Homily 7th Sunday Easter

Yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God.

 In the Gospel our Lord refers to glory 5 times. The first reference is to our Lord praying to the Father; “glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” This is a strange prayer request because surely the whole of the earthly life of Christ has revealed and radiated the Father’s truth and glory? A closer reading reveals that this particular request relates to the coming events of Christ’s rejection, crucifixion and resurrection. This is the summit and ultimate moment of heavenly glory. The uniting of the will of both Father and Son, in the actions that are to take place, assures that both are glorified. That which seems immediately to be  a tragedy and loss will, later, be revealed as the moment of divine victory. A victory over sin, death and the devil, opening up eternal life to whose, who believing in Christ, have the Father revealed to them. “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9b)

One of the themes in John’s gospel is that our Lord’s ‘lifting up to glory’ is about him being raised up upon the cross as much as it is connected to his resurrection and ascension into heaven.

The second element of glorification is that which the Father will bestow upon the Son, once his work on earth is completed. This glory is the heavenly glory that our Lord emptied himself in his incarnation for the sake of our salvation, as scripture tells us; ‘though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.’ (Phil 2:6-7)

This is the glory Christ receives at his ascension to the right hand of the Father. This glory now however encompasses the wounds of his Passion. Throughout his resurrection appearances it has been the wounds of his crucifixion that affirm that he is the Lord who died and is now risen; ‘He said to Thomas, “put your finger here and see my hands, and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” (John 20: 27)

These agonising wounds are now the signs of his triumph and glorification of the Father.

The third aspect of glorification, that our Lord refers to, is that he might be glorified through his disciples. The disciples of Christ belong to both the Father and the Son, “all mine are yours, and yours are mine” says the Lord. They are children of the kingdom of God and heirs of the promise. Christ has revealed the word of God, the word of truth, to them and they have believed and accepted the true identity of the Lord as Son of God. Earlier in the gospel we have Christ saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)

There is deep connection between what we believe and how we glorify Christ. We might find this slightly confusing at first. It would seem self evident that it is what we do, more than what we believe or know that either brings glory or scandal upon God and our faith. 

We so often fall into this trap of thinking that belief and actions are separate categories or aspects of our faith. They are not. What we believe impacts dramatically the direction and manor of our actions, aims and goals. One example should demonstrate what I mean. 

St Paul, before his conversion, was terrifying, persecuting the Church based on his beliefs about God. It was those beliefs that drove him to his actions. It was only the Damascus Road experience and hearing the Lord’s voice, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” that turned his actions around.

What we think and believe about the Christ is paramount in directing our actions. If Christ is the Word made flesh, God incarnate, Son of the Father, who speaks the words of eternal life, then what he teaches and demonstrates has eternal relevance. They cannot be brushed aside and must inform both our own words and actions. 

Most do not read theological text books but are informed about the faith through predominately the prayers of the Church, in particularly the liturgy of the mass. ‘Lex orandi, lex credendi’, meaning we pray what we believe. In turn that which we believe, we aim to put into practice. The clearer we are able to live out our faith the greater glory of the Lord is revealed. 

St Peter, in his epistle, has constantly tried to get across that it is trust and belief in the Lord that will enable us to face the trials we are experiencing in a manner that reveals the glory of Christ. Indeed, after the example of Christ himself, whose suffering glorified his Heavenly Father, it is these very trials that will not only glorify the Lord but will be our emblems of glory in the heavenly realms. Nowhere is this more clearly displayed than in the martyrs and the manner of their death. The signs of their sufferings are also carried into heavenly glory as they bear witness to the wonder of God’s saving grace. 

Maya Angelou, a famous writer and performer, was once asked if she was a Christian in an interview. Her response was something like; ‘Goodness no! It is what I try to be but it isn’t something I can yet claim to be.’ What she was trying to say is that there is a manor of life and belief that reveals oneself to be Christian – ie Christ-like.  

All the baptised have a vocation to be a witness (a Martyr) in what we believe, in how we pray and in the manner of our lives as we put into practice the Word of truth that is Christ the Lord. In this we reveal that we are being authentically Christian and our Lord is gloried.  

Homily 6th Sunday of Easter

“Always be prepared to make a defence to any one who calls you to account, for the hope that is in you.”

Peter is probably writing his letter from Rome. It is most likely that he was under house arrest and it is in Rome, under Nero, that he will be martyred.

A great theme in his letter is about how to deal with the suffering and persecution that the church is experiencing. He is speaking not from theological knowledge alone but a real lived out experience. 

In our passage from his epistle today, he is tying together three strands: our bearing witness to the hope that is within us; the manner of that witness and suffering for the faith. This is the seed bed for a developed theology of Martyrdom in later Christendom. 

Throughout the New Testament the word martyr carried the meaning of one who bears witness to the Lord. Hence Peter’s exaltation to his readers: ‘give an account of the hope that is in you’. In the light of Christ’s resurrection and after the day of Pentecost,  the Holy Spirit drove the Apostles and first Christians to proclaim the Good News of the Lord’s triumph over sin and death. 

This proclamation was accompanied by great oratory and miraculous signs of healing. Yet just as our Lord himself spoke and healed he was also rejected and crucified. A genuine proclamation of the Gospel, the truth of Christ, therefore is also marked by great joy, rejection and persecution. 

Peter is making the connection that suffering for the faith is also an opportunity to witness to Christ. That witness however is as effective as the manner in which we face the trials before us. He has already said, earlier in his epistle, that our suffering must not be because we are justly being punished for wrong doing – we cannot expect any great reward for that. It is the manner our of conduct for unjust suffering that will ‘shame those who revile us’ and give credence to our witness to Christ. 

Earlier in this chapter (1 Peter 3:9-12) he states:

‘Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “He that would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile; let him turn away from evil and do right; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those that do evil.”’

In our post-Christian country, to stand out for the faith is often to invite mocking ridicule and criticism. How tempting it is to mock and ridicule in return? But to do so is to mar our witness to Christ who: 

‘…was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth,’ (Isaiah 53:7).

Peter quoting Psalm 34 telling us to seek peace and pursue it. It is a peace that is found only in the knowledge that our citizenship is not here on earth, but in eternal heavenly glory. The more we are able to grasp this reality, to fix our eyes on the beautific vision of our Lord, the more we are able to hold worldly concerns lightly.

The saints and martyrs are those who have been captured by this divine glory of the Lord, where their hearts were truly fixed. St Paul articulates this well:

‘I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.’ (Romans 8:18)

‘Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ.’ (Philippians 3:8)

In Acts it was Stephen’s witness to the Lord’s eternal glory that led to his ecstatic joy and martyrdom from stoning at the hands of his captors. The saints are martyrs in Christ know that in him they are made truly alive even while they are dying. How could they deny the Lord of life in whom they are rooted into the divine life of the trinity?

The history of the Church ever since has been marked by this ultimate witness to Christ. Wherever the witness to the Lord has been marked by suffering and persecution there the Church has flourished and grown. So much so that Tertullian coined the phrase ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.’

How then are we to apply this call to witness given our own particular circumstances of lockdown and limited access to the sacraments?

Cardinal Pell seems to offer a compelling model that we might seek to emulate. He was unjustly imprisoned, and by a sheer act of spiteful cruelty from the state was denied the ability to celebrate the sacrament of the mass for more than 400 days. 

Cardinal Pell had every reason to come out of gaol full of resentment at the manner of his treatment. Yet, while he was obviously scarred by his experience and justifiably insisted that a inquiry should take place as to how such an injustice was able to take place, he held no bitterness towards his persecutors. Here is a man who knows Christ as the true Judge and in whose hands his life ultimately rests. 

The inability for us to live out the sacramental life as a Catholic is a real trial but also an opportunity to bear witness to the Lord. How we react and respond to this time of testing will either lend credibility to our witness to Christ or fail to show any differentiation between the ways of faith and the ways of the world. If it is the latter, if we choose to react in a worldly way, then a great opportunity to renew the life of the Church in this country will have been lost. 

In this mini martyrdom, are we ready to act and speak in a way that gives a reason for the hope that is in us?

Homily 5th Sunday Easter 2020

“Among the sundry and manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found.”

This ongoing pandemic has shaken the world in a manner we could never have expected. So much of what we have taken for granted we now either cannot do or have very limited access. The economy is in melt down with all it ramifications for people’s jobs and homes. We cannot even just pop out for a coffee or visits the homes of friends and family. The dangers of loneliness and increased mental health issues are real. 

The scientists, the new priests and tellers of truth, have been sending out all sorts of contradictory messages creating uncertainty and fear. If it is true, it may have been such fear and panic that led the bishop’s conference to petition the government to close churches as part of the imposed restrictions. 

Although there are indications that there will be some easing of restrictions it is going to be many months before all restrictions are lifted. When they are it will be a different world and a different Church that emerges. Will this time have been a time that see a spiritually stronger people of God, renewed in our passion for the sacraments and our mission to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ? Or will it be a smaller broken Church that will take months if not years to recover from?

St Peter, as I have said before addresses his epistle to a community also going through a time of great turbulence. He has consistently tried to point them, in the midst of great uncertainty, to focus on the one who is unchanging and eternal; to the one who has over come the world. He emphasises that in fact trials and tribulations are to be expected and are an inevitable part of the life of a disciple of Christ. It is part of the process of our dying and rising as we are being transformed in preparation for being citizens of the heavenly kingdom. 

There is a sense of irony that Peter, in this part of the epistle, uses the image of a stone and rock to refer to our Lord. The one who renamed Simon as Peter the rock upon which His Church would be built. Peter knows that he can only ever fulfil that vocation and the Church built if the rock is laid on the foundation of the living stone that is Christ the Lord himself. 

Peter almost certainly has in mind a Jewish tradition of the time that looked toward the renewal of Israel. This renewal would see the restoration of former glory, free from gentile rule and where once again the presence of God would visibly return to the temple. This restoration would come about once the right stone, person, messiah, had been found to lead such renewal. 

This story of the ‘Stone’ or ‘Rock’ looks back at the Exodus and the trial of the people at Meribah where Moses struck the stone from which living water flowed. Paul makes explicit that which Peter infers.  In 1 Corinthians 10:4 referring to the Exodus he says:  “all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”

The community to whom Peter writes would, through the oral teachings of Christ, have been reminded of our Lord’s words recorded in Matthew 7:24-27

“Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock;  and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.”

Peter, quoting Isaiah 26:16, states that this stone has already been laid in Zion. It is the cornerstone; we either build our lives upon it or it will be the stone that we continually stumble and fall over. 

It is only if we are able to stand upon this living stone will we be able to emerge from this present crisis positively, revealing more clearly that we are a chosen race, royal priesthood, God’s own people and where our true joy will be found. 

A Message from the Metropolitan Archbishops of the Catholic Church in England and Wales

a people who hope in christ – final

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The radiance of the risen Lord shines upon us. At a time when so many shadows are cast into our lives, and upon our world, the light of the resurrection shines forever to renew and restore our hope. In the words of our Holy Father, Pope Francis: ‘In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side.’ (27 March 2020)

The impact of Covid-19, both nationally and internationally, has been immense. So much of what we take for granted has changed. Our health and physical interaction, our capacity to travel and gather, have all been affected. There is uncertainty in our future, especially with work and the country’s economy. As we know, very sadly, large numbers of people have died because of the coronavirus, and others have been or remain seriously ill. Keyworkers, not least in the National Health Service and care sectors, are serving selflessly to sustain the life of our nation. Our hearts and prayers go out to everyone who is suffering because of Covid-19, and to all those battling to overcome its effects. May those who have died rest in peace and those who are bereaved find comfort.

When the Prime Minister announced the lockdown, this included places of worship and therefore Catholic churches. These measures were put in place to stem the general transmission of the virus. It is right that the Catholic community fulfils its role in contributing to the preservation of life and the common good of society. This must continue until the restrictions applied by the Government are lifted.

None of us would want to be in the situation in which we find ourselves. While the live-streaming of the Mass and other devotions is playing an important part in maintaining the life of faith, there is no substitute for Catholics being able to physically attend and participate in the celebration of the Mass and the other sacraments. Our faith is expressed powerfully and beautifully though ‘seeing, touching, and tasting.’ We know that every bishop and every priest recognises the pain of Catholics who, at present, cannot pray in church or receive the sacraments. This weighs heavily on our hearts. We are deeply moved by the Eucharistic yearning expressed by so many members of the faithful. We thank you sincerely for your love for the Lord Jesus, present in the sacraments and supremely so in the Holy Sacrifice

of the Mass. The bishops and priests of every diocese are remembering you and your loved ones at Mass each day in our churches as we pray ‘in hope of health and well- being.’ We thank our priests for this faithfulness to their calling.

As the Government’s restrictions are relaxed step by step, we look forward to opening our churches and resuming our liturgical, spiritual, catechetical and pastoral life step by step. This will also be of service to those beyond the Catholic Church who depend on our charitable activity and outreach through which much goodness is shared by so many volunteers from our communities.

None of us knows, as yet, how or when the lockdown will end. There is likely to be a phased return to travelling and gathering. As a church, we are now planning for this time and our discussions with the statutory public health agencies and Government representatives are ongoing. Together with Catholics across England and Wales we desire the opening of our churches and access to the sacraments. Until then, we are continuing to pray and prepare.

We want to acknowledge with gratitude the service of our fellow bishops and priests, our deacons and religious, our families and lay faithful, together with all our parish and school communities, for the wonderful ways the life of the faith is being nourished at this time, especially in the home. We also pay tribute to the Catholic organisations and networks that are working to support the vulnerable and needy.

On that first Easter day, the disciples were in lockdown and the doors were closed. In their isolation the Lord Jesus came among them and said ‘Peace be with you.’ May the peace of the risen Lord reign in our hearts and homes as we look forward to the day we can enter church again and gather around the altar to offer together the Sacrifice of Praise.

We unite in asking the intercession of Our Blessed Lady and assure you of our prayers and blessing

Yours devotedly in Christ,

+ Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster

+ Malcolm McMahon OP, Archbishop of Liverpool

+ Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham

+ George Stack, Archbishop of Cardiff

+ John Wilson, Archbishop of Southwark