PENTECOST SUNDAY YEAR ‘A’. - (28th May 2023) First Reading Acts 2:1-11. / Gospel:- John 20:19-23
Well, there’s only one way to start this homily, and that is to wish you all a ‘Happy Birthday.’ Yes, it’s that time of the year again, the Solemnity of Pentecost. The day which is considered as the ‘Birth’ of the church. This is the day which Jesus was preparing His disciples for, the day when He would send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit to help and guide them.
We hear in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit entered the room they were all gathered in with a sound ‘like a powerful wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them.’ At this, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Wow, that’s a very vivid and dramatic description of the scene and paints a picture for us of the enormity of what was happening.
In the Gospel we hear that Jesus said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” He was in effect, commissioning them to act in His name, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
At Baptism, we all receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and again at Confirmation. If you have ever been present when I conduct a Baptism Service...you will know that it’s nothing like that, nothing so dramatic; but in it’s own way just as powerful in terms of the child receiving Holy Spirit for the first time. That very special gift from God stays with us throughout our lives. It’s not something we can see or hear or smell, but if we are at one with God, we can at times feel the work of the Spirit within us.
In my homily last week, I talked a lot about prayer and I want to touch on it again by posing a question to you. When you pray, do you pray for the Holy Spirit to help you? I do, every day. I ask the Lord to send the Holy Spirit upon me, to help me, to guide me, and to strengthen me with whatever is concerning me at that time. I put my trust in the Lord and in the work of the Spirit and it can have a calming influence on me. I suspect that the Apostles needed calming down a bit after their experience in that room. Can you imagine how they must have been feeling? They would have been confused, frightened and bewildered to say the least. It would never have been Jesus’ intention to make them feel that way and I’m sure that once they understood what was happening, they will have calmed down.
The Apostles were all given precious gifts that day and used them well to spread the Word to the surrounding area as well as further afield. We too have all been given precious gifts by the Lord, do we use them well? Do we use them to spread the Word? By ‘spreading the Word’ I’m not just meaning our readers who come to the lectern at mass to read from the lectionary, or indeed myself or Father Mark when we preach. I’m talking about us using our gifts, through the Holy Spirit to help others, to care for the sick, to teach our children and grandchildren how to live a good Christian life. If we can look at ourselves and consider that we do these things, then we should recognise that it is the work of the Holy Spirit within us which is at work. Now that’s a very special gift to have.
Seventh Sunday of Easter Year 'A' - (21st May 2023) Gospel:- John 17:1-11
It’s all about prayer. The first eight words of today’s Gospel ‘Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said...’ contain the clue to the message of this Gospel. It’s all about prayer. Jesus is talking to His Father. He is praying. He spent a lot of time in prayer to His Father. We often hear in the Gospels of Jesus going off somewhere to be alone and pray. He tells the Father, “I pray for them” not for Himself, but for those whom the Father had entrusted to Him.
In the entrance antiphon and in the psalm we hear the words, ‘O Lord, hear my voice when I call; have mercy and answer.’ The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us about Mary and the apostles going into to the upper room and joining together in continuous prayer. Interestingly, this is the last appearance of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in the New Testament. It is striking that our last picture of her should be as a member of the believing community engaged in waiting and prayer.
In the prayer over the offerings father Mark will say, “Accept, O Lord, the prayers of your faithful…” and again, in the communion antiphon he will say, “Father, I pray that they may be one as we are one, alleluia.”
Prayer, and the act of praying is a wonderful gift from God. As I’ve said many times before, prayer can be a very private and personal act, it can also be a very rewarding communal act. When we come to mass, we have the opportunity to do both; for ourselves and for others and our prayers are never wasted, they never fall on ‘deaf ears’ God is always listening to us.
Many years ago, I went to see a friend being ordained as a Deacon. Something he said to me afterwards has stuck with me. He said that I will find that once I am ordained, my own prayer life will change. I didn’t understand this at first, but over the years I have found it to be true. Perhaps I didn’t understand because I thought of myself as not being worthy to be called to the Diaconate (and I still don’t), but the truth is that we are all worthy in God’s eyes. That in itself is something worth offering up prayers of thanksgiving for. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our worst and He knows our best, and He knows that with His help, what we can become. His faith in us is rooted in His unconditional love for us. Something else for us to offer up a prayer or two in thanks.
When Jesus looked at anyone He not only saw who they were, but what they could become. In Simon, the impetuous fisherman, He saw Peter, the rock of His church. In Levi, the tax collector, He saw Matthew the author of one of the four Gospels. In John, the son of thunder, He saw the beloved disciple. In Zachaeus, the greedy tax collector, He saw a generous philanthropist. That is how Jesus knows you and me and is why He has faith in us. He sees the possibilities in every one of us that no one else has ever seen. If He has that level of faith and belief in us, surely then, we should show the same level of faith and belief in Him. We can do this by praying constantly to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This in turn will then enrich our own personal prayer life. It has with me.
So lets us now join in prayer and make our profession of faith together….I believe in one God, the Father almighty….
Sixth Sunday Of Easter - Year ‘A’ (14th May 2023) - Gospel - John 14:15-21
In the Gospel today Jesus says to the disciples “I shall ask the Father, and he will send you another Advocate to be with you forever”.
This Gospel follows on from a last week’s where we heard Jesus preparing His disciples for His departure. He was trying to explain to them that although they would no longer see him, He wasn’t abandoning them, He was leaving them in ‘good hands’ with the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. We may wonder whether the disciples fully understood what He had been telling them, but they should have if they had been truly listening to Him. All they had to do was place their trust in Him, have faith and belief in what He had been telling them.
The same is true for us today. All we have to do is to be true to our faith and we will experience the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit. These two Gospels are part of what’s known as the ‘Farewell Discourse’ and the message is quite simple. It revolves around a handful of points:
Jesus speaks to the disciples about being still alive, even after His death, and still being with them in the person of the Spirit. We can all relate to this Gospel when we think about those we have loved and lost. When someone close to us dies our human reasoning tells us that they are gone from us. Our faith in God tells us that they are always still with us in spirit. We can still feel their presence, hear their voice, feel their love. I still feel the presence of my mum and dad, even after all these years. I still feel their love, I still talk to them. We can only do this if we have faith in the one true God. The God who sent His Son to be with us forever in the form of the Spirit. In other words, if we truly believe in the Holy Trinity. That’s where our faith lives, in God, and He in us.
This ‘Farewell Discourse’ reminds me of an adaptation of the prayer of St. Teresa that I read this week:
Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do well.
Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, you are his eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
So, perhaps when we think of those we have loved and lost, let us remember that their spirit lives on in us through our faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Fifth Sunday Of Easter Year ‘A’ (7th May 2023)
1st Reading:- Acts of The Apostles 6:1-7 & Gospel:- John 14:1-12
Today’s first reading from the Acts of The Apostles and the Gospel of St. John are for me, very special with a personal link to both. The first reading tells us of the twelve Apostles calling a meeting of all of the Disciples to come up with a solution to a problem. That problem being, that the Apostles realised that they needed help to minister fully to the community, and couldn’t do it all themselves. The assembly elected a man of good standing, Stephen, and six other equally good men. The chosen seven. This was of course, the birth of the Diaconate. The chosen seven were the first Deacons of the church, and Stephen went on to become the first martyr of Christianity. That’s why St. Stephen’s day, (Boxing Day), is a special feast for all Deacons. Indeed, for me, there is also a link with another of the great Deacons, St. Lawrence, who was one of the seven Deacons of Rome in the third century, who was also martyred.
Our first Deacon, Tom Washington, died on the 10th of August , the feast of St. Lawrence. I presided at the service of reception the night before Tom’s funeral, and I read today’s Gospel during the service, as I thought it was appropriate and it was also the wishes of his family.
As a family, we also chose today’s Gospel for the requiem masses for our Mum and Dad. I must admit though, at Mum’s funeral, I didn’t fully take in the message of the Gospel. When Dad died, I found myself listening more attentively to the Gospel and tried to find some meaning within it that I could relate to the circumstances at that time.
We are told that Jesus said to his disciples, “There are many rooms in my Father’s house” and ... “You know the way to the place where I am going.” When Thomas asks how they can know the way, Jesus replies, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
Those nine words, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” are so powerful and so profound. Jesus wasn’t just a ‘signpost’ to show us the way ... He is The Way. He wasn’t just telling a version of the truth ... He is The Truth. He wasn’t just living an earthly life ... He is The Life. It is for us to follow That Way, to accept That Truth, and to live That Life.
Jesus was the most influential person in the life of the disciples. They were taught by Him, they were nurtured by Him, they were guided and protected by Him. I have been very lucky to have had a handful of people who have been very influential in my life, and I’m very sure you all have such people in your own lives. Perhaps maybe we should spend time and recall those who have guided us well in life as we pray:
‘Jesus, our way, guide me in life.
Jesus, our truth, teach me your meaning of life.
Jesus, our life, love me always.
There is a story told of a tombstone in a cemetery, which had the inscription:
‘Remember, stranger, as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you shall be; so prepare yourself to follow me.’ To which someone, with a piece of chalk added, ‘To follow you I’m quite content. But how do I know which way you went?’
Well, the answer is contained in today’s Gospel. Believe in Jesus because ... He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Fourth Sunday Of Easter Year ‘A’ - (30th April 2023) Gospel:- John 10:1-10.
This Sunday is known as Good Shepherd Sunday, and also Vocations Sunday. Today’s Gospel from St. John tells us all about Jesus being the Good Shepherd, and how he calls His sheep and they follow Him because they know His voice. I think we all know by now that Jesus used parables about sheep and shepherds a lot, as well as fishermen, because they were the two main lifestyles at that time. Therefore everyone would understand and could relate to what He was talking about, although it may seem a bit obscure to us today. Having said that though, it shouldn’t be too difficult for us to relate to.
This Gospel passage is very timely and fitting for our parish this weekend. We too have a new shepherd. Father Mark Drew has taken up residence this weekend as our new Parish Priest. He is our Pastor, our Shepherd, and we are his flock. He will lead us as we continue on our journey of faith. Perhaps though, we may take into account the fact the Father Mark may also be relying on us to help him on his continuing journey of faith too.
Most of you will be aware that I was away last weekend on my annual Diaconal Retreat. One of the themes that the priest who was leading the retreat used was the shepherd, the sheep and the lambs. We all start off as lambs, God’s children. Then we grow and develop as sheep, and some of us heed the calling of God, (see what I did there...the link with Vocations Sunday), and become the shepherd, leading the flock.
Being the shepherd, the one who leads and protects his flock, is a great responsibility and a great privilege. However, there are times when the shepherd sometimes feels the need to be a sheep again. I have found over the past few months that whenever I have gone to mass in another parish, and been able to just sit in the bench with everyone else, it has felt good to just be a ‘sheep’ again and enjoy the mass, if that’s the right way of putting it. It’s good not to lose sight of the fact that there at times when it does the shepherd good to take the opportunity to be a sheep...a child of God, as we all are.
Obviously, the Psalm/Hymn we think about today is ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd’. It has a great line in it...‘For you are with me, your rod and staff’. Have you ever thought about that line, Your rod and staff? The staff, sometimes also referred to as a ‘crook’ is held in one hand, and the rod, a thick stick/pole is held in the other hand. The shepherd uses the ‘hook’ of the staff to pull the sheep back in to the fold if they stray, and he uses the rod to beat off the attackers, the wolves. Quite an image when you think of it like that isn’t it? Well, isn’t that exactly what Jesus does for us? He uses his arms outstretched to gather us, His flock, together safely, and uses His power over evil, to fend off any danger to us.
On this Good Shepherd and Vocations Sunday, say a prayer for vocations to the Priesthood, the Religious life, and the Diaconate, but remember that the shepherds of the flock are sheep too. We are all God’s children.
Third Sunday Of Easter Year ‘A’ - (23rd April 2023) Gospel:- Luke 24:13-35
Today’s Gospel, the story of the two men on the road to Emmaus, is for me, one of the most beautiful Gospel stories. It’s a gentle, loving, caring and very revealing story, which typifies Jesus. There is a richness to it which makes it timeless and meaningful for us all today, there are so many strands to it.
This wasn’t the first time that Jesus had appeared to His followers after His resurrection without being recognised. He had appeared to Mary Magdalen near the tomb, although she thought He was a gardener, and as we heard in last week’s Gospel, He appeared in the locked room, only being recognised after He had spoken and showed them the wounds in His hands and feet. He also appeared on the shore of the sea and cooked breakfast for His disciples who had been out fishing. There is a definite pattern there. This begs the question, why did Jesus choose to appear ‘incognito’ to those who knew Him best? Well, we can never know for sure, but we can draw some reasonable conclusions, and those conclusions are just as relevant for us today as they were for the disciples at that time.
We can see the Emmaus story as a pattern of our liturgy. Jesus talked to the two men about the scriptures and later on broke bread and said the blessing before sharing it with them. Both word and sacrament are integral parts of a single coming of the the Risen Christ. The two events – the exposition of the scriptures and the breaking and blessing of the bread, take place at every Christian assembly today. The breaking and sharing of bread was more than just a symbol of friendship and belonging – by His actions and His words, Jesus gave them food that required them to open their hearts as well as their mouths to receive.
This Gospel story means so much to so many people I know because we can all relate to it. There are times in our lives when, for whatever reason, we are struggling and feeling alone and helpless. We may fail to recognise that even in our difficult times, Jesus is always right there beside us, helping and protecting us. At some point, something will happen and we will realise that we weren’t alone after all. When something like that happens to us, we may believe we have had some sort of epiphany. Speaking from personal experience, that’s how I relate to this Gospel and I now understand that’s the point of this story.
I am sure there will have been times in all our lives when we will have felt something, a ‘presence’ that is there helping us along. We may think of it as a long lost loved one looking out for us, or a guardian angel guiding us. You could say it doesn’t matter how we rationalise it to ourselves, what’s important is that we recognise it as the hand of Jesus at work. He’s always there, walking that long hard road with us, and He will never be far from our side.
Let me leave you with this prayer:
‘Lord Jesus, you joined your disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Look upon those who have not recognised your presence in their lives –
let their hearts also rejoice in the knowledge of their Saviour.
Accompany them, and your church, on their journey through life.
Second Sunday Of Easter Year ‘A’ - (16th April 2023) Gospel:- John 20:19-31
PEACE BE WITH YOU!
Don’t worry, you don’t have to respond ... ‘And with your spirit.’
Just think about those four words...Peace Be With You. They were the first four words Jesus said to His disciples when he entered the locked room. Given the context of the circumstances, who would have blamed Jesus if He had said something else. What if He had taken them to task for their actions of deserting Him in His hour of need? Who could have blamed Him for using four different words, perhaps; ‘Well, what a shower’ or, ‘You bunch of cowards’, but He didn’t. The words he used were probably the most apt, relevant and powerful words He could have spoken at that time. They would have instantly put the disciples at ease, which is exactly what they needed at that time. He was assuring them that they would never be alone, in the words of a famous song ...‘You’ll never walk alone.’ A song which is probably as famous, or even more famous, for its use at certain football grounds as it was when it was in the charts in the 1960’s.
Now it is not my intention here to discuss the finer points of football rivalry and adopted club songs. However, if you listen to the chorus of that particular song, “Walk on, Walk on, with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone, you’ll never walk alone”, and indeed the rest of the song, you will see that it is a song full of hope for the future.
We do all need to have some hope for the future in our hearts, and whether we find it in the words of a song or elsewhere, it can be of vital importance to how we live our lives. The greatest place we can find that hope though is in God. It could be said that if we look to the things of this world for hope, we will be disappointed and left unfulfilled, for without God, there is no hope.
That message of hope is for me, the clear message I can take from today’s Gospel. St. Paul used a phrase which we would do well to ponder. When describing the life of the Ephesians before they had come to faith in God he said ‘you were without hope and without God in the world’. (Ephesians 2:12).
I think this is a good description of the disciples as they huddled together in the Upper Room for fear of their lives. At that point, their lives must have seemed without God and without hope. I would imagine that they felt empty and alone in the world without their leader beside them. They were living in constant fear of the Jews and would not have been at peace. Jesus’ first words to them was “Peace be with you” how comforting it must have been to see Him again and hear Him say those words. This would surely have eased their troubled hearts and minds.
When Jesus appeared to them for the second time, He dealt with the doubt that Thomas had expressed to the others. He invited Thomas to come and see His wounds, and by doing so He expelled any lingering doubt that Thomas, or any of them may have had. By inviting them to ‘Come and see’ the obvious follow up is ‘Now go and tell.’
As Christians, we too have a responsibility to ‘Go and tell’. Whether others accept or reject what we have to say is up to them, just as Thomas didn’t accept what the others had to say to him about Jesus appearing to them. I think any doubters or non believers who attended any of our services during Holy Week and the Easter Triduum, would be hard pressed to deny that Jesus was truly present and imparting His peace upon us all.
By appearing to them twice in the same setting, a locked room, Jesus gave them the hope for the future that they needed to carry on in His name. He put that hope in their hearts, and they knew that from then on they would, ‘Never Walk Alone’ and neither will we.
So, may I repeat those words of Jesus...Peace be with you.
Easter Sunday Year ‘A’ - (9th April 2023) Gospel:- John 20:1-9
The tomb is empty! The tomb in which the body of Jesus was laid on Good Friday, the tomb that had been sealed and even guarded by soldiers, is empty! That is the good news this Easter Sunday! We celebrate the fact that the tomb is empty, but what about the discovery of the empty tomb on that first Sunday over two thousand years ago? The initial thought of Mary of Magdala was that someone had taken Jesus from the tomb, that it had been robbed.
When we think of tomb or grave robbers, we think of Burke and Hare, undoubtedly the most infamous grave robbers our country has known. It is easy to see what Burke and Hare’s motives were for grave robbing, money and profit. But who would have profited by robbing Jesus from his grave? Well, the High Priests, the Elders, and the Romans could have disposed of the body and put an end to the threat of Jesus for good. I am not sure it would have though. I believe the disciples’ faith would have been strong enough to continue his work.
In today’s Gospel, we here how Mary of Magdala went to the tomb of Jesus only to find it empty. It would be easy to see how her first thought might have been that someone had robbed the grave. Indeed, when she reached Peter and John, she told them that “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him.” It wasn’t until John went into the tomb to see for himself that he understood the teaching of the scripture, and he believed that Jesus had risen from the dead.
So this wasn’t a case of ‘grave robbery’, no one had robbed Jesus from the grave. Maybe though, this was instead, a case of ‘death robbery’. You see, by his resurrection and fulfilment of the scriptures, Jesus had in fact ‘robbed’ death of its power over us all. This was it, this was the moment when all of His teachings became obvious to the disciples. Perhaps for some of them this was when ‘the penny finally dropped’.
It is clear for us to see then, how the chorus of the hymn “Thine Be The Glory” is especially apt this weekend: ‘Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son, endless is the victory thou o’er death has won.’
Unlike Mary of Magdala and the disciples Peter and John, who at first thought they had lost something precious to them, they didn’t lose anything at all. We all, in fact gained eternal life through the risen Christ. Something which should be precious to all of us.
I recently visited a dear friend, and throughout our conversation, the one thing that struck me was this person’s great faith in the resurrection and the eternal life. It was their true and unshakable belief in the eternal life; even though none of us know what it will be like, that I found very humbling. I came home and found myself thinking about how much I admired my friend’s strength of faith.
Today, on this Easter Sunday, let us all examine our faith by considering the great gift of the resurrection. The gift of the eternal life that Jesus made possible for us all by His death and resurrection. The tomb may have been empty, but our hearts have now been filled by of the joy of the resurrected Christ.
I pray that you all have a happy, joyful and fulfilled Easter.
Palm Sunday Year ‘A’ (2nd April 2023) Gospels:- Matthew 21:1-11 26:14-27:66.
Palm Sunday has the same two Gospels in each of the three year cycles. In the first Gospel, we celebrate the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem, and in the second Gospel, we have the Passion of the Lord. These two Gospels span the few days when Jesus is welcomed triumphantly by the people, then effectively, condemned to death by them. When they choose Barabbas to be the one who is freed from prison leaving Jesus to be crucified. Talk about going from Hero to Zero in a short few days!
Today, Palm Sunday, we enter Holy Week, probably the most intense week of the liturgical year, certainly the busiest! Lent is almost over and the end is in sight, literally, but so is the great new beginning. From Ash Wednesday through to Easter Sunday, there are four days and four words stand out:
Repent ... Hosanna ... Crucify ... Rejoice.
Repent: This is the word we are asked to concentrate our minds upon as we receive our ashes on Ash Wednesday...‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’
Hosanna: The great triumphant cry of the people on Palm Sunday as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt lauded by the people as their King.
Crucify: This is now the cry of those same people on Good Friday as their hearts and minds are turned to condemning Jesus to death by crucifixion, even though He had done them no wrong.
Rejoice: On Easter Sunday, this is the only word that can describe how we should react at the Good News that Christ has risen from the dead. He died for our sins and rose again as the light of the world, to lead us to eternal life.
To remind us of the joy of Palm Sunday, today we will all receive a palm which either Father Raymond or Father Mark has blessed. When you take it home, think about placing it in a prominent position in your home, to act as a constant visual reminder of the joyful and triumphant reception that Jesus received as He entered Jerusalem. Let that same feeling of joy be in your heart whenever you look at it. If you have small children, you may want to explain the significance of receiving a palm on Palm Sunday, a bit better than a dad I was reading about this week:
Little Johnny was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from Church with his mother. His father returned from Church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, “Why do you have that palm branch, Dad?” His father explained, “You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved palm branches to honour Him; so we got palm branches today.” “Aw, shucks,” grumbled Little Johnny. “The one Sunday I can’t go to Church, and Jesus shows up!”
Perhaps the dad needed to expand on his explanation a bit!
Fifth Sunday Of Lent Year 'A' - (26th March 2023) Gospel:- John 11:1-45
The timing of this Gospel passage within the Church’s Liturgical year is no coincidence. The story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead and the message of the resurrection and eternal life, come the week before Palm Sunday when we will hear the Passion Gospel and Jesus’ crucifixion, and two weeks before the Easter Vigil when we will hear about Jesus, resurrection.
Reading through today’s Gospel made me think of a couple of things: Firstly, the ending of the Nicene Creed: ‘I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.’ That sentence sums up what Jesus would have hoped Martha and Mary, and all those present, would have taken as the message He was demonstrating by raising Lazarus from the dead.
Secondly, it reminded me of the words a minister used at a funeral I attended many years ago. He was trying to give reassurance to the family that while the body, the vessel for the soul, may have died; the soul now continues its journey to everlasting life with God. Some members of the family were almost overcome with grief and probably didn’t take in everything the minister was saying but I found his words quite comforting. Funerals may not be the best time to take in everything that’s said, but the words should always give us hope. I always hope that in spite of the hurt and grief the bereaved must be feeling at that time, they too may recognise that the souls of their beloved family member will now continue on their journey to be with God for eternity. Unlike Lazarus in today’s Gospel story, we will not rise again to this life, but our faith and belief in God will ensure that we will rise again to the next life.
That story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the tomb is I think, a perfect example of faith and belief. We hear how Jesus did not rush to be by his friend’s side when he first heard the news that he was ill. No, he stayed where he was for two more days, and by the time he arrived at the tomb, Lazarus had been there for four days. Both Martha and Mary told Jesus that if he had been there earlier their brother would not have died. They may well have believed that in their hearts, but Jesus needed them to believe in him in a different way. By waiting, and then raising Lazarus from the dead, he was able to prove to them that He was the resurrection and the life; and that anyone who lives and believes in him will never die. This act was not just witnessed by Martha and Mary, many of the Jews who had gone to visit the two sisters and sympathise with them, also witnessed this and believed in him. It’s not just through the many miracles which Jesus performed that we have the foundation for our beliefs. We have his teachings also to give us that faith and belief in the resurrection and the life to come.
Today’s Gospel is about love, about friendship, about life and about death. These are the foundations upon which all our relationships are built and that’s why it is difficult for us when we lose someone. Our human emotions and feelings make it hard for us to come to terms with the loss of a loved one, just as Martha and Mary did with the loss of their brother. Our faith in God, and our belief in the resurrection and the eternal life, give us the comfort and knowledge that we will all be reunited one day. That is the message that Jesus was demonstrating to Martha and Mary, and that is the message we should take from today’s Gospel.
Sadly, one day we will all die and leave loved ones behind, but if our loved ones share our beliefs, our parting will be temporary.
Fourth Sunday Of Lent Year ‘A’ - (19th March 2023) Gospel:- John 9:1-41
Lent is a time of preparation and conversion for all of us. All over the country there are adults preparing to come into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. We sometimes refer to them as ‘Converts’ and those of us who were baptised into the Catholic Church as babies or small children, as ‘Cradle Catholics’. No matter whoever or whatever we are, we all share the same purpose in our spiritual lives, as conversion is a continual and ongoing journey. Conversion can be classed as a journey from blindness to sight. Today’s Gospel shows this by talking not only about physical blindness, but also about spiritual blindness. We can all be guilty of certain kinds of blindness in our lives and it is in our own hands to cure ourselves of most of them. Jesus didn’t just cure the man who was blind from birth by giving him the gift of sight; He did much more than that, He opened the man’s eyes to his heart and soul, which is something totally different.
There was a story in the news some time ago, about a woman who tried to kill her husband by poisoning his food and drink with anti freeze. She was deep in debt and wanted to claim the life insurance money to clear her debts. She carried out this horrible act on their seventh wedding anniversary. I think this was more than just the ‘seven year itch’. It’s possible that the situation she found herself in made her so desperate that she was blind to the consequences of her actions. Thankfully her husband survived, but only just. He is now blind and brain damaged. The woman was sentenced to thirty years in prison for attempted murder, with a proviso that she will not be eligible for parole until she has served at least fifteen years. A commentator on the radio made the observation that, she may have got thirty years, but her husband has got a life sentence of blindness.
I had never thought about blindness being a life sentence before. I suppose those people who are blind from birth, with no prospect of corrective surgery, are living a life sentence in the dark. I cannot imagine not being able to see the light, colours, shapes, faces and people; indeed, all the things we take for granted. Perhaps blind people can ‘see’ in ways that we can’t. They may have greater instinctive skills than we do that allow them to recognise certain things in people that we ‘sighted’ cannot see.
I think this was probably true of the blind beggar in today’s Gospel. Yes, Jesus cured the man of his blindness so that he could see with his eyes, but I think the important message here is the blind man could also see with his heart and soul. He recognised Jesus for who He was, the Son of Man. He accepted not only the marvel of the act of Jesus, but the marvel of his words also. He tried to tell the Pharisees but they would not believe him. In fact they hurled abuse at him and drove him away.
This demonstrates for us another form of blindness. Those who are so blind that they will not see. I suppose it is easy to understand why the Pharisees would not take the word of a ‘blind beggar’, someone they viewed almost as an outcast of society, but this was by no means the first occasion where they disputed the works and words of Jesus. They just could not accept him for who he really was. They just refused to see what was in front of them, they were religiously devout, but spiritually blind. The blind man may well have been a beggar, but he had riches way beyond those of the Pharisees. He had true faith and belief in his heart and soul in Jesus as the Son of Man.
Maybe a life sentence of blindness isn’t always about not having eyesight, maybe it is the eyes of our souls which are closed to the wonders of God.
Third Sunday of Lent Year ‘A’ - (12th March 2023) Gospel:- John 4:5-42
Water, the most essential thing on earth. Without it life could not exist. It’s one of the few things that we all have in common, our need for water to live.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some spa towns promoted themselves by advertising that their spa waters could cure all ills. People would flock there to ‘take the waters’, to bathe in it or drink it. Some years ago, I was in Bath, a beautiful Roman spa city, and like most tourists I visited the Roman baths and bought a glass of their famous spa water. I thought it was disgusting, it tasted like liquid sulphur! However, in days gone by, some people would be convinced that such water had medicinal powers which would cure all ills and make you feel good inside. ‘The elixir of life’ they would call it. Whatever the benefits of it were, there is no doubt that we all need water for living.
The woman at the well we read about in today’s Gospel was gathering water for all the same reasons we do, but there is a big difference between the ‘water for living’ she went for, and the ‘living water’ she left with. The woman needed more than just the water from the well that would quench her thirst, she had a deeper thirst within her that could never be quenched by water, or anything else the world has to offer. It was a thirst of the spirit. This Gospel story revolves entirely around water. When it comes to water, all of us are the same. We need it to survive but how long can we survive without the ‘living water’ that Jesus promised the woman. We are all aware that there was a huge divide between the Jews and the Samaritans, but the encounter that followed was a lesson in human relations.
There are many reasons why this woman would have been surprised by Jesus talking to her the way He did. She was a woman on her own, she was a Samaritan and not a Jew, she was probably a bit of an outcast in her own society given the fact that she had had five husbands and was living with a man whom she wasn’t married to; hence her being at the well at a time of day when no-one else was, it was the hottest part of the day. In fact, in response to Jesus’ request of “Give me a drink.” she replied, “What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?” Jesus showed her that he accepted her as she was. Human relationships have two dimensions. There are the differences which divide us, and the needs which unite us. Jesus chose to emphasise the latter. We should all be willing to drink from the same well.
There is a famous picture of this scene which shows the Samaritan woman looking into the well and seeing there her image – and the image of Jesus. In the depths of the well of her life, is the presence of Jesus. Imagine yourself looking into a well; and seeing the face of Jesus looking at you from its depths. He looks at you with love. Then imagine yourself saying to Him, ‘Lord, send me the living water of the Holy Spirit.’
I must admit I haven’t looked into a well and done that. What I have done, and still do on a regular basis; is sit in church and look at the images of Jesus on display and ask Him to help me understand the importance of accepting His acceptance of me ... warts and all. It’s something I feel I need to do on a regular basis, and today’s Gospel shows us that all we have to do is ask, and be open to receiving the ‘living water’ from the well of the Lord.
2nd Sunday Of Lent Year ‘A’- (5th March 2023) Gospel:- Matthew 17:1-9
In the Gospel of Matthew today, we hear the story of Jesus taking Peter, James and John up a high mountain where they witnessed the Transfiguration of our Lord.
This was an experience like no other they ever had. They witnessed the meeting of Jesus with Moses and Elijah. Now Moses had been dead for about fifteen hundred years and Elijah for almost a thousand years. Yet, there they were, alive, visible, and obviously recognisable. The appearance of Moses, as the Lawgiver, and Elijah, as the Prophet, were very significant figures, because Jesus had come to announce that His mission was to fulfil the law and the prophets. It’s hard for us to identify with that because we have never experienced anything even remotely like it. They saw the radiance of the glory of God in the transfigured Jesus, and they heard the voice of God addressing them directly. Here again is something outside the realm of our own experience. We are in touch with God in prayer and in nature; but we have never been privileged to hear His audible voice. Peter, James and John were truly honoured by God to be the ones chosen to witness this event.
We too, are fortunate to be able to share in their experience through the re-telling of this story in the Gospels. Reading this Gospel passage is not enough, we need to take the time to consider the actual words. Their descriptive nature paints a picture that enables us to re-live that moment on the mountain.
We can of course take this Gospel passage and learn from it by accepting the wondrous event as one of the greatest revelations that Jesus made to the disciples, but also that it can help us transfigure our lives and our relationship with Jesus and others. Transfiguration can be seen as a goal in our journey through Lent. Jesus took those three disciples with Him ‘to a place apart’, He can take us there during the season of Lent too.
In his Lenten message entitled, ‘Lenten Penance and the Synodal Journey’ Pope Francis says, “Our Lenten journey is ‘synodal’ since we make it together along the same path, as disciples of the one Master.” He goes on to say, “What waits us at the end is undoubtedly something wondrous and amazing, which will help to understand better God’s will and our mission in the world.” Given that the last sentence in today’s Gospel is Jesus telling His disciples, “Tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead”; I think it’s entirely possible that the last sentence from Pope Francis above, could well sum up what could have been in the minds of Peter, James and John when they came back down from the mountain. The disciples saw the Transfiguration of the Lord, but we can also see a transfiguration in ourselves if we change our lives in certain ways, and what better time to do this than during Lent. Indeed if we take on board the three pillars of Lent that I spoke about in last weeks homily: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, our actions can help to transfigure us.
In a very minor way, I feel that I am being transfigured this Lent by giving up all my sweet stuff. I’ve changed from the person who automatically reaches for the biscuit tin after a meal, or the ice cream tub when watching telly, to someone who has the willpower and determination to fast from those habits. However, as I mentioned last week, I’m only human and I know my own weaknesses, so please continue to pray for me, as I do for myself, this Lent. The money I’m saving by not buying all that sweet stuff is going to help others. So there we are: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving, a minor transfiguration in me.
What about you? How can you find a way to transfigure yourself this Lent? We all have options open to us, some are easier than others, as I am finding out.
1st Sunday of Lent Year ‘A’ - (26th February 2023) Gospel:- Matthew 4:1-11
So here we are again. The season of lent started on Ash Wednesday. It’s that time of the year again; when I’m going to ask for your prayers and tell you that I’m going to ‘give up’ all my sweet stuff for Lent, and I need all the help I can get to resist temptation. You may be thinking that I shouldn’t need your prayers, and you could be right, but I know my own weaknesses. I’m only human after all. So please pray for me.
Lent is a time to put our souls in front of the mirror. It helps us to see ourselves as we really are, and as we would like to be, hence me asking for your prayers!
Since the early centuries, the church has suggested that we undertake three things during Lent: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving. It’s for this reason that the Gospel text for Ash Wednesday every year is Jesus’ advice on on Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. During Lent we want to pray more, fast and help the poor.
Prayer: Lent is a time for more prayer. We all lead busy lives and there is much emphasis on enjoying life, but life without prayer is a life without the joy of the presence of God. Finding time to pray can sometimes be difficult, but it can be done anytime, anywhere. Praying doesn’t have be done in a formal setting, it can be done whilst we are walking, jogging, driving or even waiting for a bus.
Fasting: This is a penance the church encourages us to undertake during Lent. From the spiritual point of view, fasting symbolises our dependence on God. It expresses the fact that we are trying to put God first in our lives. Fasting doesn’t just mean abstaining from food, it can also be abstaining, or cutting back on other things in our lives. Perhaps drinking or smoking less, watching less television. Whatever it is that we identify as something we may be doing in excess in our lives, cutting back on, fasting from, may be a sacrifice we can make.
Almsgiving: Helping the poor. The church makes it easy for us by giving us the opportunity to contribute to Catholic aid agencies. There are of course, many other worthy causes we can contribute to – especially the appeals for help for those affected by the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Helping the poor during Lent brings to mind the words of Jesus: “Whatever you did to the least of these you did to me.”
Lent of course, is the time when we think of ‘giving something up’ but it’s not just about that. It’s about being willing to make sacrifices, and that may mean doing something we wouldn’t normally do. It could mean different things for different people, perhaps going to mass or confession more often, visiting a sick relative or needy neighbour, going for a walk and taking more exercise more often. It can be anything that requires you having to make an effort you wouldn’t normally make. In our busy lives, one of the most important things we can do is to give up some of our time to do the things we wouldn’t normally do, for ourselves as well as for others.
The word ‘Lent’ is an old English word which means ‘Springtime’. Well we are still in February, so it may not feel too much like springtime yet. The weather is still cold, it’s still dark in the evenings, and it’s too soon to be thinking of throwing open the windows and having our annual ‘spring clean’. That may well be the case, but in our hearts and minds, spiritually, it can be ‘springtime’ for us now. May this Lent really be a new ‘Springtime’ in the lives of each of us.
Through prayer, through fasting and through donating from our surplus to help the poor; may we, like Jesus in the dessert, overcome temptation. Through doing these things, we will be better prepared to celebrate Easter when it comes.
So let us pray for each other this Lent, and pray for me. I’m only a few days in and I’m struggling already, maybe that proves that ‘weakness’ is my middle name.