September 17, 2014

HOMILY for 24th Wed per annum (II)

1 Cor 12:31–13:13; Ps 32; Luke 7:31-35

Today’s first reading is probably one of the most well-known of St Paul’s writings; it’s often heard in weddings. And it is most appropriate for today as I offer this anniversary Mass in thanksgiving to God for the grace he’s given me, allowing me, though so unworthy, to serve as a priest of Jesus Christ for the past three years; and I thank you all for your forebearance. 

As St Thérèse of Lisieux said, “At last I have found my vocation. In the heart of the Church, I will be Love!” This vocation is common to every Christian who is called to become like Christ who is Love made flesh. Our universal Christian vocation is Love, to be conformed to Christ. But how this vocation is lived out differs according to the state of life to which we’re called. Hence, when St Paul’s words are read in a wedding, it aptly reminds the couple that they have chosen to learn Christ-like, self-giving love through marriage; husband and wife sanctify one another through patient, humble, hopeful, all-enduring love. 

The choice to take up the priestly vocation is also like this except that the priest is sanctified with those to whom he ministers, and as a religious he is sanctified with his brothers and sisters in the Order, particularised through the community in which he lives and serves. So, when I am impatient, unkind, boastful, envious, irritable and resentful, then I realize how poorly I love, and how much more I have to learn and grow in order to live my vocation; how much I am in need of God’s sanctifying grace. As St Josemaría Escrivá said: “Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me”.  

In a marriage, this loving gift of oneself to the other is expressed in the exchange of vows and in the sign of the wedding ring. In an ordination, this call for the priest to love the Church is expressed in the giving of the Chalice and Paten with the gifts of bread and wine for the Mass. At that point the bishop says to the new priest: “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross”. Here, then, is the priest’s vocation to sacrificial love lived in service to the Church and to the preaching of the Gospel of salvation – and this call is a profound privilege and joy. Chief among my joys as a priest is the celebration of Holy Mass because it is here that I am conformed to Christ Crucified, here that I learn to love and am shaped by grace, and here that I renew my promise to love the people of God.  

So, please pray for me, and let us also pray for one another since we help each other to grow in Love. As Cardinal Merry del Val put it in his ‘Litany of Humility’, I pray that “others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should”. This, indeed, is my prayer at this and every Mass. So, when I return to the sacristy I always say this 9th-century prayer: “May the tribute of my humble ministry be pleasing to Thee, Holy Trinity. Grant that the sacrifice which I, unworthy as I am, have offered in the presence of Thy majesty may be acceptable to Thee. Through Thy mercy may it bring forgiveness to me and to all for whom I have offered it: through Christ our Lord. Amen”.

September 15, 2014

HOMILY for Our Lady of Sorrows

Heb 5:7-9; Ps 30; Jn 19:25-27

The sorrowful Mother of God is ever-present in our world. In Gaza, Iraq, Syria her icon comes alive in those images on our screens of hundreds of women veiled in black, their faces contorted with grief at the death of their children. In Nigeria, her sorrowful face is seen again in the anguished faces of those mothers pleading for the return of their girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. In our own community, she stands alongside those mothers who have lost a child, or have a child who is suffering a terminal illness. Sorrow, distress, death – such is the human condition; such is living and loving in a fallen world. 

All of us will know or have encountered death and disease. And for some, the experience of having a loved one suffer and die – nursing them and holding them – is extremely hard to endure. One suffers with the one who is sick or dying, and such experiences can shake one’s faith. Such is the pain of human compassion, literally, suffering with the other. So, today we recall that Our Lady is the compassionate mother who suffers with her Son on the Cross. As she is also our mother, so she suffers with us and shares our sorrows and pain. 

Because Mary shares in the redemptive suffering and death of Our Lord on the Cross, Our Lady of Sorrows is Queen of Martyrs. Hers is the martyrdom, that share in the Passion of Christ, that comes from the union of love that is uniquely hers: the union of her Immaculate Heart to the Sacred Heart of her Son. But as a martyr she witnesses, also, to how a Christian lives and copes with sorrow and grief; as our mother, she teaches us by her example. 

So we see that throughout her martyrdom, as she stands at the foot of the Cross, she looks to Christ and is turned towards him in love and in faith. So, too, in our hard times, in the loneliness of our grief and distress, let us turn to God and not away from him. We look to the Cross and are saved, as we were reminded yesterday. For in turning to Christ who suffers on the Cross with us, we are opened to the grace and strength that he gives us to carry the Cross of our discipleship. And our turning to God is a sign of faith, of confident hope that he will, at last, turn our sorrows into joy, as happened to Our Lady. Hence Catholic tradition tells that Our Lady was the first to see the risen Lord, even before St Mary Magdalene and the other apostles as the Bible recounts, because Our Lady, who shared most deeply in Christ’s sorrow, merited this honour of being the first to experience the joy of the Resurrection. 

Countless Christians throughout the world, very many of whom are women and mothers,   are themselves mothered by Our Lady of Sorrows. This is the beauty of what Christ does on the Cross: he establishes a relationship of love, compassion and care between his Blessed Mother and all the baptised. So in our suffering and grief – a daily martyrdom for many people – Mary holds us and leads us to to her Son, to hold to Christ in faith and hope. Thus we share in Christ’s redemptive sufferings on the Cross, we share the pain of love and compassion, but Our Lady assures us that we will also share in the joy of Christ’s Resurrection and glory. Today’s feast, then, confirms us in our Christian faith and hope.

September 14, 2014

HOMILY for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross II

Num 21:4-9; Phil 2:6-11; John 3:13-17

Many of you will probably have had your parents come to Edinburgh this week, and I suppose you’ll have been making new friends, and finding your way around the city, and maybe seeing some of its tourist sights. Although this is my fourth Freshers’ Week, I’ve been doing this too. So, my mother came to stay and spent the week with us, and I met a group of French seminarians last Monday. Between taking my mum to see Holyrood Palace and going to the CSU barbeque, I squeezed in a very quick tour that ended up in the National Museum of Scotland. We rushed around from one room to the next but one display made us stop and had us transfixed with morbid fascination.

The Frenchmen thought it was a French invention from the 18th-century. So, they were amazed to discover that some two centuries before the French Revolution, in Edinburgh in 1564, the Scots were using a machine in public executions for beheading people. It’s called ‘The Maiden’, and over 150 people have died by it. And here it was, in the museum, taking centrestage in one of the rooms; we stopped and just looked. 

Today’s feast also seems to put at centrestage an instrument of execution and death, and it may appear somewhat gruesome or shocking, or even repulsive, to celebrate the cross. For execution on the cross was shameful, humiliating, the worst kind of death devised by the Roman Empire for those deemed public enemies. And it would indeed be morbid and gruesome to celebrate the cross were it not for who the Victim of the Holy Cross is, and what he accomplished through this instrument of deathly torture.

imageFor Christ Crucified is the Victim of Love, divine love. As St John says: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3:16a). Have you ever fallen in love and given your heart to someone else? It’s entails a kind of sweet pain, I think. Well, in becoming Man, God gives not just his heart but his whole self, his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity to you and to me. And the agony of sacrificial love is displayed for all to see on the Holy Cross. For when Jesus freely chose to mount the wood of the Cross, he chose to show the world the depths of God’s love for Mankind. His arms are stretched out horizontally to breaking point to embrace sinful humanity, so that in his own Body, Jesus reconciles God and Man, and he also draws us closer to one another. Vertically, he is stretched upwards to the heavens, for he is the Bridge that makes it possible for us to cross over to his Father in heaven, and to be united to God in friendship. 

At the same time, Christ’s wounded and bleeding Body on the Cross reminds us of the sufferings and torments of humanity. We have all seen this summer the gruesome and horrific things that Man is capable of inflicting on their fellow Man including crucifixion. So, looking at the Cross, then, we see what our sins do to one another, and also to ourselves, and to God in Christ. For sin not only harms our neighbour but it also wounds and disfigures us; it makes us barely recognizable as rational human beings; it causes human misery and suffering, which Jesus, through his Passion and Death on the Cross, chooses to share in. Indeed, St Paul says that for our sake [God] made [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin (2 Cor 5:21). What this means, I think, is that Jesus on the Cross shows us the effects of sin in his broken body so that when we look at Christ Crucified, we also see sinful Man. We see ourselves, in fact, in the way that God sees us sinners: as wounded, frail, and mortal people in need of mercy, healing, and compassionate love. 

Hence, as St John says, “God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world” (Jn 3:17) but to save and heal and lift us up. And so, when we look up at the Crucified One, we look not into eyes that accuse us, or condemn us, or make us feel guilty. And if that is what you see, then you need to look again. Today’s feast, then, invites us to stop and just look at the Holy Cross. As Moses said to the people of Israel, we need to look and live (cf Num 21:9). For what we look into are the eyes of the Divine Mercy, and the Victim who we see raised up on the Cross is the Victim of Love. So when St John says that “whoever believes in [Jesus] should not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16b), he means, first of all, that we need to believe who the Victim on the Holy Cross is: he is God’s Love and Mercy made visible who has come not to condemn and accuse but to forgive and reconcile us. Jesus is stretched out on the Cross to re-unite heaven and earth; God and Man. 

And this is what Jesus accomplished on the Cross. For by reconciling us to God in friendship, Christ makes it possible, as the Gospel says, for us to not perish (as human beings naturally would) but to have eternal life by becoming like him: not just human but also divine; one with God who is Life and Being itself. But how does he do this, and what does this mean?

Well, think of what we do every time we come to Mass, and whenever we receive Holy Communion with the right disposition. The very word, communion speaks of an intimacy and unity with God that is born of love. For in the Mass what happened once and for all on the Cross is made present for us; we stand on Calvary with the Crucified One. Thus, in the Eucharist and in Holy Communion, we experience and taste how “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son”; Christ gives himself entirely to you and to me in one great Act of sacrificial love as he once did on the Cross. 

This is the Mass, and while you are here in this University you have an opportunity that will be unmatched later in life. You have the chance to come to Mass every day with relative ease and convenience because there are two Masses in this chapel every weekday, and there are at least another four at different times of each weekday in churches within 15 minutes walk from here. If you know the pain of falling in love, do you know, too, the agony of unrequited love or of being distant from your Beloved? Do not let God’s gift of himself – a daily Eucharist – go unwanted and unrequited. But let us do our utmost to come to Mass as often as possible with gratitude, with adoration, and with love. It’s not just the highpoint of your week but should become the centre of your day, of your life.

For it is through the Eucharist that we are made one with God and so receive eternal life; through the Eucharist that the Crucified One is lifted up on high, and we with him. For the Eucharist is Christ who is the “living bread which came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51). And when we receive the Eucharist we receive the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Risen Lord Jesus so that we, too, may be lifted up with Christ in the Resurrection, and be “highly exalted” into heavenly glory as he was (cf Phil 2:9). As Jesus says to Nicodemus, only he has ascended into heaven (cf Jn 3:13), so we need to be united to him through the Eucharist if we’re to share in his resurrection, ascension, and eternal life; if we’re to be united with God in undying love. 

Therefore, we don’t glory in an instrument of torture today, nor are we morbidly fascinated by it. Rather, we rejoice in what Jesus has done for us through the Cross, and is doing for us now in this and in every Holy Mass. As the Entrance Antiphon said: “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection, through whom we are saved and delivered” (cf Gal 6:14).

September 7, 2014

HOMILY for 23rd Sunday per annum (A)

Eze 33:7-9; Ps 94; Rom 13:8-10; Matt 18:15-20

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A decade or so ago, I found it very hard to live with a friend who seemed to delight in annoying me. So, I decided to put today’s Gospel into practice. I asked to see him privately, and I explained how I felt. He laughed and said it wasn’t that he purposely annoyed me but, perhaps, he suggested, I was just too sensitive; too irritable; too easily annoyed. I bristled when I heard this but, with hindsight, he’d turned the tables on me and it was he who had accurately told me my faults. And by doing so, he showed himself to be a friend indeed. For as Aristotle observes, “friends hold a mirror up to each other; through that mirror they can see each other in ways that would not otherwise be accessible to them, and it is this mirroring that helps them improve themselves as persons”.Today’s Gospel, then, is about friendship, and particularly friendship in Christ and with Christ, which is essentially what the Church is about. 

What today’s Gospel doesn’t allow is what I did, which was to self-righteously use it to justify a personal dislike or prejudice. Christ foresaw the danger of this happening, I think, which is why there are several ‘courts of appeal’, so to speak. At first “two or three witnesses” (Lk 18:16) are involved, then the whole church community. Essentially, other friends are being called in to consider if one’s complaint is just; to see if one is indeed behaving as a genuine friend and mirroring a true reflection of the other. In doing so the community is also being called in to make a judgement about whether the accused brother is indeed behaving as a friend of Christ. Or, to use St Paul’s words, the Church has to judge if one has loved his neighbour and so fulfilled the law (Rom 13:8). Has this person loved his neighbour as himself (Rom 13:9), that is, as a friend? For as Aristotle says, “the friend is my other self”. 

We probably all know that stage in a budding friendship – and many of our Freshers will be experiencing this – when we dare not really disagree with, or challenge, a new acquaintance for fear of losing his or her friendship. But fear is no basis for genuine friendship, so the friendship has to grow beyond fear as friends learn to trust one another, and as the friendship deepens and becomes secure in mutual love. Hence St Paul exhorts the Romans to “love one another” (13:8) for genuine friendship is about love – about loving my friend for the sake of his good, of her flourishing. 

When there is this kind of love between people, then there is trust – trust that my friend is not out to hurt and humiliate me but desires the best for me; he holds up a mirror that helps me to improve as a person. So, only when there is genuine friendship can we speak out and help a brother or sister who is in the wrong because otherwise the likelihood is that the other will not be willing to listen. If this is true on a personal level, then it’s true for us as a Church community too. 

So, let’s consider things at this broader level.

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September 3, 2014

HOMILY for Pope St Gregory the Great

1 Cor 3:1-9; Ps 32; Luke 4:38-44

The 6th-century Pope who was called magnus, ‘the Great’ was also the first Pope to call himself servus servorum Dei, ‘servant of the servants of God’, an appellation that the Pope still uses. And humility in service was one of the hallmarks of a bishop as St Gregory wrote in the most famous of his writings, the ‘Book of Pastoral Care’, written c. 590 in the early years of his pontificate. The book was subsequently copied and read in Spain, Gaul, Italy, and even translated into Anglo-Saxon; St Augustine would be sent by Gregory the Great in 597 to evangelize the English. 

St Gregory’s humility can be seen in the service he gave to Christ’s Church. He was born into a noble Roman family and educated for public office. He would become Prefect of Rome when he was just 33 years old. However, he had no taste for power, and after his father’s death he converted the family home – still visible on the Caelian hill – into a monastery. He named the monastery in honour of St Andrew, so we might say that he had not just an English but also a Scottish connection! He sold the rest of the family’s estates and distributed the money to the poor, and then retired to his monastery for a life of contemplation and prayer, reading and studying the Scriptures and Fathers of the Church. 

But Pope Pelagius called him out of the cloister and back into the world to serve the wider Church. And so, with humility, he agreed to be ordained a deacon, and was sent to Constantinople as a papal ambassador to seek help from the Byzantine Emperor against invasions by the Lombards in Italy. Then he was made the Pope’s secretary and recalled to Rome which was then struck by famine, floods, and plague – these were turbulent times indeed! In 590, Gregory was elected Pope and he tried to resist and even run away but at last, with humility, he took on the papal office. 

Because he saw this as the will of God, he dedicated himself whole-heartedly to the mission God has given him. Something of his humility and desire to do more for Christ and his Church – a desire born of love – can be seen in this sentence from his ‘Book of Pastoral Care’. He says: “When one is pleased to have achieved many virtues, it is well to reflect on one’s own inadequacies and to humble oneself: instead of considering the good accomplished, it is necessary to consider what was neglected”. This outlook spurred St Gregory on to reform the clergy, negotiate peace treaties with invaders, protect the Jews from persecution, feed the hungry, write many sermons and letters, and develop the Liturgy. Thus, he was called Magnus and named a Doctor of the Church. 

However, Pope Gregory’s greatness is seen, above all, in his zeal for souls, in his desire to preach salvation to all peoples for there can be no greater mercy or love than to bring Christ and eternal salvation to people. Indeed, what Christ says in today’s Gospel can be applied to Pope St Gregory too: “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose” (Lk 4:43). Hence, he sent St Augustine and several bands of monks to evangelize England, and it was from England that missions were sent to Germany and the Netherlands. At the time, Pope Gregory wrote to the missionaries, saying: “do not let the toil of the journey or the tongues of men discourage you, but with all earnestness and by God’s guidance fulfill what you have started, knowing that great labour is followed by the greater glory of an eternal reward”. 

After all his labours, Pope Gregory died in 604, and so, received an eternal reward from the divine Master for his humble service. We thank God for his life, his writings and example, and let us pray for our bishops, for the Church in England, and for our Holy Father Pope Francis, and especially for the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who, like St Gregory the Great, was also called to give up a life of study and prayer, in order to become a “humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord”.

August 30, 2014

HOMILY for 21st Sat per annum (II)

1 Cor 1:26-31; Ps 32; Matt 25:14-30

In today’s parable we see that everything that the servants have comes from the Master – without him they have nothing. Likewise, without God we have nothing and are nothing; every good thing that we have and do come from him as the fruit of his grace given to us. So, when the Master entrusts his property to his servants, he is giving them a share in something that is properly speaking his own. So, too, at our baptism, God entrusts to us his grace, giving each of us a share in his divine life. And God’s grace is so courteous, so gentle that it doesn’t destroy our human nature but perfects it if we choose to co-operate with it and use it. Hence the Master in the parable gives “to each according to his ability” (Mt 25:15). 

Now, God’s grace is given to us so that we can belong to God as his adopted children, and he belongs to us. God, so to speak, invests his grace in us in order that we are no longer his servants but his friends (cf Jn 15:15) and, even, his co-heirs with Christ (cf Rom 8:17). And he does this not because we deserve it but because he loves us and wants us to enjoy true love in heaven. 

However, one thing prevents us from acting as sons and daughters of God; one thing keeps us from using the grace God has given us: fear. Hence the servant who did not invest or use his talents says: “I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground” (Mt 25:30). For where there is fear, then love cannot flourish. Conversely, as St John put it, “perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). 

Because I think that the image of investment in today’s parable is about love. Financial investments are risky, and they can cost us; they require a sacrifice. So too do acts of love. Love is a risky business: it makes us vulnerable and there is a high likelihood that we will be hurt if we love. As C. S. Lewis said: “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken”. Herbert McCabe went even further and said that if we love we will be killed because we’ll be taken to the Cross with Christ. 

The servant fears all this, then, and we might well be sympathetic. However, today’s Gospel calls us to something greater that goes beyond our natural fears. We are called to something supernatural which is why divine grace is given to human hearts. God gives us his grace so that we can behave not like a servant but a friend, indeed like an heir, like a son; we’re called to become like the Son. 

He, the Crucified One, bears the wounds of love and he chose to become lowly, weak, and foolish in the eyes of the world. And he has chosen to share his love with us, that is, to teach us with his grace to love as he does: sacrificially, selflessly, courageously. His perfect love casts out our fear, so let us trust in God’s mercy and goodness and love. He cares for us, and he satisfies our deepest longings; he shows us the way of love. If we co-operate with grace, using what is given us in the sacraments, so that we truly love then we who are poor are rich, the humble are exalted, and the unlearned are wise. For such sacrificial love makes people become like Jesus. And he is, as St Paul says, “our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30).

August 22, 2014

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HOMILY for the Queenship of Mary

preached at a 25th Wedding Anniversary Mass in St Aloysius’ Glasgow

Eze 37:1-14; Ps 106; Matt 22:34-40

"O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his love has no end" (Ps 106:1). How fitting this response is today as we gather to give thanks for twenty-five years of the Lord’s goodness made visible in the marriage of Mary and Michael – a union that participates even now in the one unending love of God. 

And this response of thanksgiving is equally fitting as we celebrate Our Lady’s Queenship, as we give thanks to God for the singular graces given to Our Lady so that she could be Mother of God. And now God crowns those graces which have borne such sweet fruit in Mary by making her Queen of Heaven. So the psalm response, to my mind, also most aptly echoes the words of Our Lady in her Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord… for he who is mighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1:46, 49). And these are words are sung every evening by the Church, the Bride of Christ, to her divine Bridegroom because she is continually thankful, daily offering this Eucharistic sacrifice of thanks for the many great things God does for her and through her. 

Each of us, whenever we offer the Mass in union with Christ acting in the person of his Priest, will have our own reasons for giving God thanks. But this evening, we’re especially united with the O’Duffins in giving thanks for the graces that have sustained Mary and Michael’s marriage and caused it to bear, also, such sweet fruit.  

It is clear from the thought and effort that has gone into preparing for today’s Mass that the Eucharist is central to Mary and Michael’s lives – and what joy it is to celebrate the Mass with them here in this great Jesuit church, the spiritual home of the O’Duffins, and with us Dominicans, their spiritual confréres, present. Truly, the Eucharist is our sacrament of unity and charity! And the centrality of the Eucharist is thus vital to the vitality and joy of Mary and Michael’s marriage. For Christ himself is the cause of their loving union, and through the Eucharist Jesus draws all ever deeper into the loving embrace of the Holy Trinity: it is here that we are being schooled in unity and charity.

Christ famously sums up the Law as love of God and love of neighbour (cf Mt 22:37-39) as we hear in today’s Gospel. But, so familiar are we with this, that we often neglect the third party: we must also love ourselves (Mt 22:39). Indeed, I would say that this comes first. As St John says: “We love, because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).

Hence it is in the Mass that we encounter our God who loved us first; who showed the depth of his love by becoming flesh and dying for us; our God who loves us so much that he remains here for us and with us under the humble ordinary forms of bread and wine. So, here we encounter love and we are schooled in this fundamental fact: God loves me. Is this not the one thing that is so lacking in our world today? So many of our contemporaries, made with this God-shaped hole that longs for love, just don’t know that God is here - he is waiting for us. So many, needlessly then, feel unloved. So, let many be called here and drawn here and led here to the Eucharist so that they can be loved. I know that this church is a great centre for ‘Nightfever’ which is well-loved by the O’Duffins – a beautiful way for many to know the love of God present in the Eucharist. 

Knowing that God loves me, then, is fundamental. It makes the rest possible, and so, having the Eucharist central to Mary and Michael’s marriage is what makes these past twenty-five years (and, we pray many many more to come) possible! For when we encounter the God of Love here, and when we know we are loved, then we can begin to love God in return. We do this by offering to God the very best we have, exercising our intellects to seek him in Truth, engaging our wills to love him in Obedience, employing our talents and skills in his service. Something like this – a beautiful celebration of the sacred Liturgy – is the culminating expression of this offering of ourselves, our very best, to God. It truly is the “right and just” thing to do, to attend to the Liturgy with reverent and attentive devotion and with a care for its solemn beauty, if we want to love and thank God. 

Then from this attention to the Liturgy, from an actual participation in the Eucharistic action of Christ who pours himself out in love for Mankind, we learn what it means to love another. As Pope Benedict XVI said: “The eucharistic mystery thus gives rise to a service of charity towards neighbour” (Sacramentum Caritatis, 88). For Michael and Mary, their first neighbour is one another, and then, of course, their boys and family. But we know that their heart, as a couple, is also opened toward countless others: the boys of St Aloysius’ College, the teachers and pupils they meet, and so many friends as well as strangers and passers-by. And of course, we Dominican friars and other priests are also their ‘boys’! This expansive love is characteristic of a Eucharistic heart; they have been expanded by grace to make room, indeed a home, for others. 

Our Lady, by her generous Yes to the angel showed that her immaculate heart was just such a Eucharistic heart. For grace enabled her to not just become Mother of God, but your mother and my mother – Mother of the Church. Because of Our Lady whose immaculate heart beats as the heart of the Church, the Church is a home, a mother, a refuge for all. And this, too, is something our contemporaries long for: a Home in a world which has become such a wilderness. Many hearts have become weary, and life with its many worries and problems has become like the valley of death in which one lies like dry bones. 

But here in Christ’s Church where Mary’s heart beats in tandem with the Eucharistic and Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ – here, there is life; new and everlasting life. Here, in the Eucharist, there is rest. Here, there is refreshment and joy. Here, there is Love and the Spirit to raise all up. Hence, “the Spirit and the Bride say: ‘Come’!” (Apoc 22:17)

So, as we come together today to celebrate these twenty-five years of love which the Spirit has raised up, we go again to the Source of Mary and Michael’s love. We come to Love himself, made present and tangible and visible for us in the Most Holy Eucharist. We come to Our Lord Jesus Christ to be loved. By his Mother’s intercession, may our hearts, like Our Lady’s, be filled with love so that we can bring many thirsty souls to Christ, and may we come at last to that eternal marriage feast in heaven where Our Lady reigns with him as Queen.

Therefore, let us “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his love has no end”.

July 27, 2014

HOMILY for 17th Sun per annum (A)

1 Kg 3:5. 7-12; Ps 118; Rom 8:28-30; Matt 13:44-52

God marvels that Solomon, although he was “but a little child” (1 Kgs 3:7), did not ask for riches, or the other kinds of things that young men are wont to ask for. But I was a rather typical youth! For when I was a child my annual birthday wish until I stopped believing in birthday wishes was that I would become the richest man in the history of the world. It was a childish wish, but perhaps the kind that is still common today, and not just among the young. 

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But as St Paul says: “in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Rom 8:28), and so, God granted my juvenile prayer in the best way possible, that is, according to his wisdom, to bring about my greatest good. So, at the age of 16, I received baptism as a Catholic Christian. And then at the age of 28 I became a Dominican. On the day of my Solemn Profession in 2009, I recalled my childhood wish and I realized it had come true. Because, given who I am, there is no greater joy than loving and serving God in the consecrated life; no greater treasure than the Gospel of salvation – treasure both ever new and old (cf Mt 13:52) – which I am privileged to bring out and share with others through preaching; no riches better than the grace given to me at baptism and which makes every Christian a child of God, “conformed in the image of his Son” (Rom 8:28). All this sounds rather pious, but it isn’t thereby less true. When my parents and friends ask me if I am happy, I can honestly say I can’t think of anything I’d rather do, and I thank God for the grace of a Dominican vocation. And my friends often remark on how rare a joy it is in this life to have a ‘job’ you enjoy, which I evidently do. So, I am grateful for the joy I have found in having been consecrated to Jesus Christ as a Christian, a Dominican brother, and a priest. 

A few months before I entered the Order, people tried to warn me of the many sacrifices I’d have to make, and what a deprivation religious life was. In some sense this is true. There are things we give up, and many people focus on these, especially the giving up of the goods of marriage and family life, material wealth, and self-determination. Initially, I’d focussed on these losses too. And then, I saw the riches I’d gained. 

Hence in these parables of the treasure and the pearl the focus isn’t on what the treasure-hunter or the merchant had to sacrifice. What is emphasized is the worth of the Kingdom, that is, the supreme good that comes from knowing and loving Jesus Christ. Once we recognize the riches that Jesus brings we would give up all we owned – everything – to possess him. Or rather we do not possess Christ – it is he who embraces and possesses us with his love but first we have to let go of all the other things we cling on to so that we can hold to him. The key phrase in the Gospel which motivates this letting go of all else is this: “in his joy” (Mt 13:44). For without joy, the man would not have been motivated to sell all for the field and its treasure. So, too, without joy it’s hard to be a Christian, or a poor, chaste and obedient religious, a celibate priest. Without joy, the Christian life becomes drudgery, an obligation, and not worth living or, indeed, dying for. 

At this time, this truth becomes ever more apparent. For ours is a time when more Christians are being persecuted and killed for their Faith in Christ than ever before. While I had willingly dispossessed myself of goods, last weekend the Christians of Mosul were forcibly stripped of all they had, and many have lost their lives. They made the ultimate sacrifice. And what motivates someone to offer their lives in Christian martyrdom if not the joy that comes from having been possessed by Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life? 

Thus Pope Francis has said, “those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). This joy comes from being held in God’s love, through a daily personal encounter with Jesus Christ who is our treasure and our pearl of great price. For him, we would joyfully give up all without counting the cost.  

The example of the martyrs inspires all Christians to seek this radical joy, and so, too, does the authentic witness of a consecrated life. For as Pope Francis said: “This is the beauty of consecration: it is joy!” Hence the Holy Father followed his letter on the Joy of the Gospel by calling for a Year for Consecrated Life from October 2014. So, today’s Gospel invites all peoples to find anew the joy of loving and serving Christ, but, in particular, perhaps he is calling some of you to the consecrated life, and so to especially enact through your vocation stories the Gospel parables we hear today. Is God calling you, too, to riches beyond your childhood wishes?

If you would like to find out more about the Dominican religious vocation, please visit our website, or email: vocations.director@english.op.org

July 20, 2014

HOMILY for the 16th Sunday per annum (A)

Wis 12:13. 16-19; Ps 85; Rom 8:26f; Matt 13:24-43

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Last July, Pope Francis famously said: “Who am I to judge?”, and it caught the world’s attention. The Holy Father had been asked about those with a homosexual orientation, and citing the Catechism, the Pope responded: “A gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will—well, who am I to judge him?” And for some Catholics this was controversial; for many others, this was misunderstood as a papal moral license to do anything. 

 And yet the Holy Father’s attitude echoes that of the Householder in today’s first parable: “No…  Let both grow together until the harvest”. That is to say that judgement of one’s good or ill is delayed until the harvest time when Christ will come as Judge. Until then, the Church is like that great tree in the second parable that shelters all the birds of the air. Christ’s Church is called, then, to be a refuge for sinners, a resting place for the weary, a home for all those who are seek truth, goodness and beauty; all kinds are invited to come and nest in her branches. And if anyone has seen a tree full of birds, it’s quite a lively noisy place, as they tweet away and, presumably, disagree and dialogue with one another. 

But if judgement is made, and only those who agree with one another are gathered together, and all those who are judged ‘bad’ are excluded, then there is just silence, and hums of mutual agreement. Rather, the third parable has a vision of somewhat more confidence in the good and the true – it naturally attracts and grows and nourishes, like leaven in the dough. Interestingly, this, I think, is one of the instances when God is likened to a baker woman, mixing dough with the leaven of righteousness and truth, causing the dough of the Church and our world to rise up with the leaven of his grace. 

Nevertheless, there are zealous servants who fear the damage and confusion caused by those who are deemed weeds. Who are these weeds? Pope Francis, I suppose, was thinking of people who are homosexual, who are written off by Christians and others because of they’re gay. It’s not difficult to find such zealous servants around especially in the Church - just yesterday, I read this sentence in a blog: “A lesbian who accepts her sexuality already defies church teaching just by existing”! But there are others, especially in the world, who would weed out and write off convicted pædophiles. Others still are written off because they’re deemed liberals or conservatives. Indeed, one can consider as a weed a whole range of labels and identities – based on what periodicals one reads, or what language one worships in, or what one does in the bedroom, and so on. But the bottom line is that the zealous servants believe that the Sower’s pure field, which should have only yielded good wheat, has been contaminated and confused by weeds sown by the Enemy. 

But the Head of the Household, that is, Jesus Christ says: “Let both [weeds and wheat] grow together until the harvest” in case “in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them”. Here we see the patience of God, and his confidence in the power of grace to transform the sinner, to move one to repentance. As we said in our psalm response, the Lord is “good and forgiving”. But he can only be forgiving, only show mercy, towards someone who chooses to repent. This means, someone who we choose to include in our conversation and allow to nest in the tree of the Church; to grow in the field of the Lord. If they are judged immediately, and then excluded and weeded out now, there is no more opportunity for growth and change, less chance for repentance, no place for mercy and for God to show that he is good and forgiving. For because God is good, so we believe that he will also send the grace that moves us to repentance, to seek and receive forgiveness for sins. 

In fact, those who would judge and act now to weed out the sinners have a more fundamental problem. They lack faith in the power of God’s grace. There is a kind of spiritual despair – the lack of hope – in believing that the evils of the world is stronger than the good; that the Enemy has won the war simply because he has won a skirmish or a battle. But the spiritual battle for the salvation of a soul is not over until the harvest time. Until then, God’s grace is still active and powerfully at work, even though it is unseen like the leaven in the dough, like the grain of mustard seed germinating underground. Until harvest time, repentance is still possible; a human person is still capable of change and conversion – that is our hope. And it is this hope, countering the despair and hopelessness all around us, that motivates the Church especially under Pope St John Paul II to oppose the death penalty, and to oppose the ‘Assisted Dying’ bill. Why? Because until one’s natural death, until harvest time, no zealous servant in the form of doctor or State should execute judgement and uproot the weeds. 

This same hope of growth and repentance, then, this same faith in God’s redeeming grace, this same love of the whole human person and his whole life is what underlies the words of the Holy Father, when, echoing the Householder’s attitude, he says: “Who am I to judge?” 

These are the words of a patient farmer who wants the Church to be that field in which both weeds and wheat can grow together. Because while there is growth and while there is time before the harvest, then there is also time for conversion, for change, for repentance. This requires, of course, on the one hand, that Christ’s true teachings are proclaimed and taught clearly and well, with sensitivity to people’s lived experience especially from among the saints. On the other hand, it requires of us a humble readiness to listen, to be challenged to grow, and to be open to change. The most terrifying thing is when a human person, who by nature is changeable, obstinately refuses to change. If our mind is made up and we believe that our opinions are necessarily correct; that there is no alternative way; that ours is the final word, then our growth is stunted – we may well remain weeds. 

But in contrast to this, the Gospel of Jesus Christ keeps challenging every human person to grow and change and to be supernaturally perfected in grace, to become wheat. So, our minds must be opened up in repentance, metanoia, to humbly seek the Truth who is Christ. For as Pope Francis said in Lumen Fidei, “truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us”. The Gospel and the teachings of Christ’s Church also challenge us to grow beyond the fatalism of our age to see that nobody is doomed by genetics or sexual orientation or culture to behave in a certain way. No, Christ is the Way who leads to our fullest human flourishing and deepest joy. And it is he who is the final Word, God’s one Word spoken into our human lives and world with all its limitations, our weakness and sufferings, trials and confusion. Into this world, God’s Word is spoken, and his Word is “good and forgiving”, patient and gentle, forbearing and merciful and true. His Word is Love.  

And so, this parable is not about moral relativism, nor does it say that the True and the Good is unknowable. Neither does it say that the sinner should be abandoned unchallenged or unrepentant. Rather, these parables tell of God’s Word of Love, about his grace patiently and powerfully at work in the world, converting and transforming the hearts of us sinners. God keeps faith with Man, hoping for our repentance, for more than we thought we’re capable of, more than the world cynically or ‘realistically’ expects. But the question is, will we keep faith with him? As Jesus asks in St Luke’s Gospel, when the harvest time comes, will he find any faith on the earth? (Lk 18:8).

July 19, 2014

HOMILY for the Wedding of Chris Oldroyd & Becca Coult

Songs 2:8-10, 14, 16a; 8:6-7a; Ps 128; Col 3:12-17; John 17:20-26

The readings that a couple choose for their wedding are very revealing. What might have gone through Becca and Chris’ minds when they chose these readings especially the first one? “Behold, he comes, leaping…” Was she thinking, maybe, of their romance begun on a dance floor? Why Not? Or perhaps of many a ceilidh celebrated here in the CSU? Then, again, the reading says: “Let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet” Perhaps, then, Becca was thinking of Chris’ sweet singing in the CSU choir? Or maybe, Chris just fancied being compared to a “young stag”, although I don’t quite see him standing at the back, peering in shyly through the lattice screens! It may well be any of these reasons… But if I look at the other readings they’ve chosen, then I’d like to think that it may have to do with a CSU retreat last autumn. Both Becca and Chris were there, and together we’d explored my favourite book in the Bible, the Song of Songs, and I think they came away quite enthused. 

The Song of Songs, as its name means, is the greatest song. Why? Because it tells of the greatest love story of them all: God’s passionate desire for Mankind. And the Singer of this love song is the greatest Lover of Humanity: God. For the entire history of God’s dealings with Man is a great romance, a love song that is still on-going and mirrored in the beauty of human love, of husband and wife. As Pope Benedict XVI has said: “Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love”.

And what is God’s way of loving? For millennia, through the prophets and through various messengers, God had been wooing Mankind from the very beginning, calling us into a relationship of love, of intimate friendship, with him. Again and again he has had compassion on his people when they fail, and he has shown forgiveness, mercy, great forebearence. So, in the second reading you chose, Becca and Chris, St Paul reminds you to become an image of God’s patient love to each other, “forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive”. And I know that you already strive to do this for one another.

However, when the prophets and kings and leaders fail, God at last comes himself to court us himself. Jesus is God’s Way of loving; He is Love made flesh. He, the eternal Word of God, gives voice to God our Beloved. So, the Song of Songs point to Jesus, the “voice of my Beloved” who comes leaping and bounding into human history; he comes to woo us in the Incarnation. As one of my favourite Christmas carols says: “Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love, This have I done for my true love”. Yes, for you and for me who are God’s true love, he has become Man. So, we are taken up into God’s love song; he is romancing you and me even now, drawing us closer into union with him through grace. 

But notice that Christ doesn’t come and impose himself on us; he doesn’t break into our house. Rather, he stands “gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice”, waiting to be invited into our hearts, our lives. For – and again we should note God’s way of loving – love is courteous, kind, patient, gentle, and respectful of our freedom. He is waiting for us to let him in. Why do we fear? For see what our Beloved does for us. 

Christ’s love song reaches its crescendo on the Cross, when he dies for us, offers his life and self for sinful humanity, even when we are undeserving. Again, God shows us the measure of human love: it doesn’t count the cost or what the other truly deserves, but is ever ready to sacrifice and so to suffer for the good of the other. The Dominican who founded this Edinburgh priory, fr Bede Jarrett OP put it this way: “Love finds words inadequate to hold all its deep meanings, and can only feel in sacrifice and in self-sacrifice a satisfactory outlet to its desires. Suffering is the only full speech of love”. So, on the Cross, the eternal Word-made-flesh speaks the full speech of God’s love: he dies that we might have eternal life. 

As every mature married couple can attest, what you will undertake, Becca and Chris, will require sacrifice of you both, of a certain dying to self to make room for the other; in order that others, especially in the many children I hope you’ll have, may have life. Such is  the way of Love, and it will sanctify you both; it will unite you ever more closely to Christ our Saviour; it is your particular path of salvation that you are choosing today. 

But “love is strong as death”, we’re told. And so, Love brings with him new life and resurrection, even if Love demands much of us. Our Beloved says: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away”. So, when you feel weary and burdened, when your love for each other is tested, remember that God’s love will sustain you and raise you up to new life. He calls you “my love” – so, go to him and be loved and restored and strengthened by God. If we do, then, Christ will raise you up with him – “Arise”. God’s Holy Spirit will heal your wounds and makes you beautiful with his grace – thus he calls you “my fair one” and says your face is “comely”. And our loving Father wants, at last, to carry you away with him – “come away”, he says, and rest in his peace. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”, St Paul says. In your marriage, Becca and Chris, always make space, make time, for Christ. Pray together, even as Christ prays for you; speak – or sing – of him to your children, even as the Father sings his love song for you; love God, who has first loved you and sustains your every breath with his love. 

For, as the Song of Songs says: “My beloved in mine and I am his”. This, really, is the central refrain of why we’re here today. Here in the Mass, we celebrate God’s giving of himself – his Body and Blood – to us, and we say as his faithful People that we belong to him when we receive Holy Communion. And here in the Sacrament of Marriage, we see this reciprocal love of God and Man, of Christ and his Church, take flesh in your flesh, Becca and Chris. For you two shall become one flesh: one with each other in love even as you are one with God through Christ’s love, as we hear in the Gospel. 

So, after this, as we all dance and sing, drink, feast and make merry, it is right and just that we do so. Not just because we’re Catholics, and Catholics love parties. But, more importantly, we love parties because we rejoice in God our Saviour. And wedding parties are the best because they give us a foretaste, a glimpse, of the joy and celebration of heaven itself, of eternal life in God.

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