29th Sunday (COVID-19)
Sometimes when we ask someone something and they seem to struggle to find the answer, we may say, “It’s not a trick question!” Well, in today’s Gospel, that’s exactly what was posed to Jesus. A trick question. Let’s take the actual question out of the equation for the moment. Let’s look at who posed the question. It was the Pharisees, together with the Herodians. Now, these two sets of peoples generally hated each other and didn’t mix, but they got together to try to trap, to ensnare, Jesus, such was their joint contempt of him. For different reasons they were both intimidated and felt threatened by Jesus. Strange behaviour from two opposing factions. Today, we may use that well known phrase, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. They may not have considered Jesus as an enemy, but they certainly felt threatened enough by his preaching and teaching to lay a trap for him. Jesus, of course, saw right through them and turned the tables on them by giving a very clever response to their question, for which they had no answer, they were astonished by Him.
If you look in your bible, you will see that the next line is: ‘When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.’ When I read this line, it reminded me of something a famous comedian used to say, “And their mouths were shut!” Oh, can’t you just picture the scene.
Now, as to the question they posed to Jesus. For the significance of this, we need to understand the taxation system that the Romans had imposed on the people at that time. There were in fact three regular taxes which the Roman government exacted from the people. One of them was the poll tax. This tax had to be paid by every male person from the age of 14 to 65; and every female person from 12 to 65. It amounted to one denarius and it was equivalent to the day’s wage of a working man. It was about the poll tax that the Pharisees and the Herodians questioned Jesus. They thought that if He said it was unlawful to pay the tax, they could report him to the Romans as inciting people to break the law. If he said it was lawful to pay the tax, he would be discredited in the eyes of many people. When He asked to see the coin and asked whose head was on it, His answer was that clever that it outwitted them all.
It makes you wonder what Jesus would have made of the poll tax riots we had in this country in the 1980’s. Our currency has the Queens’ head on it, would he have said ‘Give to the crown what belongs to the crown’. Who knows, but anyway, that’s not the point. The bigger point is the second part of Jesus’ answer, “and to God what belongs to God.” Now, there are a lot of things that we could all say belong to God. Our love, our faith, our lives for example. And then there are things that are personal to us that we feel belong to God. Specific help that we’ve asked Him for over the years, graces that He has bestowed upon us.
My own list of things could go on and on...I’ll leave it up to each of you to compile your own lists. DEACON Jim
28th Sunday (COVID-19)
Use It Or Lose It! That was the phrase I used to end last weeks’ homily with. I’ve chosen to use it again this week, to start my homily with. I’m using it in a different context this week. The last few words in this week’s Gospel, are ‘For many are called, but few are chosen’. Well, if we are fortunate enough to be part of the chosen few, we should accept it as an honour and a privilege, and grab the opportunity with both hands. We never know if we will ever be called again, so when given the opportunity, we should ‘Use it or lose it’. The parable in today’s Gospel is a great example of this.
The guests who had originally been invited to the wedding feast spurned their opportunity, the guests who eventually came, grabbed it with both hands. Of course, if we take the parable literally, we may well conclude that for the original guests, it probably wasn’t the first wedding feast they had been invited to, and wouldn’t be the last, so it wasn’t that important to them. Now, the people who eventually came, well, let’s face it, it was probably a once in a lifetime invitation for them, so they will have jumped at the chance. Again, if we take it literally, what are we to make of the man who was ejected because he wasn’t wearing a wedding robe? Think about it, if the guests were collected from the crossroads of the town, then realistically, how many of them will have been appropriately dressed? I suspect none of them. So, taken literally, it can be understood in a certain way, but this isn’t the point that Jesus was trying to make.
As with the last couple of weeks, the parable was aimed at the religious leaders of the time. It was designed to get them to understand that the kingdom of heaven is available to everyone, and everyone can enter it, but only if we can demonstrate that we deserve our place, our place at the Lord’s high feast. So the man was ejected, not because of how he was dressed, but because of his attitude and lack of respect for what he was being invited to. You could say that his heart wasn’t in it, and that’s why he was ejected. He was rejected because he either didn’t understand or didn’t appreciate, the privilege of the invitation. He clearly failed to grasp that ‘Many are called, but few are chosen’.
I guess a lot of us, as children, were dragged to church each Sunday under sufferance, by our parents; and as parents, did the same with our children. We’ve all been invited to the Lord’s banquet, He wants us all to be there, but to be there willingly, not out of any misplaced sense of duty, or because we’ve been dragged there kicking and screaming. I can hear parents thinking, ‘yeah good luck explaining that to a small child!’ but at least we don’t eject people because their ‘hearts aren’t in it’. His banquet, His church, His mansion, His kingdom, His heart, is open to all of us. All that he asks of us is that our hearts are open to Him too.
We can achieve this through prayer. The more we pray, the more open our hearts become to our Lord. We can of course pray any place any time, but what better time and place to do so that during Holy Mass at church. By doing so, we’re opening our hearts to God in prayer, and in accepting His invitation to be present at the banquet of the Lord.
For the man in the parable, it really was a case of ‘Use it or lose it’ but not so for us. The Lord’s invitation to His banquet is an open one…..but He does want us to ‘Use it’.
27th Sunday (COVID-19)
For the third consecutive week, the Gospel has Jesus using a parable about the vineyard. Have you noticed that a lot of the parables that Jesus used were about farming, crop farming or fishing. This is because a lot of the population made their living from working on the land or the sea. It was their way of life, and therefore they were more likely to understand the message if it was put it terms of farming or fishing. They could relate to it better. That’s fine, it’s obvious, but what about today? Our way of life and our ways of earning a living, are so diverse today. How do we relate to those parables in the context of our present world, our present way of living.
Well, I think it’s simple. If we can understand the parables in the context of the time they were told, we can understand them today. Our way of life may have changed, but the message hasn’t. The vineyard represented Israel; the vine dressers, its religious leaders; the successive servants, the Old Testament prophets; the son, Jesus the Messiah; his murder, the crucifixion. Understanding this interpretation for this parable, enables us to easily interpret and understand all the other parables.
So, we can see today’s Gospel as a form of eviction notice to the nation of Israel. Jesus was warning the Jews that they either pay their rent or they would lose their place in His kingdom. In other words, Use It Or Lose It!
So how can we implement those principles in our everyday lives? Well, let’s think about our prayer life. If we don’t pray, we weaken our ability to pray. If we don’t give, we forget the joy of giving. It’s very sad when we fail to use the privileges at our disposal, but every privilege carries with it a corresponding responsibility. If we don’t use it, we lose it. We all have the opportunity to live life to the full, what we do with it is up to us. The grace of God is there helping us to make the most of life. Life holds us accountable for the things that we have, and if we don’t pay the rent, we lose the lease.
All of that sounds great doesn’t it? Use it or lose it, sounds simple, doesn’t it? However, given the situation we are currently in, and the increased local restrictions in place at the moment, it would be understandable to say that it’s not that simple at the moment, and it’s not. We may have the ability to live life to the full, but at the moment, we don’t have the freedom to do that. We don’t have the freedom to do as we please, to visit friends and family, to have them visit us. To go out and about as we once did, to gather in groups for celebrations, to work as normal, to attend mass in the way we used to. Life is very unfair and restrictive at this time, so the saying ‘Use it or lose it’ rings a bit hollow doesn’t it? Maybe it does, but it doesn’t have to.
What if we looked at things differently. What if, instead of thinking about the things we can’t have or can’t do because of the restrictions, we looked at all the things we can have and can do. We can, even if it’s in a different way, still do a lot of the things we want to. We may not be able to live life to the full, but we can still life a fulfilling life. We can be good vine dressers in the Lords’ vineyard. We can still live the type of life that the Lord wants us to. We don’t have to live in a manner that puts us in jeopardy of ‘losing the lease’ we can have a new ‘lease of life’. We can do all of these things through the graces and blessings that the Lord bestows upon us. We are all blessed in different ways, we all live our lives in different ways, but the one common factor in our our lives, is that God loves us. By His grace, we all have the freedom to live the best lives that we can.
He bestows that very special blessing on all of us, so…..’Use It Or Lose It!
26th Sunday (COVID-19)
Last week while away on holiday, we hired a car, and I relied on the Google Maps app to get around. Well, by the end of the week, I had fallen out with ‘Google Maps Martha’. I felt that she was constantly giving me a ‘bum steer’. When it became obvious that I was going in the wrong direction, I did many a ‘U-Turn’. Google Maps Martha would chirp, “Do a U-turn”, to which I would retort, “I’m doing a bleep bleep U-turn!”. I know, I know, it’s silly to shout at a computer. So, there was much confusion, frustration and talking back to a computer programme. All because I had got it wrong again. Apart from that, yes, we did have a great holiday. I mention all of this, just to use my experiences as examples of having to stop, rethink what you’re doing and where you’re heading, realising that it’s not the right way, and being willing to change what you’re doing and get yourself back on the right track.
We’ve seen a lot of ‘U-Turns’ by our political leaders recently. It seems at times that politicians think that this is a sign of weakness, that’s why they are so reluctant to do it. Perhaps they believe that their ways, their decisions, are the only ways of doing things, and others are wrong. Sounds familiar doesn’t it.
Well, isn’t that what Jesus was experiencing with the Chief Priests and Elders? Wasn’t that the reason why he used this parable with them? I do find it a bit surprising that, with their education, their status, their piety, their knowledge of God’s laws, and their adherence to their religious beliefs; that they could be so blind to the things that God actually wanted from them. Were they being stubborn or arrogant? Who knows, but I think that it must have been very frustrating for Jesus to have to resort to parables such as this to get them to understand God’s wishes for all of us. To get them to understand that, despite their knowledge of the Jewish religion and laws, they didn’t understand at all, that those whom they looked down upon, were the ones who were actually getting it right. Jesus was trying to get them to understand that it’s not about living a perfect life, none of us can do that no matter how hard we try; but it’s more about recognising that we have all made mistakes in the past. It’s about being willing and able to atone for our sins, and being willing and able to correct our past behaviours, amend our way of life, become a better person, and show respect, love and peace to others. That’s what God wants from us, and that’s the way to enter the kingdom of God, no matter who you are. Prince or pauper, master or servant, rich or poor; none of this matters to God. We are all equal in his sight and we will all be judged by him in the same way. Only God will judge us. Only God will decide who enters His kingdom. But, only we can affect how we are judged. We do this by living our lives in the way that God wants us to do.
It’s up to each of us to think about how we live our lives. Do we show signs of stubbornness and arrogance in our view that our way is the only way? Or, are we willing to admit to ourselves and others, that we may have got things wrong and be willing to perform one of the many a ‘U-Turns’ that life requires of us from time to time. Yes, it can be a difficult thing to have to to, it can hurt our pride, but it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength.
Some of us will recall the famous quote from Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister, at a party conference: “U-Turn if you want to….The lady’s NOT for turning.” Well, was that a sign of strength? Or was it a sign of stubbornness and arrogance? I suppose your view on that may be clouded by your political views, but it’s not for us to judge. I suppose all that we can do is hope and pray that we are blessed with the wisdom of when to know that performing a U-Turn is the right thing to do, to put right our mistakes…..and to stop shouting at Google Maps Martha.
Regards Deacon James
25th Sunday (COVID-19)
My Dad was a hard working man, who worked in various shipyards and engineering works along the Clyde through the 1940’,50’s, and 60’s; and in the shipyard in Barrow in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. He was a strong union man who firmly believed in a “A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work!” That’s been the rallying cry of workers for centuries. Today’s Gospel made me think about him. I think it’s fair to say that had he been in the vineyard that day, he would have been out on strike with the rest of them. He wouldn’t have led the charge, he wasn’t the militant type, but he would have supported the fight. I do have memories as a young boy in the early 60’s when he was on strike in Glasgow, and again as a teenager in the 70’s in Barrow. On those occasions, the strikes were for just that principle, ‘A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’. Those of us of a certain age, will remember living and working through troublesome industrial times in the 1970’s. Do you remember the 3 day week and the winter of discontent? The almost collapse of the British car industry in the Midlands? The massive job losses in the Upper Clyde shipyards? Then again in the 1980’s there was the collapse of British Steel industry, and of course, the mining industry. Now, I’ve no intention of being political, or taking sides, because I think there was good and bad on both sides, but I think it all boiled down to a few basic principals and needs. Fairness, job security, and of course, “A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work!”
The labourers in the vineyard in today’s Gospel parable, obviously didn’t have any unions to represent them. I think we can safely say that if they did, they may well have come out on strike, waving placards with the above mentioned slogan. After all, wasn’t that what they were complaining about. They felt that they had been badly and unfairly treated because they were paid the same for their full days’ work as those who had only done an hour or so in the vineyard. Well, you could say that they had a good point, but then, so did the vineyard owner who decided to pay them all the same.
If we look closely at today’s first reading from Isaiah, we see that the Lord is speaking to him in a very specific way. He tells him that “My thoughts are not your thoughts, My way not your ways.” Also, in the responsorial psalm, there is a line which says ‘ How good is the Lord to all, compassionate to all his creatures’. I think if we ponder on those words and consider their message, we can better understand where the owner of the vineyard was coming from, and the reason why Jesus chose to use this parable.
Given that we all have our own individual thought processes and influences, it’s not surprising that we can all have a different opinion on any given situation. We will differ on the fairness, or lack of, of a situation and what we think should be done about it. Our rationale is usually based on what WE think is fair and just, and what WE think should be done; but, do we ever stop to think that ‘Our ways are not God’s ways, Our thoughts not Gods’ thoughts’. Surely only God can guide us to act in a fair and just way for all.
By telling his disciples this parable, Jesus is not suggesting that in our everyday world a worker should not be paid a fair wage. To draw that conclusion would be a great misunderstanding. No, the story is intended as a way of shocking us into realising that when it comes to life in Christ, life in the Kingdom, God is radically generous and will shower down mercy wherever God wants. The purpose of the parable is to wake us up to this fact. It is one of our human weaknesses to think that God behaves just as we do, when it is us that should behave as God does.
God shows all of us the same level of grace, mercy and generosity no matter who we are or what we have done. The vineyard owner wasn’t wrong to reward all his workers as he did. He only did what God wanted HIM to do. Shouldn’t we all do the same to each other? After all, it’s what God wants US to do.
24th Sunday (COVID-19)
I sometimes feel sorry for St. Peter. In the last few weeks, we have heard of him either, getting things wrong, or saying the wrong thing and being rebuked by Jesus, (“Man of little faith” “Get behind me Satan”). The only thing he seems to get right, is when Jesus asks the disciples “Who do you say I am.” Peter is praised by him when he gives the right answer. However, he seems to get it wrong again in today’s Gospel. He asks Jesus “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” Jesus answered, “Not seven, I tell you, but seventy -seven times.” Poor Peter, it seems he got it wrong again. Or did he?
Today’s Gospel reminds me of a story I read recently. A businessman, as part of the screening process for potential applicants for a job, put this seemingly simple question to them: “How much is two plus two?” The first applicant was an accountant and said, “The answer is exactly 4.0.” The second applicant was an engineer and, before answering, he applied several mathematical formulas, used his calculator, and replied, “The answer is 4.00193.” The third applicant was a lawyer, who thought for a moment and then asked, “How much do you want it to be?” I would submit that the lawyer’s response comes closer to the correct answer to the question raised in today’s Gospel, “How often must I forgive?”
Peter’s suggested answer, “as many as seven times” is more like the answers given by both the accountant and the engineer: a carefully calculated, definite, limited number. Had Peter been thinking more like a lawyer, he would have said, “What do you want the answer to be Lord?” Jesus’ answer to Peter implies an infinite number, “seventy-seven times.” (other translations of this Gospel say “seventy times seven.”), in other words, a very large number. Our forgiving has to be unlimited, because God’s mercy is unlimited, and surely that’s the whole point of today’s Gospel. If we expect God to always show his mercy and forgive us, then surely we need to to willing to show that same level of mercy to others, who have wronged us, and forgive them.
Of course, only God can forgive, we may try with all that we have to forgive, but only God can forgive. When we ask for God’s forgiveness, or, God’s help to forgive others, we are dipping into that divine pool of mercy, which is God dwelling in our hearts, and then God’s mercy flows out of us. If then, God forgiving us, is Him showing his mercy to us, then by Him helping us to forgive others, he is releasing His mercy to the world. If this were not true, then why do we sometimes say things like, “God forgive for saying this, but….), when we’re about to say something that we know we shouldn’t? Or, sometimes after we’ve said something, others may say “Oh, may God forgive you for saying that.”
Have you ever been forgiven by someone for a wrong you have done to them and felt you didn’t deserve their forgiveness? Have you ever been able to forgive someone for a wrong they’ve done to you when you didn’t think you could? How did it make you feel? Did you have feelings of, satisfaction? Or relief? Or what about joy? Yes, joy. The joy that we feel when we forgive, or been forgiven, is an expression of God’s mercy and love for us. It’s no coincidence that Jesus taught his disciples how to pray with the words he specifically chose. We say this prayer, the Our Father, every day, perhaps many times a day, and within it, lies the meaning of the parable, and the true answer posed in today’s Gospel: “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Perhaps the man mentioned in the parable would have been wise to have stopped and thought along those lines before doing what he did. He showed no mercy, and in return, received no mercy. Maybe we can all learn from his mistakes.
James McGraw. (Deacon)
23rd Sunday (COVID-19)
I come from a very close family, and whilst my brother and I don’t always agree on absolutely everything, we have never fallen out with each other, let alone argued or fought. So I could never foresee us being in the situation as described in today’s Gospel. Of course, the Gospel doesn’t literally mean your ‘brother’ in that sense. It means your fellow man or woman.
Now, when I first read it, I was a bit confused with the message that Jesus was getting across. He seemed to advocate, as a last resort, giving up on somebody in certain circumstances. I was confused because we know that our Lord would never give up on us. He is a forgiving Lord, one who will always give us the opportunity to repent for our sins, to change our ways, and be brought back into the fold once more.
So, for me, the two words that spring to mind, having re-read the Gospel, are, Reconciliation and Forgiveness. For our part, we have to be open to reconciling ourselves with those who have wronged us, to those who we have wronged, and of course, to be reconciled with God. The route to Reconciliation and Forgiveness is a two way street.
Let me illustrate forgiveness with an example. In her book, ‘The Hiding Place’, Corrie Ten Boon describes how her family hid some Jews in Holland from the Nazis. She writes about the sufferings in the concentration camps where she and her sister were sent. Her sister died in one of the camps. After the war, she lectured and preached throughout Europe on the need to forgive one another. After one of her talks, a man came to her and said “How grateful I am for your message...To think that, as you say, Christ has forgiven me.” He didn’t recognise her, but she recognised him as one of the SS guards at the camp where she was imprisoned. All of the horrific memories of that camp came back to her. The former SS guard extended his hand to shake hers. And she, who had preached so often about forgiveness, kept her hand at her side as she began to have angry, raging and vengeful thoughts. Then she remembered; Jesus Christ had died for this man, and forgives him. Was I going to ask for more? “Lord Jesus” she prayed, “forgive me and help me to forgive him.” She tried to smile and raise her hand, but she couldn’t. She breathed a silent prayer, ‘Jesus, I can’t forgive him for what he did to my sister and so many other people. Give ME, YOUR forgiveness.’ As she took his hand, she felt an ‘electric current’ pass from her shoulder, along her arm through her hand, into the hand of this SS guard; and she felt a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed her. She discovered that forgiveness depended, not upon her, but upon God’s grace.
When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he also gives us the grace to love, to forgive. Christ doesn’t ask us to forgive on our own. He simply asks us to participate in His gift of forgiveness. As Corrie Ten Boon discovered, forgiveness is possible, not when we try to forgive on our own, but only when we trust in God, to bring healing, forgiveness and reconciliation to our broken relationships.
Sometimes it is the easiest course of action to give up on someone that you feel you are just not getting through to. Maybe some people just are a lost cause. However, our Christian beliefs tell us that this shouldn’t be the case. Everyone is worthy of trying for. I think the example Jesus uses in the Gospel today is perhaps an extreme case, he didn’t normally give up on people, and he won’t give up on us.
22nd Sunday (COVID-19)
Sometimes in life we all have to do things we would rather not. We have to go through experiences which, given the opportunity, we would quite happily walk away from. We may be faced with a situation where those closest to us, are doing their best to talk us out of whatever it is that we are about to do. Usually they do this with the best of intentions; they have our best interests at heart, and are only trying to protect us from ourselves and from making, what they see as being, a big and unnecessary mistake.
Those of us who are parents will be all too familiar with this feeling. We are only trying to protect those we love by preventing them from making mistakes in life. Possibly they are mistakes that we ourselves have made in the past. Despite all our protective instincts, there comes a time when we have to put our faith and trust in their judgement and let them make their own decisions in life. I know my parents went through this with me, many, many times, and we have gone through it with our son. I suppose we need to recognise that this is life, it is parenthood, and it is love.
With that in mind, let us look at the Gospel today and consider the words spoken between Jesus and Peter. Once Jesus had made it clear to the disciples what was going to happen to him, I think that Peter felt he was trying to save Jesus from doing something which he saw as unnecessary and a big mistake. Jesus however, knew what he had to do to fulfil the prophecies and his own destiny. There could be no other outcome. This was God’s plan for his Son. Jesus appeared to be angry with Peter because Peter didn’t seem able to accept that this is what had to happen. Jesus saw Peter’s reaction as being the work of Satan, an adversary who would put all the obstacles he could in his way to prevent him from fulfilling the Word of God. Think back to last week’s Gospel, where Jesus called Peter his ‘Rock’. Poor Peter, because of his words, he seems to have gone from hero to zero. But, that’s not really the case here.
Perhaps it was that Peter had thought about the ramifications of Jesus’ actions and how it would impact on him afterwards. Whatever was behind the exchange of words between them, the message from Jesus was clear. He wanted the disciples to understand that if they wanted to be true followers of Christ, they had to be prepared to follow his words and deeds to the very end, and if necessary, be willing to sacrifice their own lives too.
Now, one of my favourite sayings is, “It’s Do-Able”. Everything is ‘Do-Able’, but most things come at a cost. There is a cost to be paid for the commitment we make in being followers of Christ. Just as there was a cost to be paid by the disciples, there is a cost to be paid by us also. It’s not always easy bearing witness to Christ by our words and deeds, but if you were to carry out a ‘cost – benefit’ analysis, the benefits would far outweigh the costs.
At home, if I use the word ‘Do-able’ it usually produces the same type of look from Selena as I get when I use my other favourite phrase: “Trust Me!”....Well, ‘Trust Me’ when I say to you, that if you commit to being a true follower of Christ, through Him, anything is ‘Do-Able!’
21st Sunday COVID-19
In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus saying to Peter “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.” Most of the pictures or paintings or statues you will see of St. Peter, will show him as this big stern looking man holding keys, almost like a gaoler deciding peoples freedom. It can conjure up an image of this man who has the power to have people locked away or freed, and he holds the key to their future. This is not the case. He wasn’t someone who determined the captivity or the freedom of the people. The keys he held were a symbol only of the way to heaven.
If you have ever been lucky enough to have visited St. Peters Basilica at the Vatican, you will no doubt have seen the ancient statue of St. Peter inside the basilica. Visitors to the basilica traditionally touch and kiss the foot. I have done this myself. Apparently, in the middle ages, pilgrims who reached Rome did this, and prayed to St. Peter asking him to be merciful, and use the keys to open the gates of heaven for them if they died during their pilgrimage. I suppose the fact that St. Peter was seen as the one who held the keys of the gates of heaven, and therefore had some great influence in determining who was allowed to enter and who wasn’t, does have some logic to it. It’s also an image used for many jokes that start with “So this fellow goes up to heaven, and St. Peter is standing at the pearly gates, but won’t let him in…….” you can fill in the blanks yourselves.
I happen to think that we ourselves hold a lot of the keys that are required to open the gates of heaven to us. We collect them as we go through life. We receive them through the sacraments, from baptism through to our final anointing. They are placed into our hands and it’s up to us to recognise them for what they are and to use them wisely. Sometimes we may think of the kingdom of heaven as a final destination at the end of our earthly journey. Maybe it is, we won’t know for sure until we get there, but maybe we are passing through the doors of the kingdom every day, if only we could recognise it and use the keys that are given to us.
These keys are the graces and the blessings that God bestows on us throughout our lives. It may well be that the last key we are given to use is the one which will open the door for us to pass from this life to the eternal life. Perhaps when we do so, we may well be greeted by St. Peter standing there, at the pearly gates, holdings his keys. He may not need to use them if we have used all the little keys throughout our lives wisely. If we have done, then we may find the door is already open for us and we only need to pass through it.
So, perhaps we shouldn’t look upon St. Peter as some sort of stern gaoler, but as the Great Saint, the Rock of the church. He will be our ‘meeter and greeter’ and welcome us through that last door. The one that leads to one of the many rooms in the Lord’s mansion.
That’s the ‘key’ to it.
20th Sunday COVID-19
I’m sure most of you will have a picture, a prayer card or even a statue of Our Lady, the image will be of a sweet, fresh faced, innocent young woman.
However, let me offer you an alternative portrait of Her. Here is a teenager expecting a baby, no sign of the father. Her betrothed, willing to accept and bring up someone else’s child as his own. She is poor, and is homeless at the time of the birth of her son, having to give birth in a stable. Shortly after this, she has to flee for her child’s safety and becomes a refugee. In addition to being homeless and a refugee, she went on to become the anguished mother of a missing teenager. She became a widow, a single parent, who later would have to witness her son being falsely accused, taken prisoner, tortured and brutally killed, she was then grieving the loss of a beloved son to a violent death.
Such a woman today would at best be getting support in the form of therapy, at worst, given her story, she could have ended up being a guest on the Jeremy Kyle show. Now, consider this. She endured all of this with courage and faith. She now advocates for all people, men and women alike, who face similar trials. If we think about her in this way, it’s hard to understand why all the images we see of her make her look, a passive, submissive, self-effacing woman, a nice plastic statue on a pedestal. The real character of Mary in the gospels is a woman of faith who is strong, active and industrious.
The images we have of this young fresh faced woman don’t show the worry, the hardships, the sacrifices, and the great pain she endured through her life. She doesn’t have the battle scarred face of someone who has had a hard life, whose face tells a story of those hardships and pain. But, her face does tell a story of someone who was blessed and chosen by the Lord. He chose her before she was born. She was kept pure and chaste. Her face tells the story of a young woman who accepted the promises of the Lord without question, but with good grace and a trusting acceptance. Her face shows a woman who was a loving, protective, caring, compassionate, faithful servant of the Lord.
Mary was an industrious woman. We recall that fact on the feast of the Assumption, when we celebrate Mary’s greatest accomplishment, the joyful consummation of her life on this earth. In the Assumption, we celebrate what we all hope for; the consummation of our spiritual life in heaven. I’m sure we all pray to Mary, I know I do. We ask her to intercede for us: ‘pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.’
When we think of the Blessed Virgin Mary and prayer, apart from the ‘Hail Mary’, there is Her own prayer, the ‘Magnificat’. A beautiful Canticle which encapsulates the true Mary. No matter what image we have of her, this is her own image of herself and of the Lord. The first part of it says it all: “My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my saviour. He looks on his servant in her lowliness; henceforth all ages will call me Blessed”. A truly self-effacing, humble, beautiful, account of her encounter with the Lord.
So, no matter what image we have of Mary, remember that the road she travelled was a long, hard and at times torturous one. Her reward was to be her assumption, body and soul, untainted, into Heaven, where she remains to intercede for us with the Father. Therefore, the first line of our prayer to her is very appropriate; ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’.
So, please continue to have the image of the picture, the prayer card or the statue in mind when you pray to Our Lady, but don’t forget the hardships she endured also. Yes, I think we can safely say that Our Lady, The Blessed Virgin Mary, truly deserved and earned her assumption, untainted by this world, into Heaven.
So, truly, and deservedly, we pray…...Hail Mary, full of grace.
19th Sunday COVID-19
A week after his fifth birthday, I taught my son how to ride his bike without the stabilisers on it. He was sure he would fall off and hurt himself and I was assuring him he would be okay, and to trust me, I wouldn’t let go of him until I was sure he could do it. Well he did it. A big step and a great achievement for a small child.
It was probably a bit later than that when he learned to swim, and although he was having swimming lessons, I was teaching him also. I can still remember seeing this fragile little child with armbands on him splashing away in the local swimming baths. Thankfully he didn’t seem to mind being in the water and was having great fun just splashing about. I thought it was important that he learned to swim as young as possible from a safety as well as a fun point of view. He was okay, and it didn’t seem to take too many sessions before we could try it without the armbands. Again he was unsure at first and a bit frightened, but with reassurance from me he ventured across to me. There was only a short gap between us, but it probably seemed a great distance to a small child. He knew I was there for him and eventually he managed it. We progressed from there by increasing the distance between us, and with his new found confidence, it wasn’t long before he was able to manage it on his own.
These are two big achievements in any small child’s life and it takes a lot of courage on the child’s part to be able to ‘take the plunge’, quite literally. It requires them placing all their trust and faith in you. The same can be said for adults when they are encouraged to do something which seems very risky, if not impossible to them at first.
This is the message we can take from today’s Gospel. Jesus walked across the water towards the boat the disciples were in. They could not believe their eyes at first and thought they must be seeing a ghost. Peter was the one who asked the Lord to prove it really was him by allowing him to walk on the water too. Peter would have made it all the way across the water if he had put his full trust and faith in Jesus. It was only when he became too afraid to carry on that he started to sink. If only he hadn’t doubted his faith at that moment. Doesn’t this story just prove to us that if we put all our trust and faith in the Lord, he will not let us down. He will lead us to achieve what we set out to do.
All those years ago with my son, all I wanted him to do was to trust me and I would keep him safe. Jesus is sending the same message to us today. He will always keep us safe.
Most of us have never been caught up in a storm at sea, and in all probability, never will be. It’s almost certain that we’ll never see a man walk on water. So, in a literal sense, we cannot relate to the experience of the apostles in today’s Gospel, but in a figurative sense, we have all experienced varying degrees of storms in our lives. We all know what it’s like to have our tranquil life interrupted by an unexpected storm. If we’re going to make a successful voyage across the unpredictable sea of life, we need to know how to weather the storms. So, how do we do that? Well, it’s quite simple, we put our trust and our faith in God.
Over the last couple of years, when I have been going through some difficult and dark times, I’ve wanted to just give up. Give up on family and friends, relationships, yes, and even life itself. The one thing I clung onto, and never gave up on, was my faith and trust in God. I knew that although I was going through a crisis in my life, it was never a crisis of faith. My faith was my ‘lifebelt’ in those stormy waters. Let your faith in God be yours too.
18th Sunday COVID-19
Today’s Gospel of the loaves and fishes is probably one of the best known of all the miracles that Jesus performed. It’s the only one that’s mentioned in all four Gospels. There’s plenty of ‘food for thought’ for the homilist there (pun intended). However, I thought I would leave the story of the loaves and fishes to one side on this occasion. Instead, I want to focus on the reason why Jesus was there, in that place, at that time.
He had gone there to be alone. He was grieving, mourning the loss of his dear friend, John the Baptist. John had just been beheaded on the orders of Herod, to satisfy a whim of his ‘stepdaughter’. Let’s not forget that Jesus was fully Divine, and, fully Human. Just like the rest of us, he was upset and hurting at the news of the loss of a loved one. He didn’t get the peace and quiet, the solitude that he was seeking for himself, but, his love and compassion for others took precedence over his own needs.
When someone very close to you dies it can hit you very hard. Some people just want to be on their own or with close family or friends at a time like that. You may just want to get away from everyone and everything, to be on your own and have your own space.
Many years ago, when I was a teenager, (not that many years ago), I went to the funeral of one of my uncles with the rest of the family in Glasgow. Afterwards, when all the family and friends gathered together back at the house, my cousin, whose father it was who had died, could not handle the crowd or the fuss and just wanted to ‘escape’ for a while. He suggested a few of us went for a game of tennis. So there we were, myself and a few of my cousins at the local tennis courts just having a ‘knock-about’ with a bat and ball. I found it a bit strange at the time but respected the fact that, if this is what my cousin wanted to do at that time, then we should support him. In a way it felt a little disrespectful to my uncles’ memory and to my auntie and the rest of the family, especially to my own mother who had just buried one of her brothers. As the years have past, I have understood better why he wanted to do that. We each have our own way of dealing with the situation.
I’m not suggesting that Jesus did what He did as a way of dealing with His grief, and I don’t think we can just dismiss His actions by saying that everyone deals with their grief in different ways, as in the example of my cousin. No, this is yet another example of the character of Jesus, only ever wanting to put the needs of others before His own needs.
I am sure we all know people like that and consider them to be very special indeed. They show their compassion for others when it is really themselves who could do with being shown a bit of compassion by those around them. Those very special people truly live by Jesus’ example. Something we should all aspire to do.
Let me leave you with this thought. All four Gospel accounts of this story tell us about there being enough leftovers to fill twelve baskets. Well, given that the crowd numbered over five thousand, presumably from the local towns and villages, what happened to the leftovers? Just a thought.
Well, whatever happened to the scraps, I’m sure that Jesus made sure they were put to good use for the most needy.
17th Sunday Covid 19
There is a saying that ‘One man’s junk is another man’s treasure’. So what is real treasure then. Well, it can of course be different things to different people. Perhaps the clues lie hidden in other parts of scripture, where the advice is ‘It will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven’ and ‘Store up treasures for yourself in heaven, not in the things of this world’.
Perhaps the situation we have been in these last few months will have made us reconsider just exactly what it is that we treasure most in our lives, and, as the restrictions of the lock down start to ease a bit, have our values changed now. Do we consider being able to come to church for mass one of the real treasures in our lives now? Or, is it being able to see family and friends easier now? See our children and grandchildren again? Or perhaps even being able to go back to work, who knows? As I say, it will be different things to different people. Hopefully though, we will measure the treasure in our lives by the value of our relationships with others. By what we have been able to do for others, or by what others have done for us, during this difficult time. This unprecedented time of adversity, has brought out the best in a lot of people, by helping others, by looking out for our neighbours, by shopping for others, or even by just maintaining contact with others. The better side of humanity. That’s got to be something to treasure surely.
Sometimes, when someone is noted for their acts of compassion or kindness, or selflessness in helping others, they are spoken of as ‘He’s / She’s a real treasure’. We sometimes refer to entertainers or celebrities, who are well loved and have been around a long time as ‘A national treasure’. We may say these things as a sign of our love, admiration and respect for these people, but it speaks of their character, of their goodness, of their humanity towards others. Surely this is another way to measure real treasure.
When I take a long hard look at my own life, I have to confess that for a large part of it, the treasures I was seeking in life were all materialistic. Now, I’m not saying that I no longer have a materialistic bone in my body, I am only human after all, but, I can with all honesty, say that I don’t value those things as I used to. The treasures, I have in my life are my faith, the closeness and love of a great family, and the joy of watching my grandchildren grow. Having said that, I do still have treasures that I am seeking, mainly to be at total peace with myself and with God. I fear I may need a map to find that hidden treasure though, but I’ll keep looking.
We may have to do a lot of soul-searching to find the hidden treasures within ourselves to find out what is really important to us in our lives. Once we have done that, if we can discard the materialistic aspect in our world and keep hold of the values that Jesus taught all those years ago, then we have found real treasure.
The kingdom of heaven is available to us here and now, not just in the eternal life.
16th Sunday Covid 19
Next Saturday morning 25th July at 11 a.m. the church will be open for our first Mass since March.
What are we to expect of the future church ? Will it return to, ‘as it was before ?’ Will more people start to go to Mass; or less ?
Will people have a deeper love for the Mass or say “ We have managed quite well without it…we don’t need it?
Will others say “ Now is the time to change the rules and structure of the church:- More women in power, gay marriages etc or conversely “ We have an opportunity to close lots of churches and schools and create a pure and “ Catholic” church for those prepared to come to Mass every week and accept all the Church beliefs.
Anything might happen !
BUT… we do have some guidance from Christ in today’s gospel.
Christ tells the parable of the farmer who despite sowing only good seeds ends up with a field full of good crop and weeds. When asked should the weeds be rooted out he said “ No ! “
Why ? Because it is difficult to distinguish what’s what. Wait until harvest time. Christ compared the Kingdom of God to that field.
A dismissive attitude towards those who are less than perfect also risks ignoring the truth that those living on the borders of the Church can often have insights that are deeply life giving. A case in point is Jimmy McGovern, writer of the TV series Cracker, The Lakes, Priest, and Broken. He said of himself in a ‘Tablet’ interview, that though he has lost the faith in which he was brought up, ‘he is open to it returning.’
I have met him a few times and it was always evident that he had a catholic viewpoint about forgiveness and tolerance.
‘Broken’ is about a priest who stands shoulder to shoulder with the poor, the disadvantaged and the desperate. McGovern says that the title broken refers to the broken bread of the Eucharist, and explained, ‘We should always associate the breaking of the bread with the breaking of the human body, and if that is not uppermost in our minds at Mass then we are missing something. It is more than breaking bread for ease of consumption. It is breaking bread to remind us of a broken body, Christ’s on Calvary and now his mystical body which is the church on earth ’ Wow –that such a deep Christian insight should persist in someone seen as at the edge of the Church – or even beyond it – shows we must never uproot and throw away what we might consider a lost cause.
That doesn’t mean we have to be passive or indifferent; the patience that the parable asks for comes from faith and compassion. We need to understand that people do get themselves involved in all sorts of wrong situations even evil ones and not always their own fault, but being understanding and patient doesn’t condone the situation. It just means that we don’t abandon people, or write them off, but that we are always at hand to give what help is necessary.
Pope Francis gives a heart warming example in rejecting the image of the Church as an army marching in close step, and that all members must keep in line. Instead he says “the church is more like the field hospital, existing where there is combat – a mobile structure that offers first aid and immediate care so that soldiers don’t die or be left behind.”
That I think is a telling comment on today’s gospel. The Church does not exist to condemn people but to bring about an encounter with the unconditional love of God’s mercy. To go forth towards those who are wounded, who are in need of - an attentive ear, understanding, forgiveness and love. – Isn’t that what a lot of people have been doing during lock down?
Be patient and open minded as we poke our nose out from lock down.
Continue to be safe and help others to remain so.
GOD BLESS. FR G.
15th Sunday A covid 19 12th July 2020
As we are about to start Masses soon and come out of ‘lockdown’, we need to ask ourselves how our faith is. Stronger or weaker, without Mass?
In today’s gospel Jesus said “Some seed fell on rock where they found little soil and withered away. Others fell among thorns and the thorns grew and choked them” let’s hope that being away from Mass and the parish community has not allowed our relationship with God to be withered away or choked out by the thorns of worldly enticements.
One of the joys for a priest is when he sees parents avidly listening to the word of God during sacramental preparation of Baptism, 1st Holy Communion and confirmation, and their return to Mass with their children, with a realisation of what they are missing and restart their lives with the Christian element in the forefront of their actions. It’s lovely to see them find that new dimension to their way of living. The hope is that it wont wither or be choked out again.
During the week I came across an article written by Fr. O’Shea, a Dominican priest. It told of a young Chinese girl to whom he was introduced while lecturing in Rome. She had been brought up in Beijing where her catholic upbringing came to an abrupt halt at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.
Her parents became petrified to teach her about what was most precious to them for fear it would become so precious to her that she would speak about it outside the home and they would find themselves in prison like so many others who’d been reported to the authorities by neighbours. In fact her cousin had spent 17 years in jail and her fiancé had been so mistreated during his three years in prison that he was not recognised by his family at the end of it.
When she was 20 she visited her uncle who, behind closed doors, talked about the faith that she had not heard of since she was a small girl. One time he locked all doors and then raised a floorboard and unwrapped a small booklet on the Stations of the Cross. She begged him to let her hide it in her clothes and take it home where with the aid of a torch, she read it under the bed clothes. Wave after wave of emotion rose up from somewhere deep within her. For the first time in her life she came to realise how loveable must have been that man, Jesus, who had been unknown to her for most of her life and who had been prepared to die for her. When her mother heard her sobbing she joined her, and they sobbed together with sadness for the man who’d come to give them everything he had, to fill their lives with joy, and then paid for it with his own life. Their sadness, however, was mixed with joy because she also discovered that he who had been in some way lost to her, was still alive and loving her still.
Fr. O’Shea said “I was almost in tears myself when she had finished her story - for the tears I couldn’t shed for the faith that I have taken for granted. I have whole libraries of books, but I have been misusing them. I have been so long searching for insights into the faith to enable me to write for others; but what I should be doing is living the faith more deeply and my example would influence others.
I will just add this. The Dominicans have always insisted that you should first receive and make your own, what you would hand on to others, or you will have nothing to hand on at all, but the emptiness in yourself. –.
As we come out of lockdown and rules are relaxed remember to keep safe; keep the rules that remain and enjoy the new freedoms - see you soon - at Mass I hope.
God bless, Fr. G
This week the Youth have put together the readings, prayer and music to celebrate the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, with a homily from Deacon Jim!
Fourteenth Sunday Of Ordinary Time, Year A
(5th July 2020) Gospel:- Matthew 11:25-30
‘Black Lives Matter!’ That’s the message that’s dominated the news around the world for the last few weeks. Slavery has been around for a long time. Some of you, of a certain age, may remember the Oscar Hammersmith song “Ol’ man river” from the film and stage show, ‘Showboat’ made famous by the singer and actor, Paul Robeson. In the film, the black man sings, “I gets weary and sick of trying. I’m tired of living and scared of dying; but Ol’ man river, he just keeps rolling along.” That man’s weariness ran much deeper than physical labour. He was tired of being a slave, of having no freedom and seeing no future. He was existing like a river instead of living like a man. There was a vast weariness deep down in his soul. Life was wearing him out.
This is the kind of weariness that Jesus had in mind – a tiredness that goes to the very centre of life, not just the muscles and bones, but the soul of the spirit. We all know what He is talking about because at some time we have all felt like that. I know I certainly have.
So, where do we find the kind of power and strength we need. This is where the invitation of Jesus comes in. “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
These words may sound strange, but many people have learned the truth of these words.
Having someone to share the load certainly helps at times. That may take the form of just talking things through, or getting someone else to take over some onerous tasks that are weighing you down.
Of course, there is the other side of that coin. Just as we may need others to help us carry the burden from time to time, perhaps we could consider being that person who offers to ease the load of someone who may be struggling, who may ‘have a lot on their plate’. This doesn’t have be on a one-to-one basis either. If we can see that someone’s tasks are many and onerous, we can work together to ease the burden by taking on a task or tasks, to work together as a team, to ease the burden on someone.
Perhaps we could consider working together to achieve the task of getting our church ready for re-opening for public worship in the coming weeks. There are a lot of tasks to be undertaken, and if we pull together, sharing the load, then we can lighten the burden of those who bear the overall responsibility.
Isn’t that the message that Jesus wants us to receive in today’s Gospel? Ironically, receiving and acting on the word of God, will enable us all to be together again, in God’s house, to once again, receive the word of God.
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (28th June 2020)
St Peter and Paul
Today we celebrate the Feast of St Peter and St Paul.
St Peter is our patron saint and usually we have a Mass of celebration in our school full of singing and joy.
At this Mass I usually tell the story of Quo Vadis.
Quo Vadis is a Latin phrase meaning “Where are you going ? “
Sometime after Christ’s death, Nero the Roman Emperor, wanted to clear the slums of Rome so he set fire to them sureptiousiously and then blamed the Christians, who were then persecuted and put to death.
In fear for his life, Peter flees from a possible crucifixion at the hands of the Government and along the road outside Rome, he meets The Risen Lord. Peter asks Jesus “Quo Vadis? “
Jesus replied, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again “ Peter thinks about this and then finds it gives him the courage to go back to Rome and continue his ministry. He then returns to the city where subsequently he is eventually martyred by being crucified upside-down.
The church of ‘Domine, Quo Vadis’ in Rome is built where the meeting between Peter and Jesus allegedly took place.
We too today, are probably asking Christ the same question “Where are you going with this pandemic ? ” To which he may say “Am I still to be crucified in the poor, the marginalised, the homeless or will the “HAVES”, the Governments, big businesses etc have had the time to consider how wealth should be re-distributed ? To the leaders of religion will he say “Go back to your origins and find the compassion and love that religion was first built upon. To us would he say “Did you make use of the lockdown to examine your life, your relationships… especially with Christ and are you continuing to be swept away by the new wave of concern for others that has developed over the past months?
In going back to Mass will you remember that Mass is the sacrifice of myself for you; and the giving of myself to you in Holy Communion. Will you listen more intently to my words spoken through the scriptures at Mass?
How will Covid 19 / lockdown / isolation / screening affect your life once we return to “normality?”
Have I changed for the better? Am I more aware of the needs of others? Have I realised the important things in life and got rid of the trivial
things? Have I realised what possessions are important or necessary in life? Am I happier, more content and comfortable with my use of time?
So many questions !!!
But, remember……think carefully before you act, and ask yourself :
Quo Vadis…. Where are YOU going ?
I am VERY PLEASED to finally announce that Mass will once more be celebrated here in St Peter’s sometime in early July !
Before then there will be a meeting with our volunteers, Eucharistic Ministers, Deacon Jim and myself to sort out the practicalities and safety issues with guidelines coming from The Archdiocese.
I hope by next Sunday to have all things in place and able to give details of how this will work. I ask for your support and patience as the planning will have to be meticulous and not rushed.
21st June 2020
12th Sunday of Ordinary Time
This week as the restrictions on our movements are eased, I write pleading with you all to continue with your security measures. Please don’t drop your guard or get careless about social distancing and hand washing, cleaning etc. Numbers of deaths are down Thank God and we want to keep it that way. It is frightening to see the crowds at protest rallies, and hear about illegal “Raves” taking place; at least one in Manchester and others being organised for this weekend.
Believe me I know how hard it has been being apart from family, friends, social occasions etc but as we have seen in China the virus has come back with a second wave. We don’t want that to happen in our country.
PLEASE BE VIGILANT
On a brighter note may I thank all those who kindly volunteered to help with the opening of our church. Unfortunately, as you know, because we cannot open the church at the moment there is no need for your help but…. hopefully soon !
I will be in touch as soon as we get word that we can open up.
I would also like to thank all those who continue to help with the finance of the church by sending in their offertory envelopes or with standing orders. Many people have recently changed to have a standing order from their banks. If you would like to do this we have the appropriate forms here in the presbytery.
Friday, was the Feast of the Sacred Heart. The heart is a symbol of love. Love comes from God and because God loves us so much, we, too, must love one another and as long as we do God will live in us.
Our words of wisdom this week are on a video sent by a Muslim friend from Jordan. Obviously the world is of like mind during this pandemic. I hope you enjoy it.
Please continue to keep safe. God bless you all.
A Prayer for Fathers
Heavenly Father, you entrusted your Son Jesus, the child of Mary, to the care of Joseph, an earthly father. Bless all fathers as they care for their families. Give them strength and wisdom, tenderness and patience; support them in the work they have to do, protecting those who look to them, as we look to you for love and salvation, through Jesus Christ our rock and defender.