are we in competition with with the Salvation Army. They are feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. We should be grateful for the work they do because who is not against us is for us.

          The church exists to share the love of God with the whole world. That is a massive  job which will never be completed. Those who are doing this type of work are our friends, not our competitors.  We need more people who will encourage others instead of discouraging them. God put us on this earth not to compete against each other but to work together. If we are all aiming for the same goals, then we are not in competition, we are on the same team.

          Inter-faith trust and co-operation can only be a force for good in this world. I’m sure that kind of spirit of co-operation would receive Jesus’ blessing. Distrust and animosity between those of differing beliefs can only lead to harm, hurt and quite often violence. This leaves the door wide open to the evil one to do his worst and spread disharmony among peoples.

          Let’s work together on the same team then, whatever our differences, by doing God’s work for the good of all humanity.


25th Sunday in  Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

Most of you will be aware of who Mohammed Ali, formerly known as Cassius Clay, was. He was, in the minds of a lot of people, the greatest ever boxer. In fact, he spent most of the 1960’s and 1970’s telling the world that he was ‘The Greatest’. Some may have seen it as conceit and arrogance, but I think it may just have been his form of self publicity. Today we would call it ‘hype’ or ‘spin’ to ‘talk up’ the next boxing match and sell more tickets.

          I recently came across the word ‘GOAT’ an abbreviation for the Greatest Of All Time. It is currently being used in the debate about which footballer, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, is the best ever player in the world.

          It doesn’t surprise me, that for boxing fans and football fans, these claims and debates will always go on, even if to most people they sound very trivial indeed.

          What does surprise me though, is that the disciples were arguing amongst themselves who was the greatest. I just wouldn’t have expected the disciples to be having such a conversation, let alone an argument, about who was the greatest among them. What isn’t so surprising though, is the fact that, when asked by Jesus “What were you arguing about on the road?” they said nothing. Perhaps they knew what Jesus’s reaction would be. He told them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.” They should have known just what Jesus’s feelings on the subject would be. After all, He was always telling them, and showing them by his actions, His message  was one of serving others and putting others first.

          Again, this makes me think of Mohammed Ali. Here was a man who, in his public life had been full of bravado, but in his private life, he led a humble life putting others first. He used his fame and wealth to help his Muslim and Black community. A very religious man, not a Christian, but a devout Muslim, who demonstrated that the Islamic faith shares the true meaning and values of our own Christian faith.

          The disciples were Jews, following the examples and teachings of a Jew, Jesus, which in turn led to the birth of Christianity. Perhaps we would do well to remember that the three main faiths, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, all worship the one God, and it is He, that One True God, who is the only one who can lay claim to being called ‘The Greatest’.   


24th Sunday in  Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

I love this Gospel, it’s one of my favourites. I feel it’s so rich in it’s teaching, there are so many ways we can look at it. At first glance, it seems to be all about identity. Jesus poses two questions to His disciples; ‘Who do people say I am?’ and ‘But you, who do you say I am?’ Two simple questions with only one correct answer. The answer of Jesus’ true identity.  Perhaps, in a way, Jesus was testing His followers to see if they truly understood who He was and what His mission here on earth was all about. The only one to give the correct answer was of course Peter, who shortly afterwards was rebuked by Jesus for not understanding or accepting what Jesus said about His destiny.

          Poor Peter, he’s the one who always seems to get it in the neck from Jesus. The two most commonly known occasions were at the last supper, when Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times; and the occasion when the disciples were in the boat during a storm and Peter tried to walk on the water towards Jesus but failed.

          Perhaps these three stories about Peter should be viewed as Jesus testing his level of trust and faith in Him, although I’m sure that Peter didn’t see that at the time.

          When Jesus rebukes Peter, He says to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think  is not God’s way but man’s.’ I’ve often wondered whether Jesus was actually calling Peter, Satan, or recognising that Satan was working through Peter at that point. That must have been devastating for Peter to hear. You can just imagine Peter going home that evening, all wound up, and saying to his wife, (whose name we don’t know, but we know he had a wife, because elsewhere in the Gospels, we hear of Jesus curing Peter’s mother in law); ‘What a day Ive had, do you know what he said to me today?’ At some later point, Peter would fully understand why Jesus said what He did. At least Peter earned some ‘brownie’ points by being the only one who got the answer to the question right. He wouldn’t know it at the time, but Jesus did have trust and faith in him because He knew that he was going to trust him to build the church here on earth, to be ‘The Rock.’

          This issue of trust and faith comes through clearly in today’s first reading also. The clear message in the reading from the Prophet Isaiah is that, if we accept Jesus as our saviour, our protector, and have faith and trust in Him, we won’t go far wrong in life. Isaiah says, ‘The Lord is coming to my help, who dare condemn me?’ That’s quite a claim, quite a statement from the Prophet. A claim and a statement that would be fulfilled by Jesus.

          There may be times when we feel that our trust and faith in Jesus is being sorely tested, perhaps at those times we should think about who may be testing us and trying shake our faith. That’s when we should say, ‘Get behind me, Satan!’


23rd Sunday in  Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

‘Turning a deaf ear’ and ‘Tongue Tied’ are two well known and often used sayings. They  refer to someone who is ‘listening’ to what is being said, but chooses not to hear, to ignore what they are being told, and to someone who has a speech impediment, has difficulty in speaking. In light of today’s Gospel, two very flippant sayings you might think. We are told how Jesus cures a deaf and dumb man of his impediment. He gives him back the gift of speech and hearing. We can only imagine how grateful the man was and how it would have changed his quality of life. It is noticeable that Jesus took the man aside in private, away from the crowd, and afterwards, ordered them to tell no one about it. This was typical of the way Jesus went about his ministry, in a humble way, trying hard not to attract too much attention to his deeds.

          However, as often happened, the crowds went against his wishes and wanted to tell everyone what had just happened. When you think about it, there is an obvious link between what Jesus did for this man and the whole point of his ministry here on earth. It is all about ‘hearing’ the Word of God, and ‘spreading’ the Word of God by word of mouth. I am sure that after being cured, the man will have listened to Jesus’s message intently and would have been eager to repeat it to whoever would listen to him now. There will have been countless others around Jesus at the time who, although perfectly capable of hearing and speaking, were not ‘listening’ to his message. In effect, ‘turning a deaf ear’.

          Our senses are precious gifts from God and we should value them, just as the man whom Jesus cured surely did. We have the perfect opportunity to prove how much we value these particular gifts each time we attend mass. We can make the best use of our sense of  hearing by truly listening to the Word of God proclaimed during the mass. We can make the best use of our sense of speech, by spreading the Word of God once we leave church. We don’t have to stand on a street corner with a megaphone quoting the Bible, chapter and verse to all who pass by. We’re all called to be Evangelists in our own ways. For some, it may be by preaching the Word of God in what we say, and for others, in may be by what we do. We can all spread the Word of God by our actions as well as our words. 

          Jesus taught us all how to live our lives, and we can do this by living out His teachings we find in the Gospels. He never refused to help anyone in need, should we? He always tried to see the best in people, shouldn’t we?

          Over the last few weeks, our TV screens and news programmes have been dominated by the humanitarian airlift, carried out to evacuate people from Afghanistan. Once they have reached the country of their destination, they are going to need all the help they can get in re-settling in a foreign land. Help with housing, education, health care, transport, food and clothing...the list goes on.

          One way we can live out the Gospel is by listening to, and acting upon, the Word of God. We can do this by helping, in whatever way we can, those in need who come to settle in our area. In so much as we do this for the least of His people, we do this for Him.

 

          So let’s not ‘Turn a deaf ear’ when asked for help, or get ‘Tongued tied’ when responding to the call.        


22nd Sunday in  Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

In the Gospel of Mark today, we hear how the Pharisees and the Scribes challenge Jesus over the fact that the disciples did not wash their hands before eating food. Jesus’s reaction is to rebuke them and call them hypocrites for being more concerned about following man made regulations than following God’s laws. You may think that this reaction is surprising, given that Jesus was educated by them and felt close to them. Their one fault was to think that they could rely on their holiness in approaching God, that their merits had won them a place in heaven. Perhaps Jesus was so firmly opposed to them because he was disappointed to see them pervert their holiness in this way. The Gospel goes on to tells us that Jesus called his people to him and said “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that goes into a man from outside can make him unclean; it is the things that come out of a man that make him unclean. For it is from within, from men’s hearts, that evil intentions emerge:”

 

          In today’s world, if we take the Pharisees point literally, regarding the washing of hands before eating food, we would call it good personal hygiene. Parents are always teaching their children from a young age, the importance of washing their hands before touching or eating food. Indeed, haven’t we all been more rigorous about hand washing for well over a year now due to Covid-19? However, this has been done to help combat the spread of this deadly disease, and nothing to do with being ‘clean’ in the sight of God.

          The type of ‘cleanliness’ before God is precisely what Jesus was meaning when he 

he rebuked the Pharisees. He was talking about the ‘cleanliness’ of the heart. Now I don’t think that Jesus believed that anyone was actually born evil. It was that he was warning us to guard against evil entering our hearts through outside influences. It is not about what is on the outside, it is about what is on the inside, that’s what counts.

          The same standards still apply today. It’s not about the presentation, it’s all about the content. We shouldn’t judge someone by their appearance, it is their character that matters. What type of person they are, what is in their heart, are they good or evil? That is what matters most. There have been many evil men throughout history, but were any of them born evil? Or did some outside influence make them that way? To the Pharisees, cleanliness on the outside was extremely important to them, to Jesus, inner cleanliness was more important. Just as personal hygiene is important to prevent germs from destroying our bodies, inner cleanliness is important to prevent evil from destroying our souls.

          The Jewish leaders, the Scribes and the Pharisees, were fixated on the ‘mechanics’ of religion. The rules and regulations of the law that had to observed, which isn’t too surprising. The Scribes studied the law and taught it, whilst the full job of the Pharisees was to impose it. Jesus came to change that. He came to bring God’s people across a bridge, from a ‘love of law’ to a ‘law of love’.  

          Having said all of that, given the times we are living in, when you see a sign which says, ‘Now wash your hands’...please observe it. Knowing that by doing so, you are not only protecting yourself, you are helping to protect others, will give you clean hands and a clean heart.

 


21st Sunday in  Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

The Gospels of John, which we have heard over the past few weeks, have been leading up to this point in today’s Gospel. Jesus’ disciples have a choice to make. They had to either accept or reject Him. He spoke a message which they could take or leave, although I’m pretty sure He didn’t actually say to them, ‘It’s My way or the highway’; but He clearly wasn’t going to compromise truth for the sake of popularity. Many of them left, while others decided to stay with Him. He then turns to the Twelve and says “What about you, do you want to go away too?” to which Simon Peter answered “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.” So it was all about choices and belief. Whether they chose to believe in Jesus, or whether they chose to follow a different path. I think this is true for all of us for the biggest part of our lives. We have choices and decisions to make.

I say the biggest part of our lives, simply because during the early years of our childhoods it is our parents who make the decisions and choices for us that will have an impact on our beliefs and the paths we choose later in life. It is our parents who will choose to have us baptised. When the time comes for us to make our First Holy Communion, it will be done for us through our parents and teachers. The same is probably true when we are confirmed, although by that time we are in a position to be better informed and have a greater level of understanding of our faith. Whilst throughout our childhood and schooling, our parents and teachers help us to form our beliefs and grow in our faith, it is really only in adulthood that we start to make our own decisions and choices. It is then our choice as to whether we believe in the teachings of Jesus, whether, we attend church regularly, whether we follow Jesus’s path in our lives. By this time in our lives, we have maturity of years, the influence of others and experiences of life to draw upon when making our choices.

The followers of Jesus who chose to walk away, had listened to His teachings and made their own decisions. Does that mean that Jesus was not getting his message across to them? Possibly, or were they just making a mistake by making the wrong choice? It is of course very easy for us to say they were wrong, but haven’t we all made wrong decisions in the past and lived to regret them? I know I certainly have!

There have been many times in my life when I have made the wrong choices, taken the wrong decisions, even when I have weighed up the possible consequences. Sometimes that has cost me dearly, in many different ways, and I have to live with that. I wonder how those who chose to walk away from Jesus felt when they realised that they had made a wrong decision?  Perhaps they came to regret it later in life, Who knows?

Let’s think about what we do when we have difficult choices to make, difficult decisions to take. We turn to God and pray for help and guidance. Ask yourself why you do that, and surely the answer is contained in the response Peter gave to Jesus, “Lord, who shall we go to?”  

 

Jesus is our Messiah, our Saviour, our Lord; but He is also our ‘Go to’ one, in times when we are struggling with important choices and decisions in all aspects of our lives. But, we don’t have to wait for those times, at any time, we can just ‘Go to’ Him.       


Solemnity of The Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of The Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary, and today’s Gospel tells us the story of Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth and the greetings they exchanged. The Gospel also tells us what Mary said to Elizabeth. We know this as the Canticle of Mary, The Magnificat. This Gospel is rich in its teaching of; family love, hope, compassion and humility.

          It can sometimes be said of someone that they’re ‘always on about something’ or that they ‘never let something go!’ Has it ever occurred to you that Mary was like that? She was always on about hope. In the Gospels, we don’t actually hear a lot about what she said, but her words were always hopeful. In the middle of her visit to Elizabeth, she recited the Magnificat, a  song of hope and praise; this is the Gospel read mostly on her feast days. She remained in silent hope at the foot of the cross, and was a central person to the Apostles after the resurrection of Jesus.

          This message of hope is the meaning of today’s feast. A message of hope that reaches beyond this life to the next. Nothing can take away the hope she shares, for she will share it for eternity. Indeed, aren’t we asking her to share that message of hope with us when we die? At the end of the Hail Mary, we say, ‘Pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death, Amen.’

          We know that many Popes throughout history have had a great devotion to Mary. Probably the most notable, in our lifetime, was Saint Pope John Paul II. Pope Francis also has that devotion to her. On this feast day he prays: ‘May we not be robbed of hope, because this strength is a grace, a gift from God which carries us forward with our eyes fixed on heaven. And Mary is always there, near those communities, our brothers and sisters, she accompanies them, suffers with them, and sings the Magnificat of hope with them.’ That’s beautiful isn’t it.         

          Many of us, I’m sure, feel some sort of affinity with Mary in some shape or form. For me, it’s many things. My mother’s name was Mary. As a child I was taken to St. Mary’s church in Glasgow, indeed it was my first school and I made my first confession and my first Holy Communion there. My favourite football team, Glasgow Celtic was formed at St. Mary’s by  Brother Walfrid, a Marist Brother, in the upper room at the church, to raise funds to help the poor starving Irish immigrants in the east end of Glasgow. This gave those poor people hope. The same hope that Mary gives us today.

          So, when we think of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us offer up our prayers of hope to her and say: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord, always and everywhere. Amen.’    


19th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

 

There is a stark contrast between the Gospel of today and that of a couple of weeks ago, when we heard about the feeding of the five thousand. In that Gospel, the people were that impressed with Jesus that they said, ‘This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.’ In today’s Gospel, the Jews were suspicious of Jesus and complaining about Him when he said ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ I love the fact that Jesus’ reply starts with the words, ‘Stop complaining to each other.’

         What was it that the Jews who were there didn’t like? Was it because he wasn’t actually feeding them with physical bread, but only telling them about the bread from heaven? Who knows.

         As we have already seen in the Gospels of the last few weeks, and indeed we will see in the Gospels of the coming few weeks, the message of the bread from heaven, is paramount to us fully understanding Jesus’ mission here on earth. Yes of course, it’s important for us to be nourished physically, but it’s vital that we are nourished spiritually, with the bread of heaven, in the form of the Eucharist. This is fundamental in nourishing and nurturing our relationship with Jesus. To be healthy in body and soul, we do of course need both forms of bread.

         We all enjoy a nice tasty meal and probably don’t associate the word ‘taste’ with the bread from heaven. However, if you consider the word ‘taste’ in a different context you can then understand the response to today’s Psalm, ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good.’ This also helps us to understand today’s Gospel acclamation, ‘I am the living bread which has come down from heaven, says the Lord. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever.’

         Sharing a meal with family is one of life’s pleasures, breaking the bread of heaven with our family is much more than that.

         I experienced that last week whilst in Glasgow to attend my uncle’s funeral. I had been looking forward to having a ‘catch up’ with all my cousins at the ‘reception’ after the funeral. However, because of Covid restrictions still in place in Scotland, and serious concerns for everyone’s well being by my auntie, there was no ‘reception’ held. Selena and I did have lunch with my brother and sister and brother-in-law. It was nice to share a ‘family’ meal with them, but what I found most rewarding was sharing a meal at the Lord’s table with my auntie and all my cousins. I felt that we all shared something special together, during what was of course, a sad occasion. I may not have been able to share tea and sandwiches with them all, but what we did share together, as a ‘family’ was much more rewarding.

         So let us share the Eucharist, the bread of heaven, together as ‘family’ at each celebration of Holy Mass.         

            

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

Well, of course there are many similarities in today’s Gospel and that of last week, and indeed there will be over the next couple of weeks also. Jesus is feeding people with bread. This time though, it’s not the physical type of bread, as in the five barley loaves we heard about last week, but it is the bread of life. The message that He is trying to get across to the people is that if they believe in Him, they will never go hungry or thirsty ever again. I’m not sure how many understood what he was saying. He had just satisfied their physical hunger with the five barley loaves and two fish, and was trying to tell them that there is more to life than just satisfying a physical need. We all have our spiritual needs as well.

          This is summed up in the prayer that Jesus Himself taught his disciples. The Our Father. When we say this prayer, we ask the Lord to, ‘Give us this day, our daily bread.’ Now of course, there are many parts of the world where those who say that line, are literally asking for ‘bread’ as they don’t have enough to eat. When we say that line, we are asking for the ‘bread from heaven.’ We are asking to be nourished by the Lord in a spiritual way, and yes, that can also be in a physical way, in the form of receiving the Eucharist.

          When we receive the Eucharist, we are of course receiving the body of Christ. Maybe we should see this as a ‘win, win’ situation. We are receiving Christ in the form of bread, transformed into His body, and therefore receiving him spiritually.

          During this last year or so, for much of the time, we have only been able to receive ‘Spiritual Communion’ when live streaming mass, and yes, it has been different, but we have still been nourished spiritually by Him in this way. With the easing of some of the restrictions in church, as of this week, we will be able to receive Holy Communion at the ‘normal’ place, in front of the altar, and at the ‘normal’ point within the mass.

          Whilst the changes we have had to endure have been difficult at times, we have at least still been able to attend mass and receive the Body of Christ, which has been very important to all of us. This has enabled us to maintain a constant physical and spiritual connection with Christ, which can only be a good thing for our minds, bodies, and souls.  

          By receiving Holy Communion regularly, we remain in Christ, and He remains in us. This is the essence of the message that Jesus was giving to the crowd when He said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never be hungry; he who believes in me will never thirst.” 

          Let us all then, be satisfied, nurtured, and nourished, by the Body of Christ.          


17th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

The first reading today, from the Old Testament, from the second book of Kings, is a little story from Elisha that is not widely known. However, it is quite important in relation to the New Testament reading of today from the Gospel of John. It provides a kind of ‘prototype’ of the miraculous ‘feeding’ stories in the Gospels. The pattern of the story is largely the same:

The food is brought to the man of God / The quantity of food is specified / The objection is raised that the quantity is inadequate / Behaving as master of the situation, the man of God ignores the objection and commands that the food be distributed / The crowd not only have enough to eat, but there is some left over. Let us then also consider the middle part of today’s Psalm:

                            The eyes of all creatures look to you

                            and you give them their food in due time.

                            You open wide your hand,

                            grant the desires of all who live.

          Having considered all of that, it is plain to see that this is not necessarily all about the food we eat and satisfying a physical hunger. It is of course about the physical side of things, and even today, more than two thousand years on, we still need to address those issues in our world. We can look at the work that is done on an international and global scale by the work of major charities such as, CAFOD, SCIAF, ACN, Mary’s Meals, The International Red Cross, just to name a few. More locally of course, we all support the Warrington Foodbank, and at Christmas time, WODAC. All of these charities and agencies do tremendous work in providing, not only food, but other essential basic needs to those in need. Long may their vital work continue, and long may we all do our bit to support them. Remember also the work of some very high profile celebrities and sports stars, who use their profiles and influence to help feed the hungry.

          The other message we should take from these readings today, is the hunger within us to receive the spiritual food we all need to be nourished by. We receive that each time we gather together at the Lord’s table at mass to be nourished by the word of God, and receive the ‘Manna from Heaven’ in the form of the Eucharist.

          Jesus didn’t just ‘feed the five thousand’ with loaves and fishes, He fed them spiritually with His teachings, by His words and His actions.

          To be invited out for a meal by some friends is a lovely experience, especially if you enjoy the company and the food. Isn’t that what our ‘greatest’ friend does each week by inviting us to attend mass? Go on, make a reservation to get around the table of the Lord, there’s always plenty of room for all, and be nourished by Him. 


16th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

‘The Lord’s my shepherd’. Those four words could be used to sum up our faith. Those four words are a statement, a psalm, a hymn. You could say they tell us all we need to know about our relationship with God. The Lord is the shepherd and we are all His flock. We all know that a sheep farmer, a shepherd looks after his flock, he cares for them and keeps them safe. He finds the lost ones and brings them back into the fold.

Given that a lot of people in Jesus’ time worked on the land, it’s not surprising that stories about Jesus, and indeed a lot of the parables that Jesus used, were related to shepherds and flocks of sheep.

We all know that the life of a shepherd is a hard one, very demanding and times, I’m sure, very stressful. 

Jesus’ life, and that of the Apostles, was I’m sure, very stressful too. That’s clear in today’s Gospel from Mark. When I look at today’s Gospel, I can’t help thinking that nowadays we would describe the Apostles in their situation as being ‘stressed out’. Jesus recognised that the constant demands on them, not even having time to eat, was taking its toll on them and he said “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while”.   He could see that they needed to get away and have some time for themselves to rest and recuperate. Today, we would call this having some ‘quality time’ or ‘some R&R’ or ‘chilling out’.

          Not, of course, phrases that spring to mind when reading the Gospel. But nonetheless, still applicable given the life the Apostles led, the difficulties they encountered, the opposition and at times hostility they were met with. Spreading the Word of God was certainly a very difficult, and at times, thankless task.

          I am sure a lot of mothers struggling to bring up small children see their lives as full of difficulties and thankless tasks at times, and see themselves as almost permanently ‘stressed out’. How many of them would love for someone to suggest to them to get away to some lonely place all by themselves and rest for a while.

          That word, ‘stress’ can also be used to emphasise, to make a point. I think that is what Jesus was doing in the latter part of this Gospel. He took pity on the crowds that had gathered, when he took the time to teach them at length. He was emphasising that, they too, had their needs and that they were important to him. Important enough to spend time with them and not dismiss them. He was proving to be a Good Shepherd to both His disciples and to the people gathered to be taught by Him, 

                   Now, it could be said that there are many Good Shepherds in our lives. Our parents, our teachers, perhaps even our bosses, (although I must admit I don’t think I ever had a boss I could describe that way). However, the Good Shepherds I would ask you to think about are our priests. As we start to emerge from the many restrictions we have been living with, lets’ think about our priests. I think they have all done a remarkable job, in very difficult circumstances, to maintain the level of pastoral care they have shown to their ‘flocks’...us.

          So when we think of Good Shepherds, let’s give a thought, and say a prayer, for Father Gildea and all of our priests.                              


15th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

Today’s Gospel from Mark has a twofold message: Dealing with rejection and Evangelisation. Following on from last weeks Gospel, when we heard of Jesus being rejected by the people in the synagogue; in Mark’s Gospel today, we see Jesus sending out the ‘Twelve’ apostles on a mission of evangelisation. He is also preparing them for the possibility of rejection. He says to them, “And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.”

So the first reading and the Gospel lay out for us that mission of the church, evangelisation.

          Mark shows us the twelve being summoned and sent out to preach repentance. That, too, is what Amos was sent out to do. You could say that Jesus’ message to them was one of  ‘Pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and start all over again.’ The journey of faith is a long, complicated journey.

          What appears as rejection at one point in time may become acceptance at a later time. All we can hope for is an openness of heart, to be able to plant the seed, and let the Lord be the one who determines if it flourishes or not. Look at me as an example. For many years, my mind and heart were closed off to God, but, the seed inside me took root and flourished.

          He instructed them to travel plainly and simply, “no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses.”  The message he wanted them to spread was a plain and simple one also. The Word of God. Now they had already witnessed Jesus’s rejection and were probably prepared to encounter rejection themselves, but this did not stop them from going out to spread the Word. I would have thought they probably shook off a fair amount of dust from their sandals on their travels, but they didn’t give up. They saw their mission through and got the message across. True evangelists, true missionaries.

          We can of course, all be evangelists. We don’t need to feel that we are not qualified or that it is only the domain of priests or nuns. It need not be a case of being afraid to share our faith with others because we don’t know how to do it. Our race, creed, status or age should not be seen as barriers to being an active evangelist. We can spread the Word where we live and work.  We all have those personal gifts that mean we don’t have to stand back and let others do the ‘evangelising thing’. This doesn’t mean we all have to turn into what some may call ‘raving Bible thumpers’, and yes, we may have to be prepared to ‘shake some dust from our sandals’ from time to time, but there are many forms of rejection we face in our lives from which we recover.

          Indeed, evangelisation came out as one of the top three suggestions voted for at our recent synod. In the coming months and years, as we unpick the detail of our synod, we may all be called to be evangelists in different ways. If we are, we should be prepared to dust off our sandals and get our feet, as well as our hands, dirty for the good of the church.


14th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

“He was amazed at their lack of faith.” This is the last sentence in today’s Gospel, and I feel a very thought provoking few words. They have certainly concentrated my thoughts this week. It is difficult for us to imagine how Jesus must have felt when he was not taken seriously by the people in the synagogue. I wondered if his amazement was also tinged with thoughts of disappointment and failure. Amazement: at the reaction of those he was preaching to. Disappointment: at having his ‘credentials’ questioned by people who knew him. Failure: that he could not get his message across in his home town.

          The same was probably true of Ezekiel. There is an obvious link between the first reading from the prophet Ezekiel and the Gospel of St. Mark, and that is, rejection. I think that the link is plain to see, and we can all identify with it, as we have all experienced rejection, in one form or another, in our own lives.

          Ezekiel accepted the word of God and the mission he was given by Him. Not just to go and sort out the rabble, but to go on and become one of the greatest of the prophets. How he dealt with rejection played a big part in that. Rejection, for Ezekiel and for Jesus, was but a mere stumbling block, an obstacle to be overcome, on the road to acceptance. For the few who rejected them, many more accepted them.

          The lesson Jesus teaches us from this experience is to make the most of the disappointments that life sends our way. Jesus did just that. The scripture tells us that “he could work no miracle there, though he cured a few sick people by laying his hands on them.” This shows us that Jesus was able to turn what was a disappointing experience for him, into one in which he did a lot of good for others. The people who he cured, benefited in a way in which they may not have done, had Jesus received a different reception in the synagogue. So, we can see that Jesus is proof that some good can come out of a bad situation. As scripture tells us: ‘He was the cornerstone, rejected by the builders.’

          It’s easy for us to think we know people based on the facts that we know about them, but the bare facts about someone are never the whole story of a person. That much is perfectly clear in Mark’s Gospel. Was Jesus a carpenter? Yes he was. Was He the son of Mary? Yes he was. But, He was more than just a carpenter, more than just the Son of Mary. We know all of this, as did His disciples. If the people in the synagogue had only listened properly to Him, they too would have known this, and perhaps treated him better than they did.

            Perhaps we too, are too quick to judge someone without knowing the full story, and I hold my hands up to that fault at times. So, if we can learn anything from this Gospel, let it be that we don’t rush to judgement like those in the synagogue, let us not be the builders that rejected the cornerstone.            


13th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

This week’s Gospel story from Mark continues with the same theme as last week’s. It’s all about faith. Last week, we heard of Jesus questioning his disciples lack of faith when their boat was rocked by the storm. This week we hear of Jesus rewarding one of the synagogue’s officials, Jairus, for his faith in Him.

          Jairus was a leader in the synagogue and his daughter was close to death. He acknowledges Jesus’ power over death by falling at His feet and begging Him, repeatedly, to come and heal his child. Jairus had the faith that Jesus could heal his daughter and says to Him: “My little daughter is desperately sick. Do come and lay your hands on her to make her better and save her life.” Jesus responds to his appeals and follows him.

          Now, being a leader in the synagogue, and knowing that Jesus’s teachings were sometimes at odds with the synagogue leaders, it must have taken some courage for Jairus to approach Jesus in this manner. Yes he was desperate, and in fear of losing his daughter, but it showed a huge amount of faith in Jesus to heal her. He couldn’t have known for sure what type of response he would get from Jesus, let alone help. This didn’t deter him though. I suppose you could argue that, in his position, he was willing to do anything at any cost.

I think what happened once they arrived at Jairus’s house is very interesting, and is the key message from this story. 

When some were telling him that his daughter was already dead, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; only have faith.” Isn’t this basically the same message he gave to his disciples in last week’s Gospel story of the calming of the storm?      

    One of the Gospel passages that families often choose at funerals is John 14:1-6. The opening line is: Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me.” The same message as is contained in this week’s and last week’s Gospel stories.

          Isn’t that the key message that He was always trying to get across in all that He said and did? Isn’t that what we all should do? Put our trust and our faith in God?

 

          Whenever we find ourselves in a difficult situation, and we ask for God’s help, we should remember this message. Trust in God. Have faith in Him. Trust Him to help us, to respond to our appeals. If we do this, with the same amount of faith that Jairus showed, we will not be left unaided.  



12th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

“Why are you so frightened?” This is the question that Jesus asked his disciples after He had calmed the storm. The fear that they felt was natural, wouldn’t we all have felt the same if we had been in their position? I know I would. A certain amount of fear can be a good thing, but sometimes fear can play too big a part in our lives. Love casts out fear, and God’s love endures forever. Fear may be due to a lack of faith that God really cares for us. Christ may seem to be asleep, but he is with us always, and has the power to calm even the stormiest troubles of our lives.

          From time to time, we all have troubles in our lives. Times when we are ‘going through a rough patch’ ‘a stormy time in our lives’. This may be as a result of financial problems, health worries, unemployment difficulties, relationship issues, family bereavement, or any other of the challenges that life has for us. We may all deal with these difficult and worrying times in different ways, some of us coping better than others. When things look really bleak for us, we quite often turn to God. Why? Well, because our faith tells us we can put our trust  in him to help us through, to calm the ‘stormy waters’ in our life at that time. Unlike the ‘calming of the storm’ when Jesus’ actions had an immediate result, there may not always be an instant answer or calming for us. However, we should know that God will always listen to us and guide us the best way he can.

          We may all feel that we have been going through stormy times throughout this pandemic, and we have. So has the church, but we put our trust in God that he will see us through these challenging times.

          With that thought in mind, let us put our trust in the Lord that, through the workings of the Holy Spirit, he will help our Archdiocese this weekend of the Synod. It may feel, especially to all those involved, that Synod 2020 has been going in forever. We have all been praying the Synod Prayer, part of which is: ‘May your Holy Spirit be powerfully at work among us.’ Our faith helps us to believe that this will be the case. It is our faith that has helped us throughout this long Synod process, our faith will see us through. Isn’t that what Jesus was in effect saying to His disciples in the boat when He asked them why they were frightened? Wasn’t He trying to demonstrate to them that they should have enough faith in Him to protect them and keep them safe?              

 

          I was listening to a song the other day that I have liked for some time but never really paid a great deal of attention to the actual words, but when I did, I was surprised just how fitting they are to the message in today’s Gospel. ‘When times are hard and friends are few, and you need someone to help you through. Just call my name and I’ll come running to your side. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. I will be there’. I felt that those 


words summed up what Jesus was saying to the disciples in the boat, and what our faith is all about. We shouldn’t be afraid, HE WILL ALWAYS BE THERE FOR US.


11th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

‘Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.’

          This last paragraph of today’s Gospel refers of course, to they way in which Jesus got his message across to the people he addressed in crowds. Jesus probably found it was easier to explain things to the many in this way, and to the few, the disciples, in a different way. This was probably because the disciples were more capable of understanding the message in detail, because they were constant followers of Jesus. I think Jesus very quickly recognised the need to keep it simple to get his message across to the people, and that’s why he used parables. And it worked. The proof of that is all around us today in the form of the church. Without the message getting through, not only in Jesus’s time, but since, we would not have the church as we know it today.

           Getting our point across, explaining something to someone in a simple way, or by using a simple story to enable them to understand us, is something I’m sure we have all done from time to time. All parents will certainly have done this when explaining something to a child, usually in reply to one of those wonderful questions that only children can ask, like, “why is the sky blue mummy?” Or, “why is the grass green daddy?” Sound familiar? I bet it does. I am sure many a dad, when working on the car, has been asked the question, “daddy, how does a car work?”. It’s easier to answer if kept simple, “well, when you turn the key, it starts the engine and the engine makes the car go.” Simple isn’t it. No need to go into any great detail on the intricate workings of the internal combustion engine, because the child just wouldn’t understand it anyway, but you’ve got your message across in a way that that can best be understood.

          The parable of the mustard seed; “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth” and how it grows into the “biggest shrub of them all” is a good example of getting the message across. Have you ever seen the size of a mustard seed? Or the size of a mustard tree? I haven’t, but I’ve seen pictures of them. I did what we all do these days when we want to find something out, I ‘Googled’ it. I saw a picture of the seeds and a picture of a man standing in front of the tree. He looked very small by comparison. Now I get it!

            We may never fully understand everything Jesus wanted us to, but I am sure that through the scriptures and the work of the disciples after his death, we have enough of an understanding to accept and believe the Word of God.      


The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ Sunday ( Corpus Christi ) - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage. (05/06 and 9th June)

Last week, I started my homily by noting that, ‘Today is a very special day, a day of celebration.’ Well, I would say that the same applies today. We are celebrating the ‘Solemnity of The Most Holy Body And Blood Of Christ’ ( Corpus Christi). I also posed a question last week, which again, I think also applies today, ‘How will you celebrate it?’ Well, we all celebrate it each time we receive Holy Communion.

          You may feel that you cannot fully celebrate this Solemnity of The Body And Blood Of Christ in the true sense; as you are only receiving Holy Communion under one kind, the host, at the moment. Please do not feel that way. You are receiving Christ fully. When I consume the Precious Blood from the chalice, I don’t consider that I am receiving Christ in a better way than anyone else, no, quite the opposite. Due to the current restrictions, I consider myself as receiving the Precious Blood of Christ on your behalf, for you and with you. I truly feel that I am acting on your behalf, as your ‘proxy’, and I feel honoured to do so, and I’m sure that Our Lord sees it that way too.

          The main feast of the Eucharist is Holy Thursday. The Corpus Christi feast originated partly to stress the joy of the Eucharist, which might be somewhat lost in the more sombre Holy week. The ‘Body and Blood of Christ’ is the life of the Lord ‘given to us’. This gift, given to us by the Lord, is a gift of, generosity, of selflessness, of pure love. This gift is for all times.  

When a Priest, a Deacon, or a Eucharistic Minister gives communion, we are aware of the special moment this is for so many people. It may be a moment of asking for help in life, for peace of mind, for the presence of the Lord. At a time of illness or bereavement we may recall the lift of grace when communion was brought to us. Perhaps in receiving Christ, we could see it as our promise also to share the Lord in different ways of love in our own lives. We may do this by remembering a time, when receiving Holy Communion, brought us peace, joy or comfort. That’s what we can share with others.

          It is right and just, O Lord, to give you thanks for the gift of yourself in the Eucharist. Amen.       


The Most Holy Trinity Sunday - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage. (30/31 and 2 May/ June)

Today is a very special day, a day of celebration of the Most Holy Trinity. So how will you celebrate it? You probably won’t realise it, but you celebrate it all the time by prayer and by a physical action.

          What’s the first thing you do when you enter church? What do you do several times whilst in the church, especially during mass? What’s the last thing you do when you exit church? The answer to these questions is simple; you bless yourself by physical action and by a simple prayer saying, ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ It’s the first ‘prayer’ we learn as children when we are taught how to make the sign of the cross.

          Throughout our childhood, and indeed, throughout our lives, we will learn many prayers. Some we will learn ‘off by heart’ others we may have to rely on reading them in our prayer books and missals, and some others we may only be able to say by joining in with others. There are so many prayers we will say, either regularly, or perhaps only on certain occasions, that we can’t possibly be expected to remember them all. No one does. Except, of course, that very first one.

          Our prayer life may be at the heart of our faith, but what is at the heart of our prayer life? The simple answer is that which we are celebrating today. The Most Holy Trinity. We pray correctly when we address our prayers to the Father, through the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our prayers are Trinitarian, centred around the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. This is why, in our Gospel today, we hear that Jesus instructed his disciples to, ‘Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ He then goes on to tell them, ‘And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’ They knew he meant, through the Father, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the ‘Three in One’ were with them always.

          I would like to end by giving you all a blessing:

          ‘May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit come down upon you and remain with you for ever. Amen.’

          In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.   


Pentecost Sunday - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage. (22/23 and 26 May)

Today as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, let us look at the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel from John. Both are talking about the same event of course, but from two very different perspectives. In the Gospel, Jesus is telling his disciples of an event that will take place at some time in the future after he has gone from them. The first reading is the account of the event itself as it happened to the Apostles. We can see a clear difference between the two stories in as much as the Gospel story is quite vague, giving the disciples perhaps just a hint of what is to come. Whereas, the first reading tells of the event in a very descriptive and to some, maybe even in a bit of a frightening way, talking about ‘tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them.’ I doubt if the Apostles could have imagined the event Jesus told them about, from the way he described it, would be like this, all wind and flame, giving them the gift of speech in foreign languages.

          The ability to speak in a foreign language is a gift which I wish I had. Sadly at school I did not seem to have the ability to learn another language, or perhaps I just didn’t pay enough attention to my teacher. Either way, I still have a feeling of inadequacy when I am abroad, that I find it difficult to communicate in a foreign language, and have to rely on others being able to speak English instead. With this in mind I can understand why the people mentioned in the first reading that assembled together, were bewildered, amazed and astonished to hear the Apostles speaking to them in their own language about the marvels of God. Although I would have to say that sometimes not fully understanding the language is not a major problem as long as you can understand and follow what is happening. I have found this to be true when attending mass abroad. Even though I couldn’t understand what was being said, I was able to follow the mass because I knew what was happening and followed it in my head in English. However, I felt I missed out when it came to the Homily. How I wish I could have understood the local language at those masses in the churches I visited. I would have got so much more out of the mass and taken away the message being preached by the priests at those masses. How much more then, the people mentioned in the first reading, must have got from the word of God, being able to hear it in their own language. Hearing the word of God in your own language makes things easier, but surely language is not a barrier to the word of God. 

          I very often find myself praying to the Lord, asking for the Holy Spirit to help me, usually asking for the strength and wisdom to deal with a particular situation. I also ask the Holy Spirit to give others the strength and wisdom to help them deal with certain situations in their life.

          Earlier this week, I assisted at the requiem mass, and conducted the burial of one of Selena’s aunties. I prayed for the Holy Spirit to help the family in their time of need. I prayed the following: ‘O Lord, please send the Holy Spirit upon this family; to guide them, to help them, and to strengthen them, to get through these difficult, hours, days, weeks and months ahead. Amen.’

          My belief in the power of prayer, and that, no prayers go unanswered, will hopefully help the family. I hope some similar form of words may help you. If we allow the Holy Spirit to be active in our lives, we shall be able to say, as Our Blessed Lady did:

 

“The Almighty has done great things for me.” May He do good things for you too. Amen.    

Deacon Jim


6th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage. (13/14 Feb)

In first century Palestine, one of the worst fates that could befall a person was to become a leper. The disease was not only a debilitating illness, it was also a social stigma. It was generally regarded as a sign of disfavour with God and to be highly contagious, its victims were condemned to a life of loneliness. By law, they were cast out from society, isolated from family and friends, and could only mix with fellow lepers. No one would go near them let alone touch them. They were, due to their disease, well and truly outcasts. This all sounds awful, and of course it was.

          If we fast forward two thousand years, and with the benefit of knowledge, wisdom and modern science; we now know how to treat this awful disease, and those afflicted by it are no longer classed as the outcasts of society they once were. We wouldn’t treat people that way today would we?

          Well, cast your mind back almost forty years, to the early eighties and the AIDS epidemic. Isn’t that how we treated people then? We didn’t understand the disease, for which there is still no cure, and we lived in fear of coming into contact with anyone who had AIDS. By and large, they were treated as the outcasts of society, and, it’s sad to say, that even today, there is still a social stigma attached to this disease and those who suffer from it.

          Lets now look at our world of today. The whole world is dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. Again, another terrible disease that we are just now starting to understand. What do we do with those who have the Covid-19 virus? We put them into isolation and keep our distance from them and refrain from any physical contact with them. I know that these are the precautions, that the scientists and governments around the world, are telling us is the right way to deal with the situation. I do hope that, as a society, we don’t stigmatise Covid-19 sufferers, or class them as outcasts, as we did with AIDS sufferers in the eighties.

          What would Jesus have done if an AIDS sufferer, or a Coronavirus sufferer had approached him and asked the same question that the leper did? Well, the answer is obvious isn’t it, he would have touched them, shown them compassion and healed them. He would not have treated them any different from anyone else, just as he didn’t treat the leper any different from anyone else who approached him.

          I think that the words of the leper are interesting. He said to Jesus, “If you want to, you can cure me.” It sounds as if he was asking for Jesus’ help, but more in hope than in expectation. This might have made a refreshing change for Jesus, a change from people asking purely in expectation. Perhaps that’s what prompted Jesus to reply, “Of course I want to!”

          Maybe there’s a lesson we can learn from the lepers’ approach, and when we pray and ask for God’s help, we should do so more in hope than in expectation. Our faith leads us to believe than God will always answer our prayers, but let our humility, like that of the leper, be the reason we do so more in hope, than in expectation.   

Deacon Jim


5th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage. (6/7 Feb)

During a four week period we will cover all of the 1st chapter of the Gospel of Mark. Two weeks ago, we heard about Jesus choosing His disciples, then last week, this week and next week, we hear the ‘healing stories’ of Jesus. By the time we get to the end of this first chapter, we will be able to appreciate the extent of the pressure there was on Jesus; to continually be performing miracles, curing, and healing those who came before him for help. I’m sure this must have been mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually draining for Jesus. This would explain why we hear that; ‘In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there.’ This is something we hear of Jesus doing quite a few times throughout the Gospels, and it shouldn’t surprise us that he felt the need to do this. Don’t we all feel the need to do this every now and then? I know I do.

          Each spring, I go on a Diaconate retreat and I look forward to it very much. It’s a great opportunity for me; to not only have a ‘catch up’ with my brother Deacons, to be taught by whoever is giving the retreat, to have open group discussions on the teaching of the Gospel and other liturgical matters, but also, and very importantly, to have some quiet time for private reflection and prayer. That’s not to say that I can’t have that reflective time at home, but being away from everything, in quiet surroundings, seems to help me, and others. Sometimes we do just need to ‘get away from it all’ to achieve that level of serenity. Of course, given the current situation, this isn’t possible. Last years retreat was cancelled, and I think this years will be cancelled too, which is a huge disappointment, but it’s for the best.

          I’ve often looked upon my retreat as a time to reflect, to think about my faith, almost as a type of ‘Pitt Stop’ to top up my faith and re-charge my spiritual batteries, so to speak. I’m sure a lot of you feel the same when you get the chance to do so. This is why I said that it should come as no surprise to us that Jesus needed that time alone in prayer, in conversation with His Father, to just ‘get away from it all’ for a short while. I’m sure he, like us, probably felt refreshed afterwards, ready to continue with His mission.

          Getting away somewhere is not possible at the moment. However, there is an alternative ‘quiet place’ on our doorstep. Why not use our memorial garden for this purpose, I know some of you already do this. It’s a place we can be alone with our thoughts and prayers, a place which keeps us as close to church as we can be at this time. Thanks to all the hard work by various parishioners in keeping the garden tidy and well maintained over the years, it’s always been a lovely peaceful place to spend some quiet time. It has now been transformed by the felling and pruning of trees and bushes and the use of wood chippings covering the soil. So many have spent time caring for our garden that it would be a shame not to use it when we feel the need.

          Just like Jesus, we too have a need; from a physical, mental, emotional, and especially, a spiritual, point of view, to have a place to go and be alone with our thoughts and our God. It’s on our doorstep and it’s free for all to use. Well, Father hasn’t put a turnstile up yet, but maybe I shouldn’t put ideas in his head!   

Deacon JM!


4th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage. (30/31 Jan)

This passage of Mark’s Gospel follows immediately upon last week’s. After the call of the first disciples, Mark has Jesus embarking upon his public ministry in Galilee. Mark uses the episode of Jesus teaching and performing an exorcism. He tells us that Jesus teaches with authority, but doesn’t tell us anything about what Jesus actually says. We only hear the words that are exchanged between Jesus and the man who challenges him. The man asks Jesus what he wants with them, and that he knows who he is. But, of course, it is really Satan, working through his possession of the man, who is challenging Jesus. Satan receives a sharp reply, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” This is when Jesus truly exerts His authority. This is what made the people sit up and take notice. Here is someone who teaches and speaks with a level of authority that they had not witnessed before.

          This is Jesus preaching his first sermon in Capernaum, and he receives a favourable response from the congregation. They admire the fact that he speaks “with authority” which is in direct contrast with what they were used to with the Scribes. The Scribes, who were educated men, could read and write, but were afraid to be pinned down on specifics. When asked a question, they would merely quote the opinions of others, wouldn’t give a definitive response, and would answer one question with another. Jesus was different, he does give specifics and stands on His own authority to teach. This impresses his audience even more when he works a miraculous healing. This  proves his authority, it gives definite power to his words. He doesn’t just teach by preaching, but by his actions also. I do wonder though, whether Jesus was reluctant to work a miracle, only because it would throw the focus on His healing power, rather than his teaching. 

          We know from previous Gospel passages that Jesus spent time alone in the desert  where he was tested by Satan. Today’s Gospel is his first ‘public’ encounter with Satan, who was testing him in front of others. Satan’s tactics were to distract people away from  Jesus’ message, a strategy which obviously worked. The powers of evil win the first battle, but ultimately, they will lose the war. This is the first of many examples when Jesus teaches with authority, and it’s a powerful demonstration of that authority.   

          When I think of those who have taught me, at school, it sends shivers down my spine, bad memories mostly. Some of them did teach with authority, others just wielded their authority, and there is a big difference between the two. If we have authority forced upon us, as the Scribes did to the Jews, our learning will be limited. However, if we are taught with authority, that is, by someone who can ‘Walk the Walk’ and not just ‘Talk the Talk’ we are bound to learn more. I was certainly more attentive towards those type of teachers than the others. Perhaps that’s where I went wrong, maybe I should have been attentive towards all of my teachers. Maybe my life would have turned out differently. Ah well, that’s another story for another day.

          I’m sure there were times when some of my teachers thought that I had a bit of the devil in me, perhaps that’s why I was constantly being told, with authority, to “Be Quiet!”

          Jesus’ teaching with authority was His mission, one in which He would be tested by Satan, again and again. However, if today’s Gospel teaches us anything, it is that, the fight against evil is an ongoing one, and we will all be tested from time to time.  But, just remember this, good will always triumph over evil. 


3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.

In the Gospel of Mark today, we hear the story Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him. He says to Simon and Andrew, “Follow me and I will make you into fishers of men.” Similarly, he called James and John. All four of them responded to this call and at once, left everything and followed Jesus.

          Let’s take this story literally. Here are four men who earned their livings as fishermen. They had responsibilities to their families, and possibly to anyone they employed, yet they dropped everything and went to follow this Galilean carpenter. Put like that, it sounds a bit strange, impulsive and irresponsible doesn’t it. Well, we do know that these four disciples did in fact follow Jesus around the Judean countryside. They listened to Him, were taught, inspired and influenced by Him. They, in turn, were later sent out by Jesus, to teach, inspire and influence others by spreading the Good News to all who would listen to them. This was Jesus’ mission and it became their mission too.

          So, what if we don’t take this story too literally. Well, we can still answer Jesus’ call and follow him. We don’t need to drop everything, abandoning our families and responsibilities. We can follow Jesus’ teaching, His mission, His way of life, His whole ethos of how to live our lives. He taught about, having certain values, about respect for others, about fairness in society, about decency, about solidarity, and about unity. It became known as The Way. It was about living our lives in a way that would lead us to the Father, and as Jesus would later tell his disciples, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

          Today, we call this Catholic Social Teaching. This should be very important to us, especially as we come to the end of the week of ‘Prayer for Christian Unity.’ A time for us to reach out in solidarity and unity with all Christian denominations, so that we can all be one, abiding together in the one true Christ. As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us.

          In the spirit of unity and, not necessarily just Christian unity, I was struck by the inauguration speech which President Joe Biden made this week. He was of course, addressing ALL of the American people, regardless of age, creed, colour or political persuasion, when he called for unity. We are all aware that Joe Biden is a Catholic who is proud to profess his faith in public. It struck me that his speech contained a lot of what we call today, Catholic Social Teaching. He talked about: unity, respect, fairness, decency, solidarity, and love for each other. He quoted St Augustine, who said, “A people are a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.” He then repeated those last few words, “the common objects of their love.” He talked about it being a time to “Open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.” He quoted his mother who said to him, “Just for a moment stand in the other persons shoes.” He talked about there being times when we will all need a helping hand, and there will be times when we will be the ones who are that helping hand.

          My intention here is not a political one, but one of demonstrating that; President Joe Biden has shown all of us in his speech that, we can all follow the ways of Jesus by our everyday living and caring for others, especially those in most need of our help.

          Consider this: Many people are hanging by the very thinnest of threads. If you treat them well, without knowing it, you may very well be that thread.         

Deacon Jim


2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In his Gospel, John illustrates for us the fact that John The Baptist recognised Jesus as the Lamb of God, and his disciple Andrew, recognised Jesus as the Messiah. John the Baptist tells his disciples, “Look, there is the Lamb of God.” Andrew said to his brother, Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah.” They knew Jesus was the saviour. We know that too. We know that Jesus is always there for us when call out to him, in prayer, asking for His help. This has never been more true for us than during this last year or so, as we live with through  this pandemic.

          To illustrate this, I would like to share with you a prayer that has been passed onto me by my sister. 

 

LOCKDOWN PRAYER.

 

Each morning we wake, another day consumed by the news of the coronavirus.

Another day facing the same space, the same colours, and the same sounds.

We crave for the difference we had, the freedom we are used to, and the people we met.

As the tears form, please Lord Jesus fill my uncertainties with peace and strength.

We have always needed it, but now we know it.

 

We pray for all who are facing isolation, hardship, hunger, fear or anxiety.

Lord let them know that you are close, and guide us, where we have time, energy or resources, to reach out and bring relief.

We should always have done this, but now we know it.

 

We pray for all those who are sacrificing safety and comfort so that others can be saved.

For doctors and nurses, and care workers.

Fill them with your spirit and let them know that they walk in your footsteps.

It should always have been this way, but now we feel it.

 

Through this time, help us to draw together in spirit, even while we are apart.

Help us to seek out the lost and the lonely, and know that in all circumstances, however dark things may seem, we are loved and we are eternally safe.

Your love has always been like this, help us to know it.

 

We pray this in Jesus name, Amen.

 

I think this prayer is beautiful, I hope you agree. For me, it re-enforces my knowledge and belief that, Jesus always has been, is, and always will be, there for us. In these tough times, let us have the same strength of belief that John The Baptist and his disciple Andrew had.

          Just in case you’re wondering, I have told my sister that I was going to ‘pinch’ this prayer and use it in a homily. I know she approved, I hope you do too.  

 

Deacon Jim

Words from Fr Gildea

 

This week begins with the celebration of Peace Sunday.  We are asked to pray for peace throughout the world.  Last week, we heard God announcing that Jesus was his beloved Son and asking us to listen to him.  Our response should be the same as Samuel’s in today’s 1st Reading:- ‘Speak Lord I am listening’ 

We want to ask the same question that Andrew asked in today’s gospel ‘Lord, where do you live?’; but the first words from Christ are ‘What do you want? 

We need to answer him.

 What DO you want?  Obviously our immediate reply is-

 that the world be free from this Covid 19 pandemic.  After that we want the basic needs – food, shelter, warmth, security, and a sense of belonging;  but even above that, to know that  we are loved and respected, are needed and can live in peace. 

All this week we are praying for peace in the world and Pope Francis in his message to us wants us to take to heart this truth:-

 ‘a culture of CARE is the way to peace’.

          I think we have learned this truth from the pandemic.  The heroic actions of so many ordinary people who have helped to sustain our communities and have led the response to covid 19:- the Drs and nurses obviously, but also those in other jobs like supermarket workers, bus/train drivers, delivery people, cleaners and especially those neighbours who have gone out of their way to help those in need or distress because of the lockdown. As Pope Francis says “They have understood that no-one is saved alone”

This brings us back to Christ’s question “What do you WANT?” What do you WANT post covid? Obviously, we’re going to have to re-build our country, our society, our finances, and our relationships. BUT…can we build back better?

This is where Andrew’s question to Christ comes in “Lord where do you live?” The answer is “with you…wherever humanity is?”

 The saving of the world is only by means of Christ’s values.

Take the example of a good balanced family which is the building block of a good balanced society.

When a child receives a present of sweets its parent suggests that he/she shares them with others.

When children are playing and one child is seen sitting alone, parents ask their children to invite him/her to join them in playing with them.

When children begin to fight, parents ask what the trouble is and suggest they forgive each other, make up and remain friends.

In other words they are taught not to be greedy, to be inclusive of all people, and, always work out disputes without violence.

All this is only achieved with Christ’s values.

 With Christ living with them.

Post Covid, this is the “Culture of care that will bring peace to all.”

A striking advert caught my eye recently. It was written on the side of a lorry that read

 

“Nothing for myself

      that is not also for others “.

 

A fantastic advert for “How to live in Christ’s way “


The Baptism of Our Lord - 09/01/2021

Today’s Gospel from Mark is a very short Gospel, just two short paragraphs, but it is such a rich Gospel, especially the last two sentences. ‘No sooner had he come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.” Wow, powerful stuff isn’t it. With these words, Jesus knew that he was being commissioned by God for something that no human had ever before undertaken: the redemption of our race. No pressure there then! This is a new beginning for Jesus, the beginning of his mission here on earth. Our own baptism is a beginning too, it’s the beginning of our journey of faith. A journey which, at times, will be unpredictable, demanding, confusing and rewarding, all at the same time. I wonder if Jesus saw his mission in that way too.

             The image of ‘the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him.’ has inspired many artists to produce paintings, pictures, stained glass windows etc…all of which try to recapture that moment for us. We have all seen them, and some of us may have a favourite image, that for us, captures the picture Mark is painting for us in this Gospel.

             My favourites are the windows in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. There are two giant windows with the image of the dove and rays of light emanating from it. The first time I saw them, I was convinced that there was artificial light being projected through them as they were so bright, brighter than any other stained glass windows I had ever seen. I then found out that they were not actually stained glass windows in the conventional way. They are not a mosaic of different coloured glass, they are large panes of alabaster, a translucent stone. The windows are divided into twelve sections, in homage to the twelve Apostles. There are sections of golden clouds and angels flying between the rays of light, casting a mystical warmth through the Basilica, especially in the afternoon. The colours are white, pale yellow, gold and a shade of orange. If you see them at the right time of day, when the sun is shining through them, the different colours reflect the sunlight in such a way that it seems that the rays of the sun are penetrating right through into the Basilica itself. The brightness of the white dove is enhanced by the suns rays in such a way that you truly feel you are witnessing a spiritual experience. Well, that’s how it made me feel anyway.

             That’s why, I feel that the picture that Mark paints for us in this Gospel, helps us to imagine in a very visual way, the experience witnessed by those present at the Baptism of our Lord.

             It’s an image I have in my mind every time I baptise a child. I know that God is looking down on the child, at the start of their journey of faith, just as he did with his only Son. It’s an image I’m sure our parents had in their minds when we were baptised. Baptisms are always a joyful occasion, and I’m sure that all parents think about the words of God when their child is being baptised. I’m sure they are all saying to themselves, ‘You are my son/daughter, the Beloved, my favour rests on you.’ I can tell that they must be feeling that way by the look of joy on their faces.

             One thing is for sure, you never see a sad face at a baptism.           


The Epiphany

When I was a young boy, (not that many years ago), someone told me that the names of the three wise men were Freeman, Hardy & Willis...then I found out that was the name of a shoe shop. I suppose the only souls they were interested in were the soles on the shoes they sold to you. Only joking. I have always wondered about the three wise men and the gifts that they brought.

        So, what about these three wise men, who were they and what happened to them? Well, one ancient writer tells us that the three magi, known to us as Balthasar, Melchior, and Gasper, converted to Christianity, and in a.d. 54 at Sebaste in Armenia, a few days after celebrating Christmas, they died within 10 days of each other. Melchior died on 1st January aged 116, Balthasar on 6th aged 112, and Gaspar on 11th aged 109. Their relics can now be venerated in a magnificently enamelled shrine in Cologne in Germany.

        So, what about the gifts that they brought with them, Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Well, apart from their great monetary value, the gifts had a deep symbolic significance. Gold, for the Christ Child’s nobility as King of the Jews; Frankincense, which was burned in religious ceremonies, for his divinity; Myrrh, which was used on cuts or wounds and in the anointing of corpses, to prefigure his role as a healer and foretell of his death. Both Myrrh and Frankincense have exceptional medicinal qualities. Given that at that time, infant mortality was high, and Frankincense and Myrrh were two of the most potent anti-microbial substances in the ancient medicine cabinet, it’s easy to see that this would have made them very useful gifts for the Holy Family. When you consider that, from a Christian perspective, the Christ Child was the most important baby ever born, wouldn’t you bring something that would ensure the baby stayed healthy?

        So, the fact that God gave us all the most perfect and precious gift, His Son, on that very first Christmas day, it is fitting that the first visitors to come bearing gifts, should be wise enough to bring the most precious gifts for the Christ Child. Maybe that’s why we call them the three wise men.        

        The Epiphany, is the manifestation of God made man, the Christ Child. The one whom the three wise men knew was the One, sent by God to save all of our souls. What better way to start a new year than to celebrate this great feast. May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy, Healthy, and Blessed New Year. May God Bless us all.  


Feast of the Holy Family

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, but what exactly is a Holy Family? There is a saying that ‘The family that prays together, stays together’. Well, nowhere in the Gospels are we told that the Holy Family prayed together at home. We just assume that they must have, especially when we remember Jesus saying “When two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Let me ask this question: How many families today pray together? I’m not being judgemental, merely posing a question. I’m not trying to insinuate that if a family doesn’t pray together, that they are not a ‘holy family’, of course they still can be a ‘holy family’. So, back to my question, ‘what exactly is a ‘holy family?’ Well, we speak of Joseph, Mary and Jesus as the Holy Family, and indeed they were holy; but their example of a happy and holy family life is not something beyond the reach of ordinary people.

          The first and most important requirement is to make God a partner in the family. He will be there to share all the joys and sorrows and His presence will help to overcome the inevitable problems and difficulties that every family has to face.

          Today’s Gospel focuses on Joseph and Mary bringing the child Jesus to the Temple to fulfil the Jewish customs. Interestingly, apart from the story of the visit to the Temple when Jesus was twelve years old, this is the only verse in the New Testament that speaks of his life in the Holy Family. We only hear of Jesus, the man. We know that Jesus was fully God and fully man, but he was also a boy who grew up like any other child into full maturity. He grew up in the Holy Family with two of the most extraordinary special people. The most holy and happy family, and the greatest family that the world has ever known.                      

          This year, and in particular, this Christmas, has been a very strange time for all our families. We’ve not been able to see each other as much as we normally would, or do all the family things we would have liked to have been able to do. Christmas has been especially tough on all of us for the same reasons. But, strangely, this pandemic we are living through, has brought people together as ‘family’ in a way we haven’t experienced before. We have experienced that here in our own parish in the way we have all ‘bonded’ together in the face of adversity. We have come together to ensure that we can still, safely, have mass in our church. This has brought us closer together as a parish family, a united family, a Holy Family. That sense of parish, that sense of ‘family’ has shone through in what we have achieved together this year. A few days ago, someone posted on the Church Friends group on WhatsApp, some thing which I think sums up our parish: “We may be a small church...but we are one big family.” I thought that was a lovely way of summing it up. We are ‘one big family’...one big Holy Family. 

 

          So, to all of you very special people, I would like to thank you for all you do to make our parish special, and our parish family, a very special ‘Holy Family’. Thank You.

Deacon Jim