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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.