7th Sunday of Easter; The Ascension - See the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.
Think of the Ascension, what springs to mind?
Now, what if I said to you; ‘Beam me up Scottie’ as in the Star Trek films? Or, Jesus shooting up into the air like a human rocket? Or, a cloud descending like a lift, Jesus getting into it and then, ‘whoosh’ he disappears? I know these statements sound irreverent and controversial, and they are, but they are not my views. Many years ago, I attended a study day at which the topic was the Resurrection and the Ascension of our Lord. It was put to us by the tutor, that whilst it was alright for us to accept and believe in the Resurrection and the Ascension through our ‘so called faith’, there are others that simply cannot accept something of that magnitude without there being some sort of proof. Now we can call these people, cynics, sceptics, non believers, and maybe even, conspiracy theorists, but they firmly believe that they have a valid point of view. The tutor played the part of ‘devils advocate’ and the format of the session was an open discussion. Well, I can tell you that a lively, and at times, heated, debate followed.
One point of view that was expressed was that; no matter what our teachings and Gospels tell us, we have no way of knowing or proving, that the Ascension took place in the way that has been described and handed down throughout the ages. These were simply images which the early church used to describe the Ascension in ways that would be understandable to to the people of their time. They do not mean that Christ sits on a physical throne somewhere.
Together with His Crucifixion and Resurrection, the Lords Ascension is one of the core beliefs in our faith. Indeed, at mass, after the Gospel, we all make our profession of faith by saying together the Creed; in which we declare our belief that Jesus died, was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, where He is seated at God’s right hand. Our faith is based on a system of believing in events for which there may not be any physical proof apart from the Apostles accounts of events in the Gospels. The descriptions themselves in these accounts can vary in details from Gospel to Gospel. Nevertheless, it is our belief in such accounts that holds our faith together.
We believe that the Ascension was a ‘going up’ into heaven of Christ by His own power, in the presence of the Apostles forty days after His Resurrection. His physical body disappeared from sight, but Christ remained.
How did He remain? Well, He is here among us as a church when we gather together in His name. He is ever present in the Eucharist, but also in the air, land, water and all God’s creatures. He is with us in all things and at all times. He is with us through His love for us and our love for each other. He demonstrated that to those around Him, and since His Ascension, He has continued to demonstrate that through us, and in us. We believe this through our faith.
This can, perhaps, be best remembered by some of the words of our Creed: ‘I believe in in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord….He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.’
The Ascension may be seen as the end of Christ’s ‘physical’ presence here on earth, but His presence will be with us until the end of time.
6th Sunday of Easter - See the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.
“Practice what you preach!” A well known saying and one we all understand. Jesus did just that. Halfway through the Gospel today we come across the following sentence: “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” Yes, Jesus preached that, and in the end, practised what he preached by dying on the cross for us all. The strong message running through today’s Gospel is of course the importance of loving one another as Jesus loved us. The message of ‘love one another as I have loved you’ could be no clearer could it? There are countless examples of people who live their life on this basis. I am thinking in terms of the many thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of people who devote their lives to caring for disabled, sick or dying loved ones. Many of them have given up work, sacrificed family commitments, and made lots of other hard decisions, by effectively putting their own lives on hold to care for others. Sometimes others will say to them, ‘You will get your reward in Heaven’. Well, I am sure they will, but then won’t we all, if we live the life Jesus wants us to? These people are truly practising what Jesus preached.
I have used this Gospel passage many times during a wedding service. I think it’s quite appropriate, when you consider that the words ‘love / loved’ are used eight times, and the phrase ‘remain in my / his love’ is used three times. I have used it to emphasis to the happy couple, not just the importance of loving each other, and remaining in each others’ love, but remaining in the Fathers love, and keeping the love of God at the centre of their lives.
This Gospel also reminds me of the verse of one of the hymns we often sing at mass, as I feel it sums up the whole message in today’s Gospel : ‘A new commandment I give unto you: that you love one another as I have loved you’. Many years ago, Selena’s parents celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with a mass in their own parish church and that was one of the hymns sung that day. Knowing them as I do, I can honestly say that hymn summed up both their devotion to their faith as well as to each other.
Also in the reading today, Jesus tells us “ You did not choose me, no, I chose you;” he then goes on to tell us why he chose us, ‘to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last;’. The fruit Jesus means is of course his love. He wants us to share his love with each other and to make sure that it continues to grow in us. Isn’t it strange how we think we make our own decisions in life, our own choices? But who’s choices are they really? We may think we choose to be Christians and have faith, but it was Jesus who chose us. He is the one who does the choosing, he chose to die for us to prove his love for us. We are the fruit of his choice and his love shines through in us time and time again. Surely there can be no greater modern day example of this ethos than the life and work of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. A woman who indeed lived her life for others.
Jesus’ commandment of ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ should be seen by us all as a very simple template of how to live our lives. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all did just that? If we agree that the answer to the question is ‘Yes’, then surely, we should all, ‘Practise what we preach.’
5th Sunday of Easter - See the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.
John, in the Gospel today, tells us of how Jesus explains to his disciples how only by being a part of him, will they grow. It is full of references to vines, branches, pruning, fruit bearing etc.…very horticultural in its theme. It doesn’t take a vineyard worker, a farmer or a gardener though to work out what the message is. He is telling them how their relationship with him is dependant on their firm attachment to him through their continued belief in him. Jesus has given them what they need and explains it to them by saying “You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Make your home in me, as I make mine in you.” He is our vine and we are his branches. Now everyone knows that for any vine, tree, bush or plant to flourish, blossom, or bear fruit, two things need to happen. Firstly, the plant must be given the right kind of nourishment. Jesus has given that to us through ‘The Word’, this is our nourishment, our lifeblood, that we need, to grow in him, and with him. Secondly, the branches need to be firmly attached to the vine, the trunk or stalk for the fruit to be able to grow. This can only happen if there is a continued firm connection that is not broken in any way. We need to make sure that we remain firmly committed to the word of God and keep hold of that belief to enable us to flourish and bear his fruit.
Throughout the autumn, winter, and early spring, we will all have been pruning the tress, plants, bushes and shrubs in our gardens. We do this because we know that it’s only by getting rid of the dead leaves and branches, and pruning the good ones, that our trees and plants will flourish, blossom, and bear fruit. That’s what a lot of us will have been doing from a horticultural point of view, but if we relate that to to today’s Gospel, we may well ask ourselves; ‘What have I been doing from a faith point of view?’
Have we spent time throughout the autumn, winter and early spring, cultivating our relationship with God? Just as there is work to do in our gardens all year round, the same is true of our faith life. In the autumn, we can be concentrating on the liturgical year coming to an end. In the winter, we can concentrate on the season of Advent, Christmas and Christmastide. In the spring, we can concentrate on the season of Lent, Easter, Eastertide and Pentecost. These are the things we can be doing at these times of the year to enhance and strengthen our relationship with God; to ensure that we are all the types of branches that will not be discarded, but will be pruned to produce more fruit.
We all know, that due to the circumstances we have been living under, sometimes it’s not been too easy to be as active in our faith as we normally are. However, by coming back to mass, by being involved with our parish website, by streaming masses, and by enhancing our prayer life; we can still manage to maintain and strengthen our relationship with God.
Many years ago, one our big high street banks used an advertising slogan that I think God may have had the original claim to…..We Have Branches Everywhere!
4th Sunday of Easter - See the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.
When I read the gospel this week, the first thing that came to my mind was the hymn ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’ which is based on what is commonly called the 23rd Psalm. However, I found by reading the Gospel carefully, there are various aspects to, and messages in, the text. Jesus is telling us that He is the good shepherd who will lay down his life for us. He is not just some hired hand who will run away and abandon us at the first sign of trouble; He is our Protector. We are told that he is not just looking after his own fold, but all others as well, in order to bring us all together as one flock; He is our Evangelist. Then we hear that he lays down his life of his own free will and has the power to take it up again through the command of his Father; He is our Messiah. So you see, John’s Gospel is not just the story of Jesus as a good shepherd, but it contains the whole essence of the man that is Jesus, a Protector, an Evangelist, and a Messiah.
There are many ‘good shepherds’ in our lives. The Holy Father, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests and Deacons. Those of us who are parents could see ourselves as ‘good shepherds’, since our children were brought into the fold at baptism. I am sure all parents could relate to the Gospel where Jesus tells us he would lay down his life for his flock; we would do the same for our children. We are there to guide and protect them, to nurture them through life and lead them in God’s ways, just as our good shepherds do for us.
As parents, we try to be ‘good shepherds’ by guiding our children the way we think is best for them. Unfortunately, as children, we don’t recognise this is what our parents are trying to do, and I’m sure that’s true in most families.
I read a short story the other day of some tourists visiting a little hospital in a third world country. They saw a nun cleaning a deep wound on a man’s leg. The wound was unpleasant to see and smell. The nun was gently and patiently dressing it. One of the tourists whispered to another, “I wouldn’t do that for a million pounds.” The whisper was louder than intended and the nun overheard it. Without even looking up from her work, she said, “Neither would I!”
Being responsible for the care and well-being of others, shouldn’t be done for reward, it should be done out of mercy, compassion and love.
That’s what parenting is all about. That’s what Jesus was all about. That’s what today’s Gospel is all about.
3rd Sunday of Easter - See the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.
Following on from last week’s Gospel of John, this week we hear Luke’s account of Jesus appearing to his disciples. A different Gospel story, but interestingly, Jesus’ opening words to them are the same; ‘Peace be with you!’ I think it’s interesting that the first word Jesus says is ‘Peace.’
Have you ever wondered why Jesus chose that to be His first word? I have. Was it meant to put the disciples are their ease? Probably. Was it meant as a subtle message to them to always try to spread peace to others? Possibly, as that is what Jesus wanted them to do. Have you ever wondered what the word ‘Peace’ means to you? I have, and there can be many many answers to that question. These are all questions that you will have your own answers for I’m sure, but lets look at the last question. What does the word ‘Peace’ mean to me / you /us/?
Well, I suppose it depends on what context you look at the word in. Peace can have all sorts of different contexts. Peace between nations as in Global Peace or International Peace, National or Local Peace, Peace within families, and of course ‘Inner Peace’, peace within ourselves.
So, although we can never know for sure, I’m pretty sure that Jesus would have wanted the disciples to be at peace with themselves, especially after the recent events. Of course, he will have wanted them to be at peace with each other and with the wider community too. However, achieving that level of ‘Inner Peace’ is never easy, and I think that is why Jesus wanted to offer them His Peace, to reassure them that they were going to be okay. Perhaps it’s only once we have achieved that level of ‘Inner Peace’ that we can then move forward and spread our peace with others, and in turn, spread it more widely. I think that’s what Jesus wanted them to be able to do.
Some people may find it easier than others to be at peace with themselves, and just how we achieve that will be different for all of us. I’m sure the same could have been said of the disciples. We may well think it was easier for them, after all, they had Jesus to visit them and give them His peace. Whilst that may be true, don’t forget, we also have Jesus with us at all times. We cannot have the same physical experiences that the disciples had, but, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we have that special spiritual experience of Jesus’ presence. We will always have His peace upon us.
If you’re the type of person who finds ‘Inner Peace’ easy to achieve, great, if you’re someone who has to work at it, then find the time to do so. It sounds to me that the disciples all had to work at it. Jesus knew that and helped them. In last week’s Gospel, we heard how He had to help Thomas who had doubts. In today’s Gospel, He asks them, ‘Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts?’ Life wasn’t easy for the disciples and it isn’t easy for us either. We all have to work at it to some degree or other, but achieving ‘Inner Peace’ is well worth the effort. So, Peace Be With You All!
2nd Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy) - See the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.
Today’s Gospel is such a well known Gospel story for many different reasons. I happen to think that it’s one of the ‘richest’ Gospel stories, as it has so much we can take from it, from different points of view.
Firstly, from point of view of our faith. Not just what we believe, but how and why we believe in the Risen Christ. The disciples believed because they saw the Risen Christ, Thomas didn’t, because he didn’t see and wouldn’t believe the word of his fellow disciples. The second time Jesus appeared to them, Thomas saw and believed. He said, “My Lord and my God!” Does this tell us that the faith of the disciples was strong enough to believe what they saw? If it does, then why was their word not enough to make Thomas believe also? Why did Thomas insist on seeing Jesus’ wounds before he could believe?
This should make us think about why we doubt our faith at times, as we do. If things aren’t going our way, if we are struggling with something, if something bad happens to us, don’t we sometimes doubt our faith? Don’t we say to ourselves, ‘why is God allowing this to happen to me?’ This just proves that we can all be ‘Doubting Thomas’s’ at times.
Secondly, we hear that the disciples were hiding in a locked room for fear of the Jews. Were they right to be doing that? Shouldn’t they have had the courage of their convictions and be out and about being witnesses for Jesus? Was this just another example of them ‘hiding away’ being ‘missing in action’ as they did when Jesus needed them the most in the garden of Gethsemane and at the foot of the cross?
This should make us think of the times we ‘hide away’ from giving witness to our faith. How often do we go ‘missing in action’ when confronted by someone who wants to challenge us over our beliefs? Perhaps we are all guilty of that at some time or another.
Thirdly, and in contrast to my first two points, we hear the calming first words of Jesus to His disciples when he enters the room. ‘Peace be with you.’ Jesus will have known how the disciples were feeling. Their fears, their worries, their anxieties. He doesn’t challenge them for any of their actions in the days leading up to His death, or the days since. He calmly, soothingly, says to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ Can you imagine just how calming and re-assured that must have made them feel? An expression of peace and love given to them by Jesus, the Risen Christ. It must have given them such a lift, such a boost of confidence and faith in their Lord.
Perhaps, when we are living in a state of fear, or worry, or anxiety, that’s all we need to hear from someone close to us. To give us a boost, a lift, a feeling of being loved. And, perhaps that’s just what we need to do for others when we recognise that they are in need. We need to learn from the actions of Jesus. We too need to show our caring, compassionate, loving side to others.
To me, this Gospel is so rich, it really does have has so much to give us, to teach us. I feel I could go on and on writing about it. But I won’t, I’ll spare you the boredom of the rest of my thoughts, well, for this week any way.
Peace be with you!
Easter Sunday - You can read the Triduum Homily's (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) below
What a truly remarkable story the Gospel tells us today. It has all the ingredients that an author would wish for to put together a novel, a work of fiction, or a film script. The plot would go something like this:
A shock discovery, the disappearance of a body from a tomb, fear, disbelief, followed by realisation and understanding. We see the shock and disbelief of Mary of Magdala when she discovers the empty tomb, and the disappearance of Jesus’s body, and the fear that she doesn’t know where ‘they’ have put Him. For some reason, it does not occur to her that Jesus had risen from the dead as He said He would. We then see the realisation by the disciples, once they had entered the tomb, that the resurrection has happened, and they now begin to fully understand the teaching of the scriptures.
However, this is not a work of fiction, a film script, or the latest candidate for the Booker prize or an Oscar. No, this is the fact that is at the core of our belief and faith in the Risen Christ.
As we celebrate Easter Sunday, what do we think of? It’s a time of light, hope, and of a new beginning. This time of year sees a lot of new beginnings. Spring time gives us new life in the abundance of flowers in bloom, new life in spring lambs, and even more light in the evenings since the clocks were put forward an hour last weekend.
We may even have a feeling of new beginnings in our lives, now that some of the restrictions we having been living with are starting to be lifted.
Easter Sunday, is of course, the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets, and of course, the teachings of Jesus. Over the past few days, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we have been celebrating the Easter Triduum. Easter Sunday, could I suppose, be seen as the culmination of those celebrations. However, the word ‘culmination’ implies an ‘ending.’ I don’t think we should see it that way at all. Easter Sunday is not a ‘culmination’ in that sense, it is very much a ‘new beginning.’
It is true though, that to fully appreciate the liturgy and the enormity of Easter Sunday, we have to have experienced the liturgy and the enormity of the Easter Triduum. I read a comment this week, that ‘coming to church only on Easter Sunday is a little like reading only the last book of the trilogy of The Lord of The Rings. You get the ending, but you miss a lot that can make the ending more meaningful.’
That comment was made before we had lockdowns and restrictions, which have made it very difficult for people to get to every mass or service. I would however, recommend that you at least read through the liturgy of the Easter Triduum, it will make today’s Gospel much more meaningful. It will give you a better sense of the greatest new beginning of all, Jesus as the Risen Lord. A Happy and Holy Easter to you all.
Easter Triduum Homily's (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday)
Holy Saturday - Easter Vigil
The Gospel story we have just heard, is basically the same for each of the three years of the Liturgical cycle. Last year it was taken from the Gospel of Matthew, this year from the Gospel of Mark, and next year it will be from the Gospel of Luke. Three slightly different Gospels, but one story. Of course it has to be this way at the Easter Vigil, because there is only one story isn’t there. The resurrection story. The story of the Risen Christ. Mark tells us that the women were; Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. They went to the tomb to anoint the body of Christ with spices, and on their way there, they had been discussing who would roll away the stone which was covering the tomb. We can only imagine the surprise they felt to see that it had already been rolled back. But by whom? And why? Well, they were about to find out.
This must have been a very disconcerting experience for them. Were they shocked? frightened?surprised?full of joy? Well, they were probably experiencing all of these emotions, especially when they saw a young man in a white robe, who told them that Jesus had risen. They were struck with amazement. How would you or I have felt? With great emotion I suspect.
Some years ago, while we were on holiday in Barcelona, we took the train to the Benedictine monastery at Montserrat. There is a walk along the side of the mountain which is marked out by important moments in the life of Jesus. A type of ‘Stations of The Life of Christ.’ The last one is a tomb carved into the side of the mountain. As you look into it, you see the backs of the statues of two women looking inside the empty tomb. On the outside, high up on the surface of the mountain is a statue of Jesus as the Risen Lord. It’s so powerful, so emotional, so beautiful. I was mesmerised by it and stood looking at it for about fifteen minutes. Just before you reach this ‘station’ there is a life size cross with Jesus hanging upon it, the most lifelike one I have ever seen. At this point in my life, I was having serious doubts about whether to continue with my studies for the Diaconate. I was sure God had got it wrong by calling me, I am not worthy. It was a very difficult period of my life. These two scenes were speaking to me. The lord was sending me a message that I couldn’t ignore. He was calling me, telling me that I was on the right path and to continue with my studies. I felt so emotional at the time, so moved by the experience. I truly believe that God spoke directly to me while I was looking into that empty tomb. I was transfixed, I couldn’t move, shivers were going up and down my spine, tears running down my cheeks. I heard the Lord saying, to me, and through me, ‘This is okay, you are on the right path.’ Just over a year later, I was ordained a Deacon.
Today’s Gospel, therefore is always special for me. The experience I had looking into that empty tomb changed my life that day, and it’s a story I’ve only ever shared with a few people. I believe it changed the lives of those women too.
Good Friday - The Passion of our Lord
Jesus loved to tell stories. But today this is not Jesus telling the story; today, Jesus becomes the story, and it’s the greatest story ever told. But what kind of story is it? Well, that depends on who is hearing this story. The Gospel we have just heard, mentions an inscription that was placed on the cross. It was written in three different languages, Hebrew, Latin and Greek.
For those who read Hebrew – the Jewish authorities – this story was a riddle. They knew Jesus, they had heard His message, they had seen His miracles. They thought He was the Messiah, the one who had come in power to restore Israel. But, all they saw was a popular Jewish leader, reduced to apparent powerlessness at the hands of the Romans. So, for them, this story was a disappointing riddle.
For those who read in Latin, the Roman soldiers, this story was a comedy. They knew about power, about kings, they knew how the powerful behaved. And here in front of them was a helpless little man, dressed up in mock regal robes, wearing a crown of thorns, and not denying to Pilate that He was a king. The whole idea must have struck those who read Latin as being terribly ironic, a farce. And so the readers of Latin laughed at Jesus, humiliated Him, and cruelly mistreated Him. For them, this story was a comedy.
For those who read Greek, this story was a tragedy. The Greeks knew tragedy, In a tragedy, a noble character has a flaw – such as pride or envy – that leads ultimately to their destruction. That’s how those who read Greek interpreted this story: a noble Jewish man with the flaw of claiming to be God. That’s what caused His destruction. To the readers of Greek, this story was a tragedy.
What kind of a story is it for us? We don’t hear this story in Hebrew, or Latin, or Greek, we hear it in a different language altogether. The language of faith. That language of faith is planted in us at our Baptism and is perfected throughout our lives. Perfected through prayer, devotion, the sacraments, and suffering. The more the language of faith is perfected in us, the better we are able to grasp the true meaning of this story. For us, it’s not a riddle, or a comedy, or a tragedy. It’s a love story. It’s the greatest love story of all time. The story of Jesus dying for His love of us.
Good Friday is a sombre day in the Triduum, but it’s also a day full of hope, because we know how this story ends. It ends in glory, and in resurrection. It has an ending appropriate to the greatest love story of all time.
For me, each year I take something different from this Gospel. I try to immerse myself in the story, from different perspectives. It works, to a certain extent, but I keep coming back to, what for me, is the central point; that God so loved us, that He gave up His only Son for our salvation. Now, to me, that’s a powerful message to take from any Gospel.
Maundy Thursday - The Lord's Supper
Years ago, people used to carry a little card in their wallet or purse, in fact I still do, which reads: “I am a Catholic. In case of an accident, please call a priest.” I’ve heard of a card which is a spoof on that statement. It reads: “I am a Very Important Catholic. Please call a Bishop!”
It’s unlikely that anyone would ever have a card that reads: “I am a Catholic. Please call a Deacon.” Deacons do not have the faculty (the power), for forgiving sins or anointing the sick and the dying. So in such a situation, a Deacon could do no more than hold your hand, pray with you and give you a blessing.
In today’s Gospel reading from John, we hear the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. This is a clear statement that Jesus did not distinguish between ‘important’ and ‘not-so-important’ people. He was demonstrating in an unmistakable fashion, that if you want to be ‘important’, then first, you have to be willing to be a servant of all. When you consider that the Holy Spirit is moving us to become more of a servant church, I would obviously say that we need more Deacons.
After all, that is what a Deacon is – a servant of the servants of God. The very word ‘Deacon’ comes from the Greek ‘Diakonos’, meaning to serve. Christ himself was the first Deacon, for He says in Mark’s Gospel, “ The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). In the Greek, the literal translation is something like, “not to be Deaconed to, but to Deacon.” There is no clearer picture of Christ the Deacon, than in today’s Gospel from John.
So, given that the Holy Spirit, and indeed Pope Francis, are moving us to become more of a servant church, we all have a part to play, to be the servant of all. The Deacon is to live and minister in such a way that others will come to recognise their own call to serve, not to be served. Perhaps then we could all say: ‘We are all Deacons now.’ For it is in serving others without regard for our own selves that we come to imitate Christ most closely, and thereby become true sons and daughters of God.
As a Deacon, I am to take seriously the words of Jesus we hear in today’s Gospel: “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” However, due to the circumstances we are living in at the moment, and the restrictions due to Covid, unfortunately, I cannot heed the call of Jesus in that way tonight. I cannot serve you by washing feet this evening, much to the relief of some of you I am sure. So forgive me for not being able to practice what I preach. But, we can all still heed the words of Jesus in other ways, by serving each other in whatever way we can. We can do this as servants of the Lord, because, ‘We are all Deacons now.’
So go and serve one another. Serve according to your own talent, your own capacity, but serve faithfully, for ‘We are all Deacons now!’
Palm Sunday - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.
Today, we have two Gospels. The first one tells us about Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. He is adored and lauded by the crowds who throw palms on the ground as some sort of equivalent to what we would call ‘the red carpet treatment’. It’s all very triumphalist, whereas the second Gospel is the opposite, it’s the passion and death of Jesus. What a contrast. Here’s someone who literally went from ‘Hero’ to ‘Zero’ in a few short days. In some ways, we can see examples of similar behaviour in our society today.
How often do we see so called ‘celebrities’ / rising stars / potential champions etc.. being built up and adored by the press and the public, put on a pedestal only to be turned upon and discarded and suddenly being out of favour then destroyed by those very same people.
I want to concentrate on certain aspects of the first Gospel, Jesus’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. I think it’s safe to say that he didn’t want all the trappings of a normal ‘king’ with cheering crowds and palms laid before his feet. He didn’t want to enter Jerusalem on a might steed or a fine stallion. No, He chose to enter sitting on a donkey. I know that seems strange, but as the donkey was commonly used as a beast of burden, a serviceable animal for everyday work. A Roman officer would have ridden on a fine horse, yet here was Jesus, the Lord, seated on a donkey. What did this mean? Well, once again, we see a prophecy being fulfilled: “Your king is coming, riding on the colt of an ass.” Jesus is a king, but he came into our world as the Suffering Servant. Today was the beginning of the last and most important week of His life, he would willingly suffer and die for the salvation of all of us, it was going to be a most gruelling week. He knew that He was travelling to Jerusalem to be beaten and scourged and to offer up His life for us, and yet, in all humility, He chose a lowly donkey to carry Him there.
For a few hours, Jesus was adored and welcomed by the crowds, even though he knew what was to come. Can you imagine what must have been going through His mind at that time. Let’s not forget about the donkey, who shared His moment of glory. We assume that the donkey was returned to it’s owner after it had fulfilled its purpose. The writer G.K. Chesterton wrote a poem from the perspective of that donkey, here’s the last verse:
Fools! For I also had my hour,
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears
And palms before my feet.
When I read this, it did make me think if Jesus’ thoughts were along similar lines, if they were, would that last verse have been something like this:
Fools! You welcome me this hour,
One hour triumphant and sweet:
There are shouts about my ears
And palms before my feet.
In the days to come you will see,
All you’ll want, and be shouting for, is to crucify me!
Well, I’m no poet, but it is possible that Jesus may have been thinking along those lines.
5th Sunday of Lent - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.
In the Gospel today Jesus, in a rather subtle way, is talking about the crucifixion and the resurrection, although I am not sure if Andrew and Philip fully understood that at the time. Here we see Jesus explaining to them, how only through his suffering we will all experience eternal life after death. He says “I tell you, most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” This of course is more than just a lesson in the cycle of nature and how things grow, this message goes far deeper than that. Jesus was outlining for them how his forthcoming suffering and death will pave the way for us to have eternal life, through him, with him, and in him. The cycle of nature is a wonderful thing, but it is not man made, let’s not forget it is God made. A few years ago I had a reminder of this in my back garden. The people who live over the back of me cut down a tall tree which overhung the dividing fence. After a while, three separate shoots started to grow in my garden. Over a period of time I had three trees growing there and I was quite pleased about that. Nature has saved me from having to plant them myself. Whenever I looked at them, I was constantly reminded that nature is a wonderful thing.
The fact that I had something growing from fallen seeds, none of which was my doing, it is all God’s work, he created nature to give life through death. He gave us his son to do the same for us here on earth as nature does through seeds and plants.
I am reminded of this each time I visit the cemetery where my parents, and Selena’s mum are buried. When I visit their graves, (which I haven’t been able to do for almost a year now), my heart tells me that I want them to rise up and be with us again, but my head tells me this cannot happen. They are dead and gone from this world. I know they are, but my soul tells me differently. My soul, through the core of my faith, tells me that although they may be gone from this world, they have risen in Christ and one day we will all be re-united. They are now enjoying the eternal life promised to us all by Jesus. They are now benefiting from the suffering that he endured here on earth for our sake.
Today’s first reading from Jeremiah tells us: ‘See, the days are coming – it is the Lord who speaks – when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah…’ and, ‘Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people.’
That new covenant was Jesus, God made man. Sent by the Father to live and die among us so that we may be saved and share in the eternal life. Jesus was that wheat grain which fell and died so that He may rise again and yield a rich harvest. We are born to be that harvest, but we must serve Jesus. We are told as much in the Gospel today when Jesus says; “If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.” That honour is the promise of the eternal life.
I can therefore take comfort in the fact that we will all one day benefit from the sacrifice made by Jesus and we will all be part of the rich harvest yielded from the seeds he has sown by dying on the cross for us. If we live our lives in Christ, we can take comfort from the knowledge that we will all be re-united with Him and our loved ones in the eternal life.
4th Sunday of Lent - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.
In John’s Gospel today, there is a lot of mention of being condemned, of darkness, evil and wrongdoing. Yet there is also mention of being saved, of truth and light. While I was reading it I was struck by the last sentence ‘but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.’ This got me thinking about the word ‘light’ and how it (pardon the pun), comes shining through in so many scripture readings, and is at the heart of the whole message of what Jesus’s mission here on earth was all about. He was sent to us as the ‘Light of The World.’ I found it quite easy to understand the reading when you consider the contrasts made in it between darkness and evil to good and light. We tend to associate bad and evil things with the dark, and safety and goodness with the light. Jesus talks about those who do evil preferring the dark, and those who do wrong, hating and avoiding the light fearing that their actions would be exposed. No wonder then that we consider light to be a positive and comforting factor in our lives. This whole theme of light is a large part of Christian faith, as it plays a huge part in our understanding and belief in Jesus, in who he was and in what he was sent here to do for us. This is shown by the significance of our use of candles, not just as symbols of worship and prayer, but by their whole meaning of light.
We tend to light candles alongside praying when we feel the need to reach out to God for help or comfort, usually when we are facing a difficult time in our lives or something is troubling us deeply. To us, the candle represents light, hope and trust, as God is light and it draws us closer to him. The warmth that radiates from the candle reminds us that God’s love is warm and comforting to us. The darkness is not just a place for badness and evil to exist, it can be a place of sadness and sorrow as well.
When we feel over burdened with worry, anxiety, grief and loss, we tend to come to church to pray, and to light candles and ask for God’s help, to get us through the difficult time we are experiencing. Perhaps no more so than when someone close to us dies. Fifteen years ago, my Dad and Selena’s Mum, passed away within two months of each other. It was a very difficult and dark time for us both. I say dark, because at that time, I just couldn’t see any light in my world, only sadness and darkness. At that time, I found great comfort in the lighting of candles alongside prayer, in our church, and in other churches I visited at that time. In fact, looking back, I probably saved various churches a small fortune in heating bills, with the amount of heat generated by the number of candles I lit at that time. It was at that time when my heart was in a dark place that the candlelight helped me to see the good, that the light of God in my soul, would help me through the darkness, that things would improve and there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
This, to me, was the power of having God’s light in my life, and a way out of my darkness. I’m sure we’ve all felt that we need God’s light in our lives this past year, it’s been quite a dark time for us all. The fact that this weekend, we are returning to church for public worship, being together again for the celebration of Holy Mass, may help us to see that there is, at long last, a light at the end of the tunnel for us all.
Christ is the ‘Light of The World’ and it’s up to us to ‘Keep The Flame of Faith Alive’. Perhaps this short prayer from Pope Francis (which I paraphrase slightly), will help you.
‘The light of faith illumines all our relationships and helps us to live them in union with the Love of Christ, the Light of Christ, and to live them Like Christ.’ Amen.
3rd Sunday of Lent - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage.
When we think of Jesus, we may well have a picture in our minds of someone who was gentle, meek and mild. A man whose demeanour was one of a caring, compassionate and peaceful person. That image, is however, in stark contrast to the person we encounter in the story of the Temple courts in today’s Gospel. It is said that Jesus came among us to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable. Well he certainly did that to those vendors in the Temple market place.
The money changers, whose coins Jesus scattered, were a privileged class of Jewish merchants who were there to grease the wheels of Temple worship. Those coming to the Temple to offer sacrifice could not use common Roman currency to purchase a suitable animal. They had to exchange their secular coins for Temple coins in order to make a purchase. The money changers made a profit in the transaction. Some scholars think it may have been the money changers cheating the poor that evoked Jesus’ anger, others say it was simply his disgust at seeing the holiest place of Jewish worship turned into a place of commerce that made him so angry. An angry man in a fit of rage is not an image we are used to seeing of Jesus, but it is an image we can identify with, as we all get angry with others from time to time.
The philosopher Aristotle said: ‘Anyone can become angry – that is easy; but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.’
I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Jesus either, but it was justified. Justified, because perhaps what lay at the heart of Jesus’ indignation was that God the Father was being taken for granted. The merchants and the money changers had worked out a comfortable arrangement between the worship of God and their own material need, perhaps even their greed.
So, do we need to look at our own temperament and actions when we get angry with others? Yes, of course we do, although it is difficult not to get angry at times. What we do with our emotions in those instances is how we will be judged by others and of course by God (having said that, I’m definitely on a loser then). How do we overcome our feelings of anger, rage, irritation or impatience? Well, perhaps the first thing we need is a good measure of humility, to step back from the heat of the moment. We need to examine ourselves and recognise in the other, a brother or sister, and receive God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others.
It may not be as temporarily satisfying as kicking over a few tables and scattering their contents, but in the long run, we will be the better for it. Although, I must admit, I do like the image of all the money changers coins scattering all over the market place. I wonder if everyone tried to grab a handful of them for themselves. Wouldn’t that be some sort of justice; if the poor, who had been cheated by the money changers, were able to get some of their money back, and it was the money changers themselves that were short changed. Interesting image, isn’t it?
2nd Sunday of Lent - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage. (27/28 Feb)
When I was a teenager at school, myself and three classmates bought a tent between us and went camping up the Lakes, next to Coniston Water. The father of one of the lads took us up there in his car, left us and was to come back for us in four days time. Well, after two days, we had eaten all our food, spent our money, we were fed up, tired, cold and just wanted to get home. Two of the lads walked miles to find a ‘phone box to call home and ask to be picked up again. His dad wasn’t too happy with us and we all went home with our tails between our legs. The only revelation I had in that tent was that I didn’t want to do this again. Soon after, I gave up my share of the tent, I no longer saw it as a good investment.
Now when you read about ‘tents’ in today’s Gospel, don’t just think about them as a covering to sleep under while camping, whatever your camping experiences might have been. Consider that for Peter, James and John, ‘tents’ had other significant purposes, which will have prompted Peter to suggest making three tents. Also consider how today’s Gospel demonstrates for us, the extent of the faith and belief in Jesus by Peter, James and John, shown to us in the following ways.
Firstly, their faith and belief is apparent in the fact that they followed Jesus up the mountain, surely only true believers and followers would do this.
Secondly, their acceptance of the appearance of Elijah and Moses during the transfiguration, to the extent where Peter suggests they make three tents, one for Jesus, one for Elijah and one for Moses.
Thirdly, they observed Jesus’s wishes to tell no one what they had seen until after the resurrection.
I then found myself thinking more deeply about the aspect of them making tents on the mountain, and examining the meaning of this in terms of what they had just witnessed. My first thought was that it seemed a strange thing to want to do, but on reflection, it makes perfect sense when put into context of the Jewish tradition of making tents / coverings over sacred things. I found myself thinking of the Indiana Jones film and the tomb in which the Ark of the Covenant was found. A piece of fiction I know, but it helped me to understand the significance of their actions. Peter, James and John recognised the fact that they were witnessing something so special, so sacred, that it was the most appropriate thing to do at that time.
Is this really any different than we do today in some ways? The main difference of course is that we tend to protect the material things that are precious to us in different types of ‘tents’. We keep items like jewellery and other valuables in secure boxes or even bank vaults. There are some things that cannot be held in physical boxes or tents, things such as memories of a loved one we have recently lost. Truly gone but not forgotten, held and protected in the ‘tents’ we build for them in our hearts and in our minds.
Our churches may even be considered as a form of tent, an outer covering to protect that which is most precious to us. Then there is the ‘tent within a tent’ the Tabernacle, where we hold and protect the most precious of all, the consecrated Body of Jesus Christ.
Now that’s a tent we should all remain invested in.
1st Sunday of Lent - Please see the Weekly Readings and Gospel on our Homepage. (19/20 Feb)
Today’s Gospel story from Mark, tells us about Jesus going into the wilderness for forty days on His own. This story appears in the Gospels Matthew and Luke also. They both go into great detail about the ways in which Satan tried to tempt Jesus. Mark’s Gospel is very brief. In terms of Jesus’ first battle with Satan, he uses only five words. He says, ‘and was tempted by Satan.’ So why did Jesus go into the wilderness for forty days? Quite simply, for a time of preparation. He was preparing for the commencement of His ministry, His mission here on earth. He will have taken the opportunity to have, what we call these days, some ‘me’ time. To be calm and find some inner peace. This is what will have been important to Him at that time.
Maybe we should think about that aspect of this Gospel story. Lent is a time for preparation, not just a time to ‘give something up’. We can use it as a time to slow down and think about what is important, what is really important, to us at this time.
On Wednesday evenings, myself and my brother Deacons share our time and our thoughts on a weekly Zoom call. Each Wednesday during Lent, we will be doing something different. We will watch a presentation from different locations linked to lent. This week, we were ‘in’ Nashville, Tennessee. We watched a presentation on Ash Wednesday, during which, a beautiful hymn was sung, it was called, ‘Take Time To Be Holy’. I would like to share the words of it with you:
Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.
Take time to be holy, let Him be thy Guide;
And run not before Him, whatever betide.
In joy or in sorrow, still follow the Lord,
And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His Word.
Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul,
Each thought and each motive beneath His control.
Thus led by His Spirit to fountains of love,
Thou soon shalt be fitted for service above.
Beautiful, isn’t it? It filled me with a sense of inner peace and a renewed purpose to reflect on my relationship with Our Lord. I hope it may help you too.
As a result of being ‘otherwise occupied’ on
Wednesday evening, I wasn’t able to ‘tune in’ to our parish website and the wonderful Ash Wednesday Service that had been put together. I watched it on Thursday morning and was extremely impressed with it, and I would like to thank all of those involved in putting it together. As a parish, I know that we are very blessed with the commitment, creativity, ingenuity and resourcefulness of those clever enough to do all of these ‘techno’ things for us. I would recommend ‘tuning in’ on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and joining in with our chats and prayer group. So, if you’re wondering what you can ‘give up’ for Lent, ‘give up’ your time. Turn up, Tune in, Take part. Our parish life is alive online.